Is there any reason to think the cause or causes of order in the universe bear an even remote analogy to human intelligence?
Next, week's program --- assuming it isn't pre-empted by the Alito hearings --- will concern "intelligent design." This phrase is most familiar these days in connection with the attempt by Christian groups persuade boards of education in various communities to require teaching of, or at least mention of, a theory called "intelligent design" in biology classes, as an alternative to the theory of evolution. I'll call this the "IDM" for "Intelligent Design Movement," and use phrases like "the design argument," and "intelligent design," with the meaning that they have had for a long time in philosophy. Many readers will want to consult the intelligent and fascinating opinion of federal judge John E. Jones, which can be found at www.pamd.uscourts.gov/kitzmiller/kitzmiller_342.pdf
Traditionally, in philosophy, the question of intelligent design is connected to the "Argument from Design." This is mentioned by many philosophers, including Saint Thomas, but the two discussions that are the most famous are William Paley's and David Hume's. I've been discussing Hume's Dialogues on Natural Relgion, where he discusses the argument from design and the problem of evil, in classes for about forty years, so I guess I am in favor of mentioning and discussing the theory of intelligent design in classrooms --- but not biology classrooms, unless the biology teacher wants to.
The IDA literature refers to Paley's discussion, and his famous example of finding a watch in the desert and inferring quite reasonably that someone must have designed it. Oddly, Paley's discussion comes about a hundred years after Hume's, which is often taken to be the classic refutation of the argument.
We have to be careful in discussing Hume's Dialogues, however. The character in the dialogue that most interpreters take to be closest to being Hume's representative is Philo. At the end of the dialogues, Philo concludes that the most probable hypothesis about the cause or causes of order in the universe is that it or they bear some remote analogy to human intelligence. So it seems that Hume didn't intend to refute the argument from design, but was in fact moved by it. But this is only part of the story. Philo's main point is that even if, as he grudgingly (and some , but not me, have thought ironically) allows, there is some reason to think that the design-like properties of the world are the result of something like a designer or designers, there is no reason whatsoever to suppose that this designer or these designers have any of the properties Christians associate with God, other than something like intelligence. There is no reason to think that the designer(s) are limited to one (monotheism), no reason to think that they are infinite, no reason to think that they are particularly person-like, no reason to think that they care what humans do, or have any rewards in store for those that behave one way rather than another, or have any concern for human suffering or human happiness, or for anything like justice. Indeed, on these latter points, Philo thinks the evidence not only doesn't point to a caring God, but points towards powers that don't care one way or the other about human happiness; if humans are happy, fine; if they are not, that's OK too. And so, Philo goes on, the argument from design certainly doesn't support any inferences about how people ought to be required to act, in order to please God, and doesn't support any form of religious intolerance at all.
Earlier in the Dialogues Philo considered something a bit like the theory of evolution. The idea of survival of the fittest is formulated fairly clearly, and considered as an explanation of some aspects of the argument from design, like the fact that humans like fruit and there are lots of trees that bear fruit. Philo and Cleanthes (the advocate of the design argument) seem to agree that a principle like survival of the fittest cannot explain a lot of things. In particular, we seem to have a lot of attributes that are not strictly required for survival. We have two hands, but clearly we could get by with one, for example.
This objection to evolutionary explanations isn't very convincing in the modern setting, where the theory has been developed in such a way as to explain the propogation of even slightly incremental advantages, and not just requirements, for survival. And at least some evolutionalists appeal to "spandrels," neat features of organisms that arise as a consequence of other features that are explained by the primary evolutionary processes.
Still, as a form of argument it is the beginning (as far as I know) of an interesting line of argument or at least of inquiry. The scientific inquiry is: is there anything we find in living things that can't be explained by evolutionary processes?
Philosophically, the questions seem to me to be these:
(a) what properties does a system have to have (if there are any such properties) such that there couldn't be such things (or at least it is incredibly unlikely that there would be such things) without there being an intelligent designer involved in their creation;
(b) Can evolution account for designers, and if so what kinds of designers?
(c) what properties would a system that meets criterion (a) have to have to pass the further test that it couldn't have been designed by an evolved designer?
Another way of looking at much of what Philo says can be put in terms relevant to question (c). Designed things may not require as much intelligence as one might think. The clipper ships of Hume's times would suggest some kind of genius, but, Philo thinks, when we consider the centuries that have gone into designing sailing ships, we see that the intelligence to make each incremental improvement needn't be quite so astounding. There is nothing that calls for an infinite intelligence, as far as Philo can see. Philo think our own world could well be the result of a amateurish early effort at world-making by a infant diety. Gary Larson has a wonderful cartoon about this, showing an obviously disappointed god pulling a cracked and burnt earth from an oven. (I searched for it for a while on the web, but came across a reasonable plea from Larson that his cartoons not be posted on the net, so gave up. Go to your local bookstore, leaf through his collections, and buy the book. It's worth every penny.)
At any rate, it's worthwhile distinguishing the philosophical enterprize of trying to argue from design to something like a Christian God, from that of inquiring into the nature of design, and what limits, if any, there are on evolutionary theory in accounting for certain kinds of systems without appeal to designers. To return to Paley's watch, I don't think that if I found a watch in a desert, I would imagine that it grew there, as a first-order product of evolutionary processes. I would hypothesize a human designer. If that were shown to be not the case, I would hypothesize a non-human designer. If the watch were not alive, I couldn't see how it could be a product of evolution.
But is there some more abstract property, that living systems might exhibit, that can't be explained by evolution with all of the bells and whistles and spandrels modern evolutionary theory has at its disposal? If the various naturalistic projects going on in philosophy show that there is no property of humans --- not intentionality, not moral sensibility, not consciousness --- that can't be explained on evolutionary principles, these bells and whistles will include appeal to human ingenuity. It's pretty clear from Judge Jones' own opinion that the "design science" appealed to by the IDM haven't found any such thing. But that shouldn't close of philosophical inquiry.
Judge Jones takes his task to be to look at the way the resolution passed by the Dover Pa. schoolboard actually came into existence. He does a very good job of arguing that the movement that culminated in the requirement that biology teacher read a little message about intelligent design came from institutes and thinkers that are part of the Creationist movement; apparently at the time that creationism was dissed by the Supreme Court, many of the documents used in the intelligent design movement were created by a "global replace" of "intelligent design" for "creation."
Thank goodness, though, the Judge allows that discussion of intelligent design still has a place in the classroom, in philosophy and religion classes. So I can keep teaching Hume.