It's occurred to me that a common complaint against intelligent design is a huge mistake. In particular, it misrepresents the ID movement. That's no surprise to regular readers of this blog, who should have been explose to numerous misrepresentations of the ID position by now. This one isn't a stupid mistake, though. I can understand why people might make this mistake, but it's a mistake nonetheless and a philosophical one.
I've seen ID opponents make the complaint that ID requires special creation even if the people making ID arguments claim otherwise. By special creation here, I don't mean the creation of the universe to begin with. Any theist will believe in special creation in that sense. Special creation here means miraculous intervention to create certain biological elements that we don't have explanations for at this point. Immediately, I already see one problem with this. Intelligent design requires no such thing, because some intelligent design arguments have nothing to do with biology. Some are about fine-tuning of the cosmological constants. But even leaving that issue aside, I think this misunderstands those who endorse the biological ID arguments, including most notably Michael Behe, William Dembski, and Philip Johnson.
Biological ID argues that we don't have an explanation for certain characteristics in biology, e.g. parts of the cell wouldn't likely occur on their own because they have no purpose except as parts of the cell. So it's extremely unlikely that they could come together just by chance unless it's as a result of a plan by some designer who intended them to come together. That's all that biological ID argues, and it's all Behe, Dembski, and Johnson think the argument entails. But what's crucial to note about the argument is that the conclusion says nothing about what might have caused these parts to come together. It says nothing about the process. All it says is that the unlikelihood of their coming together needs an explanation. Everything they say is consistent with the view that humans came into existence roughly as we are with no common descent from animals. But that doesn't mean the argument requires it, and it doesn't mean people endorsring the argument would necessarily agree with such a view.
They themselves insist that these arguments are perfectly consistent with the standard causal story told by naturalistic evolution, except that they don't think naturalism is true and believe it all fits into a divine plan of some sort. The argument I'm critiquing claims that they can't say that. It claims that they have given an argument that entails special creation. But the ID proponents' claim is fully honest. Everything the ID arguments say is consistent with a closed physical system that acts in a fully deterministic fashion, with each event being caused by previous events. It seems extremely unlikely that a deterministic system of that sort would lead to needless structures that all happen to come together to serve a better purpose, in particular a purpose that leads to something as morally significant as the kind of human being we have today. That fact cries out for an explanation, Philip Johnson would say. But the explanation need not be God interfering with natural causes in the midst of the development of things. It may simply be that the divine plan from the beginning included natural laws and initial conditions that would, given the deterministic outworking of the universe that ensued, lead to exactly the right conditions that would form useless structures that would combine to form a working living cell. And so on. The entire picture of the origins of humanity presented by Richard Dawkins, minus his claims that it is a mindless process not guided by anything, is perfectly consistent with everything intelligent design "creationists" claim.
So those who claim that ID is an argument against evolution are just wrong. It's not anti-evolution, and its supporters can see that. Why can't its opponents? I think there's one main reason, but I'm going to leave that for another post.