Thursday, November 10, 2005

Viruses and Intelligent Design

The last few weeks I have been fighting an on again off again battle with a cold and today I am at hope trying to lick this thing after a sleepless night. It is humbling that a complex organism such as we are can be brought down by a small stretch of genetic material, not even a cell, namely a virus. Actually I feel like maybe several viruses have ganged up on me but that is another matter. I do wonder what viruses are for? After all if life came about through the agency of intelligent design, what about viruses? Viruses, we know evolve, and that point has been made enumerable times, for example about the bird flu in the Daily Kos at http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/10/11/14551/149 their discussion of ID. But ID proponents don't dispute evolution in the sense of "microevolution" and that viruses are capable of this sort of evolution. But there is a deeper problem for intelligent design proponents, and that is what did the intelligent designer make viruses for?

I know, the ID people claim that all that is sufficient is to show evidence of some aspect of the universe that is inexplicable to have arisen by chance and that the intelligent designer's nature cannot be discussed. See for example this discussion in slate: http://www.slate.com/id/2128238/?nav=navoa

Of course as pointed out in this article Behe and the other leading ID proponents are all party to the Wedge document from the Discovery Institute, and its pretty clear that most ID proponents equate the designer with the Christian God. See for instance this commentary by Phillip Johnson. Viruses and organisms that cause human diseases lead to a question of the intent of the intelligent designer? Is the intent that the universe be for people? And intent is the issue here:

Johnson notes in a Leadership University essay:

"Religion, like science, starts with assumptions or conclusions about reality. If we were created by God for a purpose, that is one starting point. If we are the accidental product of blind natural forces, that is a very different starting point. In the former case we try to learn the will of our creator, and in the latter case we discard that "intervening spirit" as an illusion and proceed to chart our own course."

So what is the will of the creator with respect to viruses and humans? Viruses even though they are not cells show very complex adaptations for penetrating the host cell and also for spreading from one host to the other. If viruses arose independently from cells then either this contradicts the ID premise that one cannot generate new genetic information or if viruses are as currently favored http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virus#Origins.3D.3D_.3D.3DAnd_Beginings, transposons and other bits of host genetic material that have escaped from host cells, what kind of designer would design a genetic system with so many problems? If the designer is intelligent then its intelligence is inexplicable in a very major way from human intelligence and is not designing the universe with us in mind in any way we can see. The ID people cannot wiggle out of this one by claiming the all one has to do is point to design not explainable (allegedly) by evolutionary theory because Johnson has opened the door to just such speculation since if we are created by God then science ought to be able to infer something about the will of the creator not just that the creator exists!

Perhaps Mr. Johnson ought to remember that the path to our modern understanding of evolution began with a natural philosophy with a very similar starting point, namely that by studying the universe we can learn something about the mind of God. See for example this article,http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/owen.html about Richard Owen, a contemporary of Darwin and who developed the concept of homology. So if Johnson is right once we detect alleged design, the intent of the designer is a legitimate scientific and philosophical concern and you cannot hide behind saying that God(oops) the designer is mysterious and beyond human comprehension. If viruses are designed then here is more evidence that the designer is not designing with us in mind. If viruses are not designed then the designer really messed up when designing genetic systems of organisms that allow bits of genetic material to escape. So the designer is really limited or not designing with us in mind.

Of course if the designer is truly mysterious and beyond human comprehension then this contradicts jouncing assertion that we can try to learn the will of the Creator through science and that Intelligent Design has anything to do with science at all. In fact I don't think Intelligent Design has much to do about anything except as a vehicle to further a religious and political agenda as expressed in the Wedge Strategy document. See http://www.antievolution.org/features/wedge.html for a link to the Wedge document.

As this document says:

"We are building on this momentum, broadening the wedge with a positive scientific alternative to materialistic scientific theories, which has come to be called the theory of intelligent design (ID). Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

So much for the argument that ID has nothing to do with religion!
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