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Is the idea of a "god" inherent in our minds? posted 09 September 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionIs the idea of a "god" inherent in our minds? by Cu'jara Cinmoi, Author of Prince of Nothing

a somewhat newer scientific theory termed Intelligent Design

Even calling intelligent design theory 'scientific' is enormously controversial, and only then, I suspect, because so many want so desperately to believe in it. Evolution is very alienating, and as difficult to envisage as is a billion years. I personally find it repugnant.

The idea as I take it (and please correct me if I'm wrong, Alric) is that only 'purposive intelligence' can explain the structural complexity of life. Though I'm not saying this isn't a worthwhile hypothesis to consider, the immediate problems seem almost insuperable.

The first and primary problem is that purpose, understood from the process-mechanistic model that is the default in science, is looking more and more like an illusion of our limited processing abilities. One of the holy grails in cognitive science and philosophy of mind, for instance, is the 'naturalizing of purpose,' and the literature is littered with the carcasses of failed attempts. Natural science deals in causes, not reasons, in functional explanations, not intentional ones. In the course of four short centuries, it has systematically discredited nearly every intentional explanation of nature that we cooked up. And it has given us things like cures for cancer, low infant mortality rates, and thermonuclear weapons by doing so.

In other words, 'intelligent design theory' explains the complexity evolution apparently cannot (and this thesis itself is roundly denied) by reference to something that not only remains inexplicable, but more and more seems antithetical to scientific understanding - and this is just to say that it really explains nothing at all. It's pseudo-science.

Aside from this, if you look at the list of other 'theoretical virtues' I mentioned, I think you'll find there's not one where intelligent design can even hold a candle to evolution. It has spawned no breakthroughs. It does not systematically fit with other scientific theories. It needs to posit the scientifically inexplicable in order to explicate. In fact it doesn't seem to do much of anything other than comfort people who need to believe that we are 'exceptional' somehow - that things have a 'point.'

But then we're hardwired to generally prefer simple, flattering conclusions over complex, threatening ones. All told, this is why I think 'intelligent design theory' is simply creationism redux. In 20 years time, I think you'll find that it has been thoroughly discredited, and that proponents of creation will have found some other pseudo-scientific theory to muddy the debate. I'm told this has been the pattern for some time.

I realize this must sound horribly cynical, Alric, but the problems with intelligent design really are profound. view post


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