Philosophy: Ken Wilber and Intelligent Design (ID)

Philosophy: Ken Wilber and Intelligent Design (ID) December 3, 2005

Though still a fan of Mr. Wilber, I have stumbled upon an ugly flaw in his work (I’m now listening to the soundstrue version of ‘A Theory of Everything – A Brief History of Everything‘) , namely his understanding of evolution.

It’s funny, because just two weeks ago I saw Kevin Padian, PhD discussing his role as an expert witness in the Dover, PA trial over teaching ID in schools. Dr. Padian pretty well destroyed the ID theorists credibility by showing the countless flaws in their book ‘Of Pandas and People’ and conversely showing the way evolution, as a theory, operates. One thing he brought up was the creationist argument that the human eye could not evolve because all of its complex parts are needed simultaneously. He then showed a slide of eyes, ranging from the simplest photosensitive nerves to the complex rods-and-cones system of our own eyes, showing how each development gave rise to the next. He then mentioned that some ‘neo-creationists’ have made a similar argument about wings. Up comes another slide showing the progress from those tiny, useless little dinosaur arms up to modern bird wings. What happened? Well, one thing is that those tiny dinosaur arms became more useful when they sprouted various types of branching hairs which could maintain body heat, employ colors to attract mates, and provide soft surface area to nestle eggs; these hairs became feathers. (for a brief discussion of Ken Wilber’s use of this argument, see here) Ken basically argues that part of a wing is useless or worse, detrimental, but as the evidence has shown, part of a wing can have many uses.

So that brings me to recent comments here, by Tom:

“As you may know, since it has come up a hundred times in Nacho’s blog, I am in favor of a redesigned Intelligent Design, for many reasons. I see nothing wrong with a brief, “fair” presentation of a non-religious ID argument in an evolution class, since most people in America doubt evolution. You know these words of Milton? “Let [truth] and falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?” Why, it’s almost a cliche. – Tom, from the 15th comment here

I am curious about what this ‘redesigned Intelligent Design’ might look like. For clarification’s sake, there is no ‘evolution class’, only a ‘science class’ in which evolution is taught as the theory of the process of change in species. I’m all for fairness in education, but like many, I would rather ID be introduced in a religion class than a science class. Here ID could go up with its legitimate rivals of reductionistic-materialism, German Idealism, Eastern Mysticism, and Native American lore. But none of these belong in the science class.

Finally, concerning Milton’s words, John Stuart Mill had similar sentiments in his work, ‘On Liberty’ and in general I agree with them, but caution must be exercised when deciding on what needs to be taught and where. For instance, an American Politics course should not devote ‘equal time’ to American Communism or American Fascism. Nor should it spend any time discussing the (heavily discredited) theory that Jews and Freemasons have infiltrated our government, or (the never substantiated in the first place idea) that Congress is covering up interactions with alien civilizations.

Intelligent Design, from my studies of it, provides no more to support itself than the folks camped out at Roswell, NM have come up with as evidence of flying saucers (perhaps less, actually). But in light of the good words of Milton and Mill, I am happy to see it ‘brought into the light’ of public inquiry in a proper way, including some discussion here. My own view is that Wilber is simply mistaken, and unfortunately others who follow him are as well. Though I don’t see myself as a reductionist atheist, either. William James, the great American Pragmatist, presented a view in which such things as consciousness could be understood as perhaps like a light passed through a prism, after which is revealed the beautiful colors of ‘our world’. We can accept the evolution of the ‘prism’ while maintaining the eternal purity of the light to which it gives expression.

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