Intelligent Design and Philosophy

Cardinal Schönborn, often thought to be on the side of the intelligent design school of thought, sees a fundamental failure in its quasi-scientific attempt to see complexity in nature as proof of a designer, because design or purpose “cannot be found on the level of causality with which the scientific method is concerned.” The limitations of the scientific method do not allow it either to prove or to disprove an intelligent origin and purpose of the world.1

Indeed, while the theory of intelligent design is sometimes seen as the best alternative to radical neo-Darwinism, the two theories actually share deep roots in common. Both theories arose in the milieu born of nominalism and scientism, and try to answer the questions about the origin of life without substantial reference to philosophy. They abstract from the notions of nature, substantial form, and intrinsic purpose, and share a mechanistic view of living beings: while the theory of intelligent design claims that a complicated mechanism must be formed by a designer, Darwinism claims that a mechanism, consisting essentially of various parts and based on various genes, can arise gradually. Both theories suppose a false opposition between law and design, in contrast to classical philosophy, which sees design (i.e., the work of intelligence) in every natural law. Though the scientific claim of intelligent design—that known natural causes could not produce the life we see—must finally be judged on its scientific merit, on how well it corresponds to the evidence, the philosophical mindset underlying this understanding of intelligent design is highly questionable.

1Cardinal Schönborn, lecture at the Austrian Academy of Sciences on March 4, 2009. (Evolution and Creation)

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