It has struck me more than once that a lot of the confusion that accompanies discussions about stuff like consciousness and free will, and intelligent design, and teleology, even the explanatory filter, and the words “chance” and “random” arises from lack of clarity over the difference between decision-making and intention. I think it’s useful to separate them, especially given the tendency for people, especially those making pro-ID arguments, but also those making ghost-in-the-machine consciousness or free will arguments, to regard “random” as meaning “unintentional”. Informed decisions are not random. Not all informed decisions involve intention.
This was my first computer:
It was called Dr Nim. It was a computer game, but completely mechanical – no batteries required. You had to beat Dr Nim, by not being the one left with the last marble, and you took turns with Dr Nim (the plastic board). It was possible to beat Dr Nim, but usually Dr Nim won.
Dr Nim was a decision-making machine. It would decide how many marbles to release depending on how many you had released. Frustratingly, it seemed no matter how clever you got, Dr Nim nearly always left you with the last marble. Here is a youtube demonstration:
Clearly, Dr Nim is not acting “randomly”. It wins far more often than would a random system that selected 1, 2, or 3 marbles regardless of how many there are left. In fact, it seems to “know” how many marbles there are left, and chooses the best number to drop, accordingly. In other words, Dr Nim makes informed decisions. But clearly Dr Nim is not an “intentional agent”. It’s just a few plastic gates mounted on a channeled board.
And yet Dr Nim behaves like an intelligent agent. It was certainly smarter than me at playing Nim!
I suggest that the products of evolution look like the products of intelligence( as in informed, non-random, decision-making) because they are the products of intelligence (as in informed, non-random, decision-making). The mistake I think ID proponents make it to assume that such a system must be intentional.
What’s the difference? I suggest that an intentional decision-maker is one that is able to model a distal goal, and select actions from a range of possible actions, on the basis of which is most likely to bring about that goal. And I suggest that humans, for example, do this by simulating the outcomes of those actions, and feeding the results of those simulations back into the decision-making process. This allows us to cut corners in a way that evolutionary processes can not, and evidently, do not. It also, I suggest, gives us enormous freedom of action – as in “degrees of freedom” – not to do “random” things (which would be the opposite of “intentional”) but things that we will – intend. Although sometimes it makes us not quite as clever.