TCS Daily

Creationism Is Evolving... It Has No Choice

By Max Borders - October 11, 2005 12:00 AM

I must respectfully disagree with my TCS colleague Douglas Kern as he argues for " Why Intelligent Design is Going to Win." Kern lays out a five-point thesis in which he predicts ID's imminent victory. But his points fail to make the case. Allow me to take each in turn.

Point One says:


ID will win because it's a religion-friendly, conservative-friendly, red-state kind of theory, and no one will lose money betting on the success of red-state theories in the next fifty to one hundred years.


He goes on to argue that since religious types breed more babies, they'll pass along the ID memes with their red-state genes. But this misunderstands both memetics and human beings. I will grant that ID may be here to stay. But just because more people believe it don't make it so. (Read: fallacy ad populum) An ID meme won't mean the death of Darwinism anymore than the 95 theses killed Catholicism. Both of the latter have co-existed for 500 years -- occasional bloody wars notwithstanding. Likewise, religious folks will probably still cling to some variant of ID, and non-religious folks will still not be prepared to insert giant articles of faith where inquiry has presented a puzzle. And while Kern wants to believe that design would give us "unique dignity and value" as human beings, well, much like a night of bliss with Salma Hayek -- wanting it don't make it so either.


Point Two:


 ID will win because the pro-Darwin crowd is acting like a bunch of losers.


I agree that there is more than a little priggery among Darwinists. But even an intelligent man like Douglas Kern must admit the sheer number of troglodytic bible-thumpers in the Creationist ranks -- a number that does little to quell Darwinist condescension. In any case, to say that Darwinists are condescending is not to argue against their position. Kern of all people should know that he cannot criticize Darwinists for employing ad hominem arguments only to turn around and commit the very same fallacy.


Point Three:


 ID will win because it can be reconciled with any advance that takes place in biology, whereas Darwinism cannot yield even an inch of ground to ID.


Of course ID can be reconciled with any advance in biology. Faith can be reconciled with anything. It's the ultimate loophole. Imagine a contract that said "Party A reserves the right to void the contract at any time." What would be the point of the contract for Party B? Similarly, ID says basically "if you can't explain something, dress up the good ole Cosmological Argument from philosophy 101 and stick it in where necessary." This is known as the "God of the Gaps" fallacy, which says if you can't explain it, it's God. Again, faith in God is not an explanatory premise, but simply faith. Of course, we can go back and have the theism vs. atheism debate, but that won't get you into the papers. 


Kern goes on to ask:


So you've discovered the missing link? Proven that viruses distribute super-complex DNA proteins? Shown that fractals can produce evolution-friendly three-dimensional shapes? It doesn't matter. To the ID mind, you're just pushing the question further down the road. How was the missing link designed? What is the origin of the viruses? Who designed the fractals?


First, I'm surprised that someone who knows about fractals isn't familiar with complexity theory. Specifically the phenomenon of "autocatalysis" answers Kern's ultimate question. Once the basic elements of the universe had laws of behavior and orientation (the latter known as chirality), the complex constituents for life emerged on their own. I recommend anyone not familiar with the concept of self-organization to read Stuart Kaufmann or download this multi-agent game from MIT, as once you've gotten your head around self-organizing systems, the very idea of "evidence of design" becomes more than suspicious. Of course, Kern might retort: someone had to establish the laws of nature.


That's why Kern's argument in point Three is also one of infinite regress. For example, to answer "who designed the fractal?," I could say "Mandelbrot." Kern could say "who designed Mandelbrot?" I'd say "he evolved from a primate" and so on until we're back to the singularity. Who designed the singularity? Enter the God of the Gaps. But the disappointing truth is we don't need the God of the Gaps. And if we don't need it, let's just slice it -- Ockham-style -- from our ontology. In other words, we can't let Kern get away with the same "Why Daddy?" game that children want to play ad nauseum. Eventually Daddy has to say "just because, sweetheart, just because."


Point Four:


ID will win because it can piggyback on the growth of information theory, which will attract the best minds in the world over the next fifty years.


Moreover, argues Kern, "ID is a proposition about information. It contends that the processes of life are so specific and carefully ordered that they must reflect deliberate action." I should mention how much Kern sounds like a Keynesian bureaucrat talking about the economy. We simply have to control the market, for if we don't, it will be chaotic. Ironic how many Intelligent Designers are walking around Capitol Hill right now, adding to the Federal Register, trying to control the price of gas, tweaking the rheostats as if the economy were a machine I'm frankly surprised that anyone who writes for this publication would give these people ammunition. But I digress.


Kern continues: "Put simply: a complex message implies an even more complex sender." That's right. But such is only true because it is a thinly disguised tautology. In other words, there ain't no such thing as a message without a sender. It would be like saying "being a bachelor implies a condition of being male and unmarried." Uh huh. But tautologies aren't arguments. Especially since the blind watchmaker allows you to have life without a designer.


To be fair, there are variations of the "fine-tuning" argument for design that have some merit. But Kern does not really give a good account of them in his article.


Point Five:


ID will win because ID assumes that man will find design in life -- and, as the mind of man is hard-wired to detect design, man will likely find what he seeks.


On Kern's final point, I can only agree. Man will find design in life. Man will also find that the Necker Cube is facing upward. Man will find a smile in the grimace of a pretty girl. Man will find free money on his credit card. But just because man will find it doesn't mean it's there.


In conclusion, Kern's five-point thesis on the inevitable triumph of ID does not hold up under scrutiny. That is not to say that ID is likely to lose popularity. Nor is it to argue that ID doesn't deserve a hearing. It's merely to say that Darwinism is and will be the dominant paradigm for explaining life's origins. I imagine that variations of Creationism will be around as long as there are people who believe in God. My prediction, therefore, is that ID will linger, perhaps fade a little, and then return again in another form. I guess you could say Creationism is evolving. And it's going to have to if it is to compete against a superior competitor in such threatening intellectual terrain.


Max Borders is a writer in the Washington, DC area who has also argued that we have no free will.


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