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Refuting the Wind: A Tolerant, Thoughtful Darwinist Who Misunderstands Intelligent Design

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:

“The modern intelligent design movement in America originated with William Jennings Bryan when he began the Christian fundamentalist attack on Darwinism that led to the dramatic trial of John Scopes in 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee.”

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.[1]) 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: Michael Behe: “Teach Darwin's elegant theory. But also discuss where it has real problems accounting for the data, where data are severely limited….”[2] Phillip Johnson was critical of the Kansas School Board which in 1999 removed some aspects of macroevolution from the curriculum. He coined the oft-used term "teach the controversy" to describe a policy where students genuinely learn about both evolution and intelligent design theory: What educators in Kansas and elsewhere should be doing is to “teach the controversy.” Of course students should learn the orthodox Darwinian theory and the evidence that supports it, but they should also learn why so many are skeptical, and they should hear the skeptical arguments in their strongest form rather than in a caricature intended to make them look as silly as possible.[3] Stephen C. Meyer also endorses teaching evidence both for and against evolution: Teaching the controversy … will engage student interest. It will motivate students to learn more about the biological evidence as they see why it matters to a big question. This is not only good teaching; it is good science. As Darwin wrote in the Origin of Species, “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.”[4] Jonathan Wells concurs with teaching evolution, as well as evidence against evolution: “Students should be taught about Darwinian evolution because it is enormously influential in modern biology. But they should also be given the resources to evaluate the theory critically.”[5] From those formulating the policy (Johnson and Meyer) to those who contend for the science of the ID movement (Behe, Meyers, and Wells), ID proponents clearly endorse teaching evolution, as well as teaching evidence which does not support evolution, such as that which might support intelligent design theory. ID proponents thus do not recommend banning the teaching of evolution, making Arnhart’s comparison of modern ID proponents to the always-inflammatory Scopes Trial highly suspect.

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: "The conclusion that something was designed can be made quite independently of knowledge of the designer. As a matter of procedure, the design must first be apprehended before there can be any further question about the designer. The inference to design can be held with all the firmness that is possible in this world, without knowing anything about the designer.[6] Behe might believe the designer is God (in fact I think that’s what he would say if you asked him) but Behe’s scientific argument does not go that far. It would be impossible that Behe is making the argument that detection of design must equal supernatural design, because that is inconsistent with what he writes both in his book and elsewhere: Although intelligent design fits comfortably with a belief in God, it doesn't require it, because the scientific theory doesn't tell you who the designer is. While most people - including myself - will think the designer is God, some people might think that the designer was a space alien or something odd like that."[7] Arnhart then turns to the typical objections from evolutionary biologists to claims of irreducible complexity. He summarizes this well:

"[C]omplex biochemical mechanisms can be assembled by natural selection working indirectly by combining smaller mechanisms that originally served some other function. Just as we might pull a spring from a clock and use the spring as a part for building a mousetrap, so natural selection builds complex machines from whatever parts are available. If we find certain structures within bacteria that have parts resembling the parts of the flagellar system, then we can consider the possibility that natural selection used parts originally adapted for one function to serve a new function within the flagellar system."

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: "This argument seems only superficially plausible in light of some of the findings presented in this paper. First, if anything, TTSSs generate more complications than solutions to this question. As shown here, possessing multiple TTSSs causes interference. If not segregated one or both systems are lost. Additionally, the other thirty proteins in the flagellar motor (that are not present in the TTSS) are unique to the motor and are not found in any other living system. From whence, then, were these protein parts co-opted? Also, even if all the protein parts were somehow available to make a flagellar motor during the evolution of life, the parts would need to be assembled in the correct temporal sequence similar to the way an automobile is assembled in factory. Yet, to choreograph the assembly of the parts of the flagellar motor, present-day bacteria need an elaborate system of genetic instructions as well as many other protein machines to time the expression of those assembly instructions. Arguably, this system is itself irreducibly complex. In any case, the co-option argument tacitly presupposes the need for the very thing it seeks to explain—a functionally interdependent system of proteins. Finally, phylogenetic analyses of the gene sequences suggest that flagellar motor proteins arose first and those of the [TTSS] pump came later. In other words, if anything, the pump evolved from the motor, not the motor from the pump.[8] Arnhart, a philosopher and not a scientist, can easily be forgiven for not acknowledging valid counterarguments made by ID proponents to their scientific objectors. Thus it is perhaps more pertinent to focus on the objections which lie in Arnhart’s area of expertise: philosophy.

Firstly, Arnhart characterizes William Dembski as if Dembski is arguing that the intelligent agent must have been disembodied:

“But here the intelligent designer would have to be a disembodied intelligence with the power to design and construct such a biological mechanism.”

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.”[9]

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."[10] 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: [T]he primarily, empirically verifiable thing that intelligences do is generate specified complexity. I therefore continue to maintain that intelligence is always inferred, that we infer it through well-established methods and that there is no principled way to argue that the work of embodied designers is detectable whereas the work of unembodied designers isn’t.[11] Dembski also responds directly to Arnhart in The Design Revolution: Arnhart maintains that our knowledge of design arises in first instance not from any inference but from introspection of our own human intelligence. As a consequence, he concludes that we have no empirical basis for inferring design whose source is unembodied. Though at first blush this is plausible, this argument quickly collapses when probed. Jean Piaget, for instance, would have rejected it on developmental grounds: babies do not make sense of intelligence by introspecting their own intelligence but by coming to terms with the effects of intelligence in their external environment. For example, they see the ball in front of them and then see it taken away, and they learn that daddy is moving the ball—thus reasoning from effect to intelligence. Introspection plays at best a secondary role in how we initially make sense of intelligence and design. Even later in life, when we have attained full self-consciousness and when introspection can be performed, with varying degrees of reliability, design is still inferred. Indeed, introspection must always remain an adequate method of assessing intelligence and attributing design. By definition, intelligence presupposes the power or facility to choose between options, which coincides with the Latin etymology of intelligence, namely, “to choose between.” Introspection is therefore entirely the wrong instrument for assessing intelligence. (It can even lead to delusions about our own intelligence.) For instance, I cannot by introspection assess my intelligence as a carpenter. I actually have to get out and build a deck or cabinet or table. How I perform the complicated sequence of decisions to cut here, saw there and nail this to that—and not any act of introspection—will determine whether and to what degree intelligence can be attributed to my carpentry. The only way to assess intelligence is to test it and see what it does. (That’s why education proceeds by tests and examinations rather than by introspective reports where students profess, or perhaps protest, their competence.) What’s more, the primary, empirically verifiable thing that intelligences do generate is specified complexity. [12] Dembski’s point goes deeper than a mere argument against understanding design by introspection. His point is essentially that with respect to inferring design, “there is no evidential significance as to whether a designer is embodied or unembodied.” Dembski believes that because there is no way to reasonably state that we can detect design by an embodied designer, but cannot from an unembodied designer, that therefore the reasons Darwinists make such arguments are philosophical: they don’t want there to be an unembodied designer (which perhaps might too much resemble God).

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:

Dembski defines design as the negation of regularity and chance, and consequently design has no positive content.

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.”[13]

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: Experience teaches that information-rich systems … invariably result from intelligent causes, not naturalistic ones. Yet origin-of-life biology has artificially limited its explanatory search to the naturalistic modes of causation … chance and necessity. Finding the best explanation, however, requires invoking causes that have the power to produce the effect in question. When it comes to information, we know of only one such cause. For this reason, the biology of the information age now requires a new science of design.[14]

Indeed, in all cases where we know the causal origin of 'high information content,' experience has shown that intelligent design played a causal role." [15]

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." [16]
Intelligent design can thus be characterized as a sufficient and experience-based cause which we know can produce the high levels of information, i.e. irreducible complexity, found in biology. Intelligent design is not merely a negative argument against evolution, but is inferred because of its positive predictions of how we understand designers to operate.

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:

“For intelligent design to have some positive content, Behe and Dembski would have to explain exactly where, when, and how a disembodied intelligence designed flagella and attached them to bacteria. And it would not be enough to just speak of the intelligent designer conceptualizing the design. They would have to explain how a disembodied intelligent designer executes his designs in the physical world.”

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: Intelligent design begins with data that scientists observe in the laboratory and nature, identifies in them patterns known to signal intelligent causes and thereby ascertains whether a phenomenon was designed.[17] Intelligent design theorists don’t have to fully understand the details of the process that created the pattern to correlate that pattern with a cause sufficiently understood in the natural world. This type of reasoning goes on all the time in science. For example, before the advent of modern genetic theory, Darwin recognized that species shared characteristics in a pattern that might imply they shared a common ancestor, yet he did not know about the process by which genes might be transmuted from one generation to the next, or how "descent with modification" is genetically possibly. DeWolf et al. elaborate on Darwin’s argument: The theory of common descent, a central thesis of the Origin of Species, does not explain by natural law. Common descent explains by postulating hypothetical historical events (and a pattern of events) which, if actual, would explain a variety of presently observed data. The theory of common descent makes claims about what happened in the past--namely that unobserved transitional organisms existed--forming a genealogical bridge between presently existing life forms. Thus, on the theory of common descent, a postulated pattern of events, not a law, does the main explanatory work. [18] Though DeWolf et al. discuss this with regard to the objection that design does not refer to a “natural law,” the same response could be given to the charge that design does not provide an account of enough of the scientific details of the process in its explanation and thus lacks “positive content.” Darwin clearly made an argument which convinced many that common ancestry was true but the argument was based on recognition of a pattern, not a full account of the process. Recognition of patterns in science is very often enough to make scientific inferences absent total knowledge of the process. Thus, when we recognize the pattern as the type of information known to be produced by intelligent agents, we can infer design whether we know details about how, when, and where that information was infused into the biosphere, or not.

Philosopher Larry Laudan gives a similar example from geology: [T]o take an example from our own time, it would follow that plate tectonics is unscientific because we have not yet identified the laws of physics and chemistry which account for the dynamics of crustal motion. [19] DeWolf et al. note that acceptance of an observed fact can take place before there is a natural explanation for that observation, as Darwin "took himself to have established the existence of [the mechanism of] natural selection almost a half century before geneticists were able to lay out the laws of heredity on which natural selection depended." [20]

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." [21]

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:

If we cannot see how natural causes could have produced some biological mechanism like the bacterial flagellum, that could be because it has no natural causes, but it could also be because it has natural causes that we have not yet discovered.

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 [22] ).

Arnhart claims that Dembski’s arguments go beyond inferring mere design in general, but require supernatural design:

“But clearly Dembski wants more than that. He writes: ‘The world is a mirror representing the divine life. The mechanical philosophy was ever blind to this fact. Intelligent design, on the other hand, readily embraces the sacramental nature of physical reality. Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.’ Here the ‘recourse to the supernatural’ is clear.”[23]

(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: “[T]he only commitment [of intelligent design theory] is that the design in the world be empirically detectable… This is not a matter of being vague but rather of not pretending to [have] knowledge that we don't have."[24] Thus, Dembski believes that the data simply cannot allow us to determine who the designer is. How can we reconciles Dembski’s quote here with the his previous quote, where Dembski talks about the designer as being Jesus Christ, in the Logos quote? The answer is that sometimes Dembski approaches the design question using religious methods of knowing.

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: "Touchstone is a Christian journal, conservative in doctrine and eclectic in content, with editors and readres from each of the three great divisions of Christendom--Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox. The mission of the journal and of its publishers, the Fellowship of St. James, is to provide a place where Christians of various backgrounds can speak with one another on the basis of shared belief in the fundamental doctrines of the faith as revealed in the holy Scripture and as summarized in the ancient creeds of the Church."[25] Writing in such a context, it makes sense for Dembski to give his interpretation of the religious and theological meaning of intelligent design for his own Christian faith. Perhaps that's why this quote comes at the very end of an article about ID in a section entitled “Design, Metaphysics, & Beyond.” Clearly, in this section, Dembski is looking at design in a much broader context than its mere scientific implications.

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."[26][26]

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[27] 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.[28] We see this in our daily lives: Intelligent agents act by making choice. How, then, do we recognize that an intelligent agent has made a choice? A bottle of ink spills accidentally onto a sheet of paper; someone takes a fountain pen and writes a message on a sheet of paper. In both instances ink is applied to paper. In both instances one among an almost infinite set of possibilities is realized. … Yet in one instance we ascribe agency, in the other chance. … [To detect intelligent agency, the event we observe] must conform to an independently given pattern, and we must be able to independently construct that pattern. Actualizing one among several competing possibilities, ruling out the rest and specifying the one that was actualized encapsulates how we recognize intelligent agency, or equivalently, how we detect design.[29] This notion that all intelligences might to some degree behave the same, because all exercise choice, fundamentally, forms the premise for intelligent design theory. Arnhart thinks that “detecting the design of human artifacts is a matter of common observation and logic, [while] detecting the design of divine artifacts is not” but on what grounds does Arnhart make this claim? Much of the ID argument rests on the observation that when we seek to detect alien intelligences, we assume they might produce specified complexity much like human intelligent agents. Thus, intelligent design theory rests on the premise that there is this property called intelligence which tends to behave the same regardless of the nature of the entity in which it is found. Humans need not be the only entities which create specified complexity.

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: But it is painfully clear from the examples we have surveyed that literally any behavior that is practiced today can be said to have survival value--after all, it has survived to our own times. Evolution fails as a moral guide because it provides no standards for judging any existing practices. [30] Having sat through numerous evolutionary biology classes where I was indoctrinated with the mantra that "evolution cannot provide standards for morality, because scientific theories do not deal with moral questions," it would not surprise me if many evolutionists would say Pearcey has false expectations for what we can learn from evolution. When evolutionists respond like this, I would see a difference between what many evolutionists say and what many evolutionists psychologists proclaim in their research. These sorts of critics of Pearcey should level the same criticisms at Arnhart: Arnhart wants to establish some kind of traditional morality from evolution and I just don't think it can be done. I don't think evolution can be used to establish any moral norms because it just isn't clear enough.

(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: The political argument for teaching intelligent design in the public schools is that this would promote the sort of freedom of thought required in a democratic society. The intelligent design proponents argue that to teach Darwinian science without considering the criticisms coming from intelligent design theory fosters a dogmatic acceptance of scientific naturalism that is both unscientific and undemocratic. This is the argument that intelligent design proponents have made in Kansas, in Ohio, and around the country in trying to open up the public school curriculum in science so that students can learn about the debate over Darwinism and intelligent design. I agree with this argument. References:

[1] Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods, page 54.

[2] Michael Behe, Teach Evolution and Ask Hard Questions, New York Times A21, August 13, 1999.

[3] 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.

[4] Stephen C. Meyer, Teach the Controversy, Cincinnati Enquirer, March 30, 2002.

[5] Jonathan Wells, Give students the resources to critique Darwin, Kansas City Star, Sunday, August 1st, 1999, K-4.

[6] Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, page 197.

[7] 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.

[8] Scott A. Minnich and Stephen C. Meyer, “Genetic analysis of coordinate flagellar and type III regulatory circuits in pathogenic bacteria.” Available at “”.

[9] William Dembski, The Design Revolution, page 192.

[10] William Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology, page 144.

[11] William Dembski, The Design Revolution, page 194.

[12] Dembski, The Design Revolution, pages 193-194.

[13] William Dembski, The Design Revolution, pages 193-194.

[14] Stephen C. Meyer, Mere Creation, page 140.

[15] Stephen C. Meyer, DNA and Other Designs

[16]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).

[17] William Dembski, The Design Revolution, page 41, emphasis added.

[18] 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).

[19] Larry Laudan cited in Id. at 72.

[20] Id.

[21] William Dembski, The Design Revolution, page 41.

[22] See the discussion above regarding embodied and disembodied designers for a discussion of this point

[23] William Dembski’s quote was taken from Touchstone Magazine, July/August, 1999, page 84.

[25] Touchstone Magazine, description of purpose on page 3, July/August, 1999.

[26] William Dembski, The Design Revolution, page 45.

[27] 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.”

[28] William Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology, page 144.

[29] William Dembski, No Free Lunch, pages 28-29. See also William A. Dembski, The Design Inference.

[30] Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth, page 216.