biological design argument

This tag is associated with 5 posts

Book Review: “Undeniable” by Douglas Axe

undeniable-axeUndeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life is Designed by Douglas Axe is an explanation of Intelligent Design theory at a lay level. Axe contends that by appealing to “common science”—the notion that experience is integral to how we live and that each individual is, in a sense, a scientist because we use experience to make models and figure out how things work (60-61)—the inference to design will be vindicated.

A central aspect of Axe’s case is appeal to what he calls “The Universal Design Intuition” defined as “Tasks that we would need knowledge to accomplish can be accomplished only by someone who has that knowledge” (20). This intuition, argues Axe, is supported by experimental data, including difficulties with forming proteins to form specific chemical transformations (33ff). He also utilizes mathematical modeling to show that it is effectively impossible to achieve certain results purely by chance (89ff). It is insight that is required to achieve the results that we see in biology, he argues. There is no amount of repetition possible to offset the improbability of life in our universe and life as we see (103).

Counter-arguments to design are addressed, including the multiverse. Axe argues that “aimless wandering” of chance effectively means that anything but design for the results we observe is impossible. There is a specific “target area” which must be achieved to get life, and the odds against hitting that target are infinitesimal to the point that they are practically impossible (113ff).

Ultimately, Axe concludes, “Functional coherence makes accidental invention fantastically improbable and therefore physically impossible” (160). The sheer improbability stacked against the notion that life could evolve functionally to new life forms makes it physically impossible, thus showing that design is the best inference when it comes to life. Scenarios which are alleged to show evolution in action require tweaking from outside, thus demonstrating that insight and design are required for life (198ff; 209). Moreover, “Nothing evolves unless it already exists” (214), and the existence of life cannot merely evolve from non-life given the probabilities stacked against it.

Why, then, do so few scientists advocate for design or see it in nature? Axe’s answer to this question is that there is enormous bias and no small amount of power being wielded against the design inference: “Harm comes to science not by people hoping to find a particular result but by people trying to suppress results that go against their hopes” (45). He argues that there is at least some intentional suppression of design theory and that new ideas take time to gain space in academia (46ff; 215ff).

Axe’s argument is geared towards lay readers, though it does have a few new things to offer those who have read the majority of ID literature already. His analysis of the mathematics behind design inferences will help gain an understanding of what is meant by “possible” in logical vs. physical senses. Moreover, his firsthand experience of experimental confirmation gives him a voice that is not often heard in defense of ID. It is not merely modeling that is happening, but rather experimentation with results.

That said, there are a few issues in the book. First, I think that the continued appeal to bias as the reason for rejecting ID is overdone. Although some certainly do reject ID due to bias against  the notion of a creator or designer, there are many who reject it because they find its arguments either inconclusive or mistaken. Bias exists, but it is not the only reason for rejecting ID theory any more than materialism is the only reason for rejecting ID. Second, evolution is treated as a kind of singular entity, with natural selection as the only mechanism proposed to accomplish the diversification of species. Though he acknowledges some efforts to modify evolutionary theory that acknowledge other mechanisms (220-224), he dismisses such efforts as “patching holes” instead of as serious alternative proposals. I admit I have no expertise in evolutionary biology, but I am familiar enough with the idea to know that several different notions of how evolution may produce new life forms are proposed, and that most acknowledge some combination of several factors is probably right. It seemed strange for Axe to largely dismiss these as dead ends. Third, there are several points of the argument that seemed rushed or simply passed by. I understand this is a book for laity, but the movement from seeing some aspect of evolution as physically impossible to design is an inference that requires some explanation beyond assertion.

Overall, Undeniable provides more food for thought for those interested in Intelligent Design and the debate between ID advocates and opponents. Axe does offer some insights that I, at least, haven’t read anywhere else. The book is also written at a level that almost any reader could pick it up and get the core of Axe’s argument. Those interested in the debate over Intelligent Design would be well-served to pick up a copy. I will be interested in seeing what responses are offered.

The Good

+Good introduction to ID theory
+A fresh take on some aspects of ID
+Use of examples that are easy to understand

The Bad

-Relies too much upon perceived bias in science
-Skims through much argumentation
-Little interaction with alternate evolutionary scenarios

Source

Douglas Axe, Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life is Designed (New York: HarperOne, 2016).

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher. I was not obligated to provide any specific feedback whatsoever.

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SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- Methodological Naturalism Makes a Farce of Empirical Investigation?

ddd-klinghoffer

Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Methodological Naturalism Makes a Farce of Empirical Investigation?

I’ve been reading through Debating Darwin’s Doubt, which is a collection of essays responding to various critics of Stephen Meyer’s major work arguing for intelligent design within biology, Darwin’s Doubt. In one of the essays, Paul Nelson, a philosopher of biology, directly addresses whether methodological naturalism–the notion that science must offer always and only physical, material causes as explanations–is a viable restriction on scientific inquiry:

[Methodological naturalism] “…makes a farce of empirical investigation, because the outcome of any research could never be in doubt: some material or physical cause must be affirmed as the explanation. If you don’t find one, try harder; just keep looking until you do. (288, cited below)

The point that is being made is that methodological naturalism is itself a limiting factor imposed upon scientific inquiry, rather than something that is required for scientific inquiry. I sympathize with this critique, to be frank. Whatever one thinks of the merits (or lack thereof) of the notion of intelligent design, I think that the sheer possibility of using inference to best explanation to detect intelligent agency is not itself anything to undermine scientific inquiry. Indeed, why should said inquiry be limited unnecessarily? Reject those theories which do not have the evidence to support them; but I don’t think we should do so simply by ruling out some varieties of theory a priori.

Debating Darwin’s Doubt has been an intriguing read so far.

Links

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Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Paul Nelson, “Methodological Naturalism: A Rule That No One Needs or Obeys” in Debating Darwin’s Doubt edited David Klinghoffer (Seattle, WA: Discovery Institute Press, 2015).

SDG.

Book Review: “God’s Crime Scene” by J. Warner Wallace

gcs-wallaceJ. Warner Wallace is the a homicide detective and the author of Cold Case Christianity, one of my favorite introductory apologetics books (see my review). He recently came out with his second apologetics book, God’s Crime Scene. The former work focuses on the evidence for the resurrection and the reliability of the New Testament. In God’s Crime Scene, Wallace makes a convincing case presenting evidence for the existence of God.

The first question I think readers will ask is: “What separates this introductory apologetics book from the pack?”

That’s a valid question. There really are a rather large number of intro-to-apologetics books on the market now (thank goodness!). God’s Crime Scene is different from the rest in that it makes real-world examples central to the case that is made therein. That is, Wallace uses examples of crime scenes that he has experienced throughout the book (sans much of the gory details) to set the stage for each exploration of a different argument for the existence of God.

The way this works is simple: each chapter begins with a story that reads much like a mystery novel. Then, Wallace asks a question like “How might we figure out the evidence inside the room with the victim?” After he presents an answer to that question, he shows how similar evidence inside our own “room” (the universe) points to a being outside the room (aka a transcendent being) as the explanation. This makes the book eminently readable while also being almost immediately applicable.

The arguments that Wallace surveys are the cosmological argument, the fine-tuning argument. an argument from the origin of life, a biological design argument, the argument from consciousness, the argument from free will, and the moral argument. Then, he examines the problem of evil before summing up the case. Each chapter presents a look at the evidence, non-theistic explanations (with critiques), and an argument for why a theistic explanation is superior. The chapters then end with what this evidence tells us about God.

Wallace does a great job summing up many of the arguments involved in some of the standard theistic proofs. Each is analyzed briefly, but with a sometimes astonishing amount of information packed into a tight space. Thus, careful reading is required, and the benefit from a careful read is immense.

There are many illustrations and sidebars found throughout the book. These illustrations are always helpful rather than distracting, and highlight key parts of the arguments that Wallace makes. The sidebars are often discussions of how to weigh evidence according to the U.S. Criminal Justice system or Expert Witnesses that are either for or against the presented argument (this latter point is worth highlighting: Wallace does not only appeal to those with whom he agrees–he fairly presents the opposition’s viewpoint and even references their works directly).

There are a few criticisms I would offer. The first is that it seems like some conclusions are reached rather hurriedly, which is addressed in part through the excellent appendices that add more detail to the cases. Even there, however, one gets a sense that the sheer volume of material to cover is at times a stretch, with some objections only given two or so sentences as rebuttals. The other, admittedly nitpicky issue is that it does seem a little bit weird to have the analogue of the criminal being God. That is, the analogy being used is that just like we can detect a criminal through investigation of a murder scene, so to could we detect God through investigation of the universe. It just seems a little weird. It works; but it’s worth mentioning.

God’s Crime Scene is a valuable resource for those interested in apologetics. The way it is written makes it exciting rather than a chore, and the huge amount of information and argumentation contained therein is well worth the price of entry. I highly recommend it.

The Good

+Great use of criminal investigations to highlight points
+Clear exposition of arguments
+Good illustrations that add to what is written
+Real-world situations increase possibility of retaining information
+Includes experts who are not only theists but also anti-theists

The Bad

-Conclusions at times feel rushed
-A bit weird to have analogue of criminal as God

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. They did not require any specific kind of feedback whatsoever. 

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Source

J. Warner Wallace, God’s Crime Scene (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2015).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Debating Darwin’s Doubt” – A Response to the Doubters?

ddd-klinghofferA new book is coming out from the Discovery Institute, a think-tank that explores issues of Intelligent Design. It is entitled Debating Darwin’s Doubt and basically offers a set of essays on Stephen Meyer’s work, Darwin’s Doubt, itself a pretty massive treatise arguing for the viability of Intelligent Design.

The book has 44 essays in it, some of which are only 3-4 pages long. Others are lengthier, the longest being 18 pages (based on my quick glance at the table of contents).

Concerns

I’m concerned that so many of the essays are so short. I know from experience that packing a bunch of detailed argument into that small a space can be extremely challenging, and it would be a shame if we don’t get substantive responses to the criticisms offered by so many varied sources to Meyer’s argument.

I’m concerned that there are already reviews on Amazon from people who haven’t even read the book complaining about the selection of authors or calling it pseudo-science. Regardless of one’s view on this debate, should not a “review” be a legitimate interaction with the text rather than just offering an opinion on the topic?

Hopes

I hope that the book spurs discussion rather than shutting it down. Too often, debates over intelligent design turn into name-calling fests on both sides. I sincerely doubt that’s at all what this book will do. Instead, I’m hoping that the book’s publication will lead to more fruitful discussions about the possibility (or not) of biological intelligent design.

I hope that the book will garner wide readership and so provide means for intelligent discussions on the topic to continue, and new research opportunities to be explored.

What’s Next

Well, I’m hoping to read the book when it comes out! I’ll certainly post on it when I get to it. I would love, in the meantime, to read your own thoughts as it comes out, or on what your own hopes and concerns are.

SDG.

Sunday Quote!- Intelligent Design: Seeing is Believing

god-design-mansonEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Intelligent Design: Seeing is Believing

Del Ratzsch, in his essay “Perceiving Design,” argues that the intelligent design movement and its detractors might both be pursuing misguided notions of trying to show that detecting design might be a chain of inference (or not) and then engaging in debate over analogies or things that are conceived as specific empirical examples of design. The reason this is a misguided quest is because, he argues, design is not something that is an inference, but rather perceived. We recognize something is designed by seeing it. After arguing that this is indeed the case, he notes that the strategy of the current intelligent design project should probably change:

The most effective strategy may be… simply to situate a person in experientially favorable circumstances, and hope that any scales will fall from his or her eyes. (137, cited below)

I found Ratzsch’s argument to be interesting, though I’m not sure how it is supposed to impact arguments over design being present in biology. His essay is short and focused on the question of design-as-perception, but he never provides a mechanism for how, exactly, one is supposed to develop that concept into something like a biological design argument. It is very difficult to determine how one might proceed along those lines. I’m sure Ratzsch has some ideas of how it might work, but without any hint, we are left to wonder what such a design argument might look like. Would it really come down to an appeal to someone to sit down, look at something as intricate as the cell, and hope that the “scales will fall from his or her eyes”? It seems that is the direction Ratzsch’s insight would take us.

However, elsewhere in the same paper (132-134) it seems he suggests there can be some relation between inference and perception, but that perception is the “base level” experience of design. One might argue that a reduction to design-as-perception would be a step back for those trying to make empirical arguments for biological design. Perhaps, however, it could be something added back into broader design arguments. Surely, we as Christians believe that the “heavens declare [God’s] handiwork” (Psalm 19). Maybe it is time to allow nature to do some of that declaring; even alongside empirical arguments.

What do you think? How might the notion of design-as-perception help us develop design arguments? Is it helpful at all? Should we reduce design arguments to perceptual arguments?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Del Ratzsch, “Perceiving Design” in God and Design ed. Neil Manson (New York: Routledge, 2003).

SDG.

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