Any Chance of an ID Movement Reboot & Rename?
Yes, I don’t like the term “evolutionist” either. But “IDist” and “IDer” bugs me even more—even though I wish I could somehow embrace the concept without taking on such a hopelessly baggage-laden term. (Yes, the OP is about “evolutionist” but the thread immediately drifted into the identity of the ID movement and the actual “broadness” of the tent. So the questions I raise here are inevitable and I’ve been looking for knowledgeable forum participants who are more up to date than I am on what is happening with the ID movement. Why don’t they address the issues I engage below?)
I say with great sadness that the term “intelligent design” has become so inextricably linked with pseudoscience, empty propaganda, poorly written philosophy masquerading as science [Yes:him], and worse, that I don’t see how the subject can even be productively discussed without moving on to some new term which is devoid of the unnecessary baggage.
I do believe God “designed” everything and that he certainly did so “intelligently”. But “intelligent design” reminds me of another descriptive term that was similarly corrupted beyond all redemption: “Christian science”----and the associated profession, “Christian scientist.” When I was a young science professor long ago (before a transition to the humanities side of the College of Arts & Sciences), it frustrated me to no end that I had to apply word gymnastics in order to say “I’m a science professor who is a born-again Christian” because I couldn’t say “I’m a Christian scientist” and “I’m a scientist-Christian” sounded strange. (The later would annoy me almost as much as “theistic evolutionist” and “theistic gravitationalist” or even “theistic Copernican”!)
I feel much the same when I absolutely CANNOT risk saying, “I affirm Intelligent Design” without appearing to endorse all sorts of lamentable nonsense!
I find myself following the lead of a colleague who leans toward “I affirm Ultimate Design”—because it at least utilizes the “ultimate cause” vs. “proximate cause” nomenclature familiarity. And because it connotes a topic from philosophy and not science, it has the advantage of appearing to to imply if not outright acknowledge that *at least at the present time there is no such thing as a scientific theory of Intelligent Design! (Lots of people associated with the Discovery Institute try to claim that they’ve established an ID theory but everything I’ve seen from them is a poorly defined philosophical position, not a scientific theory subject to falsification testing. (And the fact that they can’t seem to acknowledge this tells me that they don’t know what science is. Yes, I’m talking about Stephen Meyer yet again, even though I wish I wasn’t. I truly do. Arguments from Personal Incredulity fallacies are NOT the basis of a valid scientific theory!)
I would love to see someone publish a valid Scientific Theory of Intelligent Design (but use a less baggage-laden term.) Such a published theory would hopefully include heuristic rules which tell me what tests I can apply to any X to determine whether or not it is a product of Intelligent Design.
Of course, some will immediately lambast even the suggestion of a hypothetical ID Theory because of the baggage I’ve already mentioned. Yet, they forget that scientists in many fields already have to make determinations about intelligent design on a regular basis. For example, an anthropologist and a geologist are collaborating at some excavation site. They find object X and ask the question: “Is object X the product of geologic processes? Is X a product of biological processes? Is X a product of human manufacture? And if X appears to be a product of a tool-making animal, is that animal human, or non-human?”
Obviously, for “intelligent design” to be a valid attribute of some object, how do we define intelligence and how do we define design? And anybody who has written genetic algorithms, evolutionary algorithms, or what my AI colleagues call generic population-based metaheuristic optimization algorithms knows that incredibly efficient and spellbindingly impressive designs can be produced by incredibly mindless and “unintelligent” algorithms/machines! (At this juncture one can always count on somebody with absolutely no experience in or knowledge of metaheuristic optimization algorithms to blurt out, “But the human who designed the program gave it intelligence!” without having any idea of just how stupid that sounds to those of us who have written them!)
I don’t claim to keep up with everything published by the “ID community” but what I have read has left me sorely unimpressed—and absolutely amazed that few even begin to broach any of these most basic topics. (So I was not in the least surprised when the Dover Trial absolutely destroyed any remaining shred of credibility one might have expected of the “typical” ID theory proponent.) Indeed, is anyone in the evangelical Christian world addressing the heuristic topics I just mentioned?
If not, has the embarrassing legacy of what has fallen under the Intelligent Design “scholarship” thus far—let’s be honest and face it: the “Wedge Document” Sideshow and Discovery Institute debacles, including the R.A.T.E. Project—frightened everyone away from a legitimate field of scientific inquiry? Will the field be paralyzed until we find new terminology and can separate the mega-ministry entrepreneurs from the serious scholars? After all, who can blame even the brave and prestigious Templeton Foundation [yes, I applaud their boldness] from risking association with propagandists masquerading as serious scholars?
I’m sure I’m not the only academic who carefully chooses his words by saying, “Yes, I’m very interested in intelligent design but CERTAINLY NOT what has been passing for ‘ID theory’ thus far!” (Perhaps it is like being a physicist who finds “cold fusion” an exciting possibility but knows that we aren’t even close to room temperature fusion generators of electricity and doesn’t term say “cold fusion” for fear of being heard.)
P.S. Invariably when I post something like this on a Christian forum, somebody will say, “Dr. ____ says many good things about Stephen Meyer’s book!” As if that matters. I evaluate ideas, not the politics of public relations and keeping donors happy. (This is one of the many blessings of retirement. Yes, I use to get paid to hold my nose and pretend nothing stank, no matter how odoriferous. Whether one is a pastor or a seminary president, getting along with everybody comes with the job. Don’t confuse the fact that somebody can’t publicly declare, “That book was a load of nonsense” as an endorsement by default.) By and large the “intelligent design community” has been a terrible embarrassment to Christian scholarship. That’s what happens when legitimate peer review is replaced by donor-driven entrepreneurs and a regional transportation lobbying organization which discovered that there was much more money in origins ministry propaganda. (Yes, the history of the ID community is extremely revealing and explains a lot. I wish it were not so. Ever notice how many ID website authors are attorneys with no significant scientific or theological CV entries? That’s far more embarrassing than the laughter over green-screens. I couldn’t care less about green-screens. )
Why DON’T intelligent design advocates ever address the basic questions of Intelligent Design? If ID is real science, then tell me how for any entity or process X, I can apply empirical testing (i.e., science) to determine when X is the product of an intelligent mind (for lack of a better term)? Don’t waste our time with nonsense about whether you think the construction of X can be reduced to obvious step-by-step sequences. (Not knowing how something came to be is a philosophical argument based on Personal Incredulity fallacies.)
Keep in mind that I’m a Christian theist who definitely believes God the Ultimate Designer of everything. But just because I hold to a particular theology does not mean that I am going to pretend that philosophical arguments are the same thing as the scientific method. (Besides, even if “ID theory” were the best possible philosophy, that wouldn’t make it valid science. If you can’t help me determine if any entity X was/is the product of intelligent design, I’m not likely to think your “ID theory” is a scientific theory. A real scientific theory explains the data.)
Believe me: I would love to be shown an ID theory was actual, falsifiable science. (HINT: If you think the Theory of Evolution is not science because it isn’t subject to falsification testing, I’ll know you are a wannabe comedian and not a scientist.)