Tag Archives: intelligent design

Fodor May Yet Be Clever

I was trying to figure out what Fodor could have been thinking.  Here’s what I came up with:

  1. If we are trying to figure out what Evolution has done, then we presuppose that Evolution is capable of doing something.
  2. If Evolution is capable of doing something, then there must be some mechanism of Evolution that does the doing.

Now imagine yourself in the position of the mechanism of Evolution that does the doing, i.e. the mechanism that selects the traits that yield a higher fitness.

The question becomes: is it possible for you to select for a trait?

The answer is NO.

To understand why, consider what happens when we try to give an evolutionary explanation of something:  we are beset by a near infinite selection of different possibilities.  Only through careful study can we narrow down which traits are actually the ones that increase an organism’s fitness and, if we are in a historical context, only give a most likely candidate for such a trait.

Now imagine yourself back in the position of the mechanism.  The mechanism is stuck with the exact same sort of problem that we have when trying to figure out what it has done:  it has no more an ability to select a single trait than we have to figure out which trait it has selected with our first guess.  Whenever it tries to select for a trait, it may mistakenly also select for another trait that is not so good for the organism, or it may not have even recognized the trait it thought it was selecting for.

Therefore, since this mechanism can’t work, evolution is bunk.

OK.  Now let’s take a step back and look at this argument.  Basically there are two parts:  the first part is an argument that there is a mechanism that does the doing and the second part says the mechanism can’t have done anything.  When I saw Fodor speak on this topic, I believe (it was a while ago now) he spent a good deal of time on arguing for the first part and I didn’t really understand what he was up to.  Now it makes sense because if we accept that there is some mechanism that does the doing, then we may be committed to admitting to at least some amount of skepticism about evolution based upon the second part.  Getting even some skepticism about evolution would be a sufficiently large accomplishment, and so I figure this must be Fodor’s ultimate goal.

In light of this argument I offer this wild conjecture for your reading pleasure:

Replace “mechanism” with “agent”.  Now, instead of an argument against evolution, it is an argument against Intelligent Design.  Intelligent Design has the designer/ agent built directly into it, and this makes the argument much more knock-down:  There is no need to argue for the existence of a mechanism because it is right in the title, and since the intelligence of ID is something like our intelligence, it makes sense that it would suffer from the same problems that ours does.

What I think happened is that Fodor was sitting around thinking why intelligent design doesn’t work and realized that if he could make a strong enough argument that evolution also required some sort of agent, in the form of an evolutionary mechanism, then he could return a similar result.  Since having a technical reason for discounting ID wouldn’t make much of splash, Fodor dropped the argument against ID and pursued the argument against evolution.

Personally I kind of like this argument against ID.  If I ever run into some ID people, I may even bring it up.

Posted in argumentation, biology, evolution, philosophy, random idiocy, science, wild conjecture. Tagged with , , , , , .

Why Intelligent Design Is Correct

Darwinian Evolution is a theory of Intelligent Design. Darwin argues for Natural Selection by starting with ‘Artificial Selection’, a theory of Intelligent Design. When Artificial Selection is generalized to Natural Selection Darwin is entirely cognizant of and makes no attempt to remove the elements of intelligent design embedded in the theory. In fact, he recognizes that these elements of intelligent design are what make evolution by natural selection so compelling and he specifically exploits them in his argument.

The Theory of Artificial Selection, also known as ‘Selective Breeding’, begins with domestication and husbandry of animals. Many species have changed over the course of history as a result of humans choosing animals to mate. Humans did this to produce offspring with desired traits, e.g. cows that produce more milk or sheep with a fuller fleece. This practice eventually was expanded to include plants such as corn, wheat and rice. Artificial Selection refers to all breeding practices (both plant and animal) in which humans mate certain (select) organisms to obtain individuals with specific desired traits.

Artificial Selection represents a theory of Intelligent Design because the human intelligence designs and creates new organisms.

Darwin then turns to Natural Selection:

As man can produce and certainly has produced a great result by his methodical and unconscious means of selection, what may not nature effect? Man can act only on external and visible characters: nature cares nothing for appearances, except in so far as they may be useful to any being. She can act on every internal organ, on every shade of constitutional difference, on the whole machinery of life. Man selects only for his own good; Nature only for that of the being which she tends… How fleeting are the wishes and efforts of man ! and consequently how poor will his products be, compared with those accumulated by nature during whole geological periods.

Notice the heavy personification of Nature in this passage. Nature selects as a breeder selects: intelligently for the continued life of the species. Darwin compares nature to a breeder to exploit our understanding and acceptance of domestication and breeding practices as an underpinning Natural Selection. Hence Darwinian Natural Selection is derived from, and inherently is, a theory of Intelligent Design.

However, Darwin also says evolution works through a random process, apparently contradicting intelligent design. This is only an apparent contradiction though: if nature is intelligent it is more intelligent than we are. And if something is more intelligent than ourselves, we will not understand how it acts, i.e. its actions will appear random to us. Since we have to work very hard to understand the natural world, nature is smarter than we are and hence it follows that we view nature as random.

In conclusion, Darwin’s Evolution is a kind of Intelligent Design. Unlike other theories of ID, however, evolution is intelligent design based upon nature and not a supernatural agent. This reveals that both the supporters and opponents of Intelligent Design are arguing erroneously. ID’s supporters argue that the supernatural is needed to explain design found in nature whereas ID’s opponents argue that evolution is not intelligent design, and neither is correct. Personally, I prefer my evolution sans design, sidestepping these and other serious issues entirely.

Darwin likely knew all this when he placed this quote at the beginning of the second and subsequent editions of On the Origin of Species:

The only distinct meaning of the word ‘natural’ is stated, fixed or settled; since what is natural as much requires and presupposes an intelligent agent to render it so, i.e., to effect it continually or at stated times, as what is supernatural or miraculous does to effect it for once.

–Butler: Analogy of Revealed Religion


As always, comments are highly appreciated (login no longer required!) . I apologize to my readers outside the USA for the recent US centric posts. I’m going to start posting some ontology soon (I will explain that Xmas post) and I doubt I could make ontology provincial even if I tried.

Posted in biology, design, evolution, philosophy, science. Tagged with , , , , .