Evolution and Intelligent Design: July 2009 Archives

President Obama has appointed human genome superstar Francis Collins to head the National Institute of Health. Collins is an evangelical Christian with a best-selling book on his conversion to Christianity from atheism and how he thinks about his scientific work as a Christian.

Collins is an interesting character for sociological study of the language of politics. He's a supporter of intelligent design, although you'd never hear him admit it. He accepts the fine-tuning argument for the existence of God, which by any reasonable standard counts him as supporting intelligent design and its detectability by scientific study. He at least thinks you can observe through science enough evidence to make the existence of God reasonable as an inference to the best explanation.

Still, he regularly speaks of intelligent design arguments as bad arguments, presumably meaning the ones based on biological evidence rather than the evidence from physics that he himself thinks makes the inference to a designer reasonable. He doesn't think biology shows the kind of evidence that leads to an reasonable inference to a designer. At least that's the charitable explanation for his resistance to ID. He might just misunderstand the argument, thinking that the arguments don't disprove evolution. I've heard him putting ID arguments in opposition to evolution even though there's nothing in the ID arguments that should rule out common descent from non-human animals or purely natural causes for how human beings came to be. That makes me wonder if maybe he'd accept the arguments given a proper understanding of them, since he is open to evidence that could be taken as a reasonable basis for an inference to a designer as the best explanation of the data. I've regularly found myself shaking my head at the failure of those who discuss this issue to make proper philosophical distinctions between the various positions in conceptual space (most of them actually occupied by real people in this case).

Consider the following views:

1. Atheistic evolution: Everything we experience is best explained by naturalistic explanations such as natural selection and random chance, with no guidance from an intelligent being.

2. Naturalistic-like theistic evolution: Natural selection and what appears to be random chance constitute the best scientific account of human origins, but God intelligently guided the process along by setting up the laws of nature so that they would lead to human development.

3. Non-naturalistic theistic evolution: Natural selection and the mechanisms of the standard evolutionary account are correct in postulating human origins from common descent with other animals, but God intelligently guided the process along by intervening in the natural order.

4. Special creation (old-earth): Divine intervention occurred to create human beings at a certain time in history without humans having descended from other animals. Nevertheless, this took place in the general time scheme scientists accept for when humans first appeared, and the universe and the earth are as old as our best science generally takes them to be.

5. Special creation (young-earth): Divine intervention occurred to create human beings at a certain time in history without humans having descended from other animals. This happened during the one exact week that God used to create the universe and all life on earth, with humans appearing on the sixth day of that week.

Now here's another set of views on a somewhat separate issue:


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