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) is a theory that suffers a lot of critique from all sides of the life dialogue within Christianity, as well as the secular world. Just a google search can bring up thousands of images ridiculing the theory, both from an evolutionist standpoint (often calling it creationism in disguise) and from a creationist standpoint (calling it evolutionism in disguise). I find that, too often, those criticizing the ID movement present a caricature of its arguments, without ever addressing the relevant issues it raises.
Creationists often attack ID for trying to sneak some kind of atheism into theology. I simply don’t find this to be true. The ID movement would have many theological implications, but atheism is definitely not one of these. Theistic Evolutionists criticize ID for being just creationism in disguise. I simply can’t see this as anything but a non sequitur of the greatest proportions.
Recently, an article in Philosophia Christi (cited below) by Warren Shrader discussed ID’s mechanisms of detecting intelligence. Shrader writes that the Explanatory Filter utilized by Dembski (discussed briefly here) can be strengthened by considering the epistemological tools of cognitive abilities in determining whether there is a specification condition (which would therefore justify a “design inference”).
The way we can utilize epistemology within the ID hypothesis is “…given an event E and a pattern D, we say that D is a specification of E if and only if the following conditions are satisfied.” These conditions are: 1) Tractability (essentially meaning it is possible for a cognitive agent to produce the pattern D), 2) The probability of E given H (“the hypothesis that the event in question was a product of chance” 383) and J (information) = the probability of E given H “for any information J generated by I“, and 3) D delimits E (392-393).
Armed with this capacity for determining design, ID avoids the objection that patterns can be replicated by computers. This is done by criterion 1), which restricts patterns to our finite cognitive abilities. This of course means that it is very possible that many “positive” results will be thrown out, but this only strengthens those positives that do result, because they are irrefutable evidence for ID. In other words, when we tighten the design criteria such that we guarantee the patterns were produced by a cognitive agent, we have guaranteed that intelligence has been detected.
Combine these tools with those mentioned in my previous posts on ID, and there is a functional system for detecting intelligence in biology, cosmology, etc. Reading about ID has me excited to read more. I cannot emphasize enough how much readers who have not explored the issue themselves should try to do so.
Shrader, Warren, “Dembski’s Specification Condition and the Role of Cognitive Abilities,” Philosophia Christi, volume 11, number 2, 2009, 377-396.