Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Column on Intelligent Design

Puzzles of Intelligent Design

Tibor R. Machan

When I was a child I was being raised as a Roman Catholic. I was, of
course, baptized, took first communion, and was confirmed. I attended
church pretty regularly although this was in Communist Hungary where we
later learned that many of those giving sermons belonged to what were
called ?the red priests,? members of the clergy who made some kind of
appeasement with the Communist government. Yet there were some famous
members, as well, who opposed communism with great courage?Cardinal
Midszenty, for example.

In time, however, I came to wonder just what I was believing and why. I
argued with priests after they gave sermons on angels and the duty of
self-sacrifice, finding these notions incredible. But I carried on as a
good soldier, blaming myself for daring to question. One time while in the
US Air Force, when I was about 19, I went to confession on Sunday and
heard myself saying the ritualistic sentence, ?And I will do my best not
to sin again,? when I realized that Monday I was planning to go on a date
and had every intention to sin, so I said to the priest hearing my
confession, ?But father, I am not sure I am being honest about this, since
I have a date tomorrow evening and will probably sin and I know this now.?
Without missing a beat he replied, ?Just mean it for now.?

This was that proverbial last straw on the camel?s back?it made no sense
to me to make a promise you know you are going to break by just intending
it ?for now.? It set me off on a very long journey of reexamination of
what I was believing, why, did it make sense, how dare I question
something so well established in my world, etc., and so forth.

Of course, all along I had raised questions of the elementary kind?could
God ever make a rock so big He couldn?t lift it? How could God could come
from nothing but the world needed Him to create it? If everything in the
world needs a cause, does this mean the world itself, which contains all
the causes, could be caused by something else?where would that come from?
Yes, I was a devil of a kid.

Eventually I decided to take up the study of philosophy in order to
refine my inquires, to meet up with some pretty good
thinkers?philosophers, theologians, psychologists?who would help me get
clear on some of these issues (and many others). At the end of the day?at
least for most of the days I recall?I decided I wasn?t going to believe in
these things; I simply couldn?t get past my doubts even if it showed
strong hubris. (Indeed, another nail in the coffin was reading Thomas a
Kempis [circa 1379], Imitation of Christ, who had claimed we humans sin by
seeking knowledge since this is an affront to God, the only one who can
really know.)

Nevertheless, the issue of God is always before us, especially if one
teaches philosophy, and being dogmatic in whatever side one takes is very
bad form, indeed. So now I am thinking about this ?Intelligent Design?
position that is making the rounds, although by all accounts it is a
variation on what is known as the cosmological argument.

As the Stanford (on line) Encyclopedia of philosophy tells it, ?[i]t uses
a general pattern of argumentation (logos) that makes an inference from
certain alleged facts about the world (cosmos) to the existence of a
unique being, generally referred to as God. Among these initial claims are
that the world came into being, that the world is such that at any future
time it could either be or not be (the world is contingent), or that
certain beings in the world are causally dependent or contingent. From
these facts philosophers infer either deductively or inductively that a
first cause, a necessary being, an unmoved mover, or a personal being
(God) exists. The cosmological argument is part of classical natural
theology, whose goal has been to provide some evidence for the claim that
God exists.? The current version, ID, holds that since there are numerous
facts about our world that are very orderly and work in a lawlike fashion,
and since we haven?t got naturalistic (e.g., Darwinian) explanations for
all of them, it must have been God, an intelligent designer, who created
it all.

This being a fairly big issue, I want to just convey my two big problems
with it. First, the design of the world isn?t actually all that
intelligent, considering how many matters seem to go awry all the time,
especially with us. Second, and more importantly, intelligence is produced
by a living brain, so the idea that there had been intelligence prior to
the world defies what we know pretty well?a brain requires the world for
it to exist.

I guess, I remain unconvinced and the advocates of ID need to go back to
the drawing board.

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