Once Again, Why Intelligent Design Is Not a “God-of-the-Gaps” Argument
by Jonathan McLatchie
The “god-of-the-gaps” objection to intelligent design is one that we have addressed numerous times at ENV and elsewhere (most recently, here). Yet even though the argument has been convincingly refuted time and again, it lives on in the popular literature.
My friend Jamie Franklin recently published a post on his website explaining why he has come to reject the claims of ID. His main concern is that ID presents a god-of-the-gaps argument, one that is based on what we don’t know, rather than what we do know, about life. Because Jamie’s thoughts are echoed in many other sources, they deserve a reply. He writes:
Basically, it seems to me that [intelligent design] is a God of the gaps type argument. This is when we look at something in the world that science cannot currently explain and attribute it to some kind of supernatural force. So, for example, at some point somewhere in history someone probably said that the god Thor was responsible for thunder and lightning in the sky. At that time there was no naturalistic explanation for thunder and lightning. This is a God of the gaps argument.
This comparison fails on so many levels one barely knows where to begin. It is very difficult to envision how someone could offer an inferential design argument based on the occurrence of thunder and lightning. On the other hand, it is not at all difficult to imagine how one could offer such an argument based upon the digital information encoded in the DNA molecule and the intricate nanotechnology that is so abundant in living systems. Indeed, a key selling point of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was that it served as a
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designer substitute. It could produce the appearance of design without the need for intelligent activity. Even Richard Dawkins, at the beginning of The Blind Watchmaker, asserts that “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” No natural explanation for thunder and lightning has ever claimed to offer a designer substitute.
The analogy offered by my friend also confuses observational and historical science. Thunder and lightening are a phenomenon that we can readily observe, repeatedly in real time. As such, the phenomenon is accessible to experiment and measurement (although, admittedly, the causes of lightning are still not fully understood). The origin and evolution of life, on the other hand, are historical events and therefore (since they cannot be directly observed) require a different sort of reasoning process, an inference-based methodology.
Historical scientific inquiry often employs a method of reasoning known as the abductive method of inference to the best explanation from multiple competing hypotheses. This methodology asks, “Given what we know about the explanatory efficacy of the various competing hypotheses, which cause best explains the evidence we observe?” In all of our experience of cause and effect, we know that complex and sequence-specific information, when it is traced back to its source, uniformly originates with an intelligent cause. Therefore, when we find complex and sequence-specific digital information encoded in the hereditary molecules of DNA and RNA, the most plausible candidate explanation — given what we do know about the nature of information — is that it also originated with a source of intelligent agency…
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