Saturday, August 20, 2005

Who are the Intelligent Designers?

Richard Posner's brief mention of ID in an otherwise unrelated post caused some stir over at Southern Appeal. Posner characterized ID as "nothing more than thinly veiled biblical inerrancy."

From what I understand on this issue (and I've learned a lot about it through my fellow cohorts here) the ID theorists are all over the place. There really are, on one side of the pro-ID spectrum, cranks who want to teach in the science classrooms that the Bible is inerrant science, that the Earth was created in six literal days and is only a few thousand years old...and, on the other side of the same pro-ID fence, folks who accept that the Earth is billions of years old and that lifeforms share common decent, but posit, as a scientific matter, that life must have had some sort of intelligent origin.

My comment or question to pro-IDers, especially those who claim they do not desire to teach religion or the Bible in the science classroom, how specific ought we be in identifying the attributes of the designer? In fact, would it be appropriate to speak of "the designer" in a singular sense at all? It seems to me that, even if we accept evidence of Intelligent Design, there is no good reason to speak of the Intelligence in a singular sense, that it is just as likely that there are "Intelligent Designers" as opposed to one "Intelligent Designer."

In these debates, I've heard the pro-IDers often speak of life in a mechanistic sense, often describing life as complicatedly designed machines. They argue things like, upon observing a 747 Airplane, someone unfamiliar with it wouldn't conclude that it happened by accident (a tornado through a junkyard). I've heard them say that ID scientists have discovered such things like viruses operate on sophisticated levels of nanotechnology and have built in motors, rotors, and crankshafts.

But few if any of these things which the IDers use as comparisons -- 747s, nanotechnology, machines -- have a "singular" designer. Most pieces of "design" machinery have multiple inventors/designers.

In other words, if there is evidence of ID, who is to say that we weren't "designed" by a group of designers as opposed to a singular designer. Now, I don't believe that aliens came to Earth billions of years ago and "created" humans. But, as a scientific matter, ID cannot prove a Biblical God as a more likely designer than the aliens.

In fact, if anything the reverse is true because the aliens can offer an entirely naturalistic explanation. First, it's entirely likely that intelligent life does exist elsewhere in the universe. Entirely rational, empirically minded thinkers like Carl Sagan believe this. Given the vastness of the universe -- billions of stars in billions of galaxies -- if life occurred here, even if highly improbable that life will occur anywhere, it's also likely that life occurred elsewhere (we just shouldn't expect to see life in every star system; maybe one in every say 500 million or so star systems).

The reason why most skeptically minded folks don't believe that we've been visited by aliens is because there is no credible evidence for it. And that intelligent life does exist outside Earth but never visited Earth makes rational sense as well. Our closest star is around 3 and half light-years away. Given the improbability of life -- especially intelligent life -- occurring in any given solar system, chances are the closet planet with life is hundreds of thousands if not millions of light years away. And if the speed of light is a cosmic speed limit...we could see why we haven't had any intelligent visitors. Still, there may be a way around the speed of light.

There is just no evidence that we've been visited...unless of course we accept that we've been intelligently designed. That right there could be seen as evidence of visitation from extra-planetary intelligent life. Let's do a thought experiment. Given the incredible advancements in technology made in the post-Enlightenment age, and the way in which information ever increases, let's imagine what it will be like if these advances continue ad infinitum. Imagine say a few thousand (or tens or hundreds of thousands of) years go by. And also let's imagine that scientists attempt to create artificial and synthetic lifeforms from things like nanotechnology and design these incredibly lifelike machines that really do have motors, rotors, engines and levers. Let's further imagine scientists ever attempting to make these synthetic machine life-forms closer and closer to real lifeforms to the point where they are given the ability to self replicate. Let's say that scientist get these created lifeform like machines to be so close to actual lifeforms that the distinction between these synthetic machines and real life from nature entirely disappears.

If such a thing occurs, then we will have "created" and "designed" life. And all of this goes down without a supernatural explanation. Now, let's assume that we humans were Intelligently Designed. And let's also say that scientists end up "creating" life out of machines, as I laid out, wouldn't it then be more logical to accept the natural explanation -- that just as we, tangible natural lifeforms, created life, other more advanced, more intelligent natural tangible lifeforms created us? As opposed to some supernatural magical creation.

I know that much of what I've written is speculation and unprovable (that our mechanical and engineering technology will advance to the point where we can, in essence, create life) but so too is the notion that some supernatural monotheistic being created us. And in my hypothetical, there was no one designer, there was a group of designers -- us.

So back to the initial question, if we should teach ID in the public schools and whatnot, when referring to the Intelligent Designers, should it be mandatory that the designer NOT be spoken of as a singular entity but rather as equally possible singular or plural entities?

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