Monday, May 23, 2005

Intelligent Design

My dad just asked me about intelligent design in an email. He is a probing sort and he knows me like a son so he knew what he might expect. I am no expert on science or religion but I have the following to say on the matter and this is also the answer to my father.

From what I have seen or heard, Intelligent Design is mostly focused on the biomechanics of life, mutation, cells, adaptivity and so on. As far as the mind or thought goes I believe the intelligent design theory tries to construct the natural world around us in such a way that it demands the need for a Creator. This would then allow for the possibility that the creator had supernaturally endowed humanity with the unique ability to have complex thoughts and emotions and a soul.

Allowing for this special relationship between humanity and Creator is the end goal of the theory, and the biomechanics of 'scripted evolution' and 'predetermined adaptivity' is just a way of getting around all of the accepted science of cellular biology and modern evolutionary theory. Modern science, not needing to justify an end goal in this way, simply records and categorizes empirical facts regardless of the overall impression that is achieved.

The amalgam of these facts is decontested as a theory. This theory is a working model that explains and agrees with all of the facts noted thus far. New facts that are recorded or discovered are integrated into the existing theory as far as is possible and to the extent that this is impossible, the theory is modified. If this happens often or a set of facts shatters the pre-existing theory, a new theory must be worked out. This process is what philosopher Thomas Kuhn coined as a 'paradigm shift'. This can all happen because true science has no overarching goal that is so defining that it cannot be tossed aside in the face of the facts. It is the facts themselves that are the goal. It is truth itself that is the end.

Religion, rather than having a 'paradigm shift' in the face of new facts, seeks to re-record the observable facts or manipulate the facts in such a way that they meet the needs of the religious-theory's goals (i.e. that there is a special relationship between humanity and a creator). The theory or the re-messaging of the facts as Intelligent Design can only be seen as means to an end to the religious philosopher/scientist. The end or goal is to make an allowance for or assert a need for god in scientific theory.

The business about facts, theory and the adaptiveness of theory to facts is in some ways like statistics. The more facts you have that have to agree with the modern theory, the more likely the theory is valid or useful. Early scientific theories were especially susceptible to being over thrown because each new fact dramatically changed the nature of the population of facts. As a constant, we have seen since the beginning of recorded history that each new fact leads us further away from

a) the need for a creator in the explanation of the world and,
b)the possibility that any supernatural, unrecorded creator or etc. exists in the first place.

The same thinking that leads to discounting the beliefs of astrologers and the séance must lead us against the belief in vampires, unicorns, Mithras, Zeus, Isis, Odin, Baldur, and the Judeo/Christian/Muslim God. The successes of the just mentioned cultural phenomenon have been directly proportional to the willingness or ability of their host cultures to cling to them. Each face the friction of revealed fact and that friction is directly proportional to the amount of collective self-delusion that the culture has to endure to keep the superstition. The willingness to believe in unicorns was not equal to or greater than the amount of friction (through revealed fact) that the host culture encountered. In the light of sophisticated science, the level of self-delusion that allows many to cling to a monotheism (of choice) is astounding and yet we see anecdotally, that the cultures where these views are kept best are perhaps the most self-deluded.

I clam that this is an unsustainable situation and that the cultural willingness to be self deluded will be less than the amount required to over come the friction of belief. Intelligent design is an effort to mitigate the friction of observable fact on the chosen goal of God having a place in credible thought. The substance of intelligent design though is just a different self-delusion. This transference of incredulity though is useful for the theist though because it allows the responsibility of deceit and the self-delusion to rest on a select group of pseudo scientist/philosophers. The masses are relieved of their self-delusion as the friction of belief has been mitigated by a new set of 'facts'.



Anonymous bree said...

I agree with some of what you say. Intelligent Design is an attempt to reconcile faith with science. There are some things that science can't answer yet, like what set creation in motion? As far as we know, in the physical world, effects have causes. Introducing God as the first 'cause' allows a religious person to believe both in scientific theories of evolution and the big bang, for instance, without giving up the power in the Biblical creation myths.

Believers in Intelligent Design also seem to have a fair bit of range in strength of conviction. Some toss out science that conflicts with Bible theory, and some just say that God belongs in there somewhere. Personally, I don't think it should be taught in schools, but I don't have a problem with it as a philosophical point of discussion.

11:59 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Intelligent design, as a concept, is inaccurate but inoffensive - it's just plain old creationism.

Intelligent Design, as a rallying point (note the upper-case letters) is a different beast. It's a highly political and insidious attempt in the US to insert religious dogma into school curricula by portraying the theory of evolution as scientifically controversial, which it's not. I've been following the debate for a couple of years, and there's an endless attempt to present Intelligent Design as an equally valid explanation of biological fact, a counterpoint to Darwin's Theory. For all ID's talk of the Theory of Evolution being inadequate, there's never been a serious scientific challenge launched against it, so meticulous was Darwin. Intelligent Design is Christian-rght politics masquerading as science, period.

9:34 AM  
Blogger juicyjay said...

a belated comment that likely will get me pummelled, but even so:

actually, darwin wasn't that meticulous. In my Bio 400 (Evolution) course at SFU, we learned that though Scientists believe that Darwin had the right idea, his specifics were a little off. He noticed a pattern, but his gradual slow change theory did not hold up to snuff. This is a point that many ID followers make a point of - even the newer theories of punctuated equilibrium don't adequately explain how a functional organ can come out of a previously non-functional mess of cells with no discernible purpose.

In my evolution class, we learned that evolution arises through:
1) heritable genetic change (i.e. only adaptations that have a genetic basis can be passed on to offspring)
2) Advantage: changes must confer some kind of genetic, functional or competitive advantage on the species for it to be passed along. (i.e. perhaps spontaneous mutations result in a third leg, but if it impedes running, then predators will get you, and you die. no advantage = no evolution of third leg)

So what of the functional intermediate? lots of ID'ers point to this scientific point: the evolution of the eye is one that there is no known functional intermediate for. one species had eyeflaps or eyespots, the next had multi-functional, useful eyes, well adapted to their niche. any one mutation in this eye would cause it to be non-functional, rendering the creature helpless - how does that confer some kind of advantage, therefore, how is it passed down?

on the other hand, evolutionists pursue functional anatomy and study of molecular biology to show how organs arose from other sources with other purposes, so its not that there's no functional intermediate, it's that it had a different purpose. Case in point is the swim bladder in fishes. Bony fish have swim bladders that developed from the diverticulum, an outpouching of the gut. the gas bladder eventually grew into use as an accessory respiratory organ, and then was in use in amphibians as proto-lungs. Most scientists believe that our lungs arose from this diverticulum, despite its completely different use in fish - but the catch is the evidence from this is entirely backward-looking. for obvious reasons, lungs, gas bladders and diverticula don't fossilize at all, so the only way scientists came up with this is through examination of extant species - in other words, it's a theory that works well with what lives on this planet now, but is untested with fossil forms.

So - politically, ID is a hot potato, and more of an idealogical issue than a scientific one. When you get to the science of it, you realize that there are very few hard and fast answers we can give about our origins. We have many (and many well-founded) descriptions, theories and educated guesses, but there is simply no way to know. If you're trying to be like a scientist, look at it this way - don't feel you have to accept any particular hypothesis about evolution/creation, simply "fail to reject the null hypothesis..." after all - statistically speaking, there is no true hypothesis, only one we are unable to reject.

11:20 PM  

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