ID and the Science of God: Part III
|January 13, 2009||Posted by Steve Fuller under Atheism, Biology, Creationism, Culture, Darwinism, Education, Evolution, Intelligent Design, Irreducible Complexity, Origin Of Life, Philosophy, Religion, Science, The Design of Life|
I have been reflecting on the critical responses to my posts, which I appreciate. They mostly centre on the very need for ID to include theodicy as part of its intellectual orientation.
The intuitive basis for theodicy is pretty harmless: The presence of design implies a designing intelligence. Moreover, in order to make sense of the exact nature of the design, you need to make hypotheses about the designing intelligence. These hypotheses need to be tested and may or may not be confirmed in the course of further inquiry. Historians and archaeologists reason this way all the time. However, the theodicist applies the argument to nature itself.
At that point, theodicy binds science and theology together inextricably — with potentially explosive consequences. After all, if you take theodicy seriously, you may find yourself saying, once you learn more about the character of nature’s design, that science disconfirms certain accounts of God – but not others. Scientific and religious beliefs rise and fall together because, in the end, they are all about the same reality.
This is explosive because we live in a world where (allegedly) false scientific beliefs and false religious beliefs are treated radically differently. The former are a matter of public concern: Stamp them out now before our kids’ minds are contaminated! However, the latter are seen as being of purely private concern: Only the belief’s holder bears the consequences. I suppose this double-standard is what makes us ‘modern’, or at least ‘secular’. We end up tolerating all sorts of religious beliefs – including militant atheism – while even minor deviations from the scientific orthodoxy can lead to ostracism, as when Michael Reiss opened the door to creationist questioning of evolution.
Now some people on this blog believe that the safest way out of this minefield is to say that ID makes no hypotheses about the designing intelligence – some even go further to say that in principle the designing intelligence cannot be inferred from design. If you take these policies seriously, you won’t have any science at all. You’ll just have a toolkit of concepts and techniques for reliable design detection. That’s nice, but it doesn’t explain why all these designs should be treated as part of a common object of inquiry. Here you need some underlying laws and principles. This brings you back to proposing hypotheses about how the intelligent designer’s mind works. And then you’ll have science.
Even a simple concept like ‘irreducible complexity’ doesn’t really make sense except as a step towards a theory of the intelligence behind the design. Imagine a Darwinist’s knee-jerk dismissal of Behe’s concept: ‘Just because, say, a cell looks like it’s been purpose-built doesn’t mean that you can compare its parts to those of a mousetrap. That’s to take a superficial similarity and read into it way too much meaning. The cell’s apparent design could have been just as easily brought about by a combination of contingencies spread over a long stretch of time. Keep off the mechanistic metaphors, if you really want to understand how life works’.
My point here is that the Darwinist’s knee-jerk dismissal, however unjustified, is nevertheless right about one thing – namely, that Behe’s concept is not only about nature’s design but also the designing intelligence. For the Darwinist, to theorize both together begs the question against his position, which holds that the appearance of design need not implicate a designing intelligence. So it’s no surprise that Behe has been led to argue theodicy with Ken Miller. Yes, Behe is religious but his science already builds in the idea of a designing intelligence that we are trying to fathom at the same time we are trying to understand the design features of life.
One final thought: When militant Darwinists like Dawkins and Dennett call the teaching of religion ‘brainwashing’ that demands some sort of cerebral hygiene, they are mainly exercised about the claims of religion that explicitly tread on scientific ground. They get most of their rhetorical mileage from targeting Young Earth Creationists but it’s pretty clear that they also have ID in their sights. Perhaps the only virtue of these attacks is that they take the cognitive content of ID sufficiently seriously to realize that it’s incompatible with a strong naturalistic atheism. It would be too bad if avowed defenders of ID did not take the theory as seriously as its staunchest – and perhaps smartest – opponents do.