Designer or No Designer? Or Why I Will Not Accept ID
You could call this discussion a 'back to basics' one…if we strip the evolution-ID debate of all the details, then we are ultimately left with one basic question: was there a designer/were there designers involved in the evolutionary process (I don't think there is a debate whether evolution did actually occur, it is about whether the evolutionary mechanisms involved are sufficient to account for the entire process, as we know it), whether from scratch, sometime in between, or even at present. Let's leave the nature of the 'designers' aside for a minute: what needs to be considered here is that they were 'intelligent' and they 'consciously' made actions that resulted in these processes (I am using 'intelligence' and 'consciously' as terms that we generally accept). The other option obviously would be whether the myriad of biological mechanisms observed are capable, by themselves, for resulting in a process that ultimately resulted in the diversity of life forms present today.
Of course, the notion that we were 'designed' in that sense is nothing new. After all, folklore in most cultures was that humans were created by God/s in some way or the other. That was the generally accepted worldview, which continues even to this day. For many people, the thought that the complexity of the biological world, with its interconnections can never be accounted for by the so-called 'blind' or 'unintelligent' natural processes. Darwin's ideas were thus revolutionary in the sense that he made observations that showed a chain of events that linked different species over time. He had no understanding of genetics, which would later show how much genetic material we share, in spite of morphological differences with other animals. Over a hundred years down the line, his ideas persist, and are still as controversial as the day they were born.
That the scientific theory of evolution is 'godless' and 'morally unacceptable' is a commonly held notion from Darwin's days. I personally think that most people, who argue for the 'designers' to be present, are bound by this conviction, and are not genuinely trying to advance scientific understanding. Such people try to put up a scientific façade for their 'designer' argument, and this is extremely dishonest. These include the majority of the DI stable. I think the people who genuinely try and make scientific arguments (by scientific, I mean testable hypotheses) are far and few, and they realize that they can never win the argument when it comes to who or what the designer was. After all, how many ID'ers sincerely argue the option that the designer would have been an advanced race of aliens? The oft asked question is that why does the designer have to be a Christian god? Why not others? (I see religion as a social construction and since this is not a debate about religion, so I will leave at these comments) It is an open secret that many of the people in the ID movement carry a negative assumption about evolutionary theory because it stands at odds with their religious beliefs. Thus they try to prove it wrong in many ways: whether through outright denial or through more nuanced arguments, where they try to flesh out the cracks. (The 'god of the gaps' argument). Unfortunately, religion and science do cross paths when people feel that the beliefs espoused by either of the two are at odds with each other. It is easy to say that they should be kept separate, but is more difficult in practice.
For these people, problems in the understanding of the evolutionary theory are seized upon as the evidence for an ID 'theory'. This is the reason why, I would never accept Behe's arguments for ID. Using the example of a bacterial flagellum as an example is a wonderful case of intellectual laziness. If our current level of knowledge is insufficient to definitively account for all the aspects surrounding its evolution, would we rather try and find other possible natural mechanisms, or just assume that they are designed?
On the other hand, if we were designed, how would we know? In my opinion, and in this particular case -- not until the designers explicitly reveal themselves to us. We can argue all we want (in the current situation) that X is the sign of the designer or that Y shows proof of a designer, but then none of these can scientifically hold water. I am confident that our understanding of these gaps will continue to improve. I make this argument without the assumption that science can take a know-it-all attitude, or that science can make decisions about the moral implications of certain findings. Contrary to this, I think people need to make informed judgments about the moral and ethical consequences. And these need not come from religion. People can see an image of Jesus wherever they want to, but are these definitive proofs that he is giving us a sign?
I think we are scratching the surface of our understanding as how life has evolved on this planet. I also think knowledge is slowly converging from various disciplines. Take Stephen Wolfram, for example. Although I am not fond of quoting him, he hammers home a single important point in his book A New Kind of Science: complexity can arise from the use of very simple rules. This is overwhelmingly seen in computer simulations (interestingly Wolfram emphasizes that the diversity of species we see today can be better explained by self-organizing processes rather than natural selection, however, he is trained as a physicist and not a biologist. Personally, I think self-organization has a much larger role to play in evolutionary biology, and we are only beginning to discover this). One can use this model to see, for example, how complex biological structures may 'emerge', without being entirely 'programmed' (for the lack of a better word). I think that there are many mysteries in the evolutionary process, and they will not be solved for a long time to come. To embrace ID would be to underscore our weaknesses in accepting the evolutionary challenge.
Friday, July 28, 2006
Designer or No Designer? Or Why I Will Not Accept ID