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Orthodoxy and the 'Intelligent Design Movement'


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#1 Guest_Ken H

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Posted 21 October 2003 - 07:31 PM

Have members here given much thought to the goals and methods of the Intelligent Design Movement (IDM). I am wondering, a)because the discussion under "Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism" brings up related issues and b) in talking with IDM people I find a serious theological problem with their underpinning logic. Before I make that explicit I would like to hear from list members what their impressions of IDM are.
KH


#2 Richard Leigh

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Posted 21 October 2003 - 11:23 PM

Dear Ken,

I don't follow the movement as such but I am aware of Intellegent Design as part of the argument for God. I like the idea, but I do not read the literature on the subject. What is their underpinning logic? I am interested to know.

Richard


#3 Guest_Ken H

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Posted 22 October 2003 - 09:31 PM

Hello Richard,

Well the basic issue is this: is there evidence that life on earth is designed (rather than the product of randomness or semi-randomness). IDM of course contends that yes there is. The problem philosophically is they cannot demonstrate warrant for their epistemological stance and specifically they cannot account for changes in background information changing ontological conclusions. In fields outside of science, like theology, this becomes a bigger problem. Most IDM people (not all) are Christian and are motivated to defend God's identity as Creator. However, they carry over this epistemological/ontological gap problem into their theology. Many of them will say that their critique of Darwin hinges on the fact that Darwinism (as they call it) is unfairly privileged by an assumption of philosophical naturalism on the part of science practitioners. They see this problem plagueing the arts as well. In theology, they argue that ultimately Darwinically inspired philosophical naturalism has clouded our access to important truths, like for instance the historical verification of the Biblical narratives, especially in verifying miracles. My issue is that the life of Christ, being an intervention by the unkowable into our time/space is by definition a knowledge gift from God. People who saw Jesus work miracles did not always respond as we would think appropriately, but that's because we know the full story. We have had the Spirit guided wisdom of the Church to hold out the Gospel to us. If as the IDM people say ontological certainty in such issues can be derived by human observation of the facts, then where is the role of faith, the role of the Holy Spirit. What need for the Church, the Sacraments, etc.? It is no surprise that many ID leaders are Reformed Protestants. If the suspect nature of their epistemology becomes clear in their application of theology, then we have to revisit their thinking about science. Here I think I see them conflating epistemology with ontology as well, and that's what makes so many of the science types furious at them. To the science people it all seems very wilful. Lastly, as I understand things, Orthodoxy has no real argument with evolution, since a) the Fathers read Scripture allegorically often including Genesis and b) since _any_ system in creation is "beneath" the transcendent God. No matter what method He chooses, He is still Author. And, thanks to the unbridgeable epist/onto gap, whatever looks random can still be intended by Him.

#4 Richard Leigh

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Posted 22 October 2003 - 10:14 PM

Dear Ken,

It doesn't surprise me that this sort of thing would be coming out of my (our?) Reformed bretheren, they have a penchant for leaning on reason and intellect along with divine revelation.

Not that I have a hankering after a humanly wise way of stating a case for God, but I am constantly reminded to find Him in the Spriptures (I'm Lutheran, you see).

The whole consideration of creation is, after all, only the first article of the Creed, i.e., beliefe in God as Creator.

But you are right, it would seem to me regarding the epistimelogical issue. /i{How} can they know that and God? So, this can only come by revelation: God's word through His church.

Regarding creation randomly conceived, though, I think it has been established mathematically that not enough time can be found in all of observable creation for a random construction (or self erection?) of the universe available to us.

And the design is quite nice, really.

Thanks for the feedback,

Richard


#5 Guest_Cyril Guerette

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Posted 22 October 2003 - 10:32 PM

Dear Ken,

It would seem to be that the beleif that the Universe intrinsically shows forth desgin can be discovered in Rom. 1:20: "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse (NIV)."

I don't know much about this IDM you speak of but I don't think it is relying too much on intellect to say that our minds, upon contemplating his Creation, can contemplate, albeit so minutely, its Creator.

Sincerely,
Cyril


#6 Guest_Ken H

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Posted 23 October 2003 - 03:58 PM

Dear Cyril,

Yes, indeed and Rom 1:20 is a favorite of Christian IDM'ers. However, it is my thought that subsequent discussions of Faith as gifted knowledge from God, which we find in this same Epistle and in Hebrews, and sprinkled throughout Paul, militates against the idea that God is demonstrable without His own consent and gift. Jesus indicated this was certainly so in the field of history in Lk 13:3,4. Also in Mt 28: 16, 17. Now, in favor of the IDM people, they argue that they do not insist on the Christian God as the Designer, only that we can reasonably conclude that Design is behind life on Earth. That much I think does agree with Rom 1:20. The problem starts after that when IDM people say that their discovery of a philosophically prejudiced naturalism, stemming largely from the triumph of Darwin, has blinded us in all fields of knowledge. For example, most of the IDM people I've talked to are Protestant Christians and to a man/woman those that are say that the Resurrection is a historical fact, where historical fact is taken to mean that by applying the usual techniques/epistemology of regular historical investigation a person can come to an ontological certainty that the Resurrection occurred. This seems to me to fly in the face of Scripture, seems to vitiate the Christian understanding of God's gift of faith, and contradicts the way we normally do history in more mundane subjects. The question seems to be, "whence an assurance of ontological certainty, unless one is predicating omniscience." I have not had a good answer from an IDM person to this yet.
So, as far as IDM advocates can counter unjustified philosophical assertions tied to science (like when Richard Dawkins assures us that evolution proves atheism) so much to the good. But when IDM methods are brought into Scripture, history, and theology, then the implications begin to disturb me.

#7 Guest_Alvin Kimel

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Posted 24 October 2003 - 01:52 PM

You might find of interest Richard Swinburne's essay on the Argument for Design of interest. Swinburne converted to Orthdoxy a few years ago.


#8 Guest_Fr John Wehling

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Posted 24 October 2003 - 07:19 PM

Reason is a great gift of God to man, but in our fallen condition it is not pure, not unscathed by the passions. It is one thing for a scientist to use his reason and detect design in the universe. This is not a bad thing; I don't see how it could be. But it is another thing altogether for a person to see within the universe the Divine seeds of the Logos, the "inner principles," the Glory of God over all the earth. The first requires the use of the reason without, perhaps, a certain naturalistic presupposition. The second requires a pure heart cleansed through ascetic labor and the aquisition of virtue, and illumined by the Holy Spirit. The two, then, are not at odds, but they are not the same thing.

Fr John


#9 Guest_Waldemar

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Posted 24 October 2003 - 08:23 PM

IDM is just the latest episode in the fight between the Fundamentalists ("We can prove God!") and the Evolutionists ("No you can't!"). I think the Orthodox can be impartial to this fight for the very same reasons that G.K. Chesterton gave for the Roman Catholic Church:

"It is impartial in a fight between the Fundamentalist and the theory of the Origin of Species, because it goes back to an origin before that Origin; because it is more fundamental than Fundamentalism. It knows where the Bible came from. It also knows where most of the theories of Evolution go to. It knows there were many other Gospels besides the Four Gospels, and that the others were only eliminated by the authority of the Catholic Church. It knows there are many other evolutionary theories besides the Darwinian theory; and that the latter is quite likely to be eliminated by later science. It does not, in the conventional phrase, accept the conclusions of science, for the simple reason that science has not concluded. To conclude is to shut up; and the man of science is not at all likely to shut up."



#10 Guest_Waldemar

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Posted 24 October 2003 - 08:27 PM

Let me add this last quotation because I think it is so wonderfully ortho-doxa:

"All science, even the divine science, is a sublime detective story. Only it is not set to detect why a man is dead; but the darker secret of why he is alive." - GK Chesterton


#11 Guest_Cyril Guerette

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Posted 02 November 2003 - 07:01 PM

I thought I'd add a quote from Gregory of Nazianzus I've come across lately from the second of his famous Theological Orations:

"VI. Now our very eyes and the Law of Nature teach us that God exists and that He is the Efficient and Maintaining Cause of all things: our eyes, because they fall on visible objects, and see them in beautiful stability and progress, immovably moving and revolving if I may so say; natural Law, because through these visible things and their order, it reasons back to their Author. For how could this Universe have come into being or been put together, unless God had called it into existence, and held it together? For every one who sees a beautifully made lute, and considers the skill with which it has been fitted together and arranged, or who hears its melody, would think of none but the lutemaker, or the luteplayer, and would recur to him in mind, though he might not know him by sight. And thus to us also is manifested That which made and moves and preserves all created things, even though He be not comprehended by the mind. And very wanting in sense is he who will not willingly go thus far in following natural proofs; but not even this which we have fancied or formed, or which reason has sketched for us, proves the existence of a God. But if any one has got even to some extent a comprehension of this, how is God's Being to bedemonstrated? Who ever reached this extremity of wisdom? Who was ever deemed worthy of so great a gift? Who has opened the mouth of his mind and drawn in the Spirit, so as by Him that searcheth all things, yea the deep thing of God, to take in God, and no longer to need progress, since he already possesses the Extreme Object of desire, and That to which all the social life and all the intelligence of the best men press forward?"

I found it intriguing how he shows that the mind can contemplate God in Creation, indeed that the Order points to God and anyone who sees it not is "very wanting in sense" ... and yet he says that in no way this "proves the existence of God." It is only reasonable to see God in Creation, but this doesn't constitute an water-tight proof. I think that this is somewhat how Aquinas saw it as well, no single argument "proves" God's existence, but together they form an inductive argument that is pretty "probable" though not certain. The human mind can never grasp God so.


#12 Jonathan Hayward

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Posted 16 May 2009 - 02:09 AM

IDM is just the latest episode in the fight between the Fundamentalists ("We can prove God!") and the Evolutionists ("No you can't!").

May I ask you to read Philip Johnson's Darwin on Trial or Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box? It is somewhat misinformed to present intelligent design as beginning and ending with fundamentalists.

I wrote The Evolution of a Perspective on Creation and Origins, and also Why Young Earthers Aren't Completely Crazy, after I read those two books and became dissatisfied with being a theistic evolutionist.

Please don't say that intelligent design is interchangeable with fundamentalism. It's a "fingernails on the chalkboard" experience for people who have read the movement's seminal works--like Catholics saying that Orthodox are just Catholics who don't realize they need to restore communion with Rome.

Christos Jonathan

Edited by Jonathan Hayward, 16 May 2009 - 02:12 AM.
Clarified what group of people one clause referred to. Replaced an incorrect phrase that muddied my meaning.


#13 Owen Jones

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Posted 20 May 2009 - 01:40 PM

The key to understanding modern evolutionary theory as derived from Darwin (evolutionary theory has been around forever -- it was addressed by Aristotle) is to go to Darwin's own words. In "The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life" (the original title) Darwin states the following (in my own summary words): I am drawing an inference based on my observations in the field that the diversity and adaptation of species could have only come about by a natural process because it is too far fetched to believe that God could have managed such complexity. At some time in the past what God did was breath life into material things, but that's it.

I can get the exact quote if you like, but it's available on line and it is worth taking a look at his words. So I think the ID group is trying to address this conundrum and turn it on its head. They are basically drawing the opposite inference that Darwin drew, based on scientific observation.

#14 Theophrastus

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Posted 20 May 2009 - 02:37 PM

....because it is too far fetched to believe that God could have managed such complexity. At some time in the past what God did was breath life into material things, but that's it....


It's not that Darwin thought God was incapable of producing complexity. Rather, Darwin concluded that naturalistic evolution could explain biological divergence quite nicely without invoking supernaturalistic activity.

One good example is the distribution of finches on Galapagos. A creationist might say that God separately created each finch species on each separate Galapagos island. However, Darwin concluded that it seemed much more reasonable that the Galapagos finches (consisting of several different, though related, species) evolved from a South American finch species that migrated to the Galapagos sometime in the past, and diverged into several different species.

Of course, if one wants to argue that God guided the evolution of the finches, that's good theology, but not-so-good science (since God -- as defined by many -- is not empirically falsifiable by means of the methods of modern Western science).

The "Intelligent Design Movement" wants to argue that some biological systems are too complex to have evolved without intelligent activity behind them. But such an argument is susceptible to be undermined by the progress of science itself, as scientists continually discovers ways in which very complex systems may have naturalistically evolved. (The other problem with IDM is that the source of "intelligent activity" might be an alien species: Behe notes this possibility in his Black Box.)

#15 Jonathan Hayward

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 12:34 AM

Darwin was not an atheist or materialist, but a Deist. He was, more specifically, a Deist shaped by the tragedy of outliving a child of his--much rougher of an experience than when people start to cry out, "Where is God when it hurts?"

His theory of evolution was not, originally, a triumph of an account that needs no God, but a triumph of a God who need not do what Christians confess that offends the Deist: interact with his Creation. Darwin's theory was the triumph of a Deism that could reconcile life as we know it with the Deistic concern to believe in a Watchmaker who wound up the great Watch, the universe, and set it in motion, and did not touch it since. To him as a Deist, the idea of a God who kept on intervening with his Creation is almost as offensive as a literal watchmaker so incompetent that he has to keep fiddling with a watch when the watch should be running by the virtue of its own clockwork alone.

And, I might add, to a parent who survived his child, there may be something in asserting that God's job is not to intervene or interact. If you assert, with Orthodox, a God who continues to interact with miracles (the supreme example of which is God become incarnate as Godman in his own Creation), then that is to assert a God who does miracles, a God who heals and saves, a God who watches over his children and loves little ones, and this selfsame God allowed Darwin's child to die after hearing Darwin's anguished prayers, and left Darwin to live after suffering through all this. Maybe, to Darwin, it is much easier to call God good if he is the Great Watchmaker who created the Watch but who needs to keep his hands off now.

Darwin's theory was a triumph of religion in science, of Deist faith, and perhaps a way of rescuing God's character after God apparently failed to help a tragedy.

Christos Jonathan

P.S. I'm a little concerned about Theophrastus's summary of Behe as saying that some things are just too complex. It kind of flattens out the idea of irreducible complexity: a Swiss Army Knife, were it a life form in an evolutionary world, could conceivably evolve from a simple knife, evolved to have the blade fold into its handle, evolved to have a screwdriver, evolved to have a second and smaller blade, and so on until you have a packed, thick Swiss Army Knife. But on Behe's definition, this is not to be appealed to as irreducible complexity even though it is very complex. A mousetrap, on the other hand, is simpler, but irreducible in its complexity because if you are building up to a working mousetrap, the intermediate steps are a complexity without advantage (read: a complexity that natural selection does not favor, and may work to eliminate): take away any one of the wooden base, the hammer, the spring, the trigger, and one other part he mentions, and the mousetrap is (unlike a Swiss Army knife that has accumulated some advantages over a simple knife but not yet a thick Swisschamp) utterly useless. I find it a disappointing summary to say Behe says simply that some things are too complex to have evolved. He does not place any upper limit on complexity by evolutionary processes, merely assert that there are some kinds of complexity not demonstrably accounted for in the picture.

#16 Owen Jones

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 12:47 AM

Thanks, Jonathan, for an excellent summary. I am always amazed that people adhere to a theory without ever actually looking at the basic text of that theory. How many people have actually read Darwin's words? He clearly reveals his Deism as the source, motive behind his theory. God breathed life into material things. That's it for Darwin. He could not possibly have created the complexity and diversity that Darwin finds in the natural world. Therefore, there are certain theological assumptions (presumptions) behind Darwin's theory. That Deism is functionally no different than atheism never seemed to have occurred to Darwin, and so now Darwinism is mostly used as an argument against there being any need for any God at all, by people who really are incapable of thinking intelligently about first principles.

ID certainly has its limitations, in that it only engages the debate on one level and you have summarized that argument well -- irreducible complexity. But it is only one of many flaws in Darwinism.

And so logically I suppose you could see a similarity between ID and Richard Dawkins. Dawkins doesn't really refute the ID premise. When backed into a corner, he admits that probably some kind of aliens from outer space created life on earth. He just knows for sure that there is no God. The ID people go to pains to say that there argument is not a proof of God per se.

The underlying problem is spiritual alienation. People cannot account for suffering under God. And so the theory of natural selection provides them with a so-called scientific theory of why people suffer. They suffer because the evolutionary advantages acquired by our ancestors, such as territoriality, etc., are still operative in the modern world, even though we no longer need them, and this is the cause of needless competition and conflict. But evolution continues and will eventually right that problem. It's the Star Trek theory of history.

#17 Jonathan Hayward

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 12:56 AM

But such an argument is susceptible to be undermined by the progress of science itself, as scientists continually discovers ways in which very complex systems may have naturalistically evolved. (The other problem with IDM is that the source of "intelligent activity" might be an alien species: Behe notes this possibility in his Black Box.)


May I make a point about Darwin's Black Box? Without speaking for Behe's other works, in Darwin's Black Box Behe's explicit goal is to produce a falsifiable scientific theory that can be tested and corroborated/rejected/modified through experimental process as a scientific theory. Whether or not he succeeds, that is his goal, and if he has produced an account that could be proven false by future scientific developments, that is a success in his intended purpose--not a failing.

I have found it strange that "religion and science" scholarship often seeks to demonstrate the compatibility of timeless religious truths with the current state of flux in scientific speculation. It's just a wee bit backwards. And I'm most interested in other questions than whether Behe succeeds. But if Behe has attempted what he has and produced a theory that could be falsified by future scientific developments, that is a success on his part.

Added clarification: Philosopher of science Karl Popper argued that what distinguishes science from pseudo-science is falsifiability. Pseudo-science can find proof for itself anywhere and can interpret any experimental result as further proof of its truth. Genuine science makes claims that admit falsification, hence what distinguishes a scientific theory from pseudo-science is that it makes itself "vulnerable" to future research by being falsifiable. This isn't the only thing out there, but it is one of the more serious and influential criteria, and Behe is trying to meet this criterion and provide a falsifiable form of intelligent design. I don't know if you're familiar with this; you write, "since God -- as defined by many -- is not empirically falsifiable by means of the methods of modern Western science" to place God as defined by many out of science's ballbark, but then find it a liability that Behe's proposition is subject to falsification.

Christos Jonathan

Edited by Jonathan Hayward, 21 May 2009 - 01:11 AM.
Added "Added clarification"


#18 Jonathan Hayward

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 03:00 AM

Darwin was not an atheist or materialist, but a Deist. He was, more specifically, a Deist shaped by the tragedy of outliving a child of his--much rougher of an experience than when people start to cry out, "Where is God when it hurts?"

His theory of evolution was not, originally, a triumph of an account that needs no God, but a triumph of a God who need not do what Christians confess that offends the Deist: interact with his Creation. Darwin's theory was the triumph of a Deism that could reconcile life as we know it with the Deistic concern to believe in a Watchmaker who wound up the great Watch, the universe, and set it in motion, and did not touch it since. To him as a Deist, the idea of a God who kept on intervening with his Creation is almost as offensive as a literal watchmaker so incompetent that he has to keep fiddling with a watch when the watch should be running by the virtue of its own clockwork alone.

And, I might add, to a parent who survived his child, there may be something in asserting that God's job is not to intervene or interact. If you assert, with Orthodox, a God who continues to interact with miracles (the supreme example of which is God become incarnate as Godman in his own Creation), then that is to assert a God who does miracles, a God who heals and saves, a God who watches over his children and loves little ones, and this selfsame God allowed Darwin's child to die after hearing Darwin's anguished prayers, and left Darwin to live after suffering through all this. Maybe, to Darwin, it is much easier to call God good if he is the Great Watchmaker who created the Watch but who needs to keep his hands off now.

Darwin's theory was a triumph of religion in science, of Deist faith, and perhaps a way of rescuing God's character after God apparently failed to help a tragedy.


One further note about what was implicit that I didn't draw out:

I know devout Orthodox who are theistic evolutionists, and I know of at least one Orthodox bishop who refused to decide for his faithful what they could believe about evolution (or not). However:

If you read the saint's lives (there are daily changing links, both new calendar and roughly old calendar, on my liturgical clock), it is manifest that the Orthodox God is a God who continues to interact with his Creation, miracles included, and the Philokalia are volumes that manifest interaction with God in the day-to-day spiritual life of the faithful.

I believe this casts a very large shadow on one of Darwin's sensibilities, namely the desire for a Watchmaker who sets the watch in motion and never touches it again because it is offensive to imagine a Watchmaker who never stops working on the watch.

It is conceivable that some or maybe even all species have come into being without any species created in an explicit miracle.

However, even an Orthodox theistic evolutionist is obliged to believe that God continues to be involved with his Creation, in miracle and in other ways, on a much larger scale than what Darwin dodged when he created his theory of evolution.

If we may call God a Watchmaker, we must confess that the Watchmaker never stops his work on the watch!

Christos Jonathan

#19 Theophrastus

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 04:33 AM

P.S. I'm a little concerned about Theophrastus's summary of Behe as saying that some things are just too complex.

I would say that Behe argues that some systems are too complex to have evolved via naturalistic evolution.

A mousetrap, on the other hand, is simpler, but irreducible in its complexity because if you are building up to a working mousetrap, the intermediate steps are a complexity without advantage (read: a complexity that natural selection does not favor, and may work to eliminate): take away any one of the wooden base, the hammer, the spring, the trigger, and one other part he mentions, and the mousetrap is (unlike a Swiss Army knife that has accumulated some advantages over a simple knife but not yet a thick Swisschamp) utterly useless.

The mousetrap is an interesting object. Take away the wooden base, and you still do have a mechanism that can trap mice, albeit less efficiently. Likewise, take away other parts of the mousetrap, you can have an even less efficient mousetrap. And perhaps the simplest mousetrap is a square or L-shaped piece of metal that falls down upon an unsuspecting mouse that passes by. In other words, even a mousetrap is not necessarily irreducibly complex.

#20 Theophrastus

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 04:47 AM

This isn't the only thing out there, but it is one of the more serious and influential criteria, and Behe is trying to meet this criterion and provide a falsifiable form of intelligent design. I don't know if you're familiar with this; you write, "since God -- as defined by many -- is not empirically falsifiable by means of the methods of modern Western science" to place God as defined by many out of science's ballbark, but then find it a liability that Behe's proposition is subject to falsification.


If Behe could demonstrate that some biological system were definitely so different from any other system as to demand a non-naturalistic-evolutionary explanation, then that would be evidence for irreducible complexity; but Behe has not demonstrated any such system. I guess the whole issue of intelligent designer is really a non-issue: the key issue is the demonstration of irreducible complexity.

Once IC is demonstrated, then we could hypothesize on how such an IC system came about: an agent outside the matter/energy realm; an extra-terrestrial being; or even the invocation of time travel (about which, if I remember correctly, Behe very briefly speculated). The first actor would be immune to empirical measurement and falsifiability via the methods of modern Western science (MWS), whereas the second and third actors would be susceptible to the empiricism of MWS.




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