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Sober’s “Progenic Fallacy”

[From a colleague:] Sober is wrong in several ways. First, ID’s denial of it being religious does not rest on the fact that it does not specify the identity of the designer, but rather, the identity of the designer is irrelevant to the detection of design. Second, suppose someone in fact makes the argument that because nature cannot account for its own design, then only that which is outside of nature can do so. It seems to me that Sober’s rejection or acceptance of the argument should depend on its soundness or strength and not on its “religiosity.” Bringing in an argument’s religiosity as a reason to dismiss it seems to be a reversal of the genetic fallacy. We can call this fallacy, the progenic fallacy, the rejection of an argument because one finds its consequences undesireable (its “progeny,” so to speak), rather than based on its actual strength as an argument. Third, unless ID necessarily entails God’s existence, the ID advocate can still pull a “Judge Jones” on Sober: ID is not necessarily inconsistent with God’s non-existence. Fourth, if the Darwinian theory of evolution is neutral on the question of whether supernatural designers exist, then supernatural designers have no explanatory power in accounting for the evolution of life. But that’s NOT a neutral position: it is making the epistemological claim that supernatural designers can never be objects of knowledge that may count against the deliverances of “science.” On the other hand, if such beings could be the objects of knowledge, then Darwinian evolution is presently agnostic, not neutral, on the question. In other words, it is possible that some future account may rule in or rule out supernatural agency.

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9 Responses to Sober’s “Progenic Fallacy”

  1. I love the term “progenic fallacy”. It’s a variation on the “slippery slope” argument, but has a bit more focus and clarity of meaning. A Google search comes up empty, so you can credit your colleage with coining a new phrase in rhetoric and logic. Like most fallacies, it’s designed to generate an emotional or simple-minded response, rather than introduce clarity of understanding.

    By the way, the most popular form of the progenic fallacy these days is anything that compares the other side in a debate to Hitler and the Holocaust — simply because of the emotional and moral weight behind that comparison — and people of all stripes are guilty of this one. Also, this may not be a fallacy at all when applied to political arguments, since identifying downstream results increases understanding; however, when discerning natural truth, as in the realm of science, it’s another game altogether.

  2. Gandalf wrote: “Also, this may not be a fallacy at all when applied to political arguments, since identifying downstream results increases understanding; however, when discerning natural truth, as in the realm of science, it’s another game altogether.”

    Wouldn’t it also seem that there are things that may be great legal or political ideas that are not great scientific ideas? Didn’t Jones rule that having Darwinists provide a pathway of slight sucessive changes that led to what appear to be irreduciably complex systems constituted an unreasonable burden of proof? And while that may be a great legal idea (if I were the defendant in a criminal case I wouldn’t want to have to shoulder such a burden of proof) does it hold up as a scientific idea? Darwinism makes sweeping claims shouldn’t it have to provide sweeping proof? Prehaps the idea of an unreasonable burden of scientific proof is a progenic fallacy.

    Then again, this could be just my ignorance talking.

  3. I think that the “judge jones” maneuver would be invalid. ID is logically incompatible with the non-existence of at least one extra-universal intelligence with sufficient causal power to instantiate biological complexity within the universe.

  4. Or, in other words, the primary implication of ID is dualism – intelligence cannot be reduced to matter (at least). Dembski’s theology compels him to claim that matter can be reduced to intelligence (the essential claim of creatio ex nihilo) but that’s not part of ID either.

  5. I am highly confused. Wasn’t Judge Jones’ decision that ID was somehow specifically “Christian”. Even if there is a need for a designer if one establishes that there is design. And even if the only designer we can think of may, of necessity, be seen as a three letter word that starts with “G”, have we established that the G word is the Christian G, or that this G is somehow not any G other than the Christian G.

  6. It’s important to remember that, at least in this case, the word “implication” is where the leap from science into philosophy takes place.

  7. Jared,

    “I think that the ‘judge jones’ maneuver would be invalid. ID is logically incompatible with the non-existence of at least one extra-universal intelligence with sufficient causal power to instantiate biological complexity within the universe.”

    Not exactly. I would replace “logically” with “epistemically”. Actually, any event which does not violate physical laws is logically possible. (I can’t think of any exceptions; correct me if I’ve overlooked something.) The implications which follow directly from a positive design inference in nature don’t absolutely necessitate the agency of what we would call the “supernatural”, but they at least make it very higly probable.

    “Or, in other words, the primary implication of ID is dualism – intelligence cannot be reduced to matter (at least).”

    Yes, maybe. Of course, this is an implication of ID and does not concern ID, itself. ID is about differentiating between intelligent and unintelligent causes in a particular context–not establishing that mind is fundamentally irreducible to matter. This is not to say that very powerful arguments along this line can’t be made against materialism. They most certainly can be, and design theorists have made them. They’re just not central to the concept.

    bFast,

    “I am highly confused. Wasn’t Judge Jones’ decision that ID was somehow specifically ‘Christian’. Even if there is a need for a designer if one establishes that there is design. And even if the only designer we can think of may, of necessity, be seen as a three letter word that starts with ‘G’, have we established that the G word is the Christian G, or that this G is somehow not any G other than the Christian G.”

    I think Jones’ ruling was that ID is unfalsifiable because it necessarily entails a supernatural cause and that it violates the establishment clause because it is a form of sectarian creationism. Although the problems with his reasoning are not difficult to see, I haven’t seen in his descision where he specifically links ID to Christianity. Of course, the most ID can do is determine whether or not an intelligent cause is likely to have opperated to bring about a specific phenomenon.

  8. Ok, crandaddy, I wend and did my research.

    http://msnbcmedia.msn.com/i/ms.....er_342.pdf is the decision by Judge Jones.

    He says:
    1 – ID is “Scientific Creationism” or “Creation Science” in disguise.

    2 – “Scientific Creationism” or “Creation Science” are specifically religious BECAUSE they are based upon the religious writings of Geneis 1 (P. 21, he states, “Fundimentalist organisations were formed to promote the idea that the Book of Genesis was supported by scientific data. The terms ‘creation science’ and ‘scientific creationism’ have been adopted by these Fundimentalists as descriptive of their study of creation and the origin of man.”) Therefore, Judge Jones said that because ID is the indoctrination of a specific religion (the religion(s) supportive of a literal interpretation of Genesis 1) it was incompatible with the separation clause. As there are two primary religions supportive of Genesis 1, Judaism and Christianity, and as the jews have mostly not participated in the young earth ‘creation science’ or ‘scientific crationism’ game, he has said that ID is unacceptable because it endorces a specific religion — Christianity.

  9. Intelligentdesign.fi:

    Probabilistically, if evolution is flawed or cannot explain observed biological structures, the probability of intelligent design increases, and to some extent vice versa. Therefore, by Sober’s argument, also evolution has a probabilistic effect on the existence of a supernatural designer. Therefore the theory of evolution also has probabilistic religious implications.

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