A noisy battle has been raging for years between two groups of thinkers, mostly in America but scattered through Europe and elsewhere besides. One group is made up of those who insist that everything we see—“Life, the Universe, and Everything” as Douglas Adams put it—can be explained through entirely unguided natural processes. They would typically say that although science hasn’t explained everything yet, just give it time and all the major questions will be answered. There’s a smaller group who are convinced those unguided natural processes couldn’t have produced the world we live in, that there’s more to it than that, and that science has limits.
The second group calls its way of thinking “Intelligent Design” or “ID” for short. The first group often gets tagged with the name “evolutionists,” but the debate goes beyond the origins of new species (which is what evolution is about) to the origin of the very first life, and even the origins of the universe. Because this group says everything happens just through natural processes only, it’s more accurate to call them “naturalists.”
I’m a proponent of Intelligent Design and I’ve been in the battle. I’ve noticed that the naturalists’ objections to ID are often quite emotional. There’s anger and there’s name calling: “IDiots” and “Creatards,” for example. ID often gets confused with creationism, a related but distinct view of origins; the biggest distinction is that it doesn’t start with the Bible but with nature as a primary data source, and since that’s where it draws its information from, it can’t be as specific about its conclusions. It stops at the point of inferring “intelligence,” not defining what that intelligence must be.
The name-calling isn’t pretty, but it gives you some sense of how they feel about it. When there’s that much emotion around an issue it’s often hard to step into the other person’s shoes and get a sense not just of what they’re thinking but even what they’re feeling. But I had a powerful “aha moment” one night a while ago, in which I believe I actually felt the revulsion many ID opponents have toward Intelligent Design. I was reading Thomas Woodward’s Darwin Strikes Back
. Woodward is an ID supporter, and this was the second of two books he has written on the history of the Intelligent Design movement. He’s certainly not to blame for any bad feelings I felt; I think it was instead a kind of gifting moment, through which I was able to take on the other side’s perspective and gain new insight.
The passage I was reading was about the Cambrian Explosion. This was a period about 530 million years ago during which (according to the fossil record) many thousands of new species suddenly appeared in a very short period of geological time. ID proponents point to it as being problematic for evolution, because evolution is a theory of very slow and gradual change, whereas the Cambrian Explosion was (in geological terms) extremely sudden. Woodward writes,
The name ‘explosion’ is used widely in the literature of professional paleontology in describing this dramatic fossil debut…. where we find not just gaps between slightly different forms but fossil chasms between different phyla that abruptly appear in the rocks…. The Cambrian gaps are persisting [in spite of new fossil finds]; with a defiance and stubbornness that is now legendary. What’s worse, those chasms are not just enduring; they are steadily increasing in number through discoveries of new bizarre creatures… in recent decades.
As I said, ID theorists point to the Cambrian explosion as evidence that gradualistic evolution does not explain the fossil record. Now, this was not new information to me, but it somehow struck me this time just how this must appear to some people. Here we have something like 200,000 species among the fossils, most of which arrived suddenly 530 million years ago and are now gone. ID implies that each one of them, or at least each group or “kind,” required a special intervention to appear as a new species. What kind of an intelligence would do that? Why would this intelligence build toward these new species with a series of simpler forms, most of which are also gone now? Why would this intelligence create a dinosaur world that’s now been wiped away? I believe I have a sense now (though I still don’t agree, as I’ll explain later) of what some people say when they consider this intelligence to be some kind of fictional bumbler mucking about in the world, creating in fits and starts, and not getting it right for the longest time. It’s so much more pleasing–especially to our Western consciousness–to think of things coming and going through time in a natural way.
What kind of intelligence would do that, indeed? Intelligent Design theorists say they are making an inference to the best explanation: that we can draw a valid analogy from our everyday experience, which shows us that information and design always originate from intelligence, to some kind of intelligence behind the natural order. But why stop there? I wonder if it’s really possible to do as ID theorists do, which is to start from the natural evidence, and reason from there to bare intelligence. I don’t think it’s wrong–in fact, it’s correct in a very powerful way. I’ll come back to that in a moment. For now, though, I’m suggesting that we shouldn’t stop there. Why just just reason to intelligence? Ought we not also reason to mystery? For if there is something analogous to human intelligence there, there is also something about it that is very hard to understand. It’s a theory of Mysterious Intelligence.
Then, as we continue to puzzle over why this intelligence would develop all those thousands of creatures, there seems to be another important analogy we could safely draw. When we see new people building things for no apparent practical purpose, it’s usually the result of some creative impulse. Art doesn’t have to have a purpose, other than to delight the beholder. In the case of natural history, if the creative impulse is part of the explanation, it seems both playful and wasteful at the same time, or (to put it in a single word) profligate. This mysterious, creative intelligence has resources to spare, and no compunction about using them. Our thoughts seem to be leading us to a richer theory than simple ID; it’s a theory of Mysterious, Profligately Creative Intelligence.
But not just that. This intelligence seems likely not to be part of the natural world, but something from outside that intervenes here. The world of the Cambrian explosion was, apparently, stepped into frequently from outside. It’s haunted by this other-worldly intelligence. Otherwise, how would these 200,000 or so new species have arisen? So we seem to be moving toward a theory of Mysterious, Profligately Creative, Highly Involved Outsider Intelligence.
And we might as well recognize that just about every ID theorist speaks of purpose, and great power is assumed; so we’re talking about a Purposeful, Powerful, Mysterious, Profligately Creative, Highly Involved Outsider Intelligence
This is anathema to modern man. A Purposeful, Powerful, Mysterious, Profligately Creative, Highly Involved Intelligent Outsider does not belong in our mindset. No wonder ID draws so much fire! Every modern person—you and me included—is a naturalist to some extent. Even we who believe in God are so highly influenced by the scientific mindset, it’s hard to shake free of it for even a moment. African or Pacific Island tribes may see spirits in every tree and rock, but we see atoms and molecules and energy, and we know how they interact. We know what’s really going on, and it’s not spooks.
This is the problem with Intelligent Design. ID’s opponents keep pushing proponents to name the intelligence we’re talking about. We’re shy to do that from the scientific perspective, but this Mysterious Creative Outsider haunts every mention of ID. Objections to this kind of Intelligence seem to be mostly emotional or aesthetic: we dare not countenance such a possibility because it just doesn’t fit the way we have thought the world is, and we don’t like it. There are less emotional arguments along those lines too, but they’re nothing new, nothing that ID hasn’t already dealt with from the philosophical side of its efforts. But this exposes more clearly what ID is about. It’s not about bare intelligence: it’s about Purposeful, Powerful, Mysterious, Profligately Creative, Highly Involved Outsider Intelligence. From my perspective as a believer in Jesus Christ, it’s about God.
At this point I must change the subject slightly for a moment, for an aside that makes things better in some ways and worse in others. Phillip Jenkins
is Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies and History at Penn State. He tells us that the most under-reported, possibly the most significant social movement in the entire world in the 20th Century was the global rise of Christianity, especially south of the Equator, in Asia, and in Muslim countries. J.P. Moreland, a renowned philosopher of religion, quotes credible research showing that in the last 30 years of the century, serious Christians increased worldwide by a factor of 10, and the number of Muslims coming to faith in Christ in the last few decades is greater than in all previous history combined. Much of this explosion is fueled by miracles: dreams, vision, healings and the like. These things are credibly reported in sources like the Washington Post and the Orange County (Calif.) Register.
It seems that the world is not so immune to intervention by an intelligent outsider as we have thought. Maybe we Westerners are wrong about some things. (And maybe, as Moreland also says, it’s happening more in our part of the world than we’ve recognized.)
But the scientist says, “If God is doing this all the time, how can there be any such thing as science? If God is always intervening–interfering–how can we count on any regularity anywhere? Yet, clearly we can! So this does not add up.” That question is actually not so hard. Part of God’s intention in doing these things is to communicate himself to people. If he were always interfering, such that there was no such thing as a reliable natural order, there could be no communication in it. It’s a signal-to-noise ratio thing, for those of you who are engineers. For the rest of us: God’s communication has to be distinct from the regularities of the world if it’s to be actual communication; thus there must be regularities. Those regularities define the way we usually experience the world, and God’s interventions to change that order are rare exceptions.
There are aspects of God’s character involved here that can’t come just through studying nature, as ID does. Biblical believers know God as good, trustworthy, and faithful. To the extent that ID hints at a Powerful Outsider whose goodness and faithfulness unknown, I can see how that would be just opening a conceptual door to chaos. But that’s not the biblical view of God.
That, as I said, was somewhat of an aside, for I started out talking about ID from an empirical (scientific) point of view, and then I looked at divine intervention from a theological perspective. The two views unite in this: the whole idea is an affront to the mindset of a universally predictable, controllable, regular, universal, natural reality. It’s a terrible assault on the naturalist’s view of reality. That’s the emotional impact. The emotional effect of this does not mean it’s not true.
Lurking behind ID is what I have described above and will now abbreviate (don’t worry about trying to pronounce it!) PPMPCHIOID: Purposeful, Powerful, Mysterious, Profligately Creative, Highly Involved Outsider Intelligent Design. Opponents accuse ID of being disingenuous when it says it makes no claims, other than intelligence, regarding the identity of the designer it seeks. But don’t all ID proponents have PPMPCHIOID—or God—in mind? Isn’t ID being dishonest when it denies this?
I don’t think so. In fact, this apparent weakness of ID is also its strength. It has so little to say about the Designer it seeks; but it does not try to say more than its tools allow. To look for signs of Design, hints of purposeful intelligence, is something we can do from within the empirical sciences. To look for the rest of it is beyond the reach of science.
You see, we have conceptual tools for identifying purposeful design in nature. Yes, I know this is the very point that’s most in controversy. There seems to be at least one such tool that is to be universally accepted, though. Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe has written of a concept he calls irreducible complexity (IC). It’s a technical discussion that has raised perhaps more dispute than anything else in the ID controversy, partly because of disagreements over what IC must actually be. Behe puts it this way.
Evolution cannot produce something where there would be a non-functional intermediate. Natural selection only preserves or “selects” those structures which are functional. If it is not functional, it cannot be naturally selected. Thus, Behe’s latest definition of irreducible complexity is as follows:
“An irreducibly complex evolutionary pathway is one that contains one or more unselected steps (that is, one or more necessary-but-unselected mutations). The degree of irreducible complexity is the number of unselected steps in the pathway.”
Many scientists have taken Behe to task over this, but in very specific ways. They have said that his examples of IC are not really irreducible, or they have doubted that instances of IC in nature can really be proven. They have not (to my knowledge) ever credibly denied that IC—if reliably identified—signals the action of intelligence. So we have at least that one conceptual tool, going back all the way to Darwin himself, amazingly; he wrote,
"If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."
There are other strong indicators of intelligent design behind nature. One of the best recent discussions was the one by Stephen C. Meyer in his landmark 2009 book, Signature in the Cell.
When an empirical research program like ID says it’s only trying to identify intelligence, it is being both careful and honest. We don’t have empirically-based tools in biology* for identifying and discriminating other features of the designer, like Profligate Creativity, or even being Outside the natural order. At least, we can’t identify those things directly. If intelligence is identified, then philosophers can go to work and discuss whether these other characteristics must accompany a finding of intelligence. It is trying to do just what it can conceivably do through its tools.
What’s both wrong and right about ID, then, is its bare minimalist claim of looking for purposeful intelligence in a designer of life. It is right in looking only for what it has the conceptual tools to potentially find. That there may be a PPMPCHIOID–an active creator God—lurking there raises all kinds of emotional reactions, which I think I understand better now. It’s hard to like ID if you don’t like the idea of a God being involved in the natural order.
And it’s really hard to like ID if you see it as a way to sneak God back into American public education. That’s the other rampant conspiracy theory surrounding ID. Plain statements of facts from ID leaders don’t seem to have lessened fears of this. To repeat those plain statements: as a scientific research program, ID is a minimalist theory, seeking only to identify instances of purposeful design in nature. Its educational agenda is even more minimalist: ID leaders aren’t trying to get ID taught in the public schools. (It’s been said a thousand times.) We’re only asking for a more complete accounting of evolution to be presented, including empirical challenges facing it. That’s all. How evil is that?
Opponents routinely distort ID into something other than what it is; saying it’s a religious and political campaign. It’s a rhetorical hurdle that ID has to repeatedly clear on its path to doing actual science. But rather than focusing on those hurdles, I want to give proper credence to the emotional and aesthetic challenge ID presents to people of a naturalistic mindset. As I said, I’ve had a taste of that feeling, and it’s powerful. It doesn’t determine the truth of ID, but we have to recognize it as a significant and real part of this controversy’s landscape, and treat it with respect.
 Source: IdeaCenter.com