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February 2, 2006

Miraculous design

The Statesman eviscerates intelligent design, proving once again that Austin isn’t exactly deep in the heart of Texas:

Scientists in every field (and now a federal judge in the Dover, Pa., school board case) have firmly rejected [ID], as has the science adviser to President Bush. But its advocates — who seem to have among their number U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the president and Gov. Rick Perry — carry on undeterred.
One of the chief problems with ID is its arbitrary application of the non-scientific, purely subjective word “intelligent” to natural phenomena. However, if we consider, among many counter-examples, life’s ruthlessly predatory and destructive aspects (“nature red in tooth and claw”) — or just the oddity of nipples on men — this “intelligence” seems much less evident.
Since proponents focus on ostensibly inexplicable facts and unhesitantly invoke divine intervention, why not call it “MD” (“Miraculous Design”) instead of using the misleading and blatantly anthropomorphic word “intelligent”?
Even more serious objections can be raised against ID. There are two black holes at its core — the issues of purpose and causality, which do not generally turn up in discussions on either side of the controversy.
Starting with William Paley in the early 19th century, ID proponents have argued that a watch carries unmistakable evidence of design, and they would surely agree that watches are designed to carry out a particular purpose — telling time.
But what is the purpose of a specific structural feature in bacteria, or any of the innumerable non-human life-forms on the planet? What was the purpose of the bizarre — and now extinct — Burgess Shale creatures, enthusiastically described by Stephen Jay Gould in “Wonderful Life”?
ID will be trapped in a morass of implausible and unscientific rationalizations, trying to explain why a designer did this or that, whereas evolution does not ascribe purpose to the process called “natural selection.” As Gould emphasized in his final public appearance here (in February 2002), it is unscientific and self-centered to think that our species — perhaps 160,000 years old, after 3.8 billion years of mostly microscopic unicellular life — represents the goal of evolution.
The other black hole might be even worse, for it challenges the assumption, simply taken for granted in most ID theory, that the hypothetical designer is able to go from a mental concept to actual effects in the material world — i.e., that divine intervention is possible.
For centuries, theologians have insisted that God must be, among other things, non-physical and, like the soul, not observable by the empirical methods of science. How, then, does a divinity that by definition has no physical existence carry out its designs? It must be through Walt-Disney-style magical powers, as there is no other way to get from an incorporeal entity to some kind of concentrated and controllable force.

“Walt-Disney-style magical powers”—now there’s a concept the religious right can really embrace.

The entire article, by retired classics professor James Dee, is a great read. You can also find more on intelligent miraculous design here.

Posted by Stephen at 12:40 PM in Evolution | Religion + cults | Science + technology | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

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Great post. Love the cartoon. Interesting that the Neanderthal seems more intelligent that the tricyclist.

Posted by: Ed Bremson at February 24, 2006 7:22 PM

That's an excellent cartoon by Oliphant. In more ways than one. I like the training wheels that still haven't come off!

Posted by: Poechewe at February 3, 2006 12:51 AM