November 11, 2004

Stephen Meyer vs. ID?

Reading the Pennock essay in "Detecting Design" led me to this from Stephen Meyer's 1999 paper, "Return of the God Hypothesis,"
"Physics and cosmology suggest intelligent design as a highly plausible and arguably best explanation for the exquisite fine-tuning of the physical laws and constants of the universe and the precise configuration of its initial conditions. Since the fine-tuning and initial conditions date from the very origin of the universe itself, this evidence suggests the need for an intelligent as well as a transcendent Cause for the origin of the universe. Since God as conceived by Christians and other theists possesses precisely these attributes, His creative action can adequately explain the origin of the cosmological singularity and the anthropic fine-tuning. Since naturalism denies a transcendent and pre-existent intelligent cause, it follows that theism provides a better explanation than naturalism for these two evidences taken jointly."
This section is not the reason I quoted from Meyer’s paper but I could not resist noting, as I believe it is important to do at each turn, that Meyer is once again comparing apples and oranges by playing an adequate "scientific" explanation against that which stands as a "philosophical" explanation. This sloppy argumentation, along with its sibling, the routine conflation of scientific and philosophical methodology, can be found so often in the rhetoric of ID theorists that one is prone to indulge cynical reflections on the propaganda machine behind this "theory."

Meyer continues,
"Since pantheism, with its belief in an immanent and impersonal god, also denies the existence of a transcendent and pre-existent intelligence, it too lacks causal adequacy as an explanation for these evidences. Indeed, a completely impersonal intelligence is almost a contradiction in terms. Thus, theism stands as the best explanation of the three major worldviews theism, pantheism, and naturalism for the origin of the Big Bang singularity and anthropic fine-tuning taken jointly."
I’m intrigued to note Meyer’s point that a “completely impersonal intelligence”(CII) is something of a useless formulation. Why should this be so? Perhaps because any completely impersonal intelligence would be an intelligence without qualities or characteristics that could be interacted with by another. Even a creator that began it all (set the Big Bang in motion) and then let nature take its course must, if only by dint of having qualities that produced a desire to create, exhibit personalizing characteristics. Although Meyer is specifically contrasting the pantheist god with alternatives this comes close to admitting, at least in part, what so many critics have been saying about ID, that it is methodologically inappropriate, not to mention intellectually unsatisfying, to produce a conclusion of "intelligence" without, in some way, qualifying the intelligent agent.

I agree with Meyer that a completely impersonal intelligence is a contradiction in terms. It is a contradiction that philosophy can accommodate but science cannot. And it once again highlights the crucial flaw in “intelligent design” theory, that being the attempt to shoehorn the supernatural into scientific methodology.


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