Intelligent Design Criminology

The question to ask proponents of intelligent design is this: At what point the police should stop investigating an unsolved murder and close the case, declaring that God must have simply wanted the victim dead? It is the same point at which it is appropriate to tell scientists to stop looking for explanations and simply conclude “God did it”.

Intelligent design isn’t just bad news for science. As an overarching approach to evidence and investigative reasoning, it can have a detrimental affect even on the safety of your neighborhood.

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  • rtjones

    I am neither a criminologist nor a scientist, so I am not about to engage either topic at the level of evidence. (And I just don’t care enough to do either one.) But I think your analogy is somewhat flawed. The ID notion of irreducible complexity is more like saying there is enough evidence to suspect murder (an intelligent mind behind it) rather than natural causes alone. On this model it would be absurd to say, “Look, I know it looks like he was stabbed multiple times, but that’s just because there are some things we don’t understand yet. But just because there is a gap in our knowledge doesn’t mean there must have been an intelligent mind behind this man’s death.”If ID fails at the level of evidence (there are no stab wounds and an autopsy reveals a stroke), well then fine and good. ID has been falsified. But if it fails because it does not conform to methodological naturalism, this seems like nothing more than empty rhetoric. I find myself asking, if life, the universe, and everything really was designed by an intelligent being, what evidence could there possibly be that would pass this sort of naturalistic test?

  • Carlos

    It strikes me that Hume’s arguments against the argument from design still stand. In order to discriminate between deaths from “natural causes” and deaths from murders, there must be a wide range of different cases, different etiologies, coroners and forensic scientists need to have a body of evidence from which to draw in order to form a new inductive generalization for addressing a new case. But if one is considering something so singular as terran life-forms, or for that matter, the universe as a whole, then there is no body of evidence with which to compare and contrast. So inductive generalization as what could or could not have caused life, let alone the universe, cannot be made. Intelligent design proponents insist that we can compare terran life-forms with anthropogenic artifacts, but this clearly does no more than smuggle a hidden premise into the argument in order to yield an invalid conclusion. In any event, arguments are never a substitute for experimental science, something that the design proponents have not been interested in providing.

  • Art

    The Darwinian fundamentalist would conclude that chance and natural processes alone were sufficient to account for the man’s death. He was simply and naturally selected against. No evidence is necessary since Unintelligent Design proponents insist that we smuggle a hidden premise into the argument in order to yield this dubious conclusion. That premise is philosophical naturalism (occasionally dressed up in methodological garb).In any event, arguments are never a substitute for experimental science, something that neither the design or apparent design proponents have been interested in providing.Given that something must always have existed and physical things haven’t, why don’t we just agree that Mind created matter and put this ID vs. UD controversy to rest. Attempting to explain how everything came into existence from absolutely nothing is simply beyond the limits of the natural sciences. That leaves us with the question, “Who put the material in Materialism?”If scientists asked the question, “How does nature actually function?” they might get a better handle on the naturalistic mechanisms that inhibit a naturalistic origin of life and explain why natural selection prevents major evolutionary change from occurring. Carl is right; there is no substitute for the experimental sciences informing the historical sciences.See:

  • James F. McGrath

    R T Jones,I don’t think your take on the analogy works, because you are still dealing with a natural event, a murder, with a (presumably human) suspect. What ID does is to say “The wounds don’t look like they were made by any gun I’ve ever seen, and so they must have been caused by God or some super-intelligent extraterrestrial”.As for your question “If life, the universe, and everything really was designed by an intelligent being, what evidence could there possibly be that would pass this sort of naturalistic test?”, here’s my answer. On the one hand, I do not see why one should conclude that the currently inexplicably must have been caused by God, or that conversely the explicable cannot have had God’s involvement. If the notion of ‘God’ is to make sense at all, then these constraints seem far too narrow. On the other hand, one who is not speaking as a scientist can certainly point to gaps in scientific explanations and claim ‘God did it’, but in the past that has been a recipe for ending up with little left for God to do. For surely it is clear that people in general have used God as an alternative explanation to natural causes in ways that have been unhelpful and have in large measure created the unfortunate dichotomy many perceive today.

  • Brian

    When I was a child, I heard a preacher say that the bumblebee is a miracle because scientists didn’t know how such thin legs could support such a weight, so this was proof that God made the bumblebee!Several decades later, I heard a science comment that explained the aerodynamic characteristics of the bumblebee, and also its weight loading on the legs.Just because no one had studied the science (when I was a kid) was proof to the preacher that something unexplained was a miracle. I wonder how often this still happens today.

  • JohnCalvert

    The comments about experimental and historical science are key to this discussion.Like science that seeks to explain the cause of life, forensic science that seeks to explain the cause of death are historical sciences.Historical scientists are often precluded from running an experiment as to the cause of death. Experimental science is not particularly helpful as to the cause of death of dinosaurs.The events to be explained are singular, unobserved and unobservable, that occurred in the remote past. Most of the clues as to the intial conditions are gone and it takes millions of years to replicate populations. So the investigator has been left with a messy crime scene. This alone probably suggests an answer to the question – how long should the investigation be left open? In this case, probably forever. We will always be collecting clues and our historical conclusions will change as the mix of evidence changes. This is not like a case that must be brought to trial today or tomorrow. There is no statute of limitations on this question.The cause of life question is very important for two reasons. First it informs science regarding the nature of life. If life is designed, reverse engineering, not population genetics, will predominate in trying to understand how it functions. Second, this question unavoidably impacts religion. If the investigator says life looks designed and we can’t find any natural or accidental cause to explain it, then that conclusion aids theistic religion and adversely affects non-theistic religions like Atheism, Secular Humanism and various religions which tend to worship nature rather than a creator of nature. The opposite is true as well. If the investigator says the cause of life is adequately explained by natural and accidental causes, then that conclusion supports non-theistic religion over theistic religion. Carol Cleland, and others have explained the obvious in a number of papers. An historical science achieves its credibility only through an analysis of the evidence or “clues” that implicate competing causes. The goal is to reach an inference to the best explanation, not a fundamental law susceptible to experimental proof. So, like the coroner, the historical scientist looks for clues that will do two things: (1) rule in one cause and (2) rule out the others. Sometimes a “smoking gun” will do the trick nicely. In her view the irridium layer at the KT boundary is the smoking gun that implicates an asteroid as the cause of dino death. Notice, if a rule is used that does not allow consideration of one of the possible causes, the investigation can never reach a satisfactory evidentiary conclusion. In that case all you will ever have is a speculation. If the coroner comes back and says death was due to accident and you ask if he considered homicide and he says no, then his report is flawed.As a patron of science, I believe I am entitled to a rigorously objective investigation as to the cause of life. It will affect the religion of my children and the use of tax dollars to fund research. Currently, I am not getting that investigation. The coroner has been sent to the scene of the death and has been asked to report not on the cause of death, but the cause of the life of the dead man as well as those of his ancestors. He cannot perform that investigation objectively if he starts it with an irrefutable assumption that material and accidental causes are the only permitted explanation. In fact he does not even need to go to the scene of the crime at all. We don’t even need the investigation, because the answer has been provided in advance. Lets abandon reverse engineering in operational science and tell the children in public school that life is not a creation. In fact a biased investigation yields nothing more than a speculation, a just-so story. So, when will the investigation end? It never will. In science, there are no absolute answers. Dogmas and doctrines are the realm of religion, not science. So, for science to be non-religious, it must avoid the use of a dogma or doctrine in investigating the cause of life. To be scientific, science needs to employ a cadre of Sargent Fridays. Their job will never end, the case will never be closed. They will just keep the public advised as the investigation proceeds as to the nature of the clues collected and how they affect the strength and weaknesses of the competing hypotheses.This provides each individual with the freedom to make her own informed choice about a question important to all our world views. John Calvert,

  • Filll

    I disagree with rtjones’ characterization of the situation and his analogy. Intelligent design is more akin to taking a look at all the cold case files of unsolved murders, and declaring that the stab wounds and bullet holes were created by a magical intelligent force, not a human being. And the danger is, once it becomes politically correct to do this, whenever there is a new murder that is not obvious, the more appropriate thing to say will be that a magical intelligent force murdered the person, so there is no need to spend time and money looking for a human assailant. And of course, this would be a great defense for a defense lawyer to use at a trial to get anyone off anything.That is closer to what intelligent design is, and the serious threat it represents to science.

  • Gary S. Hurd

    The ID creationists regularly claim that they employ the same “methods” as archaeologists and criminalists. This was the topic of my chapter in “Why Intelligent Design Fails” (Young and Edis, 2004 Rutgers University Press). The short answer is that they don’t even come close. Part of their problem is that “Perry Mason” or the “Hardy Boys” are about as close they have been to a murder investigation, and a few pictures in National Geographic read at the dentist’s office are the sum of their archaeological researches. In WIDF, I reviewed several violent deaths, all the result of “intelligent design” none of which were murder. In fact, each death was the an accidental result of actions taken by the deceased. (The editor at Rutgers objected to two others as too gross to include). Prof. McGrath’s rhetorical question has a problem. It has assumed “murder” which is a particular sort of death- one caused by deliberate actions with the intent to kill. While the case can be made that the biblical god is a murderer if held to human standards, the Bible also insists that God cannot be held to those standards. Technically, if murder is known to have occurred then the case is not legally closed for many decades. Instead, the parallel should be if the cause of death is not easily determined. There are then a number of very interesting cases to consider. I am particularly thinking of some poisonings that resulted in murders. One was perpetrated by a physician who injected a metallic salt through his daughter’s rectum, where the puncture wound was initially undetected. (Postmortem examination looked only for gross trauma, not a tiny puncture). The poison would not have been absorbed from an oral administration, and a venous or subdural injection would have been easily observed. The cause of death was discovered by a trace element analysis of a tissue sample (a mass spectrometry study from a kidney sample that returned a huge value for cadmium, as I recall). There was no environmental source for that level of cadmium in her body, which lead to the reexamination of her bodyDoes this case reveal anything about IDC and their “design detection?” I think it shows why IDC fails again. First there was an event that left discoverable physical evidence even if they were difficult to discover. These physical observations revealed the cause of death, and the means used to cause the death. The means of death were consistent with an intentional killing (murder), but this was not certain from scientific evidence related to the forensic pathology. Additional evidence regarding the state of mind of the father was need to establish for a jury that the death had been murder.How is this different from IDC? Totally. First, the cause of death was a discoverable physical event – IDC refuses to specify or at all limit any means of action by their creator/designer. Second, the killer of the girl was a directly discernable being – IDC posits an immaterial agent, as any material agent merely pushes the question of origins back to some other place and time. Thirdly, the killer’s motive and intentions were discoverable and directly linked to his actions.

  • James F. McGrath

    Thanks for the comment! I like your analogy better – I may even have been influenced by it without realizing it, since it has been a while since I read WIDF (but I remember it clearly enough to highly recommend it).

  • Monado

    Gary, your points about the “designer” or perpetrator are spot on. In 2005, I made as precise an analogy to Intelligent Design transferred to a courtroom session, as I could, except that I left out the lying, misquoting, and manufacturing of evicence. I called it the Intelligent Murderer Theory. I think I got it pretty accurate. I didn’t delve back into the gathering and interpretation of evidence. For that I prefer TalkOrigins’ lovely letter of the month, “Was there a War of 1812?” which runs the science of history up against the kind of objections that creationists make for evolution.