2005-11-15

The Intelligent Designer

I'll break with my standard practice of linkblogging to spit out something that's been bugging me for a while: Intelligent Design.

Let's look at the question: "Is the state of the natural world, in particular the existence of human beings, the result of intelligent design?". This is equivalent to "... the work of an Intelligent Designer." So far, so good, and it's all neutral inquiry.

Now we come to a fork in the road: is this Intelligent Designer part of the natural world, or not? That is, is the Intelligent Designer natural, or supernatural?

If the answer is "supernatural," then we're not doing science anymore. Go directly to theology class, do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred more freaking signatures.

If the answer is "natural," then we have to ask a whole bunch more questions about the nature of the Intelligent Designer, starting with, "Dude, what's up with the human appendix?" and moving on inexorably to "Wait, if the Intelligent Designer is a natural being, then he's bound by all the laws of nature, just like us, and, uh, where exactly did he come from?"

You can now choose again from "supernatural" and "natural"; if you finish at all, you finish on "supernatural", and we can dump all this putatively "scientific inquiry" back over on the Humanities side of the fence where it belongs.

17 comments:

Jennifer said...

two words: thank you.

Mike said...

Since breedo can't figure out how to post to the blog anymore...

From Breedo:

Good post from George on the blog. Don't know if you want to pass this along for me or not...

It's an interesting proposition. But what about option c) unnatural and d) other? Choosing from only natural and supernatural takes on a human bias, so to speak. By this vein of thinking, as soon as you say intelligent design, you've pigeon holed the designer as either human or supernatural.

Who's to say there's not an alternative to nature...an option other than supernatural. Just because we haven't seen it or haven't discovered it doesn't mean we won't some day. Ever hear the one about the two dimensional being living on the skin of a balloon? They have no concept of what we would call the center of the balloon.

Damn this is a fine topic :-)

George said...

Breedo,

WTF? "Supernatural" just means "not part of the natural world".
Let's rephrase things a little: Is the Intelligent Designer part of
the natural world or not?

If the Intelligent Designer is part of the natural world, then a
theory of Intelligent Design can't just stop there: it has to try to
investigate the Intelligent Designer the way we investigate the rest
of the natural world. In particular, it has to come up with some
plausible explanation for how the Intelligent Designer came to be in
the first place (an Intelligent Designer Designer, anyone?). Maybe
I've missed a seminal paper, but I don't see the ID folks doing that.

Instead, everyone seems to implicitly accept that the Intelligent
Designer is not part of the natural world. Since science is,
broadly, the study of the natural world, it has nothing to say about
such an extra-natural Intelligent Designer, and so (a) Extra-Natural
Intelligent Design can't ever be a scientific theory and thus (b) talk
about it doesn't really have any place in a science classroom.

VW: ytglav <-- Ytterbium-enriched aspic-based Latvian dessert?

Breedo said...

The trouble with your argument, George, is that it is very much based on our world and our current understanding of "the natural world". While science has come a long way towards revealing the how and why of what's around us, we still know very little about the universe, let alone our own world. Who's to say that science won't someday have something to say about an intelligent designer that originated from the natural world? We need to be careful applying our own limited knowledge of science (the human race, not yours and mine specifically) to something that may be beyond our comprehension at the moment. As an example, can a bug comprehend a human? An ant may see us as a large creature, perhaps a source of food or perhaps a danger to beware, but does it realize how complex we are, how we think, what our actions portend, etc. All I'm suggesting here is that perhaps there may be an intelligent designer of the natural world, but that we are just not yet (or possibly ever) capable of comprehending it on its own level.

"...it has to try to investigate the Intelligent Designer the way we investigate the rest of the natural world." Wouldn't that imply that we also need to investigate the origin of the natural world? While people have researched the Big Bang and the first three minutes of the universe, the Big Bang theory is losing out to more contemporary thoughts as to the origin of the universe (and is that necessarily the origin of the natural world??). These new ideas as to the origins of the universe have actually fueled the fire for ID folks ;-)

Of course, this doesn't even touch the idea of other dimensions :-)
Where'd this topic come from George? And where are they talking about intelligent design in science classrooms? Usually that happens in religion classes, but then again, Einstein did claim that God doesn't roll dice.

WV: fqzkikb - sounds like a masochistic Italian with a cold....Scuse, kick me.

Mike said...

Breedo:

Have you been living under a rock?

And where are they talking about intelligent design in science classrooms?
Umm...Kansas...Pennsylvania.

"Intelligent" Design is making its way into science classrooms (theology classrooms are OK) and on the other side of things people are trying to remove God from the Pledge. Go figure.

Breedo said...

Mike,
You don't have to be an ass about it. I asked a reasonable question since it was part of George's original post. The locations where this was going on was all that was needed. And as you say, it is "making its way", which means it ain't truly there yet. In my ten years of teaching high school math and science, I had never come across Intelligent design in the science curriculum (yeah, the odd teacher talks about it on the tangential and usually for levity). It is not part of the national standards, so this is only happening on local levels.

If you're going to abuse Breedo, do it for legitimate reasons...like my fat ass, or my penchant for needling you :)

WV: ritlj - and I thought it was riddle me this

Mike said...

Dave,

This is my blog, I can be an ass if I want. So can you for that matter.

It's already in the schools (read the Kansas article) and will spread if we let it. It's not an obvious attack -- it's a mindset that will slowly change the curriculum over time until one day you'll take biology and find out that Jerry Falwell is the big bang.

It will take hold because of general apathy just like the erosion of the concept of "fair use" of copyrighted material. Once it takes hold it'll be hard to get rid of.

Just because you haven't seen it, it doesn't make it any less real.

I really wish Leggenflounder would weigh in on this...

--Mike

Breedo said...

I didn't say it wasn't real and didn't disparage the original issue. I was simply asking where this was taking place so I could learn more (some of us do like to learn something new :-P)

Apathy will actually prevent it from taking hold in the long run. But I don't think it's a real danger on the wider spectrum. One of the funny things about curriculum change is how the process of change causes a major divergence from the original intent of the change. (Did that make sense?) In other words, when someone has an idea for changing the curriculum, the slow and gradual process of making that change causes offshoots and variations that were not intended by that person and tend to cloud their original intent.

Mike said...

Dave:

Apathy will prevent it from taking hold only if the ID folk are the apathetic ones.

When they came to arrest the Jews, I did not say anything, because I was not Jewish.
When they came to arrest the communists, I did not say anything, because I was not a communist.
When they came to arrest the homosexuals, I did not say anything, because I was not homosexual.
When they came to arrest me, nobody was left to speak for me.

(Martin Niemöller, 1892-1984)

Breedo said...

Oh please. Because something blipped on the radar screen in Kansas you're projecting it's going to dominate the science curriculum throughout the country. Curriculum content is still up to local schools. This debate has gone on for a long time in the Kansas school board and it always flips back and forth.

What I find most disappointing is that the biblical story of creation can not be taught in public schools. I think students should take a required religion course that's non-sectarian... a course that explores the basic tenets of the different religions and shows their similarities (for instance, compare the different creation stories from each religion). The irony is this actually leads towards a more scientific thought regarding ancient society.

Mike said...

dave:

You're wrong. The course you describe is a comparative religion course which is taught in many schools and does not violate the tenets of separation of church and state.

We're also talking about the WHOLE STATE OF KANSAS teaching ID IN BIOLOGY CLASS. It's fine and dandy to teach said philosophy in COMPARATIVE RELIGION CLASS but not in Biology -- a SCIENCE class. You see, teaching a form of creationism in biology class would be promoting a single religion or set of religions over another and therefore is unconstitutional.

Some of the greatest scientists of their times were very religious -- Einstein and Newton come to mind. DaVinci was also of strong faith (until he was branded a heretic or something like that).

The point of the matter is, ID can be taught but not in Biology class. Let it be part of comparative religion.

--Mike

Breedo said...

What are you talking about? The whole state of Kansas is doing what? Classroom curriculum is set by the local schools. The article you linked to does not say they are teaching ID in classes. The language has changed in the standards to open up for that, but that's not an automatic next step. The language in the standards changes quite a bit regularly, but the curriculum in a given school won't necessarily change from one year to the next because of it.

And what exactly am I wrong about (your first sentence)? I stated an opinion...how can that be wrong?

Mike said...

What I find most disappointing is that the biblical story of creation can not be taught in public schools.

That statement is wrong. The Biblical story of creation can be taught in public schools in classes called Comparative Religion.

From this statement from the US Department of Education.
Students may be taught about religion, but public schools may not teach religion. As the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly said, "[i]t might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion, or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization." It would be difficult to teach art, music, literature and most social studies without considering religious influences.
The history of religion, comparative religion, the Bible (or other scripture)-as-literature (either as a separate course or within some other existing course), are all permissible public school subjects. It is both permissible and desirable to teach objectively about the role of religion in the history of the United States and other countries. One can teach that the Pilgrims came to this country with a particular religious vision, that Catholics and others have been subject to persecution or that many of those participating in the abolitionist, women's suffrage and civil rights movements had religious motivations.

Breedo said...

Ah, thanks for clearing that up. I was using that article as a reference.

Mike said...

Huh?

So you're saying even though the Department of Ed says it's ok it's not? I'm confused.

--Mike

Breedo said...

WTF are you taling about? I was thanking you for clearing up my mistake. I was using the Kansas article as my reference, and apparently they made an incorrect statement.

Mike said...

Sorry, it's late. I was expecting sarcasm not humility.

--Mike

WV: czztcyv is a new Czech personal lubricant.