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The value of design-based explanations!

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06/04/2010 07:40 PM
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The value of design-based explanations!
The value of design-based explanations
We hear the old rhetoric that only evolution explains things, makes predictions and is testable. Oh really? How many times has evolutionary theory been modified ad hoc in the face of contrary evidence, and then continued on as if nothing had happened? Anyone with even a cursory familiarity with ID knows that it makes testable predictions. Let’s make a simple example. A fragment of a spacecraft, with English-language alphanumeric printing on it, is found by extraterrestrials. One of them suggests that the markings are the products of intelligent design, and makes the prediction that they cannot ever be satisfactorily explained by ordinary cosmic processes. The other one suggests the absence of design, and makes the opposite prediction.

Science is supposed to be a disinterested search for truth. What kind of science is this that determines, in advance, which explanations are acceptable and which are not? If the extraterrestrials, in the example above, decided a priori that design explanations are off limits, how would they ever discover the fact that the markings were made by intelligent beings? Ditto for the study of the origins of life, and of living things, by scientists.

Miller also contends that, since the designer putatively can make anything, ID has no explanatory power. This is completely bogus. The fact that humans can make so many different things in no way disqualifies them as originators of the markings. More fundamentally, Miller’s ‘designer can make anything’ contention, whether putatively true or false, is totally irrelevant to the question whether the markings on the spacecraft originated from design or non-design processes.

Then we hear the old ‘design explanations are lazy and ignorant ones, invoked only because we don’t understand the process that formed something’ argument. This begs the question about origins, as it tacitly assumes that only non-design explanations are ultimately the correct ones. Were the extraterrestrials in the example above, after conducting many futile experiments to recreate the markings by cosmic processes, to give up on non-teleological explanations in favour of a teleological one, should we conclude that they have grown lazy, and become satisfied with their ignorance? Only if we already assume that the non-design explanation is in fact the correct one!

‘Bad design’ vs no design

This non sequitur confuses the issue, which is not whether the design is ‘poor’ or not (according to someone’s opinion) but whether or not it exists at all.

In bringing up pseudogenes, and besides not being up-to-date, Miller drags out the old chestnut that makes ‘poor design’ synonymous with no design. This non sequitur confuses the issue, which is not whether the design is ‘poor’ or not (according to someone’s opinion) but whether or not it exists at all. (Certainly IDer’s must explain the origins of pseudogenes in terms of their paradigm, but that is a separate issue. Proven functions of many have undermined the evolutionary case.9)

Consider the extraterrestrial who, in the earlier example, says:

‘The markings, while deployed in interesting patterns in terms of sequence, grouping, spacing, etc., are also conspicuously full of senseless features. Some of them, such as (e), appear frequently, while others, such as (q), hardly appear at all. Some (C, c; X, x; Z, z) come in two sizes, most (A, a, B, b, etc.) are each one size only. The symmetries are inconsistent: (O) is radial, (X) is four-fold, (B) is bilateral-horizonal, (M) is bilateral-vertical, and (L) has none at all. Close examination reveals that the markings lack consistency in terms of the surface area they cover. They also differ from each other in terms of centre-to-centre distances in their deployment, even within strings of markings, and are indented to measurably-unequal depths.’
He continues:

‘The markings themselves bear the hallmarks of some kind of unintelligent, improvisatory, minimal-solution process, and are frankly a horrible mess. They are full of errors. (f)s are overdeveloped (t)s. (F)s are (E)s with the bottom missing. (W)s are shared-mistake co-deployments of (V)s side-by-side, and this shared-mistake combination often forms upside-down as (M). In like manner, (u)s form as duplicates next to each other and deploy upside-down as (m). Each (C) is obviously a partly-closed (O), and sometimes this closing process goes too far, producing a (Q) instead of (O). (V) is (A) with its middle unformed, and the entire marking deployed upside-down. (Y) is a malformed (X), while (H) is an (A) that failed to close during deployment. (0) is a malformed, compressed (o), while (l) is an overdeveloped (i) that ran together vertically. (L)s are malformed (l)’s that somehow developed in two mutually-perpendicular directions.’
This extraterrestrial’s dys-teleological pile-on continues:

‘(B)’s are notably prone to produce malformed variants. Whenever the two bulges run into each other, we see (D) instead of (B). Whenever the bottom bulge fails to close on itself, (R) forms instead of (B). With the bottom bulge missing entirely, (P) forms instead of (B). Each (p), in turn, is a malformed, stunted, slightly-translocated (P), while (b) is a malformed, stunted (B) with its top missing. When the distortion during formation is even greater, (6) appears instead of (b). Worse yet, the (6) often deploys erroneously upside-down as (9). The list is almost endless. Any designer who made these markings would have to be a “bungling creator” [Miller’s term, p. 86], and it is self-evident that the markings are not the products of intelligent design.’
What are we to make of this fictional discourse? The extraterrestrial, like Miller, is allowing his preconceptions, even if hypothetically valid, to confuse the actual issue: do the markings require a designer for explanation, or not? Also, why is Miller’s proposed ‘God who used evolution’ any less a ‘bungling creator’ for using such a wasteful, inefficient and cruel process as evolution?

Is ID discredited?
We hear the old saw that Darwin discredited Paley. He did no such thing. Proposing non-teleological explanations for complex systems is not the same as explaining their origin without a designer. Furthermore, Miller commits the fallacy of hasty generalization, and makes yet another non sequitur, when he contends that, since some intelligent-design theories (e.g. Behe on the immune system) have (supposedly) been discredited, therefore all intelligent-design contentions are discredited.

To illustrate: imagine the extraterrestrial, from the previous examples, who conducted research on the markings engraved by dust-sized meteoroids on solid surfaces. He finds that these markings often resemble (l) and sometimes (X) and (x). ‘Aha!’, he triumphantly tells his teleologically-inclined extraterrestrial colleague.

‘You thought that (l), (X), and (x) were the products of intelligent design, and this has now been decisively proved wrong. Therefore, intelligent design as an explanation for all the other markings has also been discredited, and meteoroid-induced scratches can account for all the other markings.’
Rationalist thought police to the rescue!
Decades ago, we were warned that creationism was a grave danger to science and reason. Modern creationism has now been around for nearly 50 years, yet science and reason are doing just fine. Now Miller is repeating the same sky-is-falling warning concerning ID.

Is science really so fragile that it would collapse with the admission of a Designer? If acceptance of design is so toxic to science, why did modern science originate, and make so many important discoveries, in the centuries before the Darwinian revolution, when design and a Designer were not only tolerated but actively welcomed in science, and were in fact the ruling paradigm/worldview? Nor did pre-Darwinian scientists merely hold their teleological beliefs at arms length from their scientific activities: the two were intertwined. For example, Linnaeus built his system of taxonomy, still used by biologists to this day, explicitly guided by his belief that living things had been specially created, and that the biological limits of these creations could be discovered in nature.

Miller engages in silly alarmism as he elaborates on his warning about the dangers of ID. He alleges that rejection of evolution means that we are likely to ignore such things as environmental concerns, the emergence of new strains of pathogenic bacteria, etc. What nonsense! None of these concerns has anything to do with molecules-to-man evolution, much less whether things originated by design or not.

Biblical literalism, though irrelevant to the fundamental design/non-design issue, is briefly brought up. Indeed, it is a straw man even with creationists, who accept the grammatical-historical approach, not a ‘literalistic’ one, i.e. interpret history as history, poetry as poetry etc.10 We get the same old song-and-dance about Genesis having been written in a prescientific age, and intended to lead us to God but not tell us how the universe came to be, etc. Says who?

Miller dwells on how the general American public considers evolution repugnant, and rejects it for this reason. How about rejecting evolution because it is repugnant and, especially, because it is also unconvincing? After all, most people are reasonable, and will accept a repugnant truth if it is truly well-supported (I would). But, repugnant or not, this issue, once again, is totally irrelevant to the fundamental question of whether living things originated from design or non-design processes.

What about randomness? Miller tries to mollify concerns about our ostensible origin by non-design processes by alleging that our lives are already governed by many random (actually, unpredictable) events. One obvious example is our parents meeting each other, and which particular sperm combined with which particular egg to form us. This is disingenuous. For the Christian theist, at least, nothing is random or unplanned in God’s eyes—not even the falling of a sparrow to the ground. Ditto for contingent events.

Miller suggests that, despite the ostensible fact of non-design evolutionary origins, we can frame our own meaning of life, and enjoy the wonders of nature. So can the atheist.

Science or politics?
Decades ago, creationists were accused of bypassing the scientific process in favour of pushing their agenda through legislation and direct appeals to the uninformed public. Now Miller is dusting off this old chestnut and accusing ID of the same, focusing on a few local cases like Dover. Indeed, there are glaring double standards here: quite a number of evolutionists have appealed to the ruling of judges about whether ID is science, although the judges lack any qualifications in science.

Whatever merit these arguments had long ago, they have been superseded by the considerable amount of research done by creationists and ID proponents—considering their limited resources (i.e. they must persuade people to support them, while evolutionists often make use of money coerced from taxpayers). Miller is also protesting too much, in view of the ways that evolutionists have gone far beyond the evidence to make slick presentations to the public—something which has been included under the rubrics of ‘junk science’ and ‘The Carl Saganization of science.’

In conclusion, Miller’s book is nothing new. It tells us more about his rationalistic preconceptions than about ID.

[link to creation.com]
.A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, 'darkness' on the walls of his cell.

C. S. Lewis