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Darwinism and intelligent design

I don’t know much about the topic in its specific sense as a theory opposed to Darwinism. Some ideas associated with it do seem to make sense. It seems to me, for example, that mathematical analysis and basic physics and chemistry ought to set outer bounds on what random variation and natural selection can do, and so cast light on their plausibility as explanations for how life has developed. Whether much light has yet been cast I really have no idea.

But why should I care? ID is not a crucial topic from my point of view. So far as I can tell, Darwinian theory, as a non-metaphysical scientific theory, is consistent with the view that Divine Providence actually determines, and can be known to determine, everything that happens. All that’s needed is to note that modern natural science does not include all knowledge, scientific theories eliminate data points they can’t make sense of, and to say something is “random” for purposes of a science is only to say that it is not correlated with anything the science takes into account. A fluctuation in marriage rates might be random from the standpoint of a demographer, but that doesn’t mean people marry randomly or that a psychologist would agree that the marriages are random. Each science has its limits, and the same is true of modern natural science as an overall project. They give us useful but not ultimate truths.

Nonetheless, in a more general and perhaps non-scientific but nonetheless rational sense theism seems very closely connected to belief in intelligent design. If God is active, all knowing, all powerful, and the ultimate cause and explanation of all things, then it seems the world must be intelligently created and intended, and so designed. Similarly, to see the world as a whole as intelligently designed seems to imply belief in something very like the traditional conception of God.

So the real question is God. A basic objection to the idea of God today seems to be that people think it’s weird. To all appearances that’s why current anti-theological writers don’t bother informing themselves about theology. To the extent that’s the objection, it’s based on unexamined metaphysical prejudices that lack any rational basis. Why should the existence of God be odder than the existence of a quark or anything else? Are myriad mindless ultimate particles more plausible than one intelligent ultimate being? Why is that? God at least is thought to be self-caused and self-explanatory, which is more than quarks can say for themselves.

Besides, God’s existence would be a big help explaining what the world is actually like. It would make qualia—subjective experience—a basic feature of reality, which seems necessary for something so sui generis to exist at all. Denying the existence of consciousness is brain-dead. Blathering about “emergent properties” is hand-waving that explains nothing. The universe appears fine-tuned to support intelligent life, and thus evaluation, rationality and knowledge as principles that are concretely operative within it. Does it make any sense for something so improbable (assuming the fine-tuning argument), and so closely related to apparently non-physical attributes like consciousness that are necessary for knowledge and evaluation to be present within the world, to be the random outcome of a blind purely physical process?

People can talk all they want about the wonders of natural selection, and they may be right for all I know, but even if they are natural selection doesn’t do much to explain the possibility and origins of life, the connection between its physical and subjective aspects, or the actual existence of anything whatever. It is therefore unable to explain the world we see around us, including such features of the world as intelligent life. For that design seems needed.

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