Scientific Naturalism
and Intelligent Design

Yet we must exhaust all natural explanations before we fall back upon such a theory as this.

Sherlock Holmes, "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot,"
His Last Bow [Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1917].

Why then, replied CLEANTHES, it seems to me that, though the world does, in many circumstances, resemble an animal body, yet is the analogy also defective in many circumstances the most material: no organs of sense; no seat of thought or reason; no one precise origin of motion and action. In short, it seems to bear a stronger resemblance to a vegetable than to an animal, and your inference would be so far inconclusive in favour of the soul of the world....

The world plainly resembles more an animal or a vegetable than it does a watch or a knitting-loom. Its cause, therefore, it is more probable, resembles the cause of the former.

David Hume, Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, Parts VI & VII

Your Highness, I have no need of this hypothesis.
Je n'ai pas besoin de cette hypothèse.

Pierre-Simon de Laplace, reply made to Napoleon when asked why his celestial mechanics had no mention of God.

Wherever, then, everything turned out as it would have if it were happening for a purpose, there the creatures survived, being accidentally compounded in a suitable way; but where this did not happen, the creatures perished and are perishing still, as Empedocles says of his 'man-faced ox-progeny'.

Aristotle, Physics, 198b29, G.S. Kirk, J.E. Raven, & M. Schofield, The Presocratic Philosophers [Cambridge University Press, 1957, 1983, 2004].

Criticism of Evolution by Natural Selection (the theory of Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace, but which, as we see above, can be traced back, after a fashion, to Empedocles, long before Darwin), mainly with a religious motivation, formerly taking the form of "Scientific Creationism," has lately been revived through the movement for "Intelligent Design." Just as with Scientific Creationism, this new approach has pretentions or ambitions to being part of mainstream science and relies on a critique of a "materialistic" or "naturalistic" method in science as being inadequate to the empirical evidence. It must then be asked, "Is science 'materialistic'?" The answer to that is "no," because, although many scientists may in fact be materialists, materialism is a metaphysical doctrine and is both inessential to science and independent of its method. We then must ask, "Is science 'naturalistic'?" The answer to that is "yes," because naturalism, properly undertood, is a method, an empirical method, which is the very essence of modern science ever since Galileo. The Intelligent Design theorists want to claim an empirical justification themselves, but the assumptions that they introduce into their method are inconsistent with the very logic of scientific method. [note]

The naturalistic method of science involves one fundamental procedure, the use of observation and experiment to confirm or falsify hypotheses. This is "naturalistic" for two reasons:  (1) the observations and experiments are done in nature, i.e. on empirical and phenomenal objects; and (2) the hypotheses are about the laws of nature -- i.e. causal laws, which exclude teleology. Thus, phenomena are observed, a theory is proposed to explain the phenomena, and the theory is tested by predictions that can be proven by observation or experiment. This is science as understood by Karl Popper, whose views have been discussed elsewhere.

Intelligent Design denies the naturalism of science by asserting that natural causes are insufficient to explain certain phenomena, such as biological organisms and the diversity of life. This fails as science for the following reasons. The denial of "natural" causes can only mean the introduction of "supernatural" causes, teleology, etc. This can only mean (1) that the laws of nature are suspended or (2) that the laws of nature are inadequate to explain the phenomena, and a particular kind of supernatural cause is the only alternative. Now, the suspension of the laws of nature is, by definiton, a miracle. It is not surprising that such a notion would accompany theistic belief, but by its very nature it cannot be part of science. If the purpose of science is to discover the laws of nature, then events that involve the suspension of the laws of nature by that very fact can be no part of science. Science cannot study a law of nature when such a law is not in operation -- indeed when no law is in operation. At the same time, since miracles are only occasional events, they cannot be studied in a scientific way, when it must be possible to repeat an observation or experiment in order to see the operation of the law. A supernatural cause that suspends the laws of nature thus can have no part in scientific knowledge.

Advocates of Intelligent Design apparently do not want to pursue that meaning of the denial of natural causes, in any case. So they want to argue that the laws of nature as such are insufficient to explain the phenomena and must be supplemented by supernatural causes or teleological explanations. This is also adverse to the basic meaning of scientific method. If available theories are insufficient to explain the observed phenomena, then it is scientific method to look for a new theory, not to give up and invoke supernatural causes. That would prejudge that the relevant laws of nature do not exist. That the reason for the phenomena is not presently understood is no evidence for this; and since it is the very business of science to look for laws of nature through empirical inquiry, the failure of any particular theory simply means that the search continues for new theories. Giving up inquiry and invoking a supernatural cause means giving up science. It means the end of science. [note]

Indeed, with a supernatural cause, science need never have started. That is because if a supernatural cause can be invoked, then laws of nature are entirely unnecessary in the first place. If a supernatural cause means an omnipotent Creator, then the problem is just that this explains too much. Why is the sky blue? Because God made it that way. Why is there a bright red line in the spectrum of the Sun? Because God put it there. As they would have said in the Middle Ages, all this testifies to the marvelous design and aesthetic of God. Indeed, Islamic Occasionalism simply held that God was the direct cause of everything that happens. This eliminated need for laws of nature at all.

If advocates of Intelligent Design are not to embrace Occasionalism, for which science would not exist at all, they must explain why natural laws and natural causes can be pursued for some phenomena but can be said not to exist for others, like the origin of life. And they must do that with a priori reasons, for it is not enough to say that present theories do not explain all phenomena, or contain anomalies. No one expects present theories to explain everything:  That is just why science is not finished. Nor is any conscientious scientist going to deny that scientific theories are without anomalies, for those are the clues how a theory is to be extended, improved, or replaced. But no conscientious scientist is going to assert at some point a priori that a theory about natural laws for certain phenomena cannot be found. Such an argument might even be part of metaphysics or epistemology, but it cannot be part of empirical science. On the other hand, while Creationaists and Intelligent Design advocates love to pick apart inadequacies or frauds in scientific accounts, they themselves possess a theory that easily does explain everything (and so nothing), i.e. the notion of an omnipotent Creator, the "Intelligent Designer." That is one difference between sciene and religion:  the scientist has to live with inadequate explanations, while faith has an answer that covers everything. For God all things are possible.

Since Intelligent Design implies an "intelligence" and a "designer," it is a theory of purpose and intention. It thus requires the existence of something that can possess intelligence, intention, and purpose. While some anti-Darwinians, like Ann Coulter, say that "Design in the universe may well be explained by something other than God" [Godless, Crown Forum, 2006, p.245] this is a dishonest assertion, since the original philosophical arguments from design were arguments for the existence of God, and there is no doubt, and no reason for doubt, that people like Coulter believe that the "intelligent designer" is God. Indeed, on the same page she says that the internal mechanism of the cell "required high-tech engineering." If it is not God as the designer or the engineer, what is it going to be? Zeus? Marduk? The trick here appears to be an entirely polemical and negative attitude towards Darwin, but a reluctance (not much really) to admit what alternative is being offered. Any theory of purpose and intention, furthermore, is wholly alien, again, to the naturalistic method of science. Natural laws are causal laws, with teleological explanations gradually driven from the field. Even a philosopher like Spinoza, with a natural theology, denied teleology (which he thought was contrary to the perfection of God). If the Intelligent Design advocates want it to be posssible that there is an intelligent designer in scientific explanations, and they are using an argument for design for such a being (even if they disingenuously allow that it might not be God), what they really are getting into is natural theology -- rational arguments for God. They may not be aware that natural theology, and such things as the argument from design, have not done well since Hume and Kant. But, in any case, this is philosophy and metaphysics, not science.

Thus, the very denial of naturalistic method by Intelligent Design advocates is inconsistent with scientific method itself. Science is the means of the discovery of the laws of nature, and it is about just that, i.e. nature. Does this mean that naturalistic theories are appropriate for everything? No. I have examined elsewhere the reasons why naturalistic theories of meaning are wrong. The empiricism of science is only appropriate where empiricism is appropriate, and that is not everywhere. This is why projects like "Scientific Creationism" and "Intelligent Design" are a waste of time. Charles Darwin has nothing to do with religion, morals, metaphysics, or epistemology. There are certainly those, "secular humanists" even by their own description, who by some kind of positivism or scientism think that naturalistic explanations are sufficient for everything in life, but they are simply wrong, philosophically wrong. Attacking them for their science, however, is suicidal and worthless. If they are confused that science has implications that it doesn't, they can be corrected.

But biology isn't an implication, it is a science; and behind the Intelligent Design theories, I must be forgiven the suspicion that there still lurks the old "Scientific Creationism" contention that the universe is only 10,000 years old. To get that, it is not just biology that must be attacked, but geology, astronomy, and physics also. This is what helped discredit "Creationism." Many Intelligent Design advocates (like Coulter) heatedly deny that they are "Young Earthers." Whether the Intelligent Design theorists want to admit it, or confess that sciences like physics are in their sights, they cannot deny that a supernatural cause, once allowed, would make it possible that, as some have seriously argued, God created the universe to make it look like it was old (with fossils and unconformities, etc.), even if it wasn't, just to test the faith of the faithful and tempt the disbelief of the wicked. Since they must already think of Darwin as a kind of Satan, this might not be too large a step. But if Intelligent Design advocates, even with an old earth, are contending that there was a special creation for human beings, then it is reasonable to ask them, as discussed by Martin Gardner, did Adam and Eve have navels? [Did Adam and Eve Have Navels? Debunking Pseudoscience, W.W. Norton & Company, 2000] -- they certainly would not have had parents or umbilical cords. These are the kinds of questions that arise, and discussions about them quickly assume an absurd aspect. In truth, the Young Earth Creationists deny the age of the Earth, why? Because it contradicts the Biblical story of Creation. So why do the Intelligent Design advocates deny the mutability and natural, causal origin of species? Because it contradicts the Biblical story of Creation. So we end up with a distinction that really doesn't reflect a difference in cognitive commitment.

Given the failure of Intelligent Design as science, we can certainly still ask, "Why are the laws of nature as they are?" This is where we had the more traditional version of Design, namely the Argument from Design, which was, as noted, an argument for the existence of God. As part of natural theology, and so part of metaphysics, this would, again, not be part of science -- though confusing or linking science with theology is precisely what the advocates for Intelligent Design want to do. Although very old, the Argument from Design is now particularly linked with the natural theology of William Paley (1743-1805, Natural Theology, 1802), who expessed, if not originated, the notion of God as the "watchmaker," the architect of the mechanism of nature, and so perhaps of nature itself only indirectly through that mechanism. This puts Creation back one step from the direct and Mediaeval forms, taking into account the existence and significance of the laws of nature, and so of the scientific project to discover those laws. This is Newtonian natural theology, and indeed, things like this were in fact popular with Isaac Newton, who in his own day admired the cosmology as sacred history of Thomas Burnet (1635-1715, Telluris Theoria Sacra or The Sacred Theory of the Earth, 1681). As a proof for the existence of God, however, the Argument from Design is not a good argument. The requirement would have to be that only a Creator God could explain the existence of the laws of nature. This is not the case, as anyone familiar with the history of Western Philosophy would know; for with Plato we have the theory that the laws of nature exist because all perfection and order derives from the Forms in the World of Being. In the Timaeus, Plato posits a Creator God, the Demiurge, but this God does not create the Forms -- he looks to them in order to make his own creation of the world as good as possible. It is still a matter of scholarly debate whether Plato took this act of creation seriously, or just used it as a device for exposition. The Neo-Platonists certainly did not believe it.

Plato's theory avoids problems that arise with a Creator God. For a Creator God, as it happens, is expected to do what is best -- if the theistic attributes of God are going to be omniscience, omnipotence, and benevolence. If such a God does not look to the Forms as the standard of what is good, then the good would have to be just whatever he does, which renders characterizing him as "good" trivial and pointless. This is the ancient antinomy between God's goodness and God's omnipotence. To Kant, such antinomies are what happen when we attempt to reason about transcendent objects. And there are more. For instance, if we accepted Plato's theory, we might want to ask, "Why are the Forms as they are?" We could then propose God as the Creator of the Forms. This gets us back to the antinomy of goodness and omnipotence, but it also suggests a new one. Why can't we ask, "Why is God the way he is?" If we ask for a cause for the laws of nature, and then a cause for the World of the Forms, why not a cause for God? Why isn't he caused by something? If the answer is that God is the "First Cause" (Aristotle's idea), then we must ask (1) why have a God rather than some other kind of First Cause? and (2) why must there be a first cause rather than a infinite series of causes? The first objection is that we do not have sufficient reason to conceive a First Cause as a personal God rather than as something else (like the Forms), while the second objection is that the choice between a First Cause and an infinite series is just, indeed, a classic Kantian antinomy of metaphysics (the Fourth). We do not have sufficient reason to choose between an unconditioned cause and an infinite series of causes.

If Intelligent Design fails as science, it also fails as metaphysics. Thus, Kant concluded that arguments for the existence of God don't work. Nevertheless, our question, Why the laws of nature are as they are, or, alternatively, Why the world is orderly the way it is, is a good and reasonable question. Our tendency is to propose an answer in terms of causes (God did it) or purposes (God has a Plan), but this may just be the problem. Causes and purposes make sense to us, Kant would say, in dealing with phenomenal objects, but in those terms we use each as members of a series, i.e. a cause also has a cause, and a purpose also has a purpose. The boundaries of the series are then trouble, for a causal or purposive series as a whole is an unconditioned reality, and we have the choice between puting unconditioned beginnings and endings to the series, or taking an infinite series as a whole. Kant's argument is that we can clearly conceive neither the unconditioned beginning nor ending to a natural series (since we can always imagine the next or the prior member), nor do we have sufficient reason to choose between a finite but unconditioned series and an infinite series. We are caught in multiple antinomies, which to Kant means that we cannot have a positive speculative metaphysics of transcendent objects.

Now, Kant said he wanted to limit reason to make way for faith. The theists, indeed, have on faith their reason why the world, and why the laws of nature, are the way they are (they just don't want to believe that Evolution is the way the world is). On the other hand, some would say that we don't need any reason, on faith or otherwise, why the world is the way it is. Although in A Brief History of Time Stephen Hawking said that, like Einstein, we wanted to know the Mind of God, it turns out that Hawking is actually a kind of positivist. This means he does not believe there even are "laws of nature" in reality, and that what we are doing in science is just making up stuff that, as luck would have it, enables us to make predictions about the future. Now, my feeling is that anyone who doesn't care, or who doesn't ask the question, why our predictions work, or why the world is such that we can "make up" laws of nature that allow us to predict events, suffers from a grave deficiency in curiosity. Why would anyone, who presumably starts out with a desire to know and understand nature, end up embracing a theory that there is nothing to know or understand? If science is just a conjuring trick, based on unknowable realities, why would anyone even call it "science," i.e. scientia, "knowledge"?

The theistic advocates of Intelligent Design like to accuse the Darwinians of dogmatism, although dogmatism, in its original sense (dogma as religious revelation), is exactly what these advocates believe in. A Darwinian, indeed, as a materialist or a positivist, is a kind of dogmatist. What each side would have in common is a lack of curiosity. The theists have a lack of curiosity about science, while the materialists and positivists have a lack of curiosity about metaphysics. What each thinks is sufficient, Creationism with the former and a metaphysical naturalism with the latter, actually is not sufficient -- the one a scientific error, the other a philosophical error. My own view, of course, is to continue down the path of Kantian philosophy.

Postcript, 2006

Despite the failure of "intelligent design" as science, conservatives, who have never liked Darwin, have foolishly decided to make it a political issue. Their thinking in this respect may be well represented by a newspaper column of commentator Pat Buchanan (28 December 2005).

Buchanan thinks that "Darwinism is on the defensive" and is "destined for the graveyard of discredited ideas." But if Buchanan is going to argue, as he does, that Darwinism is not scientific and is discredited by the proper standards of science, he gets off to a bad start by reaching back to Aristotle as his authority -- "a man of science and reason." Buchanan is neither stupid nor ignorant and displays his education in quoting Aristotle, but he is not informed enough to realize that modern science is not "science" in the terms used by Aristotle and that by "reason" Aristotle means something much more general and powerful, as allowed by a philosopher and metaphysician, than would be allowed by a modern scientist. Thus, we get a quote from Aristotle's Physics:

Since everything that is in motion must be moved by something, let us suppose there is a thing in motion which was moved by something else in motion, and that by something else, and so on. But this series cannot go on to infinity, so there must be some First Mover.

This is Aristotle's argument for a "Prime Mover." It is a metaphysical argument, not modern scientific evidence. Worse, it involves a principle, "everything that is in motion must be moved by something," which was rejected by Galileo at the very beginning of modern science -- indeed, in its generality it was already refuted by John Philoponus in the 6th Century. Buchanan's Classical Catholic education probably paid more attention to Aristotle (and St. Thomas) than to Galileo, whose works in Buchanan's youth were still on the Index of prohibited books. This is perhaps one sense of how "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing." The rest of Aristotle's argument is based on the principle that there cannot be an actual infinity. Buchanan does not mention any argument for this, and, indeed, the arguments for or against it are equally good, leading to Kant's theory of metaphysical Antinomies. Arguments for God such as Aristotle's "Prime Mover" were systematically destroyed by Hume and Kant. [note]

Buchanan thus demonstrates a failure to discriminate between metaphysics and science and an ignorance of the modern philosophical critique of classical arguments for the existence of God. The rest of his column continues in the same vein. Thus:

Darwinism claims, for example, that matter evolved from non-matter -- i.e. something from nothing -- that life evolved from non-life; that, through natural selection, rudimentary forms evolved into more complex forms; and that men are descended from animals or apes.

Now, all of this is uproven theory. And as the Darwinists have never been able to create matter out of non-matter or life out of non-life, or extract from the fossil record the "missing links" between species, what they are asking is that we accept it all on faith.

The first claim here is bizarre. "Darwinism" has nothing to do with whether "matter evolved from non-matter." It is a Creator God who traditionally is supposed to have created something from nothing; and if we get something of the sort (as virtual particles) in quantum mechanics, this is a long way from anything relevant to Darwinian biological evolution. It is hard to know what Buchanan is thinking of or where he got this.

On the other hand, the claim that "life evolved from non-life" is indeed something of a postulate for a naturalistic method in science. Whether it is "unproven" or not is irrelevant. The problem is the alternative. If living things do not come from non-living things, then the only alternative, and indeed the traditional religious or metaphysical alternative, is a supernatural cause -- God creating an immortal soul. But since supernatural causes are not available for natural examination, in terms of science they can only be accepted on faith. Yet Buchanan, who clearly believes both in supernatural causes and in faith, wants to accuse Darwinism of being based on faith. This is really the pot calling the kettle black, and it displays no awareness whatsoever of the terms of scientific method.

The accusation that Darwinism has never been able to "extract from the fossil record the 'missing links' between species" demonstrates an ignorance that may be self-deceptive or disingenuous. Museums groan beneath the weight of "missing links." Archaeopterix still stands as the "missing link" par excellence between dinosaurs and birds, now multiplied by many, many feathered and warm-blooded dinosaurs; and dozens of pre-human genera now stand between apes and modern humans.

Buchanan's performance in his column thus is not good news for "intelligent design" advocates. It demonstrates how far political discourse can get from the relevant issues either in philosophy or science.

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Scientific Naturalism and Intelligent Design, Note 1

Talk about a "materialistic conception of reality" as characteristic of modern "materialistic science" is to be found in the "Wedge" document, written in 1998 by UC Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson for the anti-Darwinian Discovery Institute of Seattle. Anti-Darwinians, of course, want to confuse metaphysics with science because they want to smuggle their own (usually bad) metaphysics into how they think "science" should be conducted. A scientist who is actually a materialist at least will not be trying to insinuate supernatural causes into his work.

Complaints about "methodological naturalism" figure in the anti-Darwinian "Minority Report" of the Kansas State Department of Education in 2005. The statement of the Report is that "methodological naturalism...irrefutably assumes that cause-and-effect laws (as of physics and chemistry) are adequate to account for all phenomena and that teleological or design conceptions of nature are invalid." Well, yes. The methodological postulate of science is that the laws of nature are causal laws. Science has developed successfully on this basis. Apart from natural causes, there may well be supernatural causes, but these have not been and are not amenable to empirical and experimental inquiry. Postulating them requires a metaphysical or theological inquiry which is alien to any empirical method.

Equally interesting is a statement in the Wedge document that "materialistic science" postulates "a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces." The alternative, of course, would be a universe with some divine personal agent (the "Designer") involved -- which is why some of these people candidly admit that they want a "theistic science." However, a universe of impersonal forces was not originally conceived in modern science. It is the way that Greek Philosophy began in the first place. The anti-Darwinians probably do not want to restore the Greek gods, but they definitely look to undo the revolution that removed the gods from accounts of nature and replaced mythic explanations with rational ones. This makes the anti-Darwinian movement one of the most reactionary in Western intellectual history, striking down, not just the Enlightenment, which the anti-Darwinians know they don't like, but all rational inquiry since Thales of Miletus.

These references are given and well discussed in a recent book, Only a Theory, Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul, by Kenneth R. Miller [Viking, 2008, cf. pp.173-188].

A fine recent book Why Evolution is True, by Jerry A. Coyne [Viking, 2009], himself an evolutionary geneticist, demonstrates that proper scientists as well as anti-Darwinians can confuse science with metaphysics:

Naturalism is the view that the only way to understand our universe is through the scientific method. Materialism is the idea that the only reality is the physical matter of the universe, and that everything else, including thoughts, will, and emotions, comes from physical laws acting on matter. The message of evolution, and all of science, is one of naturalistic materialism. [p.224]

Coyne thus registers his metaphysical vote for materialism -- or, more likely, he does not appreciate that scientific method, based on naturalism, neither confirms nor falsifies metaphysical doctrines. The key word missing from Coyne's account here is "empirical." Science has an empirical, not a materialistic, method; and Coyne has substituted a hard metaphysical claim, materialism, for the more modest epistemological claim, that science uses a method confined to the empirical data of observation, prediction, experiment, etc. within experience.

At least this should mean that Coyne is not a Positivist, denying that science makes any truth claims at all. It is always good to find a scientist who believes in the truth of scientific knowledge. However, he plays into the hands of the anti-Darwinians by sharing their confusion about the difference between science and metaphysics. This also muddles the message of his book, since otherwise he does not seem to display the atheism and hostility to religion that has characterised many recent defenders of Evolution. Yet few (if any) religions would accept any metaphysical postulate of materialism. So does Coyne think that the materialism of science refutes as well as contradicts essentials of religion? Perhaps the "materialism" of science is only methodological and so is the equivalent of an epistemological rather than metaphysical proposition. He needs to clear this up.

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Scientific Naturalism and Intelligent Design, Note 2

A version of the argument that the laws of nature are insufficient to explain phenomena is the argument from "irreducible complexity." This is the thesis that some biological structures, like the flagella of bacteria, which are the spinning tails that propel them through the water, simply cannot have evolved and been built up from less complex structures. This, of course, obviously requires a bit more than just "intelligent design." It clearly requires, as all such arguments really do, the supernatural intervention, not just of a designer, but of an engineer -- the agent who constructs the prototype.

The argument from "irreducible complexity," however, is simply a version of the larger argument:  Because we may not have a naturalistic explanation, and because it is hard to understand at the moment how that would work, there cannot be one and we must resort to supernatural causation. Again, this abandons and prejudges scientific explanation just because there isn't one at the moment. That is not scientific method, but its repudiation. It is also, as it happens, a good example of an informal fallacy of reasoning, the Argumentum ad Ignorantiam, the "argument from ignorance," that because something is not known, or proven, it cannot be. Such a conclusion does not follow.

We can turn the tables on "irreducible complexity" with some actual evidence. Lions and tigers do not need to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. They are pure carnivores and eat nothing but meat. If human beings tried to live like that, we would get scurvy, as sailors used to before the British discovered they could use lime juice to fend it off. Scurvy is the result of a vitamin C deficiency. Lions and tigers do no need lime juice because they do not need a source of vitamin C in their diet. Their bodies can synthesize vitamin C from the meat that they eat. Most mammals can do that. In fact, human beings have the enzymes to synthesize vitamin C also, but there is a mutation in just one of them that prevents the process from going forward.

This situation illustrates several important things about evolution. To the Creationists, "mutations" are always bad; and, indeed, the mutation that prevents us from synthesizing vitamin C looks like a bad mutation. Why don't we ordinarily notice it? Why didn't this bad mutation kill off the human species? Well, we don't notice it because we are omnivores who already eat foods that supply vitamin C. These foods have been in our diet for a long time, and therefore there was no selective pressure against the mutation when it occurred. Nobody in particular was hurt by it, until people began going to sea for long voyages. Meanwhile, for some reason, or no reason, the genetic lines that included the unmutated gene came to an end -- not, of course, because their carriers died from it, but just because, perhaps by chance, that trait was not passed on.

Now we get to the fun part. The mutated gene that prevents us from synthesizing vitamin C is not unique to human beings. It is common to all Primates. In evolutionary terms, the explanation is very simple:  the mutation occurred in the common ancestor of Primates and so was inherited by all Primate species. Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates have a dilemma. They must say that the same random mutation occurred in exactly the same way in every single Primate species, something that is very unlikely to impossible, or they must say that God independently created every single Primate species with exactly the same genetic defect. If that were true, it would impeach the goodness and wisdom of God, as well as his efficiency in suppling, in every species, the entire genetic pathway for the synthesis of vitamin C but with a single defect that renders it useless. This is a theological problem with Creation and Design, but then Design advocates deserve to be judged by the kinds of criteria that they have tried to introduce into science. They leave us with the picture of a careless or incompetent God. Some "Designer."

But there is more. Other species of mammals have lost the ability to synthesize vitamin C. One of the enzymes in the pathway has mutated, as in Primates. However, it is not the same enzyme. The defect in Primates is unique to Primates. This reinforces the simplicity and naturalness of the Evolutionary explanation. Mutations are random, and a mutation can occur arbitrarily anywhere in a genome. For Primates, Ockham's Razor favors an explanation that a single unlikely mutation actually occurred only once. A Creationist explanation, however, requires that God, perhaps having made a mistake in a generalized blueprint for Primates, then thoughtlessly stamped out the same mistake in every Primate species, but not in any others. A poor Design in the first place is thus compounded by carelessness in the execution of Creation. The only theological response that occurs to me is that God has a Plan whereby this particular mutation creates a need in all Primates that somehow is better for them -- better for all of them, of course, not just better for human beings, who are driven to discover the benefits of lime juice. This is like Dr. Pangloss (in Voltaire's Candide) explaining that noses exist to support eye glasses. A similar defect in other mammals would also need to be better for them, but somehow what is better for them involves a different defect.

This really defies sensible belief. The common descent of all Primates is the only explanation that covers the facts in an efficient way, without also producing an insult to God's competence or good will. The "Intelligent Design" approach thus may be renamed the "Incompetent Design" movement. A theological response to it has been around since at least the 17th century:  God creates the Laws of Nature (the "clockwork"), which then run in a natural and mechanical way. God can let the world develop without constantly tinkering with it as though he could not have designed it to run properly in the first place. This would be consistent with a Deistic view of God, that he does not intervene in the world at all, or with a Theistic view, that God nevertheless performs miraculous interventions occasionally, for a moral and didactic effect on human beings, whose actions, being free, and not determined by the Laws of Nature. This is another example of how the "Intelligent Design" advocates are not even as sophisticated as Natural Theology was in the 18th century.

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Scientific Naturalism and Intelligent Design, Note 3

One of the principal advocates for Intelligent Design, Michael Behe, says that intelligent design has been around since Aristotle [see Coulter, op.cit., p.247]. Unfortunately, Behe may know his Aristotle less well than Buchanan does. Aristotle's species are fixed, but they are uncreated, eternal, and not designed. Aristotle's God is an impersonal being, "thought thinking itself," who doesn't worry about stuff like that and does not miraculously intervene in nature. Strictly speaking, Aristotle's God is without power -- because, in Aristotle's metaphysics, he is without matter, which represents potential.

It is worth noting that what originally gave people the clue that species are not fixed is that (1) the earth is old, and (2) species have appeared and disappeared. Once geologists accepted the antiquity of the earth, and it was established by Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) that extinctions had occurred, the first notion was "Catastrophism," that the history of the earth was a series of creations and catastrophies (like Noah's Flood), one after another. Each creation, of course, was a new intervention by God. This was unsettling for many theists, since it implied that the original Creation was not an efficient clockwork, but something that God, despite his foresight, was required to periodically fix up. More in the spirit of William Paley would be the idea that nature would not need periodic interventions by God. Thus, well before Darwin, the basic idea of evolution was floated, that the similarities between different species implied a simple natural explanation:  Descent from a common ancestor. All that Darwin and Wallace contributed was the idea of natural selection. As shown in the epigraph, this was not exactly a new idea, since something very much like it was expressed by Empedocles. But a basic notion of evolution had already been stated early in Greek philosophy, when Anaximander suggested that human beings had originated in fish-like creatures.

Nothing makes Intelligent Design advocates happier these days than what now looks to be the case in the fossil record, that species appear abruptly, persist more or less unchanged for a few million years, and then disappear. This does contradict what Darwin expected, which was that species would change gradually but steadily over time. Consequently, evolutionists like Stephen Jay Gould and Robert Bakker have argued that speciation occurs quickly -- the theory of "punctuated equilibrium." They could not explain the mechanism for this, leaving their theory with less explantory power than Darwin's. Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates regard "punctuated equilibrium" as a repudiation of Darwin. Unfortunately, Gould and Bakker are of the "we must exhaust all natural explanations" persuasion and are not going to begin entertaining supernatural causes just because there is now something more to explain. Furthermore, nothing has changed the basic character of the fossil record -- that species have appeared and disappeared -- and the simplest explanation for this -- descent from a common ancestor.

If species are the result of divine intervention and special creation, then the picture is of God occasionally just dropping new beings into the world. Beings which usually just happen to be rather like other contemporary animals and similar to pre-existing forms. To philosophers concerned with the perfection or rationality of God, like Spinoza or Leibniz, this would look like the ad hoc actions of an erratic God without much foresight. This emerges in a remark by Ann Coulter, about Archaeopteryx, that "the bizarre bird is just an odd creation that came out of nowhere and went nowhere" [p.219]. This is "intelligent design"? God just tossed off an "odd creation" to confuse people? But the truth about Archaeopteryx has always been the same:  the skeleton of a small dinosaur with the feathers of a bird. If similarities of life are explained by genetic relationships, then Archaeopteryx was simply a dinosaur (with, it turns out, many other small, feathered dinosaurs), and the creatures now characterized by feathers, birds, are probably just their descendants. This is a much more reasonable, and beautiful, picture than that of the "odd creation that came out of nowhere and went nowhere." It is indeed, much more orderly than the works of a God who unaccountably drops in the occasional, unexplained "odd creation."

While Intelligent Design advocates like to reproach Darwinians that speciation has never been seen, this is no less a challenge to them. If species appear abruptly on earth because they are created by God, and this has gone on periodically over the history of the earth, then it is something we should be seeing again any time now. Expect a miracle. If they mean it that species "came out of nowhere," then they should be able to show us, eventually, a new species coming out of nowhere. If they cannot do that, then a natural explanation for speciation is at no disadvantage. Perhaps God could drop a new dinosaur (since dinosaurs do not need to be related to each other) down in Times Square just to perplex the Darwinians.

Ann Coulter continues to embarrass herself and her Conservative politics in print about Evolution. In a 24 August 2011 column, "The flash mob method of scientific inquiry," Coulter refers to "Harvard population biologist Richard Lewontin" as holding that:

Darwinians tolerate "unsubstantiated just-so stories" of evolution and ignore "the patent absurdities of some of its constructs" because they are committed to coming up with a theory that excludes God. "We cannot," Lewontin said, "allow a divine foot in the door."

I do not otherwise know about Richard Lewontin, but a "theory that excludes God" is no more than right and proper in natural and empirical science, while it is clearly people like the Creationists, Coulter, and apparently Lewontin who are committed for religious and ideological reasons to a theory that does include God. Someone at Harvard needs to tell Lewontin that allowing "a divine foot in the door" converts his version of "science" not just into metaphysics, but into bad metaphysics. At this point, I fear that such a word to the wise would have no effect on Coulter.

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