History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Older post: the design gang at Discovery should drop the term ‘Intelligent Design’

March 8th, 2014 · No Comments

This is an old post restored from the period just before our migration of this site:
The design gang at Discovery should drop the term ‘Intelligent Design’
February 5th, 2014
http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/science-historian-michael-flannery-on-what-teleology-means/: Science historian Michael Flannery on what “teleology” means
“Teleology is indeed essentially intelligent design.”
This statement is misleading, the reason being that the term ‘intelligent design’ is misleading. And it is most probably false: we can’t figure out teleology because it is basically mysterious. It is important to study a figure such as Kant on the subject.
Flannery is party, by the way, to a view of Wallace and the plagiarism question this is in my view incorrect. He has also tried to put Wallace in the design camp, and while technically this is correct it is misleading to say he is a proponent of ‘Intelligent Design’. The only people who believe in ‘intelligent design’ are the sophistical champs at Discovery, everyone else should reinvent their own terms. We should use ‘Intelligent Design, designed by intelligent agent X’ and ‘Intelligence-mimicking Design emerging in nature by unknown process, but completed and present to inspection’, etc… Or better yet, drop the term ‘intelligent’ altogether. It is used to confuse us.
The term ‘Intelligent Design’ needs to be scrapped. That’s not the same as saying that ‘design arguments’ are false. They may be valid, but cases are different, and ‘intelligent’ as term simply confuses the issues. What it really means (unclear always) is that rightwingers at Discovery are trying to pick your pocket while you try to figure out the designed ambiguity and dishonest punning of the term ‘Intelligent Design’. With this term you can talk from two sides of your mouth, to creationists, and to, almost, secular humanists (but the trick failed). The term is a really treacherously ambiguous banana peel.

Look, what are you talking about? Design can be mechanical but seemingly ‘intelligent’, i.e. complex, or complex to the point of looking intelligent, metaphorically. It can be ‘intelligent’, literally, because an intelligent agent designed it. Or a mechanical/biochemical object. It is misleading to use the term ‘intelligent’. That intelligent agent could be a mechanical process unknown to us, or human, but anthropomorphic analogs beyond that are ambiguous. The idea is that ‘god’ did a design, and ‘god’ is intelligent. But outsiders are right to be suspicious there. It may be true, or false, as to ‘god’. We talked yesterday of the insoluble character of the ‘god’ question, and the unlikely fact that ‘god’ did the creating: a demiurgic power in nature might be a better candidate for ‘designs’. And these ‘designs’ might well be intelligent, if the demiurge is intelligent. If the demiurge is not another fiction.
We might also use the ‘will in nature’, pace Schopenhauer for an atheist design argument. The powers of the will in nature are unknown to us. And the category of ‘will’ is open to a completely different form of explanation. There might be an independent factor of nature here. But that is an exotic philosophical variant of the Kantian brand. But it might actually suggest a new approach.
The religious/Christian idea of design is designed to collate with the ‘design’ in the Old Testament. But the ‘design’ argument there fails badly and is not believable. The feats of Jehovah, uncomfortably often feats of very unintelligent design look like, duh, myths made up by the Israelites. If the Old Testament arguments about cases of design (in history) are wrong, then the term has to be reinvented for the case where it works. But we don’t have any such cases. Instead we have Dembski’s ‘design interference’, concluding design from indirect indications. OK, but it is still unclear. And the Old Testament flunks design inference. Here the ID folks at DI will claim you haven’t understood ‘Intelligent Design’ presuming there is some science there, created by Dembski in the wake of Behe. It is true that ‘design’ is perhaps more than ‘complexity’ and the issue of ‘complex specified information’ is intriguing, but still not clear enough to prove some extension beyond some ‘complexity’.
We are in a madhouse. I think that the term ‘Intelligent Design’ is fatally flawed. We should use the term ONLY to refer to Discovery Institute usages. We should really put a TM-trademark or DI-Discovery Institute mark as a superscript for the term ‘Intelligent Design’. Otherwise we should clarify what we mean: design associated with mechanical objects or processes, biochemical objects or processes, human objects or processes, theistic objects or processes, Christian theological ‘designers’ and their objects or processes, other ‘design agents’, clearly defined, etc…. The term ‘Intelligent Design’ should be scrapped, because it is designed to mislead.
Take the case of the complex entities or machines in biology that provoked much of the debate: the term Intelligent Design confuses the issue. It is forgivable, but we can only conclude that such objects show ‘design’ of an unknown type. We cannot use the term ‘intelligent’ until we can confirm an intelligent agent created them. The design inference is flawed, although its logic reminds us that we are missing information perhaps, about the source of an object. The difference between ‘x happened’ and ‘x did something’ remains obscure. And we can jump to conclusions about ‘intelligent’ design here.
Don’t fall in the trap: if a Discovery Institute uses the term ‘Intelligent Design’, demand a new term, or an extensive clarification if ALL cases. And disallow its application to exterior agents beyond the Discovery Institute, like Wallace. Wallace needs a new term, refusing the term “Intelligent Design” TM superscript.
The main cases are: design with a complex structure that is provably the work of an intelligent agent, who must be specifies, and shown to be intelligent
design with a complex structure that resembles the work of an intelligent agent, but is produced by an unknown mechanical or teleological process. And the question of teleology remains ambiguous.
In a word don’t indulge the term ‘Intelligent Design’.

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