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Part 2 Intelligent Design a Definition and Overview

It appears that Darwinism has been the Goliath of our intellectual battlefield, barking out threats, beating on his chest, and triumphing by default.  Can Intelligent Design complete the analogy, as David, preferring his novel stones and rejecting the armor of creationism?  Enough with stretching an analogy out too far.  Intelligent Design is a relatively new theory that has promising potential to serve as an alternative theory to Darwinism.  Although promising, Intelligent Design, known as (ID) from now on, faces much criticism from Naturalists and Creationists alike.   Yet it seems the building blocks are in place that may prove ID has what Creationism lacks: solid science.  ID for now is widely considered pseudo-science.  Much research and development is needed to establish ID as a viable scientific field.  The subject of this paper is to examine Intelligent Design as a theory, as an alternative to Darwinism and contrast it to Natural Theology and Creationism. 

A Working Definition

What is Intelligent Design? In short it is the field of study that investigates signs of intelligence (Dembski, “In Defense of Intelligent Design” 1).  Intelligent design claims to be an alternative scientific theory to Darwinism.   The theory itself claims that, through the scientific method, one can best explain the features of the universe have an intelligent cause.  Unlike Darwinism, which claims that the universe can be explained through natural causations, ID assert natural causation cannot explain for all nature; there is evidence of design.   This is a very simplistic definition, but this is where we will start in an overview.  In fact, the overview itself will serve as a more complex definition of ID.   The definition and character of ID arises from contrasting it against the backdrop of Naturalism, Creationism, and Natural Theology.  We should note here that if something has a valid, reasonable natural explanation, then why argue over the facts.  But ID insists that Darwinism has no satisfactory explanation for many areas.  Darwinism should not be a blanket used to cover every instance, especially when it is not satisfactory in its conclusions.  ID seeks to explain these areas that Darwinism cannot. 

Intelligent Design is a relatively a new theory.  The movement began with the work of Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, Michael Denton, Dean Kenyon, and Phillip Johnson (“The Intelligent Design Movement” 1).  These men offered critique of Darwinism from a scientific standpoint and not from a theological/philosophical perspective.  Recently men such as Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer, Paul Nelson, Jonathan Wells, and William Dembski has sought to built upon the movement, particularly developing a science to strengthen the theory (“The Intelligent Design Movement” 1).  

Although the movement is relatively new, the concept is not.  Throughout the centuries men such as Minucius Felix and Basil the Great, Moses Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas, to Thomas Reid and Charles Hodge have been making the claim that there are characteristics of nature that cannot be explained by natural causes.  They inferred there must be an intelligence operating above nature (“The Intelligent Design Movement 1).   William Paley’s watchmakers’ argument has been, perhaps, the most popular.  Of course the argument is that a functional watch is a product of intelligent design rather that chance and time.  Debenski states in his article, “The Intelligent Design Movement”: “Though intuitively appealing, Paley’s argument had until recently fallen into disuse…What has kept design outside the scientific mainstream these last hundred and thirty years is the absence of precise methods for distinguishing intelligently caused objects from unintelligently caused ones” (1).   However now scientist are in the beginning stages of producing scientific methods to determine whether an intelligence is behind certain objects.  It seems the importance of this science cannot be stressed enough.  Whereas once the apparent design of certain features in the universe remained just that apparent.  Design was purely a matter of speculation buoyed by one’s theological perspective.  Now the science is available to dispel the shadows of speculation and shine the light of reason and logic. 

It has been the empirical detectability of an intelligence in creation that has distinguished ID from Natural Theology or a philosophy.   Also, we should be careful to note that methods that uncover an intelligent causation, only uncover intelligent pathways.  As Dembski says, “Intelligent Design properly formulated is a theory of information….information becomes a reliable indicator of intelligent causation” (“The Intelligent Design Movement” 2).  ID traces information, its flow and its origins. So Dembski rightly points out that ID is “theologically minimalist” (“The Intelligent Design Movement” 2).  The theory, in addition to offering an alternative to Darwinism, opens the door to a theological and philosophical discussion.  

Now we arrive at the question of what are the methods that give intelligent cause an empirical dectibility.  Dembski argues that other scientific fields have already established a science for drawing the type of distinctions that would render an intelligent cause.  These fields are namely, forensic science, cryptography, archeology, and some techniques used in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (“Detecting Design in the Natural Sciences” 2).  More about that later. 

A more detailed definition would be helpful.  Dembski gives some helpful clarification on the title, Intelligent Design in his article, “Intelligent Design a Form of Natural Theology”.  It appears that critics associate “intelligent” in ID with the creator in Natural Theology.  The ID community, unlike those in Natural Theology, are not claiming that an optimal design is view.  Dembski notes that the “ intelligent design community…understands the “intelligent” in “intelligent design” simply to refer to intelligent agency (irrespective of skill, mastery, or cleverness) and thus separates intelligent design from optimality of design” (5). 

Having said that it seems that we are mudding the waters somewhat.  I’m glad Dembski clarified the position a little with noting intelligent comes from two Latin words, between and choose.  So a characteristic is of ID is of that of an agent who can make choice.  A key difference is that Natural selection goes about this selection process with no goals, or purpose in mind.  ID’s fundamental difference is that there is goals and purposes in mind.  After all when the language of selection, and choosing is heard, one associates that with a deliberate and pre-mediated choice.  Here then is one could define ID as “the capacity rational and purposive or deliberate or premeditated choice” (“Intelligent Design a Form of Natural Theology” 5). 

Intelligent Design v Creationism

Eugene Scott challenges the movement from this perspective: that the ID movement is veiled creationism.  There is a need, therefore, to distinguish ID from Creationism.  One element of difference is that ID is concerned with the science that points to a transcendent intelligence.  Creationism, by its very nature, of taking the Genesis account as scientific fact, then must reconcile science with nature.  ID does not harmonize science with the account of Genesis 1, therefore, does not take Genesis 1 as scientific fact.  ID, in my opinion, is a very fertile soil for science to develop that will help the cause for truth.  An important aspect of ID is its capacity to welcome a variety thought: it does not confine itself to a narrow view of creation.  In fact, many different theistic views are welcome in the ID camp.  ID is theologically minimalist and seeks, through scientific methods developed from forensic science, cryptography, and archeology, to establish certain aspects of nature has having been designed from a transcendent intelligence.  

The advantage of theologically minimalist is that one can place Genesis 1 in a theological context rather than a scientific one.  Let me qualify this statement.  I can see the dangers in separating religion and science into strict compartments.  I understand ID as wanting an open dialogue with various viewpoints so that a sifting can take place.  Yet in the case of young earth creationism, it seems that they have backed themselves into corner reconciling science with Genesis 1.  This is a monumental task.  It’s the scientific equivalent of the historical approach to interpreting Revelation: constantly reconciling history as it happens to fit in with the narrative of book.  The science is the beginning place for Intelligent Design and the Bible is the starting place for the creationist who take Genesis 1 as a scientific account.   

Another point that Dembski makes is that ID is not an attempt to recast creationism in order that it might be more received in the scientific community.  Dembski points out that many ID proponents were squarely in the Darwinian camp and “backed their way out” (Intelligent Design Coming Clean 3).  So ID is not an offshoot of Creationism, but rather a very different challenge to Darwinism all together.

In fact, the roots of ID do not come from creationism but British Natural Theology, Scottish common sense realism (particularly the work of Thomas Reid) and to the works of the on-going opposition to Darwinism over the centuries (“Intelligent Design Coming Clean” 3).  Dembski places the beginning of the Intelligent Design movement in 1984 with the publication of, “The Mystery of Life’s Origin” by Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, and Roger Olsen (“The Intelligent Design Movement” 1).   Even though these authors are of the Christian faith, their work focuses on the science in its criticism of Darwinism.  There is a noticeable absence of Bible/Science debate: a primary characteristic of ID. 

ID is the base coat that whatever theistic color one wants to apply upon it.  It remains compatible to fundamental creationism all the way to theistic evolution.  ID is not a theology but science.  Yet ID presents one of the most effective weapons to combat naturalism and loosen its 200 year stranglehold upon culture. 

Critiques, in addition to lumping ID with Creationism, also say that ID does not offer a viable alternative to naturalism.  Using Dembski’s segway, Napoleon III noted that one never destroys a thing until one has replaced it (“Intelligent Design Coming Clean” 4).  The attacks on Darwinism have been numerous and from various places.  The Design community has united in recent years to not only offer criticism through works such as, “A Theory in Crisis, Darwin on Trial, and the Mystery of Life’s Origin”, but now have come the early stages of developing a science that has the potential to replace naturalism as a viable option.   Citing the proposition by William Dembski, in broad strokes, here is the positive research that is being developed by design theorists (4). 

Exclusion by Definition

So why does the scientific community reject Intelligent Design as a valid option to Darwinism?  Dembski argues that the rejection of Intelligent Design is not because of reason and evidence but by “definitional fiat.”   (“In Defense of Intelligent Design” 8).  That is to say that the powers that be have defined what falls within the realms of science and what has not.  Intelligent design is not science based upon their definition.  This is called methodological naturalism or methodological materialism.  This approach limits scientist to only natural causes and natural explanations and restricts any supernatural discussion.  Methodological materialism is an attempt employed by some ID critics to place Id in the realm of the “mystical” or “supernatural” thus alienating it from “real science.” 

The problem in methodological materialism is threefold.  First, it is not sufficient to answer all the questions that arise from science.  Take the issue of origin or of irreducible complexity, those questions cannot find answers using methodological naturalism.  Next, methodological materialism is simply narrow minded.  The search for truth should be an open forum.  Truth should not be limited to one avenue of inquiry.    Lastly, nature exhibits numerous examples (bacteria flagella, protein synthesis mechanisms, and complex organ systems) where the laws that govern nature cannot account for their formation (“In Defense of Intelligent Design” 8).  If the laws in question cannot account for certain aspects of nature then alternate and viable options should be considered.  Nature cannot be fit into the box of methodological naturalism.  Any methodology should follow facts and not shape facts. 

We see the same type of limiting of inquiry elsewhere.  Dembski’s, “Intelligent Design Coming Clean”, mentions a disparity in Stephen Gould’s principle called NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria).  This principle separates science and religion is such a way that seriously and negatively limits knowledge.  In response to Gould’s NOMA, design theorists advocate a principle called COMA (Completely Open Magisteria) (2).   The point is that knowledge should not be legislated, but all serious knowledge should be tested for the purpose furthering truth. 

Problems with Darwinism

As with any other field, science is imperfect.  Contrary to the belief of some New Atheists, humans have not a perfect, omniscient knowledge of the universe and workings thereof.  The fear is that the foot of a divinity will jam in the door of some of the cracks in naturalism. 

Facts and Cracks

What happens when theories and facts do not match up?  Modify the theory, or discard is the only reasonable options.  Sometimes this is an easy choice and other times it is more difficult.  Darwin theory has its cracks.  Some argue that most of the theory is inference and little is fact.  It is most apparent in Darwin’s lone diagram of the branching evolutionary tree.  The fossil record does not bridge the gap in this tree.  Stephen Jay Gould noted, “The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils” (“In Defense of Intelligent Design” 6).

There are other problems (cracks) such as the fact that naturalism has yet to account for the origin of the universe through purely materialistic means.  What about the supposed junk DNA that further research is proving to have function.  The problem is that when fact and science is applied to aspects of Darwinism then truth is found wanting.   Consequently, critiques point out that the consensus if Darwinism is small and this should be reflected when taught in schools. 

Detecting Design in the Natural Sciences

Just as the formation of Darwinism sprang from the observance of a portion of nature and then transferred in to a general theory to account for the formation of all organisms, so a general observance of nature also reveals aspects of design. Design theorists seek to build upon inference of design from observation.  On the surface, detecting design has several parts: first, a designer sees a purpose, secondly he makes a plan, and then the plan is executed through a materialistic means, and lastly the implementation of the plan by the designer or contractor using the materials.  Simple enough?  Yes, and common enough too.  We all can follow and recognize this process.  Apply the recognition of design into the study of nature.  Even the critics of ID or creationism admit that in nature there appears design.  Notice the words of Richard Dawkins, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”  Other naturalists share the same opinion (“Detecting Design in Nature” 1). 

The sciences however have a negative view of design rather opting for necessity and chance as being the forces sufficient for creation.  Why exclude design when, in life, detecting design is such a common and reasonable enterprise.  Let’s thank Darwin for narrowing the mind of science to only allowing chance and necessity as the forming principles of creation.  Natural selection and natural process is sufficient to account for all life and origins.  But is this is only perspective, can this be the only perspective?  No, but it is the scientific vogue way of thinking. 

Design is not yet a viable option because of the absence of a method of detecting design.  The scientific world will continue to shy away from speculation theories and god of the gap theories without the science to verify anything.  Design must come up with a methodology.  With a scientific method, design must be honestly considered.  

Specific Complexity

The challenge is to extract from the rich complexity of nature a language that speaks of design.  Specified complexity is the attempt to extrapolate an intelligent causation from empirical data given from nature.  Certain areas have claimed to have methods in place in to detect such causation: forensic science, cryptography, archeology, random number generation, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. 

There are several factors to consider regarding specific complexity.  The first is the specific part.  Specific means that it is not a random event, but designed.  “It is a non-ad-hoc patter that can legitimately be used to eliminate chance and warrant a design inference” (“First Things” 3).  An Illustration used in the article “Detecting Design in the Natural Science” by William Dembski, cites the movie Contact, based upon a novel by Carl Sagan (3).   Detecting alien life from radio waves that are specific.  Certain patterns were preset in the computer to capture any specific signal from outer space.  After years of random waves exhibiting no intelligent patter, finally a patter was noticed: a pattern of prime numbers from 1 to 101.  This is a very specific pattern.  It is important to note that this pattern was also preset, and the boundaries were not drawn up after the fact. 

In addition to patterns being specific, the patterns were complex enough that intelligence instead of chance can be inferred.  In other words signals of prime numbers from 1 to 5 could very well be chance.  The probability of this decreases dramatically as the complexity go up.  So the probability of chance is minimum and the probability of intelligence is optimum if the complexity of the patter is all prime numbers from 1 to 101. 

If a million monkeys on word processors typed for one year.  The probability of the monkeys typing a few words is likely.  The probability of them producing a coherent novel is very unlikely.  How about we come across a 500 page, coherent novel.  Surely, we would not contribute this work to a million monkeys randomly typing in a room.  We would say it has an author. 

Now how to we transpose this idea to nature?  Michael Behe is a Biochemist that has reported to connect the dots of theory to nature.  The system is centered on the notion of being irreducibly complex.  (Darwin’s Black Box, 1996)  This notion is that in removing one part of a mechanism that it renders the entire mechanism functionless and useless.  He claims to identify this in the bacterial flagellum.  This system is irreducibly complex in that every single part is vital to its function.  This, says Behe, is an example of specified complexity and therefore design (“Detecting Design in the Natural Sciences” 3).

The argument is that Darwinism is based upon chance and adaptation and that chance and adaptation is very, very unlikely to produce such a complex mechanism that is irreducibly complex in nature.  In the application of this to biological organisms, when a case specified complexity is found, Behe argues that design can be inferred on the entire organism.  The organism does not have to demonstrate specified complexity in every aspect (3).

One says that Darwinism could produce an irreducibly complex mechanism.  Yes it can.  However, it is more likely that a designer designed it that way.  The primary characteristic of design by a designer is choice.  They choose to use certain material in the context of their plan to accomplish their purpose.  So when we see certain items used in harmony, in an irreducibly complex way then design can easily be inferred.  The choice of the designer is seen in the specific construct of the mechanism.  We see design, rather than chance through the specific complexity.  

Darwinism operates on the principle of natural selection, which excludes any type of goal, plan, or purpose.  So without a goal, Darwinism states that time and chance produce results.  This cannot account for irreducible complexity only cumulative complexity.  Here the words of Behe in Darwin’s Black Box as he explains:

            “An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced…by slight, successive modifications of a             precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by             definition nonfunctional….  Since natural selection can only choose systems that are already working,             then if a biological system cannot be produced gradually it would have to arise as an integrated unit,             in one fell swoop, for natural selection to have anything to act on.”

Causal Mechanism and Proscriptive Generalizations

An objection for specified complexity is to render it probable by a causal mechanism, then it is explained away no matter how improbable.  I see a valid point in calling out the naturalist in just trying to get rid of the issue by dubbing it probable by a certain causal mechanism. 

The naturalist demand an example of how a designer can upload specific complexity into our world.  For the naturalist, if they can have a working model then they can understand it.  Dembski is adamant that ID is not a mechanist theory.  The idea is that some natural features have no natural causal mechanism that can produce it, so ID comes in as another alternative theory (An example of the nucleotide and amino acid base in polynucleotides and polypeptides) (“Intelligent Design Coming Clean” 8).  

The aim, it seems, from the ID movement is to establish creditable “proscriptive generalizations” (“Intelligent Design Coming Clean” 9).  This would be the reverse of the scientific endeavor of establishing causal mechanism that characterize a thing: establishing there are no natural causal mechanisms that produces a thing.  Could this be a backdoor entrance for ID to establish itself as a legitimate scientific alternative to Darwinism?

Another criticism leveled is that that ID is an argument from ignorance.  However, specified complexity claims to have come to a design inference only after all other hypothesis have been eliminated, hence the title “specified”.  

Now we come back to Van Tills issue of God having to intervene supernaturally in the world.  An objection from the scientific community is that God must have to move the particles at some point.  So we have the problem of the spiritual world and the natural world coming together.  There has been no real progress in this area, one simply does not know how to empirically confirm the spiritual intervention in the natural world.  Yet there are many “gaps” that empirical verification fails on every turn.  Could it be, supposes Dembski, that the gaps are not gaps at all?  The supposed “gaps” then may never be filled in with a causal mechanisms.  Suppose this is the intervention of the spiritual world (10). 

Informational Energy

What does this spiritual energy do and how does it function?  There are no answers for that.  There are questions such as why does not the designing intelligence just create a better world so that he does not have to intervene arbitrarily with supernatural forces?  So did he make an inferior world in which he constantly has to intervene so that specifically complex items can be created and thus the natural world can function? 

These objections come from those who look at the world from a purely mechanical perspective.  What if the nature of the case is that the world is not primarily mechanical but informational?  Meaning that, by design, information is the governed factor that cause the mechanical to function, and accounts for those areas of specified complexity.  The information is the energy.  Informational driven universe then is not dependent upon purely physical factors, but is sensitive to the slightest bit of information.  Communication of good or bad news (with little or no physical accompaniment) sometimes have great physical results.  Little energy output (in the case of imparted information) can have great physical repercussions.  The example that inspired the term “cybernetics” came from the small amount of energy that goes into the moving of a ship’s rutter, versus the massive amount of energy of a ship moved by the rutter (10).  There seems to be a premise for a world reacting physically to information being imparted by a designer, without the designer having to intervene at every step. 

Informational driven universe that simply carry out imparted instructions through natural processes sounds a lot like Deism.  Deism as well as Robust Formational Economy Principle are all ideas that the creation is front-loaded with information.  Although this type of front-loading of informational is not impossible, it seems that the argument is that the fossil record suggests that not everything was front-loaded.  Instances occur when it seems that some species appear in all different stages of the earth’s history.  How then can various aspects of nature, that appear throughout the fossil record, all be front loaded?  There are difficulties in any answer. 

There is an ongoing unraveling of how a transcendent imparts information into the world.  The challenge is decoding the information seen in nature.   Design is inferred as we study nature.   The whole enterprise of the design theorist is to extrapolate from natural processes information that suggest intelligent design. 

Ramifications of ID

Should ID become established as a science what are some ramifications.  We can only speculate at this point.  Obviously there will be moral/ethical and theological debates that follow.  Perhaps the applicable, and felt ramifications will be noticed more from the moral and theological fallout than from the scientific fallout.  There will be awareness in a transcendent, yet this may spiral more into a Deistic religion.  It is hard to say at this point. 

Perhaps, looking through the lens of design, more attention will be focused on areas that were before written off, i.e. “Junk DNA”.  There is hope that ID will spurn higher philosophies and worldviews that may save us from forms of fascism that breeds within Naturalistic worldviews.  This in turn could prevent future holocausts. 

Whatever the end result, it is best to side with truth on any subject.  Truth can be known through a love of the truth and then pursuit of the truth.  Any honest work done in the name of truth is worthy of honest evaluation.  Our hopes and prayers is the Intelligent Design movement can, under the sovereign hand of God, become fruitful in science, ethics, and religion. 

Works Cited

Dembski, William. “Cosmic Pursuit”. Designinference.com. n.p., 1998. Web. 30 April 2009.

Dembski, William. “Detecting Design in the Natural Sciences”. Designinference.com. n.p., 2002. Web. 30 April 2009.

Dembski, William. “First Things”. Designinference.com. n.p., 1998. Web. 30 April 2009.

Dembski, William. “In Defense of Intelligent Design”. n.p., n.d., Print.

Dembski, William. “Intelligent Design Coming Clean”. Designinference.com. n.p., 2000. Web. 30 April 2009.

Dembski, William. “Is Intelligent Design a Form of Natural Theology”. Designinference.com. n.p. 2001. Web. 30 April 2009.

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