I occasionally read the Z-Man, who recently posted on Intelligent Design. Fun! I advocated ID a lot in college and even had the pleasure of meeting Michael Behe while he was promoting the foundational ID book, Darwin’s Black Box. His objections two decades ago have never been answered by evolutionists. Or have they? Let’s find out!
The Problems Of Design
21 August 2019
Whenever the subject of Intelligent Design turns up, it is always in the context of believers in ID attacking evolutionary biology. The ID’ers have a list of claims about “Darwinism” that they insist make evolution impossible. A popular one now, for example, is that there is not enough time for natural selection to produce enough gene mutations to explain the fossil record. A fair description of ID is that it is a list of arguments and assertions about evolution wrapped around a set of central claims.
ID is a disproof by counterexample of evolution by natural selection. Nothing more. (Sometimes referred to as the irreducible complexity argument.) It does not disprove, for example, the “hopeful monster” hypothesis of a lizard egg hatching a bird, and it doesn’t care about elapsed time.
Example, blood clotting in humans. There is no “one step simpler” blood clotting mechanism. If you take out or modify any part of the process, blood doesn’t clot at all, or doesn’t stop clotting, or clots in the wrong place, etc. You don’t get a simpler clotting system. You get a dead organism.
ID’s demand here is that TENS scientists provide a possible step-by-step chain by which blood clotting could have come into existence. Because if there is no incrementally beneficial path then we know that MULTIPLE, SIMULTANEOUS and INHERITABLE mutations WORKING TOGETHER needs to have happened… which is so unlikely that the original answer to ID was the unproveable idea that we live in the one best of an infinite number of realities.
Another example is vision. Not only is it an incredibly complicated system, and similarly useless below a certain level of complexity, but there’s no possible stimulus that would direct an organism to create it. If a blind organism needs to see in order to reproduce then it’s dead.
And so on. There’s a variant ID argument called specified complexity which goes into whether DNA is so complicated that it couldn’t have been written piecemeal. But I’ll skip that to focus on the irreducible complexity, since that’s what I’m most familiar with.
One of those claims is that creation, as we observe it, must be the result of design and therefore a designer. They never describe the designer, as most people just assume they mean God, but the designer could be space aliens, in theory. A certain type of self-described Christian finds this appealing. They assume the designer is God, as they have an understanding of God that is much more personal. They believe God is highly involved in the granular details of human existence.
Not just God. A God who claims to be our Creator. ID would disprove the Greek, Hindu and Shinto deities as effectively as atheism. We duck the “who is the Creator” issue to focus on evolution being falsified. Yes, we have an ulterior motive. No, that doesn’t change the legitimacy of the counterexamples.
Now, it should be pointed out that this understanding of God is outside Christian tradition and perhaps even anti-Christian. Early Christians, like the Jews of the period, were highly influenced by the Greek understanding of the world. For them, the universe was an orderly place operating by fixed rules. You can’t have a covenant with God, after all, if the universe is a lawless place controlled by a fickle creator. That would make God’s covenant with man just another trick played by him on mankind.
Speak of the pantheon. Greek deities were anything but orderly and law-abiding. Nothing in Christianity is comparable to Platonic forms unless one counts human beings made in God’s image, which is not a topic here; we’re discussing the natural world and Christianity has relatively little to say about it.
Intelligent Design is occasionalism. While the natural world seems to operate along a set of knowable rules, God often intervenes to change results. He is always in that space between cause and effect, ready to alter the relationship according to his design. God created the platypus for reasons only known to God. If he chooses, he can make the Nile flow south or the sky turn pink. The proof of this, according to Intelligent Design, is the variety of species alive today, as well those no longer in existence.
Again, ID is a disproof by counterexample, not any kind of -ism. It’s not even a scientific theory; it’s an argument.
I looked up occasionalism because I’m not familiar with it despite counting myself a theologian.
The doctrine that God is the sole causal actor and that all events are merely occasions on which God brings about what are normally thought of as their effects.
That is not something Christianity teaches. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of the Fall of Eden, which clearly showed the first humans acting against God’s stated command.
A doctrine held by the Cartesian philosophers Geulincx and Malebranche that mind and matter are inherently incapable of affecting each other and that their apparent reciprocal action must therefore be due to the intervention of God who on the occasion of a change in one produces a corresponding change in the other.
Who? *checks* Geulincx was a disciple of Descartes who worked on the mind-body problem, which AFAIK is “how do souls interact with the physical world”? Descartes wrote Cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am” while Geulincx wrote Ita est, ergo ita sit, “it exists, therefore it is so”. Not quite as catchy as Rene’s witticism.
We’re not talking philosophy here. We’re talking scientific method. A disproof of a theory is simply not philosophy.
In fairness to the ID’ers, occasionalism did creep into Christian theology in the Middle Ages, as the Christian West came into contact with Islam. Nicholas of Autrecourt was a 14th century French theologian, who was a critic of the orderly view of the natural world and a proto-occasionalist. David Hume dabbled in the ideas, but stopped short of claiming a creator or designer. Modern ID’ers can therefore claim they are not way outside Christian tradition, but they would have to defend against it.
Christianity is the same today as in the first century AD. Any sincere investigation will confirm that.
Let me say in passing that Christianity is not an agricultural religion, which is a claim I’ve seen repeatedly on Z-Man’s blog. Christianity does not resemble the pagan (translatable here as “heartland”) religions of the time. It doesn’t even have a fertility or water deity. And please note that Christianity came into existence in the context of the Roman Empire, as urban and cosmopolitan a society as history had yet seen.
It is a religion relevant to modern, urban life.
Another central claim of Intelligent Design is that the natural world is either the result of chance or design. This is the keystone of their theory, as Intelligent Design is not an affirmative argument in favor of a designer. Instead, they frame the debate as between two competing theories. Therefore, if one is shown to be invalid, by default the other must be true. It is a bit of rhetorical sleight of hand to avoid the central problems of Intelligent Design, which of course is that it can never be proven.
That’s an axiom, not an ID claim, that [fill-in-the-blank] happened either randomly or not-randomly. Although I can guess where he’s going.
This aspect of Intelligent Design relies on a characterization of natural selection as random chance, like rolling of dice. It’s the claim that a football game is either the result of random chance or the game is fixed by the officials, either in advance or as the game proceeds to its conclusion. Obviously, this is ridiculous. The result of a sports match is not random and it is not predetermined or fixed. The result of a sportsball game, is the result of the players acting and reacting to one another, within a known set of rules.
That’s the case with evolutionary biology. Random mutations in the genome are one aspect of the evolutionary process. Environment obviously plays a role here. Sexual selection is another. Human intervention is another. After all, people have killed off whole species. People have killed off whole groups of people. Like the sportsball game, there are multiple actors, acting and reacting, within a set of rules that science does not fully understand. Evolution is not an argument in favor of chance.
As expected. He’s conflating the randomness (uncertain outcome) of a sports game with the randomness (undirected outcome) of mutation and natural selection. The former exists because we have imperfect knowledge but the latter exists as a “no deliberate intervention” situation. Specifically, nothing to tamper with the TENS process.
The point here is Intelligent Design is built, in part, on a false dichotomy. Natural selection is not random chance, at least not how most people understand what random chance means. Further, even if natural selection is unable to explain everything, there are other forces, like sexual selection, that come into play.
ID does not care about sexual selection, mutation rates or other forces. The claim it makes is that there is no POSSIBLE path by which various existing biological systems could have incrementally come into existence. Take all the time you want, it’s never going to happen.
If an evolutionist could, via selective breeding and random mutation only, give functional and usable eyes to a species of earthworm, then ID would be a failed argument.
Even if everything about evolutionary biology is wrong, it does not make Intelligent Design true. It simply means we have no good answer understanding the natural world.
The only reason you atheists have to believe in evolution is that it gives you an excuse to deny God’s existence. You will, as you just stated, believe in Ignorance before you believe in a transcendent Creator. That’s what this debate is really about.
This again comes back to the question as to whether Intelligent Design is at odds with Christian theology. The Sphynx cat exists and we know why. The ID’ers would argue that it is an example of design, but that presupposes the breeders were either directed by God or compelled by God to create the breed. That means man has no agency and that sin cannot truly exist. This argument for Intelligent Design comes dangerously close to the argument that man has no free will, which is heretical on its face.
ID makes no such claim. A bulldog, dachshund and Husky are all dogs. To disprove ID, one would have to breed a dog into a horse, or at least show how it might be done in a stepwise fashion. Nobody cares if you can breed a dog into a dog.
This is why ID’er focus all of their energy on the negative argument, making various claims about evolutionary science. That way, the discussion is always on the science, rather than the theology.
Again, there’s no reason to turn ID, a scientific argument, into an -ism.
This rhetorical sleight of hand is also dishonest, which raises another theological problem for ID’ers. How can something be in line with Biblical teaching if it is based on a falsehood? Maybe the ID’er have a way to explain this, but it is not something they choose to address in their books and articles.
The most serious issue with Intelligent Design is what it implies about God. A designer that is endlessly tinkering with his creation is not a designer with foresight. Alternatively, it is a designer that is a fickle trickster, tinkering with his creation for his own amusement, without regard for his creation. It is a designer that purposely makes flawed creations that harm his other creations. This is a designer burning army men with a magnifying glass and blowing up the model train trestle. That’s not God. That’s the Devil.
You aren’t describing God. He famously claimed to have built the natural world in as little as five days. (Humans taking a sixth day and being a special Creation.) Since then, no tinkering worth noting.
No Christian claims that creating a new breed of dog, cat, horse or whatever is a divine act of Creation.
From a mainstream Christian perspective, Intelligent Design has some serious theological problems, with occasionalism being the main one. The one way to solve the theological problems is to move the designer back to the beginning, where the Bible writers preferred to place him. The classic watchmaker model, where God sets the universe in motion, according to a fixed set of rules, with evolution possibly being one of them. That leaves room to debate evolution, but does not make God a villain.
The Christian God never used evolution. Churchians (false Christians whose real deity is Be Nice, not Jesus) wanted to believe He futzed around with trial and error because they wanted common ground with their atheist neighbors. It was a lie then and is a lie now, and I can only apologize if false Christians gave you the idea that God claimed to have evolved life instead of creating it. The two are not the same thing.
Meanwhile, the only new argument against ID presented here is that animals randomly having sex should be counted as Intelligent Design. Evolution is such a fatally flawed theory that it must be annually updated to account for new information coming in, yet none of those updates is capable of answering twenty year-old objections to the basic theory.