Paul A. Nelson mener evolusjonsteorien er feil. Spør Nelson om «intelligent design» i nettmøte.

( «Intelligent design» (ID) er et teori som går ut på at livet i universet er for sammensatt til å være et resultat av naturlover og tilfeldigheter. Tilhengerne av ID hevder at naturen generelt og liv spesielt umulig kan bli til av seg selv fra uorganiske molekyler - det må ha blitt skapt av intelligent «designer» eller skaper. ID-bevegelsen mener at dette kan dokumenteres.

Ikke overraskende er naturvitenskapen svært kritiske til konseptet om intelligent design. Vitenskapsmenn og -kvinner mener at ID ikke er en ekte vitenskap, ettersom det er umulig å bevise at en intelligent skaper står bak livet i universet. Men de nykonservative i USA har fått gjennomført at elever i enkelte skoler skal lære om intelligent design som et alternativ til Darwins teori om artenes opprinnelse.
PAUL A. NELSON: Nelson er en av lederne for ID-bevegelsen.

PAUL A. NELSON: Nelson er en av lederne for ID-bevegelsen.

EVOLUSJONSKRIGEN: USA fulgte med argusøyne Kitzmiller v. Dover. Slik var forsiden på magasinet Time.

EVOLUSJONSKRIGEN: USA fulgte med argusøyne Kitzmiller v. Dover. Slik var forsiden på magasinet Time.
Faksimile: Time Magazine

I 2005 raste kampen mellom vitenskapsmenn og tilhengere av intelligent design i det amerikanske rettsvesenet. I Kitzmiller v. Dover saksøkte elleve foreldre Dover skole fordi skolen krevde at elevene skulle lære om intelligent design som et alternativ til evolusjonsteorien i naturfagstimene. Den føderale dommeren erklærte kravet for grunnlovsstridig og forbød undervisning av ID i naturfagstimene. Det har ikke stoppet konservative skoler fra å lære bort intelligent design til elevene.

Paul A. Nelson er en av lederne i Intelligent Design-bevegelsen i USA og redaktør av deres tidsskrift Origins & Design. Nelson er også tilknyttet det konservative Discovery-instituttet, hvor det forfektes at ID er en vitenskapelig teori som er minst like aktuell som de gjeldende vitenskapelige teoriene om evolusjon og livets begynnelse.

På fredag stiller Nelson i nettmøte i Still ham dine spørsmål her!

Publisert fredag 22.09.2006 kl. 09:00, oppdatert 13:35

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Nettmøtet er avsluttet. Les svarene fra Paul A. Nelson nedenfor.

Infinite regress

    Mr Paul A. Nelson,

    One of the things that make ID unappealing to me, is the fact that you introduce an explanatory infinite regress. You point to what you believe are weaknesses in the theory of evolution and say these proves ID. However, what about your proposed entity that did the creation?

    If the origin of nature and life needs an explanation, must not the creator also be explained? Then the question becomes: Who created the creator? A creator must be more complex than its creation, thus making its existance even more in need of a creator than its creation ever was.

    If you by some rationale should deem the creator "eternal" or something similar, I'd like to hear why nature and the principles of nature/life should be any different?

    In my view you are not solving any of life's mysteries, just lumping it into the realms of some mystical, unexplained entity and thereby introducing an infinte explanatory regress. That's not science.
    Innsendt av: K.S. Brønnick

All explanation has a terminus: that is, when we explain causally -- A caused B -- the entity in the "A" position is not itself explained, but does the work of explaining B.

What's puzzling to me about your dissatisfaction with intelligent design is (presumably) that you accept an unexplained terminus. Your terminus is simply one other than an ultimate intelligence or mind. Physical being (matter or nature itself), let's say.

So if I were to ask you "What explains physical being (ultimate matter)," you would have to say, "Well, matter just exists, autonomously, infinitely into the past."

Thus, you're not opposed to an infinite regress, as a matter of logical principle. Because you (presumably) accept one as being the case -- only it's a regress of matter, not mind.

If non-mind can be the causal terminus of reality, as a matter to be settled by evidence -- that is, this theory may be true -- then it can also be false, as a matter of evidence.

Mind might be the ultimate cause. By logical symmetry, the view you hold might be false, just as mine might be false.

Everything depends on what is the case.

But let's not say that only my view suffers from a regress. ANY theory of ultimate causation presupposes an unexplained terminus.

I have to sign off here because of other commitments. For readers in Bergen and Trondheim, I'll be giving public lectures in both cities over the next few days. Please come out and say hello!

I apologize to all those whose questions I could not answer. Your passion, insight, and criticism, painful though it may be, is valuable to me. Thanks for taking the time to write.

All the best,


Paul Nelson

How can I.D. be proven wrong?

    A theory can be called scientific if it can produce testable and falsifiable predictions.
    Could you please give me just one falsifiable prediction that differs from what would be predicted from evolutionary theory?

    Please do not try to avoid this question by repeating any of the strange claims creationists make about evolutionary theory. If I.D. is unable to produce such predictions they can not claim to be scientific, can they?
    Innsendt av: Jens A. Huseby

Ribozymes (RNA catalysts) of biologically functionally length will be produced either (a) by already existing organisms, as an aspect of their normal activities, or (b) by biochemists acting intelligently to synthesize such molecules. Prebiotic RNA lies beyond the reach of early Earth chemistry, and represents the effect of intelligent action. This prediction is well-supported by current knowledge.

It's fully testable -- indeed, it's exquisitely vulnerable to refutation -- and this prediction differs diametrically from what is postulated by current evolutionary accounts of the origin of RNA.

As I responded to an earlier questioner: many scientists and philosophers are already fully engaged with challenging design hypotheses and ideas. For example, I encourage you to download the work of Elliott Sober (Univ of Wisconsin), Chris Adami (Caltech), or Emile Zuckerkandl (forthcoming issue of the journal Gene, see his article "Intelligent design and biological complexity"). The back-and-forth of ordinary scientific debate is underway.


Paul Nelson

ID a scientific theory?

    How can you say that ID is a scientific theory when it is not possible to prove or disprove the existence of a creator (or, "intelligent designer" as you like to call it)? To me, this sounds as unscientific as claiming that the biblical fables are true, just because many people have faith in that they are, and not because they have any further evidence than a scrappy old book rewritten many times.
    Innsendt av: student

Take a look at the opening pages of Darwin's Origin of Species -- at the end of the his introduction, he writes, "The view I formerly held, of the creation of species, I now regard as erroneous." (That's my paraphrase from memory this morning.)

Darwin tested the theories of "design" of his time (mid 19th c.) and found them in error. Wrong. The Origin is full of evidential challenges to Paley's view of design. Ernst Mayr, the great Harvard biologist who edited an edition of the Origin, lists dozens of explicit evidential tests.

Those theories could be tested, because Darwin did just that.

So it is really the case that, as you argue, one cannot test ideas of creation or design?


Paul Nelson

Junk science

    What do you think of other hard working proponents of junk science, such as the oil industry's research/lobbying on climate change and the tobacco industry's cancer research? Do you feel that you help each other, and if so: does it bother you?
    Innsendt av: ks

When did I stop beating my wife? Was that what you asked?

If you want a reply, try asking a real question, not an insult in the form of a question.


P.S. Don't smoke; try not to pollute our shared world; learn to separate issues.

Paul Nelson


    In what ways are your theories more probable than the theories of the pastafarians? You know, the people that belive that the flying spaghetti monster created the earth and made it look older than it really is?
    Innsendt av: Rune

I have a slide in one of my lectures showing the Flying Spaghetti Monster (blessed be He) reaching out to touch the finger of Adam. I like the guy, the FSM, although I can't say I am one of his true worshippers.

Problem is, the plates of spaghetti that I've known and enjoyed (with garlic bread and Chianti, thank you) have never done anything except sit there on the linen table cloth and give off delicious aromas.

Intelligent agents, however, do things. Like you: they write emails to newspapers.

So the FSM isn't really much of a designer, is He? No disrespect intended, of course.

Pass the parmesan cheese, please. I'm about to have a religious experience...


P.S. May the Pasta Be With You.

Paul Nelson

Pure science in science classes

    Mr. Nelson,
    As I am sure you are aware of, evolutionary biology is taught and practiced on the basis of the scientific method, where it is possible to falsify hypotheses. This is not the case for the concept of ID in general, and the idea of an intelligent designer in particular. How do you justify teaching unscientific material in science classes?
    Innsendt av: Evo. bio. student, Oslo
Ev bio student,

I do not favor the teaching of ID in science classes. I said so, very clearly, to a seminar on Tuesday at the Univ of Oslo.

This has been my position for many years. To be taught in science classes, intelligent design must earn its place by the ordinary, diffcult path of winning acceptance in the scientific community.


P.S. If ID cannot be falsified, then why are so many biologists trying to do just that? I recently attended a lecture at the AAAS building in Washington, DC (AAAS publishes the journal Science), given by Chris Adami of Caltech. Adami explained that his experiments with the program Avida, trying to simulate the origin of Darwinian pathways to "irreducibly complex" systems, was an attempt to refute the hypotheses of Mike Behe.

That's testing.

Paul Nelson


    Hello. Isn't all of this ID rubbish a desperate attempt to hold on to a reason to believe in God? Seems to me that it's a thinly conceiled, and absolutely indefencable, excuse to keep promoting old fairytales, grounded in the fear of facing the facts. How else can you justify denying the obvious evidence for evolution and defend anything as scientifically dismissable as religion?
    Innsendt av: Frode

I'm a student of evolutionary theory. As an undergraduate at the Univ of Pittsburgh, I read Darwin (in great detail -- the Origin, the Notebooks, his letters, etc), took comparative anatomy and genetics, biological systematics, and many other courses in the field. As a graduate student in the philosophy of science at the Univ of Chicago, I studied molecular evolution, evolutionary processes, and the history of evolutionary theory. In fact my PhD dissertation deals with the logical structure of Darwin's theory of common descent.

Evolutionary biology has learned a great deal about living things since 1859. It has not, however, solved its major problems, among them:

1. the origin of life
2. the origin of the major differences between organisms
3. the origin of consciousness

The "obvious evidence" for evolution is much less compelling than many realize. I know many biologists who dissent from neo-Darwinism, who have first-rate intellects and a wide knowledge of biological evidence.

Not only is it possible to doubt neo-Darwinism, one can do so with rigor and strong evidential justification.

To my mind, the main reason Darwinian evolutionary theory is held to be the only rational position is not the genuine strength of the theory (it's quite weak), but rather that any alternative is seen as magic.


Paul Nelson

Value of ID

    What value does ID have, when applied to science? What hypotheses does it generate and what sort of experiment can be performed with ID to test its validity?
    Innsendt av: Mats

The testing of ID has already begun, by skeptical scientists.

Two examples:

1. In the newest issue of the journal Nature Reviews Microbiology, there's an article by two scientists challenging Michael Behe's hypothesis that the bacterial flagellum -- a molecular machine consisting of a motor and a long, whip-like propeller -- is irreducibly complex. (An irreducibly complex system needs all of its parts to function, and cannot be reached in a step-by-step Darwinian pathway.) That's the ordinary process of science. One person puts forward a hypothesis for testing; others challenge it.

2. In a forthcoming issue of the journal Gene, molecular biologist Emile Zuckerkandl of Stanford Univ provides a *løng* (over 10,000 words) article testing various design ideas (such as irreducible complexity).

If you write to me at [email protected], I can provide you with more details like this.

In brief, the testing of ID hypotheses is already well underway.


Paul Nelson

humans and animals..

    so why were humans sellected to be ever so complicated? why are we the only species that own a potential to rule the planet because of our intelligence?
    Innsendt av: James Cagney jr.

My dog rules me. Really. He makes me feel terribly guilty for not taking him for a walk in the forest preserve, and for not feeding him promptly at 5:30 pm every night.

I think it's a reasonable hypothesis that our civilization is actually run by the cats, dogs, goldfish, and guinea pigs.

THEY, not us, are the most highly-evolved forms of life. ;-)

Paul, servant of Beau (golden retriever)

Paul Nelson

Intelligent design?

    Before you can say that an intelligent designer is behind evolution, you have to identify what/who that intelligent designer is. I assume you think God is this the designer? If so we get a stew of religion, morals, ethics, belief and evolution - Christianity. For argument sake; could you say that the intelligent designer is just that: an intelligent designer and not a purveyor of religion. That the designer had but one task: to initiate evolution, not religion? Man has created God - not vice versa...
    Innsendt av: petter

These questions -- design or no design, and if design, who was the designer -- are as old as humankind. Last year on a lecturing trip to the western USA (Stanford, Univ of Calif, etc), I happened to read Cicero's classic dialogue, On the Nature of the Gods.

Published in Rome in 45 BC. Not a Christian in sight.

And what was Cicero writing about? Ancient philosophical and scientific debates about whether a mind (intelligent cause) lay behind the world, or whether it was "all physics."

Human curiosity about the possibility of design is unquenchable. These debates will occur whether modern science allows them or not.

So I say, let's have the debates, deal with the difficult questions, and struggle to understand better.


Paul Nelson

What God?

    Do you teach that it is the christian God that created the earth?
    What are the scientific proofs that it was the christian God and not the islamic God, the Devil or maybe some other God?
    Innsendt av: Open Minded
Open Minded,

As I said to an earlier question, the question of the identity of the designer is not something that science alone can answer.

And, of course, there is far more to human understanding than the project of science.


Paul Nelson

Neutral science?

    I just have one question that comes to mind after reading about ID: Can you be an atheist and accept ID at the same time?

    If the answer to that question is 'no', aren't er then talking about faith, not science?
    If the answer is 'yes', please explain how that is possible!
    Innsendt av: Olsen

Great question. My mind is divided about how to answer it.

1. On the one hand (as I pointed out in replying to an earlier question), we have the example of the British astronomer Fred Hoyle, who argued for the intelligent design of life on Earth, but was publicly an atheist. See his books Evolution from Space (1981) and The Intelligent Universe (1983).

2. On the other hand, one seems to face the problem of a chain of causes (a regress) that ends either in primal matter OR a primal mind. Hoyle's extraterrestrial intelligence resided in matter. Presumably it originated *from* matter, although I can't recall this morning (too little sleep over the last few days). The American philosopher of science Elliott Sober, at the University of Wisconsin, argued in a new paper recently that any theory of ID *must* postulate a transcendent Mind -- in which case, one could not consistently be an atheist and accept ID. (You can download the pdf of Sober's essay from his webpage at the Univ of Wisconsin.)

But here's a question for you: can you be an atheist and accept science at the same time -- if science discovers that strictly physical causes are insufficient to cause, let's say, the first cell to exist? Because science could discover that, within our lifetimes. The evidence is already accumulating.

I'm serious: can one be a consistent atheist in the face of real biology?

Paul Nelson


    What would be the purpose for an intelligent design of species that develop, adapt to the environment, become extinct, change properties etc.? Sadism?

    In the Intelligent Design, where would you place yourself in the design-development-timeline?
    Innsendt av: Herman

What should the designer have done differently?

Your question, like several asked earlier, presupposes that the world would look unlike it does now, if it had been intelligently designed.

I just want to know what that designed world would look like, and how you know.

Think about this like having a measuring stick. At one end is the world the designer should have made (the one you say we don't inhabit, because of problems like extinction). Somewhere further down the stick -- at the half-meter point, let's say -- is our actual world, with its imperfections and extinction and bad coffee.

From where did you get your measuring stick? And what is the point on it where the properly designed world can be found?


Paul Nelson

Where's the conflict?

    Why shouldn't it be possible both to accept Darwins theories and a creator? Darwin himself said there was no conflict.
    How the world was made and who eventually controlled the development is two different subjects that may very well live side by side.
    Innsendt av: Chimp Apeson

Many people do accept both Darwinian evolution and a creator.

But, in doing so, they accomodate one or the other position (evolution or their belief in God) to help them fit together. What cannot be easily fit together, however, is the philosophical view of naturalism -- nature (physical being) is the whole of reality -- and the existence of transcendent intelligence. There, the conflict is deep and irreconcilable.

From a philosophical perspective, design theorists like me object when philosophical naturalism is identified with science. The sciences do not tell us that nature is the whole of reality.


Paul Nelson

Wolves and dogs

    15000-100000 years ago there were no dogs, only wolves.

    Evere race of dog is a descendant of a wolf 15000-100000 years ago.

    Is this wrong? Or is this a joke from the gods?
    Innsendt av: Pål Elnan

Domesticated breeds, such as dogs (I have a golden retriever), show what human intelligence can do when presented with a highly malleable genome such as Canis lupus.

But dogs are a poor model for natural evolution:

1. Most humanly-created breeds are very unfit. Ever see a bulldog, for instance, struggling to breath? Chihauhua owners know about the many problems those dogs have giving birth. And so on.

Without humans around to feed and take care of them, domesticated breeds rapidly disappear, or revert back (by cross-breeding) to a wolf or coyote-like form.

In the area outside Chicago where I live, coyotes roam freely (one ran right by my daughter and I several months ago), and eat dogs all the time. Pet owners are warned not to leave their dogs chained in yards where coyotes have been seen.

2. Even if we take domesticated dogs as models of evolution, they show that there are limits on variation.

You will never see a dog weighing 300 kilograms. Or a dog weighing a few grams.


Paul Nelson


    If 'somebody' created Mr. Bush and yourself, how can we call it intelligent?

    Mr. Bush look like a monkey and has the body language of a baboon, so I guess that settles it for me.
    Innsendt av: moi

When I look in the bathroom mirror in the morning, I know I can't blame the designer for what I see there. ;-)

The designer didn't force me to go to McDonalds in downtown Oslo last night. And he certainly didn't choose these out-of-style eyeglasses.

I wish I could blame him...


P.S. But I had a very light breakfast this morning.

Paul Nelson

Intelligent absence?

    Dear Paul,

    One of the major differences between evolution theory and creation/ID theory is that evolution is something that is continuous, whereas creation/ID happened once. How does ID explain the continuous changes and mutations that result in new animal and plant species?
    Innsendt av: Stian

Actually, all ID theorists accept the reality of adaptive change in current species. Mutation and natural selection are real processes, well-supported by evidence.

We question, however, that such processes as presently observed can generate the novel information needed for large-scale evolution. This is skepticism shared by many evolutionary biologists (citations on request, write to me at [email protected]). They don't move to design, however, because they see the idea as violating the rules of science.

But varying levels of pigmentation in the wing of a moth does not explain the origin of the moth itself.


Paul Nelson


    If the theory of intelligent design means that some "creators" (God?) created the world, then why make it so that the monkeys develop into humans in a matter of time, (This is a known fact, isn't it?), and make the neanderthals ect - why not start with the intelligent man?
    If the world began by someone "intelligent" creating everything - why is it still progressing?
    Innsendt av: Me

Your question reminds me very strongly of a similar question raised by Darwin himself, in his Notebooks (written in London mostly between 1838 and 1842), as he was beginning to form his theory.

Darwin asked, has "the Creator" really continued over countless years making "a long succession of vile mullouscous animals" (the same types of clams, for instance, only very slightly different, over and over)? For you, it would make more sense for the designer, whoever he/she/it was, to have gone straight to Homo sapiens.

But why would that have been a better design?

Here's the problem. If Darwin's intuitions about what the designer should have done are reasonable, then why not mine, or yours?


Paul Nelson

mr Nelson

    Fine..I evolved, you didnt

    from ATHEISM a non prophet organization
    Innsendt av: Atheist

"Non-prophet" is truly clever. Please congratulate whoever came up with that phrase!


Paul Nelson


    How can it be as relevant as evolution theory by Darwin.His teories can be seen everywhere on this planet (ex. wildlife in Australia,where spicies evolved without contact with rest of the planet, resoulting in primates not found anywhere else, or Galapagos Islands).

    Where are evidence for Intelligente design?And who is this inteligente creature?God?Lifeforms from another worlds?
    Innsendt av: Haaris

Some of the problems Darwin set out to solve -- such as the first origin of animals -- are still unsolved today. The evidence from biogeography, which you cite (the distinctive Australian and Galapagos fauna) could fit with any number of alternative theories, including design. Speciation in finches does not establish how, for instance, avian flight or the origin of feather, occurred. These are phenomena at different scales.

The evidence for design is multi-faceted:

1. We know that we can detect the action of intelligence. For example, you and I have never met (at least, I don't think we have), but it's a reasonable inference that you exist and caused your email to me to occur. A pattern of English text on a computer screen has an intelligent cause somewhere in its history. Information has an intelligent source, universally in our experience.

This is basic human rationality, which we all use, whatever our philosophical or religious views.

2. The information contained in even the simplest living things is truly staggering. There is no explanation of the origin of even a single strand of DNA in terms of strictly physical causes. Indeed, we have good reasons not to expect such an explanation, given the chemistry of essential biomolecules such as DNA or RNA.

3. Given (1) and (2), the inference that life had an intelligent cause at its origin is straightforward.

As a scientific inference, design does not tell one the identity of the designer -- only that an intelligence, in some sense like our own, acted. I'm a Christian: for me, the designer is the God of the Bible. A Hindu or Muslim may also infer design (many do), but name the designer differently. This move to name the identity of the designer, however, takes us beyond science, into philosophy and theology.

Even atheists have thought about the possibility of design. See, for instance, the books of the great British astronomer, Sir Fred Hoyle (such as The Intelligent Universe, published in the mid-1980s). Hoyle rejected Darwinian evolution because the theory had no explanation for the origin of biological information and complexity. He inferred an intelligent cause behind life, albeit one strictly within the physical universe, not a transcendent deity.

Paul Nelson

Religous beliefs

    Do you believe that the earth is flat and in the center of the universe as well? Lets burn those stupid scientist at a stake in the backyard, shall we?
    Innsendt av: Fiksdal

Please don't start a fire in the backyard. I might find myself burning there. ,-)

I love science (I'm a member, for instance, of the Society for Developmental Biology, and the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology). I just don't think Darwin -- or, more to the point, modern evolutionary theory, since Darwin died a long time ago -- is right in every aspect.

Science must be open to challenge. Otherwise, it becomes sterile.


Paul Nelson

ID is not intelligence desgin at least not in horse.

    When you take a look at the horse ailmental system it is not a very intelligence design. It more like the desinger went drunk. Why do conservative chiristian in US always need to find alternativ to Darwin? Are they insecure.
    Innsendt av: Stud Knut J Bjuland

What about the horse's alimentary system seems to you to be a bad design?

What should the designer have done differently?


Paul Nelson