Proponents of intelligent design make a large number of arguments regarding the inadequacies of evolution, and the shortcomings of current scientific practice. All of these arguments are wrong.
That, however, is not the end of the problems besetting ID. There is also the fact that there really is no theory of intelligent design. For all their nattering about how ID has the makings of a scientific revolution, they are stuck nonetheless with a “theory” that actually asserts very little. There is ultimately nothing more to their argument than the claim that at some point in natural history, an unnamed intelligent designer did something.
Two recent pieces of ID writing make that point eloquently, even without intending to. First up, we have this op-ed from Granville Sewell in the El Paso Times. Sewell writes:
The debut at No. 7 on the New York Times best seller list last July of Stephen Meyer’s new book “Darwin’s Doubt” is evidence that the scientific theory of intelligent design (ID) continues to gain momentum. Since critics often misrepresent ID, and paint ID advocates as a fanatical fringe group, it is important to understand what intelligent design is, and what it is not.
Well, that’s clear enough. So let’s see what this theory of ID actually is.
Sewell opens with a few paragraphs rehearsing the standard ID tropes on Darwin and evolution. Evolution is crumbling, scientists cling to it out of a bias against God talk, Behe wrote Darwin’s Black Box, blah blah blah. Let’s fast-forward to the part where he tells us what ID is:
So what do ID proponents believe?
Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to state clearly what you have to believe to not believe in intelligent design. Peter Urone, in his 2001 physics text “College Physics” writes, “One of the most remarkable simplifications in physics is that only four distinct forces account for all known phenomena.”
The prevailing view in science today is that physics explains all of chemistry, chemistry explains all of biology, and biology completely explains the human mind; thus physics alone explains the human mind and all it does. This is what you have to believe to not believe in intelligent design, that the origin and evolution of life, and the evolution of human consciousness and intelligence, are due entirely to a few unintelligent forces of physics.
Thus you must believe that a few unintelligent forces of physics alone could have rearranged the fundamental particles of physics into computers and science texts and jet airplanes.
Contrary to popular belief, to be an ID proponent you do not have to believe that all species were created simultaneously a few thousand years ago, or that humans are unrelated to earlier primates, or that natural selection cannot cause bacteria to develop a resistance to antibiotics.
If you believe that a few fundamental, unintelligent forces of physics alone could have rearranged the basic particles of physics into Apple iPhones, you are probably not an ID proponent, even if you believe in God. But if you believe there must have been more than unintelligent forces at work somewhere, somehow, in the whole process: congratulations, you are one of us after all!
That’s clear enough, but I feel cheated. Sewell opened his piece by referring to the “scientific theory” of intelligent design. Later he derided scientists for dismissing ID as unscientific. But it’s a very unhelpful theory that says merely that an unnamed intelligence did something, somewhere, somehow, at some unspecified point in time. From Sewell’s description, it’s unclear why scientists should take any interest at all in ID.
Our second example comes from Discovery Institute blogger David Klinghoffer. In this post, entitled “Mathematics as a Frontier for Intelligent Design”, Klinghoffer points to the same interview with mathematician Edward Frenkel that I discussed last week.
As we saw, Frenkel defends Platonism as a philosophy of mathematics. I am not a fan of Platonism, but what’s relevant here is that Platonism simply has no relevance whatsoever to debates between theists and atheists. Theists tend to like Platonism since it supports the idea of nonphysical entities existing in a non-trivial sense, but atheists can endorse Platonism with equal enthusiasm.
But here’s Klinghoffer to tell us that Platonism provides a new frontier for ID. Very well. Let’s see how he makes his case.
I have not yet read Dr. Frenkel’s book but will do so shortly. I was going to say the “frontier” of math is virgin or unexplored territory for ID, but of course these two great math minds have already pointed the way.
Our world is one is one of concealment. Whereas in our everyday experience, ultimate reality is veiled by subjectivity — Plato’s cave, basically — elementary math, not unlike the other sciences, suggests in Berlinski’s words “as nothing else can the glory that is beyond.”
In Greek, that is aeon, the world of ideas. In Hebrew it’s olam, whose root means “world,” “eternity,” or “concealed.” Scientism is the project of attempting to convince people that nothing is really veiled from us. What you see is what you get: blunt, dead matter, that’s it.
Once again, I feel cheated. How on earth does any of that, even taking it all at face value, comprise a new frontier for ID? How will ID go about studying this “glory that is beyond”? What methodologies does it offer that are not already being exploited?
ID proponents bristle when you accuse them of making an entirely negative argument. But what else can we think when we read posts like these? They insist that their ideas are going to revolutionize science. When asked for specifics about how that will happen, even granting for the sake of argument their asinine claims about evolution, they give us nothing.