Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Broader Implications of ID

Copied from Uncommon Descent:


In the popular media, ID is often portrayed as Creationism in new clothes.  And indeed, even among ID proponents, the creation implications tend to be predominantly emphasized.  Yet the theory underpinning Intelligent Design has implications beyond the realm of biological history, perhaps it is a much broader theory than most realize at first.  In fact, it may even describe a comprehensive worldview.  The primary reason that ID has such an impact is because materialism underlies many areas of modern thought, and ID is an alternative hypothesis to materialism.
To understand the insights that ID brings, it is important to have a bit of philosophical background to begin with.  There are two basic concepts that are important to know: efficient and final causes.  This may seem a bit off the beaten trail, but stay with me here.  For any event there are two questions you can ask.  You can ask “how did this happen?” and you can ask “why did this happen?”.  As an example, the event of your web browser navigating to this article can either be described in terms of the very complex computer and network architecture and accompanying electrical signals that lead to the retrieval and display of this article (how), or it can be described in terms of the fact that you wished to view this article (why).  Both are valid explanations.  The first explanation is the efficent causal explanation and the second explanation is the final cause explanation.  Now, to relate these concepts back to the interplay between materialism and ID, materialism implies that all events only have efficient causal explanations, and any perceived final causal explanations can be reduced to efficient causal explanations.  On the other hand, ID implies that some events may potentially have irreducible final causal explanations, and no matter what one may know about how an event occurred they will not be able to completely explain its occurrence.
For an application of these two concepts and ID, consider the realm of economics.  Generally there tend to be two schools of thought regarding economics: the decentralized Austrian school and the centralized Kenseyian school.  ID allows us to say that one school is strictly and objectively better than the other.  To see this, consider how wealth is created.  Wealth is created by the creation of new information in the form of complex, specified inventions.  These irreducibly complex devices are formed from many integrated parts to accomplish a specific function or set of functions.  According to ID, individual intelligent agents are the creators of this information.  Thus, an economic system that incentivizes individuals to create new inventions to fulfill useful functions is strictly better than a system that does not.  In a centrally planned economy, there are only a few empowered information creators, who decide how resources are divided amongst the populace.  However, in a decentralized economy, all individuals are empowered to create information.  Since an Austrian economy focusses on decentralizing information production, it is strictly better than a Kenseyian economy at creating wealth, since the Austrian economy enables an enormously larger pool of information creating intelligent agents. 
But how are materialistic assumptions at play in modern economic theory?  The impact of materialism primarily has to do with the notion of wealth.  If you recall the introductory distinction between efficient and final causes, materialism implies that there is no such thing as an irreducible final cause while ID says there may really be final causes.  The added concept you need to see how this applies to economics is that when an event occurs due to a final cause, then at this point information is created.  So, conversely, if there is no such thing as a final cause, as materialism claims, then no information is ever created.  And, if information is tied to wealth creation, then the further implication is that wealth is not created.  In which case, wealth is no longer tied to inventions, but is instead tied to resources.  Since there are only a limited number of resources in the world, economics becomes primarily concerned with the proper distribution of these resources amongst the population, instead of being concerned with allowing the creation of greater amounts of resources.  So, a centralized Kenseyian economy becomes the best kind of economy within a materialistic paradigm, since it least wastefully allocates resources (at least in theory).  But, if the materialism assumption is removed, then the emphasis for economies is changed.  Once the door is opened to the idea that wealth can be created, then economies can look to provide better avenues for wealth creation.  As discussed above, ID further implies that wealth is better created through a decentralized than through a centralized economy.
Now lets consider a very right brained topic, very rarely under the purview of common ID discussion.  Namely, how are the humanities related to the sciences?  Commonly, they are considered two seperate spheres with little interrelation.  Additionally, the humanities, nowadays, tend to be somewhat looked down upon by the more technically oriented fields.  And, due to the greater difficulty in establishing an ROI for the humanities it becomes much harder to secure grant money and stay afloat in academia.  Consequently, out of a combination of insecurity and poverty, the humanities are beginning to sell out more and more in academia, and adopt the false robes of quantifiable, empirical fields and needlessly obtuse technical language. 
How does ID shed light on a solution here?  Well, underlying the difficulties that the humanities face is the worldview of materialism.  Materialism asserts that the only reality is matter.  If the only reality is matter, then only the fields dealing with the description of matter, matter.  Since the humanities ostensibly do not deal with matter, and in fact traditionally deal with entities such as the soul, God, and other such topics, the humanities are considered to be at best entertaining and at worst dangerous deceptions (per the recent rife of cantakerous anti-religion literature).  ID provides a helping hand here by showing that, at the very least, there is open room to doubt that there is nothing more to reality than particles colliding and quantum waveforms collapsing.  Again, to understand why ID helps, we can rely on the handy distinction between efficient and final causes.  Simply enough, if ID is at least possibly true, then there may be other entities at work than the particles and waves.  Furthermore, if ID is true, then final cause explanations are true and important, and final causal explanations are entirely in the realm of the humanities.  The humanities primarily occupy themselves with answering the question why?, and since final causes are the source of intelligently designed events, the humanities turn out to be even more important than the sciences, at least as far as intelligent design is concerned.
And, ID goes further than even this, as we’ll see in the realm of philosophy.
As any student of the history of philosophy can tell you, the modern era has denoted a dramatic change of focus in philosophy.  What used to be a holistic field that attempted to understand man and his relation to reality in totality with rationality, has bifurcated into two realms: contintental and analytical philosophical traditions.  The continental tradition tends to be occupied with questions of meaning and purpose, while the analytic tradition attempts to remove all ambiguity from discourse.  Perchance can we explain this divide in terms of our efficient and final cause distinction?  Perhaps we can if we first look at this distinction as it applies to language and thought.  The distinction between efficient and final causes shows up in linguistics as the distinction between syntax and semantics.  Syntax describes how a language works, the efficient causal portion of language, while semantics deals with the content of language, the purposeful thought and final cause behind a particular word choice.  Analytic philosophy tends to be primarily concerned with the syntax of our thought and language, and has significant concentration on the fields of logic and language syntax.  Continental philosophy tends to be primarily concerned with the semantics, and is often concerned with fields such as phenomenology and qualia.
So, here, even in the realm of philosophy we can see the same bifurcation as we saw in the humanities.  And, as we saw in the humanities, the analytic portion of philosophy is often considered the more reliable.  However, continental philosophy, instead of trying to make itself more quantifiable and objective has decided to embrace subjectivity.  Here again, ID is able to provide a useful perspective.  As we saw with the humanities, ID implies that the field of final causes may be much more relevant than it is usually credited nowadays, so implies that the syntax of analytic philosophy provides a substrate for the content of continental philosophy’s semantics, in the same way that we need grammar and vocabulary in order to express ideas in language.  And thus, ID provides a precise way of describing the relationship between analytic and continental philosoph, which can provide an approach for integrating the two fields.
By unifying humanities and sciences, and the fields of philosophy, ID now opens the way for providing a framework for ethics and morality.  In the middle ages, and throughout much of western history, morality has been understood within a framework of natural law.  This framework was explained by Aristotle by the notion that everything had a function, and that life was lived well by fulfilling one’s function.  Thus, morality was explained in terms of living according to a purpose, a final cause.  However, with the advent of materialism, the notion of natural function became discredited.  Why this happened is easy to see if we think of functions as final causes.  As explained previously, materialism does away with final causes, replacing them all with efficient causes.  Consequently, with the removal of final causes, so also was functionality and thus natural law based morality removed.  But, if materialism is not a foregone conclusion, then there may well be a system of functionality embedded in our world, within which we can define a moral theory based on natural law.
And with that, I bring to a close my brief, but indepth look at some of the non-biological implications that intelligent design theory has.  There are numerous other interesting implications of ID, but I will need to cover them in a new article.

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