Intelligent Design does not entail a belief in God

Denyse O’Leary recently wrote about an ongoing debate (December 7-8, 2008) about Intelligent Design vs. evolution. (1)

Atheist philosopher Bradley Morton said in an ID the Future Podcast:

“I actually find some of the intelligent design arguments at least somewhat plausible, and at least taking seriously within academia, and I’m unhappy with the unfair and false criticisms that a lot of my fellow philosophers and academics have given of Intelligent Design. I’m also, for the record, unhappy with some of the Intelligent Design arguments. I think that, even though some of them are wrong, they could be given better than current Intelligent Design proponents are giving them….” (2)

What I take from this debate is that, one might support the perspective of ID, scientifically, without being logically required to believe in God. Creationists on the other hand, may point to the scientific perspective of ID and note that this supports the existence of the God of the Bible.

Some atheistic evolutionists are quick to point out that a belief in the supposedly scientific perspective of evolution does not have anything to do with belief in God. Others (e.g., Dick Dawkins and his ilk purport that atheism is entailed by the ‘truth’ of evolutionary science).

As Dr. Morton writes on his website:

The doctrine of intelligent design has been maligned by atheists, but even thought I’m an atheist, I’m of the opinion that the arguments for intelligent design are stronger than most realize. The goal of this book is to try to get people to take intelligent design seriously. I maintain that it is legitimate to view intelligent design as science, that there are somewhat plausible arguments for the existence of a cosmic designer, and that intelligent design should be taught in public school classes. (3)

(1). Straws in the wind: Atheists and agnostics support constructive debate on design
(2). http://intelligentdesign.podOmatic.com/entry/2008-11-06T09_16_15-08_00
(3). ID – Bradley Monton

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8 Responses

  1. I’m suspicious. How can we draw inferences about whether something is good design, bad design, or no design without some assumptions about the nature of the designer? This is a problem for ID that doesn’t arise for archeology or SETI — has it been addressed?

  2. What are you suspicious of? Why are your questions important? I’m not sure I understand.

  3. Well, hmm. I guess what I had in mind is this: in the case of archeology, we begin with the presupposition that the artifacts discovered were made by human beings, and we have a huge background of knowledge about human beings — what they in general tend to need and desire and intend — to draw upon prior to determining the specific function of any specific tool, piece of art, architecture, etc.

    SETI is quite different — there we have no choice but to assume that alien intelligence, if there is any, is sufficiently like us that anything it produces as a means of communication will be recognizable as such by us.

    So in those cases, we take on board, as presuppositions, that the designer is “sufficiently like us” that we can use our needs, desires, and intentions as a model for those needs, desires, and intentions which governed the production of the ruin, tool, artwork, (archeology) or signal (SETI).

    Whereas in the case of intelligent design, whether biological or cosmological, there is — “officially speaking” — no identity of the designer, and thus no way of assuming anything about its needs, desires, and intentions. But without that assumption in place, there’s no way to make any reliable inferences. Archeology and SETI are able to draw the inferences they draw, with whatever high or low degrees of confidence, on the presupposition mentioned above. In the absence of any such presupposition, which is the case where the identity of the designer is unknown or unknowable, I don’t see how any inferences can be drawn. But without testable inferences, there is nothing worthy of being called science. (Even if the forms of testability differ from one branch of science to another. Testability in history is not testability in molecular genetics.)

    So, far from thinking that intelligent design does not entail theism, I’ll insist upon the converse: intelligent design does not entail any testable inferences except on the presupposition that we know something of the needs, desires, and intentions of the designer. And so we might as well come clean and say: design theory requires theism in order to yield anything testable.

    It is my prejudice, and a prejudice that is widely (if not universally) shared among ‘evolutionists’, is that the only reason why design theorists either refuse to make explicit their beliefs as to the identity of the designer, or else insist that their personal views of the designer’s identity is not part of the theory itself, is because they want intelligent design to pass the Lemon Test.

    However, I do not think that design theorists and their proponents should take this approach — indeed, I regard it badly misguided. Rather, I think that design theorists and their proponents ought to, in their next court case, challenge the Lemon Test itself as a basis for a ruling.

  4. You know where I stand, so I have “come clean” as you say. I think that most of the major proponents of ID have also (and not all are theists or deists). Are you saying Monton is not an atheist or that he has done bad philosophical reasoning? He says he’s an atheist…although possibly I think he teeters on agnosticism at times after listening to him.

  5. SETI is quite different — there we have no choice but to assume that alien intelligence, if there is any, is sufficiently like us that anything it produces as a means of communication will be recognizable as such by us.

    The SETI project seems to hold irrational assumptions regarding uniformity of nature, whether we are talking about a randomly evolved species, or a species created by God (or some other designer).

    What is the logic of expecting an intelligent alien civilization to be broadcasting signals blindly into space? Or are we betting on picking up some alien tv show or something? Their means of communication and perception could be radically different from anything we can imagine.

    The METI project seems highly foolish and dangerous to actually be sending signals into space from Earth. Here we are taking gambles on our own assumptions of good and evil. If evolution is true, then we have no logical basis to assume the concepts of good and evil would even exist in another highly-evolved intelligent species. How do we know they won’t perceive us as food or something, like a predador on alert to the innocent call of its prey? But if we are going to assume Good and Evil are universal constants – which is the perspective of the creationist – we might be unlucky to uncover another fallen race of beings, and find ourselves targeted for destruction some day.

    Man is not the measure of all things! I think we need to accept this fact before we go playing with forces we’re not equipped to deal with (whether for being insufficiently evolved, or spiritually unable – take your pick).

  6. To an evolutionist, the very fact that man is a creator of things, should indicate something, should it not? I submit that the more complex the creation, the more obvious it was created.

    Consider: I think the idea of micro-biomachines is really interesting and holds promise. For example, imagine having these tiny things injected into your body, programmed to kill off cancer cells (and only cancer cells). It would render dangerous antibiotics and chemotherapies practically obsolete. These little buggers can even be programmed for adaptability – based on reacting to real time data from observing its host environment. Pretty complex, right? Who would doubt that this is intelligent design? Who would make the argument that these biomachines evolved in the lab all by themselves?

    Now consider that these complex biomachines are analagous in nature to perhaps a virus at best. Yet if a “simple” biomachine can’t come to be all by itself (even if all the necessary ingredients are on the table in the lab, and had billions of years to sit there and stew together) then how can you say even more complex biological organisms came to be by pretty much the same process? After all, we’re made out of the same stuff, whether biological man or biological machine. An outside agent is required to put all the elements together, and to give it energy and purpose.

  7. Are you saying Monton is not an atheist or that he has done bad philosophical reasoning? He says he’s an atheist…although possibly I think he teeters on agnosticism at times after listening to him.

    I would say, based on my own views and what you say here, that Morton is very likely relying on a concept of a divine creator in order to generate inferences from design. He asserts that he is an atheist, and I’m sure he’s sincere, but I think his argument rests on an enthymene — that is, the inference depends on a suppressed or implicit premise.

    What is the logic of expecting an intelligent alien civilization to be broadcasting signals blindly into space? Or are we betting on picking up some alien tv show or something? Their means of communication and perception could be radically different from anything we can imagine.

    It’s not a matter of expecting them to behave like us — it’s a matter of testing the assumption that they behave like us. If they don’t behave like us, then of course there’s no way to determine that — since we have only our own behavior as a model for theirs! (Archeologists are in slightly better shape, but not by much, whereas design theorists are in much worse shape!)

  8. Not having a God in your hypothesis makes your argument weaker, not stronger. Having a God at least gives you an excuse to not justify your claims and test challenges. By saying it doesn’t need to be from God, you’re giving yourself MORE, not LESS to explain.

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