ID: Groundwork, Science, and Outcomes (A, B, and C Redux) 

I wrote a couple of days ago about three layers or threads in Intelligent Design. I want to expand on that today with a graphic representation. (You may click on the graph here to open a larger version.) This is part of my ongoing attempt to clarify the relationship between ID as science and any religious motivations or implications it may have. 

ID Thought Flow

The three major divisions of this chart are Groundwork, Science, and Outcomes. In my previous post I labeled them Intelligent Design A, B, and C.

The groundwork consists of thought that precedes ID's scientific research. For the most part it is about motivations.

Some ID proponents, myself included, gain their initial interest in it through doubts regarding Philosophical Naturalism (PN), which says that only natural explanations are allowed for any question regarding the world. Under that rule, the only possible explanation for the diversity of life is neo-Darwinism. Therefore, to a philosophical naturalist, neo-Darwinism must be true. Scientific research and evidences enter only insofar as to rule out any other natural possibility--i.e.,Lamarckism, spontaneous generation, and so on.

Obviously, many believe there is enough evidential support to make neo-Darwinism generally plausible. But might there be evidence to compare neo-Darwinism to answers that go beyond the natural--like theistic answers? Philosophical Naturalism says that doesn't matter: it doesn't need evidence, because neo-Darwinism is the only game in town, so it must be true. Some of us are suspicious of that kind of evidence-free hubris, and our suspicion rubs off on all our views about neo-Darwinism.

Note that this box does not say, "Belief in God," or "Belief in Genesis 1-2." It is enough just to doubt the adequacy of Philosophical Naturalism. A person could come to that position on just philosophical grounds, without taking a theological stance at all. Note also that believing in God need not automatically entail thinking that everything about Darwinism is wrong (religious belief is not on the chart for that reason). If one is open to a figurative interpretation of Genesis 1-2 (or believes in God but not in the Judeo-Christian Bible), such a person might accept just about everything in evolution except (if this person opposes PN) that it all came about just through natural processes.

Others have entered the Intelligent Design scene by way of seeing empirical difficulties in neo-Darwinism. Michael Denton and Michael Behe are both strong examples of this. Denton, who wrote the groundbreaking Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, simply laid out a series of evidential difficulties with neo-Darwinism and wondered if there might be a better answer than that. Behe was awakened from a silent sleep on the topic by Denton's book, and has gone on to outline other areas in which neo-Darwinism faces empirical challenges. He has never given any indication, to my knowledge, that his problem with evolutionary theory is based in religion. It's based in what he sees as neo-Darwinism's failure to explain the natural world.

Some ID proponents, like Phillip Johnson, have come in through both of these doors.

ID's Groundwork layer intersects with the Science layer in developing operational definitions for identifying markers of intelligence in nature. Philosophy, mathematics, and science all come together here. William Dembski has taken the lead in this through his work on Complex Specified Information. Scientific research follows on that basis.

Now, to the extent that Intelligent Design is a scientific question, that's all we need. The third major division, Outcomes, has nothing really to say to the scientific program--it can only listen to what the science says, and draw its conclusions from there. Granted, it may have an effect on persons' beliefs (back in the Groundwork) regarding Philosophical Naturalism, but its effect on the science can only be indirect. ID as science will stand or fall on the quality of its operational definitions and its research.*

All of this has been said before, many times. Why repeat it now? Because there are so many out there who still think ID is equivalent to theology. That's really an ignorant caricature, or else it's a rhetorical trick to discredit ID on false grounds. Don't get me wrong, I have no fundamental disagreements with theology--I think it's the entry point to our most important knowledge about the world. But science is how we learn about nature. ID is about nature, so if it is going to succeed, it must do so as a science. I have illustrated here (again) how it is related to theology, which is to say, only as an outcome, and indirectly by way of motivation.

A final point: this looks suspiciously linear even to me; I do not mean to suggest that this describes all of the psychology of ID, or the way the discussion and work are carried out. The real chart of all that would look like much more turbulent. What I'm saying is that this provides a framework for interpreting it; and as I read the ID literature, the major proponents are indeed capable of maintaining the conceptual distinctions here. Antagonists seem intent on obliterating them.

*Some commenters are sure to interject here that ID has done no science at all. It's a common enough complaint. I do not agree, but it's been discussed plenty already so we don't need to replay all those arguments here. The purpose of this post is to put the scientific program--whatever it may be--and the theological and philosophical aspects of ID into proper relationship with each other. 

Posted: Tue - May 22, 2007 at 10:43 AM           |

© 2004-2007 by Tom Gilson. Permission is granted to quote up to two paragraphs of any blog entry, provided that a link back to the original is included or (in print) the website address is provided. Please email me regarding longer quotes. All other rights reserved.

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