Human Extension and Intelligent Design – What Happens When ‘Neo’ Comes?

Intelligent Design theory (IDT) begins with effects and makes inference to causes (Stephen C. Meyer). The effects in question are specific patterns of information that can supposedly be detected ‘in nature.’ The assumption is that ‘minds’ are the only known sources that cause information. Therefore, even on the topics of the origins of life and the origins of biological information (and even sometimes on origins of mankind), one must ‘infer design’ that is intelligent and which comes from a non-human mind or divine Mind.

When it comes to the origins of biological information, the idea that an intelligent agent was the cause is contestable because IDT depends on analogy with human minds. When it comes to human-made artefacts, i.e. things that are produced by what William Dembski calls ‘mundane designers’ (in contrast to ‘transcendental designers,’ 1999), we can indeed infer that the minds, bodies and/or spirits of human beings are/were involved. However, it is a leap of faith (from theology to science) to suggest that what causes human artefacts is necessarily the same ‘kind of mind’ as what caused (past tense – i.e. big history) biological information millions of years ago in the sense of life origins.

 

Many people have written and spoken about this apparent ‘gap’ in IDT. It is one of the main reasons why more Muslims, Christians and Jews, among the Abrahamic faiths, do not join the intelligent design movement (IDM), which has grown into a social, cultural, educational and political (dis)organisation since originating in the USA in the late-1980s – mid-1990s. The insistence by the IDM upon extra-scientific ‘implications’ if a mind/Mind was involved in causing the origins of life and/or the origins of biological information has led many people to doubt the supposedly scientific character of IDT.

At this point in history, it would seem that only a theory of ‘neo-intelligent design’ (neo-id, a new synthesis) or an otherwise named alternative (see below) would be able to bridge the gap that IDT has created by seeking to separate the observer from the observed, the designer from the design. One of the constructors of IDT, Steve Fuller, puts it this way: “The failure of intelligent design theory to specify the intelligent designer constitutes both a rhetorical and an epistemological disadvantage.” (2011: 171) “Design without a designer is a science-stopper as far as I’m concerned.” (2007) The coming of ‘neo-id,’ identifying actual observers and designers thus offers a solution to the problem of design that the Discovery Institute described in its ‘Wedge Document’ (1998); how to add emphasis to the social sciences and humanities. The DI knew it was coming, or at least saw the need for it, even though they did not more fully articulate it.

As a social epistemology (SE), neo-id studies the ‘effects’ of information produced by intelligent agents, in particular human beings, individuals and societies. With this focus on the real, historical causal designers and their designs kept in mind, here the notion of ‘Human Extension’ is introduced to service such an approach. Human Extension is not creationism or apologetics; it is sociological. It was ‘invented’ before the author had even heard of ID and builds on the work of media and technology forerunner, the so-called ‘sage of the wired age,’ Marshall McLuhan.

Human Extension does what the IDM aspired to do, but has not achieved; it presents an actual and appropriate defeater to materialism, naturalism and scientism through the human-social sciences via appeals to reflexivity and personal choice. Reflexive sciences and reflexive thought do not aim for the same type of positivist knowledge or empirical certainty that materialism and naturalism demand. Nevertheless, they do contribute knowledge and even collective understanding that is not present in current IDT, which involves the creativity and choices of human beings as special or unique creatures on Earth, a feature that defines the heart of social sciences.

With a push-back social sciences against dehumanising, reductionistic ideologies, a more holistic or balanced approach to knowledge is enabled. Scientism crumbles at the sound of each person’s supra-scientific knowledge as reflexive living creatures on Earth. Listening to geologists or biologists pontificate about people’s meaningfulness is not an appealing option for 21st century humanity to entertain. We thus need to re-humanise the university as the spoils of scientism begin to fade away. One way to do this is to invite discussion of ‘intelligent design’ in the human-social sciences.

One might formulate neo-id or Human Extension in the sense of SE in the following way: “You had a great idea, but never followed through with it to realisation…someone else did, and it worked—that was ‘intelligent design’.” This way, everyone is included and understands that when speaking of ‘design’ and ‘extension,’ it means something relevant for them. Lest one think that ‘intelligence’ is measurable in quantitative terms, the notion that human design is qualitatively observable offers an appropriate counter-position.

By connecting ‘extension’ (instead of ‘evolution’) with human choices, we are availed of an inherently ‘teleological’ concept, since one cannot ‘extend’ them-self without choosing (or having someone choose for them) a direction. The linguistic use of Human Extension recovers the teleological aspect of human living that had been lost during the era when evolutionary ideology was misapplied in the human-social sciences. Indeed, we have reached a true ‘edge of evolution’ that the IDM had not openly considered and which can supplement the challenge to materialistic, naturalistic and scientistic ideologies that is part of their mission.

Michael Behe’s definition of ID as “the purposeful arrangement of parts” comes close to enabling ID as SE, coinciding with an inspired view of human life that is rife with meaning and purpose. To go further, one would need to specify the ‘designer(s)’ doing the ‘designing,’ which for Human Extension or neo-id as SE is easy given its sole preoccupation with human beings.

This is an exciting field, in which scholars and scientists, philosophers and theologians have been involved throughout history; the study of human choices, creations, extensions, designs, plans, and how they impact our individual and collective destiny. It is a language of purpose, meaning, goal and teleology that reinvigorates human-social sciences with discussions formerly closed off by universal evolutionism.

References:

Fuller, Steve. Humanity 2.0. Palgrave MacMillan, 2011.

Fuller, Steve. Audio Debate with Lewis Wolpert on Evolution and Intelligent Design. Royal Holloway College. Feb. 21, 2007.

Meyer, Stephen C. “Signature in the Cell.” Audio Debate with Keith Fox on Unbelievable, Premier Christian Radio, Nov. 19, 2011.

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