This is a repost of an older submission which was lost.
It is presented as a resource to answer the recurring question “does ID require intervention by the designer?”
If, by chance, it should ever come up that ID requires miracles or direct interventions in the course of the history of life (just kidding, of course it will come up) perhaps these notes from Dembski and Behe will come in handy.
What Behe personally means when he promotes ID:
Philosophical Objections to Intelligent Design:
Response to Critics
Michael J. Behe
July 31, 2000
National Academy of Sciences:
“Many religious persons, including many scientists, hold that God created the universe and the various processes driving physical and biological evolution and that these processes then resulted in the creation of galaxies, our solar system, and life on Earth. This belief, which sometimes is termed “theistic evolution,” is not in disagreement with scientific explanations of evolution. Indeed, it reflects the remarkable and inspiring character of the physical universe revealed by “[science]. (National Academy of Sciences 1999, 7)
In such a view even if we observe new complex systems being produced by selection pressure in the wild or in the laboratory, design would not be falsified because it is considered to be built into natural laws. Without commenting on the merits of the position, let me just say that that is not the meaning I assign to the phrase. By “intelligent design” I mean to imply design beyond the laws of nature. That is, taking the laws of nature as given, are their other reasons for concluding that life and its component systems have been intentionally arranged? In my book, and in this essay, whenever I refer to intelligent design (ID) I mean this stronger sense of design-beyond-laws. Virtually all academic critics of my book have taken the phrase in the strong sense I meant it.
In speaking of “miracles” –relying for rhetorical effect on that word’s pejorative connotations when used in a scientific context–Ruse and Futuyma are ascribing to me a position I was scrupulous in my book to avoid. Although I acknowledged that most people (including myself) will attribute the design to God–based in part on other, non-scientific judgments they have made–I did not claim that the biochemical evidence leads ineluctably to a conclusion about who the designer is. In fact, I directly said that, from a scientific point of view, the question remains open. (Behe 1996, 245-250) In doing so I was not being coy, but only limiting my claims to what I think the evidence will support. To illustrate, Francis Crick has famously suggested that life on earth may have been deliberately seeded by space aliens (Crick and Orgel 1973). If Crick said he thought that the clotting cascade was designed by aliens, I could not point to a biochemical feature of that system to show he was wrong. The biochemical evidence strongly indicates design, but does not show who the designer was.
I should add that, even if one does think the designer is God, subscribing to a theory of intelligent design does not necessarily commit one to “miracles.”
At least no more than thinking that the laws of nature were designed by God–a view, as we’ve seen, condoned by the National Academy of Sciences (National Academy of Sciences 1999). In either case one could hold that the information for the subsequent unfolding of life was present at the very start of the universe, with no subsequent “intervention” required from outside of nature. In one case, the information is present just in general laws. In the other case, in addition to general laws, information is present in other factors too. The difference might boil down simply to the question of whether there was more or less explicit design information present at the beginning–hardly a point of principle.
“The irreducibly complex biochemical systems I have discussed in this book did not have to be produced recently. It is entirely possible, based simply upon an examination of the systems themselves, that they were designed billions of years ago and that they have been passed down to the present by the normal processes of cellular reproduction. … Suppose that nearly 4 BYA the designer made the first cell, already containing the IC biomechanical systems discussed here and many others. (One can postulate that the designs for systems that were to be used later, such as blood-clotting, were present but not “turned on”. In present-day organisms plenty of genes are turned off for a while, sometimes for generations, to be turned on at a later time.)”
Darwin’s Black Box pp 227-228
Since the simplest possible design scenario posits a single cell – formed billions of years ago – that already contained all information to produce descendant organisms, other studies could test this scenario by attempting to calculate how much DNA would be required to code the information (keeping in mind that much of the information might be implicit).
Darwin’s Black Box
“But how could biochemical systems have been designed? Did they have to be created from scratch in a puff of smoke? No. The design process may have been much more subtle. It may have involved no contravening of natural laws. Let’s consider just one possibility. Suppose the designer is God, as most people would suspect. Well, then, as Ken Miller points out in his book, Finding Darwin’s God, a subtle God could cause mutations by influencing quantum events such as radioactive decay, something that I would call guided evolution. That seems perfectly possible to me. I would only add, however, that that process would amount to intelligent design, not Darwinian evolution.”
Blind Evolution or Intelligent Design?
Address to the American Museum of Natural History
By: Michael J. Behe
American Museum of Natural History
April 23, 2002
On the subject of interventionism, again, with reference to Miller:
For a designing intelligence to make a discernible difference in the emergence of some organism, however, seems to Miller to require that an intelligence intervened at specific times and places to bring about that organism and thus again seems to require some form of special creation. This in turn raises the question: How often and at what places did a designing intelligence intervene in the course of natural history to produce those biological structures that are beyond the power of material mechanisms? Thus, according to Miller, intelligent design draws an unreasonable distinction between material mechanisms and designing intelligences, claiming that material mechanisms are fine most of the time but then on rare (or perhaps not so rare) occasions a designing intelligence is required to get over some hump that material mechanisms can’t quite manage. Hence Miller’s reference to “an outside designer violat[ing] the very laws of nature he had fashioned.”
As I’ve pointed out to Miller on more than one occasion, this criticism is misconceived. The proper question is not how often or at what places a designing intelligence intervenes but rather at what points do signs of intelligence first become evident. Intelligent design therefore makes an epistemological rather than ontological point. To understand the difference, imagine a computer program that outputs alphanumeric characters on a computer screen. The program runs for a long time and throughout that time outputs what look like random characters. Then abruptly the output changes and the program outputs the most sublime poetry. Now, at what point did a designing intelligence intervene in the output of the program? Clearly, this question misses the mark because the program is deterministic and simply outputs whatever the program dictates.
Intelligent design is not a theory about the frequency or locality at which a designing intelligence intervenes in the material world. It is not an interventionist theory at all. Indeed, intelligent design is perfectly compatible with all the design in the world being front-loaded in the sense that all design was introduced at the beginning (say at the Big Bang) and then came to expression subsequently over the course of natural history much as a computer program’s output becomes evident only when the program is run. This actually is an old idea, and one that Charles Babbage, the inventor of the digital computer, explored in the 1830s in his Ninth Bridgewater Treatise (thus predating Darwin’s Origin of Species by twenty years).
“Indeed, intelligent design is perfectly compatible with all the design in the world coming to expression by the ordinary means of secondary causes over the course of natural history, much as a computer program’s output comes to expression by running the program (and thus without monkeying with the program’s operation).
Physical necessity can also be the carrier of teleology through laws of form that channel evolution along preset paths.
Even a non-Darwinian form of selection and variation can accommodate teleology, provided variations are under intelligent control or the environment is carefully fine-tuned by an intelligence to select for appropriate variations.
Intelligent design’s only concern is that secondary causes leave room for teleology and that this teleology be empirically detectable.
Indeed there are forms of telelogical evolution that are entirely compatible with intelligent design and that involve no break in secondary causes.”
The Design Revolution
In response to Howard Van Till (one time theistic evolutionist, and opponent of Phillip Johnson’s, now a process theologian):
Likewise, should a designer, who for both Van Till and me is God,act to bring about a bacterial flagellum, there is no reason prima facie to suppose that this designer did not act consistently with natural laws. It is, for instance, a logical possibility that the design in the bacterial flagellum was front-loaded into the universe at the Big Bang and subsequently expressed itself in the course of natural history as a miniature outboard motor on the back of E. Coli. Whether this is what actually happened is another question (more on this later), but it is certainly a live possibility and one that gets around the usual charge of miracles.
I argue in No Free Lunch that intelligent design does not require miracles or supernatural interventions in the classical sense of what I call “counterfactual substitution.” Although the term counterfactual substitution is recent, the idea is ancient and was explicitly described in counterfactual terms by the theologian Schleiermacher. The idea is that natural processes are ready to make outcome X occur but outcome Y occurs instead. Thus, for instance, with the body of Jesus dead and buried in a tomb for three days, natural processes are ready to keep that corpse a corpse (= the outcome X). But instead, that body resurrects (= the outcome Y).
Now I claim that intelligent design, in detecting design in nature and in biological systems in particular, doesn’t require counterfactual substitution.
Similar considerations apply to the bacterial flagellum. It’s not that nature was conspiring to prevent the flagellum’s emergence and that a designer was needed to overcome nature’s inherent preference for some other outcome (as in the case of counterfactual substitution). Rather, the problem was that nature had too many options and without design couldn’t sort through all those options. It’s not the case that natural laws are set to bring about the outcome of no flagellum. The problem is that natural laws are too unspecific to determine any particular outcome. That’s the rub. Natural laws are compatible with the formation of the flagellum but also compatible with the formation of a plethora of other molecular assemblages, most of which have no biological significance.
Yet it’s precisely that freedom that makes nature unable to account for specified outcomes of small probability. Nature, in this case, rather than being intent on doing only one thing, is open to doing any number of things. Yet when one of those things is a highly improbable specified event (be it spelling Hamlet’s soliloquy with Scrabble pieces or forming a bacterial flagellum), design becomes the required inference. Van Till has therefore missed the point: not counterfactual substitution (and therefore not miracles) but the incompleteness of natural processes is what the design inference uncovers.
Dembski on a designer who imparts information rather than moving particles:
Allen Orr, on Dembski and intervention, in his Boston review book review of No Free Lunch:
To be fair, Dembski admits that there are no grounds for excluding either front-loading or intervention. But it’s clear where his heart lies. He seems less than crazy about the former idea and perceptibly leans to the latter. At the very least he defends intervention with gusto.18
Orr’s later admission in a New Yorker article goes a little bit deeper:
Although Dembski is somewhat noncommittal, he seems to favor a design theory in which an intelligent agent programmed design into early life, or even into the early universe. This design then unfolded through the long course of evolutionary time, as microbes slowly morphed into man.
Dembski’s response to Orr
For more on Allen Orr see also:
Evolution’s Logic of Credulity: An Unfettered Response to Allen Orr
On the Daily Show Dembski refuted the idea that ID requires a tinkerer God, as he did in similar fashion on a Rick Woods’s radio show with skeptic Michael Shermer:
No ID person is saying that God specifically toggled the DNA to code for the bacterial flagellum. It’s possible , just about anything is possible. It could have happened through an evolutionary process, just one that’s directed where it is actual teleological guidance, not just NS and random forces.