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Philosopher offers a new concept for “reconciling evolution and intelligent design”

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A philosopher, Nicholas Rescher, has written Productive Evolution: On Reconciling Evolution with Intelligent Design, (Ontos, 2011). Bruce Weber reviews it for Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.,

In the seventh chapter Rescher addresses the implications of the argument he has been developing for the contrasting explanations of evolution and intelligent design in which evolution is conceived as an instrumentality of intelligent design. However, “Intelligent design is not the moving cause of evolutionary development but rather its consequence.” (p. 75) Here Rescher draws the key distinction between being intelligently designed and being designed by intelligence, the difference between having the appearance (“as if”) of intelligent design and being the artifact of an intelligent designer. Rescher’s claim is that to view natural processes as rational is not to personify nature but rather to naturalize intelligence. Nature must be regular enough that living beings can detect regularities in their environments and thus have a selective value for intelligence. This implies a central role for information and for learning, a role, which Rescher notes, was suggested by James Mark Baldwin.

Intelligent Design Theory, in contrast, assumes an intelligent agent of some sort, perhaps a deity, because it assumes that natural selection cannot produce intelligent agents. “Being intelligently designed no more requires an intelligent designer than being designed awkwardly requires an awkward one. Being intelligently designed is a descriptive feature of the product, not a claim about the producer in the mode of production” (pp. 84-5). Rescher admits that his position reflects an updated neo-Platonism though he contends that this position still has potential relevance. But he contends that his emphasis on emergence is not reductive because although the emergence of novelty may arise from lower-level interactions, the new phenomena are not explained by the lower-level but rather by the function of the higher level. “The sort of evolution at issue is emergentist. It brings into existence new forms of being which carry emergently new modes of process in their wake.” (p. 88)

Some of this is downright puzzling to a layperson, for example, from Rescher:

“Being intelligently designed no more requires an intelligent designer than being designed awkwardly requires an awkward one. Being intelligently designed is a descriptive feature of the product, not a claim about the producer in the mode of production” (pp. 84-5).

But the two attributes, “intelligent” and “awkward,” are not similar in character: Only an intelligent designer could be awkward. We don’t think of a glacier scattering rocks as “awkward.”

Also, the second sentence does not seem to follow from the first. “Intelligently designed” means – at minimum – that a product’s form or attributes require a level of information that we only experience as an outcome of intelligence. So intelligence is the only quality we can attribute to the designer as a direct result of studying the product.

Consider the recently publicized. Neanderthal cave paintings of seals: It’s not the quality of the art that made them an “academic bombshell” but the demonstration of an intelligence that many scholars did not credit the Neanderthals with.

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14 Replies to “Philosopher offers a new concept for “reconciling evolution and intelligent design”

  1. 1
    Gregory says:

    Dr. Nicholas Rescher is also responsible for the entry on “Process Philosophy” at the Plato Encyclopedia (Stanford).

    It is a careful opponent who would combine ‘origins’ with ‘processes’ in an attempted act of ‘reconciliation’ between ID and evolution.

    Will UD take his work seriously? ($USD 79.00 hbk, for 127pgs!)

  2. 2
    mike1962 says:

    ID is perfectly compatible with evolution. By “evolution” I assume he means the Blind Watchmaker Thesis.

  3. 3
    Barb says:

    Rescher isn’t saying anything that Richard Dawkins hasn’t already said about nature giving the appearance of design. However, the argument still doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

  4. 4
    News says:

    UD will surely take $79 seriously.

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    HMMM,,,, talk about the author using a overkill of obfuscation to dance around a simple question.,,, But to cut to the chase that he avoided, the simple question he should ask, instead of trying to explain it away with his much labored rhetoric is, ‘Is the Design we find in nature, and of nature, actually real are is it only illusory?’, And more specifically we want to find out if God is responsible for the ‘real’ design we see or if He is not? To answer that question we first need to see if there is anything within science that would preclude a transcendent Creator from even acting within nature in the first place.,,, Alvin Plantinga does a very good job in this following video of making the case that advancements in quantum mechanics have actually made the case for God periodically acting within nature, for purposes of His own desire, much more compelling than they were in the ‘Newtonian’ past:

    How can an Immaterial God Interact with the Physical Universe? (Alvin Plantinga) – video

    What blows most people away, when they first encounter quantum mechanics, is the quantum foundation of our material reality blatantly defies our concepts of time and space. Most people consider defying time and space to be a ‘miraculous & supernatural’ event. I know I certainly do! There is certainly nothing within quantum mechanics that precludes miracles from being possible:

    The ‘miraculous & supernatural’ foundation for our physical reality can easily be illuminated by the famous ‘double slit’ experiment. (It should be noted the double slit experiment was originally devised, in 1801, by a Christian polymath named Thomas Young):

    Dr. Quantum – Double Slit Experiment & Entanglement – video

    This following site offers a more formal refutation of materialism by quantum mechanics:

    Why Quantum Theory Does Not Support Materialism – By Bruce L Gordon:
    Excerpt: Because quantum theory is thought to provide the bedrock for our scientific understanding of physical reality, it is to this theory that the materialist inevitably appeals in support of his worldview. But having fled to science in search of a safe haven for his doctrines, the materialist instead finds that quantum theory in fact dissolves and defeats his materialist understanding of the world.

    Moreover, related to this question of whether God can act within nature bringing about ‘real design’, instead of merely illusory design that would be the result if God were not real, as atheists resolutely maintain all design we see in the universe and life is, is the fact that advances in modern science have also forced atheists into a very embarrassing position of, very ‘unscientifically’, appealing to, of all things, ‘random miracles’ as a explanatory principle:

    The Absurdity of Inflation, String Theory & The Multiverse – Dr. Bruce Gordon – video

    Dr. Gordon’s last powerpoint of the video is here:

    The End Of Materialism?
    * In the multiverse, anything can happen for no reason at all.
    * In other words, the materialist is forced to believe in random miracles as a explanatory principle.
    * In a Theistic universe, nothing happens without a reason. Miracles are therefore intelligently directed deviations from divinely maintained regularities, and are thus expressions of rational purpose.
    * Scientific materialism is (therefore) epistemically self defeating: it makes scientific rationality impossible.

    Thus the atheist, in his headlong rush to find a avenue of escape to deny the ‘real’ design we find in nature (or perhaps escaping the overbearing God he conceived of in his childhood), ends up, at the end of the day, destroying the very rational basis, within science, that he had put so much faith in so as to relieve himself from the ‘burden’ of his ‘Theistic superstition’;

    “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” – Robert Jastrow

    But of more direct evidence, as to the primary question at hand, advances in quantum mechanics have also actually allowed a very powerful argument for God’s existence to now be formulated from consciousness:

    The argument for God from consciousness can be framed like this:

    1. Consciousness either preceded all of material reality or is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality.
    2. If consciousness is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality then consciousness will be found to have no special position within material reality. Whereas conversely, if consciousness precedes material reality then consciousness will be found to have a special position within material reality.
    3. Consciousness is found to have a special, even central, position within material reality.
    4. Therefore, consciousness is found to precede material reality.

    Notes to that effect:

    Centrality of Each Individual Observer In The Universe and Christ’s Very Credible Reconciliation Of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics
    Excerpt: I find it extremely interesting, and strange, that quantum mechanics tells us that instantaneous quantum wave collapse to its ‘uncertain’ 3-D state is centered on each individual conscious observer in the universe, whereas, 4-D space-time cosmology (General Relativity) tells us each 3-D point in the universe is central to the expansion of the universe. These findings of modern science are pretty much exactly what we would expect to see if this universe were indeed created, and sustained, from a higher dimension by a omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal Being who knows everything that is happening everywhere in the universe at the same time. These findings certainly seem to go to the very heart of the age old question asked of many parents by their children, “How can God hear everybody’s prayers at the same time?”,,, i.e. Why should the expansion of the universe, or the quantum wave collapse of the entire universe, even care that you or I, or anyone else, should exist? Only Theism offers a rational explanation as to why you or I, or anyone else, should have such undeserved significance in such a vast universe:

    Psalm 33:13-15
    The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men. From the place of His dwelling He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth; He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works.

    etc,, etc,, etc,,

    further notes:

    Wave function
    Excerpt “wave functions form an abstract vector space”,,, This vector space is infinite-dimensional, because there is no finite set of functions which can be added together in various combinations to create every possible function.

    Quantum Computing – Stanford Encyclopedia
    Excerpt: Theoretically, a single qubit can store an infinite amount of information, yet when measured (and thus collapsing the Quantum Wave state) it yields only the classical result (0 or 1),,,

    Thus the ‘necessary consciousness’ that is collapsing the wave packet to each central point of unique conscious observation in the universe, is found to be a ‘infinite dimensional consciousness’ which possesses the attribute of control over infinite information, i.e. God!

    verse and music:

    Psalm 115:2-3
    Why should the nations say, “Where, now, is their God?” But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.

    Hillsong (With Michael W. Smith) – Awesome God

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    “Coincidentally’ (or is that serendipitously), Phillip Johnson is talking in this lecture, I’m listening to now, about cutting through the rhetoric in neo-Darwinian ‘explanations’, in order to ask the primary questions that needs to be asked, instead of being sidetracked by their rhetoric:

    Darwinism: Science or Philosophy (1 of 4)

  7. 7

    Ah, yes, the emerging intelligence. In the beginning were the particles, and when the particles accidentally got together they eventually turned into intelligence. I don’t see much new in Rescher’s take here. As others pointed out above, it really boils down to whether the design in nature, which everyone acknowledges, is illusory (as Dawkins argues) or real.

    This, however, is a more interesting logical issue:

    “Intelligent Design Theory, in contrast, assumes an intelligent agent of some sort, perhaps a deity, because it assumes that natural selection cannot produce intelligent agents.”

    Yes, there is an important aspect to what we might call the “negative” case against purely natural causes. Specifically, the fact that purely natural causes have never been shown to produce complex specified information, much less an intelligent agent, is an important factor in weighing the design argument against competing alternatives, such as RM+NS. But Rescher strays from the facts by framing ID, as do so many commentators (perhaps because they have read more anti-ID talking points than actual ID literature?), as only a negative case. It is not. ID also makes a strong positive case, namely that we *know* intelligent agents can produce the kinds of effects in question; further, in our repeated and uniform experience whenever we see the kinds of effects in question and know the causal history, it always points back to an intelligent agent.

  8. 8
    Axel says:

    A very incisive analysis. In any case, there is no way around the requirement for both intelligence and purpose in our definition of the term, ‘design’, whatever the context.

    How is that educated, indeed, highly-accredited people can be infinitely stupid? Well there is an answer to that, and it is that we are constrained to choose our assumptions via our hearts not our heads, because of the abstruse nature of the true imponderables of our human lives and affairs.

    The building of our assumptions is one of the key functions of our existence as moral beings. God chose the poor, and unworldy to be rich in faith, and, as it happens, wisdom.

    Chesterton noted long ago that one of the first effects of atheism is that common sense goes out of the window.

  9. 9
    StephenB says:

    Try this title : Philosopher seeks to subordinate ID to Darwinism in the name of reconciliation. It’s Christian Darwinism in a cheap tuxedo.

    Design, we are told, is a function of history, not architecture, which is just another way of saying that design in an illusion. This is an old error with a new label.

  10. 10
    nullasalus says:

    I admit, I was pretty intrigued by the title of the book – but the review makes it sound dull, amounting to “Why things aren’t really designed.” It even mentions that the book doesn’t deal with any arguments raised by Dembski, Behe or Meyer. So I’d have to wonder why he thought the book was necessary.

    I would have thought the book would at least advance the argument as to why someone should view evolution as itself being a design tool or implementation.

  11. 11
    rhampton7 says:

    What Nicholas Rescher describes is essentially the view held by the Catholic Church.

  12. 12
    StephenB says:

    No, Rescher’s view is NOT the same as the Catholic Church, which absolutely rejects the proposition that immaterial minds and wills could have emerged from matter. According to the Catholic Church, man’s body could have (or may not have) arisn from an bottom-up evolutionary process, but man’s soul (of which the mind and will are faculties [not parts]) was “breathed in” from the top down.

  13. 13
    Joe says:

    “Being intelligently designed no more requires an intelligent designer than being designed awkwardly requires an awkward one. Being intelligently designed is a descriptive feature of the product, not a claim about the producer in the mode of production” (pp. 84-5).

    It is a claim that there was a producer, ie some agency in addition to necessity and chance.

  14. 14
    rhampton7 says:

    A mind can exist without a soul. Dogs and chimps, for example, clearly have enough intelligence and self-awareness to be recognized as having lesser minds and yet neither has a soul. According to Catholic teaching, articulated by Pope John Paul II, the soul – not the mind – requires an “Ontological Leap”.

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