ElGordillo
Sunday, June 09, 2002
 

There's been a thread about Intelligent Design (ID) running across several of the blogs I would normally consider 'warblogs' (although pace Dave Winer and his blogger taxonomy I don't think there is a simple split between any different genre of blog). The arguments have been flying thick and fast. There been a big discussion at Rand Simberg's Transterrestrial Musings. The original post that kicked it off is here. In the pro-ID corner is one Melissa Dulak. I posted a fairly lengthy comment on Rand's site pointing out what I believe is the biggest flaw in the whole ID edifice. So here it is again:



Michelle Dulak writes, "Suppose that Behe's hypothetical "designers" are stipulated to be, not God (or gods), but organic beings like ourselves, only vastly more intelligent and vastly more advanced technologically. Yes, of course this only pushes the problem back a level (i.e., "where did *they* come from, then?"), but my point is that there is now nothing "supernatural" in the hypothesis."

This is precisely where problems with a 'designer' come from. You can't just hand-wave and put the origin of the designer(s) in the 'too hard' pile. If you are attempting to explain the existence of complexity by appealing to a 'designer' then you are simply stuck in an infinite regress. Sure, if we were created by beings vastly more intelligent than ourselves, then that removes the element of the supernatural from our creation. But shunting the problem one level higher simply will not do. This is begging the question: that there ever was a 'designer' in the first place.

ID falls down because it posits, a priori, some entity that cannot itself be adequately explained in terms of ID, unless one is content to accept an infinite regress. Evolutionary theory, on the other hand, coupled with abiogenesis, does not suffer from this flaw. Naturally, theories of abiogenesis are not testable in the sense that we can run them through an experiment and say, 'this is the way it happened'. But we can potentially observe, through the laws of physics, that with certain reasonable assumptions a given theory of abiogenesis results in a situation whereby life as we know it could have arisen. One day I believe we will have a theory, with an experimental corpus, that will allow us to say, 'this is how it could have happened.' If and when we do that, it's over for ID. ID is attempting, au fond, to show that there is no physically realisable set of events that could have given rise to life as we know it without the intervention of some supernatural force (at some point, maybe not at our creation, but previously to make our 'designers'). Occam's razor leads us to reject ID in the presence of a plausible, naturalistic explanation.

Needless to say, nothing science has done or ever will do can disprove the existence of God (or whatever). ID falls between two stools. It is neither placing itself as a quasi-religious theory of origins (although that is the ulterior motive of many of its advocates), nor is it placing itself firmly within the camp of the empiricists. It is pseudo-scientific, in the most accurate sense of the phrase. It is an exemplar of Feynman's cargo cult science - it has the superficial gloss of science, but underneath the structure is rotten.

Aside: it's funny, but very few (none, as far as I know) of the people who are contributing to this discussion in the Blogosphere are evolutionary biologists, molecular biologists, biophysicists or what-have-you (me included). Now why aren't there any blog threads about the relative merits of E(8)xE(8) and O(32) superstring theories? Seems everyone's an expert on evolution.

 


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