While reading Signature in the Cell by Stephen C. Meyer, I realised something important that I had previously overlooked in the debate between pro- and anti-ID camps. It’s always perplexed me why ID proponents, especially those at the Discovery Institute, constantly talk about “materialistic evolution”. If their contention is that ID is secular, why muddy that position by bringing in what seems like a theistic idea – non-materialism?
In Chapter 2 of Signature, Meyer goes through a reasonably brief history of the scientific debate between biological materialists and biological vitalists (logically, biological non-materalists) in the 19th century, which addressed the question of whether or not matter needed some “vital force” in addition to its constituent molecules in order to become a part of living organisms. Clearly, in the chapter, Meyer tries to set up a link between the biological materialists of the 19th century and the “Neo-Darwinists” of the 20th and 21st centuries through the supposed shared link of “materialism” – that life is matter and nothing more – and therefore attempts casting preconceived philosophical notions onto his opposition. That’s a fairly standard strategy by the Discovery Institute, nothing new there.
But then it struck me: what if Meyer is also, even implicitly, making a similar connection between vitalists and modern-day ID proponents? Both posit that there is a missing ingredient to get from non-living matter to living organisms – for vitalists it was a non-specific “vital force” and for ID proponents it’s the ill-defined concept of “biological information”. Put that together with the fact that Meyer and his Discovery Institute peers contend that such “information” can only originate from an intelligence, and it’s beginning to look like he is assuming that all ID proponents are or should be dualists.
Dualism is a philosophical position that states that the mind cannot be reduced to an emergent property of the brain and is a separate, non-physical entity. As such, anything that comes from the mind – in this context, “information” – has a non-physical origin. If “Neo-Darwinism” does not allow for intelligence to be a source of “information”, as is claimed by ID proponents, then within their set of notions it must therefore be materialistic.
If true, this is rather interesting. Firstly, it opens up a huge can of worms. Do ID critics now have to delve into the philosophy of mind to pry apart pro-ID arguments? Will the debate be reduced to that level? I certainly hope not, but you can’t choose where logic and arguments will take a debate, you just have to go with it.
Also, does the Discovery Institute “officially”1 think a materialist/naturalist can be an ID proponent? Is design still special if it has a physical origin? If the answer is no, this is another point of difference between the DI’s concept of intelligent design and my (unfinished) hypothetically scientific version.
It also explains why some fellows and affiliates of the Discovery Institute aren’t theists: they might be atheists or agnostics2, but they are still dualists. Believing in the existence of a deity is not a necessary requirement for believing that the mind is non-physical.
I think I need to ponder about this a bit more. Perhaps Stephen C. Meyer will address the question later on in Signature, I don’t know. But has anyone else made this connection before? Surely they have, they must have.- - - - - - - - -