Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I'm getting asked about Intelligent Design (ID) an awful lot lately. Here's the deal:

There are three parts to the ID argument.

The first part is purely mathematical. It consists mainly of drawing a distinction between two types of complexity. Roughly speaking, we can say that the complexity of an object -- which, for convenience, we might represent as a string of 0s and 1s -- is the length of the shortest formal description of the object (or, more formally, the length of the shortest program that generates the string). But this complexity measure conflates two different types of complexity: meaningful complexity (something is hard to describe because it embodies profound patterns) and randomness (something is hard to describe because it embodies no pattern at all).

The second part is biological. It consists of the argument that nature presents us with phenomena with very high levels of meaningful complexity and that the mechanisms described by current theories of evolution are inadequate for generating such phenomena.

The third part is theological. It is prefaced by the observation that if all phenomena submitted to mechanistic explanations, the "God hypothesis" would be of no value (a point not lost on some of the most tendentious proponents of evolution). The main point is the faith claim that not all phenomena submit to mechanistic explanations.

Note that the second part argues against the adequacy of a given mechanism for particular phenomena, while the third argues against the adequacy of any mechanism(s) for all phenomena. Neither part implies the other.

The math is interesting and ought not generate much controversy. The questions raised in the biology part are worth exploring, but I have no idea if the central biological claim of ID will turn out to be right. I am, however, certain of one thing: As religious Jews, we have no dog in that fight. It is the height of stupidity to predicate one's religious commitments on the outcome of a particular scientific debate.

As for the theological part, I like it. It determines a point of view which is religious in the good sense and unfalsifiable in the scientific sense. But you don't need ID for it.

3 Comments:

Blogger westbankmama said...

My husband and I have discussed this at great lenghth - and your analysis of the three parts of the argument is a good one.

I think that the controversy in America at this time is "where" you discuss these facets of the discussion - in science class, in theology/religion class (which don't exist in public schools), or elsewhere.

I think this controversy would disappear if the religious people who send their kids to public school had an outlet to teach the theological implications of ID. Since they don't, they feel that the sole focus of teaching evolution in science class has "taken over" their turf.

2:35 PM  
Blogger D.C. said...

if all phenomena submitted to mechanistic explanations, the "God hypothesis" would be of no value

If the workings of the brain submitted to mechanistic explanations, then the notion that we have free will would be of no value. But would anybody suggest that therefore, people are not responsible for their actions?

I'm not sure that I understand exactly how to resolve this contradiction, but I have a feeling that its resolution would also help explain where there is room for God (not just in the Watchmaker sense) in a world that submits to mechanistic explanations.

8:13 PM  
Blogger zh said...

re: if all phenomena submitted to mechanistic explanations, the "God hypothesis" would be of no value

As is often noted, perhaps quantum indeterminacy leaves room for God. ie, at the quantum level, even the mechanistic explanation is inherently incomplete.

3:42 AM  

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