In his update to my Meet the Designer entry, Stephen provides links to two pieces currently running on TCS that have some interesting things to say about the Intelligent Design debate. I have some thoughts on both of these pieces. Let’s begin with…
An Open e-mail to Sallie Baliunas
Hi Sallie –
Very much enjoyed your piece on Tech Central Station re: Intelligent Design. Regarding this provocative passage:
There is one logical exception to this. It would be a hypothetical, advanced alien who designed life on earth and left it here to incubate, perhaps meddling with it now and then, with methods not yet known to the human state of scientific knowledge. That alien intelligence would hold an incredible technological control over matter, far beyond sci-fi imaginings like the Technomages in the television novel Babylon 5 . However, the hypothetical, intelligent alien would be a material creature and would work in advanced ways with matter and energy; ergo such scientific concepts would ultimately be knowable. We close this unlikely option for lack of any scientific evidence.
As you may know, there are (serious) variations on this idea that have more to do with the origin of the universe than they do with the origin of life on Earth, offered up by scientists who have no interest in religion. The amazing set of “coincidences” that account for the existence of our universe in just the right configuration to allow for the time spans, the chemistry, and physics to support life are handled tautologically via the weak anthropic principle — the universe had to be this way or we wouldn’t be here to discuss it, end of disucssion — but some theorists don’t see this as a particularly satisfying answer to the puzzle. Another possible answer is that our universe is the end product of a process — either a completely naturalistic one in which our universe evolved from previous, less life-friendly universes, or an “artificial” process in which highly involved intelligences from a previous version of the universe planned and designed this universe to support life.
Obviously, such views are seen as highly speculative by the scientific community and are subject to appropriate criticism. But the fact that teaching ID in biology classrooms has become a contentious political issue, and that many of those promoting ID really are creationists in disguise, does not mean that all ID thinking is religious in nature.
I’ll provide updates if I get any kind of response. Next let’s take a look at…
Doug Kern writes an accessible and thought-provoking essay on why ID is destined to win out as the origin of life theory taught in schools. It’s a fun read, and contains one passage that I thought was especially insightful:
Vitriol, condescension, and endless accusations of bad faith all characterize far too much of the standard pro-Darwinian response to criticism. A reasonable observer might note that many ID advocates appear exceptionally well-educated, reasonable, and articulate; they might also note that ID advocates have pointed out many problems with the Darwinist catechism that even pro-Darwin scientists have been known to concede, when they think the Jesus-kissing crowd isn’t listening. And yet, even in the face of a sober, thoughtful ID position, the pro-Darwin crowd insists on the same phooey-to-the-boobgeois shtick that was tiresome in Mencken’s day.
Nicely put. I think the Darwinian argument would be much better made without the sneer. But then, I’m old fashioned. I think arguments in general should be heavy on substance and light on sneering at the other side.
However, being old fashioned, I really can’t buy into the thrust of Kern’s argument. It’s that opening paragraph. He loses me at hello:
It doesn’t matter if you like it or not. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s true or not. Intelligent Design theory is destined to supplant Darwinism as the primary scientific explanation for the origin of human life. ID will be taught in public schools as a matter of course.
Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But it most certainly matters whether you think it’s true or not, because it matters whether it is true or not. If ID is wrong and it “wins,” that’s, um…what’s the word I’m looking for?
Likewise, if it has some merit — or some variations of it do — and it’s fully excluded both from the schools and from serious public discourse, that’s bad, too. I think the whole “win-lose” paradigm has really got to go.