This is part of a series of posts on the “Life Dialogue” within Christianity. Check out other posts in the series here.
Intelligent Design (hereafter ID) posits that the universe, and in particular life itself, is such that there must be an intelligent cause. I’ve discussed ID in the past and I believe the arguments featured by its advocates are compelling. The challenge to ID is at least twofold: 1. How does one infer design from living organisms without making the assumption that there is intelligence in the first place? and 2. How does this design inference aid scientific discoveries and research?
Paul Nelson utilizes a well-known example of intelligent design to make a case for the ID movement. When one comes upon a pocket watch in a forest, there is no question that it is intelligently designed. It is simply assumed that such a thing is designed. There is no effort to look into a naturalistic cause of the watch, for it is unnecessary. Often, people argue that ID immediately cuts off a path of research–that is, trying to locate a naturalistic explanation for an event. Nelson argues that such a belief is “desperately confused”. Skeptics of ID “[ask] us to pursue the naturalistic program of explanation without reason” (Nelson, 149). Rather, the “design theorist has no responsibility to naturalism” (150). Often, the naturalist has no explanation for the phenomena which the design theorist argues is an indicator of intelligence. Rather, they simply desire to rule out the possibility of ID to begin with (149).
Intelligence can be sought when things such as “biological specification” are present. Biological specification can be defined as “Any element of an organism necessary for viability (meaning survival and reproduction) in any environment in which that organism may exist” (162). Nelson argues from bicoid, a gene which, if absent, spells death for the species of fly in which it is present (150ff). The problem for the naturalist is that such a specified gene is absolutely essential to the survival of the organism. How could it have come about through evolution? Nelson argues that this is evidence against naturalistic evolution, as there is no clear way for a gene like bicoid to come into being, when its absence spells death for the species. It is basic to the creatures that possess it. Without the gene, the creatures lose viability (166ff). Such basic, viability-determining genes seem to point towards ID, as there doesn’t seem to be any other way to explain them.
The problem persists, however, as to how exactly does one get to infer intelligence in biological systems. William Dembski argues that this can be done through an explanatory filter. Whenever an event occurs, whenever a biological entity exists, etc., there are three possible explanations for such an occurrence. These are: 1. A law (here utilizing the refer to something which yeilds highly probable, naturalistic expectations and explanations), 2. Chance, 3. Design. The priority of these explanations follows in that same order. Law takes priority to chance and design, chance to design, and design is the final possibility (Dembski, 94-95). The key to determining design for cases in which this may not be obvious is utilizing probabilities. Simply being improbable does not mean one points to design as the cause of an event, however. Rather, it must be demonstrated that such an event was specified–it was chosen from a range of possibilities. Choice, argues Dembski, is what shows intelligence (109). In order to recognize choice, one must utilize the explanatory filter. If some event, E, is such that it is not highly probable (thus explained by a law) or intermediately probable (explained by choice) and further shows a sufficiently improbable possibility, then design is the likely explanation of E (98ff). The example Dembski uses is that of a combination lock, in which the chances of getting the right combination are 1/10,000,000,000. The exceedingly improbable chances of getting the right combination by guessing implies specification. However, when specification comes into play–in this case, the specification that only one particular combination is correct–then one has an event which reflects intelligence upon the opening of the lock (103-104).
Thus it seems as though there are ways to discover intelligence in events that are not clearly attributalble to intelligence initially. Further, there seem to be events in biological systems which point to intelligence. This, of course, counts as evidence for ID.
It seems to me that ID has a significant case which should not be ignored as often as it is in the scientific community. Dembski alone has done some phenomenal work. One problem so far with ID is that I have yet to see an attempt to reconcile ID with the theological problems that come with assuming evolution to be the case. I still favor Ross’s RTB Model to anything I’ve read thus far, but I see ID as having some strong validity which could be integrated easily into the Christian understanding of the Life Dialogue (discussed in my posts on OEC–visit the link at the beginning of this post to view those posts). This is my second cycle through the sides of the debate. I’ll be posting next on theistic evolution.
Nelson, Paul. “Applying Design Within Biology.” Mere Creation. InterVarsity Press. 1998. 148-174.
Dembski, William. “Redesigning Science.” Mere Creation. InterVarsity Press. 1998. 93-112.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.