Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Third Way Magazine article discusses ID

In March's Third Way magazine James Carey has some interesting things to say about evolution, intelligent design theory and Richard Dawkins:

'It has been hard to avoid Richard Dawkins recently, who has been popping up all over the media in recent months, breathing insults against Christians like a pre-Damascus Saul.'

[If one were given to betting, I think it would be worth having a flutter on the following bets: 1) Dawkins will accept intelligent design theory, but will continue to hold that the source of the design detected in nature - and he will suggest some kind of advanced alien intelligence as at least a possibility - must itself be susceptable to a naturalistic reductive explanation. In other words, he will go as far or almost as far as Fred Hoyle went; accepting that there is a designer/s but denying that they are supernatural. 2) A little while later, Dawkins will follow Antony Flew by declaring himself more open to a supernatural explanation whilst denying that he has become a Christian and being rather vague about what kind of 'Creator' he believes in. Then, who is to say how far he could slide down the slippery slope to God?]

'The intelligent design lobby are well within their rights to question the theory of evolution. This is not Creationism by another name. They are simply pointing to some potential flaws in a system which the likes of Dawkins claim is bullet proof. Bill Bryson's excellent A Short History of Everything cheerfully points out that the chances of just one chemical reaction producing just one of the many amino acids necessary for life are billions of trillions to one. It does seem amaizing that a complex organ like the eye would naturally occur by mutation. It is no real stretch for the theist of any kind to attribute these to God. But it is surely poor science to end biological study with a conclusion that an organism or process is so complex or implausible that it must be divine?'

'Clearly Intelligent Design lobbyists overstate their scientific case by asserting hard evidence of theism in creation. To use God to explain gaps in science is bad science.'

On the plus side: thank you James for recognizing that ID is not Creationism by another name. Thank you for contending that ID theorists are within their rights to question the theory of evolution. Thank you for observing that abiogenesis is a scientific 'just so' story that flies in the face of overwhealming odds (and those odds are actually the chances of even one out of all the possible chemical reactions that can be factored in being able to accounting for the origin of even one necessary amino acid).

However: while it may or may not be 'poor science to end biological study with a conclusion that an organism or process is so [irreducibly or specifically] complex or implausible that it must be divine' (i.e. caused by divine design), ID simply does not do this!

Why, exactly, would it be 'poor science' to assert that anything in nature had been made by God via primary causal action? I refer James to J.P. Moreland's book Christianity and the Nature of Science (Baker) for a philosophical challenge to his assumption here, and to Del Ratzsch's Science & It's Limits (Apollos) for a defence of the claim that ID is science. Even if James were right about mentioning God in science being bad form, he unfortunately seems to confuse mentioning 'God' and mentioning 'Intelligent Design'. Terminologically speaking, 'God' necessarily includes 'intelligent design' and 'intelligent design' can include God, but ID is a much broader category than 'God'. The latter has only one member (in three persons if one is a Christian theist), while the former extends to a great many members, including Julian, Thor the god of thunder, ET the extra-terrestrial and the angel Gabriel. Hence to infer intelligent design is not necessarily to infer God. To which of the many members covered by 'ID' one should in fact attribute any specific instance of intelligent design is a matter for debate on a case by case basis. Crop Circles, Mount Rushmore and DNA all exhibit specified complexity. Personally, I think it makes most sense to attribute the former to humans and the latter to God, but some people think that crop circles are the work of aliens and others think that crop circles are human hoaxes but that human DNA was made by aliens... Agreeing about design raises a host of potential philosophical and religious disagreements!

On the basis of experience, ID infers 'intelligent design' as the best causal explanation for biological structures which are both very complicated and specified and/or irreducible (mere complexity is not the issue). Infering intelligent design using such criteria of design detection is considered perfectly legitimate science, even by the likes of Dawkins, in scientific fields such as archaeology, cryptography, fraud detection, forensic science and SETI. However, some folk, like Dawkins, have poorly supported philosophical objections to mentioning intelligence as a cause in fields like physics and biology (this is basically because they are a priori comitted to reductive naturalistic explanations foe everything). ID theorists don't share that philosophical hang-up. As David Hume pointed out a long time ago, design arguments can tell you very little about the metaphysical nature of the designer without philosophical extention. His point is well made, and 'God' has no place in the assumptions, scientific methodology or conclusions of Intelligent Design Theory.

Of course, ID doesn't exclude God philosophically speaking, and it is 'no real stretch for a theist of any kind to attribute these things to God.' Nevertheless, making such an attributation is not part of ID per se.

Hence, ID theosists do not 'overstate their scientific case by asserting hard evidence of theism in creation', for the simple reason that they do not assert such evidence.

What they assert (as ID theorists, as a scientific hypothesis) is hard evidence of 'intelligent design'. (ID claims far more than pointing out some 'potential flaws' in evolutionary theory - it claims to point out some actual flaws, and to subsume the good bits of evolutionary theory as Einstein's theory subsumed and Newton's.) For many ID theorists, philosophical and theological thinking extend this scientific conclusion to make an identification of the intelligence in question and God the most rational explanation - but ID is very clear that this conclusion is beyond the bounds of ID and that ID can be accepted by scholars from a wide range of religious and philosophical backgrounds.

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