Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Mind by Design?

The human mind; a fantastic, three pound swirl of protoplasm that appears to its users so complex, that it couldn’t have happened by accident. Or could it? As a hard determinist myself, I have trouble thinking anything happens by accident or as a matter of chance, except perhaps Miley Cyrus’ notoriety. That aside, the question is whether or not the mind (and to a larger extent the universe) was designed by an intelligence greater than that of its users. Certainly this raises the question as to who then would have designed the designer(s), but what we will focus upon here is whether or not the mind—and the universe—are designed at all.
            In wondering whether or not the human mind is a designed thing, we should ask ourselves how we identify things that are designed. Author George H. Smith put it this way, “Evidence of design are those characteristics not found in nature.” We can identify designed objects because we are familiar with the manner in which man-made objects look (or perhaps feel) when contrasted against natural objects and landscapes. We are familiar with the form of intentionally built things because we have either have been told they were built by other people, have seen them crafted by persons other than ourselves, or have constructed the object ourselves. Such differences are the basis for the myriad of words we use, such as in the case of “natural” versus “silicone.”
            So, there appears to be some fundamental flaws in terminology used by people who are not versed in philosophy or linguistics when they attempt to argue that the mind or the universe is designed. Might we ask whether or not the universe displays order instead? Now, if someone has never been in my friend Jessica’s apartment, they might be inclined to think that yes, the universe does display order. After all, there is no disputing the human mind’s fondness for pattern recognition (or as author Scott Adams would say, delusion generating). While it would be true enough to say that a design implies a designer, does the recognition of order imply an orderer? If the wind blows a deck of cards off a table and they all land face up, did the wind intend to do so? No, order is simply a manifestation of causality.
            It appears to me that whenever someone argues in favor of a designed mind or universe, it appears they are basing their conclusion upon the assumption that the mind appears the way it does because that’s the way they (or some other person) would design such a thing from scratch. That’s quite a leap for a mind that has no basis for comparison to what is not a mind or universe. Given that I cannot bake a decent batch of cookies from scratch, I would place a limit upon the extent to which I think a universe can be designed.
I’m also inclined to wonder what would happen to the assumptions of design theorists if they were to take into account certain anomalies of their premeditated universe. Do they consider the nature of black holes, where the known laws of physics break down? Do they wonder why humans don’t reproduce asexually, which is by far the most efficient means of reproduction? Why does hemoglobin, the molecule in blood that transports oxygen, have a greater affinity to carry carbon monoxide (a poisonous gas) than oxygen? Does the assumption of design proponents take into account the afore mentioned Ms. Cyrus? God, I’d hate to think of her celebrity as necessary to the design of the universe.
It is because of scientific knowledge—specifically the proliferation of technology/machinery—that we know that there is a difference between natural and man-made objects. And, within that context, there is a degree of complexity in designed things which helps us recognize the level of intelligence and the intentions of the designer, which is truly at the very heart of the design issue. As we all know, beavers build dams, but is any design theorist willing to concede that the designer of the human mind is an omnipotent, omniscient beaver? I wouldn’t bet my two front teeth on it.
The human mind is at times in order (after a cup of coffee) and at other times it is not (a woman in a shoe store). However, this is not the same as saying the mind is designed. [Considering all the things that can go wrong with the equipment, in an intentional universe there would at least be mechanics to fix the mind when it falters. Psychologists do not count, though, as they are all a bunch of Freuds.] The science of engineering, realizing the difference between what works and what doesn’t, is what has allowed us as humans to build things and identify what is a designed thing and what is not. Still, for those wishing to assume that there is a design to the universe, I leave them this humbling quote by John Stuart Mills—“Every indication of design in the universe is so much evidence against the omnipotence of the designer.”

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