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The Case for Intelligent Design.

What is the Case for Intelligent Design? 

First we have to define Intelligent Design.  In the common sense of a replacement for "creationism" it is obvious that there is no case for it.  It's actually a negative argument: since things are so complicated they must be made and could not have happened by accident. That makes some sense: particularly complicated things are unlikely to be made by accident, so things that look like they are designed probably are. This doesn't apply to humans, though; we haven't evolved by accident: we evolve by the random mutations but they are passed along by survival of the fittest.  If the mutation has a small chance of making the entity survive long enough to have a better chance to reproduce, then this mutation will eventually be passed onto more of the members of the species as time goes on.

This was the insight that Darwin (and many others) had 150 years ago.  Darwin was the first to understand that the assumption explained many, many things and he struggled to make the argument irrefutable.  And he did a great job of it, and others have admirably extended his argument. This theory actually begin a science of biology that has driven biological research ever since.  It has driven us to understand genes, DNA, and the history of life itself. The theory has been greatly expanded and the idea that anything in biology has been "intelligently designed" is not believable, there are just too many counter-examples of bad design in evolution to even contemplate this.

Except for Craig Ventnor's latest work. Craig has actually "designed" a live cell by picking fragments of DNA from multiple bacteria.  Our theory of evolution (mutations, inheritance and survival of the fittest) is a statement about the past; in the past evolution occurred without intelligent design, going forward this in no longer true. And of course, the intelligence designing creation in the future is human intelligence, not some supernatural intelligence. In fact, the new capability given by CRISPR to edit individual pieces of DNA in living beings shows us that intelligent design can happen. So I would have to say that Intelligent Design is now a fact, not in a pseudo-scientific version of creationism, but in reality.

What should be Intelligently Designed?

This leaves us with two remaining interesting questions. The first: Should people be intelligently designed? In my opinion the obvious answer is yes.  But there must be limits on the usage of this new technology. Just like there are protocols on how to handle and study dangerous infectious bacteria, there have to be limits on the study and use of gene altering techniques.  I won't go into where the limits should be, but there should definitely be protocols to contain the damage that this research could do. What other limits should there be?  Elon Musk and Sam Altman have brought up the idea that Artificial Intelligence research should have protocols and limits.  I think they are partially right, protocols need to be set up to make the research safe, not limits.

Where else should we limit Intelligent Design? The world has agreed that biological weapons and other weapons of mass destruction should only be researched under certain protocols and the actual moral high ground is to not research them at all. You want to make sure that your research won't cause the human race to earn the last Darwin Award.

And I would claim that you don't want anything to be designed by a 'supernatural' intelligence. Who would trust anything outside of your control or influence? I put supernatural in quotes because I think it is a word without a meaning in reality.  It certainly affects reality by influencing the way people think.  But the very idea of supernatural is the ultimate oxymoron.  What does supernatural mean? It means 'attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature.' But what does nature mean? Nature is everything.  But maybe not?

Maybe there's an unseen space beyond what we can normally sense.  That would sort of be in a 'different' nature as it's hard to detect. And maybe beings in that space can affect things in nature.  Maybe. Has this ever been measured in a reproducible way?  Not really.  It could happen.  It's not likely.  It could explain souls.  The soul could exist in this other realm and be attached to your brain and control it. It could happen.  And if it does happen, we'll know pretty soon, so it won't go undetected.  It won't be outside of nature, it will be measurable and recognizable.  As I said, being beyond nature is an oxymoron.

What else should be intelligently designed? Other than everything.  I would argue that the most important thing to be intelligently designed are morals.  So question two: Is it moral to intelligently design morals?

Intelligently Designed Morals

Why do morals need to be intelligently designed? Hasn't this already happened? I would argue no. What's happened is that evolution has design a 'moral code' into humans, the problem is that evolution is random, driven by individual survival.  It's not a moral code but a survival code.  And a survival code is not moral, it's selfish, it's brutal, it's just not right.  This tells me that we can't depend upon our inner moral sense to design a moral code.  We have to start from first principles.

The first requirement of a moral code is that it must be designed from overriding principles.

People have attempted to design morals many times; however, I think we need to add a framework for the intelligent design of morals.  We need to set some goals. What kind of goals should a moral code have?  Why do we need a moral code?  We need a moral code to decide on how to be good vs. evil, or do we? Our internal compass is already a good guide.  We need a moral code to make sure our inner guide is correct.  There are many logical traps that we can fall into just listening to our moral intuition.  Why this is so has been studied in economics (with many Nobel prizes awarded); a great example is: "Thinking Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman.  The brain has many biases and only clear thinking and real logic can prevent us from making mistakes.

It's obvious to me that all religions have been designed by men.  This doesn't mean that they can't have reasonable moral codes. Many religions claim to have been inspired by or dictated by God or gods, but they all seem basically unchanged if the gods don't exist.  Which is a good thing as there has yet to be a god that actually does anything real or useful as far as I can tell from the historical record. The idea of a god is useful, the god itself, not so much.  In my opinion religions and morality should just stay separated as they've done such a poor job of them in the past. (Slavery, equality under the eyes of the law, torture, discrimination, child abuse, wars, the list goes on...)

The second principle of moral code design is that it can't depend upon reputation for correctness.

Morals are too important to not be examined, debated and understood. Depending on God or tradition will lead to serious problems with moral codes, it can be a good start, but if the proposed morals aren't carefully vetted, you can run into big problems.  If you don't have an overriding principle, you can't verify a moral code, so principles one and two work together. 

I would claim that we want to design morals for conscious beings.  If a thing isn't conscious, morals don't apply to it. Why is that?  Only conscious beings have experiences, without experience there is no morality. So that will be our third principle: Morale codes are for conscious beings.

Moral codes set the standards for interactions of conscious beings.

If you want to design a morality for all conscious beings it leads you to start with certain postulates. You can design a moral code that is not fair for all conscious beings. Almost all religious moral codes have been designed this way.  In Christianity the moral code is for all humans to be treated equally (animals and lesser beings need not apply.) Jewish morals actually care somewhat about some animals. Islam is very clear that believers and non-believers are treated differently. I'm not an expert in religions, but this is what I see around me. I'm happy to be corrected in any assumption or manner.

It appears that morals designed by religions are sorely lacking in morality. Not to be so unexpected as they were designed thousands of years ago typically, when we were somewhat more ignorant than we are today.  Even the religions invented recently have dropped the ball.  Think of Scientology and Mormonism; not much break through in morality from either of those religions.

I'm gong to discuss moral codes that treat all conscious beings as being worthy of respect. I don't necessarily like the consequences of the moral codes they create, but that's besides the fact. How do you rank moral codes?  If we can use reputation, what can we use?  You could use the criteria of which ever moral code makes you happier or increases your well-being. Makes sense.  But I would argue that it is incomplete and leads to unfair and immoral moral codes.  You need to judge a moral code more broadly, it's not just you that needs to agree it's best, it's everyone.  This puts severe restrictions on how to judge a moral code.

A moral code needs to be evaluated in how well it treats any conscious being in any situation.

Wait, you're saying, any conscious being?  An insect? A mouse? A slime mold? Yes, any conscious being that has experiences must be taken into account by a moral code. Different levels of experience could be treated differently or expected to act differently and be treated differently (can a mouse even understand a moral code?) I think this requirement is paramount in building a real moral code. It's not just about human beings it's about conscious beings. Different beings have different levels of consciousness and different levels of intelligence that allow them to foresee the consequences of their actions, or not, so should be treated differently by moral codes.

Finally a moral code should maximize the amount of well-being or happiness (in the philosophical sense of flourishing) of conscious beings. Just like medicine works to increase your good health.  We don't know what perfect health is, but we can usually tell in what direction good health is: less pain, longer lives, more opportunities, etc.  Same for well-being.  While we don't know what the perfect well-being is, we can usually figure out what direction it is in: better health, more flourishing, less pain, more opportunities, more consciousness, etc.

A well designed moral code must maximize the well-being of conscious entities.

Let's recap. Moral codes tell us how conscious beings should interact, they must be designed from first principles and evaluated on how well they treat all individual conscious beings and how well they maximize well-being for all conscious beings. That's a tall order. All the moral codes I've seen are seriously lacking in many of these attributes, so I would claim in great need of fixing.  I'm pretty sure that the ultimate moral code has not yet been designed. However, viewing a moral code in this light gives us hope that we may be able to propose moral codes and tune them for best effects.

The world is overdue for good science and good engineering to be done on moral codes. There are many falsifiable hypothesis that can be made on moral codes given this framework (science) and many ways to run experiments to decide if one part of a code is better than another (engineering.) It's about time to stop reasoning about morals using philosophy and religion and to start reasoning about morals using the modern practices of science and engineering.

It's time for morals to be intelligently designed.

We've come a long way since we learned to speak and write. No reason to stop progressing now because someone told you they already have the answer. Question it. Evaluate it. Review it. Find the flaws. Improve it. Never forget. My inspirations:


Thanks for reading.
 -Dr. Mike










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