Over at the First Things blog, a standard “ID vs. Evolution” fight broke out involving some major players. Unfortunately, I arrived late (as usual), but I decided to add my two cents to the kerfuffle anyway:
Over the years I have discovered a primary reason there is so much heated argument about this issue is that people employ numerous personal definitions for the concepts “intelligent design,” “evolution,” and “science.” Thus, I appreciate that Stephen Barr spells out his definition of ID: “The ID claim is that certain biological phenomena lie outside the ordinary course of nature.” If that is ID, then I would disagree. But ID can also mean something more modest, where one simply infers some form of intelligent influence on biological phenomenon, including evolution itself. For example, life itself could have been designed to shape subsequent evolution, thereby imparting some form of direction to evolution. This form of ID would not require evolution to fail or evolutionary mechanisms to be inadequate. On the contrary (!), this form of ID would more likely marvel at the success of evolution and try to develop a deeper understanding of why evolution succeeded.
I also added:
a clever designer could actually recruit and exploit the processes of random mutations and natural selection to carry out some purpose. After all, a common belief shared by both the ID people and their critics is that random mutations and natural selection are antithetical to purpose. I think that common belief is simply an assumption (or reflex response) that has become entrenched for historical and cultural reasons.
design and evolution are not mutually exclusive. There may be ways to make intelligent use of randomness and natural selection such that they can carry out an objective. For example, scientists already make use of randomness when designing new proteins.
In response, someone proposed the following questions to me:
Can you (at least) provide a useful essential hint of how “intelligent use of randomness and natural selection … can carry out an objective”? What would INTELLIGENT mean, in such context?
This person hit on something very important.
Did you ever notice that the Intelligent Design movement has failed to explore and explain the intelligent dimension behind Intelligent Design? Standard ID arguments effectively ignore this dimension and simply use it to plug in the gaps that supposedly cannot be explained by chance and law. Given this approach, couldn’t the ID movement easily change its name from Intelligent Design to Sentient Design or Agent Design without any change in any of their arguments?
Anyway, to answer the questions, let my first point out that I think intelligence means the ability to understand and the ability to use this understanding to accomplish an objective/problem solve. Others would recognize that intelligence was in play in reaching for the objective if they can independently tap into the same understanding to appreciate the rationality and foresight than might be embedded in a design.
When it comes to life’s origin, it would seem reasonable to suppose that another intelligent agent, proposed as the designer of life, would have a good understanding of mutations and natural selection (better than us!). The intelligent dimension would then come into play when we posit and consider possible methods by which this intelligent designer could make use of mutations and natural selection to reach a goal. In other words, gently guide the Blind Watchmaker.
Look at it this way. Say we have Designer A and Designer B. Designer A looks at mutations, notes they are random with regard to fitness, throws in the towel and declares, “We cannot use this process as part of a design strategy!” Designer B looks at mutations, notes they are random with regard to fitness, rolls up his sleeves, and figures out ways to exploit this process as part of a design strategy. Which of these designers is more intelligent?
I vote B, as a truly intelligent designer turns an obstacle into an opportunity.