Intelligent Design and the Demarcation Problem
|August 15, 2010||Posted by Jonathan M under Intelligent Design|
One common objection which is often raised regarding the proposition of real design (as opposed to design that is only apparent) is the criticism that design is unable to be falsified by the ruthless rigour of empirical scrutiny. Science, we are told, must restrict its explanatory devices to material causes. This criterion of conformity to materialism as a requisite for scientific merit is an unfortunate consequence of a misconstrual of the principal of uniformitarianism with respect to the historical sciences. Clearly, a proposition – if it is to be considered properly scientific – must constrict its scope to categories of explanation with which we have experience. It is this criterion which allows a hypothesis to be evaluated and contrasted with our experience of that causal entity. Explanatory devices should not be abstract, lying beyond the scope of our uniform and sensory experience of cause-and-effect.
This, naturally, brings us on to the question of what constitutes a material cause. Are all causes, which we have experience with, reducible to the material world and the interaction of chemical reactants? It lies as fundamentally axiomatic to rationality that we be able to detect the presence of other minds. This is what C.S. Lewis described as “inside knowledge”. Being rational agents ourselves, we have an insider’s knowledge of what it is to be rational – what it is to be intelligent. We know that it is possible for rational beings to exist and that such agents leave behind them detectable traces of their activity. Consciousness is a very peculiar entity. Consciousness interacts with the material world, and is detectable by its effects – but is it material itself? I have long argued in favour of substance dualism – that is, the notion that the mind is itself not reducible to the material and chemical constituents of the brain, nor is it reducible to the dual forces of chance and necessity which together account for much of the other phenomena in our experience. Besides the increasing body of scientific evidence which lends support to this view, I have long pondered whether it is possible to rationally reconcile the concept of human autonomy (free will) and materialistic reductionism with respect to the mind. I have thus concluded that free will exists (arguing otherwise leads to irrationality or reductio ad absurdum) and that hence materialism – at least with respect to the nature of consciousness – must be false if rationality is to be maintained.
My reasoning can be laid out as follows:
1: If atheism is true, then so is materialism.
2: If materialism is true, then the mind is reducible to the chemical constituents of the brain.
3: If the mind is reducible to the chemical constituents of the brain, then human autonomy and consciousness are illusory because our free choices are determined by the dual forces of chance and necessity.
4: Human autonomy exists.
From 3 & 4,
5: Therefore, the mind is not reducible to the chemical constituents of the brain.
From 2 & 5,
6: Therefore, materialism is false.
From 1 & 6,
7: Therefore, atheism is false.
Now, where does this leave us? Since we have independent reason to believe that the mind is not reducible to material constituents, materialistic explanations for the effects of consciousness are not appropriate explanatory devices. How does mind interact with matter? Such a question cannot be addressed in terms of material causation because the mind is not itself a material entity, although in human agents it does interact with the material components of the brain on which it exerts its effects. The immaterial mind thus interacts with the material brain to bring about effects which are necessary for bodily function. Without the brain, the mind is powerless to bring about its effects on the body. But that is not to say that the mind is a component of the brain.
We have further independent reason to expect a non-material cause when discussing the question of the origin of the Universe. Being an explanation for the existence of the natural realm itself – complete with its contingent natural laws and mathematical expressions – natural law, with which we have experience, cannot be invoked as an explanatory factor without reasoning in a circle (presupposing the prior existence of the entity which one is attempting to account for). When faced with explanatory questions with respect to particular phenomena, then, the principle of methodological materialism breaks down because we possess independent philosophical reason to suppose the existence of a supernatural (non-material) cause.
Material causes are uniformly reducible to the mechanisms and processes of chance (randomness) and necessity (law). Since mind is reducible to neither of those processes, we must introduce a third category of explanation – that is, intelligence.
When we look around the natural world, we can distinguish between those objects which can be readily accounted for by the dual action of chance and necessity, and those that cannot. We often ascribe such latter phenomena to agency. It is the ability to detect the activity of such rational deliberation that is foundational to the ID argument.
Should ID be properly regarded as a scientific theory? Yes and no. While ID theorists have not yet outlined a rigorous scientific hypothesis as far as the mechanistic process of the development of life (at least not one which has attracted a large body of support), ID is, in its essence, a scientific proposition – subject to the criteria of empirical testability and falsifiability. To arbitrarily exclude such a conclusion from science’s explanatory toolkit is to fundamentally truncate a significant portion of reality – like trying to limit oneself to material processes of randomness and law when attempting to explain the construction of a computer operating system.
Since rational deliberation characteristically leaves patterns which are distinguishable from those types of patterns which are left by non-intelligent processes, why is design so often shunned as a non-scientific explanation – as a ‘god-of-the-gaps’ style argument? Assuredly, if Darwinism is to be regarded as a mechanism which attempts to explain the appearance of design by non-intelligent processes (albeit hitherto unsuccessfully), it follows by extension that real design must be regarded as a viable candidate explanation. To say otherwise is to erect arbitrary parameters of what constitutes a valid explanation and what doesn’t. It is this arbitrarily constraints on explanation which leads to dogmatism and ideology – which, I think, we can all agree is not the goal or purpose of the scientific enterprise.