Letters to the Editor
Russel Trojan's kind but critical letter regarding my article on design and creationism (Creation/Evolution XX) merits a measured response. His major points derive largely from a misunderstanding as to the original article's intended scope which may, alas, be my fault. But it is only through equivocation that Trojan makes counterpoints of any substance.
Trojan begins by making the qualified assertion that "the object [of my article] was to refute `the argument from design."' This is simply not the case.
The "argument from design" is irrefutable (dare I say unfalsifiable) since it perpetually postpones rather than answers the very question it poses. The argument's basic assertion is that, if watches imply watchmakers, then watchmakers must imply watchmakermakers. But doesn't this imply, in turn, that watchmakermakers have watchmakermakermakers, ad infinitum? Reason (or limited patience) would supposedly dictate that eventually we will run into a watch without a maker. Creationists prefer to call this ultimate watchmaker "God," but such a label is purely arbitrary and not justified by the argument itself. One can with equal justification decide that the "watches without watchmakers" are living organisms or the universe or a being named Bob Dobbs. What, then, does the argument teach us about this terminal craftsman? Nothing at all, really. Not even that he or she or it exists.
My article was intended to address the fact that contemporary proponents of the argument use it to justify belief in a personal god with attributes such as omniscience, beneficence, and omnipotence (that is, the suite of characteristics that defines the "creator" God of the Judeo-Christian tradition). The purpose of my article was not to refute the argument but to point out that its use to prove the existence of a god displaying such characteristics is not just inadequate but is directly contradicted by the nature of "creation" itself.
That Trojan would still like to somehow rescue this "intelligent designer" from the unreasonableness of its own creation is evident in Trojan's most blatant equivocation. He states in his fifth paragraph that "if we find organization we should look for an organizer." This statement is fair enough, and I know few persons of any philosophical persuasion who argue otherwise.
But Trojan then goes on to claim that this means that "reason should dictate the assumption of a creator when confronted with nature." Whoa, hold on there! If by creator Trojan means an amoral, limited, historically constrained process, such as natural selection (clearly, a strong candidate for the "organizer" of his previous comment), he might be on to something. But as far as I can tell, Trojan means no such thing. He chooses the very word which got Wendell Bird into trouble in front of the Supreme Court: creator—a term which carries with it all the baggage associated with orthodox creationism. I will concede that organization implies an organizer—but not an intelligent creator.
Science has got some pretty good leads as to the nature and characteristics of that organizer. But the last time I looked, those leads did not include the creator of orthodox creationism.
Trojan next goes on to quibble about the meaning of the word design. Why he should feel it necessary to extract a definition of design from my article puzzles me. My dictionary reveals eighteen definitions of which all but three specifically include the concept of purposeful intent and planning. What in my article would suggest that I advocate some meaning other than that of common usage? Contrary to his claim, I require no validation by "the "American commercial society" before I would call a design a design. But I would definitely place some limitations on what I would call the "design of an omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent designer." A totally inept design may very well be the product of a totally inept designer. But since I know of no creationists who are currently involved in a political effort to have the "scientific evidence" for an inept god taught in our public school science classrooms, I did not feel that such a position merited rebuttal.
In summary restatement, the argument from design rests fundamentally on the contention that living organisms are objectively like created machines.
Thwaites, Gould, Edwords, and others have demonstrated clearly that living organisms are to an equal measure objectively unlike created machines. My article was intended to expand that demonstration to the pattern of traits used to construct taxonomies, thereby hopefully demonstrating an even more powerful failure of the "argument from design" as an argument useful to support orthodox creationism.
I agree with Trojan that demonstrating the inadequacy of an analogy which illustrates an argument does not necessarily affect the argument itself. But I must differ with him in this instance since the "argument from design" really has no historical or philosophical context outside of the analogy upon which it rests. To contend that this argument is independent of the analogy with manmade machines is to reduce it essentially to a statement of faith rather than an ostensively logical argument. Hmmm. Perhaps in this instance Trojan has provided some needed clarification after all.
But most revealing is Trojan's summary involving a strawman which I had hoped was no longer available to readers of this journal. Trojan asks (in his personal paraphrase of "the argument"): "Can random events produce an ordered product?"
Who, pray tell, is arguing that random events are producing ordered products? The role of chance in evolution and natural selection has always been, in my understanding at least, specific and limited. The point mutations at the level of the genome may be random (chance events, if you will), but they only provide an increase in genetic variability—not an increase in order. The source of any order is the imposition of selective pressures which affect the distribution, expression, and differential survival of those mutant genes in a nonrandom manner.
If Trojan means to imply that the "argument from design" is merely an argument for natural selection as the "organizer" or "designer" or "creator," then we have no argument and he has no point. If he means to imply that the argument is proof of the impersonal creator of some obscure deist, animist, or pantheist tradition, then fine, but why bother? If he means that the "argument from design" is actually a valid and logical proof of a personal-creator-god, then he needs to reread every back issue of the Creation/ Evolution journal that he can get his hands on.
-Francis J. Arduini