October 13, 2005

Misconceptions About Intelligent Design (part 3)

"ID theory is not falsifiable"

There is a sense in which science can never disprove a supernatural overlord, since science, by its own definition, deals only with questions of nature. But by successfully finding natural explanations for every phenomenon of nature, science could certainly confine God to the world of secondary causes. However, ID is so far from being falsified that this is merely an academic question. One is not concerned with the behavior of cornered foxes while they are freely raiding your henhouse through holes in your fence.

There is a question here as to who actually bears the burden of proof in this debate? Richard Dawkins, one of evolution's leading advocates, says that "biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose." This admits that our default conclusion (perhaps even our deepest intuition) is that life is "designed." I would contend, then, that it is the evolutionists who carry the burden to prove by way of some plausible alternative explanation that it is not designed. If I see a pile of logs stacked up neatly by a fence, I am surely warranted to think that some personal cause is involved. And if someone wants to convince me that nature has done this by chance, they will have to provide me with some very detailed and compelling story. Evolutionists say that they have done so in the case of biological life; ID proponents claim that they have not, and that modern science has mounted evidence to that effect. Evolution has had its day in the sun. ID is calling for an accounting.

As it turns out, naturalistic evolution is every bit as "unfalsifiable" as it claims about ID. When presented with the fact that the very laws of physics are fine tuned for the support of complex biochemical life, they will say, "Perhaps we are just in one of the lucky universes out of a possible infinity." When faced with the great gaps in the fossil record that Darwin predicted would be filled by now, they propose a theory — Punctuated Equilibrium — that uses the gaps as the very explanation of how evolution has occurred, and suggest that we "shouldn't expect to find many intermediate fossils." When considering the issue of biological "big bang" events, like the Cambrian Explosion, they will say, "Maybe something caused a super acceleration of evolution." When addressing the ever-elusive problem of the origin of the first life form (abiogenesis), they will say, "Give us more time, we haven't given up yet."

Naturalistic evolution has become an invincible theory that mutates to fit any data, or lack thereof, yet itself is never the subject of scrutiny. As one Chinese paleontologist put it, "In China we can criticize Darwin but not the government. In America you can criticize the government but not Darwin." And when critics do point to missing mechanisms and insurmountable probabilities, in lieu of hard data they reply that it is just a "failure of imagination."

"ID theorists are biased and have an agenda"

If by "bias" one means that ID theorists have beliefs and intentions upon which they are acting, then certainly. So does anyone who engages in any pursuit. Neutrality launches no ships and fights no battles. But if ID proponents are pursuing an agenda then so are groups like The National Center for Science Education, which admits its own agenda to "defend the teaching of evolution in public schools" and to "keep evolution in the science classroom and 'scientific creationism' out."

The agenda that is specifically being referred to is a religious one. It is implied that the only reason for even proposing ID is that one is first convinced that a "designer" exists — ID is arguing from its conclusion rather than to a conclusion. This accusation is born of the observation that many ID advocates just happen to be Christian theists, as though design is an article of faith rather than a conclusion based on objective science. I will attack this charge at five points.

1. Not every theist takes issue with evolution. There are many self-proclaimed Christians, like biology professor Kenneth Miller, who seem perfectly happy to fit evolution into their worldview. Michael Behe, one of the chief advocates of ID theory, was actually propelled into this debate not as a result of his Roman Catholic beliefs, but only after he had been persuaded by the book by agnostic Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Even so, Behe holds to a very modest view of the activities of this designer, which makes biblical "creationists" squeamish.

2. Not all who take issue with evolution are theists. One such person is David Berlinski. Berlinski is a Jewish agnostic who is one of the leading advocates of ID theory. What Berlinski personally has in mind as the designer is unknown to me, but this is immaterial in the context of ID theory, which does not speak to the nature of the "designer." In fact, the atheist Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the DNA molecule, would also have qualified as an ID theorist when he proposed that aliens may have seeded life on this planet.

3. For some, ID theory has been the cause of their theism. Dean Kenyon, one of the pioneers in origins of life theory, was set on the road to Christianity after having his scientific theories challenged by one of his students. And preeminent atheistic philosophers Antony Flew, recently converted to theism on the basis of the modern arguments offered by ID proponents.

4. So what? What does the observation that many ID advocates are theists have to do with the truth of ID theory itself? As C.S. Lewis once said, you must first establish that a man is mistaken before it is meaningful to ask why he is mistaken. If this were a relevant argument, then my fifth point would be a successful parry by definition.

5. Many of the chief advocates of evolutionary theory are non-theists. We can equally observe that evolutionists are often atheists, especially so their outspoken champions, like Richard Dawkins and the late Steven Jay Gould. Atheists need a "creation myth" too. For them, evolution must be true of necessity; for to reject it means the defeat of their materialism and an open door to some transcendent force or being. This is why most ID proponents are theists, since atheism cannot, in principle, allow for the possibility of a transcendent designer. However, theism could allow God to do anything by means of primary or secondary causes. Theism turns out to hold the more open-minded position.

"Science stays out of religion so ID should stay out of science"

The late Stephen Jay Gould coined the phrase "nonoverlapping magisteria" to describe a proposed philosophical divide between religion and the sciences. Science would tell us how the heavens go and theologians would tell us how to go to heaven. Unfortunately, this partition turns out to be a prison wall with religion on the inside. Evolutionists freely apply their science to make sweeping metaphysical conclusion, and from Gould's own pen came statements like these:

"Before Darwin, we thought that a benevolent God had created us."
"Biology took away our status as paragons created in the image of God."
"No intervening spirit watches lovingly over the affairs of nature."
And with the emasculation, if not death, of God go all the moral prescriptions with which He might have invested the creation. Observe the following representative quotes from academics who feel no reservations about treading upon the "magisterial" domain of religion and ethics:
"As evolutionists, we see that no 'ethical' justification of the traditional kind is possible. Morality, or more strictly our belief in morality, is merely an adaptation put in place to further our reproductive ends. Hence the basis of ethics does not lie in God's will....In an important sense, ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate. It is without external grounding. Like Macbeth's dagger, it serves a powerful purpose without existing in substance." — Michael Ruse & Edward O. Wilson

"[Rape] is a natural, biological phenomenon that is a product of the human evolutionary heritage." — Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer

Evolution teaches that "we are animals" so that "sex across the species barrier ceases to be an offence to our status and dignity as human beings." — Peter Singer
And they do not stop there. In answer to the idea that life exhibits the hallmark of design, they engage in wild speculation over the methods, motives, and mental competence of the designer. Examples of "sub-optimal" systems are employed to impugn the wisdom of this alleged designer, like the panda's "ad hoc" thumb, inverted photoreceptors in the eye, and parasitic organisms.

Many of these counter-examples can be resolved with further knowledge of functional purpose, but if they wish to enter the world of transcendent causes and insist upon slandering the designer, then we should be free to send in the theologians for a response. Answers to such charges must necessarily consider factors such as the state of man's condition, the purpose of the creation and our sojourn here, and our ultimate destiny. Without the benefit of such theological groundwork, we are handicapped in our reply. But if evolution does not tolerate scientific dissent, then it will surely not suffer the theologians to violate her sacred soil.

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At 10/14/2005 6:50 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

Very strong argument. You've made and supported your points very well.

At 10/14/2005 11:04 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Thanks Jeff! Is that for the series or just part 3?

At 10/17/2005 6:26 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

Well, I had in mind just part III. This one went in to greater detail than the previous ones and seemed to take on more of an evidentiary tone than the others.

I just watched Contact last night. I'll blog on it in a few weeks. While I was very surprised that Carl Sagan didn't do more of a hatchet job on Christianity, I saw a few of the standard misconceptions about us in there. (just noting their pervasiveness).

At 10/18/2005 2:41 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...

I can definitely say I know more now than I knew before I read these three posts. Thanks Paul.


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