Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Intelligent Design: what is it?

Since intelligent design has been so much in the news lately, I decided to see if I could find a coherent on-line statement of what it claims. I was surprised that I couldn't. Most of what I found consisted of statements about design in general or about purported problems with evolutionary theory. But I couldn't find a straightforward statement that set forth the argument for intelligent design presented in enough detail to discuss seriously.

For example, one of the most widely cited spokespersons for intelligent design is William Demski. His writings are listed on his www.designinference.com website. Nine articles are listed from this year. One of them is entitled In Defense of Intelligent Design. That seemed promising. But here's what it contained.

Preliminary Considerations argued that science is not decided by majority vote and that calling something religious is not an honest way to critique from a scientific perspective. Fair enough.

What is Intelligent Design?
This section argued that we can recognize design when we see it. It gave the by-now familiar example of the faces on Mount Rushmore. Much of this section discussed the fallacy of what Demski calls effects-to-cause reasoning. For example, lightening, since it is relatively rare was taken by early people to mean that the gods were angry. Demski argues that effects-to-cause reasoning can be used to justify Intelligent Design only when the effects exhibit a pattern that cannot be explained by science. Ok. That seems to set quite a high bar. I'm waiting to see how Demski will clear that bar.

The Charge of Creationism argues that Intelligent Design is not creationism, that Intelligent Design
simply argues that certain finite material objects exhibit patterns that convincingly point to an intelligent cause. But the nature of that cause — whether it is one or many, whether it is a part of or separate from the world, and even whether it is good or evil &Mdash; simply do not fall within intelligent design's purview.
This section claims that this is the argument Intelligent Design makes. But unless this one-liner is the argument, that argument isn't made here.

Problems with Evolutionary Theory critiques evolutionary theory, but it doesn't provide an argument in favor of Intelligent Design.

Methodological Materialism defends Intelligent Design against the charge that it simply closes the door to science. It argues that those who claim that science should be limited to physical phenomena are the ones who are unnecessarily restricting the scope of science.
[I]ntelligent design purports to show that there exist configurations of material entities in biology (e.g., bacterial flagella, protein synthesis mechanisms, and complex organ systems) that cannot be adequately explained in terms of antecedent material conditions together with the lawgoverned processes (i.e., mechanistic evolutionary processes) that act on them.
Again, this is what intelligent design purports to show, but the argument in support of this position is not given.

The Controversy Surrounding Intelligent Design sums up with the claim
The controversy surrounding intelligent design occurs at many levels, but it is ultimately a scientific controversy within the scientific community.
So in this entire article, an article that claims to be a defense of Intelligent Design, the argument for Intelligent Design is only hinted at.

In anyone knows of a coherent statement of what Intelligent Design claims and why it claims it, I'd like to know about it.



As far as I can see, the basic claims of Intelligent Design are as follows.
  1. Evolutionary theory has not yet and never will explain everything we observe in nature.
  2. Much of what is still to be explained looks like it was designed.
  3. Therefore there must be a designer.
My sense of this argument is that
  1. Much of what the Intelligent Design proponents claim is not yet explained have quite successful explanations.
  2. The fact that there are phenomena that we don't yet understand, does not justify the conclusion that we will never understand them.
These are such simple points that I don't understand how the Intelligent Design people miss them.

On the other hand, one can always argue that nature itself is an amazing design. Every scientific theory that we create is a design. Fundamental physics, for example, claims that everything in nature is made of a small collection of types of particles and forces that interact in certain ways. That's certainly a design. The fact that the design works, i.e., that the universe perseveres, might suggest some sort of intelligence.

The same argument can be made for evolution: the fact that it has generated the amazing results that we see around us demonstrates how successful it is as a design. In fact, evolutionary processes are so successful that an entire field of computer science is devoted to studying how these techniques can be exploited for both optimization and creativity. The various evolutionary computational methodologies are very successful designs.

So the existence of a persevering universe that we can understand as functioning in terms of any scientific theory at all might be taken to be a basic argument for Intelligent Design. In other words, the very facts (a) that the universe exists and (b) that science succeeds in explaining how it works, i.e., that it has a successfully functioning design, seem like an interesting argument for intelligent design. But that doesn't seem to be the argument made by the Intelligent Design people.

In an earlier post about Cardinal McCarrick and evolution, I pointed out how this sort of reasoning can be tautological enough to make everyone happy.

2 comments:

Tony said...

I've really enjoyed reading your blog. Very interesting.

My biology news article site has lots of info pertaining to biology news article.

Come visit sometime :)

Tony said...

I've really enjoyed reading your blog. Very interesting.

My biology news article site has lots of info pertaining to biology news article.

Come visit sometime :)