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Why the Intelligent Design ``Theory'' is Bullshit

So we see that the Ontological argument for the existence of God is nonsense, a fact that you doubtless intuitively appreciated on your way to the fridge for a cold one (or possibly a banana), trying to get the buzzing about greatness and existence out of your ears. It is time to turn to another favorite argument for the existence of God - that of Intelligent Design (ID), a.k.a. the teleological argument for God.

ID is the (metaphorical) hydra of all God-arguments. Its head has been cut off by science and reason ninety-nine times but it just grows back and tries to bite you in the ass all over again.

On the one hand, I'm sympathetic. It is perfectly reasonable to believe in God based on the miracle of existence, even if one does restrict one's knowledge of existence to the moment you are existing and no more. Anything, every moment of our lives, is miraculous without exception as you meditate upon $\mu$.

Besides, Science is Bullshit, if your standard of non-Bullshit is something that can be rationally proven, so the hydra's mythical heads are cut of with a mythical sword. The fact of the matter is that logic cannot answer the question either way, so the fact that there is a disagreement indicates that there is a disagreement about the axioms upon which the arguments are based either way. Both are conditionally valid according to the axiom sets of the arguers. Neither can be unconditionally proven.

So why all the fuss?

It is because proponents of ID utilize a subtle perversion of the axioms of science themselves to arrive at their conclusions. They wish their conclusions to be advanced as a scientific theory, not as a result of pure logic. They claim that there is empirical evidence for the existence of Go-, um, oops, they try not to use the ``God word'' because then ID would become a religion and not something to be taught in science class - so let's say ``an Intelligent Designer'' and let those good old Capital Letters say it all. They're perfectly content for that designer to be space aliens from an advanced civilization or God, especially if you're the one who then goes ``gee, given a choice between E.T. and God, what to choose, what to choose...'' and (of course) makes the ``right'' choice.

To me this is the silliest thing imaginable. First of all, as we shall see, I used the word perversion deliberately. There is no scientific basis or empirical basis for the conclusion that there is an intelligent designer based on the evidence (usually evolutionary evidence) that they cite, at least none that would ever under any circumstances convince an unbiased scientific observer, and to get to where they can conclude that there is, they play fast and loose with silly things like the supposed difference between a ``theory'' and a ``fact''. As I clearly explained, there are no scientific facts. Scientists use the word ``fact'' to mean ``an assertion that is so thoroughly borne out empirically that their degree of conditional belief hovers around nine-nines or better'' as in ``it is a fact that this penny will fall if it is dropped'' because of their firm belief in Newton's Theory of Gravitation.

Second, they ignore the essential point to focus on an almost irrelevant set of details. The essential point is that there is a Universe at all not any particular detail of that Universe. We undeniably exist. We are (while we are existing, in present tense, as an immediate empirical experience) not-$\mu$! Given this miraculous truth, they need to focus on crap about watches in the desert and the eye? Screw that. Time for the ol' banana, but a boatload of bananas won't suffice to Enlighten the unprepared mind. As long as they cling to their scriptural preconceptions about God, as long as they cannot free themselves from a need to clothe their arguments in the moth-eaten trappings of Science (which has its own set of rational problems and limitations to deal with) they will continue to be an annoyance to both scientist and philosopher alike.

Let's review the argument in very simple form, since it is pretty mindless.

You are walking in the (metaphorical) desert and encounter a watch. It is a nice little watch - Mickey's hands with their paint still fresh and unchipped, the band unfaded by the merciless desert sun13.35. It is even ticking away.

Can you be forgiven for looking around to see if the buzzard-pecked corpse of some poor human is lying nearby, possibly shot in a drug deal gone bad and driven out into the desert to be dumped13.36? Is it not the most natural thing, now that you've found the watch, to assume that there must have been a watchmaker? One with abominable taste, no doubt - watchbands should never be that particular shade of mauve - but whence a watch without a watchmaker?

So (the argument continues) look then at the human eye (or pretty much any structure in living beings at any phylogenetic level) and you'll find natural structures that make the watch look like the cheap piece of badly engineered crap that it is. Whence an eye without an eyemaker?

Time to line up the usual suspects. Lessee, we are assuming without doubt the law of causality, temporal ordering, and so on. Yep, the axioms of science and Cartesian rationalism, as they are so ably demonstrated at least three times every week on CSI (Crime Scene Investigations in this city or that). This must be CSI Los Angeles, and a team will doubtless appear momentarily to take the watch and run various forensic tests on it.

So whence an eyemaker?

First of all, we inherit a bullshit conclusion along with the (pseudo)science of their argument, so ``bullshit'' is a completely justified conclusion regardless. But this is a Bullshit Conclusion even within science. Why?

Because Science doesn't assign global models of causality without being able to fill in and test the details of the hypothesis, the theory. This is an example of a Fairy Hypothesis by which I do not mean that the proponents of ID are all gay, but rather that there is no difference between asserting ID under these circumstances and that every human eye is assembled in the womb by invisible fairies that guide and put every single molecule in just the right place to build an eventual human. They are wise fairies, and they hold in their little fairy hands an exact blueprint for the finished product. Sometimes they get all confused and use the wrong blueprints or two different sets of blueprints and the result is unfortunate, but usually they manage to carry all those amino acids to just the right places and tack them in place with molecular glue.

Urk, you (should) say. Why fairies? Why intelligent agents? Aren't the natural action of intermolecular forces good enough to describe that process of growth? No, I answer. Look how complex the eye is. Expecting an eye to ``just assemble itself'' in a sea of component molecules is like expecting a watch to assemble itself out of a bucket of watch parts, like expecting Shakespeare to emerge from the random meanderings of crazed monkeys banging on antique typewriters! There must be intelligence or all the molecules would never naturally get to just the right places. Random chance alone could never do it.

This little parable should suffice to show the essential emptiness of their argument because the eye gets built in the womb where we can ``watch''13.37 it take place and understand it as it happens. Random chance does not do it, according to science. It is a random process, sure, but the randomness is structured by underlying biochemistry (or more deeply, by biophysics) that follows simple rules to produce complex structures. The ``fairies'' of intelligent construction are replaced by the ``forces'' of nature, that somehow ``know what to do'' and do it without direct intelligent intervention.

Now I personally think that this is equally miraculous - perhaps even more miraculous than invisible fairies floating around in my guts or my wife's womb, and certainly more ethically understandable. I cannot sensibly blame blind chemical interactions for the cancer I get when my cellular biochemstry breaks down with age, but I could certainly blame intelligent fairies for being evil if they choose to kill me off with a long drawn out cancer.

This exposes a second flaw in the argument. Most of the ID proponents who accidentally find themselves reading this book and who haven't long ago burned it and run off to pray themselves free from the Sin of reading it are probably going ``no, but we don't argue about the assembly, only the design''. I, of course, focussed deliberately on the assembly, since the whole point of the watch is that we infer a watchmaker, not a watch designer. Maybe Disney licensed the watch design from Timex. Maybe we could reframe the whole metaphor around a statue of a bull instead of a watch, and cleanly split the inferential argument for who designed the bull that was the model from the inferential argument for who was the sculptor who carved the statue.

The point is, that based on the complexity of the watch compared to the surrounding desert, we imagine (correctly) that it has a very unlikely design. However the assembly of a complex object out of component parts is just as unlikely as the design process whereby it became complex, at least until we see it in action unattended by any directing intelligence. The single greatest flaw in the ID argument is that it has as an unstated premise the axiom that only intelligence has the capability of creating things that are very unlikely. Subject to the usual scientific axioms, this is just not true. Mathematics, physics, chemistry, biochemstry, psychology - we learn over and over again of processes that can spontaneously self-organize into complex structures, and we have long since learned and experimentally validated the model which almost certainly put the damn watch into the desert, the model of Evolution.

Evolution is amazing. If the ID folks weren't all hung up on trying to salvage Christianity from the ruin of its mythology (which is their fairly transparent agenda, after all) they could perfectly reasonably argue thus: I believe that God exists, not as a rational conclusion beyond all doubt or some sort of scientific argument but because I exist as an experiential existential truth, and that's a miracle. Evolution is a miracle. The laws of physics are a miracle13.38. Every watch, or eye, that exists is a friggin' miracle because it self-assembled out of stardust, some of which came together in just the right way to stand up and walk around and eventually sit down and type these words, seeing them with stardust eyes and peering occasionally at a stardust watch to see if it is time for bed yet as it writes.

ID as a pseudoscientific conclusion is based on a complete lack of understanding of infinity and likelihood and science itself. Frame it as a scientific hypothesis - invisible fairies created life according to an intelligent design. Now how would we prove this to be true? What experiments could we perform? The fairies are invisible, so we have in our hypothesis excluded one whole class of experiment we might have done - finding the fairies themselves and asking them and accepting the fact that (as intelligent beings) they might lie. So we are left with indirect evidence. What evidence do we have for the way life developed?

Well, there are these fossils. In fact there are two kinds of fossils - the ones in the ground, frozen in a temporal strata that can be dated with reasonable accuracy in a variety of ways that are in reasonable agreement, where ``reasonable'' means ``reasonable according to the axioms of science and the accepted conclusions of the scientific process'' in many disciplines. In addition, there are the fossils in our genes - the fossil DNA that is buried inside our chromosomes, which is a different kind of temporal record.

Both, when one looks at them, tell a consistent and compelling tale of evolution - a process of gradual refinement of design, with occasional bursts of rapid change primarily around times that the ecosystem is stressed by little things like teraton-of-TNT-equivalent falling asteroids. A model of evolution as a genetic optimization process involving mutation, genetic interchange between individuals and natural selection works in the computer laboratory, on the mathematician's note pad, and in the halls of our hospitals and the pigsties of our farms well enough to completely explain the emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains of diseases, new diseases with unique new DNA patterns all their own, soot colored moths in England (that blend in with the soot colored walls for camoflage) post the industrial revolution where before that revolution they were white, and lists of potential direct mail targets that are several times more like to buy a credit card when contacted than an individual selected at random.

That is, evolution models work to produce new things and to optimize old ones. They work by taking relatively small steps in lots of random directions and efficiently sharing (by crossover and exchange during selective reproduction by survivors in a stressed environment) the information in their genes. Evolution works in the marketplace. Evolution works in society - this book discusses socio-memetic evolution of religions themselves as one of its themes. Evolution works in science and engineering and computer design - new ideas are built out of old ideas and shared, successful designs are propagated and old designs abandoned to ``death'' when they become obsolete.

There is no doubt that evolution works (aside from the usual healthy conditional truth doubt that any scientist has about even evidence they can see with their own eyes and so on). It is as much of a fact in its own mileau as the Law of Gravitation is in physics.

Fairies could of course be present and the prime cause of anything at all (including evolution and the effect of the Law of Gravitation) but as long as they make it behave like

\begin{displaymath}\mbox{\boldmath $F$}_{12} = -\frac{Gm_1 m_2}{r^2}\hat{r}\end{displaymath}

we will have to rely on other axioms than just experiment to reject the Fairy hypothesis in favor of Gravity.

The argument of ID boils down to: Gee, the eye is really complex (an observation we can all provisionally accept, why not). It could never have come about by chance (an absolutely unproven and unprovable statement - a pure assertion, axiom of the highest order). It must therefore have been engineered (another axiom - it isn't clear that ``engineering'' in the sense of ID is the only alternative to ``random chance''). We (the ID supporters) can never prove the ID hypothesis, but you (the supporters of evolution and science) cannot prove that it false, either (true enough, since science can't prove anything true or false, but irrelevant since science has long since created an overwhelming degree of conditional belief that their argument is silly)!

The argument of science is: Gee, nature is really complex and got that way before there was any such thing as engineering - it was quite complex thirteen billion years ago at the very beginning of its current cycle. From what we can infer from many observations, some of its most mysterious complexity was built right into its initial conditions and determined by the first few seconds of the Universe's existence. To arrive at this conclusion we extrapolated the empirical conclusions of many experiments to get a fairly accurate (we believe) picture of just what went on as the degenerate unified field broke its symmetry and formed nucleons and electrons and atoms and eventually molecules. Anyone is welcome to review those experiments and arguments and they can easily be duplicated.

Further series of observations on the develoment of life from the fossil and geological record paint an amazingly detailed picture of a process of evolution through flawed reproduction with natural selection. Much of the evidence can be viewed in any large metropolitan museum and is presented nearly every week on various television channels - there are no secrets and the arguments are consistent and well-supported. These experiments and observations strongly suggest that all the complexity we see today in the physical, chemical, and biological worlds is inherited from those initial conditions and some relatively simple microscopic interactions!

We, as proper scientists, can never prove any of this, but we can damn sure assign it a very high degree of conditional belief because we can fill in all the steps from the beginning to the now with understandable processes that can be independently verified by suitable experiments and which consistently lead to a practical and functional understanding of the world we live in. Steps along that road are constantly challenged (in an evolutionary process, actually) and only ones that consistently are verified experimentally continue to be believed as scientists overall value truth more than they value any given hyptothesis, even their own.

See the difference?

We see that at its heart, this is a religious dispute, not a scientific dispute. It is in fact not credible to assert that complex objects can only arise from ID, from active hands pushing little blocks into reasoned places. Every snowflake that falls is empirical evidence to the contrary unless you want to assert that their beautiful and staggeringly complex forms are assembled by Fairies.

Nor is it credible to assert that the evolutionary record requires ID as a necessary step to explain gaps or sudden changes - computer modelling of genetic optimization processes and sampling theory are more than adequate to explain both phenomena. It is fairer to ask the following question - if we did not have scriptural reasons to believe in not only God, but a particular vision of God, one that makes Men out of Clay with his own Hands, would we ever, ever, ever interpret the fossil record, the genetic record, the words written (in at least a poetic sense) by the real hand of God upon the stuff of the world for all to read who have the wit to do so, as evidence of fairy watchmakers sitting around designing eyes and the appendix and nipples on men and bodies that age and die and animals that are in a constant war for survival where the winner (as the ``fittest'') takes all as far as mating and passing on their genetic complement is concerned?

The answer is a quiet, unassuming no way in this or any other Universe! The fossil light from the stars is billions of years old. Positing intelligent designers less than God (say, space aliens) leaves you with a problem in logical recursion - where did they come from? The saying ``Ontogeny recaptitulates philogeny'', while perhaps not an absolute truth, works amazingly well all the way down at the level of the DNA of all living creatures. The fossil record is inevitably incomplete but where it exists it is amazingly consistent. Every single thing that is credibly examined using the axioms of science the right way leads one to conclude that the current scientific picture of the history of the Universe and evolution of species is in general correct, however possible it is that it is erroneous in small specific details. ID is just another religion, based in a fairly heavy handed and obvious way on discredited scripture, and as is the case with all religions, it relies heavily on a single Gödelian axiom - ``This axiom set is correct, and all other axiom sets must give way before it.''

This may be appropriate to teach as a religious view in some appropriate venue. It is dark evil to suggest that it be taught as ``science'' in our schools.

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