Introduction

Creationists and ID proponents frequently argue against the opposing position (i.e. naturalistic origins theories such as Darwinism) by pointing out the failures in that position’s ability to explain the data using only the laws of physics and chemistry, the only explanatory device available to those who hold to naturalistic origins.  The only possible explanation to the data, the creationists and ID proponents say, is to infer design.

But is this a valid inference?

The charge against such an inference is that it is a “God-of-the-gaps,” an appeal to the supernatural as a place holder in light of our ignorance of the exact nature of an event.  For instance, Francis Collins writes:

“A word of caution is needed when inserting specific divine action by God in this or any other area where scientific understanding is currently lacking.  From solar eclipses in olden times to the movement of the planets in the Middle Ages, to the origins of life today, this “God of the gaps” approach has all too often done a disservice to religion (and by implication, to God, if that’s possible).  Faith that places God in the gaps of current understanding about the natural world may be headed for crisis if advances in science subsequently fill those gaps.  Faced with incomplete understanding about the natural world, believers should be cautious about invoking the divine in areas of current mystery, lest they build an unnecessary theological argument that is doomed to later destruction.  There are good reasons to believe in God, including the existence of mathematical principles and order in creation.  They are positive reasons, based on knowledge, rather than default assumptions based on (a temporary) lack of knowledge.  In summary, while the question of the origin of life is a fascinating one, and inability of modern science to develop a statistically probable mechanism is intriguing, this is not the place for a thoughtful person to wager his faith.”  (Collins 2006: p.93)

He later writes:

“ID is a “God of the gaps” theory, inserting a supposition of the need for supernatural intervention in places that its proponents claim science cannot explain.  Various cultures have traditionally tried to ascribe to God various natural phenomena that the science of the day had been unable to sort out – whether a solar eclipse or the beauty of a flower.  But those theories have a dismal history.  Advances in science ultimately fill in those gaps, to the dismay of those who had attached their faith to them.  Ultimately a “God of the gaps” religion runs a huge risk of simply discrediting faith.  We must not repeat this mistake in the current era.  Intelligent Design fits into this discouraging tradition, and faces the same ultimate demise.” (Collins 2006: p.193)

The Objections

A review of the standard arguments against “God-of-the-gaps” reasoning can be highly compelling:

A.) History has shown that religions in the past have attributed certain occurrences to the supernatural only for later scientific discovery to debunk such alleged ‘miracles’ and easily explain them by appeal to the laws of physics and chemistry.  The number of alleged gaps are becoming fewer and fewer as scientific knowledge grows.  Science is ever pushing back the frontiers of ignorance and superstition.  Resistance is futile.

B.) Such supernatural explanations are not detectable by science since science deals with the physical universe.  If such supernaturalism were true, then science would cease.  It is a science-stopper.  There simply is no other way of doing science.

C.) Supernatural explanations would make life unpredictable and rational explanations could never be given.  People obviously don’t live that way.  Even the people who make such ‘gaps’ arguments don’t assume that demons got into their vehicle when the engine won’t start.  Such a view is unlivable.

D.) The Principle of Continuity: If supernatural, ‘gap’-filling events happened in the past, then why don’t we see more supernatural acts happening in the present (especially since that would be the easiest way to prove that God exists)?  Given our long prior history of experience of the non-miraculous, Bayesian probability states that any alleged ‘miracles’ are improbable.

E.) God wouldn’t be a very good Designer if He had to continually, miraculously intervene to ‘fix’ events in His greatest machine, the physical universe.

F.) There are many such bad ‘designs’ and evil in the universe that God allegedly created such as ‘Junk’ DNA and vestigial organs, and so, such dysteleology should cancel out any idea of miraculous design.

G.) Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  Miraculous ‘gaps’ are extraordinary claims, and thus, the proponent of such a view must show that there are no possible naturalistic explanations.  They thus bear the burden of proof.

H.) Many religions claim miracles in support for their own beliefs, and yet, these religions claim contradictory things.  They cannot all be right.  Thus, their claims of the miraculous would cancel each other out in a court of law.  With such competing and mutually contradictory claims, a heavy dose of skepticism (if not an outright rejection!) of miraculous claims is warranted.

I.) The Uniformity of Nature: Miraculous events violate the laws of nature, the very laws that have been proven unalterable by our past experience.  By their very nature, these laws are inviolable.

J.) Frauds: There have been so many fraudulent miracles that no one who is rational can any longer believe a miracle claim.

K.) The Principle of Parsimony (a.k.a. Occam’s Razor): Any claim to the miraculous is necessarily a more complex explanation than a naturalistic explanation (especially if that theory involves an infinitely complex God as in Christianity), and when choosing between two competing theories, the less complex theory is more likely.  Thus, a naturalistic explanation is more likely to be true and should be favored above a supernatural explanation anytime the two are possibilities.

L.) (Argued by some) Methodological naturalism is not a philosophical principle imposed upon the evidence.  Rather, it is the result of the scientific method, being demonstrated time and again by the coherence of our naturalistic theories.

Hence, scientific enquiry must limit itself to natural explanations.  This is called ‘methodological naturalism.’  If we come across an event, possibly recorded in the past or witnessed in the present, we should first assume that the event can be explained in terms of the laws of physics and chemistry.  If the event is not currently explainable in terms of known natural causes, we should simply assume that a naturalistic explanation will be discovered in the future.  Science is thus limited to natural causes and their effects.

The Objections Answered

However, for all of their surface level common sense, I do not find these arguments in favor of the dogmatic form of methodological naturalism compelling.  When used dogmatically, methodological naturalism (DMN henceforth) has a number of serious flaws.  Since I brought up the issue of the Resurrection of Jesus in the post above, I will address DMN as related to that issue as well as biological design.  (For answers to counter-arguments against a related topic, the design argument, see the post below.)  In an order not necessarily corresponding to the above arguments, the problems with a DMN are:

1.) Contra A.,

a.) The history of the ‘God-of-the-gaps’ is a secular myth:

i.) The history was invented by 19th century anti-clericalists and has been repeated by their followers ever since.  The first secularists to popularize this pseudo-history were John Draper in his work, History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science, and Andrew White in his book, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom.  This account has been adequately debunked on several occasions (see here and here, for instance).  The myth that Draper and White created was then taken by many secularists but especially by Bertrand Russell who greatly relied on Draper’s version of history.  From Russell, one of the fathers of modern atheism, it has been widely disseminated by popularizing atheists such as Richard Dawkins, and this secular myth is commonly repeated in articles, blogs, and forums across the internet.  The legend simply gets passed on from atheist to atheist without careful reflection mostly because it is so useful in creating a perception that religion in general and Christianity in particular is antithetical to science.

ii.) In reality, Christian doctrine has never ascribed every event to a direct intervention by God but has always distinguished between creation (both mediate and immediate), providence, miracle, primary and secondary causality, etc.  These distinctions go back at least to Justin Martyr and were repeated and/or refined by Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin.  Furthermore, ancient, so-called ‘pre-scientific’ peoples were not as superstitious as many secularists and theistic evolutionists (who were taught the secular myth) make them out to be.  For instance, according to several historians of the first century A.D., the people of that time period were some of the least superstitious of antiquity and thus the least likely to credulously believe in Jesus’ Resurrection (see here and below for the credibility issue).  As will be demonstrated below, even the pagan Philistines utilized a limited form of MN (as recorded in the Bible no less (!): see 1 Samuel 5:1-6:16).

Were there superstitious people who used ‘supernatural-of-the-gaps’ sort of arguments?  Absolutely, there were.  However, the extent of superstition that is presented by secularists (which usually impresses those who don’t know any better toward a bias in favor of DMN) simply never existed.  It was far more limited.

b.) The idea that science was and is an ever-advancing accumulation of ideas that is constantly pushing back the frontiers of ignorance is simply a myth that was debunked by Thomas Kuhn nearly 50 years ago yet remains as common thinking in the culture of the scientific community.  However, the ‘accretion’ model of science is recognized to be problematic in the fields of the history of science and philosophy of science (see this online article, here, here, here, and here, for example).  To cite one glaring instance of this in the history of science:

“In the nineteenth century the geosynclinal theory was proposed to account for the origination of mountain ranges. The theory hypothesized that large trough-like depressions, known as geosynclines, filled with sediment, gradually became unstable, and then, when crushed and heated by the earth, elevated to form mountain ranges. To the question “How did mountain ranges originate?” geologists as late as 1960 confidently asserted that the geosynclinal theory provided the answer. In the 1960 edition of Clark and Stearn’s Geological Evolution of North America, the status of the geosynclinal theory was favorably compared with Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Whatever became of the geosynclinal theory? An alternative theory, that of plate tectonics, was developed. It explained mountain formation through continental drift and sea-floor spreading. Within a few years, it had decisively replaced the geosynclinal theory.” (Dembski 2005: p.xxx)

The author goes on to note that “[t]he history of science is filled with such turnabouts in which confident claims to knowledge suddenly vanish from the scientific literature” (Dembski 2005: p.xxx).

c.) The history presented by atheists and TEs described above is very one-sided:

i.) The progress of science has also undercut many former ‘atheism-of-the-gaps,’ atheist explanations of natural events that were completely unscientific and, frankly, irrational: spontaneous generation (believed in by the 18th century French atheists), many vestigial organs, so-called ‘junk’ DNA, etc.

ii.) Also, there are several cases where the divide between scientific data and naturalist explanations is getting wider as science progresses (see 19. below).

d.) G.K. Chesterton once said, “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing – they believe in anything,” and he’s right.  The idea that the Enlightenment got rid of superstition is a grand myth.  All it did was replace one set of superstitions with another.  It rid Europe of mythic superstitions only to replace them with secular superstitions.  Researchers have noted that “paranormal beliefs are very strongly negatively related to religious belief” and that “most devout practitioners of a religion have been shown to be the least likely to believe in Bigfoot, ghosts or aliens” (source).

i.) Instead of having elves and goblins, we now have UFOs and little green men.

ii.) Instead of having astrology, we now have undetectable multiverses which can explain anything.

iii.) Instead of believing that a frog can turn into a prince, we simply add a few million years to the equation and call it “our hominid ancestry.”

2.) Contra L., it is simply naïve and ignorant to believe that DMN is the result of the scientific method:

a.) The naïveté of the one who argues that science has nothing to do with philosophy is astounding.  The scientist has nothing to study if she does not first presuppose a certain philosophy of what exists (i.e. metaphysics).  Furthermore, one cannot argue that the scientific method can discover the truth unless one has an underlying philosophy of epistemology.  The Oxford Companion to Philosophy notes:

“Opposition to metaphysics has come from both within philosophy and outside it. …This hostility is paralleled in the popular writings of many scientists, who seem to think that legitimate issues once embraced by metaphysics now belong exclusively to the province of empirical – issues such as the nature of space and time, and the mind-body problem. Such writers are often blithely unaware of the uncritical metaphysical assumptions pervading their works and the philosophical naivete of many of their arguments.” (Honderich 1995: p.559)

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes that:

“In what follows, ‘methodological naturalism’ will be understood as a view about philosophical practice. Methodological naturalists see philosophy and science as engaged in essentially the same enterprise, pursuing similar ends and using similar methods.” [To read all the nuances that the author makes, see the link above.]

Some philosophers have gone so far as to argue that scientific theories necessarily entail some religious commitments.

b.) The history of science in no way proves methodological naturalism.  Simply because the vast majority of scientific enquiries have had naturalistic conclusions doesn’t mean that *all* scientific enquiries have naturalistic conclusions.  That’s an unjustified extrapolation.  Indeed, given the presuppositions of Biblical Theism, we would expect most scientific enquiries to have naturalistic explanations since God created an orderly cosmos that normally operates according to the fixed laws.  So, naturalistic answers to most enquiries should not be surprising since miracles are the exception, not the norm.

c.) Isn’t it convenient that those who eliminate supernatural explanations as ‘undetectable’ or ‘meaningless’ end up with scientific conclusions that are solely naturalistic (and act surprised that all of their naturalistic theories cohere!) and then proceed to argue that those naturalistic conclusions, in turn, prove that one should eliminate supernatural explanations as ‘undetectable’ or ‘meaningless?’  There is a vicious circularity to such thinking.

The more thoughtful DM naturalists (i.e. those who know a little about logic and philosophy) are far more careful than to use this argument.

3.) Contra C., the idea that allowing miracles into the picture would make life unpredictable and irrational assumes that miracles are random events (or that the beings that produce miracles produce them at random).  This is a straw-man since the beings that produce miracles are personal agents (defined as “a being that acts in the light of knowledge to achieve purposes, a being whose actions express attitudes and are guided by standards and principles” (Alston 1989: p.198)), and their acts can thus be detected and differentiated from impersonal natural events.  So, the idea that we must choose between complete randomness or naturalism is to commit the fallacy of a false dichotomy.

4.) Contra D.,

a.) This Humean argument that there is a long history of human experience in which no one has experienced the miraculous (or that there are no credible reports of any) simply begs the very question being disputed since there are many such miracles recorded in the Bible and other historical records across the world including paranormal societies which have sought out to disprove the supernatural (see here and here).  (See below how I deal with H.)  Of course, it is convenient to dismiss those claims to the miraculous as mythical or non-credible, and then, you will obviously have a human history without miracles.  But this is to assume the very thing that is being debated.  (For the credibility issue, see below.)  In summary, it is disingenuous to demand miracles throughout history to the present while at the same time using methodological naturalism to dismiss a priori any example of the miraculous that could be given.  (For further critiques of Hume’s arguments against miracles, see here, here, here, here, here, and watch out for Craig Keener’s forthcoming book on miracles.)

b.) The Principle of Continuity makes the assumption that God or other ‘supernatural’ beings should have the characteristics of impersonal natural phenomena that regularly go off at prescribed times like the geyser, Old Faithful.  However, miracle producers are personal agents with free-volition, and thus, the probability of their actions cannot be quantified.  Intimately related to the issue of miracles, William Dembski has noted with regard to design hypotheses:

“The difficulty here is not confined to biological design hypotheses.  Indeed, it applies to all cases of innovative design.  To be sure, there are design hypotheses that confer reliable probabilities.  For instance, my typing this book confers a probability of about 13 percent on the letter e.  (That’s how often on average writers in English employ the letter e.)  But what’s the probability of me writing this book?  What’s the probability of Rachmaninoff composing his variations on a theme of Paganini?  What’s the probability of Shakespeare writing his sonnets?  When the issue is creative innovation, the very act of expressing the likelihood [of the posterior probability of the design hypothesis] becomes highly problematic and prejudicial.  It puts creative innovation by a designer in the same boat as natural laws, requiring of design a predictability that’s circumscribable in terms of probabilities.  But designers are inventors of unprecedented novelty, and such creative innovation transcends all probabilities.” (Dembski 2004: p.241)

c.) There are a number of problems with Bayesian probability analysis.  Here are a number of choice quotes from a couple philosophers:

“Indeed, any Bayesian analysis of the question of justified belief in miracles must be otiose until the difficult and essential questions concerning “evidence” in relation to an allegedly miraculous occurrence are resolved — at which point any Bayesian analysis will add little except the technical complexity of a formal apparatus that may or may not “clarify” the structure of Hume’s argument.

“The balancing of probabilities is of no use until it is decided what goes into the balance — that is, what constitutes the evidence that is to be subject to the balancing of probabilities. The point is this; apart from independent philosophical arguments — arguments that would in effect undermine the relevance of a Bayesian analysis to the question of the credibility of reports of the miraculous — no such analysis can, in principle, prove that no testimony can (or cannot) establish the credibility of a miracle.” (Source)

“The mathematical theory of probability allows us to derive more probabilities once we have some probabilities. To give a simple example, given a probability of x for proposition P, the theory tells us that the probability of ¬P equals 1 – x; but it does not provide the probability of P, or ¬P, or any other proposition ex nihilo. These probabilities we have to start with, and that are not provided by probability theory itself, are usually called the prior probabilities or just priors. How do we come to our priors? This question is differently answered by subjectivists and those hoping for some kind of logical interpretation of probability. According to the former, our priors are just our subjective degrees of confidence. These, of course, may be vastly different for different individuals, but so be it. Those in favour of logical probability hold that there is some objective, or at least more objective, way of determining prior probabilities. It has been suggested, for instance, that the prior probability of a given proposition can be determined on the basis of the syntactical structure of the sentence expressing that proposition, a suggestion that, however, led already to insurmountable difficulties for very simple artificial languages. Other suggestions have proven equally problematic.” (Source)

Whatever the merits (or demerits) of Bayesian probability theory in general, it is simply inapplicable to the miraculous in which personal agents with an unquantifiable free-volition create the miraculous events.

d.) Consequently, the only determining factor of ‘probability’ (if it even makes sense to “quantify” it at all) of whether miracles can happen is whether God exists or not and whether He has said that He did, is doing, or will do a particular miracle.  (There are other beings that can do miracles, but since the miracles that are particularly in view are Creation and the Resurrection, I have limited this statement to God.)  If the answer to both those questions is ‘yes,’ then the probability is ‘100%.’  If it is ‘no,’ then the probability is ‘0%.’

e.) Thus, rather than saying in a blanket fashion that a natural or ‘supernatural’ explanation is either ‘more probable’ or ‘improbable’ on every event, each event should simply be taken on a case by case basis (and probably without quantifying it one way or the other).

f.) The infrequency of the miraculous is fully compatible with Christianity since God normally works through the ordinary means that He created (e.g. Acts 14:17).

g.) Lastly, the reasons why God doesn’t perform miracles to prove that He exists are:

i.) The created order already proves that God exists, and the reason why people deny this is that their spiritual capacity to recognize this truth has been warped by human sin (cf. Romans 1:18-32; 8:7-8; 1 Corinthians 2:14-16; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; Ephesians 4:17-19; 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12; etc.).  As a result of their suppression of God’s existence, God, rather than restraining them, instead “gives them over” (Romans 1:24; cf. Acts 14:16) to not only believe that which is false (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12) but also to destroy themselves (Romans 1:24-32).  Thus, Divine silence is an act of God’s wrath against humanity for their sins.

ii.) Belief in God means nothing to Him unless it is combined with trust and repentance since even the Devil and the demonic host believe that God exists (James 2:19), and thus, proving His existence through miracles would do not solve the problem of sin.  This is well illustrated in Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) which concludes with this dialogue: “And [the rich man in hell] said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  [Moses] said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets [i.e. the Old Testament], neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Luke 16:30-31).

5.) Contra J.,

a.) Frauds of miracles should not call into question all miracle claims just as scientific or archaeological frauds should not call into question all of science or archaeology.

b.) In some cases, the possibility of pulling off a fraud would be just too difficult to perpetuate.  Take the Resurrection of Jesus:

i.) This time period (early first century A.D.) was probably the least credulous era of ancient history (link) and thus the least likely to credulously believe something miraculous.

ii.) In addition, the majority of people in the Greco-Roman world did not even believe that a resurrection was possible or even desirable. The New Testament testifies to this in Acts 17:32 (see N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God for the documentation).

iii.) Given the history of other Jewish messianic movements, Christianity should have died, but it didn’t:

“In not one single case do we hear the slightest mention of the disappointed followers claiming that their hero had been raised from the dead.  They knew better.  Resurrection was not a private event.  Jewish revolutionaries whose leader had been executed by the authorities, and who managed to escape arrest themselves, had two options: give up the revolution, or find another leader.  Claiming that the original leader was alive again was simply not an option.  Unless, of course, he was.” (Wright 1993: p.63)

iv.) It was witnessed by too many people, many of whom were still around so that the testimony could be verified (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-11).

v.) Jewish apologists attested to Jesus’ other miracles (i.e. during His public ministry) and said that they were *not* fraudulent.  In order to account for this while remaining non-Christian Jews, they said that Jesus was a sorcerer:

“It has been taught: On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu.  And an announcer went out in front of him, for forty days (saying): ‘He is going to be stoned, because he practiced sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray.  Anyone who knows anything in his favor, let him come and plead in his behalf.’” (Sanhedrin 43a; cf. t. Sanh. 10:11; y. Sanh. 7:22; Tg. Esther 7:9)

Lest someone argue that this text from the Babylonian Talmud is too late to give us an accurate description of 1st century Jewish belief, I would say that while the exact way it describes Jesus’ crucifixion is probably embellished, but the belief that the Jews accused Jesus of sorcery certainly dates back to the first century A.D. since the accusation is also found in the Synoptic Gospels themselves (e.g. Mark 3:22)!

vi.) All the documents that we have of early Christianity (most of which were written while Jesus’ disciples were still alive) attest to the miracles performed by Jesus’ disciples as confirmation of the message of Jesus’ Resurrection (e.g. Acts 2:43, 3:6-8, 4:30, 5:12, etc.).  Many of these miracles are appealed to in the letters of the New Testament so that the congregations could verify the apostles’ status (e.g. Romans 15:18-19, 2 Corinthians 12:12, Hebrews 2:3b-4, etc.).  This would imply that it was common knowledge that these congregations had witnessed miracles first-hand.  This adds to the number of first-hand witnesses to the miracles of early Christianity and decreases the possibility of credulity based on second-hand information.

vii.) The proponents of the Christian message did not have any power or money to gain from spreading it.  In fact, they lost their families, much wealth, and even their lives (see 1 Corinthians 9:12b-18, 2 Corinthians 6:3-10, 11:23-33, 2 Timothy 4:6-7, Revelation 2:9-11, 13, 6:9-11, etc.).

viii.) In fact, the Gospels paint a rather unflattering picture of Jesus’ disciples (e.g. Matthew 14:28-31, 16:21-23, 17:1-8, 20:20-28, 26:69-75, etc.), a fact that would have been covered-up and not mentioned if the apostles had simply made-up the story of the crucifixion and started Christianity for personal gain or power.

ix.) The Christian message was not a message that was designed to attract people (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16).

x.) I’m not going to rehash all of the arguments that have been made, and so I will refer the reader to some good resources: this online book; The Impossible Faith by J.P. Holding (watch out for Holding’s response to Richard Carrier in a forthcoming book, Defending the Resurrection; see here and here in the meantime); Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham; The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright.  In summary, the arguments that have been made for the Resurrection represent better detective work than simply saying that we shouldn’t believe in the Resurrection before having even looked at the evidence!  C.S. Lewis expressed his frustration with the dogmatic methodological naturalists of his own day:

“The ordinary procedure of the modern historian, even if he admits the possibility of miracle, is to admit no particular instance of it until every possibility of ‘natural’ explanation has been tried and failed.  That is, he will accept the most improbable ‘natural’ explanations rather than say that a miracle occurred.  Collective hallucination, hypnotism of unconsenting spectators, widespread instantaneous conspiracy in lying by persons not otherwise known to be liars and not likely to gain by the lie – all these are known to be very improbable events: so improbable that, except for the special purpose of excluding a miracle, they are never suggested.  But they are preferred to the admission of a miracle.” (Lewis 2001: p.160)

(For further critiques of Hume’s arguments against miracles, see here, here, here, here, here, and watch out for Craig Keener’s forthcoming book on miracles.)

6.) Contra E., the idea that God wouldn’t be a good Designer if He had to continually, miraculously intervene to ‘fix’ events in His creation presupposes the ‘Artificer’ analogy.  This objection will be dealt with in more detail in a post below.  In short, if one changes the analogy between God and His creation from a Cosmic Engineer and His engineered artifact to a Cosmic Musician and His instrument or, better yet, to a Cosmic Playwright and His play, then the argument dissipates.  In both the latter cases, it would only make sense for God to continuously interact with His creation.  There is no reason why we should see God *solely* as a Cosmic Engineer (though he is that), and thus, the ‘Artificer’ analogy is otiose.

7.) Contra F.,

a.) This again assumes the Artificer analogy mentioned above.  If God is not seen *solely* as a designer, then we should not demand that things be perfectly designed.  In fact, if one uses the Cosmic Playwright analogy, then we would expect things to be designed so that they could play a proper role in the story line.  God’s creatures were never meant to be super-machines.  They were meant to be characters and props in the great cosmic play of history.  Characters were meant to have flaws and weaknesses, some props were meant to be broken, and all of this was meant to carry the storyline forward.

b.) Just because we cannot find a function for a given structure does not mean that that structure does not actually have a function.  To argue this way is to commit a fallacy of illegitimately arguing from ignorance.  As one scientist put it:

“If the arrangement of an organism seems functionally inappropriate, the most likely explanation (by the test of experience) is a faulty view of its functioning.” (Vogel 2003: p.15)

Because this argument is an illegitimate appeal to ignorance, it may rightly be called a ‘darwinism-of-the-gaps.’

c.) The premise of dysteleology that the argument assumes is now highly disputed.  I will cover this in more detail in a post below, but for now, I will list some things that are no longer considered to have no function and thus cannot be used as examples of bad design:

i.) Linc-RNA

ii.) Introns

iii.) Pseudogenes

iv.) ‘Vestigial’ Organs

8.) It is true that the worldviews of the different religions contradict each other and thus their worldviews cannot all be true.  However, contra the Humean argument in H.,

a.) Not all claims to the miraculous have the same degree of evidence for their claims as others do, and so, many of those miracle claims would not apply to the (so-called) dilemma (see 5. above).

b.) The fact that miracles can happen in rival religions is no problem for Christian theology.  In Christian theology, demonic powers are behind miracles in rival religions (see e.g. Matthew 7:21-23, 24:24, Galatians 1:8, Revelation 13:13-14, etc.).  In fact, one of the chief charges against Christianity by Jewish apologists was not that Jesus didn’t perform real miracles but that Jesus was a sorcerer who *did* perform real miracles (but by the power of Satan; see Mark 3:22).

In Exodus, for example, you have two competing miracle workers, Moses on the one hand and Pharaoh’s magicians on the other (Exodus 7-14).  The latter could replicate the former’s miracles to a certain extent, but in the end, the truth of Moses’ worldview was proved by the fact that the God of Israel had full and overwhelming control over all of Egypt, specifically over those things which were deemed by the Egyptians to be gods or directly controlled by the gods (e.g. the Nile, frogs, flies, etc.).

While there are not stunning displays of power like this happening today (that we know of), the historical record bears witness to a miracle that eliminates almost all other worldviews, the Resurrection of Jesus (see 5. above).  It defeats reincarnational worldviews since it shows that a soul is not transferred from one living being to another at death.  It disproves all forms of paganism since it shows that the God of Jesus has complete control of the living and the dead.  It disproves Islam since the latter teaches that Jesus wasn’t crucified and thus couldn’t have been resurrected.

In summary, while competing worldviews cannot all be true, competing miracle claims do not defeat each other.  First, it could be that some of those claims to the miraculous are false, and so, all miracle claims should be looked at on a case-by-case basis instead of making an a priori *dogmatic* assertion that they’re all false.  Secondly, miracles performed by competing worldviews are compatible with the Biblical worldview since that worldview entails miracle causing agents of evil as well as good.

9.) Contra I.,

a.) The Uniformity of Nature is something that is inferred from experience, not something that is derived analytically.  To extrapolate from experience and infer an inviolable universal law is to commit a basic fallacy of induction.

b.) The argument thus begs the question of whether there is something more ultimate than those laws, which created those laws, and sustains the existence of those laws.  Indeed, Christian theism claims that the universe was created and is sustained by God in an orderly fashion, and thus, theism accounts for natural laws just as easily as atheism (if not more so).

10.) The claim of G. sounds right at first.  After all, if someone came up to you and claimed that something miraculous happened, wouldn’t you be incredulous and demand a mountain of evidence before you would believe that claim?  Contra G., however:

a.) Who decides the amount of evidence that would count as ‘extraordinary?’  Is there some ‘Grand Poobah’ of a Miracle Detection Agency who determines such a thing?  I, on the one hand, believe that there most certainly is ‘extraordinary’ evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus (see 5. above), but an atheist would not.  The amount of evidence that qualifies as ‘extraordinary’ is thus relative and varies from person to person.

b.) If by ‘extraordinary,’ the objector means ‘rare,’ then it can simply be noted that rare events happen all the time.  The tsunami that hit Southeast Asia and other once-in-a-lifetime events are all examples of rare events.  One does not need to accumulate an extraordinary amount of evidence to prove that such a rare event happened.  One only needs enough evidence to prove that it was rare event.  In other words, one would simply be required to put forth the same amount of evidence as one would for any other particular event.

c.) But this is not what the objector normally means by ‘extraordinary.’  What they really mean is that there is no amount of evidence that they would ever accept, and so, the assertion in G. reduces to several of the other arguments in the objection list above (esp. D.; see my 4. above).

d.) However, it is itself an extraordinary claim to believe that no amount of evidence could ever count as ‘extraordinary,’ and consequently, it would require an ‘extraordinary’ (translation: impossible) amount of evidence.  Thus, the objector’s claim is self-defeating.

11.) Contra K., there are a number of problems with the use of The Principle of Parsimony:

a.) It is frequently wrong.  In the history of science, previously held theories were displaced by later ones even though they were much simpler than the ones that displaced them.  Examples include:

i.) Newtonian physics was displaced by the more complex Quantum Mechanics and Relativity Theory.

ii.) The steady-state model of the universe was replaced with the more complex Big-Bang theory.

iii.) Many geological structures, such as the fossil forests in Yellowstone and Mars’s canyons, that were once thought to be formed by uniform processes over time (a simpler theory) are now thought to be formed by catastrophic events (a more complex theory).  [I will note at this point that I am not a YEC.]

If the Principle of Parsimony is frequently wrong, how can we say a priori that this theory or that one is more likely on the sole basis that it is simpler?  To say that something is more likely assumes background knowledge of what is actual or possible.  But that is the very thing that is being sought out in this situation.

b.) The objector actually has things backwards:

i.) The God of classical theism, far from being infinitely complex, is ontologically simple.  In other words, all of His attributes are derivable from any other, and thus, He has no proper ‘parts’ (in the philosophical sense).

ii.) In classical theism, the material universe has not always existed and still does not self-exist.  The only being that has those characteristics is God who brought the material universe into existence and continuously sustains its existence by an act of His will.  Thus, theism says that the most basic reality is the self-existent, ontologically simple God.

iii.) But if theism says that basic reality is ontologically simple, and naturalism (which says that the material universe is the most basic reality) entails that basic reality is ontologically complex (since the material universe would then be made of self-existent, contingent components), then it would be theism that is the simpler of the two alternatives.

c.) Even if the materialist was right about which of the two alternatives is ontologically simpler (which he is not), the materialist will only win that argument at the cost of theoretical simplicity.  Here are a few examples:

i.) Materialists attempt to avoid the Cosmic Fine-Tuning argument by appealing to the existence of the multiverse, the idea that there are an infinite number of contingent parallel realities that are unfalsifiable (thus violating their own science-only epistemology), thus giving them an infinite number of probabilistic resources in which anything can happen.  By making such a move, they not only defeat their own epistemic standard, but they also relegate statistical mathematics to the trash-bin!

ii.) Materialists believe that the human brain was brought about by the simple, impersonal forces of nature rather than believing that it was designed by an intelligent agent.  This may require less ontology, but theoretically, it is far more complex since it calls into question all rationality (including the reasoning that led the materialist to believe in his Darwinism!).  Take these quotes from famous materialists:

“If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true…and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” (Haldane 2001: p.209)

“Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in…feeding, fleeing, fighting, and reproducing. The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive. Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism’s way of life and enhances the organism’s chance of survival. Truth, whatever it is, takes the hindmost.”  (Churchland 1987: p.548)

“Nevertheless you have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the Universe is not the result of chance. But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” (Darwin 1959: p.1:285)

“Organic life, we are told, has developed gradually from the protozoon to the philosopher, and this development, we are assured, is indubitably an advance. Unfortunately it is the philosopher, not the protozoon, who gives us this assurance.” (Russell 1917: p.106)

As such, materialists have devoted dozens of books trying to get around the arguments from reason (see here for more details).  The theist who believes that the brain was designed to seek out and believe what is true, on the other hand, has a far simpler explanation.

iii.) Richard Dawkins has said, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”  Dawkins’s belief may require less ontology (i.e. no designing agent necessary), but it is obvious that the belief that living things really are designed is theoretically simpler than the belief that they only have the *appearance* of design and were instead brought into existence by the impersonal forces of nature.

iv.) Materialists will explain away the Resurrection of Jesus by positing highly unlikely explanations.  I will repeat C.S. Lewis’s comments from above:

“The ordinary procedure of the modern historian, even if he admits the possibility of miracle, is to admit no particular instance of it until every possibility of ‘natural’ explanation has been tried and failed.  That is, he will accept the most improbable ‘natural’ explanations rather than say that a miracle occurred.  Collective hallucination, hypnotism of unconsenting spectators, widespread instantaneous conspiracy in lying by persons not otherwise known to be liars and not likely to gain by the lie – all these are known to be very improbable events: so improbable that, except for the special purpose of excluding a miracle, they are never suggested.  But they are preferred to the admission of a miracle.” (Lewis 2001: p.160)

I should note that I am merely answering the objector on his own grounds and not accepting the Principle of Parsimony.

12.) Science most certainly does deal with the physical universe, but frequently, sciences such as archaeology and CSI study, not necessarily persons themselves, but those persons’ effects.

a.) Thus contra B., acts by non-material beings in the material universe could be recognized by studying their material effects.  As William Dembski has noted:

“Granted, miracles, by replacing an event that ordinarily would have happened with one that ordinarily would not, would entail a gap in the chain of natural causes.  But any such gap would itself be open to scientific scrutiny, as would the events on either side of the gap.  What’s more, if the event that constitutes a miracle (i.e., a counterfactual substitution) clearly exhibits marks of having been intelligently designed, it could issue in a design inference that convincingly implicates design even though its precise causal antecedents may be unclear.” (Dembski 2004: p.186)

“We know intelligences through what they do, that is, by attending to the objects and events they produce.  Knowledge of intelligences gained by examining their products may be limited, but it can be accurate as far as it goes.  Thus, if intelligence is responsible for the origin of life, the study of biological systems yields knowledge about it.  At the very least, we can know that such an intelligence is highly skilled in nano-engineering.  This is not to say that the intelligence behind biology is merely a nano-engineer.  But it is not less than a nano-engineer.” (Dembski and Wells 2008: p.254)

b.) Studying something that might be designed by a non-material agent would in no way stop scientific enquiry:

“But if one simply by naturalistic fiat pronounces that miracles cannot happen, then one has made an a priori judgment about a question that properly belongs to scientific investigation.  It is a fully scientific question whether the laws of nature are complete and properly characterize everything that occurs in nature (making all gaps reside not in nature but solely in our intellects).  The flipside is therefore necessarily also a fully scientific question, namely, whether there are ontological gaps in nature that no amount of fiddling with material mechanisms and the laws that characterize them will ever bridge.  By artificially closing the door to such questions, naturalism stipulates the way nature must be apart from any empirical investigation.  This is armchair philosophy and not science.” (Dembski 2004: p.187)

“[T]here is nothing inherently unscientific in the idea of gaps in nature – of things that nature cannot do.  Science, in fact, is littered with impossibility claims.  Perpetual motion is impossible, acceleration across the light-speed barrier is impossible, simultaneous determination of energy and position of certain particles to arbitrary degrees of precision is impossible.  Every conservation principle is a claim that nature cannot produce certain (contranomic) phenomena.  Thus, scientific justification for the claim that nature does not or cannot produce some specific phenomenon turns out to be a routine, unproblematic aspect of scientific activity.” (Ratzsch 2001: pp.47-48)

“Generally, any identification of a phenomenon as artifactual on the basis of counterflow involves an implicit gap argument that since this (counterflow) is something that nature would not do, an agent must have had a hand in it….Supernatural gap arguments would have an identical logical structure, with merely the added condition that [humans or advanced aliens] couldn’t produce the relevant phenomenon either.  In specific cases, we could have scientific justification for thinking that neither nature nor humans could produce the phenomenon in question, and there is no compelling reason for thinking that we could not also have scientific justification for thinking that no alien could produce some given phenomenon either.” (Ratzsch 2001: p.48)

c.) Even if an inference to the supernatural were a “science-stopper” (and it is not), should we really be that concerned?  The question at hand should not be, “Is it science?” but rather, “Is it *true*?”  Indeed, what is “the value of a scientific explanation unless it’s the correct explanation” (source)?  We should seek the truth regardless of whether it fits some man-made definition of science.

d.) The argument in B. assumes a definition of science that is probably too narrow:

“One possible aim of science might be to discover what we can about the structure, governing principles, and operation of the purely natural realm.  But a different possible aim might be to discover what we can about the structure, governing principles, and operation of the actual world.  There is, of course, no a priori guarantee whatever that either those aims or their results will coincide.  There is no necessary requirement that the natural and the real be identical….There is not even any a priori guarantee that the natural realm coincides with the empirical realm…In fact, a case would be needed for thinking even that either the empirical or the natural is wholly contained within the other.  One might simply define anything empirical as natural, but given at least the possibility of visible miracles, that move would need some support.” (Ratzsch 2001: p.94, emphasis mine)

“If phenomena around us involve a mixture of the natural and the supernatural, then even the attempt to understand the natural part on its own terms might require some means of identifying and separating the natural and the supernatural, in order to prevent matters not properly belonging to the natural realm getting mistakenly included in investigations of that realm, leading to mistaken scientific conclusions.  Thus, one essential procedure of such a science might be identifying the supernatural.” (Ratzsch 2001: pp.94-95)

“In fact, under [the “discover we can about the…actual world” conception], science – aimed now at the truth, whatever the truth turns out to be – might be required to think about the possibilities of supernatural causation and phenomena within even the empirical realm….Indeed, to take science as by definition restricted to the natural while taking all potential results of such a restricted science as true also comes very near an endorsement of philosophical naturalism….[But] if the supernatural does exist and does act in the cosmos, does not that “natural only” decree open up at least the possibility if not the guarantee of incompleteness and even serious error – for example, spurious “natural” explanations of phenomena that actually result from supernatural activity and thus have no natural explanation at all?” (Ratzsch 2001: p.95)

e.) Apropos b., it has sometimes been Darwinism that has shut-down scientific enquiry into biological components in living things.  For example, ‘Junk’ DNA and vestigial organs were not thought to have a purpose, and so, funding was historically not given for further study.  It turned out, however, that these items have *vital* functions for the biological organism.  The fact that no function could be immediately perceived in the above items actually spurred further enquiry by those who believed in biological design, but those who didn’t believe in biological design simply concluded that the above items were ‘evolutionary leftovers’ and did not pursue further enquiry.

13.) DMN is prejudicial and thus antithetical to the mission of science and historiography:

a.) Science is supposed to describe reality as it actually exists based on the evidence.  Historiography and the historical sciences are supposed to describe history as it actually took place based on the evidence.  These fields are supposed to contain an element of discovery.  The scientist and historian aren’t supposed to know in advance what they will discover until they have looked at the data.

b.) However, DMN is a prescriptive measure.  It eliminates in advance certain conclusions that the scientist and/or historian might interpret the evidence as pointing toward.  It dispenses with any interpretation of the data that has a non-naturalistic answer to the question posed.

c.) But this creates a problem.  If the non-naturalistic solution happens to be the correct answer, then the scientist and/or historian will never be able to come to that correct answer.  As one author put it:

“The problem with [science operating under the assumption of DMN] is not that the naturalistic approach might occasionally be inadequate.  The problem is that science would never know any better.” (Hunter 2007: p.44)

“[DMN] has no way to distinguish a paradigm problem from a research problem.  It cannot consider the possibility that there is no naturalistic explanation for the DNA code.  If a theory of natural history has problems – and many of them have their share – the problems are always viewed as research problems and never as paradigm problems.” (Hunter 2007: p.45, emphasis his)

“If a genuine gain in new knowledge is sought, then we must admit we do not know what we may discover.  And if we do not know what we may discover, how can we dictate how it should be discovered by science?  It makes no sense to constrain the methodology of an investigation into the unknown.  As Burns put it, the moderate empiricists contended that the way to become a scientist is to practice actually being one rather than to indulge in a priori theorizing about method.  And that practice might be informed by any number of different sources of knowledge.” (Hunter 2007: pp.139-140)

Why should we possibly doom ourselves to an incorrect range of interpretations (i.e. a false positive inference to natural causes)?  To put it another way, why would any responsible historian or scientist commit themselves a priori to a philosophical belief that would possibly preclude the correct interpretation of the event being studied?

d.) Yet, if one adopts such a view that precludes a supernatural conclusion before one has looked at the evidence (even if the supernatural conclusion happens to be the correct one), then such a scientist/historian can no longer classify miracles as improbable on the basis of evidence in the form of past experiences.  To do so would be circular reasoning (further answering D.; see the critique of Bayesian Probability Theory above).  Since this is the case, why should we treat naturalistic theories as ‘more probable’?

14.) Rather than being simply an argument from ignorance, the inference to design and against naturalistic causes is based upon what we *do* know about physics, chemistry, and biology:

a.) We do know how laws of physics, chemistry, and biology work, and they simply don’t work the way Darwinists need them to:

“The claim that natural laws are sufficient to account for the origin of life is far-fetched.  Natural laws work against the origin of life.  Natural laws describe material processes that consume the raw materials of life, turning them into tars, melanoids, and other nonbiological substances that thereafter are completely useless to life.  For the raw materials of life to avoid being consumed in this way, material processes must…overcome a daunting set of obstacles…Yet material processes give no evidence of being able to overcome these obstacles.  Rather, they give evidence of being predisposed to crash into them and never to get past them.  Life has clear needs, and natural laws, far from supporting or even being neutral about those needs, directly undercut them.” (Dembski and Wells 2008: p.254, emphasis theirs)

“But when in times past people invoked the action of an intelligence to explain eclipses or the motion of planets, it was in ignorance of the relevant astronomical facts underlying these phenomena.  We find ourselves in a radically different situation with regard to life’s origins: by knowing the relevant facts of biochemistry and molecular biology, we are in a position to assess how difficult it is for the chemical building blocks of life to arise and then arrange themselves into the information-rich structures required for cellular life.  So long as design hypotheses are based on knowledge rather than ignorance, they are scientifically legitimate.” (Dembski and Wells 2008: p.255)

b.) On the other hand, we do know how intelligent agents act, and they fit the description when it comes to the data of biology:

“Design reasoning is effect-to-cause reasoning: it begins with effects in the physical world that exhibit clear signs of intelligence and from those signs infers to an intelligent cause.  Neither of Hume’s two main criticisms against design therefore holds up.  Induction is entirely the wrong analytic framework for how we infer design.  [Note: see the refutation of the use of Bayesian probability theory above.]  And Hume’s concern about design inferences involving faulty analogies is misconceived.  The signs of intelligence that occur in human artifacts and biological systems are not merely analogous.  They are isomorphic, for we find the exact same form of specified complexity in each.” (Dembski 2004: p.230)

15.) Even if the design inference was purely an argument from silence, arguments from silence are not always fallacies and thus sometimes perfectly legitimate forms of argumentation.

a.) The fallacious use of an argument from silence is an ‘informal’ fallacy.  This means that the form of the argument is not necessarily fallacious since an argument from silence does not match one of the forms of proper inference in formal logic.

b.) Thus, the design inference, even if it were purely an argument from silence (which it is not), would not be fallacious since it notes that the absence of evidence for purely natural causation in biology is “pervasive and systemic” (Dembski and Wells 2008: General Notes p.43).

c.) The legitimacy of such an inference should be obvious to any historian of science since ‘gap’ style arguments have been used regularly throughout the history of science and were the bases of many of the paradigm shifts in the scientific community:

“The state of Ptolemaic astronomy was a scandal before Copernicus’ announcement.  Galileo’s contributions to the study of motion depended closely upon difficulties discovered in Aristotle’s theory by scholastic critics.  Newton’s new theory of light and color originated in the discovery that none of the existing pre-paradigm theories would account for the length of the spectrum, and the wave theory that replaced Newton’s was announced in the midst of growing concern about anomalies in the relation of diffraction and polarization effects to Newton’s theory.  Thermodynamics was born from the collision of two existing nineteenth-century physical theories, and quantum mechanics from a variety of difficulties surrounding black-body radiation, specific heats, and the photoelectric effect.  Furthermore, in all these cases except that of Newton the awareness of anomaly had lasted so long and penetrated so deep that one can appropriately describe the fields affected by it as in a state of growing crisis.  Because it demands large-scale paradigm destruction and major shifts in the problems and techniques of normal science, the emergence of new theories is generally preceded by a period of pronounced professional insecurity.  As one might expect, that insecurity is generated by the persistent failure of the puzzles of normal science to come out as they should.  Failure of existing rules is the prelude to a search for new ones.” (Kuhn 1996: pp.67-68)

Did Copernicus wait around for some possibly forthcoming law of physics which would account for those idiosyncrasies in Ptolemaic astronomy?  Did Einstein sit around indefinitely twiddling his thumbs trying to think of some law that would save Newtonian mechanics?  Did geophysicists put off dispensing with Geosynclinal Theory hoping that one day it would be vindicated by some new discovery?

d.) Everyday disciplines of science also use ‘gap’ arguments when they eliminate natural causes:

i.) SETI utilizes a standard of intelligence detection which would rule out mechanical, law-like causes.  Yet, no one would accuse them of an ‘alien-civilization-of-the-gaps’ if they detected the signal seen in the movie, Contact.

ii.) Crime scene investigators regularly use design inferences to eliminate the possibility of death by natural causes when investigating an alleged murder, but we don’t hear them being accused of a ‘murderer-of-the-gaps’ argument.

iii.) Archaeologists regularly have to distinguish between such things as natural hills and burial mounds, normal rocks on the ground and stone arrowheads, natural ‘arches’ in rock formations from Stonehenge.  No ‘humans-of-the-gaps’ accusation would ever be forthcoming.

16.) The DM naturalist’s idea of appealing to a yet undiscovered law or mechanism which would bridge the gap between the data and naturalistic explanations is problematic:

a.) Such an appeal is a two-sided sword.  An unknown discovery in an unknown future is simply…unknown.  It could be the case that a future discovery would eliminate naturalistic laws as the origin of biological information and give further proof that a sentient agent had to be the cause (which is exactly what is happening; see below).

b.) If we must put off conclusions because there might be a yet unknown law of physics or chemistry that could be discovered in the future that would change our perception of certain phenomena, then how could science come to any conclusion whatsoever?  We would keep putting off conclusions because of the vast unknown, and because we are finite, the vast unknown would forever remain both vast and unknown.  The situation would never change, and we would be forever declaring our ignorance of phenomena.  If such an attitude is taken, then it would destroy the very philosophical bedrock upon which the vast majority of the scientific community stands: scientific realism, the belief that current scientific theories accurately describe truth.

c.) In some cases, hoping for the discovery of some unknown law that will save naturalistic explanations is completely futile since bridging the gap in these cases presents not simply a scientific improbability but a logical impossibility.  Speaking of Nicholas Tattersall’s ‘critique’ of C.S. Lewis’s book, Miracles, Darek Barefoot notes:

“Tattersall also says Lewis blunders in failing to acknowledge that we can believe even that which we understanding imperfectly. We may not understand why the grass is green, but we don’t on that basis question that it is green. Tattersall here confuses logical absurdity with phenomena incompletely known. To learn why grass is green simply involves gathering more information. To learn how non-rational processes give rise to rational thought is like learning how a three-dimensional object can be created by arranging lines on a two-dimensional surface. We need not draw lines all day long in every geometric pattern imaginable to realize that the task is impossible. It is true that by means of perspective drawing we can usefully represent a three-dimensional shape, such as a cube, in two dimensions, just as human reason can be represented and communicated usefully by computer programs and even by humbler devices such as multiplication charts and slide rules. Nevertheless, we can identify a set of lines in two dimensions as representing a cube only because we occupy three-dimensional space, and similarly we can appreciate that the blind functions of a computer have been so arranged as to accomplish a rational purpose only because, unlike the computer, we possess genuine rationality.” (source)

17.) The question of whether something has a natural or supernatural cause is probably the wrong question to start with.

a.) With regard to the question of intelligent design in biology, a better set of questions would start by asking whether something is the product of intelligent agency, and only from there should we address the question of whether that intelligent agent was physical or non-physical:

“But the contrast between natural and supernatural causes is the wrong contrast.  The proper contrast is between undirected natural causes on the one hand and intelligent causes on the other.  Intelligent causes can work with natural causes and help them to accomplish things that undirected natural causes cannot.  Undirected natural causes can explain how ink gets applied to paper to form an inkblot but cannot explain an arrangement of ink on paper that spells a meaningful message.  To obtain such a meaningful arrangement requires an intelligent cause.  Whether an intelligent cause is located within or outside nature is a separate question from whether an intelligent cause has acted within nature.” (Dembski 2004: p.189)

Once a design inference has been made, then the “metaphysics underlying such a theory, and in particular the ontological status of the designer, can then be taken up by philosophy and theology” (Dembski 2004: p.190).

b.) With regard to reported miracles, a step-by-step process should be done:

i.) First, one should determine whether the event took place by the normal standards of evidence (see the point above on ‘extraordinary evidence’).  One does not need to determine whether something was supernatural or not to determine if the event actually happened.

ii.) Once that question is answered, only then should the question of whether naturalistic causes are sufficient be taken up.  If the event exceeds the capabilities of natural causation, then a miracle can be inferred.

c.) Thus, I would argue that science should be defined as the study, not of naturalistic causes, but of *ordered* causes.  This would make room for acts of intelligence (whether natural or supernatural) while at the same time excluding the bane of true rationality, pure randomness (see 3. above).

18.) As I hinted at in the point above, I am actually not against methodological naturalism (MN) per se.  What I am against is the dogmatic form of MN.  I actually believe that MN has a place a) as a secondary question to the primary act-of-intelligence question (see the point above) and b) only in its non-dogmatic or ‘limited’ form which would use MN as a tool rather than a dogma.  To illustrate how the limited form of methodological naturalism (LMN) works, I have chosen an example from the Bible (of all places!): the Philistines’ capture of the Ark of the Covenant (1 Samuel 5-6).

a.) After the capture of the Ark, the Philistines set the Ark in the temple of their god, Dagon, as a statement that Dagon had triumphed over the God of Israel in the previous battle (in which the Ark was lost) and had subjugated Him (1 Samuel 5:1-2).  Overnight, the statue of their god fell over (5:3).  The next day, the Philistines put the statue back up and didn’t think anything about it.  However, it happened again the next night except that this time the statue’s head had been decapitated and the hands cut-off (5:4).  Something was not right.

b.) Soon after that, tumors started to break out on the people of the city in which the Ark was held captive (5:6).  Putting together the decapitation of the Dagon statue and the fact that the tumors began to break out just after the Ark was brought into the city, the Philistines started to suspect that the cause was supernatural.

c.) So, they decided to move the Ark from Ashdod to Gath (5:8).  They did so probably because Ashdod was a city near the coast, and it was possible that a disease could have come into the city from a ship that transported the disease from far away.  Gath, on the other hand, was an inland city, and so, moving the Ark to Gath would eliminate the foreign disease theory if the same sort of events happened there.  Unfortunately for the Philistines, it did (5:9).  The Philistines tried moving the Ark once more, this time to Ekron.  The city’s inhabitants, however, would not have anything to do with it (5:10), and as soon as the Ark was brought to the city, the people were struck with tumors and death as well (5:12).  The Philistines had finally gotten the point, and so, they decided to send the Ark back to the Israelites (5:11).

d.) In one last attempt to make sure that this was indeed supernatural, the Philistines decided to place the Ark on a cart pulled by cows that had never been yoked and had just given birth to their young (6:7).  The Philistines then sent the cart on its own back to Israel (6:8).  Unyoked cows that had just given birth to their young would be unlikely to pull the cart on their own and move in a direction away from their offspring at that!  This would ensure that what was happening to the Philistines was not simply a coincidence (6:9).  Once the scenario was set-up, the cows started moving on their own, away from their young, and toward Israel lowing as they went (6:10-12)!  The Philistines’ fears were confirmed; it was the doing of the God of Israel all along.

The Philistines’ method illustrates how a limited form of methodological naturalism (LMN) can work.  They eliminated all natural causes that had the remote possibility of explaining the events that had occurred.  In the end, they determined that the probability of all these events being natural coincidences was just too low, and so, they inferred that this had to have been the supernatural design of the God of Israel.

19.) Scientific discovery is actually pointing more and more toward a real (and not imagined) gap between the data and naturalistic explanations:

a.) As Creationists and ID proponents have been pointing out, there are many areas in which the so-called ‘gaps’ between the scientific data and naturalistic explanations not only are not being filled but actually continuing to grow wider apart:

i.) Origin of Life research is continuing to show how natural processes are incapable of forming even the most basic forms of life from scratch.

ii.) The study of population genetics and molecular biology is still proving that the power of random mutation and natural selection have little (if any) creative power to form new information.  Indeed, these two sciences are showing that, if anything, random mutation and natural selection are information destroying forces.  (For more on this, see the posts below.)

iii.) The abruptness of the Cambrian fossil strata keeps on getting even more abrupt as new, highly complex life-forms are discovered in the strata and as the search for life forms in pre-Cambrian strata becomes more complete.  Darwinists can no longer claim (as Darwin did) that the only reason why the Cambrian explosion looks so abrupt is that there has been an incomplete search in the fossil record.  (See the post below on common descent.)

b.) Also, there is at least one example (that I can think of) in which a ‘gap’ that was previously thought to be filled has now been reopened by further scientific enquiry.  For instance, in Christian theology, it was taught that the Earth is the special center of God’s focus.  After Copernicus and with later advances in astronomy, it was thought that Earth’s privileged status was debunked seeing that the Earth was, as Carl Sagan put it, nothing more than “a pale blue dot” amongst the vastness of the universe.  There were bound to be other planets in the universe where life would evolve.  Our home was nothing special after all.  Now however, many scientists (even some secular ones) are discovering that the Earth is quite rare in the vast universe.  It is in the perfect spot both with regard to our star, the Sun, and with regard to the Milky Way galaxy to allow life to appear and flourish.  Its size is just right so that the magnetic field generated by the earth’s interior will be strong enough to withstand the solar winds which would strip away the earth’s atmosphere.  The number of ‘coincidences’ goes on and on.  The Earth is now the “privileged planet.”  The gulf that once existed between the scientific data and naturalistic explanations has now been reopened and is growing wider with each new discovery.

Conclusion

I don’t believe that any other DMN proponent has been as honest as Richard Lewontin:

“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.  The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who believes in God can believe in anything.  To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that Miracles may happen.” (Lewontin 1997: pp.28-32; see 3. above for a response to his last two sentences)

In response, one philosopher has noted the ‘dishonesty’ that this entails:

“The ‘dishonesty’ is not a lack of candor.  The statement could scarcely be plainer or more straightforward, and Lewontin is to be commended for the clarity with which he states his view.  Rather, the ‘dishonesty’ is in the absolute refusal to consider alternatives, to predetermine that all scientific questions will be considered within certain clearly prescribed limits for the explicit prior use of defending those same limits.  The matter is not simply one of begging the question or of circular reasoning (to reason at all requires some point of view), but of vicious rigidity, since nothing empirical or theoretical can ever modify the presupposition of materialism.  It is also ‘dishonest’ because anyone who assumed a different metaphysical starting point with the same sort of rigidity, for example, that the universe is filled with “billions and billions of demons” (Lewontin’s own play on two titles by Sagan) would be rightfully scorned by Lewontin.” (Erdel 2000: p.83)

In the end, DMN is nothing more than a means of insulating the naturalistic worldview and all that it entails from any challenge to that worldview’s reign in the scientific community.  In this sense, the DMN proponent is like a criminal with diplomatic immunity.  It doesn’t matter if you catch him red-handed; he will always get away with it.

Bibliography

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Patricia S. Churchland, “Epistemology in the Age of Neuroscience,” Journal of Philosophy 84, (October 1987).

Charles Darwin as cited in Francis Darwin, ed., The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (New York: Basic Books, 1959).

William A. Dembski, The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design (Downers Grove, Il.: InterVarsity Press, 2004).

William A. Dembski, “Introduction: The Myths of Darwinism,” pp.xvii-xxxvii in Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing, ed. William A. Dembski (Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2005).

William A. Dembski and Jonathan Wells, The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems (Dallas: The Foundation for Thought and Ethics, 2008).

Timothy Erdel, “The Rationality of Christian Faith” (Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2000).

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Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996).

C.S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: HarperCollins, 2001).

Richard Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” review of The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan, New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997, pp.28-32.

Stephen C. Meyer, “Word Games: DNA, Design, and Intelligence,” pp.102-117 in Signs of Intelligence, ed. William A. Dembski and James M. Kushiner (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2001).

Del Ratzsch, Nature, Design, and Science: The Status of Design in Natural Science (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2001).

Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (London: G. Allen and Unwin,1917).

Steven Vogel, Comparative Biomechanics, illustrated ed. (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2003), p.15.

Jonathan Wells, “Making Sense of Biology: The Evidence for Development by Design,” pp.118-127 in Signs of Intelligence, ed. William A. Dembski and James M. Kushiner (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2001).

N.T. Wright, Who Was Jesus? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993).

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