Home » News, Philosophy » Thoughtful atheist philosopher on why he thinks ID valuable but ultimately incorrect

Thoughtful atheist philosopher on why he thinks ID valuable but ultimately incorrect

Hard on the heels of “Retired Pope Benedict on issues of interest to the ID communityBradley Monton assesses ID for a special issue of :

Why do you think some scientists refuse to take intelligent design seriously?

That’s a hard question to answer because it’s almost an issue of human psychology and sociology. But I would say that some atheists exhibit a fundamentalism that prevents them from even imagining that someone reasonable, rational, and intelligent could hold views different from their own. Others believe that science is the end-all and be-all—that it can answer all of the important questions about reality. There are even scientists out there, such as the theoretical physicist Steven Weinberg, who proclaim that neither religion nor philosophy can tell us anything important about the world. I totally disagree. Philosophy is actually an important field of inquiry. It can figure out the nature of ethical truths and what specific truths might be. Philosophy can also be used to investigate the existence of God in a way that science cannot. More.

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • RSS Feed

37 Responses to Thoughtful atheist philosopher on why he thinks ID valuable but ultimately incorrect

  1. Steven Weinberg managed to waste his career leading Physics down a dead end street, String Theory. Even at this late date, he is still flogging the same dead horse.

    Steven Weinberg “proclaims that neither religion nor philosophy can tell us anything blah blah blah” What rational person would care what Steven Weinberg proclaims about anything?

  2. Perhaps he should have stuck to physics. Everyone isn’t good at everything.

  3. “There are even scientists out there, such as the theoretical physicist Steven Weinberg, who proclaim that neither religion nor philosophy can tell us anything important about the world.”

    Thus Weinberg makes a philosophical statement that philosophical statements can tell us nothing about the world and within the space of one sentence contradicts himself. Is this only obvious to “us?”

  4. Steven Weinberg claims that “neither philosophy nor religion” can tell us anything important about the world. Neither can theoretical physics because it’s, you know, theoretical . There’s little to no evidence to prove anything about it.

  5. 5

    Thus Weinberg makes a philosophical statement that philosophical statements can tell us nothing about the world and within the space of one sentence contradicts himself. Is this only obvious to “us?”

    Firstly, this is Monton’s interpretation of Weinberg; it’s not a statement that can be directly attributed to Weinberg himself.

    Secondly, there’s nothing incoherent about holding, as a philosophical view, that philosophical views are not about about the world. One could hold that philosophy only investigates a priori truths, which aren’t about the actual world per se, since they are true (or false) in all possible worlds. Or one could hold that philosophy consists only of the analysis of concepts, which again would mean that philosophy isn’t about the world, in the way that science is.

    Thirdly, if one does think that philosophy can and does investigate important truths about the world — and I think it does, or can — then one needs to offer an account of the methodological difference between a philosophical investigation of empirical truth and a scientific inquiry of empirical truth. For example, one might hold that philosophical investigation necessarily has a self-reflective element to it, because one’s self is part of what it included in the investigation. That makes philosophy dialectical and interpretative in a way that physics, for example, isn’t and shouldn’t be.

  6. One could hold that philosophy only investigates a priori truths, which aren’t about the actual world per se, since they are true (or false) in all possible worlds [including, obviously, all actual worlds].

    Now that is some fine philosophical hair-splitting!

    :)

  7. 7

    Maybe I’ve been doing this stuff for so long that the hair-splitting doesn’t seem so fine to me as it does to others. On that account — where philosophy only investigates a priori truths — science would tell us about a posteriori or contingent truths — how things actually are but could be otherwise.

  8. KN, just for my own edification, what can you tell me about where the idea that philosophy only investigates a priori truths originated and who are some if it’s modern philosophical practitioners.

    To me the very idea seems anathema to the entire philosophical enterprise.

  9. 9

    KN, just for my own edification, what can you tell me about where the idea that philosophy only investigates a priori truths originated and who are some if it’s modern philosophical practitioners.

    To me the very idea seems anathema to the entire philosophical enterprise.

    It’s a tough question, because although the primary trajectory is easy enough to see, its origins become quite murky!

    For example, one strand of this thought can be found in Leibniz’s distinction between physics and metaphysics, which (I think) corresponds to his distinction between “truths of fact” (empirical, contingent truths) and “truths of reason” (a priori, necessary truths).

    But I would say that Kant is the main culprit here; he thought that logic investigated analytic a priori truths, science investigated synthetic a posteriori truths, and philosophy (and mathematics) investigated synthetic a priori truths. Kant’s main criticism against Leibniz was that, on Kant’s view, synthetic a priori truths weren’t about the world — instead, they were about how we experience the world.

    Now, Kant argued that the analytic/synthetic distinction and a priori/a posteriori distinction are different distinctions. But in the early 20th-century, many philosophers came to reject this. For somewhat similar and somewhat different reasons, Rudolf Carnap and C. I. Lewis came to define the main orthodoxy for early- to mid-20th-century philosophers in the English-speaking world. The orthodoxy was that there were two kinds of truths: the analytic, a priori truths investigated by logic, mathematics, and philosophy and the synthetic, a posteriori truths of common-sense experience and natural science. This orthodoxy is basically what we mean today by “logical empiricism.”

    This came to seem very attractive because it justified the existence of philosophy in an age of science. In the English-speaking world, philosophers have long had a very weird love/hate relation with science and with ‘scientism’. (The situation in French and German philosophy is very different, and I’ll ignore it, although 20th-century Continental philosophy is my secondary field of study — American pragmatism is my first.)

    However, the orthodoxy of logical empiricism quickly became unraveled because of substantial challenges raised by the next major generation of American philosophers: Willard V. O. Quine, Nelson Goodman, and Wilfrid Sellars. Together they decisively dismantled all of the assumptions of logical empiricism and made it respectable to be a metaphysician again within professional Anglophone philosophy. The rehabilitation of metaphysics began in earnest with Saul Kripke and David Lewis, and these days metaphysics is serious business — sometimes a priori, and sometimes a posteriori.

    I’m not sure I’ve answered your question, though, so I’d like to pose one in return: why does the restriction of philosophy to a priori truths strike you as antithetical to the entire philosophical enterprise?

  10. Its about intelligence. iF Creationisms are true it is very pregnant that those who don’t even give a chance must be simply less intelligent then other people.
    Saying its a hostile motive is too easy.
    Once again it comes down to who is a thinker and who is a memorizer in their late teens and early twenties.
    Is the quality and quantity of evidence for conclusions about origins demanding upon a sharp attentive person who thinks about it?
    I say for a creator it is and for a denier of evolution also the evidence supports him. For GEnesis being true it still requires more evidence from nature. WE YEC accept the witness of coarse.
    Raise the STAKES!
    If you get it wrong about these origin matters then what claim have you to being the smarter people in modern times??
    Stop hiding behind degrees and get your hands dirty.

  11. Clearly there are philosophies about mathematics just as there are philosophies in various scientific investigations.

    We bring these philosophical worldviews to these sciences when we make conclusions/interpretations.

    If there is a Creator, then any world view that does not include the Creator would be an empty philosophy. I’m sure I’m not the only one who could think of a bible verse that applies to this.

    ID is really about empiricism. I believe ID needs to evolve and drop the “design” label for the sake of preventing generalization…and focus on staying relative with terminology address the exact nature of the teleology rather than the umbrella of “design.”

  12. KN @ 5

    “Thirdly, if one does think that philosophy can and does investigate important truths about the world — and I think it does, or can — then one needs to offer an account of the methodological difference between a philosophical investigation of empirical truth and a scientific inquiry of empirical truth.”

    Agreed. I think what could use more attention is an awareness that all efforts to understand the world involve the activity of thinking. “Operations” sciences such as physics and chemistry are after repeatable results in the lab. “Origins” sciences such as biology, archeology, forensics, OOL, to name a few, which by definition are not repeatable in the lab but nonetheless involve the processing of empirical evidence in rational ways are about telling stories, presenting explanations for events that are not repeatable. Both methods end up in thought. This idea that there are different ways to know creates much unnecessary confusion. There are different techniques applied under the overall umbrella of thought but in the end, rational thought is the only way we know anything. That’s how I would argue, anyway.

  13. 13

    In a different thread, Lizzie points out that scientist build models that predict future data, even about past events. I think that nicely collapses the purported distinction between “operational” science and “origins” science.

  14. Isn’t this the ID method, or part of it, at least? We see things in the present that are information rich and the only way we can account for them is by mind, therefore… when we see these things in the past…

  15. KN:

    why does the restriction of philosophy to a priori truths strike you as antithetical to the entire philosophical enterprise?

    Because I don’t see how we can philosophize without epistemology, nor how we can speak of what we can know without taking into account the real world. Us.

  16. 16

    Isn’t this the ID method, or part of it, at least? We see things in the present that are information rich and the only way we can account for them is by mind, therefore… when we see these things in the past…

    And therein lies my basic contention with ID.

    From the fact that we observe complex things (artifacts) in the present created by intelligent beings, it follows that, to the degree that organisms and artifacts are similar, there is some corresponding probability that the cause of organisms is something like an intelligent being.

    That would be, by itself, a hypothesis that could warrant investigation. But since I see no way of testing the ID hypothesis, I don’t think it merits consideration as a serious scientific theory. It’s merely a hypothesis, and yet its supporters present it as if it already had the epistemic support of a well-confirmed theory.

  17. 17

    Because I don’t see how we can philosophize without epistemology, nor how we can speak of what we can know without taking into account the real world. Us.

    Ok — that’s a good response, and that sounds a lot like what I think. I just wanted to hear your version of it.

    Though of course some people have thought that epistemology can be done a priori, too. The thought there was that epistemology is about what any and all rational beings ought to believe, and that the details of human psychology didn’t matter to epistemology.

    There is something to the thought that epistemology can’t be reduced to psychology. (As Pat Churchland once said, with regard to Hume’s “you can’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’”, “something like that has got to be right!”.) But psychology (and the other social sciences, and also the natural sciences) can’t be entirely irrelevant to epistemology, either. Yet striking the right balance has proven to be extremely difficult.

  18. “That would be, by itself, a hypothesis that could warrant investigation. But since I see no way of testing the ID hypothesis,”

    I think this is the easiest hypothesis in the world to test. If we are in the presence of information we are in the presence of mind… there is no way to account for information of any kind apart from mind.

  19. 19

    there is no way to account for information of any kind apart from mind.

    That’s nowhere near being established — which is precisely the problem!

    I can imagine a reasonable, intellectually honest design theorist who proceeds as follows:

    We directly observe intelligent beings producing artifacts with specified, complex information. And living things also contains specified, complex information. Therefore, it seems likely that some intelligent being produced living things — let’s try and find out!

    But all she’s done so far is propose that we extend intelligent design from well-confirmed domains (technology, archeology, forensics, etc.) to a novel domain — biology. That proposal hasn’t yet been tested.

    Merely citing confirmation of the initial claim in well-confirmed domains — e.g. technology — can’t lend any support to the proposed extension of intelligent design to biology (let alone cosmology).

    The proposed extension of intelligent design to biology will have to earn its keep like any other scientific hypothesis, and taking pot-shots at evolutionary theory, or at the straw-man called “materialism,” can’t do that.

  20. I think it is established, and here’s how. For one thing, language is required for the expression of information no matter what kind of information it is (human, animal, or genetic). So what is language? At its most general, it is a set of symbols and rules for the arrangement of those symbols so as to encode information (e.g. instructions) no matter if that information says build this amino acid or the pollen is over here (for honey bees doing their dance) or attack the invaders (ants, etc…) or go get a beer for me at the store. The problem for any materialist/naturalist version of life (or anything else for that matter) is that due to the causal closure of nature principle, physics is all “they” have to explain any and everything. But the “codes” that comprise all languages are arbitrary conventions and have nothing to do with the laws of physics.

    And when we look at what is going on with human language, information, communication, etc… what we also see is that “free will” is necessary to comply with the language symbols and rules. I can’t be “forced” to select letters (symbols) according to some physical law, whether quantum (random) or classical (certain), and create a message. We also see that “intentionality” or “purpose” is required. If I did not intend to be generating a thought/message/information then I would not be. But I am. Therefore I do intend to be doing that. Now “what” accomplishes this free and purposeful arranging of the symbols according to the arbitrary conventions of the language – and in accordance with the rules of logic, too? I submit that it is an immaterial mind. We can delve into that later if you like but for now I will just use “mind” to indicate whatever it is that is freely and purposefully generates information by means of some language.

    Therefore, since, in principle, the laws of physics cannot explain how I arrange these symbols then something else MUST BE doing that. How could “physics” explain symbols and their relationships to reality when “physics” deals with the physical world and information is not physical? It IS encoded in a physical substrate – DNA, pixels, neurons, ink on paper, etc… but it is NOT physical.

    This is how I argue, anyway. (There’s more.) I look forward to your thoughts.

  21. I just reread your post and I think we are talking past one another. Give me another chance. Later…

  22. 22

    I just reread your post and I think we are talking past one another. Give me another chance. Later…

    OK. I see a lot in your 22 with which I disagree, and a bit with which I agree, but I’ll hold off on further comment till you’ve reframed your thoughts here.

  23. “all she’s done so far is propose that we extend intelligent design from well-confirmed domains (technology, archeology, forensics, etc.) to a novel domain — biology. That proposal hasn’t yet been tested.

    Merely citing confirmation of the initial claim in well-confirmed domains — e.g. technology — can’t lend any support to the proposed extension of intelligent design to biology (let alone cosmology).

    The proposed extension of intelligent design to biology will have to earn its keep like any other scientific hypothesis, and taking pot-shots at evolutionary theory, or at the straw-man called “materialism,” can’t do that.” – Kantian Naturalist

    Yeap. (Yet of course, KN’s ‘emergentism’ doesn’t really offer much significantly new either.)

  24. 24

    Yeap. (Yet of course, KN’s ‘emergentism’ doesn’t really offer much significantly new either.)

    Granted. Well, sort of granted.

    I mean, emergentism has a problem that parallels design theory. Design theory takes note of the design inference in unproblematic domains (psychology) and proposes to extend it to a novel domain (biology). Emergentism takes note of emergent dynamics in unproblematic domains (physics and chemistry) and proposes to extend it to a novel domain (biology).

    In other words, I’m acknowledging that it’s one thing to say that a storm-system emerges from air currents, or that a crystal emerges from a solution, but that it’s another to say that protocells can emerge from autocatalytic reactions.

    The difference, though, is that the emergentist hypothesis is testable — that’s what people like Stuart Kaufman are doing! — whereas I don’t see how the design hypothesis is. What I see design theorists doing is conflating the process of generating the hypothesis with confirming the hypothesis, and then asserting that it’s confirmed because it’s been proposed.

  25. KN:

    Ok — that’s a good response, and that sounds a lot like what I think. I just wanted to hear your version of it.

    Heck, I pulled that out of my philosophical a** and was just hoping that it didn’t stink too much!

    I’ve had no formal philosophical education, but I think that we are all philosophers (including scientists) and I think respect is due to those who devote themselves to that pursuit.

    It is we, humans, who philosophize. So how can we do so without taking into consideration a posteriori considerations, unless in doing so we think we can somehow separate ourselves from what we are doing.

    One could hold that philosophy only investigates a priori truths, which aren’t about the actual world per se, since they are true (or false) in all possible worlds [including, obviously, all actual worlds].

    But how can we do that without being incoherent? To get back to the original question.

  26. “What I see design theorists doing is conflating the process of generating the hypothesis with confirming the hypothesis, and then asserting that it’s confirmed because it’s been proposed.” – Kantian Naturalist

    Again, yeap. Spot on.

    Nevertheless, lowercase ‘design theory’ differs from Uppercase ‘Intelligent Design Theory.’ Please note this clearly. The problem is with Uppercase Intelligent Design theorists (the very few of them), their theories and their neo-evangelical followers.

    Most ‘design theory’ is unproblematic because the hypotheses are not DIVORCED from the lowercase ‘designing’ source (i.e. human beings), as they are forceably in Uppercase IDT.

    From ‘unproblematic domains’ to ‘novel’ or ‘problematic’ domains (cf. category errors). This is the bane of IDism.

    The ideology of ‘emergentism,’ however, not unlike ‘evolutionism’ (unless ‘theistic’), cannot leap from non-life to life or non-mind to mind as easily as Kantian Naturalism seems to imagine. Then again, imagination serves well on discussions of OoL, OoBI, and even human origins.

    Though KN would fly from agnostic orthodoxy to defend ‘emergentism,’ IDists would willingly (if unknowingly) depart from Abrahamic orthodoxy to defend a ‘strictly [natural] scientific’ explanation of Uppercase ‘Design in Nature.’ Neither solution is satisfactory, nor destined to last.

  27. p.s. Your post @9 warranted every bit of effort I put into my response. thank you

  28. Gregory:

    From ‘unproblematic domains’ to ‘novel’ or ‘problematic’ domains (cf. category errors). This is the bane of IDism.

    What is “IDism”? If you have a link just post that.

    And please don’t let your response be that IDism is the belief that one cannot reason from ‘unproblematic domains’ to ‘novel’ or ‘problematic’ domains.

    Whatever that means.

  29. Everything is unknown, Gregory. There are no “unproblematic domains” worth speaking of. I know this to be true.

  30. Gregory:

    Then again, imagination serves well on discussions of OoL, OoBI, and even human origins.

    OoL – Origin of Life

    OoBI – Origin of Biological Information

    You sound like an IDist, Gregory.

  31. Whatever you do, mung, just don’t let the words ‘category error’ slip from your slippery mouth.

    IDism is something most IDists, like yourself, won’t allow themselves to imagine, even while committing it.

  32. You still sound like an IDist.

  33. KN @ 19

    While I’m working on my other post, please comment on the straw man of “materialism.” Why is that a straw man?

  34. 34

    While I’m working on my other post, please comment on the straw man of “materialism.” Why is that a straw man?

    Because no philosopher has taken it seriously since La Mettrie, for one thing.

  35. Sorry, still don’t get it. Isn’t materialism, in the words of David Lewis, non-neogoitiable?

  36. 36

    Actually, I don’t know much about David Lewis — among the five or six embarrassing gaps in my philosophical education. But I did a bit of poking about on-line, and I did find a quote from Lewis where he characterizes his ‘materialism’ as

    [T]he thesis that physics – something not too different from present-day physics, though presumably somewhat improved – is a comprehensive theory of the world, complete as well as correct. The world is as physics says it is, and there’s no more to say. World history written in physical language is all of world history.

    or, alternatively,

    Among worlds where no natural properties alien to our world are instantiated, no two differ without differing physically; any two such worlds that are exactly alike physically are duplicates.

    But that’s a bit different from how “materialism” is used in ID-friendly circles, such as this blog. Here, “materialism” is used, following Dembski (who is following Plato here, I believe), as the conjoint of “chance” and “necessity”. The most common complaints I see against here against that kind of materialism is that it cannot account for such things as consciousness, agency, value, purposes, or intentionality.

    And that’s a perfectly cogent critique of the kind of materialism that Dembski is setting himself against — but it’s not really clear to me who really is a “materialist” in that sense. Is David Lewis? I’m honestly not sure.

    I believe I was overly hasty when I said that no contemporary philosophers take materialism seriously. There almost certainly are; I’m simply not aware of them as such.

    I did find this somewhat interesting essay, “Assessing David Lewis’ Materialism“, which I’ll read at my leisure later on this weekend.

  37. I’ll read that, too. Thanks.

Leave a Reply