Longing for some designer genes

This is response to an article by Moshe Averick titled “Scientists Prove Again that Life is the Result of Intelligent Design.”

First off, as the title of the article indicates, this article should come with a dislaimer: “Warning: this article contains poor arguments and logical fallacies, including argument from ignorance and false dichotomy.”  I say this because it would help cut through the rhetoric and see that Mr. Averick is standing on phantom legs here.  The crux of the argument is that because we do not yet have a satisfactory account for abiogenesis, that we must conclude that life was the result of intelligent design.  It is at this point, you, dear reader, should exclaim, “why, my pearls! That’s a big ol’ argument from ignorance.”  And you would be right, though you would sound oddly like an old, southern woman.

I suppose there is nothing really new here.  Mr. Averick picks up a recent article on science from a media source, which can be comically innacurate, and find flaws with the science writer’s account.   I agree that the article Averick cites simply overstates the usefulness of RNA creation to supporting abiogenesis; although, such research may give good insight into the mechanisms behind the formation of life.  Averick is simply wrong, however, when he claims that because we are in the process of creating artificial life that this suggest that all life is created.  I attribute this specious bit of reasoning to the novelty of our ability to manipulate and engineer biology, but I think it can be analogized to claiming that because we can create diamonds in lab by chemical vapor deposition that we can claim that all diamonds were created similarly by intelligent agency.  Of course, the diamond analogy differs from Avarick’s argument, but only because we understand the formation of diamonds by natural means.  In the case of life, we do not yet have the full account, but supposing because life can be created that it means all life was created has little value without evidence that this is actually the case.

Moreover, to accept the ID account of life is to open bigger and more intractable questions: Designed by whom? By what method? When?  We have an open question, “what is the origin of life?” for which we do not have solid answer. On one hand, science has a bunch of answers that fit together, existing scientific theories and scientific evidence, and for the answer to the origin of life question to fit in with this large body of stuff we do know, the origin of life answer must be naturalistic.  On the other hand, Averick proposes is that the better answer to the question is not naturalistic, but the intervention of an intelligent agent.  From a practical point of view, the naturalistic answer is just common sense.  It fits with what we do know.  The ID explanation really does not answer the question, it just pushes it aside.

The glaring problem with Averick’s reasoning is simple and apparent, namely: just because we don’t know something does not mean you can jam in your claim in the gap of our knowledge.  Claims need evidence. This gotcha game that ID proponents play with science is a canard and is eventually self defeating–that is it relies on knowledge gaps in a field where the gaps are continuously shrinking.  It is self defeating in a more fundamental sense as well; it is intellectually dishonest.  Suppose that the question of the origin of life is never successfully aswered, say, the evidence is not forthcoming and, even though we are successful coaxing of a fully formed organism from lifeless chemistry, we cannot say ultimately whether it was Darwin’s warm pool or the unknown conditions of another, extinct and distant planet, the intellectually honest answer would be, “we don’t know.”

If Averick wants to propose a claim that life is the product of creation by deity, he is welcome to do so.  However, the persuasiveness of his claim is null until he can marshal evidence.  I think we should not hold our breath for him to do so, this is because intelligent design is not scientific, it is rhetorical.  It is the dying struggle of magical thinking against reality.

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