Thursday, January 26, 2006

Revisiting Design and Reason Arguments

What follows is based on a response I made to a recent anonymous comment on this old post (in which I had offered out a ridiculously abbreviated disquisition on the plausibility of God’s existence).

Since I wrote that, I have thought more about ID and the design argument, and it may be I’ve been a little too harsh. The problem is that most people associate ID with supernatural macro-level interventions into the world. For instance, they try to point to specific structures (it used to often be the eye; more recently much talk about a bacterial flagellum) and say: “look, this is too complex to have evolved, it appears to be designed -- therefore, God or some other agent must have stepped in and created it.” This type of ad hoc intervention (theologically, a variety of “special creation”) I continue to believe is highly implausible.

But I could take another view of the design argument, as follows. One might suspect that some of the phenomena exhibited by living things won’t be completely explained by classical mechanism “all the way down”. Methodological naturalism, and the compelling evidence for natural selection and common descent, can be accepted as per the consensus scientific paradigm, yet one might plausibly think there is something in the micro-fabric of the world which exhibits a spark of agency, a datum of experience, sufficient to allow life, intentionality and consciousness to later emerge. This indirect design argument is plausible, in my view, and is arguably supported by some interpretations of quantum mechanics.

Now, “Intelligent Design” is not a good label for this kind of view. But it is perhaps a more modest cousin of ID.

Of course, I would never hold up the view I sketched as an alternative to or a critique of evolutionary biology. This is the dimension of the ID movement that I oppose completely. The discussion here is at the level of metaphysics, not science.

Speaking of arguments I’ve rejected too quickly: in this post I cavalierly dismissed the “argument from reason”. In the past, I have thought the best arguments against materialism which can be derived from the phenomena of human consciousness were those based on the irreducibility of “bare” experience or intentionality. I assumed our advanced human ability to reason was a kind of cognitive logical engine grafted on through natural selection which could be explained fairly conventionally in terms of a functional or computational model. Thinking about our ability for modal reasoning, however, has led me to begin to rethink this. Since there is no place in materialism for “real” possibility, yet it is intrinsic to our reasoning, there may here be the basis for an “AfR”. This is something I want to give more thought to.

No comments: