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Why I Believe in a Designer but Don’t Accept Intelligence Design

Pocket watch, savonette-type.
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This was triggered by Ed Brayton’s answers to the short ID quiz, and particularly by the first question.

1. On a scale of 0 (diehard disbeliever) to 10 (firm believer), how would you rate your level of belief in Intelligent Design? (Minimal Definition of Intelligent Design: The idea that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, and not by an undirected process.)

I agree with Ed that this definition isn’t terribly accurate for what is actually presented as intelligent design. I’m regularly told that I must not substitute “God” for “intelligent designer” and that it might, for example, be intelligent aliens who interfered with the process of evolution in order to produce the results we actually have. Design by an intelligent alien would only push the process off into the distance, not solve it.

But it is hard to regard something as a serious theory where a single part can be filled by either God or by a super intelligent alien. Yet for various reasons (PR and politics, in my opinion), ID advocates don’t want to just say God.

On the other hand, if you say God is the designer, then you can quite justifiably call ID a God-in-the-gaps argument. Where we have no known path of evolutionary development, or better, where we believe there can be no such path—always based, as it must be, on current knowledge—then we suppose the involvement of a designer.

Such an argument is subject to tomorrow’s knowledge, and indeed new gaps have been filled. Behe‘s “black boxes” don’t always remain black boxes.

But for me, the main issue is simply that I do see  the universe as designed, and I do so for religious reasons. I do not think the natural laws as we see them exist independently, even for a moment. May problem with Paley’s watch is not that I don’t think it’s designed, but that I think the grains of sand around it are also designed.

God, who created the universe, is quite capable of creating either finished creatures or the processes by which they would come into being, and I don’t see any portion as less (or more) the product of design than any other. At most, ID could produce evidence that God’s process was insufficient to its purpose and required interference.


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One Comment

  1. I beg to differ, on several points.

    1. ID isn’t necessarily a God-of-the-gaps explanation. One version of ID is the claim that it couldn’t happen with natural causes, and thus God is necessary to explain its very possibility. But the more common version is that it’s unlikely without guidance from a designer, and thus we ought to accept such a designer. The latter view is compatible with thinking that the causal processes could have produced the result in question, as long as it an unlikely-enough result to make belief in a designer (and thus belief in God) more probable.

    2. I don’t think it’s politics or PR that leads the ID movement to offer a more modest conclusion than you want them to. I think it’s simple intellectual honesty. The argument shows design, but it shows no more. Cosmological arguments show a necessary being, but they show no more. Moral arguments (at least some versions) show a divine lawgiver but show no more (e.g. they don’t show an omnipresent or foreknowing being). A cumulative case argument might put all these arguments together to show that some being with many of the traditional attributes of God is much more plausible than you might otherwise think, assuming there’s some plausibility to all the arguments, but it’s simply intellectually dishonest to think any of these arguments, even if they are good arguments, could show the God of the Bible to be real. The ID movement realizes that. Their critics don’t always seem to. (Or, rather, if I chose to be as uncharitable to them as they are to the ID movement, I could think that they pretend not to, because it gives them more ammunition to pretend the ID movement is purely politically-motivated rather than intellectually-motivated.)

    3. Behe thinks a lot of the so-called disproofs of his so-called gaps are not explanations of the sort he’s looking for. They tend to be “how” explanations, which would disprove a genuine God-of-the-gaps argument. But they don’t show how the various items would be likely to form a structure together, which is the kind of argument Behe gives. The fact that ID opponents misrepresent his argument on this score makes it unsurprising that they think these cases show his argument to be wrong, when they don’t actually do so, because they’re directed toward an argument that simply isn’t the one he’s giving. There might be cases that aren’t of that sort, but a number of them are. There was very good discussion of this in the Blogginheads TV episode Behe did with John McWhorter (who is an atheist but who recognizes that Behe’s questions are much more legitimate than the anti-ID crowd recognizes, and he sees the distinction between the arguments they attribute to Behe and the actual arguments Behe gives; would that the rest of the anti-ID critics could figure out that difference).

    4. The ID people don’t think certain aspects of creation or more or less designed than others. Their thesis isn’t about what is and isn’t designed. It’s about what appearances of design make it more plausible to believe in a designer. They think certain kinds of appearances of design (not all) increase the likelihood that the world was designed as a whole. So I’m not sure your last criticism is fair.

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