Gregory and the Subject of Human Extension
|July 20, 2012||Posted by nullasalus under Intelligent Design, Society|
The following is a one-shot guest post by regular UD commenter, Gregory. I offer this because I know that Gregory’s been talking about Intelligent Design for years, and because it was my intention to give him the chance to make his case for the social sciences’ relevance to the ID discussion. As before, my posting this shouldn’t be taken as endorsement – in fact I’m very skeptical of the direction of Gregory’s project for a number of reasons, which I may or may not mention later in comments. But he was civil and sincere enough, and I thought the regulars at UD would find his thoughts interesting, whether to consider or point out the flaws.
Anyway, here I cede the floor to the social sciences. Have at it, folks.
Human Extension: an Alternative Way to Look at Intelligent Design
By Gregory Sandstrom, PhD
“The endless cycles of idea and action
Endless invention, endless experiment
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness.”
– T.S. Eliot
Thanks to nullasalus for agreeing to post this guest thread on Uncommon Descent.
This post contains an article that includes 3 internet links to works on evolution, creation, intelligent design and human extension that I have produced or been involved with in recent months. It also means that I am ‘coming out of the closet’ by revealing my true name. At this point in time (summer 2012), I consider that to be a risk worth taking.
When I accepted an invitation to attend the Discovery Institute’s summer program for humanities and social sciences in 2008, I did so not as an IDer, but rather as someone researching in the subfield now called sociology of science (SoS). I wanted to see who these people are that accept and promote intelligent design (ID) and learn more about the home base for the intelligent design movement (IDM), the Discovery Institute (DI) in Seattle, Washington. It was a professional curiosity regarding IDers and the IDM as much as it was a personal interest in science, philosophy and religion discourse that brought me to knock on the DI’s door.
The first day at the summer program we were given a presentation (including both the natural-physical sciences as well as the humanities and social sciences participants) by Bruce Gordon, CSC Senior Fellow. According to Gordon, there are 3 types (or definitions) of evolution: 1. change-over-time, 2. universal common descent, and 3. neo-Darwinism (by which he meant natural selection plus random mutation). Gordon said that ID has no problem with 1 or (generally, if not specifically) 2, but that 3 is believed by IDers to be either wrong or insufficient.
This may sound unusual to some people (as it would to Bruce), but I disagree mostly with 1, take no issue with 2 (though I’m open to some kind of ‘uncommon’ descent scenario, specifically with respect to human beings, e.g. ‘divine election,’ while accepting an ‘old’ Earth), and don’t much care about 3, given that my interests are mainly outside of biology, botany, zoology and genetics. I treat neo-Darwinism as an ideology rather than as a science and consider (neo-)Darwinian evolution as a legitimate natural scientific theory that seems to have many ‘errors’ in it at the same time that it also possesses many truths (cf. Allchin 2009). To clarify, I reject calling ‘(neo-)Darwinism’ a ‘scientific theory’ because of the common ideological signifier ‘-ism’ which is attached to Darwin’s name.
Regarding point 1, ‘evolution’ should not be defined or expressed to mean ‘change-over-time’ because there are ‘other’ kinds of ‘change-over-time’ that are not ‘evolutionary’ (more on this below). In other words, change is the master category, rather than evolution. Evolution is a particular type of change (i.e. non-teleological or goal-oriented and without foresight) and people should not attempt to invert the linguistic priority by giving evolution a monopoly over change. Doing so improperly privileges evolution and leads to the possibility of turning evolution from a natural scientific theory into an ideology or even a materialistic or atheistic worldview.
Taking this approach over the years has allowed me to reframe the general discourse of evolution, creation and ID which I invite people visiting or participating at UD to consider as a view that both is contra-evolutionism and humanitarian. Here I define ‘evolutionism’ as the ideological exaggeration of evolutionary theory into fields or topics where it does not properly belong. One example of this is giving ‘evolution’ a monopoly over ‘change.’ Another is the faulty transference of evolution from biology into anthropology, psychology, sociology, politics, economics and cultural studies; socio-biology and evolutionary psychology being the simplest examples.
So, UD reader, if you are against the ideology of evolutionism, then you might be interested to openly consider the position I am putting forward here and elsewhere. Truth be told, however, this position differs in significant ways from ID as it is presented and advocated for today by the IDM. If you are an IDM-ID proponent, and if you likewise consider the position I’m putting forward as valid and potentially fruitful, then you will eventually be faced with a choice between IDM-ID and the more holistic approach to science, philosophy and religion presented here. This approach claims more relevance regarding human meaning, values, beliefs, morality and ethics, as well as the term ‘intelligence’ than anything yet produced by the IDM. This is said after having viewed the DI and IDM from within more than independent internet bloggers.
You might be wondering where I’m going with this since I’ve been working in the human-social sciences on the topic for over a decade (2010 defended a dissertation on comparative sociology). Is it my task to ridicule ID and mock you in the same way as materialists and Darwinists do? No. It turns out that I made a far-reaching discovery in 2001 that may seem counter-intuitive to some people at first, but which has held up under scrutiny, criticism and mentorship. It is either a non-ID or a neo-ID approach to knowledge and existence, thus this thread is titled “an alternative way to look at intelligent design.” Let me now explain the reasoning behind Human Extension.
This discovery effectively answers the question of ‘what doesn’t evolve’ and/or ‘what are the limits of evolution,’ while also providing a new contribution in the human-social sciences. Michael Behe writes of ‘the edge of evolution’ related to biology, but it doesn’t sound like the biological community has (yet) embraced his notion of ‘unevolvability.’ What I discovered and have tested over a decade for weaknesses and errors is an alternative approach to ‘unevolvability’ in a different core field than biology, where nevertheless evolutionary ideas are still active and current.
In short form, what I am suggesting is that it makes sense to say that technology and other human-made things (cf. ‘artificial selection’) do not ‘evolve.’ Instead, they ‘extend’ from human choices.
This human-social paradigm for science and technology studies (STS) can be expressed in two basic axioms:
Axiom 1 – Nothing human-made evolves into being (or having become);
Axiom 2 – Everything human-made extends from human choice(s), to do, to act or to make something.
If you wish to challenge Human Extension, it is with these two axioms that you should start.
The idea of ‘human extension,’ found in the work of internationally recognised culture, technology and media theorist Marshall McLuhan, the so-called ‘sage of the wired age,’ came to me before I had actually heard of ‘intelligent design’ (ID) and the intelligent design movement (IDM). When I later learned about the IDM (2002), I then became active in exploring the possibilities of their new idea, participating in discussion forums about ID and asking questions via e-mail to IDM leaders. I also visited the DI in Seattle, which was just a couple of hours drive from my home near Vancouver, Canada.
During the period of the following years, I continued to develop the answer I’d discovered, engaging with people around the world (in no less than 7 countries) on its history, possible relevance and application. After several presentations at academic conferences and then publications in scientific journals on this topic (from 2005-2010), finally in 2011 the time came to face an ‘alternative world of ID’ (Fuller 2012).
This alternative way to look at ID can be seen for the first time by visitors to UD in this TEDx talk, which raises the spectre of ID, but also goes beyond it by speaking of Human Extension and the courage of extending humanity: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t85d6Bh9Nys.
One example of an ‘alternative world of ID’ that I had heard about during my journey is visible in the prolific work of American-British philosopher and sociologist of science, Steve Fuller. His approach to ID is imo on the cutting-edge, even if it is not well-known or widely accepted in the IDM. (Note for religious apologists: his Wikipedia profile is wrong – he is not an atheist or a ‘secular humanist,’ but rather an Abrahamist, educated by Jesuits.) Fuller was called as witness and participated at the 2005 Dover Trial, but that is far from being his most important contribution on this topic (see parallel thread: http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/steve-fuller-in-id-philosophy-news/). His work as a social epistemologist facilitates people to consider the presuppositions and implications of ID theory, in ways that both distinguishes it from ‘creationism’ while also revealing its dependency on the worldview of its founders who all believe human beings are/were created in imago Dei. According to Fuller, without recognising this and the “deep theological roots” of ‘intelligent design,’ any theory that takes its name makes little sense from a historical or intellectual perspective.
As a result of following the trail Fuller has blazed, over the past few years I’ve come to realise that humanities and social sciences enable fresh access to ‘the bridge’ between natural sciences, philosophy and theology that IDers have written and spoken about but have yet to practically cross. Crossing such a bridge is possible because meaning, purpose and values are involved in humanities and social sciences in a way they are not in natural sciences. In other words, by ‘humanising ID’ into the humanities and social sciences, i.e. by recognising the inescapable ‘reflexivity’ (both individual and group-oriented) involved in defining and interpreting ‘intelligent design’ both now and in the first place (1980’s & 90’s), a new type of qualitative evaluation or meaning infusion can be revealed that is not now available in IDM-ID.
Towards this prospect, a series of short papers has been recently published on the topic (http://social-epistemology.com/2012/06/05/sandstrom-basboll-craddock-scott-intelligent-design-as-social-epistemology-collective-judgment-forum/), called “Intelligent Design as Social Epistemology” (ID as SE). The involvement of social epistemologists on the topic of ID actually realises the predictions that DI scholars made in the 1990s regarding the unique role of non-natural sciences in shaping the future and current meaning of ‘intelligent design.’ In other words, we are ahead of the IDM in looking at the social influences on and actual beliefs of IDers, thus providing a valuable service to scientists and laypeople from a sociological perspective.
This means that we don’t just look at ID as an ‘ontological’ view (i.e. the position that contends there *is* ‘detectable’ design in the natural world), but instead as an ‘epistemological’ view people hold that displays various pre-commitments and background assumptions. By looking closer at the personal-ideological features of ID, a contribution by humanities and social sciences can be welcomed. This is what is being suggested here now at UD, though much more work is presented elsewhere, and it is granted that even more remains on the road towards you being convinced.
If you’ve made it this far you may be wondering why this matters to the IDM? Why should people who are promoting ID predominantly in natural-physical and applied sciences pay any attention at all to social sciences and humanities? First, because admitting that ‘social epistemology’ is in *any* way involved with ID theory challenges the neutrality-myth that ID is merely a detached, impersonal, objectivistic, scientific theory of order, teleology and information. Also, because ‘Darwinism,’ the greatest singular ideological enemy of the IDM, has in some ways also affected the social sciences and humanities in the form of ‘social Darwinism.’
It may have seemed like a good idea to insist that ID-is-science-only using (copying, imitating, etc.) the preferred language of natural scientific methods. But in fact doing just that actually compromises the core meaning of ID, which imo has the higher potential to re-humanise, rather than to dehumanise via its connection with philosophy and theology. The neutrality-myth indeed can be seen as a burden on the soul of the scientist, just as much as some people consider it as a kind of liberation (or escape) from religion to study ‘just the facts.’ The meaning of ‘intelligent design’ as Fuller and I approach it is about ideas, pre-commitments and the personal worldview(s) of its proponents as much as it is about biological data and physical or material details. Admitting that the psychological dimension is inevitably part of ‘doing science’ will be a humbling experience for the neutrality-myth proponents of ID.
To suggest that ‘atheists could be IDers’ is also deemed as an ingenuous and highly unlikely if not impossible proposition. If one believes that the world is ordered, guided, and/or governed by a transcendent intelligence, like the Abrahamic God, as do Fuller and myself and presumably all other ‘real’ (authentic) IDers, then the suggestion that ‘atheistic ID’ is even a possibility is removed from the logical table of discussion. David Berlinski is thus a mere anti-Darwinist rather than a pro-IDer, sharing positive theological meanings of ‘design.’
Atheists can therefore become IDers, but they cannot disbelieve in God and also accept the core meaning of ID, that people are divinely-created (and are thus able to recognize ‘intelligence’ in the created world). IDers are persons of faith in a ‘designer/Designer,’ even if they do not often include (i.e. even sometimes purposely exclude) discussion about it in their persistent quest for ID’s scientificity. It is not controversial to grasp this or to express it.
What it speaks to is one of the most significant features of ID theory that often goes unnoticed. Without showing what ID has to do with actual persons, i.e. how ID makes a difference of meaning in people’s lives, the notion of ID ‘in biology’ or ‘in nature’ cannot properly resonate with or influence humanity. IDM-ID as a ‘neutral-natural-science’ thus obscures as much as it enlightens. That is why humanities and social sciences scholars need to be pro-actively invited for constructive dialogue with ID natural scientists, engineers, programmers and theologians. The former fields contain insights into meaning, purpose, value and ethics that natural and applied scientists simply do not possess. Objectivistic approaches to ‘intelligence’ and ‘design’ thus only give a partial view of the story, which can also be informed by subjectivity and personality.
By turning to ‘an alternative world of ID’ that places the central focus on human choices, purpose, meaning and teleology in opposition to universal evolutionism, a direct, realistic path opens up to overcoming naturalistic and materialistic ideologies that have tended to extinguish belief in the human spirit. It is expected that 99% of IDers support belief in the ‘human spirit’ and rejection of materialism as an obligation. Materialism is an ideology that is simply not satisfactory when employed on topics of choice and action. But the IDM has not (yet) satisfactorily explored these topics. This is where looking to Human Extension offers new hope for an end to the (Anglo-American) ‘culture wars’ over evolutionism, not to mention ‘Darwinism.’
The arrival of a social scientific approach to ‘intelligent design’ such as Human Extension is surprisingly what the DI already predicted in the 1990s and what is now finally coming to happen. Though it may appear to look like IDM-ID, in fact Human Extension differs considerably in speaking with emphasis anthropically and reflexively. Nevertheless, what some of you at UD mean by ‘design’ may be thought to be what I mean by ‘extension.’ Looking deeper at these two notions will thus help to clarify the differences and similarities; for now it is enough to say that the two positions share a common opposition to evolutionism.
The greatest indictment of evolutionary philosophy: it brings “knowledge of motion, but not of stillness.” This is how extension is able to challenge evolutionary philosophy by insisting that pauses and lack of change, voids and moments of stillness are part of human life and existence. Unceasing eternal/temporal change is as impossible to the human mind, body and soul as eternal/temporal sameness.
What people are seeking today is thus a balance between statics and dynamics, between more and enough, between science, philosophy and religion. This is what Human Extension helps people to more directly explore and encounter than is possible through the lens of evolutionary philosophy or naturalistic ID.
Change is involved in human living, whether we call it ‘evolution’ or not. But there are also pauses or gaps or voids or stillness, which are a part of human existence. The way we label this recognition will inform the post-evolutionistic epoch. Even those who subscribe to theistic evolution (TE) or evolutionary creation (EC) will find it helpful that ‘evolutionism’ can be safely exposed as ideology and removed from carrying a label of ‘scientific.’ This is what my work over the past decade has shown, which is now revealed at UD under the label of Human Extension, as it has been called elsewhere. For those interested to pursue the idea further, much more than this short introduction is written and available elsewhere (just follow the link on my name).
Human Extension is an example of ‘change-over-time’ that is not evolutionary; it involves purpose, plan, goal(s), meaning and direction (teleology) that is not present in biological evolutionary theories. It is a human-social scientific (reflexive) contribution to knowledge and discourse involving evolution, creation and intelligent design. By allowing choice a foot in the door via Human Extension, the ideology of evolutionism can be overcome, allowing a significant step to be taken in human-social thought toward more balanced, collaborative dialogue between the major realms of science, philosophy and religion.
There is now therefore a new position available in the conversation to contemplate, a post-neo-evolutionary position, which draws on rich and deep traditions in a variety of scholarly fields, from philosophy and theology to communications, psychology, geography, anthropology, mathematics and economics. This position, not one from biology, engineering, informatics or origins of life studies, offers a sincere, deliberate and long-prepared challenge to evolutionism and IDM-ID. This includes hope for clarification and collaboration, as well as a reality check to the IDM’s narrow naturalistic notion of ‘intelligent design,’ which so far (purposely) excludes human meaning.
So, now that I’ve come out of the closet and revealed myself and this dynamic-static, more-enough, counter-evolutionistic approach that has been in the works for years, is it possible that you will you respond favourably and with constructively critical comments, challenges or questions? Will you instead drop the plastic hammer of condemnation by stating how irrelevant the social sciences are in the contemporary world, how humanity doesn’t actually matter very much for intelligent design, evolution and creation topics, that they involve nothing but objective or empirical scientific questions? Or will you keep the option open that a new paradigm or heuristic could arise to shed new light on old problems, including issues of whether or not mind, consciousness or spirit are involved (reflexively) in the world of human nature?
I met many good and decent people at the DI’s summer program and carry no personal grudges with the IDers and friends I met there. I may disagree with their ‘blind’ acceptance of ID, but I don’t reject them as persons. The choice is now up to you: in what way you will extend your hand to me and to this new possibility of Human Extension as an integrative insight into science, philosophy and theology?
“Theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man.” – Pope John Paul II
Extension is a “fundamental notion concerning the nature of reality.” – A.N. Whitehead
Allchin, Douglas (2009). “Celebrating Darwin’s Errors.” The American Biology Teacher, Vol. 71, No. 2. Earlier form adapted and posted here: http://www.tc.umn.edu/~allch001/papers/D-errors-NYU.pdf
Dembski, William (2004). The Design Revolution. Inter-Varsity Press.
Fuller, Steve (2006). The New Sociological Imagination. Sage Publications.
McLuhan, Marshall (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill