In the Face of an Aspiring Baboon

In the Face of an Aspiring Baboon: A Response to Sahotra Sarkar’s Review of Science vs. Religion?

Introduction

Some will wonder why I expend such great effort in responding to Sahotra Sarkar’s negative review of my Science vs. Religion? I offer four reasons: (1) The review was published in the leading on-line philosophy reviews journal (which offers no right of response). (2) Word of the review has spread very fast across the internet, especially amongst those inclined to believe it. Indeed, part of the black humour of this episode is the ease with which soi disant critical minds are willing to pronounce the review ‘excellent’ without having compared the book and the review for themselves. (3) The review quotes the book sufficiently to leave the false impression that it has come to grips with its content. (4) Most importantly, there is a vast world-view difference that may hold its own lessons. Sarkar and I were both trained in ‘history and philosophy of science’ (HPS), yet our orientations to this common subject could not be more opposed. Sarkar’s homepage sports this quote from Charles Darwin: ‘He who understands baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke’. I take this to be wishful thinking on Sarkar’s part.

My response is divided into 4 parts:
1. The Terms of Reference: Start with the Title
2. What to Make of the Philosophical Critique of ID?
3. Sarkar’s Particular Criticisms I: The More Editorial Ones
4. Sarkar’s Particular Criticisms II: The More Substantive Ones

1. The Terms of Reference: Start with the Title

The book of mine that Sarkar reviewed is entitled ‘Science vs Religion? Intelligent Design and the Problem of Evolution’. This simple point is worth bearing in mind, since Sarkar seems to have little interest in — or knowledge of – the question defined by the book’s title. Although Sarkar and I are students of history and philosophy of science (HPS), I shall argue that his interest and knowledge is limited to an interpretation of the book’s subtitle so narrow as to cast doubt on his suitability as a reviewer. Indeed, of the various expertises that contribute to HPS, the matters of contemporary evolutionary biology on which Sarkar’s competence clearly exceeds my own do not bear on how one determines the scientific status of either ID or Neo-Darwinian biology, which has to do with their respective claims to epistemic legitimacy in society. The fact that Sarkar found so much of my discussion ‘useless’, ‘extraneous’, ‘unreliable’ and ‘vacuous’ should have made him wonder whether I had written the book he imagined he was reviewing. But no — like the horseshoe crab programmed to be in hot pursuit of edges, he carried on regardless.

When the defence lawyers asked me to serve as a rebuttal witness in the landmark anti-ID court case, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, I agreed to dispute the historical and philosophical claims of the plaintiffs’ experts (Ken Miller, Rob Pennock, etc.), which I found seriously wanting. It was a task that I gladly undertook and continue to undertake today — especially given Sarkar’s performance, which reveals the continuing shallowness of ID’s opponents on these matters. If I am a ‘shill’ for anything (a nod to the incorrigibly charmless Brian Leiter), it is not ID but HPS. An important rhetorical strategy of the opposition has been to deny — or grant as little credence as possible to — the very idea that ID has a historical and philosophical backstory that extends beyond the confines of the Discovery Institute. Sarkar unwittingly makes this point himself when he claims that the chapter of my book most relevant to Kitzmiller, is ‘by far the longest’: In fact, it is only three pages longer than two of the other four chapters. However, it is clear from Sarkar’s review that it was the only chapter that he thought really mattered.

Sarkar expresses disappointment and puzzlement that I don’t present a critical survey of such contemporary ID proponents as William Dembski, Michael Behe, and Philip Johnson. I am sure that it would have made his task easier – but that is not my problem. As in another recent book, Dissent over Descent, my interest in Dembski and Behe is mainly as members of a deep and fruitful scientific tradition inspired by the Bible that has sought intelligent design in nature long before Darwin came on the scene and even now does not require Darwin for its raison d’être. Even Johnson, the lawyer who sparked the attack on metaphysical naturalism that inspired contemporary ID, shows a concern about the nature of the scientific method not unlike that of that other lawyer, Francis Bacon, who nearly 400 years earlier began the modern search for metaphysically neutral demarcation criteria for science (see esp. p. 162 of Science v. Religion?). Nevertheless, Sarkar reasonably asks why I don’t take the philosophical criticisms of contemporary ID more seriously. I turn to that question in the next section.

2. What to Make of the Philosophical Critique of ID?

Following Sarkar’s example, I shall stick mainly to Elliott Sober’s work, which has the advantage of being easily accessible on the web. Overall I don’t believe that the philosophical literature does much more than reveal the warped dialectical arrangements under which ID is currently discussed. This is a problem that should be laid squarely on the doorstep of the US Supreme Court, given its restrictive interpretation of the separation of church and state, which prohibits religiously motivated instruction in publicly supported science classes. ‘Sober v. Dembski’ is a classic case of a mute and a deaf trying to communicate with each other: Dembski cannot say what Sober cannot hear. What I mean here is a sophisticated discussion of divine agency as a form of supernatural causation relevant to scientific explanation.

Take Sober’s main complaint against Dembski’s ‘explanatory filter’ (in ‘How not to detect design’): Dembski’s criteria for inferring design do not exhaust explanations by regularity and chance. Sober deals with the matter so narrowly as to avoid asking why Dembski might have put the matter this way in the first place. My considered view (expressed on p. 62 of Science vs Religion) is that Dembski is using Shannon and Weaver-style information theory to understand the practice of science as the means by which God communicates his plan, presumably because he wants some response from us. Just as in information theory, a message’s content (relative to a receiver) is what results when redundancy and noise are removed from the signal, so too for Dembski ‘design’ is what results when regularity and chance are removed as factors in one’s scientific understanding. Added to this are Dembski’s suspicions about the reality of chance in nature, in light of how random numbers are ‘generated’ (see chap. 17 of Dembski and Ruse, Debating Design, CUP 2004). Sober, it seems, harbors a much stronger faith in the reality of chance than Dembski, which in turn makes Sober less willing than Dembski to infer design in nature. Why Sober and Dembski should hold such contrasting intuitions about the respective roles of chance and design is probably related to their contrasting background beliefs about the likelihood of God’s existence. But this is not a matter easily discussed in the context of science policy in the USA today.

To his credit, Sober (in ‘Evolution without Naturalism’), distinguishes himself from the vulgar naturalists who testified for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller by not dismissing the testability of supernatural claims out of hand. However, he complains he can’t tell ID and evolution apart in terms of their predictive consequences. He puts the blame squarely on ID for failing to commit to a substantive conception of the intelligent designer – a practice that Sober happily continues. Sober could have just as easily put the blame on himself for operating with a maximally inclusive conception of evolution – i.e. anything that isn’t directly caused by God is caused by some evolutionary process or other (and there’s one for every occasion). However, I want to stick with ID’s muteness about God.

As Sober realizes, Darwin had a rather limited view of the scope for divine agency: For Darwin, if a particular life-form (from organ to organism) does not itself appear optimally designed, then it probably wasn’t designed at all. And given the surfeit of imperfection in the natural world, Darwin found it very easy not to see God in the works. However, theologians had recognized this problem at least two centuries earlier and turned into a discipline expressly aimed at reconciling the empirical reality of nature with the rational demands of divine creation: theodicy. All the imperfections of the world were to be seen as part of God’s optimal design package. Perfection in the whole need not – and probably does not – imply perfection in the parts. This is the idea that Voltaire ridiculed as ours being ‘the best of all possible worlds’, no matter how bad it seemed. (I discuss this in more detail in chapter 5 of Dissent over Descent.)

However, the idea is not so ridiculous if one takes seriously that the God of Genesis creates in a resistant material medium — the world does not simply arise from a divine snap of the fingers. God may be omnipotent in the sense of ultimately getting what he wants but how he manages it is up for science to discover – and, depending on one’s reading of the Bible – improve and complete. Thus, scientific inquiry is justifiable as an extension of rational theology. This whole way of looking at things seems strange now because, after Kant, it has become common for secular thinkers to treat the great ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions about nature as radically distinct rather than mutually informative. (Religious thinkers will have already encountered this distinction in Aquinas.) What normally passes today for ‘theistic evolution’ (i.e. the position of Ken Miller, Francis Collins and, in Britain, Denis Alexander) openly promotes just such a dichotomy: God sets the natural world in motion – perhaps even by a toss of the chemical dice – and what follows can be explained as if God had never existed. It implies that however our thoughts about the nature of God might change, they cannot affect our science – and vice versa. It is to ID’s great credit that it refuses to accept this intellectually craven stance.

Theistic evolution provides a safe haven for the craven by killing two awkward birds with one stone: On the one hand, it gives atheists everything they want (i.e. a science unbothered by God) and, on the other, it offers comfort to theists who worry that their belief in God might be shaken by whatever science happens to turn up. After all, if we can agree at the outset that it is better that the world should exist than not – admittedly Schopenhauer would dissent – then God is safe in the hands of scientists, whose findings we can accept blindly because they can’t bear on God’s nature. It is therefore not surprising that Sober, presumably an atheist, finds theistic evolution philosophically defensible: Its conception of God is so devoid of content as to provide no particular role for the deity in science — except perhaps as a logical placeholder for the unmoved mover of all things. It is only out of politeness that Sober does not then question the point of believing in such a God at all.

But what would it mean for answers to the ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions to be ‘mutually informative’, the position I attribute to ID? The answer most clearly related to my book is that beliefs about divine agency should yield scientific benefits, namely, in the form of testable hypotheses concerning hidden entities, variables and processes that capture the expression of supernatural power in empirically restricted settings. Either out of historical ignorance or philosophical dogmatism (or more likely a bit of both), Sarkar fails to see that the sort of ‘supernaturalism’ relevant to ID is ultimately no more than scientific realism informed by a strong sense of rational theology, which provides a prior motivation for thinking that there is more to nature than empirical regularities relating to forms of contact motion. Here I am not merely trying to reinterpret supernaturalism to make it look respectable in retrospect. It is the most reasonable historical interpretation of what the likes of Newton, Leibniz, Boscovich, Hartley, Priestley, Faraday, Maxwell, etc. were up to when trying to make sense of the elusive physical phenomena associated with, say, gravity, energy, electricity and magnetism. I also think it is why Mendel understood the mechanism of heredity so much better than Darwin, who was completely bereft of a theological imagination.

Of course, life is much easier for Sarkar’s Punch-and-Judy style of naturalism to identify supernaturalism exclusively with what he calls ‘divine intervention’, which entails the outright suspension of natural law. But unfortunately – as anyone in HPS should know – matters are never quite so simple. So I quite happily plead guilty to Sarkar’s verdict that ‘Fuller’s is not a sense of “supernatural” that would excite real creationists or inflame any of their critics’, since for Sarkar the only ‘real creationist’ is someone who believes that God simply zaps things in and out of existence when he feels like it and ‘their critics’ are people like himself who are dumb enough to think that this is what their opponents really believe. Much of my testimony in Kitzmiller aimed to dispel this unproductive stereotyping of the debate.

To be sure, some people treat the existence of a supernatural realm as a science-stopper – and do so happily. For example, many self-avowed theistic evolutionists advance just this position when they suggest that there are aspects of our being or reality more generally that science should never expect to comprehend. But ID does not let God opt out of scientific relevance so easily. Theories of ‘complex specified information’ and ‘irreducible complexity’, regardless of the flaws in their particular formulations, do not begin to make sense unless the supernatural is treated as scientifically tractable. Perhaps the background assumption that is not made sufficiently clear in this debate is that ID advocates regard easy Neo-Darwinist appeals to chance-based processes as themselves prima facie irrational and mysterious, especially when the evidence on offer for them is indirect – as in inferences we might make about what happened millions or billions of years ago. Here it is worth recalling the long line of ID theologians – most notably Thomas Bayes — who contributed to the interpretation of probability theory as a measure of belief, whose uncertainty gradually decreases with further inquiry. For them ‘chance’ was simply a dispirited way of dealing with our ignorance of design.

3. Sarkar’s Particular Criticisms I: The More Editorial Ones

In the rest of my response, I shall quote Sarkar’s criticisms in bold face and respond below them.

Let me take the following two criticisms together:

“Logical positivists, and not just Popper, are supposed to have labeled Darwinism a “metaphysical research program” (p. 133). I am not aware of a single logical positivist (or logical empiricist) text that supports this claim. Given that for the logical positivists (in contrast to Popper) “metaphysical” was a term of opprobrium, it is unlikely that any of them would have embraced this formulation. The logical positivists may well have believed physics to be of more fundamental importance than biology, but the latter science nevertheless belonged to the pantheon. The foundations of biology were intended to be part of their Encyclopedia of Unified Science.”

“Around the same time, Lamarck is supposed to have held that “lower organisms literally strove to become higher organisms, specifically humans, who at some point in the future would be Earth’s sole denizens” (p. 146), a view to be found nowhere in the Lamarckian corpus.”

These criticisms illustrate what I have called the ‘New Yorker magazine view of the world’ that afflicts some analytic philosophers. (I originally made this claim against a philosopher who actually began his career as an editor. Oops!) It basically reduces the history and philosophy of science to checking for facts and grammar, respectively. However, as so often is the case when dealing with editors, the fact-checker goes astray when he decides to venture opinions of his own. So even if it is strictly true that only Popper called Darwinism a ‘metaphysical research programme’ and the official logical positivist line was anti-metaphysical, it is equally true that the positivists themselves did metaphysics in everything but name (e.g. Carnap’s Aufbau), not least in the IEUS volume on biology that attempted to lay down the discipline’s axiomatic foundations. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Popper wrote the obituary for its author, Joseph Woodger, in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science in 1981.

On the point concerning the ‘Lamarckian corpus’, again I am happy to concede that the man himself never explicitly stated the thesis I attributed to him. As it turns out, the passage Sarkar quotes refers to Lamarck and Comte together as representatives of a pro-human line of evolutionary progress that was opposed to the more ecocentric line taken by Darwinists attempting to influence British sociology in its early years. Whatever Lamarck’s actual views on the ultimate fate of humanity (which are up for debate), it is clear that the Lamarckian tradition has been generally committed to what the historian Charles Gillispie called an ‘escalator of being’ on which all creatures were moving, with humans currently on the top floor. A clear expression of the view I attributed to Lamarck can be found in his most visionary 20th century follower, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who envisaged the Earth as someday becoming one ‘hominised substance’.

But some of Sarkar’s editorial antics are simply mischievous, if not symptomatic of someone gripped by attention deficit disorder:

“The idea that a difference should make a difference is attributed to Gregory Bateson in 1979 (p. 62) even though (as Bateson explicitly acknowledged) its source is in the work of William James several decades earlier.”

Interesting observation in some possible context — but not mine, which has to do with information theory, which is also Bateston’s own context.

“The “Darwinian doctrine” is supposed to consist of the belief that “chance mutations are the driving force of evolution” (p. 31). One wonders what happened to natural selection. Fuller has an answer: “compounded historical accidents” are also known as “natural selection” (p. 48). This issue is particularly troubling because what separates the neutral model of evolution from the selectionist or “Darwinian” model of evolution is the question whether chance mutations drive evolution: the neutralists claim they do whereas the selectionists argue for the primacy of natural selection. For some mysterious reason, Fuller has reversed the selectionists’ position.”

The alert reader will notice that the two quotes consist of phrases taken 17 pages apart – indeed, they are in two different chapters – and clearly not part of the same argument, which in neither case is the one Sarkar constructs on my behalf. Of course, I accept that evolutionists travel under a big tent that allow for both neutralists and selectionists, though if Sarkar is so fussy about distinguishing the mechanisms of evolution, he might start in his own backyard, since Francis Ayala appears to conflate the two in his recent paper, “Darwin’s Greatest Discovery: Design without a Designer”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104 (15 May 2007): 8567-73.

“Pearson and Galton’s biometry is supposed to have been based on a “blending theory of inheritance” (p. 145) even though Pearson explicitly denied assuming any theory at all and Galton reported experiments to refute the blending theory.”

Had Sarkar cast his gaze higher up on the same page, he would have seen that I recognize that Galton was trying to overcome the blending theory through both scientific experiments and public policy proposals. But you don’t try to overcome something unless you recognize it in the first place. In any case, to claim that Galton outright ‘refuted’ the blending theory is to put the matter too strongly. And as for Pearson not assuming an theory at all, that observation should be classed with Sarkar’s earlier one that the positivists didn’t do metaphysics.

“All microevolution is supposed to have been designed by humans (p. 141); presumably ancient humans were privy to enough biological warfare techniques to design malaria and cause the spread of the sickle cell allele in tropical and subtropical populations.”

More mischief, I fear: The instances of microevolution that I am referring to are the ones cited by Science magazine to make 2005 ‘The Year of Evolution’, all of which consist of laboratory experiments. I do not say anything about microevolution in general.

The following criticisms appear to get closer to matters of substance – but not quite perhaps…

“Newton is supposed to have “presented his mathematical physics as the divine plan that was implicitly written into the Bible [emphasis added]” (p. 54). Fuller must have access to an otherwise unknown veridical edition of the Principia.”

No, of course I do not have access to any such edition. However, once one adds some context — Newton’s correspondence, successive editions of the long interpretive essay he attached to the Principia, called the General Scholium, as well as his other major work, the Opticks — it becomes clear that Newton intended his physics to be a decoding of hidden biblical truths. Again this point should be obvious to anyone schooled in HPS. Such a person would be mindful of the tricky 17th and 18th century conventions concerning the expression of theological opinions in scientific tracts. Indeed, knowledge of that period is good preparation for ID proponents trying to navigate their way around repressive environment of today’s US legal culture.

“In the early nineteenth century, Cuvier and Agassiz were supposed to have been thinking of climate change (p. 59)”.

This criticism of my use of the phrase ‘climate change’ epitomizes Sarkar’s intellectual blinders: He appears to be so wedded to science du jour that all climate change must be anthropogenic because that is how scientists tend to think about it today. The non-anthropogenic floods and ice ages proposed by these catastrophist natural historians do not appear to count as climate change for him. Or maybe this slip merely reveals Sarkar’s lack of historical imagination and/or anti-religious bigotry — that he cannot imagine that the Noachian narrative might inspire a scientifically fruitful line on inquiry.

“Mendel is supposed to have had his work rejected by scientific experts before he published it in a local journal in Brünn (p. 61), a rejection of which no other historian is aware.”

Well, here is one historian familiar with the original sources who is aware. (Keep in mind that Mendel’s paper was published in 1866): “When Mendel explained ‘‘the general application of the law of formation and development of hybrids’’ in his lectures to the members of the Natural Science Society in 1865, the listeners did not understand that he addressed the research question that had arisen from the discussion between local breeders and naturalists thirty years ago.” [Vitezslav Orel, ‘Contested memories: Debates over the nature of Mendel’s paradigm’. Hereditas 142 (2005): 98-102.]

“The modern theory of evolution is often interpreted to be a synthesis in the 1930s of Mendel’s theory of inheritance with Darwin’s theory of natural selection (along with natural history). But, for Fuller, it was a synthesis “between molecular genetics and natural history” and it is supposed to have happened a decade before 1955 (p. 58) even though there was no possibility of a molecular genetics before the Watson-Crick double helix model of DNA which, incidentally, appeared in 1953. (Elsewhere in the book he accepts the standard interpretation of the synthesis [e.g., p. 134].)”

I may be guilty of sloppy usage here, but I’m afraid our editor has overstepped the mark when he says ‘there was no possibility of a molecular genetics before Watson-Crick’. No possibility? There was plenty of possibility once Warren Weaver started seeding projects for the Rockefeller Foundation in what he called ‘molecular biology’ in 1934, one aim of which would be to understand the molecular character of genetics.

But admittedly, Sarkar scores some direct hits:

“William Jennings Bryan is supposed to have been an “expert witness for the prosecution” (p. 115) in the Scopes trial, rather than what he was: the prosecutor who famously agreed to be an expert witness for the defense.”

This is true. My mistake. Sarkar will be pleased to learn that I spotted the error before he did and corrected it in subsequent work. Bryan’s role in the trial is correctly attributed in Dissent over Descent on p. 35.

“Thanks to molecular biology, genes are supposed to have been “[broken] down into ordered strings of amino acids” (p. 135); one wonders what happened to DNA nucleotide bases.”

This is the most substantial error that Sarkar has caught. And, truth to be told, it is not the first time I have confused the amino acids that make up proteins with the bases that make up DNA. The correction is appreciated and I will try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

4. Sarkar’s Particular Criticisms II: The More Substantive Ones

“Fuller predicts that Darwinism (by which he means the entire framework of evolutionary theory) will be dead by the end of the twenty-first century and will be replaced by something more akin to ID creationism. No particular reason is given for this pious hope other than that Marxism underwent a similar denouement during the twentieth century (though, obviously it was not replaced by ID).”

What I claim will be dead by the end of this century is ‘Darwinism’ as a covering scientific ideology, which will have resulted from the dismantling of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis. What I mean is that molecular biology, genetics, natural history and field biology – the major disciplines that currently constitute the synthesis – will no longer be under any special epistemological obligation to sing from the same Darwinian hymn sheet. Why do I say this? The most obvious reason is that articles in the professional journals of these fields make little reference even to evolution, let alone the signature Darwinian process of natural selection. In short, biologists can conduct their normal business regardless of where they stand on the ID-evolution divide (This is discussed on pp. 131-2 of Science vs Religion).

It is unlikely that the Neo-Darwinian synthesis would have much epistemological salience at all if philosophers like Sarkar didn’t make a career out of what I would call The Higher Knitting, i.e. the active maintenance of a sense of synthesis by showing how all the different parts of biology really cohere together, if all the semantic confusions are clarified in just the right way so that the overall logic is rendered transparent. For their part, professional biologists (as opposed to wannabes like Sarkar) operate with a much more relaxed view of the so-called synthesis. They prefer the content-lite phrase ‘modern evolutionary theory’, which enables them to move between loose various characterizations of evolution that occasionally escape strict Darwinism.

In fact, many biologists seem so unaware (ungrateful?) of the philosophical knitting done on their behalf that they complain that talk of ‘Darwinism’ is just a creationist ruse to expose them to more scrutiny than they think they deserve. The unrequited love of philosophers of biology for professional biologists would make an interesting research project in the sociology of science. (A good starting point would be Werner Callebaut’s interviews in Taking the Naturalistic Turn, Chicago 1993.) Why philosophers should relate to the biological sciences in such a strongly ideological fashion is an open question, but no doubt it has to do with the larger cultural issues surrounding biology (ranging from creationism to eugenics) that professional scientists prefer to avoid. If not outright shills, philosophers like Sarkar relate to biologists as Plato’s guardians did to his philosopher-kings.

“Fuller goes on to claim (without argument) that not allowing creationism in science classes constitutes an institutionalization of atheism (p. 112).”

‘Without argument’ is a verbal tic of analytic philosophers who want to do two contradictory things at once: Disagree with you, while denying that you’ve said anything worth disagreeing with. If materials designed for the science curriculum can be excluded simply because they are religiously motivated, regardless of their scientific merit, then I infer institutionalised atheism. And that seems to be the position of the US after Edwards v. Aguilard. Kitzmiller complicated the matter because the proposed materials, especially Of Pandas and People, were both religiously motivated and scientific deficient – a point I never contested. But equally banned, it seems, would be a science textbook that, for reasons of teaching science more effectively to Christian students, demonstrated the relevance of Newton’s reading of the Bible to his physical theories, even if the underlying history, philosophy and science were all true.

“Moreover, even if ID was once central to science, it does not follow either (i) that science has not since moved beyond that stage or (ii) that it should not now maintain a healthy distance from ID. (Think of an analogy: it is easy to argue that determinism was crucial to the rise of physics. Does that imply that physics still clings — or should cling — to determinism even after the rise of quantum mechanics?)”

I’m glad Sarkar poses the matter as a hypothetical, since it would be nice to know when – and to what extent – science has truly ‘moved beyond’ ID, especially when it comes to motivating the pursuit of science. There still seem to be many scientists – and philosophers – who promote scientific inquiry in order to arrive at a maximally unified understanding of reality. But why think that such a goal makes sense, if ID is completely off the table? In fact, as the history of determinism itself illustrates, it is crude, to say the least, to argue that a deep metaphysical assumption of science like ID is simply discarded in light of empirical findings or even a change in theories. Rather, like determinism, it gets reformulated and may even be used to challenge the intelligibility of the theories and findings of science. Were Sarkar more of a philosopher, and less of a wannabe scientist, he might have figured that out himself.

“Ultimately, the claim that Fuller wants to defend is a normative one: that science should re-embrace ID. But this normative claim does not follow from the descriptive claim that science once embraced ID (leaving aside the question whether the descriptive claim is true). Some further argument is necessary and Fuller offers none.”

The problem with challenging my thesis this way is that it presumes that science has indeed given up its ID-based assumptions. (That assumptions are not acknowledged doesn’t mean that they have been abandoned.) The overarching sense of scientific progress and its concomitant faith in greater explanatory unity and increased predictive control of nature over time: All of these trade on an ID-based view of the world, in which human beings enjoy a special relationship to reality that enables us to acquire a deep knowledge, most of which affords no particular reproductive advantage and more likely puts our continued survival at risk. Armed only with a Darwinian view of the world – and without the implicit ID backstory – it becomes difficult to justify the continuation of the scientific enterprise in this full-bodied sense. (I have recently made this argument in the context of the Richard Dawkins’ plan to establish an atheist version of the Templeton Foundation – but what has atheism ever done for science?)

In this respect, ID offers a much stronger antidote to postmodernism and relativism than anything naturalism has to offer. If anything, the naturalistic turn in the philosophy of science has played into postmodernist and relativist hands by promoting the ‘disunity of science’ thesis, which would have each science justify itself in terms of its own specific research trajectory. Unfortunately, such a narrow view of epistemic legitimation is a hostage to fortune in a science policy environment on the lookout for diminishing returns and collateral damage. After all, empirically speaking, it is hard to dispute that science wastes a lot of time, money and effort, leads to much trivia and many dead ends, and causes much harm. Why then persist in the more grandiose projects that excite not only philosophers but also the larger culture that accords ‘Science’ the significance it continues to enjoy?

Sarkar himself promotes the idea – which hitherto I thought had died a long overdue death – that the theory of evolution by natural selection is itself ‘value-neutral’, though bad people – and maybe some good ones – have twisted it to bad effect (See his ‘”Intelligent Design” Creationism Is an Immoral Fraud’). This idea would begin to make sense if there were some canonical formulation of the theory beyond the level of sloganeering. The most plausible candidates for ‘value-neutral’ theories are ones fully expressible in agreed mathematical terms. Physics is the obvious model here, and population genetics as a stand-alone discipline may be the only branch of biology that approximates this model. Modern evolutionary theory as a whole is quite a flexible feast that would seem to allow both a Richard Dawkins and a Steven Jay Gould to dine out on its fruits. As Kim Sterelny brilliantly observed in Dawkins vs. Gould (Icon 2001), between these two lay vast differences of opinion over the main mechanisms of evolution and the relative weighting of evidence – not to mention the world-view each takes to follow from evolution. Of course, philosophers like Sarkar engaged in The Higher Knitting try to construct a fantasy value-neutral object of Neo-Darwinian inquiry that circumvents these public disagreements. But even the philosophers disagree amongst themselves, albeit in more discreet, technical settings.

“Throughout the book Fuller takes great pains to emphasize the uncontroversial point that science and religion have on occasion shared goals in the past. But this fact does not establish the claim that intelligent design was central to the rise of science except to the trivial extent that the worshipped deity was typically supposed to be intelligent.”

This is the sort of argument that would be unwittingly funny if found in an undergraduate exam, but pathetic coming from someone holding a Ph.D. in HPS. First Sarkar insists on treating science and religion as if they were two separate activities, so that he imagines the relevance of intelligent design to science as simply a matter of scientists happening to worship an intelligent deity! He seems never to have run across the idea (discussed throughout Science vs. Religion, especially chap. 1) of an ‘intelligible’ reality as a necessary precondition for science. Intelligibility implies that all of reality – not just the bits we need for everyday living — is constructed in such a way that we can make sense of its fundamental nature. And why would anyone think such a thing? The answer is that whoever or whatever produced reality, it has a mind rather like ours – only much, much better. So, science then becomes a matter of reverse-engineering the divine artifact. Sarkar may not like this mix of scientific and religious motivations, but this strong reading of the intelligibility condition for science goes to the very heart of what ID is about. To be sure, it does not follow that the specific empirical conclusions reached by operating on this basis will always be correct, but that does not deny its scientific fruitfulness – or its religious basis.

Let me conclude on what, for my money, this is Sarkar’s biggest howler:

“Fuller does not even address the question whether the development of evolutionary theory, and its naturalistic explanation of adaptation (through blind variation and natural selection), made it possible for the first time to have a non-teleological account of the world. Did Darwin and Wallace achieve something special? On Fuller’s account, they apparently did not.”

Leaving aside whether Wallace’s account of evolution by natural selection is truly non-teleological (which I seriously doubt), it should be obvious to anyone who has taken HPS 101 that ‘non-teleological accounts of the world’ were being given long before Darwin – even without taking into account that many of the principals in the Scientific Revolution presented their versions of the mechanical world-view as if it were non-teleological so as to avoid religious problems. In terms of precedents to Darwin’s own theory, De Rerum Natura, the classic poem by the Roman Epicurean, Lucretius, immediately springs to mind – and it returns us to my central thesis that apparently flew over Sarkar’s head, since I raised it first on page 2 of my supposedly ‘content-free’ introduction: Non-teleological accounts of the world do not inspire the sustained pursuit of scientific inquiry – and so not surprisingly there are no good Darwinian accounts of science’s own significance for Homo sapiens.

Historians have long marvelled at the extent to which the metaphysical assumptions and speculative explanations of the ancient atomists anticipated a range of revolutionary scientific achievements over the past 150 years, both in physics and biology. Yet the ancients who held these views were not moved to do science. They were so convinced by their arguments that they were inclined to engage in a ‘therapeutic’ brand of philosophy that aimed to reassure people that there is ultimately no meaning to life other than to minimize suffering, which typically resulted when people adopted the arrogant attitude that they could master the chance-based character of reality and turn it to their systematic advantage. Atomism became such a powerful force in the Scientific Revolution only once it underwent theological domestication, such that chance came to be seen as a mechanism that God used to good effect as part of an overall design strategy.

Darwin’s uniqueness comes from being someone whose ID sympathies provided the impetus for sustained scientific inquiry but then found his belief in ID disconfirmed by the evidence. He flourished at a time – the middle third of the 19th century – that was probably the high watermark of rational theology’s cultural support of scientific inquiry, and so the deflationary implications of Darwin’s ‘one long argument’ for humanity’s grasp of nature had yet to sink in. However, near the end of his life, Darwin’s great defender T.H. Huxley acknowledged that the 20th century would face the challenge — given Darwin’s deflated view of humans — of maintaining our confidence in the scientific enterprise. This point should resonate with today’s philosophers of science who, notwithstanding Kuhn, Rorty and a host of relativists and postmodernists, can’t seem to disabuse themselves of the idea that science displays a sense of ‘progress’ that is not only a ‘progress from’ but also a ‘progress to’. But why think that science is heading anywhere at all, especially towards explanatory unity or greater predictive control of the world? This is because ID is still very much with us.

 

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69 Responses to In the Face of an Aspiring Baboon

  1. Great read.
    I don’t know how this book got past me before, but it’s in my shopping cart now.

  2. I’m paying special attention to this thread so that only civil, thoughtful comments are entered. “Physicalist,” whoever s/he was, is no longer with us.

  3. 3

    CENSORSHIP!!!!

    is what they’ll cry at Panda’s Thumb.

  4. 4
    William J. Murray

    Well, I’ve been making this argument for a while now – good to see I wasn’t off-base. Newton’s search wasn’t for “natural laws”, but rather formulaic representations of the supernatural governance that kept form and order in the world. Such “natural laws” are ID’s greatest successful predictions in history.

    That the material world behaves in an orderly, rational manner is another fulfilled I.D. prediction. Materialists have subsumed by definitional fiat that which is greater than it; i.e., what we call natural laws and principles.

    Methodological Naturalism was always a subset of a greater metaphysics without which it had no ground rules or axioms. Modern science has uncoupled their cars from the engine and mistakenly believe that because the remaining momentum from theological premise (assumption, concept and language of design, order, elegance, reason, etc.) has still produced some advances, that they are still attached to an engine.

    The morass tht is current evolutionary theory is what you get from an assumptive perspective of chance, chaos, and bottom-up emergence: no biological laws, rules, no biological information theory, no understanding of how the design of biological form and function works and develops over time and taxa.

    I see that Sherman (another post here) has succeeded in making some predictions concerning biological laws and form development. Newton showed the way – assume there are rational information laws governing the behaivor of biological development, find them, then use them to predict.

  5. In order to make this thread a little easier to manage any critics of Fuller’s must use their real name to post a comment. Check the anonymous bravado at the door. I ought to make that a policy for the whole damn blog not just this one thread.

  6. Good for you, Dave!

    There is no such thing as anonymous bravado.

    Bravado* is when we say it under our own name.

    The rest is just anonymous scurrility.

  7. With an as yet undetermined appendage John Wilkins
    writes

    [snippage]

    Now Fuller has put up a defence at the Intelligent Design website, Uncommon Descent, under the gerrymandered image of a bacterial flagellum…

    While I haven’t yet read the book…

    Intelligent design is (as the [flagellum microphotograph] link above showed) very cavalier with details and facts. The “impression” of design is reason enough to ride roughsod over the details. In fact, as the flagellum indicates, mostly their argument is argument ab cartoon – if you squint hard, then it looks like a machine. Imagine a physicist doing that and coming up with a cartoon physics!

    This disregard for facts, so far from being a corrective to the “New Yorker” approach, is merely a Marvel Comics form of philosophy and history, and it’s the only kind that can support ID.

    Amazing. Wilkins opens and closes his argument by saying the image of the flagellum on our blog is idealized. Funny thing, that, since there’s no label on it saying it’s a flagellum. How did he know it was a flagellum? I guess he must have put his cursor over it to see “flagellum” pop up.

    Cartoon physics? Right. Has Wilkins seen a representation of an atom in a physics book with all those perfect colored spheres in the middle with orbiting spheres representing electrons? Guess what, Wilkins, they don’t look anything like that.

    Has he ever opened up a biology book and seen those perfectly stylized atoms arranged into a DNA double helix? Guess what, Wilkins, DNA doesn’t really look like that either.

    Or, a little closer to home, maybe Wilkins has never been to a natural history museum and seen all the dinosaurs with skin and eyes and flesh and never once considered that those are sculpted renderings based on nothing but bones.

    Or maybe he never stopped to consider that all the illustrations of various extinct hominid “species” in museums and biology books, illustrations of them in the wild millions of years ago, depicted like someone took a 35mm photograph of them when they were alive when in reality that’s more artists’ reconstruction based not even on complete skeletons but just a few bone fragments the size of a guitar pick.

    Wilkins, there’s NO science in the world that’s more “cartoon” than evolutionary biology. Evolutionary biology is ALL cartoons.

    People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Write that down, Wilkins.

  8. But hey, I at least have to give credit to Wilkins for being brave enough to connect his real name with his pathetic cartoon argument. There’s someone that would be a lot better off with an anonymous handle, that’s for sure, so that when he gets a cartoon beat down like I just gave him the worst consequence is that he just abandons the pseudonym and starts over with a new one.

    Who’s next? Step up to the plate fellas. Send in some big guns with big names. Expendable chumps like Wilkins just make it look like that’s the most you’re willing to risk losing.

  9. Wilkins (in #7):

    the flagellum indicates … if you squint hard, then it looks like a machine. then it looks like a machine.

    Wilkins, there’s one problem with this argument. The flagellum actually works like a machine. Dispite the image being rendered in a nicely viewable form, flagella spin around, in a controlled fashion, causing forward motion. They actually do that, that part isn’t a cartoon. Get it — spin, forward motion, control, machine.

  10. The cartoon argument …
    My respect for the reasoning prowess of ID opponents has never been lower.

    If only the public knew that molecular machines aren’t as smooth and symmetrical as idealized representations, boy, then ID would be sunk.
    Suddenly Ken Miller’s interview looks pretty good.

  11. Hate to interrupt the trumpet solo, but I am Elizabeth Bailey, A.B.D., homemaker. Am I permitted to comment here?

    I have no interest in launching into a debate of his response to a negative review of a book I have not read. That’s a couple too many degrees of separation from the subject matter for me. But I am very interested in interacting with Steve Fuller.

    Professor Fuller, will you please join us to discuss your views on why ID qualifies as empirical science, the relevance of the intellectual history of ID, the role of citizens in determining what science is taught in public schools, and the like?

  12. bFast and Charlie:

    I showed mine. Now you show yours.

  13. You asking for my name, I presume?

    I am Bruce Fast.

  14. This is an excellent post. In keeping with one of its sub-themes, I contend that, in this anti-intellectual environment, our task is less about selling intelligent design and more about selling reason itself. That means that, with every opportunity, we should remind everyone, adversaries and onlookers alike, that anti- intellectualism is the problem and rationality (not rationalism) is the cure. In fact, we cannot be reasonable unless we sit passively and obediently before nature and allow it to reveal its secrets to us. Each time that happens, we find that the “how” does indeed inform us about the “why” and vice verse. To forbid scientists the right to investigate these matters is both foolish and oppressive.

    Imagine someone saying that the purpose of a can opener is unrelated to the way it functions, or that our ability to use it properly is unrelated to the intent of its designer. Any reasonable person would balk at such nonsense, and yet partisans of materialism bring that same attitude to every discussion about intelligent design. In fact, the why is always inseparable from the how, because the latter cannot even exist without the former. If we had never seen a can opener before, would it not make sense to discern its function and draw some inference about its design and (excuse me Darwinists, Judge Jones, hide your eyes) its designer? Now, imagine some idiot saying, “yes, but who designed the can opener.”

    That, of course, is the problem. Anti-intellectualism seeks to escape from reason, as if reason was its enemy. For them, unnatural processes can create can openers, which means, of course, that their mind isn’t quite right. This mental perversion has become a social movement and it constitutes our greatest obstacle. As any disinterested researcher knows, it was the belief that God created a rational universe and rational minds to comprehend it that brought us science AND FREEDOM. It is also true that the same people who ignore or resent this fact also seek to pervert science and eliminate freedom. Encouraged by the purposeless nature of materialist/Darwinism, ID critics challenge not only the design inference, but the rational nature of the universe that makes a design inference possible. In effect, we are in the same position one who would teach the English language to alien barbarians who deny the existence linguistic principles and would incarcerate anyone who believes in them.

    Think of it. We now have academic institutions and federal courts telling a scientist which methodologies he may consider, which tools he may use, and which subjects he may investigate. Anti-intellectualism always leads to oppression (and worse) and if we don’t understand the nature of the beast we will not successfully contend against it. The beast that we are fighting is the denial of objective truth and its perversion.

    To put the matter simply, truth is indivisible. There is no one truth for science, another for philosophy, or another for theology; there is no one truth for physics, another for chemistry, or another for biology; there is no one truth for you and another for me. If you divide truth vertically, by denying the relationship between the why and the how, you will end up dividing it horizontally, from one subject to another. The plain fact is that the reason our enemies divide truth is because they don’t like it. They would prefer another one that is more congenial with their inclinations.

    That is exactly what the TEs do. They simply refuse to coordinate two or more aspects of the same truth. First, they intrude their theology on their science (A compassionate God could not have designed this world), then they intrude their science on their theology (Darwinism is true, so Adam and Eve didn’t exist). One wonders how many truths one mind is supposed to hold. Apparently, it has never occurred to them that it is much easier on the mind and the emotions to simply follow the evidence where it leads. The irony is that they begin each discussion with the phrase, “there is no contradiction between faith and science,” —AS IF WE WERE THE ONES WHO NEED THE LECTURE. They are the ones who are fearful of what a design inference might reveal, not us. I don’t mind that they refuse to follow the evidence wherever it may lead, but I do resent the fact that they would forbid us that same privilege. Frankly, if I had to choose between the atheists and the TEs, I would go with the atheist. For all of Richard Darwkins faults, he is, at least, comprehensible. Better to deny truth altogether than to twist it beyond recognition and make it look ugly.

    So, in every discussion, we should remind our adversaries and onlookers that we have rational minds, we live in a rational universe, and there is a correspondence between the two. If they don’t admit that, then we should stop, turn to the audience or onlookers, and explain that we can go no further. It is, after all, hard to argue with those who renounce the principles of right reason. In keeping with that principle, we should also insist that truth is indivisible. That means that we should conform our desires to the truth and not the other way around. Again, if our adversary denies the reality of objective truth, we must, once again, point out that such denial ends all science and rational discourse. First things first.

    Stephen Bussell

  15. By the way, I have quite a bit of respect for Steve Fuller.

  16. Hi Elizabeth Bailey,

    bFast and Charlie:

    I showed mine. Now you show yours.

    Nope.

  17. “Hi Elizabeth Bailey,

    bFast and Charlie:

    I showed mine. Now you show yours.

    Nope.”

    Come on, Charlie. Don’t be a prude. ;)

    I’m going to feel duped if DaveScot got me to strip for these Olympic games without intending to make you do the same.

    I liked your comment in another thread about there being multiple ways of acquiring knowledge. DaveScot regarded as liars and / or crazies people who claim to see God’s hand in nature, though not by way of empirical science. He evidently does not appreciate, as I suppose Prof. Fuller does, Popper’s demarcation of empirical science in terms of falsification. Science is a highly restricted way of gaining knowledge, not the only valid way of gaining knowledge. That is, many statements that cannot be falsified by empirical observation are of value to us. An important question, which I think Steve might warm to, is whether it should be so important in our society whether knowledge is classified as scientific or not.

  18. Hi Elizabeth,

    I liked your comment in another thread about there being multiple ways of acquiring knowledge.

    That’s very kind of you to say.

    He evidently does not appreciate, as I suppose Prof. Fuller does, Popper’s demarcation of empirical science in terms of falsification. Science is a highly restricted way of gaining knowledge, not the only valid way of gaining knowledge.

    I’m sure DaveScot is very aware of the appropriate demarcations of science, whether falsification is taken to be to be its definer or not.
    I merely saw what I thought was a point of possible confusion and clarified it.

    I’m going to feel duped if DaveScot got me to strip for these Olympic games without intending to make you do the same.

    He just might.
    If so, my few quips will not be a loss to this thread.
    Perhaps I shouldn’t have sniffed at the argument from cartoons on this thread from the safety of my anonymity but it’s a mistake in judgment I can live with.

    By the way, Dr. Fuller’s views can be examined ad cross-examined in his dover testimony.

  19. Elizabeth Bailey,

    I’m afraid Professor Fuller does not want to field questions in the comments here. His only desire was to publically respond to a critical article in a trade
    journal. In fact he wanted comments disabled so no one would expect him to respond but Bill convinced him that the comments would be at least worth reading and should be enabled. Personally I would have left the comments disabled. If Professor Fuller doesn’t want to wallow in the mud with the pigs who inhabit scienceblogs.com sometimes as authors and in the majority as commenters that’s certainly something I can understand under the rubric “Never wrestle with a pig. You’ll both get covered in pigsh*t but the pig enjoys it.”

    P.S. I only made the name disclosure rule for critics so they have some incentive to keep a civil tongue and post a thoughtful reponse that they wouldn’t be ashamed to have follow them around for the rest of their natural lives. By the way, your registration email address can’t be used to verify the identity you claimed so you didn’t really put much on the line. You still have plausible deniability. If you’d registered with [email protected] or something like that it pretty much establishes beyond a reasonable doubt you’re who you say you are since universities and other such institutions aren’t in the habit of giving out fake names inside their email domains. However, since you aren’t presenting as a critic it doesn’t matter.

  20. Stephen Bussell: “To put the matter simply, truth is indivisible.”

    To respond simply, syncretism is your choice. It certainly has not been the choice of all philosophers. Is it philosophy that makes you sure of yourself, or religion?

    I was raised to believe that there was One Way to truth, but I found that I understood much better how to live my days after I admitted multiple ways. As Charlie suggested in another thread, scientism is a spiritual ill. It’s better to see through a spiritual eye and an empirical eye than through one eye of scientized spirituality. Thus saith the Lizard, anyway.

    Elizabeth Bailey

  21. DaveScot,

    Then why does he care even to cast his pearls before us swine?

    Elizabeth Bailey, Pig-Lizard

  22. P.S.–As you might guess, I grew up with brothers who dubbed me “Lizard.”

  23. Liz

    The journal where the critic was published won’t publish his response. He wanted a venue where his response would not go unnoticed. We provided it for him. If you google fuller sarkar you’ll find Fuller’s response here is already fifth down from the top.

  24. Elizabeth: To say that there is one truth with many aspect is not the same as saying that there are many truths. Indeed, that is the whole point. If truth is indivisible (if it has “oneness”), then once you obtain an aspect of it, you have something. If if is divisible, (more than one truth), you can never have anything, because there is nothing to unify everything else. Unity, truth, life, being, and beauty are all inseparable.

  25. Well, if we’ve got nothing better to talk about than the “cartoon” comment on another blog, I’ll say that what amazes me in physics is that cartoons like Einstein’s relation of mass, energy, and the speed of light, as well as Schrödinger’s description of the evolution of the waveform, explain and predict as much as they do.

    The whole point in scientific modeling is to capture salient features of nature in simple forms. In other words, the objective is to cartoon with caricaturing.

  26. There is nothing so cowardly as a hit an run book review. It tells me everything I need to know about one who would live by such an ethic. He might as well put a bumper sticker on his car that reads, “I can publicly criticize anyone I like, but I can’t defend my own mindless prose.” The least we can do is give the offended party some semblance of redress.

  27. Liz

    I happen to agree with you (and Popper) about falsifiability. The problem is that it’s being imposed as a double standard.

    See here: Team NDE says the origin and diversification of life is a matter of chance – no designing intelligence was involved. How can that be falsified when any evidence of a designer is refused admission because, by their definition, it isn’t science?

    They’ve imposed a double standard by asserting something that can falsified only by evidence they won’t allow into consideration.

  28. Slightly Off Topic:

    Automated Atheist Answering Machine

    http://www.godtube.com/view_vi.....5d1ed0bc9a

  29. 29

    In fact he wanted comments disabled so no one would expect him to respond but Bill convinced him that the comments would be at least worth reading and should be enabled.

    Fuller apparently didn’t know that you have scrupulously selected the brand of pigs that inhabit this environmental niche here. Much easier wrestling, to be sure. ;)

  30. 30

    An important rhetorical strategy of the opposition has been to deny — or grant as little credence as possible to — the very idea that ID has a historical and philosophical backstory that extends beyond the confines of the Discovery Institute.

    I don’t expect Professor Fuller to respond, but I believe he is badly mistaken regarding the oppositions motives. They seem to go to great lengths to try to connect modern ID to both creationism and other, centuries old natural philosophies.

  31. Dr. Fuller is talking specifically about esteemed scientists like Newton and Babbage.

  32. —-”I don’t expect Professor Fuller to respond, but I believe he is badly mistaken regarding the oppositions motives. They seem to go to great lengths to try to connect modern ID to both creationism and other, centuries old natural philosophies.”

    In fact, modern science began with the belief that God designed the world for discovery, leaving material clues that would hint at his immaterial existence. The opposition’s strategy is simply to deny that well-established fact and rewrite history so that it harmonizes with their naturalist philosophy. That is what Fuller means, and, of course, he is right.

  33. 33

    That is what Fuller means, and, of course, he is right.

    Maybe so, but then he wrote that particular part of his reponse poorly. The phrase “deny — or grant as little credence as possible to — the very idea that ID has a historical and philosophical backstory that extends beyond the confines of the Discovery Institute” is demonstrably wrong. Anyone who has watched with dismay the glee with which the Darwinists like to connect ID with similar ideas promulgated decades and, indeed, centuries ago would not make such a statement. Anyone who has suffered the schoolyard taunt of “cdesign proponentsists” would disagree.

  34. —-”Maybe so, but then he wrote that particular part of his reponse poorly. The phrase “deny — or grant as little credence as possible to — the very idea that ID has a historical and philosophical backstory that extends beyond the confines of the Discovery Institute” is demonstrably wrong. Anyone who has watched with dismay the glee with which the Darwinists like to connect ID with similar ideas promulgated decades and, indeed, centuries ago would not make such a statement. Anyone who has suffered the schoolyard taunt of “cdesign proponentsists” would disagree.

    I am not clear on what you are saying. Darwinists, as a general rule, don’t have a clue about ID history one way or the other. Apparently, Judge Jones didn’t even know about Aristotle’s “prime mover.” Design thinkers go way back. Are you suggesting that we should ignore the long history of design thinkers because schoolyard bullies slap nerds around?

  35. I especially think this point made by Fuller is critical:

    “The overarching sense of scientific progress and its concomitant faith in greater explanatory unity and increased predictive control of nature over time: All of these trade on an ID-based view of the world, in which human beings enjoy a special relationship to reality that enables us to acquire a deep knowledge, most of which affords no particular reproductive advantage and more likely puts our continued survival at risk. Armed only with a Darwinian view of the world – and without the implicit ID backstory – it becomes difficult to justify the continuation of the scientific enterprise in this full-bodied sense. ”

    This sort of idea is daily retailed to science students in publicly funded schools. If it is true that we humans can somehow acquire the ability to understand reality, that requires explanation.

    And the explanation cannot be Darwinian. The Darwinian view is, as I have noted before, that our minds are illusions created by our neurons – which are in turn under the control of our selfish genes. These systems did not originate in order to discover truth but to enable us to leave offspring.

    So Sarkar’s theories cannot actually be true. They can only be meaningless (but possibly productive of a need for infant shoes).

    The best that a Darwinist can aspire to is a thought that is meaningless (but possibly productive of a need for infant shoes).

  36. 36

    Sarkar writes: “Fuller’s is not a sense of “supernatural” that would excite real creationists or inflame any of their critics. As with the discussion of complexity, Fuller fails to engage the interesting debate over naturalism that ID creationism has generated.”

    So “ID creationists” are not the same as “real creationists.” Is that an admission of a difference between creationism and ID?

    I just noticed that with the exception of two here, I’m the only other person in this thread with a disguised name. I’m Brandon Ward. There, now i’ve done it!

  37. DaveScot: “See here: Team NDE says the origin and diversification of life is a matter of chance – no designing intelligence was involved. How can that be falsified when any evidence of a designer is refused admission because, by their definition, it isn’t science?”

    It’s very rare for philosophers to succeed in getting scientists to listen to them. Popper was the only trained philosopher of the 20th Century with notable success. (Kuhn’s doctorate was in physics.) Scientists did not immediately say to falsification, “Oh, we get the logic. That’s wonderful!” Some scientists still use the term “Popperian” as a slur.

    So a Christian attorney begins pushing intelligent design after SCOTUS locks creationism out of the schools, a Christian mathematician / philosopher / theologian jumps in and argues that science should permit explanation of a certain class of observations in terms of non-material (unobservable) causation (which he insists on calling “intelligence,” of all things), and the scientific community is supposed to consider the logic of it all dispassionately? Science does not reduce to logic. Science does not reduce to sociology, but there certainly are sociological considerations. Even if it’s true that science would ultimately be better off it allowed explanation in terms of invisible causes, the case could hardly have been presented worse. Under the best of circumstances, the notion would have been a tough sell.

    Personally, I think the idea of unobservable causation deserves careful consideration. But anyone who thinks scientists are going to be receptive to the notion anytime soon is dreaming. And anyone who believes that planting ID seed with high school students will lead to a bumper crop of ID scientists is dreaming too. The kiddies that grow up and make their way through doctoral programs in life sciences are going to end up more or less like the members of their dissertation committees. In my opinion, if ID proponents want science to change to accommodate ID, they’re going to have to start by learning how not to hack off scientists. Declaring that you’re absolutely right and that anyone who doesn’t see that is either a materialist or an atheist is not the way to “win friends and influence people.” Reestablish a conversation — there’s only heated debate now — and proceed from there.

  38. Hi Elizabeth,
    Good advice about conversing instead of engaging in heated debate.

    Otherwise, however, what about your comment justifies NDE proponents making untested and unfalsifiable proclamations in the name of science and in support of their theory?
    I have in mind, especially, the Weisel 38 proclamation:
    ““Logically derived from confirmable evidence, evolution is understood to be the result of an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection.”
    Or Will Provine’s declarations, as an educator and authority, that science itself, and biology in particular, tells us that there is no soul and afterlife.
    I’m sure you know that the examples abound, from E.O. Wilson to Ken Miller’s biology books to the journal Cell telling us that evolution is impersonal, unguided, directionless, unsupervised and operates without foresight. None of these are either scientific or falsifiable – unless one is allowed to argue the opposite.

  39. Ms. Lizard write: “It’s very rare for philosophers to succeed in getting scientists to listen to them.”

    It’s rare for scientists as a group to listen to anyone. Despite all of their lip service to self-correction and eternally contingent conclusions, as a group scientists may be the most brassbound, obdurate and reactionary people on the planet, clinging to their pet theories and received orthodoxy with an intransigent stubbornness that would have made a medievel churchman blush.

    She goes on: “Personally, I think the idea of unobservable causation deserves careful consideration. But anyone who thinks scientists are going to be receptive to the notion anytime soon is dreaming.”

    What an odd thing to say. We are talking about origins theory here right? By definition the historical sciences deal in matters that cannot be observed directly. This is just as true for Darwinists as it is for ID proponents. No one has ever “observed” natural selection working on mutations to change one species into another.

    Darwinists and ID proponents work from the exact same data and arrive at different conclusions.

    The idea that scientists are not receptive to unobservable causation is naive. Darwinists have depended on it absolutely for over a 150 years. The fact that you seem to be unable to grasp such a plain truth speaks to how steeped you are in the received scientific orthodoxy.

    Then she says: “In my opinion, if ID proponents want science to change to accommodate ID, they’re going to have to start by learning how not to hack off scientists.”

    Wrong. The current generation of scientists will never ever give ID a seat at the table. ID must crash the party; if it waits politely for an invitation it will go on waiting from now on.

    You misunderstand the task ID proponents have set for themselves. We are not trying to convince those whose minds are closed. No matter what the evidence is, Richard Dawkins and his ilk will never come around. Since we cannot go through the scientific gatekeepers, we must bypass them and crash down the gate.

    How do we do this? It is made more difficult by the fact that the guardians of scientific orthodoxy (like guardians of all orthodoxies if they are able) have enlisted the aid of the civil authorities to stifle dissent. This has resulted in the closing of the government schools to the ID point of view.

    Fortunately, the government schools are not the only schools, much less the only way to get the word out. ID is being taught to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of young people in home schools and religious and other private schools. Moreover, millions of other young people trapped in the government school system are being taught ID concepts (and I mean real ID, not YEC) at church.

    Finally, ID goes out to the entire world in the form of books, magazine articles, and web sites like the one you are reading now.

    The high priests of the scientific orthodoxy can only slow ID down. They cannot defeat it in the long run. We do not, as you suggest, have to go to them with our hats in our hands humbly beseeching them for a seat at the table.

    Finally Ms. Lizard writes: “Declaring that you’re absolutely right and that anyone who doesn’t see that is either a materialist or an atheist is not the way to ‘win friends and influence people.’ Reestablish a conversation — there’s only heated debate now — and proceed from there.”

    How very Rodney King of you. Why can’t we all just get along indeed? We can’t get along because the protectors of the orthodoxy understand (quite properly) a war is being waged and the stakes are very high. Their prestige, their access to grants (the love of money truly is the root of all evil), and their positions of influence are on the line, and they are not going down without a fight. Consequently, they have declared in the manner of Henry V, “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!” And like most wars, this one is decidely uncivil. Which brings us full circle to the vicious, slanderous and unfair attack on Dr. Fuller that is the subject of this post.

    I am not, of course, suggesting that we in the ID community should not conduct ourselves with civility. But to suggest, as you seem to suggest in your comment, that it is the ID proponents (or the ID proponents only) who are shrill, uncivil, arrogant and cocksure is simply risible.

  40. Barry A @39–splendid! Don’t you just love it: Those who have been excluded, violated, and slandered, should learn to be more inclusive, peaceful, and benevolent.

  41. Barry

    It’s rare for scientists as a group to listen to anyone. Despite all of their lip service to self-correction and eternally contingent conclusions, as a group scientists may be the most brassbound, obdurate and reactionary people on the planet, clinging to their pet theories and received orthodoxy with an intransigent stubbornness that would have made a medievel churchman blush.

    Do a lot of church deacons have such a well developed sense of humor or are you an exception?

    The rest of that may be the best written manifesto I’ve ever read. Suitable for framing.

  42. terry

    Listen to Ken Miller, the HTEIC (Head Theistic Evolutionist In Charge), in the Prager interview. Prager asked him to justify how ID was such a threat to science when the US is, at the same time, the hotbed of ID and the world leader in science & technology. Miller answered that ID was only about 10 years old so it hadn’t had time to destroy American science yet. At that point I wondered if Ken Miller ever heard of William Paley. Too bad Prager didn’t think to ask him that. ID today is essentially the 200 year-old watchmaker argument, revitalized by the recent discovery of nano-molecular technology in the cell that makes the finest swiss watch look like child’s play in comparison.

    So basically that was just one more straw man that Miller put up then knocked down – ID is only 10 years old.

    At the same time I thought about how he had, moments earlier, talked about ID being repackaged creation science (he didn’t say cheap tuxedo but I bet he wanted to). Creation science dates back to the Protestant Reformation and has seen periodic resurgences all the way through the 20th century. Miller is either one of the world’s worst liars or he’s some kind of idiot savant able to write high school biology textbooks but doesn’t know his ass from his elbow beyond that. Maybe he’s got a ghost writer like some kid with an IQ over 100 supplementing his paper route money by writing for Miller. I can hardly believe this guy is an icon of theistic evolution. He’s dumber than a friggin’ mud fence!

  43. Dave and Stephen, you are very kind. To answer your question, Dave, as a group we deacons are not famous for our sense of humor, and I’m on a mission to change that.

    For example: How many Southern Baptist deacons do you want to take fishing with you?

    At least two, because if you take only one he’ll drink all of your beer!

  44. Barry

    I just made a up a joke for you.

    Q: What’s the difference between a lawyer and a Southern Baptist deacon?

    A: The first thing the lawyer does upon waking is he begins to prey.

    HAHAHA!!! I crack me up.

  45. Hey bFast … after all this time reading your blogging you write that your name is Bruce Fast.

    I always thought it stood for b(reak)fast. Any time I read your stuff, no matter how much I agreed or otherwise, I always thought about muesli.

    Now I don’t … as much.

  46. My name is Gabriel Harwood of Tucson, Arizona for those who wish to know.

    I would like to begin by stating that I do not believe that “God” had any role in the design of earth. I am also new to the evidence from which ID draws its support, so take my words as you will.

    As a computer scientist, I am familiar with logical mathematical proofs, where all the empirical evidence available is less concrete than one counterexample. Nothing can be proved without infinite proof, but anything can be disproved with the fallacy of a single given case. This I feel is where the debate between ID proponents and their dissenters reaches a deadlock.

    As there are no scientific proofs, only theories, all ideas are subject to scrutiny from any well founded argument. In this vein, I have opened my mind and my heart to the arguments of both sides. My college roomate is a pure creationist. In debates with him I often find him raising similar arguments; that no one has ever witnessed natural selection or evolution.

    What frustrates me about this line of thinking is that this perception does not account for the youth of any evidence to support evolution. Cell theory, Mendel and even the embattled Darwin are all less than 200 years old. Creationism (or ID, if you must), on the other hand has been “recorded” in monotheistic writing for 4000 years. While I know that other spiritualities center on a creation myth, it seems the only being powerful enough for ID is the monotheistic “God”. While theists have had much time to practice defending their views, i.e. geocentrism, evolutionists have had little time to fill in every hole in logic. This day may never come, as science is as much faith as anything.

    That’s right, science is a faith. Like all faiths, it is the search for truth. This being said, any person who does not question their faith will never have any hope to find truth. Scientists must be open to the idea that everything they believe is wrong. Without this doubt, there would be no progress. ID can serve as this doubt, as a base case for some valid proof by counterexample.

    For me, though, ID can only be a health exercise in raising doubt against a theory which is still to this day being explored. There isn’t a multitude of logical holes in ID as I see it, but only one giant one.

    Who is God? I went to church regularly (several times a week) as a child and was dissillusioned by the myths of God. It is a megalomaniac and egocentric view to believe that a supreme being chose us as his design. If ID wants to keep a foot in the scientific community, it must be willing to disassociate itself from a pre-established doctrine from which all ID logic stems. By presupposing a devine being, ID proponents make no better argument than a scientists who views Evolution as an absolute truth and not a theory.

    So ID, either lose the existence of “God” as your largest evidence, or you will lose respect from those like me, who realize that modern christianity (don’t try to tell me that Christianity is not the engine running the ID movement), produces its arguments from a book written well after Jesus died and translated/edited countless times.

    I more readily would accept the arguments that Extraterrestrials are responsible for life than those of religious zealots who provide no empirical evidence for their hypotheses.

    Don’t get me wrong, I want to find truth as much as the next. Please prove me wrong and point me to some sources of empirical evidence for ID. I would love to see it.

    Gabriel Harwood

    A race of extraterrestrials doing a science experiment? Fine. But to

  47. Gabriel

    don’t try to tell me that Christianity is not the engine running the ID movement

    Obviously then we’re already guilty by association in your mind.

    Guilt by association is a logical fallacy.

    You can’t ask any ID proponents to give up their religious faith anymore than you can ask an atheist Darwinist to acquire some religious faith. That isn’t how science works.

    However, since I’m not a religious person I can quite easily give up any notion that the designer of either the universe or of life itself is a deity. I have no data on the nature of the designer other than what I can determine through the nature of the design.

    Now I’d like to ask you if it is true that either 1) life was designed in part or in whole or 2) life was not designed in any part. Is this a valid dichotomy? Is there a middle ground between the two choices?

    If you agree that’s a valid dichotomy then is it true that some scientists are claiming and teaching that life was not designed?

    If this is true then, and remembering your own concession (which I agree with) that there are no proofs in science, and the history of the origin and diversification of life is shrouded in millions and billions of years of antiquity (I accept both an old earth and universal common descent as the best current explanations for empiric observations), how can this claim be falsified?

    I put to you that the claim can not be truly falsified as that would require proof of design and in science there are no proofs. It may only be rendered more doubtful than design in the heirarchy of possible explanations. It can be rendered more doubtful by either negative evidence (flaws) in the non-design theory itself and by positive evidence of design theory. Positive evidence has been ruled out of the question by definition rather than by analysis. Even though SETI, for example, can legitimately search through cosmic radio patterns in the universe for intelligent agency without any clue or promise of being able to discover the nature or source of the intelligence, it seems that applying the same search parameters to patterns found in living things or patterns in the laws that govern the universe, is no longer “science” as it is in SETI. A double standard is brought to light.

    Other positive evidence of intelligent agency is 1) we know it exists in the universe today (it is ourselves) so we know that intelligent agency is possible and 2) the same agency is capable of doing the kind of things that need to be done to plan and/or alter the course of evolution for purposeful ends (designing and/or changing heritable DNA sequences; i.e. genetic engineering).

    So we offer positive evidence that detection of design is an acceptable scientific methodology used in many disciplines (cryptology, forensic sciences, archeology, SETI, and so forth), we offer positive evidence that an intelligent designing agency is extant at least in the modern universe which proves that such agency can and does exist in nature, and we offer positive evidence, by demonstration, that intelligent agency is capable of the necessary tasks in directing or steering the course of organic evolution. We lack a smoking gun but that’s not unexpected when the trigger was pulled millions or billions of years ago. The gun and the weilder may no longer exist but the putative bullet holes (the effects), so to speak, remain for us to examine.

    The counter-claim that chance & necessity is capable of the necessary tasks has not been demonstrated. It has not been shown that small mutations can ever accumulate into significant novel functional architectures that we observe in living things today. It has not been shown feasible by computer simulations of population genetics, in a laboratory, or in field observation. Yet this undemonstrated means of achieving grand ends has a legally enforced privilege of being the only possible explanation for the origin and diversity of life taught to our children in public schools. It is illegal to question the exclusive theory in a public school (see the Cobb County, Georgia “sticker” case where a disclaimer sticker attached to a biology textbook saying “evolution is a theory, not a fact, and should be critically examined” was ruled unconstitutional) and where mention of the name of any alternative to evolution by pure chance & necessity is also illegal (see Dover, PA trial where a verbal advisory to students that there exist alternative explanations to evolution by chance alone such as intelligent design was ruled unconstitutional).

    So what do you propose we do? The gatekeepers of scientific orthodoxy, by majority rule (since when did science become decided by majorities?), or by claiming constitutional authority, who are demonstrably (we have the appropriate surveys to show) a majority composed of atheists, have a vested interest in the exclusionary practices set forth above to further entrench and expand their worldview in all segments of public schooling from kindergarten through post-doctorate.

    How do you propose we respond to these unfair, Draconian methods arrayed against us? We do what we can to fight them in the courts where they block our right to have our children taught about the weaknesses of current theory and the nature of alternative theories, we do what we can to expose the ostracism, black balling, and career wrecking of scholars who support ID in public colleges and universities, we blog, we write books. We use whatever means are legally and ethically available to thwart or workaround the gatekeeper’s exclusionary practices. Is any of what we do somehow wrong or unfair in your opinion?

    And please do me the courtesy of acknowledging that in no case did I use the holy bible (which I consider to be no more than a collection of stories, myths, legends, and largely unverifiable eyewitness accounts created and/or compiled by human authors with human agendas) to support my case in any fashion. My irreligious nature may not be a majority in ID circles but that doesn’t seem to have excluded me from it. Bill Dembski’s co-author in his latest book, Jonathan Wells, who is also a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, is a Moonie for Pete’s sake. Wells believes some living dude in Korea or somewhere similar named the Reverend Moon is the messiah. It’s hard to imagine a more anti-Christian religion than holding out someone other than Christ as the savior. Yet Moonie Wells and agnostic David Scot Springer (me) are still solidly in the ID camp inner circles. Berlinski and Stein are Jews. The ID community is largely composed of Christians, that’s true, but the U.S. population is largely composed of Christians. One should expect that the frequency of different religious beliefs of ID adherents would reflect that of population in general if there is no religious bias, and it more or less does reflect that distribution. It reflects that distribution a hell of a lot more than the gatekeepers of scientific orthodoxy embodied in the National Academy of Science which is, survey says, composed of 70% positive atheists, 21% agnostics, and 9% believers in some sort of deity. THAT, my friend, is WAY out of line with the general population. If you want to talk about religious conspiracies in the science establishment I’ve got the smoking gun for you and it ain’t Christians holding it.

  48. Post 47 is the the post of the year. Great job, Dave.

  49. Who is God? </I

    Gabriel, the question has nada to do with ID but I always considered God to be a powerful, loving friend who would go through Hell for you.

    If he’s a megalomaniac (Zeus? Cthulhu?) you are up the creek. If He’s the friend, like, (cough, cough) Jesus, you have a shot.

  50. Where can I find studies that apply specified complexity analysis to distinguish between designed and non-designed objects or systems?

  51. 51

    tribune7,

    Yes, Dave has had a long day. First its was a “cartoon beat down”…..and now this.

  52. 52

    Miller answered that ID was only about 10 years old so it hadn’t had time to destroy American science yet. At that point I wondered if Ken Miller ever heard of William Paley.

    Yes, he has. I have read his book “Only a Theory” and he makes numerous references to Paley. Indeed he writes, of the impact of Darwin on Natural Theology

    “Paleyism was truly dead-or so the evolutionist may have thought.

    But Paley lives on well into the twenty-first century in the hearts, souls, and rhetoric of the intelligent design movement.

    So, he what he was stating was 10 years old was not the idea behind intelligent design, but rather the modern movement behind it. I think that is pretty clearly laid out in his book, but probably doesn’t translate well to a interview format.

    You should read “Only a Theory” as it will give you a more accurate view of Miller to argue against.

  53. Charlie (38): “Otherwise, however, what about your comment justifies NDE proponents making untested and unfalsifiable proclamations in the name of science and in support of their theory?”

    Nothing. There are scientists who vest unscientific belief in modern evolutionary theory.

    Charlie: “the journal Cell telling us that evolution is impersonal, unguided, directionless, unsupervised and operates without foresight.”

    It looks that way. But you may have to observe many rolls of loaded dice to infer with reasonable confidence that they’re loaded.

  54. By the way, why do ID people care whether intelligence acts with foresight or in reaction?

  55. —–Terry Phillips: “So, he what he was stating was 10 years old was not the idea behind intelligent design, but rather the modern movement behind it.”

    The irrational part (for MIller) is in saying that ID movement, whatever its texture, can invalidate the science. Motives are not methods.

  56. —–”By the way, why do ID people care whether intelligence acts with foresight or in reaction?”

    Because to design is to have an end in mind. To detect design is to find evidence of purpose, which has that end in mind. (Some IDs, a minority, think that nature can have its own design principle without an immaterial mind to conceive it. That is a perfectly legitimate intramural disagreement that has no affect at all on ID theory)

  57. DaveScot: “What an odd thing to say. We are talking about origins theory here right? By definition the historical sciences deal in matters that cannot be observed directly. This is just as true for Darwinists as it is for ID proponents. No one has ever “observed” natural selection working on mutations to change one species into another.”

    Human behavior is natural, unless you posit that humans stand outside nature (one of the main points of Phillip Johnson that ID proponents have abandoned). We have observed speciation in cases where human behavior did not affect variation among offspring, but did affect how many offspring individuals generated. The present “ground rules of science” say that cause-effect relations are inferred on empirical observations. We call the stuff we observe empirically material. ID proponents will say that non-material, and therefore empirically unobservable, intelligence causes the human behavior that is a cause of observed speciation.

    I have heard a number of ID people emphasize their empiricism — that they go where the observations lead, and do not resist because of ideology. They effectively say, “Just look at that effect! Do you think anything unintelligent could have caused that?” The fact is that the opponents of ID are in a sense more committed to empiricism than are the proponents of ID, in that they insist on explaining empirical observations in terms of empirical observations. They effectively say, “No, I won’t look at just that effect. I must look also at the cause. Show me!”

    Established historical sciences explain the past in terms of inferred causal relations on empirical observations in the present. I think it’s far to say that ID explains the past in terms of inferred causal relations on something unobservable and certain empirical observations in the present.

    What we are talking about here certainly merits Steve Fuller’s attention. It would have been interesting to hear more about why he finds a weakening of empiricism in science acceptable. By the way, his aloofness ensures that I will stick to web sources on his views, and will not read his book.

    Pig-Lizard (wearing pearls)

  58. the opponents of ID are in a sense more committed to empiricism than are the proponents of ID, in that they insist on explaining empirical observations in terms of empirical observations

    Uh huh. Who died and made their insistence an obligatory command that everyone must follow?

    So where is the empirical observation of, for instance, life coming from non-life?

    And who says the observation that intelligent agents exist in the universe today is not an empirical observation? And who says the observation that intelligent agents can tinker around with heritable information in living things for their own purposes is not an empirical observation?

    I’d say we have the better hand when it comes to empirical data. We have a proven mechanism. They don’t. We don’t have a photograph of the mechanism acting millions or billions of years ago but they don’t either so we’re equally impaired on that point.

  59. I should add that it seems many UD people arrive at the belief that intelligence causes certain kinds of empirically observable phenomena by introspection. Introspection was cast out of experimental psychology a very long time ago. The reason is that introspection is private experience. Even when a group of people gets together and arrive at a consensus that they introspect similarly, the what they know is still not based on empirical observation.

    Again, there are many things that we know and know we know that are not empirical science. For science to have any particular power, it must accept some particular limitations. People with spiritual beliefs should leave the notion that science might tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” to atheists.

  60. 60

    Uh huh. Who died and made their insistence an obligatory command that everyone must follow?

    That would be Jesus, who said, in John 14:6 “No one approaches the Father, but through me.”

  61. lizlizard

    It doesn’t appear you want any constructive dialog but rather just came here to disrupt this thread with your preconceived beliefs. You’ve had your say and I want other people to get a chance to have theirs. Zip it in this one.

  62. langej

    Given you’re referring to Dembski’s rigorous treatement of specified complexity then the only attempt to apply it to a biological structure that I know of is by Dembski himself in the book “No Free Lunch”.

    Personally I prefer Leslie Orgel’s definition of specified complexity in “The Origins of Life”.

    I don’t believe it’s possible to mathematically demonstrate Dembski’s specified complexity in living things because there can be never be a completely exhausted search of probabilistic resources. There might always exist some “natural” mechanism (read resource) that we simply don’t know about because it hasn’t yet been discovered or was overlooked or is intractible.

    So I prefer to use Orgel’s looser definition and then argue using empirical evidence (which is science instead of math) that it has been demonstrated by experiment that intelligent agents (ourselves) can create biological specified complexity de novo while it has not been demonstrated by experiment or observation that any other mechanism has that same capacity. Thus intelligent design is the best (and currently only) demonstrated means of generating biological specified complexity.

    To exclude the only demonstrated means of acheiving specified complexity from any educational material talking about the origin of novel biological structures, while teaching an unproven mechanism as a proven fact, is simply not an acceptable situation.

  63. DaveScot: “And who says the observation that intelligent agents exist in the universe today is not an empirical observation?”

    Calling an agent intelligent because of its empirically observed behaviors and saying that intelligence is a cause of its behaviors are two very different things. I have said that intelligence-as-cause, not behavior distinguished as intelligent, is unobservable.

    By the way, even SETI scientist do not suggest that anomalous signals might be caused by intelligence, but that they might come from material entities behaving in a manner we consider intelligent.

    We all make similar verbal reports of the experience of thirst. We know that certain of our behaviors are associated with the experience of thirst. We can guess from certain nonverbal behaviors that a person will report thirst if asked about it. We believe that we detect thirst in the behavior of our pets. But who ever observed thirst empirically? No doubt, there are empirically observable physiological states associated with certain empirically observable behaviors, but you can’t cut a person open and find thirst. My point is that we have many constructs derived from apparently shared subjective experience, but that many of these constructs do not, and will never, correspond to empirical observations.

    “And who says the observation that intelligent agents can tinker around with heritable information in living things for their own purposes is not an empirical observation?”

    Again, what is empirically observable is the behavior of the agents. It appears that you assume that your introspection of your own tinkering supplies empirical data.

    “I’d say we have the better hand when it comes to empirical data.”

    And this means that you and I are not in a particularly meaningful conversation. When you, with experience in engineering, and I with advanced training in science, cannot agree on what constitutes empirical data, things have gone terribly awry.

  64. DaveScot:

    I’d written this and my previous comment as one before seeing your instruction to post no more in this thread. (I broke the long comment for readability.) Please let the two through in fairness, and I’ll post no more to the thread.

    “We have a proven mechanism.”

    Proven? It’s proven that intelligence causes people to emit intelligent behaviors? And that thirst causes people to emit thirst stuff? And that hunger causes people to emit hunger behaviors? And that life causes organisms to engage in living? Perhaps you’re not engaged in vitalism, but you seem to be treading perilously close.

    “We don’t have a photograph of the mechanism acting millions or billions of years ago but they don’t either so we’re equally impaired on that point.”

    Evolutionary biologists say that the “mechanisms” of the past are operating in the present, though under different conditions. Their science is not purely historical, and it does not appeal to analogy. There is in fact engineering of life forms in the present, but you can at best suggest that analogous, not identical, engineering processes occurred in the past, and you can in no case provide empirical observations of intelligence itself.

    The “design inference” of intelligent causation would not be an inference if the intelligence could be directly observed. The present “ground rules” of science permit inference of relations on empirically observable phenomena only, not inference to an unobserved cause. Have you not understood the design inference as a proposed extension of inference in science?

  65. Dave, please post comment 47 as a separate post. It deserves it.

  66. Ms. Lizard writes: “When you, with experience in engineering, and I with advanced training in science, cannot agree on what constitutes empirical data, things have gone terribly awry.”

    No, when someone, especially someone who claims to have advanced training in science, spouts gibberish like that on display in [63] and [64], things have gone terribly awry. You apparently do not have enough sense to be embarrassed to write such flapdoodle, so the rest of us will be embarrassed for you.

  67. 67

    Liz: “There is in fact engineering of life forms in the present, but you can at best suggest that analogous, not identical, engineering processes occurred in the past”

    Is there? And this “engineering” takes place without intelligent intervention? Where exactly can I find this non-intelligent engineering of current life forms?

    And, how can I make the suggestion that you propose be made? On what grounds? How exactly can I propose that intelligent intervention of current life forms equates with random processes in the distant past? Exactly how does that work?

    Yet, if I do make such a claim, am I not supporting intelligent intervention given that it is, without question, the ultimate basis of the analogy you propose?

  68. 68
    William J. Murray

    I’ve run into many, many conversations involving “rebuttals” such as found in #63 & 64 where the very term “intelligence” has to be equivocated simply to avoid the blatant fact that intelligence exists, and is known to operate in the world and produce certain effects.

    I imagine some other argument where the entrenched mindset tries to argue that a massive object may not actually have gravity, but just exhibit what appears to us to be the effects of gravity, and that there’s no way to determine if distant objects are behaving because of gravity because gravity itself cannot be seen or known to exist.

    When you can’t even admit intelligence exist and humans use design detection in all sorts of endeavors, and you cannot even admit that SETI is the Search for Extra-Terrestrial INTELLIGENCE, there’s simply no hope for a reasoned discussion.

    I’m seeing more and more that the materialists have abandoned reason.

  69. The biggest problem with American higher education is that it takes very smart people and teaches them to be fools.

    Somebody (Dennis Prager?) said that when he hears someone sprouting a blatantly ridiculous claim as fact, he asks them where they got their Ph.D.

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