Sunday, May 15, 2005

Reply to an ID Critic

Dr. Keith Lockitch of the Ayn Rand Institute wrote a column for our local paper last Friday critical of Intelligent Design. His essay can be read here. I replied with the following:

Dr. Lockitch writes that ID theorists are being disingenuous when they claim that their theory does not require that the designer be the Judeo-Christian God. He argues to the contrary that:

Imagine we discovered an alien on Mars with a penchant for bioengineering. Could such a natural being fulfill the requirements of an "intelligent designer?"

It could not.... Any natural being capable of designing the complex features of Earthly life would...require its own designer.... intelligent design cannot be satisfied with a designer who is part of the natural world.

Such a designer .... would not explain biological complexity as such. The only designer that would stop their quest for a design[er]... is one about whom one cannot ask any questions or who cannot be subjected to any kind of scientific study -- a designer that transcends nature and its laws... in short: a supernatural designer.

This is somewhat misleading. Here are four reasons why:

1. ID theorists ask whether biological information such as we find in the DNA, proteins, cellular machinery, and cellular assembly lines of living things can be produced by blind, purposeless, undirected forces or whether they require intelligent input. It may be that we can never learn anything about the designer at all, but we need know nothing about it's characteristics in order to deduce that there must be one.

If it turns out that we are able to identify the designer of earth-bound life then of course we might ask whether or not this designer itself shows evidence of design, but it is hardly a criticism of ID that it seeks a more satisfactory explanation for the complex, information-bearing structures of life than that these are just accidental products of the laws of physics and chemistry.

2. If ID theorists are going beyond the bounds of science by seeking to take the chain of causation as far as our human limitations allow, then so are cosmologists out of bounds for seeking to probe the origin of the universe as far back to the beginning as we are able. What should cosmologists do if their researches lead to the conclusion that the universe had a cause outside of itself? Abandon their quest for causes?

3. An intelligent entity, even a supernatural one, is not necessarily the God most people think of. The God of theism is not merely intelligent but is in fact the greatest possible being. Nothing in ID theory leads to such a being. For all anyone knows the designer of life could be similar to a Platonic demiurge that fashions pre-existing matter into living things. Just because some ID theorists personally believe that the designer is the God of theism, however, should no more discredit ID than the fact that many biologists think that Darwinian evolution justifies atheism should discredit Darwinism.

4. Even if it should turn out that the designer is a being similar to the God of theism that wouldn't make ID religious. The assertion that a Creator exists is no more religious than asserting the existence of other universes. The belief that there is more to reality than matter and energy is not in itself a religious claim and affirming the possibility of its truth is hardly a manifestation of religion. It would only constitute "religion" if the ID theorist were to advocate some sort of human obligation or responsibility to the designer, which, of course, no ID theorist has.

Indeed, what do we mean by the word religion, anyway? How do we recognize it? Not one person in a hundred who voices the objection that ID is religion masquerading as science can give a compelling definition of what "religion" is. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy acknowledges that the term eludes definition. Some religions have a moral code, some don't. Some religions have a god, some don't. Some religions involve worship of their deity, some don't. ID neither entails the existence of the God of any major monotheism nor does it prescribe worship of one. The fact that ID may lead to an intelligence which transcends the universe is hardly grounds for calling it religious.

Doubtless many ID adherents are religious as individuals and would like to see ID used as a means to point others to the Judeo-Christian God, but then many Darwinians are atheistic and see Darwinism as a useful tool for turning people toward materialism or naturalism. Neither the religious motivations of individual scientists on both sides of the debate nor the religious implications of their theories are relevant to the intellectual merits of their ideas.

The Collapse of the Sunni Boycott

The fallout from appointing a Sunni as defense minister in the new government includes a surge in military enlistments among Sunnis. Arthur Chrenkoff has the story:

After the Iraqi government confirmed the appointment of a Sunni in the position of defense minister. Iraqi Arab Sunnis started heading for the army enlisting centers to join the new Iraqi Army. This was evident by the long lines and large crowds of young men outside these centers in the largely Sunni area of Baghdad. This is the main reason for the increase in the terrorist activities in and around these centers.

The high unemployment amongst the Sunnis is due to non-participation in the electoral and governmental process. This is due to their religious leaders forbidding them from joining the government and the security forces in the past. This situation has now changed. We witnessed thousands of Iraqi Arab Sunnis coming from different provinces to military enlisting station in Baghdad.

Ahmend Mahmud, age 30, from Aathamiah came to the enlisting office to join the new Iraqi military. "I came because I desire to join in protecting the peace and my country," he said. Adnan Hussein from Meqdadieh who was in the old Army said; "Since the fall of the old regime I had no employment to feed my kids, thus I decided to join the new military, which pays a decent wage, and I heard a number of (Sunni) religious leaders call for us to join the new army". Luaai Ahmed from Aathamiah said, "I voluntarily enlisted in the new military because I wanted to and upon advise from my relatives".

Chrenkoff concludes with this observation: "The Sunni involvement in the new government and new security forces is a nightmare scenario both for the neo-Baathist insurgents and Al Zarqawi's jihadis - it means the loss of their only constituency."

We are not at the end of this struggle, but all indications are that we are moving in the right direction. We suspect that if Zarqawi has been captured or killed the morale of the insurgents, which is already very low, will hit rock bottom and thousands of them will just pack it in. The foreign fighters, too, will look for other ways to fight their jihad against a foe that they might be able to defeat at least on occasion. We'll see, perhaps soon.