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The Design Inference from Specified Complexity Defended by Scholars Outside the Intelligent Design Movement - Page 3

Directed Panspermia and "God-Like Beings." Crop circles are obviously the product of design because they exhibit CSI. Some people suggest that the source of crop-circle design is extraterrestrial. No matter how sceptical we are about extraterrestrials, it would be irrational to argue that because extraterrestrials do not exist, crop circles are not the product of design (since aliens are a sufficient but not a necessary condition for crop circles). Likewise, however sceptical someone is about the existence of God, it would be irrational to argue that since God does not exist, nothing in nature is the product of design (since God is a sufficient but not a necessary condition of intelligent design in nature). The scientific inference to design, whether in the case of crop circles or not, is prior to the inference to a particular designer, and it stands or falls on its own merits. Dawkins admits as much in an article that appeared in the secular humanist magazine Free Inquiry. In this editorial opinion piece, Dawkins explicitly acknowledged that CSI is a valid criterion of design detection:

"specified complexity" takes care of the sensible point that any particular rubbish heap is improbable, with hindsight, in the unique disposition of its parts. A pile of detached watch parts tossed in a box is, with hindsight, as improbable as a fully functioning, genuinely complicated watch. What is specified about a watch is that it is improbable in the specific direction of telling the time. . . .[36]

Dawkins is clearly saying that it is the specified complexity of a watch that warrants a design inference (mere complexity is not the issue). Dawkins admits that "Behe and Dembski correctly pose the problem of specified complexity as something that needs explaining,"[37] and he even allows that "Design is the temporarily correct explanation for some particular manifestations of specified complexity such as a car or a washing machine."[38] Here we begin to see Dawkins's philosophical commitment to naturalism affecting his conclusions: "sooner or later, in order to explain the illusion of design, we are going to have to terminate the regress [of explanations] with something more explanatory than design itself,"[39] says Dawkins, for "Design can never be an ultimate explanation."[40] Dawkins is happy to concede that intelligent design is a legitimate and evidentially supported explanation for CSI, but his naturalistic philosophy dictates that explaining anything in terms of intelligent design is only ever a "temporarily correct"[41] placeholder for a nonteleological explanation. This philosophical deduction from naturalism applies just as much to watches and washing machines as to cosmic fine-tuning or bacterial flagella.

Of course, even in the case of design detected within the texture of nature itself there are numerous explanatory options. Inferring intelligent design does not automatically equate with inferring any particular designer(s). As Dawkins writes: "It could conceivably turn out, as Francis Crick and Leslie Orgel . . . suggested, that evolution was seeded by deliberate design, in the form of bacteria sent from a distant planet in the nose cone of a spaceship."[42]

Nobel laureate Francis Crick (credited as codiscoverer of the double helix structure of DNA) and origin-of-life researcher Leslie Orgel first proposed the theory of "directed panspermia" as a hypothesis worth considering in an article published in Icarus.[43] Crick expanded upon the hypothesis in his book Life Itself suggesting that an advanced alien species sent one or more spacecraft to earth with the intent of peppering it with the necessary life forms (or components of life) to generate a zoo of diverse species.[44] The theory continues to attract a small number of supporters amongst origin-of-life researchers. Dawkins' philosophy dictates that such an explanation must ultimately track back to a nonteleological explanation. Given the assumption that minds can be explained naturalistically (an assumption Dawkins makes),[45] metaphysical naturalism is logically compatible with inferring intelligent design from nature. Perhaps, as members of the naturalistic, ID-endorsing Raelian UFO religion believe, aliens are responsible for life on earth.[46] Perhaps the big bang was fine-tuned to produce a life-sustaining universe by aliens in a parallel universe. For Dawkins, the ultimate explanation of any and all CSI must be naturalistic:

It is easy to believe that the universe houses creatures so far superior to us as to seem like gods. I believe it. But those godlike beings must themselves have been lifted into existence by natural selection or some equivalent. . . .[47]

As Dawkins says in response to the question "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?"[48]

. . . I believe that all intelligence, all creativity, and all design anywhere in the universe is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection. It follows that design comes late in the universe, after a period of Darwinian evolution. Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.[49]

Since Dawkins explicitly accepts CSI as a reliable criterion of design detection, and since he already believes in the existence of "godlike" extraterrestrial beings, one would predict that were he to concede the existence of empirical evidence within the natural world that triggers a design inference, he would likely affirm that the intelligence in question was extraterrestrial, thereby retaining his philosophical assumption that design inferences can only be temporarily correct explanations that must be susceptible to a reductive, naturalistic explanation in the final analysis.[50] This thought experiment demonstrates that design theorists are right when they point out that arguing for intelligent design does not necessarily equate with arguing for supernatural, let alone divine design. As Michael J. Behe explains:

my argument is limited to design itself; I strongly emphasize that it is not an argument for the existence of a benevolent God, as Paley's was. I hasten to add that I myself do believe in a benevolent God, and I recognize that philosophy and theology may be able to extend the argument. But a scientific argument for design in biology does not reach that far. Thus while I argue for design, the question of the identity of the designer is left open . . . as regards the identity of the designer, modern ID theory happily echoes Isaac Newton's phrase, hypothesis non fingo.[51]

Potential philosophical and theological disputes about the nature of the designer(s) aside, Richard Dawkins explicitly endorses the first premise of the argument for intelligent design.


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