Report #1 on Questions to Calvert

I have had a short email exchange with John Calvert concerning the questions I have asked him in the past (See He did provide some short answers to the questions, but he didn’t give me permission to make his responses public, and he didn’t want to continue the discussion. Therefore, I will paraphrase his answers, with occasional short quotes.

One of the things he said was that he had a number of published works that one could consult to see his take on things. The problem with this response is that he thus avoids responding to criticism of his ideas. I know what his ideas are, because I have read his works: what I want him to do is subject his ideas to scrutiny - to listen to critiques, answer questions, and otherwise defend his views.

I asked two sets of questions, one on religion and “theistic evolutionists,” and the other on the “theory of Intelligent Design.” I’m going to discuss the “theory of Intelligent Design” questions here, and the religion ones in a separate post. Let me take the questions in reverse order of interest.

1. First, Calvert accepts an old-earth and the mainstream sequences and ages of organisms. He has said this before, and does not equivocate as some IDists do. (See at the Panda’s Thumb) This is interesting because a number of the creationist Kansas Board members and science writing committee are young-earthers, and Board president Steve Abrams definitely has some interest in asking young-earth questions about such things as the validity of radiometric dating.

2. In response to a number of questions Calvert says there is no current scientific answer. For completeness sake, these questions were:

2) *How* is the design implemented? What are the *mechanisms* by which the designer has caused its design concepts to be become actualized in the world?

5) What is the nature of the relationship between design and naturally occurring processes (law and chance)?

a) Can the designer design anything, biological or otherwise, or is the designer constrained in any way?

b) Is the designer active all the time, or only periodically?

c) Can the designer completely override the effects of law and chance, or does design interact with law and chance in ways that are beyond the designer’s control?

3. My question 3 asked this: “Exactly which phenomena have been designed, and which haven’t. Has design occurred once, a few times, every time a new species has arisen, or when?”, and then asked more specifically, “Is every act of speciation a designed event?, “ and “What happens when a new species (or whatever) is designed.”

Calvert doesn’t have answers to these questions, but he says that “serious design scientists” use (or would use) “statistical calculations regarding probabilities” and calculations of “the odds of major increases in complexity.” Of course, here is where merely pointing to his published works and declining further discussion protects him from the inevitable follow-up questions: what means of calculated these probabilities have been developed; and where, and in regards to what, have these putative “serious design scientists” employed these methods?

He does make some interesting remarks about speciation, twice saying that the definition of a species is an issue, and expressing doubt that speciation has ever been observed. He seems to say that speciation would occur in the “biological software,” by which I assume he means the genome. He then goes on to say that the “Darwinist” would explain this by random mutations, but that the design theorist might argue that those changes were directed and not truly random.

This brings up a number of comments and follow-up questions:

So is common descent true or not? What is the Intelligent Design theory on this? (I think the waffling on this topic is at least as great among creationists as it is on the age of the earth.) If the designers can guide mutations at the genetic level through a series of changes to create a new species, then how does this theory differ from “theistic evolution” which holds the theological view that God designs through evolutionary processes?

And if Intelligent Design does accept common descent, but renounces theistic evolution (which it does), what empirical means does Intelligent Design propose to substantiate the difference it and theistic evolution?

And if Intelligent Design denies common descent, what does it propose? If the designers can make new species without parent-child relationships with previous organisms, how do they do that? Do they create new organisms from scratch and then drop them into the environment, or do they create them de novo and materialize them into existence, or what?

Referring back to “previous published works” does nothing to answer these questions. Calvert and the Intelligent Design movement in general are ignoring obvious questions: if they were genuinely interested in science, they would be discussing these questions.

4. One of my questions was about human beings, where I asked,

6) In particular, how are all these questions answered in regards to human beings? At what time, and in what ways, were humans designed so as to be distinguished from earlier hominids, and in what ways is there an naturalistic, evolutionary connection via common descent with those earlier hominids?

Calvert didn’t answer this question, although he did say that the fact that intelligence arose quickly in humans didn’t fit the “gradual increase in complexity hypothesized by a Darwinian explanation.” This is the critical “speciation” question, and it’s very straightforward, but he won’t answer it.

But Calvert did make a puzzling remark here, and I will quote rather than paraphrase: “This question ignores the fact that the inference of design is a very limited claim. This question, as well as many of the previous questions presupposes a broader claim that is not being made and that likely goes beyond the data.”

What does this mean? What I think it means, based on what Calvert and others have written, is that all Intelligent Design claims to be able to do is to “detect design” without claiming to be able, perhaps even in theory, answer more specific questions such as I have been asking. This would mean that Intelligent Design would be pretty useless as science.

However, this “limited claim” fits right into the religious goal of providing a bridge to theology, to use a phrase of Dembski’s. Calvert alludes to this in his answer to the next question, which is

5. Who is the designer?

The standard Intelligent Design answer, which Calvert gives, is that we can’t tell - there isn’t any “signature or a copyright notice” on DNA. However, it’s perfectly OK for a person to theologically identify the designer with whatever God they prefer, but “the data does not permit a scientist to make that leap.”

But it’s not a leap if you’ve build a bridge, and that is the goal of Intelligent Design: to clear the ground of obstacles (to use another Dembski-ism) to the establishment of theism, specifically Christianity.

This is a fascinating subject, and several of us (especially Dick Hoppe and myself) have argued at ARN and ISCID that

a) any Intelligent Design hypothesis necessarily makes assumptions about the nature of the designers (which is different than their “identity,”) and that

b) if design is empirically detectable and part of science, then inferences about the nature of the designer becomes part of science also, and that

c) the evidence might just lead to the scientific conclusion (tentative but supported by the data) that the designers are limited in power, or impersonal, or a pantheon of multiple designers, or whatever.

The point is, once you build the bridge between science and theology, there is nothing to prevent you from walking across: you might open up science to religion but you then open up religion to science.

Does the Intelligent Design movement discuss this? Is Calvert interested in discussing all this?

Nope. They go through all sorts of contortions to try to claim that you can study design but not say anything about the designer. This is another place where they want to have their cake and eat it too (to badly mix my metaphors.)

[6]A humorous note.

At one point, Calvert favorably mentions that “A recent paper by John A. Davison, a professor of biology at the University of Vermont proposes that ‘the information for organic evolution has somehow been predetermined in the evolving genome in a way comparable to the way in which the necessary information to produce a complete organism is contained within a single cell, the fertilized egg.’” ‘Nuff said on that one.


It is ironic that Calvert and the IDnet make so much noise about having a public debate, and about scientists being dogmatic and close-minded about Intelligent Design. I think that I and others have demonstrated a number of times that we have thought more creatively about Intelligent Design as a scientific hypothesis than those in the Intelligent Design movement do.

So I leave Calvert or other members of the Intelligent Design movement a standing offer to address the questions I’ve raised.