24 August, 2009

Who is the Intelligent Designer? - Elusiveness by Design

I recently received a few comments on an earlier post I did on a flaw in intelligent design (ID) theory. Essentially, my point was that knowledge of human design cannot be used as a basis for recognizing supernatural design. It can only be used as a basis for identifying other human design. The point was made by the commenter, Michael, that I was wrong in my approach as I was attacking the notion of a supernatural designer, something which ID does not necessarily claim.

At first glance, this may seem like a perfectly reasonable criticism. If you accept it, then you could say that I am committing the logical fallacy of attacking a strawman, as I am taking an argument that ID does not hold and attacking it. However, this is one of the core problems with ID. They do not publicly hold the position I am attacking for that very reason, because it is so open to attack. Rest assured, they certainly do hold the position privately - just ask any one of them and they'll probably admit it. It is this unwillingness to speculate on the identity on the designer in public, I will argue, that contributes to the status of ID as an unfalsifiable theory, thus rendering it pseudoscientific.

When asked certain questions, IDists claim that ID says nothing about this or nothing about that. This is because if they try to expand upon the theory of an intelligent designer it quickly turns into religion. So they prefer to make only one claim, and a flawed claim to boot, and then refuse to expand on that claim. This means that ID adopts an ambiguous position with regards any direct prerequisites or consequences of ID being true. Luckily, this does not stop others from exploring the shaky scaffold that props up the notion of ID.

Breaking it down, the designer has to be either supernatural or natural. Let's take these one at a time:

1) If the designer is supernatural, then ID is pseudoscience. Plain and simple.

2) If the designer is natural then this means that ID could potentially be tested.

The problem is, of course, that ID proponents don't claim that the designer is natural or supernatural, they simple say they are not concerned with the designer's identity. This automatically means that both options above are possible, rendering ID as pseudoscience because it doesn't reject the idea of a supernatural explanation.

It is, of course, obvious why they don't speculate on the identity of the designer. They are all creationists of one ilk or another and so they believe that the designer is God. Casey Luskin, the ID attack gerbil, has admitted as much to me in our email debate and several other ID proponents have also agreed that they believe the Christian God to be the designer. Why is this a problem? Well, as explained above, if the designer is God then ID is pseudoscience and legally has no place in the science classroom. So they don't admit it publicly and instead wallow around in ambiguity.

The only other alternative is that the designer is natural. Now if ID proponents were to come out and say as much, they would be lying to themselves, but it might actually benefit their cause in that, at first, it seems ID is now not necessarily pseudoscience. However, the problems don't end just because the designer is potentially natural because this is simply begging the question...

Who designed the designer?

An answer which necessarily asks the exact same question it is supposed to answer is effectively useless. So whether the designer is supernatural or natural makes no difference - ID is useless.

I'll explain why...

Saying an intelligent designer made a flagellum is unfalsifiable. Nothing can ever disprove this. If we were able to find the exact evolutionary pathway step by step, the ID proponent could simply say that the intelligent designer designed the step-by-step pathway.

The only way to refute, or even explore, ID is to imagine that it is true and then look at the prerequisites and consequences of that. This is the only way that ID could potentially be considered real science - if ID proponents try to disprove it. They don't (for obvious reasons) but others are happy to do so.

Many wacky hypotheses are dismissed simply by exploring their implications and realizing that they are untenable ideas. ID is untenable as it would require an infinite regress, so no questions are answered that do not ask the exact same question ad nauseum. Of course, if you do not explore these aspects of a theory, then your theory remains unfalsified, which is exactly the case with ID.

This analogy might help:

What if I say to you that I have formulated a new branch of mathematics where 5x10=51...?

You might explain that 5x10 actually equals 50 by showing me 5 separate bundles of 10 things and combining them all to give 50 things. But then I would just say:

"No, I didn't claim that 5 bundles of 10 things equals 51 things, just that 5x10=51."

You could try to convince me all day using logic but you can never prove me wrong if I say that this is a new branch of maths. It is unfalsifiable because any attempt to disprove it is not acceptable as it includes things that I did not claim.

This is the same as ID.

It is purposely designed to be impossible to disprove as it does not allow for any prerequisites or consequences of ID to be examined. This makes it pseudoscience.

So when someone, like me, attempts to explore the necessary conditions for ID to be true and finds error in it, I will always get someone telling me I am wrong because I have added extra unclaimed information.

Well, I propose that 5*10=51

Teach the controversy.

No comments: