Monday, November 03, 2008

What is Intelligent Design?



The opponents of Intelligent Design are constantly trying to muddy the distinction between creationism and Intelligent Design. They do this in several ways. The first is to employ a deliberately sloppy and indefinite definition of Intelligent Design; the second is to simply misrepresent it.

To the left is an attempt through logical division to show the several distinctions visually. Note that this is only one limited way to define something--through showing it's parts--and does not take the place of a real definition.

By "weak case" Intelligent Design, I mean anyone who holds that the universe is the product (by whatever mechanism) of Intelligence. By "strong case" Intelligent Design I mean the belief that the design can be scientifically verified. This analysis misses a lot of subtleties in the differences, but I think it captures the main categories.

What the Intelligent Design movement per se calls "Intelligent Design" is simply Strong Case Intelligent Design, which would include both Intelligent Design evolutionists and creationists of both the young and old earth stripes, although many young earth creationists would disavow connections with other Strong Case Intelligent Design advocates because of the latter's heavy reliance on a literal interpretation of Genesis.

What many ID opponents try to obfuscate is the very real differences between Intelligent Design evolutionists and creationists. It serves their rhetorical and political purposes, but does very little to further understanding about the issue.

29 comments:

bobxxxx said...

Intelligent design is an idiotic childish belief in magic. The words "intelligent design" are used to disguise magic to look scientific. The entire scientific community laughs at the breathtaking stupidity of intelligent design magic, except for a few quacks who work for Bible colleges or Christian creationist organizations like the Discovery Institute which has never discovered anything. The only purpose of intelligent design magic is to use it to suppress or dumb down the teaching of evolution, which is the strongest fact of science.

Invoking intelligent design = invoking God's magic.

The professional liars of the Discovery Institute don't like to talk about who the designer is because they don't want to admit it's a magic fairy.

Anonymous said...

Could you expand a bit on the criteria used to make your disticntions. For example, what positons are held by an "Intelligent Design Evolutionist" that are distinct from those of a "Theistic Evolutionist."

I also struggle with your distinction between Intelligent Design Evoluttionists and Creationists, both apparent subsets of the "strong case" Intelligent Design. Are the two therefore philosophical cousins?

I can't use the Blogger thingie so I list my eamail as verification. sealawr [at} aol.com

Martin Cothran said...

Bobxxx,

Your post is characteristic of much of the criticism of Intelligent Design: it is arrogant, naively dismissive, and dogmatic. It is rhetoric like this that is partly responsible for the fact that you are losing the debate at the popular level.

All your post contains is simplistic assertions that betray no familiarity with any of the issues surrounding the debate. In fact, it is no different from a lot of the creationist rhetoric you see from people who really don't know the issues.

You're not going to convince anyone until you actually offer arguments for your position and refutations of the best arguments from your position that you argue against.

There are plenty of responsible critiques of Intelligent Design, but your post is not one of them.

Martin Cothran said...

Anonymous,

Part of the problem may be the inherent difficulty in putting this in a chart in the first place, but I'm going to continue trying anyway...

In regard to the difference between Intelligent Design evolutionists and theistic evolutionists, theistic evolutionists do not believe (or at least doubt) that design can be verified scientifically. This is why I put them under "weak case" Intelligent Design.

Theistic evolutionists take a position on the relation between theology and science akin to that of Stephen Jay Gould: that of "non-overlapping magisteria," While all strong case Intelligent Design proponents (including ID evolutionists) believe in "overlapping magisteria).

In other words, for the theistic evolutionist, science and theology are two hermetically sealed compartments, whereas the ID evolutionist rejects this strict distinction.

You can see the fault lines laid down by Dembski in his book Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology, where he critiques theistic evolution.

I think the difference between Intelligent Design evolutionists and creationists is pretty marked: Intelligent Design evolutionists believe in evolutionary development (or at least do not dismiss it out of hand) while creationists do not.

This latter fact is pretty plainly evident and is why I think the Darwinist rhetoric confounding the two positions is completely disingenuous.

I suppose you could call the two positions philosophical cousins, but there is a big philosophical difference between most young earth creationists and every other branch because they employ a scientistic reading of the first chapters of Genesis, and place that reading ahead of any other scientific evidence.

Art said...

Hmm... so if "Strong ID" is contradicted by positive experimental evidence and found to have zero empirical support whatsoever, would it be appropriate to conclude that all of the variants that fall under the "Strong ID" umbrella are also bankrupt propositions? Is this how one would use the chart?

Martin Cothran said...

Art,

I think that is an oversimplification. Since scientific conclusions are always provisional to some extent (some less provisional than others), just because a position does not have evidence for it is not a sufficient condition to reject it as "bankrupt". If it also suffers from evidence against it, then it is in a pretty weak position.

There are many scientific positions that have been held that at one point in time had no evidence for them--and even evidence against them. Both relativity and quantum theory, at early stages, are examples of this.

The situation becomes more problematic in those parts of science in which there is an overlap between philosophy and science, as I think may be the case with ID.

But, generally speaking, I would agree with you, yes.

Martin Cothran said...

Art,

I should add that the chart has little to do with the question you're asking. ID would have to stand or fall on its own merits: this chart is just drawing a proper distinction between something ID's opponents are constantly confusing.

kycobb said...

There isn't anything to confuse, Martin. IDism was never anything more than a legal strategy to get pseudo-scientific anti-evolutionary arguments made by creationists into public school classrooms. That effort failed in the Dover case. IDism is now a dead letter-it failed as a legal strategy and its a non-starter as science. IDists don't have a theory, the notion doesn't generate falsifiable predictions, thus IDists don't do scientific research. You're beating a dead horse-its not going to get into public schools during an Obama Administration. Home-schoolers and christian academies might as well stick with biblical creationism-its wrong, but at least there is some substance to what they believe.

Lee said...

> IDists don't have a theory, the notion doesn't generate falsifiable predictions, thus IDists don't do scientific research.

How would we go about falsifying, say, the notion that all life on earth has a common ancestor?

Anonymous said...

Lee said:
"How would we go about falsifying, say, the notion that all life on earth has a common ancestor?"

How about mice in the Precambrian, or whales in the Ordovician Lexington Limestone?

bobxxxx said...

All your post contains is simplistic assertions that betray no familiarity with any of the issues surrounding the debate.

Invoking intelligent design = invoking God's magic.

Prove me wrong. Show me one example where invoking intelligent design is not equal to invoking magic.

It is rhetoric like this that is partly responsible for the fact that you are losing the debate at the popular level.

What debate? Are you talking about the debate between biologists and uneducated god-soaked hicks?

There is NO debate in the scientific community about intelligent design. Every biologist agrees intelligent design is an idiotic attempt to disguise magic to look scientific. The only reason for this dishonesty is to try to sneak religious magic into science education. The proponents of Intelligent Design Magic who want to destroy science education are traitors and they should be put in prison for treason.

Sorry, but I have no respect for liars, traitors, and hopelessly stupid people, qualities shared by all intelligent design creationists.

Art said...

Lee asked: "How would we go about falsifying, say, the notion that all life on earth has a common ancestor?"

Every time someone asks if the heart of a newly-discovered organism (at the subcellular level) is or is not the ribosome, they are testing this notion. And should someone ever discover an organism that does not have or utilize ribosomes, they would indeed have discovered a lifeform that does not share a common ancestry with life as we know it today.

Martin Cothran said...

I'm always impressed when I bring this issue up at the facility with which you all shake your pom-poms.

Go team!

Unfortunately, behind the cheers there is little but ad hominem argument (bobxxxx: "idiotic childish belief in magic"; "professional liars"; "uneducated God-soaked hicks") and imparting motive (Kycobb: "IDism was never anything more than a legal strategy to get pseudo-scientific anti-evolutionary arguments made by creationists into public school classrooms").

This is what good dogmatists do: they don't actually listen to what their opponents arguments are and respond to them, they simply attack their opponent's character and question their motives.

I have said before that I don't know whether the views set forth by ID proponents would qualify as scientific or philosophical speculation, but the more I listen to the pseudo-arguments against it, the more plausible ID appears relative to them.

But my biggest criticism of your all's efforts so far is that you need something with a little more rhyme to it. How about something like this:

RAH! RAH! SIS BOOM BAH!
DARWIN! DARWIN! RAH! RAH! RAH!

It might even prove more logically sophisticated than your prior comments.

Martin Cothran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin Cothran said...

By the way, I exclude Art from that prior caricature. He is actually using arguments.

Martin Cothran said...

Bobxxxx:

Prove me wrong. Show me one example where invoking intelligent design is not equal to invoking magic.

William Dembski, writing in Intelligent Design: the Bridge Between Science and Theology:

"Whenever we infer design, we must establish three things contingency, complexity and specification. Contingency ensures that the object in question is not the result of an automatic and therefore unintelligent process that had no choice in its production. Complexity ensures that the object is not so simple that it can readily be explained by chance, Finally, specification ensures that the object exhibits the type of pattern characteristic of intelligence." (p.128)

Now being an example of reasoned discourse, this may be something new to you, but I'm fairly certain, whether it is true or not, that it is not magic. If you think it is, please tell me what characteristics you think it shares with magic.

Oh, and you might offer a definition of magic so we can make sure we are using similar terms. This is something people who speak in reasoned discourse do: define their terms. Trust me on this.

Martin Cothran said...

Kycobb,

IDism was never anything more than a legal strategy to get pseudo-scientific anti-evolutionary arguments made by creationists into public school classrooms.

So you read minds too? Now what was that that Bobxxxx was saying about magic?

Martin Cothran said...

Kycobb,

That effort failed in the Dover case. IDism is now a dead letter-it failed as a legal strategy and its a non-starter as science.

So scientific questions can be settled in the courtroom? That is a novel scientific approach. If the court had ruled the other way (and not used specious reasoning, as I have pointed out elsewhere), would you have accepted that decision just as well?

Martin Cothran said...

Bobxxxx:

Every biologist agrees intelligent design is an idiotic attempt to disguise magic to look scientific.

So all I have to do is produce one biologist who accepts Intelligent Design to falsify your statement?

This is too easy.

Martin Cothran said...

Kycobb,

IDists don't have a theory, the notion doesn't generate falsifiable predictions, thus IDists don't do scientific research.

If they don't generate falsifiable predictions, then why are there so many people on your side of this issue who say that ID has been falsified?

Anonymous said...

Mr Cothran states that the ID movement means "strong ID" when they say "ID" and that their opponents obfuscate the difference for rhetorical and political purposes. But how does Mr Cothran know their motives? Even he refers to weak ID as ID. So if a scientist lumps weak and strong ID together under the general term ID, how is that any different from Mr Cothran's own terminology? His earlier posts don't always specify strong ID, so why would anyone assume that is what he means?

The distinction between types of ID depends on one's perspective. I can see where Mr Cothran as a (one time?) fellow of the DI cares about the distinctions he makes. A scientist might use a different system, one where the major categories would be:

1) Those who base their conclusions on observations of and experiments with nature,
2) Those who base their conclusion on the Bible or some other holy, revealed source of info who need no recourse to the real world,
3) Those who have their own peculiar perspective.


But on the whole I applaud Mr Cothran's classification scheme. The confusion caused by different people interpreting the same words differently makes any meaningful discussion between different views even more complicated. Now if only he would quit referring to scientists as Darwinists (a term which for some includes geologists and astronomers among others).

jah

Anonymous said...

MC: If they don't generate falsifiable predictions, then why are there so many people on your side of this issue who say that ID has been falsified?


Now who's smearing all the varieties of ID together for rhetorical and political purposes?

jah

Anonymous said...

MC: What many ID opponents try to obfuscate is the very real differences between Intelligent Design evolutionists and creationists.


It is easy to see how the uninformed might confuse the two. See this excerpt from the Dover trial about an ID book in which "creation" is cut and "intelligent design" pasted in:



One of the items available via the new NCSE resource on Kitzmiller v. DASD is the court transcript of testimony in the FTE motion to intervene. There is a telling interchange between the Foundation for Thought and Ethics President Jon A. Buell and Pepper Hamilton lawyer Eric Rothschild, showing precisely the relationship between “intelligent design” and “creation”: it’s the very same thing, defined in exactly the same way.

In the following section taken from the court transcript, “Q” indicates Eric Rothschild and “A” indicates Jon A. Buell. The book is Of Pandas and People, the supplemental textbook published by FTE.

Q Actually in this version of the book it describes who creationists are, doesn’t it, if you look at pages 22 and 23 and 24. It says there’s different types of creationist’s literature. There are older [old earth] creationists, younger [young earth] creationists, agnostic creationists, right?

A Yes. We were trying to give some articulation to the breadth of what that term means.

Q And then if you could turn back to page 22, you explain that “Creation is the theory that various forms of life began abruptly, with their distinctive features already intact: Fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers and wings, mammals with fur and mammary glands.” That’s how you defined creation, correct?

A Yes.

Q All right. And I would like to take – you to take a look at an excerpt from Pandas and People. Turn to page 99 in the excerpt I gave you.

A All right.

Q Says, “Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact: Fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks and wings, et cetera.”

Do you see that?

A I see it.

Q So that’s pretty much the exact same sentence substituting creation for intelligent design, isn’t that right?

A The reason that you find the similarity in the two passages is because this obviously was at a time when we were developing the manuscript. We had not chosen the term “intelligent design” at that point. We were trying to – this was just a place holder term until we came to grips with which of the plausible two or three terms that are in scientific literature we would settle on. And that was the last thing we did before the book was revise – I mean was sent to the publisher.

Q It was creation, creation, creation until the end and then it was intelligent design.

(Court transcript, pp.97-99)




http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2005/09/of_pandas_and_p.html


jah

Lee said...

> Every time someone asks if the heart of a newly-discovered organism (at the subcellular level) is or is not the ribosome, they are testing this notion.

I don't think so, Art. The proposition you are implying here is that if something from one organism is enough like all other organisms, then they must share a common ancestry.

That may be a clue. But it's not what you can call proof. It isn't testable. Evolution would explain it. Design would also explain it.

A Model T has the same essential design as a far more advanced 2008Toyota Camry. Four wheels. Brakes. Motor in the front. Lots of metal. Lots of glass. Lots of rubber. A fuel system. Seats. Steering wheel. Both are recognizable as cars. One is obviously a refinement on an earlier design. Whoops, did the word "design" slip in there?

That's right. There was an evolution of sorts that took place, but the evolution happened in the minds of the designers, not the DNA, so to speak, of the cars themselves. We can even talk about a car's lineage and trace its taxonomy, as it were.

But Model T's didn't mate with each other and have progeny.

Anonymous said...

I think there are two major problems in the previous arguments. The first, and lesser, is a basic misconception about science. The more important is an incomplete consideration of design.


lee: But it's not what you can call proof. It isn't testable.

Proof in the sense I feel is implied here does not exist in science. People are convicted everyday without the original crime being experimentally reproduced. Explanations can be tested without repeating the original incident (which is not really possible anyhow). As pointed out by Art, the similarity of new organisms tests the idea of common descent. There is a self consistency in the explanation of evolution.

lee: Design would also explain it.

Of course it would. Design can explain anything. Please give a scenario in which an observation would disprove design. There isn't any. No matter what facts are uncovered, it is always possible to explain them by saying the designer did it that way. Such a nebulous concept of design adds nothing to any explanation of science. The theory of evolution on the other hand explains the similarity of modern life. It explains why simpler form developed before more complicated ones. Etc, etc.

The first part of science is to make observations about nature, such as how materials behave. Then come ideas to explain these observations, such as atomic theory. The existence of atoms has never been proven, but the theory of atoms explains many phenomena - why sodium and potassium behave similarly and tend to form salts with chlorine and iodine etc. The theory of atoms does not disprove design - perhaps the designer made atoms. But saying a designer made materials does not explain anything or predict anything.

lee: Whoops, did the word "design" slip in there?

Please describe how to tell whether some object is designed or not.


Summary: The general concept of design is useless in science because it does not reduce the number of variables or elements used to describe something. In physics, a large number of observations can be condensed into the approximate equation F=ma. Evolution also explains a large number of observations. Design doesn't. Maybe things were designed to look like F=ma is true or evolution is true. But knowing this adds nothing to the utility of science. [It would of course require the existence of a designer, but that is irrelevant to science.]


Please give a scenario in which an observation would disprove design. Dembski realizes that is not possible which is why he concentrates on the idea that design can be detected. His arguments however have not been accepted by more than a negligible, minuscule fraction of scientists.

jah

Anonymous said...

If George Bush is intelligently designed, I'll have none of it, thank you much.

Kycobb said...

Martin,

I'm not a mind-reader. The evidence that the purpose of IDism was to get creationist anti-evolutionary arguments into public school classrooms is in the drafts of the book "of Pandas and People", in which the term "creationists" evolved into "design proponents" through the transitional term "cdesign proponentsists". It is also evident in the Wedge Document that the primary motivation of ID proponents is not scientific, but cultural and political.

As far as IDism being falsified, proposals made by IDists, such as that "irreducibly complex" biological structures cannot evolve, have been debunked. But that isn't a prediction derived from the non-existent ID theory-its an attempt to falsify evolutionary theory, which failed.

It is a fallacy on your part to argue that because we have not presented sophisticated scientific arguments demonstrating the vacuity of IDism it must hold some water. I'm not a scientist, but if you actually want to see scientific arguments demonstrating the power of evolutionary theory and the vacuity of IDism, that information is readily available should you choose to look for it.

kycobb said...

Martin,

In regards to Kitzmiller v. Dover, of course the judge didn't settle the issue of whether IDism is science. What I said was that the IDist legal strategy failed in Kitzmiller. IDists have failed to establish IDism scientifically by their failure to develop a scientifically fruitful theory.

onein6billion said...

"Contingency ensures that the object in question is not the result of an automatic and therefore unintelligent process that had no choice in its production."

This is a rather obvious thought. But note that it appeals to knowledge of the "automatic process". If you don't actually know about the "process", how do you know if it is "automatic" or not? So perhaps a snowflake really is "designed" if one does not know the physical process.

"Complexity ensures that the object is not so simple that it can readily be explained by chance."

More wonderful words. What does "chance" really mean in this statement? What "process" allows even a simple object to be "explained" by "chance"? In the origin of life from non-life, it seems clear that "chance" produced "complex" chemicals. How can you "draw a line" between what can be produced by "chance" and what cannot be produced by "chance" if you do not actually know the process that would allow that object to be produced?

"Finally, specification ensures that the object exhibits the type of pattern characteristic of intelligence."

This, of course, is the silliest of the three. There can never be a scientific definition of this "specification" that would determine if an object was or was not "produced by intelligence". Merely recognizing a "pattern" that seems to be "characteristic of being produced by intelligence" means nothing. Unless/until you actually understand the process whereby some "intelligence" actually did produce this object, you are merely indulging in wishful thinking.

Bottom line - these sentences are scientifically meaningless and so is "intelligent design".

Or - if the "process" that produced "life" really is "intelligent design", then that process is not understood and thus it is currently equivalent to magic.