The Many Problems with Intellegent Design

ID is one of those Christian apologetics that gets me a bit riled up. It is not just that it is wrong or bad. They are all wrong and all bad. It is that the ID argument is dishonest. It is creationism 2.0 dressed up in different garb. Here’s the big difference. Creationism was overtly religious. That platform wore its religion on its sleeve. That kept it from being taken seriously in scientific debate. ID pretends to be purely scientific with no religious roots. But secretly, it has the same religious underpinnings as its predecessor. ID is simply hiding, or outright lying about its religious motives to sneak into scientific discussion.

Besides being dishonest about the motives, ID is no more scientific than was creationism before it. ID is philosophy and theology pretending to be science. Worse still, it is bad philosophy and theology. It simply does not hold together as a theory. It only looks promising if one does not look too closely at it, or take it to its logical conclusion. In this piece, I will do both:

Identifying Design

Take a cup of paint and throw it against a wall. Next, hire a professional artist to paint another wall so that it looks exactly like the wall with the splattered paint. Now tell me, which was random and which was intelligently designed? Here’s the thing: You can’t. No one can. There is nothing about the splashed wall that says, chaos. And there is nothing about the carefully painted wall that says, design.

The fact of the matter is, everything we are capable of detecting looks designed. The fact that we can see it all means that it is adhering to some sort of mathematically describable pattern. We wouldn’t recognize true chaos because we couldn’t detect it. What the proponents of ID will not do is name something they do not think is intelligently designed. For them, everything is intelligently designed because everything looks like design. Design, by its very nature, implies an intelligent agency.

From a scientific perspective, their claim is unfalsifiable, as nothing could disprove design as they define it. But that blade cuts both ways. It could also be said that everything appears to be a result of unintelligent, naturalistic processes without any design whatsoever. This includes computers, works of Shakespeare, and tacos. Here’s how that counterargument goes:

Process Without Design

Nothing is designed because everything is a part of an evolutionary process. No, unless it is a cheap Windows PC, your computer is not a random assemblage of parts. But the intelligently designed computer is not the beginning, but the end of a process no one could have predicted at the beginning. It is a stage in the evolutionary process.

Of course there is intelligence behind it. But where did the intelligence come from? Human intelligence, itself, is a part of an evolutionary process. The universe did not design intelligence anymore than it designed a computer.

This is not the Shakespeare written by infinite monkeys argument. It is more along the lines of Shakespeare being produced by a lengthy succession of monkeys, which is more or less what actually happened. The universe did not set out to intelligently create the works of Shakespeare. But over the course of billions of years of unguided process, the works of Shakespeare have come into existence.

Whether or not tacos were the ultimate design goal of the universe, I will leave it to the reader to decide. I am reminded of the old joke, if you want to bake a cake from scratch, first, make a universe. It is an acknowledgment that everything evolves from something. The only real question to ask is, what was the first thing that was not evolved from anything. And make no mistake about it: That is the only real question ID is getting at.

First Mover Redux

Oh, well… Here we go again. Surprise, surprise! When it all comes down to it, ID is just another first mover argument. As I have stated many times before in a variety of ways, creating a first mover does not solve the problem. It just advances the problem another level.

As we have seen in this universe, human intelligence is a natural, evolutionary process. Therefore, why should we suspect it would be different in any other universe, or with any other life-form? If we can see how human intelligence evolved, why is it unfair to ask how the ultimate intelligence evolved?

Then, there is the question of where god obtained the material to create the universe in which we live. It can’t be a preexisting part of himself. If that is the case, then all of god’s interactions with the universe is no more interesting than a human picking at a scab. To have any meaning, this universe has to be something wholly other from god, something he made, not something he is.

But to make a cake, or a universe, you have to have ingredients. Did god create from nothing, ex nihilo? Then you admit the possibility that matter and energy can come from nothing. If you say we are from god, and god has always been there, then you permit that matter and energy could have always been there. In neither case is a god necessary.

Conclusion: Goodbye Science, Hello, Fiction

Do yourself a favor: Skip the ID debate altogether. If you grant everything the proponents of ID are pushing, you still don’t get anywhere near a being recognizable as the god of the bible: the only designer candidate they actually care about.

Even they will admit that the only thing they are trying to prove is that someone with intelligence designed the universe. Beyond that point, they stop pretending that science has anything to do with their program. They support the principle of inference to the best explanation. They do not claim proof of design. They only claim that it is be best explanation inferred by the evidence. Beyond that point, it is all theology.

It is like an episode of Star Trek. A transporter is loosely based on some undefined scientific principles. But to actually get to a transporter, they have to abandon science, and fully embrace fiction to move the story along. If they didn’t, they would have never gotten the crew to a planet’s surface without landing the shuttle every week. From a production standpoint, that was very expensive. Transporters were cheap.

For the proponents of ID to get to where they actually want to go: the god of the bible, they have to abandon science and enter fiction. Next time I revisit the subject, I will examine some of the plot holes they end up creating in order to tell their story.

David Johnson

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