Culture: September 2005 Archives

I found myself driving for quite a while yesterday so I ended up listing to NPR a bit, and caught this commentary on Katrina by Daniel Schorr. I don't have time to transcribe it [Update: Transcript in the comments], but you can listen to it if you like. The synopsis is actually a fairly good summary:

NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr asks where the scourges of hurricanes, drought, and famine fit into the debate over "intelligent design."

Schorr began by saying that Intelligent Design is a new form of creationism, and went on to ask, essentially, what kind of a designer would design natural disasters like these? He concluded by quoting someone who referred to hurricanes as natural events, and then asked, (paraphrasing loosely), "If nature is designed, can we really call them natural? Or are they designed? And that brings us back to the debate about nature versus intelligence."

Now, this whole argument about "bad design" is a relatively common argument against intelligent design. People point to various organisms (i.e. parasites) which appear only to exist to harm other organisms, or particularly nasty diseases, or (in this case) natural disasters, and essentially argue, "No good designer would do such a thing!"

I really have a problem with this sort of argument -- and even more so with Schorr's form. Intelligent Design doesn't claim anything particular about the designer, other than that the evidence indicates that the designer is intelligent. So to even argue such a thing, you're assuming that you know what the designer would do. And that's rather silly, since you're arguing that the designer must not exist (or must not have designed life) because you know what he would have done if he did exist. So at the same time you're arguing (if this is your view) that (a) it's impossible to see from nature that such a designer exists, yet (b) it's possible to determine somehow what the attributes of such a designer would be if he did exist. It doesn't seem like you can have it both ways -- if it's impossible to determine from nature that a designer exists (or possible to prove he doesn't) then you also shouldn't be able to determine anything about said designer. On the other hand, if you can determine the designer exists, then you can start asking what you can tell about his/her/its attributes.

I found Schorr's argument particularly bugged me because he begins by equating Intelligent Design with (Christian) creationism. Now, if that's his view, then the Bible does offer some reason why there is great suffering in the world, including things like natural disasters. The Bible explains that the world is not in its ideal (designed) state any longer, as a result of the sin of Man and the subsequent fall. That is, things are not all as they should be, so people die, diseases happen, and people have to toil greatly to accomplish much of anything on earth. This wasn't how God originally designed things, according to the Bible, but man sinned, and so bad things happened. [We could go into this a lot more, but the purpose of this post isn't to address the whole problem of evil and pain.]

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