Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Why ID advocates need proof of a Designer

In my recent discussions with JoeG at the self-styled Intelligent Reasoning, one of the topics that arose was that design is offered the default status in Dembski's Explanatory Filter. You supposedly rule out necessity at the first step, and chance at the next two, and are left with design at the end. This is also true of Dembski's Complex Specified Information formulation and of Behe's Irreducible Complexity. By claiming they can defeat the argument that certain types of objects can not arise through chance alone, they then present you with their only alternative: some outside-the-process designer who deliberately sought to create life as we have it, apparently with special care given to clotting cascades and bacterial mobility. In the course of the aforementioned discussions, I pointed out that there are two other alternatives beside the Designer and no design. JoeG, with the usual deftness of ID advocates, disputed that these were alternatives, and in the process created two I had not even considered, helping to defeat his own position. While I have seen reference to other possibilities existing, I don't recall reading a listing of them, so I thought I would provide one. Let's say that at some point in the future ID proponents succeed in their efforts at convincing us that necessity and chance can provide no sufficient explanation for life. For any program to prove a Designer exists, all of the options below will need to be disproved as well.

Suggestions from the commentators are welcome and may be added. In fact, I may make this my other annual re-post. Details below the fold.

The first option I proposed is life as a by product of some other intention by an outside agent. Life on earth might be a spandrel, something that happened when the Agent was in the process of organizing some other thing. This allows for all sorts of possibilities in the history of life, including the sudden appearance of features of organisms, or even entire organisms, not because the Agent cares about or even notices life here, but as a side-effect of some other intended cause. Any functions we perceive in biological systems would be reflections of the real design, unheard echos.

The next option I proposed was the interior designer, life having a gradually emergent consciousness that began to direct its own activities. The geek in me would call it the Force. As life grows, it begins to direct and design itself, shaping itself into greater levels of complexity, sacrificing some of its own forms in favor of other forms, weathering mass extinctions with determination and ferocity. Life would add it's own functions, choosing to make sure the bacteria got its flagellum, leaving all the hallmarks of design and purpose directly but having no outside designer they are attached to. It's very New Agey.

While disputing my first option, JoeG suggested the outside agent who doesn't even care what he's doing as an attempt at rebuttal, creating a third option: the random outside agent. ID proponents are fond of the tornado-in-a-junkyard argument, the equivalent metaphor here might be a sledgehammer-in-a-junkyard. Of course, the key difference is that the sledgehammer still has to be swung by some person. This is an outside agent that would leave traces that looked like they might design all over the places (the marks from the hammer), but involve no actual design intention on the part of the agent. So, merely detecting signs of design is not proof of design.

Finally, while discussing my second option, JoeG derisively referred to it as "poof". I thought about it, and decided that Poof is a poor description of that option, but an interesting alternative to it. One variation would be a sudden, persistent appearance of a consciousness for life, but an even more interesting variation is a consciousness life creates that appears only when it is needed to direct or preserve something about life, or life itself. Poof awakens when an asteroid hits the planet, or the global temperatures get too warm or too cold, etc. Poof then gets to work in changing the living things that remain, adding a flagellum her or altering a blood cascade there, to make sure life goes on as it should (or at all), and then disappears, ready to be summoned again at need.

So, even if the ID proponents somehow manage to topple the possibility of chance and necessity being sufficient, they have a long way to go to get to their Designer. I doubt I have exhausted the possibilities, either. If you want to say there is a Designer, you need proof of a Designer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I figure it's like this here, eh? We gotz scientists in labs messin with the DNA of fruit flies, and all kinda other animals, just to see what happens. Thang is, we all kinda backwards, but....

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, on the planet Krypton, where the kindergartens make Harvard look like a school for kids who ride the short bus, there were a couple of aspiring PhD candidates. They cooked up a few genetic brews and teleported them to earth as part of a research project, and they been checkin in, tinkerin, ever sense. The life-span there is virtually infinite, and these guys are about to get their PhD's in recognition of their innovative and successful experimentation here on earth. Because of their success, a couple of copycats from their university started messin round in Roswell, N.M., a few years back and they've got big plans for the future, too.

It could happen, eh?