Intelligent Design is Not Anti-Science: A brief introduction



The argument for intelligent design is not “we cannot figure out how this happened… it must be God!”

 No, the argument for ID is that when we use science to look at what happened historically, one of the things we can do is look for design. When, for example, a crime scene investigator looks at a death, one of the things he looks for is to see if that death was natural or due to foul play (design). Similarly, when archeologists look at rocks, they look for tool marks and other indications of design to distinguish between rocks formed by natural processes and rocks that are crafted by human hands. And humans do this all the time. We see paint spilled on the floor and know that it was an accident (natural) and then we see a painting (maybe the Mona Lisa) and we know that it was designed. The goal of science should not be to figure out a natural origin for everything we see but to figure out the actual origin - whether natural or designed.

So, what the ID movement has focused on is identifying the markers of design. How do we as humans know that the Mona Lisa is not natural but the paint on the floor is natural? William Dembski argued that the criteria by which we recognize designed systems is by noting two separate attributes: “high complexity” (or small probability) and “specification.” Systems with both of these typically are the result of design and are not the result of chance or even physical-chemical laws.

We all intuitively know that when both of these come together, we are probably looking at design. To illustrate, if you are walking under a mountain where rocks fall all the time, you ending up dead by a rock to the back of the head does not indicate design. But if you are walking in the middle of the city and have a rock smash your head open, the odds of a rock falling from somewhere (a plane? A building?) are much lower. Design in that case seems more likely due to small mathematical probability. But specification matters too. Pretty much everything that happens in life is unlikely. Shuffle a deck of cards and the order of that deck is impossible to predict and statistically unlikely to ever happen again. But the randomly shuffled deck has no sign of specification to it. It has no meaning, purpose, or use. But suppose another scenario. Suppose that three times in a row, you shuffle those cards and then deal yourself a royal flush. If you did that, the odds of that happening (statistically, it should never happen) combined with the apparent specification (a royal flush is the best hand in poker) would make us have to consider design (ie cheating) pretty seriously.

So, what is argued in the works of ID proponents (such as Michael Behe's The Edge of Evolution  or Stephen Meyer's Signature in the Cell) is that there are various systems in the biological world that fit both these criteria. For example, Meyer argues that even the simplest DNA is spectacularly unlikely to have come about with any sort of random assembly of the molecules needed to create a basic code. DNA is a code that gives instructions on how an cell is to build itself and the odds of the code forming through natural processes are doubtful (something like a library exploding and the pieces of books coming to rest on the ground to form a new perfectly edited book). Meyer goes through the statistics (quoting mainstream literature on the odds) to demonstrate that the statistical complexity criteria is met. He then discusses specification. He shows convincingly that code is almost the very definition of specification. Whenever we see complicated codes in the world, we immediately recognize that someone created the code. A code needs to be written with intentionality and to be able to be interpreted. It is the very essence of specification. So, you have both a highly unlikely event and an event that appears to be as specified as a event can be. It therefore can be inferred that it is more likely than not that DNA is designed.

Meyer and other ID thinkers argue that to see systems such as these these and yet to go on assuming naturalism is a philosophical not a scientific choice. Like the detective that assumes that every death is natural even when a person was shot twice in the back of the head. It is not science at all to do this. Instead it is a philosophical choice.

If you were on a crime scene and the deceased has two gunshot wounds to the back of the head but one of the investigators won't even consider that foul play is involved, what do you think about that investigator? Most would suspect that he has some sort of vested interest in avoiding any murder discussion. Maybe he is the murderer or being bribed by the murderer. But he must have some reason to be so insistent that design could not even be considered. We live a world that even atheists like Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins admit have elements that appear designed and are very difficult to explain using natural processes. Dawkins, for example, admits that the formation of the first DNA may have only happened once and that we have no good explanation for how it did. He also admits that the existence of consciousness is mysterious and naturally inexplicable. Hawking admits that the fine tuning of the constants of physics point to design (a conclusion he then avoids by promoting the very questionable and unprovable idea of an almost infinite multiverse). They see these problems with a completely naturalistic explanation for what we see around us and yet they still insist that even to consider Designer is anti-science. But like the investigator who refuses to consider foul play, these atheists reveal more about themselves than they do about what actually happened in history. They show that they have deep motivations that have nothing to do with the pursuit of truth and nothing to do with science. 

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