There’s an interesting post over at The Scientist in which Jack Woodall, billed as “director of the Nucleus for the Investigation of Emerging Infectious Diseases in the Institute of Medical Biochemistry at Brazil’s Federal University of Rio de Janeiro,” (pause for breath) uses the example of butterfly development and human-caused extinction patterns to poke holes in ID. The comments are about evenly distributed between evolution supporters, and ID supporters trotting out the usual argument-from-incredulity fallacies. I’ve chimed in, and am reproducing here a comment I posted in reply to another commenter, Jim Lord, who replied to my initial comment. Go have a look at the article and thread yourself, and if you can think of anything I missed, pitch in. They need more intelligent voices over there.
Jim Lord’s comments are italicized, and we pick up our conversation already in progress. Many IDers in the comment thread attacked Woodall for making what they call straw man arguments against ID; they claim that just because design in nature may be, you know, horribly flawed, doesn’t mean it isn’t design. (Shades of Casey Luskin’s immortal Ford Pinto analogy from a few days ago.) I pointed out this little detail:
On the face of it, this would seem a valid point. Until one butts up against the fact that Dembski and virtually every other ID proponent I’ve ever encountered is either Christian, Muslim, or some believer in a monotheistic god from the Abrahamic tradition. This God is said to be perfect in every way. So whence could come imperfect design?….
So I must now ask everyone slamming the article as attacking a “straw man” of ID because of the “imperfect design” approach: Are you people religious (whether Christian, Jew, or Muslim), and if so, do you believe your God is omniscient and omnipotent? If you answered “yes” to both those questions, and still think that ID isn’t refuted by pointing out poor examples of design, then how do you reconcile imperfect design with a perfect designer? Or are you suggesting that God is, after all, imperfect? Or are you going WAY out on a limb and suggesting some designing agent OTHER than the God of your religion actually did all the designing (which would make you a polytheist)? And if so, how do you reconcile THAT with your religion?
Therefore, true/inspired or not, religious texts such as the Bible and Qu’ran provide explanations for man’s imperfection. (Else, why preach a need for a relationship with God?) The Bible describes man’s fall and separation from God in Genesis.
Jim, what you call explanations I think can more accurately be termed rationalizations or justifications. It is a real problem for Christianity that it proposes, on the one hand, a perfect god, then must turn around and resort to all manner of tortuous rhetoric to explain how a perfect creator makes an imperfect creation. If God were truly omniscient, he’d have foreseen the imperfections in his creation and either rectified them or chosen not to make those mistakes at all. That he didn’t either indicates this deity either isn’t so perfect after all (then why worship it?), or, meant for all of life’s imperfections, including evil (there goes omnibenevolence), to be part of the Grand Plan, or whatever.
This is the crux of the Problem of Evil that demolishes Christianity’s O3G (omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent) concept of God. Despite two millennia of highly motivated theodicy, this dilemma has never been successfully addressed. And its ramifications do impact the validity of intelligent design as both a scientific and theological concept.
In the famous opening passage of the Gospel of John, the Bible makes an ontological argument for the existence of God, which is supported by other passages. “In the beginning was the ‘Word'”, the logos, the reason of itself.
The opening of John isn’t an argument at all, but a series of tautological assertions that are hermetically sealed against rational inquiry. “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” Does that apply to God himself? If God belongs to the information set labeled “all things,” then did God make himself? Or did something else make God? Or is God “unmade”? If so, whence came God, and what was he doing for the infinite span of time before he decided to create a universe? And, knowing via his omniscience he was going to create a universe someday, why not do so before he eventually did so? And if you are willing to accept the existence of at least one unmade thing, why stop at one?
You see how God fails scientifically as any kind of concept with explanatory power. The unanswerable questions are endless. Invoking God as the explanation for our universe is simply an act of trying to solve a mystery with an infinitely greater mystery.
Ancient holy books that attempt to define their deities into existence by rhetorical fiat do not exactly qualify as scientific treatises on the nature of life and the universe. After all, how does one look at the claims made in John 1 and decide they are any more or less valid a creation story as, say, this one?
Unfortunately, just as religious leaders turn to science to prove their faith, scientists often resort to half-baked theological arguments.
I actually tend to see more apologists using half-baked theological arguments than scientists, frankly. Not to mention holy books themselves — see John 1.
Faith cannot be fostered with fact, but just because it is faith does not necessarily mean it isn’t true.
Maybe, but that is not a scientific statement. If ID supporters wish their alternative “theory” to be taken seriously by the scientific community, they’re going to have to do better than “just because it’s faith based doesn’t mean it isn’t true.” They’re going to have to make with the evidence for the Designer, and it is going to have to be evidence every bit as detailed as what science currently has for evolution across multiple disciplines. What nature of being is this designer? Is it bigger than a breadbox? Is it alive, in the sense we understand an organism to be alive? Does it have metabolic processes? Where does it live, if not in this universe? What exact mechanisms does it employ when it creates universes, and how does it employ them? Constantly attacking scientists for making alleged “straw man” criticisms of ID is pretty dishonest of the ID camp, when they aren’t even beginning to try to address these questions and explain their designer in an intelligible way (except to say it isn’t “necessarily” the Biblical God whenever they find themselves addressing a judge or school board).
Science, by definition, is a process of empirical study that can only draw conclusions based on observation of evidence. Faith is fine for religionists, but it just has no place in the scientific method. If you admit that “faith cannot be fostered with fact,” which I take to mean that religion’s claims cannot be examined scientifically, then you must agree that faith-based concepts like ID simply don’t get to join the scientific fraternity…at least until some fostering facts come along to give it actual substance.