Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Argument from Design

If we watch Nature closely, it is easy to arrive at the conclusion that everything has a purpose. Animals don’t make a noise, except to produce some useful effect – such as attracting mates, or scaring rivals and predators. For social animals, the purpose may be mutual aid – such as communicating the location of food or the presence of danger.

Where does this purpose come from? Some people argue that the purpose is assigned by some abstract entity (the “Great Designer”), which they may label either God or Evolution. The theory of Intelligent Design avers that the Great Designer must be an intelligent reasoning Being. The existence of God is proved by the so-called Argument from Design.

Against this, many scientists argue that the Great Designer is essentially a blind process, from which purposes emerge by accident. The Great Designer is what Richard Dawkins calls The Blind Watchmaker.

But there is a third possible explanation. Perhaps purposes are not assigned by the Great Designer, but by the Lesser Designer – in other words, ourselves as observers.

For example, consider a crow that shrieks at the approach of a cat. The effect of this shriek is not just warning other crows (which can be explained in terms of the survival of the species) but all other birds and rodents in the neighbourhood. Based on this apparent mutuality of interest between woodland creatures of different species, we may start to tell ourselves fairy stories about animals that can talk, animals that can collaborate, actions whose purpose is not limited to a single individual or even a single species, but to Nature as a whole.

Such collective purposes only exist within a particular narrative frame – they are our way of making sense of the world around us. But it is difficult to see how such narratives can resolve the big metaphysical questions of Intelligent Design, if the design is merely the reflection of our own imagination.


JanDoggen said...

Can you please fix the RSS feed for this blog?
Every few days all the entries are reset to/with something, my RSS reader flags them all as new. I do not have this problem with any other of my 50 feeds ;-)

Thanks in advance
jan Doggen

Richard Veryard said...

Sorry about this. I think what happens is that when I add a category to an old item, Blogger creates a new Atom entry. I don't know how to avoid this. Blogger has only recently started to support categories, and I thought it would be useful to add categories to the old items, but obviously I don't want to annoy people who are subscribed to the RSS feed.

Any other comments or suggestions?