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Intelligent design and special pleading August 6, 2009

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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venn

All too often I hear from people that there is proof of god everywhere.  The trees and the birds, our hands and our feet, the flesh-eating bacteria and the natural disasters that destroy cities.  OK, those lasts two are not generally used to argue in favor of a loving god, but they are pretty complex, aren’t they?

And that’s the key here: complexity.  How could all of these things with their complex parts, elaborate interactions with the rest of nature, and our intricate brains that can think about it all just get here by chance? They could not have done it on their own, right? So there must have been some intelligence, some designer, to give the world it’s complexity.

It is unfortunate that there is such a deficiency of understanding of science and of critical thinking in our culture.  Science education may be partially to blame, but we must be willing to take the responsibility for ourselves as well.  And as a result of this there is a severe lack of understanding of the theory of natural selection (as well as the other evolutionary pressures) and thus a misunderstanding of the fact of evolution as they intersect with these questions of complexity.

There are great resources for learning about these things online, and so any person can go and find out what scientists say about evolution.  The key here is to understand that the process does not claim chaos or complete randomness.  The question about evolution is not a false dichotomy between an intelligent designer or random chance.  There are many believers in various gods that accept the fact of evolution (Ken Miller and Francis Collins being two prominent examples).  Natural selection is a definite process, is not random, and is well supported by physical evidence.

The major component of randomness in evolution is the mutation of genes.  But most of these mutations have no effect at all, and only sometimes do they have a harmful or helpful effect.  It takes environmental factors, lots of time, and other factors to make a mutation effect the population at large.  And it is the process of natural selection that does the actual work, not the random mutation.

But my point here is not to explain natural selection or to spell out the evidence for evolution.  That is the responsibility of each person to do on their own in conjunction with schools and museums.  Start with the link above, a trip to the museum, or even a recent biology textbook (and not one produced by the Discovery Institute such as Of Pandas and People, as they have been shown to be untrustworthy during the Kitzmiller case).

And so what about this claim that complexity requires intelligent design?  Well, even if we didn’t have a good scientific answer to the claim (which we do), there is another problem with it that can be shown without knowing anything about evolution.

Here is the argument as I have seen it:

  • The world (universe) is full of complex things
  • complex things need designers
  • therefore, a designer of the world (universe) exists.

Ray Comfort is known for arguing that if you see a painting we know there is a painter,  if their is a building there is a builder, etc.  It is certainly true that things we create have designers, and they certainly are intelligent.  But the analogy does not carry through to all things because not all things are constructed in a factory.  Other things reproduce biologically and are put together by very complex natural processes that we, admittedly, don’t fully understand.  And as far as universes go, I’ve never seen one made, so while I can go to the car factory, I can’t go to the universe factory.

But more importantly is the assumption that all things need intelligent designers to exist simply because they are complex.  We know that simple things can become complex through natural selection, but even if we don’t know this we can ask if all things that are complex need a designer, then wouldn’t the designer itself, being a complex thing, need its own designer?

In short, what created god?

Now, the common reply is to state that god is eternal and has always existed.  This is special pleading.  What that means is that the point is making a special exception of the rules for illegitimate reasons.  The question here is whether a god exists, and so in deciding this issue one cannot take as given a special exception for the thing that is in question.  One cannot simply define god into existence by saying that it is not subject to the rule that all complex things need a creator.  If one did, the results would be somewhat silly.

intelligent-design-posterThe bottom line for intelligent design, and whatever people are trying to disguise creationism as these days, is that there is no evidence to support it.  Despite Michael Behe’s best attempts, there is no irreducibly complex thing that cannot be explained without the need of an intelligent designer. Natural selection is sufficient to explain complexity in our biological world.

And further, even if it could be shown that an intelligent designer would be necessary, this would still be a far cry from associating this intelligence with any particular god.  An intelligent designer would not imply that it had anything to do with any theology or mythology (as if there were a difference) of any religion.  A Christian does not win any points for his beliefs even if intelligent design were true.  Because if it were true, the Moslem, Jew, Hindu, etc would step up and claim that it is their god that is the intelligent designer.

Luckily for us, that is not an issue because the proposal of an intelligent designer does not stand up to scrutiny.  The irony, perhaps, is that intelligent design needs people of lesser intelligence, or at least understanding, to propose it.

If complexity needs a creator, so does the complex creator.  God is nothing but a pseudo-answer to a non-problem when it comes to the complexities of the world and how to explain them.

Related: Counter to the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  A favorite of William Lane Craig, Christian apologist.

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