Taking back Intelligent Design

I have a theory based on a number of observations and I want to give it a name. My observations are that there are things that lifeforms do to their environments that leave traces that wouldn’t otherwise naturally occur. I propose that we might be able to detect similar effects on other planets and deduce that there are lifeforms at work and that we might, if we are careful and/or very lucky, find evidence of previously unknown lifeforms here on our planet.

I’ve come up with a name for this theory. I’m calling it Intelligent Design.

We can define what ID is and what it isn’t. We can come up with ways we can test hypotheses. If we find evidence that points towards (or away from) an example of intelligent design we can publish papers in reputable scientific journals. When we find gaps in scientific knowledge in other areas we won’t even think about using this as an argument for Intelligent Design – we’ll have to come up with evidence that points toward our theories and not just away from others.

Unfortunately there are some people who are currently misusing the label of Intelligent Design and they will have to go back to using the old term for their beliefs: creationism. If they have some useful contributions to make they’re more than welcome to join in as they are for any of the other sciences but, just like in the other sciences, they are going to have to leave their non-science behind at the door.

Right, now that that’s dealt with. Onwards and upwards!

[edit: Over at NeuroLogicia, Dr Steven Novella clearly hasn't been informed of the recent changes I've made to the term 'Intelligent Design' but he provides a fairly lucid account of why the proponents of the old term weren't being particularly scientific in their approach that's well worth a read.]

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16 Responses to “Taking back Intelligent Design”

  1. Jack says:

    Just when I thought ‘ID Scientists” would be the greatest oxymoron in history! I don’t think the lumping together of science and creationism has been good for anyone – faith isnt faith if its proven fact, and facts arent facts if they’re believed by faith. If that makes any sense.

  2. BC says:

    Jack, how, by what process, would you categorise a fact of history? Do you believe that faith has nothing to do with facts? Are facts the things that are only real if we can describe mathematically? (by the way, I’m not trying to defend ID or creationism in any way.) :)

  3. Jack says:

    Good questions BC. Facts, I guess, are things proven by scientific method, they are evidence based. Faith to me implies a certain belief in something without proof. A person who says “have faith in me” is asking for an element of trust, of beleiving in someone despite the doubts you may have. No I dont believe that faith has nothing to do with facts, but if you rely on facts for your faith I’d say you’d be on shaky ground. Can you have faith without any facts? There are those with faith in God who have no knowledge of the historical facts?

  4. BC says:

    So, all facts are revealed only by the scientific method? Or only the facts, as defined by science, are 100% dependable? Were there no facts before the scientific method was used? Or is there another definition of facts that existed before then?
    What role do facts in faith play? Isn’t having faith already on shaky ground?
    Faith without facts; isn’t that an oxymoron. There must be faith in facts, otherwise facts are of no consequence and so is faith.
    Even though there are folks who have no knowledge about historical facts, there are those who do. What of their faith? Is it on shaky ground?
    How, by the scientific method do we prove historical facts? Or do we look only to the here and now and to the future?

  5. Jack says:

    And I thought I asked a lot of questions ; )
    Are all facts revealed by scientific method? Before scientific method was used there was knowledge obtained by evidence/observations that could be repeated – facts such as ‘Sheep have four legs’. It was still fact gained from scientific method even if science hadnt been officially named.
    What role do facts in faith play? Facts may strengthen your faith or weaken it but from what I’ve seen,there are many with a faith in God that no scientific facts could destroy. People that you know no matter what scientific fact you present them with they will find a way to disregard it or make it fit with the concept of a God, because they believe in God no matter what.
    Is the faith of those who do have facts on shaky ground? Not necessarily, as I said, the facts may strengthen it or weaken it.
    How do we prove historical facts: Evidence – archaeology, carbon dating, fossils, dead sea scrolls…so no, science doesnt only address knowledge for here and now and the future.

  6. Nice tangent guys. I likes it… :)

    People that you know no matter what scientific fact you present them with they will find a way to disregard it or make it fit with the concept of a God, because they believe in God no matter what.

    …especially if they have a ‘god of the gaps’ understanding of god. With that (mis)understanding, yes, every ‘fact’ of science is ‘against’ god… But for others, each fact only makes the picture of reality richer…

    How do we prove historical facts: Evidence – archaeology, carbon dating, fossils, dead sea scrolls…

    Not saying I disagree, but these all have to be interpreted, so ‘fact’ is still a bit shaky. The historical ‘facts’ might just always (at least often?) be like that…??

    Interesting stuff, though…

    -d-

  7. BC says:

    Jack,
    What scientific fact destroys faith in God?
    Even scientists, who are classic sceptics by nature and practise, would find ‘facts’ derived from their own experiments as being a bit ‘squishy’. There have certainly been statements made to that effect within philosophy of science, if not by yourself.
    By ‘faith in God’, hopefully we don’t mean that it includes some caricature of God who requires us to be nice based on some notion that the Bible is just a book of good advice, or that God is some mind-bending, Tony Robbins-type, self-help guru.

    For fear of being cut into little pieces, even by Dale :) , here’s a statement about faith (certainly not a full one):

    Christian faith is based on a series of historical events culminated by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and that it impacts future events.

    So what are the basic ‘facts’ in that statement.

    1. There are people who hold a Christian faith (as distinct from faith in another) based on the following (otherwise it wouldn’t be Christian faith).
    2. An historic process turning on a pivotal event.
    3. This historic process being under the authority of God.
    4. The pivotal event being the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
    5. That the process God started is continuous.

    Even though you can show by, scientific method, that a document or an article originated at a particular time in history, historians still have to join the dots to get a picture of an historical event, its context and therefore its meaning. It’s not so much an either-or, but a combination of factual knowledge and forensic interpretation. The whole of which is accepted as a ‘fact of history’. That is where faith works; on the ‘unseen’ connections of events, people, artefacts etc. but it certainly isn’t devoid of factual evidence.

  8. Jack says:

    BC,
    I never said that there is a scientific fact that destroys faith in God, nor that there was a scientific fact that sustains faith in God, but that faith exists regardless, that it is a different thing. I know for me personally, the historical facts surrounding Jesus resurrection are not full proof enough to call this a fact, but that doesn’t mean my faith is destroyed. I can choose to still believe despite not having enough facts, to me that would be a leap of ‘faith’ not fact.
    Yes facts derived from science can be wrong, but the minute the evidence is contradicted or doesnt stand up to scrutiny the ‘fact’ is reassessed, and more studies/experiments – evidence gathering is done to advance knowledge. The new information is not just twisted and made to fit the old fact. As Dale said, when it comes to establishing historical facts then yes mistakes are more likely and often the best that can be presented on the limited evidence is a theory or a hypothesis that cant be proved or disproved. The thing with faith is that its not a fact and not even a theory because there is no room for ‘we got it wrong, lets adjust the facts on the new evidence’.
    The events you describe are all historical apart from ‘the process God started is continuous’ – what is the evidence for this in our present day reality? When, in the future, the dead are raised as promised – then I might consider faith as fact.

    Just read over that -what a fiasco of fact and faith! Sorry to ramble, sleep deprived today : ).

  9. BC says:

    Jack: My point of asking the question ‘what scientific fact destroys faith in God?’, was not because you asked it, but rather it was a corollary to the statement you made regarding there being people with faith in God that no scientific fact could destroy. I think it’s a fair question.
    Again, I think you tend to substitute faith for fact when there is enough evidence. So when there is enough evidence, there is no need for faith. And when there isn’t enough facts, then there is the so-called ‘leap of faith’. This trends toward the ‘God of the gaps’ idea.
    Even with scientific facts, there is faith in the system (of which scientific methodology is but a part) that interprets the facts within that system resulting in a reasonable conclusion. This goes for history as well. Although the scientific facts are derived, for instance, from repeated experiments in a laboratory, it doesn’t make the facts any surer in relation to the interpretation of those facts in reality. The reference framework becomes the master rather than the facts. If something outside your reference framework is undetectable by that framework, it’s not going to become a fact. You can see that in the development of scientific instruments and methods.
    To say faith is fixed in stone is misleading. Even the Bible doesn’t say that of faith. Faith is a changing thing, as people live and develop their understanding of relationships in the world on all levels. That together with new discoveries from the ancient world and new techniques of critiquing historical texts, have always come to bear on issues of faith, with some devastating results. Just as the scientific method used in the scientific field has certain fixed points of understanding, so too, are there in matters of faith. But overall neither of them are static.
    As far as the facts of history in developing faith is concerned, there is a strong similarity to the function of courts of justice. Where the evidence is tested within a forensic process to reach a reasonable interpretation of the facts, giving a reliable historical account. I have alluded to this before.

  10. Jack says:

    BC

    Thanks, thought provoking stuff regarding the reference framework – “if something outside your reference framework is undetectable by that framework, its not going to become fact.” Would this include things like ‘instinct’ ‘feeling the presence of God’ ‘signs’ and ‘miracles’ that wouldnt make it into the evidence criteria in science. I agree, its why I see faith as a different thing to scientific facts. I didnt say one was superior to the other, but different : )
    However, I am getting a bit lost in all this. Can I ask you to go back to basics then and give me a definition of ‘faith’ – not Christian in particular, just ‘faith’ as you see it.
    Cheers

  11. Jack says:

    The other thing I wanted to ask is what you think comes first for most people – fact or faith. In my experience most people have this faith in God first then become interested in the historical, scientific facts to back it up. I was listening to a woman on talkback saying Easter camp had been great because they had a session on the history backing up the ressurection and how she’d found it good because now she had some ‘facts’ to back up her faith when challenged. The faith had come first.

  12. BC says:

    Jack

    Sorry about not getting back sooner; had a bit of trouble due to site shifting. :(

    Regarding my own faith. Faith has two broad meanings (an lots of smaller ones too).
    Firstly, there is the Faith (noun) to which I subscribe, which, of course, is the Christian one.
    Secondly, there is having faith (verb) which is the impulse, meaning and desire for living on a personal, day-to-day basis, which naturally broadens out into all areas of corporate life.

    My faith is based on the facts of the Biblical story of the world (universe), ie creation, the fall, redemption and living. All these were demonstrated and taught to me by my family, siblings, immediate faith community into which I was born. Naturally, as I grew up, not all these made all the sense they make to me now. But they kept extending their meaning in my understanding of what’s going on within and without me each day.
    There came a time in my teens where I questioned everything (well, it seemed like everything!), and it wasn’t till I knew the need to make a commitment or not (a crossroad if you like) to Jesus Christ, who, as scripture teaches, made known the Father and His-story. That is, the big story of the universe, as told in the Bible, began to make sense to which I needed to respond, and I could see my role in that story. Hence the commitment.
    Like the woman in your example of what came first, faith or facts, many of the facts came later. I maintain, though, both of us had the basic facts, which appealed to our innate understanding of what they meant in relation to our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. On balance, the things I was taught earlier in life still made sense, even though from the non-Christian standpoint many of them might not. You may think that she and I made a decision to become Christians based on insufficient evidence. But who does know the beginning to the end of anything to which they make a commitment? No one does. If they say they do, then they’re kidding themselves.
    Additionally, I found the facts of the Biblical story demonstrated in day to day living, personally and corporately. Firstly, personally, I was continually frustrated in doing things I wish I hadn’t. Some of them embarrassing but more usually, it was the things that hurt others and myself. Other times it was things that I knew I should have done but hadn’t, like not neglecting my ability to help someone, but instead just passing them by, or obeying my parents’ reasonable requests and living responsibly. Somehow all these pressed on my conscience. These things had to do with justice or degrading the things I loved etc.
    As I had a keen interest, even as a kid, for history and world events, I could see not only the grandeur of past civilisations, art and music, discoveries in science (especially in astronomy, thanks to my grandfather, who built his own telescopes) but also the problems and corruption around the world and within my local community. This corporate awareness was highlighted by the train of mixed goodness and evil, in spite of the advances that were obvious in many fields of human knowledge and understanding. Through discussion with and by people of all sorts of persuasions (not just Christian) I discovered that they too knew not all was right with the world. In fact, many of them expressed the view that a great deal wasn’t right with themselves or the world.
    Both these spheres, then, reinforce the perspective I have, as a Christian, on the story of the world, and give substantial bolstering to my original and continuing commitment to Jesus Christ.
    Within all this, is what people would identify as religion. But I think, you may be able to see that what I have shared is so much bigger than the religious carricature (going to church, being nice, burning candle and incense, singing hymns etc – none of which I have ever done or do much now), that is held in common parlance. The personal crossroad I mentioned involved me deciding to move away from my own ideas of what and who I and world was, and to take on what Jesus was teaching, as portrayed in scripture, and accepting his forgiveness, knowing that that acknowledgment was the first of many steps to being recreated, ie repentance and conversion. The process and story continues . . .
    I think that might enough. But as you may see, faith is definitely not static and like the story of the philosophy of science, is joining the dots to get the big picture. The challenge is, to whose picture does one wish to commit?

  13. Jack says:

    Thanks for that BC – no need to apologise for the delay, I appreciate your in depth replies. Your definition of the verb ‘faith’ however seems a bit vague to me “the impulse, meaning and desire for living”. Can you please elaborate a bit. Im impulsive, my life has meaning and I want to live – so do I have faith?
    You write of the ‘facts’ of the bible story ringing true for yourself and the world around you but I don’t see this as a reason to believe. As a history of a civilisation of humans, surely there are going to be things you can relate to, that are wise and make sense. Aren’t there similar gems in other historical stories, such as the myths and legends of the Native American Indians?
    I can see that your faith is not static, or at least the way you live it out – the verb as opposed to the noun. I can’t agree with the ‘joining the dots’ comparision though. In science there are rules about what constitutes a dot – evidence is observable and quantifiable. Without such rules people can grab dots from anywhere to make whatever picture they fancy. Your end challenge makes it sound like a person must choose God or science.
    Cheers, Jack

  14. BC says:

    Jack,
    You do have faith, but not because you are impulsive (which is quite a bit different from a life-giving impulse). Understandably, you may not call it faith, because the word has a religious connotation.
    Faith is that by which we live our lives. It may be faith in ourselves and/or a ‘higher’ something. This ‘higher’ something in some cases is a god or first cause or something to which we attribute superior knowledge or way to knowledge for our wider and self understanding. It is not so much something we get, but we have, and together with our self awareness, we then substantiate it in various ways. It is described by the impulses in life that an observer can only see by that which drives us to do the things we do and think and say.
    As for facts, they cannot speak for themselves, no matter how overwhelmingly factual they may seem to be. If you stood back and analysed your understanding of the world, you could ask the question, ‘Do I accept the facts because they ARE the facts, or do I accept the WAY in which those facts are established as facts?’ This was covered in post 9 and introduces the problem of knowledge.
    Possibly it has been since the Enlightenment that the problem of knowledge has been so widely apprehended, having been conveyed through all fields of academia and in popular culture. Ideas about ‘common sense’ and ‘reason’, used to overtake traditional perceptions of the world, came in different varieties and intensities. They ranged from naive-realism, Ayer’s positivism, to cautious phenomenalism, where statements from an objective or subjective point-of-view carry differing weights of conviction about reality. The ways of appreciating the world are never pure, including critical realism. We mix it with intuitions and develop hypothesis which by means of verification or falsification produce an understanding. All this, however, lays within a point-of-view,
    It is from this perspective that faith vs fact is not an either-or situation. Also, that science functions as a tool of knowledge, but certainly not its master.
    It would be a brave scientist who would openly appreciate his wife in purely scientific terms. He could dare to, but that could been seen as inhuman, possibly relegating his relationship to the past!
    The question of establishing the ‘facts’ of the past lay also within the same sphere. When objects from the past are recovered and dated they become some of dots that help create a picture of the past. By this linking of seemingly related artefacts, based on field experience, both practical and philosophical, historians produce what might be called a reliable understanding of how and why people thought and lived. Often problems of translation of ancient language and therefore meaning, are overcome by newly recovered objects and texts associated with the period concerned, helping to clarify meaning and intent.
    This establishes a critical filter for new and earlier discoveries to be evaluated and re-evaluated, to deepen and broaden this picture. It is from this type of evaluation, that a spiral of knowledge (where science’s methodology has a significant part to play) builds an understanding of the cultures that produced the Bible, for instance. Surprisingly enough, these cultures were not too far removed from our own, in their diversity of outlook on life and the world. Often touted as primitive and superstitious, these cultures have been, from time to time, referred to in future eras for sources of knowledge and understanding. This then lies at the heart of what is meant by knowledge – facts and their use. The story of the past, of which facts, certified by scientific methodology, are but a part, incorporates reason and logic to develop a ‘ring of truth’.
    It is from this understanding that a Christian can evaluate the truthfulness of his faith. Indeed the evaluation of other faiths also. There are commonalities between faiths. However, this should not surprise us, as generally we all accept a common origin of humanity. The differences however, are not merely superficial. Being people of The Book, the early Christians took seriously the claims of Jesus Christ in relation to the prevailing worldview. This is very evident, particularly in the culture of the day, as Jews in first century Palestine under the yoke of Roman authority, which claimed Caesar as the Son of God, Lord or lords and King of kings. This scenario put a fairly fine point on many of the things the New Testament and the people of God dealt with. Their faith wasn’t some sort of refined, personal spiritual understanding incorporating universal truths about love and understanding that was up for grabs as an cultural decoration. Naturally, this understanding contributes much to Christian appraisal of other non-Christian worldviews. Some dealt with none too Christianly, but for additional reasons.
    The problem with the bits of the Biblical story that do not line up with a materialistic worldview are simply at odds with a worldview that has ring-fenced (that which is observable and quantifiable, for instance) its understanding of things in a particular way, and that ring-fencing lies deeply within that worldview.
    This is the challenge I alluded too last time – and rightly, it is not a choice to be made between science and God, unless, of course, science stands as something that is detached, purely objective and neutral.

  15. Jack says:

    Thanks for that BC – you have obviously thought/learned a lot about this stuff. What is your background? Dale’s post about science and faith covers some of what you have said. I’m going to leave it for now, but cheers for your input : )

  16. BC says:

    Thanks, Jack, for the stimulating converstaion. Not being in the academic world, I don’t get much of that these days. My background is in the arts, but I have a love of reading philosophy, theology, science and history. I think an artist mind helps too in building the ‘big’ picture. All the best.

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