August 22, 2005

So who designed God?


The New York Times has launched a series on the supposed evolution debate (and yet not word on Pastafarianism; damn liberal media!). While I won't deny that the intelligent design proponents are clever, I realize there's one really basic question I've never even seen them try to answer. Since ID is basically just a spiffed-up version of the argument from design, why isn't it vulnerable to the same counter-arguments? ID says that if something is irreducibly complex, the only rational explanation is that it was designed. So the question is, can a thing be designed by something less complex than itself? ID is careful to say that we can't know anything about the designer, but as a matter of simple logic we can know the following: either the designer is or is not irreducibly complex. If it is (the obvious choice), then by ID's own premise it must have been intentionally designed. And that designer too must have been designed. It's turtles all the way down.

If, however, the designer is not irreducibly complex, then the thing that is designed is merely once-removed from the naturalistic processes of life, and is no more a challenge to evolution than is wrist watch.

I know I'm not saying anything that most people didn't think about when they were 10 years old, but at least if you're asking "who made God?" the answer can legitimately be, "God has always been," because, well, it's theology. Once you start claiming to be science, you can't start making special exceptions to your foundational rules without any evidence whatsoever.

Though I haven't been able to find an IDist direct response to this question, Panda's Thumb has a thread on the subject, which includes an e-mail purportedly from ID bossman Michael Behe in which he answers the question of whether life on earth could have been designed by aliens, who themselves evolved naturally without any intelligence guiding them -- meaning that ID could be inherently atheistic. Behe says, "Yes, perhaps life elsewhere doesnít require irreducibly complex structures. So maybe it arose naturally by chance and then designed us, as I speculated in Darwinís Black Box (ďAliens and Time TravelersĒ, pp. 248-250). I donít think thatís the case, but it isnít logically impossible."

So that's one answer. How do you think it would go over in those public opinion polls we keep hearing about.

Update: If you actually read pp. 248-250 of Darwin's Black Box you'll see that Behe's e-mail is far more explicit an acknowledgement of the possibility of an atheistic intelligent design. In the book he only says that people with illogical (implied) "philosophical commitments against the supernatural" can be persuaded to accept ID by "put[tting] off" "the question of the design of the designer" with various loopy (implied) but naturalistic theories, such as aliens and time travel.

Now, nothing in the book is going to turn off Behe's religious constituency, but since in his e-mail (assuming it is genuine) he follows his thinking through to its logical conclusion, I think it's only fair to spread far and wide that the leading theorist of Intelligent Design believes it is logically possible that life on earth was created by a superintelligent race of aliens. I think that every school district that proposes teaching ID in the science classroom should be forced to address the question of whether students should be taught that they may only be here because Zardoz of Rigel VII had a really cool idea for his 6th grade science fair. Can you imagine how reasonable ID will still seem to most Americans once this gets out?

To that end, I am going to encourage the New York Times to run a correction regarding its statement today that ID "depend[s] on the existence of a supernatural force." I encourage others to press for similar accuracy in future media coverage of intelligent design.

Update: From the Times: "I've looked into this and discussed it with the author, and I don't think a published correction is in order. As Dr. Behe acknowledges in the passage you quote, he thinks it's unlikely that life could exist without the intervention of a higher being; he only says 'it isn't logically impossible.' And regardless of his musing on this highly theoretical point, doesn't intelligent design, by definition, require an intelligent designer?"

In the comments I explain why I think Behe's admission about the logical possibility that space aliens created life on earth is significant. But, I dunno, maybe I'm wrong. In any case, Behe has apparently decided that despite what he said in his book and e-mail, his undefined threshold of "likeliness" now allows him to say the opposite, with apparently no change in the evidence. It must be nice to have your very own science.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Probably preaching to the choir here, but I still do not understand how evolution is a threat to God. Why is it so hard to accept that everything science tells us is real AND God made it that way? It's only a threat if you insist on interpreting every single word of the Bible literally, which is impossible since the book contradicts itself more than once. Why are we even arguing about this?

Nice blog.I like this.

Why are you on a mission to make ID seem unreasonable to "most Americans" and stifling intelligent debate and study in the process?

I don't want to make ID *seem* unreasonable. I just want Americans to understand why it is inherently unreasonable. ID has gotten as far as it has because because most people don't really understand how science works, e.g., that you must start with the evidence and draw conclusions from it, rather than start with a conclusion and figure out whether or not you can find evidence to fit it. People don't generally see why this is so if the conclusion is God because it's self-evident to them that God created life, so there's no cognative dissonence. However, if you say that, by Behe's own acknowledgement, the conclusion might be aliens and we should look for evidence of that, it might open people's eyes to the real problem with ID.

Now I grant you this might not be the most intelligent debate, but it is certainly debate, so you can't accuse me of stifling that.

For more on creation versus evolution, see MommyCool.com for a great short story of a man-making contest pitting God against scientists...the outcome makes sense.

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