Friday, 23 July 2010

When will people stop confusing Intelligent Design and intelligent design?

Earlier today I stumbled across an interesting book review, but not a recent one. The review is from 1999 and can be read here. It is a review of John Haught's book God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution, a book I have not yet read but perhaps should. Haught is a Catholic theologian, which shows from what I can tell from the review. The reviewer is also Catholic and is also a proponent of Intelligent Design, Michael Behe, a biochemist who proposed the concept of irreducible complexity, the idea that some things in nature are too complex and interdependent to have evolved through natural processes; this is seen as evidence for an intelligent designer, which Behe believes is God.

What I find interesting is Behe's inconsistency, something I noticed long ago. In mentioning this article I also get to take a brief look at Haught's views.  Up to now I have only looked at a couple of Catholic's views on this topic, those being Kenneth Miller in his excellent book Finding Darwin's God, and occasional interviews with George Coyne, for a good article by Coyne, see here.

In the review Behe makes the mistake of confusing (or maybe conflating) Intelligent Design as a biological claim with intelligent design as a philosophical claim. A good article on this can be seen here, by Keith Ward, in which he terms the philosophy of intelligent design "intelligent creation".  From now on I shall refer to the biological claim as ID and the philosophy as intelligent creation. Intelligent creation is merely the proposal that there is a designer, but not that it is evident in the inabilities of evolution; all theists are therefore proponents of intelligent creation.

Surprisingly Behe finds Haught's theological views appealing. Haught is a proponent of the idea of God self-limiting in creation as an act of love, giving nature an autonomous appearance, something which Behe describes as "aesthetically attractive". What is odd about this is that this flies in the face of ID but is perfectly compatible with intelligent creation, yet Behe espouses the former and rather loudly at that. I once used this theological view as an argument against ID, see here.

Haught is mentioned as believing that naturalism cannot account for anthropic fine tuning of the universe. This is a very common argument used by evolutionary creationists, which I have argued in the past may be misguided, see here. We cannot say that naturalism can't explain fine tuning, but we can state that it is consistent with our theistic world-view and that we believe theism is the better explanation. It is not clear from the review whether or not Haught strongly believes that naturalism cannot possibly account for it, or whether he simply believes that fine tuning hints at God's existence. Either way, both Haught and Behe are perilously close to wedging God into a gap.

According to Behe, Haught also believes the mind is not explained by evolution. He is what Daniel Dennett would call a mind creationist. This is not an uncommon view among Catholics, as they believe in a dualist view of the soul (I argue against this view here), requiring mankind to be endowed by God at some point, which we refer to as Adam. Catholics are often strongly in favour of seeing Adam and Eve as a couple and not symbolic of a population. When the mind is seen as coming from the soul it is often then seen as coming directly from God, meaning the mind cannot be accredited to evolution. Again, this is not uncommon among theistic evolutionists, with Simon Conway Morris taking this view and Francis Collins seeming to accept a version of it (he sees morality as coming from God).

If only they took the views of Cardinal Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, who said:

The clay became man at the moment in which a being for the first time was capable of forming, however dimly, the thought of "God." The first Thou that – however stammeringly – was said by human lips to God marks the moment in which the spirit arose in the world. Here the Rubicon of anthropogenesis was crossed. For it is not the use of weapons or fire, not new methods of cruelty or of useful activity, that constitute man, but rather his ability to be immediately in relation to God. This holds fast to the doctrine of the special creation of man . . . herein . . . lies the reason why the moment of anthropogenesis cannot possibly be determined by paleontology: anthropogenesis is the rise of the spirit, which cannot be excavated with a shovel. The theory of evolution does not invalidate the faith, nor does it corroborate it. But it does challenge the faith to understand itself more profoundly and thus to help man to understand himself and to become increasingly what he is: the being who is supposed to say Thou to God in eternity.

Behe then goes on to mention that Haught believes that "[deterministic laws and algorithms] don't account for fundamentally new and hierarchical arrangements in nature, such as the formation of molecules from fundamental particles, the formation of ordered metabolisms from separate chemical reactions, the formation of cells, multicellular organisms, and so on up the order of life. Those new events, Haught argues, require information." Which sound no different to the ID claims Haught apparently intended to argue against. Behe believes that information is beyond matter and energy and by this he clearly wants to say that it therefore cannot come about through interactions of the two, something which Haught seems to agree with; another God of the gaps argument and a contradiction with Haught's kenotic theology. 

Behe mentions that secular scientists use the term "information" though wrongly claims that they use it as a metaphor. Information does exist in nature, but whether it is there because God guides it or not is a metaphysical question, not a scientific one. Behe forces the metaphysical conclusion on scientific data as though it is the obvious conclusion, when by the analogies given in the review it should not be. It seems that Behe may be misrepresenting Haught's view, but without the original source I cannot tell. Seeing information in nature is not evidence of God or the inadequacies of evolution; from the scientific perspective we can see the elegance of evolution in producing information; from a theistic perspective the hand of God is seen. 

It is not surprising that Behe then mentions "specified complexity" in nature, notably in things like the blood clotting cascade or the bacterial flagellum (for a Miller article debunking his blood clotting claims, see here, for a good video on the evolution of the flagellum, see here).  Behe claims that ID makes no claims about how the signs of design are effected, yet all its proponents claim that it is not by evolution. So, why not evolution? Design is also seen in nature by evolutionary biologists, but evolution by natural selection is how it got there (Dawkins dedicated two books to explaining design in nature, The Blind Watchmaker and Climbing Mount Improbable). 

Behe goes on to define the claims of ID in such a way that they are compatible with all the aspects of evolution which he usually denies. He muddles his own ID claims with intelligent creation. He claims that design is empirically detectable; I agree, just as Dawkins does, but it is explained by natural selection and one should expect this from Haught's kenotic theology. He then claims that ID makes no claim as to how the design got there; good, this is compatible with evolution then. 

If ID is merely a claim that design is detectable, then it is correct and fully in line with evolutionary theory. However, it is not. It claims that design is detectable in biological systems which cannot be achieved by evolution and is evidence of a supernatural designer. These caveats must be mentioned. Behe has changed definitions, to one much more like intelligent creation but with a slight empirical claim (one which is meaningless for Behe's purposes). This is a common tactic amongst ID proponents,  one which should be expected. 

It is odd, based on some of his claims here, that Behe is not a theistic evolutionist. His views are not far off and it is sad that instead of taking Haught's theology on board he has twisted them, along with definitions of ID, to make it seem as though they are on the same page. He paints Haught out to be an ally, when clearly he was criticising Behe's views (though Haught's own views, based on this article, seem a bit muddled themselves). 

After reading the review I am hoping that Haught's views have not been misrepresented as it wouldn't surprise me if they were. 

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