A new blog post by the Intelligent Design author Stephen C. Meyer, where he defends his book Debating Darwin’s Doubt against the accusation that it’s a sophisticated form of the God of the gaps approach.
Meyer’s argument is that the so-called “Cambrian explosion” of new life forms in the geological record – which gave us everyone’s favourite marine fossil, the trilobite, as well as the bizzare Burgess Shale – cannot be explained solely in terms of naturalistic science, but requires crucial input from a designing intelligence. This is what Meyer says in the post:
“I attempt merely to show that key features of the Cambrian animals (and the pattern of their appearance in the fossil record) are best explained by a designing intelligence — a conscious rational agency or a mind — of some kind. Thus, my argument does not qualify as a God-of-the-gaps argument for the simple reason that the argument does not attempt to establish the existence of God.”
Meyer goes on to explain in the post that his argument for an intelligent designer isn’t based on gaps in our scientific knowledge – which would make it a kind of negative argument – but rather, he claims that he’s arguing in a positive direction, pointing out that the evidence for the Cambrian explosion in the fossil record is consistent with what we know of the way that guiding/designing intelligences work. It’s all rather like the Rosetta Stone, he thinks: no rational person (and presumably no scientist either) thinks that was produced by the materialistic forces of wind and erosion, but by an intelligence who inscribed it with information.
Meyer’s right in a nit-picking sense: to suggest a whole new kind of explanation where there’s currently scientific uncertainty is to argue in a positive direction. But if the explanation works by redefining science so that it includes the supernatural, then that’s surely a negative explanation, since it works by suggesting that mainstream science (committed to materialism/naturalism) is inadequate. For this is what Meyer (and ID-ers more generally) seem to do: to argue that they’re doing science, not theology. The trouble is that it’s a science that mainstream scientists don’t recognise, because it has to jettison the materialist/naturalist philosophy which Darwin and others did so much to establish, and which has served mainstream science so well since. From the mainstream point of view, this leaves Meyer’s arguments floating in a kind of intellectual never never land – they’re not modern science, and they’re not theology in any sophisticated sense of the term either, more God of the gaps by the backdoor.
There are theologically-cogent ways of arguing that the materialistic philosophy of science is not the final answer to all there is, but for my money this is not one of them.