Home » Intelligent Design, Philosophy » Keep it Coming, Guys!

Keep it Coming, Guys!

Pat Hayes of Red State Rabble has composed a rather prolix essay in which he sings the praises of Barbara Forrest and her monumental role in exposing ID as repackaged Creationism. Naturally, Pim van Muers at Panda’s Thumb and Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars are chiming in.

Now, here’s what I don’t understand. Forrest has a PhD in philosophy from Tulane, yet the best ID=Creationism arguments she seems to be able to put forth are either red herrings (The designer has to be supernatural.) or ad hominems (The IDists are big, bad Creationists trying to sneak religion into science classrooms.) Why can’t ID opponents focus on the arguments, themselves, and show how they are equivalent to Creationism? If ID really is just repackaged Creationism, why not just expose the arguments for what they are and be done with it? There’s no need to expend such effort in propagating logical fallacies if their position is really as sound as they would have us believe. In fact, ID opponents’ insistence on invoking obviously fallacious arguments is one of the things that led me to conclude that their position is in more trouble than they would like the public to know. Therefore, I would like to encourage opponents of ID to continue to focus on its supernatural implications and the supposedly impure motives of its advocates. Your efforts in this regard can only help us.

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26 Responses to Keep it Coming, Guys!

  1. *yawn…

    We know what the answer is, don’t we crandaddy. They have no scientific ground to stand on. They know (and are terrified by) the scientific arguments in support of ID and they know they got nothin’.

  2. Crandaddy:

    Now, here’s what I don’t understand. Forrest has a PhD in philosophy from Tulane, yet the best ID=Creationism arguments she seems to be able to put forth are either red herrings (The designer has to be supernatural.) or ad hominems (The IDists are big, bad Creationists trying to sneak religion into science classrooms.) Why can’t ID opponents focus on the arguments, themselves, and show how they are equivalent to Creationism? If ID really is just repackaged Creationism, why not just expose the arguments for what they are and be done with it?

    Because, they think they can win by rhetorical sleight of hand. The real issue that philosophers like Forrest and her ilk need to deal with is naturalism as it relates to science. Unless and until they can demonstrate scientifically how they know that nature is a closed system of natural cause and effect, all their feeble attempts to exclude ID from scientific consideration will not withstand philosophical scrutiny. They know that, so use every means of deflection and deception at their disposal.

  3. “Unless and until they can demonstrate scientifically how they know that nature is a closed system of natural cause and effect, all their feeble attempts to exclude ID from scientific consideration will not withstand philosophical scrutiny.”

    I don’t know much about the philosophical arguments but surely ID could be included even if nature is a closed system of natural cause and effect. Surely supernatural does not nessecarily equate with intelligent. Do philosophers argue that it can be proved there are no supernatural forces? I thought they argue that the supernatural can not be part of science because we have no way of scientifically distiguishing supernatural explanations, though I could be wrong.

    Supernatural causes are by definition outside the scope of science. The salient question is whether supernatural effects are outside the scope of science. Philsophical materialism says the only thing that can be said to exist is matter. Methodological materialism, the basis of scientific inquiry, does not rule out the existence of supernatural causes and in this way differs from philosophical materialism. Supernatural causes by definition are outside the ability of science to investigate. The crux of that matter in my mind is whether this also applies to supernatural effects. I believe supernatural effects can be investigated by science and, science always being tentative, will never conclude with certainty that any effect with an unexplained cause is or is not due to a supernatural cause. Unless you’re an atheist I don’t see what’s the big deal in allowing for the possibility of supernatural causes and presuming the effects of such a cause can be empirical in nature. -ds

  4. Do philosophers argue that it can be proved there are no supernatural forces? I thought they argue that the supernatural can not be part of science because we have no way of scientifically distiguishing supernatural explanations, though I could be wrong.

    When it comes to philosophers arguing on what “can be proved” probably the only thing that can be distiguished is that there is no way of distinguishing anything.

    But note that as for those silly enough to elevate a useful heuristic into something they believe is actually true in philosophic naturalism, most of those who do will hardly be able to finish saying that science supposedly is blind to “natural” and “supernatural” explanations before claiming that science has disproved the supernatural because the only answer allowed to it is the “natural.” As for me, I’d still like to know what it is that they mean by natural. For example, Darwinists are fond of arguments of association such as: “It’s just like gravity.” because they have virtually none of their numerous hypotheses encoded in the language of mathematics in ways that can then be verified empirically “just like gravity.” So generally, it’s the biologist who wants to say that biology is just like physics while it is hard to find physicists arguing, “What we’re doing is just like a theory from biology or somethin’! Our theory of how things change is just like the way that biologists describe an adaptation in the language of mathematics and then verify its evolutionary trajectory through time in successive generations. Well anyway, you know the earth is round, right? Because people who question me are just like people who believe that the earth is flat.”

    And so on. We cannot even begin to get to what is “natural”* because they’re not even right or wrong yet about very basic facts. (*E.g., if gravity is a “law” then where does it reside? Is it as Galileo said, natural laws are written by the Law giver in a language like mathematics?) If you have the intellectual goods when it comes to knowledge, then you don’t have to make arguments of epistemic association as Darwinists do. And you don’t have to develope epistemic standards and structures of arguments in which you can count your own imagination as evidence which leads to your own imagination “overwhelming” you. I could go on…but why should I as Darwinism is dead, even if no one is willing to bury the corpse. Now don’t forget, the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth! Apparently that’s most of what biologists have to teach us when it comes to evolution these days.

  5. I am puzzled why Forrest’s best argument agains ID has not been mentioned. To me her best argument is the modification of “Of Pandas and People” replacing all reference to “Creation” with “Intelligent Design”. What I can’t understand, after having purchased and read “Of Pandas and People” is why this text is in any way signficant. It is a very poor presentation of ID in my opinion. This, and the “wedge document” have, in my opinion, been the two greatest political blunders in ID.

    DS, in comment 3 says: “Supernatural causes are by definition outside the scope of science. The salient question is whether supernatural effects are outside the scope of science.” This question should be shouted from the housetops (oops, there I go showing my Christian underpinning again.) This is an excellent question!

  6. I am puzzled why Forrest’s best argument agains ID has not been mentioned. To me her best argument is the modification of “Of Pandas and People” replacing all reference to “Creation” with “Intelligent Design”. What I can’t understand, after having purchased and read “Of Pandas and People” is why this text is in any way signficant. It is a very poor presentation of ID in my opinion. This, and the “wedge document” have, in my opinion, been the two greatest political blunders in ID.

    The ID movement has its black marks, but I feel that Forrest and those like her devote an unduly excessive amount of attention to them and unfairly present them in a tell-all, end-all manner. The version of ID in Of Pandas and People does appear to be Creationism with another name. (At the very least, it contains Creationist elements.) However, this does not mean that ID–at least as I and others in the movement conceive it–cannot be logically separated from Creationism. Consider Bill’s definition of ID:

    Intelligent Design is the study of patterns in nature that are best explained as the result of intelligence.

    Formulated in this manner, ID does not invoke any entity (supernatural or otherwise) and cannot be conflated with Creationism.

  7. Ultimately the best political proof that ID is not rehashed creationism, nor the direct product of a determination to make nature fit some Biblical model are the many active IDers who are pointedly not religious.

  8. “Formulated in this manner, ID does not invoke any entity (supernatural or otherwise) and cannot be conflated with Creationism.”

    What about the definition used by this site:

    “The theory of intelligent design (ID) holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection.”

    Surely a feature of the universe as a whole must be casued (“explained”) by something outside the universe, which would be by definition supernatural, yes?

    No to both. A feature of the universe is intelligent life. Do you believe that it must be caused by something outside the universe? And just because something is outside of the universe doesn’t make it supernatural. Some theoretical physicists postulate a multiverse exists outside this universe. Is that multiverse supernatural? -ds

  9. I’m looking at the sidebar here and there’s an add for all books dealing with I.D. Part of it says that they offer theology books so you can effectively study Intelligent Design. If you click on the selection of books dealing with I.D. you see that many of them are Old Earth and even Young Earth Creationist books. If you click on the section “Books Critical of I.D.” it pulls up many books that are critical of Creationism. It seems to me that it’s not just Barbara Forest and crew who are associating I.D. with creationism. It looks like many I.D. advocates are as well.

    Just sayin’ :)

  10. DaveScot: “Supernatural causes are by definition outside the scope of science. The salient question is whether supernatural effects are outside the scope of science.”

    This is a critical point. “Supernatural” simply means beyond nature (i.e., beyond time, space, matter, and energy.) The universe is, by definition, a supernatural effect, since time, space, matter, and energy did not exist in order to produce it.

    One of the critical insights of ID theory, which should be evident to those with practical experience in computer programming or other rigorous information-theoretic science, is that information is “supernatural,” essentially by definition. Time, space, matter, and energy (i.e., nature) are causally inadequate to explain it or produce it.

  11. Donald:
    “Because, they think they can win by rhetorical sleight of hand.”
    In deed. On the long run, I personaly think that the Darwinian hand-waving will backfire since the issues are still there to be dealt with. Shouting out “Creationist!” to anyone who criticizes Darwinism doesn’t explain how did the flagellum evolve, nor does it explain how did DNA code itself.

    In a way, Darwin skeptics should thank the Darwinian believers for not addressing the issues. They can’t afford to expose themselves to a scrutiny that evolutionary dogma can’t survive. So the best is to divert the attention to the motives of the skeptics rather than addressing the scientific evidence against Darwinism. By this the general public will see what Darwinism is all about: philosophy (materialism/naturalism).

  12. Crandaddy,

    It isn’t ad hom to identify someone with a label. It is ad hominem to attempt to refute their argument solely on the basis of that label.

    In the case of “creationist” labels, these are important in the context of arguments about the secular/religious intent of the inclusion of ID into school curricula, via the 1st Amendment.

    With regards to scientific arguments (eg flagellum IC), of course, it doesn’t matter who makes the argument, or where it comes from, and it should be address on its merits [or lack thereof]. That is what I see. I see a clear difference between ID-ing ID-ists with regards to constitutionality and ID-ing ID-ists with regards to scientific vacuity.

    Ideas should be evaluated on their merits regardless of who originated the idea. Identifying someone as a creationist before discussing their idea is unarguably an attempt to bias the discussion. Most of us are guilty of doing this but we really shouldn’t. -ds

  13. 13

    “Supernatural causes are by definition outside the scope of science. The salient question is whether supernatural effects are outside the scope of science.”

    It is possible that we could observe a supernatural effect, and the effect on the physical world could be studied by science. The problem is that we have no way of knowing if what we observed had a supernatural cause, especially if we have don’t have enough information about possible natural causes.

    “One of the critical insights of ID theory, which should be evident to those with practical experience in computer programming or other rigorous information-theoretic science, is that information is “supernatural,” essentially by definition. Time, space, matter, and energy (i.e., nature) are causally inadequate to explain it or produce it.”

    I think this is what confuses a lot of people, it is possible to argue that evolution was seeded or guided by a natural intelligent entity, in which case the supernatural need not be directly involved. But ID also seems to be making arguments that only supernatural causes can create the information in nature. So it’s understandable that people see ID as equalling supernatural even if it’s not true.

  14. I think the logical falacy people want to describe is the “genetic fallacy”. It is closely related to the ad hominem fallacy.

    Ad hominem: that isn’t true because you are a jerk.

    Genetic fallacy: you aren’t a jerk but your argument is from a bad group of people, so it should be rejected.

    I would look it up online to get it nailed down.

  15. “it is possible to argue that evolution was seeded or guided by a natural intelligent entity, in which case the supernatural need not be directly involved”

    OK, so, let’s vote, is the computer I’m using to write this “supernatural” b/c it wasn’t produced directly by “nature” (predictable scientific laws), or is it natural b/c it was produced by humans who are a natural effect. Oh wait, are humans (and life, and the universe) natural, if they were produced by a “natural intelligence”… this does seem a bit circular.

    perhaps the question comes down to: can we consistently agree on the definitions of: “natural” and “supernatural”

  16. Most of us are guilty of doing this but we really shouldn’t. -ds

    Great point, ds.

    I recently witnessed a discussion at another blog that started well but degenerated into comments like “why can’t you understand (or admit or whatever)…”, etc. The problem was neither party seemed to realize they were speaking different lanquages using the same words.

    A good way to disarm the ad hominem or straw man is to force your “opponent” to deconstruct what they mean by the label. Pretend ignorance. Ex: “Am I ‘just one of those creationists?’ Well, I don’t know…what, in your opinion, is a creationist?” Insist upon as much detail as necessary to expose any over-generalizations. Proceed point-by-point to address any misconceptions. Done with a bit of forthought you can have your opponent frame your position for you, while exposing himself as the ‘narrow-minded’ or ‘ignorant’ one (ONLY if this is indeed the case, we don’t want to be baddies ourselves).

    Remember, your core ideas must be as philosophically unassailable as you can muster as they relate to your opponents true core ideas. If you are not sure of this, you’ve got some homework to do. DO NOT get into technical “factual” discussion till the everyone is clear on the viewpoints, where they are compatible and where (and why) they are not.

    In my opinion this whole debate is based on some very basic philosophical constructs, and frequently a debate may be considered successful simply because the core issues have been revealed and discussed, rather than glossed over with arcane technical jargon.

    BTW, I realize this may be hard to do on a blog.

  17. “No to both. A feature of the universe is intelligent life. Do you believe that it must be caused by something outside the universe? And just because something is outside of the universe doesn’t make it supernatural. Some theoretical physicists postulate a multiverse exists outside this universe. Is that multiverse supernatural? -ds”

    Dave, Demsbki claims otherwise:

    “Moreover, it [the fine-tuning of the universe] is a transcendent design, not reducible to the physical world. Indeed, no intelligent agent who is strictly physical could have presided over the origin of the universe or the origin of life.”

    You moved the goalpost from features of the universe to origin of the universe. Anyhow, nothing says I have to agree with everything Dembski ever wrote and I strongly differ with him over the requirement that the origin of life on earth cannot be strictly physical. I know of no laws of physics that must be violated to assemble a living organism from inanimate chemicals. -ds

  18. Natural – consisting of and arising purely from matter and the laws of physics.

    Supernatural – not consisting of and arising purely from matter and the laws of physics.

    Good definition. Now what of things that don’t arise from KNOWN laws of physics? For instance, there is something termed “dark energy” that composes some 70% of the “stuff” of the universe and no known laws of physics describes it. We only infer its existence from its effect on visible matter. Is dark energy “supernatural”? At this point it probably is but its effects can be observed in the material universe. So if we see the effect of an unknown directive force in the universe do we have to know what that force is before we can acknowledge its effect? Certainly not. At least cosmology doesn’t have to describe the source in order to acknowledge and investigate the effect. Why should the investigation of life be any different from cosmology? There are things about nature we don’t understand. There are physical laws we don’t know about. Another physical law we don’t know about is quantum gravity. Is quantum gravity supernatural because we don’t yet know how to describe it? Is the inside of a black hole supernatural? We don’t have any physics to describe it. Yet we’re pretty sure there is an inside to a black hole because we can see the effects of it on the outside. Is the interior of a black hole supernatural? A bunch of insecure atheists don’t want to admit that there might be a greater intelligence in the univere than human intelligence and moreover that the effects of said intelligence can be observed and measured. -ds

  19. Dave said “A bunch of insecure atheists don’t want to admit that there might be a greater intelligence in the univere than human intelligence and moreover that the effects of said intelligence can be observed and measured.”

    I believe you’ve just summarized the essence of this entire debate with that one sentence.

    Saxe

  20. “You moved the goalpost from features of the universe to origin of the universe. Anyhow, nothing says I have to agree with everything Dembski ever wrote and I strongly differ with him over the requirement that the origin of life on earth cannot be strictly physical. I know of no laws of physics that must be violated to assemble a living organism from inanimate chemicals. -ds”

    I can see how you can read that as moving the goalposts, and I should’ve included a larger quote, as he is indeed talking about the fine-tuning, not only the origin, and the fine-tuning is a feature:

    “The fine-tuning of the universe, about which cosmologists make such a to-do, is both complex and specified and readily yields design. So too, Michael Behe’s irreducibly complex biochemical systems readily yield design. The complexity-specification criterion demonstrates that design pervades cosmology and biology. Moreover, it is a transcendent design, not reducible to the physical world. Indeed, no intelligent agent who is strictly physical could have presided over the origin of the universe or the origin of life.”

    Like I said, I know of no laws of physics that must be violated to assemble a living organism from inanimate chemicals and intelligent design doesn’t require it. While you’e including larger quotes include the larger one used by this site at http://www.uncommondescent.com.....d-defined/ and you’ll find it doesn’t speak to the fine tuning argument but rather to design detection and restricts itself to design detection in biological systems. Unfortunately for your argument biological systems aren’t in that set of features requiring supernatural ability to work outside the known laws of physics. -ds

  21. Dave Scott: “Supernatural causes are by definition outside the scope of science.”

    By what definition, Dave? This isn’t as straightforward as it might appear. Excluding supernatural considerations from science on definitional grounds is highly problematic because any definition to which one might appeal will undoubtably require the exclusion of not only supernatural considerations but also concepts that are highly essential to science. Before going too far with that, though, I would like to see you clarify what you mean by “by definition”. I don’t see this as philosophical hairsplitting either. The arguments put forth by the anti-ID crowd intended to exclude supernatural considerations from science present all sorts of problems for other concepts that nearly everyone accepts as highly scientific.

    Supernatural defined (adjective): Not existing in nature or subject to explanation according to natural laws; not physical or material. Science is limited to things which can be observed and measured (eg. experimental biology) or which can be explained by natural laws (eg. theoretical physics). We can observe and measure things like the flagellum or the physical constants of the universe to determine the probability of assembly by unintelligent means. In the case of the flagellum we know that stringing together nucleic acid sequences doesn’t require any physical powers beyond known laws of physics. Assembling the physical constants of the universe requires powers we cannot describe. But we can still observe the result and determine the probability of accidental assemblage. It appears to me the universe was designed and I haven’t the first clue what did it or how it was done. The how and what appear to be beyond the ability of either expermental or theoretical science to answer. -ds

  22. Dave Scott: “I know of no laws of physics that must be violated to assemble a living organism from inanimate chemicals.”

    Right. THe question is can those physical laws assemble a living organism exhibiting CSI through purely undirected, unintelligent processes. An intelligence can employ the laws of physics in the manipulation of matter and energy in ways that those very same elements would never go if left on thier own. Indeed, human intelligent agents do this every single day, like I am write now typing this message. I am violating no known laws of physics to create this message, but the matter and energy involved in translating the thought in my mind to the words you are reading would not create this message on thier own.

  23. 23

    I understand that there are processes or phenomonon that we can observe, and do not understand their cause. We may exhaust all of the possible explanations for this phenomenon and we may even conclude that it is the result of some unknown intelligence, but I still do not see how we can attribute it to a supernatural cause. Currently science does not gain anything by attributing phenomenon to the supernatural, this may change of course.

    “A bunch of insecure atheists don’t want to admit that there might be a greater intelligence in the univere than human intelligence and moreover that the effects of said intelligence can be observed and measured.”

    I don’t doubt that there are people who will say that science cannot consider the supernatural because it doesn’t exist, although I don’t understand what the atheist has to gain if there is proved to be supernatural forces by denying there existence. Sure there is some pride to be damaged but I have seen no reason in my dealings with other scientists to suspect that this is what is keeping evolution as the accepted theory.

  24. ds: “Supernatural causes are by definition outside the scope of science. The salient question is whether supernatural effects are outside the scope of science.”

    Sober seems to have inadvertantly attempted to show that they’re not outside the scope of science the other day. http://www.uncommondescent.com.....7#comments

    ds: “Some theoretical physicists postulate a multiverse exists outside this universe. Is that multiverse supernatural?”

    Has anyone else noticed that (presumably philosophical naturalist) cosmologists are taking the idea of a multiverse — of which there is absolutely no evidence! — a lot more seriously since cosmic fine-tuning was discovered and widely recognized, since they need those probablistic resources to avoid the conclusion of intelligent design? On a recent Scientific American Frontiers episode, cosmologists were glibly tossing around small beach ball universes with Alan Alda to demonstrate the notion, as if it were a scientific, rather than a religious, concept. Where’s Carl Sagan when you need him:

    The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. …The laws of nature are the same thoughout the Cosmos.” — Carl Sagan, Cosmos (1980), pp. 4, 8. ;-)

    ds: “A bunch of insecure atheists don’t want to admit that there might be a greater intelligence in the univere than human intelligence and moreover that the effects of said intelligence can be observed and measured.”

    Note that this has not been the case with SETI, however. I guess as long as the “greater intelligence” is 25,000 light-years away, and not responsible for the nanomachinery that makes life possible, it’s OK somehow.

  25. written above:

    Natural – consisting of and arising purely from matter and the laws of physics.

    Supernatural – not consisting of and arising purely from matter and the laws of physics

    OK another dumb question:
    Hypothetically, assuming man is really “goo to you”, then *he’s* natural – is then an artifact he makes also natural – as it is *ultimately* the result of matter and physics, highly complex though that matter is.

  26. Well, I see Ed Brayton has weighed in on this post. Check his bog post here: http://scienceblogs.com/dispat.....nist_1.php

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