Daily Archives: December 8, 2006

What’s the "Process" in Intelligent Design?

Inquisitive Brain has left the following comment on my previous blog on Intelligent Design.

As far as the issue of the intersection of ID and Catholicism, all of your comments so far seem to be an extremely well formulated red herring. If you are simply trying to “strike a pose” by making some interesting theological and philosophical points, and simultaneously lashing out at the most convenient target with epithets about Bugs Bunny and Albuquerque, that’s one thing. But if you seriously want to show that ID is a strategic wrong turn, you’re going to have to say why. Pointing out that evolution is compatible with Catholicism does not show that ID is a wrong turn. I am an ID evolutionist, and I think evolution happened. But there is not a shred of evidence that life came about by purely material processes, while there are truckloads of observable physical evidence that it came about by an intelligent cause.

How do your blogposts help one to deliberate whether ID is a strategic wrong turn or a right turn? Based on what you have said so far, it sounds like the talk you heard transgressed the philosophical minimalism of ID. I would submit to you that the talk you heard on ID was a strategic wrong turn about evolution and ID, not that ID is a strategic wrong turn.

If you are agreeable, I would be willing to present at your blog why I think that ID is a right turn. It would be free content to add to your site, and you will get to hear the views of someone who is an enigma in this topic: a Catholic-biotech-ID-evolutionist.

One thing that I am very glad to note is that Inq Brain is a biotechnologist–which means that he has a scientific expertise in this area which I don’t. I respect any scientist who says that they have problems with evolution on scientific grounds. That’s the sort of thing I expect scientists to argue about. That’s doing their job.

I spent a lot of time last weekend in deep meditation on the ID issue. And I realised that there is one area which is given insufficient attention among “trademark” (as opposed to classical) Intelligent Design proponents: the matter of process.

Let us say that the ID guys are right, and the flagellum of their example bacteria is truly an “irreducable complexity” such that it could not have evolved. So, we conclude, there must be an intelligent cause for it–it must have been “designed”. But that still doesn’t answer the problem of process. If I set out to make something, I would not only have to design it, I would then have to follow some process by which I put the mechanism together. This process would be “purely material” in the outward description of how I did it. [Please note, that I deeply detest the mechanistic approach to biological life–I think this is another “wrong turn” in the debate. Living beings are not “constructed” like a machine, but “develop”. This lies at the heart of the understanding of the status of the human embryo as well, but that’s for another blog].

[Addendum: I’ve just thought of a better non-mechanical design example: Last week I was at a relative’s home. They have a puppy daschund–the classic “sausage dog”. Such an animal is so obviously ill suited for “survival of the fittest” that one must conclude that it has been “designed”. And indeed it has, as we know. However, the process of the development of the daschund is completely causally explainable in terms of genetic mutation (Short-legged Dog mated with Long-tummy Dog etc. to get Sausage Dog) without reference to the intelligent designer–undeniably planned and guided though it is. The Intelligent Designer (aka the Breeder) set up the circumstances neccesary for the development of the Daschund by introducing its short-legged forebear to its long-legged forebear, but the process is “purely material” and in line with “natural” biological development.]

So, if we grant that the ID guys are right, and the bacteria’s flagellum cannot be explained by the theory of evolution (ie. it could not have developed by random causation), and if we grant (as indeed, I grant of all that exists) that it was “intelligently designed”, scientifically we still have to account for “how” (ie. by what process) it came about. It seems to me that (trademark) ID is suggesting that the only way the bacteria could have come into existence in exactly this design is by a direct intervention by God–ie. a “miracle”. Yesterday it didn’t exist in any form at all, today it exists in exactly this “irreducably complex” form.

A “miracle” of this sort (the “finger-snapping” type) is to be distinguished from “every day miracles”. The glass of wine that I am currently drinking has quite clearly been “designed”. The “everyday miracle” of turning water in wine is that by which rain fell on some nice part of the Barossa Valley, was soaked up by the vines, warmed by the sunshine, filled the grapes to bursting with juices and sugar, was then harvested and fermented and bottled and aged to produce what I am currently guzzling. This is a different process entirely from that which Jesus employed at the Wedding of Cana. Are the ID guys suggesting that, if a life form could not have developed by some process such as evolution, the only other explanation is a direct, interventionist miracle from God? If they are not, then in what way does suggesting an Intelligent Designer get them around the problem of still having to explain how a particular form of life developed? What was the process employed by the Intelligent Designer?

And would not any process for the development of life be capable of being described in scientific terms without reference to the Designer? Would it not still in some sense have to be a “purely material process”, even if it were the result of Divine design? Which surely puts us back in square one.

And now I invite Inqisitive Brain to respond with his defence of ID and why he sees it as a “right turn”.


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