Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Intelligent Design: Not Just a Matter of Faith

On February 7, 2005, the New York Times ran an op-ed piece, "Design for Living" by Michael J. Behe (also available at Discovery.org and other unusual sites. The author makes the point that the concept of intelligent design has been widely misrepresented and does not depend on religious faith.

Michael Behe is a biochemist at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, a Seattle-based organization that supports the intelligent-design movement. Here is an excerpt from his article:
Rather, the contemporary argument for intelligent design is based on physical evidence and a straightforward application of logic. The argument for it consists of four linked claims.

The first claim is uncontroversial: we can often recognize the effects of design in nature. For example, unintelligent physical forces like plate tectonics and erosion seem quite sufficient to account for the origin of the Rocky Mountains. Yet they are not enough to explain Mount Rushmore.

Of course, we know who is responsible for Mount Rushmore, but even someone who had never heard of the monument could recognize it as designed.

Which leads to the second claim of the intelligent design argument: the physical marks of design are visible in aspects of biology. This is uncontroversial, too. . . .

The next claim in the argument for design is that we have no good explanation for the foundation of life that doesn't involve intelligence. Here is where thoughtful people part company.

Darwinists assert that their theory can explain the appearance of design in life as the result of random mutation and natural selection acting over immense stretches of time.

Some scientists, however, think the Darwinists' confidence is unjustified. They note that although natural selection can explain some aspects of biology, there are no research studies indicating that Darwinian processes can make molecular machines of the complexity we find in the cell.

Scientists skeptical of Darwinian claims include many who have no truck with ideas of intelligent design, like those who advocate an idea called complexity theory, which envisions life self-organizing in roughly the same way that a hurricane does, and ones who think organisms in some sense can design themselves.

The fourth claim in the design argument is also controversial: in the absence of any convincing non-design explanation, we are justified in thinking that real intelligent design was involved in life. . . .
Interesting comments.

Personally, I find the intricacies of life and the universe to be so clever and even inspiring that it is difficult to escape the natural testimony of a design. Yes, there is a Designer - and He's awfully good at what He does.

(Thanks to Walter Reade for calling my attention to the Behe article.)


Jared* said...

The author makes the point that the concept of intelligent design has been widely misrepresented and does not depend on religious faith.

So far, it depends even less on science, IMO.

Jeff G said...

Boy he lets a lot of slippery terms do an awful lot of work in his argument. Lets review his points again.

1) We can indeed recognize design in the world around us. But I don't want to say 'nature' for if we say nature the claim is not at all uncontoversial. Here he is trying to set up a sort of all or nothing dichotomy by saying that some things are designed, others are not and we can obviously tell the difference.

2) A also object to his use of the word 'design' as if that word were in itself uncontoversial. All evolutionists recongize that their adaptation happens and the best way to understand why certain adaptations help any given organism is to adopt the intentional stance, but this is a far cry from actually being designed. His first two point are "designed" to introduce a designer, and this is where scientists object. There is no evidence in biology for this designer.

3) Well of course no scientist has taken an entire planets worth of material and observed it for millions of years to see if life could happen by itself. This is an issue of practicality not falsifiability. The originator of complexity theory, Stuart Kauffman has long since been convinced that his ideas comfortably fit in a darwinian setting. See his book investigation for details. Behe is right for calling this point controversial. He is saying that since we haven't actually done the above experiment, we must posit an inteligent designer. Everybody must see that this is bad science.

4) Of course one is justified in thinking it, but calling it science is whole other matter. ID's have yet to present a working hypothesis for thier theories with testable predictions. If something, such as ID, is completely unfalsifiable then it should rightly be rejected by the scientific community. Believe what you want, but don't think for a second that it is anything other than a faith claim which should not be introduced at schools.

Those at the discovery institute are very busy seeking to find a desperately needed scientific theory. But stealing the criticisms from various scientists while not recognizing the merit which these same scientists see in the theory is not very respectable.

Behe is definitely the best ID author out there. He is a scientist which has written a book trying to reveal a flaw in a reigning theory. This is not bad at all. What is bad is when people will not allow people to respond to the criticism, considering the criticism itself to be the last word. Behe's argument have been received, evaluated and been found wanting.

This is not to say that there is no God who was not involved in any way in the creation. There is no evidence for this is biology, but this doesn't saying anything about revelations which we personally receive.

The most honest treatment I have found on the subject is Michael Ruse's "Can a Darwiniam be a Christian?" He is a strong Darwiniam who sends his kids to a Christian school and gives Christianity its best shot. His answer to the question is "yes." But he rightly considers ID to be unacceptable.

Clark Goble said...

Be aware that many of the people Behe quoted or reference felt abused by his use of them. I think the criticisms of ID are well made. There is no scientific evidence for their claims. I do think it unfair how many criticize ID for seeking after evidence for their views. However when people postulate ID as anything but a matter of faith then it does become problematic. There's nothing wrong with speculation in science. In a way certain physical theories like superstring theory are speculative and get better treatment than ID. However physicists are much more cautious about such ideas than many are.

Further, one ought not that ID still has evolution in terms of history pretty much the same way that normative biologists do. They just don't think it works purely by chance.

One ought also point out that ID does not entail God or a creator to be behind the design.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Thanks for the insightful comments! I appreciating all of you dropping by and sharing your knowledge.

Timotheus said...

I just want to object to the concept of logic being applied to intelligent design. I would reserve it for deductive reasoning (this is certainly the philosophy snob in me). It seems to me that intelligent design is based on observations and inferences. These inferences might not be very good, as some of the criticisms have suggested (in fact, no studies can really be done either way, but hey, this hasn't stopped other scientific theories!). The way I see it, one sort of finds themself on the scene, looks around, and figures, I guess all of this case from somewhere. In modern times, as we look around the universe, there are a lot of uninhabitable places. Maybe this earth was designed since it is different. As we compare Mount Rushmore to other mountains we see, it seems obvious that something different is going on there. These are all inferences though. Not deductions. As such, they are subject to errors, even if the premises they rely on our true. Unless you are trying to argue:

All planets that are inhabitable are designed.
This planet is inhabitable.
Therefore, this planet was designed.

Infortunate for us, such a syllogism is tautological for our purposes since we are assuming what we want to prove as a premise, namely, that an inhabitable planet must have been designed.

Unless, of course, you want to take the argument as a priori. Maybe it is just self-evident that the world was designed, like it is self-evident that we are free or something. The problem is that this ends up being about as worthwhile as just saying, I believe God did it because it is obvious. It may be true, but is wholly unpersuasive and persuasiveness seems to be a value that intelligent design advocates are looking for. Otherwise, they would leave it as a matter of faith. http://approachingzion.blogspot.com

Bradley Ross said...

I had a great time at Michael F. Whiting's BYU Forum assembly today. You can get the audio of it here.

His topic was "Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life: Some Assembly Required". The audio of the lecture (linked above) should be good, but the video would be better. He used a lot of visuals that were integral to his presentation. According to this page, you can watch it on BYU-TV on Sunday, June 5th.

I really appreciated hearing about the work Whiting and BYU are doing with genetics to figure out the evolutionary tree of life. He realizes that some people will find the idea of a BYU professor studying evolution offensive and addresses this towards the end of his address. Well worth a listen.