Monday, April 25, 2011

The Medieval Castle of Intelligent Design

Château d’Angers

Lawyer and ID proponent Barry Arrington has recently taken to defending the ID fort with the standby accusation that opponents of ID fail to understand the theory properly.

What, then, is the proper understanding of ID? Arrington lays out the case:
ID is not, as its opponents suggest, a purely negative argument that material forces are insufficient to account for IC and FSCI. At its root ID is an abductive conclusion (i.e., inference to best explanation) concerning the data. This conclusion may be stated in summary as follows:

1. Living things display IC [irreducible complexity] and FSCI [functional specified complex information].

2. Material forces have never been shown to produce IC and FSCI.

3. Intelligent agents routinely produce IC and FSCI.

4. Therefore, based on the evidence that we have in front of us, the best explanation for the presence of IC and FSCI in living things is that they are the result of acts of an intelligent agent.
Sigh. Not very good reasoning, I'm afraid. It may look like a decent argument at first blush, but then look at each premise on its own.

Item #1 cannot be granted at all. IC is a highly dubious concept, as Kenneth Miller and many others have demonstrated amply. FSCI has not been defined in a mathematically rigorous way, either. So, we have no clear, testable understanding of IC and FSCI. Much less do we have clarity on how living things "display" them. Finally, it remains unclear whether living things necessarily display both or one or the other.

Item #2 just seems wrong factually. Were we to grant that all living things exhibit IC and FSCI, then surely some living things would reproduce and thereby generate offspring that also exhibit IC and FSCI. Reproduction is a material force, is it not?

Item #3 is irrelevant. We are not talking in #1 and #2 about artificial productions of IC and FSCI, whatever they are. We're talking about organic production, about producing IC and FSCI in living things. The term "produce" is left unexplained, so it's hard to get a good reading of the point here.

Item #4 flies in the face of careful reading, as item #2 (properly adjusted to match reality) actually gives the most cogent explanation. Material forces so far seem to be the only thing that produces IC and FSCI. But definition is all, and the language of the four items stinks, if we are being honest.

Beyond a very bad argument, what do we have here? I think Arrington's reasoning is best explained as a protective construct. It's a medieval castle. It's a Hummer H3. It defends against attack and asserts the self. It's a declaration that "I believe that God/Jesus is God and none o' you jackwagons is going to change my mind!"

I think that's it, actually. Folks like Arrington prefer their belief. In contemporary science and in the growing popular acceptance of New Atheism, they see an "intellectual elite" that has come to supplant the comfortable Cold War mentality that gave shape to their world. Arrington and company make, in other words, a political stand from a position that seems to lose ever more standing as the years go by.

If I am an ID opponent, then what I oppose is an incoherent argument. In principle, I have no objection to the idea of "design" for living things or for elements which constitute living things. But I don't like seeing a bad case made--such as what Arrington offers in his summary--for another view (i.e., natural evolution) having a bad case.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to comment if you have something substantial and substantiated to say.