Intelligent Design

Alvin Plantinga on Judge Jones’s Decision

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Whether ID is science isn’t semantics
Judge John Jones gave two arguments for his conclusion that ID is not science. Both are unsound, says Alvin Plantinga
By Alvin Plantinga
(March 7, 2006)

Judge John Jones’ 139-page opinion in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District raises questions that go far beyond the legalities of this specific case. I won’t offer an opinion on whether the judge’s decision is correct — although apparently he’s never met an objection to intelligent design he doesn’t like and some of his “findings” seem vastly more sweeping than is appropriate.

First, a general question: What sorts of issues can a judge decide just by fiat?

Jones rules, among other things, that:

* ID is just warmed-over creation science
* ID tries to change the very definition of science
* The scientific community has refuted the criticisms of evolution brought by the IDers
* ID involves a kind of dualism and that this dualism is doomed.

But how can one hope to settle these matters just by a judicial declaration?

Consider, for example, the claim that ID is just creation science in drag, as it were. That ruling is relevant in that previous court decisions have gone against creation science. But the kind of creation science those decisions had gone against is characterized by the claim that the world is a mere 6,000 to 100,000 years old, rather than the currently favored age of 4 billion or so years old.

Second, those creationists reject evolution in favor of the idea that the major kinds of plants and animals were created in pretty much their present form. ID, as such, doesn’t involve either of these two things. What it does involve, as you might guess, is that many biological phenomena are intelligently designed — indicated by their “specifiable complexity” or “irreducible complexity” — and that one can come to see this by virtue of scientific investigation.

Indeed, Michael Behe, a paradigmatic IDer and the star witness for the defense, has repeatedly said that he accepts evolution. What he and his colleagues reject is not evolution as such. What they reject is unguided evolution. They reject the idea that life in all its various forms has come to be by way of the mechanisms favored by contemporary evolutionary theory — unguided, unorchestrated and undirected by God or any other intelligent being.

Anyway, isn’t this question — whether ID is just rewarmed creation science — a question for philosophical or logical analysis? Can one settle a question of that sort by a judicial ruling? Isn’t that like legislating that the value of pi is 1/3 rather than that inconvenient and hard to remember 3.14?

And consider that presumably the judge means the scientific community has successfully refuted the criticism of unguided evolution brought by the IDers. Otherwise, what he says wouldn’t be relevant. But again, is that the sort of thing a judge can legislate? A judge can declare until he’s blue in the face that an objection has been successfully refuted. Couldn’t it still be perfectly cogent? But this is not the place for that interesting question. Instead, let’s examine the judge’s reasoning in support of his decision. Here is part of his ruling:

“After a searching review of the record and applicable case law, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.” (p. 64)

The judge gives at least two arguments for his conclusion that ID is not science. Both are unsound.

First, he said that ID is not science by virtue of its “invoking and permitting supernatural causation.” Second, and connected with the first, he said that ID isn’t science because the claims IDers make are not testable — that is verifiable or falsifiable. The connection between the two is the assertion, on the part of the judge and many others, that propositions about supernatural beings — that life has been designed by a supernatural being — are not verifiable or falsifiable.

Let’s take a look at this claim. Of course it has proven monumentally difficult to give a decent definition or analysis of verification or falsification. Here the harrowing vicissitudes of attempts in the 50s and 60s to give a precise statement of the verifiability criterion are instructive. But taking these notions in a rough-and-ready way we can easily see that propositions about supernatural beings not being verifiable or falsifiable isn’t true at all.

For example, the statement “God has designed 800-pound rabbits that live in Cleveland” is clearly testable, clearly falsifiable and indeed clearly false. Testability can’t be taken as a criterion for distinguishing scientific from nonscientific statements. That is because in the typical case individual statements are not verifiable or falsifiable.

As another example, the statement “There is at least one electron” is surely scientific, but it isn’t by itself verifiable or falsifiable. What is verifiable or falsifiable are whole theories involving electrons. These theories make verifiable or falsifiable predictions, but the sole statement “There is at least one electron” does not. In the same way, whole theories involving intelligent designers also make verifiable or falsifiable predictions, even if the bare statement that life has been intelligently designed does not.

Therefore, this reason for excluding the supernatural from science is clearly a mistake. But, there is the judge’s claim that science excludes reference to the supernatural, independent of concerns about verifiability and falsifiability. Reference to the supernatural just can’t be part of science. This idea is sometimes called “methodological naturalism.” But what is the reason — if any — for accepting methodological naturalism? Apparently, the judge thinks it is just a matter of definition — of the word ”science,” presumably. Here the judge is not alone. Michael Ruse, a philosopher of biology, said in his book Darwinism Defended:

“The Creationists believe that the world started miraculously. But miracles lie outside of science, which by definition deals only with the natural, the repeatable, that which is governed by law.”

Do Ruse and the judge really mean to suggest that the dispute can be settled just by looking up the term “science” in the dictionary? If so, they should think again. Dictionaries do not propose definitions of “science” that imply methodological naturalism. Therefore, it looks as if Jones and those whose advice he followed are advancing their own definition of “science.” But how can that be of any use in an argument or controversy of this sort?

Suppose I claim all Democrats belong in jail. One might ask: Could I advance the discussion by just defining the word “Democrat” to mean “convicted felon”? If you defined “Republican” to mean “unmitigated scoundrel,” should Republicans everywhere hang their heads in shame?

So this definition of “science” the judge appeals to is incorrect as a matter of fact because that is not how the word is ordinarily used. But even if the word “science” were ordinarily used in such a way that its definition included methodological naturalism, that still wouldn’t come close to settling the issue.

The question is whether ID is science. That is not a merely verbal question about how a certain word is ordinarily used. It is, instead, a factual question about a multifarious and many-sided human activity — is the very nature of that activity such as to exclude ID?

Does this important and multifarious human activity by its very nature preclude references to the supernatural? How would anyone argue a thing like that?

Newton was perhaps the greatest of the founders of modern science. His theory of planetary motion is thought to be an early paradigm example of modern science. Yet, according to Newton’s own understanding of his theory, the planetary motions had instabilities that God periodically corrected. Shall we say that Newton wasn’t doing science when he advanced that theory or that the theory really isn’t a scientific theory at all?

That seems a bit narrow.

Many other constraints on science have been proposed. Jacques Monod, the author of Chance and Necessity, says that science precludes any form of teleology. Other proposed constraints are that science can’t involve moral judgments — or value judgments, more generally — and that the aim of science is explanation, whether or not this is in the service of truth.

Additional constraints that have been proposed in various contexts include: Scientific theories must in some sense be empirically verifiable and/or falsifiable; scientific experiments must be replicable; science can study only repeatable events; and science can’t deal with the subjective but only with what is public and sharable.

Some say the aim of science is to discover and state natural laws. Others, equally enthusiastic about science, think there aren’t any natural laws to discover. According to Richard Otte and John Mackie, the aim of science is to propose accounts of how the world goes for the most part, apart from miracles. Others reject the “for the most part” disclaimer. How does one tell which, if any, of these proposed constraints actually do hold for science? And why should we think that methodological naturalism really does constrain science? And what does “science” really mean?

I don’t have the space to give a complete answer — as one says when he doesn’t know a complete answer — but the following seems sensible: The usual dictionary definitions suffice to give us the meaning of the term “science.” They suggest that this term denotes any activity that is:

(a) a systematic and disciplined enterprise aimed at finding out truth about our world, and
(b) has significant empirical involvement. Any activity that meets these vague conditions counts as science.

But what about methodological naturalism and all the rest of those proposed constraints? Perhaps the following is the best way to think about the matter: There are many related enterprises, all scientific in that they satisfy (a) and (b). For each of those proposed constraints, there is an activity falling under (a) and (b), the aim of which is in fact characterized by that constraint. For each or at any rate many of the proposed constraints there is another activity falling under (a) and (b), the aim of which does not fall under that constraint. Further, when people propose that a given constraint pertains to science just as such, to all of science, so to speak, they are ordinarily really endorsing or recommending one or more of the activities the aim of which is characterized by that constraint.

Now how does this work out with methodological naturalism? Well, there are some scientific activities that are indeed constrained by methodological naturalism. The partisans of methodological naturalism are endorsing or promoting those scientific activities and recommending them as superior to scientific activities not so constrained. But of course there are other scientific activities — Newton’s, for example — that are not so constrained.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing science in accord with methodological naturalism? There is a good deal to be said on both sides here. For example, if you exclude the supernatural from science, then if the world or some phenomena within it are supernaturally caused — as most of the world’s people believe — you won’t be able to reach that truth scientifically.

Observing methodological naturalism thus hamstrings science by precluding science from reaching what would be an enormously important truth about the world. It might be that, just as a result of this constraint, even the best science in the long run will wind up with false conclusions.

Alvin Plantinga is a leading philosopher known for his work in epistemology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of religion. He is currently the John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.

Source: http://www.stnews.org/Commentary-2690.htm

8 Replies to “Alvin Plantinga on Judge Jones’s Decision

  1. 1
    egbooth says:

    Alvin Plantinga wrote:
    “They reject the idea that life in all its various forms has come to be by way of the mechanisms favored by contemporary evolutionary theory — unguided, unorchestrated and undirected by God or any other intelligent being.”

    Once again, I’d like to remind everyone that the theory of evolution is neutral on whether evolution is guided or unguided by a supernatural entity. This is not something that science can decide upon. Alvin Plantinga is being extremely misleading here.

  2. 2
    Red Reader says:

    egbooth wrote:
    “….the theory of evolution is neutral on whether evolution is guided or unguided by a supernatural entity….Alvin Plantinga is being extremely misleading here.”

    Sorry, egbooth is being misleading. That or he doesn’t understand the theory he craves. In September 9, 2005, a group of 38 Nobel Laureates signed a letter to urge the Kansas State Board of Education to maintain Darwinian evolution as the sole curriculum and science standard in the State of Kansas. They wrote: “….evolution is understood to be the result of an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection.”

    Neutral it is not.
    If I have to rank the credibility of Dr. Plantinga vs. the credibility of egbooth, I’d say right of the bat, egbooth has zero credibility and Dr. Plantinga has plenty.

  3. 3
    DaveScot says:

    Whether ID is science or not is a red herring when the issue is whether or not there’s been a first amendment establishment of religion violation. It’s not unconstitutional to teach non-science. Everything that’s no science is not automatically religion. The real question is whether or not ID is religion.

  4. 4
    Joseph says:

    EGBooth said:
    Once again, I’d like to remind everyone that the theory of evolution is neutral on whether evolution is guided or unguided by a supernatural entity.

    Then perhaps, as Red Reader pointed out, the debate isn’t with the theory per se, rather it is with the evolutionists who tell us “….evolution is understood to be the result of an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection.” (Thanks Red Reader)

    From Understanding evolution (NCSE linked to that site):

    Mutations are random
    Mutations can be beneficial, neutral, or harmful for the organism, but mutations do not “try” to supply what the organism “needs.” In this respect, mutations are random — whether a particular mutation happens or not is unrelated to how useful that mutation would be.

    Maybe EGBooth will go around to the science classrooms and tell them the NCSE is full of it and that 90%+ of evolutionists do not know what they are talking about.

    I should also remind EGB that ID does not require the supernatural any more than any other scenario does. Therefore what is in question is are the mutations directed or guided by any process, meaning they aren’t (all) random, except in the bitty little minds of those who wish them to be.

  5. 5
    woody says:

    Joseph wrote:
    “I should also remind EGB that ID does not require the supernatural any more than any other scenario does.”

    Could someone please explain to me how ID can include the fine-tuning argument, yet NOT require the supernatural? Are you seriously proposing that our universe was created by a non-supernatural designer?

    ID doesn’t include or preclude supernatural explanations. The physical laws and constants of the universe is fine tuned for carbon based life as we know it. That’s empirical observation. How it got that way isn’t something that ID can answer. ID is about design detection not design methods. -ds

  6. 6

    Plantinga on ID Decision

    William Dempski has a post recording Alvin Plantinga’s thoughts on Judge John Jone’s arguements against Intelligent Design being science. You can read the post here. If you happen to be new to Plantinga the wiki on him is a good…

  7. 7
    Joseph says:

    “I should also remind EGB that ID does not require the supernatural any more than any other scenario does.”

    Woody asks:
    Could someone please explain to me how ID can include the fine-tuning argument, yet NOT require the supernatural?

    Perhaps you can explain to me (in any non-ID scenario) what processes were responsible for the origins of nature seeing that natural processes only exist in nature. IOW natural processes cannot account for the origins of nature so what do YOU propose?

    Woody:
    Are you seriously proposing that our universe was created by a non-supernatural designer?

    I am saying that ID doesn’t care.

    Intelligent Design is the study of patterns in nature that are best explained as the result of intelligence. — William A. Dembski

    Intelligent design begins with a seemingly innocuous question: Can objects, even if nothing is known about how they arose, exhibit features that reliably signal the action of an intelligent cause?— Wm. Dembski

  8. 8
    Joseph says:

    Guillermo Gonzalez tells AP that “Darwinism does not mandate followers to adopt atheism; just as intelligent design doesn’t require a belief in God.”

    He goes on to say:
    ” Perhaps an example from the history of science can help to clarify the relationship between intelligent design and religion. Early in the 20th century, astronomers discovered evidence that the universe is finite in age, contradicting the then common belief that it was eternal. Noting the obvious positive theological implications of this finding, many scientists refused to accept the Big Bang theory, as it came to be called by one of its detractors.”
    “Today, we are in a similar situation with intelligent design, which is not based on religion but can have positive theological implications. Either from ignorance or from willful misrepresentation (I don’t claim to know which), critics such as Hazen continue to confuse the implications of a theory with the theory itself.”

    and some thoughts by MikeGene:
    “As I have explained before, ID does not invoke the supernatural as there is no aspect or attribute of the supernatural that is required to make a design inference.”

    and

    “The common objection to invoking a natural designer to account for life on Earth is that the explanation leaves the origin of the natural designer unexplained. While I can appreciate the appeal of this argument, I continually fail to see how it works to rule out a natural designer.”

    and here is a good one

    “If a “supernatural Designer” did indeed design DNA or a protein machine, then that fact would be a true fact about our world. The “supernatural Designer” would explain the origin of the DNA or protein machine, even if we couldn’t explain the origin of the ‘Designer.” (Of course, the whole issue of “explaining” something may not be as simplistic as people imagine). But Dawkins is telling us we would have to ignore this true fact about our world until we could also explain the origin of the “Designer.” So in the meantime, we would be obligated to incorporate false explanations into the Uber-Story we are trying to tell ourselves.”

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