Articles and materials offered by the EPS

EPS Article Library

The Big Bad Wolf, Theism and the Foundations of Intelligent Design - Page 5

Specified Complexity & Little Green Men

Discussing the scientific search for extra-terrestrial life, Dawkins notes:

It is a non-trivial question, by the way, what kind of signal would convince us of its intelligent origin. A good approach is to turn the question around. What should we intelligently do in order to advertise our presence to extraterrestrial listeners? Rhythmic pulses wouldn't do it... Metronomic rhythms can be generated by many non-intelligent phenomena... Nothing simply rhythmic, then, would announce our intelligent presence to the waiting universe. 49

Jocelyn Bell Burnell first discovered the pulsar in 1967 and "was moved by the precision of its 1.33-second periodicity to name it, tongue in cheek, the LGM (Little Green Men) signal. She later found a second pulsar, elsewhere in the sky and of a different periodicity, which pretty much disposed of the LGM hypothesis." 50 The regular, specified but uncomplicated pattern of a pulsar does not require an explanation in terms of intelligent design. Neither, of course, does the irregular, unspecified complexity of static. So what sort of signal would do the job? As design theorist William A. Dembski argues, it is one that is both complex and specified. 51 According to Dawkins: "Prime numbers are often mentioned as the recipe of choice, since it is difficult to think of a purely physical process that could generate them." 52 Dawkins affirms, then, that there is a type of pattern, in principle discoverable by empirical, scientific investigation, for which it is difficult to account in purely physical terms and which would rightly trigger a design inference. In this, he agrees with design theorists. As Dembski writes:

Intelligent design studies the effects of intelligence in the world. Many special sciences already fall under intelligent design, including archaeology, cryptography, forensics, and SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). Intelligent design is thus already part of science. Moreover, it employs well-defined methods for detecting intelligence. These methods together with their application constitute the theory of intelligent design [this is ID in the broad sense]. The question, therefore, is not whether intelligent design constitutes a genuine scientific theory but whether, as a scientific theory, it properly applies to biology [this is ID in the narrow sense]. Indeed, the only place where intelligent design is controversial is biology (even physicists are now comfortable talking about the design of the universe). 53

Dawkins also re-affirms his belief that: "Whether we ever get to know about them or not, there are very probably alien civilizations that are superhuman, to the point of being god-like in ways that exceed anything a theologian could possibly imagine." 54 (Dawkins cannot, therefore, exclude a priori the possibility that intelligent design is a true hypothesis when it comes to accounting for life on earth.) Dawkins has a low opinion of theology: "The notion that religion is a proper field, in which one might claim expertise, is one that should not go unquestioned... there is no evidence to support theological opinions either way... I have yet to see any good reason to suppose that theology (as opposed to biblical history, literature, etc.) is a subject at all." 55 Of course, theology includes biblical history, literature, etc. What Dawkins seems to mean, is that systematic or philosophical theology is not a real subject in which one might claim expertise, since there is no relevant empirical evidence to master. Even granting for the sake of argument that proper subjects require empirical evidence, whether or not Dawkins is right about "theology" being a non-subject would seem to depend upon whether or not naturalism is true, a question to which, in a NOMA free world, evidence may certainly be relevant (especially if we reject a self-contradictory scientism by refusing to restrict the meaning of "evidence" to "empirical evidence").

ID is a Scientific Theory

Dawkins applies his rejection of NOMA to the questions at the heart of both ID and Christianity:

The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question, even if it is not in practice - or not yet - a decided one. So also is the truth or falsehood of every one of the miracle stories that religions rely upon to impress multitudes of the faithful. Did Jesus have a human father, or was his mother a virgin at the time of his birth? Whether or not there is enough surviving evidence to decide it, this is still a strictly scientific question with a definite answer in principle: yes or no. Did Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead? Did he himself come alive again, three days after being crucified? There is an answer to every such question, whether or not we can discover it in practice, and it is a strictly scientific answer. The methods we should use to settle the matter, in the unlikely event that relevant evidence ever became available, would be purely and entirely scientific methods. 56

Dawkins' critique of Christianity, like his critique of ID, is that the evidence does not support it. He asserts:

Christianity was founded by Paul of Tarsus... The historical evidence that Jesus claimed any sort of divine status is minimal... Ever since the nineteenth century, scholarly theologians have made an overwhelming case that the gospels are not reliable accounts of what happened in the history of the real world. All were written long after the death of Jesus, and also after the epistles of Paul, which mention almost none of the alleged facts of Jesus' life. All were then copied and recopied, through many different "Chinese Whispers generations"... by fallible scribes who, in any case, had their own religious agendas... The four gospels that made it into the official cannon were chosen, more or less arbitrarily, out of a larger sample of at least a dozen... Nobody knows who the four evangelists were, but they almost certainly never met Jesus personally. Much of what they wrote was in no sense an honest attempt at history... It is even possible to mount a serious, though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived at all... Although Jesus probably existed, reputable bible scholars do not in general regard the New Testament (and obviously not the Old Testament) as a reliable record of what actually happened in history... 57

Next>>

 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15 
Christ-Shaped Philosophy Project EPS Apologetics MP3s Sketches of Christian Virtues for Everyday Life