Making Judgment

Making any judgment about whether a mechanism is intelligent or not appears rather difficult until we have been told considerably more about the way in which that mechanism operates. Officially, of course, we aren’t sup- posed to personify this mechanism, and it’s hard to understand just what the attribution of Intelligence even means if we resist the personification. If something counts as intelligent, wouldn’t it have psychological states and engage in psychological processes—and wouldn’t anything like that be very like a person? Intelligent design-ers do not address such questions. . . .

It’s simply a fallacy to suppose that because a particular structure or mechanism appears complex, then the causal agent that brought it about must be appropriately characterized as having “foreseen” or “planned” or “designed” the outcome. Even if intelligent designers were right in supposing that the phenomena they indicate couldn’t have evolved by natural selection, only a more explicit identification of the causal mechanism that was at work could justify the conclusion that that mechanism is intelligent.

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So, turning to the second question posed above, what help can intelligent design provide when we try to understand the difficulties it takes to beset Darwinism? How does it deal with the bacterial flagellum, for example?

If we take Behe at his word when he declares that he finds “the idea of common descent” to be “fairly convincing,” and that he has “no particular reason to doubt it,”* then we should suppose that bacteria with flagella emerged from ancestors who lacked flagella. In line with the simple addi- tive story he uses to make a history of natural selection appear implausible, he must suppose that the ancestors were missing a number of crucial pro- teins that the lucky descendants acquired, proteins that, once present, fit themselves together in the flagellum. If the intelligent design perspective is to help settle the unsolved problems of evolution, it would be good to have an alternative account that tells us how Intelligence facilitated the transition.

Unfortunately, the rest is silence. Neither in Behe’s writings, nor in those of any other intelligent design-er, is there the slightest indication of how Intelligence performs the magic that poor, limited, natural selection cannot. On the face of it, there are just two basic possibilities. The first option is that Intelligence arranges the environment so that the intermediates—the appar- ently hapless organisms, cluttered with useless proteins—are protected against elimination under natural selection. (If we were unofficially inclined, we might say that the good Lord tempers the wind to the shorn bacterium.) The second option is that Intelligence provides for coordinated mutations to arise. If 20 genetic changes are needed, it brings about all of them at once. Or we can mix elements of both options and suppose that Intelligence intro- duces mutations in clumps—first ten, say, and then another ten, or first seven, then another seven, then six—and arranges protective environments for the intermediates. Of course, any story along these lines raises serious doubts. Just how does the coordination of the genetic changes or the modifi- cation of the environment work?

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