There’s been a lot of talk about “intelligent design” lately. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s the idea that our cosmos seems to be so precisely rule-governed and that we humans seem to be such complex, yet intricately developed organisms that some people think there is a design behind it all that reflects a higher intelligence. Examine the thought process here closer, however, and you will find this is a fallacious argument. Now I am talking Logic arguments here, with a capital L, the kind of Logic studied in philosophy classes. I am not directly disputing the conclusion; so much as I am disputing the path by which they have reached it.
To argue that the patterns we see when we look at the cosmos, the natural world, and our biological selves are reflective of an intelligent design is predicated on our own intelligence. So, in other words, this is a circular argument. The conclusion is drawn from itself. The most crucial feature of the argument to highlight is the word intelligent. The people who believe in intelligent design are capable of rational thought, faulted, but still rational.
Humans seek out pattern, even in places where there most likely would not be a logical, intentional pattern. Just because I can look at a cloud up in the sky and say that it looks to me like it is shaped like a cat face, does not mean that any intelligence made it that way. Nor does pointing at stars in the sky and saying, “those there look like a bear and that one looks like a fish.”
The classic example of human pattern seeking where there is no intelligence or intention is the inkblot test. Take a bottle of ink, splash some on a sheet of paper. Then ask someone to look at it and tell you what it looks like. People try to make sense of inkblots, comparing their shape, no matter how random and amorphous, to other objects.
Some might think to counter that even an inkblot has some intelligent design behind it, given that an intelligent human being is “designing” the inkblot by the process of splashing it. If you repeat the process, however, you will see that there are innumerable random variables that make it extremely difficult to make two inkblots that look alike. Others may reach beyond the appearance of the inkblot and argue that the fact that inks and papers are synthetic and evidence of intelligent design. So repeat the process with some mud thrown onto the surface of a rock. Just because someone can perceive a pattern, that doesn’t mean the pattern was intelligent or designed.
The folks who believe in intelligent design are looking at an inkblot and thinking that they are seeing a mirror. They project their own intelligence onto the cosmos and then congratulate themselves on finding “God.” Intelligent design is nothing more than egocentric human self-aggrandizement.
If I were to apply my intelligence to the cosmos I live in, I could actually think of ways of improving it – don’t include items in the design that would cause sentient beings to suffer. Don’t include genetic abnormalities that cause cancer or heart disease. What would be the point of including them when they are counter to the purpose of the organism that contains them – they take life away, rather than contribute to it. To my eyes, while the cosmos does have some laws of physics, chemistry, and biology, they come nowhere near reflecting an intelligent design. Anything but.