Catching William Lane Craig’s Intelligent Design Error

by Max Andrews

I was listening to William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith podcast on Sean Carroll on Science and God Part 1 this morning as I was walking from the parking lot into my office at University today, and I was quite surprised to hear a generalization Dr. Craig made concerning intelligent design.

Dr. Craig discusses how no models of the universe involve God. (This discussion begins around the 7 minute mark.) I think he’s correct in that we don’t have a physical theory of the universe that uses God as an entity in its explanation. For instance, you’ll find no entity in the standard model of particle physics that denotes God. However, Craig says that you do find this in the proponents of intelligent design theory “who want to postulate God as an entity in a scientific theory–that God would be like a quark, or a black hole, or a quantum field. He would be a theoretical entity postulated in a scientific theory.”

I have no doubt that there are intelligent design proponents, i.e. [young earth] creationists, who do this, but importing creationism into intelligent design theory strips ID for what it actually says.

The design argument is quite modest by simply stating that intelligent causation can be detected in the natural world.  The argument does not and cannot infer the identity of the designer alone.  In order to identify the designer one must seek external evidences, such as other scientific, philosophical, historical, and theological evidences.  A cumulative case argument would fulfill this need.  The extent of what can be known is that the designer is an agent.  Agency is inferred by the ability to create brand new information, to initiate and cease a causal chain of events.  Also, this agent must not be organic since it too would require a cause of its information.  No regress is necessary since there is only one entity that must be identified as the cause.  Whether there is a regress doesn’t really matter at all since only one phenomena, that of the origin of information in living matter, only requires that one entity be instantiated.

A scientific case for intelligent design may be modeled as:

  1. Observation:  ID begins with the observation that intelligent agents produce high levels of CSI (complex specified information).
  2. Hypothesis:  Design predictions.
  3. Experiment:  Do they contain CSI?
    • Irreducible complexity, knock out a part, does it still function?
    • Mutational sensitivity tests to determine how finely-tuned protein sequences and enzymes must be in order to perform their cellular functions.  (Doug Axe found that sequences yield functional protein folds may be as rare as 1 in 1077).
  4. Conclusion:  Because X exhibits high levels of CSI, a quality is known to be a product of intelligence.  Life was designed.

The argument doesn’t identify the designer. Intelligent design theory simply states that intelligent causation is detectable and doesn’t use this entity as the “cork” or to fill in gaps. As Dr. Craig says, “scientific evidence may be used in a philosophical argument leading to a conclusion that has theological significance.” I completely agree. There’s no difference between that statement and intelligent design theory. There is conflict between the statement and creationism.

I must say that Dr. Craig has simply mislabeled intelligent design theory for what it actually claims. Intelligent design is much more modest.

AMENDMENT (Monday 01 OCT 2012): Dr. Craig commented on the Reasonable Faith Facebook page saying that he misspoke on this. His correction was that his difference with the ID advocates is that the inference is not scientific as the ID proponent typically claims. What Dr. Craig was claiming is that the inference to design is philosophical and not scientific. I would provide a direct quote but due to my slow response in amending this I couldn’t find the comment anywhere on the page. Anyways, I thought I needed to put this out there to give the full story.

7 Responses to “Catching William Lane Craig’s Intelligent Design Error”

  1. I was surprised to hear this too, as Dr Craig is aware and has said on several occasions that Intelligent Design doesn’t infer God, nor is able to. Not sure why he said it. I’m sure he won’t mind clarifying it if people want to check with him.

    • I’ve noticed that Dr. Craig seems to be distancing himself from intelligent design recently. He’s been referring to Ayala a few times recently while be critical of ID. I suspect he’s adopting a more Darwinian approach to it but in the sense that Plantinga has stated. But then again, I think that whole ordeal is just a semantic distinction with Craig and Plantinga maintaining the actual ID position. There’s fuzziness going on here.

  2. Arguments which rely on the notion of irreducible complexity tend not to be particularly strong, in my view, because they typically don’t take into account the notion of “scaffolds”: structures which support supposedly irreducibly complex structures until they have developed enough to support themselves.

    • Hey Tom (if I may),

      I’m not particularly fond of said arguments either. The only ID arguments I use are the necessity of CSI requiring an antecedent mind. Basically, the origin of information in the universe requires a mind.

      • Thanks for your reply!

        The only ID arguments I use are the necessity of CSI requiring an antecedent mind.

        How do we know that CSI requires an antecedent mind? A safer claim, perhaps, would be that in our experience CSI is (usually) produced by an antecedent mind. But I think that claim doesn’t go far enough: I can imagine a sceptic replying, “Well, in our experience minds are (usually) embodied.”

  3. I know that all codes can only have meaning given to them by an outside source. “In my experience”? Objective truth does not require subjective approval.

    Encoded or decoded information always requires an outside source. The code cannot author itself.

    In the binary world the lovely number 9 is the Tab key. And 65 is the letter A. Rather arbitrary… I am sure that if you studied to find out why ASCII and now UTF 8/16 use this scheme you would ultimately find out that a guy named “Bob” was involved.

    Only Bob can give meaning to the number 9 and only we can give Bob implicit credit by typing this very note. All of this is happening outside of the code.

    And the most interesting bit is that while it true that Bob used number 9 just to get a little room the astonishing thing is that the magic or surprise effect only occurs with the use of the code. In other words. in other poems, and other stories all of these are authored by creativity, innovation and the agreement that there is a standard.

    The most important aspect of good coding is accuracy and room for innovation or growth.

    All of this can only be determined by Intelligent Design.

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