Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Derbyshire is Wrong on ID

Today John Derbyshire of NRO took a break from tradition, which is to say that he wrote a post in which he did not refer to himself in third person. It was refreshing not to read about "the Derb." However, he completely mangled his subject matter, Intelligent Design.

Now I limit myself to ID as it applies to cosmology. That, to me, is a much more fascinating question than the biological ID debate. Why argue evolution vs. ID in biological systems when the real question is, how is it that life is even possible? Evolutionists don't want to deal with this puzzle. They are content to accept that (1) the earth was here and fertile and (2) life originated somehow. From that starting point, which they don't find particularly amazing, they employ evolutionary theory to explain life's diversity. Fair enough, and certainly a proper avenue of scientific research.

Cosmological ID looks at more fundamental questions:
  1. Why is there a universe at all? Why is there something rather than nothing?
  2. Given that there is a universe, why are there galaxies, stars, and planets and not just hydrogen gas or a big clump?
  3. Given the cosmos as we know it, how is it that a planet with the delicate balance needed to support life formed?

These are the questions that ID tries to address, or at least highlight.

Derbyshire makes an incorrect and (by necessity) unsubstantiated claim:
the whole ID outlook has very little appeal to well-informed scientists

He has, of course, relegated me to the category of uninformed scientist. But personal insult aside, ID actually has a great deal of appeal to many well-informed scientists, at least in the sense that it asks interesting questions. Even those who scoff at the ID conclusion recognize (and this is where physics is so different from biology) that the questions posed by IDers are legitimate —and so if ID is not acceptable then alternative, mulitiverse theories must be developed in their place. Contrary to what Derbyshire implied, a great deal of research is conducted to answer the questions uncovered by ID research.

Derbyshire shrugs off the fact that "big-name scientists occasionally sound off in an ID-ish sort of way" as "neither here nor there." He is wrong. The fact that anti-theists such as Hawkins acknowledge the "appearance" but not the fact of design is significant, and it motivates their research, if only to prove the fanatics wrong.

I have to believe that Derbyshire, on this issue, has an outlook that is isomorphic to that of elitist liberal political thinkers. The latter will say: "Every smart person thinks as I do." When it is pointed out that some smart people think differently, they come up with explanations. Oh yeah, but everyone knows he is a racist, or a homophobe, or a greedy capitalist. Derbyshire believes that all serious scientists discount ID. I get the feeling that if you point out some who negate his premise, he'd argue, Oh yeah, but everyone knows he’s a Christian, so he doesn't count.

Finally, Derbyshire makes a theologically incorrect statement, at the very beginning of his post:
It is possible to believe in God and not believe in ID;

That is incorrect. While you might take issue with the arguments of any particular ID proponent, I suggest that it is not possible to believe in God and not believe that He intelligently designed the universe, even if only in the minimalist/deist sense that He set the initial conditions and then stepped away. At the end of the day, at least in classic monotheism, there are really two choices: the universe is a random accident and there is no God (atheism) or, regardless of the mechanisms employed and the degree of His subsequent involvement, God designed and created the universe (theism).
UPDATE: Derbyshire confirms my speculation in his latest post in which he writes:
None of the ID people I have encountered (in person or books) is an open-minded inquirer trying to uncover facts about the world. Every one I know of is a Christian looking to justify his faith.
This is the same reasoning used by evolutionists: No serious scientist believes in ID. Therefore, if you believe in ID you are not a serious scientist.

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