Home » Intelligent Design » Evolutionary Thought in Action: The Subtlety of Metaphysics

Evolutionary Thought in Action: The Subtlety of Metaphysics

In my previous post I gave a typical example of evolutionary thinking and asked readers to identify the usual metaphysics that is interwoven. Here is the example:  Read more

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31 Responses to Evolutionary Thought in Action: The Subtlety of Metaphysics

  1. Does not ID make a metaphysical assumption that the complexity of life can be better explained by the intervention of an intelligent designer? Is there not the assumption that a designer was present without proving its existence? Or even specifying when the designs were implemented?

    I always find myself struggling, not knowing when or how it’s hypothesised the designer intervened, getting a full grasp on what ID is proposing.

    I assume some ID research is being done to address those points so if anyone can point me in that direction I would be most grateful.

  2. 2
    CannuckianYankee

    elazimm,

    The internet is a great place to start, but I think in order to grasp ID you really need to get into the published literature.

    3 books I would recommend:

    Michael Behe: Darwin’s Black Box

    William Dembski: The Design Inference – or Intelligent Design (the first is more technical – the 2nd is more for laymen, but pretty much the same argument).

    Stephen Meyer: Signature in the Cell.

    But to answer your question – no ID does not make a metaphysical assumption.

    Here’s the thing: you can’t prove scientifically that God exists. However, belief in God is reasonable given the rational absurdities that are inevitable when you consider first principles – causation, infinite regresses, etc.

    Theists have always believed that design inferences are valid. While they don’t prove or disprove God’s existence either way, they certainly imply that the world and the cosmos makes more sense with a cause, as opposed to no cause.

    Now we’ve approached a point in the sciences where we understand much more – in cosmology we’re struck by the fine tuning of our solar system, and the conditions, which allow for life.

    In biology we’re struck by the intricacy of micro-machines, and the information present in DNA.

    Yet with none of this can we necessarily infer anything beyond the realization that both cosmically and biologically, things appear to be designed.

    Materialists as well as theists recognize this.

    However, materialists interpret the data differently than non-materialists. Materialists rule out a designer, and so are forced by this metaphysical presupposition, to only look at evidence, which supports their position. This is why they won’t look at design as an option.

    Non-materialists, on the other hand, are not metaphysically bound by materialism. And when I say this, I am not saying that we allow for magical thinking, which gets in the way of science. We don’t. We are open to the idea that design is an option scientifically. We are open also to the idea that design may ultimately be wrong, but this does not warrant ignoring possible evidence for it.

    What is different with ID than with Creationism, is that ID does not begin with the presupposition that there is a designer. ID begins with a question, more than an answer – that question is: Can design be detected either in cosmology or in biology? If we begin to answer this question, we must not allow any presuppositions to get in the way. We are free to hold our own metaphysical beliefs, but those beliefs cannot get the way of the methodology by which we seek an answer. This is why ID does not name the designer. Most of us believe it is God, but we keep that as a separate issue.

    The alternative is to beg the question – does God exist? This is what materialists do by avoiding design inferences. They presuppose that God does not exist, and so they rule out design. This is question begging.

    So ID begins not with a designer, but with the appearance of design, and asks if it could be actual design, rather than the result of an undirected natural process. And if it is actual design, how could we know it? That’s as far as any answer can go. All other issues, such as the identity of the designer, are left to metaphysics and theology. How is this helpful to science? would be the next question.

    Well I think we are always going to have these dichotomies between science and religion. ID attempts to bridge a certain gap between them, by offering an explanation for apparent design, which does not rule out a designer. This does not make ID religion. It makes ID simply an explanation that does not rule out a designer; whether that designer is an ancient alien race, a deity, or some other entity of which we are currently unaware. So while IDists for the most part solidly fall behind theism for metaphysical and religious reasons, we know that we can’t allow that presupposition to get in the way of science; so other possibilities such as panspermia are allowed.

    This might explain why even non-theists, who are not committed to materialism, are looking into ID as well. It appears to be a more scientific approach than simply ruling out design due to certain metaphysical commitments.

    So I think ID is actually the opposite of what you asked in your question. It is the one approach that does not appeal to a metaphysical assumption.

  3. 3
    CannuckianYankee

    ellazim,

    I left out a very important point, which Dr. Hunter suggests in the OP. Materialists are informed both by evidence and their metaphysical presupposition that there is no design, towards Darwinian evolution as fact, not as simply a possible explanation.

    If you took the same evidence and were not informed by any presupposition of materialism, the evidence can mean something else entirely; and that’s what ID proponents offer when they critique Darwinian evolution. While the evidence strongly suggests common descent when the materialist presupposition informs it; take out such a presupposition and the evidence does not as clearly point to common descent; while that is certainly still a possibility. This explains why some IDists, such as Behe accept common descent, while others don’t.

  4. 4
    CannuckianYankee

    ellazimm (I think I got the spelling correct this time) :)

    I doubt if you are going to find any scientific studies on certain issues you raised – such as when the designs were implemented or when the designer intervened. Given my two posts above, I think you can understand why. The answer would ultimately be: “We don’t know.”

    While they are certainly interesting and valid questions, ID does not address them.

    They are really issues for theology, but I don’t even believe theology answers them entirely. All Genesis says is: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” I’m sure there’s lots of speculation, but no clear answers on how this occurred. We may have to be satisfied with not knowing; curious, but satisfied.

  5. ellazimm,

    fyi, intervention is a strawman based on materialists’ criticism of young earth creationism.

    The bible in fact does not say that God ‘intervened’ but rather ‘is in all things’. Different animal.

    It also says that God created through The Word. So the possibility that ‘kinds’ were created separately’ does not logically lead to the assumption that God must have ‘intervened’ in creation.

    Rather, there was ‘continuous’ work for six days (or six eons, or six epochs, or 6 eras, or 6 billion years if you like)then full stop.

    God said that it was Good and then reached for that nice cold brew thinking if it doesn’t work out, well he can always gather the good grain, discard the chaff, and push reset.

    Then on second though he said, no I think I’ll hold on to the chaff. I can recycle it, add it to the good grain so it will be more fruitful.

    Now for that second brew.

    :)

  6. CY and Oramus: thanks for the thoughtful replies. I am going to think about what you wrote and reread it several times . . . I am much more steeped in evolutionary theory than ID but I am trying to understand what ID is about. Whether I agree or disagree with you I can at least extend the courtesy of making sure I understand what you’re saying.

  7. The single question I have asked Darwinists repeatedly in forums, blogs and other discussion groups is this: how do you know scientifically that the properties of biological systems are such that any apparent design we observe in them can not be actual design, even in principle? Note that I emphasize the word “scientifically” because I will not accept metaphysics, philosophy or theology as a response. Never once have I received a scientific answer to this question. Dr. Hunter is right, the metaphysics trumps the science every time. Getting Darwinists to admit that…highly improbable!

  8. ellazimm

    CY and Oramus: thanks for the thoughtful replies. I am going to think about what you wrote and reread it several times . . . I am much more steeped in evolutionary theory than ID but I am trying to understand what ID is about. Whether I agree or disagree with you I can at least extend the courtesy of making sure I understand what you’re saying.

    One other resource you might check out is The Design Revolution by William Dembski. I think this work is one of the best starting points for anyone wanting to investigate what ID is all about as Dembski does a masterful job answering most of the common objections and question that arise regarding ID.

  9. 9
    CannuckianYankee

    ellazimm,

    Another book I would recommend, which would help to support my contention that belief in God is reasonable in light of the absurdities, which arise if the cosmos was not caused:

    William Lane Craig’s “The Kalam Cosmological Argument.”

    This book is not connected in any way to ID. However, many IDists who are theists, depend on such arguments for the basis of their metaphysical beliefs.

    Craig also has several articles in defense of the Kalam cosmological argument on his website, “Reasonable Faith” here:

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org

    The site requires registration – and contains a search engine for articles.

    Donald,

    “The Design Revolution” is an excellent suggestion. I think ellazimm should understand not only the positive arguments for ID, but also the way IDists answer their critics.

    And ellazimm, I would also refer you to this:

    <Frequently Raised But Weak Arguments Against Intelligent Design

  10. ellazimm:

    I am much more steeped in evolutionary theory than ID but I am trying to understand what ID is about. Whether I agree or disagree with you I can at least extend the courtesy of making sure I understand what you’re saying.

    You don’t know how refreshing that is! I would say the vast majority of ID opponents not only cannot accurately state the arguments of ID advocates but have never really bothered trying to learn what they are. This is why most debates on the issue (especially on Internet forums and blogs) are exhausting; it is an endless sifting of strawman arguments. It’s always great to meet someone who is trying to honestly understand our viewpoint. There are several committed materialists/Darwinists who post here regularly who we have great debates with.

    I will second the “Frequently Asked Questions” link someone supplied above. It is a must-read, I think, even before any books or anything else.

    I also will agree with the statement that ID is the most metaphysically-neutral origins perspective of the three main “western” explanations that you generally encounter: neo-Darwinian evolution (I like to call it natural evolution), Creationism and Intelligent Design. NDE starts with methodological naturalism and works within that framework, Creationism starts with a theological assumption (i.e. the Earth is 6,000 years old) and asks how that is true. ID does not seek to prove or disprove ANY particular metaphysical claim. Most don’t realize that it is not even necessarily incompatible with atheism!

    ID is simply open to all explanations and uses the method of competing hypotheses to select the best explanation. The current consensus explanation for biological information is natural evolution. Most proponents see it as the only possible explanation, short of “magic”. But we personally experience another information-generator on a daily basis: intelligence. So we have two theories for the origin of biological information (particularly functional, complex, specific information [fCSI; see Meyer's Signature in the Cell]) and then we judge from there which one best explains the observations. We contend that natural evolution is statistically incapable of generating the fCSI found in biology within the probabilistic resources of the known universe, leaving intelligence as the only viable explanation.

  11. 11
    CannuckianYankee

    ellazimm,

    On other thing – you’re going to attempt to understand ID, and it’s arguments. In this quest you’re inevitably going to come across detractions.

    Beware of strawmen. You’ve come across some understanding of ID and what ID proponents say about it. Consequently, you’ve also determined by that what ID is not, and what ID proponents do not say about it. Thus you will be completely qualified as a strawman detector when faced with the common detractions.

    While you read the faz I linked to I think it’s important to bear this in mind. Most of the common detractions of ID are set up in the form of a strawman.

    Examples of this – ID is religion, not science.

  12. 12
    CannuckianYankee

    ellazimm,

    On other thing – you’re going to attempt to understand ID, and it’s arguments. In this quest you’re inevitably going to come across detractions.

    Beware of strawmen. You’ve come across some understanding of ID and what ID proponents say about it. Consequently, you’ve also determined by that what ID is not, and what ID proponents do not say about it. Thus you will be completely qualified as a strawman detector when faced with the common detractions.

    While you read the faz I linked to I think it’s important to bear this in mind. Most of the common detractions of ID are set up in the form of a strawman.

    Examples of this: – ID is religion, not science.
    – ID is Creationism
    – ID argues “god-of-the-gaps.”
    – ID’s proponents are religious, so ID

    All of these charges could be true, and if true, they can be easily shot down.

    However, while they could be true, there is sufficient reason to believe that they are not. Thus shooting them down proves nothing. You’ve only succeeded in setting up a strawman and shooting it down.

  13. 13
    CannuckianYankee

    ellazimm,

    On other thing – you’re going to attempt to understand ID, and it’s arguments. In this quest you’re inevitably going to come across detractions.

    Beware of strawmen. You’ve come across some understanding of ID and what ID proponents say about it. Consequently, you’ve also determined by that what ID is not, and what ID proponents do not say about it. Thus you will be completely qualified as a strawman detector when faced with the common detractions.

    While you read the faz I linked to I think it’s important to bear this in mind. Most of the common detractions of ID are set up in the form of a strawman.

    Examples of this: – ID is religion, not science.
    – ID is Creationism
    – ID argues “god-of-the-gaps.”

    All of these charges could be true, and if true, the accuser can easily shoot them down.

    However, while they could be true, there is sufficient reason to believe that they are not. Thus shooting them down proves nothing. You’ve only succeeded in setting up a strawman and shooting it down.

    Also beware of ad hominem. It is often very subtle:

    - ID’s proponents are religious, and they have a religious agenda – therefore ID cannot be true.

    This ad hominem is informed by the earlier strawmen. So it’s one fallacy informed by another – doubly fallacious.

    And there’s also the double-standard. Materialists tend to disregard their own metaphysical assumptions, while at the same time, zealously “outing” and inflating the metaphysical assumptions of their opponents. This also is doubly fallacious, in that they inform their “outings” from the strawmen.

    So if you look at it, the strawman is the beginning of the entire enterprise of the materialist falsification of ID. Yet again, they claim that ID can’t be science because it can’t be falsified.

  14. 14
    CannuckianYankee

    sorry – correction needed – faq, not faz.

  15. 15
    CannuckianYankee

    Well it could be faz – “frequently asked zingers.”

  16. The evolution lie corrupts scientific knowledge.

    Note that it isn’t religion that is endangered, it’s science itself.

  17. 17
    CannuckianYankee

    “Note that it isn’t religion that is endangered, it’s science itself.”

    Very true. If the entire enterprise of science is predicated upon what we already assume to be true, we have to ask ourselves if we’re truly doing science.

    Religion on the other hand, maintains despite science’s challenges – particularly (but not only) when “science” has no forward direction; rather endlessly and circularly informs itself with the presuppositions upon which it started.

  18. Mung:Note that it isn’t religion that is endangered, it’s science itself.

    Though, it must be pointed out that to speak — and to think — of the issues in this manner is itself part of the problem. This manner of speaking and thinking reifies, and for some poor souls, such as one might find at the NSCE, deifies, science into something it never can be.

  19. ellazim,

    You may enjoy this link to a paper published by Evolutionary Infomatics Lab members…

    <a href="http://evoinfo.org/publication.....gic-avida/

  20. ooops, that was posted unfinished.

    Dissecting AVIDA simulation of evolution

    The paper dissects AVIDA and finds Active Information that guides the performance of “simulated evolution.”

    I accepted Darwinian evolution most of my life, but changed my mind several years ago.

    Dissecting models of evolution like AVIDA is for me, a good way to ascertain fundamentals of evolutionary theory and thought processes. Since, we still cannot determine the past, only infer with assumptions, simulations can show us what obstacles are in the way of theory.

    It is interesting to see how evolutionist think information propagated itself into ever more complex forms.

    This recent dissection of AVIDA is I think an excellent review from a Design perspective. It shows where the disagreement exist between the two camps.

  21. CY

    Actually, triply fallacious.

    Sometimes red herring distractors are explicit, at other times they lurk in the fact that a strawman is a species of red herring, inherently.

    That’s why I now speak of the trifecta fallacy: red herrings led to strawmen soaked in ad hominems ignited to cloud, confuse, polarise and poison the atmosphere.

    G

  22. 22
    CannuckianYankee

    DATCG

    I read that article, and while I wasn’t completely lost, it was highly technical.

    Essentially what they’re saying is that computer simulations of evolution do not demonstrate Darwinian evolution, because they require the prior input of information from a designer. I think if ellazimm reads Meyer’s chapter on this, he’ll have the basic argument.

    But maybe he wants a more technical study.

  23. Ilion:

    This manner of speaking and thinking reifies, and for some poor souls, such as one might find at the NSCE, deifies, science into something it never can be.

    Good to see you :)

    I think it’s time to take back science. By which I mean, put it back in it’s proper place. By it’s very nature, science can never be anything other than a branch of philosophy.

  24. 24
    CannuckianYankee

    KF,

    I like your “trifecta fallacy,”

    ellizemm,

    Regarding the double standard: It is not only applied by materialists towards ID proponents and Creationists, but also towards Theistic Evolutionists, as is clear in the thread regarding Francis Collins.

    But they are very selective in using it against TE’s. For example, very little objection is used against other TE’s such as Francisco Ayala, Kenneth Miller, and others. As long as they are supporting the materialist agenda in regarding evolution as fact, they’re in. But if they hold a public office and are open about their religious beliefs, they’re out.

  25. 25
    CannuckianYankee

    Gonna have to create an “ellazimm” shorthand. How about just “el?” :)

  26. CY:

    Welcome. Sadly, the trifecta is now a commonplace tactic among those caught up in selective hyperskepticism, especially where we get to the stage of having to deal with the closed, ideologically blinded mind. A related tactic is the turnabout accusation, especially among those influenced directly or indirectly by the destructive principles and tactics in Mr Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals.

    These tactics are now all too commonly met with on exchanges over matters tied to design theory.

    GEM of TKI

  27. Thanks again for all the thoughtful and helpful suggestions.

    Still trying to wrap my head around not pursuing the where and when of design especially considering CY’s statement in comment 2:

    “This does not make ID religion. It makes ID simply an explanation that does not rule out a designer; whether that designer is an ancient alien race, a deity, or some other entity of which we are currently unaware. So while IDists for the most part solidly fall behind theism for metaphysical and religious reasons, we know that we can’t allow that presupposition to get in the way of science; so other possibilities such as panspermia are allowed.”

    If there are several possibilities then I would think teasing out which is true would be one of the primary questions. An alien race, for example, would surely have left some kind of evidence of it’s actions.

    But you’ve all given me lots of resources to pursue.

  28. 28
    CannuckianYankee

    “An alien race, for example, would surely have left some kind of evidence of it’s actions.”

    That’s a good point. Aside from complex specified information found in DNA, there doesn’t appear to be any. But that evidence can mean something entirely different.

    Something to ponder though, is that if it was an alien race, who or what created them?

    This gets into further metaphysical issues – particularly the problem of an infinite regress. This is why most IDists believe the designer to be God.

  29. CannuckianYankee

    Something to ponder though, is that if it was an alien race, who or what created them?

    This gets into further metaphysical issues – particularly the problem of an infinite regress. This is why most IDists believe the designer to be God.

    Richard Dawkins answered your question over 20 years ago in his The Blind Watchmaker when he told us that if we earthlings are the product of alien design, they would have been the product of evolution (or something very much like it). After all, what else is there but chance and/or necessity to account for all we observe in nature? The one small point that Dawkins left out, however, was providing any actual evidence for his hypothesis, or experimental confirmation, or any other scientific reason to accept it as true. But that small oversight aside, its a great point!

  30. 30
    CannuckianYankee

    Donald,

    Good old Richard – always consistent with his metaphysical assumptions. :)

  31. Just wanted to thank all those who responded to my earlier posting. I spent a lot of time today reading through some past threads on UD. I feel that I am better understanding what the ID paradigm is about. Not saying I’m going to be a convert but I think I’m getting what you’re saying more than I used to.

    As an amateur archaeologist I am terribly aware of the importance of patter recognition and difficulty in sometimes detecting design.

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