May 23, 2005


incoherent thoughts on Intelligent Design

I suppose I am pro-neo-Darwinist, if that means I am compelled by the preponderance of evidence for common descent and speciation through natural selection and a gaggle of other interesting processes. (Retroviruses! Gene duplication! Symbiosis! The biological fun never stops.)

I find "Intelligent Design," as it is currently represented, intriguing but misguided. For although IDers claim to have defeated a Darwinian rendition of descent-with-modification through such mechanisms as universal probability bounds, search spaces, missing links, and specified and/or irreducible complexity, ID's victory as a philosophical program is assured even if its attacks on modern biology fail completely.


Simple--because ID has a maw so gaping it can gobble up all biological data sets. Let me explain how.

Suppose Darwin is wrong. Biologists shamefully turn in their lab coats and declare that no amount of selection, natural or otherwise, could account for the diversity of life on earth. "It is obviously a Designer's doing," they grudgingly admit. The ball is fumbled in the end zone; the game goes to ID.

On the other hand, suppose Darwin is right. Biologists continue carefully showing, experiment after observation, just how organisms have evolved over the eons. "It is obviously a Designer's doing," ID proponents argue. "After all, if an intelligent human can create a computer program to simulate evolutionary processes, doesn't that prove that evolution itself is the product of an Imaginative Designer?" The kick is up and good; the game goes to ID.

When playing on both sides of the ball, how can ID lose?

Let's examine a different problem. If ID is right, then either of two propositions is true:

1. Some things are designed, or

2. Everything is designed.

The former is trivial. The latter, though, introduces a reductio ad absurdum for the serious-minded theist. If everything is designed, there is no way to detect design, because there is nothing that shows the hallmarks of non-design. A cloud, a rock, a tree, a puzzle, a broken watch, an oil slick, all are evidence of design--and therefore none is. Dembski's three-part filter--Law, Chance, and Design--is meaningless in a theistic universe in which Law and Chance are epistemological misnomers for God's handiwork. To use C.S. Lewis's memorable phrase, the Design Filter "saws off the branch it is sitting on."

[third in a series]


Anonymous said...

very interesting and i would love to learn more on the subject. i once asked myself " what if everything were designed" after eating an orange and thinking how convenient it was that the orange is eaten in sections. i was thinking that if i were to design a piece of fruit, this is something i would want to implement.

Jim Anderson said...

jordan, I take it you'd have no room for peaches or apples or watermelon or canteloupes, all those fruits that require manual sectioning? :)

Anonymous said...

I tell you one fruit I wouldn't design, is the one with the spikes on the outside. Unless I were designing one that could also be used as a projectile to deter other monkeys trying to steal the non-painful fruits.