A small concession on intelligent design

Let me put it this way. I do believe, e.g., that the human body has enormous intelligence inscribed within it – thousands of times more so than the medical establishment (which may have mapped 1/10 of 1% of the body’s operating intelligence) can fathom. The same for the seahorse, the butterfly, and the praying mantis. How does the fertilized egg know what it has to do to become a fully elaborated starfish? What intelligence drives a species of cactus to develop just these kinds of thorns?

My concession is that I believe there is enormous intelligence driving through these processes. But I disagree with “intelligent design” people on probably everything else. I see this enormous intelligence first of all as evolved intelligence, and certainly not the result of an anthropomorphic god deciding in an anthropomorphic way on what features he will give each species (and then jealously demanding acknowledgment from said creatures).  Does this make me a materialist? Not really. I believe the physical universe is one abstraction of reality, and hence I believe that there are transcendental layers to reality (or other abstractions of reality) as well. And I believe that the intelligence we see infused in physical reality may be tangled up in that transcendental manifold.

That said, I am absolutely opposed to intelligent design being taught alongside evolution as if it too were science. I would, however, be in favor of teaching philosophy to kids at early ages, and intelligent design might have an appropriate place there, so long as it doesn’t become too normative and kids are allowed to think critically about the issues, attacking as well as embracing various ideas of God.

8 thoughts on “A small concession on intelligent design

  1. Don’t give them this concession. It’s not necessary. I don’t see why you feel you have to do this. All species carry over adaptations from their ancestors. So, all the great things about, say, our skin, has been evolving not over our species’ lifespan, but over the lifespan of our skinned ancestors. That’s just skin, multiply this by every aspect of our body from our cells to our brains, and it’s clear that there is no reason to believe that there is an intelligence guiding evolution. 🙂


  2. Evolved intelligence (I prefer instinct) indeed. The role of conscious activity is miniscule in the overall evolution of life on this rock. Most of the “learning” living tissues have done over these last billions of years can only be described, scientifically, as passive and involuntary.

    Ascribing this learning to “transcendental layers” of reality is just changing the name of the deity one wishes to have faith in (because one is seeking to order the randomness of life?).

    Some life finds ways to evolve, others, after awhile, are unable to find such ways. But our continued science seems to grant a pretty simple answer: in the only reality (the one which existed before humans, one-by-one, began distorting it), Life, once sparked, naturally, instinctually, tends to evolve for success.

    Humans want to project intelligence onto Life only because we are intelligent, and we want to re-create Life in our own likeness and image. We do this at our peril.


  3. Two follow-up issues: (1) Can’t you take God off the table, say there was no such creator, say that life evolved spontaneously, and nonetheless say that all species have evolved an incredible amount of intelligence in their DNA? (2) Although that first issue requires nothing transcendental – one can be a pure materialist and still accept it, I’ll play out another position and say that one can reject God and religion and nonetheless say that the purely materialist view is naïve. When I say “transcendental,” I mean not god but rather that there are some abstractions of reality that are outside the scope of materialism and science. If time permits, read my blog entry on “Subjectivity and the Limits of Science” and let me know what you think.


  4. 1) Yes, indeed. My position is that living instinct, right down to the molecular level, is inherently intelligent (by its very nature, with no other agency but a conducive environment).

    2) I agree that reality is chock-a-block with aspects to which humans are blind or self-shielded. I’ll read your Subjectivity entry and think on a follow-up expansion to this. Have a good night.


  5. I re-read the Subjectivity entry, which is instructive here from the standpoint of abstraction. I differ slightly with you about the nature of “objective.” To me, the truly objective consists of reality which occurs while we humans aren’t looking. Once we train our attention on anything, whether for practical, intellectual or emotional purposes, we subject it to our own faculties and the resulting abstractions. This seems to fit nicely with your idea of transcendental layers of reality, though I could quibble with the word “transcendental.” How about “unattended” layers of reality (the empty spaces between the atoms of your pencil abstraction)?

    I agree with you that a purely materialist view is naive, perhaps as superstitious as the concepts of God and religion.


    • Note Ivan’s reply to “Subjectivity.” In my response to him, I discarded the problematic word, “objective,” and divided the world as Kant does — into the “phenomenal world” and the “noumenal world.” Perhaps I should say that science studies not the ‘objective world’ but the ‘phenomenal world’ (or the world as it has been mediated/constructed through our five senses). The noumenal world (the world that’s there “while we humans aren’t looking,” as you say) is by definition inaccessible to us, but I think Kant says that we need it as a logical prerequisite to make sense of the phenomenal world. In any event, what you are defining as the “objective” world would be the “noumenal” world in this schema, and it would fall beyond the scope of science, which could only access the phenomenal world. I suppose if I had to deploy my “transcendental layers” concept into this Kantian schema, I’d say that (1) science is limited in scope to the phenomenal world, which corresponds roughly to the material world, (2) lived experience is larger than that scope, and much of what we value in life – what we normally think of as the “subjective” side of human experience — seems to transcend that level of reality (as argued in my original entry on subjectivity), and (3) visionary poets, Zen masters, etc., may well illuminate those aspects of lived reality that remain out of scope for science. (Or, their epistemologies abstract lived reality differently, but perhaps not less meaningfully, than science does.)


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