Friday, May 17, 2019

Gelernter's Strong Arguments Against Intelligent Design Creationism

Having just written about David Gelernter's weak arguments against Darwinian evolution in his Claremont Review essay, I thought I should also write about his strong arguments against intelligent design creationism.  The people at the Discovery Institute--like David Klinghoffer--have been celebrating Gelernter's "wonderful essay" as a triumph for the cause of intelligent design theory.  But they have to reluctantly admit that while Gelernter has been persuaded by Stephen Meyer's criticism of Darwinian science, he rejects Meyer's claim that the best replacement for Darwin is intelligent design.

I have written (here) about the dishonesty and sophistry of Meyer's intelligent design theory.  Gelernter doesn't recognize Meyer's dishonesty, but he does recognize one of Meyer's two sophistical fallacies.

At the end of his essay, in the section on "Darwin's Limits," Gelernter indicates that Meyer hasn't offered any proof for intelligent design, because he hasn't explained exactly when, where, and how the intelligent designer has intervened.
". . . What was his strategy?  How did he manage to back himself into so many corners, wasting energy on so many doomed organisms?  Granted, they might each have contributed genes to our common stockpile--but could hardly have done so in the most efficient way.  What was his purpose?  And why did he do such an awfully slipshod job?  Why ae we so disease prone, heartbreak prone, and so on?  An intelligent designer makes perfect sense in the abstract.  The real challenge is how to fit this designer into life as we know it.  Intelligent design might well be the ultimate answer.  But as a theory, it would seem to have a long way to go."
By seeing that Meyer's critique of Darwinian science does not prove intelligent design, Gelernter recognizes, at least implicitly, that intelligent design reasoning depends completely on the fallacy of negative argumentation from ignorance, in which intelligent design proponents like Meyer argue that if evolutionary scientists cannot fully explain the step-by-step evolutionary process by which complex forms arise, then this proves that these complex forms of life must be caused by the intelligent designer.  Gelernter sees that this is purely negative reasoning, because the proponents of intelligent design are offering no positive explanation of their own as to exactly when, where, and how the intelligent designer caused these forms of life.  Meyer insists that the proponents of evolutionary science satisfy standards of proof that he cannot satisfy, because his sophistical strategy is to put the burden of proof on his opponents, while refusing to accept that burden of proof for himself.

Meyer has admitted that this argument from ignorance is a fallacy, but he tries to show that proponents of intelligent design theory do not really commit this fallacy, because they offer explanations of intelligent design with positive content.  When he tries to do this, however, he must use the fallacy of equivocation--in the equivocation between human intelligent design and supernatural intelligent design.  We have all had the experience of how human intelligent agents create artificial products by intelligent design.  But it does not follow logically from this that we have all had the experience of how supernatural intelligent agents create artificial products by intelligent design.

Gelernter has not spotted this fallacy of equivocation in Meyer's reasoning.  Nor has he spotted the dishonesty in Meyer's claim that intelligent design theory is a purely secular scientific theory that does not depend on religious belief.  Gelernter says that "intelligent design as Meyer explains it never uses religious arguments, draws religious conclusions, or refers to religion in any way."  Gelernter is such a sucker.

If he knew more about the history of Meyer's work with the Discovery Institute, he would know about the founding document--"The Wedge Document"--of Meyer's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture.  And he would know that the primary goal of the Center is declared to be "to defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies," and "to replace materialistic explanation with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God."

The Wedge Document was written only for private circulation among potential donors to the Discovery Institute.  They wanted this to be kept private because in public their rhetorical strategy was to deny that their attacks on Darwinian science and defense of intelligent design were designed to promote biblical creationism.  They needed this dishonest rhetoric as a way of getting around the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard in 1987, which said that teaching "creation science" in public school biology classes was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment's ban on any governmental "Establishment of Religion."  Their way around this was to replace the term "creation science" with "intelligent design theory," and then to insist that the later had nothing to do with the former, because "intelligent design" was a purely scientific idea that had nothing to do with any religious belief in the Creator.

Clearly, Meyer's dishonest rhetoric has succeeded in fooling people like Gelernter.

I have written (here) about how Intelligent Design Theory should be understood as one of four leading positions on the creation/evolution debate among biblical theists--along with Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism, and Evolutionary Creation.


Roger Sweeny said...

(1) ". . . What was his strategy? How did he manage to back himself into so many corners, wasting energy on so many doomed organisms? Granted, they might each have contributed genes to our common stockpile--but could hardly have done so in the most efficient way. What was his purpose? And why did he do such an awfully slipshod job?

That reminds me of Jason Rosenhouse's Among the Creationists, a wonderful little book that should be much better known. He respects ordinary creationists and takes their concerns seriously. [Mendacious creationist propagandists, on the other hand ...] One of the problems that many creationists have with evolution is that, compared with intelligent design, it is such a cruel, wasteful process. Which actually makes them more realistic than so many modern "Nature is wonderful" people. They know that, "Mother Nature is a bad mother; she makes her children play in traffic." (I wish I could remember where I first read that. I had thought it was something by Leda Cosmides, but if so, Google is ignorant of it.)

(2) I have always been bothered by the argument, "Since the name, and the modern argument for Intelligent Design, came from people with a religious motive, the idea can't be secular". By that criterion, much of science is religious. It began as an attempt to "read the Book of Creation" (which was parallel to the Book of Revelation, the Bible), to understand the mind of God by understanding his Creation. It began with the idea that God would not create something that didn't make sense, and so there had to be natural laws, laws that were discoverable by human reason, observation, and experimentation.

The idea of intelligent design taps into deep human psychology, just as the idea of socialism does. The idea of intelligent design is not necessarily religious any more than a desire for socialism is necessarily Marxist.

Of course, it is largely a contentless theory, a God of the Gaps. But there is a lot in science that is speculation trying to fill a gap without a lot of demonstrated specificity. I don't think that is an unfair characterization of all present origin of life theories.

Larry Arnhart said...

I also respect the intelligent design/creationist arguments. So much so, that I have argued for years that students in biology classes should be allowed to study the intelligent design and creationist arguments along with Darwin and contemporary proponents of Darwinian science. The students could then make up their own minds. I did this in some of the classes I taught at Northern Illinois University--political science classes that were cross-listed as biology classes. I found that the biology majors--many of whom were creationists!--were pleased by this, because in none of their other biology classes were they ever allowed to question the truth of evolution.