Manifest “question-begging” fallacy

(Christy Hemphill) #41

Intentionally guided requires an agent. Maybe I’m limited in imagination, but what natural intelligent agent could have possibly guided creation? If no natural intelligent agent could have done the guiding, then we are talking about a supernatural one. I don’t see how that is a strawman, unless you have some kind of third option that is neither natural or supernatural. What non-supernatural intelligence do you envision possibly guiding creation?

Okay… That is a new one for me. I don’t think I’m ready to grant that hypothetical.

It’s not that they are just recognized as a result of intelligent activity, they are recognized as a result of human activity, because we have experience with humans speaking and writing Hebrew. That experience is what allows us to recognize the intelligence behind Hebrew inscriptions. We have no experience with DNA being the result of intelligence. We have no experience recognizing some completely non-human God language. And we have no multiple God’s to compare what God-produced language typically looks like.

The legitimate scientific observation would not be that “intelligence” produced the tablets, but that Hebrew-speaking humans produced the tablets. In our natural experience Hebrew-speaking humans are the only intelligent agents that produce Hebrew. I have a really hard time accepting this idea that “natural intelligent agent” is some kind of open set with yet unidentified intelligent agents that are part of the natural realm, but not discovered. That just sounds bogus to me.

(Mark D.) #42

As for detecting intelligent design, where does it stop. Is water intelligently designed owing to the stable bond formed by the hydrogen and oxygen atoms? Is everything intelligently designed?

(Phil) #43

And yet we have iPhones, presumably produced by the providence of God,

(Steve Schaffner) #44

You were the one who injected the term “supernatural” into the discussion, contrasting it with “natural” (in the fourth post in this thread). Also, since you are complaining about methodological naturalism, which does not rule out intelligent agents, “supernatural” seems to be the only alternative to “natural” that makes any sense here.

(George Brooks) #45


@Christy and @jpm are not specifically invoking probabilities as the reason super-natural events can’t be studied by science. Probabilities was a side discussion.

Science involves controlling variables. And when you control an independent variable, you are able to make conclusions about that variable.

How do you control for the independent variable if the independent variable is God?!?

This is a legitimate epistemological problem… and one that is usually barely alluded to in I.D. circles.

Using Human Perception to verify or deny “design” can sometimes be legitimate. And for many Christians, the personal experience of the amazing is a valid way to interpret the universe. But that doesn’t mean it is proper science or good science.

We have to accept that perceiving Design is a subjective experience for many people… even if it means it weakens the case for teaching “Intelligent Design” in public schools.

(Daniel Fisher) #46

I’d be interested of course, but I would border on incredulity. This suggests that I could randomly string amino acids together, and upwards of literally 1 in a thousand would develop the multiple folds necessary to take on biological function?

This is very contrary to many, many works I’ve read on the subject from all sorts of sources, all of which cite the extreme rarity of such functional proteins, the extreme difficulty in finding such functional proteins de novo, the necessity for intentional guidance mixed with random searches to develop artificial enzymes, etc. every experiment or paper I’ve ever read confirmed the extreme rarity of functional foods, even if they didn’t give a specific number like Axe’s.

But I would of course be interested in reading a contrary opinion.

(Daniel Fisher) #47

We most certainly DO have evidence of DNA being the result of human intelligence and activity. Proteins too, for that matter. It has been all over the news recently. ( (

Hence my philosophical problem: 1,000 years from now, some forensic scientist could examine a certain fragment of DNA, or a certain protein, and believe it to have been so complicated, so specified, so perfectly sequenced so as to form a very unlikely protein perfectly suited for a particular function…

And so long as he thinks this DNA sequence the result of a scientist in a lab, then he is able to empirically recognize intelligent design in the sequence by his empiric methods.

But if he starts to suspect that God or an angel to have been the intelligence behind that design, poof, he magically is no longer able to recognize, empirically, the design he saw when he believed it to be of human origin.

There is simply something logically amiss here.

(Daniel Fisher) #48

:roll_eyes: I did specify both “unguided” natural laws and “popping out of the ground” specifically so that you couldn’t go there.

(Daniel Fisher) #49

You may not be ready, but you have to acknowledge that some have held it and proposed it in all seriousness… and from as distinguished a scientific name as Francis Crick, no less. (

Hence the manifestly inconsistent position methodological naturalism presents: Francis Crick can examine the DNA, believe it to be of so complicated and specified a manner that it could not have arisen by natural (UNGUIDED) causes, and he detects some level of intelligent design or purpose behind earth’s DNA. But, since he believes the designing intelligence to have been an undefined, natural (I.e., NON-SUPERNATURAL), alien intelligence, then his recognition of intelligent design in earth’s DNA is empiric, scientific, and warranted, and publishable, no less (whether or not one agrees with his final conclusion.)

But another scientist at, say, discovery institute, could utilize Crick’s own methodology, standards, reasoning, and logic, and arrives at the same intermediate conclusion (DNA was intelligently designed or could not have originated by natural, unguided causes on earth), but their recognition of intelligent, purposeful agency is now magically non-empiric, unscientific, unwarranted…

not because the science or logic itself was in any way different, but only because of their suspicions about the identity of the intelligence involved.

There is simply something illogical at the core that permits such inconsistencies as this, which is what feeds my continued skepticism.

(Christy Hemphill) #50

To me that is like saying that if a person makes a painting, the minerals used in the paint are “a result of human intelligence and activity.” No, the painting is. If humans manipulate DNA, the resulting organism is a result of human activity, the materials they messed around with to produce it were not “made” by humans, they were manipulated by humans.

I’m failing to see how this is such a deal-breaker for science. And if a thousand years from now we have lots of experience with humans manipulating DNA, then it would be added to the list of things human intelligence produces with a set of known markers. It doesn’t seem like you acknowledge this, but it is super obvious to me.

The only reason we can recognize tools or writing or art or language as a result of intelligence is because we have experience observing those kinds of products as a result of intelligence. Generic “design” doesn’t equal intelligence. Spiderwebs to me look designed because of my human experience with human knitting and crocheting. But they aren’t the product of intelligence.

Yes, because science is based on observations and you have to be able to make comparisons. If you had some other product you knew was produced by God or angels, you could scientifically compare the new product to the known product. Since we probably aren’t ever going to have lab samples that are definitively heaven-made for comparison, we can’t hypothesize about the God-origin of unknown samples. That doesn’t seem like a logic problem to me, it’s an inaccessibility of data problem. If someone believed a rock they found came from Pluto, we wouldn’t be able to prove that either, not because it’s impossible to prove theoretically with the tools of empirical science, but because we don’t have any other rocks from Pluto to compare it to.

I have heard of that. It sounds like a comic book to me. And until you have other known products of alien intelligence to compare DNA to, you can’t prove it. Just pointing to complexity and appearance of design does not prove an intelligent origin.

I think you are underestimating the skepticism most scientist respond with to panspermia. It’s not really about the “identity of the intelligence involved.”

You keep using “illogical” but I don’t think logic is the root of the issue. It’s the constraints of scientific methodology and you imagining and wishing it could somehow be different to accommodate hypothesizing about the actions of completely unknown intelligent agents, yet still follow all the established rules of science. I think this is just wishful thinking.

(George Brooks) #51


You really really need to read up on epistemology and the philosophy of science. Something that is subjectively perceived to be intelligence is always fascinating to the human mind.

But this is cannot be equated with the process of Scientific methodology - - namely:

  1. We are going to run this experiment WITHOUT GOD, then

  2. Compare the results we obtain to the results we obtain WITH GOD.

  3. In this way, by controlling the Independent Variable of God, we can prove whether he exists or not.

As you can see… there is no credible way to do an experiment with and without God. Nobody would know. This is essentially why Christian Alchemy died a slow but inevitable death.

(Daniel Fisher) #52

Christy, this is like saying that manufactured objects that come off an assembly line merely “look” designed and aren’t the product of intelligence, being produced as they are by unintelligent robotic machines. I’m afraid it kind of begs the question of whether the webs result from intelligence by inserting the assumption that spiders weren’t so designed.

One last question, if I may, to focus back on the methodological naturalism issue, and I’ll try to wrap up this discussion:

Please assume with me, just for the argument, hypothetically, that God had in fact designed the spider, entirely from scratch (de novo). It’s design was not the result of unguided, natural causes, but a God zapped it into existence just as it is, having designed it to do what it does. Assume with me just for a moment, for the sake of the argument, that this were in fact how spiders came to be… and now let me pose this question:

Would you agree with me that, even if the above were the case, that any scientist, following methodological naturalism, would nonetheless be required and destined to posit, reason to, and conclude a natural (unguided) cause for the origin of spiders?

(Christy Hemphill) #53

No, manufactured objects are produced by machines made by humans according to plans made by humans and we have plenty of experience with humans doing the manufacturing, which is why we can look at something made by machines according to specs and tell it is designed. We don’t have any definitive observational experience with an entity that designs animals so that we can judge the product of animals as being a result of intelligence. We don’t judge something as designed by intelligence because of it’s intricacy, we judge based on our prior knowledge and observation of intelligent entities doing the designing.

He/she would not be required to posit a natural origin for spiders. He/she just would not be able to establish any evidence using methodological naturalism for a supernatural origin. So, if he/she wanted to use the tools of science, the only origin he could investigate would be a natural one. But the conclusion is not foregone. He/she could conclude that were not definitive answers to the question of the spider’s origin. Or he/she could conclude (as many scientists do) that establishing a natural origin does not in any way rule out God’s guidance, as God’s guidance in natural processes would not be detectable.

(Christy Hemphill) #54

Part of the problem with the discussion of “intelligence” in ID is that it wants “intelligence” to be this disembodied thing. I don’t think we are capable of accessing intelligence that is not embodied. All that we know of God’s intelligence is embodied in human language, by human messengers, or by God actually taking on humanity. And even as God’s intelligence is being revealed to us “embodied” in human language, it requires athropomorphic imagery (God “embodied” as an artist, ruler, father, husband) to even conceptualize the intelligent message God is communicating to us. So the idea that we would be able to identify and decode a “message” in nature from a disembodied intelligence sounds far-fetched and untenable to be. We can only identify intelligence on our own human, embodied terms.


@Daniel_Fisher If I wanted to create a software based visual system that could identify an object that is the result of design what criteria should I use?

(Mitchell W McKain) #56

But that may be a problem with the way you are defining intelligence, which could be somewhat over-rated. I am thinking of what we can do with evolutionary programs and how the self-teaching computer programs like alphazero which are now beating humans at so many games. I am not sure that you could define intelligence to include them but exclude the evolutionary process which produced the spider web. Though perhaps you were just referring to what the single spider is doing, largely by instinct and biological programming.

(Daniel Fisher) #57

Christy, thanks much, I’ll try to start wrapping up this particular discussion, and as always thank you for the thoughtful engagement. One last illustration/example that I think captures the core difficulty I’m having, to see if I understand, or am misconstruing your position…

If you and I had been present at the very moment of Jesus’ baptism when the Father spoke audibly from heaven saying, “this is my son…”, I would completely agree with you that, listening to the words, we could never say empirically, or scientifically, that it was God’s voice we heard. That is beyond the realm of science. We heard sound waves, our ears detected a natural vibration of air. Strictly speaking, we empirically detected nothing “supernatural.” Thus far we agree.

But it also seems so patently self-evident that we could say that we empirically detected, in that voice, the result of some intelligent being’s influence of nature. If God had in fact so acted at that moment, if he had so guided the forces of nature as to produce those Aramaic words, then to that degree, God’s guidance would certainly, in point of fact, be “detectable,” no? Again, not that God himself would in any way be detectable, but it seems beyond dispute that the natural results of God’s guidance of nature in that moment would, in fact, be quite “detectable.”

And more to the point, if you and I had in fact heard those words, would you not be able to agree with me thus far: that what we could empirically say is that what we heard was clearly the result of some intelligent, purposeful agent, as opposed to the result of blind, random, unguided forces of nature?

(Christy Hemphill) #58

Yes, I was referring to the spider’s intelligence. Daniel already pointed out that the spiders themselves could be seen as products of intelligence (like machines that manufacture goods).

(Daniel Fisher) #59

(By the way, don’t say this to the scientists at SETI. I imagine they might take issue with that… :wink: )

(Christy Hemphill) #60

Yes. But why would we recognize it as intelligence? Because that intelligence embodied itself in comprehensible words of a human language, and used sound waves detectable to our human ears to speak those human words. We have ample experience with intelligence being expressed through spoken words, so we can process it in comparison to every other instance we have ever experienced of language use being linked to intelligence in some way. We have no experience with humans expressing intelligence through creating life or inventing DNA from chemicals.

And in fact most of the ID arguments appeal to human engineering when trying to argue for design in nature. We understand engineering to be a result of intelligence because we have experience with it. But you can never get around the fact that living things aren’t machines. The analogy with engineering with always break down at some point, and ultimately, I don’t think we have the conceptual tools to identify intelligence that works very differently than our own. This is just a limitation of our embodied human existence.

It is always nice talking to you to, Daniel. :slight_smile: