Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Intelligent Design in the Public Square: Op-Ed Piece and Responses

In the interest of being on the cutting edge of the news from three weeks ago, I have complied a few thoughts on Behe’s Op-Ed piece in the NY Times, or more appropriately the responses. The article has apparently been archived on the Time page, but the whole thing can be found elsewhere. There are also several blogs that watch the ID movement which have lent their $.02. (here here here)

Behe’s article itself is relatively modest. It strives to delineate four major claims of ID and educate people about what the science is and is not about. Most importantly, given the political atmosphere today, he claims that ID makes no overt claims about religion. I have pointed to this fact in greater detail in another post. Francis Beckwith, for instance, has produced and explanation of ID in purely scientific and falsifiable terms.

In the responses, we find many of the misunderstandings and misrepresentations Behe was trying to clear up. It still surprises me how many people don’t seem to want to handle the science of ID, and rather head to the ad hominum attacks or claim some form of separation of church and state and then ignore the science of their ID interlocutors. Here are a few snippets from the responses and a few thoughts.

"Design will be a real science when we have testable answers for these questions."

Testability is a squirrelly and difficult concept to hide behind. Many will argue that there is little in traditional evolutionary theory that is testable either. How do you test fossils? You might look at them and analyze them looking for transitional species, but that hasn’t produced any results, and it certainly is not “testability” in the same way combining two chemicals in a test tube is. How do you test a spontaneous generation to the universe? It can be hypothesized and possibly modeled, but again, it is not a traditionally “testable” or repeatable event.

On the other hand, if we do consider mathematical models and hypotheses as within the scope of “testing,” then ID produces plenty of testable concepts-specified complexity and irreducible complexity among the more important ones.

"Assertions about intelligent design fall into an area of faith and belief outside the scope of science." The writer is chairwoman of the department of anthropology, University of Delaware.

If you don’t like ‘em, categorize ‘em and marginalize ‘em. Good tactic.

"I must have missed the concept of "if it looks, walks and quacks like a duck, then, absent compelling evidence to the contrary, we have warrant to conclude it's a duck" in my studies of the scientific method." The writer is a research assistant professor, Laboratory of Molecular Cell Biology, Rockefeller University.

Apparently he did miss that one class on inductive logic. I wonder if the writer is aware of the epistemic concept of warrant and the inductive process of evidence lending weight to a conclusion/hypothesis?

"Michael J. Behe demonstrates why the so-called theory of intelligent design should stay out of our science classrooms. His claims of physical evidence are spurious. We see clocks and outboard motors in cells not because they are clocks and motors, but because we have no better analogy."

If we have no better analogy, then what would the naturalistic conclusion be?

Additionally, it is not that the point is that they are clocks and motors, but that they share some very important properties, namely intelligent design. Don’t get hung up on clocks, motors and mouse traps; get hung up on the directed assemblage of pieces to a useful end.

And finally:

"But the designer, whoever she may be, must surely be infinitely more complex than the products of her creations. One then wonders who designed the designer. And that line of questioning never ends. Nor does the ultimate mystery."

Classic philosophical difference. When speaking of an ultimate being who has all great making properties, by definition, that being is necessary and not contingent. In other words, it holds existence as a necessary property and therefore exists necessarily and was not designed or created by any other thing or being.


Bill Wallo said...

Very nice post. I liked the last point: I do find the "Who was God's Mommy" line of argument somewhat silly, because as a philosophical prerequisite we're talking about an infinite, eternal being capable of creating something which is finite; no such claims are made about the universe, as it does appear to have a beginning and potentially an end as well.

Were you planning on submitting something to the upcoming Christian Carnival? I'd recommend it (and not just because I'm hosting it this week, ha ha).

Phil Steiger said...


Thanks for the kind words! I think I will send this post to you for the next Christian Carnival.

jpe said...

"...ID produces plenty of testable concepts-specified complexity and irreducible complexity among the more important ones."

As I understand, those are just concepts, and don't tell us how much complexity is enough to constitute 'irreducibility.'

Expat in the UK said...

my thoughts on Intelligent Design theory are that even if you accept it, it is a LONG way to get to Jesus. The biggest flaw is that if this world is intelligently designed then the Designer also designed evil (and possibly to go further and say that the Designer designed evil TO WORK in the world, which doesn’t work with Christian theology). Even if you get around the problem of evil, you can never show that this Designer is loving without appealing to some sort of holy book or Scripture.

The Designer doesn’t even have to be personal or even exist anymore. It could be feasible to have an Intelligent Designer force (like gravity on intellectual steroids) or an Intelligent Designer that has since died (like the designer of the Model T, who died many years ago, but Model Ts keep working). The best result you can have is something similar to a computer programmer or aeronautical engineer type of Supreme Being. I think Intelligent Design really only works as a strong critique against Darwinism/evolution and therefore both ideas should be taught.

More thoughts on this at: