Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thoughts on Intelligent Design - part one

Often, proponents of Intelligent Design point out gaps in our knowledge as evidence of divine intervention. For instance, while having convincing proof of the natural evolution of life, humans don't yet understand how life first started on earth. Many will claim that the lack of a natural explanation points to a supernatural cause. I don't believe this works well as an argument.

First of all, there may very well be Intelligent Design (ID) behind the universe. I am arguing with the idea that we can logically conclude this based on naturalistic "gaps" in our knowledge. I think the following two possibilities are more likely, concerning current gaps in our knowledge, than a supernatural explanation:

1. Just like many, many things that used to have supernatural explanations (lightning, disease, the building of the pyramids, etc.) we will discover a natural explanation in time. This has been the trend throughout history.

2. We can never know this, but let’s assume that we will never figure out an explanation for first life. This still does not mean that the explanation is supernatural. There may be wholly natural aspects of the universe that are fundamentally outside our ability to understand. Stating that the supernatural is the most likely explanation is to assume that we are even capable of comprehending the entirety of the natural universe - which seems unlikely to me, since we are part of the natural universe ourselves.


  1. The first scenario is one that should be obvious to everyone. This trend has been just about as reliable as a trend can be. But you do well to include the second scenario since the first scenario is susceptible to the problem of induction. This is classically demonstrated through the story of the black swan.

    In 17th century Europe, all observations of swans had been observations of white swans. In fact, the term “black swan” became a symbol for impossibility. Using the collection of observed white swans and absence of black swans, the Europeans inferred that all swans are white. Low and behold, black swans were discovered in Western Australia in the 18th century.

    I think it is likely that we will never find out exactly how life as we know it originated. The best we will be able to do is create life in the lab, but this only shows possibility and probability of a mechanism for starting life. It will not amount to a 100% accurate historical recreation. So there will always be gaps, and where there is a gap, there is somebody who is ready to fill it with his favored myth.

    It is great how you bring attention to the fact that there may be wholly natural aspects of the universe that are fundamentally outside of our ability to understand. This is a great point that I feel is lost on so many people. I suppose the theist who “knows” the “Truth” might say that by this statement you preclude the possibility of evidence for god. I say so be it.

  2. Hi Steven, I enjoy your blog. Your "Thoughts on Intelligent Design" prompted me to include a link to another perspective on the subject.

    Have a great weekend. Best wishes on your part in "Rainbow Around the Sun."


  3. Skyhook,

    Thanks for the additions. I agree that accusations of "no amount of evidence for God will ever be good enough" are problems with the scientific method, not with unfair philosophical positions.


    I already read it and commented on it! Thanks!

  4. This blog reminds me of the song the Bar D Wranglers sang back when we were kids "Every time I hear a new born baby cry, or feel the wind, or see the sky, then I know why, I believe." It has to do with your topic. In regards to the supernatural . . . what is supernatural? I think we have touched on this before, but supernatural and God aren't necessarily synonymous. Or, perhaps we are all a bit supernatural, etc.

  5. John,

    I agree with your line of thinking. What is supernatural is a great question. From our point of view, it would be something that isn't bound to natural laws - it's a wild card. Maybe there are supernatural aspects to existence, but to argue that we can know that is tough. It's like looking for footprints from a ghost or something.