Monday, February 07, 2005

Intelligent Design

Here's my letter to the New York Times in response to the 2/7/05 opinion article by Michael Behe, biology prof at Leheigh, in defense of Intelligent Design. As you could have surmised, not a word of biological science was included, just phenomenological apercus by someone who looks at biological phenomena a lot.

Editor: Michael Behe is a scientist when he's at work and a philosopher when he's at home. His nice arguments for intelligent design owe nothing to science. They are a familiar rework of the philosopher John Wisdom's* musings back in the 40s: in a nutshell, "if there is a garden then there is a gardener." Dr. Behe talks of "the appearance of design" in nature. There you have it. Nature appears designed to us because we experience it entirely through our brains and specifically through our intelligence. We see intelligent design because that is all we are physiologically able to see. Frogs might see the world as stupid, since a frog's perception of it is "that which passes near enough my tongue to get eaten." At bottom, there are two schools of thought: 1. The world is too complex to have been created by blind physical processes." 2. "The world is too complex to have been created except by blind physical processes." If you can't appreciate the humbling redundancy and scope of random physical process, then you have settled for a lesser God.

*My apologies. An earlier version of this article attributed the "garden" argument to J.O. Urmson. Here is the text from which Wisdom's account was elaborated:

"Two people return to their long neglected garden and find among the weeds a few of the old plants surprisingly vigorous. One says to the other. 'It must be that a gardener has been coming and doing something about these plants'. Upon inquiry they find that no neighbour has ever seen anyone at work in their garden. The first man says to the other, 'He must have worked while people slept'. The other says. 'No, someone would have heard him and besides, anybody who cared about the plants would have kept down these weeds'. The first man says, 'Look at the way these are arranged. There is purpose and a feeling for beauty here. I believe that someone comes, someone invisible to mortal eyes. I believe that the more carefully we look the more we shall find confirmation of this'. They examine the garden ever so carefully and sometimes they come on new things suggesting that a gardener comes and sometimes they come on new things suggesting the contrary and even that a malicious person has been at work."

Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 1944-5, reprinted as Ch. X of Logic and Language, Vol. I (Blackwell, 1951), and in his Philosophy and Psychoanalysis (Blackwell, 1953).