The Discovery Institute, Intelligent Design and the Designer
One of the things that continuously annoys me about the Discovery Institute (DI) and their representatives is the dishonesty when it comes to the designer in Intelligent Design (ID). The strategy of the DI is to maintain that the designer does not have to be the Christian God, nor does the designer even have to be supernatural. Case in point is William Dembski. Dembski argues that the designer does not have to be God,
In September, Jon StewartÃ¢€™s The Daily Show devoted several programs to the topic of evolution (Ã¢€Evolution, Schmevolution Ã¢€” WhoÃ¢€™s Right, WhoÃ¢€™s Full of ItÃ¢€). WhatÃ¢€™s more, I appeared on one of those programs (go here and here).
In those programs, Stewart & Co. had some lines that were not only funny but also memorable. The one that sticks out poked fun at ID: Ã¢€œWeÃ¢€™re not saying that the designer is God, just someone with the same skill-set.Ã¢€ That line is now being reused on the debate circuit, with Eugenie Scott, for instance, deploying it this November at a debate at Boston University (go here).
Although the line is funny, it is not accurate. GodÃ¢€™s skill-set includes not just ordering matter to display certain patterns but also creating matter in the first place. God, as understood by the worldÃ¢€™s great monotheistic faiths, is an infinite personal transcendent creator. The designer responsible for biological complexity, by contrast, need only be a being capable of arranging finite material objects to display certain patterns. Accordingly, this designer need not even be infinite. Likewise, that designer need not be personal or transcendent (cf. the Ã¢€œdesignerÃ¢€ in Stoic philosophy).
This is completely dishonest given Dembski’s previous work, writings and speeches. One need look no further than Dembski’s Law of Conservation of Information. The bottomline of the Law of Conservation of Information (a new law of thermodynamics “discovered” by Dembski) is,
Ã¢€œIn this section I will present an in-principle mathematical argument for why natural causes are incapable of generating complex specified information.Ã¢€ [No Free Lunch, p. 150]
So, if nature cannot create complex specified information, then what can? The designer, who by the above quote must be outside of nature, or supernatural. At this point one might be tempted to argue for aliens, but this is not allowed by Law of Conservation of Information. If the aliens are also “complex specified information” then they too cannot arise naturally and must have their source outside of nature.
The reader might not be persuaded by the above reasoning in that one could argue that the aliens don’t have to be complex and specified. However, lets look at another article written by Dembski, Searching Large Spaces: Displacement and the No Free Lunch Regress. In this article, Dembski argues that something as simple as a protein comprised of 100 amino acids is impossible to form naturally without the aid of an intelligent designer. Yet at the same time we are to believe that intelligent aliens formed naturally, developed some means to travel to our planet and start life here. Any reasonable person’s Woo-Woo meter should be just about ready to break.
We can also turn to the Discovery Institute itself and look at their explanation of what ID is,
The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.
Then there is this article from the DI website by Benjamin Wiker that argues that the universe itself was created for humans,
Since human beings arrive at the result of a long conspiracy of fine-tuningÃ¢€”not only in regard to the fundamental forces and laws, but also because of the elegant and precise fitness for life of the chemical elements such as carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogenÃ¢€”cosmology is becoming not just biocentric but anthropic (from the Greek anthropos, human being). In contrast to WeinbergÃ¢€™s dismal assessment, then, purpose is written into every part. The vast spaces above him are not hostile and pointless but point to the ground teeming with every manner of living thing below. And again, we human beings seem to be built in from the very beginning.
We have seen, then, that insofar as the latest, most comprehensive physics goes, the universe is far from pointless. As it turns out, it is biocentric, even anthropicÃ¢€”that is, it points directly to the realm of purpose. Far from biology being swallowed up by a reductionist physics, it appears that physics can only be properly understood in light of biology because the material parts studied by physics and chemistry can only be properly understood in light of the complex, biological wholes for which they are so supremely well-fitted
In short, saying that the designer “has the same skill set as God” is pretty much accurate. The designer isn’t somebody who just tweaks the flagellum, the blood clotting cascade and a few other biological systems and then fades into the background. No, the designer is somebody who has to be able to create an entire universe (presumably from nothing) that is specially designed not even for life, but for human life. Sounds pretty much like some sort of divine being to me.