Kitzmiller v. DASD

Right now there is a fight over evolution and creationism in public school classrooms. It is taking place in Dover, PA and it looks so far like the losers are going to be the creationists, or as they like to be called these days Intelligent Design (ID) theorists. What is interesting to me is how these ID theorists can hold that their views are not religious.

The plaintiffs argue that intelligent design – which posits that some aspects of life, yet unexplained by evolution, are best attributed to an unnamed and unseen intelligent designer – really is a disguised version of creationism, the adherence to the biblical account of creation.

Not so, said Behe, during often heated exchanges with counsel for the plaintiffs during cross-examination. “Creationism is “180 degrees different from intelligent design,” he said. “Creationism is a theological concept. Intelligent design is a scientific theory that relies on physical, empirical, observable evidence in nature plus logical inferences.”

Let me see if I have this right.

  1. Evolution and natural processes cannot account for certain “complex” biological structures (e.g. the E. coli flagellum.
  2. Hence a designer is the only explanation.
  3. The designer is not supernatural.

It seems to me that 3 contradicts 1. So either ID is completely incoherent or the designer is supernatural and ID really is religion. I think that deep down Behe knows this.

Behe, who identifies himself as a Roman Catholic, said that although intelligent design cannot scientifically identify the designer and does not rule out a natural cause, he believes it is God.

It seems to me there is virtually no way that this lawsuit can be won by the IDists/Creationists. This is going to run smack into the establisment clause and lose. The bit about not ruling out natural causes is ridiculous because that is precisely the premise of intelligent design. That natural processes such as evolution cannot explain certain complexities in biology. Lets follow the logic here again.

  1. On some other planets intelligent life arose via natural processes, but don’t have things like proteins, flagella, or any other irreducibly complex biological structures.
  2. These intelligent…ameobas…or whatever somehow managed to design life here on earth.

Frankly it is mindboggling that somebody could put this kind of a theory forward and at the same time with a straight face claim it is science and based on data and observations.

FILED UNDER: Education, Science & Technology, ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.


  1. RJN says:

    Your reasoning seems to be entirely faith based. I paraphrase: “ID must lead to a God, so ID is nonsense.”

    This is, as are all anti ID remarks I have ever found, a faith based statement. Science is the method one uses to discover, and describe, reality. It is not reality. ID is “science” if mathematics is science. Mathematics tells us that the probability of what we have in our reality is zero (in the limit) without something like ID.

    Many anointed scientists think ID is a rational, and scientific, way to explain life and reality.

  2. Scott in CA says:

    Evolution is demonstrable at the cellular level. It is science. Just because something is not understood today doesn’t mean it won’t be understood tomorrow. That’s the nature of the evolution of human knowledge. All you ID fans can go back and sacrifice to your Thunder God. The rest of us will get along fine without you.

  3. Don says:

    If life, the universe and everything is to be explained through natural causes, then we’re in the realm of science. Once we start positing supernatural (i.e., beyond natural) causes, we’ve left the world of science and entered the realm of theology. If “God” is bound by nature, S/He’s not “God.” If “nature” is subject to “supernatural” influences, then its not “nature.”

    The I.D.-ers want it both ways…they want to maintain that ascribing a supernatural cause to natural phenomena isn’t supernatural at all!

    Ultimately, James is right…there’s no way to argue that I.D. is not a religious argument, and if this is a backdoor effort to force the teaching of religious doctrine in the public schools then the Establishment Clause applies.

    Come on, surely you I.D.-ers can admit that much…that this is just religion in naturalist clothing!

  4. Ray from NH says:

    I for the life of me can not understand why neo-Darwin proponents are so frightened of an alternative to macro-evolution using ID. As long as ID keeps references to any God named or unamed out of the class and textbooks, and stays away from quoting religious texts, it will stand or fall by the test of time. If it is indeed science it will expand our ability to think and reason. If ID is science it will stand on its own, if not it will fail. The same can be said for macro-evolution. If the science of macro evolution is true it can stand the heat if not it won’t, simple as that. If ID is a trojan horse for creationist,it will be revealed in time, if not we will all be the better for expanding the possibilities of thinking people.

  5. […] Outside The Beltway : Kitzmiller v. DASD […]

  6. skunqesh says:

    Ray – no one’s afraid of ID. Those of us with more than two neurons to rub together aren’t buying ID and don’t wish to see it crammed down our throats or our kids throats. It’s not even remotely science – Behe is a laughing stock jackass, and I’d be very interested to see how much this nitwit has published in the past few years. Tenure will keep him off the streets but no one is enrolling at Lehigh (or whatever) U for it’s reknown science or engineering standards.

    You want ID taught – send yer lil monkeys to Bob Jones Prepatory, but stay the fuck out of my tax dollarpaid public school. You want to push hysterical fundie schmack talk as ‘science’ into the public realm you damn sure better be prepared to back up yer talk with some facts and peer reviewed evidence, and not “the tooth fairy told me so” BS.
    Being ignorant, and staying determinedly so is one of the great freedoms in America. The lame ass so called arguements the ID-ers keep regurgitating have not yet held water, and I for one know that they never will. The horrible tradgedy here is that, though aetheists may be strident in their beliefs, they are not guiding or espousing any kind of spirituality or anti-spirituality, or religion based on scienctific principles. But the cultish neocon christopaths have an agenda – to evangelize, and to pervert public education with their personal beliefs. You want to throw in the towel and say – “waah, science is HARD! I can’t understand, so I’m going to just say it can’t be understood” and be done with it – hey, fine. But you inability to fathom deeper thoughts, and the mystery of this creation are not going to keep me from figuring them out for myself.
    You’re either forging ahead or your deadweight – and ID is deadweight.


  7. RJN says:

    Skungesh’s lame rant is, unfortunately, too typical of arguments against ID.

    I would also add that most taxpayers do have a faith in God, and disproportionatley pay for, and provide support for, public schools.

  8. MM says:


    What taxpayers believe is not relevant to what is taught as science. If the majority of taxpayers believed that Pi=3, then we would not start teaching Intelligent Geometry. The best fit theory is currently evolution by natural selection. If there’s something that makes more sense, then the scientific method will find it independently of what we in the lay community think.

  9. RJN says:

    My taxpayers remarks were in response to Skungesh’s churlish claims that people of religious faith are the enemies of public education; not so, Christians invented public education.

    Many scientists, with credentials you would respect, think ID has legitimate questions to ask that science cannot, now, answer. When I say science I mean the methods, and devices, used in discovering the nature of reality by observation, conjecture, postulation, and testing.

    The people supporting ID are not small minded people; rancor is generally foreign to them. They are people of intellectual consequence who sincerely pursue truth.

  10. Ray from NH says:

    here are ten peer reviewed ID items, should i find more? Will this do (for last writer of my post called bitches) or are more necessary?

    What follows is a list of ten peer-reviewed publications that support intelligent design in biology
    written by proponents of intelligent design. Note, in particular, the two articles by Douglas Axe,
    which describe experiments in molecular biology and thus present “scientific data” that support
    intelligent design. Note, in addition, that there is a widely recognized peer-reviewed literature in
    physics and cosmology that supports intelligent design—see, for instance, the work of Fred
    Hoyle, Paul Davies, and Guillermo Gonzalez.58

    • W.A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities
    (Cambridge: Cambridge University Pres, 1998).
    This book was published by Cambridge University Press and peer-reviewed as part of a
    distinguished monograph series, Cambridge Studies in Probability, Induction, and Decision
    Theory. The editorial board of that series includes members of the National Academy of
    Sciences as well as one Nobel laureate, John Harsanyi, who shared the prize in 1994 with
    John Nash, the protagonist in the film A Beautiful Mind. Commenting on the ideas in The
    Design Inference, well-known physicist and science writer Paul Davies remarks: “Dembski’s
    attempt to quantify design, or provide mathematical criteria for design, is extremely useful.
    I’m concerned that the suspicion of a hidden agenda is going to prevent that sort of work from
    receiving the recognition it deserves.” Quoted in L. Witham, By Design (San Francisco:
    Encounter Books, 2003), p. 149. For more about the peer-review of this book, see Appendices
    6 and 7.

    • D.D. Axe, “Extreme Functional Sensitivity to Conservative Amino Acid Changes on
    Enzyme Exteriors,” Journal of Molecular Biology, 301(3) (2000): 585–595.

    • D.D. Axe, “Estimating the Prevalence of Protein Sequences Adopting Functional Enzyme
    Folds,” Journal of Molecular Biology, 341(5) (2004):1295–1315.
    These two articles by Douglas Axe show that certain enzymes are extremely sensitive to
    perturbation. Perturbation in this case does not simply diminish existing function or alter
    function, but removes all possibility of biological function (in this case, any biologically
    useful catalytic activity). This implies that neo-Darwinian theory has no purchase on these
    systems—these systems are unevolvable by Darwinian means. Moreover, the probabilities
    implicit in such extreme-functional-sensitivity analyses are precisely those needed for a
    design inference.

    • S.C. Meyer, “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic
    Categories,” Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 117(2) (2004): 213–
    This article explicitly argues for intelligent design in the origination of the Cambrian fauna. It
    created an international firestorm within the scientific community when it was published. See
    the Wall Street Journal article in Appendix 8 as well as the following website by the editor
    who oversaw the article’s peer-review process:

    • M.J. Behe and D.W. Snoke, “Simulating Evolution by Gene Duplication of Protein
    Features That Require Multiple Amino Acid Residues,” Protein Science, 13 (2004):
    Behe and Snoke show in this article how difficult it is for unguided evolutionary processes to
    take existing proteins structures and add novel proteins whose interface compatibility is such
    that they could combine functionally with the original proteins. By demonstrating inherent
    limitations to unguided evolutionary processes, this work gives indirect scientific support to
    intelligent design.

    • W.-E. Loennig & H. Saedler, “Chromosome Rearrangements and Transposable
    Elements,” Annual Review of Genetics, 36 (2002): 389–410.
    This article examines the role of transposons in the abrupt origin of new species and the
    possibility of a partly predetermined generation of biodiversity and new species. The authors’
    approach in non-Darwinian, and they cite favorably the work of Michael Behe and William

    • D.K.Y. Chiu & T.H. Lui, “Integrated Use of Multiple Interdependent Patterns for
    Biomolecular Sequence Analysis,” International Journal of Fuzzy Systems, 4(3)
    (September 2002): 766–775.
    The opening paragraph of this article reads: “Detection of complex specified information is
    introduced to infer unknown underlying causes for observed patterns [10]. By complex
    information, it refers to information obtained from observed pattern or patterns that are highly
    improbable by random chance alone. We evaluate here the complex pattern corresponding to
    multiple observations of statistical interdependency such that they all deviate significantly
    from the prior or null hypothesis [8]. Such multiple interdependent patterns when consistently
    observed can be a powerful indication of common underlying causes. That is, detection of
    significant multiple interdependent patterns in a consistent way can lead to the discovery of
    possible new or hidden knowledge.” Reference number [10] here is to The Design Inference.

    • M.J. Denton & J.C. Marshall, “The Laws of Form Revisited,” Nature, 410 (22 March
    2001): 417; M.J. Denton, J.C. Marshall & M. Legge, (2002) “The Protein Folds as
    Platonic Forms: New Support for the pre-Darwinian Conception of Evolution by Natural
    Law,” Journal of Theoretical Biology 219 (2002): 325–342.
    This research is thoroughly non-Darwinian and teleological. It looks to laws of form
    embedded in nature to bring about biological structures. The intelligent design research
    program is broad, and design like this that’s programmed into nature falls within its ambit.

    • J. Barham, “Biofunctional Realism and the Problem of Teleology,” Evolution and
    Cognition, 6(1) (2000): 2–34.
    This paper looks to self-organizational properties of matter to argue for a fundamental
    teleology or intelligence as responsible for the origin and evolution of biological systems. The
    teleology here is nonreductionist but rather emergentist. Barham’s approach is thus
    thoroughly non-Darwinian. And although his approach does not locate teleology in an
    extramaterial source, it does argue that teleology plays an ineliminable role in biological
    origins and diversification.

    • M. Barbieri, The Organic Codes: The Birth of Semantic Biology (Ancona, Italy: peQuod).
    This monograph summarizes Marcello Barbieri’s longstanding work in formulating a
    semantic, and therefore intelligence-based, biology. Barbieri has published aspects of this
    monograph in such peer-reviewed journals as Journal of Theoretical Biology and Rivista di
    Biologia (see the monograph’s bibliography).

  11. Ray from NH says:

    I also find it very interesting that Darwin graduated from Oxford with a theology degree and was asked upon graduating to take a trip to study as a naturalist by his superiors. Amazing that we developed this whole theory from a theologian that wasn’t even a scientist and base our whole theory of origins as a basis for science on this man. They certainly didn’t blow this guy out of the water lack of credentials or peer review.

  12. DL says:

    As if law, any more than science, can determine that a Creator does or does not exist. Both formats are unable to recognize the spiritual. However, since our founding fathers recognized a Creator and Nature’s God, if you will, the issue will remain viable.

  13. legion says:

    What RJN is trying to do is the same thing many IDers do – attempt to portray evolution (indeed, science in general) as inherently anti-religion.

    Unfortunately for those people, it’s just not so. There is nothing in the concept of evolution that denies the existence of God. What evolution _is_ incompatible with is a _literal, word-by-word interpretation of the Bible_. That’s something that only a very small minority of Christians follow, but they’re trying to substitute it as the position of mainstream Christianity, and as soon as that dawns on the other sects (some have already noticed), they’re going to be pretty pissed.

    Also, DL makes an important point – religion cannot tell me what facts are any more than science can tell me what justice is…

  14. RJN says:


    Science is areligious. Nowhere did I say that science is anti-religious.

    Steve Verdon observed that ID must be supernatural – religious – or be nonsense, I responded that his reasoning seemed to be faith based. I then paraphrased his reasoning: “ID must lead to a God, so ID is nonsense.” It is fair to say that he has precluded ID from having any meaning outside of religion. It takes faith in an evolutionaty process still unrevealed to so preclude ID.

    Verdon, like so many others, dismiss ID based on their religious views, not on their science views. The great evolutionist, and paleontologist, Stephen Jay Gould suggested “punctuated equilibrium” to fill in the gaps that occurr, in the fossil record, between advances in species development. ID looks into the mystery of those gaps with scientific eyes, and proposes an intelligent agent at work.

  15. Steve Verdon says:

    Many scientists, with credentials you would respect, think ID has legitimate questions to ask that science cannot, now, answer.

    This is false. There are a handful of scientists who think this way. Furhter, the notion that simply because it can’t be explained today does not mean we have to invoke the supernatural.

    When I say science I mean the methods, and devices, used in discovering the nature of reality by observation, conjecture, postulation, and testing.

    Unfortunately there is not a single IDist who does any of the above. So far all ID arguments are against evolutionary theory and do not result in experiments, data or predictions. Hence it is not science.

    The people supporting ID are not small minded people; rancor is generally foreign to them.

    Not true at all. William Dembski is very nasty and petty.

    They are people of intellectual consequence who sincerely pursue truth.

    Again, this is highly questionable. While it is true many of the IDists are quite smart and have advanced degrees they have settled on an answer and are looking for the support for that answer. This is not science, but dogmatism.

    W.A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Pres, 1998).

    Dembski’s book is not peer reviewed in the sense that it wasn’t going to be rejected. There was no “revise and resubmit”. This is a dubious claim that Dembski and the Discovery Institute love to push. Also, Dembski’s filter has a series of problems with it. Things like his conditions CINDE, TRACT and DELIM really don’t allow us to warrant a conclusion of specificity. See Fitelson, Stephens and Sober’s review article.

    D.D. Axe, Extreme Functional Sensitivity to Conservative Amino Acid Changes on Enzyme Exteriors, Journal of Molecular Biology, 301(3) (2000): 585595.

    Sorry, but this paper also does not invoke anything associated with ID. IDists have tried to claim that it “proves their claims” but it simply does not. Link

    M.J. Behe and D.W. Snoke, Simulating Evolution by Gene Duplication of Protein Features That Require Multiple Amino Acid Residues, Protein Science, 13 (2004): 26512664.

    Behe and Snoke show in this article how difficult it is for unguided evolutionary processes to take existing proteins structures and add novel proteins whose interface compatibility is such that they could combine functionally with the original proteins. By demonstrating inherent limitations to unguided evolutionary processes, this work gives indirect scientific support to intelligent design.

    The problem here is that this “summary” is innaccurate. Behe and Snoke basically postulate “one true form” for the protein the worked with and then stunningly [sarcasm] found that such an assumption leads to a low probability of finding that “one true form”. It is an unwarranted assumption for evolutionary processes in general. Hence the paper does not mean anything damning for evolutionary processess.

    S.C. Meyer, The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 117(2) (2004): 213-239.

    Oh great, this thing. Lets be clear here. This paper was “shepharded” through publication by an editor (unbeknownest to the rest of the journal’s staff and editors) who left his position under a cloud of ill-repute for his actions. The journal in question later retracted the article and completely disavowed its publication. As for the article itself it incorrectly applies various ID concepts such as Dembski’s filter. One does not merely say, “Wow that is complex, and unlikely therefore design.” Even Dembski knew that wouldn’t fly hence his filter.

    So far out of the four I’ve looked at the claims of “peer reviewed ID articles” is false in that the articles either don’t deal directly with ID or they use characitures of ID, evolution or both. I see little reason to continue going through the list.

    I also find it very interesting that Darwin graduated from Oxford with a theology degree and was asked upon graduating to take a trip to study as a naturalist by his superiors. Amazing that we developed this whole theory from a theologian that wasn’t even a scientist and base our whole theory of origins as a basis for science on this man. They certainly didn’t blow this guy out of the water lack of credentials or peer review.

    What can we say Ray, Darwin was a guy who went with the data vs. his superstitions and personal beliefs. It is to be commended.

  16. legion says:

    You said:

    Steve Verdon observed that ID must be supernatural – religious – or be nonsense, I responded that his reasoning seemed to be faith based. I then paraphrased his reasoning: ID must lead to a God, so ID is nonsense.

    While you are right that such a statement would be faith based, I don’t believe that’s what Steve was saying. What he said, and what the legalistic argument against ID focuses on, is more like: _”ID must lead to a God, so ID is not science.”_

    While there are plenty of people who do get “into the mud” and call ID “nonsense”, such a statement would not be of any value in a courtroom. Saying ID is faith-based is not (or shouldn’t be) an insult; but saying ID is science _is_ insulting to science, as well as demonstrably untrue.

  17. Ray from NH says:

    My contention Steve V. is that ID proponents do not have a problem with Micro-Evolution it’s the Macro-Evolution aspect of this discussion that’s the real issue. I mean I live in NH, and when I go to see the Old Man of the Mountain (a natural forming rock face which recently fell) I can admire it as a work of nature and there is no debateb about it.

    But when I go to mount Rushmore and view the 4 presidents carved on that hill I can be absolutely sure that ID is present in the carving of those faces, and not the work of wind, rain, time or any natural circumstances whatsoever.

    Macro-Evolutionists are so terrified to give any ground here that they will try to subject us to any kind of explanation they can drum up then to be intellectually honest and just say that ther is evidence is complex livings organisms (Mount Rushmore) and must have been Designed (carved) by an Intelligent Designer, named or unamed.

    It’s really that simple.

  18. Steve Verdon says:

    My contention Steve V. is that ID proponents do not have a problem with Micro-Evolution it’s the Macro-Evolution aspect of this discussion that’s the real issue.

    This is a false dichotomy and indicates a poor grasp of the subjcet, namely evolutionary theory. The very same driver in micro-evolution is the very same drive for macro-evolution. Hence, the ID/Creationist side needs to explain why “micro-evolution” stops as the level of species. Without this explanation we have wishful thinking and not science.

    Now, I don’t mean that to be insulting, but just…well blunt. The ID side says their views are scientific. Well okay then. Get out the theory/hypothesis why genetic drift, mutation, and all the other mechanisms for evolution stop at the species boundry.

    But when I go to mount Rushmore and view the 4 presidents carved on that hill I can be absolutely sure that ID is present in the carving of those faces, and not the work of wind, rain, time or any natural circumstances whatsoever.

    We don’t need the machinery of ID to tell us this. We can rely on basic probability theory.


  19. Steve Verdon says:

    Macro-Evolutionists are so terrified to give any ground here that they will try to subject us to any kind of explanation they can drum up then to be intellectually honest and just say that ther is evidence is complex livings organisms (Mount Rushmore) and must have been Designed (carved) by an Intelligent Designer, named or unamed.

    It’s really that simple.

    Why should anybody be terrified of a benevolent supreme being?

  20. Shadworam says:

    Evolution vs Intelligent Design : Explaining The scientific method of Theory.

    With the Dover PA lawsuit, and many other states trying to include references of ID into the science class room, I find myself debating this issue a lot. Since 64 percent of Americans believe that ID should be taught alongside Evolution in the science classroom as a valid scientific Theory, I find myself in the minority (this is 2005 right?) believing that ID should not go anywhere near the science classroom, but instead taught in Theology or Social studies.

    Aside from the DNA record, Fossil record, “Irreducible Complexity”, young earth/old earth debates, I think the number one point of confusion with the lay person is the Term “Scientific Theory”. Most people just don’t seem to understand the meaning of the word “Theory” in the scientific community. It does not mean a guess. It is back upped by lot’s of evidence and data. So in my debates with friends and family members I have come up with a way to really explain this process in a simple and I hope, understandable way.

    I call it my Jack and Jill Concept.

    Jack and Jill are married. One day jack thinks Jill might be cheating on him, he has no proof, he just has this feeling. I would call this a concept or the beginning of a hypothesis. So acting on his feelings, he starts asking around. Jane tells him she has seen Jill at lunch with another man once or twice at a local Italian restaurant. So now Jack’s concept is turning into a good Hypothesis. But having lunch with someone is no proof of an affair.

    Jack gives a waiter at the restaurant a 50 dollar bill and shows the picture of Jill. The waiter says “Ya I have seen her here a few times having lunch with Ken. I think he works for CO.Inc, at least that’s what it says on his ID badge”. After some more investigating, he finds out that has offices in the same building that Jill works at. So armed with conjecture and speculation he starts to form a Theory, it’s still a hypothesis, because again having lunch is no proof of an affair. But it’s a good model for building a Theory of the Ken and Jill affair.

    After looking thru Jill’s purse one day he finds a matchbook from a local motel. Giving the motel clerk a $100 gets him a look at the guest book. In the book he finds that Ken had a room at the motel, and after showing the picture of Jill, the clerk says he has seen her at the motel”. So now he is convinced that Jill is having an Affair. He has all the proof he needs. Based on investigation, logic, assumptions and hard evidence (Jill had the match book in her purse) . But all this is still only a Theory. To almost anyone else, this would not be a theory, we have proof that Jill shared a room with Ken at the motel. We would say she is in “fact” having an affair, and we would most likely be right. Logic and human reasoning tells us this.

    But it’s still a Theory, because the definition of an affair in this case is sexual intercourse or some sexual act. Unless Jack burst into the room and caught Jill and Ken in the act, the affair is still just a Theory. They could have been just talking for all we know, unlikely but still a possibility. So it will always remain a Theory unless Jack catches them in the act.

    I know this is overly simplified, but it’s the best I could do to explain the Scientific Process, and why the Theory of Evolution is not JUST a Theory, but a Scientific Theory based on facts, data, investigations, assumptions, and observations. It’s not to be dismissed easily with the premise or concept of Intelligent Design. That is based on faith. To compare it to ID would be the same thing as saying, I have known Jill all my life, she would NEVER have an affair, I do not care what proof you have..she is not having one.

    Any comments?


  21. Ray from NH says:

    I will quote a relevant passage by Richard Dawkins here, from The Blind Watchmaker:

    [quote] When it comes to feeling awe over living ‘watches’ I yield to nobody. I feel more in common with the Reverend William Paley than I do with the distinguished modern philosopher, a well-known atheist, with whom I once discussed the matter at dinner. I said that I could not imagine being an atheist at any time before 1859, when Darwin’s Origin of Species was published. ‘What about Hume?’ replied the philosopher. ‘How did Hume explain the organized complexity of the living world?’ I asked. ‘He didn’t,’ said the philosopher. ‘Why does it need any special explanation?’

    Paley knew that it needed a special explanation; Darwin knew it, and I suspect that in his heart of hearts my philosopher companion knew it too. In any case it will be my business to show it here. As for David Hume himself, it is sometimes said that that great Scottish philosopher disposed of the Argument from Design a century before Darwin. But what Hume did was criticize the logic of using apparent design in nature as positive evidence for the existence of a God. He did not offer any alternative explanation for apparent design, but left the question open. An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: ‘I have no explanation for comlex biological design. All I know is that God isn’t a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.’ I can’t help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. I like to think that Hume would agree, but some of his writings suggest that he underestimated the complexity and beauty of biological design. The boy naturalist Charles Darwin could have shown him a thing or two about that, but Hume had been dead 40 years when Darwin enrolled in Hume’s university of Edinburgh.


  22. Ray from NH says:

    So the basic situation we have is the idea of Intelligent Design as a default explanation. This is why ID’ers like to discredit Darwinism — they are not providing positive proof of ID, but leaving it as the only other conceivable option to explain the existence of life.

    Whether your ID is a God or an Extraterrestrial seems almost moot (indeed, Michael Shermer has suggested that it would be impossible for us to tell the difference between the two, if the ET were sufficiently intelligent and powerful). Whichever you choose, you still have to deal with Infinite Regression. God made us: who made God? ET made us: who made ET? Theologians can get around this by arguing that God is qualitatively different from any biological organism and so is immune to the argument from design. This seems like a slippery rhetorical trick to me, but perhaps it has been worked out in better detail than I have represented.

    In any case, the importance of Darwinism to atheism (as Dawkins has described in the above quote) opens evolution up to charges from religionists that it is merely a “dogma” specifically designed to prop up atheism. A creationist might argue that evolution is a desperate ad-hoc idea cobbled together in an attempt to prove that life can exist without God.

    Where would we atheists be, if Darwinism failed? Would we be forced, out of logical necessity, to accept some form of intelligent design and abandon our atheism? But if Hume did in fact successfully dismantle the argument from design (I don’t know whether he did, not having read Hume yet), then does that not leave us in a conundrum? As Dawkins hints, all we can do, failing Darwinism, is to shrug and say, “I don’t know how life got here, but I refuse to jump to any easy goddidit conclusions all the same.”

    I think however that there are other levels at which this question can be addressed. Having solved the problem of life via Darwinism, we still must confront the infamous “fine tuning” arguments — the idea that, of all possible universes, only a very small percentage of them would be able to harbor anything that might be called life. (Presumably most of them would just be random swirlings of matter, or they might have no laws of physics at all, or whatever… we don’t know this, of course, but it can be speculated.) So one thing that is suggested to refute fine-tuning is the Many Universes idea: there is a vast, maybe infinite, series of universes, and we obviously exist in one of those few which can harbor life.

    But here’s the weird thing. If we are going to resort to a “many universes” argument anyway, do we really need Darwinism at all? Certainly if there were an *infinite* series of universes (as opposed to merely 10, or 100, or 1,000, or 1 googol), then we could speculate that eventually a universe would come into being in which *all the ordered complexity of biology* simply existed a priori, no Darwinism needed. Vastly improbable, but if you allow an infinity of universes, it could happen.

    Of course, if you were to suppose that *our* universe came into being that way, then you would also have to suppose it was an “Omphalos” universe in which all the fossils simply poofed into existence in just the right order to make us think evolution had happened… and all the animals bore nested morphological characteristics in just such a way as to make us think evolution had happened… which decreases the probability of this occurrence a googolplex-fold. Surely, of all the possible “instant universes” where intelligent life simply “poofed” into being, it would be far more likely that they would poof into being in a world of no fossil record, no nested hierarchy, and moreover a world where every single species used a completely different biochemistry to propagate itself…

    I am basically just rambling a bit at this point. But here’s another thing. Darwinism is often supported on the grounds that a complex thing should be explained in terms of simpler elements. In other words, it is apparently easier for us to imagine the a priori existence of an atom, than the a priori existence of an elephant. Darwinism tells us how we can get an elephant from an atom, but it cannot tell us how we got the atom in the first place (though obviously cosmology and physics are taking a whack at that question). But is the existence of an atom really any less of a conundrum than the existence of an elephant? Does the atom get a free pass merely because it is *simpler* than the elephant? Why should that be so? This train of thought leads us almost to collapse the Arguments from Design and First Cause into one and the same thing… which might be satisfying except, of course, that the proposed solution to either argument (God) seems merely a verbal prop, a way of redescribing our ignorance.

  23. Steve Verdon says:


    The first problem is in assuming that ID is the default explanation. That is a vacuous position. The default position should be whatever theory, despite its current short comings, explains the data best–i.e. whichever theory is most likely true given data.

    Further, even if “Darwinism” is refuted it does not mean that we have to accept Intelligent Design. This is a classic example of the either/or fallacy. The problem for IDists is that to replace “Darwinism” ID must offer a more robust explanation. You cannot offer a more robuts explanation without data, experiments and predictions. Once again we are brought face to face with ID’s inability to provide the very things it needs to succeed.

    As for the dogmatism of evolutionary theory this can only be true if the person who believes in evolutionary theory holds that the probability of evolutionary theory being true is 1. Since for most scientists this is not the case, this is an untenable position.

    Arguing that evolutionary theory is an ad-hoc cobbled together attempt to disprove the existence of God is just silly. God is supernatural and hence is above the concepts of refutation and verification. You cannot find evidence for the supernatural because everything is evidence for the supernatural. For example,

    Prove that I do not have mental powers and that I am going to control exactly what you write in your next post.

    Go ahead and try to disprove that claim.

    The fine tuning arguments are exemplify the contridictory nature of IDists, IMO. On the one hand IDists want to argue,

    1. Life as we know it is so complex it couldn’t have arisen without the guiding hand of an intelligent designer.

    Then on the other hand IDists, without blinking, want to argue,

    2. The universe is fine tuned that ensures that life will arise.

    Further, probabilistic arguments using the fine tuning argument show that concluding design is precisely the wrong answer.

    Let F = a fine tuned or life friendly universt.
    Let L = that there is life in the universe.
    Let N = Natural laws/processes are at work in the universe.

    Let ~N = Supernaturalism.
    Let ~L = A sterile universe.
    Let ~F = A universe that is life unfriendly.

    Now, the following is true.

    P(F|N&L) = 1

    That is the probability of the universe being fine tuned given that there is life and only natural laws at work is 1 (100%).

    Now, we want to know the following:


    That is, what is the probability of natural laws alone are at work in the universe given there is life and that the universe is fine tuned? We can solve for this as follows.

    P(N|F&L) = P(F|L&N)P(N|L)/P(F|L)

    The first line is merely an application of Bayes theorem.

    The second line makes use of P(F|N&L) = 1, and the third line follows from the fact that P(F|L) < 1.

    What this says is that upon learning that the universe is fine tuned it cannot lower your probability that the universe is governed by natural laws.

    Probability is the logic of science. All scientific hypotheses can be put into probabilitistic terms and evaluated very much like we have just done with Bayesian methods (try a google search on Bayesian methods in science).

    So even the fine tuning argument, when looked at in a probabilistic manner means precisely the opposite of what IDists claim. We don’t need to invoke the Many Worlds Hypothesis. We don’t need to invoke a sequence of universes, or anything else.

    Even if you don’t buy into the arguments above, and I’d like to point out again, that the argument is essentially a mathematical proof (and no, this isn’t a proof that God doesn’t exist or that natural laws are true, but about probabilistic statements…that is the hypothesis of “naturalism” could still be false), think of it this way.

    What points to some sort of intelligent intervention:

    Life in a life friendly universe, or
    Life in a life unfriendly universe.

    To me the latter says, “Hey, something really outside our laws of nature might be going on here.” Whereas the former says, “Nope, nothing special here.”

  24. Ray from NH says:

    You say “Then on the other hand IDists, without blinking, want to argue,

    2. The universe is fine tuned that ensures that life will arise.

    Life in a life unfriendly universe.

    Life in the Universe is seen By IDists as only friendly and probable for the small blue dot and unfriendly every where else in the observable Universe.

    Paleontologist Peter Ward and astronomer Donald Brownlee think all of us should feel lucky. Their rare Earth hypothesis predicts that while simple, microbial life will be very widespread in the universe, complex animal or plant life will be extremely rare. Ward and Brownlee admit that “It is very difficult to do statistics with an N of 1. But thier defense, they have staked out a position rarely articulated but increasingly accepted by many astrobiologists.

    The revolution in astrobiology during the 1990s was twofold. First, scientists grew to appreciate how incredibly robust microbial life can be found in the superheated water of deep-sea vents, pools of acid, or even within the crust of the Earth itself. The chance of finding such simple life on other bodies in our solar system has never seemed more realistic. But second, scientists have begun to appreciate how many unusual factors have cooperated to make Earth a congenial home for animal life: Jupiter’s stable orbit, the presence of the Moon, plate tectonics, just the right amount of water, the right position in the right sort of galaxy. Ward and Brownlee make a convincing if depressing case for their hypothesis, undermining the principle of mediocrity (or, “Earth isn’t all that special”) that has ruled astronomy since Copernicus.

    bacterial life forms may be in many galaxies, but complex life forms, like those that have evolved on Earth, are rare in the universe. Ward and Brownlee attribute Earth’s evolutionary achievements to the following critical factors: our optimal distance from the sun, the positive effects of the moon’s gravity on our climate, plate tectonics and continental drift, the right types of metals and elements, ample liquid water, maintainance of the correct amount of internal heat to keep surface temperatures within a habitable range, and a gaseous planet the size of Jupiter to shield Earth from catastrophic meteoric bombardment. Arguing that complex life is a rare event in the universe.

    The evidence is mounting that we live on the best piece of real estate in the observable universe.

    So IDist’s would say life in an unfriendly universe except for our nieghborhood.

  25. Lee Messer says:

    I was walking down the street the other day and I found a STRUCTURE. It had a wonderful environment control system inside. A near perfect temperature, humidity, and ventilation system was present such that day and night, winter and summer, and under all conditions, the internal temperature and humidity was sustained almost exactly. This structure was far too complex to have come about by random chance. THIS MUST BE THE WORK OF AN INTELLIGENT DESIGNER! After a little “digging”, I discovered the designer: a termite.

    Thus ID can “prove” that TERMITES ARE INTELLIGENT!

  26. Ray from NH says:

    Only one termite?

  27. Man oh man this is funny.

    Has anyone here ever heard of endogenous retroviruses? Or pseudogenes? Or retroposons?

    The strongest evidence for evolution exists in our genetic code. Look up the above terms, I suggest going to or visiting the discussion on

    The fact of the matter is, even if ID did present a serious challenge to evolution (which it most certainly does not, no matter how many “reputed scientists” the IDers claim to have on their side), it hasn’t been around long enough and hasn’t been peer reviewed extensively enough to belong in a science class room.

    It lacks the structure of a theory, first of all. It can’t be falsified. It doesn’t even have hypotheses or methods of testing. The moment we rely on the supernatural in science is the moment science goes straight to hell. You can’t build a nuclear power plant on faith.

    The science class room must reflect the standing of the science community. Right now only about 0.15% of all biologists hold creationist viewpoints. If creationists can get their shit together, develop a coherent theory, allow their work to be rigorously peer reviewed, and perhaps provide some experiments or testable hypothesis, then maybe, just maybe, there might be a chance in the distant future that a teacher should be allowed to bring it up after class.

  28. Lee Messer says:

    Of course only one termite. The whole point of ID is to stop research once the truth is found. Do you mean there might be more than 1 termite in the mound? Heresy!

  29. Ray from NH says:

    Lee Some how I seriously doubt that you’ve intently read any thing but rebuttals on ID and if you have, than what we seek is truth. And if we seek truth, design is progress for science. Inferring design in no way stops science from achieving its goal to understand nature. Like any new paradigm, design opens up new doors to research. Many evolutionary biologists might not yet see these doors because they have been trained to think under the paradigm of evolution. That does not mean design could not bear fruit for science, once science is willing to “retool” to accept design. Much work could be done trying to learn to discriminate between design and evolution in fields such as biochemistry, paleontology, the origin of life, systematics, and genetics. William Dembski has identified a number of scientific and philosophical fields where design can contribute. Design is not intended to “subsume” all science and will not force science to conclude that everything is designed if we apply the mechanisms of detecting carefully and properly.

  30. Ray from NH says:

    William Demski wrote, “Critics of intelligent design have adopted a zero-concession policy toward

    intelligent design. According to this policy, absolutely nothing is to be conceded to intelligent
    design on the scientific front.

    Indeed, to do otherwise is to allow that intelligent design might
    have something going for it scientifically, in which case its legitimacy in the public school
    biology curriculum would be immediate.

    As a theory of design detection and
    technological evolution, intelligent design is now well in hand. But as a general theory of
    biological form, ID has a long way to go.

    Intelligent design, however, is hardly alone in this

    Consider the following admissions about the lack of a general theory of biological form
    by mainstream biologists and scientists:

    “The strange thing about the theory of evolution is that everyone thinks he understands it.
    But we do not.
    —Stuart Kauffman, 2003

    “Biology still lacks a theory of organization…. The need for a conceptual framework for
    the study of organization lies at the heart of unsolved problems in both ontogeny and
    —Mary West-Eberhard, 2003

    “We do not claim that the fundamental laws of physics (and thus of chemistry) do not
    hold in biology; they, of course, do. But we do claim that their conceptual frame is too
    narrow. Rather we have to find new concepts that transcend the purely microscopic
    descriptions of systems.
    —Kelso & Haken, 1995

    “We do not even know what biology is about, in the same sense that we know what
    mechanics is about, or what optics is about, or what thermodynamics is about. We thus
    do not know the scope of the domain of biology, for it has as yet no objectively definable
    bounds. In place of these, we have only a tacit consensus.
    —Robert Rosen, 1991

    “If it’s true that Darwinism alone constitutes the theoretical portion of biology, that’s is
    because it alone introduces a virtual reality, namely, the collection of all the possible
    evolutions of a species in a given time and place. But this virtual reality is uncontrolled;
    one can say nothing about it.”
    — René Thom, 1990

    “The delusion of the finished [evolutionary] synthesis places restrictions on freedom of
    thought of which its believers are unaware. Selectionists [i.e., those who think that
    natural selection is the principal mechanism in evolution] point to the internal debates as
    evidence of free discussion, but the freedom is bounded by the dead hand of Darwin.”37

    —Robert Reid, 1985

    This ID debate is Scopes in reverse and everyone is starting to catch on. Especially the youth, who are looking for a good fight against the establishment of entrenched immovable theories.

    The table cloth is being removed from that entrenched neo-Darwinistic view.

    Thier insecurity in any competing views are being exposed as an ugly stain that is appearing on the wood surface called, hold the fort at all costs, even if it may be true or possible, and brand it a lie and throw them under the bus.

    Marginalize them if you chose but they’re coming and I don’t think they can be stopped.

  31. Ray from NH says:

    2 more quotes to bolstre my point.

    Max Planck, surveying his own career in his Scientific Autobiography, sadly remarked
    that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making
    them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation
    grows up that is familiar with it.

    There’s a good sociological reason for this.

    Machiavelli put it this way:

    It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out nor more doubtful
    of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.

    For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm
    defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising
    partly for fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favor; and partly from the
    incredulity of men, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual
    experience of it.
    — Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1519), The Prince, ch. 6

  32. Lee Messer says:

    Ray, actually, I’m trying to emphasize some basic flaws in the ID argument:

    If something looks designed it MUST have a designer, and if the design is clever, the designer MUST be intelligent.

    1. Even though something LOOKS designed doesn’t mean it was designed. The termite mound is a good example of this, and is a better example than the watchmaker. Termites may build the mound, but it is foolish to suggest that they “designed” it in any conventional sense.
    2. If you want to see a real controversy in science, research the hub-ub concerning the concept of “intelligence”. I’m personally not sure it really exists, even among humans.

    Which reminds me of Percival Lowell who, having more money than a science education, built a great telescope and spent his life finding evidence for “intelligence” on Mars. Of course, we all know where that “science” went.

    Speaking of things I read, I did an informal survey of Christian Universities that have a school of biology. Not a single one had a course in ID, but all started their freshmen 101 biology course with an exhaustive examination of the science of evolution. The real problem for these schools is the LOSS OF FAITH by students who have been drilled in ID by their parents (and/or others). Luckily, these schools also have a divinity school which can counsel students to have faith without believing in creationism or ID.

    All of this makes me wonder whether or not ID is really a DEVIL’S ARGUMENT: Namely, IF any part of the bible is not literally true, THEN you can throw the whole book out as worthless. Too many of our young people are doing just that.

    And by the way, don’t patronize me. From what I’ve read, proponents of ID have only one thing weaker that their arguments, and that is their faith.

  33. Ray from NH says:

    How do you know that a termite is not designing the mound for maximum benefit of the entire colony, or is not conventional? Is there evidence to support that premise?

    Very little is known about a vast majority of the insect population. Many researchers are still trying to determine what they are doing and how and by what mechanisms they are doing it. They may just be very conventional indeed.

    Bees and ants of various types are engaged in some extremely sophisticated forms of communication amongst themselves both chemically and by vibrations that are still being research today. demonstrating distances traveled for food sources and more suitable housing.

    Since you brought up Christianity and religion, here is a bible passage for you.

    Proverbs 6

    6) Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise,

    7) Which, having no chief, Officer or ruler,

    8) Prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest.

  34. skunqesh says:

    Lucky for you I have done research and much work in structural biology and protein crystallography.

    None of those citations you so generously provided give ID credibility. Bring as many citations as you wish, but your bias will assure a steady flow of strawmen. Some of them were funded by theologically based foundations (Discovery Institute) with the a priori purpose of finding some reason to support ID – or aren’t in legitimate scientific peer reviewed journals (Goto PubMed!). The Denton and Marshall citation from Nature makes no such arguement for ID – Physical Law constraining the number of forms allowable for protein folds doesn’t indicate (detect?) ID – it is a wonderful insight into the idea that if life exists through out the cosmos it might have similar fundamental structures and physiology to that found on this planet. And having researched first hand the conservation of structure without correlating sequence I can say it’s a beautiful idea! but it’s not a signature from the Almighty.

    Worship as you will, but there is no ‘scientific’ evidence pointing to or proving ID. If there were, it wouldn’t be ‘science’.