A response to Larry Arnhart
by Casey Luskin
[last revised 10/6/04]
In November of 2002, I had the opportunity, along with some other IDEA Center staff members, to go on the air on a local radio station discussing the intelligent design debates at Hillsdale College. We were invited to speak by talk show host Michael Law, who had flown to Hillsdale to directly cover the debates. Our role was to be talking heads back in the radio studio giving the “play-by-play” commentary on the debates.
The experience was incredibly fun, and a bit challenging (being on call for radio commentary sometimes felt like being called on in one of my law classes and asked to instantaneously say something clever on a subject about which I may or may not have previously ever thought about!). We had the chance to sit back in the studio and listen to various segments of the tape, and then respond. Mr. Law even gave us the chance to do some on-air dialogues with various personalities at the debates, including perceptive students who had been swayed one way, or the other by the debaters.
One of the personalities at the debates (who we didn’t get a chance to dialogue with) was philosopher Larry Arnhart. I remember being highly impressed with two aspects of Arnhart’s presentation: Firstly, Arnhart was a theistic evolutionist and a committed Darwinist, but yet he felt that this debate was something students should learn about in schools. If I remember correctly, he went as far as to not object to students learning about intelligent design. This open-minded commitment to liberal ideals of education is something for which Arnhart might receive flack from many in the Darwinist community, and I remember thinking he should be commended for taking such a bold stand. Secondly, I felt that in contrast to many other Darwinist participants in the debate at large, Arnhart showed his opponents a high level of respect and took them seriously. Given my experiences with many Darwinists who are not interested in treating ID proponents with respect or kindness, Arnhart's integrity was very refreshing. From everything I could tell, Arnhart was a thoughtful Darwinist who debated with integrity—a position quite possible. I hope that this critique of Arnhart can thus be read in light of the level of respect that I gained for him through my encounter covering this debate. I also hope I can show him the same level of respect I have seen him show his own debate opponents.
The one thing that disappointed me about Arnhart, however, was what I took to be his serious misunderstandings about intelligent design theory, and his probably unintentional mischaracterization of the arguments ID proponents are using. When an essay he wrote for the debate was recently forwarded to me, this reconfirmed my suspicions. Arnhart would do a masterful job of refuting the arguments of his opponents if only his opponents were making the arguments he thinks they are. For this reason, Arnhart refutes the wind.
[block quotes from Arnhart will be in grey boxes]
Refuting the Wind by Promoting Inherit the Wind
Arnhart seems to start his essay with an attempt to put a bad taste in your mouth with regard to intelligent design, namely by coming very close to imposing the Inherit the Wind stereotype:
Allusion to the Scopes Trial is usually intended to call to the mind images of viewpoint suppression and bigotry. Though allegations of bigotry probably comes more from the “Inherit the Wind Stereotype” than history, viewpoint suppression was indeed a real problem at Scopes. The Tennessee Legislature had passed an eminently stupid and un-American law which made it a misdemeanor criminal act to teach evolution in schools. This law was surely an affront to both liberal American educational values and the nature of scientific inquiry. This unfortunate suppression of knowledge about Darwin’s theory would have done Tennessee students at the time a great disservice.
Another stain in anti-evolution history is the fact that famous politician William Jennings Bryan was himself an advocate of banning the teaching of evolution during this time. (Though it should be noted Bryan advocated against having any kind of a criminal penalty for breaking the law and disagreed with the Tennessee legislators when they made a criminal penalty.) But the comparison between modern ID proponents and Bryan breaks down right here. “Modern” intelligent design proponents in no way advocate banning the teaching of evolution. Consider the following statements by ID proponents about education policy:
Arnhart claims there are four similarities between what Bryan argued and what modern ID proponents are saying, in that they make a similar scientific argument, religious argument, moral argument, and political argument. I should state immediately that Arnhart says that he disagrees entirely with ID proponents on all but the political argument. I’d like to take a brief look at each of the “four arguments” and Arnhart’s analysis.
1. The Scientific Argument
Arnhart gives a reasonably accurate treatment of Behe’s notion of irreducible complexity, although Arnhart goes wrong when he writes that because some structures could not evolve, it “points to an intelligent designer outside of nature.” Yet Behe actually writes that inferring design doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about the nature of the designer:
It’s not entirely clear if Arnhart writes this objection because he is making it himself, or because he wants people to know how about the objection generally. Either way, it’s worth responding to. To give an unjust summarization, a common claim by evolutionary biologists is that there is a structure in bacteria called the “Type Three Secretory System (TTSS) which uses some parts of the flagellar system to perform a different pumplike function, and they do argue that natural selection “co-opted” those parts for later use in flagellum. Flagellum researcher Scott Minnich and ID theorist Stephen Meyer recently dealt with this issue directly in a paper they presented at an ID conference in Greece:
Firstly, Arnhart characterizes William Dembski as if Dembski is arguing that the intelligent agent must have been disembodied:
Arnhart's essay does not contain references, so he doesn’t tell us where, if ever, Dembski has actually ever made such an argument. If Dembski ever did, then Dembski has revised his argument in light of such criticisms. In Dembski’s recent book, The Design Revolution, he notes that it does not matter if the designer was embodied or disembodied because “embodiment is irrelevant … we always attribute intelligent design on the basis of an inference from empirical data and never on the basis of a direct encounter with a designer’s mental processes.”
The point is that, fundamental to intelligent design theory, when intelligent agents act, they exercise choice and are capable of problem solving. As Dembski writes, "for an intelligent agent to act is therefore to choose from a range of competing possibilities." In essence, intelligent agents, be they embodied or disembodied, are capable of thinking with the end in mind to create a complex arrangement of parts that conforms to a specific pattern to fulfill some function. It thus does not matter if they were embodied or disembodied—they will produce the same type of informational pattern as a product either way. Dembski argues this point:
Arnhart’s next charge is that design is inferred through purely negative reasoning. This charge might find a stronger basis in the writings of some ID proponents, such as Dembski:
Firstly, Dembski merely is providing a simple way to detect intelligent design and shows how to rule out competing hypotheses—Dembski often casts his argument in terms of helping us to make a common intuitive argument—he is not arguing that design has no positive content. But, his fundamental premise is that “the primary, empirically verifiable thing that intelligences do generate is specified complexity.”
If intelligent agents tend to produce this type of specified complexity, then it seems clear that design does have positive content. Though it is arguable that Dembski may cast inferring design in negativistic terms, this induction could not be made for the fact that ID does make some positive predictions. In fact, Dembski is not the only theorist out there talking about how to infer design and many ID theorists frame the argument for design in purely positive terms. Stephen C. Meyer is an example of one who relies solely upon the positive predictions of intelligent design:
Indeed, in all cases where we know the causal origin of 'high information content,' experience has shown that intelligent design played a causal role." 
Intelligent design provides a sufficient causal explanation for the origin of large amounts of information, since we have considerable experience of intelligent agents generating informational configurations of matter." 
Similarly, Arnhart attacks the rhetorical tactics of ID proponents stating that Jonathan Wells just criticizes Darwinism without putting forth his own positive account. But Jonathan Wells’ book Icons of Evolution has nothing to do with intelligent design. It was written by a biologist who had questions about evolution—the phrase “intelligent design” is found nowhere in Wells’ book nor are there any allusions to the theory. To claim, because Wells doesn't mention design, that therefore design theorists are making purely negative arguments against evolution is surely a tenuous “we know what he really is doing” type of argument. It takes Wells’ arguments much further than is facially possible. Sure, many ID proponents do cite Wells’ work, but this is because design proponents see weaknesses in the competing theory of evolution. Wells' work is not intended to constitute an in-and-of-itself set of evidence for design, but it can be part of the overall case. Recall that a good chunk of Darwin’s arguments were composed of dysteleological (i.e. anti-Divine-design) arguments that did not necessarily constitute any proof for evolution. Darwin won because he did make some positive predictions which convinced many. Similarly, ID does make positive predictions—it is not a mere negative argument against evolution. To call it such requires one to ignore a great part of what ID proponents are saying.
Arnhart then sets a very high standard for what sort of arguments would have to be made by ID proponents before their arguments could be considered “positive” evidence for design:
Herein lies a fundamental misunderstanding that Arnhart seems to have with respect to both the nature of many scientific inferences, and the type of argument design theorists are making in general. Intelligent design theorists are arguing that we can understand that intelligent agents will produce certain types of complexity. This type of information would be the same whether the designer was embodied or disembodied. This is like a fundamental premise of intelligent design theory, and it comes from our understanding of how intelligent agents in general (regardless of their metaphysical form) operate and from observations of the type of information they tend to produce. Thus, when we detect design, we are looking for a certain pattern in nature which bears the hallmarks of having been produced by an intelligent agent:
Philosopher Larry Laudan gives a similar example from geology:
Similarly, intelligent design theory may not be able to provide all the details about how the design was implemented in the natural world, but it could still detect the “hallmarks” or pattern which implies that an object was designed, and make certain scientific claims under a firm empirical basis. As Dembski writes, design theory detects "patterns known to signal intelligent causes." 
A full account of the details of how, when, and why that pattern was produced need not be known to be able to safely infer that it is the result of intelligent action.
Arnhart does raise one somewhat reasonable objection to intelligent design:
Scientists may one day discover new laws which can generate great biological complexity, but this objection, of course, assumes that there is no positive evidence for intelligent design which could sustain it in light of any future discoveries. At the very least intelligent design today could remain the best explanation even if some scientists are still seeking other mechanisms. To accept design as a working hypothesis but not allow it to become a “science stopper” by continuing to search for other fruitful avenues of research would represent a very healthy state of science. If, some day, another theory instead of intelligent design can better explain the data, then this seems to imply that we only hold design tentatively, fulfilling a property of science declared vital by many authorities (and critics of ID). Furthermore, because of its aforementioned strong positive predictions, intelligent design could stand as a viable hypothesis even in the future presence of competing theories which could also explain the data. Intelligent design should be taken seriously today, and in the face of future possible discoveries.
Finally, Arnhart takes Dembski wildly out of context to try to establish the claim that Dembski really is trying to argue that the designer must be supernatural (which, Arnhart argues, if it was, it would be disembodied, disallowing us to understand its effect upon the natural world  ).
Arnhart claims that Dembski’s arguments go beyond inferring mere design in general, but require supernatural design:
(this quote from Dembski is herein referred to as the “Logos quote”)
Arnhart’s principle use of this quote is to claim that Dembski is arguing we can detect divine design, i.e. that the God of the Bible is the designer. If we take into account the context in which Dembski writes this statement, we can see that it is wildly out of context to claim Dembski is arguing that we can detect that the designer is the God of the Bible. (I try to make minimal use of the "out-of-context" charge unless absolutely necessary, which it is in this case.) What led Arnhart to conflate Dembski’s argument? The line of reasoning could be subtle. Let’s explore it.
Arnhart seems to fail to recognize that one can study a subject through both scientific and theological lenses. As a theistic evolutionist, he may ascribe to the “separate realms” or “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” (NOMA) model of science and religion, which mistakenly claims that religion and science can never talk about the same subject. This assumption is flagrantly false, for religion and science are very capable of talking about the same subject. Though religion and science can talk about the same subject, they are different ways of talking about the same subject. In essence, they are different “ways of knowing” they can be different ways of knowing about the same subject. Religion “knows” or makes claims via faith or divine revelation. Science, in contrast, attempts to have no faith and rely only upon the authority of observations of the natural world. Science’s way of knowing is the scientific method (observation, hypothesis, experiment, conclusion). When Dembski writes books like The Design Inference (Cambridge University Press, 1998), Dembski is looking at the design question from a scientific standpoint, making a scientific argument. Thus, he argues that we can detect design empirically, but that one cannot determine the identity of the designer through studying the data via the scientific method. Dembski writes:
That Dembski approaches design from both a scientific and religious perspective is unsurprising, for he holds Ph.D’s in both mathematics and philosophy, as well as a Master of Divinity degree. He is thus an ideal candidate to talk about the subject of design from various vantagepoints: sometimes using religious methods, and sometimes using scientific methods. Arnhart gets confused because he thinks that when Dembski calls the designer God, Dembski is making a scientific argument. Dembski isn’t making any sort of scientific argument, and a cursory look at the article being quoted reveals that the Logos quote comes from an article written in a Christian magazine, (Touchstone), written for a Christian audience, talking about the implications of intelligent design theory within the context of the Christian faith. Such a context is perfectly consistent with the aim and goal of Touchstone Magazine:
Dembski is not stating that intelligent design as a science implies the designer is God. He's interpreting the theory as a philosopher and a theologian within the context of his own faith. If intelligent design is correct, as Dembski believes, he has every right to talk about it in the context of his Christian faith as Arnhart has to interpret the meaning of evolution (which Arnhart believes is correct) within the context of Arnhart’s Christian faith. (And Arnhart does much interpreting of the meaning of evolution for Christianity in his own work and in the essay being critiqued here) This Touchstone article is not just a scientific article—it explicitly goes "beyond" the science. Of course Dembski believes the designer is the God of the Bible, but he “knows” this not through the scientific method, but through faith and his religious beliefs about divine revelation. Of course Dembski probably thinks that intelligent design theory might support some aspects of his religious beliefs, but he clearly never makes the argument that scientific theory can demonstrate that the designer is the God of the Bible.
In short, the Logos quote discusses ID in terms of its religious implications, interpreting the scientific claims of intelligent design from Dembski’s religious perspective. However, Dembski also writes, "Design theorists attempt to demonstrate its merits fair and square in the scientific world — without appealing to religious authority."
The science of intelligent design thus makes no claims about the supernatural and does not extend itself beyond what the data can claim: that life bears the tell-tale marks of being designed. But if you accept the scientific theory of intelligent design then you can interpret the implications of intelligent design in the context of your beliefs. And that's how the Logos quote is talking about design.
Arnhart thinks that ID is religion. In this quote from Dembski, there is no indication that Dembski is arguing for intelligent design from a scientific standpoint. Dembski is talking within the context of Christian theology—he is talking about this from a religious perspective, not in terms of what we can infer scientifically. Dembski is discussing the implications of design from his Christian religious viewpoint.
Because of all this, when Arnhart writes that ID proponents are trying to explicitly infer the existence of a divine intelligence Arnhart is off base, for ID proponents are not trying to explicitly identify a divine intelligence. In reality, ID proponents are trying to identify AN intelligence, and for the purpose of their theory, it doesn’t really matter whether the intelligence is embodied or disembodied, “natural” or “supernatural.”
Arnhart repeats a criticism made by David Hume long ago that if we don’t have direct experience of divine action, then we can’t infer divine action. Arnhart is only partially correct when he writes that “observing human intelligent design is not the same as observing divine intelligent design” for in reality, if all intelligent agents have some similar properties, then we can assume that they would behave the same whether they were human or divine. This is where Dembski goes deeper in his analysis of intelligent design to rebut Arnhart’s point, and Arnhart gives it only a cursory treatment and leaves it at that. Dembski’s fundamental argument is that when intelligent agents act, they choose from a range of competing possibilities. We see this in our daily lives:
2. The Religious Argument
Arnhart claims that the Bible supports the theistic evolution position. I’m not going to argue in response what the what the Bible does or does not say on this point. What I am going to do, is recount an interesting story told to me by an ID proponent, who we will call "J".
J. was once on a train with Phillip Johnson, and they were chatting about theistic evolutionists. J. noted that Phillip Johnson said he was tired of hearing theistic evolutionists say things like "because the Bible allows for the theistic evolution position, the theistic evolution position must be true."
”The most uninteresting question,” Johnson pondered “is to ask what God could have done in creating nature.” "But," Johnson continued, “This is uninteresting because God could have done anything He wanted in creating nature.” J. then asked Phillip Johnson, “So what is an interesting question?”
Johnson replied, “The interesting question, is what God DID do in creating nature.”
I think I agree here with Phillip Johnson. As a Christian, I believe God could have used a variety of methods and means to create. My Christian faith will not die if intelligent design is proven false, but I think it’s a theory at least worth investigating.
3. The Moral Argument:
Arnhart quotes Nancy Pearcey as if her only argument that Darwinism influences morality comes from a pop-culture song talking about how people "ain't nothing but mammals." Whether or not Darwinism is a major cause of moral decline in our culture, there is no doubt that Pearcey’s argument goes much deeper than that. In her recent book Total Truth, Pearcey quotes from prominent sociologists, ethicists, and evolutionary psychologists such as Stephen Pinker, E.O. Wilson, Peter Singer, Randy Thornhill, and Robert Wright. Her case seems deeper than Arnhart would have us believe, and looks at the ethical claims made by a host of modern Darwinists. Arnhart may be correct that Darwinism is not going to turn everyone into moral hedonists, but Pearcey's claims about the moral reach of Darwinism cannot be dismissed simply by alluding to the fact that she quotes from a pop-culture song.
Arnhart quotes Darwin to claim that Darwinism supports a traditional sort of morality: Darwin wrote that there was a “natural ‘moral sense’ rooted in the natural desires of the human animal.” Darwin is entitled to his position. In fact, I have known many Darwinists who are very moral people who have a very strong sense of right and wrong--and this goes for both atheistic evolutionists and theistic evolutionists. But the fact of the matter is that it is hard to establish any general moral norms from evolution. Arnhart quotes Darwin to support a traditional morality, but the fact of the matter is that many evolutionary psychologists today are arguing that many traditionally immoral tendencies (such as the urge to kill, rape, lie, cheat, and steal) have also been instilled in our behavior-causing genes by natural selection.
The fact that Arnhart quotes Darwin stating that humans should have a moral instinct only confirms my suspicion (and experience in school) that evolutionary psychology can be used to validate just about any behavior, including polar opposite behaviors. Pearcey agrees:
(This is not to say that evolution hasn't been used by many in the past to justify many sorts of behaviors, or social policies [such as eugenics], or also today to explore the justification of various behaviors [such as infanticide]. I'm just saying that it seems tough to use evolution to establish any kind of general moral norms.)
I don't know what kind of morality evolution really endorses. The philosopher Arnhart seems to think it endorses something like an explicitly Christian set of values. Many evolutionary psychologists and philosophers are using evolution to proclaim a set of ethics which fails to condemn certain traditionally immoral behaviors because "people's naturally-selected genes made them do it." That these behaviors are polar opposites just shows me that evolution doesn't provide a sound basis for establishing moral norms in general.
I believe the field of evolutionary psychology is not very useful as a science (or for those who wish to develop a set of evolutionary ethics) because it can easily justify one behavior through one scenario, and then justify the polar opposite behavior under a scenario providing an alternative set of selection pressure. That also makes it quite useless as a foundation for a philosophy. All one has to do is come up with a just-so story where that behavior would aid in survival in some cases and one can justify just about any behavior (or diametrically opposed ones). So, I suppose the only place where I would differ with Arnhart is in his expectation that evolution can be used to justify a Christian-like set of values, much less any set of values.
Arnhart is fond of quoting Darwin, and quite frankly I don't care about what Darwin thought regarding evolution and ethics. Evolutionary psychologists and evolutionary ethicists today spend little time quoting Darwin, but spend a lot of time justifying some pretty outlandish moral claims. In retrospect, perhaps some of my evolutionary biology professors were right: evolutionary science should stay out of the realm of morality and values. But one thing that evolutionary biologists and theistic evolutionists don't realize is that for many evolutionary psychologists (and other evolutionists) evolution DOES FUNCTION for them a universal acid. This makes Nancy Pearcey quite perceptive to title her chapter on the reach of Darwinism, "Today Biology, Tomorrow the World."
4. The Political Argument:
Here I am pleased to say that Arnhart is in agreement so there isn’t much to say in the form of a critique. There's not much to say in response and so I would just like to let Arnhart speak for himself because his attitude towards education is a powerful one with lessons that all of us, Darwinists, and ID proponents, could learn from:
 Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods, page 54.
 Michael Behe, Teach Evolution and Ask Hard Questions, New York Times A21, August 13, 1999.
 Phillip Johnson, The Wedge of Truth 82 (InterVarsity Press 1999). Contrary to what the press reported and what is popularly believed, the 1999 Kansas School Board did not completely remove evolution from its curriculum. See page 63ff for full details.
 Stephen C. Meyer, Teach the Controversy, Cincinnati Enquirer, March 30, 2002.
 Jonathan Wells, Give students the resources to critique Darwin, Kansas City Star, Sunday, August 1st, 1999, K-4.
 Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, page 197.
 Michael Behe, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 02/08/01. For discussions in Behe’s book which make it eminently clear that one can make many inferences about the nature of the designer from the data alone, see Darwin’s Black Box, pages, 196-197, 232-253.
 Scott A. Minnich and Stephen C. Meyer, “Genetic analysis of coordinate flagellar and type III regulatory circuits in pathogenic bacteria.” Available at “http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=2181&program=CSC%20-%20Scientific%20Research%20and%20Scholarship%20-%20Science”.
 William Dembski, The Design Revolution, page 192.
 William Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology, page 144.
 William Dembski, The Design Revolution, page 194.
 Dembski, The Design Revolution, pages 193-194.
 William Dembski, The Design Revolution, pages 193-194.
 Stephen C. Meyer, Mere Creation, page 140.
 Stephen C. Meyer, DNA and Other Designs
Meyer S. C. et. al., "The Cambrian Explosion: Biology's Big Bang," in Darwinism, Design, and Public Education, edited by J. A. Campbell and S. C. Meyer (Michigan State University Press, 2003).
 William Dembski, The Design Revolution, page 41, emphasis added.
 David K. DeWolf, Stephen C. Meyer, Mark Edward DeForrest, Teaching the Origins Controversy: Science, Or Religion, Or Speech?, 2000 Utah L. Rev. 39, 71-72 (2000).
 Larry Laudan cited in Id. at 72.
 William Dembski, The Design Revolution, page 41.
 See the discussion above regarding embodied and disembodied designers for a discussion of this point
 William Dembski’s quote was taken from Touchstone Magazine, July/August, 1999, page 84.
 Touchstone Magazine, description of purpose on page 3, July/August, 1999.
 William Dembski, The Design Revolution, page 45.
 Arnhart writes: “But from an apparently well-designed organic process or entity, we cannot plausibly infer the existence of a divine intelligent designer as its cause, because we have no common experience of how a divine experience designs things for divine purposes.”
 William Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology, page 144.
 William Dembski, No Free Lunch, pages 28-29. See also William A. Dembski, The Design Inference.
 Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth, page 216.