Intelligent Design: God Does Not Belong in the Gaps

Quite often, when someone points to a scientific explanation of the existence of God, the argument ends by stating that such-and-such is unknown and so the only explanation is that a deity must have designed it that way.  For instance, at one point in time it was probably held that weather is evidence of God’s existence, since there was no explanation for it.  Once the water cycle was discovered, the proof of God’s existence was reduced to the things still left unknown, such as lightning.  Eventually, lightning was understood for the atmospheric electrostatic discharge that it is and God could no longer be proven to exist through weather.

God is often placed in the gaps that exist in our knowledge, especially scientific knowledge.  This is very problematic for (at least) two reasons:

  1. It places God in opposition to knowledge.  This leads to the idea that faith is opposed to science and reason.
  2. As knowledge increases, the gaps decrease as do these “proofs” of God’s existence.  If a person clings to their belief in God because He’s the only explanation for lightning, they will lose their faith when they discover what lightning really is.

In the early days of science, it was very easy to believe that God had created the universe in a very instantaneous way, since there were very few scientific discoveries as well as the presence of theories such as geocentricism.  These were very large gaps in knowledge and the proofs for God rested comfortably in them.  Science developed as did the Theory of Evolution, which, in one swoop, asserted there was no gap at all since nature is an occurrence of random chance.  Many people, even those arguing Intelligent Design, still attempt to hold to the gaps in our knowledge and squeeze God into those gaps.

In 1996, Michael Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, made a case for Intelligent Design in which he cited the presence of “irreducible complexity” within nature.  What this means is that certain things found within nature, such as the human eye, could not have developed incrementally as would be asserted by the Theory of Evolution.  Behe pointed to a traditional mousetrap as an analogy, stating that the five parts of a mousetrap cannot be reduced to four without the functionality of the mousetrap being lost completely – hence, the mousetrap, like the eye, could not have grown incrementally and is, therefore, intelligently designed.  While this might be a valid argument, it is still subject to the problem of relying on gaps.

In the year 2000, Behe attended a conference during which Kennith Miller, biology professor at Brown University, entered the main room wearing a mousetrap as a tie clip.  Miller’s implication was that, while a reduced mousetrap can not function to catch mice, it is possible for it to serve another purpose entirely.  Likewise, the human eye cannot be reduced and still function as an eye, Miller supposes that a reduced eye was used for something other than sight.  This creates a gap-like argument on behalf of the Theory of Evolution, which is as invalid as the lightning proof, but it is enough to call into question the validity of Behe’s initial point.

It seems that the only way to reconcile either theory with itself is to avoid gap arguments.  The best and most eloquent explanation I have found of how this is done comes from Salman Khan of KhanAcademy.org.

The Theory of Intelligent Design allows for the explanation and cooperation of the Theory of Evolution.  This argument removes gaps from either theory’s position and provides the most suitable place for God – above it all.

20 Comments

  1. Very good! I have also been arguing this for years. In fact, I also blogged about it a couple of years ago:

    http://alanphipps.blogspot.com/2009/02/is-there-still-room-for-god.html

  2. Howard /

    I read Science and Evidence For Design in the Universe to see if there was anything to it.

    There is not.

    From a scientific point of view it is useless, because the ID proponents use as their standard of “design” the thing they actually find in nature. They would say a human hemoglobin molecule is structured because it looks like a human hemoglobin molecule, not because they have studied the problems of oxygen-carrying molecules, discovered an optimum solution, and compared the human molecule to that optimum solution. “Well,” you might say, “the human hemoglobin molecule obviously does a good job carrying oxygen, so let’s use it as the optimum.” What then of the molecules used in the blood of other animals?

    • I agree that using a human hemoglobin molecule as a standard is weak, mainly for the reason I outlined in my post – namely, it creates a gap in the theory where ID can rest until something more sophisticated is found. The gap then closes and ID proponents go about looking for another gap.

      While on a philosophical level (not sure about nature – I’m a philosopher before I’m a biologist…), I believe that ID is a valid stance to take. What I mean by ‘philosophical level’ is that if someone opposes ID because it’s not reasonable to believe it, I ask: what makes things reasonable in the first place? The functionality of logic cannot be a result of random creation. The intangible, unmeasurable rules of our universe are the greatest evidence of intelligent design.

  3. This reminds me of a story I read years ago about two men walking on a beach on an island. They see a pocket watch in the sand. One man says this is proof that there has been an intelligent being there. The other says that it is not and takes the first man into the jungle. There he shows him an automated watch factory with machines making watches just like the one they found. This factory is then declared to be proof that no intelligent being is needed to explain the watch. However, nobody wonders who made the watch factory!

    • Howard /

      @Rex

      That old story shows that someone with limited intelligence dropped his watch in the sand.

  4. Intelligent Design isn’t science, anymore than evolution is random. Pseudoscience is incompatible with science, insofar as pseudoscience is false – while science is true.

    I have linked to a brief video on evolution, which I created to help people, especially teenagers, who might listen to evil people, better understand the scientific theory.

    Certain evil scientists and philosophers use science and philosophy, respectively, to attack philosophy and science, such as those who claim evolution disproves God and those who claim free-will can never be proven.

    • Shan Gill /

      Would be interested in viewing the video, Nick, if you can post the link.

      The cosmology preceding evolution fails due to the simple fact that randomized physical systems cannot be shown to self-correct in a predictable result. People who claim randomness can lead to order do not comprehend what ‘random’ means. Evolution never gets its feet under it due to this great failing.

      • Click on my name in my previous comment for the video.

        Also, click on my name in this comment for another video on religion and science (which isn’t my video).

  5. Howard /

    The philosophical problem with ID is that at best it can identify a finite intelligence behind a design. It is impossible for it to find a problem which could only be solved by an infinite intelligence.

  6. The ridiculous irony here is that of course the author and the smug posters do not consider it at all problematic that we are faced with a Science of the Gaps- we have never observed in nature the kind of mutation plus selection posited as having effectuated the evolution of a single celled proto-ancestor to Beethoven.

    There is no evidence of such mutation-plus-selection evolution in the fossil record.

    And yet the Science of the Gaps Crowd wishes to deny ID the status of “science”?

    Very well.

    I agree.

    ID is metaphysics.

    Just as Darwinism is metaphysics.

    ID is much better metaphysics.

  7. brutus.beastus /

    I have a lot of questions about the post – basically in order to clarify what the author is trying to say. For starters, is it being suggested that the eye is good evidence of intelligent design (i.e., inexplicable supernatural intervention) over and above evolution (i.e., nonrandom heritable variation over time as a function of differential survival and reproduction)?

    Why I would strongly disagree (for starters).

    Futuyma, “Evolution, 2nd edition”
    Coyne, “Why Evolution is True”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mb9_x1wgm7E
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/12/evolution_of_vertebrate_eyes.php
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/11/the_eye_as_a_contingent_divers.php
    http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/11/denton_vs_squid.html

  8. brutus.beastus /

    P.S.

    “The Theory of Intelligent Design allows for the explanation and cooperation of the Theory of Evolution. This argument removes gaps from either theory’s position and provides the most suitable place for God – above it all.”

    I missed the argument. One can suppose that a transcendent agent is the ultimate explanation for order, beauty, mathematics, life, and so on, as Sal Khan leaves open in his discussion, but I think it is rather a stalemate as a point of argument. I personally wouldn’t call it “Intelligent Design” since this carries a lot of baggage thanks to the Discovery Institute. But it really wasn’t clear to me (part of my previous question), are you endorsing Behe, Demski, et al., “Intelligent Design Theory” and the Discovery Institute?

    • While I hold that God did intelligently design ‘order, beauty, mathematics, life, and so on’, I really hesitate at endorsing the official theory for the baggage reason, but also because it really seems to have been constructed to exist in opposition to the Theory of Evolution rather than simply to assert it’s own position.

      My general criticism was to both Behe and Miller and the faults of the theories – all, in one way or another, rely on gaps in knowledge to prove the other wrong.

      I think the most reasonable answer is both/and: that some things seemed designed because they were designed while other things seem to have evoloved because they have done so. My assertion (and what I also take Sal Khan’s) is that the Theory of Evolution is only inconsistent with the concept of an intelligent designer when the concept of randomness is introduced.

      • brutus.beastus /

        Thanks for the reply.

        “My general criticism was to both Behe and Miller and the faults of the theories – all, in one way or another, rely on gaps in knowledge to prove the other wrong.”

        Could you be more specific? What theories? Do you have a source? The existence of something called “science of the gaps” analogous to God-of-the-gaps arguments strikes me as dubious. I’d like to see examples of Miller doing that and assess the extent to which “his theory,” which I presume to be the science of evolutionary biology, rests on such arguments, rather than on multiple independent lines of empirical evidence, et cetera.

        Here is an example of Miller interrogating Behe on the topic of irreducible complexity.

        http://ncse.com/resources/part-7-dr-michael-behe-dr-kenneth-miller-qa

        What I see is Miller trying to get Behe to settle on a clear definition of what this even means, and also giving concrete examples of how certain claims of IC are false. This is just one case, but from all that I’ve seen on this I don’t have the impression of two sides equally arguing from the gaps. To my mind there isn’t a rival theory called “intelligent design” that has even a flicker of the evidential basis, explanatory power, predictive power, and practical utility of modern evolutionary theory. The basis of our understanding of evolution is not at all comparable to weak-sauce mouse trap analogies and the obscurantist trumpeting of allegedly “unexplained” biological minutiae.

        “I think the most reasonable answer is both/and: that some things seemed designed because they were designed while other things seem to have evoloved because they have done so.”

        I still don’t know what you mean. Some things seem designed. You mean cars, planes, watches, and the like? Some things have evolved. You mean systems that involve evolutionary mechanisms (e.g., selection, genetic drift, mutation, gene flow) such as populations of organisms?

        The example you gave of an allegedly “designed” biological system was the eye, but I think that the eye is not an example of design at all, it bespeaks its evolutionary origins through and through. (See the stuff I linked above.)

        “My assertion (and what I also take Sal Khan’s) is that the Theory of Evolution is only inconsistent with the concept of an intelligent designer when the concept of randomness is introduced.”

        What do you mean? Concept of randomness? Introduced how? There are elements of randomness in reproduction – from the contingent conditions that led up to the act of mating to the particulars of genetic recombination – and there are elements of randomness in survival (do car crashes and diseases count?), and yes, there are many ways in which similarly random genetic mutations can occur. And yes, changes in allele frequency, and the like, are part of the evolutionary equation, as it were, and mutations are a part of this picture. Anyway, I feel like I’m rambling; I’d just like to know what you mean exactly. Do you have an example of an “introduction of randomness” that is unwarranted and unacceptable, and why? Thanks.

        • Brutus,

          I had mentioned in another comment:
          “While on a philosophical level (not sure about nature – I’m a philosopher before I’m a biologist…), I believe that ID is a valid stance to take. What I mean by ‘philosophical level’ is that if someone opposes ID because it’s not reasonable to believe it, I ask: what makes things reasonable in the first place? The functionality of logic cannot be a result of random creation. The intangible, unmeasurable rules of our universe are the greatest evidence of intelligent design.”

          I really think this gets to the heart of the controversy.

          The element of random chance within Evolution conflicts with the concept of a designer because it essentially states that there is no external force directing the evolution (note lowercase ‘e’) of species. I think that one can view existence as having been designed and created by God who used what we call ‘evolution’ as his method.

          The advent of the Theory of ID is a response to the assertion within the Theory of Evolution that everything is random, which implies that even IF God did exist, he has zero interaction with existence. If Evolution can let go of the idea that everything is random, the conflict, in my view, disappears.

  9. brutus.beastus /

    Evolution is not a random process but has many predictable biases. The most basic is natural selection itself. Genetic variation involves random elements, but what does this really mean? How are “random” occurrences at the molecular level different from random events on a macroscopic level? That’s what I was intimating above. Does it take away from God’s existence or providence that life in general is filled with chance events? Maybe you will say that in the bigger picture that we can’t well understand God’s hand is present. Everything unfolds as part of His plan, even in the seemingly random events, even in the events that are the result of free agents who may be acting against His will. Are the contingencies of reproduction, development, and genetic mutation exempt from this picture for some reason? It seems to me that perhaps some people don’t like that evolution robs them of a specific kind of mythical/magical perspective. Is there concrete physical evidence of supernatural tinkering in biology? Not to the best of my knowledge. Should we try to insinuate God in the understanding that science affords? This is unjustified in my opinion. Does the bigger picture of reality afford reasons to believe? I think so. I probably agree with you on the broad metaphysical issues. Evolution does not say that everything is random. (By that I suppose you mean in some ultimate metaphysical sense.) Evolution describes the rules and mechanisms by which populations change and diverge over time. Interpret the general randomness of contingent reality as you would like. Ultimately purposeful and meaningful? Ultimately purposeless and meaningless? Evolutionary biology does not and cannot address those questions. That’s how I see things anyway.

    • brutus.beastus /

      The above was supposed to be a reply to Andrew’s last comment. My bad.

  10. Robert John Saunders /

    Hi Alan . . When one reads Genesis we understand ( I think we do ) that God created everything! Nothing existed until God , He, created time!
    The more we know, the more we realize we still have more to know!
    As soon as we realize that God loves US , that is all we need to know, and the lightening is superfluous!

  11. Steven P. Cornett /

    If I may take a moment to critique your blog entry:

    1). If anyone is placing knowledge in opposition to God, it is the Darwinists, who insist that all change must be based on random chance gated by natural selection. The point of the theory is to exclude God from the entire universe by saying, in effect, that life, and ultimately the universe, made itself.

    If any theory can be said to be pseudo-science, it is neo-Darwinism since much of what it postulates its devotees pushed into the realm of the non-falsifiable. It did so when experimentation into genetic mutation showed it to generally be disastrous to life, and it does so now.

    2). Intelligent Design theory is an evidential approach to looking at information transfer that occurs inside life, especially the cell. By “irreducable complexity”, it means what must be a “message” or transfer of data versus things that can occur naturally or are just part intrinsic to a random stochastic process.

    The general attribution to God as the First Cause, of course, comes from perennial philosophy that existed through the ages. The proofs of God’s existence in Scholastic philosophy arise from the objective evidence of the universe itself, and the fact that all things in it are effects of past causes, that is they are contingent on that which brought them about.

    The fact that you have anything at all, much less that we are here to discuss it, is the evidence; the cosmos is not a gap, much less ourselves.

  12. brutus beastus:

    You allege, hilariously to my way of thinking, that evolution involves predictive power.

    Excellent.

    Please issue a prediction, based on the theory, which is:

    a) testable
    b) experimentally reproducible
    c) risky- that is, involves a real test of the theory, and is cap[able of falsifying it.

    I am all ears.

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