Intelligent Design and Pastafarianism


Intelligent Design (ID) claims that there are features of the universe and of living things that are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process of natural selection.  As I pointed out in an earlier post, it is a modern form of the traditional teleological argument for the existence of God, repackaged to avoid specifying the nature or identity of the designer.

The ID movement is a direct outgrowth of the failed attempts to teach creationism in the public schools in the 1980s.  The movement is centered around in the Center for Science and Culture which was established in 1996 as the creationist wing of the Discovery Institute to promote religiously-based social, academic and political changes.  Leaders of the movement say that ID exposes the limitations of scientific orthodoxy and of the secular philosophy of Naturalism.  ID proponents assert that Science should not be limited to naturalism and should not demand the adoption of a naturalistic philosophy that dismisses out-of-hand any explanation which contains a supernatural cause.  The overall goal of the movement is to cast creationism as a scientific concept.

The consensus in the scientific community is that ID is not science.  It’s also not particularly good theology.

Elections in Kansas in 2004 gave religious conservatives a majority on the Board of Education, and, influenced by the Discovery Institute, they arranged a set of hearings on evolution.  The following August, the Kansas State Board of Education drafted new “science standards that require critical analysis of evolution—including scientific evidence refuting the theory,” which had the effect of mandating that intelligent design should be taught.  The new standards also provided a definition of science that did not preclude supernatural explanations and were approved by a 6-4 vote on 8 November, 2005.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is the deity of a parody religion called the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  The religion professes belief in a supernatural creator called the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Spaghedeity, which resembles spaghetti and meatballs.

The first public exposure of Pastafarianism can be dated to 2005, when physicist Bobby Henderson sent an open letter regarding the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the teaching of ID in science classes to the Kansas Board of Education.  Henderson asserted that his Pastafarian theory of creation and ID have equal validity, stating “if the Intelligent Design theory is not based on faith, but instead another scientific theory, as is claimed, then you must also allow our theory to be taught, as it is also based on science, not on faith.”

Henderson proposed many of the Pastafarian beliefs in reaction to common arguments by advocates of ID.  The central belief is that there is an invisible and undetectable Flying Spaghetti Monster which created the entire universe “after drinking heavily.”  All evidence for evolution was planted by the Flying Spaghetti Monster in an effort to test Pastafarians’ faith. [1]  When scientific measurements  are made, the Flying Spaghetti Monster “is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage.”

According to the Pastafarian belief system, pirates are “absolute divine beings” and the original Pastafarians.  Their false portrayal as “thieves and outcasts” is misinformation spread by Christian theologians in the Middle Ages and by the Hare Krishnas.  Pastafarianism says that pirates were “peace-loving explorers and spreaders of good will” who distributed candy to small children.

The inclusion of pirates in Pastafarianism illustrates that correlation does not equal causation.  Henderson put forth the argument that “global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of pirates since the 1800s.”  A chart accompanying the original letter showed that as the number of pirates decreased, global temperatures increased.  The clear nonsense of this demonstrates how statistically significant correlations do not necessarily imply a causal relationship.

Pastafarianism is obviously a joke, but it claims to have equal scientific validity with ID.  Does it?  What claims does the ID movement make?

One of the claims made in support of ID is that many living things have structures that could not have evolved be cause they are irreducibly complex.  The concept of irreducible complexity was put forward by Michael Behe, who defines it as “a single system which is composed of several well-matched interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.” [2]

Behe uses the example of a mousetrap to illustrate this idea.  A mousetrap consists of several interacting pieces—a base, a catch, a spring and a hammer—all of which must be in place for the mousetrap to work.  Removal of any one piece destroys the mousetrap.  ID advocates assert that natural selection could not create irreducibly complex systems, because the selectable function is present only when all parts are assembled.  Behe originally proposed that irreducibly complex biological mechanisms include the bacterial flagellum of E. coli, the blood clotting cascade, cilia, and the adaptive immune system.

We should note that the irreducible complexity argument assumes that the necessary parts of a system have always been necessary and could not have been added sequentially.  However something that is at first simply advantageous can later become necessary as other parts of a structure change.  Evolution often seems to proceed by altering preexisting parts or by removing them from an organism rather than by adding new things.  This provides a scaffolding which can support an irreducibly complex structure until it is able to stand on its own.  Behe himself has since confessed that his argument against Darwinism does not add up to a logical proof.  Irreducible complexity has remained a popular argument among advocates of intelligent design.  However, in the trial in Dover, Pennsylvania, the court held that “Professor Behe’s claim for irreducible complexity has been refuted in peer-reviewed research papers and has been rejected by the scientific community at large.” [3]

ID proponents also raise occasional arguments outside biology.  For instance, they cite the fine-tuning of universal constants that make matter and life possible and argue that this is not attributable to chance.  This fine tuning includes the values of fundamental physical constants; the relative strength of nuclear forces, electromagnetism, and gravitational attraction between fundamental particles; as well as the ratios of masses of such particles.  ID proponents correctly note that if any of these values were even slightly different, the universe would be dramatically different.  It would be impossible for the chemical elements and the lager features of the universe, from molecules to galaxies, to form.  Thus, they argue, an Intelligent Designer of life was needed to ensure that the requisite features were present to achieve that particular outcome.  Scientists almost unanimously have responded that this argument cannot be tested and is not scientifically productive. [4]  The failure to follow the procedures of scientific discourse and the failure to submit work to the scientific community that withstands scrutiny have weighed against intelligent design’s being considered valid science.  To date, the intelligent design movement has yet to have an article published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Critics note that many points raised by intelligent design proponents are essentially arguments from ignorance.  The logical fallacy of argument from ignorance uses a lack of evidence for one view to erroneously “prove” the correctness of another view.  ID theory is an argument from ignorance because it relies upon a lack of knowledge for its conclusion—lacking a natural explanation for certain specific aspects of evolution, ID postulates intelligent cause. [5]  Most scientists would reply that the unexplained is not necessarily unexplainable.  “We don’t know yet” is a more appropriate response than invoking a cause outside of Science.  ID assumes a false dichotomy where either evolution or design is the proper explanation, and any perceived failure of evolution becomes a victory for intelligent design.  But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and the use of evolution does not preclude the existence of a Designer.

ID is really a “god of the gaps” argument, which has the following form:

Major Premise:  There is a gap in scientific knowledge.

Minor Premise:  The gap is filled with acts of God (or The Intelligent Designer).

Conclusion:  God (or The Intelligent Designer) exists.

Q. E. D.

This god of the gaps argument is the theological version of an argument from ignorance. [6] A key feature of this type of argument is that it merely answers outstanding questions with explanations (often supernatural) that are unverifiable and ultimately themselves subject to unanswerable questions.

Consider Thor, the Norse god of lightning.  My Norse ancestors believed that lightning was the path of Thor’s hammer as he threw it across the sky.  I, on the other hand, believe that lightning is the result of static charges building up between the Earth and clouds during a storm, resulting in flashes of electric current to neutralize the charges.  Thor, a god of the gap, is not required to explain the existence of lightning.  Similarly, Helios and  Apollo are not needed to explain the Sun; it’s a star.

The 19th-century Scottish evangelical Henry Drummond criticized those Christians who point to the things that Science can not yet explain.  He referred to the “gaps which they will fill up with God,” and urged them to embrace all nature as God’s, as the work of an immanent God who is infinitely grander than the occasional wonder-worker that is the god of an old theology.  During the 20th century, the frontiers of Science pushed deeper, expanding our understanding of nature.  Those who believed in a god of the gaps found the habitat for their deity rapidly shrinking.  For some, this brought on a crisis of faith.

But a god-of-the-gaps is not the same as the God of the Bible.  The God of the Bible is the Creator of the universe who was wise enough and powerful enough to command, “Let there be …”—and it was so.  The evidence He has left on His handiwork shows that wisdom and power.

The Intelligent Designer postulated by ID’s proponents is not a god of such wisdom and power.  He’s a tinkerer who has had to fiddle with the universe in order to fill it with the creatures he desired.  Trying to connect that god with the One I serve strikes me as lousy theology.  When my God set the universe in motion, His wisdom allowed for mankind to have freewill, yet His power providentially arranged the motion of the planets to provide signs in the sky when they were needed.

NOTES

[1]  This is similar to the Omphalos hypothesis which suggests that in order for the world to be functional God created the Earth with mountains and canyons, trees with growth rings, and Adam and Eve with hair, fingernails, and navels (omphalos is Greek for “navel”)  Thus, none of the evidence that we can see of the apparent age of the universe can be taken as reliable.

[2]  Behe, Michael, Molecular Machines:  Experimental Support for the Design Inference, found at  http://www.apologetics.org/machines.html (web page no longer active).

[3]  Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, 00 F. Supp. 2d 707 (M.D. Pa. 2005).

[4]  The finely tuned values of these universal constants are necessary for life to exist.  If God were going to create life as we know it, He would need to make the universe as we know it.  This is an example of a true statement which cannot be tested using the scientific method.  It is a weak form of the anthropic principle and essentially a tautology—that life is able to exist because the universe is able to support life.

[5]  Hence, God must have had to manually intervened to tweak things at various step in Creation rather than getting it right the first time when He commanded things into existence.

[6]  The argument from ignorance, also known as argumentum ad ignorantiam (“appeal to ignorance”) or argument by lack of imagination, is a logical fallacy in which it is claimed that a premise is true only because it has not been proved false or that a premise is false only because it has not been proved true.

2 thoughts on “Intelligent Design and Pastafarianism

  1. It’s hypocritical to state, on the one hand, that certain natural mechanisms are too complex to have occurred by themselves and therefore require an explicit designer, and then insist that that designer, who is even more complex, required no designer of his own.

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