Monday, 27 October 2014

Intelligent Design, Relational Ontologies, and the Metaphysics of Information

I’ve never really kept up with the debate over intelligent design (ID); I’d be hard-pushed even to describe precisely what ID proponents hold. But William Dembski’s latest book, Being as Communion, has caught my eye. The back-cover blurb records that ‘Dembski attempts to make good on the promise . . . that information is poised to replace matter as the primary stuff of reality.’ This is interesting to me. Matter, the ‘stuff’ of reality, is quite the mystery, and, from my limited reading on the subject, I’m not convinced that anyone has really offered a satisfactory account of what matter is. It makes sense to me that matter as a concept could, in theory, be explained in terms of information. In his preface (available to download from Ashgate’s website, along with the contents and the index), Dembski asserts, ‘To exist is to be in communion, and to be in communion is to exchange information’ (p. xiii). An information-based relational ontology, that is, a model of reality that prioritises information-exchange as its basic ‘stuff’, could be feasible, and, if such a model proves welcome and influential, it may even help to make ID respectable among the scientific community.

Of course, there are lots of assumptions here, and no doubt Dembski clarifies his stance in the following pages. When I eventually get around to reading Being as Communion, I’ll be able to draw a more informed (geddit?) conclusion. That said, I do have a reservation. The concept of information is so redolent of the modern world, so Microsoft, so Apple, that I can’t help but wonder how far this particular expression of information is simply a flashy by-product of the information age. The prevalence of information technology leads us to use the various concepts of information for framing reality in ways that would not have been possible even half a century ago. And I suspect that, as this technology develops, metaphysical models of reality, too, will continue to develop by mimicking scientific advancements. This means, I believe, that any metaphysics of information that convince or resonate now will likely become outdated very soon, with an impact on any theology or philosophy based on them.

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