Why the opposition to ID theory?

(Joe Palcsak) #1

Hi Mervin…

Not to be too contentious, but I think it is fair to say that most folks here find Intelligent Design Theory to be very repugnant (at least, that is what I am getting in all the forums I participate in). But ID is, at its very heart, an Origin of Life Theory. I appreciate your candor about abiogenesis, but if indeed, the origin of life represents a frontier territory, is there any explanation you can offer for so much apparent hostility for a decidedly Christian friendly OOL theory such as ID?

Your claim about confident assertions coming from those with a metaphysical axe to grind simply does not apply in my case because I became convinced that God exists based on the evidence in favor of ID while I was a content atheist.

How life began?
(Mervin Bitikofer) #2

Regarding your appraisal that people here generally don’t go in for ID (the stronger sort) – I see that too, and agree. Eddie has been kept busy for years here I think trying (perhaps with little success to hear him tell it) to temper what he sees as anti-ID enthusiasms. And to continue my candor with you here, I’m not a strong ID proponent myself, though nor do I run screaming from the room when others show up who want to pursue or defend it. So I wouldn’t describe myself as being hostile to those who find inspiration and hope in that pursuit. Certainly, thank you for your persistent presence as somebody whose testimony includes that program and who does face harsh criticism here. I hope not to pile that on (at least not harshly) --so in that spirit, since you asked how I account for anti-ID sentiments here, I should at least explain what prevents me from having much enthusiasm for it. And that will warrant more attention than I have time to give this morning as I’m getting ready for school, so I may put this off for later (I’m not getting back till late tonight and so may not have a chance to reply more today). So here is just a brief and insufficient summary of where I am: I don’t reject it automatically as so many others here do, but nor does it seem to me that its proponents have managed bring forth compelling responses in debates so much as their opponents have.

And since I don’t place my faith in scientific arguments generally (as people attempt to apply them to theology) I don’t have as much motivation perhaps as some (like yourselves) may rightly have to hotly pursue such things. I am personally not knowledgeable enough to evaluate pro and con genetic arguments, so I listen from the sidelines as those from both sides (both more intelligent in the life-sciences than I am) debate with each other.

So in my case it is a matter of choosing which authorities I trust and all the ideological perils that is fraught with. But I think I know just enough science (and life science) to recognize who is giving more sustained informed answers / rebuttals. In my limited experience with this it seems to me that pro-ID folks have as yet failed to make the more compelling case. So to repeat an oft-given criticism toward ID, I still lean toward thinking it suffers from the classic God-Of-The-Gaps weakness. I know this leaves out many nuances and is unfair to pretend that the whole effort could be dismissed with that one phrase. Don’t get me wrong – I believe there are almost certainly permanent gaps in human knowledge. I just don’t want to stake my faith on the nature/size of such gaps. I could be wrong in this of course. But I’m not going to die on any of those particular hills (on either side).

In the end I rejoice that you and I are brothers in Christ, and that (figuratively speaking), the hill at Golgotha is the one we have both pitched our tents on.

(Jay Johnson) #3

Speaking only for myself, I am not hostile to Intelligent Design theory. If it brought you in from the cold, good! However, I do have some things against it, if I am allowed to paraphrase our Lord without appearing too presumptuous.

I’ll start with a series of questions. Why are ID theorists so insistent on demonstrating the existence of design and, by inference, a designer, rather than the existence of God? Why do they scrupulously avoid any mention of God in their books, writings, and blogs? Why are ID theorists so insistent on being recognized as “legitimate science” rather than “mere philosophy”? Why is the Discovery Institute, the self-described “hub of the Intelligent Design movement,” pursuing a political agenda to change science curricula in states across the country?

The answer to all of these questions flows from the last one. The only reason that ID insists on being labelled “science” instead of “philosophy” and scrupulously avoids mentioning God in favor of “design” and “intelligence” is so that it can be taught in the science classroom as an alternative to “atheistic evolution.”

In my view, the hostility toward ID would disappear tomorrow if its theorists would drop their politically motivated goal of calling it “science” in order to teach a watered-down version of creation in public school classrooms.

Your mileage may vary.

(Phil) #4

I agree Jay. While I find myself in agreement with many ID positions, I realize that they are philosophic positions, not scientific. I think the foundation of ID is based on a (not so) hidden agenda, and it is that lack of openness and honesty that is distasteful. Perhaps that is not true of all ID adherents, but is the impression I have of the movement in general. If they were to admit they represent a worldview and not a scientific position, I think the negative vibe would disappear.

(Benjamin Kirk) #5

[quote=“deliberateresult, post:1, topic:23502”]
Not to be too contentious, but I think it is fair to say that most folks here find Intelligent Design Theory to be very repugnant (at least, that is what I am getting in all the forums I participate in).[/quote]
I find it to be nonexistent.

[quote]But ID is, at its very heart, an Origin of Life Theory.
[/quote]No, it’s merely a notion. There’s no theory. You can’t even present a scientific hypothesis that makes empirical predictions.


(Peaceful Science) #6

This, plus sometimes there is often very bad science in the anti-evolution arguments. There are good philosophical arguments for design based on good science, but their value is substantially diminished when presented alongside bad science and insistence that philosophical arguments are science too.

So it is not that I find (lowercase) intelligent design a problem, but there is much difficulty with (uppercase) Intelligent Design the movement. Repugnant is probably too strong a word too. Sometimes I think they have more animosity to me.

(George Brooks) #7


In another thread, @Swamidass was in agreement with @Eddie that ID proponents just Refuse to say who did the design or designs in question.

How is it that you, as a once Atheist, did not conclude that it was an alien race that was responsible for the designs… rather than God?

I, too, would be inclined to attribute such a design (if I agreed we found a candidate design) to God. But how do we explain this when people have written to assure me that this would never happen in the ID community?

(GJDS) #8

I am not enthusiastic about evolution as a general theory and as a scientist I am taken aback by the many claims, changes, and different semantics used to bolster the theory - it clearly fails every test I can think of when we consider origins of life. As one sitting on the sidelines however, I cannot see a compelling case for ID, since to me, it criticizes, and simply puts a layer over the current ToE, instead of presenting an alternative that can be tested by interested scientists.

Having said that, I am intrigued at a very general level, first by the fact that what we ordinarily mean by design can be understood as arrangement, symmetry, and many aspects of geometry that are ubiquitous in the sciences. Secondly, I strongly think that a compelling case can be derived from the intelligibility of the universe - this may be considered a philosophical outlook, but imo many scientists subscribe to this view, even if some express this as mathematical statements that may derive the theory of everything.

So I ask, have ID proponents widened their outlook to include these general matters on intelligibility of the sciences, or are they stuck in an endless argument with biologists? Is ID confined to argue on origins of life? which is about as vague as anything in science, and many are willing to concede that we may never understand how life originated chemically.

(Casper Hesp) #9

Hi George,
Thank you for your contributions here. What intrigues me about your writings is that on the one hand you often possess yourself as largely neutral and “sitting on the sidelines”, while on the other hand you make very grand claims like:

I know that you do not have any expertise in the biological sciences, so what basis do you have for such controversial claims?

These two aspects of your writings seem to be in contradiction with each other.


This is a salient point I’ve also observed. ID by definition is ToE plus something else. All that comprises biological evolutionary theory covers just a subset of ‘biological ID theory’.

Thus when some ID supporters complain that biological evolutionary theories are ‘too flexible’ and therefore ‘not readily falsifiable’ I feel they fail to consider what that implies for theories of ID.

(GJDS) #11

I have often stated that I have no reason to rely on ToE for my research and that my interest in these discussions is to point out the inadequacies in claims made for ToE related to atheistic and theistic arguments. Thus I have not made grand claims, but instead I am aware of the rampant speculation for ToE, and thus I have rejected vast claims some proponents have made (eg a brute fact of science).

If you can point me to scientific results that place the origins of life on a sound footing, I would be most grateful, and would follow such work with great enthusiasm.

I base my view on origins of life from my experience as a research scientist dealing with chemistry, and opinions I have found in the literature dealing with various speculations on origins. I refer you to a small sample some writings below – none of these references have been selected for pro-, or against-, but rather because I am competent to deal with the chemistry discussed in these sources. I will not provide a long list of references, but what I have shown below illustrates the fantastic speculation and assumptions underpinning such publications (not to mention meteors providing organic molecules, sulphur molecules under the ocean adjacent to volcanic jets, and heaven only knows what else!)

“From Prelife to Life: How Chemical KineticsBecome Evolutionary Dynamics”, IRENE A. CHEN AND MARTIN A. NOWAK, ACCOUNTS OF CHEMICAL RESEARCH, 2088–2096 ’ 2012 ’ Vol. 45, No. 12. From the introduction: Imagine an aqueous solution of small molecules on the early earth. Now try to picture how that prebiotic soup might assemble itself into even the simplest, tiniest living organism, perhaps a few hundred nanometers across. At first glance, this process may seem like an impossible leap because so many transitions must occur to transform the jittery molecules into a living structure. To understand the origin of life, one must break it down into a series of smaller transitions and look for simple ways that physical and chemical effects could accomplish each transition. One successful synthetic approach is to focus on the emergence of structures: the synthesis of monomers, polymerization of monomers into sequences, the formation of protocells by membrane encapsulation of sequences, and so forth.

9 JANUARY 2009 VOL 323 SCIENCE, Origins of Life: “This failure has led scientists to consider two other hypotheses about how RNA came to be. Cleaves and others think RNA-based life may have evolved from organisms that used a different genetic material—one no longer found in nature. Chemists have been able to use other compounds to build backbones for nucleotides (Science, 17 November 2000, p. 1306). They’re now investigating whether these human made genetic molecules, called PNA and TNA, could have emerged on their own on the early Earth more easily than RNA. According to this hypothesis, RNA evolved later and replaced the earlier molecule. But it could also be that RNA wasn’t put together the way scientists have thought. “If you want to get from Boston to New York, there is an obvious way to go. But if you can’t get there that way, there are other ways you could go,” says Sutherland. He and his colleagues have been trying to build RNA from simple organic compounds, such as formaldehyde, that existed on Earth before life began.

ACCOUNTS OF CHEMICAL RESEARCH ’ 2106–2113 ’ 2012 ’ Vol. 45, No. 12. Ocean-Atmosphere Interactions in the Emergence of Complexity in Simple Chemical Systems
ELIZABETH C. GRIFFITH,† ADRIAN F. TUCK,‡ AND VERONICA VAIDAConcentration, alignment, and orientation at the surface of water of organic molecules are possible in these environments. Models of the origin of life assume that the chemical monomeric precursors (amino acids, lipids, sugars, purine and pyrimidine bases, phosphates) for biopolymers existed on Earth. These could be chemically synthesized endogenously11 16 or generated exogenously17 20 and transported to Earth.

(Casper Hesp) #12

I find nothing in those quotes that substantiates the extreme claim you made, namely that “evolutionary theory fails every test when we consider origins of life”. On the contrary, I see scientists who are adequately doing their job. They are actively formulating and testing new hypotheses. Of course, by its very nature, the origin of the first cellular life is difficult to study. But that does not mean that evolutionary theory is failing on that front. Two symptoms of a failing theory are (1) it cannot incorporate the available findings and (2) it fails to generate new hypotheses based on those findings. On both of these fronts, evolutionary theory performs well if we consider the origin of life.

For example, consider the RNA world hypothesis about which Dennis Venema wrote a number of posts here on BioLogos (this one, for starters). That whole RNA world would never have opened up to us if we had not considered evolutionary theory as a framework for the origin of life.


Maybe that’s because evolutionary theory doesn’t include the origin of life.

(Jay Johnson) #14

You may have to explain this to me. Not the self-evident part that you’ve stated, but the part where so many ID theorists seem determined to disprove evolution.

(George Brooks) #15

As I write about in another thread… Australia, all by itself, pretty much proves evolution … and disproves YEC.

The only scenario that could possibly match conventional Old Earth + Evolution (God Guided or Otherwise) is “Old Earth Creationism” where God intentionally created animals in Australia to look like they evolved from a common set of ancestors.


Yeah, I can see where I might not have been clear. Let me try it this way:

ID theories about the original of biological species include the general theories of biological evolution plus additional stuff.

I think where ID supporters often differ is the extent to which the general theories about evolution account for what we see. On one hand, Michael Denton proposes that life is the inevitable outcome of the physical laws imbued into universe at the start. Thus if we understood enough about general chemistry and physics, we might come to understand how the physical laws of the universe ‘naturally’ give rise to life. The ‘additional stuff’ in Denton’s view is that a designer set the initial physical constants of this universe in such a way that life would inevitably arise.

At the other extreme are those that can’t believe there are evolutionary steps between great apes and man or even between some of the hominids. The ‘additional stuff’ outside of the range of evolution for them includes Special Creation of species.

Others stake out an intermediate position, for example suggesting that life was first directly created but that subsequently was capable of evolving via ‘natural laws’. Others search for divisions between created ‘kinds’.

What I think you’ve noted is that many in ID spend an great deal of effort discussing possible shortcomings of evolutionary theories. In contrast, they devote substantively less time describing how ID theories provide better, positive contributions to research.

Which leads to the practical, overall problem: Many aspects of biological evolution are quite difficult to model. The number of variables and potential interactions make for a huge ‘model space’. Given that, how well should we expect to create definitive models with the many, simply unbounded degrees of freedom that ID theories would add on top of current, more mainstream scientific models?

(George Brooks) #17


I’m actually very sympathetic to this scenario !!!


Right. That scenario runs at the very limit of ‘acceptable ID theory’. IMHO, Denton was praised more for his criticism of general evolutionary theory than for his own additions to biological origins which some found “too deistic” and which embraced standard relationships of common descent. Denton noted that all the genetic steps between species were well within the expected capabilities of the existing genetic apparatus.


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(GJDS) #20

Your criteria for success and failure is at odds with that of research science that I and others accept. Every publication that I have viewed has NOT produced any result that can be compared directly with what we know about life, and not one can account for even the required compounds, their concentrations, nor yields, that can be assessed against any well established biochemistry.

It seems that all a scientist needs to do is mix any reagents he imagines may react to form anything that vaguely resembles a biomolecule, and lo and behold, they are doing relevant research on the origins of life.

This statement does not make sense - are you claiming evolutionary theory has provided a chemical route to RNA from simple organic molecules? If you are, than you are dead wrong. Perhaps you and Dennis can show me your research that would show that :laughing: But just to be on the safe side, and to use an overused phrase on this site, if you have, both of you should be ready to receive a truck load of Nobel prizes :confounded:

In any event, my original comment was on ID.