Polly Doesn’t Want a Cracker

DNAby Brad Nelson   10/13/14
It’s taken a while for me to wrap my mind around the idea of intelligent design. Some of this has had to do with many of the things (prejudices/assumptions) that Meyer cites in Signature in the Cell, such as the attitude that intelligent design is not science, it’s just a way to sneak religion in the back door. This weekend I did a little more reading of a few sections I had skipped over before (it’s a long book) such as his excellent epilogues. And I re-read a few other sections as well.

It’s easier for me to believe in a sort of “out there” god who remains but a theoretical construct. But wouldn’t that be typical? If the people who claim to believe in God actually believed in God, would they act as they do, vote as they do, believe as they do? So I’m hardly unique in this regard.

What I’m foolish enough to do here at StubbornThings is tell you what is on my mind. This is unusual for the human animal because typically we are motivated by anything but just stating what’s on our mind. We typically use words and ideas to hide behind, for misdirection, to verify and ratify our identity, and simply to puff up our egos and sense of worth.

Well, imagine for a moment that our bodies were not only built by the micro-machines of an intelligent designer but those nanobot-like things are busy doing their metabolism thing inside us right now, and by the trillions. This is a difficult fact to get one’s mind around. A Creator who is “out there” is easy to ignore. But what if, as Meyer’s book title asserts, there is indeed a “signature in the cell”? What if, as it seems likely now, that no amount of chemical evolution or chance can ever account for this type of complexity?

The culture we now live in is a materialist culture which has ready-made (that is, “stock” or “canned”) answers for how things supposedly are. These ideas (fully expanded into a system of myths, in my opinion) permeate the culture and rarely are they given a second thought. They are (as is normal for cultural ideas) just absorbed — believed without much thought at all. And to some extent, that is fine, for no generation could function without the information-forwarding and archival aspects of culture. If would not be workable if we had to completely reconstruct the world from scratch starting with each generation.

The downside, however, is receiving “received wisdom” that isn’t always so wise or so true. And I believe our materialist culture is full of received myths, and often to our detriment.

In Signature in the Cell, Meyer deals nicely with the many superficial, disingenuous, or just plain “out there in the culture” arguments against the idea of a designer, particularly the objections such as “Then who designed the designer?”

As Meyer notes about that argument in particular, nowhere else regarding the subjects taken up by science (including Darwinism) is one expected to supply an answer for this infinite regression. Let me admittedly stretch fair use and present one of Meyer’s arguments, in full, to show how thoughtful this man is and how, via his refutations, many of the various “canned” or parroted objections of materialists tend to fall by the wayside if one approaches the topic with an open, but still suitably skeptical, mind:


Once when I was explaining the theory of intelligent design on a radio talk show, a caller challenged me with another, now common, objection to the design inference—one that the caller clearly considered a knockdown rebuttal: “If an intelligence designed the information in DNA,” he demanded, “then who designed the designer?” I asked for clarification. “Are you arguing that it is illegitimate to infer that an intelligence played a role in the origin of an event unless we can also give a complete explanation of the nature and origin of that intelligence?” Yes, he said, that was exactly what he meant. I then answered as best I could in the available time, but I remember thinking later how facile I thought the objection was. It reminded me of the three-year-old child in the neighborhood where I grew up who used to follow older children around asking them “why” questions. “Why are you going swimming?” “Because it’s hot.” “Why is it hot?” “Because the sun’s out.” “Why is the sun out?” “Because there are no clouds today.” “Why are there…” No matter how you answered, he would ask “why” again, as if in so doing he had somehow invalidated the answer you had just given.

But does the ability to ask about the cause of a cause of an event invalidate a causal explanation? That had always seemed such an obviously flawed idea that I never bothered to refute it in print. Imagine my surprise, then, to learn that Professor Richard Dawkins, holder of the Charles Simony Professorship in the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, had advanced precisely that argument as the centerpiece of his case against intelligent design in his bestselling book The God Delusion. 26

There Dawkins argues that the design hypothesis fails to explain anything, because it evokes an infinite regress of questions. If complexity points to the work of a designing intelligence, then who designed the designer? According to Dawkins, the designer would need to be as complex (and presumably as information-rich) as the thing designed. But then he argues, by the logic of the ID advocates, the designer must also be designed. But that would settle nothing, because we then would have to explain the origin of a designing intelligence by reference to a previous designing intelligence, ad infinitum, always leaving unexplained something as mysterious as we started with. Thus, “the design hypothesis” fails, says Dawkins, because it “immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable.”27

When I read Dawkins’s version of this argument, I could see why it sounded plausible to some people. As I thought about it more, I became intrigued by the fascinating philosophical issues it raised. I realized that Dawkins had posed a serious philosophical objection to intelligent design, even though his objection failed for several obvious and fundamental reasons.

Dawkins’s objection fails, first, because it does not negate a causal explanation of one event to point out that the cause of that event may also invite a causal explanation. To explain a particular event, historical scientists often cite or infer past events as causes (see Chapter 7). But the events that explain other events presumably also had causes, each of which also invites a causal explanation.28 Is the original explanation thereby vitiated? Of course not. Pointing out that the past event cited in a causal explanation also has a prior cause—typically, another event—does not render the explanation void, nor does it negate the information it provides about past conditions or circumstances. It merely raises another separate question. Clearly, the young inquisitor in our neighborhood could decide to ask why it was hot after I told him I was going swimming on account of the heat. But his decision to do so did not negate the information he received about my reasons for going swimming or my prior state of mind. A proximate explanation of one event is not negated by learning that it does not supply a comprehensive or ultimate explanation of all the events in the causal chain leading up to it.

Nevertheless, Dawkins’s objection to the design hypothesis presupposes precisely the opposite principle, namely, that causal explanations of specific events count as explanations only if there is a separate and comprehensive causal narrative that explains how the cause cited in the explanation itself came into existence from something simpler, and only then if the narrative does not involve an infinite regress of other past causes. Yet Dawkins cannot seriously apply that principle in any other case without absurdity. If applied consistently, Dawkins’s principle would, for example, prevent us from inferring design in cases where no one, not even Dawkins, questions the legitimacy of such inferences.29 One needn’t explain who designed the builders of Stonehenge or how they otherwise came into being to infer that this complex and specified structure was clearly the work of intelligent agents. Nor would someone need to know how the scribes responsible for cave markings in my opening parable came into being in order to attribute those inscriptions to a designing intelligence.

Imagine you have traveled to Easter Island to view the famous Moai statues. A child beside you asks no one in particular, “Who carved these statues?” A man standing next to the kid looks over the top of his glasses and asks, “Why do you assume they’re sculpted?” Dumbfounded by the question, the kid has no reply, so you rush to his aid. “The carvings manifest a pattern that conforms to the shape of a human face. The match in the patterns is too close and the figures are too intricate, for it to be mere coincidence.” The man scoffs. “Don’t tell me you’ve been reading intelligent-design propaganda, all of that rubbish about specified complexity? Let me ask you this: Who sculpted the sculptor? Who designed the designer? Do you see the problem? Your reasoning leads to an infinite regress. Who designed the designer’s designer’s designer’s designer’s…” The child, appropriately unimpressed by this display of erudition, rolls his eyes and mutters under his breath, “Yeah. But I know someone carved these.” And, indeed, some one did.

The absurdity that results from consistently applying Dawkins’s implicit principle of reasoning has invited parody from various quarters. In a popular YouTube mock interview, the fictional Dr. Terry Tommyrot argues that Richard Dawkins is himself a delusion, despite the extensive textual evidence for his existence in his many books. As Dr. Tommyrot asks his interviewer, “If Dawkins designed the books, then who designed the Dawkins? Just tell me that!”30

Of course, Dawkins insists that the problem of regress does not afflict properly scientific (read: materialistic) explanations, even explanations involving ordinary human designers. Why? Because as a scientific materialist, Dawkins assumes that physical and chemical processes provide complete materialistic explanations for the thoughts and actions of human agents, and that Darwinian evolution can provide a comprehensive and fully materialistic account of the origin of Homo sapiens from earlier and simpler forms of life. Thus, the materialists’ answer to the question, “Who designed Dawkins?” is, “No one.” Dawkins descended by material processes from a series of human parents, the first of whom evolved by natural selection and random mutation from lower animal forms, which in turn did the same. Further, the evidence of intelligence in Dawkins’s books that points proximately to the activity of a mind, points ultimately to simpler physical and chemical processes in his brain. These processes make his conscious mind—like all human minds—either an illusion or a temporary “epiphenomenon” that has no ability to affect the material world. Material processes can explain everything simply and completely without any appeals to mysterious immaterial minds and without any regress equivalent to that implied in appeals to intelligent design.

But is this true? Is there really such a seamless and fully materialistic account of reality available? Oddly, Dawkins himself has admitted that that there is not. As noted in the previous chapter, Dawkins has acknowledged that neither he nor anyone else possesses an adequate explanation for the origin of the first life.

Yet the Darwinian explanation holds that every living thing ultimately evolved from the first self-replicating life-form. Thus, by Dawkins’s own logic, one could vitiate the entire edifice of Darwinian explanation simply by demanding an explanation for the cause of the cause it cites—that is, the cause of the process of natural selection itself, the origin of the first self-replicating organism. If human life evolved from simpler forms of life, and if biological evolution commences only once a self-replicating organism has arisen, couldn’t the skeptic ask, “What evolved the evolver? How did the first self-replicating organisms arise?”

Of course, the lack of a materialistic explanation for the origin of life does not invalidate Darwinian explanations of the origin of higher life-forms. Logically, it’s perfectly possible that some unknown, non-Darwinian cause produced the first life, but then natural selection and random mutation produced every living form thereafter.31 But Dawkins’s criterion of a satisfying explanation seems to imply otherwise.

There is an additional problem. Suppose scientists did formulate a completely adequate materialistic explanation for the origin of life. Couldn’t a skeptic of Dawkins’s materialism still ask for an account of the origin of matter itself? If every material state arose because of the laws of nature acting on a previous material state, then materialistic causal narratives would seem to have their own problems with infinite regress. From whence came the first material state? No physical cosmology now provides a causal explanation of how matter and energy came into being. But suppose one did. How would it do so without invoking a regress of prior material (and/or energetic) states? But what then would become of Dawkins’s insistence that causal explanations of particular events fail unless all such regresses are eliminated?

There is still another difficulty with Dawkins’s argument. Part of the force of his objection lies in its implicit accusation of inconsistency in the case for intelligent design. If specified complexity always points to intelligent design, then the existence of a designing mind in the past would, by Dawkins’s understanding of the logic of the design inference, necessarily point to a still prior designing mind, ad infinitum. In asserting this, Dawkins assumes that designing minds are necessarily complex (and, presumably, specified) entities (itself a questionable proposition).32 He then argues that advocates of intelligent design can escape the need for an infinite regress only by violating the rule that specified (or irreducible) complexity always points to a prior intelligent cause. Inferring an uncaused designer, he seems to be arguing, would represent an unjustified exception to the principle of cause and effect upon which the inference to design is based.

But positing an uncaused designer would not constitute an unjustified exception to this principle, if it constitutes an exception at all.33 In every worldview or metaphysical system of thought something stands as the ultimate or prime reality, the thing from which everything else comes. All causal explanations either involve an infinitive regress of prior causes, or they must ultimately terminate with explanatory entities that do not themselves require explication by reference to anything more fundamental or primary. If the latter, then something has to stand as the ultimate or primary causal principle at the beginning of each causal chain. If the former—if all explanations inevitably generate regresses—then all explanations fail to meet Dawkins’s implicit criterion of explanatory adequacy, including his own. Since, however, most cosmological theories now imply that time itself had a beginning, and further imply that life itself first arose sometime in the finite past, it seems likely that every chain of effect back to cause must terminate at some starting point. Either way, materialistic explanations as well as those involving mind are subject to these same constraints. If so, why couldn’t an immaterial mind function as the ultimate starting point for causal explanation just as well as matter and energy?

In Dawkins’s worldview, matter and energy must stand as the prime reality from which everything else comes. Thus, Dawkins simply assumes that a material process must function as the fundamental explanatory principle or first cause of biological complexity and information. His “who designed the designer” objection shows this. Why? Dawkins assumes that explanations invoking intelligent design must either generate a regress of designing minds or that such explanations must eventually account for mind by reference to an undirected material process. Either way, Dawkins simply presupposes that mind cannot function as the ultimate explanation of biological complexity and information. For Dawkins and other philosophical materialists, matter alone can play this role. But that begs that fundamental question at issue in the debate about the origin of life.

A more philosophically neutral way to frame the issue would be to simply ask: What is a better candidate to be that fundamental explanatory principle, the thing from which specified complexity or information ultimately comes? What is a better candidate to be the first cause of this phenomenon: mind or matter?

Based upon what we know from our own experience, as opposed to deductions from materialistic philosophical doctrine, the answer to that question would seem to be mind. We have first-person awareness of our own minds. We know from direct introspection what attributes our minds possess and what they can do. Our uniform experience shows that minds have the capacity to produce specified information. Conversely, experience has shown that material processes do not have this capacity. This suggests—with respect to the origin of specified information, at least—that mind is the better candidate to be the fundamental explanatory entity, the thing from which such information comes in the first place.

In any case, explanations invoking intelligent design do not necessarily imply either an infinite regress or the need for further reductionistic accounts of intelligence as a cause. A self-existent immaterial mind might well function as the ultimate cause of biological information, just as prior to the acceptance of the big-bang theory matter functioned as the self-existent entity from which everything else came for philosophical materialists. Intelligent design—defined as a choice of a rational agent to actualize a possibility—might well be a fundamental cause that requires no prior explanatory cause of itself. Agents have the power by their choices to initiate new sequences of cause and effect. Most human agents reflexively assume (and intuitively know) they have this power. Perhaps an uncaused agent with similar powers generated the first biological information. Dawkins cannot foreclose that possibility without first assuming an answer to the question at issue, namely, whether mind or matter stands as the ultimate explanation of biological information. Thus, his “who designed the designer” objection commits, among other errors, the logical fallacy of begging the question. It, therefore, fails as an objection to the design inference based upon DNA.

============= END OF EXCERPT

Note that it takes only a moment to repeat a practiced canard such as “Well then, who designed the designer?” And it’s a fine question, as far as it goes. But as Meyer points out, this same question is not asked regarding where matter came from. In fact, the materialist explanation (at least prior to the discovery of the Big Bang) is that “It always was.” That is, it is eternal (and is still accepted as a self-existent primary, Big Bang or no Big Bang). So material eternality is allowed but not immaterial eternality. At least we can see where the prejudices lie. And sorry, Stephen, for using such a long excerpt. Hopefully I can sell a few books for you.

But in understanding any complex issue it must be understood that it takes a parrot but a moment to offer his canard (which may or may not be true, for as they say, even a blind chicken may find a grain). But it takes a lot of thought (as it should if one is trying to establish something of importance) to refute or explain a sound byte. And our culture is full of such sound bytes.

One more sound byte to knock down. Pete Chadwell made an apt SETI analogy in his article on the subject. I found a nice passage from Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell” that also reasons this out in a clear way:

Similarly, the scientists searching for extraterrestrial intelligence do not already know that extraterrestrial intelligence exists. Yet they assume that the receipt of specified information or complexity from an extraterrestrial source would indicate the existence of an intelligence in space. In the science-fiction novel Contact, scientists detect extraterrestrial intelligence in radio signals carrying the first one hundred prime numbers. In actual SETI research, scientists are looking for more subtle indicators of intelligence, namely, unnaturally modulated and focused radio signals.12 Either way, SETI does presume that the presence of a complex and specified pattern would provide grounds for suspecting the existence of an intelligence. Moreover, SETI seeks precisely to establish the activity of an intelligent cause in a remote place and from a remote time in which intelligence is currently unknown. If scientific methods can—in principle, at least—detect the presence of an extraterrestrial (and nonhuman) intelligence in a faraway galaxy, why can’t methods of design detection be used to establish the activity of nonhuman intelligence in the remote past as the cause of the specified complexity in the cell?

I’m still trying to wrap my mind around these issues. Is the specified information found in DNA, and as also represented in the cellular machinery external to DNA, incapable of being made by simple repeating laws such as in the laws of chemistry and physics? So far there is exactly zero evidence that such laws are capable of any such thing. There is only the parroted phrase “Things evolve” which, as I believe John Lennox notes, functions as a sort of “Darwin of the gaps” argument.

Well, indeed things do evolve. But how and to what extent? And what provided the material and information so things could evolve (at the very least on the micro level) in the first place?

My mind is open, but it’s one that requires a reasonable (perhaps even excessive) amount of persuasion. I don’t do cults readily. And digging one’s way down to the facts is difficult. There are so many pre-canned canards and parroted phrases that function to stop thought. And, really, when you have enough of these that function in this way, it is a sign of cult-like thinking. But as I said, I don’t do cults, so I will continue to ponder the questions and keep as much cracker-crumbs off of my brain as is possible.

Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
About Author  Author Archive  Email  Follow • (3690 views)

Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
This entry was posted in Essays and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Polly Doesn’t Want a Cracker

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    Turtles all the way down. That’s the answer. And maybe it isn’t so glib after all.

    So Richard Dawkins has a professorship named after someone named Simony? How appropriate for the arch-Darwinist.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Turtles all the way down. LMAO. Maybe so.

      It’s typical in our materialist culture to believe that the religious (that is, Christians) are all delusional…so much so that it hampers their ability to reason. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. As Meyer points out, each and every computer simulation that has tried to show how the specified information (aka “DNA”) was created via “natural” processes has done nothing but show that one must pre-load information (as provided by an intelligent designer…those who set up the experiments and write the software) in order to have any chance at demonstrating anything.

      The commitment to atheism/materialism typically trumps the ability of a theory to explain a given result. Who is ultimately the most delusional and blinded by their dogma? Meyer posits, reasonably, that the only place we see the kind of specified information content that exists inside the cell is via an intentional intelligence. No exception to this rule has ever been found.

      It is an idea considered so self-evidently true that if SETI should ever detect a non-random signal, it would be hailed as the discovery of an extraterrestrial intelligence….and rightfully so.

      So why is it so difficult to recognize terrestrial DNA in this same regard? Again, perhaps apples could fall upward some day. Perhaps the information content of DNA can se shown to be formed in some “natural” way. Any “law of nature” is ultimately only provisional and can never be proven.

      But there is no evidence so far of natural processes producing that kind of information…which is indeed not just information but a kind of program/operating system that resides inside DNA (and that resides external to DNA in the vast networks of proteins and such). And there is no reason, in principle, to believe that the laws of physics and chemistry can ever produce any such information content. About all one can do it say “Things evolve” and keep repeating that — a phrase that seems to operate much like a security blanket, a way to keep alive a worldview that is not readily supported by the evidence.

      Another interesting point about the program/operating system aspect of DNA is that the so-called “junk” DNA has been shown to composed of something even more remarkable than a code for proteins (as remarkable as that is). There is also a code within this code. As Meyer explains, it’s like writing a message to someone which conveys information via normal English grammar and words — but this message also contains extra information in the form of a code riding on top of (and inside of) those same words. It would be analogous to the type of code, for instance, where every first letter of a sentence is used to construct another hidden word or sentence.

      How does a stepwise, undirected, and dumb process construct that? But coders can very easily do such a thing. That is the gist of Meyer’s argument.

  2. Very good, Brad. Thank you. The “who designed the designer” line is indeed nothing more than misdirection. It’s a dodge. Everybody, no matter who you are, believes that something is eternal. For guys like Lawrence Krauss and Dawkins, features of our universe such as quantum vacuums and laws of physics and chemistry are eternal. The person who asks “who designed the designer” wants you to assume that they have a problem with something being eternal, but in the final analysis, they cannot have a problem with something being eternal. Everyone has to accept that something is eternal.

  3. GHG says:

    Fascinating stuff. Keep the topic of ID going please.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      That’s not a problem, Mr. Lesser, since I consider the topic at the very forefront of science. The biggest discovery in all of history — the micro-machines of life and the DNA data and operating system that go with it — has been under-reported…even regarding aspects that have nothing to do with intelligent design.

      Those little protein machines inside the cell are like viewing alien technology (and, of course, Stephen Meyer would quite agree that it is alien technology). Although “evolution” has, of course, been shoved down our throats and is hardly off the front pages for an instant, the actual mechanisms of the cell (which are far more interesting than a highly conjectural theory) have been rather pushed under the rug.

      I would suppose that is so because, sort of like the amazing aspects of a fetus that is only a few weeks old, it counters the materialist/atheist/Leftist orientation of those who do the image-making.

      Where there should be awe at this kind of stuff, you can tell how deep the mind-f**king of people has gone when their first reaction (such as with supposed “junk” DNA) is to want to think the worst about life itself. This is, of course, consistent with a Cultural Marxist outlook on life, and consistent with Deana’s article on the subject about The Power of Perversity. There is an intellectual and emotional sickness that is running through much of our culture, and it runs through much of the scientific community as well.

      I can’t blame anyone for not immediately agreeing with the astonishing theory of intelligent design. But it is perverse to see people dumping on the amazing aspects of life rather than letting their jaw hit the floor in admiration. These materialist types run it down just like the Cultural Marxists run down Western Civilization. The two are definitely related.

      When all that seemingly “junk” DNA was discovered (DNA that did not code for proteins) it was with glee that much of the scientific community responded. They were happy to see junk rather than a more elegant and efficient structure. (And, of course, they were disappointed when it turned out not to be junk.) The leading advocates of Darwinism love running down what are actually amazing features of animals and of man, including the eye, as Pete and others have noted. One who is of honest motives can disagree about the theories. But one should also note the perverse aspects of the materialist ideology — an ideology that is so beholden to its worldview that it pushes it adherents to belittle the most remarkable things we’ve ever discovered. Perverse indeed.

  4. Here’s a question that really shakes things up: Is “intelligence” natural or supernatural?

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I guess that depends on a. whether you think there is a soul and b. if so, what enables the soul. If you think there’s a ghost in the machine that may not be possible until you have an adequately developed brain, but that transcends purely natural limitations, then that would probably be considered supernatural in some way.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Is “intelligence” natural or supernatural?

      One way to approach that, Pete, is to admit that “natural” is somewhat of a convention. Who really knows what clearcut boundaries exist? What becomes known then can become “natural” in some sense. What “natural” tends to mean, of course, is abiding by a completely materialist paradigm. And our own minds don’t abide by that narrow metaphysical view. Nor does “natural” have much, if any, room for non-material elements such as information — which is almost certainly why the evolutionists themselves do not see the inherent problem of plugging in so much information on the front end in order to try to get their origins-of-life computer experiments to work out. With a materialist view limiting their brain, they just don’t see it. (Some may, of course, simply be dishonest.)

      I don’t think it’s unhelpful or wrong to think in terms of natural and, say, extra-natural (a way of avoiding the baggage of the word, “supernatural,” but it means the same thing). But the division could turn out to be somewhat arbitrary.

      But a division that would not be arbitrary would be the distinction between creator and created-thing. I think Lennox (perhaps Behe as well) does a marvelous job of noting how the naturalists/atheists cart out the straw-man of pantheism (that the creator is the universe and is inherently inside the universe) as a way to say “Science could not advance until god was removed.” Lennox even agrees: When many natural gods (a god of war, a god of the sun, a god of water, etc.) are proposed for the phenomena we see in nature, that is indeed an impediment to understanding those things.

      But a god who created nature and is outside of nature is no impediment to either science or rational thought. Indeed, until the modern uber-materialistic dogma got ahold of so many, the idea of a designer was a motivation for studying nature scientifically, and still remains one.

      And to the extent that the Greeks (and others) brought back pantheism to replace the outside-of-nature transcendent God of Judaism, that was a bad thing for science. But as Lennox notes, long before the Greek pantheon of gods, the Bible had warnings against the deification of nature (something the modern Left is actually guilty of with their environmental wacko-ism).

      Regarding your original question, I think there’s no doubt that our ability to partake in consciousness is our ability to partake in something far richer than is allowed for in the radical materialist paradigm. Is that then more supernatural than natural? Well, again, I’m going to sort of beg off that question because I think “natural” is a category that has been unreasonably constrained to a very narrow limit. Einstein was certainly no bible thumper, but he was essentially correct when he said, “Either everything is a miracle or nothing is.” If the former, then the word “natural” is an unwarranted reduction of what we call the universe and experience as such.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Metaphysics isn’t my field any more than it was Winston Smith’s, but I recall that in the movie The Haunting, Dr. Markway at one point describes some event as preternatural — which to him means that we have no natural explanation now, but may later.

        The problem isn’t so much with pantheism as it is with arbitrary behavior by the god(s). That makes it impossible to come up with reliable scientific laws. Fortunately, Yahweh prefers to make use of existing natural laws that he created rather than to act on whim (unlike Allah and most pagan gods).

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          preternatural — which to him means that we have no natural explanation now, but may later.

          Don’t sweat the metaphysics, Timothy. A lot of fancy words are typically thrown around that people don’t understand and whose purpose is to try to make them seem smarter than they actually are.

          Most of this stuff is pretty straightforward. Materialists believe the universe is self-causing and that there is nothing external required to explain all that is. I don’t think there are only two choices in regards to the overall metaphysics, but certainly one of the main contrary views is that the universe indeed needed to be created.

          Where Stephen Meyer and others then ramp up the debate is to say that instead of arguing a “god of the gaps” type of argument (that is, what we don’t know today is simply attributed to a god or gods), they are instead saying that because of what we *do* know that an intelligent designer (and a non-materialist metaphysics) is what the evidence of science supports as the better explanation to fit the facts.

          The Big Bang clearly suggests a beginning (and thus something superior to the universe). And the various finely-tuned constants of the universe that make life possible suggest this “something” was involved in intentional design. And the coup de grâce applied to materialism, and supportive of a purposeful designer, is the specified information found in the cell that, according to Meyer and others, cannot be accounted for by chance (self-explanatory) or necessity (that is, the natural forces of physics or chemistry can be expected to inevitably produce them, as sure as ice crystals can produce snow flakes).

          As Meyer states, the theory of intelligent design says little or nothing about the designer. It’s not a religious argument, although obviously it’s an argument more compatible with monotheism than atheism. But as he notes, for all we know, the designer is imminent in the universe. Or it could be a committee of designers, plural. Or a God of the Old and New Testaments.

          And the designer could have acted once, front-loading a cell with all the information it needed to go from there and with all the attributes that allowed it to evolve (via its own internal logic and via natural selection), or acted many times and in a finer-grained detail (perhaps, as Behe notes in “The Edge of Evolution,” specifically constructing everything down to the level of about the family with natural selection shaping things from there). And Meyer notes in his book there are predictions that one can make regarding some of these things (just as the prediction that junk DNA was not junk was a fulfilled prediction of intelligent design).

          One of those is that, for example, if there was more than one instance of design you might expect more than one evolutionary tree. And that’s an interesting thought because the trees that neo-Darwinists produce now are about as fanciful as anything Disney has ever created. For example, the supposed “transitional” fossils don’t actually exist and are stuck in the tree anyway as a way to support the idea of gradual design…an idea not otherwise supported by the fossil record, thus my description as “fanciful.” No less an evolutionary scientist than Stephen Jay Gould admitted that the fossil record did not show gradualism. (He created the theory of “punctuated equilibrium” to try to salvage Darwinism.) He said that what is typical in the fossil record is to see some change in the history of some species, but generally you’d see a life form look the same as when it entered the fossil record as when it left it.

          Meyer goes into much detail in this regard in “Darwin’s Doubt.” But the gist of it is that if you create “tree of life” cladogram based upon morphology (form and structure) you can (kinda-sort…lots of missing pieces involved) get one sort of tree. If you go by genetic analysis, you’ll get another. And you’ll get still another depending upon which genes you compare. There are remarkable similarities in some genes across completely different species (say, humans and worms). That shows either common descent from a single ancestor (an idea Behe supports) or that the designer found the same tools useful in different species, phylums, or whatever. And then who exactly knows the relatedness of species?

          So I say without meaning to be crude that all of those “trees of life” are a clusterfuck. But wouldn’t it be interesting if someone tried to construct them with the eye that there might be more than one tree? Behe believes in the idea that all life has a common ancestor. But the design hypothesis in no way requires it.

          The most vital criticism to all this are the two magic words of neo-Darwinism: “Things developed” or “Things evolved.” What is lacking in such a purported explanation is a mechanism for how “things evolved” given the barriers to incremental change due to the nature and complexity of the actual cell as we know it now. It’s not enough anymore to just make up stories.

          Neo-Darwinism is an emotional (and perhaps political) commitment to a specific materialist worldview. It barely holds onto the idea of being a science. It gets by because things do indeed evolve in the realm of the micro. But even so, no new species have ever been shown to have evolved. No new traits (other than trivial ones or ones achieved by crippling existing structures) have ever been shown to occur despite the equivalent of tens or hundreds of millions of years of evolution in E coli, the malaria parasite, and the AIDS virus. Notta. Zip. Zilch. Nor is there any reason to believe, in principle, that evolution via natural selection can ever get you much more than minor change — change, by the way, which is apparently already a function of the cell. As Lennox notes, even if you didn’t have natural selection operating, there is wide variation within a species, and it would be produced even without natural selection. And natural selection doesn’t create that variation other than then relatively trivial examples created by mutations. Much like artificial breeding, natural selection is a way that does tend to shape the variation one way rather than another. In many ways, therefore, the theory of Neo-Darwinism is somewhat trivial.

          And the central dogma of neo-Darwinism (the centrality of genes) has already been overthrown, and with no help from intelligent design. Dawkins’ gene-centric view of Darwinism, for various reasons, is kaput. Out. Disproven. Francis Cricks’ central dogma that the flow of information is from the genes to the rest of the system is proven to be wrong now without a doubt. Basically, as I understand it, this dogma says that genes code for proteins and there is no other backward or sideways flow of information. But there is indeed information outside of DNA in the cellular machinery and in the geometry (and other aspects) of the cell that are intimately involved in embryology. There is vital information that is not coded into genes.

          What this means is that it is patently absurd to announce that any and all creatures are mere “survival machines” who exist to forward the life of the genes. If, as I say, libertarianism makes you stupid, so does materialism. And that’s not to say that at one time Dawkins’ theory didn’t make some sense. But we now know so much more about how life actually operates. He, and others, are trying to hold onto old dogma, and dogma whose purpose it seems clear is a way to try to buttress their purely materialist view of the world.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            I like that point about which genes you use. One thing I thought of (I believe while reading Dawkins’s natural history book) was that if the genetic clock is reliable, then you should get the same results (e.g.) comparing any species of human/chimpanzee/gorilla to any species of gibbon. And that doesn’t even take into account similar comparisons at even more distant species (such as comparing any primate to any canine). Such a test should be used to verify that the genetic clock actually works, but I’ve never seen any mention of such a verification.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              comparing any species of human/chimpanzee/gorilla to any species of gibbon.

              One of the points that Lennox makes (or possibly Meyer) is that this standard line of “Humans and chimps share 98% of DNA” is now known to be somewhat irrelevant.

              The Human Genome Project showed that there are far fewer genes in the genotype than there are proteins that are actually found in cells…by a huge margin. The thought of the Darwinists was that there would be one gene for everyone protein that was made. That’s not an illogical thought, but it also does show the gene-centric mindset.

              What we have since learned as well is that the genes are not just one continuous solid string of nucleotides bunched together but tend to be discontinuous, scattered, small bunches of them. And not only are these bunches spliced together (while other parts are edited out), one gene can be sliced and edited in different ways (god, think of the complexity of the protein networks that can do this). One gene can produce literally thousands of different proteins.

              This is, of course, astonishing and shows not the dumb, brute-force method you might expect from unguided, chance-based natural selection but the sophistication of an advanced, specially planned and built, operating system.

              So as it turns out (and don’t quote me on the numbers) even though chimps and humans have something like 98% of the same genes, they share perhaps only 70% of protein expression. And that 30% can produce a literal world of difference, as it does.

              This is yet another reason for materialists to cry in their beer. Another one of their pessimistic, perverse outlooks on mankind is given the heave-ho. You can’t win them all.

              As for the genetic clock, I’d like to find out more about that. Maybe someone can offer a good book or article.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Well, I recall from Dawkins that the basic idea is that there is a constant rate of change among genes (especially the junk DNA; this was probably before that turned out not to be junk), so that one can link differences in genetic material to when the evolutionary lines separated.

                ADDENDUM: I notice in Wikipedia that The Ancestor’s Tale came out in 2004, so that probably was indeed before the role of junk DNA was discovered. Even his defense of evolution came out just a few years later.

  5. Well, certainly, even materialists don’t mind attributing certain phenomena to intelligent causes… as long as those causes can be said to be merely human. Or perhaps alien. But it’s not too difficult to see why intelligence itself–wherever we find it–is supernatural. And that is very interesting.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Regarding mind, I think Meyer makes a good case (even in just the above excerpt) that mind makes for a more likely self-existent primary cause than matter, if only because mind has been shown to be able to create the type of information that goes into making life, while matter has never been shown to have that ability. What kind of mind (or state of being) it takes to actually create the universe itself is another question. Certainly such a mind would be supernatural.

      Whether our minds partake in that same kind of mind, I certainly couldn’t say. Who knows if “mind” is a category that can include everything that we think of in terms of immaterial intelligence and existence. Maybe the “mind” of God, for instance, is so above the kind of mind we have that it says little to include both in the same category.

      Certainly all that we see in the universe we could reasonably say has supernatural origins. But whether our minds are “supernatural” I would suppose is another thing. Certainly there is some rough analogy in that our minds are to matter what the designing intelligence is to the entire universe. It is a fundamentally different category. Mind (and information) in our realm is a fundamentally different type of “stuff” than matter, at least it seems so on the face of it.

      One way to look at this is that we might be underrating matter by looking at it as just a bunch of dumb particles of dust. As John Lennox, Glenn (the obscure) Fairman, and others have noted, “What makes an electron keep orbiting an atom?” And as Meyer (perhaps Lennox, I forget) notes in regards to the argument of “Well then, who created God? It must be something even more complex”, he says that there ain’t nuttin’ particularly un-complex about an atom or any elementary particle or force. Any of these are incredibly complex in the way they are, even if the mathematical formulas ascribed to them are simple in length.

      And as I believe Feynman noted about energy, we don’t really know what it is. I would therefore say that it is a political/emotional/metaphysical assertion in the first place by materialists that dismisses matter as mere dead, simple, Lego-like building blocks of the universe. The materialists need the small stuff to be supposedly uber-simple because materialist ideology is all based upon reductionism, the idea that the small and simple can explain the larger and complex. (John Lennox absolutely destroys this idea in “God’s Undertaker” and/or perhaps in one of his other books.) That mind and matter are somehow intertwined via the brain itself runs against this materialist idea of matter, let alone the fact that materialists don’t have a real place to put the mind.

      That’s not to suggest that atoms are going to get up and dance and sing a song anytime soon. But one of the problems science is running into is that it is, in some respects, “at the end of history.” Many scientists (very very prominent ones) are of the mind that most of the basic laws of nature have been discovered. The rest is sort of details. And in regards to a strictly materialist view of the universe, I think there’s a lot of truth in that.

      And this is really what is interesting to me about the whole intelligent design thing. I don’t care as much whether it supports my religious views or not. But what it does seem to do is give us a glimpse at what the next Big Questions are, as well as suggesting what some of the solutions might look like.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    We ran out of room for the nesting of replies, Timothy, regarding the “genetic clock” issue. So let me continue it here.

    Not that I have much to say. None of the books I’ve read on intelligent design have even mentioned it (to the best of my memory). It seems like a sound idea, in theory. If all life has a common ancestor, and some gene (evolved or created) exists, it might pick up mutations at some kind of rough rate that gives a clock-like function.

    I’m sure you’ve skimmed at least the first lines from the Wiki article on this which says:

    The molecular clock (based on the molecular clock hypothesis (MCH)) is a technique in molecular evolution that uses fossil constraints and rates of molecular change to deduce the time in geologic history when two species or other taxa diverged.

    Therein perhaps lies a potential flaw. It assumes gradual change and a “tree of life” that represents that kind of gradual change. A pity, I guess, that the fossil record doesn’t show this. So I’m not aware of how relevant the molecular clock is. As Wiki also notes:

    They [Zuckerhandl and Pauling] generalized this observation to assert that the rate of evolutionary change of any specified protein was approximately constant over time and over different lineages.

    My guess — and it is only a guess — is that such things as the molecular clock are being shoe-horned in to fit the pre-existing expectation of gradual change over time. But I don’t doubt that mutation (presumably ones that still allow function of a protein) can accumulate and show relative age.

    For what it’s worth, nothing about the theory of intelligent design disputes that mutations occur and can, at least at the micro level, effect some change. Given the silence on this issue (at least in the books I’ve read) by Behe, Lennox, and Meyer, it doesn’t seem to be a big issue one way or another. Again, they may have mentioned it, but if so, it wasn’t central to their arguments.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      In addition to the test I mentioned, one key problem with the genetic clock is that they haven’t actually proven that the rate of change is constant through time. As you said, it’s just an assumption, and assumptions prove nothing.

  7. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    However this turns out — design or evolution — what one can learn from reading these books is a lot of elementary biology.

    I was finally getting around last night to reading the appendix of Behe’s “The Edge of Evolution” and he has some very interesting information there on the nature of proteins as molecular machines. It must be read to get the gist of it for it is already a summation, and if I summarize it further you won’t get much out of its. But suffice it to say, you will gain at least a superficial appreciation for how proteins do their job, and how complex they are.

    Also, Behe has some fine commentary on a subject that I suspect that most of us sci-fi buffs (read: “nuts”) have thought about and/or have read or seen as a plot device. It’s the idea of man-made self-replicating nanobots escaping the lab, replicating like heck, and basically then taking over the world, congealing it into one big mass of nanobots.

    As Behe notes, there are already trillions of nanobots among us. They are the molecule-size protein machines that already do the work as envisioned by those who dream of nanobots. They construct very small things at the atomic level…and themselves are very small. And, given the entirety of the cell, they do replicate. And as Behe notes about the malaria organism (which replicate into the trillions inside any one human body), they would gladly take over the universe if they could.

    It’s an interesting perspective on the remarkable micro-machinery of the cell. We have likely already met an alien technology (if one can call the designer an alien). And we have certainly met the nanobots.

  8. Craig Hazen of BIOLA University has a startling way to demonstrate that intelligence, wherever you find it, is supernatural. And by the way, you’re exactly right to say that the terms “natural” and “supernatural” are somewhat arbitrary and contrived and are really based on faulty assumptions. So please pardon my use of them. For my purposes, “natural” refers to those things which scientific pursuits can, in principle, explain. By contrast, “supernatural” refers to those things which scientific pursuits, in principle, could NEVER explain.

    Hazen describes an appearance he made at University of Florida, where he was to talk about science and religion. He began the talk by announcing to the audience that he would be “performing a miracle” for them. After some stretches, knuckle cracking and other theatrics aimed at building the audience’s expectations, Hazen stood there on the stage and suddenly raised his right arm and lowered it again. Then he did the same with his left arm. Understandably, the audience was a little less than impressed. But Hazen challenged them to explain WHY his arm went up. After some grumbling, a professor of physiology stood up and gave a detailed account of the cascade of biochemical/physiological events that happened that caused Hazen’s arm to go up, all of which was correct as far as it went. But to the professor’s embarrassment, Hazen pointed out that he had not answered the question. Although we can have knowledge of all of these physiological events and although we can understand every one of those events, there’s one thing that we’ll never explain: What caused those dominoes to start falling? It was Hazen’s CHOICE that started that chain of physiological events. Hazen had just demonstrated that HE is not his body.

    Decisions are by their very nature immaterial and supernatural. You can’t account for them physiologically or through scientific pursuits. And making decisions, especially goal-oriented decisions, is part and parcel of intelligence. Every time I make a decision, I perform a miracle because that decision cannot be explained by reference to the laws of physics and chemistry.

    The point is that someone who denies the existence of the supernatural really should, for the sake of consistency, deny the existence of intelligence. But of course no one wants to do that.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      What a wonderfully smart-aleck professor. It never ceases to be interesting to me that there are those who share the materialist/naturalist outlook who forget that their own minds are their #1 instrument for observing the universe. All else is subservient to that, thus Dan Dennett in particular strikes me as being one of the most over-paid philosophers who has ever existed (or perhaps was created).

      Whether the mind is supernatural or not, materialists have a very uncomfortable relationship with it. Their desire is to dumb-down mind and turn it into no more than a happenstance, some kind of toxic sludge riding on top of matter. This sludge is to be considered of no more importance in regards to how things really are than that play of light on a hot sandy desert’s surface that we call a “mirage.”

      And it still bugs the hell out of them. Stephen Meyer is so very even-tempered in his explanations that I sorta-hafta self-anoint myself as the anti-Darwin Bulldog. But Meyer does do an excellent job of pointing out the inherent discomfort that the materialists have with the idea of immaterial things, including the mind and information. Surely this fixation on matter, and their inherent discomfort with the immaterial, is what blinds them in their repeated attempts at discovering how life started via their computer simulations — simulations that always (at least thus far) depend upon the insertion of intelligent design and information as supplied by the researchers themselves. And time after time Meyer recounts how much question-begging and other tactics are used against his otherwise clear and logical argument for intelligent design. Every standard they set against ID would, as Meyer notes, also rule out Darwinism and many other pursuits of “historical” science.

      His argument may turn out to be true or not. But it seems clear that it is not his logic that they have a problem with. The main thrust of the materialists is not the veracity of facts, truth, or evidence. It’s maintaining the orthodoxy of strict naturalism. Who is playing the role of Pope Urban VIII now and who is playing the part of Galileo?

      It’s clear there is a lot of emotional commitment to materialism. A clearly truth-centered scientist (as most of them feign to be) couldn’t give a rat’s ass if ID was true or not. The point would be which better fits the known facts. And ID, although missing the more tangible presence of a designer, makes a very good case for explaining the information content of DNA via intelligence itself, wherever it may come from. And all other aspects regarding evolution are secondary to this point. If you can’t explain the unique and vast information content of DNA, you can keep your fancy cladistic charts and fudged drawings because they don’t mean a thing.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I found some philosophy in support of Pete’s idea that consciousness is supernatural.

      I bought the short (about 65 pages) booklet, Miracles, by John Lennox. It’s basically the text of a speech that he gave. For a buck, you can’t go wrong.

      Lennox writes of being seated next to an atheist during some academic dinner function. The other fellow learns of Lennox’s background and asserts it will be a very quiet evening because the two have nothing to talk about. Lennox writes:

      “I suspect like me you are a methodological reductionist. You take a big problem, split it into little problems, solve the little problems and hope that will give you insight into the big problem you started with.”

      “Yes,” he said, “I do that.”

      “Good,” I said. “We agree on that then, so we have something to talk about.” I went on, “However, I think you’re an ontological reductionist (ontos, Greek: being). You believe everything can be reduced to physics and chemistry.”

      He said, “That’s right. That’s my basic approach.”

      So, I said, “Let’s do an experiment then.”

      He said, “What? Here at the table?”

      I said, “Sure, this is Oxford.” I then picked up the printed menu that was sitting on the table. It said, “Roast Chicken” and that not even in French but in English.

      And he said, “What’s the problem with that?”

      I said, “You’re a reductionist. You think everything can be explained in terms of physics and chemistry. Now, look at these marks on the paper R O A S T. But they are not just random marks. They’re semiotic (semion, Greek: a sign). Put together that way we see that they carry meaning.”

      He said, “That’s right, so what’s the problem?”

      “Okay.” I said, “You explain to me the semiotic dimension of those marks in terms of the physics and chemistry of the paper and ink.”

      There was a silence. And then his wife, seated beside him, said a bit too loudly, “Get out of that if you can.”

      However, to my amazement, he didn’t try. He said, “John, for 40 years I’ve gone into my laboratory thinking that that could be done. But it can’t.”

      In my astonishment at his honesty, I backtracked. I said, “But science as we know it has only been going 500 years or so…”

      He said, “It doesn’t matter. You cannot explain the semiotics bottom up solely in terms of the physics and chemistry of the paper and ink. You have to introduce an intelligent input to explain the semiotic dimension: the fact that the symbols carry meaning.”

      It then appeared to dawn on him that I wasn’t bright enough to have thought of the argument. He said, “Where did you get that argument?”

      I said, “I got it from a Nobel Prize winner.”

      I’m glad you laughed, ladies and gentlemen. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that given just a few marks on a page, we instantly argue upwards and postulate mind. And it is not a mind ‘of the gaps’ either.

      But we are not quite finished. What about the human genome: 3.7 billion letters in a four letter chemical alphabet in exactly the right order like a computer program. Sophisticated, because the levels of information are contained not only in the linear sequencing of the DNA but in its folding and in its relationship to the cell. If we ask, as I do, about its ultimate origin we are told: “Chance and necessity.”

      What? “Chance and the laws of nature.” We don’t say that about a printed word even if it is only five letters long. What’s the difference? Semiotics are involved in both cases.

      It seems to me something very inconsistent is going on here. Text is evidence of mind, intelligence and information. What is more, we humans are not only containers of text in our DNA, we are producers of text, we can formulate thoughts in language. That, to my mind, is powerful evidence that naturalism is false. There is evidence of supernature already to be seen within you.

      Lennox makes a good point — central to intelligent design, for example — that information and mind are integral to understanding nature and life. And even if one hasn’t bought intelligent design, the point is still driven home that purely physical processes cannot account for all that we find in the universe. And such a result is a repudiation of naturalism is accomplished as it is defined by naturalists. One could make a case that mind and information are found in or among nature (clearly they are) that therefore they are “natural.” But that’s not apparently what naturalists mean according to their own definition. Whether mind is “supernatural” or not it still a good question. But as reasoned by Lennox, “supernature already is to be seen within you.”

      • Timothy Lane says:

        That is a very interesting point he made. Where does the meaning of symbols come from? It has to come from the mind, which leads to biology — or maybe something beyond that.

  9. GHG says:

    While I believe that the human mind is supernatural and in fact I equate it to our spirit, our essence that survives our biological life, I do not see how Hazen’s demonstration of choosing to raise his arm proves that. When a cat chooses to jump onto a chair instead of walking past the chair, does that prove the cat has a supernatural mind? Maybe I missed Hazen’s point – which would not be out of the realm of possibility. The mystery is where the “natural” brain functions end and the supernatural mind begins.

    • A cat does have a supernatural mind as well. Or at least I don’t have any reason to think that a cat does not have a supernatural mind. Goal-oriented decisions are a hallmark of mind, of intelligence, a ghost in the machine.

      Hazen’s “miracle” can be compared to one of those crazy domino layouts, thousands of dominoes all lined up. Starting with the last domino to fall, the collapse of each domino can be explained exhaustively by reference to the domino which precedes it… until you get to the first domino.

      It was a decision that caused the first domino to fall, which then caused the second to fall and so on.

      Now, you might say “But it was someone’s finger that pushed that first domino over, not their decision.”

      Yes, but the finger pushing that first domino is at the tail end of another chain of events (physiological) all of which happened because an agent made a decision to push over the first domino. And that decision cannot be explained. Nothing caused it. That’s what Hazen’s miracle demonstrates.

      He explains that a woman in the front row finally got it right, as she shouted toward the stage. She was pointing her finger at Hazen saying “You did it!! You did it!!” We can’t be sure that she really had her head around what she was saying, but she seemed to recognize that Hazen made his own arm go up, and that this implies that Hazen and his arm are two different things.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *