Saturday, September 08, 2007


Anthropomorphites Strut Upon the Stage

Reading David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion again (and, with an able assist from the commentary of Norman Kemp Smith, actually getting all the way through), I was struck with Hume's demolition of the anthropomorphic arguments of the Natural Theologians, who are, after all, the source of the Intelligent Design Creationists' claims.

Cleanthes, Hume's advocate for Natural Theology, remonstrates Demea, the more traditional theist, for maintaining that the nature of the Deity is mysterious and incomprehensible to humans.

I can readily allow, said Cleanthes, that those who maintain the perfect simplicity of the supreme Being, to the extent in which you have explained it, are complete mystics, and chargeable with all the consequences which I have drawn from their opinion. They are, in a word, atheists, without knowing it. For though it be allowed, that the Deity possesses attributes, of which we have no comprehension; yet ought we never to ascribe to him any attributes, which are absolutely incompatible with that intelligent nature, essential to him. A mind, whose acts and sentiments and ideas are not distinct and successive; one, that is wholly simple, and totally immutable; is a mind which has no thought, no reason, no will, no sentiment, no love, no hatred; or in a word, is no mind at all. ...
Philo, Hume's stand-in, notes the underpinnings of Cleanthes' argument:

Like effects prove like causes. This is the experimental argument; and this, you say too, is the sole theological argument. Now it is certain, that the liker the effects are, which are seen, and the liker the causes, which are inferred, the stronger is the argument.
The sole "evidence" offered in favor of ID is this analogy. ID's central claim is, in reality, an argumentum ad ignorantium, alleging evolutionary theory is incapable of explaining complexity. The best the IDeologists can do in terms of positive arguments for design is summed up in Stephen Meyer's article "Not by chance." But it contains no actual evidence at all. Meyer's contentions are a classic argument from ignorance layered over what Judge Jones rightly called in his decision in Kitzmiller a "contrived dualism":

1) "Either life arose as the result of purely undirected material processes or a guiding intelligence played a role."

2) There is an "appearance of design."

3) This appearance is "unexplained by the mechanism -- natural selection -- that Darwin specifically proposed to replace the design hypothesis."
The only "positive evidence" the article advances can be summed up in this analogy from Meyer:

DNA functions like a software program. We know from experience that software comes from programmers.

Indeed, Casey Luskin has defined ID itself in those very terms:

Luskin said the media often misidentifies intelligent design. He offered this definition: It's "a scientific theory that says some aspects of nature are best explained by an intelligent cause because they are identical to objects we commonly know were designed by human intelligence."

But Hume, long before William Paley codified the ID argument, pointed out the problem:

Every departure on either side [from "likeness" of effect or of inferred cause] diminishes the probability, and renders the experiment less conclusive. You cannot doubt of this principle: Neither ought you to reject its consequences. ...
And those consequences are dire for the IDers:

First, By this method of reasoning, you renounce all claim to infinity in any of the attributes of the Deity. For as the cause ought only to be proportioned to the effect, and the effect, so far as it falls under our cognisance, is not infinite; what pretensions have we, upon your supposition, to ascribe that attribute to the divine Being ? You will still insist, that, by removing him so much from all similarity to human creatures, we give into the most arbitrary hypothesis, and at the same time weaken all proofs of his existence.

Secondly, You have no reason, on your theory, for ascribing perfection to the Deity, even in his finite capacity; or for supposing him free from every error, mistake, or incoherence in his undertakings. There are many inexplicable difficulties in the works of nature, which, if we allow a perfect Author to be proved a priori, are easily solved, and become only seeming difficulties, from the narrow capacity of man, who cannot trace infinite relations. But according to your method of reasoning, these difficulties become all real; and perhaps will be insisted on, as new instances of likeness to human art and contrivance.
Indeed, I have heard Jay Richards, co-author of The Privileged Planet with astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, and a "Senior Fellow" at the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, insist that God is subject to design constraints of the same sort that human designers face in balancing speed and memory and display size in laptop computers with the weight and dimensions of the units. Fortunately, God has infinite strength, so He can carry around a few million Crays hooked up in parallel to satisfy His mobile needs.

Another amusing example is this article by Jonathan Witt, also a Senior Fellow at the DI, entitled "Panning God: Darwinism's Defective Argument Against Bad Design." Besides the fact that, since it is aimed at his fellow religionists at the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and, therefore, Witt can drop the pretense that "the Designer" is anything other than "the holy God of the Bible, father and shepherd and husband of His people," the infirmity often shown in the universe's design is supposedly "explained" by denying that God is a "hyper-tidy engineer." How, then, we can recognize His engineering in the bacterial flagellum is a point glossed over. Instead, Witt, in keeping with his Ph.D. in English that so qualifies him as an expert in the "science" of ID, invokes an artistic, Shakespearean God who values "variety, imaginative exuberance, freedom, even moral complexity" over "a hyper-constricted and abstract elegance."

But Shakespeare subjected only imaginary characters to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Are we mere players inflicted with cancer and famine, pestilence and war, grief and death to serve as the amusements of a bored playwright? Or do we inhabit some doll house of a world where an immature and ultimately sadistic child tugs at our strings? Hume foresaw this:

[A] man, who follows your hypothesis, is able, perhaps, to assert, or conjecture, that the universe, sometime, arose from something like design: But beyond that position he cannot ascertain one single circumstance, and, is left afterwards to fix every point of his theology, by the utmost licence of fancy and hypothesis. This world, for aught he knows, is very faulty and imperfect, compared to a superior standard; and was only the first rude essay of some infant Deity, who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance; it is the work only of some dependent, inferior Deity; and is the object of derision to his superiors; it is the production of old age and dotage in some superannuated Deity; and ever since his death, has run on at adventures, from the first impulse and active force, which it received from him.
Perhaps it is not surprising that those who need to anthropomorphize God, invariably find a small one.

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