Saturday, 27 August 2011

Vacuous Nonsense

I got into a bit of an argument with a creationist recently, which is nothing unusual for me. In the ensuring discussion I asked them what evidence there was against evolution. They brought up intelligent design, together with a sarcastic quip that I reject it without having reasons why. The phrase vacuous nonsense comes to mind, though it's easy to demonstrate how intelligent design is vacuous nonsense.

What I find interesting about those who try to defend intelligent design as a science is that they don't operate on anything remotely resembling a scientific definition. My complaint that Intelligent Design makes no specific prediction and thus there's no way to know whether or not a designer was involved. It's an irreconcilable problem as far as ID as a science is concerned. Yet I've found that's not what people see ID as. A better working definition would be:
A designer must have been involved somewhere and somehow in the history of life.

In other words, what ID proponents hear is a denial of any role for Goda designer. It's not a scientific hypothesis in any way, it's touching on something far deeper and more personal. Whether or not current evolutionary theory is sufficient to account for what is seen in nature doesn't make the case for Goda designer any better, as all that would do is be making Goda designer an expression of our ignorance. Yet in the absence of making any predictions about patterns, there's really no way to tell whether designers were involved or not. Intelligent Design is making one big argument from ignorance.

Yet if we look at life as it is, we can and do have intelligent design mechanisms operating in nature. We have artefacts that are the product of intelligent designers, along with an understanding of how such mechanisms work. Even in nature, we have products shaped by intelligent designers. We couldn't account for agriculture as it is without including intelligent hands involved. Likewise with the domestication and modification of animals. And now the era of genetic modification has opened a new way that designers can act in nature.

All of these instances of design in nature are accounted for scientifically, we know the nature of what the designers can and can't do, and how the design happens. How cats and dogs became domesticated, for example, is something that is being scientifically studied. Deliberate cross breeding has been used to feed billions.

Contrast this with the nondescript statement that Intelligent Design proposes - that there was a designer who did something at some stage. Without knowing anything about the nature of the designer and the methods, and without making any specific predictions about how the designer operates, it's a useless speculation. Yes, a designer could have done something, but if we don't know anything about what the designer did or how, then how can we distinguish it from there not being any designer at all?

This is why I think Intelligent Design is vacuous nonsense. It's the pretence that there's something scientific about invoking God to explain life, without having the hassle of trying to substantiate that in any way.

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