Saturday, August 17, 2013

Creative Design: An alternative to Intelligent Design

By Aaron Sherman

Intelligent Design (ID) was, as I've covered here before, more or less a political effort to disguise a Christian, Young Earth Creationist document as a pseudo-scientific premise. It was so poorly constructed that, in court, evidence was presented from a word processor document that showed that the cornerstone of ID was, in fact, just a Christian Creationism document that had been edited to say "Intelligent Design" instead of "Creationism". But there's a problem. The idea of intelligent design predates the terrible and hackish attempt by a small group of American Christians to re-invent it. Thomas Aquinas's 5th way of demonstrating the existence of God was essentially Intelligent Design, and more broadly, there were many empiricists of the 17th and 18th century who worked on this idea as well, including Hume and Locke.

Bowler, in his book, Evolution: The History of an Idea makes it clear that as early as the 1860s, people were struggling with this idea with respect to evolution, and felt that the complexity and diversity of what we actually see in nature must imply the existence of a creator, and that that idea was not antithetical to the evidence of our senses combined with the power of reason (i.e. science). Whether you agree or disagree with that premise, it seems a worthy thing to come up with a term that we can use to refer to this concept.

More or less, the term for this class of idea is a teleological argument. However, that term narrowly refers to an a posteriori argument for the existence of God. I'm looking for a term which more broadly asserts the fundamental concept of intelligence in the act of creation.

This is my attempt to do so. Let's look at what we need to define and then we'll get to the definition.

I think that such an idea would have to encompass these elements:
  • The idea that complexity and diversity imply an initial effort of intelligence
  • That this conclusion is the product of reason and not of dogma
  • That, due to its origins, it should embrace reason and empiricism
One byproduct of a purely empirical outlook on the designer argument is that it must co-exist with scientific inquiry. That is, any effort to investigate the world around us with the tools of reason and empiricism must not be approached as the enemy of this argument, but as an ally.

Now, to the definition:

Creative Design (CD) is the assertion that the Universe was modified from an initial state of non-existence or from an existence which was antithetical to life, into the form that we observe now. It is further the assertion of CD that this modification ("creation") was the effort of intelligence and creativity. No assertion is made as to the nature of the source of this intelligence and creativity, nor is any assertion made as to the mechanism of its interaction.

CD is not:
  • An alternative to the theory of evolution or modern cosmology
  • A proxy for any particular religion (though it is compatible with some, Roman Catholics, for example)
  • An argument against the application of empiricism and science to the analysis of the natural world
  • An endorsement of the attempt to weaken statements about evolution or cosmology in science curriculums
So, if you find yourself needing to describe the religion-neutral thesis that the universe was "created", feel free to use the term, Creative Design.