I have accepted an invitation to comment regularly on Uncommon Descent for the Darwin Anniversary 2009 (200 years for Darwin himself and 150 years for Origin of Species). My plan is to draw attention to some ideas, arguments, articles and books relating to the ongoing ID-evolution debate. I’ll also say something about when and where I will be speaking about these matters in the coming year.
In particular, my comments will focus on two general lines of thought that have also been featured in two books I have written relating to the debate over the past couple of years. Science vs. Religion? Intelligent Design and the Problem of Evolution and Dissent over Descent: Intelligent Design’s Challenge to Darwinism
Darwinism is an undead 19th century social theory.
ID needs to confront the ‘Pastafarian’ Argument.
First, stripped of its current scientific scaffolding, Darwinism is a 19th century social theory that has been turned into a ‘general unified theory of everything’, and as such belongs in the same category as Marxism and Freudianism. The big difference is that Marxism and Freudianism – throughout their existence – have been contested (many would say decisively) by several alternative ways of organizing and interpreting the same body of data. In the case of Darwinism, this largely ended by 1950. However, it doesn’t mean that Darwinism has somehow turned into something other than a 19th century social theory. No, it’s simply a 19th century social theory with unusual clout. Indeed, Darwinism is really no different from Marxism and Freudianism in using its concepts as rhetorical devices for associating intuitively clear phenomena with rather deep and mysterious causes. I hope to draw your attention to examples of this in the coming weeks.
Second, amidst the boneheadedness and bigotry that characterise most attacks on ID, the ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster’ argument needs to be taken seriously. After all, what good is a theory of ‘intelligent design’ if it has nothing to say about the nature of the designer? ID supporters are susceptible to the charge of ‘Pastafarianism’ because of their reluctance to speak openly about God – understandably, in a scientific culture that is so actively hostile to the very idea. (Also, religious scruples are probably in play.) Nevertheless, the most natural way to make sense, say, Dembski’s ‘explanatory filter’ and Behe’s ‘irreducible complexity’ is as saying something about, respectively, God’s bandwidth and God’s building blocks. Moreover, these are things that people can argue about reasonably, using logic and evidence, just as they would about any other comprehensive explanatory principle, such as ‘natural selection’. But it means returning to the original science of design, or ‘theodicy’, a branch of theology that became increasingly unfashionable after Kant and effectively died after Darwin.
Let me close with an observation on this last point, inspired by reading an article by Alex Byrne in the latest issue of the Boston Review. At one level, it is merely a sophisticated version of the familiar pseudo-syllogism: All philosophical arguments for God’s existence fail, ID is a version of one such argument, ergo ID fails. However, much more interesting is Byrne’s rhetorical undertow, which sends the message: ‘Look, you ID people don’t believe in God on rational grounds anyway, so why bother trying to find some? Just admit it’s a matter of faith, and let the scientists get on doing real science.’ If ID supporters grant this point, they effectively remove from scientific inquiry exactly what distinguishes their position from Darwinism, namely, the existence of an intelligent designer. But this in turn means that ID will need to be more forthright in advancing scientific theories of God – what ‘theology’ ought to mean. In other words, a persuasive intelligent design theory should provide rational grounds for believing in the existence of God.