Full articles in English

Why do scientists scoff at “intelligent design”?

Jiří Vácha (2007)

The idea that the universe is not just a randomly-occurring phenomenon, but rather the result of a deliberately-implemented plan, has existed for time out of mind. As recently as the early 19th century one could scarcely find a scientist who would reject the idea that the world was brought into existence by some Higher Being; if not the Christian God, then at least the Deist God of the Enlightenment. Today science assumes an absolute monopoly on rational thought as a matter of course. The result is a naturalistic picture of the world but naturalistic in the purely material sense only. Today´s science enjoys great prestige, and in this atmosphere the idea of Intelligent Design (ID) has can make little headway. Professional researchers, particularly in the field of biology and biomedicine, seldom address metaphysical questions, and thus the issue is left to the popularizers. These authors preach the idea of a universe in thrall to unplanned randomness (or necessity). It is noteworthy that the charge is usually led by popularizers of biology and biologically-oriented anthropology, and less often by the astronomers and physical cosmologists. This is related to the remarkable idea of what could be called the fine-tuning of the cosmological constants. In this concept, the universe is a highly-structured system with precisely defined parameters such as age, mass, entropy, curvature, temperature, density, and rate of expansion. If any one of these constants or parameters were to deviate even slightly from empirically-found values, the universe would be unable to support life. If it is really possible to apply this teleological concept to all of nature; that is, if the universe is deliberately arranged to allow for life and consciousness, then the purpose of the non-organic universe is external to it and this requires an intelligent designer. But here we leave physical cosmology aside.

Natural scientists as individuals can hold various opinions on ID, but the scientific community as a whole seems to go out of its way to show its indifference at best, at worst its ridicule. On the other hand, the scientists resisting this naturalistic concept tend to be practicing Christians, Muslims, or Jews. Today the actual concept of biological evolution as such is protested only by a few religious fundamentalists who insist on a literal Biblical interpretation that the world was created in seven days, or by fundamentalist Muslims. In the USA Christians of this persuasion have earned the title "creationists". Of course many of those who are convinced of the role of a World Intelligence or God in the origin and evolution of life may not accept the Bible at all, or might not take literally the Bible's first chapters about the creation. Because the evolution of life itself is an unquestionably proven fact of natural science, the creationists provide an easy target for criticism on the part of scientists. However, those who criticize the creationism very often mix up issues that are justifiable, namely the opinion that evolution follows an intelligent plan, together with those that are not. In the interest of rational discussion it is necessary to strictly distinguish here between "creationism" in the narrow "Biblical" sense, and the idea of ID itself. In the contemporary discourse, a group of theoreticians concentrated around the Discovery Institute in Seattle, Washington, USA (and their counterparts in Europe as well) are considered the most prominent defenders of ID and represent so to speak ID in the narrower sense of the word. We too will focus here on this conception of ID. These researchers endeavor by scientific means to arrive at the very threshold of an idea of a participation of some superior intellect in the forming of living beings, and therefore let us say at the outset this is what irritates the materialistic biologists more than anything else. The at times impassioned level of discussion indicates that our contemporary Euro-American intellectual atmosphere is suffering from a kind of split consciousness: On one hand a significant proportion of educated people still believe in God, a "Universal Intelligence", or at least "something above us"; on the other hand enormous authority is generally granted to a scientific community presenting itself as purely materialistic (by scientific in the following text we mean natural science). The vehemence and sometimes arrogance of many defenders of the naturalistic scientific orthodoxy is surprising, and has rightly earned the label it is sometimes given as a kind of reverse religion.

But now let us consider by what justification scientists tend to reject the efforts of ID thinkers and in their footsteps philosophers as well, especially of the so-called analytical orientation, which is the mainstream in the Anglo-American world. Here we will have to go back to the very dawn of the modern era, and look at some of the historical decisions that determined and continue to determine the character of European science. (On this topic I highly recommend a recently-published book by noted Czech phenomenologist I. Blecha) [1]. Science at the beginning of the modern age took on a new character with the work of such pioneers as Bacon, Galilei, Descartes, and Newton. Natural science no longer aspired to be part of overall philosophical knowledge, aimed at unbiased contemplation of the universe, much less a "handmaiden to theology", but rather a self-assured instrument for practical control over the material world. Descartes' distinction between the world of extended bodies (rei extensae), in which he included all animals and the human body itself, and the world of unextended intelligent minds (rei cogitantes), prepared the ground for modern science, which was practically crying out for such a distinction. Its expressly practical, even aggressive tendency implied that the intent of science is not understanding the deepest secrets of the universe, but making use of them. Francis Bacon did not hesitate to suggest that the secrets of nature must be pried out of it on the rack if necessary [2]; during the study of animals this was often literally true. Even though it was Descartes' primary intention to prove the immortality of the soul, his sharp distinction between two realms of being served in its consequences mainly the exploration of the realm of extension an examination now freed from the "burden" of consciousness, subjectivity, purpose, valuation, etc. - , instead of the examination of the "spirit" as such. The methodology of describing the "thinking thing" was not completely clarified by Descartes, and was much less interesting to him as well. Thus natural science was able to become a pure examination of extended, material beings, accessible to quantification and mathematization.

On this cleared ground, Galilei, according to the detailed analysis of E. Husserl [3], in fact carried out a universal mathematization of the material world, which resulted in the neglect and abandonment of what is phenomenally immediately accessible, to be replaced by the exact space of geometry, the exact time of physics, and the exact laws of mechanical causality. Galilei even came upon an idea that at the beginning may have seemed adventurous: that it should be possible to mathematize not only extended things, but also the qualities perceived by the senses, at least indirectly. Here too great success was finally achieved, but at the price that the theoretical construction overwhelmed the phenomena themselves. Today we learn in school that "red" is when light of wavelength 690 nm. strikes the eye. The teachers, however, do not tell us (because they themselves were raised on the one-sided Galilean physicalism) that the perception, the phenomenon of red is something completely specific, something that cannot be expressed in terms of any wavelength, something actually indescribable to anyone who has never experienced it.

According to the analysis of H. Jonas [4], it must be realized what actually happened thanks to Descartes. The extended, i.e. material world, ended up being seen as non-overlapping with the world of thinking things. The thinking thing is the human spirit, the extended thing everything else in the universe, including animals. In the extended realm physical ("mechanical") causality is valid; this concept was crowned by the idea of the universe as a piece of clockwork (Laplace), every event in which is strictly determined (the so-called "causal closure" of the world). Into Laplace's deterministic world of extended beings, no human or supernatural mind can intervene. "The isolation of the res cogitans was the most effective way of securing the complete ontological detachment of external reality from what was not extended and measurable. Thus, besides constituting this reality as a self-contained field for the universal application of mathematical analysis, the division provided the metaphysical justification for the all-out mechanical materialism of modern science" ([4] p. 54). Denial of the reality of the res cogitans was not intended at first (for Descartes himself precisely the opposite!), but the expulsion of the spiritual element was inevitable due to the theoretical difficulties of Descartes' dualism the mutual causal unrelatedness of the two orders remained unexplained. This dualism gradually changed into monism, namely a materialist monism. (An idealistic monism that would start with the res cogitans and see the material world as its projection, has unfortunately lost all support in our time, although it has had important defenders in modern philosophy.) The subjective world of the "thinking thing", i.e. the human mind, gradually lost with some of Descartes´ followers the ability to affect the world of extended things, and became an "epiphenomenon", a mere "fluorescence" of processes taking place within extended things and among them; eventually it became directly identified with them. The material world, the world of extended things, was now fully explicable from and by itself. The description of things in purely material terms came to be seen as complete, requiring no other principles of mental or spiritual explanatory principles. Initially modern science made no such extreme materialistic claim. It was satisfied with the principle of methodological naturalism or methodological reductionism, according to which it is necessary for all beings and processes to seek material causes first. The theoretical possibility was left open that such causes may remain definitively unknowable, but today few take this idea seriously.

Jonas's phenomenological analysis is instructive. We cannot present it here in all its phenomenologically informed insightfulness but only cite the main points ([4] p. 79 f.). Jonas presumes that the phenomenon of life is the stumbling block of naturalistic science. Regardless of all the successes of a science driven by methodological reductionism, we ourselves are above all living and corporeal beings. Being ourselves living beings, "we happen to have inside knowledge. On the strength of the immediate testimony of our bodies", we know that a perspective limited to the extended aspect of living beings and their components "misses the decisive point - the point of life itself: its self-centered individuality, being for and of itself, and in contraposition to all the rest of the world, with an essential boundary dividing ´inside´ and ´outside´." Nature delivered an ontological surprise when a coincidence of earthly conditions created "an entirely new possibility of being: systems of matter that are unities of a manifold... in virtue of themselves, for the sake of themselves, and continually sustained by themselves." The perspective on life within also casts light on its causal-mechanical lawfulness and gives the nature of the latter a new sense, as we will later see. This obviously applies especially to the holistic characteristics of the organism. In the organism "wholeness is self-integrating in active performance, and form for once is the cause rather than the result of the material collections in which it successively subsists. ... The ontological individual, its very existence at any moment, its duration and its identity in duration is, then, essentially its own function, its own concern, its own continuous achievement."

If naturalism assumes that no terms of internal description are necessary for the completeness of the external description, we see that this conception breaks down when confronted with the organism. Organisms are clearly organized for their inwardness, their intrinsic identity, their individuality. The organic body relates to life as the eyes with their physical structure relate to sight. No matter how complete the analysis of the physical chemical composition of the eye and the processes leading to its stimulation, still no description of its construction and functions has meaning without its relationship to sight. The "observer" who himself never had the experience of sight would never understand the essence of seeing as an experience. Inwardness, or subjectivity, imbues all encounters between organisms and their environment with the quality of "being oneself", however weak its inner voice. It must be here, if there is to be any difference between satisfaction and frustration. Inwardness (feelings, sensitivity, the ability to actively react to stimuli) in some perhaps a minimal degree of consciousness contains within itself the highest interest of the organism in its own existence and the preservation of that existence, with maximum focus on the goal. As mortals we have a sort of peephole, says Jonas, into the inwardness of being: the evidence that we find ourselves within ourselves is the prerequisite for recognizing the existence of life and the concrete from which scientists then deduce their abstractions. Thus the principle of methodological naturalism must be complemented by the principle of explaining things "from the top down", from the "highest" to the "lowest".

Spinoza's and Leibniz's old postulate of the qualitative continuity of all that lives was confirmed by the evolution of the living world including man. Materialistic monism is conditioned by the absolute separation of man from living nature, but without explaining man's spiritual aspect. It is somewhat ironic that it was only the evidence of evolution that has returned man to nature and showed that the purely naturalistic explanation of life is untenable. The loss of dignity felt by man has in fact meant that dignity can be assigned to the realm of living things as a whole. The beginning of inwardness must be placed at the very beginning of life; however if inwardness and life overlap, then a purely mechanical concept of life, life in terms of outwardness only, cannot be sufficient. The subjective phenomena defy quantification, and therefore cannot be substituted for by the "equivalents" of outwardness (for example the fear of death felt by all life at various stages of perception). "Evolution", then, implicitly transcends the concept of materialism.

Jones concedes that the question is still open of whether the inwardness of life and its drive towards purpose is compatible with mechanical causality (though elsewhere he supplies an argument for the compatibility between the mutual effects of the mind and the body and the validity of natural laws). A number of philosophers propose looking at the mutual causal relationship between mind and body, two items of entirely different phenomenal appearance, as a causality of its own type, a fundamental law not convertible to any other. Why should it also abide by the relationships observed in the inorganic area? In any case, Jonas's phenomenological analysis of biological life (quite in parallel with Spaemann and Löw [5], though less differentiated with these authors) shows convincingly that the problem of the relation between the purposeful and mechanical-causal aspects of life cannot be solved by completely denying the purposefulness of life in favor of mechanical causes that have been deduced from evidence of a different kind. The existence of the organism means that the phenomenology of consciousness and the physics of extendedness cannot exist side by side, but are somehow amalgamated in the living body. As Jonas's formulates it, "The physical-outward description cannot be carried to its end without compromising the freedom and thus the genuine reality of the mind; the vitalistic-inward description not without compromising the total determination and autarky of the ´extended´ realm" ([4] p. 18).

This conclusion casts new light on the methodological naturalism of science. There can be no objection to consistent attempts to apply this principle in biology, including anthropology; and the fortunate discovery of new mechanical-causal connections must be welcomed as an advance in knowledge. At the same time, however, the finding of any mechanical-causal connections cannot shake the validity of our sense of ourselves as the bearers of consciousness, self-awareness, freedom, and purposefulness. This is a situation not wholly unlike the unshakable validity of logical principles by any physical event in the universe. It is necessary to keep in mind under all circumstances and whatever our knowledge in the field of the mechanical-causal, the fundamental presence of a mental, subjective (not necessarily rational) principle in living beings.

This principle also applies to sociobiology, the latest attempt by materialist biology to explain by itself the very essence of man. Sociobiology creates a set of models that could indicate a mechanical-causal connection in the area of the shaping of the social behavior of humans (the fundamental Darwinist paradigm itself can in the end be converted to mechanical causality). Unlike the study of currently-existing systems of life, however, it is much more difficult here to prove causality. For example, even if we recognize as proven that human cooperation grew out of Darwinist mechanisms as a result of competition between pre-human bands differing in their degree of cooperation within the group, we still have only a model. Now a model is a structure describing with the help of analogy some aspect of the modeled thing, but it cannot substitute for it. Darwinistically, even a tribe of unconscious robots or zombies could evolve towards cooperation. From a consistently Darwinistic point of view, consciousness must be seen as a luxury, the emergence of which is completely unexplainable. All attempts to date to derive the adaptive value of consciousness naturalistically have failed, for they are unable to answer the objection of why the same "service" they point to could not be carried out by automatons.

We may ask whether the phenomenological side of the human interior and its reflection in the organic realm is the subject of science, or philosophy, or both. The concept of "experience" cannot be limited to the experience of the senses that has to do with extended things. If science has limited itself methodologically to this, then there is nothing left but to assign the experience of subjectivity to the realm of spiritually-oriented psychology, or perhaps philosophy. Husserel's ideal of "phenomenology as an exact science" turned out to be untenable; nonetheless philosophy including phenomenology may be considered "responsible thinking" (J. Patočka). Science certainly has no "patent" on rational knowledge.

More with respect to the psychology of the researchers than for rational necessity, we will add the following: It is evident that human characteristics such as consciousness, awareness of self, purposefulness, and freedom fade away as we move toward of the "lower" animals and even more toward plants. (It is not important to know how far these qualities go; it is sufficient to be aware of their indubitability). If methodological naturalism hits the wall with the consciousness of man and its qualities, then this will also apply to the lower forms of life if they can be analogically assumed to have these qualities (in a weaker form, of course) as well. However phenomenologically justified this assumption is, it can be a "psychological" obstacle to recognizing the limits of methodological naturalism in relation to the lower animals. With the lowest rungs of animality in particular, where we can assume only the most elementary organic irritability in which the "strangeness, world, and object" (Jonas) has been experienced at some primordial level, methodological naturalism finds it very difficult to accept that in the philosophic sense (although even this is in a certain sense empirical, as we have seen) it should recognize its limits even here. The "lower" we descend the scale of life, the more successful the methodological naturalism should be, and vice-versa: the "higher" the life form, the more we must anticipate the naturalistically unexplainable phenomenon of subjectivity.

The heroic attempt to show the limits of methodological naturalism, for example even with bacteria, has been undertaken today by (mostly Christian-oriented) biologists in the ID "movement". Its arguments, however, are not designed to be of a philosophical (much less of a specifically phenomenological) nature, but are trying to take the bull by the horns so to speak, and use the methods of science itself to prove ID from the experience of the extended realm. The main instrument of proofs here are probability calculations. From the ID workshop come terms such as "irreducibly complex systems" (Behe) [6], "complex specified information" (Dembski) [7], and others. ID authors are attempting first of all to show that the Darwinistic mechanism, which basically combines randomness of mutation with natural selection, cannot explain the extreme improbability of the occurrence of these phenomena. If this is the case, they reason, then some intelligence, whatever its nature, must be behind their origin. On these probabilities and calculations many pages have already been written, for and against; however, it seems for now that the match is deadlocked, as much genetic, developmental, genealogical, morphological, and other information is still lacking.

Of all the non-materialistic directions of inquiry, however, the concept of ID provokes the bitterest opposition; although we might rightly have expected materialistic biologists to take on the "heavyweight" philosophical arguments such as those of Jonas or Spaemann. But they do not, first of all for the trivial reason that scientists often do not respect philosophy, are not properly oriented in it, and underestimate its arguments. In this context, they usually see the dispute "faith versus science" on this level alone, without their realizing that between the two, situated in two nonintersecting planes, lies the broad but little-considered field of philosophy. Philosophy has its own method of argumentation that must be considered and comprehended (unfortunately, many religious people also fail to realize this). The strange animosity directed against ID evidently lies in the fact that methodological naturalism itself is questioned here although for the most part not for and of itself, but only its unlimited applicability. This strikes at the very self-understanding of modern science. Many philosophers have similar ideas on this topic as the defenders of ID, but not on the basis of sensual experience. Thus scientists assume that arguments of this type can be ignored (if they are aware of them at all). Naturalistic science is simply unwilling to acknowledge the limitations of its research paradigm, which it considers a priori as the only rational approach, beyond discussion, especially in the area of relatively simple life forms or bodily functions of the organisms. Of course behind this attitude, often perhaps unconsciously, stands the philosophy (metaphysics) of materialism. And the belief that science is the only rational approach to reality, and that which is not "scientific" is false in and of itself. The defenders of naturalism are fond of gauging philosophical conclusions through the prism of science and naturally find them "empirically non-verifiable". It never occurs to them that they might be reinventing the wheel. The arrogance of ID's critics is directly proportional to their philosophical naiveté. For example J. Rennie, chief editor of the influential popular journal "Scientific American" published an article called "15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense" [8] in which by "Creationism" he means ID; an article in which the words consciousness, experience, subjectivity, or freedom are never once mentioned. Equally one-sided and condescending towards religious faith is V. Pačes, Chairman of the Academy of Sciences ČR, in his article "Why Most Natural Scientists Don't Waste Time Arguing with Creationists" [9]. He is not surprised that most Czech scientists refused to attend a meeting with defenders of ID in Prague (22-23 October 2005), for "the arguments of the Creationists are well known, and repeat themselves over and over..."

How to conceive of an "ideal" rational approach to those mysterious entities called "living beings"? We can place no limitations on the examination of mechanical causality in their material (extended) aspects; at the same time we must not deny the mental (subjective, etc.) aspect of life, regardless of how far the research on causes has progressed. Explaining the subjective on the basis of material structures has always been and will likely always be futile, for phenomenologically these are qualitatively different, mutually non-incomparable fields, in which each is "reading from a different page" (J. Patočka). Against epiphenomenalism (which regards subjectivity as a causally inefficient by-product of material structures), or even the brutal theory of identity of mind and body, there can be found in philosophical literature very convincing arguments which we cannot go into here. With simple organisms the postulate of their "subjectivity infinitely approaching zero" will be of a rather more philosophical character. Even if the defenders of ID succeed in showing that the probability of the occurrence of the irreducibly complex systems etc. is absurdly small, it will still be hard to prove that a physical-mechanical explanation can never be found. The very inference from the improbability of spontaneous occurrence of complicated structures, to that of a supernatural intelligence, is itself of a philosophical nature; whereas the concept of ID has endeavored from the beginning to sidestep this. On the other hand, if the philosophical "vitalist" interpretation of life is acceptable, this casts ID in a much more positive light. Why shouldn't life on a primitive level exhibit a mental, psychic "co-essence" that helps create amazing, highly improbable structures such as bacterial flagellum (the typical mascot of ID)? Ridicule of ID supporters is definitely out of place, much careful detailed work is advisable on the many points of dispute and suggestions which ID thinkers have contributed. These often inspire purely empirical research in the sensorial-empirical realm, i.e., they represent totally acceptable proposals for science. It is regrettable that in the spirit of the times even some theologians have strongly distanced themselves from ID. This "immunization strategy" by theologians may well result in their having little interesting to say at all.


[1] I. Blecha, Proměny fenomenologie. Úvod do Husserlovy filozofie (Metamorphoses of Phenomenology. An Introduction to Husserl´s Phenomenology, in Czech), Praha/Kroměříž, Triton 2007.

[2] J. R. Milton, J. R. Bacon, Francis (1561-1626), in: E. Craig, E. (General Ed.), Routlege Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Routlege, London and New York 1998, s. 629.

[3] E. Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, known widely as The Krisis, trans. D. Carr, Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern University Press 1970.

[4] H. Jonas, The Phenomenon of Life. Toward a Philosophical Biology. Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern University Press 2001.

[5] R. Spaemann a R. Löw, Natürliche Ziele. Geschichte und Wiederentdeckung des teleologischen Denkens, Klett-Cotta Verlag, Stuttgart 2005

[6] M. J. Behe, Darwin's Black Box. The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, Free Press, New York 1998

[7] W. A. Dembski, Intelligent Design. The Bridge between Science and Theology, Downers Grove, Illinois, InterVarsity Press 1999.

[8] J. Rennie, 15 answers to creationist nonsense, Scientific American 281(1), 62-69, 2002.

[9] V. Pačes, Proč většina přírodovědců nechce ztrácet čas diskusemi s kreacionisty (Why Most Natural Scientists Don't Waste Time Arguing with Creationists, in Czech), Přítomnost Zima 2006, s. 48-49, 2006.

Dawkins reaching the top of the Mount Improbable

Jiří Vácha (2010)

Richard Dawkins, a professor for the Public Understanding of Science in the University of Oxford, is probably the most known and influential present-day scientist-atheist. The biological arguments of his "The God Delusion" could not be understood out of the context of the existing Dawkins´ work and the work itself out of the context of the newest offshoot of evolutionary biology - sociobiology. We must begin, therefore, with a glance backwards. (About Dawkins in a historical context of evolutionary biology, see Ruse 1999.)

Under the sign of biological naturalism

Science has tremendous prestige today which overshadows philosophy (of any sort) and theology the more so. However, the practical achievements of science mask some problems in its very base and in the philosophical consequences which are commonly derived from science. Science became a paradigm if not the only representative of responsible thinking and cognition. Strangely, hardly anybody minds that this presumption is connected with some obscurity in terms and with naïvety in justification. Science - as a sociological phenomenon - is prevalently naturalistic both in its epistemology (theory of knowledge) and in its metaphysical orientation. Naturalism of the science "is the belief that the universe is all one, in the sense that all objects in it and all aspects of it are equally accessible to study by scientific method" (Lacey 2000 p. 223). As the last criterion of the scientific truth is the testability by senses, naturalism is consequently metaphysical (I mean: not moral etc.) materialism.

It has been expected with the birth of Darwinism 150 years ago that the last obstacle to the naturalistic explanation of the biological life inclusive of the origin of man has fallen. The defining idea of Darwinism is the claim that entire organic world evolved in the geological past by the interplay of accidental modifications (mutations) of genetic material and natural selection. The randomness of the mutations in Darwinism should be understood not as their being without cause, but as their "indifference" towards the future forming of an organism. Natural selection, however, is a directional "force", moulding structures and functions from random mutations imitating purposefulness of human artefacts. Purposefulness in the proper sense is, however, absent in the living world (and by means of generalization: nonliving, too), so that a hypothesis of a Designer of the Universe is superfluous. Darwinism permits another evolutionary factors, too (s.c. genetic drift, recombination of genes, migration etc.), conferring however a dominant position to selection.

An opposition arose against the standard Darwinism even among the biologists themselves. Recently, when comparison of the whole genomes (sets of genetic endowments) of hundreds of species became possible, serious objections have been raised: "Internal mutation pressure plays a central role in the genomic evolution, often completely overwhelming the external forces of natural selection and driving change in a directional manner" (Lynch 2007, p. 375; needless to say that the substantial role of selection in evolution is not denied here). Still further from the Darwinian orthodoxy, several forms of "emergence" are proposed (Kauffman, Goodwin and many others). Organisms should not be a mere casting of the environment any more, but also an expression of certain autoorganizational capacities of matter as such. Phenomena appearing unforeseeably in the theory of dynamic systems and in some simple physical experiments were the main inspiration here. The central role of selection is not denied in the emergentist's theories, however; it was complemented only in the sense that selection cannot realize structures "interdicted" by physical-chemical constraints; that some structures are necessary consequences of others and are not of selection origin and that some structures/functions follow from the very properties of the world´s matter. Even this broadening of the evolutionary theory, however, has not to stretch beyond the boundaries of biological naturalism and if applied to voluntary human action it is not in a better position compared to the standard Darwinism (Vácha 2008).

Dawkins counts to those who almost entirely ignore these new stimuli and who ascribe not perhaps central, but nearly exclusive position to the natural selection among the evolutionary causes (i.e. he counts to "panselectionists" or "panadaptationists"). In "The God Delusion" (further "GD"), Dawkins reaches a brink of personal enchantment with the natural selection: "But perhaps you need to be steeped in natural selection, immersed in it, swim about in it, before you can truly appreciate its power" (GD p. 143). (A baptismal ritual of the new religion?) Selection is "creator" of all biological form and function and perfectly substitutes all other directed causes, both unconscious and the more conscious, both natural and the more supernatural. Dawkins does not substantiate in GD any more - neither we will deal with the question here - why selection should enhance the "perfection" of living creatures, which is just the point an unprejudiced layman should like to have explained by the evolutionary theory. Dawkins devoted some of his previous books to the question: "The Selfish Gene" (1976, further "SG"), "River Out of Eden" (1995) and "Climbing Mount Improbable" (1996). In GD, he does not account for, too, why the idea should be accepted gladly that the gross differences in the animal´s organization, typically those among the Phyla, originated by amassing of small differences within species, that "macroevolution" is a mere continuation of the "microevolution".

In the perspective of a mathematical God

Dawkins´s logic only mirrors - in the extreme form - the trends which have been laid down into the grounds of the modern science by its founders in the 17th century. Science, intended as an instrument for the mastery of nature, ruled out qualities, subjectivity, the ability to have experiences, aims and values from its purview and committed itself to the principle of methodological reductionism, i.e. to the obligation of conversion the more complex and "higher" into more simplex and "lower". Reductionism as a method brought splendid outcomes in the realm which has been stipulated for science, however, it has created problems where organic life and especially human life is concerned. Reductive approach has brought valuable partial contributions - those of Darwin, Marx and Freud, however, grave philosophical problems ensue if these partial points of view monopolize the whole truth about man.

The viewpoint of today´s reductive biology has been portrayed by means of a telling metaphor of a mathematical God by German-American phenomenologist Hans Jonas (1903-1993). Jonas´s non-corporeal observer knows perfectly all the individual physical components of the material world and all the causal relationships among them. When he looks at the living beings, however, they have to appear to him - like all other material things - only as aggregates of material particles, connected by causality of natural laws. In contradistinction to this, we people as corporeal beings "see" and experience all that which remains concealed to the mathematical God. In reflexion, we experience our sense qualities, sensations and feelings, remembrances, decisions, voluntary actions and their purposefulness, freedom of choice and the possibility to interfere voluntarily in the physical processes (Jonas 1973 p. 119 ff.). And besides and above that, we as humans not only perceive objects and feel hungry, but also know that we perceive and feel (this being sometimes labelled as "second-order mental states"). As an ideal case, biology would like to attain the knowledge of the mathematical God; nothing less, but nothing more as well (Vácha 2009). "We are thus actually saying no more than that natural science doesn´t tell us everything about nature - whereof its avowed inability to ever account, from its premises, for consciousness, nay, for the most elementary case of feeling (thus for the best-evidenced phenomenon in the universe!) is the most telling and conclusive evidence. It is essential, not a provisional inability..." (Jonas 1985 p. 72). It is not a matter of a scientific progress, but a matter of a fundamental inconvertibility of the description of psyche in the first and the third person. The mathematical God is not only unable to see the life from within, but he is even unaware that he does not see something; unless perhaps gaps in the causal chains of cerebral physiology, reflecting our free decisions, would disquiet him.

Jonas points out that integrating man into the evolutionary lineage does not mean to degrade him, but on the contrary to raise the status of the other living beings. It is necessary to explain things "from the top downwards", not the higher by means of the lower (Jonas 1985 p. 73). Existence of human consciousness throws a backward light on the psyche of all living things - it does not matter, when exactly consciousness, subjectivity and freedom peter out; consciousness must be regarded a constitutive characteristics of life, otherwise we get to an aporia that human subjectivity "falls by itself from heaven". (We could label this view "vitalism" or "psychism" without falling into the sin of the former vitalists who understood the achievements of psyche as to be in competition with the physical-chemical powers.) All this does not occur to Dawkins in GD at all (he admitted some problems with the rise of consciousness yet in SG, p. 249 ff.). There appears a rand note only in GD that the origin of consciousness should be viewed on the same level as the origin of eucaryotic cell (p. 168). Dawkins´s point of view is the same as of the mathematical God - of a very frivolous one, undoubtedly.


Dawkins is a populariser of a scientific discipline representing since 70ties an extension of Darwinism into the realm of animal behaviour. Sociobiology attempts to explain social behaviour of animals by considering the Darwinian advantages specific behaviours may have. Sociobiologist maintain that many instances of social behaviour were moulded by the natural selection to warrant the largest reproductive success and they try to reconstruct the evolutionary history of a specific behaviour (or a specific behavioural "strategy") from this point of view. Sociobiology could be understood at the same time as an application of the Darwinian evolution theory on the human "behaviour" (just in this behaviouristic identification of human action with the mere behaviour, observable from outside only, a fundamental ontological prejudice is hidden). An explanation of the remote causes of many instances of current human behaviour in sociobiology rests on the reproductive success in the living conditions in the remote times (see Holcomb and Byron 2005).

The central problem of sociobiology is the evolutionary origin of "altruism", i.e. of animal behaviour by which an individual favours another organisms at the cost of its own fitness. Darwin himself was puzzled about such behaviour, however, the current sociobiology could manage it already. The sociobiologists do not refer to "altruism" or "selfishness" in the everyday, morally relevant sense, but apply them even to animals which cannot have deliberate aims, typically, e.g. social insects (bees, ants). This biological sense of the term "altruism" means that an organism lowers the number of the progeny which it itself could have had and enhances the number of progeny which will probably have individuals which it promotes. Therefore, it is not intention what is decisive in the biological altruism, but only the consequences of the behaviour from the point of view of reproductive success.

Darwinian solution to biological altruism is being found in three ways, the theory of kin selection being the most recognized of them. An animal may limit the number of its progeny or waive them completely (e.g. workers of the social insects) if it promotes individuals having the same "altruism gene", i.e. mainly its relatives. These pass on its altruism gene into the next generation and the biological altruism will spread in the population in this way. Dawkins strongly (and rightly, according to the current knowledge) rejects the hypothesis that the selection may take place among the whole groups (GD p. 198 ff.); according to this hypothesis, it may happen that the group whose members "devote" themselves maximally on behalf of the others survives better among other groups encompassing more "egoists". Dawkins endorses "reciprocal altruism" where individuals of taxonomically distant species promote each other (GD p. 247 ff.); this type of biological altruism finds hardly its Darwinistic solution, nevertheless, nearly no instances of it do exist in nature. It seems that Dawkins cites some examples of reciprocal altruism wrongly, as the latter may cause reproductive success only when concrete individuals interact more than once and are able to recognize their partners form the past (se Okasha 2008).

Dawkins´s selfish gene

Theoretically, the Darwinian selection could act at several levels of biological organization, beginning with species, through individuals, cells up to individual genes. Already in his first book (SG) which brought him reputation, Dawkins shifted emphatically the action of selection from the level of organisms-individuals to the level of individual genes. Selection causes enhanced transfer of suitable genes, their carriers being only their "vehicle", their "tool" for the "purpose" of their enhanced transfer into the next generation. What really "matters" in evolution, are genes and their destiny, not living individuals and their destiny; whence Dawkins´s metaphor of "selfish" gene. "The Selfish gene" has brought about that a seemingly academic problem of the level of selection became an explosive. Dawkins looks at the living individual as "a selfish machine, programmed to do whatever is best for his genes as a whole" (SG p. 71); "[a] body is really a machine blindly programmed by its selfish genes" (SG p. 157). The success of the wittily written, but essentially eclectic and popularly presented book has been remarkable and the book has found its way into the technical literature - even though it cannot be said that it plays any dominant role there. GD presupposes validity of the concept of the selfish gene, explains it shortly (p. 245 ff.) and draws conclusions from it in the sense of putative analogical phenomena in culture - of s.c. "memes" (Dawkins´s neologism).

The deliberately provocative formulations of Dawkins mean of course that the interaction of the individual organism with the environment, the second basic factor of selection (besides "replication") has to be suppressed. Selection notoriously does not work directly among the genes, but among the organisms bearing them. "...Dawkins acknowledges the role of environmental interaction in selection - what he terms vehicular selection - but only to reduce it to gene selectionism. To use Dawkins´s own terminology, he introduced vehicles only to bury them. After all, the only vehicular selection that matters is that influencing gene frequencies. Although selection acts on vehicles (structures that carry genes), its evolutionary effects are on gene frequencies and only indirectly through these on phenotypes. Hence, they can be ignored. Because of this indirect transmission and the relative ease of individuating genes, textbooks and technical papers are filled with references to gene frequencies as if they were all that matters in selection" (Hull 2002). Theoretically, the dispute between gene selectionists and organism selectionists could be resolved in the sense that replication would be attributed to genes and the interaction with environments to organisms. However, in reality "deciding the level or levels at which environmental interaction is taking place is extremely difficult ... At this juncture an additional issue is introduced - reduction ... [derivation] of the higher-level theory from the lower-level theory .. .Such derivations are at best extremely complicated. In the case of levels of selection, the issue is whether environmental interaction can be ignored" (Hull 2002). So even the Darwinist opponents of Dawkins maintain that to undervalue the interaction with the environment equals to ignoring the mechanism producing adaptations. "The chief bone of contention is whether or not higher levels in this hierarchy are reducible to lower levels, and ultimately to genes" (Hull 2002).

Dawkins apparently succeeded to solve the problem of altruism which troubled Darwinists, by means of the "selfish gene" (the term does not matter, it´s plainly an idea of genocentric selection, see below); the more so when the rival conception of group selection is rather problematic so far. Altruism (on the level of individuals) remains a central motive in this way, as an elegant explanation of it has been found. Dawkins´s theory would, of course, welcome some convincing examples of other unfavourable genes (for an individual), not only of supposed genes for altruism which are "unfavourable", too. Really deleterious genes occur in an organism, but only exceptionally and they have rather "pathological" consequences. There exist genes that, e.g. cut chromosomes at particular sites, incapacitate half of one´s sperm, feminize Y-bearing individuals, abolish pollen production etc. Selection acts against them and Dawkins´s selfish gene has nothing in common with them. "[T]he vast majority of genes in an organism cooperate to make it a coherent whole. It is a "win-win" interaction, not the "win-lose" interaction implied" (Burt 2002). In another words, the biological "interest" of an individual and of his genes could not generally be separated or even contraposed.

Philosophical reflexion on sociobiology

It is compatible with our "vitalistic" point of view that both natural selection and all other forces describable in terms of physics could take part in a very substantial way in the evolution of the instinctive component of human action and behaviour. As humans, however, we have instincts under our control and are able to decide more or less freely vis-a-vis to them; physical explanations of this freedom necessarily fail. Dawkins mixes here and there these two realms recklessly together (in the 6th chapter of GD, pp. 241-267). He suggests that our present-day emotional stimuli to altruism, kindness, generosity on the one hand and sexual desire on the other hand "both are misfirings, Darwinian mistakes: blessed, precious mistakes" (DG p. 253). Dawkins does not explain, however, in which way these "mistakes" (possibly their mastery!) transform into truly moral action of Homo sapiens.

Darwinism generally - as a discipline trying to explain the past - has to rely mainly on "conclusions to the best explanation". By reason of this, it could be hardly falsified. The more exceptions will be introduced, using such terms as "usually", "mostly" etc. and formulating hypotheses ad hoc to their explanation, the less falsifiable Darwinism will be and therefore less plausible. The Dawkins´s statement just cited contributes to the implausibility of the Darwinian sociobiology in this way. Are we obliged to believe that once in the dusk of anthropogenesis, man began to be an altruist as a consequence of an easy transfer of the "altruism gene(s)", but that now, when we already have the competence to act rationally, freely and purposively, we are altruists because "the rules of thumb persist" (GD p. 253)? Thus, that present-day virtues are remnants, lingering habits of the "vehicle" of genes of the geological past? Sociobiologists often try to show that natural selection would have favoured humans who genuinely do care about helping others, i.e. who are capable of altruism in morally relevant sense (Okasha 2008). This, however, is not too far from just-so fairy tales, i.e. subsequent ad hoc explanations according to the tautologic principle "if this or that exists at all, it had to be produced by selection". "The problem is that we can always invent a plausible adaptive advantage for an observed or supposed trait, and such speculation does not lead very far" (McFarland 1999 p. 528).

As it ignores the contribution of human mind (consciousness) and culture, sociobiology must be less successful in its application to human behaviour (acting), as it may be successful regarding the behaviour of non-human animals. We humans decide consciously and massively in favour of acting which decreases or even nullify the probability that our genes (inclusive the "altruism genes" - a theoretical fiction so far) will be transferred into next generations at all, not to say preferentially: adoption of entirely unrelated children, contraception, care for handicapped. Besides, the genetic determinism itself is opened to important criticism. "Critics of sociobiology often complain that its reliance on genetic determinism, especially of human behaviour, provides tacit approval of the status quo. If male aggression is genetically fixed and reproductively advantageous, critics argue, then male aggression seems to be a biological reality (and, perhaps, a biological 'good') about which we have little control. This seems to be both politically dangerous and scientifically implausible" (Holcomb a Byron 2005).

Proponents of sociobiology tend to see man just as another animal species and therefore as a component of nature, whereas its critics have a tendency to understand man as radically different from animals and isolated from nature. Fundamental ontological problems are touched upon here, exceeding substantially competency of sociobiology as an empirical science (phenomena of consciousness as such certainly transgress the principle of sensual verifiability). We shall limit ourselves here to a brief remark that animal behaviour science got rid of a restraining grip of behaviourism (in the last quarter of the 20th century) and embarked on studies of mental experiences of animals. It currently comes to the conclusion that animals may be aware of their own body-state and behaviour, they even may have notions and think, but this does not necessarily involve the consciousness in human sense. Man differs from animals according to a special kind of self-awareness, s.c. propositional: that it is I who am feeling or thinking; and according to the ability to reflect his/her mental states (McFarland 1999, Chap. 28). The latter corresponds to the above-mentioned "second order mental states". „[N]o evolutionary explanation of consciousness explains in any ultimate sense why experiences and explicit higher-order mental states...should exist as they do. The qualitative feel of mental states, as opposed to the information they bear, does not serve any obvious biological function" (Giambrone and Povinelli 2002). That all reveals the very intricate ontological relationship between man and other organisms which Dawkins (in GD at least) passes over in silence.

Philosophical reflexion on the selfish gene

In mechanistically conceived biology, nothing can exist in the sense of "point of view of this or that", "concern", "success" of a gene or of any other thing. There are only causal relations among entities fully describable in the third person and the basic question - regarding the selfish gene - is whether the frequency of a given entity will rise or decline in the next generation. Even if selection took place on the level of genes without regard to the reproductive fitness of an individual or even against it, as it seems probable at kin selection, one should not speak about any "interest" of genes, their "selfishness" etc. (Kin selection theory, which is underpinned by empirical data, is often presented hastily as a triumph of the 'gene's-eye view of evolution', Okasha 2008.) These all are only catching metaphors fabricated by Dawkins, suggesting something what they are not entitled to suggest, namely that genes use the body as a "vehicle" that is, as an instrument "for" their own surviving and multiplying in the population. What is a true instrument of what here? In naturalistic biology, there may be only a recurrent causal feedback here: a gene of better adaptability -> higher reproductive fitness of its carriers -> higher frequency of the more fit gene in the next generation -> higher frequency of more adapted carriers (individuals) in the next generation etc. Nothing more, nothing less: it is the old good Darwinism. Only its retelling by means of metaphors of interest, selfishness etc. is suggestive. "To say that kin selection interprets altruistic behaviour as a strategy designed by 'selfish' genes to aid their propagation is not wrong; but it is just another way of saying that a Darwinian explanation for the evolution of altruism has been found" (Okasha 2008). Dawkins´s reversal of the "point of view" represents no new biological knowledge, no new fact or even new scientific interpretation: it is - from Dawkins´s materialistic viewpoint itself unjustified - attribution of "subjectivity" (a standpoint from which one observes), namely to the genes at the expense of their carriers. It must be acknowledged to Dawkins that if the altruistic behaviour of animals should be explained in a Darwinist way, the conception of gene selectionism is readily at hand.

Dawkins´s term "selfish gene" is advantageous in replacing a complicated phrase "a gene which enhances its frequency in the following generation as a consequence of its adaptation superiority using its carrier-organism". It is a short-hand cipher for genocentric look at evolution. Dawkins follows, however, mainly another goal: to show to man that he is nothing but a blind instrument in hands of a "blind watchmaker". There is some nostalgia in the remembrance of Darwin conceding that "there is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers...", of Marx with his vision of emancipation of man - even though determined by his materially economical being - from his alienation, of Freud with his aim to liberate human individual from hidden pressures of his subconsciousness - notwithstanding dangerous tendencies of these doctrines to monopolize complete explanation of man. "Selfish gene" overcomes all these masterfully: man is not at himself, at "home", his deeds are decided elsewhere and what is more, without any purpose and interest of anybody! Nonsensicality of human life could not be expressed more consequently. However, the "selfish gene" is only a slightly parodied point of Darwinism and of the hidden potentialities of modern times epistemology and metaphysics.

The "selfishness" of a gene is more than a metaphor with Dawkins, in spite of all his swearing to the contrary. Only such behaviour is relevant from the gene point of view which is under the decisive genic influence, may be the behaviour of the majority of animals and the instinctive behaviour of humans. However, just as determined, such a behaviour can be termed neither "selfish" nor "altruistic" in any morally relevant sense. And vice versa, a genuine moral action is not determined by genes. So when Dawkins says that "[t]his gene selfishness will usually give rise to selfishness in individual behaviour" (SG p. 2) or that "[t]he most obvious way in which genes ensure their own ´selfish´ survival relative to other genes is by programming individual organisms to be selfish" (GD p. 247), he is only confusing terms. In SG, Dawkins vacillates fatally between observance and violation of an agreement that he would distinguish biological and moral levels of altruism, selfishness etc., and, at the same time, between gene determinism and indeterminism of human behaviour (action). He says on the one hand: "[o]ur genes instruct us to be selfish, but we are not necessarily compelled to obey them all our lives" (SG p. 3), on the other hand, he maintains that "replicators created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence" (SG p. 21); that "it is the business of genes to program brains in advance so that on average they take decisions which pay off. The currency used in the casino of evolution is survival, strictly gene survival, but for many purposes individual survival is a reasonable approximation" (SG p. 59). Or especially piquant: „I am treating a mother as a machine programmed to do everything in its power to propagate copies of the genes which reside inside it" (SG p. 132). Whether Dawkins in these examples - which could be increased substantially - is inconsistent knowingly or unknowingly, the whole sense of the "Selfish gene" comes out here: our genes urge us to selfishness in an everyday, morally relevant sense.

When examining animal altruism, aggressiveness etc., sociobiology makes successfully use of the game theory, a part of applied mathematics. Dawkins gladly hugs such calculations (GD p. 248 f.), so his conception of selfish gene and all other connected with it could appear to have a warranty of mathematical exactness and respectability. But let us be alert. Mathematical models in biology generally represent quantitative hypotheses, constructed in such a way that the behaviour of complex biological systems could be deduced from them, which cannot be derived intuitively. Adequacy of a model is eventually evaluated according to the correspondence of these deductions with experience; in the sense, model cannot be "better" than data entering it. Evolutionary game theory has been formulated not by Dawkins himself for the first time, but by Maynard Smith and applied to the behaviour of birds by Robert Hind. It may happen of course that when a gene "moulds" its carrier such that it itself could be transmitted easier, that the behaviour of the animal will be "selfish" from our anthropomorphic point of view. However, Dawkins does not stop at this, as otherwise he could not explain why man is able to oppose his instincts; Dawkins appears to make no substantial difference between animal selfishness and that of humans. As if he forgot that the models of behaviour using game theory presuppose a determined behaviour of "players" (even if only statistically) and can work only in this frame. I dare to say that the achievements connected with the application of the game theory in sociobiology do not imply any independent support for the Dawkins´s main thesis that selection takes place basically on the level of genes.

A "vitalist" is entitled from his point of view to prefer certain "standpoint": namely the standpoint of an individual living organism, endowed with an interest in itself, with an elementary ability to have experiences at least, with a certain elementary subjectivity and freedom. "Vitalism" will regard as the ultimate goal the individual, and that creates some tension with gene selection. But even a vitalist may acknowledge easily that the "life principle" ("psyche" etc.) may occasionally sacrifice an individual for the sake of a species. Anyway, even the "genes for altruism" could be a product of a purposeful "drive", as the world of living beings would be deprived without them of a substantial part of forms - of all those species which care of the progeny. Dawkins is entitled only to state a chain of physical causes and consequences and to believe that it realizes according to the principle of exact causal closure. However, all the objections against panselectionism, both empirical and philosophical, remain valid.

Dawkins against Intelligent Design

In the Chapter 4 of the GD headed "Why there almost certainly is no God" (pp. 137-189), Dawkins diagnoses altogether rightly that the purposefulness of living beings is one of the important evidences (or more modestly: ways) to the cognition of God´s existence for theists. I agree with Dawkins declaring that he is "continually astonished by those theists who...seem to rejoice in natural selection as ´God´s way of achieving his creation" (GD p. 143 f.); I am astonished, too. Why I agree with him here (exceptionally) should be obvious from this report itself. - Dawkins is - rather logically from his point of view - after those who try to demonstrate that the purposefulness of living beings is a genuine one, not "as if" one, as it follows from the pivotal idea of Darwinism. He assaults altogether rightly a frequent hasty meaning that evolution is caused by either "chance" or "design", nothing more existing in between. Natural selection could not be denied some (may be, even considerable) directing action, one should be aware, however, that selection has no long-term "perspective", it has namely no perspective at all. Ideologically not dazed evolutionary biologists have to admit that (Ridley 2002).

Dawkins argues solely with biochemist Behe (GD p. 156 ff.) from all the trustworthy proponents of „Intelligent Design" (further ID). Behe´s idea of irreducible complexity which has been elaborated formally by Dembski (see Vácha 2007 in detail) consists in recognition that some more or less complex biological systems (clotting system of blood, defensive apparatus of a beetle using a potent acid, an "engine" of some bacterial flagella etc.) must be realized in their completeness if they should fulfil their function. Removal of any of their component disqualifies by definition these "irreducibly complex" systems. The probability of merely combinatorial ("accidental") origin of such systems, composed typically of several dozens of components, is extremely small, pointing according to the ID proponents to intelligent design, intention. Dawkins´s answer (fully in the original Darwin´s spirit) runs that evolution took place only in small steps which resulted by their amassing into an outcome which would have been extremely improbable if it originated suddenly by means of an incidental combination of components (climbing the Mount Improbable thrives on a moderate slope only, not by a leap just from bottom). However, these steps don't need to be very small at all; present-day Darwinists themselves count on a "modular" evolution, according to which whole "prefabricated parts", which have had previously their own distinct function, combine together (e.g., Miller 2003). Further, evolution could have taken place by large leaps, under the condition that genes of the early development mutated (Arthur 2000 p. 158 ff.); the problem is shifted here, of course, to the extreme improbability of an incidental origin of these "hopeful monsters". Real existence of the irreducibly complex systems in the sense of the definitions of Behe and Dembski is still open to a debate, I suppose. Fundamental falsifiability of Darwinism would be conceivable, if it was possible to compare the probability of accidental putative evolutionary steps with the total number of "trials" which were at the disposal. It is, however, hardly feasible assuming the current knowledge. We would have to known more about the mechanisms of action of individual genes, about the extent of constraints in particular structures, about the size of the respective populations, about the real possibilities how to measure information "contained" in organisms etc. Dawkins swings across these and other problems of (pan)selectionism in GD so easily that it is not too far from mere agitation. Morphological and colour prodigality of the living world with its sometimes stunning aesthetics is simply a product of sexual selection according to Dawkins. Marine biologist Portmann (1960) observes that these and other phenomena argue for "self-expression" and "inwardness" of living beings surpassing the needs of survival. The magnificent tail of a peacock is self-evidently product of sexual selection for Dawkins - the same embellishment to whose analysis Portmann devoted several ingenious pages comprehensibly addressing those who are not constrained by the horizon of the mathematical God. I let it to the theologians to judge the cheerful Dawkins´s argument against ID that the Designer himself should be still more complicated and therefore more improbable than all the biological phenomena explained by means of him (GD pp. 138 and 146). The idea of a simple divine substance postulated by theists is gentlemanly labelled by Dawkins as "breathtaking piece of intellectual chutzpah" (GD p. 177).

I let it also to experts to comment on the Dawkins´s attempt (of course, not only of his) to get rid cheaply of the problem of the spontaneous origin of life on Earth by means of s.c. anthropic principle (GD p. 162 ff.). - Above we have accepted Jonas´s point of view (Jonas 1985 p. 73) that evolution should be explained from human consciousness downwards and not in the reverse direction and that our awareness testifies infallibly to the possibility of an mutual (bidirectional) interaction between body and mind; then, of course, the principle of a causal closure of the world cannot be regarded as "mathematically" exact (Jonas 1985 p. 205-222). "´Psyche´ ... may in a generalized form be a appurtenance of all matter, or of all material aggregates of certain forms of order, long before it attains individuation and hence the horizon of selfhood..." (Jonas 1985 p. 73). From an indubitable fact that mind can interfere in the physical world it is necessary to consequently deduce that ´psyche´ wedges into the "gaps" of the causal regularities of Nature, even though not in the sense that the former would deny or substitute the latter (as some older forms of vitalism assumed, e.g., that of Driesch). A clue to this interpretation is at our disposal today, after the discovery of the quantum mechanical indeterminism (Jonas 1985 p. 222-231). It should not be said, however, that a plausible ontology of life is already at our disposal: "...the organic body signifies the latent crisis of every known ontology..." (Jonas 1973 p. 33). Anyway, the endeavour of the ID appears much less beyond the hope in the light of the aforementioned than the biology of the "mathematical God" tries to delude us. "Vitalist" explanations will never be, of course, explanations in the sense of physics, in terms of physical powers.

Post scriptum ad hominem

Dawkins counts among those scientists who philosophize, don´t know about it and philosophize infinitely naïvely. There is at least no hint about the reflexion of science, its methods, competency and scope in GD. One can read then that "[t]he presence or absence of a creative superintelligence is unequivocally a scientific question..." (GD p. 82) or that "...the God question is not in principle and forever outside the remit of science" (p. 96). Dawkins can therefore ridicule simple-mindedly the reserved attitude of a prominent evolutionist Gould who acknowledges ´non-overlapping magisteria´ of science and religion (GD p. 78 ff.). Gould is right in principle and we should add that what not only evolutionists, but also many believers are not aware of, namely that religious belief (possibly theology) and science have no common border; that a vast field of philosophy stretches between them which is solely competent to parley with both sides. Dawkins as possessor of scientific truth and consequently of truth at all is provoked to invectives especially by the representatives of ID (GD p. 92 f.), as they try to proceed in a scientific manner. They outrage him by an inexcusable presumption to enter the sacrosanct ground of science and not limit themselves by the horizon of the mathematical God at the same time. Dawkins should have outlined, if not discussed in detail, however, on what the a priori defiance is based against any form of vitalism, defiance of biological naturalists, among which Dawkins ranks. The very reason is that vitalism opposes the axioma of ("mathematically exact", JV) causal closure (for a broader discussion to this topic consult Papineau 2007). Such reflexion of his own philosophical starting points falls, however, evidently beyond Dawkins´s horizon.

There is need for caution against some dangers which could follow from Dawkins´s references to "designing our brains by means of a natural selection".Dawkins says, selection formed our brains in such a way that they can assume what he calls "intentional stance" (GD p. 212 ff.). Elsewhere he says that "...the way we see a world, and the reason why we find some things intuitively easy to grasp and others hard, is that our brains are themselves evolved organs: on-board computers, evolved to help us survive in a world...Our mental burka window is narrow because it didn´t need to be any wider in order to assist our ancestors to survive" (DG p. 412, italics RD). The point in the present context is not, to what specifically the Darwinistic mechanism should have designed our brains, but the designing itself. Dawkins approaches perilously the view that truth equals adaptation, if I may express it in short. The truth is that "[i]n reality, there is no way from the proposition that the structure of some internal representation proved itself as functionally adequate to oppose selection pressures, to the different proposition that this structure is partially isomorphic to some external structure [i.e., that it is true]" (Bartels 1996 p. 161). If Dawkins regards his statements in his books etc. as truthful, he cannot substantiate them as a function of a brain which should have evolved exclusively as an adaptation to the environment. Instead reason to be explained by science, the claim of science to be objective should be backed up by reason. As DeVries (1970 p. 120 ff.) rightly shows, the acceptance of "objective truthfulness" of a judgement is logically justified only when the declared content shows itself immediately as such or could be proved as truthful by means of its logically necessary connection with what is immediately given. If a material process was present in the place of these insights, which created a phenomenon of an object by means of physical, spiritually impervious causality, an assertion of a real being (Dasein) would remain blind, i.e., logically unjustifiable. Instead of letting freedom to be determined by a thing itself, a physical impervious necessity would take place which could not offer any warranty on the truthfulness of a judgement. Bartels observes (1996 p. 160): The aim of the naturalized epistemology is not a proof of knowledge in any absolute sense as of a "valid knowledge"; its aim is much more description of an origin and ways of functioning of special cognitive strategies. "Validity" could be understood in a relative sense only from this point of view - as a purposefulness, possibly adaptability to specific cognitive tasks.

Last but not least, let us mention some examples of Dawkins´s intellectual dishonesty in GD. He argues against ID - with the exception of M. J. Behe - on the base of a popularizing anonymous document issued by Jehovah´s Witnesses (GD p. 144), instead of crossing cords with professionally writing authors from the Discovery Institute in Seattle (USA) who are generally regarded as the most competent proponents of ID (Dembski, Meyer,Thaxton, Berlinski et al.., see Vácha 2006). Dawkins may then assert entirely unfoundedly that the proponents of ID do not even try to prove the irreducible complexity of the relevant phenomena (GD p. 154). - Dawkins gladly enumerates scientists-materialists, but the dropping out from atheism of Anthony Flew, once "the most famous atheist of the world" which made a sensation some years ago, Dawkins belittles by a short mocking marginal note (GD p. 106). Flew substantiated nota bene his new theistic or deistic view by up-to-date knowledge of the information structure of genes, i.e., by the knowledge in the field against which Dawkins himself leans his atheistic conviction. On another place, Dawkins malevolently portrays the doctrine of mind/body dualism in such a distorted way that it should not be tolerated even at the secondary school; at the same time, dualism distorted in this way should be one of the reasons for the origin of the religion according to Dawkins (GD pp. 209 ff.).


In "The God Delusion", Dawkins uses his earlier evolutionary concepts in aid of atheism, especially that of the "selfish gene". The "selfish gene" represents - in spite of all its popularity - only a slightly differently paraphrased standard Darwinist concept, with a stronger (and more reductionist) accent on the natural selection not at the level of individuals but of genes. A relationship between the "selfishness" of a gene and the selfishness of man in a moral sense is maintained by Dawkins behind a curtain of conceptual equivocations: on the one hand, he stresses a purely metaphorical character of the "selfishness" of genes, on the other hand, he concedes that genes play a decisive determining role in human behaviour and specifically, that gene selfishness will usually give rise to selfishness in human behaviour. A concept of evolution as basically of changes in gene frequencies is rather problematic already from purely empirical point of view. Besides, Dawkins´s metaphors of a type of "interest", "in order to", „manipulation for the purpose of..." etc. surpass completely the frame of naturalistic biology. Transgressing stealthily into common meanings of words, they serve to complete draining of any sense from human life. To man as the "vehicle" of genes which has been "created" by genes to their "survival", his own subjectivity is alienated to him; and even this alienation has itself no meaning: even the survival of DNA molecules is without any sense. The ultimate possible depreciation of human subjectivity has obviously been attained in Dawkins´s conception of man, and by naïve philosophizing which disguises itself behind a mask of empirical science.


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Giambrone, S. and D. J. Povinelli. (2002) Consciousness. In: Pagel, Mark (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Evolution 1, 192-196. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Holcomb, H. and J. Byron (2005) Sociobiology. In: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/sociobiology/#2.1.

Hull, D. L. (2002) Levels of selection. In: Pagel, Mark (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Evolution 2, 615-618. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Jonas, H. (1973) Organismus und Freiheit. Vanderhoeck und Ruprecht: Göttingen. (Revised edition of the original The Phenomenon of Life. Toward a Philosophical Biology, Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern University Press, 1966.)

Jonas, H. (1985) The Imperative of Responsibility. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago and London.

Lacey, A. R. (2000) A Dictionary of Philosophy. R. Routlege and Kegan Paul Ltd: London.

Lynch, M. (2007) The Origins of Genome Architecture. Sinauer Associates, Inc. Publishers: Sunderland, Massachusetts.

McFarland, D. (1999) Animal Behaviour. Pearson, Prentice Hall: Harlow, England.

Miller, K. R. (2003) Answering the biochemical argument from design. In: Manson, Neil A. (Ed.) God and Design. The Teleological Argument and Modern Science 292-307. Routlege: London and New York.

Okasha, S. (2008) Biological altruism. In: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/altruism-biological/.

Papineau, D. (2007) Naturalism. In: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www.seop.leeds.ac.uk/entries/naturalism/#MenProCauCloArg http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/naturalism/

Portmann, A. (1960) Neue Wege der Biologie. R. Piper: München.

Ridley, M. (2002) Natural selection. In: Pagel, Mark (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Evolution 2, 797-804. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Ruse, M. (1999) Mystery of Mysteries. Is Evolution a Social Construction? Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Masachusetts.

Vácha, J. (2006): A Conference „Darwin and Design: A Challenge for 21st Century Science" (Report), Filosofický časopis (J. of Philosophy, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague) 54 (1) p. 142-153 (in Czech).

Vácha, J. (2007) Dembski's attempt at the justification of the Intelligent Design. Review, Filosofický časopis 55 (4) p. 608-616 (in Czech).

Vácha, J. (2008) There is a smaller tension between the non-adaptationist conceptions of evolution and the phenomenology of organic life than between the latter and the orthodox (pan)selectionism, Interdisciplinary colloquium on Evolution and Science, Dept. of Analytical Philosophy of the Philosophical Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Vila Lanna, Praha (Prague), November 18 - 19 2008. In: Nosek, J, Havlík, V. (Eds.): Evolution and Science. Proceedings, p. 197-216. OPS, Nymburk (in Czech).

Vácha, J. (2009) The central paradigm of darwinism and the causal closure, Slovak-Czech Conference on Analytical Philosophy, Dept. of Logic of the Philosophical Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Třešť, September 17-19, 2008. In: Sousedík, P. (ed.): The Echoes of the Frege´s Philosophy, p. 149-184. Institute of Philosophy, Slovak Academy of Sciences - Institute of Philosophy, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Bratislava (in Czech).

Christians versus “Intelligent Design”

Jiří Vácha (2012)

Atheism has always been present in the world: however in democratic societies until recently, it restricted itself to a condescending tolerance towards philosophical theists and religious believers. The situation has changed in the last few years and it will surely pay to be informed about this. Let´s have a look into an encyclopedia at the item „New Atheism".[1] New Atheism is the name given to the ideas promoted by a collection of 21st-century atheist writers who have advocated the view that "religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises." The new atheists argue that recent scientific advancements demand a less accommodating attitude toward religion, superstition, and religious fanaticism than had traditionally been extended by many secularists. The term is commonly associated with individuals such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens, and Victor J. Stenger and their bestsellers published between 2004 and 2007. Several of these authors had already written in an aggressive atheist style several years before.

Evolutionary biology dominated by a modern variant of Darwinism, so-called neodarwinism or „synthetic theory" in its main stream ranks high in those „recent scientific advancements". Evolutionary theory as a science depending upon observation of the world accessible to the senses, should be neutral regarding the Divine existence as a matter of fact and leave deliberations of these topics to philosophy and theology. Alas, Darwinism has been misused as a basis for attacks against religion ever since its origin one hundred and fifty years ago. A few examples of present-day professional evolutionists[2] will suffice: the classic of neodarwinean „modern synthesis" G. G. Simpson: „Man is the result of a purposeless and materialistic process that did not have him in mind. He was not planned." And the abovementioned Dawkins: „Darwin made it possible to become an intellectually fulfilled atheist." Or the author of an authoritative handbook of evolution D. Futuyma: „By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of the life processes superfluous." It is evident that these points of view of the leading evolutionists seep from the universities into schools where children are defencelessly left at the mercy of them.

The USA is at the present time a predominantly Christian country, so there is no wonder that the misuse of the evolutionary theory against religious belief has provoked defiance amongst the members of many churches. The moot point is especially whether only evolutionary biology of the neodarwinist style which leads easily to materialist conclusions should be taught exclusively in the state-owned schools or whether a biology conforming to faith in God and in the veracity of the Bible should be taught in addition to or even instead of it. We will not concern ourselves here with those who maintain the word-for-word exegesis of the first chapters of the Genesis („creationists") as evolution over hundred millions of years is a fact beyond any doubt from the scientific point of view. The engagement of this creationism is deplorable as the word creatio (creation) has found itself in a bad company and this clings to it so far. (Some adversaries of Christianity misuse this cunningly when they lump the creationists sensu stricto together with all those who believe in God.) In the course of time, those who espouse the literal interpretation of the Bible learned a quasi-scientific base to slip under their faith and the s.c. „scientific creationism" originated thereby. Its repute is (deservedly) no better as of the original creationism: e.g., it explains the existence of primitive fossils as the consequence of the Deluge, it tries to describe humans and dinosaurs as contemporaries etc.[3]

„Intelligent Design" made in Seattle

The endeavour of American Christians not to leave children at the mercy of the teaching of evolutionary biology which smacked to them of atheism, did not lose its power by the discredit of „creationism". With their assistance, an institution called „Discovery Institute" was created in the city of Seattle. Its founders and an array of sympathizers (including the biochemist Behe of Pennsylvania, the molecular biochemist Axe, the editors of a journal „Bio-Complexity" in Finland etc.) constituted an intellectual „movement" called „Intelligent Design" (ID henceforth). These authors popularized as a matter of fact the phrase „Intelligent Design" which surely cannot be found in any acclesiastical document. The ID authors try to bypass the reproach of being „unscientific" and intend to enforce by a scientific method the idea that some life phenomena are of such sophistication and complexity, that their origin cannot be explained by the mere interplay of accidental genetic mutations and of natural selection, which is the core idea of contemporary neodarwinism. Information from outside had to be brought into the evolutionary process at the origin of these sophisticated phenomena, by an activity of some transcendental (as the ID authors themselves say) source. A precise designation of this source the ID proponents cautiously leave to the philosophers, though they are mostly themselves Christian believers and are undoubtedly thinking of the God of traditional mainstream faiths.

It is worth making oneself familiar with the approaches, successes and failures of ID, as their endeavour is one of the possible forms of the traditional Christian way of attributing created things to a Creator. An attempt to prove an intelligent design of living beings is a variant of the so-called teleological proof of existence of God, i.e., from the evidence of purposefulness in the world, especially as it appears in living beings. The ID authors may not emphasize the actual term „purposefulness", however, they speak about specified information in living beings which actually means purposeful function. (I rely here upon three key ID publications;[2], [4],[5] I will not always distinguish opinions of individual authors and will speak about ID in a generalizing manner. I have referred to Dembski´s book in[6] and to the Congress held in Prague in 2005 in[7]. I will limit the citations in this paper to basic or moot points only.)

The ID authors embark upon a thankless undertaking: they try to calculate the probability of the origin of the selected complex biological structures by means of „pure chance, natural laws or by both of them". These calculations are basically of a combinatorial character: to be possible for so and so many structural or informatic units, to come haphazardly together, a large number of „trials" would be theoretically demanded The resulting number of trials is so large that the probability that the given structure could become reality is negligibly small (it is usually expressed as a negative power with several tens of decimal places). These calculations presuppose that the complex structures functon only as wholes from which nothing can be taken away and therefore that they had to arise all at once. Michael Behe has christened them „irreducibly complex systems".[4] Dembski´s notion of „complex specified information" (CSI henceforth, with my apology for the necesity of introducing this abbreviation)[5] plays a quite analogical role. To prove conclusively a transcendental cause, the information encompassed in living beings must be specified, i.e., it must carry out a function in a broader natural systém (e.g., a highly complex structure of DNA must code for some useful protein). Besides, the content of CSI had to rise appreciably in a definite historical interval.

I´ll already say in advance that - according to my view - the ID authors, when pursuing their meritorious aim, put the cart before the horse. But about this later. Exponents of official evolutionary biology brushed off the ID attempts with fury and in a lawsuit dealing with the proposal that one should teach about the intelligent design in public schools, the suggestion failed. The opposition to ID assumes sometimes hatefuly uncritical tone (R. Dawkins, many internet forums). Any thesis about creation is deliberately confused with „biblical creationism" and thrown away with it. While the reaction of naturalistic circles is not altogether astonishing, one cannot fail to notice that the attitude twards ID on part of Christian philosophers, theologians and intellectuals generally is mostly coldly critical and dismissive. I want to show, however, that the general condemnation of ID is not appropriate and that the critics throw the baby out with the bathwater. I will discuss the problems of ID in more detail, as they are a mirror, in which any other philosophical analyses of the evolution of complex biological phenomena could be reflected.

The biological week points of the „Intelligent Design"

It is possible indeed to criticise ID for several things. The very existence of the irreducibly complex systems in the living world is an open problem so far. Sometimes a functional system simpler than that cited by the ID authors has been found, another time it has been discovered that the components of a seemingly irreducible complex system existed already earlier and had their own specific function (s.c. preadaptations). It is objected generally that complex systems did not need to take place from scratch, but that they may have emerged by a new composition of some older prefabricated elements, useful or not. It would radically enhance the probability of the fortuitous origin of such systems. Further, it is rather risky to assert that the explanation of the complex systems in naturalistic terms could not be given at any stage in the future. On the other hand, the idea of nonreducibly complex systems was supported from a unforeseen side in the field of the molecular „evo-devo" some years ago. Highly compact grouping of some specific regulatory genes of embryos of the Bilaterals have been discovered which function only as firm wholes and are conspicuously conservative in evolution. Systems of such a complexity and non-reducibility could not arise by small steps.[8]

The probability calculations of ID themselves are assailable on several grounds.[9] The very probabilities of emergence of fortuitous phenomena under the value of 10-10 are under suspicion that the presumptions, under which probability values have been calculated, were not fulfilled, as they cannot be verified under such low frequencies of the phenomena in question. There is a prerequisite for the model of combinatorial probability used by ID, namely that each of the events has to be equally probable. In biological reality, however, such factors as accessibility of components in a given space, their concentration, mutual affinity etc. had to play a role at the beginning of information macromolecules (DNA, proteins). These circumstances necessitate that the individual „elementary events" (e.g., a certain chain of nucleotide bases) are not equally probable. Conditions of independent variation are not fulfilled in reality as happens when after one particular unit some other unit follows more frequently than the others (or is excluded, contrariwise) on some physical grounds, which is obviously rather a rule than an exception with the information macromolecules. We also do not know whether the probability of the occurrence of a phenomenon will not rise on some material grounds, e.g., on its chemical indispensability; so we do not know, if theoretically equivalent variants are equivalent also physically. All these circumstances introduce a random element into the „probability-calculus-determinism" which means that some variations are not realized and that we actually cannot know how far the real situation resembles the theoretical distribution curve. This „contextuality" severely limits applicability of the ID combinatorics.

The Czech Christian philosopher Jan Sokol criticised ID recently that the conception is mistaken because it is deterministic in the same way as the s.c. closed causality and mainly because evolution necessarily proceeds in little groping steps which cannot be planned beforehand.[10] It ought to be said here in defence of ID that it does not reject the darwinistic „modern synthesis" with all its casual mutations, unpredictable environmental contingencies, totally contingent genetic drift and other accidental factors, it only wishes to supplement it in one important point - only where CSI has steeply risen in a system, e.g., with the emergence of the bacterial flagellum. The source of a plan should interfere here according to ID and inject the necessary information into the evolutionary process without which the given structure cannot arise. It does not decidedly follow from ID that the whole evolution took place according to the preordained scenario. Evolutionary tinkering and an occasional injection of information from outside need not exclude each other.

Another rather logical weak point of the ID calculations is posed by the fact that one never knows how many theoretical possibilities were there at hand for the solution of the given „task". When calculating the probabilities in question, it is not appropriate to proceed from the current, „finished" form as the ID authors do. Surely, the probability of a particular Shakespeare sonnet's being composed from words and letters randomly scattered on a table is extremely remote. However, if we retracted our aims and wanted only an esthetically effective (and meeting the requirements of the reader´s „selection") poetical form with the same number of letters, we would get an indeterminate, however immense number of possibilities. Thereby the probability that a meaningful text could arise by a haphazard pouring out of letters would be enhanced. Under the current state of knowledge in biology, we do not know by how many ways a certain meaningful „text" could arise which would solve the given task, e.g., how many enzymes could catalyze the given reaction, how many such reactions could fulfill the given task in a metabolic chain etc. - On the other side, if we knew all physical chemical constraints to which the given structure is subjected, this enhancement of probability would not be so dramatic, e.g., if the number of suitable enzymes was constrained by some chemical reasons. Only future research will solve this question.

There are several other objections possible which could be touched here only cursorily. The experimenter Axe works with complex matters in complex organisms and gets from there negligible probabilities of their accidental origin.[11] But the requirements of precision in aminoacid sequences in proteins in primitive organisms could be much lower than today.[12] The present-day enzymes are by three orders of magnitude more efffective than anorganic catalysts, however, the original enzymes of primitive organisms could function on the border of performance of anorganic catalysts and be bounced into higher performance by selection only in the course of time. Their original „undemanding" character enhances again considerably the probabilty of their accidental origin. - Other hypotheses how to explain improbable combinations could be found in the textbooks. An idea is flirted with that under circumstances slightly unfavourable genetic variants could be maintained in the population and waited as if for an appearance of other mutations which could combine with them in an appropriate manner.

It is obvious that the situation is not mature so far for a realistic calculation of the probability of an accidental origin of (irreducibly) complex systems. However, some real structures are so remarkable (the „engine" of the bacterial flagellum, rotating enzyme ATP synthetase, nematocyte of the Cnidarians and many others) that the darwinian assertion that these structures could be explained by small selection steps appears an expression of mere faith. On the other side, neither could ID prove that these admirable structures could never be explained in this way.

„The Law of the conservation of information"

The ID authors reject the idea that a highly improbable phenomenon which is an object of their interest could be a result of corruption of natural laws or of the known initial conditions. However, such highly unlikely phenomena should disrupt the „Law of the conservation of information" (authored by Dembski). According to this principle, CSI in a closed system of natural causes should be constant or even decline. CSI cannot be produced spontaneously, originate endogenously or organize itself.[5] „The Law of the conservation of information" is not, however, intended to be a common physical law, but a principle of a higher order, determining the properties of a vast number of common physical laws from a higher level. Highly improbable events should disrupt this principle (and just by this the neccessity of an injection of an information into the system from the outside is demonstrated), however, they should not corrupt common physical laws and need not use any gaps in acting of these, i.e., they need not disrupt the „causal closure" principle.

There is no place here to discuss possible objections against these assertions in detail. Informatics approaches physics these days and it will soon not be possible to speak about information omitting the knowledge amassed in the field of quantum mechanics in the first place. In Dembski´s conception, „information" is closely connected with probability combinatorics which will not suffice with regard to the far-reaching consequences he draws from it. The more is true of the „Law of the conservation of information" which is presented nearly as self-evident. The role of information in biology will have to be thought through much more deeply before metaphysical conclusions could be drawn from it. Two weighty consequences follow from the questionable character of the „Law of the conservation of information": first, the conclusion from the steep rise of CSI to the intelligent cause is weakened, second, ID cannot be protected anymore by this „law" against the seemingly devastating principle of the causal closure.

Philosophy of ID is problematic as well

The leading idea of ID is as follows: The products of human hands contain ordinarily much information (CSI). A planning intelligent mind is always responsible for their origin. Analogically we may, even have to believe that if we find a large amount of purposfully functioning information in living beings, that a personal intelligent Designer is responsible for their evolutionary origin. He is able to choose the result of the activity of a system in such a way that it does not follow neither from natural laws nor from initial conditions. The result would be in his absence unbearably improbable.

Meyer tries to confer a logical form on this deliberation, similar to that used in „historical" sciences - a form of so-called abduction or „conclusion to the best explanation" of the origin of a phenomenon.[2] When an astronomer finds sand waves on some planet similar to those existing on the terrestrial sea coast, he concludes - lacking some other suitable explanation - that the waves on the planet have been produced by water. The deduction must fulfill three prerequisites (Meyer takes them from a philosopher of science M. Scriven):

1. the candidate cause was present,

2. it has on other occasions clearly demonstrated its capacity to produce the effect under discussion,

3. absence of evidence (despite a thorough search) of other possible causes.

In case of ID, the cause taken in account is a conscious intelligence, this commonly displays its competence to produce CSI and - as the ID authors try to demonstrate - nothing or nobody else barring a conscious intelligence is able to produce CSI, correctly said to produce abrupt rises of CSI in a limited time interval. Meyr regards the conclusion utterly convincing and in perfect congruity with the scientific method of historical studies.

I suspect, however, that ID fulfills none of these criteria. The second one is of key importance. Meyer is covering here under one collective term „personal conscious intelligence" both the human intelligence which is not under suspicion and a transcendental intelligence whose operating in the organic world ought to be proved. On this false identification the very conclusion to the best explanation of CSI is actually based. Some objections are quite evident here. The ID authors regard CSI and intelligence necessarily connected. But the notion of „intelligence" is not defined unequivocally in current psychology.[13] If only for this, the contention of a connection of CSI and intelligence is logically shaky. Human intelligence encompasses such things as abstract thought, understanding, self-awareness, communication, reasoning, learning, having emotional knowledge, retaining, planning, and problem solving. Is it possible to understand any transcendental intelligence in this way?

The products of human hands and „products" of Nature differ to such an extent, that the large amount of useful information (CSI) is ultimately the only quality they have in common (barring human imitations of Nature, but that is another thing). What is important, the human origin is judged not only from an improbable form (CSI) itself, but from such things as the stuff of the artifact, a form clearly produced by men, an obvious human purpose etc. A high content of CSI is not even a necessary condition for concluding the existence of a human originator and the bond between intelligence and CSI is not as unequivocal as it is supposed by Meyer.[14] If human cause is able to produce high CSI in artefacts, it does not guarantee that the high content of CSI in organisms is caused by a cause of the same kind.

The idea of putting human intelligence and transcendental intelligence under a common generic notion is assailable from a philosophical point of view. (E. g., Thomas Aquinas talks in this vein about a mere analogy between human and divine attributes without a posssiblity to subsume them under a common generic term of „being".) But even if it were admissible, it would not follow from affiliation to a common genus that the abilities of the respective beings would be identical - an ability to „produce high CSI" in our case. Not even a generic affinity would entail an identity of effects.

One cannot speak of „this cause" and of its abilities in the second Meyer´s criterion of abduction, as such a common cause (intelligence) does not exist here at all. Criterion #1 is undermined then eo ipso - Man was not present in evolution to be able to regulate it and it is not admissible to judge identically from the abilities of human intelligence regarding the abilities of a transcendental intelligence, which could be present. But even the third condition of abduction is not fulfilled: there are competitive theories of neodarwinism, emergence etc. Meyr should have had to reckon with them all in advance, however, the whole abduction of intelligent design would expand to a nearly unmanagable task.

Some conclusion can be drawn. The thought transition from high CSI existing in artefacts to the conclusion that a transcendental intelligence (personal and conscious, as it is supposed by Meyer) must be deduced to be originator of the high CSI in living beings, is not defendable from a strictly logical point of view. It does not reach even the level of abduction which is not conclusive from its very essence. It can be, of course, reasonably speculated about an intelligent cause of the origin and evolution of life, however, but only in a sense of analogy, if not metaphor, of some similarity between human and transcendental intelligence. By no means it can be talked about a natural-scientific conclusion, as it massively transgresses the domain of the observable.

Perhaps one comment more: The portion of philosophy in ID is much bigger than the ID authors are willing to admit. They must assign to science an outstanding ability to reach the truth, e.g., when they ascribe to it an infallible aptitude to know whether and when a massive rise of CSI took place in a time interval. Anyway, it is a metascientific perspective from a higher level which cannot be scientific, but only philosophic. [14]

Why do the ID authors insist so strenuously on the scientific character of their conclusions, I can only guess. American thinking was always prone to pragmatism and positivism, and against this background the science may be easily (and erroneously) assumed to be the only rationally responsible access to truth. The reputation of science is high, whereas the public does not know much about philosophy. Moreover, the mainstream of current Anglo-American analytical philosophy is predominantly materialistic. In their struggle to ensure that pupils and students of public US schools should not be taught exclusively along the lines of materialistically interpreted evolutionary biology, ID exponents do not find a necessary support in the mainstream of surrounding philosophy.

But is it science?

Both naturalistic and theistic critics of the ID conception are unanimous in one respect: ID is not a science and cannot lay claim to be taught both in public and religious schools as a supplement of the conventional evolution biology or even as a substitute thereof. Several things are mixed together in these discussions, often exceedingly emotional, alas, and it should be admitted that some of these confusions were caused by ID theorists themselves.

The ID authors present themselves explicitely as scientists, they refer to their ideas as science and call for an adequate respect for their conclusions. They would like to penetrate respectable scientific periodicals („peer reviewed"), but they succeed only rarely. This is, of course, a welcome ammunition for their opponents who point out that ID publish their results predominantly in a book form which is not consonant with well-established scientific usage. The reason for the aversion of scientific editors from publishing ID articles is principally because contemporary science is based on the principle of methodological reductionism. Applied to biology, it means the rule of converting biological phenomena into physical and chemical ones so far as it is possible. The ID conception puts limits on such an explanation of life phenomena just by definition, and this is not accepted by biologists with enthusiasm. By and large, they are still living in the comfortable world of newtonian physics which used to exclude any intervention of physically indetectable factors (the abovementioned „causal closure of the world"). Biologists are learning only slowly to respect the revolution which has been brought about in science by quantum mechanics at the beginning of the 20th Century. Physics itself has breached the principle of „causal closure" on a subatomic level and papers appear for the first time stating that the indeterminism of quantum events can be multiplied into the macroscopic dimensions of living bodies (some sorts of genetic mutations, important processes on the surfaces of neural cells etc.).[15] Therefore, a possibility arises of acting upon the biological processes of „psychic" or „vital" factors.

However, to consider such factors is not within the competency of natural science, but of philosophy; as the ID authors try to substantiate a transcendental Intelligence and are eo ipso (unwittingly) philosophizing, thay are really „un-scientific". It does not result from this, however, that if they succeded one day to follow through their probabilistic considaretions to the end, that others - maybe inerested theistic philosophers - could use them for underpinning of philosophical theism. But such a success is rather remote so far.

The second reason of refusing ID is the surviving dominance of the neodarwinistic evolutionary paradigm. I suspect that even works satisfying the reductionist methodology, but critical of neodarwinism may get into serious difficulties when sent to be published, the more so if they profess explicit or implicit sympathy to ID. The ruling paradigm goes all out to avert its overthrow. Selectionism is confronted, however, with mighty rivals in the last decades - neutral hypothesis, systems biology and emergentism, horizontal gene transfer, evolution of development and others. To declare the works of the ID authors unscientific only because they try empirically (even experimentally) prove that the evolutionary origin of some complex structures cannot be explained from the neodarwinistic principles (e.g., the papers of Axe having appeared in the renowned biochemical Journal of Molecular Biology) is definitely prejudiced and smacks of ideologizing. It is deplorable that an array of theologians and Christian intellectuals let themselves be fascinated by this stream of prejudiced and single-track selectionist thought, as we will see immediately.

Why do (some) Christians disapprove of ID?

ID arouses very different reactions among Christian intellectuals. While the archbishop of Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn stood up indirectly for ID in the influential daily The New York Times in the year 2005 and condemned Darwinism as incompatible with the ecclesiastical doctrine,[16] the director of Vatican observatory at that time Jesuit George Coyne labelled Schönborn´s appearance „a tragic episode in the relationship of the Catholic church to science."[17] In the same vein as Coyne also Fiorenzo Facchini, professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna expressed himself in the official Vatican newspaper l´Osservatore Romano.[18] Many other distinguished personalities could be named both from the catholic and protestant side who expressed themselves unambiguously against ID. The theologians and philosophers, however, do not occupy (better: do not bother) themselves with the objections of the sort we have discussed in the preceding paragraphs.

What embarrasses Christians perhaps most, is the concept of God which is supposedly hidden behind ID. Coyne,e.g., expressed himself that "[r]eligious believers must move away from the notion of a dictator God, a newtonian God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly...God should be seen more as a parent or as one who speaks encouraging and sustaining words...He does not intervene, but rather allows, participates, loves." Coyne says verbatim: "God in his infinite freedom continuously (italics J.V.) creates a world which reflects that freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process to greater and greater complexity...God lets the world be what it will be in its continuous evolution. He does not intervene, but rather allows, participates, loves."

Coyne says further that God is not needed to explain the scientific picture of life's origins in terms of religious belief and that the apparent directionality seen by science in the evolutionary process does not require a designer. Coyne openly endorses Darwinism and argues that it is compatible with Christianity. In contradistinction to this, ID is not science and those Christians are naive who try to fill certain gaps in our scientific knowledge of evolution. Christianity is "radically creationist," Father George V. Coyne said, „but in a quite different sense than the creationists have it. The theory of Intelligent Design diminishes God into „an engineer who designs systems rather than a lover." [17]

After what was said above, we could already try to take a stand on the paradigmatic dispute between Schönborn and Coyne (Facchini etc.). In neodarwinism, an empirical theory (the selectionism) should be distinguished from its philosophical, in fact even ideological interpretations.[19] It is certainly uninformed and not far-sighted to defend „darwinism" indiscriminately, which is the position taken up by the astronomer Coyne. The „New Atheists" mentioned above lean heavily upon darwinism and adopting darwinism can easily prove itself to be a signature under blank check. One must say which „darwinism" one has in mind and be aware at the same time that even empirical darwinism is not the only theory of evolution, in spite of the fact that natural selection evidently holds down a very important role. People standing outside the field should not express themselves to this question at all; on the contrary, darwinism as ideology ought to be of particular interest to philosophers and theologians who should critically cope with it. I guess that Cardinal Schönborn´s worry and appeal is directed just at this line.

Current ID is not by far the only alternative to materialistic darwinism. However, it works to our benefit and we should appreciate that the ID proponents put their heads above the parapet debunking the danger of ideological darwinism. Attempt of ID to prove that neodarwinism is not sufficient to explain the evolution of complex systems is empirical and fully legitimate. The inference of ID of an Intelligent Designer is not a scientific one, however, but (naively) philosophical. The empirical starting point of ID is in fact mechanistic, nevertheless the intelligent cause becomes involved in the world freely and this excludes any mechanistically determined evolution. Coyne´s God as permanently creating is an elegant idea, however, it leaves the problem of the causal closure intact. Acceptance of „darwinism" is comfortable, but this „immunization" strategy makes philosophical or theological statements trivial (Spaemann).[20] Whether the indefinite Designer of ID interfering at times in the process of evolution is somebody less than Coyne´s God cooperating with the world permanently is most probably a matter of taste.

Do not condemn ID sweepingly

Being confronted with the growing aggressiveness of philosophical materialism, all Christians should have a taste for the motivation of the ID „movement". They should also appreciate in this situation that ID resists the temptation of many present-day Christian authors which could be summarized by an immunization catchword: „You evolutionary biologists can do whatever you wish in your playground, we ourselves do know enough about God and will not interfere with your business."

The question now is how far the ID exponents are successful in their endeavours. According to our analysis above, it seems that they went the wrong way about it. They pay dearly for their programme to cope with ideologized darwinism (which surpasses the limits of empirical science) by purely scientific means. Instead, it would be more appropriate first to demonstrate that atheism does not necessarily follow from the central dogma of darwinism, even if the latter was right. Second, it would be suitable to ask whether the neodarwinistic list of evolutionary factors of life and Man is complete. ID tries to prove that it is not; however, it choses a strategy which turned up to be unsuccessful so far - mainly because the empirical („purely scientific") answer to some pertinent basic questions is still lacking. It is not possible to say now how these answers will appear after say further 50 or 100 years.

What will not fall victim to ravages of time, however, is the antinaturalistic thrust of the internal aspect of living beings. It would be much more efffective if the opposition against biological naturalism concentrated on the inner, experiential aspect of life, culminating in human consciousness, freedom and morality. An experience as such, the most indubitable and obvious phenomenon in the Universe for us, is inaccessible to the scientific method and especially inexplicable by the mechanism supposed by the darwinism.

Current biology predominantly remains in the conceptual framework of newtonian, pre-quantum-mechanical physics, inclusive molecular biology. Newtonian physics is deterministic and totally separated from the inner, conscious aspect of living beings. Such is the current understandig of „being scientific". If biology is based on newtonian physics, there is no place in it for psychic, „vital" agents at all. If the ID proponents tend to oppose biological naturalism in the framework of that concept of scientificalness and, at the same time, to maintain the idea of a transcendental agent, they get involved in a sharp dualism of Descartes´ type, i.e., of a dualism „Designer versus machine". Interventions of the Designer have to disrupt physical laws and neither the „Law of conservation of information" has helped here because of its problematic nature.

The basic characteristic of life is its ability to have experience, consciousness and freedom (arising in the course of evolution) which cannot be realized in the scheme of „newtonian" biology. In this sense ID would derive much from the progress made in the philosophy of biology by the life work of German-American phenomenologist Hans Jonas (1903-1993)[21]. It would be appropriate to relax the sharp dualism of mind and mechanism in ID. Living being is both descartian res extensa and res cogitans. If we look at it only from the viewpoint of res extensa, it will be subject to the abandoned physical determinism. ID should look for a philosophical model of a less pointed dualism (if they do not yet). So long as we stay in the framewok of „descartian-newtonian" biology we will not extricate ourselves from naturalism.

The ID agent so to speak launches evolution into more complex forms - at the beginning of each evolutionary novel information macromolecule, of each nowly emerged irreducibly complex system. The activity of the Designer in evolution must be then very common, of course. The proud claim for a scientific status turns into its opposite in the hands the ID authors: the causal closure of classical physics would exclude any possibility to interfere from outside, including the role of a transcendental planning agent, of course. The IDs would like to take the scientific devil by the horns, but he pulls them to hell.

The largely unsuccessful endeavours so far of the ID proponents do not mean, however, that their main theme - the evolutionary origin of complex biological systems - is swept from the table. Current major handbooks of the evolutionary theory get over the problem of the rise of complexity by means of the neodarwinistic mechanism too easily and the problem certainly cannot be taken as solved.[22] The origin of life itself is not known even at the level of acceptable „mechanisms", not to speak about the hidden potentiality of life for its later „inwardness", which must be taken into account just from the very beginning. The abovementioned unorthodox lines of thought within the evolutionary theory came with their own solutions of the question of the origin of biological complexity. If the main idea of darwinism in this point is falsifiable at all, i.e., if it cannot pull itself off any difficulty (which would, according to Popper´s insight, exclude its scientific status), then it is just ID which offers to it the desirable falsifiability. The neodarwinism would prove itself falsifiable and therefore scientific if it offered a way how to falsify its claim to the explanation of phenomena however complex, if it was false. It is exactly this that the ID authors strive for. The undecidability of this question means failure for both factions. However, the endeavour of the ID exponents is not futile: we can learn from it the dangerous currents everybody must negotiate in the attempt to prove real purpose in living beings as an intended plan exclusively on the basis of their material („morphological") appearance. The purposefulness (teleology) of the structure of organisms is evident: however, it is difficult (so far at least) to defend it convincingly against the darwinean explanation by means of mere quasi-purposefulness (teleonomy). The subjectivity of highly developed living beings is genuinely oriented toward purpose and just from the unquestionable existence of this subjectivity, we may entertain the hope that also the approach of ID starting from a different point of departure will attain successfully its goal. The way to the acceptance of the „radical Christian creationism" in Coyne´s sense is not closed at all, if we focus on the internal, experiential aspect of life. Sweeping condemnation of the ID conception made in the Discovery Institute may seem to some observers a tactical advantage from the theistic or Christian point of view, but it certainly in actual fact means a strategic defeat.


[2]Cited from Meyer, S.: Signature in the Cell, New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 2009, p. 445 f.

[3]Ruse, M: Creationism, in: Zalta EN (ed.): The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edition Fall 2008. See http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/creationism/

[4]Behe, M.: Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, New York, The Free Press, 1996.

[5]Dembski, W. A.: Intelligent Design. The Bridge between Science and Theology, Downers Grove, Illinois, InterVarsity Press, 1999. Also Dembski, W. A.: Irreducible Complexity Revisited. PCID (Progress in Complexity, Information and Design) 3.14, November 2004.

[6]Vácha, J: Dembski´s attempt at substantiation of „Intelligent Design", Filosofický časopis (Journal of Philosophy, Prague) 55 (4): 608-616, 2007 (in Czech).

[7]Vácha, J: Conference „Darwin and Design: A Challenge for 21st Century Science", Filosofický časopis (Journal of Philosophy, Prague) 54 (1): 142-153, 2006 (in Czech).

[8]Davidson, E. H., The Regulatory Genome. Gene Regulatory Networks in Development and Evolution. Amsterdam, Elsevier, Academic Press 2006, s. 192 f., 196 f.

[9]I owe the following discussion to my departed workmate, physicist and statistician Prof. Vladimír Znojil

[10]Sokol, J.: Evolution in different ways, Vesmír (Cosmos, Prague) 90 (10), 592, 2011 (in Czech)

[11]Axe, D.: The case against a Darwinian origin of protein folds, BIO-Complexity 2010 (1), 1-12. doi:10.5048/BIO-C.2010.1

[12]Vetsigian, K., Woese, C., Goldenfeld, N., Collective evolution and the genetic code, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(28), 10696-10701, 2006.

[13]Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia: Intelligence. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligence

[14]O´Connor, R.: The design inference. Old wine in new wineskins, in: Neil A. Manson (Ed.): God and Design. The teleological argument and modern science, Routledge, London and New York, 2003.

[15]Randomly selected examples: Stamos, D. N.: Quantum indeterminism and Evolutionary Biology. Philosophy of Science 68, 164-184, 2001. Salari, V., Tuszynski, J., Rahnama, M., Bernroider, G.: Plausibility of quantum coherent stsates in biological systems. Journal of Physics: Conference Series 306 010275, 2011.

[16]Schönborn, C.: Finding design in nature. The New York Times July 7, 2005. See http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/catholic/schonborn-NYTimes.html

[17]Lombard, M.: Intelligent Design belittles God, Vatican director says, Catholic Online (www.catholic.org) 30. Jäner 2006. (http://www.catholic.org/national/national_story.php?id=18503)

[18]Facchini, F.: Evolution and creation. L'Osservatore Romano - 16 /17 January 2006. See http://fiorenzofacchini.altervista.org/articoli/osservatore_romano_01_2006_inglese.pdf

[19]Vácha, J.: Three layers of darwinism, Universum (Prague) 19(2), 13-17, 2009 (in Czech)

[20]Spaemann, R.: "Danke Gott und Freue mich" Wider die Tendenz, die Debatte um Kardinal Schönborns Einspruch gegen die Evolutionstheorie zu bagatelisieren. Standard, 23/24 Juli 2005. See http://www.internetpfarre.de/blog/index.php?serendipity%5Baction%5D=search&serendipity%5BsearchTerm%5D=Spaemann&serendipity%5BsearchButton%5D=%3E

[21]Jonas, H. : On the power or impotence of subjectivity. In: Philosophical Dimensions of the Neuro-Medical Sciences, pp. 143-161. Spicker, S. F. and Engelhard, H. T.D. (eds.). Reidel Publishing Co.: Dordrecht/Boston, 1976. Also the same: Organismus und Freiheit. Vanderhoeck und Ruprecht: Göttingen, 1973. Reprinted after the author´s decease under the title Das Prinzip Leben. Frankfurt/M., Suhrkamp 1997. (Both editions represent a revisioned version of the original The Phenomenon of Life. Toward a Philosophical Biology, Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern University Press, 1966.)

[22]Vácha, J.: Natural selection ad usum of philosophers. Filosofický časopis (Journal of Philosophy, Prague, In Czech, English and German summary) 60(2), 163-189, 2012