Friday, November 6, 2015

Setting the Record Straight on ID

Some religious people like to think of themselves as being smarter and more logical than all those atheists, who are deluded into accepting a metaphysical view (materialism) that makes no sense to them.  How could nature on its own produce the magnificent complexity of God's creatures, with all their functional parts so well made for their respective tasks - the eyes for seeing, the legs for running, fingers for grasping, and so on?  How can DNA be made to encode the precise protein sequences needed to produce these features without the help of a designer?  And how could an atheist be so stupid as to believe what conventional science has to say about it?

Over in Victor's blog, one such theist has been trying to prove how much smarter he is than the the atheists there.  He is a fanboy of Behe, Dembski, and Meyer, and a defender of their ID science.  He has read their books, and fancies himself an expert on their works - something that no atheist could possibly be.  When told that ID rejects the theory of evolution, he denies it vehemently.
Neither Behe nor Dembski claims that these features 'could not have evolved'. They argue that, given our current understanding of evolutionary theory, some features are unlikely - even extremely unlikely - to have been the products of evolution as currently modeled. No 'Could not have', and in fact Behe explicitly rejects claims like this as a fool's game. ... Likewise, 'evolved or designed' is a false dichotomy. Artificial selection is evolution; it's just guided evolution.
And when asked whether ID implies God as the designer, he retorts:
that's like saying that saying a Volkswagon was designed by a human is a non-answer because we're left asking who designed the human. But the question here is proximate, not ultimate; we want to know the origin of the Volkswagon, not 'of all things'.
He is making three claims here:  That ID does not reject the idea that biological features are evolved, that ID is really just "guided evolution", and that the question of who designed the designer is irrelevant.  All three of these claims are false.

Does ID reject reject the idea that biological features are evolved?

Yes, it does, at least for some, if not most biological features.  One of the cornerstones of ID science is the notion, developed by Behe, of "irreducible complexity".  It claims that certain biological structures could not possibly have evolved, because there is no path of gradual step changes that could have resulted in functionality that involves multiple pieces that must work together as a whole.  This is the definition of irreducible complexity in Behe's own words:
By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly (that is, by continuously improving the initial function, which continues to work by the same mechanism) by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional. An irreducibly complex biological system, if there is such a thing, would be a powerful challenge to Darwinian evolution. - Behe (Darwin's Black Box)
Notice that he's not saying that an irreducibly complex system is produced by guided evolution.  He's saying that it can't be produced by evolution.  It evidently must instead be produced somehow by assembling the constituent pieces, or by some process that is antithetical to Darwinian evolution.  And although Behe's ideas about evolution seem to have evolved over time, he still defends the concept of irreducible complexity.  Furthermore, many people in the field of ID, such as Dembski, continue to reject the idea of common descent, which amounts to a refusal to accept that major biological structural variations could have evolved from a common ancestor. 

Is ID just "guided evolution"?

Evolution theory includes the mechanisms that cause successive changes in organisms.  In his book The Edge of Evolution, Behe ignores all but one of these mechanisms of Darwinian evolution, random mutation, and presents his theory that this mechanism can't produce various kinds of adaptations (particularly at the molecular level) without the help of a designer. 
Molecular evolution is not based on scientific authority. There is no publication in the scientific literature --in prestigious journals, specialty journals, or books-- that describes how molecular evolution of any real, complex, biochemical system either did occur or even might have occurred. The assertion of Darwinian molecular evolution is merely bluster. - Behe
The theory of undirected evolution is already dead, but the work of science continues. - Behe
One might make the argument that this is just guided evolution, but it requires a rejection of the underlying science of evolutionary mechanisms in favor of theistic - er, excuse me - designer assisted mechanisms.  This is not just evolution theory with the addition of a guiding hand.  It is unscientific mumbo-jumbo.

Consider a hypothetical pseudo-scientific theory of mover-assisted gravity that asserts that gravity alone can account for objects falling to earth when tossed into the air, but cannot account for the orbital motion of planets.  The planets must be guided by some "mover", according to this theory.  Anyone who holds this belief and still claims that he accepts the scientific theory of gravity should be regarded as an anti-scientific ignoramus.  Yet this is pretty much what Behe is doing with regard to evolution theory.

Is it irrelevant to ask "Who designed the designer?"

If it is your goal to steer clear of the theistic implications of ID, you should avoid this question at all costs.  One of the objectives of the ID crowd is to inject their beliefs into the public education system in the guise of science.  But since there is a constitutional prohibition against pushing religious beliefs in public schools, they must adhere to the claim that ID is not a religious belief.  ID, they say, only infers a designer.  It makes no claims about who the designer might be.  And yet the logical implications of ID are unavoidable.  If ID can infer that organisms must be designed, then that would apply to the designers as well, if they are also organisms (like aliens from some distant planet, for example).  The only way to stop a regress of designers is to posit a God as the ultimate designer.  This is the inevitable consequence of ID theory, despite any attempts to cast it as non-theistic.  You can call the issue of the designer a "proximate question", but that is only a dishonest effort to cover up the theistic nature of ID science.  Yes, it is relevant to ask the question.

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