Historical scientists proceed like a detective at a crime scene. They begin by identifying one or more causes “now in operation” that seem capable of producing the mystery under investigation. Then they accumulate additional clues in order to narrow the field of viable explanations. If all goes well, patient study will narrow the options until only one viable cause is left standing. So, for instance, careful study of a large Arizona crater and various natural processes convinced geologists that an ancient meteor left the crater. Other explanations were ruled out while the crater explanation grew stronger and stronger the longer they studied the scene. A meteor, as it turned out, was the only type of cause with the demonstrated ability to cause the mystery in question. This mode of reasoning, common to the historical sciences, has been described by philosophers of science as inference to the best explanation (IBE).
Now think of the sophisticated digital information found in DNA. Even a microscopic, single-celled organism is loaded with this data. How did all this information first arise? A broad and intensive exploration over many decades has uncovered only one type of cause active in the present with the demonstrated ability to generate new information: mind. That is, creative intelligence.
Of course, the design argument described above is controversial, but not every part of it. In a public debate at Biola University in California, an old Discovery Institute colleague of mine, philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, laid out that argument, and biologist and intelligent design skeptic Steve Matheson actually agreed with him — up to a point. “You said that we reason backwards from what we know works, which is that intelligence makes codes,” Matheson said. “I’ll agree with that. … We reason back and say, therefore, this is the one explanation we know that can do this. I buy that. I get it.”
But then Matheson demurred: “Everywhere I look, and every time I look, if I wait long enough, there is a natural and even materialistic explanation to things.” This strong historical trend, he insisted, decisively counsels against swallowing Meyer’s intelligent design explanation. More.
Okay sure. But for how long?
At a less sophisticated level than Witt’s, Matheson’s remark remind one of an all-too-frequent situation in the life around us:
An explanation is regularly trotted out to explain something odd. Sudden, unexplained disappearances, perhaps of cash from the till, or people from the neighbourhood… are explained away as random, unrelated events.
Certain assumptions about what is happening are socially risky, so we don’t make them—or at least don’t make them public (like “religion,” they belong to a fully private sphere).
The disappearances continue. A complex pattern emerges. We try to talk about it, but are warned of the social and career implications.
A movement starts, to make sure that the growing private knowledge is not to be shared, lest it become general knowledge in venues where it could be studied.
Much is at stake. The Big Idea—that the complex, specified pattern is random effects—is the single greatest idea anyone ever had. It can withstand any amount of contrary evidence!
At that point, some of us grow restless…
How much contrary evidence are we expected to ignore? How much must accumulate before we are justified in looking for other accounts of the matter?
A great prophet arises to tell us … essentially, continue to ignore everything!
Because, he says, “Everywhere I look, and every time I look, if I wait long enough, there is a natural and even materialistic explanation to things.”
As the contrary evidence mounts, we had maybe better do some thinking for ourselves, whatever the social or career costs.
See also: What the fossils told us in their own words (Quit talking at us and listen for once.)
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