Darwinism Evolution Intelligent Design

Darwinism: A House Divided

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Here’s an illuminating book review. We are increasingly seeing two streams of Darwinism — one which says there’s no problem reconciling it with religion; the other which sees the two as completely incompatible. As the reviewer notes: “Stanovich takes the hard line that accepting darwinism has to mean opposing virtually all religious beliefs. He praises fundamentalists as recognizing this point while arguing that mainline churches do not see the incompatibility of science with religion.”  
 

Book Review: A rebellious revolution
Gordon M. Burghardt
Trends in Ecology & Evolution, Volume 21, Issue 10 , October 2006, Pages 537-538

Keith E. Stanovich, The Robot’s Rebellion: Finding Meaning in an Age of Darwin, University of Chicago Press (2005) ISBN 0 226 77125 3 US$18.00 pbk (374 pages). More...

 The Robot’s Rebellion introduces major findings of cognitive psychology, including decision making, heuristics, evolutionary modules and memes, to address the metaphysical and epistemological challenges of darwinism for systems of human belief. The opening chapter disappoints, however, as it sets forth Dawkin’s selfish gene versus vehicle view of evolution virtually unaltered after 30 years of intervening research. There is the generic slapdown of group selection, the admittedly anthropomorphic treatment of the wants, needs and desires of genes, and no mention of gene-environment interactions, evo-devo, or phenotypic plasticity. The extensive notes show that the author is aware of complications that he largely ignores in the text to make his polemical points starker. However, if you read on, you will be rewarded.
 The premise argued in the following six chapters is that human psychology is under the control of two, often competing, cognitive systems (‘a brain at war with itself’). One is in service primarily of our genes and only incidentally adaptive to the individual (vehicle). It is given the acronym TASS (for the awkward ‘The Autonomous Set of Systems’), a set of cognitive processes that are quick, unreflective and mandatory, and which include innate and learned habitual responses. The second system, the Analytic System (AS), enables the vehicle (individual) to override robotic TASS: relying on ‘gut instincts makes us little more than slaves of the mindless replicators’. The AS enables humans (and only humans) to rebel. Complicating the story, however, is the existence of memes which, similar to TASS, can manipulate individuals to act against their own interests (many political and religious beliefs), although many memes, such as those involved in technology (the wheel), health and safety are advantageous to individuals and essential to cultural advance. These ideas are supported by references to recent studies in cognitive science and philosophy. Intriguing examples are also given useful for class discussion. It is scary that 70% of university students think this syllogism is logical: all living things need water; roses need water; therefore roses are living things. Stanovich usefully clears up many misconceptions about rational thinking and TREE readers would find this most useful in teaching controversial topics.
 However, there are three problems with The Robot’s Rebellion. The final chapter, ‘A soul without mystery,’ harks back to the subtitle of the book and consists mainly of the ruminations of numerous philosophers with nary an evolutionary biologist or ethologist in sight. The meaning of life is located in being able to question a ‘first order preference’ (e.g. I like to smoke) by considering the health costs and thus developing a ‘second order preference’ (I prefer to prefer not to smoke), which can lead to a ‘third order preference’ (I prefer to smoke more than I prefer my preference not to smoke). Although these preferences can escalate to even higher levels, Stanovich thankfully stops at the third level. But the exercise does enable him to develop the concept of meta-rationality, which he claims is the source of rational integration that humans, but no other animals, have.
 The second problem is that, like so many before him, Stanovich wants to uncover the trait that really distinguishes humans from other animals. Humans, unlike chimpanzees and other species, code much more contextual information into their decision making. In fact, we alone use ‘symbolic utility’ (‘a symbolic action that stands for the utility of something else’) in making judgments. Unfortunately, no data are used to support these conclusions: just the TASS and memes that Stanovich earlier cautioned us against accepting without using our analytic powers. Thus, a familiar secondhand 90-year-old anecdote about chimpanzees is used, but all recent work on ape cognition is ignored. Indeed, if claims such as equity aversion in capuchin monkeys withstand scrutiny 1, 2 and 3, a major plank of Stanovich’s anthropocentrism disintegrates. As for the assertion that animals lack the ability to use symbols in making decisions, it is as if all the work on courtship, threat displays, nuptial gifts, ritualization and other phenomena did not exist. The problem gets even worse, for Stanovich is forced to argue that nonhuman animals are more rational than humans because they use classic instrumental rationality to serve their needs whereas humans, although smart, actually act dumber (‘dysrationalia’). It is about time that psychologists forego the species essentialism that Ernst Mayr fought against so vigorously.
 The final problem with The Robot’s Rebellion might keep some from using it as a textbook. Stanovich takes the hard line that accepting darwinism has to mean opposing virtually all religious beliefs. He praises fundamentalists as recognizing this point while arguing that mainline churches do not see the incompatibility of science with religion. This approach is counterproductive and is also arguably bad theology. We need to have enough self-confidence in our science that its implications will become apparent without attacking those who are sympathetic to knowledge and are, unlike the adherents of creationism and intelligent design, open to serious discussion of modern biology.
 These criticisms notwithstanding, The Robot’s Rebellion is a fine introduction to modern cognitive psychology that I heartily recommend to biologists unfamiliar with modern cognitive science. The author takes evolution seriously, even if from a flawed anthropocentric stance incorporating a revamped instinct-intelligence dichotomy.
 References
1 S.F. Brosnan and F.B.M. de Waal, Monkeys reject unequal pay, Nature 27 (2003), pp. 297-299.
2 P.G. Roma et al., Capuchin monkeys, inequity aversion, and the frustration effect, J. Comp. Psychol. 120 (2006), pp. 67-73.
3 S.F. Brosnan and F.B.M. de Waal, Partial support from a nonreplication: comment on Roma, Silberberg, Ruggerio, and Suomi, J. Comp. Psychol. 120 (2006), pp. 74-75.

46 Replies to “Darwinism: A House Divided

  1. 1

    Very interesting.

    I particular noticed this:

    The final problem with The Robot’s Rebellion might keep some from using it as a textbook. Stanovich takes the hard line that accepting darwinism has to mean opposing virtually all religious beliefs. He praises fundamentalists as recognizing this point while arguing that mainline churches do not see the incompatibility of science with religion. This approach is counterproductive and is also arguably bad theology. We need to have enough self-confidence in our science that its implications will become apparent without attacking those who are sympathetic to knowledge and are, unlike the adherents of creationism and intelligent design, open to serious discussion of modern biology.
    These criticisms notwithstanding, The Robot’s Rebellion is a fine introduction to modern cognitive psychology that I heartily recommend to biologists unfamiliar with modern cognitive science. The author takes evolution seriously, even if from a flawed anthropocentric stance incorporating a revamped instinct-intelligence dichotomy.

    That ‘Darwinists’ (accepting this moniker as meaningful) are divided concerning the question of religion is well-known.

    However, it’s not an immanent conflict.

    This is particularly easy to see, if probing is done outside the USA. As I never tire of telling people, I live in Denmark, where at least 90% of the population are registered as members of a religion that should be creationist; yet more than 80% of the population accept evolution to the exclusion of creation. How come?

  2. 2
    Joseph says:

    Poul Willy Eriksen:
    As I never tire of telling people, I live in Denmark, where at least 90% of the population are registered as members of a religion that should be creationist; yet more than 80% of the population accept evolution to the exclusion of creation. How come?

    I guess that all depends on which version of “evolution” they accept:

    The meanings of evolution, from “Darwinism, Design and Public Education”:

    1. Change over time; history of nature; any sequence of events in nature
    2. Changes in the frequencies of alleles in the gene pool of a population
    3. Limited common descent: the idea that particular groups of organisms have descended from a common ancestor.
    4. The mechanisms responsible for the change required to produce limited descent with modification, chiefly natural selection acting on random variations or mutations.
    5. Universal common descent: the idea that all organisms have descended from a single common ancestor.
    6. “Blind watchmaker” thesis: the idea that all organisms have descended from common ancestors solely through an unguided, unintelligent, purposeless, material processes such as natural selection acting on random variations or mutations; that the mechanisms of natural selection, random variation and mutation, and perhaps other similarly naturalistic mechanisms, are completely sufficient to account for the appearance of design in living organisms.

    If they accept evolution #6 then that 90% must also be contortionists who live a life of irony.

  3. 3

    Hi Joseph;

    You wrote:

    If they accept evolution #6 then that 90% must also be contortionists who live a life of irony.

    Sure, you have a point; if people are simple asked whether they believe in evolution without any specification being given, what is the scientific value of the responses?

    However, I can tell you that a couple of years ago the leader of a very conservative Lutheran group suggested that creation should be taught in biology classes in school. It was registered that he had made the suggestion, but ´that was all.

    Creationism is in general not an issue at all.

    That Richard Dawkins (and a few others) might claim that you are not a true evolutionist unless you accept evolution #6 has little relevance, since there are no creationists claiming that he is right.

  4. 4
    Mark Frank says:

    Note that the protagonists do not disagree about neo-Darwinism. They disagree about religion and what it can accept.

  5. 5
    Chris Hyland says:

    “If they accept evolution #6 then that 90% must also be contortionists who live a life of irony.”

    I could understand the problem if religious scientists held to scientism but I dont imagine they do.

  6. 6
    littlejon says:

    If they accept evolution #6 then that 90% must also be contortionists who live a life of irony.

    Must be? Could they not effectively be dualists – ie some form of accepting purposeless NDE to account for their DNA, but needing purpose to account for the parts of being human that is “more than” DNA? I for one am happy enough that NS has determined the exact form of my flesh, but of course I consider “myself” so much more than just this form… which opens up a gap… which religion slots into.

  7. 7
    Ekstasis says:

    Poul Willy Eriksen,

    “As I never tire of telling people, I live in Denmark, where at least 90% of the population are registered as members of a religion that should be creationist; yet more than 80% of the population accept evolution to the exclusion of creation. How come?”

    While the majority of your citizens may be registered to a religion, what percent actually make it an important part of their lives? My impression, please correct me if I am wrong, is that you have beautiful cathedrals in Western Europe, practically empty except for tourists. So, maybe there is only an apparent internal conflict amongst most of your people. After all, if I only go ice skating once in a blue moon (if you call it that in Denmark), I could care less about the condition of my skates.

  8. 8
    Carlos says:

    Is this really any different from “Christianity: A House Divided”? After all, many Christians think that evolution and Christianity are consistent, and some don’t.

    So Darwinism and Christianity are both divided. Perhaps neither will stand?

    The more reliable division is not between Darwinism and Christianity, but between “compatibilists” (those who think that Darwinism and religion are compatible) and “incompatibilists” (those who think that they are incompatible). That’s where the real division lies. Compatibilists like Ken Miller and Michael Ruse are working on one side; incompabilists like Alvin Plantinga and Richard Dawkins on the other.

    From a compatibilist perspective, the incompatibilists are making mountains out of molehills, if not out of thin air; from an incompatibilist perspective, compatibilists are refusing to make the inferences to which they are rationally committed.

    By the way, the “beautiful cathedrals empty but for tourists” is mostly true of France, less so for Ireland or Italy, from what I understand. The Lutherans are still going strong in the Scandinavian countries, aren’ they?

  9. 9
    tinabrewer says:

    littlejon: it kind of depends upon what you mean by needing “purpose” for the non-material parts of you. If purpose is defined as a transcendent and eternal personality, then you would probably be left asking “why did the maker of all not also make matter and everything it contains?” whereas if purpose is understood more or less existentially, then of course there would be no problem filling the gap with whatever you want.

  10. 10
    kvwells says:

    Good pt tinabrewer,

    this kind of dualism is only necessary if one believes that NDE has been convincingly demonstrated to be true. How would most Europeans know otherwise?

  11. 11
    Mats says:

    How many of those 90% are what we would consider as devout church-going Christians? (This is not a “True scotsman fallacy”, btw)
    Secondly, being registed as a Christian doesn’t mean you are one. In Portugal, babies are baptized as Catholic and registed as such. Most of them don’t even know what Christianity stands for after they grow, but are registed as “Catholic”. This is so problematic that I even had atheist friends who wanted to have their names taken off the list.

    I think it all comes down to one’s comitement to what they claim to believe. The truth is that the more serious you take the Bible, the less likely you are to believe in darwinian myths.

  12. 12
    Mats says:

    By the way, instead of wasting time in trying to “placate” the religious people, Darwinists would do a better job in defending their speculative hypothesis if they opened it for criticism and debates. That would be the mark that evolutionists don’t fear being on the spot. Saddly, seems like that Darwinists prefer to work via court rulings, missinformation, fear-mongering, name calling and loose and vague difinitions of the word “evolution”.

  13. 13
    StephenA says:

    That would only help them if being put on the spot wouldn’t demolish their theory.

  14. 14
    nullasalus says:

    Isn’t modern ‘darwinian evolution’ v ‘ID’ v ‘theistic evolution’ basically summed up as…

    Darwinian Evolution: We’re not sure how life began, but however it began, it was purposeless except that life wants to thrive in any form it takes, and this drive to thrive + random mutation has resulted in all bio-diversity.

    Theistic Evolution: There was an intelligent force – perhaps even an omniscient one – which created both the cosmos and all life as we know it. We’re not certain how this life began, but humanity and the aspects of mind that go with it were always intended, though we can’t cite any direct proof of this.

    Intelligent Design: We’re not sure how life began, but one look at the various feats nature has accomplished indicates that there was either active ‘tinkering’ with how life as we know it at various stages, or the ‘program’ that is biological life was endowed with capabilities so great that it could not have been accidental or random.

    And if this is right.. isn’t it nearly impossible (thus far) to prove any of the three, even though IDers are trying hard to do so? And by this I mean less to criticize IDers than I do to criticize proponents of Darwinian Evolution. It’s impossible to prove or disprove design, and equally difficult to prove or disprove that it was all random unintended chance. So why is one interpretation scientific theory, the other(s) theological/philosophical speculation? Isn’t it all speculation? And if so.. shouldn’t people, you know. Be informed of this?

    Sorry if my comments are remedial.

  15. 15
    avocationist says:

    Carlos,

    I cannot figure out what your position on evolution really is. You believe in God, are apparently a more or less believing Jew, and you even stated that you do not deny that God reveals himself to man.
    Yet most of your comments seem completely at one with RM&NS. You recently stated something about the noetic feeling (the inner feeling of a spiritual reality) was some sort of evolutionary development.
    The reason I am not a compatibilist is that I find a fundamental divide between: There is a God, There is no God. Once you posit a God, the deck is stacked. The existence of matter, of a universe, of laws of nature and so forth simply cannot be an accident in the same way as it is for an atheist who thinks matter is the fundamental reality.
    How is it possible for someone who believes in an omniscient and omnipotent God to suppose that his views on evolution in the deepest sense are compatible with mainstream evolution?

  16. 16
    Fross says:

    6. “Blind watchmaker” thesis: the idea that all organisms have descended from common ancestors solely through an unguided, unintelligent, purposeless, material processes such as natural selection acting on random variations or mutations; that the mechanisms of natural selection, random variation and mutation, and perhaps other similarly naturalistic mechanisms, are completely sufficient to account for the appearance of design in living organisms.

    I’m not sure how many people would stick to definition number 6. Terms like “purposeless” and “material” “naturalistic” are totally unecessary and they speak mostly to religious ideas. Science has no need to describe things in these terms.

  17. 17
    JasonTheGreek says:

    Terms like “purposeless” and “material” “naturalistic” are totally unecessary and they speak mostly to religious ideas. Science has no need to describe things in these terms.

    Tell that to guys like Provine and Dawkins. Heck, go to livescience’s website and check out their evolution section and it’s filled with this very same language. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that many scientists would use this language and see it totally scientific.

  18. 18
    Carlos says:

    How is it possible for someone who believes in an omniscient and omnipotent God to suppose that his views on evolution in the deepest sense are compatible with mainstream evolution?

    I’ve thought about how to respond to this question ever since I started posting here, and I’m somewhat surprised that it’s taken this long for someone to ask it of me.

    I can respond in the this forum, or I can address it through personal email, whichever you’d like.

  19. 19
    DaveScot says:

    So why is one interpretation scientific theory, the other(s) theological/philosophical speculation? Isn’t it all speculation? And if so.. shouldn’t people, you know. Be informed of this?

    Yes, they should be informed. Recently in Georgia the school board tried to put this sticker into newly adopted biology textbooks:

    “This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.”

    Here is what happened:

    http://www.cnn.com/2005/LAW/01.....ks.ruling/

    Judge: Evolution stickers unconstitutional
    Markers in science textbooks violated church-state separation

    See what we’re up against?

  20. 20
    John A. Davison says:

    A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”
    John A. Davison

  21. 21
    Joseph says:

    LittleJon:
    I for one am happy enough that NS has determined the exact form of my flesh, but of course I consider “myself” so much more than just this form… which opens up a gap… which religion slots into.

    That’s funny because we do not know what determines form. We know that although genes may influence every aspect of development they do not determine it.

    What makes a fly a fly? In his book (English title) “Why is a Fly not a Horse?”, the prominent Italian geneticist Giuseppe Sermonti, tells us the following :

    Chapter VI “Why is a Fly not a horse?” (same as the book’s title)

    ”The scientist enjoys a privilege denied the theologian. To any question, even one central to his theories, he may reply “I’m sorry but I do not know.” This is the only honest answer to the question posed by the title of this chapter. We are fully aware of what makes a flower red rather than white, what it is that prevents a dwarf from growing taller, or what goes wrong in a paraplegic or a thalassemic. But the mystery of species eludes us, and we have made no progress beyond what we already have long known, namely, that a kitty is born because its mother was a she-cat that mated with a tom, and that a fly emerges as a fly larva from a fly egg.”

    Dawkins gave us “the blind watchmaker” thesis. It was/ is supported by many scientists including Crick, Provine, Massimo, Mayr and many others, including 38 Mobel Laureates:

    NOBEL LAUREATES INITIATIVE

    “Logically derived from confirmable evidence, evolution is understood to be the result of an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection.”

    Nobel Laureates are not stupid people. If these laureates think the above is what evolution is about then I would say there is something to it. I would also say that anyone who disagrees with them needs to provide the data that demonstrates they are incorrect. The bottom-line is teleology is NOT allowed in today’s science.

  22. 22
    avocationist says:

    Carlos,

    I was biding my time, trying to see what I could figure out first. I really meant to ask after your funny comment on another thread, which I wish I knew where it was. The noetic thread.

    Email is good because we aren’t restricted but it might also be interesting for people here who find you pretty engaging.

    My email is annaoleynik@hotmail.com

  23. 23
    Rude says:

    Poul Willy Eiriksen: “As I never tire of telling people, I live in Denmark, where at least 90% of the population are registered as members of a religion that should be creationist; yet more than 80% of the population accept evolution to the exclusion of creation. How come?”

    The world is full of cultures where a majority of folks hold irrational positions. This is just fine as long as a) those folks are not in the habit of blowing up those who might disagree with them, and b) there are other parts of the world where important issues still hold the attention and are being freely and vigorously discussed.

  24. 24
    DaveScot says:

    Doctor Davison

    Have you read the sidebar paper “Non Darwinian Evolution” by Jean Staune? It’s a dissertation on the European scientific dissent from Darwinism. None of them are creationists but a few seem to be in no disagreement with your PEH. They don’t provide a detailed mechanism as you do but at least several believe that evolution, were it to happen over again, would repeat itself and still end up with an intelligent species little different than us. A view I think you share (but I’m not sure you do). Those the closest to your thinking believe that there are undiscovered laws of biochemistry that force evolution to happen in a certain way with chance playing little or no role in it. The rejection of chance playing a significant role in evolution is definitely a belief you share with some of them.

  25. 25

    Ekstasis wrote (post #7):

    While the majority of your citizens may be registered to a religion, what percent actually make it an important part of their lives? My impression, please correct me if I am wrong, is that you have beautiful cathedrals in Western Europe, practically empty except for tourists. So, maybe there is only an apparent internal conflict amongst most of your people. After all, if I only go ice skating once in a blue moon (if you call it that in Denmark), I could care less about the condition of my skates.

    Yes, you are quite right. But that leads us into another problem: should we count only those people as religious that show off their religion all of the time? For Lutherans (and in Denmark 84.6% of the population are Lutherans) going to church is all very fine; but you can be a beliver without going to church, and you can go to church without being a believer. Some religions and also some Christian denominations are quite concerned with religious rituals; but at least my personal view is that a religious belief isn’t someting you do to impress other people.

    The atheists that I know about all have resigned their membership of the Lutheran church, so it’s not as if you should expect any large number of atheists among those 84.6% that are members.

    Mats wrote (in post #11):

    How many of those 90% are what we would consider as devout church-going Christians? (This is not a “True scotsman fallacy”, btw)

    The composition is actually 84.6% Lutherans, 1-2% other Christian denoms (1%, if JWs don’t count as Christians, 2% otherwise), and 4-5% Muslims plus a small number of Bahai’s and so on.

    Looking only at the Lutherans, in the cities the church frequency is in general very low, in the country it is much higher. But as mentioned above, it’s not how much you go to church that’s the general accepted criterium.

    It’s just that creation in a literal sense isn’t really discussed, not even among devout church-goers, because it’s not what it’s about.

    Secondly, being registed as a Christian doesn’t mean you are one. In Portugal, babies are baptized as Catholic and registed as such. Most of them don’t even know what Christianity stands for after they grow, but are registed as “Catholic”. This is so problematic that I even had atheist friends who wanted to have their names taken off the list.

    It’s the same in Denmark – except of course you are baptized as a Lutheran rathen than as a Roman Catholic. But as I mentioned in my response to Ekstasis, you are free to resign.

    Certainly, most atheists will be ‘Darwinists’ – why should they not? But that doesn’t mean that theists can’t be ‘Darwinists’, though of course they can’t follow Richard Dawkins; but as far as I know, even other evolutionists find that he is going outside his field of competence.

    All in all, it’s not as if there’s only room for the extremist points of view.

    have a nice day!
    – pwe

    I think it all comes down to one’s comitement to what they claim to believe. The truth is that the more serious you take the Bible, the less likely you are to believe in darwinian myths.

  26. 26
    Rude says:

    I have no interest in defining what a “Christian” is—to each his own!—but Darwinism—that’s materialism’s best attempt to explain away the design that is so apparent in biological organisms. Thus Keith E. Stanovich is to be commended: “Stanovich takes the hard line that accepting darwinism has to mean opposing virtually all religious beliefs. He praises fundamentalists as recognizing this point while arguing that mainline churches do not see the incompatibility of science with religion.” ID’s greatest enemy is this fog they call “theistic evolution” which is anything but. In practice it is the strident claim that God leaves no fingerprints, that as nice Jews or Christians (or whatever) we will believe only because of some subjective goodness in our hearts—not because there is any shred of evidence whatsoever. Count me with the atheists if that really is how it is.

    Remember—ID does not eschew evolution—it’s Darwin we deny. Theists who are Darwinists are theists with no foundation or evidence—no more going for them than astrologers. Who cares if they take this stance? People can believe whatever they want! But to flaunt such theists who accept Darwinism in order to promote Darwinism among the unindoctrinated masses is no different than me trotting out astrologers who accept Darwinism (and I’m sure most do) in order to show that one can believe in both astrology and “science”.

  27. 27
    Carlos says:

    In practice it is the strident claim that God leaves no fingerprints, that as nice Jews or Christians (or whatever) we will believe only because of some subjective goodness in our hearts —- not because there is any shred of evidence whatsoever.

    I would prefer to characterize theistic evolution as the claim that the “fingerprints” left by God — if that’s even the best way to represent God’s relation with the natural order — are not detectable according to the best standards of scientic evidence. That leaves open the possibility of different kinds of evidence, or even the possibility of a different kind of rationality which does not demand evidence (at least on the scientific conception of what would count as evidence).

    The rightness or wrongness of an action do not figure in a scientific description of the action. But the conclusion to draw from this is that there are limits to what we can get from science, not that rightness or wrongness are unreal, ‘subjective’, illusions, etc.

    If one is already committed to the thought that natural science is paradigmatic of rational inquiry and activity, then it would seem that nothing can count as rational without thereby figuring in a scientific conception of the world. And from there it can be tempting to think that, if one wants to show that religion is compatible with reason and not merely a “leap of faith,” then one must show how one’s religious commitments can themselves fit into a scientific conception. Hence one will look for “evidence” for one’s religious notions, with the assumption firmly locked in place that such evidence must look like scientific evidence.

    On the other hand, if one is able to free oneself from the thought that only natural science can count as the exercise of rationality, then one will thereby be liberated from the assumption that religion can only be seen as rational if it can be placed on an evidentiary basis on par with other objects of scientific investigation.

    Nor are we bereft of examples of non-scientific rationality. When we deliberate on matters of ethics, or of law, or when we argue about the strengths or weaknesses of a work of art, we are clearly engaging in a species of rational activity — since we are engaged in the game of asking for and giving reasons. And it is just as clearly not anything included in, or modelled on, the sciences.

  28. 28
    Rude says:

    Carlos: “I would prefer to characterize theistic evolution as the claim that the ‘fingerprints’ left by God — if that’s even the best way to represent God’s relation with the natural order — are not detectable according to the best standards of scientic evidence.”

    Let me disagree. In practice what I see is the A PRIORI philosophical claim that any evidence for God must not be sought in the natural world. It is a strong demarcationist claim that, let me emphasize again, is made a priori. You can make it and live by it if you wish–but I reject it utterly in favor of a more open mind.

    Also I see no conflict between faith and the best Popperian extrapolations–risky and refutable theories plus research. If it is true that theories can only be refuted and never completely “proven”–then what do you think science (or any quest for truth) operates on if not faith?

    Wishful thinking and subjective urges are fine but they’re personal and private and not part of any public quest for knowledge unless subjected to reason, observation, and authority–I add the latter because there is too much knowledge out there not to trust a few experts (such as the airplane mechanic). But beware the heady “expert” who obfuscates, ridicules and bullies and shows no sense of the tentativeness of some perposterous claim that threatens to have a profound impact on society.

  29. 29
    Carlos says:

    We should avoid the purely empiricist temptation that a priori reasoning is always bad, to-be-avoided, and avoidable. Certain assumptions must be made in order to get any conceptual framework off the ground and running. Inevitably, this means that one can ask questions about the legitimacy of the framework as a whole which cannot meaningfully be addressed from within the framework. (At the extreme, there is no rational answer to the question, “why be rational?”)

    If you wish to call that “faith,” I certainly won’t stop you, but it seems to me that that’s importantly different from the faith expressed by Martin Luther King Jr. when he said, “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it tends towards justice.”

    Wishful thinking and subjective urges are fine but they’re personal and private and not part of any public quest for knowledge unless subjected to reason, observation, and authority

    No argument from me on that one — did you think there would be? My argument from above was that rational inquiry as such (“reason, observation, and authority”) needn’t be modelled off of, or understood in terms of, the methods of natural science.

  30. 30
    Rude says:

    So again we agree to disagree. You would–if I understand you correctly–exclude the possibility of design a priori on philosophical grounds and I, rebel that I am, would not on philosophical grounds. There!

    You’re very cagey, my friend: “We should avoid the purely empiricist temptation that a priori reasoning is always bad . . .” Keep truckin’ . . . maybe we’ll get somewhere someday.

  31. 31
    Rude says:

    “If you wish to call that [faith from evidence] ‘faith,’ I certainly won’t stop you, but it seems to me that that’s importantly different from the faith expressed by Martin Luther King Jr. when he said, ‘the moral arc of the universe is long, but it tends towards justice.’ Should say that again I disagree, for I see only a continuum—no demarcation—between faith in a “scientific” theory for which we can marshall supporting evidence and “faith” in a historical premise for which we can marshall supporting evidence. Neither a pseudoscience like Darwinism nor some wild conspiracy theory is worth a pinch of you-know-what without some empirical evidence. You can disagree but I think MLK was right. “The moral arc of the universe” may have traversed some pretty terrifying low points in the 20th century but I think an optimist (and an Orthodox Rabbi perceiving the footsteps of messiah) can make a pretty good case for moral progress. Sure the Nazis and Communists tore hope from the heart of most, and the Sixties have created and coarsened and cheapened a sprawling underclass, but out of it all I see greater wisdom and virtue emerging from a few than ever before—ID being part of that wisdom, in my opinion. Dinesh D’Souza has written on this—how that virtue arising from a climate of moral debauchery is greater virtue than virtue imposed by rigid social control. Demarcationism and the notion that “science” has “methods” somehow different than the reason, observation and authority mentioned above is absurd—if I recall David Berlinski has said this better though I don’t recall where.

  32. 32
    Carlos says:

    You would -– if I understand you correctly -– exclude the possibility of design a priori on philosophical grounds and I, rebel that I am, would not on philosophical grounds.

    It’s not that I deny the possibility of design a priori; it’s that design hasn’t baked any bread, so to speak — it hasn’t yielded any interesting or new insights. Yeah, OK, so something is designed — so what? There aren’t any interesting scientific results from that thought, at least not yet, and I’m not holding my breath.

    What’s held a priori is more along the lines of: that one has a body existing in space and time, that one interacts with the physical world through causal transactions of matter and energy, that there are other persons with minds apart from myself, that others understand the sentences I produce, that mathematical and logical systems are valid, that others make moral claims on us and we on them, etc.

    A metaphysical theist would perhaps want to add to this the existence of God and of the soul.

    One can call parts of this into question — one could ask, for example, “do numbers really exist?” Or, “do other minds really exist?” And in asking those questions has resulted in some good philosophy, by revealing more carefully the structure of our conceptual frameworks, and by proposing some revisions in those frameworks. (However, it does not seem credible to me that one could call the entirety of one’s conceptual framework into question all at once, without at the same time going utterly insane.)

    It’s only because of these a priori assumptions that one can regard systematic inquiry into nature, in collaboration with others past and present, as a meaningful and coherent project at all. In other words, a lot of background is necessary in order to get any science off the ground at all.

    Re: “the moral arc of the universe.” I wouldn’t have introduced this remark if I disagreed with it. But I don’t read MLK Jr. as uttering the sort of remark that either connects up with, or that fails to connect up, anything that Stephen Hawking might say about the universe. One can sometimes use a physical map of a territory, and other times use a political map of a territory, without being compelled to ask, “but which map is the right one?”

    Likewise, I am not forced to ask, when confronted with Hawking’s cosmology and King’s theology, which is the correct form of understanding. Different forms of understanding are only different tools, and which ones we use depend on what we want to do with them — whether one wants to comprehend the deep structure of space-time, or to demand a re-evaluation of our moral and political commitments.

    This may also be read as a first response to (15). Further response to follow.

  33. 33
    Joseph says:

    Carlos:
    It’s not that I deny the possibility of design a priori; it’s that design hasn’t baked any bread, so to speak — it hasn’t yielded any interesting or new insights.

    Actually it has yielded more new insights than the anti-ID position of “sheer-dumb-luck”.

    Carlos:
    Yeah, OK, so something is designed — so what?

    As I have told you already- then we study it in that light. And we know it makes a difference how we approach that part of the investigation- that is whether or not the object/ structure/ event was designed or not.

    Carlos:
    There aren’t any interesting scientific results from that thought, at least not yet, and I’m not holding my breath.

    Reality refutes you. Archaeology, for one, is very interested in determining design and then studying it so we can find out more about it as well as those who made it.

    And then there is “The Privileged Planet”, which makes several interesting predictions and can/ should be used as a guide to help us look for hospitable planets and perhaps other intelligent life. And anyone who doesn’t find that interesting isn’t interested in discovery.

  34. 34
    Carlos says:

    Joseph,

    Well, you are a bold one, aren’t you? I’ve been refuted by other people before — lots of times — but this has got to be the first time I’ve been refuted by reality itself. Oh, my stars and garters!

    Actually it has yielded more new insights than the anti-ID position of “sheer-dumb-luck”.

    Such as?

    Archaeology, for one, is very interested in determining design and then studying it so we can find out more about it as well as those who made it.

    If the context of this entire discussion fails to connote that I was speaking of the design of biological systems, this does not speak well of your reading proficiency.

    “The Privileged Planet”, which makes several interesting predictions and can/ should be used as a guide to help us look for hospitable planets and perhaps other intelligent life. And anyone who doesn’t find that interesting isn’t interested in discovery.

    I would no sooner rely on “The Privileged Planet” as a reliable source of intelligent design theory than I would cite “What the Bleep Do We Know?” as a reliable authority on quantum mechanics. But apparently you have no such reticence. Very well.

    Instruct me, then, since you are so eager to do so: what insights or predictions have been gleaned from intelligent design theory that have not been achieved through astronomy, physics, chemistry, and “non-ID” biology?

  35. 35
    kvwells says:

    It seems to me that convincingly demonstrating that biological systems are designed introduces a new rational to fields such as nanotechnology, where modeling and reverse-engineering of molecular-biological systems is a fruitful enterprise. If an extremely complex system functions at the level of efficiency and robustness as reported by molecular biologists, and is designed (forgive the redundancy), then we need not assume such goofy canards as ‘junk DNA’ (forgive the oxymoron). Thus research is much more focused of finding “how it was done.” The predicting principle of ID may be that purpose will always present itself eventually in every aspect of biological systems (and in the universe at large, but that’s another, and larger, fish to get in the boat).

    Hey, I hack out AJAX web apps sometimes, and even I prefer to bogart source code that is intelligently designed. 😉

  36. 36
    Carlos says:

    Thus research is much more focused of finding “how it was done.”

    And how is this different from non-ID biotech and nanobiology? How, for example, would intelligent design make a difference to the folks at the Keck Graduate Institute?

  37. 37
    Joseph says:

    SCott Minnich:

    Biochemist Michael Behe used the flagella to illustrate the concept of irreducible complexity and Minnich takes the argument to the next level crediting the design paradigm to leading to new insights in his lab research at the University of Idaho.

    And again the only way to truly understand something is to investigate it in light of reality- that is how it came to be. That is the point with “comparing” ID to other design-centric venues- that being it obviously matters a great deal to any investigation whether or not the object/ structure/ event in question was the result of an intelligent agency or not.

    Also with intentional design comes two aspects- purpose and intent (P&I). That is what science without ID lacks. And purpose is covered in “The Privileged Planet”, but it isn’t in any other astronomy text.

    I believe that (P&I) to be a huge driving force for discovery. What would be the driving force for discovery in the “sheer-dumb-luck” scenario? “Let’s see how far we can push incredible explanations before someone catches on.”?

  38. 38
    Carlos says:

    (1): The reference to Scott Minnich’s work is interesting, I’ll admit. But I’d still want to know that intelligent design wasn’t merely an “inspiration” on his work, but that the theory provided Minnich with enough specific content that was able to test it.

    After all, Kekule’s dream of an ouroboros inspired his discovery of the benzene ring, but that doesn’t mean that chemistry confirms (or disconfirms) occult symbolism.

    So I still think that “looks interesting, but I won’t hold my breath” is a reasonable response to the ID movement in its present form.

    In any event, I’m more interested in discussing the relation between “naturalism” and “theism” — and why I think I can have my cake and eat it, too.

    But just because that’s what I want to talk about, doesn’t mean that everyone else has to talk about that, too.

  39. 39
    avocationist says:

    Carlos, I don’t have too much time in the next day or so but I am keeping up with the discussion.

  40. 40
    avocationist says:

    Carlos, (re 27)

    I would prefer to characterize theistic evolution as the claim that the “fingerprints” left by God — if that’s even the best way to represent God’s relation with the natural order — are not detectable according to the best standards of scientic evidence. That leaves open the possibility of different kinds of evidence, or even the possibility of a different kind of rationality which does not demand evidence (at least on the scientific conception of what would count as evidence).

    Essentially, this is what they all say. It seems to be quite agreed upon. I find it very convenient.

    You say what we can from science is limited. It is, but i sense in you and in the others you all seem in lock-step agreement on these few principles which allow you to all work together without irritation that you want to keep science within comfortable bounds (as most people keep God!)so that there may be no danger of a breach. Nor are your nonscientific examples of rationality such as ethics really completely nonscientific. I think we can find that life-affirming actions are moral actions are ethical actions.

    And from there it can be tempting to think that, if one wants to show that religion is compatible with reason and not merely a “leap of faith,” then one must show how one’s religious commitments can themselves fit into a scientific conception.

    Well put. I find it very logical. I certainly would have no use for religion that is not at least compatible with science, and if it is incompatible, then either the religious tenets are incorrect/misunderstood, or the science is primitive. Where there is disagreement, there is error somewhere. Period. That goes for the world’s religions, too.

    On the other hand, if one is able to free oneself from the thought that only natural science can count as the exercise of rationality, then one will thereby be liberated from the assumption that religion can only be seen as rational if it can be placed on an evidentiary basis on par with other objects of scientific investigation.

    I would by no means exlude nonscientific forms of rationality, nor would I be too demanding of science to catch up with intuition (but I think the gap is closing). But what I am really hearing from you and your ilk is a firm, noncrossable, invulnerable barrier and you want it that way.

    Re 29, 1st paragraph,
    It’s confusing. You say a priori assumptions are not necessarily bad, but then you state that a conceptual framework cannot be examined from within it. Perhaps a priori assumptions are not always bad, but you see that the complaint from ID is legitimate, and it does seem many Darwinists are indeed never considering that their framework may be wrong.
    And, going over your examples of reasonable priori assumptions (32), they are quite limited; it does not follow that there is good reason to make an a priori assumption that we live in a material universe.

    Again, you seem to be saying that rational and ethical pursuits of the mind are somehow utterly divorced from empirical science. Or should I say, divorced from reality?

    At the bottom of 32 you mention that, say, pure cosmology is not really the same thing as morals and politicis. To that I say, so what?

    I would no sooner rely on “The Privileged Planet” as a reliable source of intelligent design theory than I would cite “What the Bleep Do We Know?” as a reliable authority on quantum mechanics.

    I haven’t seen it, but I think that Denton’s Nature’s Destiny is a very good companion to ID in biology. And this is certainly where the ‘footsteps’ come in. My question to you is, why don’t you want that? What does it mean that you don’t want that?

    We either live in a God universe or a non-God universe.
    Whichever it is, they are mutually exclusive. If the Dawkins types are right, then any notion of God is pure fantasy and has no possibility of existence. If there is a God, then there is no possibility of a universe existing except as a secondary condition with God/Mind/Consciousness as a primary reality.
    It is true that people can’t decide or prove which it is.
    I have tried to make this point before and without success:
    We cannot suppose that we live in a universe caused by God but which looks like a non-God universe, because IF there is a God no such nonGod universe has any existence at all, not even in the imagination. Let me repeat: we cannot even imagine a nonGod universe (although we imagine we can!).

    Why oh why do so many peole who believe in a purposeful and omnipotent creator God who reveals himself to man and perhaps even saves and damns them, think that the universe could be so incoherent as to not look designed? And does our universe not look like there is a God? It has complexity, dramatic unfolding, mathematical rules, great precision and interconnected laws, beauty, life, highly complex organized systems – and it exists without explanation other than turtles? What more do you want?

    Now, you may answer that we cannot empirically prove this God, but all I’m asking is to concede the point that if there is a God then absolutely everything follows from that; therefore the assumption that it is invisible and will forever remain so is a bizarre supposition.

    What kind of Darwinist are you, and what sort of God do you believe in, and why do you believe in God?
    How is it rational to think nature is divided from God?

  41. 41
    avocationist says:

    Wait a minute. Some religionists, creationists for example, really do want science to confirm particular religious scriptures, for example. What I am saying is that there should be evidence for broad spiritual realities, such as the existence of God as the author of life and the universe. So you are arguing against religious agendas, and I am making a logical metaphysical argument.

  42. 42
    Joseph says:

    Carlos:
    So I still think that “looks interesting, but I won’t hold my breath” is a reasonable response to the ID movement in its present form.

    The anti-ID movement’s premise of “sheer-dumb-luck” isn’t interesting and it has shown it also doesn’t bear any fruit. I doubt it even holds any inspiration- Who would be inspired by sheer-dumb-luck?

  43. 43
    Michaels7 says:

    My contribution to intellectual property of UD:

    Carlos, in regards to holding breath…

    Neither has Random Mutations/Natural Selection made any sense in light of macro-evolution to this date, as in step by step progress from fish to humans. We have historical data open to interprestation and so far, failed lab experiments.

    Holding ones breath in anticipation of new unprogrammed life forms is just as daunting a task if not downright deadly for ones future.

    Looking to the future helps me look at our present situation sometimes. Questions. Will scientist create new lifeforms without pre-programming? Or, will they zap some chemicals with electricity and watch an amazing growth take place in an unfriendly environment?

    Or, will they set up known successful environmental structures and boundaries that are suitable for animation of programmatic chemical relationships which can become animated life forms?

    I am willing to keep an open mind, but some observations make one pause and think about randomness as inaccessible to logical conclusions of future practicality in science endeavors. In 1000, 10,000 or 1 million years what will scientist do regarding the creation of life? I am only speculating that Darwinist in a million or more years will recreate earth by random collisions of unknown chemical relationships with the use of unknown laws. That they will not use any of the known scientific laws to recreate life. My intention is not to sound snarky or smary, or even satirical. But to try and draw out obvious conclusions of logic into a future reference point and see how it guides us today.

    to continue….
    Or, is it more likely that in a million years scientist will reproduce an earth by known laws and chemical relationships? One way gives us another 15 billion years to create a new human. The methodical design method is more conducive to our current reality in which we are already patterning our research efforts: robots, amputee research, successful body part creation like that done for the bladder, and all other micro, nano, biology, electro-chemical motor responses and neural research. Computer companies look to the nano-world of life to recreate better computers.

    The future points to intelligent creation by our most advanced scientist, not random creation. Put aside the G_d question, look forward in scientific creativity. Do we wait 15 billion years for another random earth? Or will scientist eventually learn to create such environments thru programmatic replications like they do recreate modified life forms today?

    This is the real problem facing Darwinist = the future. Old bones can be interpreted any way you like and the past is frought with each new possible disovery to reverse the tree of life.

    But the future is very cold to failed insight.

    Carlos, I still do not see your point of view clearly with regards to your cake. More precisely, do you want a cake made by a loving Mother, or would you prefer to wait while the universe zaps one into existence by random methods in 15 billion years? Maybe this is a wrong analogy.

    Avocationist asked some interesting questions about your faith and science and I’m curious to see the discussion move forward openly here. Unless, maybe that is uncomfortable. My views are probably more obvious if not still being formed, yet at a more simplistic level without years of scholastic study.

    I am drawn back to the most simple of explanations at time based upon a future probability, the unlikely happening events of past and present, and an acceptance that one may be grafted into the real Tree of Life.

    I am very curious to know if your viewpoints are shaped by past sages and not science alone. I am in more agreement with Avocationist that in an acceptance of G_d, then certain doors open and others close. Though I am uncertain of all the locks and keys.

    Also, I appreciate your response on the post below with regards to abortion and pro-life. I believe David Bergen made the more relevant observation, at least from a Biblical viewpoint. It is the actions of rebellion, not just the physical explanations that must be explored. Otherwise the Instructions for Life are fruitless.

  44. 44
    Charlie says:

    A few interesting scientific insights that resulted from thinking about biological systems in terms of design:
    The concept of nested hierarchies and the classification of living organisms based upon rational patterns.
    Inherited traits and and organism’s evolutionary fit to its environment.
    The concept of natural selection.
    The discovery and the laws of allelic inheritance.
    Irreducible complexity.
    The refutation of spontaneous generation of life.

    All of science, of course, presumes order and rationality in nature, even while some disingenuously claim to belief in chance.

  45. 45
    Carlos says:

    Avocationist,

    I’ve just been very busy with teaching this week, and I’m trying to figure out the best way of responding to your provocative line of questioning. I’ll definitely respond this weekend, but probably not today.

  46. 46
    Hawks says:

    Joseph,

    “Who would be inspired by sheer-dumb-luck? ”

    I suppose that lots of gamblers – and certainly casino-owners would be. But then evolution isn’t about “sheer-dumb-luck”. Your continued use of this phrase shows your lack of integrity.

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