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
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.
The second principle of moral code design is that it can't depend upon reputation for correctness.
Moral codes set the standards for interactions of conscious beings.
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.
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.
- Sam Harris: "The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values."
- Michael Schermer: "The Moral Arc: How Science Makes Us Better People."
- Jerry A. Coyne: "Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible."
- Steven Pinker: "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined."
Thanks for reading.