Friday, June 23, 2006
ID and Creationism -- Of Holy Wars and a Plea for Peace
Intelligent Design seems to be the whipping boy of nearly every community. The Darwinists accuse the ID'ers of being Creationists, and the Creationists accuse ID'ers of either being evolutionists or of leaving out important details. I've thought about this for a while, and I think I finally discovered why ID is so hated -- neither of these communities has a clue about what Intelligent Design is all about.
The problem with both the Darwinists and the Creationists is that they are trying to look at Intelligent Design as a theory about origins. It simply is not. I understand where the confusion comes from -- ID'ers tend to say a lot about the origins debate. But the fact is that ID is not a theory of origins, but rather a theory of causation.
ID's main idea is that agency (also called "will" or "mind" -- I try to avoid "mind" because it is too intertwined with physical notions of the brain) is causally distinct from chance and necessity (also called natural law). This is not to say that agency is totally independent of the other two, only that chance, necessity, and agency have distinct ways in which they influence the world. This might not seem revolutionary to many, but to formally include agency as a causitive force in science truly is.
And so, being a theory of causation that recognizes agency as a distinct form of causation, ID continues further as a study of causation, focusing on a rigorous study of how agency operates. This is not to say that they plan to have a deterministic model of agency (if that were the case, it wouldn't be agency but necessity), but instead that one is able to study the patterns of effects that agency has on the world.
So how come ID'ers are always involved in the origins debate? It's actually very simple. ID imposes causal requirements on any origins theory. There are two types of requirements I can think of that ID speaks to (there may be more). The first is the existence of agency in the first place. If agency is a distinct form of causation, then it cannot be the product of material causes. Therefore, since "choice" is a fundamental part of our everyday experience, that means that we cannot be solely the product of material causes. Therefore, any explanation of our origins must explain where our choice comes from. This means that there must be a non-material cause at the beginning of the universe, which has carried through until now, or that a non-material cause from outside the universe has come in and endowed us with intelligent agency at some point in the past. In either case, the causal chain of agency must be explained. If it has been here all along, then a theory of origins must account for its workings or else be incomplete. If it was introduced, a theory of origins must account for its introduction or else be incomplete. Second, ID claims to be able to detect effects that are exclusively in the range of agency. Therefore, if such effects are detected, we know that an agency must have been involved.
Therefore, with regard to origins, Intelligent Design can be regarded as a sort of a meta-modeling criteria for origins theories.
Now, the main criticism from Creationists is that Intelligent Design will not lead someone to Christ. And that's true -- it won't! But neither will physics, chemistry, or any other science on which Creationism uses extensively. The problem is if ID is used in place of an origins theory, then Creationists do in fact have cause for worry. But if instead ID is used as a science on which Creationism can draw like any other science, then I think that it is to the benefit of Creationists to be both actively involved, aligned with, and supporting Intelligent Design.
So the reason that we should be with ID is not because it is such a great origins theory, but instead because it is not one at all. It is the first real attempt to systematize data and theory dealing directly with intelligent agency.
[Note -- I wrote a post similar to this at UncommonDescent the other day, if anyone is interested]
I think the reason people trip over ID is because keeping causation and agency--if I understand your terms correctly--separate is a bit of trick for beginners. Nature infers causation, but to most people's minds, there needs to be a specific, explained agency to support the theoretical causation. As you say, ID doesn't do this, or attempt to, and people are often frustrated by it.
Two questions: Do scientists who subscribe to ID have their hands tied in terms of speculating about agency--the designer? (You, for example, are a creationist functioning in an ID environment) Are all IDers able to exercise the same freedom? Secondly, what does an ID scientist do when the evidence of causation begins to define characteristics of the designer? (For example, does beauty and the sensation of pleasure point to a benevolent designer; can we make philosophical inferences about the motives of a specific design [i.e. reproduction], based on the scientific evidence before us?
"Secondly, what does an ID scientist do when the evidence of causation begins to define characteristics of the designer?"
I think that having the design characterize the designer is an available subject matter for ID _in theory_, but as it is just a fledgling science it does not yet have such power.
"Do scientists who subscribe to ID have their hands tied in terms of speculating about agency--the designer?"
Yes and no. I think you do have your hands somewhat tied in terms of ID-theoretic reasoning. But that just means that if you do suspect a specific agent then the reasoning for or against that agent doesn't flow directly from ID, it must use another source.
Being a Creationist, I believe that history is a relevant guide to scientific inquiry. So what I don't know from ID I can supplement from history. Some Creationists disagree with this. Salvador Cordova, for instance, believes that Biblical texts are completely inappropriate for scientific discussion.