Does Intelligent Design Entail the Supernatural?
In posting about Intelligent Design (ID), one of the fruquent objections to my posts is that is not religion. This assertion is usually simply made and with no argumentation or anything else to back it up. That is, the claims follow the usual form,
- Claim: Intelligent Design is not religion.
- Evidence: Nothing.
Personally I find such arguments to be less than satisfactory. In supporting my claims that ID is religion, I point out that ID neccessitates a designer and that the only option for the designer is a supernatural designer. The only thing missing at this point from the definition of religion is the lack of reverence. The theory of ID entails no form of worship, reverence, and so forth. But to me that is a mighty fine hair to split in that, AFAIK, the legal test doesn’t specify reverence.
Now, Elliot Sober, philosopher of science and professor at the University of Wisconson, Madison has a working paper (pdf) out that looks at precisely this question. First up Sober poses the following argument that any and all proponents of ID need to answer.
- If a system found in nature is irreducibly complex, then it was caused to exist by an intelligent designer.
- Some of the minds found in nature are irreducibly complex.
- Therefore some of the minds found in nature were caused to exist by an intelligent designer.
- Any mind in nature that designs and builds an irreducibly complex system is itself irreducibly complex.
- If the universe is finitely old and if cause precedes effect, then at least one of the minds found in nature was not created by any mind found in nature.
- The universe is finitely old.
- Causes precede their effects.
- Therefore, there exists a supernatural intelligent designer.
As Professor Sober notes, these premises lead to a conclusion that is very close to religious. From the notion that there is a supernatural entity that is the source of the first cause for the universe and the intelligent life in it to reverence strikes me as a very short step.
Further, the first claim is the central tenet of ID. This notion was first put forward by Behe in 1995, and was extended by Dembski in 1998. The only way out for the ID proponent is to get rid of one of the first seven premises. Which one is to be jettisoned is up the the IDists. Naturally I expect none of them to come up with any suggestions.
One possible way out is for the ID proponents to simply dodge the question. They could simply assert that the designer is a being that has no begining or end. However, this would violate one of the tenents of the strategy to get ID into public schools: don’t discuss aspects of the designer. Saying that the designer is and always will be, starts to get close to the R-word. So while this could be a way to dodge the question, it isn’t a particularly attractive one for the IDists. Another possibility is to argue that the designer is really actually a simple being. I see two problems with this approach. The first is that it again violates the prohibition on discussing aspects of the designer. The second is that it posits that humans are more complex than the designer…and from there some might be tempted to conclude that humans are better than the designer.
Another possible way out is for the IDist to accept the supernatural implications of their theory, but to deny that it has any implications in terms of reverence/worship. That is, “Sure there is this transcendent being that basically created us, but we shouldn’t worship this being nor revere this being.” The problem for IDists such as those at the Discovery Institute is that this would probably result in their funding drying up like a shallow puddle on a hot June day.
Dembski and others have tried to argue that the design inference is one that doesn’t have to address the natural vs. supernatural. The problem with this is that people make design inferences all the time. For example, is a guy who runs a gambling concern on a street cheating (design) or not (nature or random)? We make such inferences based on what we observe. For example, a long time observer might notice that one guy always shows up periodically and wins a nice amount of money, then followed by a number of people losing money. Many might infer that the winner is actually in on the scam with the guy running the shell game. That both are conmen and that the game is rigged (designed).
For Dembski the problem is that his design argument isn’t like the shell game example above. In the shell game above, there are possible designers (the guys who run the game). Based on our knowledge we know that humans design things all the time. Thus, the design inference is one that strikes many people as reasonable. Factor in that such games are designed to earn money and that people in general prefer more money to less, and the design inference becomes even more reasonable. All of this is missing from Dembski’s arguments. Who is the designer of the e. coli flagellum? Why would the designer put in flagella vs. little tiny propellers or even some sort of jet? We can’t say because Dembski leaves out all discussion of who the designer is, and what the motivations of the designer are.
The two design inferences are very different. The first one does not require an appeal to the supernatural becuase we have a designer that is already part of nature. In Dembski’s case we don’t have this.
The bottom line is that ID theory points very strongly to the supernatural. Further, that it is quite likely that this supernatural is indeed consistent with what we find in virtually all forms of religion. To argue otherwise really is misleading.
h/t Pandas Thumb.