Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What are proponents of Intelligent Design playing at?

Are they just "rubbishing the theory of evolution"?

No. They are happy to say that it is a theory that has been very successful at explaning a range of phenomena at the "micro-evolutionary" level. However, they wish to make clear that it has yet to be established as true at a "macro-evolutionary" level - as an explanation of the origin of life, complexity and intelligence. You can't just add an order of magnitude of time to a speciation event to get flight, or sight.

This is important, because the darwinist explanation of origins has philosophical implications, whether the darwinist acknowledges them - or is aware of them! - or not. If we are the product of time and chance, then cosmically speaking, nothing really matters - we are zeroes, at best like Arthur Dent with tendrils of guilt flapping meaninglessly and pointlessly around in an indifferent universe.

Now if this really seemed to be the case - if it looked as though time plus chance, random mutation plus natural selection, were an adequate explanation, then we could shrug and say, "Deal with it" (as Douglas Adams did to Arthur Dent and Trillian when all that they considered important was destroyed). But the fact is that life doesn't seem to be like that. The universe doesn't seem to be a "chance" place - we seem to have some an unusual place in the universe that is more than anthropically significant - accepted by non-ID people (Ward and Brownlee) as well as ID people (Gonzalez and Richards). Life doesn't seem to be the product of time and chance, at least for those people who haven't already presupposed this, and have to fit the evidence into their presuppositions - again, the fact that despite their public denial of anything other than consensus, the basis of large-scale evolutionary mechanisms are still a matter for debate (for example, between Dawkinsian gradualists and Gouldian punctuated equilibrians) underlines this point.

Perhaps this significance is illusory. Perhaps we are just like Adams' puddle, slowly drying in the sun. Perhaps the darwinian explanation will win through, and be backed up by science in the fullness of time. But at the moment, I (and proponents of ID) simply don't think it is the best explanation, and that the case for external intelligent agency isn't getting weaker, but stronger. I think people accept darwinism fundamentally because it fits with their presuppositions, not because of the strength of the evidence. In fact, by virtue of an ongoing debate, darwinism is intellectually stronger now than it was 25 years ago, when it was a lot more "the only game in town" from a scientific point of view. It's just that the case against darwinism has also strengthened.

So proponents of ID are trying to point out that the hard sell of darwinism isn't fundamentally about science - it's about presuppositions - philosophical and religious. Opponents of ID are just as much "religiously motivated" as its proponents. ID may be religion/philosophy - but for most scientists, darwinism has exactly the same status.