I was recently directed to the above video featuring notable atheist Matt Dillahunty (with whom I have had interaction in the past). In it, Dillahunty makes a number of elementary mistakes that are quite common among popular-level criticisms of intelligent design. I thought it would be worthwhile to offer a short respon
Misrepresenting Intelligent Design
His first mistake is in representing the claims of the ID community.
He claims that the “modern versions” of the design argument, “put
forth by the intelligent design movement,” essentially “attempt to
use mathematics to demonstrate that the universe and life couldn’t have come about by natural processes affected by chance andtherefore there must have been a designer.” Is this really what
proponents of ID contend? Not quite.
Statistical improbability does not and cannot demonstrate that the universe and life could not have come about by chance. Dillahunty makes this point himself later in the video. But by the same token one could also argue that the evidence used against a defendant in a court of law cannot prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the suspect is guilty. There are always going to be alternative explanations that are logically possible. But being possible does not make an explanation reasonable. That is why the standard needed to convict a suspect is demonstration of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The second problem with Dillahunty’s representation of the claims of ID is that design is not presented as the exclusive alternative to chance. ID proponents recognize that phenomena can be explicable by chance, necessity (i.e. law-like regularities), design, or a combination of these. We recognize that evolution by natural selection is a mechanism that involves the combination of both chance and necessity. We also do not present ID as the default alternative to chance — rather, we argue that there are positive indicators of the role of conscious deliberative agency in the origins of certain natural phenomena. We thus infer design as the best explanation for the phenomena to be explained, based on our experience of cause-and-effect relationships. [Read more…]