Letters to the Editor
Editor's note: Creation/Evolution has been featuring an ongoing debate, initiated by Dr. Norman Geisler, on the question of design in nature. During the course of this debate, we have received many letters, a selection of which appear here. Because we wish to give Dr. Geisler the opportunity to respond to the arguments in these letters, if he so chooses, we are holding off resumption of the formal debate until the next issue.
I can't wait to have my students in my freshman class in the processes of science analyze the Geisler articles. Even without instruction in logic and probability they'll enjoy critiquing the following inferences, reasonably deduced from a reading of Geisler's thesis.
- Intelligence and its application is not natural; it's either unnatural or supernatural.
- Anomalous objects and events are to be assumed a priori to be the result of intelligence and therefore unnatural or supernatural.
- The use of intelligence to produce a given effect (object or event) is not natural.
- The results of the application of intelligence do not result in pattern redundancy and therefore cannot be explained naturalistically.
- A rounded, banded stone and an exquisitely formed crystal are due to natural causes and thus not the product of creative forces (those controlled or set in motion by a creator).
They know, perhaps intuitively, that assertions submitted for verification by logico-scientific means must have their basic terms defined operationally. They will ask for Geisler's definitions of natural and intelligence.
They will also conclude that it is no great intellectual feat to conclude that the discretionary information content of most humans probably exceeds that of other organisms. A discrepant theologian may need to ascribe this to other than natural causes. The uniform experience and logico-deductive thought processes of scientists and others make this effort unnecessary.
There are a number of confusions and assumptions made in the fascinating dialogue between Norman Geisler and his antagonists in the summer and fall 1984 issues of Creation/Evolution. A brief explanation and clarification of a few of these issues might shed some light on Geisler's modern rendition of the age-old argument from design. My efforts will concentrate on those issues not mentioned or briefly alluded to in the various articles.
The terms order, purpose, and design and especially the phrase marks of contrivance have been a dominant feature of the writers in the various articles, but their use has often been confused. Clearly a design implies a designer, just as a sculpture implies a sculptor or an effect a cause. These are usually termed co-relatives, since one implies the other. Whether purpose requires one who gave the purpose is less clear than the design-designer pair, for common English usage seems less clear in this case. The word order, on the other hand, does not necessarily imply an orderer (notice the term is not even a word in English, and rightfully so). The phrase marks of contrivance just as obviously implies a contriver, one who made the contrivance.
Order (as a pattern or constantly repeated motion) is a commonly observed feature of the natural world. Some of this orderas artifactscomes about by human or animal intent and is then called design or marks of contrivance (Paley's term). But order is a neutral term, and, to know whether or not a natural feature has design and not just order, some observation is required. That Mt. Rushmore was designed is clear from our past experience with sculptured materials. Even had the Mt. Rushmore Memorial existed some three centuries earlier in its present location, the native Indians would have judged it the product of some intelligent being rather than the product of purely natural forces. But that is only because four clearly defined human heads together are never seen naturally. However, given a more sharply defined human head (or less sharply defined Mt. Rushmore), it would not be at all clear whether the cause was due to natural forces or some intelligent being. Take, for example, the Punch and Judy figures in the Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona. The latter might well have been taken as intelligent design. And such is the mistake made by Geisler. He assumes that the transfer of information can only be done by intelligent beings since he knows of no transfer systems that are nonintelligent (despite the efforts of Fred Edwords and William Thwaites to show nonintelligent information transfer systems). Geisler remains unimpressed, however. He, assumes that, like human knowledge, intelligence is the best explanation for complex information systems. This is, of course, just anthropocentricism at its worst.
So, Geisler is right in thinking that marks of contrivance require a designer but wrong in thinking that information storage and transfer requires intelligence just because it does for humans and human contrivances. What Geisler needs to do first is to show that all information systems require an intelligence, purpose, and design. But this he cannot do without begging the question. Random change plus a theory of evolution seem quite sufficient to explain the complex information content of the DNA helix that produces life forms. At best, such anthropocentric talk of purpose and design when speaking about complex organisms may be a linguistic necessity-as some have suggestedbut these ways of speaking do not necessarily reflect the real world any more than "it" does in the expression, "It is raining outside."
Allow me one last observation that may well be the basis for the belief in the viability of the design argument so often used by fundamentalist thinkers, especially creationists. These thinkers strongly believe that organic life could not have derived from inorganic matter, since life can only derive from life (the principle of biogenesis). Since inorganic matter is not living, it is argued, it cannot give rise to living organismsonly a living supernatural being can be the cause of life in this world. They argue that organic matter is more like God than it is like inorganic matter. But there are at least two flaws with this basic assumption of fundamentalists.
First, organic matter really has more in common with inorganic matter with which it shares common elements, obeys the same laws of nature, and exists in space and time; God shares none of these. Organic matter can be looked at as just inert matter in a more complicated state. Clearly, for most life forms here on Earth, matter is more like these life forms than is God who shares only the vague characteristic "life" which is not at all like the life forms found here on Earth.
Second, by analogyand as Jerry Borchardt has correctly pointed out in the fall 1984 issue of Creation/ Evolutionthe creator must be an organism in order to have created life and this would require a material body of some sort. So, if this argument from biogenesis proves anything, it proves that the creator is a material being and this would make such a hypothesis scientifically verifiable. . . . The kind of nonmaterial being believed by most theists, however, can neither be confirmed nor disconfirmed scientifically. Creationists seem to want their cake and eat it, too. They want a being that can serve as a scientific explanation of natural causes and objects but want this being to be nonmaterial as well, above and beyond our world of space, time, and matter. But they can't have it both ways. Either this being is physical and a source of energyhence subject to the principles and laws of physicsor it is nonmaterial and above and beyond this world (and hence it could not be a scientific explanation for the world). Either way, creationists lose.
To put the argument in another way, if there is an intelligent cause of life, then it must be material, for no known information systems (human or otherwise) have derived from nonphysical causes. Importantly, the conclusion of an analogy can have no characteristic not found in the premises. The characteristic of nonmateriality is not found in any organic beings. Therefore, the cause of organic beings cannot have been nonmaterial. Logic is not magic. The nonmateriality of a creator of life cannot be pulled out of a materialistic hat. The rabbit must be material or forget the logic! This, Professor Geisler, is why evolutionists insist upon leaving out the intelligent-designer hypothesis; it is simply not scientific as long as the designer is nonmaterial.
Professor Geisler would have us teach creationism on the same footing as evolution. Consider the following class scenario, however. The creationist teacher would criticize evolutionists for allowing an apparent violation of entropy. Principles in science cannot be violated and there still be science, they would argue. Therefore, evolution is not science. At the end of the period, no doubt, the creationist teacher criticizing evolution would end by pointing out the magnificence of the creation by God, all from nothing! That this act of creation violates both the conservation of mass-energy and, perhaps, entropy as well does not seem to bother creationists. How are creationists going to explain to little Johnny why evolution cannot violate basic scientific principles but scientific creationism can do this with impunity! They never seem to realize the fundamental inconsistency in all this. They usually counter by claiming that since God made the principles of nature he can violate them at will. Although this makes little sense, let's grant God this possibility. Once granted, though, the explanation is no longer scientific. Again, Professor Geisler, this is why scientific creationism is a self-contradictory notion and why the modern form of the argument from design must ultimately fail.