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A New Year’s Resolution: Keep Intelligent Design Intelligent

This is not the post I originally expected to make. But in light of the comments both here and on other blogs, I will start with a New Year’s resolution: Keep Intelligent Design Intelligent.  

 

‘Intelligent design’ is presumably something more than a long-winded way of saying ‘design’. The phrase implies that the design displays signs of intelligence, which in turn means that the nature of the intelligence can be inferred, however fallibly, from the nature of the design. For example, William Paley’s accounts of the design features of life draw conclusions about the divine modus operandi. (I invoke Paley not because I like his version of ID – I don’t — but because both sides of the debate recognize him as an ID theorist.) Contrast this with a ‘design science’ that insists that nothing about the artisan follows from the artefact. We know the artefact is designed simply because it functions in certain capacities in certain environments – and ‘design science’ is about identifying such things and making inferences about their functions, nothing more.

 

Well, if ID is really just ‘design science’ that happens to keep bad (aka ‘creationist’) company, then I think a lot of people – including most of the main players — on both sides of the ID debate have been wasting their time. ‘Design science’ is pretty uncontroversial, and card-carrying evolutionists do it all the time under various guises, most fashionably these days as ‘evo-devo’. The controversy starts only once people talk about origins, whether design arose intelligently or unintelligently. And the controversy becomes heated when one side claims that the other cannot possibly explain some designed thing in its own terms. However, claims about impossibility can rarely be resolved empirically. At best you end up with a stalemate, i.e. outright scepticism. And maybe some people who call themselves ID supporters would find that a desirable outcome. It certainly would make life more peaceful as each side could simply continue doing science, believing what they wish about the ultimate question of origins.

 

But I happen to think that there is something more worth arguing about here, and a better way to think about the stakes is to ask, Suppose the matter of evidence remains unresolved or equally balanced: What difference does it make whether I endorse ID or Darwinism? Does it lead me to do science differently – in terms of the research questions chosen, the range of interpretations given to research results, as well as science’s broader cultural significance? The answer to these questions seems to me to be clearly yes – and this is what the battle is about. Only some leftover logical positivism and a repressive US legal environment could be discouraging ID supporters from thinking about science in a way that acknowledges the philosophical and theological issues implied here. ID’s Darwinist opponents certainly do not feel the need for any such reticence – hence, their talismanic appeal to ‘methodological naturalism’, a lifestyle choice masquerading as a competency test.

 

Showing that someone has made an error of fact, reasoning or prediction isn’t going to resolve the differences between ID supporters and opponents.  Neither will some faith-based empiricism, whereby one supposes that ‘ultimately’ — whenever that is — ‘the evidence’ – whatever that is — will reveal which side is correct. Both opponents and supporters of ID are guilty of this example of what Jean-Paul Sartre called ‘bad faith’, whereby one leaves to ‘nature’ what one might otherwise take responsibility for. In other words, faith-based empiricists are scientific cowards.

 

Once we set aside matters of American legal repression, Darwinism currently surpasses ID not in the firmness of its evidence base but in its creative theoretical exploitation of that base. The project of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis forged over the past half-century has been about showing how evidence drawn from realms that historically have been irrelevant if not antagonistic to each other – e.g. fossils, ecological observations, laboratory experiments – somehow add up to an argument on behalf of the chosen theory. ID should learn something from this. Contemporary ID is (at best) a collection of concepts in search of a synthetic theory capable of interrelating the evidence already on the table, which almost everyone agrees exhibit evidence of design. So let’s see some synthetic theories of ID – however fallible they turn out to be!

 

More will follow soon. It will stress the theological side that seems to have exercised people so much in response to my last post. But let me conclude with a meta-observation. I have followed what people on the internet have said about my interest in ID since my participation in the Dover trial. If there are any professional historians reading this blog, let me tell you that the capacity of people – even highly credentialed ones – to misconstrue motives defies description, even in one’s own lifetime, where a few clicks of the mouse would enable would-be critics to get a clearer fix of where the criticised party is coming from. However, it may be that people who comment on blogs are unusually stupid, sloppy or bigoted, while everyone else (the majority) silently draws more informed and nuanced conclusions. I hope this is the case as we embark on a new year.

 

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18 Responses to A New Year’s Resolution: Keep Intelligent Design Intelligent

  1. “Once we set aside matters of American legal repression, Darwinism currently surpasses ID not in the firmness of its evidence base but in its creative theoretical exploitation of that base. The project of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis forged over the past half-century has been about showing how evidence drawn from realms that historically have been irrelevant if not antagonistic to each other – e.g. fossils, ecological observations, laboratory experiments – somehow add up to an argument on behalf of the chosen theory. ID should learn something from this.”

    This much I could actually agree with strongly. I would love to see more broad, holistic efforts towards ID explanations of data – in terms of specific mechanisms of evolution, fossil data, biological development and observation. These things need to at the very least, be considered in light of, and explained with the understanding of, a design theory.

    The good news is, this would be easy. Take every bit of mainstream data, even mainstream mechanisms – mutation, natural selection, neutral drift, epigenetics, catastrophic events, etc – and you’ll have so much design-friendly/indicating data to work with that crafting, in my opinion, that explaining why design works as the operating perspective would be easy.

    The bad news is… no one seems to be doing this. Well, some are – Mike Gene comes to mind as making a convincing if modest case – but there should be more than him working in this direction.

  2. Darwinism currently surpasses ID not in the firmness of its evidence base but in its creative theoretical exploitation of that base.

    IOW, ID is better science.

    But I’ll concede that if ID rejects its foundational principle and attempts to apply techniques designed to answer questions about nature to answer questions about the identity of the designer it will fall to the level of Darwinism :-)

  3. Steve, perhaps ID can be more tomorrow that it is today. Perhaps the brightest lights in the movement will do the optimum amount of research such that their successors can stand on their shoulders and complete the task that you hope for. Perhaps some genius will come along and surpass the research capacity provided by such formulations as “specified complexity,” “irreducible complexity,” or the “anthropic principle.” Perhaps that new way of looking at the world will reveal something about the designer’s secret methods, attitudes, and attributes.

    Indeed, let’s go ahead and assume that it is possible and that it will happen. What else can we say to you except that we will all celebrate that event when the time comes? We yearn for that moment and hope that it happens soon. In the meantime, I am not clear on what you are asking of us. Are we to act as if we have already conceived that paradigm? Can we summon that genius to appear earlier than fate would normally allow? Or, if we cannot, do we stretch beyond our present capacity and pretend that current methodologies can do that which they cannot do?

    As a Christian, I confess that I wish ID could confirm every word in both the Old and New Testaments. I wish that God’s fingerprints in nature were so palpable that the solution to every human problem and every scientific question became immediately answerable. I would love to console agnostics with high tangible proofs that the God of the Bible is empirically detectable not just in the manifestations of his handiwork [already evident] but in his specific methods).

    Of course, even at that, there would be no guarantees. Many, maybe even most would not be consoled. Cynics would respond to the good news about God and his creation the same they way they always respond. Whether its Aquinas’ air-tight arguments for the existence of God, the ground breaking discovery of the big bang, or the less spectacular but equally compelling “anthropic principle—it doesn’t matter. They will raise phony objections and look for implausible alternatives.

  4. Thank you for making the distinction between ID and design science.

    I have a little bit more riding on ID than a theist would; most theistic IDers think they already know who the creator (or Creator, if you like) is, and believe ID can help confirm the existence of that Creator. They know, in a sense, what they will find at the end of the argument. I don’t.

    I was drawn to the ID/Darwin debate because I hoped that it might be a way of making clear the likelihood of a Creator; thus far it seems very plausible that a designer exists. But I remain in the debate because I hope that if ID is taken seriously, if scientists may be allowed to say they see evidence of a higher intelligence, we can try to discover what that intelligence is. And just as importantly, what motivates it.

    I’m anxious to learn. There is a line from David Berlinski’s “The Devil’s Delusion” that I think may very well be the Agnostic Manifesto:

    “I do not know. It doesn’t hurt to ask.”

  5. Steve when did you start posting here? Glad to see you though. I enjoyed the books you recommended especially “God and Golem” which presented a good and constructive way at looking at the frame-work of the debate.

    Happy new year to you as well as all all the usuals here at UD.

  6. StephenB,

    “I wish that God’s fingerprints in nature were so palpable that the solution to every human problem and every scientific question became immediately answerable.”

    I am not sure God would wish this which is why the issue is so intractable. If it was so obvious, what would be the value of believing, of having faith, of being virtuous, of debate and everything else that makes us human. We would be automatons because to do other than the obvious would be self destructive that only the insane would consider it. What a dull world.

    I believe it was meant to be a mystery and always will be. That does not mean we stop striving or seeking but what kind of a world would it be if it wasn’t necessary to strive or seek. Or to have faith.

    Happy New Year!

  7. Dear Steve,

    Whoever invited you to participate as an author forgot to inform you about the “read more” button which should be used as a courtesy to other authors so that no one article takes up the entire home page.

  8. Jerry, I agree with you.

    You wrote, “I believe it was meant to be a mystery and always will be. That does not mean we stop striving or seeking but what kind of a world would it be if it wasn’t necessary to strive or seek. Or to have faith.”

    I agree, I just meant that there are so many allegedly pro ID people and so many Darwinists who think ID should work miracles in order to be accepted into the ID community, we would give them that miracle if we could, but even if we did, they would find some other excuse not to get on board. Still, your point is consistent with my beliefs. The Creator left clues, but he didn’t mean to eliminate the need for hard thinking, discursive reasoning, and, at some level, faith. So, we are on the same page on this one. I probably should have qualified my comments more.

    Happy New Year!

  9. Tribune—the two-edged sword. Very clever. God forbid that ID should deteriorate into the type of jaded story-telling seen in Nature.

    ID should not be used to make conjectures about the identity of the designer. That would lead to risible results. It can certainly be used, however, in restrained and creative ways, to advance the inference that a designer exists.

    Unless of course ID is content to be self-evident and have no impact on culture.

  10. Hi Dr. Fuller,

    I’m a person of really no important, but I want you to know that I think this is great that you will be contributing to Uncommon Descent. I enjoyed both of your books and think you can help in creating an alternative(s) to Darwinianian evolution.

  11. made a few mistakes in that last comment. too bad there is no way to correct it.

  12. It can certainly be used, however, in restrained and creative ways, to advance the inference that a designer exists.

    Or existed to be real hard nosed.

    What I think the value of ID is that we can show via methodological naturalism, that design is required to explain nature and the universe all the while showing the impossibility of using methodological naturalism to find absolute truth.

  13. jerry:

    “I am not sure God would wish this which is why the issue is so intractable.”

    “I believe it was meant to be a mystery and always will be.”

    StephenB:

    “The Creator left clues, but he didn’t mean to eliminate the need for hard thinking, discursive reasoning, and, at some level, faith.”

    Sorry for going a bit off topic, but the above kind of statements irk me because of the assumption that jerry and StephenB somehow can tell what the Creator is/was thinking.

    What are jerry and StephenB basing their thoughts (of what the Creator’s intentions are) on? Are they basing it on their own wishes of how they want to be viewed by the Creator? That they want the Creator to have “created” life with humans being the main (only?) beneficiaries?

    I guess the response I would get is that this (detailing the Creator’s intentions) is merely jerry/StephenB’s belief, and not statements of fact. But it still leaves me questioning why they feel that the Creator is so human-oriented despite the many, many, many, many, many other creatures that live on the same planet and even out-populate humans.

    Why would the Creator care about the feelings of humans in particular? What about plants? Insects? Fungi? Bacteria? Tapeworms? Fish? Birds? Other mammals? What evidence is there that leads jerry/StephenB to believe that humans are what the Creator cares about the most (to the point of deliberately showing and hiding clues so that at least some humans will be intellectually trained to have both rational thought and faith)?

    Or is it because jerry and StephenB are humans, so when attributing intentions to the Creator, of course they will choose to make humans a top priority for the Creator? If jerry/StephenB were dolphins, would they be thinking that the Creator created the world for the benefit of dolphins?

    Sorry for the rant. I’ll understand if this comment doesn’t make it through. I just don’t like it when people think they can arrogantly attribute human-centered intentions/concerns onto a being that is, by definition, supposed to be beyond mere humans. I’m of the thought that humans are special only in the sense that we ourselves are human and thus we assign value to ourselves above other creatures.

  14. —–Monimonica: “Sorry for the rant. I’ll understand if this comment doesn’t make it through. I just don’t like it when people think they can arrogantly attribute human-centered intentions/concerns onto a being that is, by definition, supposed to be beyond mere humans. I’m of the thought that humans are special only in the sense that we ourselves are human and thus we assign value to ourselves above other creatures.”

    Why be sorry about the rant. People are allowed to disagree with each other around here. I will say this, though. If you read my original post at #3, you will find that we don’t disagree as much as you think.

  15. Hi StephenB,

    Just to clarify, I was concerned about whether my rant would get through because my rant is off-topic and it can be construed as an attack on jerry and you for your personal beliefs. Glad to see I managed to not cross that line and that you took it well. Thank you.

    I reread your post at #3, but am not sure what part you are referring to. Can you point it out to me, or maybe just summarize it?

    I am perfectly fine with the “perhaps” scenarios in your first paragraph, the questions of how IDists (IDers?) should act for the present time in your second paragraph, and your simple statement of your personal wishes in your third paragraph. I found them very well-worded, insightful, and honest. But I do not see how they really relate to what my rant was about, which is the anthropomorphizing of the Creator.

    As for the fourth paragraph, I obviously have problems with the anthropic principle (whether it be limited to humans or carbon-based lifeforms). And I am not sure what arguments from Aquinas you are referring to, but if it’s the Teleological Argument, then I have to question who is the one determining what the purpose/goal/end is. Oh yeah, the humans making the subjective “observation”. How can humans possibly know if the Creator hasn’t planned much further ahead for a grander purpose than what humans currently imagine the purpose to be?

    If it’s the Cosmological Argument (Creator is the “First Cause”) then I have to ask why the Creator is somehow exempt from having a cause for it. Just because it is defined to be so?* Even assuming that the Creator was/caused the Big Bang (or something like that), how does that lead to us humans somehow divining such an awesome being’s intentions beyond looking at the results, finding a pattern, and calculating forwards/backwards on what may happen/have happened (which science is already doing without assuming a Creator)?

    *In fact, this leads to another irking aspect of the quotes I put into my previous post. Not only is the Creator being anthropomorphized, but it seems to be having attributes attached to it for the purpose of making it exempt from scrutiny. To paraphrase some descriptions of the Creator that I have come across:

    “The Creator doesn’t show Himself to humans because he wants them to have faith (belief without evidence).” “The Creator has always existed, so He doesn’t need a Cause for Himself.” “The Creator loves us all, but allows evil/tragedy/pain so that we can recognize good.” “The Creator works in mysterious ways.” “The Creator answered my prayers for me to survive that tornado. (-Ignoring the fact that the tornado destroyed the person’s house, killed all the farm animals, and also killed off the pious family of six living next door.-) Praise the Creator!” “The Creator is all-powerful, so He is able to make the world look as it is billions of years old when in fact it is only a couple of thousand years old.” etc.

    That last one is a YEC argument, which I suspect you don’t agree with, but it illustrates perfectly how “the Creator” is very often a human concept that cannot be falsified because there will always be some kind of excuse given for it to accommodate whatever reality/logic is thrown at it.

    Now, I admit that some parts of evolutionary theory can seem the same way in accommodating reality (genetic drift comes to my mind). However, the difference I see is that, in evolution’s case, experiments and calculations are done to actually demonstrate how the explanations are possible and can be applied to explain the reality, not just talked about. In the Creator’s case, all I see is verbal attribution of properties to an un-demonstrated concept.

    I’m not against there being a possible Creator, I just really don’t like the human-centered versions of it.

  16. Monimonika,

    I doubt that your particular rant or your expression of anger will get you banned unless it became persistent and thus was not to any point or if included some ad hominens. Why should it?

    You made your point so I doubt if anyone is upset. They may not agree with you and I certainly do not. The next time I see a dolphin communicating about the purpose of life, then I will consider its point of view. I would be very interested in its take on things.

    I was commenting on the proposition that if there is a creator and every thing was hunky dory in the world, which I doubt is possible with humans no matter how one wants the world to be run, then the purpose of life would be meaningless. Now you do not have to agree with that assessment. But it is how I see the world. And yes, I believe humans are special in this world and I see nothing that contradicts it. That does not mean we are the only special creatures anywhere but in the world we inhabit I believe we are special. You are entitled to believe otherwise.

    I do not pretend to know the mind of God and never did but that should not stop me on speculating as to why we are here and why certain things are as they are. People have been doing that for a long time.

  17. Thank you for your reply, jerry.

    Well, I said all that I wanted to say on this matter and am happy that I was allowed the opportunity to do so, despite the negative nature of my rants. Thank you for reading and considering what I said.

    I wish a Good Year to all. :)

  18. Monimonika,

    Happy and a Healthy New year to you and everyone.

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