Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ancient Roots for Intelligent Design

The Discovery Institute (DI) – the primary PR forum for Intelligent Design – has a file at that makes this argument:

“Some people claim that intelligent design developed in response to modern court cases or debates over Biblical creationism in the twentieth century. Others assert that intelligent design grew out of “Christian fundamentalism.” This selection of readings and other resources is designed to allow people to investigate and discuss the roots of intelligent design for themselves.”

I’ve never heard anyone dispute the clam that the idea of “Intelligent Design” has been around forever. It’s really nothing but another form of the God of the Gaps argument.

The web page therefore makes nothing but a straw man argument.

The “God of the Gaps” argument, of course, is the idea that anything that seems to be beyond human understanding or human ability to duplicate must be the result of the efforts of a supernatural being, i.e. God (or gods).

The Native Americans (as well as many other cultures) didn’t understand where rain came from. Their explanation: a rain god. That’s the God of the Gaps.

I personally believed that the God of the Gaps argument is the evolutionary explanation for religion. Humans were the first organisms to develop fairly sophisticated explanations for things that happen in nature. Even a dog understands that if it sits and begs when told to do so by its master it will receive a reward, only a human understands that if you put a seed in the ground and wait long enough, it will turn into a plant or even a tree.

But knowing explanations for some things causes frustration and uneasiness when things happen for which there is no obvious explanation – e.g. rain. So the idea of a “God”(or gods) becomes an explanation, valid or not. Having an explanation – even one that is supernatural and not provable – is better than none at all.

When debating creationists you see this expressed all of the time. Creationists are fond of talking about abiogenesis even though it is not, strictly speaking, the same thing as evolution simply because scientists are honest enough to admit that they don’t have all of the answers there yet. That fact gives the creationists the perfect opportunity to say, “You don’t have an explanation yet? Then God did it!”

The modern Intelligent Design movement is nothing but a more sophisticated usage of the God of the Gaps argument. They use mathematics to try to calculate the odds of things happening through natural processes. The results of the calculations inevitably lead to very unlikely numbers that allow them to insist that it could have only happened through the intervention of a designer, who can only be the God of the Bible. In essence, if I dare use the word, ID is nothing but the result of the long evolution of an old idea.

The DI article asks four questions at the end of their article. The web page at answers the questions like this:

· What do these readings show you about the origins of intelligent design as an idea?

The readings merely indicate the inherent bias to seeing design is a universal in human cultures.

· Is intelligent design a response to modern court rulings or an outgrowth of “Christian fundamentalism”?

The design argument is not, the design movement is.

· Is it dependent on the authority of the Bible rather than the observations of nature and the inferences drawn from those inferences [sic]?

No, but then again, no one is arguing it is. As a form of natural theology, it serves as a gateway to the acceptance of revealed religion.

· How long have people been debating about whether there is evidence of design in nature?

Since the sourcebooks has strenuously avoided any presentation of debate (see the treatment of Hume and Cicero, for example) this question is meaningless.

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