Concerning Intelligent Design and Materialism

I really don't have a lot to say about Intelligent Design. They've brought up some interesting critiques of evolution as a purely natural phenomenon, but I don't think that theirs conclusions necessarily follow. That is to say, I do not think that just because a theory has some holes in it now does not mean those holes will never be filled, even filled with purely natural evidence and theory. In any case, I basically agree with Professor Stephen Barr when he says (with my emphases):
The self-styled Intelligent Design (or "ID") movement says that while evolution may have happened the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection acting on random genetic mutations is not adequate to explain it. In particular, the ID people point to the great complexity of life, especially at the cellular level. If they are right, that would be very interesting, as it would almost force one to invoke miraculous intervention by God to explain many of the facts of biology. It would give us a slam-dunk proof for the existence of God. I, for one, would be very happy about that.

But are they right in saying that the Darwinian mechanism is inadequate to explain biological complexity? Most biologists, including most of those who are devout Christian believers, doubt it very strongly. And even if the ID people are right, it will be virtually impossible to prove that they are right because they are asserting a negative. They are saying that no Darwinian explanation of certain complex structures will ever be forthcoming. Well, there may not exist such an explanation now, but there might exist one later. So, in practice, I don't see a slam-dunk proof for miraculous intervention in evolution as coming out of this movement.

Frankly, I don't see this debate as one in which Catholics, as Catholics, have any stake. The traditional arguments for the existence of God are much deeper and more reliable than the ones the ID movement is trying to make. The Catholic Church herself has taken no stance on this controversy.

Ultimately, Intelligent Design as a form of apologetics is ultimately Henry Drummond's "God of the Gaps." The movement, in insisting that some miraculous interventions are needed on occasion for evolution to get from the early fossil records to men, are ultimately arguing along the lines of Sir Isaac Newton when he hypothesized that God must occasionally intervene in nature to keep the solar system stable. ID places a lot of eggs in one (rather precarious) basket: there is no naturally possible way for this process to happen. If and when later science discovers a natural means, as had happened after Newton's time, the response becomes, as Pierre-Simon Laplace said to Napoleon, "I have no need for that hypothesis."

As for evolution itself, I have no objection to the scientific theory (or even fact) of evolution, per se. It does not present a problem or a challenge for theists in and of itself. There are even some theists who have argued that ID does not solve any of the philosophical problems allegedly posed by evolution, or alternatively that it comes with its own set of problems. Take, for example, Dr Edward Feser's comments about ID and "mechanism":
Dembski here identifies “design” with what Aristotle called techne or “art.” As Dembski correctly says, “the essential idea behind these terms is that information is conferred on an object from outside the object and that the material constituting the object, apart from that outside information, does not have the power to assume the form it does. For instance, raw pieces of wood do not by themselves have the power to form a ship.” This contrasts with what Aristotle called “nature,” which (to quote Dembski quoting Aristotle) “is a principle in the thing itself.” For example (again to quote Dembski’s own exposition of Aristotle), “the acorn assumes the shape it does through powers internal to it: the acorn is a seed programmed to produce an oak tree” – in contrast to the way the “ship assumes the shape it does through powers external to it,” via a “designing intelligence” which “imposes” this form on it from outside.

Now, having made this distinction, Dembski goes on explicitly to acknowledge that just as “the art of shipbuilding is not in the wood that constitutes the ship” and “the art of making statues is not in the stone out of which statues are made,” “so too, the theory of intelligent design contends that the art of building life is not in the physical stuff that constitutes life but requires a designer” (emphasis added). And there you have it: Living things are for ID theory to be modeled on ships and statues, the products of techne or “art,” whose characteristic “information” is not “internal” to them but must be “imposed” from “outside.” And that just is what A-T philosophers mean by a “mechanistic” conception of life.

What does cause a problem is the materialistic philosophy which attempts to leverage evolution as its "evidence." That this was done by Huxley with the blessing of Darwin himself makes it a no more true interpretation, since science is not the handmaid of philosophy, nor philosophy of science. To embrace a philosophy which says "there is no natural process to explain X, therefore there is no X", as was done then and is done again now by the likes of Dr Sam Harris*, is to embrace a philosophy which is at least half blind: especially when the plain evidence available to plain observers is that X exists!

The philosophy which is too often propped up by bad appeals to evolution is that of scientism and materialism. This is the philosophy which has long since been rebutted--e.g. by G.K. Chesterton--which attempts to demonstrate that the mind is purely mechanical and the spirit purely fictitious. It ultimately says that men have no souls and thus no inherent dignity, whatever rights or dignities we may accord to them in order to make society work. This is a strictly materialistic-philosophical assertion, and a very dogmatic one at that. That man is descended from the apes does not in the least imply that he is not greater than the apes, or even that he is merely an "improved ape," which is still an ape none the less.

In his The Everlasting Man, Chesterton pointed out that there are some things which men have or do which are not merely "evolved" or "improved" from what the apes have or do.
For in the plain matter like the [cave paintings] there is in fact not a trace of any such development or degree. Monkeys did not begin pictures and men finish them; Pithecanthropus did not draw a reindeer badly and Homo Sapiens draw it well. The higher animals did not draw better and better portraits; the dog did not paint better in his best period than in his early bad manner as a jackal; the wild horse was not an Impressionist and the race horse a Post-Impressionist.

All we can say of this notion of reproducing things in shadow or representative shape is that it exists nowhere in nature except in man; and that we cannot even talk about it without treating man as something separate from nature. In other words every sane sort of history must begin with man as man, a thing standing absolute and alone.

In his On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs, Fr James Schall S.J. extends this sketch of Chesterton's, by noting that it is the supposedly frivolous things which we do which make us human. It is our leisure which separate us from the beasts, even the highest beasts. A pair of Gorillas may play games with each other, or may appear to converse and groom each other; the lionesses may provide meat not only for their young, but for the lions too. We see these things in human interactions, but we see so much more: we sing, we dance, we draw, we read, we tell jokes, we develop sciences and art and architecture, we philosophize, make poetry, and tell stories--and we pray. One or two of these habits we may find has been "evolved" from the other animals, but where are the apes attending an art show? Which lions not only roar to each other, but also compose a symphony, or even a polyphony? A bird may appear to dance for its mate, but where do we find birds throwing balls and trading partners?

Simply put, we do not find these things in nature among the beasts. We finds them among man, man alone who is endowed with a soul, who alone is in the image and likeness of God, who alone has dignity inherent to him. Man may be biologically descended of the beasts, but his biology, his body--though an integral part of himself--is not all there is to him. That is where the real fight lies, and that is with a philosophy and not a science.
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*So, for instance, Dr Harris says in his The End of Faith that Free Will cannot exist, because there is no naturalistic/materialistic explanation as to how it could have arisen. This was as a defense of the proof that God does not exist because evil does exist, since Free Will adequately explains the existence of evil. But notice, it begs the question by assuming that God does not exist, because, after all, if God does exist then He is not limited to merely naturalistic/materialistic means of bringing about Free Will.

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