Darwinism Evolution Intelligent Design

Open Letter to George Will (Long Overdue)

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[In July, George Will, a columnist I enjoy and find insightful on so many topics, weighed in on ID — go here. I’ve been meaning to respond to his remarks on ID for some time now.]

Dear Mr. Will:

In the July 4th, 2005 issue of Newsweek, you offered the following criticism of intelligent design (ID):

>Today’s proponents of “intelligent design” theory are
>doing nothing novel when they say the complexity of
>nature is more plausibly explained by postulating a
>designing mind—a.k.a. God—than by natural adapta-
>tion and selection…. The problem with intelligent-
>design theory is not that it is false but that it is not
>falsifiable: Not being susceptible to contradicting
>evidence, it is not a testable hypothesis. Hence it is
>not a scientific but a creedal tenet—a matter of faith,
>unsuited to a public school’s science curriculum.

As for intelligent design bringing nothing new to the discussion of complexity in nature, this claim is difficult to sustain. Darwin, in his Origin of Species, wrote, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” ID, in arguing for design on the basis of complexity, takes up Darwin’s gauntlet. But it does so by looking to novel results from molecular biology and novel methods for assessing the complexity and design characteristics of such systems.

My own book with Cambridge University Press (1998) titled The Design Inference is a case in point. Ask yourself why Cambridge would publish this book if indeed there was nothing new in it. Or consider, why would scholars such as William Wimsatt or Jon Jarrett, neither of whom are ID advocates, offer the following duskjacket endorsements (endorsements for which they have endured considerable heat from Darwinists):

>Dembski has written a sparklingly original book.
>Not since David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning
>Natural Religion has someone taken such a close
>look at the design argument, but it is done now in
>a much broader post-Darwinian context. Now we
>proceed with modern characterizations of proba-
>bility and complexity, and the results bear funda-
>mentally on notions of randomness and on
>strategies for dealing with the explanation of radically
>improbable events. We almost forget that design
>arguments are implicit in criminal arguments
>”beyond a reasonable doubt,” plagiarism, phylogenetic
>inference, cryptography, and a host of other modern
>contexts. Dembski’s analysis of randomness is the most
>sophisticated to be found in the literature, and his
>discussions are an important contribution to the theory
>of explanation, and a timely discussion of a neglected
>and unanticipatedly important topic.
>–William Wimsatt, University of Chicago

>In my view, Dembski has given us a brilliant study of
>the precise connections linking chance, probability,
>and design. A lucidly written work of striking insight
>and originality, The Design Inference provides significant
>progress concerning notoriously difficult questions. I
>expect this to be one of those rare books that genuinely
>transforms its subject.
>–Jon P. Jarrett, University of Illinois at Chicago

Your deeper concern is that intelligent design is not science because it is not testable. If ID were not testable, you would have a point. But the fact is that ID is eminently testable, a fact that is easy to see.

To test ID, it is enough to show how systems that ID claims lie beyond the reach of Darwinian and other evolutionary mechanisms are in fact attainable via such mechanisms. For instance, ID proponents have offered arguments for why non-teleological evolutionary mechanisms should be unable to produce systems like the bacterial flagellum (see chapter 5 of my book No Free Lunch [Rowman & Littlefield, 2002] and Michael Behe’s essay in my co-edited collection titled Debating Design [Cambridge, 2004]). Moreover, critics of ID have tacitly assumed this burden of proof — see Ken Miller’s book Finding Darwin’s God (Harper, 1999) or Ian Musgrave’s failed attempt to provide a plausible evolutionary story for the bacterial flagellum in Why Intelligent Design Fails (Rutgers, 2004).

Intelligent design and evolutionary theory are either both testable or both untestable. Parity of reasoning requires that the testability of one entails the testability of the other. Evolutionary theory claims that certain material mechanisms are able to propel the evolutionary process, gradually transforming organisms with one set of characteristics into another (for instance, transforming bacteria without a flagellum into bacteria with one). Intelligent design, by contrast, claims that intelligence needs to supplement material mechanisms if they are to bring about organisms with certain complex features. Accordingly, testing the adequacy or inadequacy of evolutionary mechanisms constitutes a joint test of both evolutionary theory and intelligent design.

Unhappy with thus allowing ID on the playing field of science, evolutionary theorist now typically try the following gambit: Intelligent design, they say, constitutes an argument from ignorance or god-of-the-gaps, in which gaps in the evolutionary story are plugged by invoking intelligence. But if intelligent design by definition constitutes such a god-of-the-gaps, then evolutionary theory in turn becomes untestable, for in that case no failures in evolutionary explanation or positive evidence for ID could ever overturn evolutionary theory.

I cited earlier Darwin’s well-known statement, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” Immediately after this statement Darwin added, “But I can find out no such case.” Darwin so much as admits here that his theory is immune to disconfirmation. Indeed, how could any contravening evidence ever be found if the burden of proof on the evolution critic is to rule out all conceivable evolutionary pathways — pathways that are left completely unspecified.

In consequence, Darwin’s own criterion for defeating his theory is impossible to meet and effectively shields his theory from disconfirmation. Unless ID is admitted onto the scientific playing field, mechanistic theories of evolution win the day in the absence of evidence, making them a priori, untestable principles rather than inferences from scientific evidence.

Bottom line: For a claim to ascertainably true it must be possible for it to be ascertainably false. The fate of ID and evolutionary theory, whether as science or non-science, are thus inextricably bound. No surprise therefore that Darwin’s Origin of Species requires ID as a foil throughout.

Sincerely,
Bill Dembski

39 Replies to “Open Letter to George Will (Long Overdue)

  1. 1
    Aris says:

    Hmm… I posted the comment below earlier, but it apparently disappeared — was it a chance event or perhaps by design? Well, no matter. Here’s my open question for Professor Dembski, as well as and anyone else who maintains that ID is a scientific theory, posted once again:

    First, so that all of us can be on the same page, here’s my modest evaluation of the necessary conditions that have to be present before an idea can be reasonably termed a scientific theory:

    1. Scientific theories are basically descriptions of mechanisms that can explain phenomena.

    2. A mechanism is not merely as assertion, but a detailed how-to explanation — not unlike a manual, or a recipe; it’s how something works, not just a statement about its origins.

    3. The phenomenon the Theory of Evolution addresses is the infinite diversity of life on Earth, and the mechanism it proposes as an explanation is Natural Selection.

    4. As a scientific theory, the Theory of Evolution is either valid or invalid. Validity simply means that the theory is accepted as the prevailing explanation of a phenomenon, until a new theory that does a better job of explaining the same phenomenon comes along. A theory is not a “fact” and it’s not “true” or “untrue” — theories are accepted by scientists provisionally, and nothing is embraced as transcendentally true.

    5. Criticizing a theory is not a new theory. Scientists criticize prevailing theories all the time because, you know, that’s exactly how science works. These criticisms, when legitimate, allow fine tuning of the mechanism a theory describes, and every so often a theory is discredited and discarded for a new, better theory.

    6. While a new theory will obviously be built on criticisms of the prevailing theory, it also has to — absolutely has to — contain a description of a new mechanism that provides a more economical, consistent, heuristic, etc., explanation of a particular phenomenon.

    7. If ID is a legitimate scientific theory, then it should be more than an assertion about the origins of life plus a list of criticisms of the Theory of Evolution: Just stating that an intelligent entity was involved in creating life is an assertion, not a description of a mechanism; and even if every single criticism of the Theory of Evolution by ID proponents is credible, ID still has to propose an alternative mechanism that can explain the diversity of life on Earth.

    Professor Dembski has written books and stuff on the subject. Surely, he can answer my question: What exactly is the mechanism proposed by ID to explain the diversity of life on planet Earth?

    [Have a look at my book The Design Revolution, the chapter titled “Mechanism.” –WmAD]

  2. 2
    Ariston says:

    Dembski: “To test ID, it is enough to show how systems that ID claims lie beyond the reach of Darwinian and other evolutionary mechanisms are in fact attainable via such mechanisms.”

    This statement can be simplified as “Not evolutionary mechanisms, therefore intelligent design.” As such, it is the second premise is the destructive syllogism “Either evolutionary mechanisms or intelligent design, not evolutionary mechanisms, therefore intelligent design.”

    How is the first premise, “Either evolutionary mechanisms or intelligent design,” to be established? It seems that the open-ended disjunction “Either evolutionary mechanisms or intelligent design or …” is all that one can assert. But the moment other (unknown) possibilities are admitted, the disjunction loses its logical force.

  3. 3
    Qualiatative says:

    Ariston,

    I definitely see your point. However, I think you misinterpreted Dr. Dembski’s.

    ID lives or dies based upon empirical evidences. (The discovery institute and many other scientists obviously believe the data does back ID.)

    On the other hand, mainstream scientists see no reason of invoking a designer if blind forces suffice (regardless of the data’s support for ID as an alternative).

    By the very nature of inductive (postdictive) theories, we cannot have solid “proof” either way; and as scientists we must always leave the door open to “new and better” theories. At the end of the day we must make the most logical inference supported by the evidence.

    If blind physico-chemical interactions cannot account for complexity, we must rely on the only known mechanism for constructing such complexity: intelligence. Thus, the argument now concerns my first point about empirical evidence.

  4. 4
    mechanicalbirds says:

    Ariston: “How is the first premise, “Either evolutionary mechanisms or intelligent design,” to be established? It seems that the open-ended disjunction “Either evolutionary mechanisms or intelligent design or …” is all that one can assert. But the moment other (unknown) possibilities are admitted, the disjunction loses its logical force.”

    It seems to me that the only two logical choices available to us are some sort of materialistic explanation ( i.e., Darwinism or else a variation of Darwinism) and a teleological explanation (i.e., that apposed by Judeo/Christian/Islamic religions).

    Not only am I unable to think of any alternatives, I am unable to logically conceive of any third explanation possibly emerging. Either life arose by mechanical processes, or else by design. Either by matter or by mind.

    Unless you can provide another possible explanation, or justification for believing a third explanation is possible, it seems the premise “Either evolutionary mechanisms or intelligent design” is an acceptable one.

  5. 5
    Ariston says:

    That should be “disjunctive syllogism,” of course.

  6. 6
    Ariston says:

    MechanicalBirds: “Either life arose by mechanical processes, or else by design.”

    Indeed, but evolution (Darwinian or otherwise) does not exhaust logically possible mechanical processes. Therefore, “mechanical processes” is not equivalent to “evolutionary processes.”

  7. 7
    johnnyb says:

    Ariston:

    “Indeed, but evolution (Darwinian or otherwise) does not exhaust logically possible mechanical processes.”

    Does it not? If life arises from non-life, whether because it is commonplace or because it is rare, is that not the birth of evolution?

    If there is change from one generation to another, is not that evolution, no matter how great or small?

    If there is diversity, then that means the diverse forms either arose from non-matter, or arose from previous forms. Each of these is “evolution”, no matter what the mechanism.

    Intelligent Design differs because it adds agency to the mix. If you can find other types of causes besides chance, material laws, and agency, THEN you could add in something else to the mix. But evolution simply means “diversity by material causes”, and Intelligent Design means “diversity by material and non-material causes”. The only remaining theories would be “stasis”, which no one at all believes — even the dumbest person recognizes that offspring look different than their parents.

  8. 8
    Ariston says:

    JohnnyB: “But evolution simply means ‘diversity by material causes’…”

    That’s not how I use the term. “Evolution” has a number of related meanings, but in this context I take it to mean “common ancestry” (though not necessarily from a single common ancestor). Thus, an “evolutionary mechanism” is a mechanism that leads through a series of related generations from single-celled organisms to elephants.

    If you let your imagination roam, other possibilities come to mind. And if the measure is logical possibility, there is an arbitrarily large number of alternative possibilities.

    One that has entered my imagination is the following: on a particular interpretation of quantum mechanics, every quantum possibility is realized in some parallel universe. The random assembly of particles into complex organisms is such a possibility. Therefore, there exists a universe in which particles are randomly assembled into complex organisms (and it may as well be this universe).

    The low probability of the random assembly of particles into a complex organisms is overcome by the potentially infinite number of parallel universes.

    Here, then, is a logical possibility that does not involve “evolution” as that term is usually understood.

  9. 9
    crandaddy says:

    Ariston, either intelligence played a role in a phenomenon, or it didn’t. If it did, that constitutes intelligent design; If it didn’t, that constitutes a nonteleological mechanism. The only nonteleological mechanism I can think of that could, at least in theory, produce life is some sort of evolutionary mechanism. If you can think of another, I’d like to read it.

    David

  10. 10
    crandaddy says:

    Ariston, you posted your response three minutes before mine went up, so I couldn’t read it. The explanation you give for your third possibility may be logically possible, but the actual chance of it happening is essentially nil. That still leaves ID and evolutionary mechanisms as the only two PLAUSIBLE explanations.

    David

  11. 11
    Ariston says:

    CranDaddy: “…but the actual chance of it happening is essentially nil….”

    In a single universe, it is essentially nil. But in a potentially infinite number of parallel universes, it is considerably more probable. And if every possibility is actual in at least one parallel universe (as the aforementioned interpretation of quantum mechanics prescribes), it is necessary.

    Think of the difference in odds between a single person flipping a coin and it landing on heads ten times in a row, and one out of 1 million coin flippers accomplishing the same result.

  12. 12
    Qualiatative says:

    Ariston,

    “But in a potentially infinite number of parallel universes, it is considerably more probable.”

    In my opinion, appealing to *infinite universes* is a form of untestable mysticism.

    P.S. If you espouse the Many Worlds interpretation of QM (rather than the Copenhagen interpretation) then you are at odds with the scientific mainstream. 😉

  13. 13
    Charlie says:

    I’ll admit to not thinking this through, but among infinite parallel universes, where every possible universe is actual, isn’t one of those possibilities a universe with intelligently-designed life?

  14. 14
    nostrowski says:

    There’s also one where I’m an astronaut, a big league ball player, AND Sonny Bono.

  15. 15
    Lurker says:

    “In my opinion, appealing to *infinite universes* is a form of untestable mysticism.”

    I agree. The sum total of all these universes would also take up an infinite amount of space while each universe would be infinity small in size. Last time I checked an actual physical infinite *anything* has not been discovered. Physical infinites exist in math models only as far as I’m concerned.

  16. 16
    dave says:

    Ariston: (son of Glaucon?) “In a single universe, it is essentially nil. But in a potentially infinite number of parallel universes, it is considerably more probable.”

    Ariston, are you actually proposing that you can put probability boundaries on such vague notions as the volume of possibility within one universe vs. that of a “potentially infinite” (whatever that means) number of universes. “Nil” vs. “Considerably more probable”? Please show your work here.

    Ariston: “How is the first premise, “Either evolutionary mechanisms or intelligent design,” to be established?”

    Welcome to the party. Dr. Dembski’s explanatory filter is worked out philosophically and mathematically to a degree of rigor that will give you vertigo. It was the main topic of his dissertation and later his book, The Design Inference, on Cambridge Press. An overview can be found here, go to town: http://www.arn.org/docs/dembski/wd_explfilter.htm

  17. 17
    dave says:

    Sorry…Father of Glaucon, (and Plato) of course…

  18. 18
    dave says:

    Ariston: “Indeed, but evolution (Darwinian or otherwise) does not exhaust logically possible mechanical processes. Therefore, ‘mechanical processes’ is not equivalent to ‘evolutionary processes.'”

    The point of the explanatory filter is not to eliminate “Darwinian” or “Mechanical” processes, but to eliminate “chance” and “law-like probability.” Please read the above article, it will eliminate whole worlds of confusion on this issue.

  19. 19
    JohnLiljegren says:

    Re: Testability, three comments

    George Will wrote: “The problem with intelligent-design theory is not that it is false but that it is not falsifiable: Not being susceptible to contradicting evidence, it is not a testable hypothesis.”

    [1] Question: Is there a difference between testability and falsifiability? Is he mixing up two different notions?

    It seems to me that you can find evidence, and come up with inferences from that evidence, that lead you to conclude that a certain belief about a historical event is false. But that doesn’t mean the event itself [or anyone’s beliefs about it] can be tested. What historical events are testable?

    [2] Also, I had thought that folks reasonably up-to-date on philosophy of science arguments [even non-scientists like me] had long since moved past such erroneous demarcations [I call them fences] as testability, falsifiability, and the like.

    I think the short response to George Will is, “George, you are about 10 years behind in your reading. Get caught up, and when you have convinced Martin Eger, Larry Laudan and Philip Quinn that something that is not testable is not science, then you can come back and sit at the grown-ups table.” Am I being too hard on George?

    [3] For those who want to throw testability back at anti-ID-ers, consider the theory that Glacial Lake Missoula floods caused the eastern Washington scablands and dry coulees. The Harlan Bretz theory, and 40 years of mainstream science scoffing at it, provide a great parallel to what is going on with ID.

    Anyway, ask folks how one would go about testing the Glacial Lake Missoula floods. If they cannot be tested, does that mean that what geologists do in this case is not science?

  20. 20
    josephus63 says:

    Where I have difficulty in appreciating Dr. Dembski’s Explanatory Filter, as a reliable and rigorous mathematical instrument for infering design, is in the stage of the filter when you are supposed to decide whether an event is specified. This is a subjective process; differing interpretations as to what counts as specified and what doesn’t are inevitable, and since the filter is supposed to reliably infer design, it ought to be described, I think, in a way that can be objectively understood so that there are no possibilities for applying it inconsistently.

    I guess it takes intelligence to infer intelligence, otherwise it would be possible to construct a univeral Turing machine (and Kurt Gödel’s theorem would have been proven wrong).

    But, really, am I missing something about the explanatory filter which makes its intended application more objectively realizable than I’ve indicated above?

  21. 21
    dave says:

    “But, really, am I missing something about the explanatory filter which makes its intended application more objectively realizable than I’ve indicated above?”

    Probably nothing that couldn’t be cleared up with a quick read of Intelligent Design, or if you’re a little more ambitious, The Design Inference. All these issues get addressed.

  22. 22
    Derek says:

    Here’s the real problem for the ‘teach the controversy’ line. If George Will, an intelligent, educated, intellectually honest layman fails to understand ID and its relation to evolution, how can you expect middle and high school students to become sufficiently expert in such matters in the course of a few semesters of biology to engage in a serious debate about the relative scientific merits of both theories?

  23. 23
    Srdjan says:

    Derek, I have to question his openness and willingness to understand ID. He could apply his criticism of Darwinism on the same basis as he did criticize ID. But does he do that? No. I would submit that he fails to understand ID hypothesis because of his metaphysical assumptions and not because of his lack of intelligence or honesty.

  24. 24
    jasonng says:

    “Here’s the real problem for the ‘teach the controversy’ line. If George Will, an intelligent, educated, intellectually honest layman fails to understand ID and its relation to evolution, how can you expect middle and high school students to become sufficiently expert in such matters in the course of a few semesters of biology to engage in a serious debate about the relative scientific merits of both theories?”

    The basic arguments that ID makes against naturalism are quite simple, first you would talk about evidence against Darwinian evolution (e.g. the Cambrian Explosion). Then you would talk about positive evidence for design such as the bacterial flagellum (any student can understand a simplified diagram) and specified complexity (just let them compare a random list of numbers and a list of prime numbers).

    I don’t understand how a typical student couldn’t be able to understand ideas as simple as these.

  25. 25
    DaveScot says:

    “on a particular interpretation of quantum mechanics, every quantum possibility is realized in some parallel universe”

    The many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics doesn’t pass the giggle test.

  26. 26
    DaveScot says:

    Dembski: “To test ID, it is enough to show how systems that ID claims lie beyond the reach of Darwinian and other evolutionary mechanisms are in fact attainable via such mechanisms.”

    This statement can be simplified as “Not evolutionary mechanisms, therefore intelligent design.”

    I fail to see how that simplification can be justified.

    Dembski clearly proposes a method of falsification for ID which is to show that the system claimed to be designed can be assembled without intelligent agency.

  27. 27
    DaveScot says:

    re subjectivity in specification

    It might help to equate the three stage explanatory filter (law, probability, specification) with the courtroom concepts of opportunity, means, and motive (in that order).

    Specification equates to motive. Motive presumes a goal. One must presume that life has a goal and that goal is reproduction. Everything living reproduces. Thus an objective measure of specification is whether or not success at reproduction is elevated or retarded by any particular thing held up to scrutiny. Natural selection is an embodiment of this concept. It think it should be difficult to argue that natural selection is a subjective process. Natural selection is a post-process specifier. It is a motive force. While it might be argued whether any one thing in toto enhances or retards reproduction it isn’t a subjective argument.

  28. 28
    Derek says:

    “The basic arguments that ID makes against naturalism are quite simple”

    As far as I can tell the evidence against evolution are of the form ‘evolution can’t explain this.’ But for anything you point to in that vein (like the Cambrian explosion), there are evolutionary biologists who have some evolutionary account to explain it. Sometimes they have conflicting accounts, and some of these have more evidence for them than others (this off course changes as more predictions are made, more data is gathered, and other accounts are introducted).

    But no middle and high school biology class has time to give all these theories a complete read read through for every problem area. For students to fairly evaluate claims like ‘evolution can’t explain this’ they would need to know all the best attempts in evolution to explain it. But to do that they’d need all the training that experts in the field have.

    “I would submit that he fails to understand ID hypothesis because of his metaphysical assumptions”

    Assuming that ID is a scientific theory, most of its political proponents don’t understand it either, and this is certainly because of their methaphysical assumptions. (See the linked transcript of the Larry King interview for example, or the many outspoken proponents of ID who faily to meaningfully distinguish it from creationsim). That means that if we ‘teach the controversy’, for most people it’s going to come down to their metaphysical assumptions, and that’s what we’ll be teaching in science classes.

  29. 29
    Ariston says:

    The bit about quantum possibilities and parallel universes was merely to illustrate that there are other logical possibilities.

    Dave: “Sorry…Father of Glaucon, (and Plato) of course…”

    Correct. Incidentally, it’s also Greek for ‘the best’.

    Dave: “Welcome to the party. Dr. Dembski’s explanatory filter is worked out philosophically and mathematically to a degree of rigor that will give you vertigo.”

    I am familiar with Dembski’s EF. The problem, as I see it, is calculating probabilities for unknown (but logically possible) possibilities. In order for the EF to eliminate all chance and necessary processes, all such processes would have to be known.

    DaveScot: “Dembski clearly proposes a method of falsification for ID which is to show that the system claimed to be designed can be assembled without intelligent agency.”

    If showing that “systems that ID claims lie beyond the reach of … evolutionary mechanisms are in fact attainable via such mechanisms” would falsify ID, then showing that they are NOT attainable by such mechanisms would (allegedly) confirm ID. Thus, “not evolutionary mechanisms, therefore ID.” The argument is unsound either way, i.e., as a means of falsification or confirmation.

  30. 30
    jimbo says:

    Derek –

    What’s wring with that? The fact is, it is a metaphysical dispute. Dispite the bloviating, the Darwinists have no actually proof for their assumputions about the creative power of RM/NS – only a materialist assumption. Why not teach the data, then show how different people with different metaphysical assumptions can interpret it differently?

  31. 31
    Derek says:

    What’s wrong with it is that metaphysical disputes have no place in the science classroom. I’m all for teaching arguments from Paley, Hume, and others in schools, but not in biology classrooms.
    (See here for some interesting information about philosophy in primary and secondary education http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/children/ )

    The materialist assumption can be both metaphysical and methodological. Metaphysical materialism absolutely belongs in the philosophy classroom, not the science classroom. But methodological materialism is the cornerstone of empirical science.

  32. 32
    jasonng says:

    “But no middle and high school biology class has time to give all these theories a complete read read through for every problem area. For students to fairly evaluate claims like ‘evolution can’t explain this’ they would need to know all the best attempts in evolution to explain it. But to do that they’d need all the training that experts in the field have.”

    The problem with not mentioning things like the Cambrian Explosion is that it gives students the picture that Darwinism is about as flawless as a theory can get (e.g. gravity). Oh wait… maybe that’s what they want them to think… All you have to do is mention an argument made of ID theorists about why the Cambrian Explosion is problematic for Darwinian evolution and a scenario proposed by Darwinists to explain that. I’m sure students will be more interested in hearing about a debate that they can look into themselves instead of being force-fed one side of the story.

    Darwinist educators seem interested in protecting the classroom from dissent. However the recent coverage of ID in the media, although not always accurate, has revealed that there is significant dissent. Efforts to desperately prop up the crumbling Darwinian monopoly will inevitably fail as ID continues to gain coverage and support, now that the general population has been exposed to it.

    “What’s wrong with it is that metaphysical disputes have no place in the science classroom. I’m all for teaching arguments from Paley, Hume, and others in schools, but not in biology classrooms.”

    Yes, the biology classroom must remain completely materialist, inadvertently portraying the myth that religion and science are in conflict.

  33. 33
    Derek says:

    Yes, let’s ignore the difference between materialism as a metaphysic and materialism as though that wasn’t part of the quote you’re responding to. The assumption of empirical science is that the only things we can come to know about that way are the material, natural facts of the universe. Whether there are additional things to know, and whether they can be known in other ways a a completely separate matter.

    Refusing to do metaphysics in the science classroom no more shows that religion and science are in the conflict than refusing to to teach Shakespeare in science class shows that religion and Shakespeare.

    If this is all about debate and teaching conflicting views in the science classroom, why aren’t ID advocates speaking in favor of teaching the conflicts between relativity and quantum theory in physics? If you’re worried about students getting force fed false theories, why don’t you object to the teaching of Newtonian mechanics?

    There are conflicts throughout science, and students should not be taught that there are not. But to asks students to become a party to such controversies before they’ve gotten a basic grasp of the field is to tell them they can run before learning to crawl.

  34. 34
    dave says:

    “I am familiar with Dembski’s EF. The problem, as I see it, is calculating probabilities for unknown (but logically possible) possibilities. In order for the EF to eliminate all chance and necessary processes, all such processes would have to be known.”

    This sets the bar extravagantly high, and ignores the fact that we use this kind of eliminative reasoning all the time. Where would the legal or insurance professions be if they had to make their cases against a backdrop of radical doubt rather than reasonable doubt? Futhermore, this idea — an infinity of possibilities — is itself too loose and undefined to be useful as a critique of ID. You’re elevating the the criteria to David Hume proportions, and doing away with all inductive reasoning whatsoever. If you want apply the same epistemic criteria to *all* reasoning, go ahead and live with the solipsism. Dembski’s filter is just a way of putting some rigor to a mode of reasoning that everyone uses intuitively. To place these kinds of demands on it looks like special pleading.

  35. 35
    Derek says:

    Let me humbly offer myself as a bit of evidence against intelligent design. Looking back over my recent posts, I’m absolutely astonished at the number of spelling errors, typos, and missing words.
    Clearly, if my typing-as-I-think abilities are the result of design, the designer needs to be fired.

  36. 36
    dave says:

    “Looking back over my recent posts, I’m absolutely astonished at the number of spelling errors, typos, and missing words.”

    And yet somehow we all recognized the patterns of language that you intended, and didn’t mistake you for a bug in some Cisco router hiccupping random ascii bytes out into the blogosphere…

  37. 37
    dave says:

    And we didn’t have to eliminate all logically possible chance and natural processes to do it.

  38. 38
    jasonng says:

    “Yes, let’s ignore the difference between materialism as a metaphysic and materialism as though that wasn’t part of the quote you’re responding to. The assumption of empirical science is that the only things we can come to know about that way are the material, natural facts of the universe. Whether there are additional things to know, and whether they can be known in other ways a a completely separate matter.”

    I agree that we can only observe material aspects of the universe through science, however design detection belongs in that realm. We cannot find information about what the designer is like, only whether or not something is designed. You can do it in archaeology, just apply the same criteria to biology, it’s quite straightforward in my opinion.

    “If this is all about debate and teaching conflicting views in the science classroom, why aren’t ID advocates speaking in favor of teaching the conflicts between relativity and quantum theory in physics? If you’re worried about students getting force fed false theories, why don’t you object to the teaching of Newtonian mechanics?”

    That’s because students are taught all three in physics classes, and where scientists think they apply in the field of physics. At least they’re given an introduction whereas Darwinian evolution is claimed (quite strongly) as the only possible theory any decent scientist would subscribe to.

    “There are conflicts throughout science, and students should not be taught that there are not. But to asks students to become a party to such controversies before they’ve gotten a basic grasp of the field is to tell them they can run before learning to crawl.”

    Last time I checked, I was taught that there is no controversy over evolution, lots of Darwinists have stressed that. On the other hand there’s Darwinists like you say there is a controversy however you try to downplay its significance. We’re not talking about little internal disputes here, we’re talking about a completely new theory that threatens to delegate Darwinian mechanisms to a much more modest position, something more than a few people aren’t interested in seeing happening.

    “Let me humbly offer myself as a bit of evidence against intelligent design. Looking back over my recent posts, I’m absolutely astonished at the number of spelling errors, typos, and missing words.
    Clearly, if my typing-as-I-think abilities are the result of design, the designer needs to be fired.”

    I’m sorry but you’re the one injecting philosophical arguments into this debate. ID does not claim the designer is perfect (or creates perfect creations); it cannot because we cannot identify the designer, only the design.

    “And yet somehow we all recognized the patterns of language that you intended, and didn’t mistake you for a bug in some Cisco router hiccupping random ascii bytes out into the blogosphere… And we didn’t have to eliminate all logically possible chance and natural processes to do it.”

    Good point dave. Derek, what if I found the words you typed inscribed on a rock in the middle of the desert? Would I conclude that some natural process managed to carve those words (regardless of typos) or would I, as any sensible person would, conclude that an intelligence carved those words? Hmm… tough choice.

  39. 39
    dave says:

    “The materialist assumption can be both metaphysical and methodological. Metaphysical materialism absolutely belongs in the philosophy classroom, not the science classroom. But methodological materialism is the cornerstone of empirical science.”

    This distinction between “methodological” and “philosophical” naturalism gets flimsier every time I hear it advanced. As I understand it, “methodological” naturalism is an ad hoc boundary set up only as a guide to force scientists into naturalistic explanations. But this boundary is, after all, ad hoc, and really has no strong reason to protest if a theory like ID can justify its conclusions on strong philosophical grounds. Ad hoc boundaries cannot trump solid philosophy, simply because, as Stephen Gould Castanza might yell: “Magesteria are colliding!!”

    Unless, of course, the “methodological” naturalism is really a cover for a de facto *philosophical* naturalism. It’s like these science puritans who never read Popper in their lives, who come out of the woodwork screaming “not falsifible!!!” at ID, while string theory and infinite universe theories get a free ride, peer reviewed, etc. It’s just another example of the Darwinian establishment’s “selective positivism.”

    “Methological” naturalism is well and good as long as it knows its place, and understands what it is: a provisional boundary set up for the sake of convenience. But when push comes to shove it cannot be invoked as a guard against solidly argued philosophy, unless it can defend itself on philosophical grounds, at which point it is no longer ad hoc, provisional or “methodological.” As Dennett says:

    “But there is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.” — Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, p. 21

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