Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Why Intelligent Design Supporters Insist That ID Must Be True

It has taken me a very long while, but I think I finally understand why Intelligent Design (ID) exists, why websites like Uncommon Descent exist, and why the regular commentators who support ID at those websites are so determined to assert the absolute reality of ID, in spite of a complete lack of empirical evidence.

It’s all right here in this quote about the ultimate justification for morality:
“Of course [the validity of an objective moral code] is all dependent upon the truth of the existence of God and the truthfulness of scripture - most of us here are aware of that.”

I believe that this is the crux of the whole science versus ID debate: if there is no empirical evidence for the existence of God, then it all comes down entirely to pure, unsupported supposition. Yes, one can assert that God exists, and can assert that therefore whatever God asserts must, by definition, be the absolute objective truth, but by the standards of scientific logic (which are now almost universally accepted as providing the most reliable evidence for descriptions of reality), arguments based purely and solely on assertion are no longer considered valid.

Ergo, without some independent source of evidence – independent of the original assertion, that is – then it all comes down to dueling assertions, which means that eventually it all comes down to force majeure: whoever can make the most forceful assertion gets to define the Truth.

Therefore, there must be some kind of empirical evidence for the existence of God. The fact that no one has ever found any is completely irrelevant, and will remain so indefinitely. It also explains why it is perfectly legitimate to deliberately distort, misinterpret, omit, or otherwise alter empirical evidence if it does not support the otherwise unsupportable assertion that God exists. [1]

Here is the way it looks to me:

Condition #1:

• If a moral code is not objective, it is ipso facto invalid.

• The moral code asserted by God is the only objective moral code. [2]

• If God does not exist, then there is no basis for the assertion that there is an objective moral code.

• Therefore, if God does not exist, anything is permitted.

Condition #2:

• An argument supported purely by assertion(s) is invalid. [3]

• Ever since Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum, it has generally been considered necessary that there should be empirical evidence (either direct or indirect) in support of arguments.

• Ergo, there must be empirical evidence in support of the assertion that God exists. Otherwise, there can be no objective morals, and therefore anything is permitted.


Since God must exist (otherwise there are no morals and anything is permitted), then there must be empirical evidence for His existence. Finding none, it is therefore necessary to pretend that some exists, or to make some up. Otherwise there can be no objective basis for morals, society will necessarily collapse into chaos, and we will all inevitably become insatiable, maniacal, cannibalistic, orgiastic mass murderers, rapists, and thieves.

It also seems to me that this is the reason why ethical philosophers now virtually unanimously agree that ethical prescriptions cannot be derived from statements derived from empirical science (i.e. "ought" cannot be derived from "is"). To do so not only conflates two separate domains of logic (i.e. deductive versus inductive), but also requires that there be empirical evidence for something (i.e. ethical prescriptions) that are not and cannot be justified by empirical analysis (i.e. the workings of nature). Yes, we can use empirical analysis to determine if our ethical prescriptions have brought about the goals which we have decided to pursue, but we cannot use empirical analysis to formulate those goals.


[1] Unsupportable on the basis of empirical evidence, that is.

[2] An obvious corollary to this is that each and every one of God’s moral prescriptions is both objective and absolutely True, by definition. Hence the argument that anything God prescribes (such as the massacre of the Canaanites) is morally right, simply by virtue of His saying so.

[3] To be specific, arguments based purely on deductive (i.e. Aristotelian) logic have been largely superseded by arguments based on inductive logic.


As always, comments, criticisms, and suggestions are warmly welcomed!


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At 4/23/2009 07:53:00 AM, Blogger Allen MacNeill said...

Here's a comment that came in via email:

"It seems that the laws that one must comply with supercede any "moral code". One may think otherwise, but if you break the law, get apprehended, etc., you are punished regardless of your higher authority. These laws seem to do a good job of keeping us in line and cooperating, surviving. These laws are learned, not genetically based."

At 4/23/2009 10:03:00 AM, Anonymous Cynara Lyons said...

I think it's more schizoid for Christians than you suggest, Allen. Yes, they desire scientific or "empirical" evidence that their deity exists, but if they got it, then that would collapse their "by faith alone" paradigm--that God removed Himself from the natural world so humans would have to seek Him (and believe in Him) through faith alone. So they're really ambivalent about the whole "scientific evidence" issue regarding God's existence. They'd much prefer that everyone--which means every single human being on the planet--believe in their god without the "need" for scientific proof.

As scientific progress continues to flesh out our understanding of our world and increases in credibility, Christians look harder for some kind of independent, empirical proof of God's existence that they can point to in arguments with atheists. But they don't want it for themselves; they'll tell you they don't need it--they're washed in the blood of Jesus, and that's good enough for them. They've met The Man.

Kudos to you for putting your finger on (part of) their mental illness, but you'll never get them to change their minds through reason. Remember: they believe they eat the flesh and drink the blood of their god, and they hear voices in their heads.

At 4/23/2009 12:42:00 PM, Anonymous Dan said...

I have to note that Cynara's observation that collapsing faith (by allowing for beliefs to be evidence-based) sounds a lot like Atran's view of Religion. That is, without a "hard-to-fake commitment to a counterfactual and counterintuitive world of supernatural agents who master people's existential anxieties," religion would cease to be religion.

It seems that as long as we have religion, we will have a subset of our population trying to bravely make the most astoundingly ignorant affirmations. The affirmations may change slightly over time, but they would still be popping up in groups of "true believers", who'd then be rewarded as "honorably devout" within those groups.

Or at least that's what I learned from Atran, as you've also said Allen. And I tend to think it's correct to the point of being a truism.

At 4/23/2009 09:39:00 PM, Blogger NickM said...

I agree that morality is one of the key issues motivating ID/creationism.

I think you are dreaming if you think it is an effective reply to just say that Moore's Naturalistic Fallacy exists and we can't reason from facts to values and morality is just subjective opinion and that's it and everyone who doesn't like it should just deal. This is just *emphasizing* the very fear the ID/creationists had in the first place.

Read Mary Midgely's "The Ethical Primate" for an alternative solution. See discussion, and observe how it pretty much blew the mind of a standard, intelligent, evangelical Christian hard-core ID fan:


Mary Midgley and Stephen R. L. Clark (1980). "The Absence of a Gap between Facts and Values." Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, Vol. 54, (1980), pp. 207-223+225-240. URL:

A summary:

"It follows that the 'naturalistic fallacy', as G. E. Moore described it, is a stuffed dragon, and that philosophers must finally stop marching around with its head balanced on their spears."

At 4/24/2009 07:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The evidence of evolution is evidence of the progression of design, presumed understandably at the time and beyond to be the work of nature.meanwhile in the 21st century surely we can understand the progression of design by advanced science mistaken by our ancestors as 'god or gods'. Our scientists are now starting to create life, then why not other more advanced scientists, in other solar systems?


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