Intelligent Design


God of GapsI’ve noticed that many nonbelievers (and even believers) misunderstand what constitutes a “God of the gaps” argument.  They tend to think one is guilty of a God of the gaps argument if they offer God as an explanation for some X rather than some natural phenomenon.  The problem with this definition is that it presumes the only valid explanation is a naturalistic explanation.  God is ruled out as a valid explanation for anything a priori, so anyone who offers God as an explanation for X is thought to do so merely because they are ignorant of the proper naturalistic explanation.  This begs the question in favor of naturalism and against theism.  One could only conclude that every effect has a naturalistic explanation, and that God is not a valid explanation, if one has first demonstrated that God does not exist.  So long as it is even possible that God exists, then it is possible that God may be the cause of X, and thus explain X.

What makes an argument a God of the gaps type of argument is when God is invoked to explain X simply because we do not know what else can explain X.  In other words, God is used to plug a gap in our knowledge of naturalistic explanations: “I don’t know how to explain X, so God must have done X.”  This is not at all the same as arguing that God is the best explanation of X, based on what we know regarding X and the explanatory options available to us.  Here, God is being invoked to explain what we know, not what we don’t know.

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Not scienceMany believe science has disproven God.  This is not possible, even in principle.[1]  The truth of the matter is that advances in science are providing more reasons to believe in God, not less.  While scientific discoveries cannot prove God’s existence, they can be used to support premises in arguments that have theistic conclusions/implications. For example, science has discovered that the universe began to exist.  Anything that begins to exist requires an external cause.  Since the universe encompasses all physical reality, the cause of the universe must transcend physical reality.  It cannot be a prior physical event or some natural law, because there was nothing physical prior to the first physical event, and natural laws only come into being once the natural world comes into being.  Whatever caused the universe to come into being must be transcendent, powerful, immaterial, spaceless, eternal, and personal, which is an apt description of God.

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There are many illegitimate critiques of Intelligent Design (the hypothesis that some features of the world are best explained in terms of an intelligent cause rather than undirected natural processes).  One example is the charge often leveled against ID that it improperly uses probability statistics to infer design. For example, in a BBC documentary titled The War on Science, Ken Miller accused IDers of making the mistake of calculating probabilities after-the-fact, making the unlikely seem impossible:

One of the mathematical tricks employed by intelligent design involves taking the present day situation and calculating probabilities that the present would have appeared randomly from events in the past. And the best example I can give is to sit down with four friends, shuffle a deck of 52 cards, and deal them out and keep an exact record of the order in which the cards were dealt. We can then look back and say ‘my goodness, how improbable this is. We can play cards for the rest of our lives and we would never ever deal the cards out in this exact same fashion.’ You know what; that’s absolutely correct. Nonetheless, you dealt them out and nonetheless you got the hand that you did.

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The Best Schools interviewed leading Intelligent Design theorist, Bill Dembski.  At one point he was asked, “You have stated that ‘design theorists oppose Darwinian theory on strictly scientific grounds.’ But then why is the ID movement so heavily populated with religious believers? Could we not expect more of the scientific community to support ID if your statement were true? Why do the majority of the world’s leading scientific bodies oppose ID and claim that it does not qualify as science?”

This is a valid question, and I’m sure it is on the minds of many people who are interested in the debate.  I like Dembski’s answer:

As for why religious believers tend to be associated with design, I could turn the question around. If Darwinian evolution is strictly scientific, then why is that field so heavily populated with atheists? In one survey of around 150 prominent evolutionary biologists, only two were religious believers (as I recall, Will Provine was behind this survey). I see a scientific core to both intelligent design and Darwinian evolution. And I see no merit in questioning their scientific status by the company they keep. The character of the proposals that both approaches make is what really ought to count.

 

HT: Uncommon Descent

Scientists working in origin of life research are fairly candid that they do not know how life originated, but they are quick to point out that they are making progress and that science will eventually be able to provide an answer to this question.  I have always found this sort of faith in science a bit intriguing.  It is just assumed that there must be a naturalistic cause/explanation for the origin of life, and that we will eventually be able to discover it.  But why should we think this to be true?  Given what needs to be explained (the origin of biological information), and given our understanding of the causal powers of naturalistic processes, the origin of life does not appear to be the kind of thing for which natural causes are adequate to explain it even in principle (See 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9).

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Theists argue that the fine-tuning of the physical constants of the universe provide evidence that the universe is designed.  For example, if gravitational force was 1/100,000,000,000,000th (1/100 trillionth) degree stronger the universe would not have expanded to form the terrestrial bodies.  If the force was 1/100,000,000,000,000th degree weaker the universe would expand at rate too fast for matter to coalesce into terrestrial bodies.  The ratio of electrons to protons is fine-tuned to 1 part in 1037, meaning if the ratio was altered by just 1 part in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000 complex life would not be possible.

To give you a sense of the specificity involved, Hugh Ross asks us to imagine covering the entire North American continent with dimes, all the way up to the moon (239,000 miles high).  Do the same thing on 1,000,000,000 other continents of identical size, “[p]aint one dime red and mix it into the billion of piles of dimes.  Blindfold a friend and ask him to pick out one dime.  The odds that he will pick the red dime are one in 1037.”[1]

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As someone who supports Intelligent Design theory, I have often been puzzled by the many Catholic thinkers who do not.  The scientific basis for ID is strong, and ID is just as friendly to their theism as it is friendly to mine, so why do so many Catholic scholars reject ID, or at least have such strong reservations against it?  A recent essay by Edward Feser in Philosophia Christi[1] has enlightened me regarding the main source of contention between Catholic theology and ID theory, and it boils down to Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and final causation.

Feser explains that Thomists (those who follow the theological system of Thomas Aquinas, who followed the philosophy of Aristotle) believe teleology inheres within all substances (final cause) and is evident to rational minds, whereas ID theorists believe teleology must be imposed on substances from an external source (no final cause), and can only be detected empirically through various probability assessments (not evident).

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