Intelligent Design Theory: A Site for Contemporary Sociology of Knowledge

By Fuller, Steve | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Intelligent Design Theory: A Site for Contemporary Sociology of Knowledge


Fuller, Steve, Canadian Journal of Sociology


Abstract: The recent rise of intelligent design theory in opposition to the Neo-Darwinian synthesis as an account for the nature of life reflects an underlying shift in the defining ideological polarity of our time. The difference between these two scientific world-views cuts across the left-fight binary that has dominated political thought for the past two centuries. The result is an updated version of Sorokin' s opposition between "sensate" and "idealistic" cultures--represented by, on the one hand, the carbon-based orientation to life espoused by Peter Singer and other Neo-Darwinists, and, on the other, the silicon-based orientation promoted by Ray Kurzweil and his allies in intelligent design, who include many proponents of artificial intelligence. In the balance hangs the locus for defining "humanity," which in the past had been satisfied by the stable existence of something called "society." This paper traces the roots of intelligent design theory to the aspiration of Newton and other scientific revolutionaries to regard the mechanical world-view as enabling humans to approximate the mind of God.

Resume: La recente popularite de la theorie de la creation intelligente en opposition avec la synthese neo-darwinienne pour expliquer la nature de la vie temoigne d'un virage sous-jacent dans la determination de la polarite ideologique de notre temps. La difference entre ces deux visions scientifiques du monde touche la binaire gauche-droite qui a domine la pensee politique depuis deux cents ans. Le resultat est une version recente de l'opposition de Sorokin entre les cultures << sensorielles >> et << idealistes >>, representees, d'une part par une demarche a l'egard de la vie basee sur le carbone et embrassee par Peter Singer et D'autres neo-darwiniens, et d'autre part, par une orientation basee sur le silicone preconisee par Ray Kurzweil et ses confreres de la creation intelligente comprenant un grand nombre d'adeptes de l'intelligence artificielle. En jeu, il y a la question de definir << humanite >> qui, dans le passe, se definissait par l'existence stable de quelque chose appelee << societe >>. L'article trace les origines de la theorie de la creation intelligente jusqu'a l'aspiration de Newton et d'autres revolutionnaires scientifiques pour considerer la vision mecanique du monde comme etant un moyen de permettre aux humains de se rapprocher de l'esprit de Dieu.

1. Intelligent Design Theory as Symptomatic of the Realignment of Ideologies in the Early 21st Century

The idea that humanity is a volatile mix of the divine and the animal may be traceable to theological mysteries surrounding the person of Jesus in Christianity, but it survives in secular metaphysics as the mind-body problem and the attempt to reconcile free will and determinism. What is sometimes (especially in Europe) cast as the central problem of social theory, the relationship between "agency" and "structure," also tends to be discussed along similar lines (Fuller 1998). While there is something clearly at stake in these debates, it is not perspicuously brought out in the terms in which they are normally conducted. Much better would be to pose the question as follows: Are humans defined in terms of where they came from or where they are going--the actual past or the potential future? In terms of the above debates, "the actual past" captures what is common to "the animal," "body," "determinism" and "structure," while "the potential future" captures what unites "the divine," "mind," "free will" and "agency."

To define humanity in terms of an unresolved temporal problem has the advantage of highlighting what may turn out to be main ideological polarity of the 21st century. The extremes are epitomized by, on the one hand, the animal rights movement and, on the other, the project of artificial intelligence. Interestingly, both poles think of themselves as politically "progressive" and, perhaps even more interestingly, are driven by what each regards as cutting-edge science. …

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