The problem with “Evolution” in Christian Apologetics (Part 2): Intelligent Design

I’ve been a bit.. busy in the last 2 weeks (quietly looking away from “XCOM: Enemy Within” on my desktop).

Intelligent Design has always been a fascinating social phenomenon to observe in the Christian Apologetics circle. For me it is very close cousin of theistic arguments even if they are separated by motivations of doing each: but at the same time, a dangerous distraction.

Let’s start with what Intelligent Design is:

– Discovery Institute defines it as ” (a theory that) holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection”
– popular literature  and articles (e.g. Wikipedia, also e.g. this  ) defines it as “Neo-Creationism”. Usually they (conveniently) leave out what is meant by Creationism, however. And this is why things are ripped for misunderstanding

This is simultaneously problem (1) and (2) with the Intelligent Design movement – branding and popular culture.

(1) Instead of choosing a name that is far less convoluted e.g. Intelligent Agency, they chose one that will easily be confused with the notion of “Intelligently Designed” – which opens it to attack from the problem of pain and problem of evil  (c.g. cancer and sickness, virus, etc). This, in a way, is a 20/20 hindsight situation but the ID/IA movement just does not appear to want to change their mind.

(2) Popular culture – especially one that is defined by wide-spread Post-Modernism and existentialism, works against any sort of effort to discuss or propagate Intelligent Design , however noble it may be:
(a) An Existentialist culture defines who you are not by your essence, but by your existence. Even if an ID proponent believes what he does because of justified true beliefs, the fact that he is an ID proponent means that he exists as a minority. I.e. kooks. I.e non-mainstream opinion. I.e. on the scale of probability he is probably wrong. For example, Guillermo Gonzalez was said to be disqualified as a science educator not on the basis of his essence: his ability, his ability to generate research… but his belief in Intelligent Design defines who he is.

(b) Post-Modernism is broadly the abandonment of Modernist/Enlightenment thinking into the belief that we cannot either know the truth or be certain about truth. This is consequently marked by an abandonment of of search for truth  and instead settling for mere coherence. This in turn creates generations of people who would quote authority to tell them what is coherent in order to move on to.. better things in life. Here’s the thing: truth involves coherence, but coherence does not necessarily entail truth.

(3) On top of these issues, there is the scientific epistemology debate between Popper Falsifiability vs Kuhnian Paradigm shift in determining what is a scientific theory vs what is pseudoscience, and this muddles the rhetorical water big time. My contention is that because neither approach prevails in defining what a scientific theory is, even though ID possess good arguments to legitimately demand an audience the reality is that opponents of ID essentially has a fortress of gelatin: you attack from the perspective of evidence, and you’ll be countered by the claim of “mainstream opinion” of materialistic evolution/Darwinian evolution. You attack it from the perspective of the Darwinian paradigm having too much anomaly from molecular biology and physiology* and therefore some other paradigms outside of Neo-Darwinism ought to be considered in the name of good scientific practice , and someone else will claim ID is a pseudoscience is “unfalsifiable”.

(* – this is to use Michael Denton’s line of reasoning from “Evolution: A theory in criss)

(4) The intentional vagueness in what “Creationism” is makes Intelligent Design rift for misunderstanding and caricature due to its metaphysical implication.

The popular, secular understanding of “Creationist” are people who take literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 7 24-hour day origin of the universe. The Christian, or at least Judeo-Christian understanding, is that a Divine Being/”Logos” created the universe – but digress on whether Genesis actually talks about actual history of the physical world (Concordic view) or it is teaching metaphysical history (Non-Concordic view) . In the Judeo-Christian framework, we start from the metaphysical to the physical i.e. “Top-Down causation” in our understanding. In Intelligent Design, we start from the physical to get to the metaphysical i.e. “Bottom-up causation” in our understanding.

… and therein lies the rub. Because naturalists generally don’t like metaphysics (There isn’t much to talk about if everything is just matter after all) , it is very convenient to group both ID and Creationism together on the basis both deals in metaphysics. And given the nature of culture discussed in (2)(a) and (2)(b), that is usually where naturalists wants to end their note because it just makes it easier rhetorically to attack ID if it is lumped with Young Earth Creationism. YECs, after all, are easy targets when 40 different methods of dating all falsify YEC.

All these create certain interesting situations and implications:

(A) inconsistency and equivocation in handling “coherence” vs “truth” in Evolution/ID discussions.
-This, in a way, takes us to the heart of the scientific realism vs anti-realism debate. Because of Post-Modernism, culture has decided to abandon certainty in knowing truth and would settle for coherence. Now, many people are happy to declare methodological naturalism to be the sole arbiter of the methodology of science because of this – that we are merely seeking coherent explanation that is naturalistic and not necessary knowing “truth” with certainty and naturalistic explanations, by default, just works and therefore we should prefer it. Which is all fine and good… except when, let’s say for example, Young Earth Creationist wanting to hold on to his belief for the very epistemological reason of “preference” jumps into the debate, he gets mocked.

Case in point? Jerry Coyne describing Methodological Naturalism as “method of scientific investigation in practice to studying only naturalistic causes and explanations. “, and obviously a proponent of it as well as naturalism… on his blog called “why evolution is true.” Just because you possess an explanation that is coherent, does not make it true. And when you a priori investigate only natural causes, guess how your coherent theory will end up looking like.

But see: the debate between scientific realism and scientific anti-realism is often the inconvenient truth that most scientists, let alone naturalists, without philosophical training are either uninterested or unqualified to explore. Yet scientists are also often the source of authority and expertise for lay people who depend on other people to tell them what to believe so that they can get on with the “yum-yums” of their lives.

(B) the psuedoscience label is hard to go away.
Is Intelligent Design falsifiable? I believe in the last 20 years or so, the ID movement have developed multiple lines of arguments:

1) Origin of life and the problem of origin of information
2) Cambrian Explosion and the origin of phyla
3) The Privileged Planet hypothesis
4) The Irreducible Complexity arguments (appeal to cilium, flagellum, etc)
5) Fine-tuning argument (though they appeal to it as an aspect of intelligence rather than an aspect of transcendance)
6) The Complex Specified Information detection to mathematically detect design

I am not going to go into whether each arguments have merit: although I think the best arguments for ID is 1,2,3, 5) In principle, just because it is falsifiable should by right earn it a place on the table as a legitimate scientific theory, regardless of whether it is falsified or not- Lamarckianism, for example, is falsified but considered a scientific theory. So is Continental Drift. But yet ID persists in being labeled a pseudoscience – cue scientific epistemology and the problem of the gelatin fortress once more.

(C) Intelligent Design is unviable in a post-Christian culture
Within a Christian framework, because your identity is defined by your essence, and not just your existence, you can freely are free to be either an Intelligent Design proponent, an Evolutionary Creationist  – or even agnostic about the whole issue – and you still have the right to demand the right to be treated with respect.

In Post-Christian West (in the exception of the US – but even the US is quickly heading towards the Post-Christian era due to the lost of The Academy to secularist, c.f. John Mark Reynolds), due to the pervasiveness of existentialism and Post-Modernism in infecting the culture at last, pursuing ID is not even an option on the table. The lines between your intellectual pursuits and your essence as a human being is gone: if you disagree with the culture at large, something is just wrong with you – you’re either dumb or uneducated, etc.

In short: the game against Intelligent Design is hopeless stacked. It is not a horse worth gambling.

Don’t get me wrong – I am definitely sympathetic to Intelligent Design. I think they have good starting arguments (though I do not follow the to-and-fro correspondence in detail). And even if they don’t, they implication of ID in generating research ideas in science has strong potentials especially in the field of application of science/engineering. A few examples of biomimicry:

1) The study of pine-cones allowed us to come out with better weather-resistant clothing: See this.
(I am a soft-shell buff- I have clothing made of eVent, GoreTex and NexTec Epic. Beats the hell out of the Plastic raincoats I used to wear!)

2) Development of cheap UAVs:

3) Arrangement of solar cells in solar panels seen in sunflowers:

4) Non-stick coating that is probably more environmentally-friendly than teflon, and many others examples:

There is no good argument why naturalistic processes could, given chance and enough time, can produce a multi-layered system relying on two or more sub-system parts (something like the flagellum has 30) that can function – let alone being made efficient through natural selection. So while ID does not automatically mean “best design”, it does mean if the natural world on Earth have features of intelligence agency, this agent will almost certainly have far more experience in design than we do – which makes exploring real-life design problems in biological science a worthwhile effort.

But would I call myself an Intelligent Design supporter though? To be honest, if I have to choose between being called stupid for following Jesus Christ and being called stupid for thinking that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than undirected, chance processes… I rather choose Christ. And unfortunately, in the Post-Christian world, this is often the circumstance we’ll find ourselves in. As Chad Bukowski would say” If you’re going to try, go all the way… It is the only good fight there is.”. Not only clearing out the  presuppositional issues are a lot more simpler if you focus on the Cross, but it takes any conversation far closer to answering the question “What does it mean to be human.” than ID ever would.

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