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Ard Louis on Intelligent Design

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April 14, 2010 Tags: Design

Today's video features Ard Louis. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

In his post on Monday, Karl Giberson writes that, “My primary concern about ID is that it promotes the idea that nature has gaps in it that God must intervene to fill.” Similarly, in this short video, physicist Ard Louis echoes these same doubts about Intelligent Design, noting that his primary resistance to the movement is based on theological grounds as opposed to scientific. That is, he suggests that accepting Intelligent Design is a bit like acknowledging that God “[couldn’t] get the world right the first time around”.

To illustrate this point, Louis recounts a famous exchange between Newton and his rival Leibniz that occurred when Newton was working out his theory of gravity. Newton found that in the solar system, planets are unstable. He tried to explain this aspect in his theory by suggesting that God occasionally reforms the planets to stabilize them. Leibniz dismissed this claim as nonsense and that in fact argued that this line of thinking was demeaning to God because it discounted God’s power. Moreover, Leibniz said, God doesn’t do miracles for wants of nature—he does miracles for wants of grace. This means that God doesn’t make miracles just to “fix” things in the past. Further, as Louis points out, these “correctives” are not mentioned in the scriptures, thus it makes many of ID’s claims seem theologically unlikely.

Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.

Ard Louis is a Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Oxford, where he leads a interdisciplinary research group studying problems on the border between chemistry, physics and biology, and is also director of graduate studies in theoretical physics. From 2002 to 2010 he was a Royal Society University Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford. He is also an associate of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. He has written for the BioLogos Foundation, where as of November 2011, he sat on the Board of Directors. He engages in molecular gastronomy. Prior to his post at Oxford he taught Theoretical Chemistry at Cambridge University where he was also director of studies in Natural Sciences at Hughes Hall. He was born in the Netherlands, was raised in Gabon and received his first degree from the University of Utrecht and his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Cornell University.

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aberg - #9874

April 15th 2010

Bilbo - #9854

“Tweaking” the quantum states is still a natural process, no different from God making the rain to fall.

Bilbo - #9856

Samual Butler and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (later in his career) were probably the first to consider the ideas of intelligent design (ignoring for the moment the contributions of William Paley).
http://post.queensu.ca/~forsdyke/bateson7.htm#7 Lamar.ckism

katz - #9905

April 15th 2010

Bilbo #9854:

I was defining an “intervention” as God making something happen that would not have been the result of the natural laws in that situation (ie, water into wine).  Quantum events may have more than one possible result, but they all follow the natural laws.  There would never be a situation where, based on scientific observation, you’d see something that shouldn’t have happened.

If you were only referring to intervention as control over quantum events, that seems reasonable to me.

Argon - #9934

April 15th 2010

Bilbo: “I agree whole-heartedly that God can create either a deterministic or non-deterministic universe…”

I’m not sure how an omnipotent and omniscient God can create a non-deterministic universe, particularly One that exists outside of time and the universe itself. Then again, I’m not sure God can have free will either, at least not in any logically consistent way. But that’s probably not a discussion to have here.


katz, regarding ‘control of quantum events’: Well, if something had really good control over quantum events, it could suddenly materialize me onto the Moon. Certainly my ‘waveform’ has a non-zero probability that covers the Moon (and Topeka too). Generally speaking, quantum tunneling to the Moon is something that shouldn’t happen for an object of my mass… at least not too often.  My feeling is that if someone can directionally manipulate the probabilities of quantum events then that someone can do practically anything (at least as long as net changes in energy are balanced—Perhaps an equal mass of moon dust would be ‘pinged’ to where I’m sitting in order to balance the energy of my unexpected lunar excursion).

Bilbo - #9941

April 16th 2010

Hi Argon,

An omniscient God would know all events at all times, but I don’t think that means that they are determined. 

And thanks for pointing out the problem with quantum tweaking.  An IDist would say that at least some events in biological history were too improbable to have happened without considerable tweaking.

Richard Colling - #9961

April 16th 2010

Thanks for the honest personal commentary Ard.

Bilbo - #10058

April 16th 2010

Yes, thanks Ard.  Too bad it’s so faulty.

Argon - #10075

April 17th 2010

Bilbo: “An omniscient God would know all events at all times, but I don’t think that means that they are determined. “

The ability to discern exactly what the future holds requires determinism. I don’t see how to resolve the paradox of free will and an omniscient creator. But no matter, greater minds have struggled and failed to definitively crack this problem for (probably) thousands of years.

Bilbo - #10076

April 17th 2010

Hi Argon,

Yes, I’m aware that there is such a debate, I’m just not sure why.  I thought C,
S. Lewis (who credited Boethius with the argument, I believe) gave the answer that since all times are present to God, God knows what we are doing at time T1 in the same manner that He knows what we’re doing at T100.  Since God’s knowing what I am doing right now (T1) doesn’t entail that I MUST do it, neither does God’s knowing what I am doing tomorrow (T100) entail that I MUST do that, either.

Any determination works the other way. My doing X at T1 determines that God knows that I am doing X at T1.  My freely choosing to do Y at T100 determines that God knows that I freely choose to do Y at T100.

Argon - #10116

April 17th 2010

Hi Bilbo,
I agree that S. Lewis gave an answer (which traces back ~1500 years ago), but disagree over whether it is a sound answer and if it actually resolves the paradox (unless perhaps one invokes a multiverse containing all possible outcomes). The philosophical debate has achieved no consensus—There are actually a multitude of opinions in the literature. The notion that omnipotence & omniscience are compatible with free will is largely a position of religious faith. The answer at this point is to say “I have no idea how that could be but I believe it nonetheless”. It may be a core position in a religion but that doesn’t mean it can be proved.

Here’s a taste of the perpetual debate:

Personally, I think our understanding of causality is incomplete at the limit when t=0.

Bilbo - #10119

April 17th 2010

Thanks for the Stanford article, Argon.  Yes, I see where even Boethius’ solution would still have problems.  Now I better understand the motivation of Open Theism.  Greg Boyd’s view was that God knows all possible future states. which might result in the multiverse problems, I wouldn’t know.

ard - #10826

April 22nd 2010

I found out a few days ago that Biologos made a blog page based on a video outtake from the unused footage for Test of Faith documentary http://www.testoffaith.com 
and added some brief commentary.  I probably would not have suggested it be put up.  While I have no quibbles with what is written, I realize that the arguments about Intelligent Design (ID) are complex and often act as a proxy battle for many other contested debates.  This little fragment of a much longer conversation does not do justice to the complexities of the issues, and judging by the comments that ensued, only served to muddy the waters.

I’m always impressed with the amount of time people seem to be able to find to write on blogs.  Unfortunately I am not able to make such time so here are a few quick clarifications:

I am an evangelical and believe that

1)  God created and continually sustains the world.  If he were to stop sustaining the world it would no longer exist.
2)  The laws of nature describe the regular ways God sustains the universe.
3)  God also sustains the universe in ways that are not regular—we would call these miracles.
4)  God is sovereign and can do miracles whenever he needs to.

ard - #10827

April 22nd 2010

5)  Biblical accounts of miracles strongly suggest that God does miracles for redemptive purposes.
6) We don’t have access to the “mind of God” and so it is hard to know when his redemptive purposes warrant miracles.  I am not aware of a comprehensive Biblical theology of miracle detection in history outside of direct revelation.
Although the points above could be qualified in many ways (e.g. flesh out theories of divine action and providence), to first order I don’t believe that they are very controversial among conservative evangelicals. 
If you can read Dutch, I wrote more about this in “Wonderen en Wetenschap, de lange schaduw van David Hume” in “Omhoog Kijken in Platland” Ed. Cees Dekker & Rene van Woudenberg (2008).

7) When I talk about about Intelligent Design (capital ID here) I am mainly referring to a recent movement with its base in the Discovery Institute (Seattle).  Key protagonists would include Philip Johnson, Michael Behe, William Dembski, Jonathan Wells, Paul Nelson and Stephen Meyer.  I am aware that the words “intelligent design” (no capitals) can mean many other things as well, but here I am mainly talking about ID as applied to biological evolution.

ard - #10829

April 22nd 2010

The points below are possibly more contested:

7) When I talk about about Intelligent Design (capital ID here) I am mainly referring to a recent movement with its base in the Discovery Institute (Seattle).  Key protagonists would include Philip Johnson, Michael Behe, William Dembski, Jonathan Wells, Paul Nelson and Stephen Meyer.  I am aware that the words “intelligent design” (no capitals) can mean many other things as well, but here I am mainly talking about ID as applied to biological evolution.

8)  The popular language used by these protagonists suggests a separation between a) “undirected processes”  and b) “intelligent causes”.

9) As a Christian, I would equate the “designer” these authors write about with the God of the Bible. Therefore, I take a) to mean the regular ways that God sustains the universe, and b) to mean other ways that God uses to sustain the universe, a shorthand for miracles.  I realize that I not every ID protagonist would agree with this categorization, but contend that most evangelical Christians would see b) “intelligent causation”  as miracles. Moreover, I fail to understand the arguments Christian ID protagonists make when they claim that b) is not about miracles in natural history.

ard - #10830

April 22nd 2010

10) Leibniz’s two arguments against Newton’s claim—- that there was evidence that “undirected processes”  are not sufficient to explain an aspect of the natural history of the solar system and that God had to occasionally “reform the planets”— were analogical:

if God had to remedy the defects of His creation, this was surely to demean his craftmanship
John Hedley Brooke, Science and Religion , CUP, Cambridge (1991), p147.

and theological:

And I hold, that when God works miracles, he does not do it in order to supply the wants of nature, but those of grace.  Whoever thinks otherwise, must needs have a very mean notion of the wisdom and power of God. ( as quoted by C. Brown, Miracles and the Critical Mind, (Paternoster, Exeter, 1984), p 75.)

ard - #10831

April 22nd 2010

11)  I brought up Leibniz’s analogical argument because I believe that many people who are attracted by ID would still resonate with Leibiniz when speaking about the solar system.  It is meant to make them question why they think differently about biological natural history than they do about planetary natural history.  I don’t personally think the analogical argument is that strong by itself because it is too anthropocentric.

12) I think Leibniz’s theological argument is more substantial.

13)  Of course God is sovereign and can create through processes of type a) or b).

14) I take a framework view of Genesis (as nicely explained e.g. by H. Blocher In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis (IVP)).  I therefore don’t find a theological warrant for many miracles in natural history.  Of course there could be, but if it was important for us to know about them, then I believe God would have revealed this in the Bible.  I therefore don’t think there is much Biblical justification for using science based methods to look for special occasions in biological natural history where God would have acted through processes of type b).

ard - #10832

April 22nd 2010

15) On the other hand, I can understand that an evangelical, who holds to the view that these early chapters are to be taken as something more like historical narrative, would argue for more more miracles in natural history.

16) In my opinion, the hard work for evangelicals has to do with hermeneutics and natural history (was there death before the fall, who was Adam etc…).  I don’t see why arguments about say whether natural selection is or is not sufficient to explain the Cambrian explosion are that important for evangelicals.

17) So my main discomfort with ID is theological.  I fail to see the Biblical justification.  It is not clear to me how it in any way helps clarify the hermeneutical questions that surround natural history and Genesis.  I think it distracts Christians from more important issues.

18) More generally, I would argue that decoupling any kind of natural theology from a strong foundation in the Bible (revelation) is dangerous. I am thinking here of the warnings of Pascal, Newman, Barth and many other theologians. (as an aside, I highly recommend Alistair McGrath’s brilliant new books: “The Open Secret” and “The Fine Tuned Universe” where he attempts to rehabilitate natural theology).

ard - #10833

April 22nd 2010

19) I am aware that every point above could be qualified and deserves a much longer treatment.


p.s. I think evangelicals reading this blog would find Oliver Barclay’s essay
“Design in Nature”  http://www.scienceandchristianbelief.org/articles/SCB 18-1 Barclay.pdf S&CB; (2006), 18, 49–61 helpful on how the Bible talks about Nature.
Barclay was for many years general secretary of UCCF (the InterVarsity equivalent in the UK) and helped found Christians in Science.  I think that the majority of the evangelical Christian science academics that I know here in the UK (quite a few) would agree with the main points that Oliver brings up here.

Peter - #50110

February 4th 2011

I don’t understand why any self-proclaimed Christian would describe God’s actions as “interventions”.  According to Christian theology God is omnipresent.

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