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Wednesday, June 24, A.D. 2009

Meyer’s Intelligent Design

Yesterday, I was fortunate to attend a short lecture at the Heritage Foundation by Dr. Stephen C. Meyer of the Discovery Institute on the evidence of DNA for intelligent design. You may watch the lecture on the Heritage Foundation’s site.

I do not believe that I have addressed Darwinism on Arimathea, yet. Though it is a “hot topic,” I do not have a firm opinion on the matter. However, I am interested in the issue, and I wanted to see what Dr. Meyer had to say. I was a bit skeptical going in because the Discovery Institute is held in such low regard by people whom I respect, such as John Derbyshire. However, I found the discussion interesting and Dr. Meyer most affable.

You ought to watch the lecture yourself or read Dr. Meyer’s book, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, but his basic argument is that the naturalistic explanations of chance, natural law, or a combination of the two cannot account for the biological information in DNA. Using Charles Lyell’s and Charles Darwin’s scientific criteria of “inference to the best explanation” when seeking causes in remote prehistory, Meyer argues that we should attribute causation of biological information to the only thing that we know to be the cause of information—namely, intelligence. Watch the video and read the book for the details.

I have no problem with acknowledging that mind is behind the order of the cosmos. I think that it is glaringly evident that the world demonstrates intelligent design. However, I think that such design underlies all reality. The very structure of the cosmos gives rise to the complex, ordered, and beautiful universe that we behold. I therefore think that intelligent design is an obvious metaphysical truth that undergirds physical truth.

What is the alternative? Chance? Chance is ultimately a non-explanation; chance is the impious’ “god of the gaps”—the doctrinal mantra of nihilists. For what is chance other than simply admitting that at a given level of reality, the causality of an event is not intended by agents operating at that level? However, if we push back our inquiry further and further, we realize the emptiness of chance as an explanation. It is ignorance posing as wisdom. Atoms in the void? But whence the atoms? Whence the void? And why the movement such as it is?

My concern with the intelligent design movement is not that it advocates intelligent design but, I worry, that it confuses the level at which such intelligence operates. In Aristotle’s terms of causality, I fully admit that God operates on the world and holds it in being through final, formal, and even material causality (in the sense of creating and sustaining matter), but the issue that so vexes the scientific community is God’s acting in efficient causality. Meyer’s position is not simply that God starts the process of motion (like Aristotle) and holds the universe in being as it moves, but that God—an intelligence—operates on the level of efficient causality in the cosmos as a being in the cosmos. Meyer did not claim this, but it appears to be the consequence of his position. It seems to me, by contrast, that efficient causality is something like a shadow of formal reality, and God’s influence on events works in this manner—of the eternal’s unfolding in time. Obviously, I do not understand metaphysics, and this issue is extremely perplexing. However, I find it aesthetically and intuitively repugnant to have God act like another being among beings. We Christians have a name for such a mystery, and it is called the Incarnation. I suppose that it is possible that all of providence operates in the same way, but such makes nature inaccessible to man’s reason. It is because of this that the scientific community so strenuously objects to the intelligent design movement. How can we, through natural reason—through natural philosophy, through science—understand the natural world when an agent beyond natural understanding frequently injects itself into the mechanism of nature and we cannot detect any sort of regularity or law behind that injection?

I told Dr. Meyer that I had an aesthetic objection to his system. Imagine a factory that produced goods. It is obvious to any sane man that an intelligent designer was behind the coming to be of that factory. It did not come to be on its own. Yet, the intelligent design movement wants an intelligence to interject itself at indiscernible times in the production of the goods, whereas I would prefer a factory in which everything runs smoothly according to the design. On a metaphysical level, I believe that God still holds the world in being through all its operations, but that universal and regular involvement does not make our natural understanding of the world problematic. Dr. Meyer’s system appears to do so.

Dr. Meyer responded that my objection was a matter of metaphor rather than substance. If we used cooperative instead of interruptive imagery, then it does not appear as objectionable. Yet, such does not address the peril in which such a view puts natural science. Dr. Meyer argues that we must follow the evidence where it leads. One cannot argue much against that point, but I would like to hold out for a currently unknown natural force or set of forces that directs evolution besides the currently accepted and rightly criticized Darwinian explanation. Genetic reductionism, the great improbability of random mutation’s having produced the multiplicity of life on earth even given its great age, and the abundant evidence of teleology call Darwinism into question. Yet, what other natural forces can explain the history of biological evolution? I would like to believe that we still have not found such forces but they do exist.

I posed my concern to Dr. Meyer with an analogy to particle physics. Before the twentieth century, no one could explain how atoms maintained their structural integrity. If the atomic world behaved just like the macrocosmic world of the solar system, then the violent interactions of forces would cause all atoms to collapse. Yet, atoms maintain their structures, and scientists eventually discovered the strong and weak nuclear forces in addition to the force of gravity that explains planetary motion. Couldn’t another unknown force be active in directing biological evolution? Dr. Meyer responded that natural laws are mathematical relationships that could not account for the irregularity of life. Again, such a response seems reasonable, but how do we, in ignorance, know what could not be? I do not want to incur the argumentum ad ignorantiam fallacy, but I think that it is better to wait for better answers than to adopt an answer that unravels natural philosophy. Perhaps, with positive evidence rather than negative evidence, I may see a reason to adopt intelligent design. Lacking such, I’ll hold my hopes.

Nonetheless, I wish that the people would debate these issues rather than simply shutting down “heterodox” dissent. All men dedicated to finding truth should welcome an occasional challenge to reassess their assumptions. If the intelligent design movement awakens scientists from their dogmatic materialist slumber, much good could result.

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, June 24, Anno Domini 2009
Philosophy | MetaphysicsPhysics • (2) Comments
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