Monday, February 22, 2010

Why Intelligent Design = Creationism

Jay Richards at Evolution News and Views offers a piece where he aims to clear up misunderstandings about Intelligent Design. How to Completely Misunderstand Intelligent Design: A Response to Stephen Barr

It's very helpful, although perhaps not quite in the way the proponents of Intelligent Design would prefer.

...While the criticisms vary, they tend to have one thing in common: they’re based, not on actual ID arguments, but on stereotypes and misunderstandings of those arguments. It’s hard to find ID critics who actually describe an ID argument correctly before proceeding to refute it.
...let’s just focus on Barr’s theological complaint against ID, since it’s quite common.

Admittedly, the way some ID proponents speak can lead to misunderstandings, if read uncharitably. When discussing biology, for example, ID theorists frequently contrast the role of natural laws like gravity with the role of intelligent design. They may speak of natural selection as a “mindless” or “brute” or even “purposeless” process. To the grumpy reader interpreting this language theologically, this can sound like ID implies that God only acts apart from these natural forces, that he is merely an artificer who rearranges pre-existing material, that there are forces in the world that seem to exist apart from God’s activity, or that God only acts where nature leaves off. God’s action, then, would be set up against nature, and left to fill the “gaps” that nature leaves empty.

These ideas would certainly be problematic, as Barr charges, if anyone actually advanced them; but no theistic ID proponent ever has. No theist worth his salt believes that God is aloof from the world except when he acts directly in nature. That would be a sort of modified deism—though, strictly speaking, deists don’t think God acts within the world at all. For theists, in any case, God transcends the world, is free to act directly in it—however unfashionable that might be—and always remains intimately involved with it.

At the same time, the theist need not believe that God always acts directly in the world. He can act directly or “primarily,” such as when he creates the whole universe or raises Jesus from the dead. It’s God’s world, so that’s his prerogative. He’s not violating the universe or its laws, or invading alien territory when he does this, since he’s the source of both the universe and whatever “laws” it might have.

He also can act through so-called “secondary causes.” These include natural processes and laws that he has established, such as the electromagnetic force. (I think it’s problematic to speak of physical constants as “causes,” but let that pass for now). An event might be both an expression of a physical law and the purposes of God. It’s not as if atheists appeal to gravity while theists appeal to miracles. Gravity is as consistent with theism as are miracles. It’s just that most theists and atheists agree on gravity but not on miracles.

To this point, there is little, if any conflict between Intelligent Design and normative science. Isaac Newton and his fellow "Natural Philosophers" undertook to discover the materialistic, automatic, unguided rules by which the universe operates – rules which they believed to have been written by God.

Eugenie Scott, no friend of the ID movement, likes to ask, "What would be more impressive, a God who can sink every shot in a game of billiards, or a God who clears the table with his break shot?"

In other words, the laws of the universe could have been designed so they would lead, after billions of years and trillions of interactions, to creatures like ourselves arising. Crafting a set of initial conditions that would give rise to that precise result would be beyond our understanding. Indeed, it would require a – well – godlike level of understanding.

Where Intelligent Design gets into trouble is with arguments like this one:

Consider Mike Behe. When he is discussing the bacterial flagellum, he is evaluating the powers and limits of regular, repetitive physical laws (or, as I would say, of matter insofar as it acts according to these laws), and of the Darwinian “mechanism”—natural selection and random genetic mutation. He concludes that these processes, which are not intelligent agents per se, probably don’t have the power, by themselves, to produce the bacterial flagellum. That’s because the locomotive function of the flagellum is inaccessible to the cumulative power of natural selection. It is, as Behe says, “irreducibly complex.” It needs many separate parts working together before it gets the survival-benefitting function. That’s the negative part of his argument.

To get a working flagellum, according to Behe, you need foresight—the exclusive jurisdiction of intelligent agents. That’s the positive part of his argument—not just against the adequacy of selection and mutation, but for intelligent design. An agent can produce a system for a future purpose, for an end. Now it’s the obvious purpose of the flagellum, along with the fact that it is almost surely inaccessible to Darwinian selection—not merely the fact that it’s really complicated—that justifies his conclusion that the bacterial flagellum is better explained by intelligent design than by repetitive natural laws or the Darwinian mechanism.

To break this down into the simplest possible terms: *

The flagellum cannot arise as a result of Darwinian processes
Darwinian processes lack foresight
The flagellum cannot be produced without foresight.

Rearranged into a syllogism, we get:
The flagellum cannot be produced by processes that lack foresight.
Darwinian mechanisms lack foresight.
Therefore, the flagellum cannot be produced by Darwinian mechanisms.

Part 2 of this argument there runs:
The flagellum exists.
If the flagellum cannot arise from processes that lack foresight (if X then Y)
Then a process with foresight made it possible for the flagellum to arise (if not Y then not X)

The only agent with foresight around is an intelligent agent, capable of planning ahead. In other words, an intelligent designer.

You see, Intelligent Design means an Intelligent Designer. Intelligent Design is not about complicated design or intricate design, or even impressive looking design. It's about design that demands the existence of an Intelligent Designer.

And while identity of the Intelligent Designer is kept unspecified – it could be aliens from another planet, or maybe from another dimension, or it could be time travellers creating their own great-to-the-ten-millionth grandparents, everyone knows exactly who the Intelligent Designer is supposed to be.

In the case of the bacterial flagellum, intelligent design goes beyond what known, repetitive, natural processes, as well as selection and mutation would do if left to their ordinary capacities. So we invoke intelligent design rather than impersonal processes alone here. Contrary to Barr’s argument-free assertions, this is not an appeal to go “beyond science” or a claim that science is incompetent. It’s an argument for why science ought to include teleology within its explanatory toolbox if it wants to adequately account for major aspects of nature.

When you can't figure out how natural processes may have given rise to the flagellum, you invoke an intelligent designer who designed it for a purpose.

In other words, you invoke an external being who created it. Thus, creationism.

* Note: I'm not going to delve in to the mechanisms by which a flagellum may have arisen. If you're interested, search for "flagellum" on this blog, or at the website.

You might also search on the word "exaptation".


Lastyear said...

Great post.
One thing I would add is that Intelligent Design is incompatible with the notion that nature was itself designed, contrary to what Mr Richards says. By its definition, Intelligent Design says that certain objects are detectable as designed because they could not have arisen from natural 'unguided' mechanisms. If nature was designed by God then there is no such thing as an 'unguided' mechanism, and everything we see is the result of design.

So when Jay Richards says that its a misunderstanding of ID that God only acts where nature leaves off, he is simply wrong. That is exactly what ID says.

Anonymous said...

So what exactly is your point? Are you saying that even if "creationism" can be demonstrated to be likely, it must be regarded as false?

Your logic seems to be along the lines of: "The conclusion of Behe's argument is unpalatable to me. Therefore Behe's argument is false."

But that can't be it. You did, after all, refer to the infallible oracle of Once someone does that, the other side loses, by definition. That's the way it works, right?

Karl said...

@Anonymous: Bravo on having the courage to stand behind your convictions.

My logic is along the lines of:

Real Intelligent Design arguments parallel Michael Behe's argument.

Michael Behe's argument is a creationist argument.

Therefore, real Intelligent Design arguments are creationist arguments.

And, Genius, you might want to pay attention to the context in which I refer to the website (note: not, which refers to the Usenet forum).
It was in a footnote, cited as a place where people can look up the definition of the word "exaptation".

Nick said...

Mr/Mrs/Ms anonymous

>>"So what exactly is your point? Are you saying that even if "creationism" can be demonstrated to be likely, it must be regarded as false?"

Creationism cannot be demonstrated, therefore there is no reason to assume it must be true.

>>"Your logic seems to be along the lines of: "The conclusion of Behe's argument is unpalatable to me. Therefore Behe's argument is false." "

No, Behe's argument is that if evolution can't do it then Goddidit. It is assuming his "alternative" answer should win by default, which is a logical fallacy. Even IF evolution was wrong, IDC should stand on it's own merits. But it can't. Since all it consists of is anti-evolution arguments.

Not to mention the fact that absolutely positively NO scientific work has been done by Behe or anyone else to support ID. Quite possibly because they know they are unable to demonstrate it. Because they know it is unfalsifiable.

Karl said...

@Nick: And of course, I wasn't even addressing the science, except glancingly in a footnote.

My point was aimed at those who argue that Intelligent Design is not Creationism.

If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck.