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Random thoughts and views of Tim Young

Intelligent Design — What’s the Problem?

with 19 comments

I’ve been thinking about intelligent design (ID) lately and I am wondering what all the beef with the argument is about. For those of you who don’t know, ID in a nutshell argues that certain features of the universe, life, etc., are unlikely to have arisen by chance or natural selection alone. These features, it is argued, are best explained by an intelligent designer.  So just what sorts of features are better explained by an intelligent designer? Well firstly there are those features that are so complex that it seems unlikely that evolution can account for them. When one marvels at the workings of a cell, for example, it is hard not to think the cell at least LOOKS designed by some intelligence.

Then there are those features of the universe that appear to be so precisely tuned to the correct parameters, that to even suggest random chance as an explanation seems almost to border on lunacy. Here’s one example given by Robin Collin:

There are other cases of the fine-tuning of the constants of physics besides the strength of the forces, however. Probably the most widely discussed among physicists and cosmologists – and esoteric– is the fine-tuning of what is known as the cosmological constant. The cosmological constant was a term that Einstein included in his central equation of his theory of gravity – that is, general relativity — which today is thought to correspond to the energy density of empty space. A positive cosmological constant acts as a sort of anti-gravity, a repulsive force causing space itself to expand. If the cosmological constant had a significant positive value, space would expand so rapidly that all matter would quickly disperse, and thus galaxies, stars, and even small aggregates of matter could never form. The conclusion is that it must fall exceedingly close to zero, relative to its natural range of values, for complex life to be possible in our universe.

Now, the fundamental theories of particle physics set a natural range of values for the cosmological constant. This natural range of values, however, is at least 1053 – that is, one followed by fifty three zeros – times the range of life-permitting values. That is, if 0 to L represent the range of life-permitting values, the theoretically possible range of values is at least 0 to 1053L. To intuitively see what this means, consider a dartboard analogy: suppose that we had a dart board that extended across the entire visible galazy, with a target on the dart board of less than an inch in diameter. The amount of fine-tuning of the cosmological constant could be compared to randomly throwing a dart at the board and landing exactly in the target![1]

Wow amazing! How could that be anything but God? …Ok ok, so perhaps I’m a bit too partial to the ID argument 🙂 In all actuality, though, I don’t really consider myself knowledgeable enough on the subject to make an informed judgment; it’s all kind of new to me and I’m still looking into it. Still, I have a hard time seeing what the arguments against it could be?

Notes

[1] Collins, R. (n.d.). God, Design, and Fine-Tuning. Retrieved Feburary 2009, from http://home.messiah.edu/~rcollins/FINETUNE/China%20fine-tuning%20paper%20revised%20for%20web.doc

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Written by Tim

February 14, 2009 at 12:36 am

19 Responses

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  1. it’s very difficult to try to state exactly what was designed. if your concept of intelligent design is just about the initial circumstances of the universe that would be one thing, but if you’re stating that all life on earth as it is now is intelligently designed then that’s another

    by saying everything was intelligently designed, and presumably you also believe everything was created just as it currently is (more or less) then you’re turning your back on scientific fields of chemistry, physics, cosmology, paleontology and geology. because intelligent design contradicts all of the information we know and understand about the universe. it’s a desperate theory designed to incorporate God into what you perceive to be creation.

    there is a much easier way of course http://bethinking.org/science-christianity/advanced/creation-and-evolution.htm it’s a brilliant website

    ophalm

    February 14, 2009 at 2:14 am

  2. I’m simply looking at it from the most fundamental level I suppose. I mean, what’s the problem with saying , for example, that features A, B, C , etc. look designed? If a cell looks designed…then it looks designed right? Or what’s the problem with arguing that features A, B, C, etc., contain such a degree of complexity that it seems unlikely that A,B, C, etc., could have arisen by chance or natural selection alone. Perhaps there are fine tuned elements of the university that seem very unlikely to have arisen by chance alone, or features of a cell that seem unlikely to have arisen by natural selection. So suppose we then say that these features are *best explained* by incorporating an intelligent designer? What’s the problem with this? Like I said, I am new to the subject, but I’m having a hard time understanding what all the fuss is about. Especially when one considers that the probably of the universe being just as it is by chance alone is very low. But I suppose I need to think about the whole thing some more.

    Bethinking.org is a great resource btw! Thanks for the comment.

    Tim

    February 14, 2009 at 2:48 am

  3. intelligent design ignores all the evidence that shows an evolutionary path. I mean, it’s fine to try to say a cell looks designed, but the more you look into biology the more you see many different kinds of cells of many different levels of complexity, that don’t look designed but look as if they have evolved from one to the other

    essentially, the problem with ID is that it ignores all the evidence scientists have

    ophalm

    February 14, 2009 at 11:50 am

  4. I don’t know that it’s fair to say that ID advocates ignore evidence. I think both IDers and evolutionists look at the same evidence, it’s just that IDers think intelligent design *best explains* the evidence whereas evolutionists think evolution best explains the evidence. I do think both camps interpret the evidence in light of their own view—for better or worse—but that’s just the nature of the beast. I just wonder what all the hostility toward ID is about. Why not entertain it as a possible hypothesis and why not examine the problems they bring against evolution? It’s almost as if when one challenges evolution they are challenging the religious beliefs of the scientific community…that’s just my limited observation though.

    Tim

    February 14, 2009 at 2:00 pm

  5. because it’s the same attack on science that alternative medicine is
    you don’t seem to understand how it is an attack on science, and I guess that’s the core of your post.
    the entire science of biology is basically based on the fact that every feature and trait has come about through evolution. “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”

    plus, ID throws away evidence that doesn’t fit, or explains it away. there are lots of examples of things in our world that don’t appear designed, for example vestigial tails or other organs. IDrs usually have some explanation but they generally avoid the fact that those things make so much more sense in relation to evolution and they are a hinderance to ID

    also, this is david attenboroughs response to ID, he mentions a worm in africa, that lives through eating the eyeballs of infected children. that is the only way it can live, if it wasn’t eating eyeballs, it wouldn’t live and would become extinct. it’s incredibly easy to see how it evolved, but to consider that it was designed like that? well maybe, but you have to question the motives.

    but once again, do you understand that ID is not just another hypothesis but is an (implicit) attack on a number of core sciences?

    ophalm

    February 14, 2009 at 5:31 pm

  6. […] bookmarks tagged repulsive Intelligent Design — What’s the Problem? saved by 5 others     meetsnipe11 bookmarked on 02/15/09 | […]

    Pages tagged "repulsive"

    February 15, 2009 at 4:47 pm

  7. You say: because it’s the same attack on science that alternative medicine is
    you don’t seem to understand how it is an attack on science, and I guess that’s the core of your post.

    I say: That’s really the heart of the issue I suppose. By “attack on science” I take it you mean “attack on *evolution*” The idea that evolution and science are inseparable is, to me, proof of the evolution fundamentalism prevalent in the scientific community. Why is it that ID is so antithetical to science (not evolution) in general? I ask this in all seriousness because I seek to understand what all the fuss is about.

    You say: he entire science of biology is basically based on the fact that every feature and trait has come about through evolution. “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”

    I say: I would say that facts are interpreted *in light of* evolutionary theory. That certainly doesn’t prove evolution, in only shows that the current tendency is to interpret the facts though an evolutionary framework. My question is why ID shouldn’t be a alternate framework in this regard.

    You say: also, this is david attenboroughs response to ID, he mentions a worm in africa, that lives through eating the eyeballs of infected children. that is the only way it can live, if it wasn’t eating eyeballs, it wouldn’t live and would become extinct. it’s incredibly easy to see how it evolved, but to consider that it was designed like that? well maybe, but you have to question the motives.

    I say: Point well taken, but I think you’re missing something important here. The idea is not that *everything* must clearly show design, but rather the whole of the universe as it stands is best explained in terms of ID. Of course there will be certain features that don’t look design (just as there will be certain features that clearly do look designed, though I know you’ll deny this). Secondly, one has to deal with the various scientific and philosophical problems of evolution raised by ID.

    You say: but once again, do you understand that ID is not just another hypothesis but is an (implicit) attack on a number of core sciences?

    I say: I really don’t, no.

    Tim

    February 15, 2009 at 9:51 pm

  8. I think you may need to look further into your own understanding of what ID means. if you’re just looking at the universe and saying “well it seems as if someone put this here intentionally” as opposed to non ID “the universe as it exists is random and was not put here like this”, well, I don’t consider that ID per se, because to me ID refers to the intelligent design of life, not just the universe and it’s laws

    in which case your form of ID isn’t really a science or in opposition to sciences, it’s more of a philosophy.

    if this is not your understanding of ID, and your understanding of ID is more along mainstream thought, that God designed life on this planet as it is, then it is highly controversial and I stand by my point that it doesn’t reject evolution but is an attack on science. because evolution does not stand alone apart from science, large parts of it are understood through our understanding of rocks, of chemistry, of physics, biology. if it turns out that evolution is “wrong”, then all those sciences are wrong too.

    as far as looking at the evidence through an evolutionary framework, while that is true, I think you’re missing the idea of how the framework came to be, because when evolution was first considered, the first 50 years or so it was an uphill battle amongst the accepted creation ideas of the time. yet all the evidence pointed towards evolution and away from creationism. if you’re challenging evolution on epistemological grounds that is one thing, which you seem to be doing, but if that’s the case I think you need to leave the ID mindset for a while, approach both theories from a open perspective, and you will see the evolution theory fits the evidence perfectly, and all evidence collected fits perfectly into the theory. the theory is built from the evidence.

    whereas ID is not built from the evidence. it is built from the perspective that God designed the universe and finds evidence to fit. if ID is counter to evolution, then ID has a lot of evidence up against it. I think ID people would like other people to believe that evolution is just a “theory” that has no evidence, only it has so much evidence it’s not even funny

    ophalm

    February 15, 2009 at 10:11 pm

  9. Yes, I’m attacking the whole thing from a “meta” level and a philosophical perspective. Sorry I didn’t make that clearer. My issues aren’t wholly epistemological, but such issues certainly do play a role in my curiosity regarding ID and Evolution.

    Also, I think what you’re calling “Intelligent Design” is more appropriately called “Creationism.” The two are not synonymous. Creationism involves a creator God, ID does not. Creationism goes far beyond ID and into the realm of theology. I certainly am a Creationist, though that wasn’t the subject of my post nor would I considered it science.

    I certainly disagree with you that evolution and science are inseparable. There was science before 1859, which seems to refute the idea that science and evolution are inseparable. And if the argument from here is that what took place before the theory of evolution wasn’t really science because science involves evolution, then that’s horrendously fallacious—question-begging to the utmost. I also disagree with you that all the evidence points to evolution. Again, if you approach the evidence with an evolutionary worldview, then you are bound to see everything as evidence for evolution. But I think the evolutionary worldview itself has many problems. Though I suspect for now we will have to agree to disagree.

    Thanks for your comments, and I hope you will continue to read my blog!

    Tim

    February 15, 2009 at 11:26 pm

  10. I certainly wasn’t trying to say that prior to evolution science was “wrong” but what I am saying is that evolution is not a theory that is apart from other sciences. if evolution was to be denied, and ID accepted, it wouldn’t just change evolution, there would a lot of other theories and laws that would need to be accepted as problematic too and require changing. but not only is there no evidence for any problems with evolution, but no evidence for problems with the other sciences

    I wouldn’t put a lot of emphasis on this: but in someways I would say that evolution is almost an emergent theory derived from all the other sciences. and in that sense to attack evolution is to attack the sciences it is based upon.

    as far as science before evolution, I don’t see an issue. we didn’t have radio dating methods to show the age of the earth, or massive fossil records, or other sciences yet that agree with evolution, we didn’t understand biochemistry etc. it’s just not an issue

    I need to understand your definition of ID a bit clearer then, and I’d really like to know what your problems are with the evolutionary worldview are

    ophalm

    February 16, 2009 at 1:14 am

  11. Well I do understand your point and I think it’s interesting, but I don’t think evolution is an emergent theory. Instead I think it works this way: (1) Evolution is accepted (2) all facts are interpreted through that world view. It’s not that psychology, for example, *needs* evolution in order to survive (it doesn’t), it’s just that psychologists are taught a naturalistic evolutionary worldview, then they precede to do their work from within the confines of that perspective. So perhaps modern psychology will argue that certain desires and impulses are the result of evolution, but that’s simply them working out their problems from within the restraints of their evolutionary worldview. Kind of like when a Christian going through hard times says, “Well God is allowing this to happen to me for a reason.” It doesn’t prove that God is a necessary or emergent concept, it only shows that the evidence is interpreted *in light of* a Christian worldview.

    But with regard to ID, what sorts of problems would arise if ID were accepted?

    I do think it is important to show that science existed before the theory of evolution because it shows that it is possible to do science without resorting to an evolution.

    I’m new to the subject of evolution, but some of the problems I’ve seen thus far are: The fossil record, irreducible complexity, the improbability of certain features being as they are apart from an intelligent cause (both in biology and cosmology), the problem of knowledge (see Plantinga’s “Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism”), morals, life (i.e from non-life), etc.

    One paper I looked at defined ID as “a scientific theory which holds that certain features of the universe and living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, and are not the result of an undirected, chance-based process such as Darwinian evolution.” I think that’s as good a definition as any.

    Tim

    February 16, 2009 at 7:15 pm

  12. I think you’re taking your stance too far and making assumptions about people accepting evidence into the framework. Not only does every single piece of evidence fit into the framework, but every single piece of evidence we find strengthens the framework. You’re right in saying we look at everything through the framework, but that’s because everything fits in perfectly and strengthens the framework. I don’t really see why this is a problem, because this is how every science works.

    As far as the problems of ID being accepted, well I need to understand your form of ID, but lets say that is replaces evolution, therefore meaning the descent with modification isn’t true either, then we have to change all our understandings of biochemistry, maybe chemistry and/or physics.

    As far as your problems with evolution go, I think you should try to look within the evolutionary realm to find the answers, because I don’t see any problems with anything you’ve mentioned (maybe I don’t understand the problem), but they are commonly brought up as “problems” with evolution amongst creationists/ID.

    Your definition of ID then makes it very similar to creation. Are you saying that evolution exists but is guided by an intelligent being? Is it saying that evolution occurs as we know it but it was started by an intelligent being?
    What about life requires intelligence to create? The only stumbling point we have at the moment is the very beginning of life – abiogenesis (life from non-life) and like any problem we are working on it. But other than that every organism on the planet fits on a tree of evolution. There is nothing that exists that is irreducibly complex, and while there are some things we don’t know, it is very naive to invoke an intelligent designer just because we don’t know yet.

    ophalm

    February 16, 2009 at 9:47 pm

  13. You mean to tell me that scientists, philosophers, statisticians, etc., who find problems with evolution are all just mistaken? Or is it that none of them have any “major” criticisms against the theory? What about those who say that certain aspects of evolution are statistically improbable? What about the various philosophical problems like the one I mention by Plantinga? What about those who simply believe ID offers a better explanation of the facts? What evidence would be sufficient to falsify evolution you think?

    I do believe that there are quite a few who would agree with me that we tend to accept and interpret evidence in accord with our worldview. Just take a look at the Flat Earth Society for an extreme example. As for the evolutionary worldview, I think Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould’s punctuated equilibrium is such an example.

    As to the specifics of your question as to what would need to change, I’m afraid I cannot answer that. I confess I simply don’t know enough. I’m still trying to understand what all the fuss is about. However, that theories would have to change really is no mark against ID. If ID is in fact the better explanation, then things *ought* to change. Such is simply the process of science. New theories replace old ones; new mechanics replace old ones. However, it almost seems as if evolution has such a privileged status that it simply cannot be challenged. Though I do realize there is that curious phenomenon in which scientific theories and paradigms tend to resist falsification. Heck, the same is true with religions!

    Creationism branches off into theology and says that God created such-and-such. ID simply states that certain features are better explained by appealing to an intelligent cause rather then evolution, natural selection, and chance. It doesn’t mean that there is a God, or that the universe was created. You could be an agnostic and hold ID (in fact I believe there are a few). I personally think that part of the animosity toward ID is that scientist view it as “sneaking God in through the back door” however I think that fear is unfounded. I personally believe that the intelligent designer is God, but I couldn’t prove that scientifically.

    Tim

    February 16, 2009 at 11:34 pm

  14. “You mean to tell me that scientists, philosophers, statisticians, etc., who find problems with evolution are all just mistaken?” well I don’t know their claims and they probably have some good points but I could as you if all the other scientists, philosophers, statisticians that don’t have a problem, are they all mistaken?

    I do believe that there are quite a few who would agree with me that we tend to accept and interpret evidence in accord with our worldview yes I don’t disagree, which is why evolution – like any scientific theory – is flexible and willing to change. but there is no evidence that suggests there is a better theory at all. no theory is perfect, but evolution is always getting stronger.

    However, it almost seems as if evolution has such a privileged status that it simply cannot be challenged. what I am saying is that if evolution is wrong then other sciences are wrong, so not only does evolution need to be proved wrong, but so do all those sciences. and they’d need their own sets of contradictory evidence to do that too. I am saying it would be no small feat. not because it’s so stuck in it’s ways but because it fits the evidence so damn well

    I still don’t get what your view of ID is trying to say, I mean, I hear what you’re saying, but how does it pertain to anything? that when I see a bug, it didn’t evolve to come to that place but was designed the way it was? how can that not involve a creator God? and what about all the random problems with life that an intelligent designer wouldn’t do, like the appendix in our body for one.

    have you tried yourself to look at the problems with ID? I used to be a creationist, but after talking to many evolutionists I realised their theory was rock solid. then I studied biology and university and that confirmed it for me. there is NO doubt in my mind. have you seriously investigated evolution? and the opposition to ID?

    ophalm

    February 17, 2009 at 12:16 am

  15. When it comes to both ID and Evolution, no I am not familiar with all the criticism of either position. Like I said, the subject is new to me; it will take time for me to go through the literature. I was simply pointing out some criticisms because your responses all seemed to assume that there really were no problems at all (except for life from non life).

    The purpose of my post was simply me questioning what the problems with accepting ID are. I understand your response, enjoyed reading it, and respect your understanding of the subject, though it seems to me that your argument boils down to a circular and pragmatic one. All good concerns, but to me they are not sufficient criticisms.

    ID doesn’t say anything about a creator. That’s just an inference you’re making (probably rightfully so), but that goes beyond ID. ID, as I understand it, says nothing about the nature or activities of the designer. It really can’t.

    Tim

    February 17, 2009 at 12:37 am

  16. I appreciate the discussion too, it helps me make sure I understand what I’m talking about.

    What’s the circular argument of mine? About the framework from the evidence and the evidence fits the framework?

    If ID is opposed to evolution though, then everything must have been designed as it is now? So if that’s the case, it must be have been created that way too, otherwise it wouldn’t exist? I mean, you’re right if ID says nothing about the creator, but it must imply that there is a (separate maybe?) creator, right?

    ophalm

    February 17, 2009 at 1:10 am

  17. YOU SAY: What’s the circular argument of mine? About the framework from the evidence and the evidence fits the framework?

    ME: Yes, and that being the *basis* for rejecting ID.

    YOU SAY:If ID is opposed to evolution though, then everything must have been designed as it is now? So if that’s the case, it must be have been created that way too, otherwise it wouldn’t exist? I mean, you’re right if ID says nothing about the creator, but it must imply that there is a (separate maybe?) creator, right?

    ME: As best I can tell, ophalm, it implies there is a *Designer* and that things were *designed* as they are. I think you’d have to dot some more “Is” and cross some more “Ts” before you arrived at a Creator. I think it is logically possible that there be a designer without there being a creator. (Plato held such a view.) Now whether we’d want to entertain such a view is a different story. Still, there are distinct possibilities and I don’t think Creationism follows necessarily (either logically or ontologically) from ID.

    Tim

    February 19, 2009 at 4:15 pm

  18. “before you arrived at a Creator”

    can you offer a simplified route of how ID could exist without a creator? nothing complex but for the life of me I don’t understand how it could be intelligently designed but then not created..

    “YOU SAY: What’s the circular argument of mine? About the framework from the evidence and the evidence fits the framework?
    ME: Yes, and that being the *basis* for rejecting ID.”

    Under that understanding, isn’t any scientific theory circular? A hypothesis is built from the evidence, and then further evidence either backs up the hypothesis or doesn’t.. That way it ties the hypothesis directly to the evidence.
    If ID and evolution are different ways of looking at the same data, evolution fits the data so much better and more perfectly and can explain every aspect of biology, where you need to make stretches at mental leaps to wonder why an intelligent designer would do things the way he has – and you can’t test it either.

    I don’t remember saying ID was a problem for those reasons, at least not in those words, but ID fails because there is no evidence for it, just presumed lack of evidence for evolution

    ophalm

    February 19, 2009 at 4:38 pm

  19. Plato in his dialogue Timaeus lays out a view in which a divine craftsmen (the “Demiurge”) shapes (or designs) preexisting matter. Matter is uncreated and eternal according to Plato, thus there is no creation on his account. However there is design. The designer shifted and molded preexisting uncreated “stuff.”

    Though probably no one takes Plato’s account seriously (it’s possible that even he didn’t fully believe it), it still points out that there are possible instances of design without creation. In any case, all I’m getting at is that ID does not *logically* entail creation. ID only speaks of design and “intelligent causes,” it holds its tongue on creation and creators. ID, as I understand it anyway, stops short of making any sort of theological claims. It only sticks with scientific claims and hypotheses.

    I do hear you though, it’s really hard to conceive of intelligent design apart from creation. However, just realize that that’s not the same as saying intelligent design *entails* creationism.

    YOU SAY: “…but ID fails because there is no evidence for it”

    That’s the circularity I was speaking of. I quoted one “evidence” at length in my post and there are many others. In any case, it seems to me that the reason you fail to see any evidence for ID is because you’re:

    1.Presupposing evolution is true
    2.Interpreting all evidence in light of (1)
    3.Arguing there is no evidence for ID since according to (1) and (2) all presumed evidence for ID is actually evidence for evolution.

    As an argument against ID that’s question-begging. I have a hard time understanding how arguments showing the fine tuning of the cosmos could be evidence *for* evolution of the species, for example. It may be neutral or irrelevant evidence, but for? And I think you’d have to at least admit that it counts as some sort of evidence for ID even if you think it’s weak and ultimately disagree with ID. But to say ID has NO evidence for it seems a bit too strong to me.
    Also there are proposed methods for testing, falsifying, and making predictions on the ID model. Again, I think perhaps you’re conflating ID and Creationism, but the two are not the same.

    Tim

    February 24, 2009 at 1:23 pm


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