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Spring 2000 · Vol. 29 No. 1 · pp. 84–86 

Book Review

Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology

William A. Dembski. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1999. 252 pages.

Reviewed by David S. Faber

In Intelligent Design, William Dembski, with Ph.D.s in both philosophy and mathematics, provides an accessible introduction to the intelligent design movement. He begins with an historical background to the theory of intelligent design and then moves on to a careful articulation of it. He concludes with several chapters on the relationship between intelligent design and theology. The intelligent design movement sees itself as presenting a new alternative within the creation/evolution debate because intelligent design can be distinguished from naturalistic evolution, creation science, and theistic evolution. Besides Dembski, other major figures in the intelligent design movement are biochemist Michael Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box (1996), and Phillip E. Johnson, author of Darwin on Trial (1991).

Dembski maintains that intelligent design involves three basic theses. First, the notion of design (or specified complexity, as he sometimes calls it) can be clearly defined, and design can be determined empirically. He notes that a number of sciences make use of a notion of design (although they may not provide a clear definition of design). For instance, a forensic scientist may make a distinction between a suicide and an accidental death. The difference between the two is that a suicide {85} involves design and an accidental death does not. The second thesis is that undirected natural causes are inadequate to account for design. The third thesis is that intelligent causation best accounts for design.

Intelligent design, if correct, is a direct challenge to naturalistic evolution. More broadly, intelligent design is a direct challenge to naturalistic science. Naturalistic science is based on a principle called methodological naturalism. Methodological naturalism is “. . . the view that science must be restricted solely to undirected natural processes . . .” (119). In a similar vein, Dembski writes, “According to methodological naturalism, the proper way to conduct any serious inquiry is to focus strictly on naturalistic explanations to account for phenomenon . . .” (67). Dembski (with other intelligent design theorists) argues that methodological naturalism is not only false but is also harmful to science. Methodological naturalism is harmful to science because it artificially limits the questions that science allows itself to ask; science cannot ask whether or not a certain phenomenon exhibits evidence of design. This is as if a forensic scientist were not allowed to ask if a crime scene showed evidence of design. The range of questions that one can ask limits the range of answers that can be considered.

Dembski’s challenge is a powerful one. If an intellectual discipline is aiming to discover the truth about something, it is wrong to artificially limit the questions that can be asked. The appropriate response of the methodological naturalist is that the restriction against asking questions about design is not an artificial restriction. The notion of design, they might argue, is too vague to be of use. The heart of Dembski’s book (and of the intelligent design movement) is providing a definition of design that is, in fact, both precise and empirically detectable. It is beyond the scope of this review to either present or evaluate his definition. His proposal is careful, sophisticated, and well-defended.

Even if his proposal ultimately fails, it is worthy of attention and should provide fertile ground for other, similar proposals. In the natural sciences, theories are challenged and eventually replaced because of the observation of anomalies, that is, phenomena that do not fit into the existing theory. If the methodology of science prevents the observation of anomalies, the methodology is harmful to the pursuit of truth. Dembski and other intelligent design theorists are right to press the issue of whether or not methodological naturalism ultimately hinders science.

Dembski not only challenges naturalistic science, he also challenges theistic evolution, a position held by many Christians, especially those involved in the natural sciences. Theistic evolution holds, roughly speaking, that naturalistic evolution describes the process that God used to {86} bring about life. Dembski notes that, like naturalistic evolution, theistic evolution assumes methodological naturalism is true. Since Dembski is challenging methodological naturalism, he is also challenging theistic evolution.

It is, perhaps, worth noting here that Dembski does not seem to be using design as evidence for God’s existence. That is, we do not come to believe that God exists because we recognize that there is design. Rather, our conviction that God exists can provide a resource for explaining those phenomena that exhibit design. Naturalistic theories lack that resource. Thus a theistic worldview has explanatory advantages over a naturalistic worldview.

Dembski also notes that intelligent design is distinct from creation science. Intelligent design does not presuppose that there is a creator. Nor does it use a particular interpretation of a biblical passage as a control belief for interpreting scientific data. Some intelligent design theorists believe in an old earth and believe that naturalistic evolution may explain many phenomena. Dembski notes that intelligent design is “theologically minimalist.” That is, intelligent design theorists claim that careful empirical observation yields evidence that some natural objects are the product of design; however, intelligent design theory does not, by itself, make any claims about the nature of that intelligence. Creation science, on the other hand, takes the evidence of Scripture as scientific data which any true scientific theory must accommodate.

Intelligent Design is a thorough, accessible, carefully argued introduction to a provocative alternative to traditional positions in the creation/evolution controversy. For those genuinely interested in the controversy, it is a book worthy of attention.

David S. Faber
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas

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