Sunday, November 22, 2009

Intelligent Design

I have been asked to post this letter on my blog. It was a response to an article by Andrew Copson in the Guardian on Intelligent Design. I was happy to add my signature to it.

Copson’s Ignorance of Intelligent Design

Andrew Copson ('A Birthday Present for Darwin', 9th November) describes the proposal to teach evolution in primary schools as an ‘important defence against the ignorance of intelligent design’. Apart from the clear insult to the British people, a majority of whom, when polled, think that intelligent design should be explored in schools, we are concerned about Andrew Copson’s own ignorance of intelligent design.

Like others who adopt his position, he appears to confuse intelligent design with religious belief. While creationism primarily draws its conclusions from religious sources, intelligent design argues from the data available in the natural world. The origin of life, the integrated complexity of biological systems and the vast information content of DNA are not matters which have been near-adequately explained by purely materialistic or neo-Darwinian processes.

Copson advocates accepting the evidence, and that is precisely what intelligent design theorists do. In an area like the origin and development of life, where we cannot observe what happened directly, a proper scientific approach is to make an inference to the best explanation. In the case of the functional information embedded in biological systems, the best explanation, based on the observation everywhere else that such information only arises from intelligence, is that it too has an intelligent source. If Andrew Copson is sceptical of the scientific respectability of this approach, we urge him to read Dr Steven Meyer’s recent book, ‘Signature in the Cell’.

Intelligent design is, therefore, a minimal commitment to intelligent causation. If you insist, by definition, that this kind of explanation is to be excluded in the study of origins, then, of course, you can argue that intelligent design is not a valid scientific position. But if you do that, you have adopted a philosophical, not a scientific, stance and created a circular argument. It is also a category error to imagine that evolution is the opposite of intelligent design.

Clearly, a design paradigm can embrace evolutionary processes. In addition, the evidence for evolution is treated as if all aspects of it are uniformly convincing, failing to distinguish between what is directly observable, such as change and adaptation through natural selection, and the more speculative elements, like the descent of all living things from a single ancestor. The evidence for both is not of equal force.

If evolution is to be taught in schools, it should be done properly, recognising the tentative nature of scientific conclusions and not excluding legitimate scientific propositions which challenge the reigning paradigm.

And on a further point, Andrew Copson overstates his case. Current Government guidance does not specifically ‘prohibit’ the teaching of intelligent design in science lessons. It concludes, wrongly in our view, that intelligent design is not a scientific position, but recommends that if it is raised by pupils in science lessons it be dealt with appropriately. That’s a somewhat different position.

Dr Alastair Noble, Educational Consultant, Eaglesham, Scotland


Burke said...

Doc, you write,

"In the case of the functional information embedded in biological systems, the best explanation, based on the observation everywhere else that such information only arises from intelligence, is that it too has an intelligent source."

If it takes intelligence to beget intelligence, what was the source of the "intelligent source," its source, the source's source...and on and on, ad infinitum?

How does declaring that there is a "god" who started it all solve this supposed conundrum?

(This is sometimes called the "infinite regression" question.)

And isn't God supposed to have created "everything," not just biological entities? This raises the logical question of how there can be a creator of everything, a creator who is not already part of that "everything" who started it all?

The Law of Cause and Effect applies to things that already exist. How can it be applied to the fact of existence itself?

As a scientist yourself, you must agree that merely observing that we don't understand everything that happened in the past cannot justify just making up a word "God" and saying He did it.

Terry Hamblin said...

The alternative is to say that something comes from nothing. The premise of a creator suggests that such a creator would be outside the creation. Any such hypothesis would be just the imagination of a creature unless the creator chose to reveal himself. Christians believe that he has done that - in the Bible, but supremely in Jesus Christ.

Burke said...

This leaves us with a question I've asked you before: If your religious beliefs are based on faith, why try to justifiy them rationally?

As the American patriot/philosopher Ethan Allen put it:

"Those who invalidate reason ought seriously to consider whether they argue against reason with or without reason; if with reason, then they establish the principles that they are laboring to dethrone: but if they argue without reason (which, in order to be consistent with themselves they must do), they are out of reach of rational conviction, nor do they deserve a rational argument."

Terry Hamblin said...

Ethan Allen is wrong. There is no requirement that faith be unreasonable.

Burke said...

Does reason allow you to believe in, say, life after death? Something accepted as an article of faith by Christians.

Terry Hamblin said...

A reasonable man considers the evidence for it. The only conclusive evidence would be if someone died and then came back to tell us about it. Someone has.

Anonymous said...

Stick to CLL, where I can understand what you are saying
Another haematologist!

Burke said...

Thomas Aquinas thought you could reconcile reason and faith. Many are still trying to do that. And they should be free to try all they want.

My principle difference with most religious people is that so many don't accord me the same respect. They think it's their prerogative to force their religious views on me--primarily, with government laws and programs such as healthcare, etc.

Dissenter said...

It is deplorable if religious peole have denied BUrke respec,but respect is entirely absent from the recent book on evolution by Richard Dawkins in which he compared Darwin doubters to deniers of the Nazi Holocaust amongst much more name calling and a refusal to engage with their central arguemnts.

Respect is not best shown by misrepresenting people and calling them cretins and worse.

As for the 'infinite regression' question, materialists as well as theists both require an uncreated first cause. We know that all life contains teightly constrained specified code, and we know that such code (information) only ever arises from intelligent source. So, we have to decide whether we prefer an intelligent or a non-intelligent uncreated first cause.

Christians believe in an intelligent first cause, who became a man in Bethlehem. Others may believe what they choose, but its still a belief.

Anonymous said...

Doctor state...The alternative is to say that something comes from there not another alternative...that we do not know?....not sure if faith begats knowledge or vice versa...thanks for the thoughtful discussion...romanbob

Terry Hamblin said...

Something either comes from something or from nothing. You might say that we do not know which, but it is our general experience that something does not come from nothing.