A Question About Intelligent Design

A Question to both ID Proponents and Proponents of EC (Evolutionary Creationism or Theistic Evolution) About the Concept of Design

intelligent-designHere’s a question I throw out there on the concept of design:

It seems to me that the inference to design is something that one can make irrespective of one’s discipline of study or area of expertise. I don’t need to be a scientist to infer design from nature. Many do that without any training in science at all. If that’s the case, can design be regarded as a scientific principle per se? Or is it a broader principle of reasoning that various disciplines can employ, in various degrees?

On his blog (in the series on ‘god of the gaps’ criticisms of ID), my friend Hendrik gives the example of finding several Scrabble tiles placed together in the form of an intelligible sentence. One quite naturally infers design here, but one does not need to be a linguist to do so. Now, one might need the assistance of a linguist if the tiles appear to be in random order, let’s say because the sentence is in a foreign language one does not understand or even recognize. We don’t, however, need the linguist, as linguist, in order to make the step of inferring design. We need the linguist to help us discern if the necessary (but not sufficient) conditions are present in order for us (as non-specialists in the field) to infer design. But we already seem to take the notion of design for granted (and to include things beyond linguistics, such as the existence of the mind of the author, as well as motivations, ideologies, loyalties & commitments, etc.), on the way to asking if the linguistic evidence in question supports our (beyond linguistics) design inference or not.

In short, one’s expertise in a field of study does not seem relevant to the discernment of design in general. It only seems relevant if one is considering whether certain observations (which are best understood by a particular field of study/expertise) support one’s overarching concept of design, which depends on other considerations in addition to the present observations. If the notion of design operates as I’m suggesting, it is not (it seems to me), strictly speaking, a scientific concept (though it can be one to which scientists as people/agents appeal to as a broader, more holistic explanation of reality).

SO, HERE’S MY QUESTION FOR ALL: Do you agree that in the sense I’ve described, science can discern necessary but not sufficient conditions for an inference to Design?

I think it would be interesting to tease this out.

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“Intelligent Design” illustration by Cindy Caldwell

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Some Reflections on Methodological Naturalism in Science (and some friendly debate)

Some Reflections on Methodological Naturalism in Science (and some friendly debate)scientist

Methodological Naturalism (MN) is an important concept, one that involves issues that both scientists and theologians (not to mention philosophers) find significant and interesting. Dr. Joshua Swamidass has recently written a post on his personal blog, Peaceful Science, in which he seeks to explain and defend his commitment to methodological naturalism in science.

I met Joshua this summer at a retreat for seminary professors organized, run, and funded (with a little help from the Templeton foundation) by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  He possesses two doctoral degrees, one in medicine (MD) and one in Information and Computer Sciences, specializing in Informatics in Biology and Medicine (PhD). He is currently an Assistant Professor at Washington University in the Department of Immunology and Pathology (Division of Laboratory and Genomic Medicine). And Joshua is a devout Christian, passionate and outspoken about his faith in Jesus (check out a couple of Veritas Forum videos that feature him here).

Dr. Swamidass’s basic position is summarized in the first couple of paragraphs of his post:

Mainstream science seeks “our best explanation of the world, without considering God.” This limiting clause,” without considering God,” is the rule of Methodological Naturalism (MN).

Currently, science does not search for all sorts of Truth. Rather, science is limited effort to explain the world on its own terms, without invoking God, His action, or intelligent design. There is a “line in the sand” in science, where consideration of God is explicitly disallowed by MN. Far from denying God’s existence, this way of doing science is strongly motivated by theism.

For those that doubt that MN is the current rule in science, and that it is applied to exclude ID, the William Dembski edited volume The Nature of Nature asks the right question on its back cover…

The culture war over theism versus atheism, traditional values versus secular progressivism, and transcendent versus material reality has focused on science as the prize. Who gets to define science?

The answer is simple. For the foreseeable future, scientists get to define science. Partly to stay out of the culture wars, scientists have defined science to include MN. This rule is a “line in the sand” that excludes both claims of both creationism and atheism from science itself. This does not exclude consideration of God in science-engaged philosophy and theology. Scientists can consider God in their philosophy and theology too, but in this must be clearly separated from their “science.”

That’s just the beginning. The entire post (linked here) is well worth reading.

Dr. Swamidass offers several intriguing arguments and observations in favour of MN. He also poses some provocative questions for those that reject MN or seek to compromise it (notably, in his view, proponents of Intelligent Design).

What do you think? Does MN make sense to you? Does it raise any questions or concerns for you? What would you want to affirm or challenge in Joshua’s post?

(NOTE: I am posting this at the invitation of Dr. Swamidass. He is interested in reading and considering thoughtful responses posted here).

Posted in Philosophy of Science, Science and Christian Faith, Theology, Theology and Culture | Tagged , , , , , | 30 Comments

Why Study Theology? A Word from St. Basil the Great

Why Study Theology? Well, I can think of lots of reasons. But here are some words from St. Basil the Great (330-370), Bishop of Caesarea and one of the famous Greek Cappadocian church fathers.

stbasil2008web“To count the terms used in theology as of primary importance, and to endeavour to trace out the hidden meaning in every phrase and in every syllable, is a characteristic wanting in those who are idle in the pursuit of true religion, but distinguishing all who get knowledge of “the mark” “of our calling” (Phil. iii.14); for what is set before us is, so far as is possible with human nature, to be made like unto God. Now without knowledge there can be no making like; and knowledge is not got without lessons…. Truth is always a quarry hard to hunt, and therefore we must look everywhere for its tracks. The acquisition of true religion is just like that of crafts; both grow bit by bit; apprentices must despise nothing.” (De Spirito Sancto I.2)

[Contextual note: Basil is reflecting on the Nicene debate and the immense significance that concepts, words, and sometimes even syllables and prepositions  – i.e., homoousion vs. homoiousion, preps. ‘with’, ‘through’, ‘in’ – can have for proper theological understanding).

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Luther on the “Happy Exchange”

“Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, just as I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and have given to me what is yours. You have taken upon yourself what you were not and have given to me what I was not….”

(Luther, Works 48:12-13; ed. Helmut T. Lehmann; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002; Quoted in DBW 14:354 n.97; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013).

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Women in the Church Blog Series

Women in the Church:
Why I’m an Egalitarian


Last year, over the course of a few months, I wrote a series on women in the church that outlines my approach to being an egalitarian. I often get requests for links to the series, so I’ve just posted a summary page (click here).

The page lists all of the posts, in logical order, with links to make accessing them easy.

I hope that they are helpful to all (even if not all agree) and I especially hope that they are a source of encouragement to women seeking to serve God in positions of ministry and leadership in the church.

Painting: Ruth and Naomi by He Qi, 2001




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The Cross and God’s Love

cross suffering love2


The cross of Christ did not change
God’s heart toward us;
it revealed God’s heart toward us.

Agree or disagree?


Some verses to consider:

  • John 3:16-17: “ For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
  • Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
  • 1 John 4:10: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
  • Ephesians 2:8-10: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Any counter-texts or points to consider?

This does not mean that the cross is just a demonstration (as in some versions of the moral exemplar theory), or that it doesn’t do or accomplish something or effect a change. It does. It separates the person that God loves from the Sin nature that is a contradiction to that person’s true (God-intended) being, which hence rightfully draws the wrath of God.

I think Luther had it right:““For love’’s anger (wrath) seeks and wills to sunder the evil that it hates from the good that it loves, in order that the good and its love may be preserved.”” (Quoted in Dennis Ngien, The Suffering of God According to Martin Luther’’s Theologia Crucis (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1995), 107.)


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John Coe on the Temptation of Academia



“As a graduate student at a major secular university, I experienced personally (and witnessed in my colleagues and professors)  the temptation of academia: to be fashionable in one’s observations and conclusions, to be flashy, to be the first to make the observation, to be accepted by the elite, to stand out, to force the data or arguments, to be less than forthcoming in admitting the weaknesses of one’s views, to quote the fashionable or accepted authority on a point in which the evidence is thin, to not be willing to admit gaps in the reasoning, but to ‘courageously push ahead.’  The discipline of honesty will assist us in letting reality speak, and not merely our hypotheses that may be motivated by unhealthy passions rather than reasons, evidence or healthy feelings. This is crucial for the enterprise of science and, especially, psychology.”

– John Coe, Psychology in the Spirit

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What comes first – worship, scripture, or theology?

liturgy border-2What comes first, worship, scripture, or theology? Does it depend where one stands in history?

Hauerwas writes: “In effect, the worship of the church created Scripture, though once formed Scripture governs the church’s worship” (“God’s New Language”).

Theology, then, is not a stage in this order, but an ongoing, dialogical, communal (church) practice of indwelling and enacting this relation. It is a faithful (biblical, historical, ecumenical), doxological, and contextual ‘improvisation’ on the great theo-drama that Scripture narrates (Vanhoozer).

(I’m currently reading through The Hauerwas Reader and will likely post random thoughts that occur to me here to stimulate thought . . . and perhaps revisit later).

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Scientific Pursuit as a Form of Worship

EW cover

Why is ongoing dialogue between faith and science so important?

Read my brief article in Eyewitness to find out (pages 14-15) and then join the conversation!

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Available Next Week!

psf book_front cover official

“This book calls exactly for what evangelicalism needs in order to reinvent itself: a return to the incarnation as the foundation for a robust ecclesiology based on a Christ-centered anthropology. It is my belief that Christianity will regain its experiential and intellectual relevance for our time once Christians recover and proclaim its ancient message that the gospel is all about fulfilling our common longing for true life by becoming fully human in communion with God. Franklin’s book is an important contribution to this task.”

~ Jens Zimmermann, Canada Research Chair in Interpretation, Religion and Culture, Trinity Western University

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