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The Rhetoric of Intelligent Design: Alternatives for Science and Religion

From: Rhetoric & Public Affairs
Volume 1, Number 4, Winter 1998
pp. 593-602 | 10.1353/rap.2010.0103

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The Rhetoric of Intelligent Design: Alternatives for Science and Religion Celeste Michelle Condit In public debate, the motives behind advocacy are always essential to analysis, because arguments are judged (and should be) by their combination of ethos, pathos, and logos. To understand and assess the arguments over intelligent design, we must therefore consider the fundamental motives of the advocates. Most advocates of intelligent design seek to increase the scope of religious discourse , raising its social status compared to that of scientific discourse, especially by including it in the curricula of the public schools. On the other side, the motive of most opponents of intelligent design is to protect the relative position of science in society and especially to protect scientists' control over the content of school curricula. Understanding these motivations is crucial to analyzing this debate, because whether or not one finds the arguments in favor of intelligent design to be persuasive seems to be almost exclusively dependent on whether one already believes in an intelligent designer. Given that there is no definitive scientific proof possible either for an intelligent designer or for the absence of such a designer, this strong role for predispositional biases is to be expected. However, we can employ a useful heuristic to illuminate the relative probity of the intelligent design argument by replacing the assumption that the intelligent designer specified in the advocacy of intelligent design is something like a Christian God with the assumption that it is something more like aliens from another quadrant of the galaxy. Such a device will, I hope, productively upset pat assumptions on both sides of the debate. In the following essay, therefore, I will review the three major arguments for intelligent design—the origin of life, the origin of species, and Behe's functionalism—assuming that the question at issue is whether evolution produced life on Earth as we know it or whether space-faring, intelligent, nonhuman species brought life to Earth. Celeste Michelle Condit is Professor of Speech Communication at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. © Rhetoric & Public Affairs Vol. 1, No. 4, 1998, pp. 593-602 ISSN 1094-8392 594 Rhetoric & Public Affairs The Origin of Life Stephen Meyer effectively reviews the intelligent design position on the origin of life. To develop his ethos and destroy that of his opponents, Meyer provides a history of the scientific search for the origins of life. His first stopover on this review is the "random chance" argument. Meyer argues that the universe could not have been created by random, chance combinations of the physical materials of the planet because there has been insufficient time in the history of Earth to develop the available combinations. If we were to assume, however, that the "intelligent designers" of life on Earth were space-faring aliens, there would be no necessary conflict between random chance and the intelligent design hypothesis. There very well may have been plenty of time for life to originate by chance on the planets from which our space-alien benefactors hail. Consequently, we could safely note in our children's textbooks that life on Earth was created by space-faring aliens and that life originated by chance combinations of the physical attributes in the universe. Although many religious persons have long been content to reconcile religion and science, the possibility of coexistence may not settle the matter for many scientists , who really do not like the space alien hypothesis because there is no material evidence of space aliens. Most scientists may still, therefore, prefer the other option that Meyer addresses—that life is the emergent product of loaded physical dice. Meyer's arguments on this contention are too seriously flawed to shake their faith. The first problem is that Meyer commits the fallacy of composition and division when he complains that self-organization of DNA is impossible and so life could not have organized itself. No one of whom I know thinks that DNA spontaneously organized itself from simple chemical elements. The general belief is that DNA evolved from simpler units which themselves spontaneously (and then evolutionarily ) organized.1 We do not have scientific evidence for what those simpler units were, or what the path of their evolution...