Saturday, April 08, 2006

Intelligent designer vs. intelligent artist

I've been hearing a lot of I.D. knocking. Not just by the PSU newspaper but also by professors and lab workers that I have a lot of respect for. The most common argument I hear against intelligent design, more or less resembles the following:

"What kind of moron creator would make a penguin. I mean they're stupid, flightless, have a high mortality rate, and a beer-belly. Talk about a poster child for evolution..."

I hear many of these examples of "bad designs" in nature. Ok folks. I earn my bread designing. That is what I do: I design codes, I design circuits, I design machines. Firsthand I know that whether a design is "good" or "bad" doesn't depend on the thing itself, but how well it fulfills the purpose for which it was created. If an engineer designs a great microphone preamp, but Joe Shmoe walks by and says "gosh, what kind of idiot would have made an amplifier that can't drive my home-stereo" then who is the dumb one? Again, suppose an archaeologist 300 years in the future digs up a fork and says "what kind of lame designer would make a comb shaped like this" then who is the dumb one?

The assumption that the designer must have been unintelligent because the design doesn't meet your criteria is arrogant, just like Joe Schmoe or the archaeologist. The common assumption that people make when evaluating the "successfulness" of a natural design is performance -how well does the animal survive. If survival of the fittest is your design criteria, then probably many species would flunk (penguin possibly being one).

But to assume the designer had survival of the fittest in mind when designing is a tuh-RAG-ic error. If God had the aesthetic mind-set we ascribe to him when evaluating his creation, this would be a bleak planet indeed. Can you imagine a planet in which everything was designed for maximum performance?? If not, imagine if WE had this mindset. We would all be eating health pellets inside grey perfectly cubicle, un-ornamented steel reinforced, styrofoam insulated houses, and as we drive to work in the morning we would pass the "aged and malfunctioning unit" disposal plants.

But fortunately my God is an artist that makes amazingly gorgeous animals like leopards, funny animals like penguins, strange animals like naked mole rats, and wisely made the fruit-fly 90% inefficient.


Blogger thebeloved said...

Ahh... neato!

5:15 PM  
Blogger tmm said...

Thanks Colleen, I wonder if I was a little too irritated when I wrote this but I think the reason still stands

12:03 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

My problem with intelligent design is that is isn't science. Science attempts to explain things, and ID folks are, in essence, throwing up their hands and saying "you can't explain this." ID is just faith masquerading as science.

Now that you are sharpening your rhetorical sword, let me follow by saying I think descent from a common ancestor evolution is bad science as well. It is an untestable hypothesis, just as is ID, and is just as much an article of faith.

I shouldn't even be posting this though, since it's an old post, and that's probably bad form (I don't know, I'm new to blogging) and secondarily, because I've noticed that no-one changes their mind on this topic, so debate is pretty pointless.

By the way, I like your blog. And acoustics rocks.

8:51 PM  
Blogger tmm said...

Hi Nathan, thank you for posting. The charge that "ID is not science" happens to be the second most popular charge I hear leveled at ID.

But for the life of me, I can't figure out why this is such a problem. If I'm working for the government as a reverse engineering scientist, and I am reverse engineering a mysterious black box with amazing powers, am I less of a scientist if I assume someone made the thing?

No, that would be both ludicrous and counter-productive. Ludicrous is self evident, counter-productive because you would assume there is no purpose. An ID theorist is someone who looks at Biology the same way as the reverse engineer looks at the black box. They look at biology and say "that looks like it was designed." Why is one person accused of being "against science" while the other is not?

The real problem is that the biological community doesn't want to suspend a particular assumption: that everything has a natural explanation. The fervor with which I have seen this assumption upheld exceeds that of many religeous zealots. It almost makes me wonder if the only reason they believe it is because they are afraid of the implications if they are wrong. But is there even a good, reason for this assumption?

I have heard one: that to assume otherwise would be un-profitable, and that if we throw our hands up in the air every time we come across a seemingly unsolvable problem, then our breadth of knowledge won't increase.

Ok, this is true to a point. If scientists said "darn it, we can't figure out how gravity works so we'll just say invisible faeries are pulling us down" we wouldn't get far. But going back to the reverse engineer analogy, is someone who says "this black box was designed" doing this? Obviously not. So why are the ID theorists accused of this? ID theorists arn't throwing their hands up. They are merely saying, like the reasonable reverse engineer, that time spent figuring out how the black box made itself is wasted time because it is based on stupid assumption. Time spent actually figuring out how the black box (or the cell) works is much more valuable.

5:14 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

I'll also agree that time spent figuring out how the box works is valuable. In fact, I would argue that it is infinitely more valuable than trying desperately to come up with an evolutionary explanation for the production of its contents. After all, knowing the components of the clotting cascade (to use Behe's example) it useful almost every day in my job. If (for argument's sake) I know that factor VIII first appeared in some primitive bonobo 100 million years ago, it doesn't help Johnny in my office who has just been diagnosed with hemophilia A.

Working out the function is science, and we're on the same page there.

Also, I agree that the driving force behind modern evolutionary science is a deep-seated conviction that naturalistic philosophy is absolutely true. But it is better science. (not great, but better) Evolutionists like Richard Dawkins and his intellectual progeny argue from observations backwards. Lacking any religious convictions, they trust their senses, and assume things we see on a small scale today (development of antibiotic resistance, variation in finch beaks, etc.) account for the large scale variation we see in the world.

ID unfortunately has a fundamental problem: they are approching from the other end. ID guys assume there is a creator and look for evidence of him/her/it. They insist this isn't the case, but the only defense they have of their actions if they truly aren't arguing from a first cause is intellectual laziness, a refusal to probe that black box on the empiricist terms set by modern science.

The difference between the two, and why ID will never win the debate, is that naturalists don't assume anything more than observation as a basis for their proposals. They may be wrong in their assumption, but they are based in a simplistic, empirical worldview. ID-ers must assume something outside the test tube, and in so doing, they make pure scientists nervous.

Oddly, perhaps, I am much more in the ID camp than the naturalist camp, but that stems from my religious convictions. I just am willing to admit that.

The key that the ID camp is missing is that they are attempting to win a debate on empiricist grounds, using rules defined by empiricists. What they ought to be doing, and what people like Philip Johnson do well, is attack that empiricist mindset, show the logical inconsistency of the rules as they exist. They can't win by saying it is science. What they can do is say that our perception of what science is must change.

8:47 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

Btw, thanks for the response, and for visiting my blog.

11:55 AM  

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