Monday, August 07, 2006

10 Ways Darwinists Help Intelligent Design (Part II)

Continued from Joe Carter and Evangelical Outpost:

#6 By invoking design in non-design explanations. Anyone who wonders why so many people find intelligent design explanations plausible need only to listen to scientific community discuss the evolutionary process. Scientists have a complete inability to talk about and explain processes like natural selection without using the terms, analogies, and metaphors of design and teleology.

Take, for instance, the recent finding that leads researchers to believe they have found a second code in DNA in addition to the genetic code. On The New York Times science page we find an explanation by Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute in Israel:

A curious feature of the code is that it is redundant, meaning that a given amino acid can be defined by any of several different triplets. Biologists have long speculated that the redundancy may have been designed so as to coexist with some other kind of code, and this, Dr. Segal said, could be the nucleosome code. [emphasis added]

Or consider this, my favorite example, taken from a primer on evolutionary psychology:

Design evidence. Adaptations are problem-solving machines, and can be identified using the same standards of evidence that one would use to recognize a human-made machine: design evidence….. Complex functional design is the hallmark of adaptive machines as well. One can identify an aspect of the phenotype as an adaptation by showing that (1) it has many design features that are complexly specialized for solving an adaptive problem, (2) these phenotypic properties are unlikely to have arisen by chance alone, and (3) they are not better explained as the by-product of mechanisms designed to solve some alternative adaptive problem. Finding that an architectural element solves an adaptive problem with "reliability, efficiency, and economy" is prima facie evidence that one has located an adaptation (Williams, 1966).

Design evidence is important not only for explaining why a known mechanism exists, but also for discovering new mechanisms, ones that no one had thought to look for. [Proponents of this theory] also use theories of adaptive function heuristically, to guide their investigations of phenotypic design.

After reading that passage you might wonder if I had copied the wrong passage, providing a selection from a primer on ID rather than on evolutionary psychology. It seems improbable that a paper on evolutionary processes would use the word design 85 times(!), often in conjunction with explaining how natural selection “designed” a certain function (i.e., “Principle 2. Our neural circuits were designed by natural selection to solve problems that our ancestors faced during our species' evolutionary history.”)

Such uses of design, however, are not uncommon. In fact, some neo-Darwinists, such as Richard Dawkins, admit that while certain biological forms may have the appearance of design, they are only designoids. (As Dave Barry would say, I’m not making this stuff up.)

The world is divided into things that look designed (like birds and airliners) and things that don't (rocks and mountains).Things that look designed are divided into those that really are designed (submarines and tin openers) and those that aren't (sharks and hedgehogs). The diagnostic of things that look (or are) designed is that their parts are assembled in ways that are statistically improbable in a functional direction. They do something well: for instance, fly. Darwinian natural selection can produce an uncanny illusion of design. An engineer would be hard put to decide whether a bird or a plane was the more aerodynamically elegant.

So what is the “explanatory filter” (to borrow a phrase from the ID’ers) that naturalism uses in order to distinguish between what is “designed” by an intelligence and what are, in the words of Richard Dawkins, “designoids”, phenomena that only have the appearance of being designed? Since ID theory claims to have a method for differentiating one from the other, we might presume that naturalism does as well.

Evidence for design that requires an intelligent designer? Unscientific nonsense. Evidence for design that requires only undirected, unintelligent processes? An important mechanism for explaining known mechanisms. Even people who have never taken a course in logic can spot the special pleading required to make this argument.

Whether intelligent design will ever become the primary explanation in evolutionary biology remains to be seen. But the use of design language in explaining the process will ensure that ID remains the most plausible explanation in the minds of the public.

#7 By claiming that the criticism of ID has nothing to do with a prejudice against theism – and then having the most vocal critics of ID be anti-religious atheists. – Let’s first dispell the ridiculous notion that most evolutionary biologists believe in God. Somehow this has become a dominant theme in these discussions, even though it remains patently false. In 1998, the journal Nature polled the members of the National Academy of Sciences on their belief in God. Of all those questioned, biological scientists had the lowest rate of belief -- only 5.5 percent were theists.

When 94.5 percent of the "scientific elite" has a plausibility structure that rejects the possibility of a Supreme Intelligent Being, it is not surprising that they would reject the very concept of an “intelligent designer.”

But even among the disbelievers, the most prominent critics are not the agnostics but the evangelical atheists. Take, for instance, zoologist Richard Dawkins' interview with

Salon: Those who embrace "intelligent design" -- the idea that living cells are too complex to have been created by nature alone -- say evolution isn't incompatible with the existence of God.

Dawkins: There is just no evidence for the existence of God. Evolution by natural selection is a process that works up from simple beginnings, and simple beginnings are easy to explain. The engineer or any other living thing is difficult to explain -- but it is explicable by evolution by natural selection. So the relevance of evolutionary biology to atheism is that evolutionary biology gives us the only known mechanism whereby the illusion of design, or apparent design, could ever come into the universe anywhere.

Some of the most vocal critics of ID are also vocal critics against religion in general. Dawkins, P.Z. Myers, E.O. Wilson, Daniel Dennett, and Michael Shermer are a few examples of prominent ID critics who spend an inordinate amount of time railing about the ignorance of religious beliefs.

Even fellow ID critic Michael Ruse thinks that Dawkins and Dennett are hurting their own case. As he wrote in a letter to Dennett, “I think that you and Richard are absolute disasters in the fight against intelligent design … what we need is not knee-jerk atheism but serious grappling with the issues …more than this, we are in a fight, and we need to make allies in the fight, not simply alienate everyone of good will.”

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