In a symposium with five scholars, one might expect them to bring different, sometimes divergent, perspectives to the focal question: If ID science is not religiously motivated, why hasn’t it gained traction among mainstream scientists? The role of the moderator would then be to bring unity to the different voices (in addition to moving the dialogue along). I had it easy—the responses all share a remarkable coherence, which helped focus my Redirect.
None of the participants liked the opening question and the baggage it comes with. This reaction is understandable given the politicized nature of the ID debate in some circles (see my introduction to this symposium). For the record, the posed question does not represent the views of the moderator or those of the Henry Center. However, even if we disagree with the assumptions bound up with the question, we recognize that it represents views that are common in academia and in the popular domain. The conversation is therefore worth having and I enjoyed how our five respondents set the record straight and clarified important misunderstandings.
Questions for Ann Gauger
Ann, thank you for your perceptive comments on the nature of science and the significance of religious biases. I like how you framed key issues swirling around the question of intelligent design. Conceptual clarity is a welcome friend.
Your insights raise questions about the intelligent design approach within the marketplace of ideas. Specifically, I have noticed how ID supporters such as yourself strongly maintain that ID theorizing does not have religious assumptions. I sense the same instinct in your first point: “Evidence, not religion, undergirds the case for intelligent design.” The explanatory power of intelligent design, you say, “comes from scientific research, not religion, or religious motivation.” The same pattern appears in Stephen Meyer’s important book, Signature of the Cell, when he suggests that, “by any reasonable definition of the term, intelligent design is not ‘religion.’”Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Design (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 441. Meyer goes on to note that ID
does not answer questions about the nature of God or even make claims about God’s existence. The theory of intelligent design does not promulgate a system of morality or affirm a body of doctrines about the afterlife. It doesn’t require belief in divine revelation or tell adherents how to achieve higher consciousness or how to get right with God. It simply argues that an intelligent cause of some kind played a role in the origin of life. It is a theory about the origin of biological information and other appearances of design in living systems.Ibid., 442.
This statement and others like it in the book divorce ID from religious thought. In Darwin’s Doubt, Meyer writes that ID theory does “not seek to insert into biology an extraneous religious concept.”Stephen C. Meyer, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (New York: HarperCollins, 2013), 340. The design hypothesis has implications for religious belief, but religious beliefs are irrelevant to the argument itself. As Meyer writes:
The theory of intelligent design is not based upon religious belief, nor does it provide a proof for the existence of God. But it does have faith-affirming implications precisely because it suggests the design we observe in the natural world is real, just as a traditional theistic view of the world would lead us to expect. . . . [H]aving accepted [ID] for other reasons, it may be a reason to find [religious belief] important.Ibid., 413.
I quote Meyer illustratively as an important spokesperson for the ID movement. It is noteworthy that you, Meyer, and other ID theorists emphasize that the design argument does not require theological premises.
In reaction, many scientists have cried foul. They think that ID theory is inseparable from its religious impulses (admittedly, some of these disgruntled scientists have an anti-religious agenda). In their estimation, ID scientists insist they are doing realWhy is it so important to qualify that the ID argument is separable from religious premises? In your opinion, what would we lose if we were to recognize that all scientific research—including ID—is undergirded by religious foundations? science—and not religion—in order to warrant scientific legitimacy. However, you do not deny that ID scientists can have religious motivations or that ID theories can have religious implications. You accept all of that as true and uncontroversial. But you do insist that the ID scientific argument itself does not logically depend on religious premises.
Why is it so important to qualify that the ID argument is separable from religious premises? In your opinion, what would we lose if we were to recognize that all scientific research—including ID—is undergirded by religious foundations? Again, this point about religious presuppositions applies equally to all scientists, not just to ID advocates (see my remarks to Günter). Christians might even say that ID thinkers see more clearly than their naturalistic critics do because their theological preunderstanding is more reliable. Would you have any objections to this way of framing the problem?
The issue that is lurking below the surface is the relationship between scientific research and theological conviction. I am reminded of the disagreement between B. B. Warfield and Abraham Kuyper on the nature of science. In his Stone Lectures at Princeton (1898), Kuyper argued that the presence or absence of Christian presuppositions affects the content of the science. There are two kinds of science, he said—a regenerate and an unregenerate science.See Abraham Kuyper, “Calvinism and Science,” in Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1931), 110-41. Today we might call Kuyper a presuppositionalist.
Warfield disagreed. As he saw it, “knowledge was gained by considering the evidence and reaching conclusions based on that evidence. Accordingly, human knowledge was independent of the belief system held by the investigating subject.”Peter Heslam, “Architects of Evangelical Intellectual Thought: Abraham Kuyper and Benjamin Warfield,” Themelios 24.2 (1999): 13. Warfield was a modern evidentialist.For broader background, see George Marsden, “The Evangelical Love Affair with Enlightenment Science,” in Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 122-52. Ann, since you minimize the role of religious assumptions in ID theorizing, and since you think science can be objective and relatively free of religious constraints, is it fair to say that you are closer to Warfield’s evidentialism than Kuyper’s presuppositionalism? Or, would you say that ID fits within the category of general not special revelation? I’m streamlining complex issues here, but I welcome your further thinking on these matters.
Questions for Paul Nelson
Paul, I always learn something new from you. Your familiarity with the relevant scientific literature lends credibility to your pointed critiques. I also appreciate your second point, emphasizing the role that religious assumptions play on both sides; the question is not whether ID scientists or their critics employ theological assumptions—all sides accept numerous theological premises.I was, however, slightly puzzled when you said it is a “distraction” to ask whether scientists have theistic or anti-theistic motivations. Like Ann, you seem to compartmentalize science from religious motivations. The real problem with ID critics, as you put it, “is restricting those assumptions to materialist or physicalist philosophies.”
I was, however, slightly puzzled when you said it is a “distraction” to ask whether scientists have theistic or anti-theistic motivations. Like Ann, you seem to compartmentalize science from religious motivations. I realize that you are making the logical point that the ID argument entails no religious premises, that it is a narrowly scientific question. But is it true that motives are completely irrelevant? After all, why do scientists so strongly disagree on the central claims of the ID movement? As Ernst Mayr put it, the “reason why consensus is hard to achieve is that disagreeing scientists adhere to different underlying ideologies, making certain theories acceptable to one group which are impossible for another group.”Ernst Mayr, This is Biology: The Science of the Living World (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), 103. Our ultimate religious orientation in the world will affect the kind of scientific questions we ask, how we pursue them, and the solutions we can perceive. Is it then even possible to compartmentalize science from religious motivations?
Think about the demarcation problem. It is the idea that we have no reliable criteria that distinguish science from non-science; everyone agrees some issues are on one side or the other, but the border is fuzzy. Given the demarcation problem, it seems strange to say that religious motivations are irrelevant to scientific work. I’m trying to discern whether you think science is (or should be) a purely objective project without any element of subjectivity. For example, would you say that non-empirical or non-scientific factors ever play a role in scientific work?
One area that may help clear up any confusion is how you define the scientific theory of intelligent design. Is ID a macro-theory, i.e., a general, conceptual framework, a set of metaphysical or methodological commitments that guide scientific research? Or, is ID a micro-theory, i.e., a specific, detailed theory that makes experimental predictions and explains natural data?“Micro-theory” vs. “macro-theory” are my terms, drawn from Imre Lakatos, “Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes,” in Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, ed. Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 91-196, and Larry Laudan, Progress and Its Problems (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977). Their original terminology distinguished “maxi-theories” from “mini-theories.” In the former case, it’s difficult for me to see how you could possibly separate science from religion. Perhaps you could help untangle these issues.
Questions for Marcos Eberlin
Judging by the rhetorical force of your remarks, I look forward to reading your new book Foresight: How the Chemistry of Life Reveals Planning and Purpose (incidentally, with endorsements from three Nobel Laureates). For what it’s worth, I agree with you that the Brazilian Pelé was the best soccer player ever. No argument from me—O Rei!
Like others in this symposium, you insist on a stark separation between science and the religious assumptions we bring to scientific theorizing. Regarding Richard Dawkins’s anti-religious biases, you write: “They are not relevant to evaluate the truth or falsity of his scientific claims.”Like others in this symposium, you insist on a stark separation between science and the religious assumptions we bring to scientific theorizing. You go on to say, “A scientific theory should be judged exclusively by its foundations on empirical data, and I believe ID is supported by a myriad of data drawn from many different scientific disciplines.” I agree with your positive point, that empirical data are the main currency of science. However, scientific theorizing is far more than amassing data. The data must be interpreted; they must be placed in a broader framework that gives them meaning. Do you take this aspect of science seriously enough?
In a post-Kuhnian world, I doubt we can ignore religious precommitments—such a stance evokes a “Baconian” understanding of science, one that sees science as purely objective and free from all prejudice. You say that ID should be taken seriously because it is good science, it takes the empirical data seriously, and so on. You insist that even if ID proponents have religious presuppositions or motivations, their views would be irrelevant to judging ID’s scientific validity. At what point do such statements concede the rules of modernism?
Christians gain something missiologically when we can claim the scientific high ground. It gives us a platform from which to publicize forgotten truths and speak intelligibly into the cultural conversation. Believers should be grateful for the tireless work coming out of the Discovery Institute. At the same time, we should correct culturally dominant notions of a serenely objective science (something ID scholars have done in the past). Not all non-empirical assumptions are bad for science. One can even argue that religiously neutral arguments are impossible because scientific theories always depend on what scientists already believe is divine.Roy Clouser develops this argument in his The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories, rev. ed. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005). I expect you will have further comments on these issues.
Questions for Wayne Rossiter
Thank you Wayne for your provocative remarks that nicely capture the noteworthy developments in the biological sciences. It is only the tip of the iceberg, but I am grateful for the extensive documentation you provide to press your thesis home.
One question relates to the significance of what you have laid out. You write that, “the trend of the past two decades . . . has been a transition to concepts, theories, and applications in the biological sciences that are either completely consistent with an ID theoretic or that represent the validation of ID-driven predictions.” Although you offer a striking argument, you make two key moves that are controversial.
The first move is your handling of evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo). In the older neo-Darwinian tradition, attempts to explain macroevolution solely in terms of microevolution became increasingly unconvincing and, for many biologists, ultimately unsuccessful.In light of your thesis, however, have the times changed? Have we moved into a different phase of the debate? That led to the emergence of other explanatory theories for the mechanism of macroevolution, among them the powerful evo-devo model. In your narration of these developments, evo-devo wins the battle over Darwinian evolution.
However, as you know, one can tell the story differently. On this recitation, evo-devo is not replacing Darwinian evolution but nuancing or expanding it. Evolutionary biologists agree on the main story and are merely having an intramural debate about the best way to explain macroevolution. Darwinian evolution no longer tells the whole story; new chapters now include evo-devo and other processes. How would you adjudicate these two different narratives of evolutionary biology? For example, do you have any additional evidence that most evolutionary developmental biologists see their work in opposition to or as a wholesale replacement of the neo-Darwinian synthesis?
Your second move argues that these trends in evo-devo confirm intelligent design. Well, that depends. From a philosophical perspective, the trends you describe are underdetermined theoretically. They are consistent with ID but they are also consistent with mainstream science; many biologists since Darwin have developed naturalistic proposals to explain the appearance of design in biology. Presumably, then, these trends do not force the conclusion that there is an intelligent designer. I believe that ID proposals are more plausible than their naturalistic rivals, yet I doubt the question can be adjudicated aside from deeper metaphysical or theological factors.
Suppose we ignore these concerns and simply accept your two moves. That then raises a new set of questions: if mainstream scientists can blissfully ignore the implications of these trends that you have laid out, what then is the future of ID research? What’s the point of it all? Ever since Phillip Johnson’s groundbreaking work, the intelligent design movement adopted a theologically minimalist strategy.E.g., see these volumes by Phillip Johnson: Darwin on Trial (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1991); Reason in the Balance: The Case against Naturalism in Science, Law and Education (Downers Grove: InterVaristy, 1995); Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997). Johnson zeroed in on the entrenched naturalism in the biological sciences; he saw that issue as more pressing than Christian in-house debates about the age of the earth, biblical interpretation, and the like. Naturalistic, Darwinian evolution was the enemy; religious or theological debates could be tabled indefinitely.
In light of your thesis, however, have the times changed? Have we moved into a different phase of the debate? Now that the neo-Darwinian synthesis is not the whole story, now that ID predictions are receiving support, has Johnson’s minimalism had its day? Is it time for ID thinkers to move from their strategic theological minimalism to a more maximalist strategy? . . . I’m just running my mouth, asking questions, woefully short on answers. Mea culpa. Wayne, I hope you will point a way forward.
Questions for Günter Bechly
Your intellectual journey and your conversion to intelligent design is fascinating, more compelling than any academic treatise. As an atheist, you became convinced of ID arguments, quite apart from any religious presuppositions. Yours is the best riposte to the claim that religion is indispensable to espousing ID theory: “I am a perfect example.” QED!
Having said that, are you the exception that proves the rule? Why is it that in your case you found ID convincing? Yes, other atheists are part of the ID movement, but my impression is that they are the exception. What is in your biography that helps explain the shift you experienced?Having said that, are you the exception that proves the rule? Why is it that in your case you found ID convincing? You identify “a strong worldview bias in modern academia” as the reason most scientists have not adopted intelligent design. So why did you, an atheist and a naturalist, become convinced of ID arguments? A Christian might chalk it up to the strange providence of God, or to his electing grace—but perhaps you can shed some light here.
I have similar questions to the ones I raised with Ann and Paul. You write: “ID has nothing to do with religion but is just an inference to the best explanation that distinguishes between chance, necessity, and intelligent agency as cause for certain natural phenomena.” That sounds like an overstatement in light of the demarcation criterion. I also wonder whether the philosophy of science has something to say here. As Michael Polanyi explained:
All formal rules of scientific procedure must prove ambiguous, for they will be interpreted quite differently, according to the particular conceptions about the nature of things by which the scientist is guided. And his chances for reaching true and important conclusions will depend decisively on the correctness and penetration of these conceptions.Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (London: Routledge, 2005), 177.
Polanyi then described numerous well-known theory disputes within the history of science. He pressed his point home:
But looking at these disputes more closely it appears that the two sides do not accept the same ‘facts’ as facts, and still less the same ‘evidence’ as evidence. … For within two different conceptual frameworks the same range of experience takes the shape of different facts and different evidence.Ibid.
The claim that scientists with religious commitments cannot do “real” science is mistaken. The earliest scientists were often Christians whose theological convictions permeated their scientific research. Even the three fields you mention, i.e., forensics, archaeology, and SETI, all of them involve a range of theological assumptions. Science, for example, would not be possible without a prior belief that nature is rational. The rationality of nature reflects its Creator, a wise God who fashioned us as rational creatures. These and other theological assumptions are woven into the fabric of science as we know it today.For an introduction to these issues, see Del Ratzsch, Science & Its Limits: The Natural Sciences in Christian Perspective, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000), 11-16. That secular scientists have forgotten the metaphysical and theological origins of science makes it no less true.
By the way, how would you define intelligent design? A challenge of the current Areopagite is that not everyone is operating with the same definition of ID. For instance, Wayne’s response mentions “specified complexity” and “irreducible complexity”—that’s ID as methodology. Your remarks stress ID as argument, whereas Ann emphasizes evidence. I realize that ID theorists approach the design question from different angles that do not necessarily conflict, but is there a single, unified definition of ID?I am grateful to my colleague Tim Morris, a biologist, who helped me think through the issues in this Redirect. In my response to Paul, I asked whether ID is a macro-theory or a micro-theory. I imagine you think ID is exclusively a micro-theory, correct?