I think one of the biggest confusions about Intelligent Design is that it is a theory of origins. This has caused a tremendous amount of confusion on both sides of the fence. If Intelligent Design was a theory of origins, many of ID’s criticisms of ID would make much more sense. But I think that ID is really a theory of causation.
Think about it this way — in order to do a design inference, it requires that there be three types of causes — law, chance, and agency. Note that in this, agency is a distinct type of cause from law (not that they don’t interact and co-depend on each other at times, but they are conceptually independent items). In the typical Darwinist view, mind is simply a complex product of material events. The design inference wouldn’t even make sense if chance and necessity were the only types of causes, since excluding chance and necessity wouldn’t leave any other types of causes.
Now, of the three types of causes, only necessity is fully predictable, but that does not mean that the other types are not amenable to investigation. It just means that the investigation is of a different character. One of the means of investigation is descriptive. And, if you can describe the distinct/unique characteristics of a phenomena, you can often test for it.
Intelligent Design is simply an investigation into a different mode of causation that had not been examined scientifically before. Some people mistakenly think that ID is all about design detection. But that’s merely one aspect. The goal is to examine intelligent causation in its fullest. Whether design detection succeeds or fails is not the entire issue. It is merely a first step into examining the range of phenomena which are distinctive of agency.
So why are its proponents and opponents so focused on origins issues? The primary reason is that most Darwinists assume that mind is a product of matter. If agency is a distinct causitive force, then the Darwinist origins story is lacking one of the most important causal factors in two ways — the origin of agency in humans (and perhaps other organisms), and how agency influences change over time. Likewise, if the Darwinist origins story is true, then this means that agency is not a distinctive force.
Therefore, ID relates to origins issues only in two ways. The firsts iss asking the question of whether or not a given origins story has in place sufficient causitive force to produce the effects claimed. This includes:
- If there is an element which fits the distinctive marks of agency, is one of the causes proposed an intelligent one?
- Is there an adequate explanation for the origin of agency itself?
The second is that for each instance of an intelligent cause identified (whether empirically or as the result of the origins story proposed), there is a set of further questions to ask of the phenomena which are unique to intelligent causes. This includes at minimum the list of questions identified by Dr. Dembski previously.
I think that the main issue of disagreement between Darwinists and ID’ers is the causation issue. I think that overall we have been talking past each other becauses this fundamental difference is not always explicitly recognized in the conversations.
To begin the conversation, Albert Voie has a very interesting argument that Godel incompleteness requires that agency (“mind” as he calls it) be distinct from necessity.