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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.



Maybe I’m missing something but it doesn’t seem like science is even capable of measuring the output of God’s random number generator to determine if it’s random at all.

If one has a properly theistic worldview then the dispute between evolution and intelligent design becomes, as you said, largely a non-issue: “evolution” simply means “change”, and “intelligent design” means that God superintended the changes.

But in the trenches of the culture war, evolution and intelligent design are mutually exclusive, because to the official scientific organizations, science (including Darwinism, which is the official name of evolution) is materialistic BY DEFINITION, and they ruthlessly enforce this definition against anyone who would suggest that an Intelligent Designer may have been involved.

This is their defense against anti-Darwinism: “Your theory is unscientific by definition, because it is not materialistic. Therefore we win and you lose.”

So it’s all about God. To John Q. Public, evolution equals atheism equals liberalism. Indeed, when I was in a bookstore recently perusing a manual of liberal political activism, I saw a section devoted to the defense of evolution against intelligent design and creationism. Why would a philosophically lowbrow political action manual be concerned with the evolution dispute? Because they know that, in addition to the equation above, it is also true that to the general public, anti-evolution=theism=anti-liberalism.

For the culture war, creationism and ID are all about getting people to recognize that Darwinism (i.e., atheism, i.e., liberalism) is not proved, and that there are rational reasons, not just “blind faith,” for doubting Darwinism.

There are interesting issues here I haven’t sorted out:

  1. It seems obvious that evolution is a religion, and its most vehement supporters seem mostly to be ignorant religious cranks. Still, it seems you ought to look for the best arguments and proponents for a position rather than the noisiest ones. I don’t know what those are though.
  2. The claim that science is materialistic by definition strikes me as bogus. It means “shut up.” If science is not concerned with knowledge as such, because it only investigates one particular type of explanation that might or might not be the best one, why don’t educators insist on making that clear? It seems an important point. Maybe that should be the line taken by school boards etc.?
  3. I’ve argue that at least in concept evolution could be random from the standpoint of materialist science but providentially determined from the standpoint of a broader system of knowledge. It might be true, for example, that instances of divine guidance are common but don’t correlate well enough with the things materialistic science studies to produce clear patterns grounding reliable preductions. I don’t know if that argument stands up. Maybe it requires too much of a divide between physical and spiritual. (I suspect that last issue will be illuminated more by studies of the brain and mind than studies of evolution.)

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

In reference to the above comments:

1) Evolution is indeed a religion, mainly because it answers one of the ultimate questions, namely origins. Its enthusiasts have extrapolated Darwinism into a “theory of (nearly) everything,” to take the place of the Christianity it is seen as displacing. As such, Darwinism is arguably traditionalism’s main theological enemy.

2) About “science is materialistic by definition.” There is a difference between what science is (at least now) and what science ought to be. The scientific authorities (as opposed to a few individual scientists here and there) are literally unanimous that science is materialistic, and they actively suppress heresy, as any self-confident religion must do. It does little good to say, “this claim is bogus,” (even though it IS bogus), any more than it did any good to say that the government of the Soviet Union should not have been a communistic tyranny. It should not have been, but it was. The job of traditionalists is to point out the illogic of the status quo: science cannot prove materialism, but it must assume it, that is, it must assume something that may in fact be false.

Many well-intentioned theists fail to understand the radical antithesis between science as currently constituted and any notion of divine creation. They think that science understands its limits, and concedes that God may have superintended a process that from a purely materialistic point of view appears random. But contemporary science is epistemologically imperialistic: it demands that nobody question its right to answer the question of origins. Some scientists and scientific organizations are more tactful on this point than others, perhaps out of a desire not to awake a sleeping giant, but no scientific organization, when directly challenged, will concede any ontological reality to divine creation.

3) Therefore, the idea that “evolution could be random from the standpoint of materialist science but providentially determined from the standpoint of a broader system of knowledge” is a non-starter for scientists, at least those loyal to the current regime. In this area, as in so many other areas of the culture war, traditionalists (and other enemies of the liberal regime) will have to work on clarifying and promoting an alternative intellectual and spiritual system (basically the Faith of our fathers) which, God willing, will one day displace liberalism.