Friday, July 06, 2007


"Who Designed the Designer?"

"Critics of intelligent design theory," writes Robert Crowther on the Intelligent Design The Future website, "often throw this question out thinking to highlight a weakness in ID. Richards shows that the theory’s inability to identify the designer is not a weakness, but a strength. ID does not identify the designer is because (sic) ID limits its claims to those which can be established by empirical evidence."

However, in a 2005 post on the Discovery Institute's Evolution News and Views blog, Crowther singled out as praiseworthy this statement by John Silber in The New Criterion:

"The critical question posed for evolutionists is not about the survival of the fittest but about their arrival. Biologists arguing for evolution have been challenged by critics for more than a hundred years for their failure to offer any scientific explanation for the arrival of the fittest. Supporters of evolution have no explanation beyond their dogmatic assertion that all advances are explained by random mutations and environmental influences over millions of years."

So, according to Crowther, ID "theorists" are under no obligation to identify their "designer," his/her/its origin, or methods, but the failure, so far, of evolutionary biologists to understand the origin of life must been seen as a fatal flaw to the theory.

Crowther, rather cynically says ID "theorists" are limited by empirical evidence. ID's real failure, though, is not that they don't have an answer, but that they won't even ask questions. ID would take a giant step towards genuine science if even one of its advocates would put forward a testable hypothesis concerning the origin, nature, and methods of their designer.

Crowther channels Silber to chastise scientists for their "failure to offer any scientific explanation." This is untrue. The working hypothesis of many scientists is that life arose naturally from inorganic matter.

In an 1871 letter to the botanist Joseph Hooker, Darwin offered these speculative ideas on the origin of life:
It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are present, which could ever have been present. But if (and Oh! what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc., present, that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed.
What Darwin has rather bravely offered here is a hypothesis. He knows he doesn't have the evidence to prove that it is so -- and to date no satisfying evidence has been produced -- but he has outlined an area of prospective research which we have every reason to believe may someday bear fruit.

Thus it is quite true that scientists do not understand the origin of life on earth. There are many things that science can't yet explain. Perhaps there are things science will never explain.

But that's not a flaw, because science doesn't claim to have all the answers.

But it does have a method.

It asks questions. Lots of questions. Then it turns those questions into educated guesses -- aka hypotheses -- and it goes out and tests them. If evidence from observation and testing bears out the hypothesis, as sometimes happens, then we've learned something. If the evidence overturns the hypothesis, a new guess must be made and the testing process must begin anew.

ID "theorists" on the other hand believe they already have all the answers, and so ask very few questions. Where do they get all these answers? For them the word of God as revealed in the Bible takes precedence over evidence from the natural world.

In fact, for those who rely on revealed wisdom, questions can be a slippery slope. First you're asking how, and the next thing you're wondering if.

This post at Panda's Thumb also takes Crowther to task.


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