Friday, 10 October 2014

Is intelligent design religion? part 2

Is intelligent design religion? part 2

Having begun to set out the terms of the debate, a necessary task in view of the misrepresentation around the subject, I would like to continue setting the grounds by considering what the Intelligent Design (ID) hypothesis is. I prefer to use the term intelligent design hypothesis, or IDH for short. Not sure if it deserves capitals, from now on I won't use them apart from IDH.

What do we mean by 'hypothesis'?

A hypothesis is an idea that is put forward for discussion. More than a notion, less than a fully developed theory. Arguably. My dictionary (Oxford Reference) says a hypothesis is 'a proposition or supposition made from known facts as the basis for reasoning or investigation.' I'm happy with that definition although others might be possible, and of course we can always argue about whether or not the 'facts' in question are 'known'. I remember the nonsense poem 'The Pobble who has no toes' in which the aunt (Aunt Jobiska as  I recall) eponymous mythical creature the Pobble states

'Its a fact that the whole world knows' 

on several occasions in support of various statements, some of them conflicting, concerning the Pobble's toes. In the case of the ID hypothesis, what are these 'known facts'? Are there any? And what is the intelligent design hypothesis anyway?

What is the intelligent design hypothesis anyway?

I am not aware that the IDH has been set down in a well defined form, although in that respect it is no different to evolution, which as mentioned briefly in part 1 of this discussion is capable of meaning several different things. Having read Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer and several other ID writers and followed the ID for UK site, I have a fair idea of what is meant by ID.

To me, the hypothesis in a simple form proposes that living things (plants, animals and humans) abundantly demonstrate characteristics known to be associated with design. (*) Furthermore, the ID hypothesis proposes that the mechanisms claimed by the advocates of Darwinian (or neo-Darwinian) evolution are not capable of achieving what is claimed for them and that design is a more rational explanation for the existence of living things than natural selection acting on random mutations.

to simplify even further, ID proposes that

A) living things look as if they were designed.

B) They couldn't have evolved by natural selection acting on random mutations because this mechanism lacks the ability to build the component parts of living things.

C) the above propositions depend on observations, not on supposition or faith.

It is perhaps point (C) that inflames the opponents of ID most, because they love to characterise ID as being religion in a bad disguise, an attempt to 'smuggle faith into science class.' Nevertheless, as I will show, at the heart of the ID hypothesis are repeatable scientific observations, calculations, and stuff that anyone can check. ID does not arise from religious teachings, conclusions or precepts.

I acknowledge that most ID advocates are theists (most but NOT all). However, this criticism is dismissed as irrelevant. The hypothesis must be evaluated on its merits, not on the personalities, philosophies and beliefs of its proponents, or else we will have to equally dismiss evolution on the grounds that many of its main proponents are atheists or agnostics.

The intelligent design hypothesis may be mainly advanced by people of faith (just as evolutionism is largely advanced by materialists), but it does not arise from or depend on faith. It depends on repeatable observations. To that extent, it is a scientific hypothesis.

More on this later. Feel free to comment, comment here is neither moderated nor censored.

(*) I appreciate that the word 'intelligent' is redundant since by definition design is always the work of an intelligence. However we are probably stuck with the term intelligent design for the foreseeable future.

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