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.
This is another post in my series on the origins of life, the debate/argument within Christianity. See other posts in this series here.
I recently finished reading The Making of an Atheist by James S. Spiegel and while the book was by no means about the origins of life, one quote in particular made me think about this series I’ve been doing. Spiegel writes, “Once life appears, the only remaining rational debate should be among theists–as to how God did it, whether through special creation, natural selection, or some combination of these means. The issue of origins should be an in-house theistic debate” (50, emphasis mine).
I tend to agree. This series of posts seeks to foster that very in-house debate. Intelligent Design is another option I will explore in this ongoing series.
Intelligent design (hereafter ID) is often dismissed outright in discussions of this sort. Creationists see it as evolution-in-disguise, while theistic evolutionists view it as creationism-in-disguise. So what is it? Some of this aversion may be due to the fact that the modern ID movement suffered greatly in its definitions. Initially, due to the wide range of scholars involved, it weakened its scientific position in favor of a more theological one. Recently, however, this has been turned about.There is much discussion among theists and non-theists alike about the viability of ID, but it seems clear that ID is here to stay. Books like Signature in the Cell by Stephen Meyer continue to draw flak from all sides, but they also continue to push thinking minds to stretch and consider the ideas contained therein.
William Dembski is seen by some as the father of the modern ID movement. His book, Intelligent Design is a good introduction (though it is quite heavy both scientifically and philosophically) to the movement.
“Intelligent design is three things,” according to Dembski, “a scientific research program that investigates the effect of intelligent causes; an intellectual movement that challenges Darwinism and its naturalistic legacy; and a way of understanding divine action” (Dembski, 13). ID is based on empirically testing for design within systems (109). According to ID, mutation-selection mechanisms cannot account for the diversity of life (113).
How exactly is design discovered empirically? It is based on probability calculus, among other means (130). Central to ID is the notion of “irreducible complexity”. “A system is irreducibly complex if it consists of several interrelated parts so that removing even one part completely destroys the system’s function” (147). Dembski argues that this is a fully empirical question, “individually knocking out each protein constituting a biochemical system will determine whether function is lost. If it is, we are dealing with an irreducibly complex system. Protein knock-out experiments of this sort are routine in biology” (149).
Another important notion is complex specified information. This needs explanation, and it is explanation that naturalistic evolution cannot provide (167-169).
Dembski’s book is monumentally important for those Christians wanting to explore the origins debate. In the appendix he answers many of the objections to ID (God of the gaps, not science, etc.).
Theologically, ID could be subject to the same objections I would raise against theistic evolution. Why death before sin? Specifically, why human death before sin? Interestingly, ID can serve of an example of what a friend of mine suggested in my first post on Old Earth Creationism: combining various explanations as one sees fit. Take Hugh Ross’s RTB model, which argues that humans are specially created. One could easily combine this model with ID to make the model even more challenging to standard evolutionary models. Not only that, but this avoids the theological error inherent in theistic evolution (more on theistic evolution and possible ways to solve this problem in an upcoming post).
I have never claimed to be a scientist. The more science I read, the more I realize that in such a vast ocean of work, I can never even begin to unearth the tip of the iceberg. Thus, my scientific analysis of ID amounts, basically, to only being able to judge it on what I know. I have read rebuttals to arguments for irreducible complexity, but I remain unconvinced by these rebuttals. I find Dembski’s argument rather convincing, though some examples he uses may need to be rethought.
Thus, after my first go-round, in which I explored theistic evolution, old earth creationism, young earth creationism, and intelligent design, I must say that my mind is less muddled than before. Picking and choosing from these theories can be quite fun. Not only that, but it can expand one’s faith walk. I encourage fellow Christians to expand their borders. Think about these hard questions. Most importantly, judge all things by God’s Word, the Bible. The Word of God stands, unchanged, forever. Jesus has died for our sins once for all. This does not change. Science continually changes (not an argument against science). The Christian should base his/her worldview on the foundation: Christ the Cornerstone.
I’m looking forward to round two!
Dembski, William. Intelligent Design. IVP Academic. 1999.
Spiegel, James. The Making of an Atheist. Moody Publishers. 2010.
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