Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Does Intelligent Design Creationism Make Testable Scientific Predictions? Part 1

ID has the potential for too many googlies to be a hard science.

This post on Uncommon Descent (UD) is entitled “Does ID Make Testable Scientific Predictions?”. The post provides a list of ID predictions.

Before I look at this list in detail in part 2 here are some general comments:

Strictly speaking the phrase “Intelligent Design Creationism” covers a multitude of sins (the gnu atheists would certainly think of them as sins!). For example, Sir John Polkinghorne calls himself an Intelligent Design creationist, but Sir John is an evolutionist and in his view Divine intelligence is needed to set up and run a physical regime whose evolutionary fruitfulness is a sign of God’s providence.

I would also classify myself as an “Intelligent Design Creationist”, at least in the sense that Sir John understands it; for if evolution is to work, (i.e. it is fruitful) it must be resourced by the selection of some remarkable preconditions, effectively giving it the “specified complexity” that some ID theorists talk about. In other words evolution would require a considerable level of intelligence to contrive. However, I must admit to having some reservations about evolutionary theory and I respect the criticisms of evolution by some of the correspondents one finds on UD. But having said that I must say that I have not yet been able to get the concept of evolution off my “examination bench” and eliminate it from the enquiry.

On UD itself we find a very wide range of opinion on how life arose; views expressed run from Old Earth theistic evolution through evolution with an “intelligent assist”, to the occasional YEC contributor. The balance of opinion on UD may be skewed toward Old Earth, but most commentators are rabidly anti-evolution. This vehement anti-evolutionism is probably down to the polarizing effects of what has turned out to be a very acrimonious debate, even between fellow theists. An outcome of that polarization is that the phrase “Intelligent Design” now has the de-facto meaning of “anti-evolution”, the unspoken innuendo being that theistic evolutionists don’t accept intelligent design!

It is for this reason that people like John Polkinghorne and Biologos are unwilling to identify themselves with the so-called “ID” community that UD stands for. They may even be unwilling to use the phrase “Intelligent Design” to describe themselves. Meanings matter and today “ID” means “anti-evolution” and in the minds of Biologos it probably also means “anti-science”. Just as polarization has made it look as though theistic evolutionists are anti-ID, UD has been made to look like part of an “anti-science” community. Thus, as theistic evolutionists stand accused of promoting religious heresy, UD stands accused of promoting scientific heresy. In truth, neither charge stands, in my opinion.

Occasionally one reads a post on UD that bemoans the poor relations between the Biologos and UD, especially as it is clear that in the final analysis they must both support ID creationism in the truest sense of the words. The fault is on both sides: UD has some vociferous anti-evolutionist correspondents who caricature evolution as a blind, mindless process derisively referring to Biologos as compromising “Darwinists”. Biologos, who probably have some measure of kudos in the scientific establishment, don’t want to risk their scientific credibility by parleying with UD, who they probably look down on with haughty superiority as guilty of hobnobbing with superstitious anti-science rubes. The division between the communities respectively represented by Biologos and UD is down to passion and polarization and not a fundamental disagreement in the essential core belief in ID

The following preamble indicates that polarization has resulted in a distortion of the meaning of the phrase “Intelligent Design Creationism” and shifted its meaning toward anti-evolutionism and the fundamentalist end of the religious spectrum. This in turn has obscured the fact that “ID creationism”, in its truest sense, covers the full spectrum from Christian evolutionists to YECs.

Now, why do I say all this? What’s it got to do with ID predictions? This: What it shows is that as far as making predictions is concerned ID has got its work cut out: For if ID belief covers the full range from establishment evolutionists to Young Earth Creationism one can legitimately query if belief in ID materially effects one’s expectation about how the cosmos should look. In short, it seems that it is extremely difficult to make any predictions at all from an ID position. Naturally, if the world is designed by intelligence then it is clear that we are dealing with a very abstracted non-embodied intelligence and therefore in one sense a very alien intelligence whose purposes and works are likely to have a large measure of inscrutability. I say this as a supporter of ID.

For myself I much prefer the a softer, fuzzier, less hard science view of ID: ID is a philosophical, theological and perhaps even mythological/metaphorical backdrop structure with which one attempts to understand and make sense of the most general features of the world. Its main utility is less prediction than it is "joining the dots" of what we already know, with particular regard to origins (For reasons I have given in my “Middlebrow Atheism” series it is clear that standard science has no chance of making any ultimate human sense of origins) At the core of ID is the concept of a complex entity whose alien intelligence is unlikely to lend itself to the making of hard predictions. However, the question of whether UD have actually succeeded in making some predictions will have wait for part 2 of this post. I rather think you will find what UD call “ID predictions” are in actual fact “anti-evolutionist” expectations rather than ID predictions per se.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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