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ID in Action: Two Reports from the Field

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Some of you may find interesting a couple of articles in the latest issue of Spontaneous Generations, a peer-reviewed journal founded and run by graduate students at the Institute for History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Toronto.

 

One article documents the activities of a philosopher of science in the American South who teaches the next generation of teachers who will have to deal with evolution/creation/ID in the classroom. It’s quite a thoughtful piece and well worth a read.  

The other article is a piece I was asked to write in response but which turned out to be a stand-alone piece that attempts to justify my participation in these matters (since this is a question that arises from many quarters).

29 Replies to “ID in Action: Two Reports from the Field

  1. 1
    Rude says:

    Christine James writes,

    Teaching the controversy usually involves some combination of discussion on either side of the debate, and an expressed appreciation of the freedom to disagree—the conclusion is a murky relativism at worst and a naïve pluralism at best.

    And,

    Here, Jones acknowledged a classic misunderstanding about the amount of testing a scientific theory goes through, as opposed to an everyday idea or hypothesis. Evolution has the status of a scientific theory because it has withstood strenuous testing and many of its hypotheses have been confirmed. Intelligent design, on the other hand, has actually seen its lynchpin concept of irreducible complexity disproven by testing.

    And,

    As a philosopher of science, I consider myself responsible for remaining conversant with these issues.

    “It’s quite a thoughtful piece and well worth a read.”

    Professor, you’re much too kind!

    It’s the same old same old: “We’re right but we should be nice. So now how do we get these rubes to just calm down?”

    No, it’s your piece that is thoughtful and well worth a read. Especially clarifying is your assessment of the so-called theistic evolutionists. Also, I would agree, that when one looks at the overall creationist response—all’s not well there either. Intelligent Design, however, I would exempt from such blanket criticisms because it has truly sought to transcend personal prejudice. ID has not held out the absence of evidence in the fossil record as evidence—rather individuals like Michael Behe and Bill Dembski have sought ways of positive identification—both for ID and Darwin.

    Yes, it’s a lonely vigil. The Enlightenment did not inoculate us from the establishment of a new and even darker priesthood. So stay with it! The battle’s not lost yet.

  2. 2
    Platonist says:

    Hi Dr. Fuller, what is your view of missing links and common ancestry?

    Is ID compatible with missing links and evolutionary change in your opinion?

    Many thanks.

  3. 3
    tribune7 says:

    I wonder how many very smart American kids reject scientific pursuits because the conclusions they would be required to accept expressly deny their religious views.

    I also wonder how many very smart American kids reject scientific and other intellectually rigorous pursuits because they have been led to believe all is by accident, hence their time is more wisely spent doing drugs and playing computer games.

  4. 4
    sparc says:

    The journal applies

    double blind peer review

    which is much better than the buddy reviewing allowed by other OPEN JOURNAL SYSTEM publications like, e.g. JOEI.

  5. 5
    Rude says:

    Yes, if chance is so productive, why not just abandon the lab and move to Las Vegas.

  6. 6
    Rude says:

    And besides, if there’s no purpose, science really is boring. It becomes like all else, as the postmodernists explain, nothing but politics.

    Nevertheless we have to “frame” when we deal with the unwashed masses.

  7. 7
    tribune7 says:

    Yes, if chance is so productive, why not just abandon the lab and move to Las Vegas.

    Rude, that’s not a hypothetical question

  8. 8
    Rude says:

    I confess, I’ve not read Alan Chalmers’ What Is This Thing Called Science? I own Kuhn but have never read him cover to cover. Still, I believe that the philosophical underpinnings of our civilization—let alone “science”—are woefully ignored today. So shame on me.

    On the other hand, I do not believe that “science” uses radically different methods—different in kind and not just intensity—than, say, the aboriginal hunter intent on the chase. Everything in the end boils down to observation, reason, and authority. Authority because human knowledge is always cumulative. Even the language we speak cannot be the product of a single individual—Esperanto, for example, was based on and a simplification of several European languages.

    More important than all the analyses of “how science works” is the cultural environment in which the enterprise flourishes. Besides a commitment to realism and a belief in the logic and unity of the world, there has to be a curiosity—a curiosity that has been squelched in almost all cultures—and the chutzpah to believe that we might learn secrets hidden from the foundation of the world. And then there’s honesty. But seldom is honesty mentioned, and I suspect that it is increasingly in shorter supply, but it is crucial—more crucial than any methodology the philosopher can define.

    There is no demarcation. There is just the continuum between those things that we may say with a simple declarative sentence and those things that require ever more deontic modality as one move’s up the ladder of his imagination. Let the Darwinist take note.

  9. 9
    Rude says:

    Correction: epistemic modality.

  10. 10
    Timaeus says:

    I agree with Rude in #1 above. Dr. Fuller’s piece is very thoughtful, and filled with ideas that need chewing on. However, the piece by Christine James is unimpressive.

    James perpetuates the myth that doubts about evolution are causing doubts about science, generally, and that these doubts are causing young Americans not to go into science, and thus America is falling behind, etc.

    Empirically, this is entirely false. First of all, Americans do not distrust, despise, or hate science. They never have. Americans have always had a love affair with science. America is the country of inventors and engineers and scientists, of Henry Ford and the Wright brothers and Tom Edison, of National Geographic, of Scientific American, of Harvard and Princeton and Yale, of the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History, of the Manhattan project and of the Apollo program, of IBM and Microsoft, of thousands of nature clubs and astronomy clubs and popular mechanics magazines and educational television programs showcasing science, of science fiction literature and film — the list goes on and on.

    What some Americans have rightfully questioned is the truth of certain claims regarding cosmic and biological evolution, which are speculative extensions of science and not on nearly as sound a footing as the everyday science which operates our lights and cars and hospitals and industry. Even the most extreme fundamentalist does not argue against the relationship between electricity and magnetism, or reject Newtonian physics, or argue that the earth is flat, or deny atomic theory or the structure of DNA. What the fundamentalist (along with many other religious believers who are not fundamentalist) objects to is the extension of “science” to include a number of questionable assertions which have not been, and cannot be, proved by “science”, but which are arrived at by treating questions of origins purely within the frame of a non-teleological, materialistic world view, i.e., a world view which is motivated by the religion of atheistic secular humanism. One can be a very competent scientist without accepting the world view of Carl Sagan or Richard Dawkins. One can be a very competent scientist while finding it ludicrously improbable that matter accidentally re-arranged itself into life, all the species, and man.

    Evolution or no evolution, any young student with natural talent and interest in science will go into science. For one thing, no one is forced to major in biology; if one doesn’t like evolution, one can always choose physics, chemistry, geography, engineering, etc. But even if there are a few exceptions, e.g., maybe a few thousand fundamentalist children in the entire USA whose parents won’t let them major in any science at all because evolution is taught in biology, that is a drop in the bucket. The science needs of the USA can easily be met without those few thousand students. The USA has 300 million people, more than enough to generate all the science teachers and researchers it needs even if some fundamentalists opt out. Ms. Smith’s concern about shortages is therefore just silly.

    At least, concern about a shortage due to disbelief in evolution is silly. Shortages in students studying science due to incompetent primary and secondary science education are another matter. But the incompetence there has nothing to do with rejecting evolution, and everything to do with inadequate state funding of education, stupid bureaucrats in state and local school boards, uneven quality of universities and colleges which teach science, a huge percentage of K to 8 science classes being taught by teachers who have majored in Sociology or Phys Ed or Child Studies rather than Physics or Chemistry or Biology, and weakened general literacy (which makes it hard to comprehend science textbooks) due to the refusal of hippie ’60s educators to insist on rigorous training in reading comprehension, grammar, etc. If Ms. Smith is so concerned about improving science education, she should stop blathering about evolution and do some scholarly research on how to address all these other problems.

    Further, the implied argument is that if evolution is doubted, science would be crippled. This is nonsense. Almost nothing in any science, outside of biology, depends upon the truth of evolution, and even within biology, despite the mythology promoted by Mayr and Dobzhansky, most work can be done without any reference to evolution. Christian fundamentalists are sequencing genomes in labs every day. Medical science makes progress by leaps and bounds, but no medical school requires courses in evolution. And so on. The idea that the progress of biology depends on evolution is a big lie, swallowed by Ms. Smith. The progress of biology does not depend at all on speculative reconstructions of what might have happened in the Cambrian period. It depends on much better empirical description of structures, processes, interactions, etc., at both the genetic and developmental levels. Evolutionary theory merely provides an interpretive gloss, entirely optional.

    Finally, Ms. Smith recommends theistic evolutionists as the sort of person who are ideal for bridging the gap between religion and evolution. The problem with that, of course, is that the Christian theology of TEs, with a few noteworthy exceptions, is modernist and liberal, and no conservative Christian is going to accept a rapprochement between science and religion which throws out many of conservative Christianity’s most prized beliefs. It amounts to saying that you can believe in evolution and be religious — as long as you’re not too religious. That’s insulting, and no solution at all.

    For a point of view that combines a proper respect for the real accomplishments of science and a proper respect for the religious beliefs of Americans who are hesitant about evolution, I would suggest that Ms. Smith look elsewhere. The ID movement is supported by literally hundreds of people with Ph.D.s in engineering, computer science, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, biochemistry, geology and so on. These people have not been deterred from studying science due to their doubts about Darwinian evolution. And on matters of everyday science, as science operates when it is performing useful research into the way the world works, these ID people are every bit as committed to science as any TE. They do not invoke angels and supernatural forces to explain how the planets move or how inheritance or embryonic development occurs. The difference between them is that most forms of TE make it possible to combine evolution with Christianity only if one adopts a liberal form of Christianity, whereas ID is compatible with all forms of traditional Christianity, from the most liberal to the most conservative. In a university biology program run by theistic evolutionists, many fundamentalist Christian students would feel most unwelcome; in one run by ID proponents, they would feel just as comfortable in the class as the agnostic sitting next to them. It is ID, not TE, which makes it possible for a twelve-year old conservative Christian to contemplate a career as a biologist. So if Ms. Smith’s goal is to make conservative Christians feel more comfortable in a university biology setting, she should be endorsing the approach of Michael Behe, not of Keith Miller.

    In sum, I find Ms. Smith’s piece unhelpful. Wittingly or not, she merely endorses the status quo, in which Darwinism is truth and the problem is to reconcile the great unwashed masses to this truth. A real philosopher would promote a Socratic intellectual free-for-all, in which everything, including Darwinism, is on the table for debate and possible rejection. Indeed, until the question: Is Darwinism true? can be freely asked at every educational level, from elementary grades through to Ph.D. thesis proposals and applications for post-doctoral fellowships, without any fear of repercussions (in terms of low grades, failure, rejection from programs, denials of grant money, etc.), there will be no solution to this social problem. It will continue to fester. The answer is not more subtle and devious approaches to science education which attempt to put honey in the medicine, and reconcile the religious students to the truth of evolution. The answer is to open up the public schools to the heretical thought that Darwinism may be a false account of nature works. That Christine Smith does not have the intellectual clarity to see this renders her irrelevant.

    T.

  11. 11
    Timaeus says:

    My apologies to all. Part-way through the previous comment, I unwittingly changed the surname “James” to “Smith”. I invite the administrator to delete #10, and I will provide a corrected version below.

    T.

  12. 12
    Timaeus says:

    Corrected version of #10 above:

    I agree with Rude in #1 above. Dr. Fuller’s piece is very thoughtful, and filled with ideas that need chewing on. However, the piece by Christine James is unimpressive.

    James perpetuates the myth that doubts about evolution are causing doubts about science generally, and that these doubts are causing young Americans not to go into science, and thus America is falling behind, etc.

    Empirically, this is entirely false. First of all, Americans do not distrust, despise, or hate science. They never have. Americans have always had a love affair with science. America is the country of inventors and engineers and scientists, of Henry Ford and the Wright brothers and Tom Edison, of National Geographic, of Scientific American, of Harvard and Princeton and Yale, of the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History, of the Manhattan project and of the Apollo program, of IBM and Microsoft, of thousands of nature clubs and astronomy clubs and popular mechanics magazines and educational television programs showcasing science, of science fiction literature and film — the list goes on and on.

    What some Americans have rightfully questioned is the truth of certain claims regarding cosmic and biological evolution, which are speculative extensions of science and not on nearly as sound a footing as the everyday science which operates our lights and cars and hospitals and industry. Even the most extreme fundamentalist does not argue against the relationship between electricity and magnetism, or reject Newtonian physics, or argue that the earth is flat, or deny atomic theory or the structure of DNA. What the fundamentalist (along with many other religious believers who are not fundamentalist) objects to is the extension of “science” to include a number of questionable assertions which have not been, and cannot be, proved by “science”, but which are arrived at by treating questions of origins purely within the frame of a non-teleological, materialistic world view, i.e., a world view which is motivated by the religion of atheistic secular humanism. One can be a very competent scientist without accepting the world view of Carl Sagan or Richard Dawkins. One can be a very competent scientist while finding it ludicrously improbable that matter accidentally re-arranged itself into life, all the species, and man.

    Evolution or no evolution, any young student with natural talent and interest in science will go into science. For one thing, no one is forced to major in biology; if one doesn’t like evolution, one can always choose physics, chemistry, geography, engineering, etc. But even if there are a few exceptions, e.g., maybe a few thousand fundamentalist children in the entire USA whose parents won’t let them major in any science at all because evolution is taught in biology, that is a drop in the bucket. The science needs of the USA can easily be met without those few thousand students. The USA has 300 million people, more than enough to generate all the science teachers and researchers it needs even if some fundamentalists opt out. Ms. James’s concern about shortages is therefore just silly.

    At least, concern about a shortage due to disbelief in evolution is silly. Shortages in students studying science due to incompetent primary and secondary science education are another matter. But the incompetence there has nothing to do with rejecting evolution, and everything to do with inadequate state funding of education, stupid bureaucrats in state and local school boards, uneven quality of universities and colleges which teach science, a huge percentage of K to 8 science classes being taught by teachers who have majored in Sociology or Phys Ed or Child Studies rather than Physics or Chemistry or Biology, and weakened general literacy (which makes it hard to comprehend science textbooks) due to the refusal of hippie ’60s educators to insist on rigorous training in reading comprehension, grammar, etc. If Ms. James is so concerned about improving science education, she should stop blathering about evolution and do some scholarly research on how to address all these other problems.

    Further, the implied argument is that if evolution is doubted, science would be crippled. This is nonsense. Almost nothing in any science, outside of biology, depends upon the truth of evolution, and even within biology, despite the mythology promoted by Mayr and Dobzhansky, most work can be done without any reference to evolution. Christian fundamentalists are sequencing genomes in labs every day. Medical science makes progress by leaps and bounds, but no medical school requires courses in evolution. And so on. The idea that the progress of biology depends on evolution is a big lie, swallowed by Ms. James. The progress of biology does not depend at all on speculative reconstructions of what might have happened in the Cambrian period. It depends on much better empirical description of structures, processes, interactions, etc., at both the genetic and developmental levels. Evolutionary theory merely provides an interpretive gloss, entirely optional.

    Finally, Ms. James recommends theistic evolutionists as the sort of person who are ideal for bridging the gap between religion and evolution. The problem with that, of course, is that the Christian theology of TEs, with a few noteworthy exceptions, is modernist and liberal, and no conservative Christian is going to accept a rapprochement between science and religion which throws out many of conservative Christianity’s most prized beliefs. It amounts to saying that you can believe in evolution and be religious — as long as you’re not too religious. That’s insulting, and no solution at all.

    For a point of view that combines a proper respect for the real accomplishments of science and a proper respect for the religious beliefs of Americans who are hesitant about evolution, I would suggest that Ms. James look elsewhere. The ID movement is supported by literally hundreds of people with Ph.D.s in engineering, computer science, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, biochemistry, geology and so on. These people have not been deterred from studying science due to their doubts about Darwinian evolution. And on matters of everyday science, as science operates when it is performing useful research into the way the world works, these ID people are every bit as committed to science as any TE. They do not invoke angels and supernatural forces to explain how the planets move or how inheritance or embryonic development occurs. The difference between them is that most forms of TE make it possible to combine evolution with Christianity only if one adopts a liberal form of Christianity, whereas ID is compatible with all forms of traditional Christianity, from the most liberal to the most conservative. In a university biology program run by theistic evolutionists, many fundamentalist Christian students would feel most unwelcome; in one run by ID proponents, they would feel just as comfortable in the class as the agnostic sitting next to them. It is ID, not TE, which makes it possible for a twelve-year old conservative Christian to contemplate a career as a biologist. So if Ms. James’s goal is to make conservative Christians feel more comfortable in a university biology setting, she should be endorsing the approach of Michael Behe, not of Keith Miller.

    In sum, I find Ms. James’s piece unhelpful. Wittingly or not, she merely endorses the status quo, in which Darwinism is truth and the problem is to reconcile the great unwashed masses to this truth. A real philosopher would promote a Socratic intellectual free-for-all, in which everything, including Darwinism, is on the table for debate and possible rejection. Indeed, until the question: Is Darwinism true? can be freely asked at every educational level, from elementary grades through to Ph.D. thesis proposals and applications for post-doctoral fellowships, without any fear of repercussions (in terms of low grades, failure, rejection from programs, denials of grant money, etc.), there will be no solution to this social problem. It will continue to fester. The answer is not more subtle and devious approaches to science education which attempt to put honey in the medicine, and reconcile the religious students to the truth of evolution. The answer is to open up the public schools to the heretical thought that Darwinism may be a false account of how nature works. That Christine James does not have the intellectual clarity to see this renders her pedagogical recommendations irrelevant.

    T.

  13. 13
    Steve Fuller says:

    Timaeus,

    I can understand your frustration with James’ piece. When I read the first draft, I was especially struck by its failure to address the historic presence in the US of some sort of theistic scientific standpoint alongside a consistently strong scientific culture. I was hoping that this point might have been addressed in revision. However, it’s not clear to me that someone in her relatively sensitive position –that is, teaching the teachers of public school science – can do much at a practical level about this and the other valid issues you raise without urging teachers to court Dover-style lawsuits.

  14. 14
    Steve Fuller says:

    … Of course, the solution may be to court another lawsuit and see what happens.

  15. 15
    Ted Davis says:

    Hello, Prof Fuller

    I was out of the country for several weeks and missed seeing your various posts on ID, theodicy, and public education until quite recently. I found several of them and tried to add this comment, but those threads are now apparently closed for I was unable to do so. Hence I am adding them here, where they are admittedly less relevant, but they are relevant to several things you have said recently on other threads. I hope it is OK to do this.

    We seem to agree on some of the key points you have advanced. Indeed, I’ve said some of the same things for many years. Let me add my comments to yours, if I may.

    From a review of some ID books that I wrote in 1998:

    What [Phil] Johnson wants most is for Americans to think more critically about evolution–and also about tough religious questions such as the problem of evil. He is right to link these issues: it has long been my view that the biggest stumbling block to the acceptance of evolution among religious conservatives is theodicy–especially as seen in the question of death before the fall, which accounts for the “young-earth” part of “scientific creationism.” The teaching of evolution should be coupled with serious discussions both of its perceived religious implications and of various ways in which religious thinkers have responded to it–highly inclusive, controversial conversations that public schools seem unable to undertake, given the prevailing (and I believe, erroneous) interpretation of the antiestablishment clause of the First Amendment.

    And, from a review of Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God a year later:

    But what he says in the chapter on “the Gods of disbelief” is no less important, for it provides a large part of the relevant context for understanding why antievolutionism remains so prevalent today. Breaking ranks with some of his professional colleagues, Miller shows how scientists and philosophers such as Douglas Futumya, Richard Dawkins, William Provine, Daniel Dennett, Edward Wilson, and Richard Lewontin have used evolution to promote an atheistic worldview, and he calls attention to the way in which a highly secular professioriate has arrogantly assumed that “religious belief is something that people grow out of as they become educated,” so that there is “a fabric of disbelief enclosing the academic establishment.” (184-5)

    This in my view goes right to the heart of the matter. Ironically, Phillip Johnson would undoubtedly agree with Miller on this very point. Yet here we find a greater irony that also goes to the heart of the matter: This is a very good book, despite some historical errors and misconceptions that I lack space to enumerate, a book that I would really want to use with (say) an advanced biology class of high school juniors or seniors (assuming I taught such a class), for they would learn some things about the nature of scientific reasoning and its limits that cannot be taught effectively with traditional textbooks, and they might actually get the point that science is not done in a cultural vacuum and the really crucial point (which eludes several of the scientists named above) that highly competent scientists simply do not agree on how to interpret science metaphysically. Yet I would probably not be allowed to use it in a public school-at least not the final three chapters on evolution and religion, arguably the best part of the book. I say “probably”, because although it might perhaps be permissible within current legal precedent to use all of this book in a public school, I doubt that most school districts would allow it, given typical policies toward such things as singing Christmas carols and reading religious texts.

    The most fundamental problem is far more intractable and (in my view) far more serious. Suppose it were the case that public schools taught only creationism (assuming that were constitutional), or both creationism and evolution. In that case I have no doubt that there would be a great hue and cry in the academic establishment to let people take their own tax dollars somewhere else, where a different philosophy informed the education of their children, and I suspect that appropriate accommodations would be made. The fact that fundamentalist parents don’t have this option-mainly because since the late 1940s the Supreme Court has interpreted the “establishment” clause of the first amendment to require a “wall of separation” between church and state-is, in my view, a grave injustice. I realize there are many problems with this suggestion, and that good people reject it for good reasons. I still say it’s true: until we rethink our (mis)interpretation of the first amendment, until we recognize that secular education as widely practiced is not in fact neutral toward religion, then creationist families will have legitimate reasons to oppose the teaching of evolution, and books like Miller’s that deal constructively and effectively with interpretive issues that scientists themselves have raised will remain on a functional equivalent of the Index of Prohibited Books.

    ***

    As I say, Prof Fuller, I like a lot of what you have been saying here. However, as a number of responses have indicated, ID would cease to be ID if it were to take seriously what you and I are saying. In reviewing the Dover trial, I wrote this:

    It is not a strength of ID that it avoids offering a grand narrative [equivalent to the way in which conventional natural history provides an account of the history of nature, from the big bang until now]. As the late Thomas Kuhn argued, scientists do not abandon an existing paradigm unless or until they see a better paradigm out there to embrace. I am convinced that, without such a paradigm, ID will never be regarded as science, not even bad science, by the scientific community.

    But in order for ID to provide a plausible alternative to evolution, its proponents would have to address the one issue they least want to face: the age of the earth and the universe. Their refusal to discuss this issue directly and publicly has less to do with science than with movement politics.

    Currently, the ID movement is, to use its own language, a “big tent” under whose sprawling canvas there is plenty of room for differences of opinion about theological and biblical issues related to the age of the earth. A full public discussion of these issues would not disturb most of the intellectual leaders of the movement. But it would alienate the many grass-roots creationists who support ID – and who provide it with much of its political support. So while ID is not creationism, creationism remains the elephant in the room. Judge Jones evidently smelled the elephant quite distinctly.

    At this point, there simply is no ID “theory” to teach – or even to practice in the laboratory, let alone to place at the center of a new scientific paradigm. ID currently consists only of an interesting philosophical critique of the explanatory efficacy of Darwinian evolution, combined with an appeal for scientists to add “design” to the set of explanatory principles they employ in biology and other sciences.

    When ID advocates say, “teach the controversy,” they do not mean that ID should be taught as an alternative to evolution, in the same sense in which the authors of the Arkansas bill wanted creationism taught as another theory of equal merit to evolution. Rather, they are referring mainly to ID’s criticism of evolution as it is presented in textbooks: They want students to learn that some scientists do not accept important aspects of the standard picture of evolution.

    ****

    Now the words above are mine, Prof Fuller, not yours, but I sense that we are on pretty similar on most or all of this.

    Would you agree?

    Ted

  16. 16
    Timaeus says:

    I agree with most of Ted Davis’s remarks above, and particularly with his remarks about First Amendment jurisprudence. To those I say Amen!

    I understand Ted’s frustration at the lack of a grand narrative for ID. But I think it’s inevitable. ID properly understood is a method of design detection and the inferences that go with it. It’s not a theory of efficient causality or of temporal origins. ID people themselves have muddied the waters here, by sometimes speaking as if ID is an efficient-cause theory of origins. (For example, certain phrases in the book Of Pandas and People gave this impression.) But ID detects something like what Aristotle called formal and final causes, not efficient causes. This means that ID cannot offer a grand narrative to compete with Darwinism on the efficient-cause level.

    What it can show, however, is that Darwin’s grand narrative is inadequate. It can show that “the nature of nature” is such that the sort of chunky, mechanical, 19th-century notion of causation which underlies Darwin and still operates in Dawkins simply cannot account for it. And it’s not just a negative argument, i.e., that the probabilities of chance delivering Darwin’s goods are so low that only an irrational person would accept them. It’s the positive argument that the fine structures of nature more and more reveal an elegant mathematical form that seems incomprehensible without the assumption of something like Mind lying behind life, whether that Mind be conceived of as actively intervening, or front-loading, or being involved in the generation of living forms in some other way. Darwin had a good empirical mind, but he was no mathematician, by his own admission, and he simply missed this aspect of nature entirely.

    Ted raises the question of the age of the earth. I would argue that ID, as such, is unconcerned with this one way or the other, and that is why ID can be supported by people of all views on this question. Various religious groups can take up ID into their own grand theological narratives, old earth, young earth, etc. Ted’s point, of course, is that most scientists insist on an old earth, and therefore that young earth views cannot be taken seriously as science. But supposing this is true, ID itself is unaffected. If YEC were completely falsified tomorrow by some “killer” piece of data, nothing in ID theory would change. Its identifications of design don’t depend upon the age of the earth, any more than an inference that Mt. Rushmore was designed depends on correctly dating the year in which it was carved. Whether it was carved six billion or 100 years ago, it is equally designed.

    The beauty of ID theory is that if design in nature can be confirmed, Darwinism is then falsified without ever even raising the issue of the age of the earth, without ever having to have a discussion about how to read the Bible, etc. I find that refreshing, since I find debates about literalism, concordism, gap theory, day-age theory, etc., tedious and unprofitable. If we can keep such debates out of science altogether, and confine them to theology, so much the better. ID holds forth the promise of doing this, whereas both YEC and TE cannot let these questions go. All one has to do is look at the large number of polemical comments against YEC posted on the ASA list every month, mostly by self-identified TE supporters, to see that many TE people (Ted is not one of them, fortunately) are obsessed with refuting YEC as theology. Here on UD, many of us, perhaps most of us, are not YECs, but we rarely attack YECs. We don’t want to referee between true and false interpretations of Genesis here. We want to discuss whether or not design in nature is detectable.

    This is not to say that we have no faults here at UD. I am sure that we have many. For one thing, sometimes we are too sharp with people who disagree with us, and make them feel unwelcome here. But I think we are consistent with our overall program, which is both to target the weaknesses in Darwinism and to make a positive case for design. If we can do that, people of various religious persuasions can build our findings into whatever grand narrative they like.

    In short, I think that both Ted and Steve Fuller are criticizing ID for what are in fact its virtues, i.e., that it has a modest, limited aim, that it is not a religion or world-view, that it does not get involved in wrangles over Genesis, and that it serves as a lingua franca between many otherwise clashing religious positions (Deism, agnosticism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Aristotelianism, etc.), bringing them all together under the common banner of trying to learn as much as can be known about the design of nature by unaided human reason, unsupplemented by revelation.

    I have not yet understood, from Steve Fuller’s comments, how ID could adopt a theodicy without at the same time giving up all the above virtues, and becoming just another Christian theological position in the area of “faith and science”. As if there are not quite enough positions on “faith and science” in the world already! I would far rather see ID do something concretely useful, i.e., provide information about nature (by detecting design in nature) that would facilitate the faith-science discussions of others.

    T.

  17. 17
    StephenB says:

    Timeaus, @16. Thanks for another remarkable post. To read what you write is always to profit in some way.

  18. 18
    tribune7 says:

    Timeaus, dittos. A fantastic post.

  19. 19
    Steve Fuller says:

    Ted,

    My own view on Young Earth Creationism is relatively relaxed. Assuming that YEC accepts the broad ordering of the species represented in the fossil record, I am happy to let it stand as an empirical matter whether the ordering happened over 6000 or 6 billion years. If we found out tomorrow that we need to knock many zeros off the 6 billion figure, I doubt much in the world would change except that Darwinists would be forced to admit defeat because natural selection can’t work its magic without an excessively long timeframe.

    And that may turn out to be Darwin’s Achilles Heel. After all, the evidence for an old earth comes from inferences drawn from radiometric methods, which may over time be contested, as happens to all methods in science. There is no law that says that the more palaeontology we learn, the older the earth must get. Some scientifically inclined YEC people already try to punch holes in the radiometric methods, and more of them should try – as long as they are willing to subject their claims to the normal mechanisms of peer evaluation.

    Of course, there is little incentive to engage in this activity because Darwinism requires an old earth to be true. However, ID is open-minded on this point and so should encourage the translation of YEC into a scientific research programme, at least in the spirit of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. But perhaps also we need to admit openly that YEC and ID are not mutually exclusive positions. Many people can hold both, whereas one cannot be a Darwinist and a YEC.

  20. 20
    Upright BiPed says:

    Ted Davis makes some interesting observations, but then says “in order for ID to provide a plausible alternative to evolution, its proponents would have to address the one issue they least want to face: the age of the earth and the universe.”

    And to this Timaeus was succinct – if the age of the Earth was settled tomorrow “nothing in ID theory would change” … “We want to discuss whether or not design in nature is detectable.”

    I can’t imagine, even for a moment, that the question ID proponents generally hate most to answer is the age of the Earth.

    – – – – – –

    In the recent posts about theodicy, the point was clearly made that the overwhelming force of ID is the actual evidence – and the age of the earth is no more in the evidence than is the answer to evil. ID always wins when it sticks to the evidence. A strategist easily sees this because (sticking to the evidence) is precisely what is missing from the defended position. It is the very meaning of “attack the weakness inherent in strength”.

    On another thread a UD reg made a comment about having a bit of an epiphany, he was talking about the first time he fully recognized the relationship of information being transferred between discrete objects (as in transcription/translation). I can relate to his comment, I have felt the same way.

    In any case, I see his comment as the evidence in action.

    Timaeus thanks for a great post.

  21. 21
    gpuccio says:

    Timaeus:

    as usual, I have deeply appreciated your post. It is strange that, while darwinists are always criticizing ID for “being religion”, others are always criticizing it for “not being religion enough”. Is it so difficult to acknowledge that “ID is not religion at all”?

    I am a religious person, and religion is the most important thing in my life. And yet, I feel absolutely no need to give ID any religious connotation. I am perfectly happy that it is pure science. I am also happy that it is perfectly compatible with my religious views, but that is a valuable aspect exactly because the two things are completely independent.

    As for the age of the earth, I perfectly agree with what you say. And I must say that personally, while I am certainly not sure that it is exactly 4.6 billion years (that estimate could very well be significantly wrong), I have really no reason to think even as a remote possibility, that it is 6000 years. But I an really not so much interested in the problem of the age of earth, and I am obviously ready to consider any serious empirical suggestion about it. At present, the assumption of a 4.5 billion year old earth completely satisfies me.

    But again, a couple of the best IDists I know of are YEC, and I am perfectly happy with that.

  22. 22
    Sileas says:

    I’ve been quietly reading your posts so far, it’s been interesting stuff, but now I feel compelled to register to express my amazement on what’s been written in this thread.

    Steve

    After all, the evidence for an old earth comes from inferences drawn from radiometric methods, which may over time be contested, as happens to all methods in science.

    Setting aside the “inferences” for an old earth a moment, do you honestly think it’s possible that the universe as a whole is only 6000 years old?

    There are processes going on in the universe that are older then that figure.

    For example, it can take thousands of years for a photon to make it’s random walk from the centre of a star to it’s exterior. If our sun was 6000 years old it’s quite possible it would be significantly dimmer as many photons would not yet have reached the surface!

    I’m afraid this has thrown your other, interesting thought provoking, writings into shadow. How can I take seriously your other writings when you appear to honestly believe that the solar system might be a mere 6K years old.

    Yes, while it might be possible that

    the evidence for an old earth comes from inferences drawn from radiometric methods, which may over time be contested, as happens to all methods in science.

    But to my mind it’s like saying that one day it’s possible we might find that gravity is replusive rather then attractive (at local scales). Yes, it’s possible, but somewhat unlikely.

  23. 23
    Timaeus says:

    In response to Drs. Ted Davis and Steve Fuller, I have further comments on the age of the earth. I think that the “offensiveness” of the young-earth position does not lie in the fact that YECs insist that the earth is young rather than old. I think it lies in the fact that many YECs have been willing to deny, distort, or manipulate data in order to preserve the young earth at any cost, because they want to preserve a particular mode of reading the Bible. I am with Ted Davis 100% in his position that all forms of dishonesty and evasion in science are to be condemned.

    Nonetheless, I think that Steve Fuller is right to say that science should treat the age of the earth as revisable. At the moment I suppose that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that modern human beings have been around for at least 40,000 years, probably much longer. But since these figures depend to a large extent on the reliability of radioactive dating methods, any new evidence that suggests that radioactive dating methods are not as good as previously thought must be honestly examined. A few months ago here, Dave Scot (if I remember correctly) posted a science piece about some experimental or theoretical investigation that appeared to show that the rate of radioactive emissions was not constant, but depended on contextual considerations. Dave Scot characterizes himself (last I heard) as agnostic, and is certainly no YEC. But he argued that science should follow wherever the evidence leads, and I certainly agree, and I think that Ted Davis does, too. So if Ted and I expect the YEC people to bow to the evidence regarding a very old earth, we have to be willing to do the same, and acknowledge the facts if new evidence should happen to suggest that the results of radioactive dating are not entirely reliable.

    (I add that the information that Dave Scot presented did not suggest a 6,000-year old earth, or even that the current dating of the earth would have to be greatly modified; it merely indicated that decay rates might be to some extent contextually determined, and therefore not entirely reliable as a way of measuring absolute time. The application of the new research would be that Darwinists would be dishonest if they pretended that radioactive decay rates were a guarantor of absolute times.)

    As for Dr. Fuller’s point that ID should encourage YEC’s criticism of radioactive dating, well, I wouldn’t say that we should encourage it, but I don’t think we should discourage it, as long as the criticism is based entirely on the facts of nature and not on YEC’s theological predispositions. ID people should be open to the truth about nature, wherever it comes from. Indeed, on questions like the age of the earth, ID people should in principle be the most objective of all. YEC people have a strong religious bias in favour of a young earth, and both atheistic and TE Darwinists have invested their professional egos in the existence of an old one, and we know how defensive academics are about their professional egos. We can expect strong resistance to change from either side. But since ID is about design detection and not about “what happened when”, ID should be able to listen to arguments from both sides without getting upset. It has nothing at stake.

    Individual ID people are of course human beings and have their own theological inclinations. Many of them strongly believe in a young earth, and many in an old one. And they have every right to strong views on the subject, and every right to voice those views in theological forums. But such views aren’t entailed by ID, and shouldn’t be made part of ID.

    I am not sure whether Ted is going so far as to say that ID should renounce YEC, and refuse to associate with YEC people under any circumstance. I don’t think that he is, but some of the people on the ASA list, of which Ted is a member, appear to make this a condition of respect for the ID position. ID cannot oblige on this point. There is no reason that ID should want to exclude YEC people from ID investigations, as long as YEC people are open to the possibility that design is detectable in nature, and are willing to leave aside all arguments from the Bible during the course of the investigations. Further, the difficulty with the position of many (not all) on the ASA list is that it appears to be based as much on theological animus against the generally conservative character of YEC religion as it is on any failure of the YECs in respect to science. ID should strive to rise above such theological animus. If ASA people (TE or otherwise), want to argue that YEC promotes bad science, and will give reasons why the science is bad, ID will listen. But there is no reason why ID, as such, should be interested in the internecine warfare between conservative and liberal Christians which characterizes much of the ASA discussion. ID is not a theological doctrine. ID tries to detect design. Anyone with the mathematical, biochemical, or philosophical talents necessary for ascertaining design in living nature is welcome on board the ID ship. That includes everyone from religiously skeptical agnostics to die-hard YECs. If design is detected, then conservative and liberal Christians will simply have to deal with that, each in their own way. The theological fallout from any future demonstration of design is not ID’s concern.

    T.

  24. 24
    tribune7 says:

    And that may turn out to be Darwin’s Achilles Heel. After all, the evidence for an old earth comes from inferences drawn from radiometric methods, which may over time be contested, as happens to all methods in science. There is no law that says that the more palaeontology we learn, the older the earth must get. Some scientifically inclined YEC people already try to punch holes in the radiometric methods, and more of them should try – as long as they are willing to subject their claims to the normal mechanisms of peer evaluation.

    Dr. Fuller, I actually agree with you on something 🙂

    Something to consider is the meansings of faith, reason and evidence.

    If someone says “I am convinced this part of the Bible is true, hence I’m convinced it is the Word of God, hence I am convinced that Earth-age calculations based on Old Testament genealogies are accurate” that is faith and quite reasonable.

    OTOH, if someone says “You must not present evidence for an old Earth,” that is not faith and is unreasonable.

    And if some says that accepting evidence for an old Earth is unChristian and brings false testimony against the evidence, that is uncharitable, unChristian hypocrisy and should be condemned by all.

  25. 25
    Patrick says:

    I’m not a 6k YEC but I did want to comment on this:

    But to my mind it’s like saying that one day it’s possible we might find that gravity is repulsive rather then attractive (at local scales). Yes, it’s possible, but somewhat unlikely.

    Why not? There needs to be some sort of explanation for dark energy and expansion. It might be another force than a particular trait of gravity outside the influence of a solar system but there still is some sort of repulsive force at work. It’s not as if anyone has done any direct measurements far outside the reaches of our solar system. Until such an experiment is completed I personally would not feel comfortable with rejecting such a hypothesis so early, although there could be other reasons for rejecting it that I’m not aware of.

    But more on topic, I’ve always seen the currently accepted timespans as maximum estimates that might be revised downwards. So call me a “Middle Earther” (not a hobbit 😉 ). After all, it’s been less than a hundred years since the best maximum estimate was 2 billion for the universe. And in the 1800’s estimates were in the double-digit millions. Timespans like that should have been a death knell for Darwinism. Unfortunately, at those times Darwinists thought the biological machine a simple blob with inherent properties instead of extremely complicated information-based replicators. But if new findings significantly revise maximum estimates downward Darwinism will be forced to pay the penalty…but since people know that there will be an intense social pressure to pay such revisions no heed.

  26. 26
    StephenB says:

    The strongest argument theistic evolutionists (Christian Darwinists) can mount against us is that they don’t like the company we keep. I have asked them many times what they think we should do about that and have never received an answer. So, I ask it again:

    Do we publically denounce all YECs? In whose name do we do that? Strategies do, after all, require tactics and practical applications in the real world. A true separationist policy logically entails specific normative behaviors and policies, which can be anything from giving a YEC a scornful look to banning him from a web-site. Of course, it could also mean something like forming ID into a kind of anti-YEC monolith. Or, perhaps we could exhort YECs to repent and demand that they withhold financial support until they do. Perhaps the TEs could join us in this innovative exercise in self control and tell their financial supporters, the government, to keep their money as well. In any case, none of these scenarios would make in sense for one simple reason—We are not in the business of “expelling,” that privilege is reserved for Darwinists and TEs in the academy.

    The irony here is that those who are most sure of themselves on all matters scientific quite often stand on less that solid ground when the time comes to make their case. Indeed, if we do a comparative world-view analysis, the YEC position (God made the world in seven days) is more plausible that the Darwinist position (the world created itself) or the TE position (God intervened in the evolutionary process except that he didn’t). So, if we going to take up the practice of eliminating from our roster of dialogue partners anyone caught violating the principles of right reason, I submit that the TEs would be in greater danger of expulsion than the YECs.

  27. 27
    Upright BiPed says:

    Indeed, if we do a comparative world-view analysis, the YEC position (God made the world in seven days) is more plausible that the Darwinist position (the world created itself) or the TE position (God intervened in the evolutionary process except that he didn’t).

    I have never been all that interested in the YEC’s age of the Earth, but the TE’s line is one I just can’t understand. The fact that they are cuddled up with the irrational materialist is illuminating – and probably a significant clue.

    Nice post, SB

  28. 28
    Mark Frank says:

    Fuller [19] “Darwinism requires an old earth to be true”

    Patrick [25] “And in the 1800’s estimates were in the double-digit millions. Timespans like that should have been a death knell for Darwinism.”

    This is, of course, a vivid demonstration of how Darwinianism is falsifiable.

  29. 29
    Patrick says:

    This is, of course, a vivid demonstration of how Darwinianism is falsifiable.

    Heh, by finding physics and cosmological models to be way, way off? That’s like saying that ID could potentially be falsified by finding that the infinite multiverse hypothesis is true. In any case both can be falsified by more practical, localized means. Although I’ll add the caveat that there are specific claims of Darwinism that are practically impossible to falsify, which is often pointed out by ID proponents. Then of course there is a specific ID-compatible hypothesis like the one preferred by Ken Miller which is equally impossible to falsify since the “design” is asserted to be directly undetectable.

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