Friday, 18 May 2007

Unintelligent Question

An unintelligent question from Telic Thoughts;

ID 101
by MikeGene


What is Intelligent Design? If you ask a critic, he will probably tell you that ID is a disguised version of Creationism and nothing more than a Trojan Horse to get God taught in the public schools. If you ask a typical proponent of ID, he will probably tell you that ID is the best explanation for various biotic phenomena. If you ask me, I’ll give you a different answer.

For me, ID begins exactly as William Dembski said it begins – with a question:

Intelligent design begins with a seemingly innocuous question: Can objects, even if nothing is known about how they arose, exhibit features that reliably signal the action of an intelligent cause?

The first thing to note about the question is that you don’t have to be a religious fundamentalist to ask it. You don’t have to be a religious fundamentalist to consider it. In fact, you don’t even have to be a religious fundamentalist to answer it.

But apparently you have to be daft enough not to notice the obvious.

Lets look at the question itself again;
Can objects, even if nothing is known about how they arose, exhibit features that reliably signal the action of an intelligent cause?
Ok. We have an object. We don't know where it came from at all, we know nothing about it's origin, nothing, at all.

Can we tell if intelligence had something to do with it's origin?

But hang on a minute! We just made the assumption we don't know anything about it's origins so we do already know the answer to this strange question, we were given it in the question.

Of course this isn't strictly what was meant, but the ID crowd need to set up some rather subtle little premises in the background of your thoughts so that they can gently point you in the direction they want.

What they are edging you away from is the huge mass of evidence that science has amassed relating to how living things on this planet have developed over billions of years.

They need you to blank this from your mind or their idea will seem a bit, er, daft.

What they are edging towards, nodding and winking all the way, is;
"Wow things look designed, there must be a designer, praise be to god."
Of course in the real world we don't have any objects, the origins of which we know absolutely nothing about.

We do have marvelously designed living organisms of breathtaking complexity, beauty and which display, some of them(*) at least, amazing adaptions to their environments and we do also have a great deal of evidence about how they developed.

The first bit of the statement I have just made has been taken as pretty obvious evidence for the existence of a god for many, many years, right up until it was realised that the universe works in such a way that blind chance coupled with natural selection is actually a marvelous designer too. Unintelligent, but marvelous none the less.

Most religious people with any intellectual dignity and honesty have eventually realised that they can quite happily take genesis as a myth and give god the job of sparking off life and/or the universe, leaving evolution and the laws of nature to do the rest. These religious folks don't need to deny huge swathes of empirical evidence to continue their belief. They have in effect "promoted" their god to setting the laws of the universe in motion, and are happy to let the scientists find what they find.

The ID crowd haven't worked this out yet. They cling to a literal interpretation of the bible and have concocted Intelligent Design as way to get people thinking along the old "pre-Theory of Evolution" lines i.e. "Wow it sure looks designed", etc.

ID 101 quotes Dembski several times whilst at the same time striving to totally divorce ID from any kind of religious connotation.

So far in this post I have completely fulfilled Mike Gene's prediction. I am a critic of ID and;
If you ask a critic, he will probably tell you that ID is a disguised version of Creationism and nothing more than a Trojan Horse to get God taught in the public schools.
But I can give you evidence to back up evolution, and I can even give you evidence to back up my claims of the religious agenda behind ID.

I'll let Dembski speak for himself;
"The world is a mirror representing the divine life . . .Intelligent design readily embraces the sacramental nature of physical reality. Indeed intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John's Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory."
and
"But there are deeper motivations. I think at a fundamental level, in terms of what drives me is that I think God's glory is being robbed by these naturalistic approaches to biological complexity and diversity. When you are attributing the wonders of nature to these mindless material mechanisms, God's glory is getting robbed."

So this is not a search for truth. Demsbki already knows it was god.

This is not a question of following where the evidence leads, Dembski already knows where he is headed.

In fact we were subtly asked to forget that the evidence for evolution even exists so that the first question can be asked without it sounding so daft - remember?

The Telic Thoughts column then goes on as follows;
When we consider Dembski’s question, many answer ‘no.’ That is, they insist that we need to have information about the designers and their methods to detect design. This is the designer-centric approach.
I think that all sides of the debate would agree that we have a choice of two types of possible designer, the first is being scrupulously avoided by ID proponents nowadays;

Firstly if we grant the designer supernatural powers then we are immediately faced with the problem that such a designer can do anything and make their handywork look like anything. So any evidence at all can be evidence of a supernatural designer, so you go nowhere with evidence, the assumption of a supernatural designer means evidence becomes meaningless as you can not imagine any fnd of evidence which would prove you wrong.

Secondly, if we don't grant the designer supernatural powers then we might expect "Intelligent Design Theory" to have some proposed mechanism for the design process and construction methods. I find none proposed by any ID supporter - please correct me on this if you know better - it would make a nice change to debate something of substance.

ID seems to be saying, "Somewhere, somehow, something designed something intelligently."

So I ask where, how, when? etc. I have yet to receive an answer from any ID supporter.

Mike Gene says he respects the designer centric approach enough not to ask in proponents to abandon it. I don't abandon it, I ask it's proponents to do more than simply name it.

Give us some details for this "theory" of ID. A mechanism? Some predictions?

A humorous posting on another ID blog revealed this;

"let's try the dictionary:
Intelligent: 1. Having the faculty of understanding: possessing intelligence or intellect. 2. Having or showing a high degree of intelligence: knowing, sensible, sagacious 3. That understands (a particular thing, etc.)
Design: 1 A plan or scheme conceived in the mind of something to be done; the preliminary conception of an idea that is to be carried into effect by action; a project 2. Purpose, aim, intention 3. The thing aimed at 4. Contrivance in accordance with a preconceived plan; adaptation of means to ends; prearranged purpose; as, the argument from. 5. In a bad sense; Crafty contrivance; an instance of this."
ID 101 goes on to say;
On the other hand, things change if someone answers Dembski’s question with a ‘yes.’ At this point, we turn to these proposed methods for detecting design without the luxury of independent information about the designers. Do the methods work? If so, how reliable are they? And here you find all sorts of positions. The two most widely known methods are Michael Behe’s concept of Irreducible Complexity and William Dembski’s concepts of Specified Complexity and the Explanatory Filter. You will find people who think these methods have succeeded in detecting design and thus the payoff is in. On the other hand, you will find people who think these methods fail (this can either mean that there is no design or the methods are not up to the task of reliably detecting design). And then there are people somewhere in the middle (like yours truly), who is not convinced that the proposed methods have truly delivered a design inference, yet also think they are on the right track.
This is setting up a false set of choices for you to make;

  • "Yes we can detect design. Hallelujah!"
  • "No we can't. Hail Dawkins."

    or
  • "I'm very reasonably not sure, in reasonable kind of way, you know. Cheesy grin."

Back in reality, try to remember that science has another explanation for the way living things are, and this other way works by design as well.

So being able to detect design won't get you anywhere.

On the other hand, being able to prove that something could not have evolved would be a tremendous step forward for science.

The problem is that ID hasn't got anywhere near doing that yet, although they have claimed it many times.

Dembski himself has said,
"I'm not and never have been in the business of offering a strict mathematical proof for the inability of material mechanisms to generate specified complexity."
So come on ID 101 give us a bit more detail on ID. What mechanisms were used by this designer, when were they used, how do they work? Lets have some details of this "theory". Give us some predictions based upon the mechanism you describe.

I'm not holding my breath.

- - -

(* - but sometimes amazingly badly designed for their environments too - now why would god do that?)

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