Intelligent Design

This category contains 15 posts

Book Review: “Who Made God?” by Edgar Andrews

Who Made God? by Edgar Andrews offers a witty, heady read for Christians looking to interact with some of the most recent scientific theories. Targeted at Christians who have been befuddled by the latest scientific theories, interested skeptics who want to see if Christianity has anything to say about science, or Christian apologists looking to bolster their scientific knowledge, the book is a resounding success.

Interestingly, Andrews gets the title of the book out of the way quickly. Andrews argues against the common atheistic retort, “Well if God made everything, who made God?” He writes, “Because cause and effect is only proven for the physical world, we can no longer insist that cause and effect are relevant when it comes to the origin of a spiritual entity like God.” I am not sure about the strength of this response. It seems to potentially put God outside the rules of logic, something of which most theists are very wary. A more convincing response, in my opinion, is to simply point out that the concept of God includes necessity. Theistic arguments are designed to show just this–that God is the uncaused ground of being.

Who Made God, however, quickly jumps into stride and doesn’t look back. Andrews lucidly argues that while science can describe events and put them to the test, it cannot explain things in the sense of a comprehensive explanation. Science, for example, “doesn’t tell us why there is [a force of gravity]” (30).

Without slowing down Andrews jumps into a clear explanation of String Theory and its attempts to be a “theory of everything.” Even were science to unify into a theory of everything, however, Andrews point would still stand. The theory would offer descriptions of how things happen, but it wouldn’t explain why the theory itself worked. He also offers a few critiques of string theory, such as the counter-intuitive nature of the theory (48).

Andrews continues on, offering God as a “hypothesis.” He argues that “the methodology of science” can be applied to God (58-59). He argues that Victor Stenger’s God: the failed hypothesis fails on a number of levels. Stenger claims that God “should be detectable: (1) by scientific ‘models’; (2) by scientific measurements… (3) by scientific ‘methods'” (67). Against this, Andrews points out that Stenger is trying to exclude God from existence by “having it both ways.” Stenger argues that God should be detectable, but cannot be because the measurements of science are restricted to the physical. Obviously, this begs the question against theism.

Andrews also addresses nothing, by which I mean the redefinition of “nothing” into “something” often done by atheists (see the debate between Lawrence Krauss and William Lane Craig). He points out that they often use “nothing” to reference vacuum and/or empty space or dark matter. But this is either deliberately misleading or just incomprehensible (97ff). As the atheists who say this often admit themselves, this “empty” space is hardly “nothing.” It is full of energy. But beyond space, beyond the existence of our universe, outside of space and time–that is what is meant by “nothing” (105).

The God hypothesis is vindicated when it comes to the evidence from astronomy and physics. The low entropy state of our universe (117-118), along with its origin (98ff) both point to a creator. Andrews moves on to argue that the origin of the laws of nature must also point to the God hypothesis (138-153). He then goes on to argue that our biological origins, the information found in cells, and the diversity of life have their best explanation with God. To cover these arguments fully would double the size of this review, but I found these arguments just as exciting as the rest of Who Made God. A sampling: proteins and DNA must have information in order to function correctly (181ff); origin of life theories can only be explained with the God hypothesis (196ff);  evolution is nonfalsifiable (214-216); natural selection is a tautology (219-220); junk DNA isn’t junk (234ff); mutations really only help within dynamic populations and cannot lead to new species (230ff [through 240]). Andrews isn’t finished there, however, he tackles arguments for and against mind/body dualism (250ff).

Another strength of Who Made God is the format. There is a summary of each chapter prior to its contents, along with definitions of important terms. Humor is found throughout the work as the author tells funny stories or makes witty comments about the arguments. These aspects increase the readability of the book to a great degree.

This is not to say the book is without faults. Andrews’ treatment of the Ontological Argument was a bit abrupt. I’ve written on the argument before (see my posts here and here). Andrews’ critiques don’t apply to the most current versions of the argument. The most commonly used ontological argument is the modal version developed by Alvin Plantinga and others. This version of the argument doesn’t appeal to human ideas, but to modal necessity and possibility. To his credit, Andrews does point out that some philosophers find the argument compelling.

Another issue with Who Made God is the sometimes unconventional use of philosophical terms. For example, Andrews defines “phenomenology” as “The way phenomena… manifest themselves” (27). Phenomenology, however, is most commonly used (in philosophy) as the study of consciousness. Outside of philosophy, it generally refers to conscious experience or sense experience, not so much about the phenomena themselves. While the definition is not wrong, it caused some confuse, and may confuse other readers familiar with the other, more conventional uses. Another uncommon definition was given for “Monism.” Most often, the term refers to the idea that all of reality is one [i.e. it is all material, or all immaterial]. Andrews definition makes sense in context (he defines it as “The idea that mind is nothing more than the brain at work” [257] but that definition in philosophy of mind is more often used for “reductionism” which Andrews defines differently as well).

However, neither of these negatives outweigh the significant positives found throughout Who Made God. You know that I’m nitpicking when my main critique focuses on a couple unconventional definitions, particularly when Andrews uses valid definitions that simplify the terminology for the reader.

Edgar Andrews’ Who Made God is unique among the slew of apologetics books written at a popular level in that it offers a nearly comprehensive argument for Christianity based upon various scientific theories. Despite a few small flaws, I unreservedly recommend this book to all Christians looking to increase their knowledge of biology, physics, and astronomy. Andrews clearly and succinctly explains several scientific theories in terms which are easy to understand, while also showing the relevance for the “God hypothesis.” Readers will come away convinced that when it comes to science, their faith stands on firm ground. Books with scopes this broad most often shine their lights upon lots of topics and illumine none. Readers will find that Who Made God illumines nearly every topic it touches, bringing new insight and clarity into often confusing issues.

Source: Edgar Andrews, Who Made God? (Darlington, England: EP books, 2009).

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy free of charge by EP books. My thanks to both Edgar Andrews and EP books.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Life Dialogue: Information and the Cell

This is part of a series of posts on the “Life Dialogue” within Christianity. Check out other posts in the series here.

It is hard to underestimate the importance of the question: “Are we designed?” I’ve really started to realize the question’s reverberations even within the Christian community. Creationists definitely believe we are designed, as we were brought out of nothing by God into being. But theistic evolutionists often argue that the only design inherent in God’s creation was His plan to bring about sentience through evolution. Yet this evolution is blind and unguided. So on theistic evolutionism, we are not designed. Is there a middle ground? Can we say evolution mostly correct, but we are still designed?

Stephen Meyer argues that there is such a middle ground. In his enormously successful book, Signature in the Cell, he argues cogently for the position that there is more to life than “just matter and energy.” There is also information (85). If that is the case, then whence the information?

Essentially the argument goes as follows:

1) If there is information in our cells, its origin must be explained.

2) There is information in our cells.

3) Therefore, the origin of the information must be explained.

4) There are three possible explanations for information: chance, necessity, or design.

5) Chance and necessity are not sufficient explanations for information.

6) Therefore, the information is in our cell due to design.

In defense of premise 2, Meyer argues that there is information in the cell that we can detect because DNA isn’t simply random amalgamations of enzymes, rather, they are put in specific order so that they can regulate the production of proteins and RNA. Thus, they act as information which regulates activity of the cell.

3 follows from 1 and 2.

Chance doesn’t seem a sufficient explanation because not only is the generation of information highly improbable, it is also specified (it is information set in a certain way). Necessity won’t work because it presupposes information is already present. Therefore, the cell is designed.

To those Christians interested in the Intelligent Design, Theistic Evolution, Creationism debate, I highly recommend Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell.

A response to an attack on this post found here (search “On Intelligent Design”)

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Life Dialogue: Intelligent Design 3

This is part of a series of posts on the “Life Dialogue” within Christianity. Check out other posts in the series here.

Intelligent Design (hereafter ID) is a theory that suffers a lot of critique from all sides of the life dialogue within Christianity, as well as the secular world. Just a google search can bring up thousands of images ridiculing the theory, both from an evolutionist standpoint (often calling it creationism in disguise) and from a creationist standpoint (calling it evolutionism in disguise). I find that, too often, those criticizing the ID movement present a caricature of its arguments, without ever addressing the relevant issues it raises.

Creationists often attack ID for trying to sneak some kind of atheism into theology. I simply don’t find this to be true. The ID movement would have many theological implications, but atheism is definitely not one of these. Theistic Evolutionists criticize ID for being just creationism in disguise. I simply can’t see this as anything but a non sequitur of the greatest proportions.

Recently, an article in Philosophia Christi (cited below) by Warren Shrader discussed ID’s mechanisms of detecting intelligence. Shrader writes that the Explanatory Filter utilized by Dembski (discussed briefly here) can be strengthened by considering the epistemological tools of cognitive abilities in determining whether there is a specification condition (which would therefore justify a “design inference”).

The way we can utilize epistemology within the ID hypothesis is “…given an event E and a pattern D, we say that D is a specification of E if and only if the following conditions are satisfied.” These conditions are: 1) Tractability (essentially meaning it is possible for a cognitive agent to produce the pattern D), 2) The probability of E given H (“the hypothesis that the event in question was a product of chance” 383) and J (information) = the probability of E given H “for any information J generated by I“, and 3) D delimits E  (392-393).

Armed with this capacity for determining design, ID avoids the objection that patterns can be replicated by computers. This is done by criterion 1), which restricts patterns to our finite cognitive abilities. This of course means that it is very possible that many “positive” results will be thrown out, but this only strengthens those positives that do result, because they are irrefutable evidence for ID. In other words, when we tighten the design criteria such that we guarantee the patterns were produced by a cognitive agent, we have guaranteed that intelligence has been detected.

Combine these tools with those mentioned in my previous posts on ID, and there is a functional system for detecting intelligence in biology, cosmology, etc. Reading about ID has me excited to read more. I cannot emphasize enough how much readers who have not explored the issue themselves should try to do so.

Source:

Shrader, Warren, “Dembski’s Specification Condition and the Role of Cognitive Abilities,” Philosophia Christi, volume 11, number 2, 2009, 377-396.

The Life Dialogue: Intelligent Design 2

This is part of a series of posts on the “Life Dialogue” within Christianity. Check out other posts in the series here.

Intelligent Design (hereafter ID) posits that the universe, and in particular life itself, is such that there must be an intelligent cause. I’ve discussed ID in the past and I believe the arguments featured by its advocates are compelling. The challenge to ID is at least twofold: 1. How does one infer design from living organisms without making the assumption that there is intelligence in the first place? and 2. How does this design inference aid scientific discoveries and research?

Paul Nelson utilizes a well-known example of intelligent design to make a case for the ID movement. When one comes upon a pocket watch in a forest, there is no question that it is intelligently designed. It is simply assumed that such a thing is designed. There is no effort to look into a naturalistic cause of the watch, for it is unnecessary. Often, people argue that ID immediately cuts off a path of research–that is, trying to locate a naturalistic explanation for an event. Nelson argues that such a belief is “desperately confused”. Skeptics of ID “[ask] us to pursue the naturalistic program of explanation without reason” (Nelson, 149). Rather, the “design theorist has no responsibility to naturalism” (150). Often, the naturalist has no explanation for the phenomena which the design theorist argues is an indicator of intelligence. Rather, they simply desire to rule out the possibility of ID to begin with (149).

Intelligence can be sought when things such as “biological specification” are present. Biological specification can be defined as “Any element of an organism necessary for viability (meaning survival and reproduction) in any environment in which that organism may exist” (162). Nelson argues from bicoid, a gene which, if absent, spells death for the species of fly in which it is present (150ff). The problem for the naturalist is that such a specified gene is absolutely essential to the survival of the organism. How could it have come about through evolution? Nelson argues that this is evidence against naturalistic evolution, as there is no clear way for a gene like bicoid to come into being, when its absence spells death for the species. It is basic to the creatures that possess it. Without the gene, the creatures lose viability (166ff). Such basic, viability-determining genes seem to point towards ID, as there doesn’t seem to be any other way to explain them.

The problem persists, however, as to how exactly does one get to infer intelligence in biological systems. William Dembski argues that this can be done through an explanatory filter. Whenever an event occurs, whenever a biological entity exists, etc., there are three possible explanations for such an occurrence. These are: 1. A law (here utilizing the refer to something which yeilds highly probable, naturalistic expectations and explanations), 2. Chance, 3. Design. The priority of these explanations follows in that same order. Law takes priority to chance and design, chance to design, and design is the final possibility (Dembski, 94-95). The key to determining design for cases in which this may not be obvious is utilizing probabilities. Simply being improbable does not mean one points to design as the cause of an event, however. Rather, it must be demonstrated that such an event was specified–it was chosen from a range of possibilities. Choice, argues Dembski, is what shows intelligence (109). In order to recognize choice, one must utilize the explanatory filter. If some event, E, is such that it is not highly probable (thus explained by a law) or intermediately probable (explained by choice) and further shows a sufficiently improbable possibility, then design is the likely explanation of E (98ff). The example Dembski uses is that of a combination lock, in which the chances of getting the right combination are 1/10,000,000,000. The exceedingly improbable chances of getting the right combination by guessing implies specification.  However, when specification comes into play–in this case, the specification that only one particular combination is correct–then one has an event which reflects intelligence upon the opening of the lock (103-104).

Thus it seems as though there are ways to discover intelligence in events that are not clearly attributalble to intelligence initially. Further, there seem to be events in biological systems which point to intelligence. This, of course, counts as evidence for ID.

It seems to me that ID has a significant case which should not be ignored as often as it is in the scientific community. Dembski alone has done some phenomenal work. One problem so far with ID is that I have yet to see an attempt to reconcile ID with the theological problems that come with assuming evolution to be the case. I still favor Ross’s RTB Model to anything I’ve read thus far, but I see ID as having some strong validity which could be integrated easily into the Christian understanding of the Life Dialogue (discussed in my posts on OEC–visit the link at the beginning of this post to view those posts).  This is my second cycle through the sides of the debate. I’ll be posting next on theistic evolution.

Sources:

Nelson, Paul. “Applying Design Within Biology.” Mere Creation.  InterVarsity Press. 1998. 148-174.

Dembski, William. “Redesigning Science.” Mere Creation. InterVarsity Press. 1998. 93-112.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

The Dialogue Continues: Intelligent Design

This is another post in my series on the origins of life, the debate/argument within Christianity. See other posts in this series here.

I recently finished reading The Making of an Atheist by James S. Spiegel and while the book was by no means about the origins of life, one quote in particular made me think about this series I’ve been doing. Spiegel writes, “Once life appears, the only remaining rational debate should be among theists–as to how God did it, whether through special creation, natural selection, or some combination of these means. The issue of origins should be an in-house theistic debate” (50, emphasis mine).

I tend to agree. This series of posts seeks to foster that very in-house debate. Intelligent Design is another option I will explore in this ongoing series.

Intelligent design (hereafter ID) is often dismissed outright in discussions of this sort. Creationists see it as evolution-in-disguise, while theistic evolutionists view it as creationism-in-disguise. So what is it? Some of this aversion may be due to the fact that the modern ID movement suffered greatly in its definitions. Initially, due to the wide range of scholars involved, it weakened its scientific position in favor of a more theological one. Recently, however, this has been turned about.There is much discussion among theists and non-theists alike about the viability of ID, but it seems clear that ID is here to stay. Books like Signature in the Cell by Stephen Meyer continue to draw flak from all sides, but they also continue to push thinking minds to stretch and consider the ideas contained therein.

William Dembski is seen by some as the father of the modern ID movement. His book, Intelligent Design is a good introduction (though it is quite heavy both scientifically and philosophically) to the movement.

“Intelligent design is three things,” according to Dembski, “a scientific research program that investigates the effect of intelligent causes; an intellectual movement that challenges Darwinism and its naturalistic legacy; and a way of understanding divine action” (Dembski, 13). ID is based on empirically testing for design within systems (109). According to ID, mutation-selection mechanisms cannot account for the diversity of life (113).

How exactly is design discovered empirically? It is based on probability calculus, among other means (130). Central to ID is the notion of “irreducible complexity”. “A system is irreducibly complex if it consists of several interrelated parts so that removing even one part completely destroys the system’s function” (147). Dembski argues that this is a fully empirical question, “individually knocking out each protein constituting a biochemical system will determine whether function is lost. If it is, we are dealing with an irreducibly complex system. Protein knock-out experiments of this sort are routine in biology” (149).

Another important notion is complex specified information. This needs explanation, and it is explanation that naturalistic evolution cannot provide (167-169).

Dembski’s book is monumentally important for those Christians wanting to explore the origins debate. In the appendix he answers many of the objections to ID (God of the gaps, not science, etc.).

Theologically, ID could be subject to the same objections I would raise against theistic evolution. Why death before sin? Specifically, why human death before sin? Interestingly, ID can serve of an example of what a friend of mine suggested in my first post on Old Earth Creationism: combining various explanations as one sees fit. Take Hugh Ross’s RTB model, which argues that humans are specially created. One could easily combine this model with ID to make the model even more challenging to standard evolutionary models. Not only that, but this avoids the theological error inherent in theistic evolution (more on theistic evolution and possible ways to solve this problem in an upcoming post).

I have never claimed to be a scientist. The more science I read, the more I realize that in such a vast ocean of work, I can never even begin to unearth the tip of the iceberg. Thus, my scientific analysis of ID amounts, basically, to only being able to judge it on what I know. I have read rebuttals to arguments for irreducible complexity, but I remain unconvinced by these rebuttals. I find Dembski’s argument rather convincing, though some examples he uses may need to be rethought.

Thus, after my first go-round, in which I explored theistic evolution, old earth creationism, young earth creationism, and intelligent design, I must say that my mind is less muddled than before. Picking and choosing from these theories can be quite fun. Not only that, but it can expand one’s faith walk. I encourage fellow Christians to expand their borders. Think about these hard questions. Most importantly, judge all things by God’s Word, the Bible. The Word of God stands, unchanged, forever. Jesus has died for our sins once for all. This does not change. Science continually changes (not an argument against science). The Christian should base his/her worldview on the foundation: Christ the Cornerstone.

I’m looking forward to round two!

Dembski, William. Intelligent Design. IVP Academic. 1999.

Spiegel, James. The Making of an Atheist. Moody Publishers. 2010.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

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