As I reflected on the essay this morning, I kept wondering to myself: Here’s a guy who has created this masterful piece combining logic and prose, providing “one for the ages,” as it were. And yet, as he’s doing so, he’s denying that the universe could be the product of intelligent design – that “God” could create this universe. To be fair to Den Beste, he maintains a complex, reasoned evolutionary belief system. It makes the best sense to him.
And that’s precisely what boggles my mind. Setting aside for the moment any discussion of the God of the Judeo-Christian religion, scientists and computer programmers, very intelligent people all, engage in “intelligent design” every time they combine mixtures in attempts to combat HIV (or sickle cell anemia, to use SDB’s own example). They engage in “intelligent design” whenever they create network solutions or smaller, faster computer chips. They use the stable laws of the universe and physics, exploiting them to human advantage. And yet, they deny that these laws, this universe, could be the design of a higher intelligence. Why?
Just to recap: A computer that learns to play chess is the product of human intelligence and design. The human who designed the computer that learned to play chess and the laws that govern the operation of that computer are the product of mechanistic randomness. That I don’t get.
An interesting question. My belief is that religion has always served at least one of two purposes: to explain the unexplainable and to serve as a foundation for a code of human behavior. The great religions, starting with Judaism, have done both. Over time, however, scientific discovery has competed with religion for the first function and various non-supernatural philosophies have competed in the second venue.
Obviously, it’s impossible to prove that there is no creator. As time goes on, however, the lack of concrete evidence that there is a creator seems rather damning. Christianity has been around a couple milennia now and yet no Second Coming or other widespread revelation. Why?
Also, I’d contend that the fact that all the other planets we know about seem to have no purpose whatever is evidence against divine creation. Why would a God capable of creating Earth with all its magnificence also create Jupiter? Random chance seems a much more logical explanation to me than divine creation.
I agree with Den Beste’s conclusions on this:
In induction what one person finds overwhelmingly convincing, another may find weakly interesting if at all, and this doesn’t necessarily mean one is right and the other is wrong. Sometimes they are, but sometimes it just means they’re evaluating the importance of the issues involved in different ways.
I know or have known Christians that I thought were deluded fools. I have received more than my share of incoherent arguments from them which they thought were overwhelming and I thought were clear demonstrations of their lack of education and inability to reason effectively.
But I have also known, and now know, Christians who are intelligent, intellectually disciplined, well read and knowledgeable who are completely convinced of their faith, just as I am totally convinced about mine. I think they are wrong, and they think I am wrong, but it isn’t possible for either of us to prove it to the other. These are not people who believe in a 7-day creation 6000 years ago; these people believe in an ancient earth and think that humans are the end result of evolution, but think that there’s more to the universe than I do. The claims that they make are subject to inductive evaluation but not to deductive examination or empirical test, which means that we can personally arrive at conclusions about them but cannot objectively prove those conclusions to each other when we end up disagreeing about it.
I think that a Christian who believes in a 7-day creation etc. is an idiot, but I do not think Donald Sensing is an idiot, and I consider his religion to be equal to my own, even though it totally contradicts mine. That doesn’t mean I have any doubt about mine; I’m convinced he’s wrong.
Not all religious positions are equally worthy of respect and many are only worthy of utter contempt. But I do not grant that the atheistic point of view is in any way above all of the best of the alternatives, such as the one Donald believes. Donald and I disagree, but I think that his inductive process was of equal quality to my own, and until such time as further evidence becomes available which might directly affect those calculations, we’ll continue to disagree while maintaining mutual respect.
Seems reasonable to me.