Douglas Groothuis on "Who Designed the Designer?"

Tell me what you think of his answer, Link.

While I'm at it, and not exactly unrelated, let me also throw in a link to the recent SEED Magazine's article on the Multiverse Problem.


Anonymous said...

BTW Can anyone please tell me any Christian Blog or site that will link to sites like DC, or post my comments, or link to my posts unedited without comment? You see, I think Christian believers and apologists have such bad answers that any decent thinker can see through them. Besides, I already answered such things in my book anyway. I link to such things because this is the best that apologists have got, and this isn't much, even though I respect Dr. Groothuis. I'm glad I don't have his job anymore, kicking against the overwhelming arguments to the contrary. What a tough job it is to be an apologist. I feel sorry for him in this regard. I know what it's like and I could do it no longer.

Adrian said...

"For example, if I explain that Sam slipped because he stepped on a banana peel that is a genuine explanation. I do not have to explain how the banana peel got there!"

Yes, yes you do.

It's an easy task since we know for a fact that they exist, they have peels and the peels are slippery but you still need to have some mechanism whereby the peel got underfoot. If no eyewitnesses saw a banana peel, if there's no plausible way to get a banana in and out of the environment and we see that there's a puddle of soapy water on the floor where Sam slipped and several other people standing around, all of whom say they slipped and none of whom saw any banana peels then yes, you better give a damn good explanation of how the peel got there.

With ID the situation is even worse. They are rejecting the explanation evolution provides which is immensely powerful and confirmed in favour of a banana that no one has seen, heard of or can even explain. Yes, you definitely need an explanation!

"No one observed the creation of the strange, haunting statues on Easter Island, but we infer - from their specified complexity - that they are the results of intelligent design."

No! Ugh, this whole thing is so wrong it's hard to know where to begin. It's repeating the same old cintelligent designist propaganda wholesale without any understanding of what any of the words actually mean. Just terrible.

Then with the "Scientism", the paper is disgusting in its smugness and fallacious reasoning. It's like the author is doing a touchdown dance after writing these "zings". Just terrible.

He doesn't understand the issues, apparently doesn't want to understand.

Larry Hamelin said...

FWIW: SEED is not held in very high esteem by professional scientists.

Sarah Schoonmaker said...

I will briefly comment on Dawkins and the Design Inference, but before I begin with this, I want to say that I agree with Groothuis that Dawkins misrepresents the intelligent design argument. Groothuis rightly corrects Dawkins with the statement on intelligent design, "in that it attempts to explain certain finite and material states of affairs through the design inference. It does not operate on some general philosophical principle that anything at all that is complex requires an explanation outside itself."

I also agree with Groothuis' statement that the design inference "does not rely on any
uniquely religious presuppositions nor does it appeal to any sacred texts as premises or conclusions. However, it does challenge any definition of science that limits scientific
explanations to only material, or unintelligent, causes."

With this said, I do not view Dawkins as a serious threat to Theism. One of many reasons points to the issue that Dawkins is too reductionistic. Meaning, to reduce all truth to that which can be "proved" by modern science alone. However, physical science is not all encompassing because we cannot dismiss moral reasoning or introspection just because these are not viewed as physics. For more information on the problems with Dawkins, read Thomas Nagel's article on Dawkins in The New Republic.

Second, while I am undecided whether ID is the superior view, I am currently thinking through Bradley Monton's article "Design Inference in an Infinite Universe," (this article can be found here:, which provides a sound challenge to the design inference. In summary, while his paper is based on the assumption that the universe is spatially infinite, he challenges the notion that specified events of small probability occur by design and argues that the Law of Small Probability is false.

The questions Monton brings up are ones to think seriously about. "Is it really right to say that specified events of low probability do not occur by chance? Note that this is a much stronger claim than, for example, the claim that specified events of low probability are unlikely to occur by chance. How small does a probability have to be in order for a specified event with that probability to never occur by chance?"

Even if the universe is spatially infinite, this does not falsify the design hypothesis. However, with an infinite number of probable outcomes, one cannot conclude that the chance hypothesis should be rejected or that design should be the superior view.

Larry Hamelin said...

Wow... Right off the bat Groothuis goes astray. Dawkins does not address Intelligent Design in The God Delusion, he addresses the philosophical Argument from Design (which includes the Fine Tuning Argument).

Intelligent Design design is not an actual theory; it fails on its own merits, not on its extension to a supernatural being.

This is such a blatant straw man that either Groothuis is shockingly deficient in reading comprehension, or is intentionally dishonest in accurately representing Dawkins' argument.

Larry Hamelin said...

(As observed in the Dover trial, Intelligent Design is not a theory or an argument at all. It is an exercise in dressing up cdesign proponentsistism in scientific language as an end-run around the First Amendment.

The Argument from Design is an actual argument, albeit one that can be adequately refuted by most college freshmen.)

Larry Hamelin said...

[Intelligent Design]
attempts to separate empirical science from a dogmatic
commitment to philosophical materialism, as Philip
Johnson puts it. If successful, a design inference is ‘friendly
toward theism,’ as Stephen Meyer says.

There's so much wrong with this statement. First of all, "materialism" is unacceptably vague: is the relativistic quantum field "material"?

Second, formulating a scientific theory to overcome a philosophical doctrine is a gross misuse of scientific theory: we should find the best scientific theory, the theory that most simply explains the observations, and draw our philosophical and metaphysical conclusions from that theory.

Third, an Intelligent Designer that could be scientifically established by the data would ipso facto be a natural entity (even if it were in some sense dualistic) — a natural entity by definition can be inferred from observation. Therefore, even if it were not utter bollocks, Intelligent Design would not be in the least bit "friendly towards [supernatural] theism."

Larry Hamelin said...

However, [Intelligent Design] does challenge any definition of science that limits scientific explanations to only material, or unintelligent, causes.

This passage is silly. Scientific explanations routinely take into account intelligent causes: i.e. any explanation that includes intelligent human beings.

Scientists do not reject Intelligent Design because it contradicts materialism. They reject it because it is mostly no explanation at all ("Look at this, I can't explain it!"); when it is an explanation, it's obviously false (i.e. irreducible complexity).

Groothuis has materially misrepresented the scientific position against Intelligent Design, a position that's extremely well documented in the public record, available for free on the internet.

Given all the examples of what can be explained only by gross incompetence or intentional mendacity, on what basis do you maintain your "respect" for this individual, John?

Eternal Critic said...

Gotta love the straw atheist who is conveniently lacking in actual knowledge of his subject matter. Dawkins' argument wasn't perfect, but come on.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

There is no straw man in my argument. Dawkins clearly refers to ID and says that any design inference--ID or otherwise--runs aground of the "Who designed the designer?" problem. That is the subject I address and refute in the dialogue.

I read The God Delusion and reviewed for The Christian Research Journal in a 2500 word review.

Anonymous said...

Listen, I don't appreciate some of the comments here or in his guest post. Treat him with respect even if you disagree with his ideas. Have you been on Christian forums? Do you like how they treat you?

Barefoot asked...what basis do you maintain your "respect" for this individual, John?

Doug was an early intellectual hero of mine in a couple of books he wrote, one of which I still have all highlighted up, titled, Unmasking the New Age.

Yes, I maintain he's the best of the best among evangelical apologetics, up there with Dr. Craig and Moreland. In some ways better, but he's not as prolific.

But since you don't think much of Craig or Moreland then you won't think much of Groothuis either. They are the cream of the crop, but that doesn't mean that I disagree with you about the defenses they put up in favor of their faith at all. It's just that if you want to debunk Christianity deal with the best they've got, and he's up there with the best.

Please don't ask me again. I won't change my mind.


Larry Hamelin said...

Sorry to spam the comments, but I have a lot to say about this topic.

Groothuis' article has a purely formal problem. He makes the charge that Dawkins misrepresents the Intelligent Design argument:

Agnes: Dawkins never mentioned this. Did he misrepresent the ID argument?
Theo: In spades, he did!

When you make a charge like this, you must immediately follow it with a quotation to substantiate the charge. The failure to do so in a professionally published essay is prima facie evidence of incompetence or intellectual dishonesty.

Had Groothuis actually quoted Dawkins, it would be immediately obvious that Dawkins in not addressing the biological pseudo-science of Intelligent Design, but rather the Argument from Design (what Dawkins also calls the argument from improbability) (The God Delusion, p 113):

In the traditional guise of the argument from design, it is easily today's most popular argument offered in favour of the existence of God...

The name [the Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit] comes from Fred Hoyle's amusing image of the Boeing 747 and the scrapyard. ... Hoyle said that the probability of life originating on Earth is no greater than the chance that a hurricane, sweeping through a scrapyard, would have the luck to assemble a Boeing 747. Others have borrowed the metaphor to refer to the later evolution of complex living bodies, where it has a spurious plausibility. ... This, in a nutshell, is the creationist's favourite argument.

Dawkins mentions the biological pseudo-science of Intelligent Design only as an aside, as what he sees as a special case of the general argument from design/improbability:

The creationist misappropriation of the argument from improbability always takes the same general form, and it doesn't make any difference if the creationist chooses to masquerade in the politically expedient fancy dress of 'intelligent design' (ID).

It is clear that Dawkins does not address the specific form of biological Intelligent Design, but rather the general form of the argument from improbability. Therefore, Groothuis' assertion that Dawkins misrepresents ID, "[Intelligent Design] does not operate on some general philosophical principle that anything at all that is complex requires an explanation outside itself," is clearly false: Dawkins is explicitly addressing the philosophical argument that does indeed assert that anything that is (sufficiently) complex does require an explanation outside itself.

ChrisB said...


In my experience, sites devoted to Christian apologetics do generally link to opposing views. Those of a mixed purpose rarely do.

Larry Hamelin said...

I have substantiated all my charges with arguments and evidence. If "respect" means keeping silent about the truth then I want nothing to do with it.

I will not comment further on your blog.

Anonymous said...

Barefoot Bum, I was not referring to you in my first paragragh, mostly others. What I wrote after quoting from you was directed at you. Maybe I should've had two comments separating them. I hope this clears up any confusion.

I like your comments until you start repeatedly asking me why I respect the level at which someone represents exactly that which I argue against.

Do as you wish though.

AIGBusted said...

I thought you guys might be interested in seeing my comments on this argument here:


Unknown said...

Shorter Groothuis: My god isn't finite or material, so it doesn't need explanation. (Because I say so, dammit!) I will further cite Dembski, so that everyone will totally take me seriously.

K said...

Intelligent Design is a defunct idea. It's amazing that anyone looking to talk on an intellectual level would continue with it. The concept of ID is nebulous to begin with, and the few claims IDers did make (such as irreducible complexity) have long since been refuted by the scientific community.

K said...

If intelligent design wants to be taken seriously as a science, it needs to answer two questions:
1. What role has the Designer played in the history of nature?
2. How can we test for an Intelligent Designer in nature?

It's important to remember that through scientific inquiry that we've observed the mechanisms under which evolution works. Through these mechanisms we have built up a theory that can explain all of life. Simply saying "God did it" does not explain anything at all, rather the question is how. Is the designer a mutator - and if so, how are these mutations tested for? Is the designer a selector - and if so, how can we test for this action in nature?

Without answering such questions, how can we detect that a designer played a part in the process? ID becomes completely nebulous and there purely to push God into the science classroom. ID being wrong is not to say that a God didn't guide evolution, it's not that it means God doesn't exist. It's just to say that there's no evidence that God did play a part - and to claim otherwise is to fly in the face of scientific inquiry.

Torgo said...

Note on page 8 that Groothuis casually slips from scientific claims (the design inference) to theological ones. When asked where the designer comes from, he doesn't try to give a scientific answer (because he can't), but instead gives traditional monotheistic descriptions of god as self-existent and simple. Who gets to decide such things? And how can such matters be decided scientifically? They can't, and perhaps that's why Groothuis switches over to theology at this point. The design inference, if sound, leaves too many possibilities open as to the identity and attributes of the designer (see Hume). Thus, it is of little to no value to science or theology.

Victor Reppert said...

JWL: BTW Can anyone please tell me any Christian Blog or site that will link to sites like DC, or post my comments, or link to my posts unedited without comment?

VRL I think I know someone. Forget his name.

Greg Mills said...

Torgo -- God is an incoherent concept that gets really mad when you don't believe in it.

Duke York said...

My two cents...

First off, the whole idea of specified complexity is, in itself, a straw man argument. You can only identify SC (or its bastard cousin, irreducible complexity) by excluding chance and necessity; something that cannot be reasonably produced by either chance or necessity is asserted (by the creationists who claim to be "intelligent design theorists") to have either SC or IC.

Unfortunately, no one is claiming that the explanandum (WOW! including needless Latin words in your answer does give it an air of importance! I feel too cool-for-grade-school!) arises from either coincidental assemblage of millions of parts ("chance") or the pure laws of physics ("necessity"). The ID creationists ignore the proposed mechanism (random mutation and natural selection) because they don't like it and they know it works. Unfortunately, recasting your opponents' argument (that you can't answer) as something completely different (that you can) isn't anything to brag about (like knowing the word explanandum.)

This is why it's trivially easy to defeat ID. The creationists' argument is that the explanandum (yay!)could not evolve, and not the much-easier-to-defend argument that it did not evolve in one particular way. All you have to do is show one logically possible path that leads to the explanandum (yay!) and that defeats ID creationism. Of course, the ID creationists will immediately jump to another argument ("But you haven't shown things did evolve that way!") but that's because they know their argument is so weak they must abandon it, like a newspaper boat, in the first strong wind.

Second, it's trivially obvious that the designer's intelligent cannot be "simple" in the way that Groothuis requires, because we now know that intelligence isn't simple and unitary. Decades of study of have shown us that specific trauma to the brain can shut off particular parts of the intelligence while leaving the other pieces intact, and that the victims of such trauma often have trouble telling what parts are missing, confabulating stories to explain the discrepancies. It may have been reasonable for Descartes to think intelligence was a simple, unitary substance back in the seventeenth century, but here in the twenty-first (or even back in the nineteenth, really) it is no longer a viable point of view now, regardless of how useful it is to Groothuis' chosen fairy-tales.

What if the Intelligent Designer's intelligence is of a different sort than ours, with the Designer's being simple where ours is complex? Unfortunately, this leads the ID creationists into the realm of pure false analogy: if the Designer (whose works we much analogize with the works of man) is so different from us, why do we think the analogy will hold at the level of the designed? Because it lets our childhood belief (in a father-figure that lets us extort money from the rubes) continue on, that's why.

Just one more kick to the dog-pile. Boltzmann's kinetic theory of heat is an excellent analogy for the ID "controversy", and like Caliban (little grade-school Shakespeare reference from me! ^_^), I thank Groothuis for giving me the words with which to defeat him. Boltzmann's theory was far more simple than the pre-existing theory of caloric for several reasons. It took a pre-existing idea, that of atoms, for which there had been much argument made (all the way back to Democritus) and treated them in a simple, understandable way that directly related to our understanding (that they were tiny pieces of matter connected to the rest of the material with springs).

Caloric, the gas which previous theories of heat required, was something different all together. It was odorless, colorless, weightless, intangible; the only way to detect it was measure the increase of temperature in a material. You notice that Caloric is completely unlike real gases, just as the ID creationist's definition of intelligence is completely like the intelligence we see in the real world?

Here we see the analogy: Boltzmann's atoms and springs, even if they were as-of-yet undetected, were far superior to caloric, because caloric was, by definition, undetectable. In Groothuis' world, "intelligence" is just like caloric, an odorless, colorless, weightless, intangible gas, that has whatever properties needed to for Groothuis to continue believing his culturally indoctrinated myths.

Adrian said...

Let's not forget that those ideologues at the Discovery Institute who are working to promote Intelligent Design have given many examples of irreducibly complex organisms in the past, all of which have later been proved to have evolved.

What can we learn from the method (not just the motivations of the researchers)? For a start, it not only can reach fallacious conclusions but it has only ever reached fallacious conclusions.

As I think Dr Coyne said, you have to be blind or willfully ignorant to reject evolution for Creationism/Intelligent Design. (You have to be especially blind to not see that ID is Creationism.) It's bad science and bad theology.

Jeff said...

All I got out of this paper was that God doesn't need to be explained because we will arbitrarily define him as infinite, immaterial, self-existent, and simple. The fact that there is no logical necessity to define God as any of these (and that, indeed, cultures throughout history have displayed God(s) as finite, material, created, and/or complex) means that the argument is simply an assertion of a particular definition. It's an assertion that conveniently avoids the actual question that Dawkins asks: Where did God come from? "He's just there!"

Philip R Kreyche said...

All I got out of this paper was that God doesn't need to be explained because we will arbitrarily define him as infinite, immaterial, self-existent, and simple.

This is exactly the problem I have with theistic arguments. "God," currently, is a group of definitions. These attributes have not yet been proven, only asserted and defended as fundamental and definitive, despite the fact that they were simply put there by theists based on what they've gathered from religious teachings and personal philosophical conclusions.

Adrian said...

Yeah, this proof by definition is sorely lacking.

It's especially frustrating when someone presents an argument that, say, God can't be both simple and capable of action and thought, or our observe universe shows God can't be both omnibenevolent and omnipotent. The response is all-too-often to say "God is defined as simple, are you so stupid that you don't know that" or "theologians have always said that God is both omnibenevolent and omnipotent." Show me it's possible, give me some argument, give me some evidence and reason. Just saying "well that's what we believe" just confirms that the belief is inconsistent with reality which makes the smugness of the response appear that much more juvenile.

I know John wants us to show respect for Groothuis, but he really lost me at "Scientism". After that it was hard to read the dialog as anything other than a self-indulgent fantasy. Sorry, but there it is. Apparently this means I don't have a future as a professional philosopher :)

nekouken said...

I was open to the idea that he was reiterating an actual overheard conversation until I reached this point:

Theo: Yes, if the designer is finite and material, that
would be so. But since we are not observing the designer –
but rather using the designer to explain what we observe –
the problem does not arise. It is a mere hypothesis with no
evidence one way or the other.
Agnes (jumping in as Anthony scratches his head in
silence trying not to look flummoxed):

Anthony does, indeed, make some blanket statements that I've heard laypersons make, but he clearly understands enough about science and the scientific method that there's no way this statement would leave him flummoxed. Anthony, with his particular knowledge set, would have been likely to actually respond with something along the lines of this:

"The designer couldn't possibly be hypothetical without evidence one way or another, because in order for there to be a hypothetical designer -- or a hypothetical anything -- there has to be an evidence-based reason to infer its existence: for example, dark matter. We can't see it but we can observe its effects on things we can see, so we can infer its presence. You're claiming that the design inference is evidence enough to infer the existence of a designer, so for the moment I'll ignore that design inference isn't subjective and let it slide that you just contradicted yourself. Even with that granted assumption, though, you run into the problem that once you have a hypothetical something, you then need a means to test your hypothesis. Your designer's existence can't be tested for in any current way, nor can you provide a potential way to test for it that's simply beyond our means. Without any possible way to falsify the claim that a designer exists, the claim is and remains unscientific."