Intelligent Design: Science, Philosophy, or Theology?

Following Stephen Meyer’s talks in NZ, a few people will be thinking more about intelligent design. What is it, and why does it matter?

The central claim of the intelligent design movement is that design is 1) empirically detectable (distinguishable from ordinary ‘natural’ processes), and 2) instantiated in the natural world. 

There are different claims that fall under this idea of intelligent design. Probably most controversially, the claim is about certain aspects of biological organisms that are said to particularly clearly evince design, but other areas in which evidence of design is said to be found include cosmology, astronomy, and chemistry/biochemistry.

As such, intelligent design seems to be a scientific kind of hypothesis. Perhaps not purely scientific, if we decide, firstly that science must be constrained by methodological naturalism, and secondly that design as a kind of cause falls outside the appropriate definition of naturalism; but still dealing with the same general realm that science generally does. Perhaps ‘natural philosophy’ or ‘meta-science’ might do as a term.

Inferences about the nature of the design observed quickly move into philosophical territory. But the same is probably true when dealing with anything near the foundations of science. 

So, the concept that design is evinced in the natural world includes aspects of science and of philosophy. Intelligent design, however, is not theology. It comports well with some theological claims, for sure – but so does belief in scientific law, and no-one calls the work of theoretical physicists acts of theology.

Proponents of intelligent design often argue that Christians must believe in it, because the Bible says that the universe declares things about God. I disagree with them – it may be that, indeed, the universe declares things about God – but that the nature of the declaration is not scientific or empirical in quite the way that ID sees it. Reformed epistemologists such as Alvin Plantinga, for example, have spoken about design beliefs being a ‘properly basic’ response to the natural world, rather than based on what we’d think of as an evidence-based inference. His book ‘Where the conflict really lies’ is a fascinating discussion of many things relating to the ID question. There are lots of interesting theological questions over whether God provides us with ‘scientific’ evidence of his existence.

Atheistic opponents say that ID is merely theology disguised in thin pseudo-scientific garments. But I disagree with them too – ID is compatible with very many different kinds of theologies, including many non-traditional views of God/gods/spirit/aliens etc and complete agnosticism on the existence of any kind of deities. Theistic opponents argue on the other hand that it is insufficiently theological, failing to identify the designer as e.g. the God of biblical Christian theism. Given that ID doesn’t claim to be theology, the critique as often made seems misplaced. The fact that it gets flak from both atheists and theologians says to me that ID occupies a very interesting place!  Along similar lines, both atheists and people with a theological bent often argue that ID is simply a ‘god of the gaps’ approach – and so both bad reasoning and bad theology! Bad reasoning for ignoring other possible natural causes, and bad theology for implying that God only acts in ‘gaps’ in the natural order’. 

However, it may be (heresy as it is to suggest it) that we don’t actually live in a causally closed universe – all theists, I think, should be at least sympathetic to the possibility, and it may well be required by theism. If God, or some other mind, does genuinely intervene in nature at one or more points in history, then perhaps ordinary natural processes will not be sufficient to explain the products of such action. In some cases, the gap may be large enough, and the product of the action similar enough to what we would tend to see as ‘designed’ to legitimately infer the action of a designer. Theologically, it is perfectly coherent to say that God has multiple methods of action – sometimes He acts specially in history (e.g. at the resurrection), presumably in a way that isn’t entirely explicable in terms of physical law and the initial conditions of the universe. If He acted in that way then, then why not also in other cases? This doesn’t prevent us believing that He also upholds the universe from moment to moment, by way of the ‘ordinary’ means of physical law. It may also be, as suggested before, that God does intervene but that this is not detectable (at least definitively) by the scientific kinds of means employed by ID theorists – this seems to me to be an interesting open question.

Finally, a philosophical suggestion: the evidence for design suggested by ID arguments (spanning the gamut from cosmology to molecular biology), while not an exercise in theology per se, certainly has theological implications. The kind of mind revealed or at least implied by ID arguments (if they succeed – perhaps e.g. the arguments from cosmology do succeed, but those from biology don’t – as many theistic evolutionists seem to think) fits better with biblical Christian theism than it does with a vague kind of deism, panentheism, or such. On biblical Christian theism, we have reason to expect that God has an interest in life, and particularly in human life. On the existence of some unspecified kind of cosmic mind, we have less (if any) reason to expect the outcomes we see. The arguments offered by the intelligent design movement (whatever their merits) imply a broadly ‘personal’ God, rather than an impersonal computer somewhere out there.

An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design

Last year, Bradley Monton, a philosopher of science and an atheist, gave a lecture for the Reason and Science Society on the topic of Intelligent Design. In the lecture he considered the arguments for intelligent design and argued that intelligent design deserves serious consideration as a scientific theory. Monton also offered an account of the debate surrounding the inclusion of intelligent design in public schools and presented several reasons why students’ science education could benefit from a careful consideration of the arguments for and against it.

RSS have kindly made the video available (check out their YouTube channel for other videos and a few debates with  several of the Thinking Matters team). For more by Monton, check out his book on Amazon.

Intelligent Design Scholar-Historian Dr. Thomas Woodward in Tauranga in December

Dr. Tom Woodward
Intelligent Design scholar Dr. Thomas Woodward (Wikipedia) will be visiting Tauranga for a few days in the second week of December 2012.


Dr. Woodward is Research Professor at Trinity College of Florida in Tampa Bay, where he has taught for 23 years. He has spoken on the topic of evolution, Intelligent Design and the existence of God at over 80 colleges and universities in 25 countries. His campus presentations include a lecture series at Princeton University and Dartmouth College, and an Intelligent Design seminar at Cambridge University (UK) hosted by Ranald Macauley, son-in-law of L’Abri founder Francis Schaeffer.

A graduate of Princeton University (in History), he received a Th.M. from Dallas Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Communication from the University of South Florida. His doctoral specialty was in the “Rhetoric of Science,” and his research focus has been the history of the scientific controversy over Intelligent Design and neo-Darwinism.

Dr. Woodward is the author of Darwinism Under the Microscope (co-edited with Dr. James Gills) and two other books which trace the debate between Darwinism and Intelligent Design. The first, Doubts about Darwin (Baker 2003), won a national book award from Christianity Today. His second book on the “design controversy” is Darwin Strikes Back: Defending the Science of Intelligent Design.  His latest book, also coauthored with Dr. James Gills, is The Mysterious Epigenome: What Lies Beyond DNA (2012).

CS Lewis Society

Tom Woodward is also the founder and director of the C. S. Lewis Society, which hosts lectures, conferences and debates on university campuses and in heavily secular countries.

Radio debate

You can listen here to his friendly debate / discussion with Peter Hearty on the Unbelievableradio program from the UK.

Well known USA Intelligent Design advocate Tom Woodward takes on the National Secular Society’s science representative Pete Hearty.  Does the new evidence in biological science point towards an ultimate creator?  Other guests also join the fray…


New Zealand Events

Dr Woodward will be delivering the following four presentations in Tauranga while visiting New Zealand:

1. Does God Exist?  Old Questions and New Ideas

This talk explores the theism/atheism debate from both philosophy and science.  The explosion of the “New Atheism” is traced, and major responses are touched on.  Special attention is given to the recent discoveries in the origin of the universe and the origin of life.
WHAT: A special Thinking Matters event – live presentation followed by Q&A
WHEN: Friday 7th December
TIME: 7:30pm – 9:30pm
WHERE: Bethlehem Community Church, 183 Moffat Rd, Bethlehem, Tauranga

2. Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design: What’s the Fuss All About?

This is an overview of the last 30 years of controversy over origins, especially as the ID movement roared to life in the late 1980s and began spreading after Behe’s book “Darwin’s Black Box” was published in 1996.  Recent developments in the period 2000-2012 are covered.
WHAT: A special Thinking Matters event – live presentation followed by Q&A
WHEN: Saturday 8th December
TIME: 7:30pm – 9:30pm
WHERE: Bethlehem Community Church, 183 Moffat Rd, Bethlehem, Tauranga

3. Passionate Apologetics: Five Keys to Confident Sharing the Truth of Christ

Apologetics has a primary key:  the “Foundation of Scripture” that is the main engine/fuel of presenting Christ.  Building on top of this “concrete slab” of scripture are four strong pillars: Science (Evidence of Design), History (Evidence of Biblical Reality), Philosophy (Clear, Logical Thinking), and Transformation (Changed Lives of Christ’s Disciples).  Through these five keys, we can have confidence when explaining and defending the truth of Christ.
WHAT: Lifezone Sunday morning service
WHEN: Sunday 9th December
TIME: 10:00am – 11:30am
WHERE: Lifezone Church, 19 Amber Crescent, Judea, Tauranga

4. C.S. Lewis: Pointer to God and Christ

Non-Christians, even atheists, have a high opinion of C. S. Lewis as a scholar and writer.  Yet few know about his transformation into one of the greatest modern apostles of Christ.  We quickly trace his conversion to Christ from atheism, and shows four ways that Lewis presented Christ – and the truth of God and salvation – to a skeptical world.
WHAT: Bethlehem Baptist Sunday night service
WHEN: Sunday 9th December
TIME: 6:30pm – 8:30pm
WHERE: Bethlehem Baptist Church, 90 Bethlehem Rd, Tauranga



Online Videos

Dr. Woodward and Dr. James P. Gills M.D. on The Mysterious Epigenome. What lies beyond DNA.

Dr. Woodward interviews Princeton Chemistry Professor Dr. Andrew Bocarsly

New Online Store for ID Resources: idFilms

A new online store has launched for those in New Zealand and Australia, aimed at providing a dedicated home for quality DVDs about Intelligent Design. idFilms was established to invigorate and expand the ID discussion by supporting those who are committed to investigating the origins of life and the universe.

The store already houses a great list of DVD titles (such as Metamorphosis, The Case for a Creator, and The Privileged Planet) that can be purchased individually or bought together as a set. With more titles on the way, the site looks to be a great place to find resources for individuals, home groups, or even local community events. If you’re interested in joining the conversation and exploring the evidence that certain features of the universe and living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, check out the website at [pk_empty_space height=”10″]

The Nature of Nature

With some big names and weighing in at over a thousand pages in length, The Nature of Nature looks to be a new landmark title in the discussion of science and naturalism. Based on a conference held at Baylor University back in 2000, editors Bruce L. Gordon and William A. Dembski have collected some great essays on topics such as scientific methodology, biological complexity, consciousness, scientific realism, and the multiverse.

Although published last month, the book is only now becoming more widely available (Amazon seems to have stock at the moment but you can also get it from the publisher, ISI Books, for $23.20 USD).

Read more

Panel Discussion of Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell

On January 28, the C.S. Lewis Society hosted a panel at Tampa, Florida, to discuss Stephen Meyer’s new book Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. The audio from that discussion is now available on the Society website. Download it here.

On the panel was the book’s author Meyer, mathematician and popular author David Berlinski, and apologist and professor of theology Tom Woodward. Radio host Michael Medved chaired the exchange. The discussion lasts for over two hours and explores the evidence for  intelligent design and Meyer’s central claim that the information in DNA demonstrates a designing intelligence behind the origin of life.

Stephen Meyer’s book is available on Amazon.

Here are some of the book’s endorsements:

Signature in the Cell delivers a superb overview of the surprising and exciting developments that led to our modern understanding of DNA, and its role in cells.   Meyer tells the story in a most engaging way.  He retained my interest through many areas that would normally have turned me off.  He is careful to credit new ideas and discoveries to their originators, even when he disagrees with the uses to which they have been put.  The central idea of the book is that the best explanation of the information coded in DNA is that it resulted from intelligent design.  Meyer has marshaled a formidable array of evidence from fields as diverse as biochemistry, philosophy and information theory.  He deals fairly and thoroughly with even the most controversial aspects and has made a compelling case for his conclusion.  The book is a delightful read which will bring enlightenment and enjoyment to every open minded reader.
—Dr. John C. Walton, School of Chemistry, University of St. Andrews

Signature in the Cell is the quintessential work on DNA and its implications for intelligent design.
Greg Koukl, host of Stand To Reason

How does an intelligent person become a proponent of intelligent design? Anyone who stereotypes IDers as antiscientific ideologues or fundamentalists should read Dr. Meyer’s compelling intellectual memoir. Meyer as a student became fascinated with the ‘DNA enigma’—how the information to produce life originated—and at considerable risk to his career hasn’t given up trying to solve the mystery. Meyer shows how step-by-step he concluded that intelligent design is the most likely explanation of how the DNA code came to be, but he’s open to new evidence—and in so doing he challenges defenders of undirected evolution to have the courage to explore new alternatives as well.
— Dr. Marvin Olasky, provost, The King’s College, New York City, and editor-in-chief, World

In this engaging narrative, Meyer demonstrates what I as a chemist have long suspected: undirected chemical processes cannot produce the exquisite complexity of the living cell. Meyer also shows something else: there is compelling positive evidence for intelligent design in the digital code stored in the cell’s DNA. A decisive case based upon breathtaking and cutting-edge science.
Dr. Philip S. Skell, National Academy of Sciences and Evan Pugh Professor at Pennsylvania State University, emeritus

(HT: Brian)

Who Designed the Designer?

Last year, professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary Douglas Groothius wrote an essay in the philosophy journal, Think: Philosophy for Everyone, challenging some of Dawkins’ claims in the The God Delusion about the argument from design. It was one of the journal’s most popular essays of the year and if you haven’t read it, the article is available as a free sample on the Cambridge University Press website. Think seeks to expose contemporary philosophy to the widest possible readership and here Groothius has presented his arguments in the form of fictional conversation at a book discussion group. Anthony is the atheist; Agnes, the agnostic; and Theo, the theist:

Anthony: … There is one argument against theism that Dawkins returns to repeatedly. It isn’t new, but he uses it powerfully. And it can be stated simply, I think.

Theo: I think I know what is coming.

Anthony: Dawkins says that believers in God use God as a kind of philosophical trump card to explain certain aspects of nature. When they cannot explain something scientifically, they simply invoke God to end the argument. So, if we cannot explain something very complex and seemingly designed, like the rotary motor attached the back of the bacterium in the cell, God is invoked. I’m talking about the bacterial flagellum, the poster child for the Intelligent Design (or ID) movement. These people say, ‘It was designed by an intelligence, not brought about by nature alone’.

Theo: That’s right. ID thinkers call it ‘the design inference.’ It appeals to empirically observable facts – from biology and cosmology – and infers from these facts that the best explanation is design, rather than some combination of chance and necessity, which are unintelligent, nondirective causes.

Agnes: It sounds like these ID people are at least trying to give a scientific argument, aren’t they?

Anthony: Agnes, it’s a ruse, a charade really. Think of the Wizard of Oz. He seems to be a supernatural wizard, when in fact he is a mere human with special effects. As Dawkins says, ID is ‘creationism in a cheap tuxedo.’

Theo: That smells like a false analogy, but go on. And watch out for ad hominem fallacies as well.

Anthony: I am happy to do so. I’m just getting warmed up. At an intuitive level, it seems that a designer is the most commonsensical explanation for some things in nature. If you see Mount Rushmore or ‘John Loves Mary’ written in the sands of a beach, you infer a designer. Fair enough.

Theo: That’s right! You seem to get the design inference at a basic level, although it can be put more technically. You have a complex phenomenon that fits a specifiable pattern: either the faces of presidents (Mount Rushmore) or a known and meaningful sentence (‘John loves Mary’). Design is, therefore, a warranted inference.

Anthony: Don’t get your hopes up, Theo. We have to look for the man behind the curtain and there is no one there – only nature! You see, as Dawkins points out, any supposed designer would be a case of specified complex itself (or herself or himself). Therefore, that designer’s existence would need to be explained by a previous designer. And that designer, being complex, would have to be explained by another designer, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. There is a vicious and infinite regress in which nothing at all gets explained. It goes on forever and that is philosophically nauseating.

Agnes: I see. It would be like jumping out of a bottomless pit!

Anthony: That’s it exactly, Agnes. You see, the appeal to a designer does not really explain anything. It just seems to, since we explain things like sculptures and sentences on the basis of intelligent agents who design them. But the sculptors and sentence-writers are not the last word. Their own existence needs explanation. So, the ID examples are misleading. Atheism is superior, since it explains everything according to what is simple: particles and natural laws banged into existence about 14 billion years ago.

Theo: It’s about time I slowed down this atheistic train and made some distinctions, Anthony. You are asserting that ID thinkers assume this principle: any complex entity that is specified in its pattern requires a designer outside of itself as a sufficient explanation.

Anthony: I suppose I am, and so does Dawkins. What’s wrong with that?

Theo: Everything is wrong with that. It’s a straw man fallacy. ID attempts to explain certain features of nature that indicate intelligence. These artifacts or systems are finite and material in nature. That is the explanandum if you will.

Anthony: Stop showing off, Theo. What does explanandum mean?

Theo: It simply means: the thing explained. The explacans is what does the explaining.

Anthony: OK. Very impressive. But I don’t discern an argument as yet.

Theo: Be patient. The point is this: ID is not operating from the premise that everything that is complex requires an explanation outside itself. Rather, it attempts to explain certain finite and material states of affairs through the design inference. It does not operate on some general philosophical principle that anything at all that is complex requires an explanation outside itself.1

Agnes: Dawkins never mentioned this. Did he misrepresent the ID argument?

Theo: In spades, he did! Dawkins is not the most sympathetic interlocutor. Moreover, a bona fide explanation can be given even if the thing that explains something else is not itself explained. For example, if I explain that Sam slipped because he stepped on a banana peel that is a genuine explanation. I do not have to explain how the banana peel got there!

Anthony: I suppose so. But what if the designer is a finite, material thing with specified complexity? Then it, too, requires an explanation.

Theo: Yes, but ID only tries to explain finite, material, complex states that are empirically observable. It leaves certain aspects of the designer or designers unspecified.

Anthony: Hah! So what kind of natural theology is that?! You don’t even know who the designer is.

Agnes: Right. So even if I accept the design inference, I can still remain agnostic about the existence of the full-strength monotheistic God: personal, all-powerful, all-knowing, totally good, and so on.

You can find the whole article here or download it as PDF file.

(HT: The Constructive Curmudgeon)

Challenging naturalism: David Gordon on the Nagel controversy

David Gordon of the Ludwig von Mises Institute has made some interesting comments about the recent controversy created by Thomas Nagel’s endorsement of Stephen Meyer’s new book on Intelligent Design. In reviewing Nagel’s Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament: Essays 2002–2008, Gordon writes:

Although he does not accept Intelligent Design, Nagel refuses to dismiss the movement as merely religious. Critics claim that design cannot be a legitimate scientific hypothesis; but at the same time, they maintain that the theory can be shown to be false. Nagel pertinently asks, how can both of these assertions be true together? Further, Nagel sees no constitutional obstacle to teaching Intelligent Design.

Nagel’s opinions on this issue have led to a remarkable episode. Brian Leiter runs a blog, Leiter Reports, which is read by philosophers, owing to detailed accounts of promotions, jobs, and other news about philosophy departments. Leiter’s comparative rankings of philosophy departments also attract much attention. Leiter obtrudes his own political and social views on his audience; were he to present these in a separate venue, it is a safe bet that his audience would vastly diminish. Among Leiter’s many aversions, the Intelligent Design movement ranks among the foremost: he often attacks what he calls the “Texas Taliban.”

When Nagel’s article on Intelligent Design appeared, Leiter could not contain his rage. We were presented with the unedifying spectacle of Leiter’s speaking in abusive and condescending terms about one of the foremost philosophers of the past half-century. Nagel’s The Possibility of Altruism, The View From Nowhere, and the essays collected in Mortal Questions are classics of contemporary philosophy.

Matters worsened when Nagel recommended in The Times Literary Supplement Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell as one of his “Best Books of the Year.” Meyer is a leading proponent of Intelligent Design, and his book argues that naturalistic accounts of the origin of life on earth confront severe difficulties. Only a designing intelligence, Meyer contends, can account for the intricately specified information contained in DNA. Nagel did not endorse Meyer’s conclusion but praised the book for its account of the “fiendishly difficult” problem of life’s origin.

This recommendation aroused Leiter to new heights of contumely. It seems quite likely that Leiter never bothered to look at Meyer’s book. He quoted from an English professor of chemistry protesting Nagel’s claim that natural selection cannot account for DNA because it presupposes its existence. The chemistry professor, echoed by Leiter, said that natural selection exists in the preorganic world: was not Nagel ignorant to deny this? Both Leiter and the chemist ignored the fact, much emphasized by Meyer, that such resorts to natural selection are controversial. To appeal to the fact of their existence against Nagel is to assume what is much in dispute. Leiter extended his attack to accuse Nagel of ignorance of the relevant fields of study. Nagel has never claimed authority in biology; but had Leiter bothered to read Nagel’s well-known essay, “Brain Bisection and the Unity of Consciousness,” he would discover that Nagel has more than a passing acquaintance with neurobiology.

I have gone on at some length about this, because the attempt by Leiter and others to block inquiry that challenges naturalism seems to me altogether deplorable. To some people, evidently, the first line of the False Priestess in In Memoriam is Holy Writ, not to be questioned: “The stars, she whispers, blindly run.” But even if these avid naturalists are correct in their metaphysics, debate needs to be encouraged rather than suppressed. Perhaps Leiter should reread On Liberty. Pending that happy event, one can only say of his abuse that the barking of Bill Sikes’s dog just tells us that Bill Sikes is in the neighborhood.

(Source: Bill Vallicella)

Atheist philosopher slammed for endorsing Meyer's book on Intelligent Design

Thomas Nagel’s recent endorsement of Stephen Meyer’s latest book, Signature in the Cell (2009), has generated a firestorm of debate. In the Times Literary Supplement, the atheist philosopher and professor at New York University, wrote:

“Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (HarperCollins) is a detailed account of the problem of how life came into existence from lifeless matter – something that had to happen before the process of biological evolution could begin. The controversy over Intelligent Design has so far focused mainly on whether the evolution of life since its beginnings can be explained entirely by natural selection and other non-purposive causes. Meyer takes up the prior question of how the immensely complex and exquisitely functional chemical structure of DNA, which cannot be explained by natural selection because it makes natural selection possible, could have originated without an intentional cause. He examines the history and present state of research on non-purposive chemical explanations of the origin of life, and argues that the available evidence offers no prospect of a credible naturalistic alternative to the hypothesis of an intentional cause. Meyer is a Christian, but atheists, and theists who believe God never intervenes in the natural world, will be instructed by his careful presentation of this fiendishly difficult problem.”

Nagel’s positive review provoked instant outrage from his fellow atheists. While Nagel has been critical of scientific naturalism in the past, the recommendation of Meyer’s book as one of the years’ best brought fierce condemnation in the blogosphere and beyond. Brian Leiter has described him as a disgrace and more, while Stephen Fletcher, a chemist and professor at Loughborough University, is simply incredulous:

“The belief that we share this planet with supernatural beings is an old one. Students of magic and religion have identified innumerable varieties of them – gods, devils, pixies, fairies, you name it. A familiar motif is that they operate at the very fringes of perception. While the scullery maid sleeps, they are busy in the kitchen making the milk go sour. For a society with no concept of bacteria, this is, perhaps, a forgivable conceit. But for a modern university professor to take this idea seriously is, I think, mind-blowing.”

Thomas Nagel has responded to Fletcher, in a letter to the Times,

Sir, – Stephen Fletcher objects to my recommending Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell in Books of the Year. Fletcher’s statement that “It is hard to imagine a worse book” suggests that he has read it. If he has, he knows that it includes a chapter on “The RNA World” which describes that hypothesis for the origin of DNA at least as fully as the Wikipedia article that Fletcher recommends. Meyer discusses this and other proposals about the chemical precursors of DNA, and argues that they all pose similar problems about how the process could have got started.

The tone of Fletcher’s letter exemplifies the widespread intolerance of any challenge to the dogma that everything in the world must be ultimately explainable by chemistry and physics. There are reasons to doubt this that have nothing to do with theism, beginning with the apparent physical irreducibility of consciousness. Doubts about reductive explanations of the origin of life also do not depend on theism. Since I am not tempted to believe in God, I do not draw Meyer’s conclusions, but the problems he poses lend support to the view that physics is not the theory of everything, and that more attention should be given to the possibility of an expanded conception of the natural order.

29 Washington Square, New York 10011.

But not all are critical of Nagel. Bradley Morton disagrees with Leiter and has more sympathy for Nagel’s comments. John Walton, a chemist and professor at the University of St Andrews has come to Nagel’s (and Meyer’s) defense. Walton, also writing to the Times:

Sir, – The resilience of the “prebiotic soup” myth, in spite of torrents of counter-evidence, is truly astonishing. Even professionals such as Stephen Fletcher (Letters, December 4), criticizing Thomas Nagel’s recommendation of Signature in the Cell by Stephen C. Meyer (Books of the Year, November 27), apparently still believe in it. Fletcher asserts that “Natural selection is in fact a chemical process as well as a biological process, and it was operating for about half a billion years before the earliest cellular life forms appear in the fossil record”.

Actually the operation of neoDarwinian natural selection depends on the prior existence of entities capable of self-replication. Variants are produced in their genetic material by mutations, the variants are copied by the organism’s biochemical machinery, and then natural selection ensures the most “fit” survive. Before the arrival of organisms capable of reproduction, this process could not operate. In the words of the renowned evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky: “Prebiological natural selection is a contradiction in terms”. It follows that, even in principle, some quite different explanation is required to account for the origin of life. Fletcher is pinning his hopes on a supposed RNA world. He tells us: “Indeed, before DNA there was another hereditary system at work, less biologically fit than DNA, most likely RNA (ribonucleic acid)”.

It is an amusing irony that while castigating students of religion for believing in the supernatural, he offers in its place an entirely imaginary “RNA world” the only support for which is speculation! Intense laboratory research has failed to produce even one nucleotide (RNA component) under geologically plausible conditions. As for the chains of nucleotides required for the RNA world, there are insuperable problems associated with their information content, as well as the chemical selectivity needed for their assembly. Furthermore, the earth’s oldest Precambrian rocks show very good evidence that life was present from the start, so the half-billion years Fletcher counts on were actually not available for chemical evolution.

Rather than just kowtowing to the creaky naturalist “prebiotic soup” scenario, Meyer engages with the whole range of origin of life problems. Anyone interested in discovering where the evidence leads will find this a fascinating book.

School of Chemistry, University of St Andrews, North Haugh, St Andrews.

Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design

The argument from design is the Comeback Kid of theistic arguments.  Once long neglected, recent discoveries in cosmology and physics have brought the word design back into philosophical and scientific discussions. Molecular biologist and Nobel Prize winner, Francis Crick once concluded “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would be satisfied to get it going.”

However, many (including Crick) are critical of allowing a theistic conclusion to follow from the growing awareness of the finely-tuned cosmic architecture. Some go so far as to say that such theories are not scientific – either because theories of design violate the purpose of science ( it is argued that science a priori must be defined as the pursuit of naturalistic explanations to natural processes) or because such theories violate the practice of science (not meeting requirements of observability, testability, etc).

Into this debate, philosopher of science and atheist, Bradley Morton has written a new book arguing that the theory of Intelligent Design is science and that its arguments are stronger than most realize. In Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design, the professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado discusses the plausibility of arguments for a cosmic designer, the scientific legitimacy of design theories and even whether such theories may be taught in public school education. The book is a unique one in the philosophy of science and it looks to significantly develop and enhance the debate surrounding Intelligent Design.

Check out Dr. Monton’s website here (includes several published articles) and also his  blog here.
Read more

Debate: Intelligent Design: Is it Viable?

Dawkins won’t debate Craig (or Stephen Meyer apparently), so it seems someone much braver has stepped up to the plate.

A debate between Dr. Francisco J. Ayala and Dr. William Lane Craig.  Moderated by Dr. Bradley Monton. The debate will occur on Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 7 p.m. EST at Indiana University Auditorium. This debate is sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ at Indiana University.

The official debate website is here.

Brian Auten of Apologetics 315 provides an excellent review of Darwin’s Dilemma

I have stolen the following directly from here — thanks Wintery Knight!

Illustra Media is the Creator of three of the best DVDs available on intelligent design.

Their DVDs are professional documentaries with lots of great music, stunning animations and interviews with people on both sides of the question. The first DVD (watch the whole thing on youtube) is about biological information and the origin of life. The second DVD (watch the whole thing on youtube) is about fine-tuning at the galactic, stellar and planetary levels. And now there is a new DVD, that has just come out!

Here’s the trailer:

[youtube 7-1nXb5uH8Q]

The rest of the post is here.