Intelligent Design

Change the language to eliminate concepts of design?

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While reading Mike Gene’s The Design Matrix: A Consilience of Clues, I also had the fun of encountering a letter from Richard Sever, of Cold Spring Harbor lab, to the journal Nature informing its editors that he wishes that his colleagues would “reduce confusion” by using the word “design” more intelligently. (Nature 454, 27 (3 July 2008) | doi:10.1038/454027c; Published online 2 July 2008 Paywall)

That is to say,

Few scientists would dispute that evolution provides a far more satisfactory explanation for the workings of living organisms than does ‘intelligent design’. But a much more subtle ‘design’ movement abounds that can distort how they approach their research.

Sever means that scientists refer to the design of organisms to mean the design of organisms. But everyone knows that organisms are not “really” designed; they only look exactly like they are … and this supposedly confuses people.

My favourite line is “Systems that emerge by selection differ fundamentally from those conceived by design.”

Oh? Amazing! If devout Darwinists like Sever are right, that’s precisely what isn’t true.

The designs produced by the random walk of Darwinian evolution cannot by definition differ from the designs produced by human selfish-gene robots formed by the random walk of Darwinian evolution. Everything is essentially due to Darwinian evolution, right?

Hey, look, on the Darwinist view, if there were a God and he designed things, he too must have evolved by the random walk of Darwinian evolution. So … so what exactly is Sever’s problem?

There shouldn’t really be a semantic problem along the lines that Sever suggests. Unless, of course, it is legal to doubt Darwinism … But surely the appropriate authorities are slowly but surely taking care of all that. So we can delay the introduction of duckspeak a little longer, can’t we, while we smooth out the quacks?

Actually, Sever’s sort of proposal has a  history. While writing The Spiritual Brain (Harper One, 2007), Mario Beauregard and I ran into similar serious proposals to eliminate language that implies that people have consciousness, personality, or ego, for example:

The social, psychological and cognitive sciences remain stuck with prescientific words and concepts. For many of us the word “soul” is as obsolete as “phlogiston,” but scientists still use such imprecise words as “consciousness,” “personality” and “ego,” not to mention “mind.”

Perhaps it is time that, in science at least, “imagination” and “introspection” are remodelled or, preferably, retired. Artists can have fun with them, but the serious business of the world has moved on. (Peter Watson, “Not Written in Stone”, New Scientist (August 29, 2005, quoted at p. 119 TSB )

When people can’t address the reality, they try to banish it from the terminology.  And people who live in a highly bureaucratic environment have real difficulty comprehending people who are insufficiently “cratted”, and thus continue to use real language.

Also, today at Colliding Universes:

Large Hadron Collider: And what if, $3 billion later, they don’t find the God particle?

Design vs. chance: If extra-terrestrials designed a planet, could we know it was intelligently designed?

Can reincarnation save Schrodinger’s cat?

Origin of life: Does the uncertainty principle rule out nanotechnology?

Colliding Universes is my blog on issues in the origin of our universe.

2 Replies to “Change the language to eliminate concepts of design?

  1. 1
    jerry says:

    I haven’t read Mike Gene’s book but he is on record as a gradualist and that ID cannot be science. He is now a frequent poster at ASA and it is hard to tell just what he is.

  2. 2
    nullasalus says:

    jerry,

    If I understand Mike Gene correctly, he believes that ID is not science as it stands but may the potential to develop into something scientific. Further, he seems to argue that one can certainly see indications of design in nature even at the most fundamental levels – he just doesn’t think it’s science (or religion), but he also doesn’t think it’s an unimportant topic.

    Personally, I fully believe that even a so-called ‘naturalist’ evolutionary history is riddled with indications of design. There’s a reason that even ardent atheists often talk about that so-called ‘illusion of design’, and why the illusion is something they believe needs to be addressed (as in, removing the language of teleology and kicking dirt on thoughts of design, however philosophical). Science doesn’t entail, or even suggest, the lack of design in even mainstream evolution. Philosophical commitment does.

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