After I moved to college, my mom turned my bedroom into her quilting room. Though mom now makes very nice quilts, I am sadly stuck with a long-standing grudge against quilters (who are usually very nice people). Because of my personal history, I found it particularly amusing when I read in “The art of quilting” that a woman named Barbara West (picture, left) won the National Award of Excellence for Innovative Quilts from the Canadian Quilters Association for her quilt, entitled “Myths of our Time: Intelligent Design.”
The anti-ID quilt parodies the old story where the famous atheist / agnostic philosopher Bertrand Russell was told that the earth rested on the back of a turtle. Russell then challenged his objector, “What is the tortoise standing on?” He was met with the witty reply, “It’s turtles all the way down!” (See here for the account.)
It’s not clear exactly what objection to ID Ms. West intends to raise through the quilt, but here is the description from the article:
“Eight colourful giant Galapagos island tortoises sit one on top of the other, balanced by a cane on either side. At the top, the earth sits precariously balanced on the back of an orange-shelled turtle. At almost seven feet tall, the piece is not done in a traditional artistic medium; it is a quilt.”
Intelligent design and ultimate causes
Intelligent design does not deal with ultimate causes. Rather, it deals with efficient causes, such as “how did object x come into its present form?” As William Dembski notes, “The who-designed-the-designer objection is best interpreted as a metaphysical rather than a scientific question. As such, it is a call for ultimate rather than proximal explanations” (William Dembski, The Design Revolution, pg. 199). Michael Behe explains, “The inference to design can be held with all the firmness that is possible in this world, without knowing anything about the designer” (Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, pg. 197). Dembski explains that, since we cannot directly study the designer, the scientific theory of intelligent design does not try to address questions about the origin of the designer. As far as science goes, all we can study are objects we observe in nature. Fortunately, we can study them to determine if they were designed. (See Chapter 27 of The Design Revolution for an excellent discussion of the “Who-designed-the-designer” objection.)
If one wants to get into metaphysics, the infinite regress argument cuts all ways, regardless of whether you’re an atheist-evolutionist, theistic-evolutionist, atheist-ID-proponent, or theistic-ID proponent. I prefer to take a scientific approach, and thus I find it incredible that evolutionists of all stripes believe the claim that a random and undirected process produced anything with high complexity, let alone turtles. I guess I’ll have to ask my mom to get started on a reply-quilt for Ms. West. Maybe it could be titled, “The Myths of Evolution: Random Mutations and Undirected Selection, All the Way Down.”
While my mom gets to work on that, let’s remember that this is all in good fun. Ms. West is entitled to her opinion, so congratulations to her. It’s just too bad she doesn’t look very happy about winning the award.