[This is a follow on essay to Good and bad reasons for rejecting ID]
The irony is that one of the books most widely credited for inspiring the ID movement didn’t actually argue for ID! That book was Michael Denton’s book Evolution A Theory In Crisis. This book deeply influenced Phil Johnson, Michael Behe, and many others.
So what was Denton’s conclusion at the end of his book? He said the mystery of biology is as enigmatic today as it was at the time of Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle. He offered no explanation for the apparent design in biology, and offered no suggestion that ID nor creation should even be put on the table as answers. He just stated no one has figured out the mystery of biology.
Despite this, his book became and ID classic. How can it be a book that didn’t once argue for ID end up sparking the ID movement? Consider this statement by Dawkins:
Some of the greatest scientists who have ever lived including Newton, who may have been the greatest of all believed in God. But it was hard to be an atheist before Darwin: the illusion of living design is so overwhelming.
You ask the questions
So even Dawkins acknowledges the resemblance of design in biology. I would argue it is simply natural for people, once they are convinced that something resembles design, if they are open to the idea, they’ll infer design naturally provided you can make a credible case that the analogy of biology to man-made designs cannot be explained by appeals to naturalistic mechanisms (like Darwinian evolution). Denton did exactly that.
So why formally remove claims of Intelligence out of ID theory? Before answering that question, consider the effect of including the claim of ID on 2 types of people.:
Type 1: sympathetic to ID — they’ll naturally accept ID as the cause, we don’t need to make the inference for them, they’ll make it on their own like Phil Johnson and Michael Behe did after reading Denton’s book, so claiming “ID is the most adequate explanation” really doesn’t have an effect on their decision most of the time.
Type 2: the hardened critic — they’ll naturally reject ID not matter what you say, whether you claim there is an Intelligent Designer or not, they’ll find a way to reject ID
If one insists ID is true, this is what you could be faced with — it gives the critic the following sort of red herrings to give the appearance he’s winning the case against ID. A smart anti-IDist would argue his case as follows:
1. Where is the Designer?
2. Who is the Designer?
3. Give me an experiment demonstrating the Designer?
4. How many experiments have you run to demonstrate the Intelligent Designer?
5. Just because something seems improbable doesn’t automatically mean there is Intelligent Design?
6. Can you tell me how you define intelligence?
7. What was the mechanism of design?……
you can’t answer these questions so your theory stinks.
But look at Denton’s book, he brilliantly avoided all those distracting questions. And the result? The modern ID movement was sparked into existence.
No need to put the issue of the Designer on the table. It doesn’t help the ID case, it just leads to distractions. Just argue the facts. The Intelligent Designer made the facts, and the facts will testify of Him.
You can also have a little fun pounding the anti-ID critic and demand:
1. give me a theory that explains the resemblance
2. give me an experiment that create the resemblance without intelligent manipulation
3. give me evidence the resemblance can naturally arise
4. show that chance can generate the resemblance
5. show that there can be a violation of No Free Lunch such that Darwinian evolution can do better than chance
What is the result of this strategy? Well consider recently, I offered a modest claim that finding 500 fair coins all heads is not consistent with the chance hypothesis. I’ll paraphrase what a critic said in response to my innocent claim:
if you have 500 flips of a fair coin that all come up heads, that outcome is perfectly consistent with fair coins
See! I didn’t have to get bogged down into discussion of who the Intelligent Designer is, how did He do the design, etc. Critics would much rather go into those red herring discussions than go anywhere near the issue of the resemblance of design and the inadequacy of natural mechanisms to create that resemblance.
An ID proponent gains no advantage in such debates by insisting: “life can’t arise by chance, therefore the Intelligent Designer did it”. You can say you believe this statement, but you can’t formally make that inference with the same confidence you’d make with a theorem of math. And even if you could, what does it gain you, the critic won’t be more convinced nor will people on the sideline be more convinced.
It was the very fact Denton didn’t overplay his hand, that he wasn’t trying to say “God did it” at every turn of the page” (as you find in the Answers in Genesis website), that he ended up being very persuasive to me.
I prefer to say “I believe in ID, I can’t prove ID is true, but I can show that biology resembles designs and known natural processes are not expected to create that resemblance.”. With such an approach, notions like CSI will become credible whereby CSI is only a measure of resemblance to a design, it doesn’t actually mandate ID is the only explanation. And I point out, not even Bill Dembski would argue in practice that ID need be the only explanation (even though we all know he believes in his heart that it is):
Thus, a scientist may view design and its appeal to a designer as simply a fruitful device for understanding the world, not attaching any significance to questions such as whether a theory of design is in some ultimate sense true or whether the designer actually exists. Philosophers of science would call this a constructive empiricist approach to design. Scientists in the business of manufacturing theoretical entities like quarks, strings, and cold dark matter could therefore view the designer as just one more theoretical entity to be added to the list. I follow here Ludwig Wittgenstein, who wrote, “What a Copernicus or a Darwin really achieved was not the discovery of a true theory but of a fertile new point of view.”
No Free Lunch
It suffices for me that ID is a believable explanation, whether others share that belief is up to them. Nothing I do can bring the Intelligent Designer into their experiments, but I think I can argue for the resemblance of design quite forcefully. I think this strategy is empirically and theoretically defensible. I think our colleague and critic RDFish and others have made a good point about the problem of defining intelligence and how this problematic for ID.
A second point RDFIsh made is that an Intelligent Designer is always a sufficient condition to explain every phenomenon. A point I agree with. The issue is then whether there are phenomenon in principle where an Intelligent Designer is not only a sufficient explanation, but a necessary one. Do I think there are certain designs that in principle can’t be explained by natural causes? Yes. Do I think such designs appear in biology? Yes, but that is a separate post.
The point of this essay is that Resemblance of Design arguments are more defensible than ID arguments. Am I proposing we re-label ID theory? No. Its scandalous title is a good marketing point. 🙂 I am merely pointing out, I don’t feel comfortable saying, “it looks designed therefore definitely the Intelligent Designer did it”. I’m content to say, “it looks designed”. The facts of resemblance will argue for ID. Argue the facts, argue the resemblance.
Finally, if neither Denton nor Berlinski were convinced the Intelligent Designer made the designs of biology (and they are clearly ID sympathetic by most standards), why should I presume any one will automatically accept ID when presented with the facts? People make up their minds on their own whether there is a need for an Intelligent Designer, we don’t have try to draw conclusions for them. In my experience, it’s pointless to even try.