Seattle Analytic Philosophy Club Message Board › Evolution vs. intelligent design: A nonsensical debate
Soon after Darwin published Origin of the Species in 1859, atheists promoted the theory of evolution by natural selection as a purposeless process, thereby countering the idea that purpose was needed to create the species. The notion was that the demise of purpose implies no need for God in creating the species.
Some theists ignored the atheist argument and embraced Darwin’s theory, while others sought to counter the atheist argument by arguing that the mechanism of natural selection is inadequate to have created the species. The latter stream of thought eventually led to the intelligent design (ID) movement.
This debate is nonsensical because the atheist claim is false, namely, that natural selection is a purposeless process.
Natural selection is exactly what ID proponents want because it is a purpose-driven process. While evolutionists consider the theory of natural selection the work of genius, ID proponents should consider the process of natural selection the work of genius. Why? Because the mechanism of natural selection is so simple, yet it is so powerful.
But in order for natural selection to work, organisms must have a feature that the atheist evangelists overlooked in their zeal to promote atheism.
What is the essential feature that organisms must have?
The propensity to survive.
In the absence of this feature, natural selection wouldn’t work, and, in fact, life would quickly die out even if it were directly created by God as portrayed in Genesis 1.
More specifically, an organism is an object that must continuously work to maintain the integrity of its body; otherwise its body will disintegrate. Thus, in order for the concept of organism to be viable, an organism must be constituted with a propensity to work to maintain the integrity of its body. In short, an organism must be constituted with a propensity to survive.
In this light, we can see that evolution by natural selection is a purpose-driven process, and, as such, it is a brilliant mechanism for creating the species.
What about Michael Behe’s claim that there are biological structures of irreducible complexity?
Behe uses the everyday example of a mousetrap: you can’t create a mousetrap gradually; its functionality is all-or-none. Behe is correct about the mousetrap, and the reason that he’s correct is that a mousetrap is not a biological structure.
By contrast, I submit that it is intuitively obvious that any biological structure could be created by evolution through natural selection under the proper environmental conditions. Hence, given the mechanism of natural selection, as an intelligent designer, our task would be to arrange the environmental conditions so as to breed a sequence of organisms that follows a pathway toward a specified goal, in particular, the goal of human life. According to our knowledge of the earth and the fossil record, this is exactly what happened — with or without an intelligent cosmic designer.
Is ID theory scientific theory? To the extent that ID theory challenges the efficacy of natural selection, it is scientific theory. However, in terms of the foregoing ID claims, it is false scientific theory. Just the same, that’s not to say that expert ID proponents, like biochemist Behe, aren’t justified in challenging the efficacy of some specific proposal for an evolutionary pathway of a particular biological structure. Such challenges are integral to the work of scientists in creating models of evolution.
References. The foregoing ideas are drawn from my comprehensive theory of human life, published in Why? In Pursuit of the Ultimate Answer (2008), p. 615-618. I also present the ideas in Why Human Life Makes Sense, Edition 2 (2012), p. 206-211. I introduce the two books at the following websites, respectively: www.philipbitar.com and www.WhyHumanLifeMakesSense.com.
Edited by Philip Bitar on Oct 16, 2012 2:38 PM
I do not agree that natural selection implies or requires purpose. We merely have to concede the existence of entropy to understand that any living organism must fight entropy or cease to exist. Entropy would eventually cause an organism to cease functioning, and thus it is not so much a conscious purpose as an inevitable necessity that survival be a constant fight. Given the limited life span of any organism, a lack of any action to counter entropy would result in a class of organism that cannot procreate. Therefore, we can only examine organisms that successfully combat entropy long enough to procreate and therefore exist in our perception.
However, my only objection is the implication that purpose requires a conscious mind to apply reason and make a choice. There seems to be a distinction between something that is done for a reason versus something that just happens to exist as a direct consequence of how the physical universe functions. I submit that survival and natural selection exist because they are inevitable, not because any entity or entities made a choice to act with reason.
I do admit that there is an interesting question as to whether a system of actions is consciously chosen due to a perceived reason versus those same actions taken as a result of instinct or other unconscious choices without cognizance of any reason for doing them. Most of what I am trying to convey is related to semantics, in that I admit there is a reason life operates the way that it does, but that I do not necessarily agree that this constitutes purpose.
To clarify, the upcoming meetup will be on whether intelligent design is science. This is important because the legal issues are based upon showing that intelligent design is not science. If ID is science, even bad science, it is not unconstitutional to include it in publc education. The philosophical issue is that it is much harder to demaracte what is science and what is not science than often supposed by those saying that ID is not science. So the meetup will not be about "evolution vs intelligent design".
Having said that, let me address the posts above. Whether or not natural selection has a "purpose" is a semantic quibble which isn't important. Biologists often think of natural selection as a NONRANDOM but UNDIRECTED process. Think of a sieve which filters out large stones. Natural selection is nonrandom in that it will favor increased reproductive success. So I suppose one could say the "purpose" of natural selection is to favor reproductive success. Similarly, the "purpose"of the sieve could be to let through small stones. However, natural selection is undirected, in that it is a mechanistic process without any "purposeful" direction. Similarly, the sieve is an inaminate object that could not be said to be "purposeful". So as Brian seems to imply, this is just a semantic issue, which isn't important. Philosophers of biology and scientists don't concern themselves with this issue.
Natural selection does not operate at the level of organismal survival, but genetic survival. There are plenty of examples from the natural world where organisms die soon after reproduction, or have extremely short life-spans. Similarly, many organisms have a large number of offspring with very little chance of survival. After reproduction, organisms do not need a propensity to survive for natural selection to operate.
Philip I think the point is that though you may find it "intuitively obvious" that natural selection could give rise to ALL aspects of complex organisms, many people don't, so stating it isn't enough. As for an intelligent designer utilizing natural selection, If I were to create an organism or machine to function in a certain environment, I certainly wouldn't waste the time and energy using the prcoess of natural selection. I would just create the organism or machine optimized to begin with. Why does it matter whether the entity is "biological"?
Finally, the issue between evolution and ID has nothing to do over whether natural selection is "purposeless". That is, as I mentioned, a semantic quibble which no major advocate on either side is concerned with. So the issue you charaterize as "nonsensical" doesn't exist to begin with, at least in the modern world. ID rejects the process of natural selection to begin with - it does not matter if it is purposeless or not - as a way to explain at least some biological features.
Edited by Gene L on Oct 17, 2012 8:47 AM