'Reviewing the Reviewers - Pigliucci et al on "Darwin's Rottweiler & the public understanding of science"'

Peter S. Williams

The publication of 'Darwin's Rottweiler & the public understanding of science' in Philosophy Now Issue 44 (Jan/Feb 2004) proved to be quite controversial.  As well as a number of letters (both critical and supportive), my article 'provoked [a] blow-by-blow response from Massimo Pigliucci, Joshua Banta, Christen Boussu, Paula Crouse, Troy Dexter, Kerry Hansknecht and Norris Muth' (hereafter referred to as 'Pigliucci et al' and 'my reviewers'), entitled 'The Alleged Fallacies of Evolutionary Theory', published in Philosophy Now Issue 46 (May/June 2004).

Massimo Pigliucci[1] is an Associate Professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where he teaches ecology and evolutionary biology.  Professor Pigliucci has a PhD in botany from the University of Connecticut and a PhD in philosophy from the University of Tennessee.  Pigliucci has published many technical papers and two books on evolutionary biology (Phenotypic Evolution, with Carl Schlichting, and Phenotypic Plasticity: Beyond Nature vs. Nurture.)  He has been awarded the Oak Ridge National Labs award for excellence in research (several times), and has won the prestigious Dobzhensky prize from the Society for the Study of Evolution (of which he is now vice president).  A self-styled 'skeptic', Pigliucci's articles have appeared in: The Skeptic, Free Inquiry, Philosophy Now and The Philosophers Magazine.  Pigliucci's co-authors are all members of his 'graduate class on evolutionary thinking at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville'.

Pigliucci et al begin their review by noting that although 'the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution is the currently accepted paradigm to explain the history and diversity of life on earth [I grant that it is currently the paradigm most widely accepted by scientists], ever since the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species it has been under attack on a variety of grounds', including some criticisms 'put forth in the philosophical arena . . . where evolutionary theory has often been accused of being incoherent or logically fallacious.' This piece of scene setting is then illustrated with a cautionary tale about philosopher Karl Popper, who once claimed that Darwinism was 'not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research program'[2], but who later retracted his comments 'once it was explained to him that there was quite a bit more to the theory of evolution than he had understood from a cursory examination of the subject.'  I think this preamble is a masterful piece of rhetoric, which implies that 'Darwin's Rottweiler & the public understanding of science' was just such a philosophical attack on the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution, and begs the question of whether I might not have to follow Popper by retracting my ill-conceived critique once my reviewers have patiently explained that there is quite a bit more to the theory of evolution than I (a mere philosopher) have understood.

However, while Pigliucci et al's paper is called 'The Alleged Fallacies of Evolutionary Theory', the paper to which it is responding is referenced as highlighting 'logical fallacies in the writings of Richard Dawkins'.  Indeed.  My paper was not a philosophical attack on evolution.  Rather, it was a philosophical attack on arguments used by Richard Dawkins.  My conclusion even opened with the statement: 'The fact that Dawkins often employs fallacious arguments does not mean that his conclusions are wrong.'[3]

This said, it is not too hard to understand why my article might be construed as an attack on the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution.  I do happen to think that Dawkins' conclusions are wrong.  I am sceptical about the totalising claim that evolution is a sufficient explanation of the biological facts, and I agree with the claims I quoted to this effect from Dr's Dembski, Wells and Woodward.  I also happen to think that Intelligent Design theory (ID) offers a better scientific explanation of the facts.  I even happen to believe that the intelligence inferred by ID is the God of Christianity.  However, all of these beliefs are, strictly speaking, irrelevant to the arguments of 'Darwin's Rottweiler & the public understanding of science'.  My arguments against Dawkins would stand, as written, if all of these beliefs were false. 

In mentioning ID I did of course wish to place ID in the public eye, but I referenced ID to rebut Dawkin's well-poisoning claim (and my reviewers agree that 'Dawkins can indeed reasonably be taken to be "poisoning the well" here') that 'no qualified scientist doubts that evolution is a fact'.[4]

Even stepping beyond the remit of  'Darwin's Rottweiler & the public understanding of science', my problem with evolution as a scientific theory is not philosophical but scientific.  What I have philosophical objections to is not the scientific theory of evolution, but naturalistic evolution, to the philosophical arguments advanced in support of the scientific theory of evolution, and for a naturalistic interpretation thereof, and to Darwinism - the philosophical position that naturalistic explanations must be sufficient and that the whole notion of design should be excluded from scientific consideration a priori.  Of course, anyone with a philosophical bias against making the distinction between evolution and naturalistic evolution, between Darwin's scientific theory and Darwinism, will perceive my philosophical critique of Darwinism as being a philosophical critique of evolution.  Nevertheless, I consider the distinction important, and once this distinction is made, I happen to think that the scientific case for evolution's being a sufficient explanation of the facts is less than impressive and that the scientific case for ID is compelling.

 The Alleged Fallacies Defended

I will work my way through the fallacies I accused Dawkins of committing, quoting from my original critique before responding to Pigliucci et al's review.

1. Self-Contradiction - a statement that refers to and contradicts itself

In an open letter to his daughter Juliet, Richard Dawkins laudably encourages her to think for herself:

Next time somebody tells you something that sounds important, think to yourself: "Is this the kind of thing that people probably know because of evidence?  Or is it the kind of thing that people only believe because of tradition, authority or revelation?"  And next time somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: "What kind of evidence is there for that?"  And if they can't give you a good answer, I hope you'll think very carefully before you believe a word they say.[5]

Dawkins limits what can count as a good reason to believe something so tightly (conflating evidence with empirical evidence) that his encouragement is self-contradictory, because it cannot be justified with anything that he would count as evidence . . .

 Pigliucci et al think that Dawkins does not conflate evidence with empirical evidence, suggesting that I am 'reading too much into Dawkins' advice . . . he is not . . . equating knowledge with scientific knowledge.'

While it is possible to construe what Dawkins means by 'evidence' here more broadly than 'empirical evidence', the whole tenor of Dawkins' writing leads me to conclude that such a charitable interpretation is unwarranted.  Dawkins writes that the way we 'know the things we know'[6] is through empirical 'evidence'[7] such as 'hearing, feeling, smelling.'[8]  Dawkins writes that scientists are 'the specialists in discovering what is true about the world and the universe'[9] (he does not say that scientists are one sort of specialist among others) - an assertion that has profound implications for Dawkins' worldview and is self-refuting because it is a metaphysical claim that leaves no room for metaphysics.

Nor am I alone in detecting a self-defeating epistemology in Dawkins' writings.  Molecular biologist and theologian Alister McGrath writes of an 'unstated (and outdated) philosophical positivism that seems to underlie [Dawkins'] statements on the working methods of the natural sciences.'[10] According to McGrath, Dawkins:

draws a line in the intellectual sand, defined by the assumptions of what seems to be an outdated scientific positivism typical of the late nineteenth century, but which is not taken with any great seriousness by the philosophers of science of the twenty-first century, who tend to regard this as an oddity of largely historical interest.[11]

My reviewers end with a discussion of 'Hume's famous "fork"', saying that one either:

starts with arbitrary or unfounded statements, in which case even logically tight reasoning leads nowhere; or one begins with empirical observations about the world, and philosophy therefore shares some of the limitations of science.  A lot of ink and bad feelings would be avoided if people realized that human beings (with the exception of logicians) cannot attain Truth, but only more or less likely maybes.

It was Hume's fork that led him to argue (in a manner that prefigured the now defunct logical positivism of A.J. Ayer et al) that:

If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.[12]

Unfortunately for Hume, his statement contains no 'abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number' and no 'experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence'.  Hume's assertion is self-contradictory.

I think Pigliucci et al are problematically stingy when it comes to non-empirically founded beliefs.  To our knowledge of mathematical and logical reasoning I would add such properly basic beliefs[13] as intuitions about moral facts, that the world is more than five minutes old, that human memory is generally reliable, etc.  Such beliefs are not justified by empirical observation (you cannot see or taste a moral value), but neither are they 'arbitrary' or 'unfounded' in the sense that reasoning with such beliefs 'leads nowhere'.  If I argue that it is wrong to torture babies for fun, and that I can see someone torturing a baby, that they are therefore doing something wrong, have I used 'logically tight reasoning' to lead 'nowhere'?  Or have I used logically tight reasoning to lead somewhere that is both True and rather significant?

Does the Hume-inspired argument of my reviewers start 'with empirical observations about the world'?  It does not.  It is not an empirical observation that the only alternatives to empirical observation are 'arbitrary' and 'unfounded' statements.  In which case, according to my reviewer's own principles, their argument starts with 'arbitrary' or 'unfounded' statements, and hence 'leads nowhere.'

2. Begging the question - the fallacy of using the conclusion of an argument as one of the premises employed to establish that conclusion

According to the theory of evolution, biological systems evolve through the incremental accumulation of beneficial mutations.  Dawkins explains why: 'The larger the leap through genetic space, the lower the probability that the resulting change will be viable, let alone an improvement.  [Hence] evolution must in general be a crawl through genetic space, not a series of leaps.'[14] He describes this gradual approach to obtaining biological complexity as 'Climbing Mount Improbable.'[15] . . . Dawkins, who assumes that evolution must be true because it is the only theory able to fill in the explanatory gap left by the exclusion of design, is content to say that even though we have no idea what path organisms took up Mount Improbable, they must have done so: 'however daunting the sheer cliffs that the adaptive mountain first presents, graded ramps can be found the other side and the peak eventually scaled'[16] How does Dawkins know that these graded ramps can be found in advance of showing what they are, without even looking for them?  Because Dawkins' justification for this assumption is philosophical rather than scientific: 'Without stirring from our chair, we can see that it must be so',[17] explains Dawkins, 'because nothing except gradual accumulation could, in principle, do the job. . .'[18]  What job?  The job of explaining life naturalistically!  Dawkins' conclusion that species have evolved rests upon his presupposition that there is no designer.

Pigliucci et al begin by agreeing with me:

Dawkins should not have said that one can see the truth of Darwinian evolution without stirring from one's chair.  Evolutionary biology is an empirical science, and it is only because of more than a century and a half of investigation that we have concluded that it is the best available explanation for the history of life on this planet.

Now, I may be being a little pedantic here, but it seems to me that many people reached this conclusion some time before the conclusion of the last century and a half of investigation.  Actually, this point is not as flippant as it may at first seem.  Evolution has become what philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn called 'normal science' - a widely accepted 'paradigm' within which scientific investigation is carried out, rather than upon which investigation is carried out.  ID is controversial precisely because it calls into question the status of evolution as a paradigm.  Nevertheless, it seems that my reviewers agree with me that Dawkins is guilty of begging-the-question, turning what should be a scientific conclusion into a piece of armchair philosophical deduction.  (Of course, Pigliucci et al think that Dawkins' conclusion is true and that it is supported by 'a century and a half of investigation'; whereas I think that Dawkins' conclusion is false and that 'a century and a half of investigation' have actually served to undermine this hypothesis.[19])

Pigliucci et al proceed to chide both Dawkins and myself for failing to make two distinctions:

a) Darwinian gradualism is only one of a panoply of naturalistic explanations of evolution (others include Lamarckism, orthogenesis, and saltationism); while it is indeed the one currently most widely accepted by scientists, it is false to charge that it is the only game in town and is therefore accepted by default. b) Both Dawkins and Williams should make the all-important distinction between philosophical and methodological naturalism.  Philosophical naturalism, the position that all there is to the world is natural phenomena, is indeed outside of science proper.  But what all scientists espouse is methodological naturalism, the operational position that the best way to find a testable explanation for a phenomenon is to assume that only natural laws are at work.

First of all, my criticism was directed at Dawkins' argument, and Dawkins did not make the distinctions recommended by my reviewers.  The closest Dawkins gets to stating the rule of MN naturalism, as far as I can tell, is when (in a discussion about the mind) he simply asserts that: 'The kind of explanation we come up with must not contradict the laws of physics.  Indeed it will make use of the laws of physics, and nothing more than the laws of physics.'[20] But there is nothing here about this being nothing more than a methodological principle.

I happen to find Dawkins' in principle, arm-chair argument for the widely accepted gradualist hypothesis compelling (i.e. if things happened naturalistically then it would have to have been gradualistically), and I think one can reasonably frame the debate here in terms of the 'live' options.  Atheists who seriously wish to return to Lamarckism are welcome to do so!  If Pigliucci et al want to suggest that Dawkins' is guilty of posing a false dilemma before he is guilty of begging the question, then so be it.

More fundamentally, my point about begging the question would apply just as well to someone who argued that Lamarckism must be true 'because nothing except Lamarckism could, in principle, do the job', or that some member or other of the set of naturalistic theories (i.e. Lamarckism, orthogenesis, saltationism or gradualism) must be true 'because nothing except some naturalistic theory could, in principle, do the job'.  If design is excluded a priori then of course some 'naturalistic' explanation must be true (or thought to be true), but it is fallacious to argue that some (or any) naturalistic explanation must be true simply because the only alternative is design.

To add insult to injury, Dawkins presents his gradualist account of evolution as revealing a design free world.  Arguing that neo-Darwinian evolution must be true because the only alternative is design and then arguing that evolution reveals a world without design is question begging.

Pigliucci et al make a big deal of the 'all-important distinction between philosophical and methodological naturalism'.  However, methodological naturalism (MN) excludes design a priori just as effectively as philosophical naturalism.  Had Dawkins argued that gradualism (or even 'some naturalistic theory or other') must be true because nothing else could, in principle, do the job of explaining life whilst obeying the rule of methodological naturalism, we could rightly point out that this conclusion only follows if the assumption 'that only natural laws are at work' is itself true.  If only natural laws are at work, then of course natural laws must have done the work - and the only question would be which naturalistic theory is the best.  However, to argue merely that some particular theory or other is the best available theory that obeys the rule of methodological naturalism rather than arguing that it is the best available theory is to turn science into an intellectual exercise, a game partially divorced from reality (i.e. it will admit reality only in so far as reality conforms to naturalistic expectations).  Science, surely, should aim at answering the question 'What is the best explanation of nature?' not the question 'What is the best explanation of nature if we assume that nature only natural laws are at work?'  As philosopher of science Del Ratzsch observes:

The scientific attitude has usually been characterised as a commitment to following the evidence wherever it leads.  That does not look like promising ammunition for someone pushing an official policy of refusing to allow science to follow evidence to supernatural design no matter what the evidence turns out to be . . .  it commits science to either having to deliberately ignore major (possibly even observable) features of the material realm or having to refrain from even considering the obvious and only workable explanation, should it turn out that those features clearly resulted from supernatural activity . . .  any imposed policy of naturalism in science has the potential not only of eroding any self-correcting capability of science but of preventing science from reaching certain truths.  Any imposed policy of methodological naturalism will have precisely the same potential consequences.[21]

The only way to redeem MN is to show that it cannot possibly subvert the truth seeking intent of science.  If philosophical naturalism is true, then one might think that MN cannot possibly subvert the truth seeking intent of science.  But perhaps philosophical naturalism is not true, and perhaps science should operate without making any assumptions that might force it to ignore reality.

Indeed, the situation is even more complicated, because while the truth of philosophical naturalism would seem to guarantee that all explanations - including explanations is terms of agents - are ultimately reducible to materialistic explanations, the rule of methodological naturalism is not generally stated in a way that distinguishes between proximate and ultimate explanations, and hence tends to exclude a scientific inference to intelligent design irrespective of the question as to whether the intelligence in question can ultimately be explained naturalistically.  Hence, supposing naturalism is true, and supposing the naturalistic Raelian UFO cult are right in their belief that life on earth is the genetically engineered product of an alien civilization (something dramatised in the movie Mission to Mars), MN would prevent science from ever recognizing this truth, irrespective of the evidence!  And yet this truth has nothing to do with the supernatural.

One might therefore suggest that the rule of methodological naturalism should be either discarded or at least stated so as to make a distinction between recognising intelligent design (which is scientific) and supernatural design (which is not scientific, but philosophical).  Call methodological naturalism that does not make this distinction Hard Methodological Naturalism (HMN), and methodological naturalism that does make this distinction Soft Methodological Naturalism (SMN).  The Intelligent Design Movement have adopted SMN, because while they allow science to infer intelligent design (unlike those who advocate HMN) they resolutely refuse to admit metaphysical speculations about the ontological nature of the designer/s into science (unlike 'biblical creationists').  HMN is the mirror image of young-earth creationism, whereas ID takes a middle path.  The hard-line methodological naturalist assumes a priori that intelligence had no scientifically detectable effect upon the history of life, while the creationist assumes that it did (and characterizes that intelligence and its activity very specifically a priori).  The Intelligent Design theorist, qua design theorist, makes neither assumption.  Instead they ask of everything about nature 'Is the best explanation here chance, law, a combination of chance and law, or, failing that, intelligent design?'  Since the design theorist approaches nature with an exhaustive set of conceptual categories (chance, necessity, chance & necessity, or design), he or she is in no danger of having to ignore evidence or of forcing nature into a pre-conceived procrustean bed (like those Jesuits of old who ignored Galileo's evidence).  Anyone who opposes ID on the grounds of methodological naturalism has to stick with HMN, because ID advocates SMN: 'in science', says Larry Witham, 'the question is not between finding natural causes or supernatural causes, but between natural and intelligent ones.'[22] According to William A. Dembski: 'intelligent design . . . detects intelligence without speculating about the nature of the intelligence . . .'[23]

Moreover: 'recent studies in the philosophy of science have confirmed . . . that philosophically neutral criteria that can define science narrowly enough to disqualify theories of creation or design without also disqualifying Darwinism and/or other materialistic evolutionary theories on identical grounds do not exist.'[24] Even Michael Ruse has written that: 'It would indeed be very odd were I and others to simply characterize "science" as something which, by definition, is based on (methodological) naturalistic philosophy and hence excludes God [or 'Design'] . . .'[25]

HMN is an arbitrary philosophical dogma (it is not a product of science, but a questionable philosophical rule about science) in that is applied only selectively within science.  For example, no one would criticise a scientist working on SETI (the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence) for breaking the rule of methodological naturalism if they received a radio-signal from another planet that justified making a design inference (they would be breaking HMN, but not SMN).  No one would throw around 'alien of the gaps' objections either.  No one criticises a forensic scientist for 'breaking the rule of methodological naturalism' when they conclude that someone's death was not due to natural causes, but to the actions of a murderer (again, they would be braking HMN, but not SMN).  As J.P. Moreland writes:

some branches of science, including SETI, archaeology, forensic science, psychology and sociology, use personal agency and various internal states of agents (desires, willings, intentions, awareness, thought, beliefs) as part of their description of the causal entities, processes, events or actions cited as explanations for certain phenomena . . .  Thus there is nothing non-scientific about appealing to personal agency and the like in a scientific explanation[26]

I don't think it too cynical to suggest that the rule of HMN is only applied when people see something supernatural on the horizon - however far off.

Giving up on HMN does not mean giving up on seeking naturalistic explanations and solutions first and/or when appropriate - where the appropriateness of such explanations and solutions is covered by Occam's famous metaphysical razor, which advises us to always pick the simplest adequate theory (and adequacy is the more important criterion).

Pigliucci vs. Methodological Naturalism

In 'The Provine-Scott discussion at the RET: methodological vs. philosophical naturalism', Massimo Pigliucci dissects Dr. Eugenie Scott's defence of the distinction between 'methodological' and 'philosophical' naturalism, and writes that: 'One problem with Scott's dualism is that, even though technically correct, it smacks of political correctness, or at least lacks philosophical courage.'  Pigliucci has reservations about 'methodological naturalism', because while it effectively excludes the supernatural from science it also prevents science from passing any kind of judgement upon the supernatural:

Scott's argument is that science simply does not have anything to say about religion, case closed . . . scientists should go about their business of investigating natural phenomena, and not concern themselves with religious matters of any sort . . .  we are left with the rather unsatisfactory position that science throws a little bit of light in the abyss of the unknown, but not enough to answer perhaps the most important philosophical question of them all: is there something beyond matter and energy?

Pigliucci wants science to be competent at answering the philosophical question of whether or not naturalism is true (and he wants it to support naturalism).  However, buying into a rule that by definition restricts science to giving naturalistic answers means accepting that science is incapable of answering this 'most important philosophical question' without begging the question.  As we have already noted, hard-line methodological naturalism institutionalises the potentiality for a divorce between reality and science.  Pigliucci wants to eradicate the potentiality for this divorce because it cedes power to metaphysics (and religion), and says: 'You can't have it both ways: methodological naturalism implies philosophical materialism.'  According to Pigliucci: 'science cannot prove the inexistence of supernatural phenomena or entities' (I agree), but 'It is perfectly reasonable to reject such phenomena or entities on scientific grounds' - those grounds being the 'provisional' rejection of supernatural explanations where they lack supporting (empirical) evidence.  If we are speaking purely in terms of proximate explanations, then once again, I agree!

Pigliucci's understanding of science has the advantage of allowing one to exclude (albeit provisionally) supernatural explanations (although I would argue only proximate explanations), but it does so at the price of making materialism falsifiable:

falsification of the materialist paradigm is indeed possible.  The recent controversy over the so-called anthropic principle is a case in point.  Should we conclusively determine that the probability of existence of our universe is infinitesimally small, and should we fail to explain why physical constants have assumed the quantities that we observe, the possibility of a designed universe would have to be considered seriously.

I have taken the time to examine Pigliucci's view of the distinction between 'methodological' and 'philosophical' naturalism because my reviewers, among whom Pigliucci is undoubtedly the 'first among equals', make a big deal of the fact that Dawkins and I both fail to make it: 'Dawkins and Williams should make the all-important distinction between philosophical and methodological naturalism'.  Yet Pigliucci clearly doesn't want to make this 'all-important' distinction either!

I can't speak for Dawkins, but I fail to make this distinction because, like Pigliucci, I do not believe it is a helpful distinction to make - or rather, I do not think either Scott or Pigliucci make enough distinctions, since they fail to distinguish between HMN and SMN.  However, while I agree with Pigliucci in rejecting (hard-line) methodological naturalism, I do not wholly agree with his alternative vision of science either.

It seems to me that Pigliucci's problems begin when he demands that science be defined in such a way as to make it competent to pass judgement on philosophical issues of metaphysics ('to answer perhaps the most important philosophical question of them all: is there something beyond matter and energy?').  The proper discipline for dealing with metaphysical questions is surely metaphysics and not science.  Pigliucci's demand for an omnicompitent science that can subsume philosophy is classic scientistism.

I think Pigliucci is right to define science in such a way that it makes the explanations demanded by (hard-line) 'methodological naturalism' falsifiable.  Interestingly, when Pigliucci discusses the anthropic argument, he lays down what would seem to amount to a pre-theoretic version of William A. Dembski's 'Design Filter', which infers design when an objective, independent specification (e.g. the set of physical laws required by a life sustaining universe) are exhibited at sufficiently low probability ('Should we conclusively determine that the probability of existence of our universe is infinitesimally small . . .').  No doubt, Pigliucci and I differ on whether we can indeed infer that our universe is the product of design - but at least there would seem to be agreement on the criteria for making such a judgement.

Where Pigliucci goes wrong is in thinking that making such a judgement would directly falsify philosophical naturalism (and that the mere possibility of making such a judgement therefore makes philosophical naturalism falsifiable), or that even the possibility of such supposed falsification means that science is after all competent to pass judgement on metaphysical questions.  Pigliucci's problem here, I suggest, is a failure to distinguish between HMN and SMN.

It seems to me that an inference to design based upon such criteria as Pigliucci gestures towards is a fully scientific enterprise based upon empirical evidence and past experience.  (Pigliucci certainly doesn't indicate that were his test for falsification met it would be anything other than a scientific test or a scientific falsification.)  Pigliucci et al affirm that: 'If I know that certain kinds of red wine (e.g. high in sulfates) are prone to cause headaches in certain individuals, and if I repeatedly observe that when I drink those kinds of wine I often develop a headache the following morning, then I am logically justified in tentatively concluding (pending further evidence) that my headaches really are caused by high sulfates levels in red wine . . .'  Likewise, if I repeatedly observe that when I know the origin of something that seems to exhibit specified complexity that origin is an intelligent agent, then I am logically justified, when observing an example of apparent specified complexity, in tentatively concluding (pending further evidence) that it was caused by intelligent agency.  What I am not justified in concluding (pace Pigliucci), on this basis alone, is that the agency in question must be supernatural.  Naturalism does not hang by quite such a thin thread as this (not once we distinguish SMN from HMN)!  The scientific detection of design in nature (whether in biology or physics) does not answer the philosophical question as to the ontological status of the designer/s.  However, I am not sure whether Pigliucci will find this fact much of a comfort, for it means that there is simply no getting away from the fact that metaphysical questions require metaphysical answers and that science cannot subsume philosophy as he desires (rather, philosophy subsumes science, which is, after all, 'natural philosophy').

Of course, if design is detected in the natural world of biology (e.g. Michael Behe's irreducibly complex biochemical machines) or physics (e.g. the 'anthropic' fine-tuning of the cosmos) then the philosophical question of which philosophical and/or religious worldview best explains the evidence comes into prominence.  And while philosophical naturalism can be made logically compatible with inferring that biological life contains examples of scientifically detectable design (perhaps aliens did it) or that the big-bang was fine-tuned (perhaps we are the product of incredibly powerful alien intelligences in a parallel universe), such moves are ad hoc and invite a regress of explanation not faced by theism.  Nevertheless, it is too simplistic to say that science can straightforwardly falsify philosophical naturalism, or verify theism.  Rather, science can provide empirical data and scientific hypotheses that, when examined philosophically, can be argued to count against philosophical naturalism and for theism.

3. The False Dilemma - Two choices are given when in actuality there are more choices possible.

(Readers will note that Pigliucci et al have already accused Dawkins of committing this fallacy above.)

When it comes to explaining biological reality, Dawkins asserts: 'The only thing [William Paley] got wrong - admittedly quite a big thing - was the explanation itself.  He gave the traditional religious answer [that life was created by God]. . .  The true explanation is utterly different, and it had to wait for one of the most revolutionary thinkers of all time, Charles Darwin.'[27] Dawkins fails to point out that belief in the doctrine of creation and the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection are in fact compatible.  Michael Poole explains why the choice between creation and evolution is a false dilemma:

When giving causal explanations, it needs to be made clear whether the causes in question are primary (ultimate) or secondary (immediate, proximate) ones and also whether they are to be given in terms of an agent or a process.  There is no logical blunder being committed if it is claimed both that 'God made the universe' and 'the universe was the result of a "Big Bang".'  It is a logical error to hold that an explanation of cosmological mechanisms involved necessarily excludes divine agency.  It certainly appears to be a common error to regard explanations of agency and explanations of process as alternatives.  Perhaps the form of this mistake which generates most heat and lest light is the claim that one has to choose between 'God created humankind' and 'humankind was the result of an evolutionary process.'[28]

First of all, Pigluicci et al think I am guilty of equivocating on Paley, because Paley was not talking about God as 'the agent determining biological complexity' after the manner of a theistic evolutionist, but as 'being the mechanism', as in the proximate efficient cause of biological complexity as well as the ultimate cause: 'In other words, it is anachronistic to see Paley as a theistic evolutionist . . .' I agree.  However, my point was that Dawkins sets up a false dilemma between saying that either Paley was right (and God is the proximate efficient cause of biological complexity) or Darwin was right and biological complexity is the result of evolution.  Theistic evolution is a legitimate option that Dawkins fails to mention, and he is thus guilty of posing a false dilemma.

Secondly, Pigluicci et al agree with Michael Poole and myself that 'agency and mechanism are not necessarily mutually exclusive', however, they add that: '"God did it"' simply does not qualify as a scientific explanation (or, in fact, as any sort of explanation), because it doesn't add anything to the explanatory schema.'  It should be noted that nowhere do I claim that 'God did it' is a scientific explanation!  Indeed, I am happy to say that 'God did it' is not a scientific explanation.  However, if my reviewer's criticism does not apply to 'an intelligent agent did it' (and surely it cannot), ID is in the running as a scientific explanation.  And if ID is in the running as a scientific explanation, then 'God did it' is in the running as the best metaphysical interpretation of ID.  If, on the other hand, my reviewer's criticism is meant to apply to 'an intelligent agent did it', then so much the worse for forensic science, SETI, archaeology, cryptography and psychology as sciences!  We are back to the arbitrary, stultifying rule of HMN.

I do not understand how 'God did it' fails to count 'as any sort of explanation . . . because it doesn't add anything to the explanatory schema.'  I am certainly not happy to agree with this statement.  Surely 'God did it' adds both the existence of God and a certain act of omnipotent will on God's part to the explanatory schema!  It is rather startling to suggest that generations of humans have been mistaken in the widely held belief that 'God did it' is an explanation of some kind or other - whether true of false.  I see no reason to think that 'God did it' is any less of a purported explanation than 'a man did it'.  The sceptic can't argue on the one hand that 'God did it' adds nothing to the explanatory schema and on the other hand that 'God did it' adds something false to the explanatory schema.

Although my reviewers affirm that 'agency and mechanism are not necessarily mutually exclusive', they also affirm that 'an explanation is an account of mechanisms (such as natural selection).'  What they appear to give with one hand is seemingly taken away by the other.  Hence my reviewers apparently think that agency is not any kind of explanation because it is not a physical mechanism, and that 'God did it' does not count as an explanation because it is not a naturalistic explanation!

Granting that 'God did it' is not a scientific explanation (something that supporters of ID accept) has no bearing on the fact that Dawkins presents us with a false dilemma when he implies that either evolution did it or God did it (and then argues that since evolution did it God did not do it).

4. The Fallacy of Equivocation - a word is used in two different contexts and is assumed to have the same meaning in both contexts, when distinct meanings ought to be preferred.

In Climbing Mount Improbable Dawkins draws a distinction between objects that are clearly designed and objects that are not designed but superficially look a bit like they are designed, which he calls 'designoid'[29] and illustrates with a craggy hillside that suggests the profile of the late President Kennedy: 'Once you have been told, you can just see a slight resemblance to either John or Robert Kennedy.  But some don't see it and it is certainly easy to believe that the resemblance is accidental.'[30] Dawkins contrasts this Kennedy-esque hillside with the president's heads carved into Mt. Rushmore, which 'are obviously not accidental: they have design written all over them.'[31] Dawkins asserts that no biological organisms are designed; they are (at most) designoid: 'Designoid objects look designed, so much so that some people - probably, alas, most people - think that they are designed.  These people are wrong. . .  the true explanation - Darwinian natural selection - is very different.'[32] The meaning of Dawkins' crucial term shifts significantly in the course of his argument.  Dawkins' original definition of a designoid was of something with the superficial appearance of design.  People have to have the resemblance between the hillside and Kennedy pointed out to them; some people 'don't see it'[33]; and 'it is certainly easy to believe that the resemblance is accidental.'[34] Later, Dawkins wants to convince us that, although some biological objects give such a strong appearance of design that 'most people'[35] intuitively think that they are designed, they are in fact designoid.  Dawkins' argument equivocates between 'things that look a bit like they might be designed, but on closer inspection obviously are not' and 'things that give every appearance of being designed, but are not'.

Pigliucci et al say that I take Dawkins to task for shifting the meaning of the term 'designoid' which was 'coined to explain why the appearance of design in biological organisms is just that, an appearance.' This is of course the very point at issue - whether or not the admitted appearance of design in biological organisms is (or is always) only 'an appearance.'

Pigliucci et al think that my criticism of Dawkins 'is partly right here' because 'Dawkins did choose a bad example, and for fundamentally wrong reasons' when he illustrated the concept of a 'designoid' with a hillside that looks a bit like a Kennedy from the right angle.  The problem with Dawkins' analogy, according to Pigliucci et al, is that 'The resemblance of the cliff outcropping to a human face is the result of entirely random causes . . . while biological organisms are the outcome of two processes: mutation (which is indeed random) and natural selection (which is anything but random).' Of course, whether or not everything about all biological organisms is indeed the outcome of nothing but these natural forces, one random (mutation) and one non-random (natural selection), is the very point in question.  However, Pigliucci et al agreee that 'Dawkins' designoids don't cut it' and argue that this is because his original illustration provides a poor mechanistic analogy for the organism producing forces at work in evolution:

Dawkins' fundamental point can be rescued by simply using a better analogy.  There are natural, non-biological, processes that convey the impression of intelligent design and provide us with a more closer parallel to evolution. For example, on many rocky beaches, pebbles are sorted by size going from the waterline towards the interior, in a distinctly non-random pattern.  This is not because somebody got all the pebbles out of the ocean, carefully weighed them, and then constructed the beach.  Rather, the pattern was created by the joint action of two processes: the (random) action of waves and the (non-random) effects of gravity.

Is this new analogy for 'designoid' any better than Dawkins'?  If anything, it is a worse analogy, because people do not intuit the presence of design when observing beaches!  The sorting of pebbles on a beach simply does not 'convey the impression of intelligent design', whereas Dawkins' Kennedy-esque hillside does at least convey the initial impression of intelligent design.  Hence Dawkins' hillside analogy, while a worse analogy for the process of evolution, is the better illustration of the concept of a 'designoid', and the pebble-sorting of Pigliucci et al, while a better analogy for evolution, is a worse illustration of the concept of a 'designoid'!  What Darwin's defenders need here is a good illustration of 'designoid' that is also a good analogy for evolution; but like Dawkins', my reviewers provide an illustration that tends to reinforce the intuitive conclusion that the appearance of design in nature is not deceptive.

How could pebbles on a beach convey the impression of design?  A random spread of pebbles (as might be achieved either by simply tipping pebbles onto the sand, or by very deliberately placing each and every pebble in such a way as to mimic a random distribution of pebbles) would not do the trick.  Such a distribution of pebbles is complex, but it lacks specificity.  But nor does having the pebbles 'sorted by size going from the waterline towards the interior, in a distinctly non-random pattern.'  Such a distribution of pebbles is specific ('distinctly non-random') but without being particularly complex.  Perhaps if the pebbles were lined up in very neat rows and were very precisely sorted . . .  What definitely would tip us off to the presence of design is if the pebbles were arranged to spell out the words 'We hope you enjoy this beach'.  Such an arrangement, which exhibits an independent specification at very low probability, is a reliable indicator of design (Pigliucci's discussion of the anthropic principle indicates that he would, or should, agree).  Such an arrangement of matter not only 'looks a bit like it might be designed at first glance' - like Dawkins' hillside, or perhaps my reviewers beach - but gives every appearance of being designed.  If one cannot infer design from such an arrangement of matter, then matter simply cannot be arranged in a way that clearly signals design!  Only a dogmatic commitment to methodological naturalism would prevent one from saying that such a pattern was the result of design.

People's intuitive impression that nature is the result of design does not rest upon an explicit appeal to such design inferences (it wouldn't be intuitive if it did - and I think that aesthetic factors have an input here as well), but one cannot dismiss such an intuition by coining a word that means 'something that gives a superficial impression of design', illustrating this concept with an example of something that gives a superficial impression of design (and my reviewer's example is worse than Dawkins' here), and then asserting that although nature gives an overwhelmingly stronger impression of design, it is, as best, 'designoid'.  To do so is to rely upon no-one noticing that your key term is being asked to shift its meaning in order to bear more weight than it was designed to take.

It's all very well to argue that things that do not require explanation in terms of design can give a superficial impression that they do require such an explanation (e.g. Dawkins' Kennedy-esque hillside), call such things 'designoid', and draw the moral that we therefore need to be careful about when we attribute something to design; it is quite another thing to observe pebbles on a beach that spell 'We hope you enjoy this beach' and to assert that this pattern is 'designoid'!

However it is illustrated, Dawkins' does equivocate over his key term, which begins life meaning 'something that gives a superficial impression of design' and ends up meaning 'a thing that gives every sign of being the product of design, but isn't.'  Dawkins needs 'designoid' to carry this latter meaning because he accepts that: 'When a biologist looks at particular organs or organisms, an eye or a brain, what he sees is a machine, which has every indication of being designed for a purpose.'[36] Such an equivocation turns an innocuous concept into an empirically vacuous concept that begs the question by smuggling in the metaphysical assumption that intelligence is incapable of outperforming the design-producing resources of nature in such a way as to leave reliable, empirically detectable indicators of its activity.  Yet when Dawkins is not concerned with design-proofing biology, he does not hold that intelligence is incapable of outperforming the design-producing resources of nature in such a way as to leave reliable, empirically detectable indicators of its activity , because he employs a pre-theoretic version of William A. Dembski's 'Design Filter', motivating the inference to design from the presence of specified complexity.  Mt. Rushmore, argues Dawkins, is clearly not designoid: 'Its four heads are clearly designed,'[37] and the fact that it is designed is empirically detectable because: 'The sheer number of details [i.e. the amount of complexity] in which the Mount Rushmore faces resemble the real things [i.e. the complexity fits four specifications] is too great to have come about by chance.'[38] In terms of mere possibility, says Dawkins: 'The weather could have done the same job. . .  But of all the possible ways of weathering a mountain, only a tiny minority would be speaking likenesses of four particular human beings.'[39] Hence: 'Even if we didn't know the history of Mount Rushmore, we'd estimate the odds against its four heads being carved by accidental weathering as astronomically high. . .'[40] This is Intelligent Design reasoning, the only difference being that Dawkins refuses to apply his own design-detection criteria to nature.

5. The Non Sequitur - 'Comments or information that do not logically follow from a premise or the conclusion.'[41]

Stephen M. Barr's review of Dawkins' Unweaving the Rainbow is spot on:

It is not often that one can find exactly the point where an author goes off track, but here one can.  It is in the fifth sentence of the preface of the book, which begins, 'Similar accusations of barren desolation, of promoting an arid and joyless message, are frequently flung at science in general.'  However, what people object to in Dawkins is not the science but the atheism.  Because he cannot see the difference, he writes a book that is a 300-page non sequitur.[42]

Pigliucci et al find it 'a bit difficult to make sense of what exactly the charge is here, and especially why this would be an example of non sequitur.'  Allow me to elucidate my point.  Dawkins reports that some people find the message of his books to be one of 'barren desolation', and he says that this accusation is 'frequently flung at science in general'.  In Unweaving the Rainbow Dawkins seeks to rebut the accusation of 'barren desolation' by defending the thesis that science leads to an increased appreciation of the wonders of nature.  Stephen M. Barr suggests that the source of 'barren desolation' in Dawkins' books is not science but Dawkins' naturalism - which Dawkins wraps up in science (as when he says that science reveals a world without design, or that science destroys the concept of a soul or life after death).  One may accept Dawkins' argument that science per se does not lead to 'barren desolation' without accepting that he has therefore defended his books against the charge that they convey a 'barren desolation'.  What Dawkins really needed to do was to defend naturalism against the charge of 'barren desolation'.  To defend science against this charge as if one were thereby defending naturalism is an example of a non sequitur.  Just because science is not desolating in its effects is no reason to acquit naturalism of the same charge.

Pigliucci et al misconstrue my criticism and incorrectly 'take it that William's intended target of criticism is the move from modern science's discoveries to the philosophical position of atheism . . .' They admit that: 'if what Dawkins means is that atheism is logically implied by evolution, then he is surely wrong.'  However, my supposed criticism is not accepted wholesale, for:

to deduce philosophical (moral, existential, etc.) conclusions from the best available knowledge of the world is certainly not illogical, and seems to be the rational thing to do.  The important distinction, therefore, is between an atheism that is informed by science (which is plausible), and one that is made logically necessary by science (which is illogical).

I am of course happy to agree with Pigliucci et al that atheism is not made logically necessary by science - but I don't think Dawkins advances such a claim and I was not criticising him for making such a claim.

I have nothing against an atheistic worldview being informed by science, or even against anyone trying to support an atheistic worldview by an appeal to science (although I think such an attempt fails).  However, Pigliucci et al here reveal their shared assumption that science provides 'the best available knowledge of the world' and that 'conclusions' of a 'philosophical (moral, existential, etc.)' nature can be deduced from scientific knowledge.  This is an extraordinary assertion.  As historian and philosopher of physics Dr. Bruce L. Gordon writes:

There are many areas to which science cannot speak directly and many questions that it cannot answer . . .  Science cannot speak directly to questions of the ultimate purpose of human existence, nor about the ultimate purpose of the universe itself.  There are certain scientists, Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg among them, who contend that the universe has no purpose.  But such pronouncements do not by any means follow from the theories they construct, nor do they follow from any aspect of their scientific work.  Science also cannot tell us what we ought to do, what is morally right and what is morally wrong.[43]

As even Dawkins affirms: 'Science has no methods for deciding what is ethical.'[44] 

Science (depending, of course, upon how one understands what science is) may be the best available way of obtaining knowledge about the natural world; but does science provide knowledge about the world that is better than the knowledge provided by our everyday sense-perceptions, the operations of our memory, or our intuitive knowledge of logic and moral values upon which the very practice of science depends?  Can conclusions about morality really be deduced from science?

6. Special Pleading (double standard) - 'a fallacy in which a person applies standards, principles, rules, etc. to others while taking herself (or those she has a special interest in) to be exempt, without providing adequate justification for the exemption.'[45]

Dawkins thinks that using 'God' to explain anything is redundant: 'To explain the origin of the DNA/protein machine by invoking a supernatural designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the designer.'[46] Dawkins' objection to the God hypothesis is a double-edged sword that counts against all scientific explanations, including evolution.  One might as well say that invoking evolution by natural selection explains precisely nothing because it leaves unexplained the origin of life capable of evolving; that invoking the supposed 'chemical evolution' of life from non-life explains precisely nothing because it leaves unexplained the existence of chemicals; or that invoking the finely-tuned laws of physics that underlay the big bang and the subsequent cosmic evolution that produced the chemicals explains nothing because it leaves unexplained the origin and fine-tuning of the fundamental laws of nature.  Naturally, Dawkins wants to invoke all of these theories; he just wants to exclude design.  However, trying to have it both ways involves Dawkins in the use of a double standard.

Pigluicci et al see three problems with my position here:

First, natural selection was never meant as a theory of life's origins, while 'God did it' clearly is.  Second, Dawkins would be engaging in special pleading if he had not provided an account of how natural selection (not life) began, since the explanatory principle parallel to 'God' here is selection, not life (life is what needs to be explained on either 'hypothesis').  But evolutionary biology does have an explanation for how natural selection comes into being; it happens as soon as there is a population of self-replicating, variable, molecules.  No such explanation is available for God.  Third - once again - 'God did it' is not an explanation, but a fancy way of admitting ignorance: an explanation is an account of mechanisms (such as natural selection), not a label to put on the facts.

If, as I suspect, 'an account of mechanisms' actually means 'an account of naturalistic mechanisms', then we are back with the problem of philosophical, or at least methodological, naturalism.

Again, I fail to see how 'God did it' does not qualify as an explanation (and again, anyone who wishes to say that it is a false explanation must at least admit that it is an explanation), any more than 'a murderer did it' fails to qualify as an explanation in forensic science rather than as 'a fancy way of admitting ignorance . . . a label to put on the facts'.  The assumption here is clearly that there must be an explanation that does not involve the actions of an intelligent agent (i.e. God) when it comes to accounting for the natural world.

Evolutionary biology does indeed propose 'an explanation for how natural selection comes into being' (i.e. 'it happens as soon as there is a population of self-replicating, variable, molecules'); however, the lack of such an explanation would not count against proposing natural selection as an explanation for speciation (it didn't stop Darwin doing so, after all).  In science one does not have to have an explanation for one's explanation before one can count it as an explanation!  Indeed, to require all explanations to have explanations leads to an infinite regress of explanation that can never be satisfied.  As William Lane Craig comments: 'It is widely recognized that in order for an explanation to be the best explanation, one needn't have an explanation of the explanation (indeed, such a requirement would generate an infinite regress, so that everything becomes inexplicable) . . . believing that the design hypothesis is the best explanation . . . doesn't depend upon our ability to explain the designer.'[47]  As Dembski notes: 'The who-designed-the-designer question invites a regress that is readily declined . . . because such a regress arises whenever scientists introduce a novel theoretical entity . . . the question is whether design does useful conceptual work.'[48] Besides, 'God' is by definition not the sort of entity that could possibly have an explanation, whereas 'life' or 'DNA' is.

We might question whether Dawkins has provided an account of how natural selection began, since he actually admits ignorance (the lack of an explanation) when it comes to the origin of something capable of evolution, and argues that although the origin of a population of self-replicating and variable molecules seems unlikely, it must have happened because it is necessary for a naturalistic account of life (cf. point 2 - Begging the Question).  If we decide not to count Dawkins' speculative a priori deduction that abiogenesis was both possible and actual as 'an account of how natural selection (not life) began', then according to Pigliucci et al 'Dawkins would be engaging in special pleading'.

7. Wishful Thinking - 'a fallacy that posits a belief because it or its consequence is desired to be true.'[49]

Discussing the theory of 'chemical evolution' or abiogenesis (the supposed naturalistic appearance of life from non-life), Dawkins says: 'Nobody knows how it happened but, somehow, without violating the laws of physics and chemistry, a molecule arose that just happened to have the property of self-copying - a replicator.'[50] Dawkins' belief in abiogenesis is wishful thinking in that he wants it to be true because it is necessary for an atheistic account of origins, despite there being a large body of scientific evidence against the theory.

According to Pigliucci et al:

Williams comes really close to catching Dawkins (but not science in general) in flagrante delicto.  Dawkins is cited by Williams writing that nobody knows how life on earth originated, but it must have been by natural causes.  If Dawkins is reaching this position - as Williams alleges - because of his philosophical position of naturalism (i.e. atheism), then he is in fact engaged in wishful thinking (though no more than the other side when they say that life must have originated from an act of special creation).

So far, so good.  However, Pigliucci et al want to suggest:

a more moderate interpretation of Dawkins' statement: he is just being a good scientist in accepting as a matter of methodology that the only way to find a scientific explanation for the origin of life is to tentatively assume that there is one that doesn't include supernatural intervention.

First, I hope I am not being uncharitable, but I just don't find this 'moderate interpretation of Dawkins' statement' to be a plausible interpretation of Dawkins' position.  Dawkins' does not argue that 'as a matter of methodology' he is 'tentatively' going to 'assume' that life arose by some natural process.  He argues that although nobody knows how it happened, a molecule that just happened to have the property of self-copying somehow did in fact arise through an entirely naturalistic process ('without violating the laws of physics and chemistry'[51]).

Second, if we consider the more moderate statement provided by Pigliucci et al we cannot avoid confronting the issue of 'methodological naturalism'.  There are many problems with my reviewer's suggestion: The issue of 'supernatural intervention' is not the primary issue here.  Rather, the primary issue is the proximate causal activity of intelligent agency (which may or may not be 'supernatural').  And just how 'tentative' is the 'assumption' that there is an explanation for the origin of life that doesn't include the proximate causal activity of intelligent agency?  Surely both methodological and philosophical naturalism require that this assumption is not tentative at all.  Is the rule of 'methodological naturalism' even justifiable in the first place?  I have argued that it is not, and Pigliucci concurs (albeit for slightly different reasons).

As an aside, Pigliucci et al 'point out that William's statement that there is "a large body of scientific evidence against" a naturalistic theory of the origin of life is simply false (see, for example, The Emergence of Life on Earth: a Historical and Scientific Overview. by I. Fry, Rutgers University Press, 2000.)'  The concept of abiogenesis (originally held by ancient Greek thinkers such as Anaximander and Aristotle) was revived in the twentieth century when Stanley Miller and Harold Urey recreated in the laboratory what they believed to be an accurate representation of the early earth's atmosphere, and managed (whilst mostly producing oils and tars) to produce some amino-acids by passing an electric spark through their mixture of gases.  However: 'The "prebiotic soup hypothesis," popularized by Miller's experiment, came under withering criticism from chemists for ignoring the role of competing and destructive cross-reactions. . . that would be expected in any hypothetical ocean or pond.'[52] Moreover: 'Miller and Urey's experiment only works as long as oxygen is absent and certain critical ratios of hydrogen and carbon dioxide are maintained'[53], and scientists now think that oxygen was present in the early earth's atmosphere: 'the early atmosphere looked nothing like the Miller-Urey simulation.'[54] As Dean L. Overman explains: 'The presence of even a small amount of oxygen, assiduously avoided in the laboratories of these experiments, would prevent the formation of amino acids and nucleotides. . .'[55] Of course, if oxygen were not present, the molecules of life would have been unprotected from deadly ultraviolet radiation: 'What we have then is a sort of "Catch 22" situation.  If we have oxygen we have no organic compounds, but if we don't have oxygen we have none either.'[56] Hurbert P. Yockey comments: 'The "Warm little pond" scenario was invented ad hoc as a materialistic reductionist explanation of the origin of life.  It is unsupported by any other evidence and it will remain ad hoc until such evidence is found.'[57]  The amino acids generated by tightly controlled and unrealistic laboratory experiments are far less complex than the simplest protein molecules required for life: 'Miller's optimism has now all but evaporated, as experiments based on his model have failed to produce a number of components essential to life.'[58] Therefore, as Chemist Jonathan Sarfati writes: 'the very roots of the alleged evolutionary tree are in very bad shape.'[59]

As Phillip E. Johnson complains: 'The naturalistic evolution of life from prebiotic chemicals and its subsequent naturalistic evolution into complexity. . . is assumed [by Darwinists] as a matter of first principle. . .'[60] In fact, there doesn't appear to be anything like sufficient evidence for abiogenesis, for as Walter L. Bradley observes: 'the origin of a sophisticated system that is both rich in information and capable of reproducing itself has absolutely stymied origin-of-life scientists.'[61]

Not only does naturalistic science lack an explanation of how life is supposed to have arrived on the cosmic scene, it actually lacks any evidence that life 'just happened'.  As G.A. Kerkut of the Department of Physiology and Biochemistry at the University of Southampton writes, it is 'a matter of faith on the part of the biologist that biogenesis did occur. . .'[62] That abiogenesis 'just happened', as Dawkins' comments make clear, is a philosophical deduction entailed by the assumption of naturalism.  It is, as chemist Robert Shapiro writes: 'mythology rather than science.'[63]

Stephen C. Meyer calculates that: 'the probability of constructing a rather short functional protein at random [is] so small as to be effectively zero. . .'[64] In other words, not only does naturalistic science lack an explanation of how the chemistry of life arose, or evidence to show that life 'just happened', it also flies in the face of evidence that life didn't 'just' happen!

8. The Red Herring - 'A Red Herring is an irrelevant topic or premise brought into a discussion to divert attention from the topic at hand. Usually, the irrelevancy is subtle, so that it appears relevant to those not paying close attention.'[65]

Dawkins considers the odds against the chance formation of an enzyme: 'A typical enzyme is a chain of several hundred links. . .  An elementary calculation shows that the probability that any particular sequence of, say 100, amino-acids will spontaneously form is. . . 1 in 20100.  This is an inconceivably large number, far greater than the number of fundamental particles in the entire universe.'[66] Dawkins is not cowed by this figure, however, because 'Darwinism is not a theory of random chance.  It is a theory of random mutation plus non-random cumulative natural selection.'[67] Introducing the theory of evolution by natural selection to solve the problem of enzyme formation is a red herring because the evidence suggests that 1) nothing can reproduce to be selected without utilizing enzymes in order to reproduce, and 2) certain enzymes appear to be 'irreducibly complex' and thus inaccessible to any process of natural selection.[68]

The comment from Pigliucci et al that 'evolution by natural selection is not, and was never meant to be, a theory of life's origins' actually confirms my point that Dawkins is guilty of introducing a red herring when he says that the problem of enzyme formation (that it is very unlikely) can be dealt with by an appeal to evolution by natural selection.  This is a red herring because the evidence seems to show that nothing can reproduce to be selected by natural selection without using enzymes in the very process of reproducing.  So what if 'natural selection is (demonstrably) perfectly capable of changing and improving the catalytic actions of proteins'?  This is all besides the point - a red herring.

Pigliucci et al admit, along with Dawkins, that 'it is true that we still don't know how the first replicators originated', and they correctly state that 'what is needed for a naturalistic theory of origins is that the first replicators were simple enough to originate randomly.'  On the naturalistic hypothesis the first replicators have to be simple enough to originate randomly precisely because natural selection cannot explain the origin of anything that is a precondition of natural selection - and replicators are a pre-condition of natural selection.  Piggliucci et al assert that the random origin of the first replicator 'does not seem an inordinately unlikely supposition.'  Note, first of all, that the chance origin of the first replicator is precisely a 'supposition'.  Note, secondly, that Dawkins' own calculation shows that the probability that any particular sequence of 100 amino-acids will spontaneously form is 1 in 20100!  That seems 'inordinately unlikely' to me.

Finally, I did not (or did not intend to) introduce 'the concept of "irreducible complexity" of proteins as if it were widely accepted in science' as Pigliucci et al state.  I merely introduced the concept, as one that I accept - along with people like Douglas Axe, Michael Behe, William Dembski and Scott Minnich - and which I think poses an additional problem for Dawkins' claim that evolution can account for the origin of life.  Indeed, Massimo Pigliucci writes that: 'Behe . . . does have a point concerning irreducible complexity . . . irreducible complexity is indeed a hallmark of intelligent design.'[69] Pigliucci is happy with the concept of irreducible complexity, but not the evidence for irreducible complexity.  If there is evidence of irreducible complexity in living organisms, then Pigliucci would agree that it is evidence of intelligent design: 'irreducible complexity is indeed a valid criterion to distinguish between intelligent and nonintelligent design.'[70] However, Pigliucci thinks that: 'there is no evidence so far of irreducible complexity in living organisms.'[71] Others disagree.[72]

9. Straw Man Argument - 'a type of Red Herring that attacks a misrepresentation of an opponent's position. That is called to burn a straw man.  It is a surprisingly common fallacy, because it is easy to misunderstand another person's position.'[73]

According to Dawkins: 'Science shares with religion the claim that it answers deep questions about origins, the nature of life and the cosmos.  But there the resemblance ends.  Scientific beliefs are supported by evidence, and they get results.  Myths and faiths are not and do not.'[74] But as McGrath responds:

Dawkins's caricature of Christianity may well carry weight with his increasingly religiously illiterate or religiously alienated audiences, who find in his writings ample confirmation of their prejudices, but merely persuades those familiar with religious traditions to conclude that Dawkins has no interest in understanding what he critiques. . .  The classic Christian tradition has always valued rationality and does not hold that faith involves the abandonment of reason or the absence of evidence.  Indeed, the Christian tradition is so strong on this matter that it is often difficult to understand where Dawkins got these ideas.[75]

Pigliucci et al think that it is curious that 'Williams . . . takes this to be an attack on Christianity in particular . . .' I did not take Dawkins' comments to be an attack on Christianity in particular (although it would be fair to say that Dawkins' most usual religious target is Christianity), but it certainly is an attack upon Christianity (since Christianity is a 'religion', a 'faith'), and as a Christian I am only concerned to defend the Christian religion against Dawkins' criticism.

Pigliucci et al also think it curious that my response should be to point out that 'there has been a strong Christian tradition of valuing rationality', because Dawkins' claim was 'that religion is not based on evidence, which is not the same as accusing religious people of not valuing rationality.'  However, the quote from Alister McGrath which I used by way of a response to Dawkins' straw man argument explicitly stated that 'Christian tradition has always valued rationality and does not hold that faith involves the abandonment of reason or the absence of evidence.' (my italics.)  Hence, although I did not only mention evidence, it is not true to say that I did not mention evidence.  I find it curious that Pigliucci et al should concentrate on the issue of valuing rationality (which is, admittedly raised by McGrath) to the detriment of the issue of valuing evidence (which is raised by both Dawkins and McGrath).  My reviewers' exclusive focus on the rationality issue illegitimately suggests that my critique of Dawkins was a red herring.  Indeed, my reviewers' exclusive focus on rationality is itself a red herring.

Moreover, I take issue with my reviewers' treatment of the rationality issue, because they write that: 'One can construe rational arguments in favor of the existence of God, but one cannot provide any evidence to back up such constructs.  Science is an inextricable combination of rationality and evidence: without the latter, it would not be different from logic or philosophy.'  Once again, a soft form of scientism seems to pervade my reviewer's comments, as the 'rational arguments' of philosophy are walled-off from the evidence utilising constructs of science.  In fact, theistic arguments advanced by philosophers often appeal to evidence, such as the scientific evidence for big-bang cosmology, the scientific evidence for the degree of 'fine-tuning' exhibited by the universe (something we have already seen Pigliucci reference as a possible defeater for naturalism) or the statistical likelihood of protein formation, the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus or for other alleged miracles, the evidence of personal religious experience, etc.  Pigliucci et al can argue that such arguments are unsound, but they can hardly argue that such arguments in favor of the existence of God do not appeal to or provide any evidence to back up such constructs.  Does this mean that the theistic arguments of such philosophers as William P. Alston, William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland and Richard Swinburne are in fact scientific arguments?  Or does it mean that science cannot be so easily walled-off from philosophy?

Finally, my reviewers drag up the ghost of the Galileo affair to remind me that the Church has sometimes put strict limits upon free inquiry:

The scholarly tradition of the Catholic Church is surely well represented by the Jesuits (for example, they run the Vatican astronomical observatory in Italy), and yet it was the Jesuits who opposed Galileo and famously refused to acknowledge the observational evidence he was providing though his telescopes.  It is hard to think of a better example of how differently science and religion approach the relationship between rationality and faith.

In fact, it is hard to think of a better example of how a reigning scientific paradigm can cause people to dogmatically stifle scientific dissent.  Ironically, in our own age it is the rule of 'methodological naturalism', which my reviewers urge upon me as being 'all-important', that prevents scientists from considering the evidence for design and turns science into a search for the best naturalistic explanations rather than a no-holds-barred search for the truth.

10. Ad Hominem - the fallacy of attacking the individual instead of the argument (Ad Hominem is Latin for 'against the man.')

According to Dawkins: 'Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy are part of the charm of childhood.  So is God.  Some of us grow out of all three.'[76] Dawkins implies that anyone who believes in God is childish because belief in God is childish - but even if he were right about this, childish beliefs can still be right (e.g. children correctly believe that it's fun to play on swings and that having friends is a good thing).

In reply, Pigliucci et al write:

Dawkins, in his characteristic bluntness, likens people who believe in God to children who believe in Santa Claus.  Williams takes this to be an ad hominem attack, and hence a logical fallacy.  Williams then goes on, somewhat curiously, to state that even children are sometimes right, and that therefore one cannot dismiss childish beliefs altogether.  We chastise Dawkins for his language, which is sure to inflame and certain not to gain him much sympathy.  On the other hand, this hardly qualifies as a fallacy because Dawkins is not using the 'belief in God = childish thinking' equation as an argument against the existence of God.  On the contrary, he begins with the premise that God is a fairy tale and then deduces (in a perfectly logical manner', if one accepts the premise) that believing in God is as childish as believing in fairy tales.  Of course children (or childish adults) can be right about certain things, but Socrates (in Plato's Meno) convincingly argued that true belief without cause is nothing to brag about.

Dawkins asserts that belief in God is 'part of the charm of childhood' - along with belief in Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy - but that while some of us 'grow out' of all three beliefs, some of us fail to grow out of belief in God; hence belief in God is just as childish as belief in Father Christmas, and people who believe in God are therefore 'childish' in this respect.  To the statement 'I believe in God', Dawkins is in effect responding: 'How childish you are.'  Hence he is attacking the person who makes the claim that God exists - irrespective of their purported reasons for belief - rather than their claim that God exists.  Attacking the individual rather than the claim they make is to argue ad hominem.  Furthermore, while a 'childish' claim such as 'Father Christmas is real' is false, a 'childish' claim such as 'having friends is a good thing' is true.  Hence, saying that a belief is 'childish' hardly settles the question of whether it is true or false, and even if belief in God were childish, saying so would not settle the question of its truth or falsity.

11. Poisoning the well - 'a form of Ad Hominem attack that occurs before the meat of an argument, biasing the audience against the opponent's side before he can present his case.'[77]

Don't pay attention to anyone who doubts evolution in any way, because they aren't properly qualified scientists, they are only motivated by religious fundamentalism, and they are either mad or bad!  That's Dawkins' well-poisoning take-home message about evolution-sceptics.  It isn't true.

Against overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Dawkins 'has called anyone advocating a creator God "scientifically illiterate".'[78] . . . Taken in any substantive sense, Dawkins' assertion that 'no qualified scientist doubts that evolution is a fact'[79] is incorrect.  Dr. Jonathan Wells is a qualified scientist, a post-doctoral biologist in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California at Berkley.  According to Wells: 'The Darwinian paradigm is in serious trouble, of the kind that matters most in science: it doesn't fit the evidence.'[80] In response to a recent American television series on evolution, 132 qualified scientists signed a joint statement saying: 'We are sceptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.'[81] According to a press release from the organisers, the Discovery Institute:

Signers of the statement questioning Darwinism came from throughout the US and from several other countries, representing biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, geology, anthropology and other scientific fields.  Professors and researchers at such universities as Princeton, MIT, U Penn, and Yale, as well as smaller colleges and the National Laboratories at Livermore, CA and Los Alamos, N.M., are included.[82]

Dawkins would have us believe that since these people doubt evolution, they can't possibly be 'qualified' scientists.  With Dawkins, it seems that the only qualification that counts is belief in evolution.

Dawkins lumps the scientific movement advocating Intelligent Design Theory[83] together with 'biblical creationism', calling Intelligent Design Theory (ID) a 'euphemism for creationists.'[84] In reality, 'some of the strongest critics of Darwin's theory are scientists who happen to be non-fundamentalist Protestants, Catholics, or Jews (as well as agnostics).'[85] Thomas Woodward, author of Doubts about Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design, repudiates the claim that ID is motivated by religious premises:

in the course of hearing how key Design advocates came to their current view, it became clear that their entry into the movement stemmed from intellectual or scientific - not religious - reasons. . .  Several of the founders frequently relate a vivid tale of how they previously had assumed the validity of Darwinian scenarios and were later shocked to discover major weaknesses in the case for Darwinism.  Typically this intellectual epiphany leads to further reading and research, which cements the new radical doubt about the theory's plausibility.[86]

One leading advocate of ID, William Dembski, is at pains to stress that Intelligent Design Theory is not 'creationism':

the design theorists' critique of Darwinism in no way hinges on the Genesis account of creation.  On no occasion do design theorists invoke Genesis 1 and 2 as a scientific text. . .  The design theorists' beef is not with evolutionary change per se, but with the claim by Darwinists that all such change is driven by purely naturalistic processes. . .  the design theorists' critique of Darwinism begins with Darwinism's failure as an empirically adequate scientific theory, and not with its supposed incompatibility with some system of religious belief.[87]

Dawkins once claimed in the New York times that 'it is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or  wicked, but I'd rather not consider that).'[88] On the contrary, as Dembski writes: 'one can be reasonably well-adjusted, remarkably well-educated (as many design theorists are), and still think Darwinism is a failed scientific paradigm.'[89] Dembski, whose work on The Design Inference was published by Cambridge University, has a PhD in the philosophy of science and a PhD in mathematics (from the University of Chicago), and is currently associate research professor in the conceptual foundations of science at Baylor University.  According to Dembski:

The following problems have proven utterly intractable not only for the mutation-selection mechanism but also for any other undirected natural process proposed to date: the origin of life[90], the origin of the genetic code[91], the origin of multicellular life, the origin of sexuality[92], the scarcity of transitional forms in the fossil record[93], the biological big bang that occurred in the Cambrian era[94], the development of complex organ systems and the development of irreducibly complex molecular machines.[95]  These are just a few of the more serious difficulties that confront every theory of evolution that posits only undirected natural processes.  It is thus sheer arrogance for Darwinists like Richard Dawkins. . . to charge design theorists with being ignorant or stupid or wicked or insane for denying the all-sufficiency of undirected natural processes in biology. . .[96]

As Woodward explains:

respected professors at prestigious secular universities are rising up and arguing that (1) Darwinism is woefully lacking factual support and is rather based on philosophical assumptions, and (2) empirical evidence, especially in molecular biology, now points compellingly to some sort of creative intelligence behind life. . .  this story veers away from the usual theistic evolutionary story ("based on the evidence, theistic scientists are now concluding that God worked through evolution") and from the classic creation science tale ("scientists are recognizing that genesis is literally true after all").[97]

Pigliucci et al affirm that 'Dawkins can indeed reasonably be taken to be "poisoning the well" here.'  However, although they 'agree with the criticism of Dawkins' language', they attempt to mitigate this concession by suggesting Dawkins' language is 'clearly hyperbolic (heck, if one searches hard enough one can find qualified scientists who doubt quantum mechanics, by most accounts the best scientific theory of all time!)'.  I would question the comparison between scientists who doubt quantum mechanics (do Pigliucci et al mean the maths or the interpretation - of which I am told there are at least ten?) and scientists who doubt evolution.  Without figures for both groups it is hard to substantiate either an analogy or dis-analogy here - but the number of scientists who doubt evolution certainly runs into the many hundreds, if not thousands, and I doubt this is the case with quantum mechanics.  There are, after all, various professional associations of scientists who doubt evolution (including both 'creationists' and 'ID' theorists), but not, as far as I know, of scientists who doubt quantum mechanics.

Furthermore, Pigliucci et al think I am being:

rather disingenuous (and relying on an appeal to authority, a fallacy in itself) when he quotes three allegedly qualified and unbiased authors on his behalf: William Dembski, Johnathan Wells, and Thomas Woodward.  All three are open Christian apologists, and therefore cannot seriously be considered to be ideologically unbiased . . . Moreover, Dembski has degrees in mathematics and philosophy, Woodward teaches theology at a fundamentalist Christian school for ministers, and Wells has a degree in biochemistry and molecular biology.  None of them are qualified to comment on evolution for the simple reason that their degrees are not in any of the organismal biological sciences . . . Just because one has a PhD one is not automatically qualified to pontificate on all topics, as much as one's ego might incline one to think so.

First of all, I repudiate the suggestion that an appeal to authority is always a fallacy.  As Nigel Warburton states:

There are very good reasons for deferring to experts on a wide range of matters.  Life is too short, and intellectual ability too varied for everyone to be an expert on everything.  There is a division of intellectual labour which makes it sensible to seek the views of experts when we move into a realm in which we have little reason to feel confident about our own knowledge and opinions.[98]

Or as Wesley Salmon says:

It would be a . . . mistake to suppose that every appeal to authority is illegitimate, for the proper use of authority plays an indispensable role in the accumulation and application of knowledge . . . The appeal to reliable authority is legitimate, for the testimony of a reliable authority is evidence for the conclusion.[99]

Second, I quoted Dembski, Woodward and Wells as authorities qualified to comment on the fact (denied by Dawkins) that there are qualified scientists who doubt evolution.  All three sources are certainly in a position to make this assertion with authority.  For example, Thomas Woodward, a graduate of Princeton University and Dallas Theological Seminary, received his PhD in Communication from the University of South Florida, where he specialised in the Rhetoric of Science and wrote his dissertation, 'Aroused from Dogmatic Slumbers', on the rhetorical history of the Intelligent Design Movement.  Woodward has subsequently published a book on the same topic (cf. Thomas Woodward, Doubts about Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design, Baker, 2003).  Woodward is chair of Theology and Biblical Studies at Trinity College of Florida, and this is admittedly not a qualification relevant to the topic at hand, but mentioning this fact as if he had no qualification more relevant to the topic at hand, is hardly fair.

Dembski, Woodward and Wells are no more or less 'allegedly . . . unbiased' or 'ideologically unbiased' than Pigluicci (or his graduate class).  I might as well say that Pigluicci is an open apologist for skepticism 'and therefore cannot seriously be considered to be ideologically unbiased'.  However, such comments, in either direction, constitute an attack ad homiem, and are no substitute for engaging with the issues.  As Nigel Warburton explains: 'simply pointing out that someone has a vested interest in a particular outcome is an ad hominem move of the getting personal kind, it in no way demonstrates that they are less than impartial.'[100]

True, none of my sources has a degree in 'the organismal biological sciences' - but I disagree with the assumption that only someone with such a degree is qualified to make pronouncements either about whether or not qualified scientists doubt evolution (which was my main point), or indeed, upon the soundness of evolution.  Dembski's expertise in philosophy of science and statistics is hardly irrelevant to the debate about evolution (cf. his work on the design inference).  Nor can Well's subject of biochemistry and molecular biology be dismissed as irrelevant to the debate about evolution.  If biochemistry has nothing to do with evolution, such that expertise in biochemistry fails to qualify one to argue about its validity, why has biochemist Michael Behe's arguments about the irreducible complexity of biomolecular machines been thought to pose any kind of threat to evolutionary theory?  Why hasn't Behe been dismissed as 'irrelevant' and 'unqualified to comment' rather than opposed as straightforwardly wrong?

Besides which, I referenced the 132 'qualified scientists' who signed a statement saying: 'We are sceptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.'[101] (Around 300 scientists have now signed the statement.)  Note that some of these scientists have degrees in biology, hence it would be incorrect to suggest that evolution is only doubted by scientists who do not specialise in biology.  For example, Paul Chien has a PhD in biology from the university of California, Irvine, and is a professor (and ex-chair) in the Department of Biology at the University of San Francisco.  Chien is sceptical about evolution (cf. 'The Cambrian Explosion: Biology's Big Bang', co-authored with historian and philosopher of science Stephen C. Meyer, palaeontologist Marcus Ross and philosopher of biology Paul Nelson, in John Angus Campbell (ed.) Darwinism, Design, And Public Education, Michigan State University Press, 2003) and he recently translated Phillip Johnson's Darwin on Trial into Chinese.  As Gordon Graham, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen, says of Darwinism: 'Suffice it to say that there are dissenting voices, and dissenting voices from within biology itself . . .'[102]

Nor can the points I make with Dembski, Woodward and Well's be dismissed because they are all Christians (any more than Pigliucci's arguments can be dismissed simply because he is an atheist).  For example, biochemist Michael J. Denton is (as far as I can discover) an agnostic turned deist (he is certainly not a Christian apologist) who writes: 'I am sceptical that major evolutionary changes or macroevolution can be adequately accounted for in terms of the Darwinian model; that is by the gradual accumulation of small selectively advantageous mutations.  I am unaware of any objective or quantitative evidence to support Darwinian claims.'[103]


I am thankful to my reviewers.  As Michael Ruse says: 'Every scholar needs critics . . .  Critics read one's work with care, keep one in the limelight, and help in the ongoing development and clarification of one's thinking.'[104] In particular, I have enjoyed the opportunity to clarify my thinking about the rule of methodological naturalism in dialogue with Pigliucci's comments on the subject.  I hope my reviewers will be similarly grateful.

Pigluicci et al think that Dawkins can rightly be 'taken to task for his language', which 'is sure to inflame and certain not to gain him much sympathy'.  They agree with me that Dawkins commits a number of logical fallacies:

My reviewers also think that my charge that Dawkins equivocates over the concept of 'designoid' is 'partly right'.  Finally, they accept that Dawkins might be guilty of 'wishful thinking' and employing the 'non sequitur' that atheism is logically implied by evolution.  Hence Dawkins has received a rap on the knuckles from his fellow Darwinians, and my critique of Prof. Dawkins is judged to be 'partly right'.

However, taking my reviewer's response to my original paper in its totality, I think it fair to say that I am thought to be more wrong than right, and that I am basically accused of being uncharitable with Dawkins' comments and of attacking a 'straw man' as a result.  I do not think this is the case, and hope that I have done enough to rebut this charge; but then attacking a straw man 'is a surprisingly common fallacy, because it is easy to misunderstand another person's position.'[105] My reviewer's comments not withstanding, it seems to me that Dawkins does indeed commit all eleven fallacies listed in 'Darwin's Rottweiler & the public understanding of science'.

I have also been struck by the fact that Massimo Pigliuuci accepts the design-detection criteria advocated by the Intelligent Design movement (certainly Behe's concept of 'irreducible complexity', and probably Dembski's 'Design Filter').  Once the detectability of intelligent design is granted, two issues stand in the way of accepting ID as a scientific paradigm.  The first is the philosophical issue of whether one is in principle prepared to accept the conclusion of 'design' on an evidential basis, or whether one is going to exclude following the evidence (whatever it might be), to such a conclusion on some a priori basis (such as an adherence to philosophical or methodological naturalism).  Despite recommending the distinction between philosophical and methodological naturalism to both Dawkins and myself, Dr. Pigliucci is personally critical of such a distinction (perhaps his opinion here was submerged by the opinion of his six co-authors).  Indeed, Pigliucci sets aside HMN when he argues that if the evidence for cosmic fine-tuning were compelling, then it would falsify philosophical naturalism.  While I have argued that such falsification would be indirect, and would rely upon adding philosophical argumentation to the scientific evidence, we both agree that the question of design should be on the table as it were, and judged according to the evidence rather than dismissed a priori ('Should we conclusively determine that the probability of existence of our universe is infinitesimally small . . . the possibility of a designed universe would have to be considered seriously').

It seems to me that the usual rule of (hard-line) 'methodological naturalism' is an arbitrary piece of philosophical dogma that turns science into an intellectual exercise rather than a search for the truth.  Making a distinction between HMN and SMN means that philosophical questions about the ontological status of the designer/s can be left out of science, such that philosophical naturalism is therefore at least logically compatible with intelligent design theory.  At a philosophical level of analysis, I think that ID is harder to square with philosophical naturalism than with philosophical supernaturalism.  Nevertheless, picking the best explanation of intelligent design is not a task that can be accomplished by science alone.  Pigliucci will, I think, have to learn to live with the conclusion that: 'science throws a little bit of light in the abyss of the unknown, but not enough to answer perhaps the most important philosophical question of them all: is there something beyond matter and energy?'

If design-detection criteria (e.g. the presence of 'irreducible complexity') are agreed upon, and if it is agreed not to prejudice the results of applying them to nature a priori, the only remaining issue is of course whether there is sufficient evidence, a posteriori, to justify making a design inference.  Pigliucci thinks not, but he is open to the possibility (for example, he writes: 'there is no evidence so far of irreducible complexity in living organisms.'[106]).  The dispute here is a dispute about evidence, about the empirically knowable facts of the matter - it is, in that sense, a scientific dispute.  I think it bears repeating that Pigliucci both accepts the criteria of design-detection advocated by ID theorists and dismisses HMN.  Implicitly at least, he thereby grants that ID is scientific.  What he does not grant is that the explanatory sufficiency of evolution has been evidentially falsified or that the theory of ID evidentially verified - but at least this is a dispute that can take place on a level playing field.

To turn the tables on my reviewers, I think that they are overly charitable to Dawkins and that they commit some of the same fallacies.  I think their epistemology is too narrowly scientistic, their endorsement of methodological naturalism misguided, and their assessment of the evidence for evolution too optimistic.  I am not ready to follow in Popper's footsteps yet.

Recommended Reading

Alvin Plantinga, 'Methodological Naturalism?' @


Peter S. Williams, 'Darwin's Rottweiler & the public understanding of science', Philosophy Now Issue 44 (Jan/Feb 2004)

Massimo Pigliucci et al, 'The Alleged Fallacies of Evolutionary Theory', Philosophy Now Issue 46 (May/June 2004)

Massimo Pigliuuci, 'The Provine-Scott discussion at the RET: methodological vs. philosophical naturalism' @ www.rationalists.org/rc/1998_spring/provine-scott.htm

John Angus Campbell & Stephen C. Meyer's (ed.'s), Darwinism, Design, And Public Education, (Michigan State University Press, 2003)

[1] cf. www.infidels.org/library/modern/massimo_pigliucci/index.shtml
[2] Karl Popper, Unended Quest, 1976.
[3] Philosophy Now 44, p. 22.
[4] Richard Dawkins, A Devil's Chaplain, p. 220.
[5] ibid, p. 248.
[6] ibid, p. 34.
[7] ibid.
[8] ibid.
[9] ibid, p. 242.
[10] Alister McGrath, Re-enchanting Nature, p. 162-163.
[11] ibid, p. 163.
[12] David Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.
[13] cf. Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function, (Oxford, 1993).
[14] Dawkins, 'Darwin Triumphant', A Devil's Chaplin, p. 86.
[15] Dawkins, Climbing Mount Improbable, (Viking, 1996).
[16] Dawkins, A Devil's Chaplain, p. 211-212.
[17] ibid, p. 212.
[18] ibid.
[19] cf. Michael Behe, Darwin's Black Box, (Free Press, 1996).
[20] Dawkins, 'Is Science Killing the Soul?' @ www.edge.org/3rd_culture/dawkins_pinker/debate_p11.html
[21] Del Ratzsch, Science & Its Limits, (Leicester: Apollos, 2000), p. 123-124.
[22] Larry Witham, By Design, (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2003), p. 143.
[23] William A. Dembski, Mere Creation, (Downers Grove: IVP, 1996), p. 17.
[24] DeWolf et al, 'Teaching the Controversy: Is it Science, Religion, or Speech?', John Angus Campbell & Stephen C. Meyer's (ed.'s), Darwinism, Design, And Public Education, (Michigan State University Press, 2003), p. 79.
[25] Michael Ruse, Can a Darwinian be a Christian?, p. 101.
[26] J.P. Moreland, 'Theistic Science & Methodological Naturalism', Moreland (ed.), The Creation Hypothesis, p. 55.
[27] Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, (Penguin, 1991), p. 41.
[28] Michael Poole, 'Explaining or Explaining Away', Science & Christian Belief
[29] Dawkins, Climbing Mount Improbable, p. 4
[30] ibid, p. 3.
[31] ibid.
[32] ibid, p. 4-5.
[33] ibid, p. 3.
[34] ibid.
[35] ibid, p. 4.
[36] Richard Dawkins, in interview with Keith Ward, The Turn of The Tide, (BBC, 1986), p. 28, my italics.
[37] ibid.
[38] ibid.
[39] ibid, my italics.
[40] ibid.
[41] www.carm.org/apologetics/fallacies.htm
[42] Stephen M. Barr, 'Prophet of Pointlessness', First Things, August/September 1995.
[43] Bruce L. Gordon, 'Is Intelligent Design Science?', William A. Dembski & James M. Kushner (ed.'s), Signs of Intelligence, (Brazos Press, 2001), p. 202.
[44] Dawkins, A Devil's Chaplain, p 34.
[45] www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/special-pleading.html
[46] Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, op cit, p. 141.
[47] William Lane Craig, 'Why I Believe in God', in Norman L. Geisler & Paul K. Hoffman (ed.s'), Why I Am A Christian, (Baker, 2001), p. 73.
[48] William A. Dembski, No Free Lunch, (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), p. 354.
[49] www.tektonics.org/fallacies.html
[50] Dawkins, Climbing Mount Improbable, op cit, p. 259.
[51] ibid.
[52] Thomas Woodward, Doubts About Darwin, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), p. 44.
[53] Dean L. Overman, A Case Against Accident and Self-Organization, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2001), p. 41.
[54] Jon Cohen, 'Novel Center Seeks to Add Spark to Origins of Life', Science 270, (1995), p. 1925-1926.
[55] Overman, op cit, p. 41.
[56] Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, (Woodbine House, 1996), p. 262.
[57] Hurbert P. Yockey, 'A calculation of the Probability of Spontaneous Biogenesis by Information Theory,' Journal of Theoretical Biology 67, (1977), p 377.
[58] John Blanchard, Does God Believe in Atheists?, (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2000), p. 292.
[59] Jonathan Sarfati, Refuting Evolution 2, (Master Books, 2003), p. 58.
[60] Phillip E. Johnson, 'Positional Paper on Darwinism', Woodward, Appendix 2, op cit, p. 219.
[61] Walter L. Bradley, in Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith, (Zondervan, 2000), p. 100.
[62] G.A. Kerkut, Implications of Evolution, (Pergamon Press), p. 150, quoted by John Blanchard, Does God Believe in Atheists?, (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2000), p. 297.
[63] Robert Shapiro, Origins: A Skeptic's Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth, (New York: Summit Books, 1986), p. 112.
[64] Steven C. Meyer, 'The Explanatory Power of Design' in William A. Dembski (ed.), Mere Creation, (Downers Grove: IVP, 1998).
[65] www.tektonics.org/fallacies.html
[66] Dawkins, op cit, p. 66.
[67] ibid.
[68] William A. Dembski, 'Three Frequently Asked Questions About Intelligent Design' @ www.designinference.com/documents/2003.09.ID_FAQ.pdfcf. 'The DNA-Enzyme System is Irreducibly Complex' @ www-acs.ucsd.edu/~idea/DNA-enzyme.htm; D.D. Axe, 'Extreme Functional Sensitivity to Conservative Amino Acid Changes on Enzyme Exteriors', Journal of Molecular Biology, 301 (2000), p. 585-595.
[69] Massimo Piggliucci, 'Design Yes, Intelligent No', Darwin, Design, And Public Education, p. 467.
[70] ibid, p. 471.
[71] ibid, p. 467.
[72] cf. D.D. Axe, 'The DNA-Enzyme System is Irreducibly Complex' @ www-acs.ucsd.edu/~idea/DNA-enzyme.htm; D.D. Axe, 'Extreme Functional Sensitivity to Conservative Amino Acid Changes on Enzyme Exteriors', Journal of Molecular Biology, 301 (2000), p. 585-595; Michael J. Behe, Darwin's Black Box, (Free Press, 1996); William A. Dembski, No Free Lunch, (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002).
[73] www.tektonics.org/fallacies.html
[74] Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden, (Windfield & Nicolson, 1995), p. 33.
[75] Alister McGrath, op cit, p. 156-157.
[76] Richard Dawkins, Thirdway Magazine, June 2003, Vol. 26, No. 5, p. 5.
[77] www.tektonics.org/fallacies.html
[78] Julia Hinde, 'Does God Exist?', Harriet Swain (ed.), Big Questions in Science, (Jonathan Cape, 2002), p. 2.
[79] Dawkins, A Devil's Chaplain, op cit, p. 220.
[80] Jonathan Wells, 'The Intelligent Design Movement, Evangelical Scientists, and the Future of Biology,' in Darwinism Defeated?, Phillip E. Johnson & Denis O. Lamoureux et al., (Regent College Publishing, 1999), p. 137.
[81] cf. www.discovery.org/articleFiles/PDFs/100ScientistsAd.pdf,www.arn.org/docs2/news/100scientists0929.htm
[82] www.reviewevolution.com/press/pressRelease_100Scientists.php
[83] cf. www.arn.org/idfaq/What%20is%20intelligent%20design.htm
[84] Dawkins, op cit, p. 219.cf. John G. West, 'Intelligent Design and Creationism Just Aren't the Same' @www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?program=CRSC&command=view&id=1329
[85] ARN guide to Evolution, p. 98.
[86] Thomas Woodward, Doubts about Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design, (Baker, 2003), p. 10 & 20.
[87] Dembski, 'What Every Theologian Should Know about Creation, Evolution, and Design', William A. Dembski & Jay Wesley Richards (ed.'s), Unapologetic Apologetics, (IVP, 2001).
[88] Richard Dawkins in The New York Times, quoted by Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial, (Downers Grove: IVP, 1993), p. 9.
[89] Dembski, op cit.
[90] cf. Charles B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley, Roger L. Olsen, The Mystery of Life's Origin, (Lewis and Stanley, 1992).
[91] cf. Stephen C. Meyer, 'DNA and Other Designs' @www.arn.org/docs/meyer/sm_dnaotherdesigns.htm
[92] 'how sex began and why it thrived remain a mystery.' - B. Wuethrich, 'Why Sex? Putting the Theory to the Test', Science 281:1980-1982, 1998.
[93] The fossil record does not reveal a gradual development from simple to more complex species with numerous intermittent forms as predicted by Darwin's theory; instead 'the record reveals the sudden appearance at differing times of information-rich organisms within a hierarchical diversity of species with apparently no precursors.' - Francis J. Beckwith, Law, Darwinism, and Public Education, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), p. 118.
[94] 'Fossils of the earliest animals appear from around 570 million years ago (the Cambrian period), but within 25 million years all the main animal groups had arisen.  This apparent 'Cambrian explosion' of activity is not readily explicable in Darwinist terms'. - Andrew Barton, Questions of Science, (Kingsway, 1999), p. 143.  cf. Stephen C. Meyer, Paul A. Nelson & Paul Chein, 'The Cambrian Explosion: Biology's Big Bang' @ www.discovery.org/articleFiles/PDFs/Cambrian.pdf
[95] cf. Michael J. Behe, Darwin's Black Box, (Free Press, 1996).
[96] Dembski, 'What Every Theologian Should Know About Creation, Evolution & Design', op cit, p. 231.
[97] Woodward, op cit, p. 196.
[98] Nigel Warburton, Thinking From A To Z, (second edition, Routledge, 2003), p. 132.
[99] Wesley C. Salmon, Logic, Foundations of Philosophy Series, (Prentice-Hall: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1963), p. 63-64.
[100] Warburton, op cit, p. 143.
[101] cf. www.discovery.org/articleFiles/PDFs/100ScientistsAd.pdf,www.arn.org/docs2/news/100scientists0929.htm
[102] Gordan Graham, Genes: A Philosophical Inquiry, (London: Routledge, 2002).
[103] Michael J. Denton, quoted from his professional resume, cf. Thomas Woodward, Doubts About Darwin, p. 57.
[104] Michael Ruse, 'On Behalf of the Fool', Darwinism, Design, And Public Education, op cit, p. 475.
[105] www.tektonics.org/fallacies.html
[106] ibid, p. 467, my italics.