Intelligent Headache



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I intended to post a pithy entry today wherein I settled the Intelligent Design vs. Evolution debate in 5 minutes. But after reading this fascinating Wikipedia entry about the subject, I decided to leave it to the experts. This section in particular brought my thought processes grinding to a halt, as I became mired in an immense headache when attempting to grasp the unknowable:


“What designed the designer?”

By raising the question of the need for a designer for objects with irreducible complexity, ID also raises the question, “what designed the designer?” By ID’s own arguments, a designer capable of creating irreducible complexity must also be irreducibly complex. Unlike with religious creationism, where the question “what created God?” can be answered with theological arguments, this creates a logical paradox, as the chain of designers can be followed back indefinitely, leaving the question of the creation of the first designer dangling. The sort of logic required in sustaining such reasoning is known as circular reasoning; a form of logical fallacy.


One ID counter-argument to this problem invokes an uncaused causer – in other words, a deity – to resolve this problem, in which case ID reduces to religious creationism. At the same time, the postulation of the existence of even a single uncaused causer in the Universe contradicts the fundamental assumption of ID that a designer is needed for every complex object. Another possible counter-argument might be an infinite regression of designers. However, admitting infinite numbers of objects also allows any arbitrarily improbable event to occur, such as an object with “irreducible” complexity assembling itself by chance. Again, this contradicts the fundamental assumption of ID that a designer is needed for every complex object, producing a logical contradiction.


Thus, according to opponents, either attempt to patch the ID hypothesis appears to either result in logical contradiction, or reduces it to a belief in religious creationism. ID then ceases to be a falsifiable theory and loses its ability to claim to be a scientific theory.


Though it’s a lot more heady than my imagined discussion, I think this might have settled the 5-minute debate in 3 minutes!


On the surface, Intelligent Design serves the amiable purpose of reminding us to keep an open mind and consider all possibilities–even supernatural ones. It’s the possible agenda lurking beneath that surface which causes alarm to so many. I support teaching Intelligent Design or Creationism or whatever alongside of (or instead of) Evolution in private and religious institutions, but there’s no place for it in public school science class. Unless, of course, they can come up with even a fraction of the empirical evidence that we have for Evolution.


Remember that no proper scientific method or curriculum is intentionally designed to impose upon personal belief. Good science is cold and skeptical, and while it might sometimes reach wrong conclusions, it’s the best process humans have for exploring the knowable. Beyond this, we can all trust our own faith for answers to the deeper mysteries of the universe.


If you think I’m unintelligently designed, or that I’m going ape over this subject for no good reason, please select The Issue Box–naturally!

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3 Responses

  1. Ugh. What a discussion!I think the flaw in the above argument is that somehow the desinger must be more complex than the thing being designed. As we’ve learned over and over again with chaos and emergenet behavior, sometimes simple rules lead to complex results.In other words, the universe may actually be much simpler than we know, simply because we do not understand all the pieces and how they go together. To me, this would argue even more for ID — setting up simple rules to create complex entities is a true work of genuis. This also dovetails quite nicely into the Christian idea of freewill.ID is not an ad-infintum arugment, because creation is not a linear function. Such is an oversimplfication of what the words “create” and “design” mean.

  2. Well, I’ve only got a few minutes, so I’ll try to leave it short….1) I don’t buy that science is impartial. I thought science usually started with a guess (ugh, I think I mean hypothesis) and then goes searching for facts until it seems to fit the bill for the original guess (uhh, I mean hypothesis). So this would mean that science is buried in the world of ideas, which is usually guided by a preconceived notion…. Whether that be religious or not.2) Intelligient design or creationism? I don’t get the new term? Sounds like their trying to keep it from saying “In the beginning God created”. What is the deal with that? Don’t hide behind words. Tell us what you really think. Lets not be politically correct. Just spit it out.3) Not all of Christianity agrees with the idea of “freewill”, so be careful what words you use. I won’t dig in much here, but suffice it to say, that many believe that God predetermines whom He will save…..4) Danny, keep the articles coming….Take care,Matt

  3. I agree that not all science is impartial, but good science strives to be as much as possible. You’re going to have some percentage of scientists who are swayed by political motivations or personal beliefs, but no human endeavor is 100% pure. The scientific method has a decent degree of checks and balances that usually weeds out the worst science.I know there’s a lot of guesswork involved and that the universe may be infinitely simple or complex, but this is why I decided to avoid a philosophical debate after reading the Wikipedia entry. I wanted to break it down into knowable vs. unknowable, and I feel that science classes in public schools should teach from what we know according the current evidence. Of course, this is at odds with literal interpretations of holy writings, but teaching such interpretations is not a job for public schools (though it’s perfectly fine for private or home schools).That being said, schools should also not teach the Theory of Evolution as gospel. They need to stress that it’s only a theory based on observable evidence and our best guesses. It’s subject to change at any moment. I think it would be a great motivation to students if they were challenged to learn as much as possible and come up with a theory of their own!

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