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Response to Barbara Forrest’s Kitzmiller Account, Part II: Assessing Dr. Forrest’s Usage of Quotations from ID Proponents

[Editor’s Note: A single article combining all ten installments of this response to Barbara Forrest can be found here, at “Response to Barbara Forrest’s Kitzmiller Account.” The individual installments may be seen here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10.]

In this part of my response to Barbara Forrest, I will assess Dr. Forrest’s usage of quotations from ID proponents supposedly talking about intelligent design in religious terms. Dr. Forrest’s Kitzmiller account discusses what she argued during the Kitzmiller trial about intelligent design:

I included the words of two leading ID proponents, Phillip E. Johnson and William Dembski. Under direct examination by Eric Rothschild, I related Johnson’s definition of ID as “theistic realism” or “mere creation,” by which he means “that we affirm that God is objectively real as Creator, and that the reality of God is tangibly recorded in evidence accessible to science, particularly in biology.

Forrest is trying to argue that because of these quotes, therefore intelligent design is a religious viewpoint. While Phillip Johnson’s work inspired many people to investigate scientific deficiencies of Neo-Darwinism, Johnson is not a scientist and has done not been one who has formulated the actual theory of intelligent design. The theory of intelligent design was first formulated by scientists like Charles Thaxton and Dean Kenyon, and further developed (and popularized) by the research and writing of Michael Behe and William Dembski. If one wants to understand the theory of intelligent design, one has to study the writings of people like people like biochemist Michael Behe:

The conclusion that something was designed can be made quite independently of knowledge of the designer. As a matter of procedure, the design must first be apprehended before there can be any further question about the designer. The inference to design can be held with all the firmness that is possible in this world, without knowing anything about the designer. (Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, pg. 197)

The most important difference [between modern intelligent design theory and Paley’s arguments] is that [intelligent design] is limited to design itself; I strongly emphasize that it is not an argument for the existence of a benevolent God, as Paley’s was. I hasten to add that I myself do believe in a benevolent God, and I recognize that philosophy and theology may be able to extend the argument. But a scientific argument for design in biology does not reach that far. This while I argue for design, the question of the identity of the designer is left open. (Michael Behe, “The Modern Intelligent Design Hypothesis,” Philosophia Christi, 2(3)(1) (2001), pg. 165)

Or they should turn to William Dembski, who makes it clear that ID is inferred using an empirical methodology:

Natural causes are too stupid to keep pace with intelligent causes. Intelligent design theory provides a rigorous scientific demonstration of this long-standing intuition. Let me stress, the complexity-specification criterion is not a principle that comes to us demanding our unexamined acceptance–it is not an article of faith. Rather it is the outcome of a careful and sustained argument about the precise interrelationships between necessity, chance and design. (William Dembski, No Free Lunch, pg. 223)

Dr. Forrest ignores Dembski’s empirical methodology and Behe’s unwillingness to make intelligent design into a theory which treads into religious questions, and instead turns to Dembski’s commentary about how he interprets intelligent design within the context of his own Christian faith. Dr. Forrest recounts what she said in court:

To that I added Dembski’s definition: “Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.”

Is that actually Dembski’s “definition” of intelligent design? Dr. Forrest’s “Logos quote” was taken from an article in Touchstone, a Christian magazine, at the end of an article in a section titled “Design, Metaphysics, & Beyond.” Clearly Dembski is looking at design in a much broader context for a Christian audience, “beyond” its formulation as a science. Previously in the article, however, Dembski explained his methodology for formulating design using purely empirical arguments:


Figure 1: Dembski’s Explanatory Filter from his 1999 Touchstone article: He argues that we infer design based upon our observation-based understanding that complex and specified events are caused by design. In light of this methodology, is Forrest correct to have testified that “Intelligent design is, in essence, a religious belief”? It seems that at essence, ID is an empirically-based scientific argument.

Given that Dembski is a trained theologian (he holds an m-div. from the prestigious Princeton Theological Seminary), in addition to holding doctorates in mathematics and philosophy, he has every right to evaluate ID in the context of his Christian religious faith (theistic evolutionist scientists often do the same thing for evolution–see below). This information was omitted in Dr. Forrest’s testimony, allowing her to twist Dembski’s words by taking them out of context.

While Dr. Forrest calls the Logos quote Dembski’s “definition” of intelligent design, it would be more accurate to use the actual definition he provides his section entitled “What is intelligent design” from his book, The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design:

Intelligent design is the science that studies signs of intelligence. Note that a sign is not the thing signified. Intelligent design does not try to get into the mind of the designer and figure out what a designer is thinking. Its focus is not a designer’s mind (the thing signified) but the artifact due to a designer’s mind (the sign). What a designer is thinking may be an interesting question, and one may be able to infer something about what a designer is thinking from the designed objects that a designer produces (provided the designer is being honest). But the designer’s thought processes lie outside the scope of intelligent design. As a scientific research program, intelligent design investigates the effects of intelligence and not intelligence as such.

(William A. Dembski, “Chapter 1: Intelligent Design: What is intelligent design?” in The Design Revolution, pg. 33, The Design Revolution (InterVarsity Press, 2004)

Thus the scientific theory of intelligent design does not even focus on studying any intelligence responsible for life’s design, but focuses upon studying natural objects to determine if they were designed. To accurately understand how Dembski thinks the theory of ID interfaces with the identity of the designer, Dr. Forrest should have quoted Dembski from a religious book Dembski wrote for a Christian audience entitled Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology, where he explains this point:

By contrast, intelligent design nowhere attempts to identify the intelligent cause responsible for the design in nature, nor does it prescribe in advance the sequence of events by which this intelligent cause had to act. . . . Intelligent design is modest in what it attributes to the designing intelligence responsible for the specified complexity in nature. For instance, design theorists recognize that the nature, moral character and purposes of this intelligence lie beyond the remit of science. As Dean Kenyon and Percival Davis remark in their text on intelligent design: ‘Science cannot answer this question; it must leave it to religion and philosophy.’

(William Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology, pg. 247-248 (InterVarsity Pres, 1999).)

Why didn’t Dr. Forrest give these quotes that provide a full picture of Dembski’s view of how intelligent design interfaces with the question of the designer? Is she right to call the Logos quote from the “Design, Metaphysics, and Beyond” section of an article in a Christian magazine Dembski’s “definition” of intelligent design?

Theistic Evolutionists Say The Same Kinds of Things
But I can spin false arguments myself. Christian theistic evolutionist Keith Miller wrote “Seeing the history of life unfolding with each new discovery is exciting to me. How incredible to be able to look back through eons of time and see the panorama of God’s evolving creation!” (Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, pg. 205.) Similarly, Catholic Christian and theistic evolutionist Ken Miller wrote, “Given evolution’s ability to adapt, to innovate, to test, and to experiment, sooner or later it would have given the Creator exactly what He was looking for — a creature who, like us, could know Him, and love Him.” (Finding Darwin’s God, pg. 238-239.) Do these mean evolution is therefore a religious theory? Would I be correct to call these Ken Miller’s and Keith Miller’s “definitions” of evolution? Of course not. These quotes simply demonstrate that theistic evolutionists can interpret the scientific theory of evolution in the context of their Christian faith — something these two theistic evolutionist scientists have every right to do. And that’s precisely what the trained-theologian Dembski was doing in the Logos quote with respect to intelligent design. Dembski was not “defining” intelligent design, nor was he even describing how the theory operates as as science; writing in a section entitled “Design, Metaphysics, and Beyond,” he was clearly only interpreting intelligent design within the context of his own religious faith.

Dembski never said that ID is simply theology. But the difference here is that at trial, the Judge accepted Miller’s statement that “Everything that a scientist writes or says is not necessarily a scientific statement or a scientific publication.” But Judge Jones (and Barbara Forrest) only extended such courtesy to the Darwinists when they made such religious statements.

A Closing Thought:
In closing, I want to propose what I call the principle of methodological equivalence:

The Principle of Methodological Equivalence:
Science is a way of knowing. When assessing whether a given claim is scientific, all that matters is if an empirically-based, scientific methodology of knowing is given to back the claim. Alleging that a claim is religious and unscientific because of (a) the larger philosophical implications of the claim, (b) the religious beliefs of the claimant, (c) the motives of the claimant, or (d) some historical relationship between certain types of religious persons and that claim, uses an irrelevant argument. Evolutionists should consider this carefully because intelligent design and evolution are methodologically equivalent: Any argument invoking (a) through (d) to disqualify intelligent design from being science would similarly disqualify evolution from being science, if the facts and the argument were applied fairly.

Thus, if ID is disqualified from being science because some of its proponents have assessed ID in the context of their personal faith, then if we are to be fair, then such assessments by evolutionists would cut against evolution being science. The best approach is to recognize that personal religious statements or religious assessments do not count against whether a theory is scientific. Dr. Forrest should not have used these types of arguments.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



__editedBarbara ForrestKitzmiller v. Dover Area School District