Does life indicate merely the outcome of naturalistic purposeless material processes, or does it show purposeful activity of an intelligent agent, who has created life and left marks of intelligence on it.
Is there a continuous historical chain of natural causes which goes backward from apes to smaller animals to reptiles to slugs to slime molds to algae, to some kind of origina pre-biotic soup, with no event in the chain of causes ever signaling intelligent activity?
Science assumes that features of the world can display clear marks of intelligence and thereby signal the activity of an intelligent agent (e.g., anthropology, archeology, and forensic science).
The intelligent objects inferred this way don't have to all be human or even earthbound (such as NASA's Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence program--SETI--in which certain radio signals from outer space are claimed to be signaling the presence of an extra-terrestrial intelligence).
So there are reliable criteria for inferring the activity of an intelligent agent. Does natural history display marks of intelligence and thereby warrant such a design inference?
Darwinists say that natural history does not warrant a design inference. All the objective phenomena of the history of life can be explained by purely naturalistic or materialistic factors. The history of life is explicable on the basis of differential reproduction in populations or natural selection, and the mainly random interplay or random mutation of the known processes of heredity. Therefore, humanity is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have humanity in mind beforehand. The history of life was produced by purely naturalistic factors.
Science by definition excludes everything except the material and the natural. It follows that all talk of purpose, design, and intelligence is false from the start. Nature is objective. Knowledge cannot be obtained by interpreting phenomena in terms of final causes or purposes.
Science has uniformly failed to make headway by appealing to an intelligent or purposeful cause.
But a concept may yet prove useful in the future.
By defining science as inquiry that is only what can be explained by naturalistic purposeless material processes, we rule out intelligent design from the domain of science from the start.
That way you don't have to debate, but you can still act cool and just dismiss the opposing view.
I might think that intelligent design is at least as good an answer to the origins question in biology as naturalistic purposelessness. Science is limited to both its questions and the answers it can give. The Intelligent Design Theory is not so naive.
Science is the only universally valid form of knowledge. This not to say that scientific knowledge is true or infallible. But whatever is purportedly the best scientific account of a given phenomenon demands our immediate and unconditional assent. This is regarded as a matter of intellectual honesty. Thus to consciously resist what is currently the best scientific theory in a given area is, in the words of Richard Dawkins, to be either stupid, wicked, or insane.The only universally valid form of knowledge within our culture is science. Within late 20th century western society neither religion, nor philosophy, nor literature, nor music, nor art makes any such cognitive claim. Religion in particular is seen as making no universal claims that are obligatory across the board. The contrast with science is here blaring. Science has given us technology--computers that work as much here as they do in the third world. Science has cured our diseases. Whether we are black, red, yellow, or white, the same antibiotics cure the same infections. It's therefore clear why relegating Intelligent Design Theory to any realm other than science (e.g., religion) ensures that Blind Watchmaker Theory will remain the only intellectually respectable option for the explanation of life.
But both theories inquire into definite matters of fact. If each of the cells that make up living things were to have emblazoned on them in clear script the phrase "made by Yahweh," there would be no question that Intelligent Design Theory is correct and Blind Watchmaker Theory is incorrect. Don't let the science-fiction character of this example distract you. The point is that Intelligent Design Theory and Blind Watchmaker Theory are both real possibilities so long as one doesn't impose any logically prior conditions that restrict in advance what can count as a viable option in the explanation of life. Granted, cells don't have emblazoned on them the phrase "made by Yahweh." But we wouldn't know this unless we actually looked at cells under the microscope.
It's here that we come to the heart of the design theorists' critique of Darwinism. Logically, Blind Watchmaker Theory and Intelligent Design Theory are real possibilities. What's more, as mutually exclusive and exhaustive possibilities, one of these theses has to be correct (I'm sorry, but at this level of discourse the law of the excluded middle definitely holds). The Darwinist establishment has so defined science that Blind Watchmaker Theory alone can constitute an appropriate scientific answer to the question How did life originate and develop? Nevertheless, when Stephen J. Gould, Michael Ruse, Richard Dawkins, George Gaylord Simpson, and their many disciples assert the truth of Blind Watchmaker Theory, they purport that Blind Watchmaker Theory is the conclusion of a scientific argument based on empirical evidence. But of course it is nothing of the sort. The empirical evidence is in fact weak, and the conclusion follows necessarily as a strict logical deduction once science is as a matter of definition restricted to purposeless, naturalistic, material processes. Blind Watchmaker Theory is therefore built into the very premises with which we started. It is a winner by default.
Logicians have names for this--circular reasoning and begging the question being among them. The view that science must be restricted solely to purposeless, naturalistic, material processes also has a name. It's called methodological naturalism. So long as methodological naturalism sets the ground rules for how the game of science is to be played, Intelligent Design Theory has no chance Hades. Phillip Johnson makes this point eloquently. So does Alvin Plantinga. In his work on methodological naturalism Plantinga remarks that if one accepts methodological naturalism, then Darwinism is the only game in town.
Okay, since Blind Watchmaker Theory is so poorly supported empirically and since the scientific community is telling us that Intelligent Design Theory isn't science, what's wrong with a simple profession of ignorance? In response to the question How did life originate and develop? what's wrong with simply saying We don't know? (Such a profession of ignorance, by the way, was the reason Michael Denton's book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis was panned by the Darwinist establishment.) As philosophers of science Thomas Kuhn and Larry Laudan have pointed out, for scientific paradigms to shift, there has to be a new paradigm in place ready to be shifted into. You can't shift into a vacuum. Napoleon III put it this way: "One never really destroys a thing till one has replaced it." If you're going to reject a reigning paradigm, you have to have a new improved paradigm with which to replace it. Blind Watchmaker Theory is the reigning paradigm. But what alternative is there to Blind Watchmaker Theory? Logically, the only alternative is Intelligent Design Theory. But Intelligent Design Theory isn't part of science. This is a case of Hobson's choice. There's no pleading ignorance and no shifting away because Blind Watchmaker Theory is the only game in town.
Note that I'm not saying Blind Watchmaker Theory is a tautology. The tautology criticism has been a long-standing criticism offered against Darwinism. Accordingly, Darwinism is tautologous because it asserts the survival of the fittest, but then turns around and identifies the fittest with those who survive. This sort of tautology is not what we've been talking about here. Blind Watchmaker Theory has genuine content. It sets definite limits on the type of world we inhabit. Blind Watchmaker Theory is not true simply as a matter of linguistic convention. The problem is that Blind Watchmaker Theory purports to be the conclusion of a scientific argument based on empirical evidence, but is actually a strict logical consequence of a prior assumption about how to do science, namely the assumption of methodological naturalism.
In the words of Vladimir Lenin, What is to be done? Design theorists aren't at all bashful about answering this question: The ground rules of science have to be changed. We need to realize that methodological naturalism is the functional equivalent of a full blown metaphysical naturalism. Metaphysical naturalism asserts that the material world is all there is (in the words of Carl Sagan, "the cosmos is all there ever was, is, or will be"). Methodological naturalism asks us for the sake of science to pretend that the material world is all there is. But once science comes to be taken as the only universally valid form of knowledge within a culture, it follows at once that methodological and metaphysical naturalism become for all intents and purposes indistinguishable. They are functionally equivalent. What needs to be done, therefore, is to break the grip of naturalism in both guises, methodological and metaphysical. And this happens once we realize that it was not empirical evidence, but the power of a metaphysical world view that was all along urging us to adopt methodological naturalism in the first place. Yes, the heavens still declare the glory of God, and yes, God's invisible attributes are clearly seen from God's creation. But to hear what the heavens declare and to see what the creation makes manifest, we need to get rid of our metaphysical blinders.