Earlier this week I challenged The Atheist Missionary’s rejection of intelligent design and thus his position that it is illegitimate to make intelligent design inferences. I did so by posing the following scenario: The Atheist Missionary returns home on his birthday to see several dozen balloons taped to the side of his house forming a huge welcoming greeting which spells out: “Happy Birthday O Godless Missionary.” Now here’s the question. How should TAM go about explaining this state of affairs? That is, how should he explain the fact that all these balloons are taped to the side of his house?
Remember, TAM denies the licitness of making inferences to intelligence. And why does he deny the appropriateness of such inferences? The reason, he says, is that explaining events, processes or states of affairs by appealing to inteligence is a “lazy, dumbing down”. That creates a dilemma, for if he is consistent in applying that rule then he should exclude appeal to intelligence when seeking to explain the balloon sign.
Now let’s think about this picture. As TAM stands there looking at the side of his house a neighbor walks by and says “Whoa! Who put those ballons up there?”
“Nobody,” TAM snaps back. “It is a lazy dumbing down to appeal to intelligence as the explanation for the position of those balloons.”
“So how did they get there then?” the neighbor cautiously asks.
“Must be a combination of necessitarian law-like processes and chance.” TAM replies. “But it cannot be intelligence.”
The rather glaring problem is that TAM’s response is irrational. Indeed, it borders on insanity. When an event, process or state of affairs appears to bear the marks of specified complexity (multiple component parts working together for a unified purpose like dozens of balloons spelling out a sentence) and the only known processes for achieving that degree of specified complexity are intelligent ones, then we ought to conclude that intelligence has been at work.
Note one more thing: inferring intelligence in these instances isn’t a “science stopper” as so many critics of ID like to suggest. For once TAM concludes that people put up the balloons his next order of business is to launch an investigation which asks questions like: “Who put the balloons up there?” “How did they do it?” “How did they know it was my birthday?” et cetera.
If, on the other hand, he were to limit himself to explaining the position of the balloons through chance and necessity alone, then he would have critically hampered the investigation and would have ensured that it would go precisely nowhere.
In other words, appealing to intelligence when appropriate is not the end of a fruitful investigation but rather the beginning of one. The real “science stopper” is to limit yourself to explanations of chance and necessity when all the evidence says otherwise.