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Design Disquisitions: Critic’s Corner-Elliott Sober

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Over at Design Disquisitions I have a new ‘Critic’s Corner’ post. This one focusses on the work related to ID and evolution by Elliott Sober, a prominent ID critic and philosopher of science. I’ve always seen Sober as a more sophisticated critic of ID. This will be a handy resource for finding pretty much everything that has been published in response to Sober’s attack on ID:

 

Critic’s Corner: Elliott Sober

 

 

8 Replies to “Design Disquisitions: Critic’s Corner-Elliott Sober

  1. 1

    You are compiling quite an interesting and comprehensive spot on the web, Joshua. Nicely done.

  2. 2
    Eric Anderson says:

    Joshua, this looks like a good resource.

    As you note, “Sober’s output is pretty vast.”

    In brief summary, what you would say are the one or two primary arguments he has advanced against ID?

  3. 3
    Eric Anderson says:

    You also mentioned:

    “To my mind he is a very thoughtful critic, whose responses to ID present quite a strong challenge.”

    Are his critiques any better than the “two good arguments against ID” put forward by Jeffrey Koperski? 🙂

  4. 4
    Joshua G says:

    Thanks. I would say his arguments are a little stronger than Koperski’s. He’s just generally more careful with the points he makes (probably due to his expertise in philosophy). Even so, his arguments can be easily dispensed with.

    One of his main lines of argument is that if one subscribes to likelihoodism as a method of inferences (which Sober argues is the correct approach), intelligent design is rendered impotent as a predictive and explanatory hypothesis because we are left in the dark about the designer’s goals and abilities. ID refuses to make speculations about the designer for fear of bringing in theological commitments and so we cannot posit any auxiliary hypotheses to give ID the substance it needs as a scientific theory. Essentially, we need independent evidence of the designer’s motives and abilities if we are to know what we would expect, had a designer acted in history. There’s a lot more to it then that, but that’s his basic gist, according to my reading of him.

  5. 5
    Eric Anderson says:

    That’s it? That’s his argument?

    Essentially, we need independent evidence of the designer’s motives and abilities if we are to know what we would expect, had a designer acted in history.

    Which of course implies that we need independent evidence of the designer in the first place — in order to ascertain said designer’s motives and abilities.

    Let’s see. So Sober is arguing that we must first know there is a designer in order to later infer that there is a designer. And we must first know the motives and abilities of the designer in order to later infer the motives and abilities of the designer.

    He needs to work on his logic a bit.

    Also, it sounds like he would benefit from learning more about anthropology and archaeology. Then he would realize his approach is exactly backwards from how it works in the real world.

    —–

    There’s a lot more to it then that . . .

    I sure hope so. Because that is a terrible argument. It doesn’t make sense logically, and it is precisely backwards of how we infer design on a regular basis outside of biology.

  6. 6
    Eric Anderson says:

    BTW, this was essentially Elizabeth Liddle’s argument — we have to have independent evidence about the designer before we can infer design — which I discussed at some length in a prior OP. I don’t know if she got it from Sober or elsewhere . . .

  7. 7
    Joshua G says:

    Yes it’s quite a common argument these days. Others like Wesley Elsberry and Robert Pennock have used it too. It basically goes back to the Humean inductive tradition, one we can only refer to things from our past experiences.

    The argument is more aimed at ID’s alleged lack of predictiveness, so it’s not that we need to infer design and then learn about the designer’s motives and abilities. It’s saying that in order to infer design in the first place, and form a hypothesis about design, we need to know what we might expect/predict a designer would do based on prior knowledge of its abilities and motives.

    Still, it’s a weak argument and one that’s been refuted many times by Dembski and others in the literature.

    You can find many of his other objections to ID in this paper:

    https://www.academia.edu/1337011/What_is_wrong_with_intelligent_design

  8. 8
    Eric Anderson says:

    Joshua @7:

    Thanks for the additional thoughts and the link.

    Still, it’s a weak argument . . .

    It is not just a weak argument in the sense that the argument is sound, but could be stronger.

    It is a stupid argument.

    It is a flat-out, on-its-face, demonstrably-wrong argument.

    It is precisely backwards from how design is inferred on a regular basis in the real world.

    Sounds like we’re dealing with academics who have twisted themselves into logical knots in support of a philosophical position.

    Maybe it’s high time for them to step out of the ivory tower and actually get into the field to do some real investigative work . . .

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