Intelligent Design vs. the Argument from Design

is under discussion over at the Register as the series on Natural Revelation continues.

  • Andy, Bad Person

    Thank you for this clarification. I always thought I had no problem with Intelligent Design, but I never considered it a “God of the gaps” argument. The distinction between this and Aquinas’ argument from design is much more in line with what I’ve always thought, which I suppose isn’t the Intelligent Design argument after all.

    I look forward to seeing the Register comboxes fill with people who don’t even try to understand the distinction.

    • kenofken

      ID is entirely a God of the gaps argument. Every time someone posits that a biological feature could not have happened by natural means, they’ve been proven wrong. Inferring some ultimate purpose or designer from design is fine, as far as it goes, but it’s purely a theological argument, not a scientific one.

      • jaybird1951

        I am familiar both with Aquinas’ argument and with ID’s arguments. Right now I am finishing Stephen Meyer’s “Darwin’s Doubt” about the Cambrian Explosion and how neo-Darwinism and a number of other theories tied to it cannot explain how those animal types developed so quickly in geological terms. ID is NOT a God of the gaps argument. It argues, as I understand it, that ID best explains what materialistic neo-Darwinism cannot explain. A number of the Darwinist scientists have argued that we should ignore what appears to be design in nature. It cannot be that because they refuse to believe anything but materialistic causes. Don’t believe your lying eyes in other words. I recommend Meyer’s books “Signature in the Cell” and “Darwin’s Doubt.” You may not become an ID fan but hopefully, you will drop the idea that its is a God-of-the-gaps explanation.

        • kenofken

          Of course it’s a God of the gaps argument. When your response to a scientific quandry is to throw up your arms and say “well, this is just irreducibly complex” and conclude that it must be supernatural causes, you’re abandoning science and stuffing God into that gap. Because science can’t explain the Cambrian explosion to Meyer’s personal satisfaction (a guy who is not a biologist, BTW), then it has to be God. Meyer’s outfit, the Discovery Institute, is not a scientific organization in any sense of the word. They have never done, nor even proposed, any serious research based on sound methods recognized by mainstream science. They are a culture war group which thinks that having front men with Ph.D.s writing about a subject makes it a “controversy” in science.

          • Thomas Boynton Tucker

            It’s not a God of the gaps argument if they are saying that it is designed by a Creator since there is no adequate evolutionary explanation. It has nothing to do with “throwing up one’s arms”. Do you want to throw up your arms and say definitively from the start that God as a designer is never a possible explanation?

            • kenofken

              It’s not a scientific explanation and never will be. “No adequate evolutionary explanation” is intellectual laziness (and hubris) meaning “I don’t see the solution, so it must not exist). More often, it’s actually disingenuous. IDers just ignore or discount whatever adequate or at least plausible evolutionary explanation gets in their way.

              • Thomas Boynton Tucker

                No, it’s not a scientific explanation. Does science, and will science, ultimately explain everything?

                • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

                  That’s not the point. The question is not, does science explain everything, but does science give us a material and efficient cause for this? Answer: yes.

                • kenofken

                  The problem is deception. Theology and philosophy are fine disciplines for approaching truths which science is not designed to test. ID proponents like the Discovery Institute feel the need to misrepresent theology as science by using its lingo and doctoral titles and lab coats. They have no interest in nor respect for the actual methods of science. Their goal is to sneak theology into public schools in the guise of a manufactured scientific “debate”. To the extent we indulge this nonsense, this scam, we weaken our student’s abilities to compete and innovate in the sciences.

                  • Guest

                    Also, we make ourselves look like utter tools.

                    • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

                      By the way, the comment above (“utter tools”) was by me. I wrote it, then deleted it because it seemed intemperate and unkind, but now it’s showing up as a “Guest” post. I apologize to Thomas Boynton Tucker if it seemed like it was aimed at him.

                  • Thomas Boynton Tucker

                    I don’t know about this institute. You may be right. But I don’t think you should paint all ID proponents with the same broad brush.

                    • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

                      The problem is not with the Discovery Institute. The problem is with the philosophical assumptions and the extremely poor science of ID per se. ID is bad science. It cannot establish that the development, the structure, and the functioning of living things is not entailed in the laws of physics. They don’t know the laws of physics well enough to establish this.

                    • Thomas Boynton Tucker

                      Well, of course, it’s hard to disprove a negative. But when you read the explanations of those who propose evolutionary steps in discussing the evolution of the eye, for example, there seems to be a lot of hand-waving about how something must have happened, without any hard proof. And in many examples, the answer is simply that we don’t know yet, but we have faith that ultimately science will have a proof. I don’t know, it just seems to me that both camps do a lot of taking things on faith. But the “scientists” never want to admit that.

                    • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

                      Sure. But the “faith” of the scientists has some basis: many, many structures and patterns in biology that seemed utterly mysterious have been successfully explained by evolution.

                      The “faith” of the ID guys, on the other hand, is baseless: we’ve got enough information about the laws of physics to know that this particular structure just can’t happen? Why do they think that? How do they know what the implications of the laws of physics are?

                    • kenofken

                      It’s not even bad science. It’s non-science. It is the wholesale abandonment of reason. It’s also pretty pathetic theology. These folks don’t accept the most basic premise of science, that the world is knowable through observation, and they reject all of its rules of evidence and sound experimentation and logic. Yet for all that, they feel the need to use its trappings because they don’t feel they can convince anyone of their theology without it.

      • Andy, Bad Person

        I don’t disagree with you at all. My need of clarification was really about my misunderstanding of ID; Mark’s distinction of it from TA’s argument from design is very helpful.

      • Dave G.

        No they haven’t. That’s a common misconception. I knew a physicist who was part of a team showing that, at least as currently understood, flight cannot naturally evolve. The answers (it was gliding first) simply kick the problem down and hope nobody is noticing. Because he was a friend I listened to the debate. Nothing was said showing his side was wrong. One problem I see is that those who want to accept evolution seem almost defensive about it, as if to say ‘everything science says about evolution is right – but God made it happen (sort of a ‘God IS the gaps’ theory). And when someone says ‘yeah, but there are some loose ends’, they fly into defensive mode and sound as if should humanity exist for a hundred, zillion years, we will never disprove a jot or tittle of what science now believes! – but God made it happen!’ It’s OK to say that science can still have a way to go. it’s OK to say that we might be wrong about certain things we think are so right. There could be more “scientific revolutions” a thousand years from now. As that friend liked to say, even if there was no God, scientists can still be wrong. And he was an evangelical to boot.

        • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

          The reason the scientists are so defensive is not at all because people are pointing out what they don’t know; rather, it’s because people are stupidly denying what they do know. If the faith community would be more willing to acknowledge the facts instead of throwing up dust in an endless, witless attempt to win a battle they don’t need to be fighting in the first place, the scientists would be a lot less irritable.

  • The Deuce

    I think this piece doesn’t *quite* nail why Thomists find themselves at odds with the IDists, but it’s related.

    The real problem Thomists have is that IDists concede too much ground to materialists. That is, IDists tend to assume the same mechanistic, blind operation of everything in the natural world that materialists do – thus denying the reality of intrinsic formal and final causes along with materialists, and thus also the reality of intrinsic function of biological creatures. Like materialists, they look at the function of living things as being extrinsic to the things themselves and imposed from without, sort of like the function of a watch or computer.

    And from there, IDists attempt to infer an extrinsic source of the function (an intelligence) from the probabilistic unlikelihood of the appearance of function occurring naturally given the materialists’ impoverished, blind and mechanistic view of nature.

    Thomists, on the other hand, rightly consider the mechanistic view of nature to be mistaken and incoherent, and they show that the existence of God can be shown deductively once the reality of intrinsic formal and final causes are acknowledged (and they argue that these are rationally unavoidable to boot).

    To put it in a nutshell, the problem Thomists have with ID is that the ID argument concedes too much to the materialists about the nature of material reality, and then attempts to show by weak inference (hence the so-called “gap,” since all inferential reasoning is based on “gaps”) that which can be proven by deduction.

    Note, though, that while Thomism is compatible with evolution broadly, it’s just as incompatible as ID, if not moreso, with the mechanistic, materialistic, “Darwinian” explanation (or rather incoherent elimination) for the existence of biological function.

    This distinction between Thomism and ID applies to the philosophy of mind as well. Since IDists concede the materialist notion of the whole material world as being like a machine, this tends to force them to the view of the soul being a “ghost in the machine,” aka Cartesianism. As a result, they share the mind-body problem with the materialists. Thomists, on the other hand, don’t have the mind-body problem, since they don’t accept that view of matter in the first place. See Ed Feser’s recent post for more on that: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/11/some-questions-on-soul-part-iii.html

    • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

      *sigh* I guess I’m glad Ed Feser is fighting this battle, since I agree that it’s one that needs to be waged.

      Nevertheless, worrying about that particular battle on a website like this one is a little bit … untimely, I think. (Not trying to pick on you, The Deuce. I’m just ranting because I’m frustrated.) What we need more than ever is to convince the scientists and the religious faithful that we have absolutely no quarrel with evolution as the biologists and paleontologists present it. Picking on scientists because their philosophy of science is inadequate properly to ground the theories they, themselves, espouse is, in the present context, a pretty pointless exercise. Nobody in the wider public says, “Interesting, the materialist presuppositions of the neoDarwinian philosophers undercut the classic philosophical arguments for the existence of God.” No, they say, “Huh. My biology teacher demonstrated that evolution makes a lot of sense, and pretty much everybody who makes the inside of my TV and drills the oil that runs my car and is real smart in college believes this. Apparently, God doesn’t exist.” (That sound is Thomas Aquinas’s head banging on the wall of heaven.)

      Dawkins and Harris and Hitchens, oh my, would be nothing more than a dying cigarette butt smoldering in the grass if the Creationists and ID guys didn’t keep pouring gallons of diesel fuel all over the lawn.

      In any case, the materialistic assumptions of modern philosophy shouldn’t enter into the arguments about Intelligent Design, because the scientists who oppose ID are not, in their opposition to ID, making the same materialistic assumptions that the ID guys are. In fact, they are very happy to go to their labs and (without realizing it) assume the exact opposite. And we should be thanking these scientists for their help in knocking down a crappy scientific theory that sticks to us like a freaking tar baby, not kicking them out for failing to wipe their philosophical feet.

  • kirthigdon

    I think any design implies intelligence and I’ve never seen any reason why evolution could not be a good part of God’s intelligent design for the development of life. I have faith that God takes care of the gaps because I see what beautiful care he has taken of the things we do understand.
    Kirt Higdon


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