Saturday, December 11, 2004

whoa-- there is a God!

So says famed atheist-- now ex-atheist-- Anthony Flew, according to a recent article. Flew's conclusion appears to be based on the dazzling complexity of DNA, and he's come to accept some version of the Intelligent Design argument as an explanation for life on earth.

A few notes:

1. Flew states that science "has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved." But scientists themselves are far from unanimous on the subject. If anything, the prevailing ethos of scientific skepticism almost guarantees that scientific "Intelligent Designism" will remain a minority position. Flew is using scientific evidence to come to a conclusion not reached by a majority of scientists.

2. As plenty of people (including Flew himself) have pointed out, Intelligent Design Theory in no way implies that the designer is the Judeo-Christian God.

3. Flew's conclusions, if based only on what we know about the human genome, are derived from too parochial a source to be applicable cosmos-wide. Unless Flew is stating a narrow contention that "life on earth was designed," he would need to consider evidence from science's cosmological wing before claiming that the entire universe has an intelligent designer. Not having read any Flew before stumbling upon this article, I can't say for sure that Flew is, in fact, citing only the genome as evidence for his newfound theism.

4. An interesting insight I read in the pop-science book Taking the Red Pill: Philosophy and Religion in the Matrix is this: Never confuse intelligence with consciousness. The man who contends this, Peter B. Lloyd (see especially pp.118-120), says it may be possible for us to design machines that solve problems and navigate the human world with extremely complex heuristic algorithms, but this doesn't mean the machines are anything more than machines. As he puts it:

Intelligence is the capacity to solve problems, while consciousness is the capacity for the subjective experience of qualities.... A digital computer can be programmed to perform intelligent tasks... without any need to introduce enigmatic conscious experiences into the software. On the other hand, a conscious being can have subjective experiences-- such as seeing the color red or feeling anger-- without needing to use intelligence to solve any problems.*

If we accept Lloyd's definitions and apply his insight to the question of intelligent design, we have even less reason to believe that our hypothetical intelligent designer is in fact a Person in the required theistic sense (and it is, after all, theists who are most interested in this argument).**

I don't think science is going to provide an answer to the fundamental question, "Why is there something instead of nothing?" Not anytime soon, anyway.

[Article found through a link on Dr. Vallicella's site.]

*I would caution anyone seeking to rebut Lloyd's position that they need to read Lloyd's chapter in its entirety before passing judgement. The snippet I've quoted doesn't tell you everything.

**Notice that, even if you define "intelligence" and "consciousness" differently from Lloyd, it's still conceivable that the universe's designer isn't personalistic.


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