Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Intelligent Design rhetoric - Part 1
Intelligent Design recycles and merges two old arguments that represent two very different types of theology. Neither argument is good science.

The first is called "argument from design." This argument proceeds from the type of theology that views the world with awe and wonder. The complexity and astounding beauty of the world are taken as arguments for the glory of God. The majesty of nature could only be the product of a perfect creator.

This optimistic theology was converted into an argument against evolution by Rev. William Paley a generation before Darwin.* Paley provided the famous example of the eye, saying the eye was too complex to have evolved in one shot and that a half-evolved eye would be silly and useless.

Intelligent Design has repackaged this argument as the scientific sounding concept "irreducible complexity." Since biologists can explain what good a half eye is, Michael Behe and other ID proponents have concentrated on the molecular machinery within cells. Behe claims, as Paley did, that his preferred example is too complex to have evolved by chance and that it had to have appeared fully developed; it would not have been useful in any partial form. Needless to say, most biologists have no problem

The second argument is called "God in the gaps." This argument proceeds from a rather defensive theology that accepts separate realms for religion and science, but contents itself with limiting God to those things science can't explain. No one actually claims this as their religious philosophy because it essentially a philosophy of despair. It anticipates the realm of God constantly shrinking as human knowledge expands.

ID proponents have reversed this pessimistic philosophy by aggressively stating that there are some things science simply cannot explain and that it never will explain them. Science is a means of gathering knowledge and explaining the world through naturalistic causes, that is through causes that we can observe and measure. ID insists that some things don't have natural causes.

Returning to Behe, this is the point of his term "irreducible complexity." He's not saying that it would be difficult or improbable for certain molecular machines to assemble themselves using naturalistic processes; he says it's impossible. Some designer had to intervene to put those molecules in place.

The main ID proponents try to avoid saying God. In this way they can claim that their philosophy is an alternative scientific explanation, not a religion. They point out places in the evolutionary narrative where naturalist explanations seem to fail and propose a non-naturalistic intervention. They are playing word games. What is a "non-naturalistic intervention." It's a supernatural event, also called a miracle. They want to avoid naming this maker of miracles, but really, how many makers of miracles can you name that do not qualify as religious figures?

Intelligent Design is more than a philosophy with religious origins. It is both non-scientific and anti-scientific to its core. I'll go into that next time.

* Yes, the theory of evolution existed before Darwin. He didn't "invent" evolution; he merely provided one of the first convincing explanations for how it works and it was only a partial explanation at that. This is why using "Darwinism" as a synonym for evolutionary theory is such a misnomer.

No comments: