Seeking the Designer

By | April 22, 2008


Jerry Pournelle offers not a defense of Intelligent Design, but a response to some of its harsher critics:

1. while many “Intelligent Design Theorists” are in fact fundamentalist creationists, not all of them are, and some like the late Sir Fred Hoyle are not creationists at all.

2. The panspermia hypothesis, which asserts that life originated on a planet other than Earth and was brought here by either natural or intelligently directed actions, is hardly ludicrous, has at least some unexplained evidence in its favor, and holding it as an hypothesis is hardly evidence of buffoonery. The late Robert Bussard was well known to believe in panspermia. Several of my science fiction novels make use of this hypothesis, and I have yet to see any definitive refutation.

3. Many of those in Dawkins’ camp use proof by assertion: they simply say that there are no features that demonstrate “irreducible complexity” and those that seem to are illusions; and while they have not shown the steps that would lead from easily explained conditions to the complex feature, they have great confidence that they will find them, and anyone who doesn’t believe that is an idiot.

4. In my judgment, reason and science are not in conflict to those willing to spend the time and effort in genuine study of the apparent irreconcilable differences. I note that I share that view with His Holiness Benedict XVI, who has asserted this all his life, most notably in his Regensburg Speech (Full Text), which is well worth your attention. Do note that the truth or falsity of this point is not definitive regarding my critique of Dawkins. It does, I presume, qualify me as a buffoon in Professor Dawkins’ estimation.

I personally think it extremely unlikely that the “irreducible complexity” critique of evolution will pan out, at least in terms of proving that God exists. But it is interesting that (according to Pournelle) current computer models of evolution can’t make some of these leaps — simple light receptor to fully functioning eye — without a little tinkering in the background. At the very least, the ID critique may prove useful in helping us to improve our computer models of evolution.

  • Stephen Gordon

    I was thinking about some of these issues this morning on the way to work.

    Ben Stein’s documentary “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” raises the whole ID v. Evolution debate once again.

    Frankly, I find that debate a bit tiresome. To my friends on the ID side: no, there is no disagreement among scientists about whether evolution is a reality. Evolution is central to both biology and geology. To suggest otherwise is to engage in dishonesty. And isn’t that a sin?

    I would remind Dawkins that there are important questions beyond science. Religion and philosophy are efforts to get those answers.

    A couple of years ago I wrote a post entitled “The Miracle.”

    The miracle I was talking about is the miracle of existence. It seems to me that we often miss how remarkable existence is. Wouldn’t nothing have been easier?

    Wonder and awe is appropriate.

    The Mr. Magorium movie has a perfect line:

    “Your Life Is An Occasion, Rise To It!”

  • Phil Bowermaster

    If either Hoyle’s panspermia hypothesis or Bostrom’s simulation hypothesis turn out to be correct, then you have both design and evolution. And John Smart’s idea of a “designerless” cosmos that increases in intelligence through myriad iterations is predicated on evolution. So I guess my problem with the “whole ID vs. evolution” debate is that it’s really the evolution vs. creationism debate, when it could be something much more interesting.

    If the cosmos just plain exists in some absolute and self-explanatory fashion, then nothing would not have been easier. It wouldn’t even have been possible. The trouble with any explanation for existence (including God) is that it demands a context. A self-contextualizing fact is not intellecutally satisfying, as I noted in the update here.

    If you say, “Yeah, but God just exists,” well, that seems to be exactly what Hawking is saying about the universe. I want more! :-)

    I like the Magorium quote, btw.

  • Karl Hallowell

    Incidentally, this is the approach that is most productive for proponents of the intelligent design theory. Find the designer. Poking holes in evolution isn’t sufficient.

  • Harvey

    I read all that. I got vertigo from it.