Friday, February 20, 2009
Intelligent Design (Rev II)
A Very Brief Sketch of the Current State of Affairs
A number of critics of Intelligent Design (ID) have rejected this effort as interfering with their thrust to discredit Darwinian evolution. These critics believe that injecting what they see as yet another theory of evolution that is incomplete and certainly not as comprehensive as Darwinian Evolution Theory, or DT, to be simply off target and a waste of intellectual energy. Other critics have a different view, that of welcoming any attacks on DT, especially if they are as scientifically valid, as ID proponents believe, and that make a serious contribution to the understanding of macro and micro evolutionary biology, or biology per se.
These critics look to ID as merely a tool of discovery of some new and important phenomena and relationships to add to the general knowledge, and not a new theory of biological everything. Their view is that if it is good science, it should be supported for where it leads, and if the stronghold of DT is breached, so much the better, since random genetic mutation over complex organisms as in DT is the main target. The ID community has been jumping into the conceptual breaches of DT almost from its inception, notably using what they call the Wedge Approach.
What is the Wedge Approach used by many Intelligent Design adherents today? As I understand the wedge approach, it is meant to divide strong Darwinian Evolution Theory adherents, on the one hand, from those who are beginning to doubt DT; and on the other hand, to divide those who believe ID is merely unscientific Creationism, from those who believe ID does not champion Creationism at all, and is actually quite scientific in nature and useful.
This approach, then, is meant to stress marginal DT advocates by showing the deficiencies of random genetic mutation and natural selection. It is also intended to establish a hard decoupling of ID Theory itself from the stigma of Biblical Creationism. Their honest approach thus says "We don't know who, what, when why or how the universe, man and life has been created and evolved, but we are chipping away at a few aspects of the question."
There has been no secret about this approach. It was well-documented by Phillip Johnson in several of his books years ago, so there should be no surprise to it for anyone that has kept up.
The attack on DT by ID adherents (and others as well) is being carried out on both the macro and micro levels of evolutionary biology. From the macro level, it has been demonstrated that virtually none of the proposed hierarchies of evolving species have any true, unfettered, fundamental organizing principles—not, morphology, not DNA, and not genomes, for instance. They are all in startup trouble beginning at the Cambrian Period, demonstrations of valid common descent chains notwithstanding.
A more telling factor is that the billions of years that DT evolution supposedly required for random mutations and natural selection to work has been severely reduced, to the point that it appears to be mathematically impossible for random mutation/natural selection to have worked at all beyond single trivial steps, let alone the millions and millions of steps between the cell and a human being. That is, except for trivial adaptations entirely within species.
It has been pointed out that mutation/natural selection cannot create new biological information. Just how speciation takes place without the generation of new biological information is an unknown. However, it is true that single mutations of lower cellular structures do occur, just not at the scale of eukarotes.
Further, one of the standard retorts of DT adherents is that DT predicts what will be discovered in the so-called gaps in the fossil records. So the current lack of fossil proof, which many important DT’ers now acknowledge, will be taken care of in due course. Thus, DT’ers have exercised faith in their theory of an "inverse" version of “The God of the Gaps”, just as the ID’ers have been accused of having in their theory.
The ID’ers, on the other hand, have firmly divorced themselves from the Creationist label by demonstrating that they looking for sure signs of design, but not trying to identify the designer at all. No longer are they in the position of supporting a God of the Gaps.
Their tests to detect design have evolved around common sense identification of unnatural material things, the Dembski mathematical elimination or Explanatory Filter test, and the Behe “irreducible complexity” test, among others. When applied to such systems as the bacterial flagellum the tests clearly leave us with the question: “If this is not an example of intelligent design, and it is mathematically impossible for it to have evolved by mutation/natural selection, then what could possibly be the answer?” The ID’ers of today do not inject God as the answer into this situation.
Many people in science are reluctant to accept the idea that it is actually intelligent design that is at work, for that might mean that the next step would be a religious or transcendental interpretation that is unacceptable to them. Unlike true scientists, they are not going where the data takes them, but are ignoring it, because one of the possible outcomes does not fit into their preconceived notions of how things should be for methodological naturalism to hold. Thus, they still attack ID Theory ferociously, using somewhat specious definitions of what science is, and is not, in order to exclude ID from consideration.
So, the attack on ID immediately revolves around the definition of science, which the methodological naturalists or materialists claim to be the study of natural phenomena, and that only. Philosophers of science, however, totally reject this definition, and as a matter of fact, reject the current attempts at defining science canonically at all as being woefully incomplete and exclusive of what they believe science to be. They cite the existence of immaterial entities such as numbers to extend the universe of possibilities beyond the material, thereby negating methodological naturalism.
Further, they state that there is no fine line that can be drawn between what is science and what is not science, because no definition can bridge the problems of necessity and sufficiency adequately, without leaving some number of activities on the wrong side of the line that otherwise measure up to being true science. Not the least of which are most of the scientific investigations of the past 100 years or more, which is rediculous. Of the ten or fifteen most revered scientists of the past century, at least nine of them are avowed theists, including Einstein, but that most certainly does not invalidate their work.
These philosophers of science are dismissive of other scientists in various disciplines who state that ID is not science, because they are way out of their area of specialty, and are pontificating on things for which they have no proper foundation in scientific philosophy.
J. P. Moreland states that; “There is no set of necessary and sufficient conditions by which to define science.” He does agree, however, that there are useful rules of thumb that can help to clarify what science is. He believes that the application of the methods and tools of science in ID Theory can be accepted, then, as being within the purview of science.
But what of the usual tests of good science practice? The utility of a theory can be demonstrated by its ability to explain phenomena, and by its ability to predict further aspects of phenomena. Does ID Theory demonstrate these capabilities? The answer is yes.
ID Theory provides an excellent explanation of some observed phenomena that other approaches have not equaled. It is a theory that generates not only explanations, but also testable results, either positive or negative, as has been shown in the cases of the bacterial flagellum and blood clotting mechanisms, among others. The attempts at refuting these two examples have all failed as of this writing.
The argument rages on, with each side--pro and contra ID Theory--taking hard hits and then recovering to throw their own punches back: a “How could you possibly believe in ID?” from the DT’ers, and a plea from the ID’ers to “Please look at the evidence objectively!”
It is a show with an ID David facing a DT Goliath !
1. Intelligent Design 101, H. Wayne House, General Editor, Kregel Publications, 2008.
2. The Edge of Evolution, Michael Behe, Free Press, 2007.
3. Intelligent Design, William Dembski, InterVarsity Press, 1999.
4. Doubts About Darwin, Thomas Woodward, Baker Books, 2003.
5. Darwin on Trial, Phillip Johnson, InterVarsity Press, 1993.
6. Intelligent Design Report, http://www.arn.org/