After another unfortunately lengthy break, we’re at it again. This post is my latest response to Francis Smallwood. Francis is first and foremost, a dear friend, but also a Christian neo-Darwinist. He writes at his blog Musings of Science. This response is part of a long-term (hopefully lifelong), dialogue on many different topics relating to the theory of intelligent design and neo-Darwinism. We are both very excited about continuing this project.
Francis’ previous response can be found here:
Debating Darwin and Design
A dialogue between two Christians
Is Intelligent Design science or ‘creationism in a cheap tuxedo’?
12th September 2013
Joshua Gidney – Third Response
One of the many benefits of taking part in a written dialogue, like this one, is that there are no time constraints. Francis and I have initiated this discussion ourselves, and so we are free to respond when we wish to. Unfortunately this has resulted in an eye-watering one year and eight months between the last instalment, and now. This is an atrocity and I am to blame. Shortly after my guilty conscience overwhelmed me, several glasses of wine, a cup of coffee, and some delightful walnut cake, Francis and I swore to continue our deliberations. Due to both of us having busy lives, it is inevitable that our responses will be infrequent. As I have already stated, this is not an issue (unless you’re impatient!). We are engaging with each other and that is what matters. Besides, I very much like the idea that this discussion could continue in to our old age.
In previous writings we have covered much ground, so before I respond directly to some of the points raised by Francis I would like clarify a couple of things and briefly review some of the ground we have covered. Although it would be somewhat counterproductive to keep going back and forth on the same point, at the same time I don’t wish us to end up with a bunch of loose threads.
The issue at the heart of this part of the debate is not the whether ID is true or not, but whether it is a scientific theory. If not, what is it really? Though we are both very concerned about the veracity (or lack of veracity), of the design hypothesis, we are not focussing on this at the moment. The classification of ID is what is at issue here. We will leave discussion on the merits of ID till another time. If I could successfully show that ID counts as what we would normally call a scientific theory, that would still not serve to show that it is true. It is possible for something to be scientific and false. Equally, if Francis could convincingly show that ID is essentially creationism, motivated by Christian fundamentalists wishing to establish a theocracy, this would in no way show that it is false. If one attempted to argue otherwise, one would be guilty of committing the genetic fallacy. Furthermore, only someone who holds to a scientistic worldview would hold that in order for ID to be considered true, it must fall under the umbrella of science. Neither me nor Francis subscribe to scientism and we both recognise it to be an irrational and entirely discredited philosophy of science. At the end of the day it is ‘Better to be unscientific and true than scientific and false’.1
Thomas Nagel writes: “A purely semantic classification of a hypothesis or its denial as belonging or not to science is of limited interest to someone who wants to know whether the hypothesis is true or false.”1 Arguments over the classification of ID can often just be red herrings, brought up to avoid dealing with the substance of the more important arguments. Some readers have complained that we are wasting time, arguing over an a mere exercise in taxonomy. Does this issue matter? Perhaps we have gone about this discussion the wrong way round, choosing to debate the classification of ID before the merits of ID. I don’t see that it really matters. The ‘Is it science’ issue is, I believe, an important one but we both recognise the latter issue to be of greater importance. Francis and I, like countless others, are truly enamoured by, and study, many of the sciences. We are naturally interested in the question under discussion and we don’t see it merely as an exercise in taxonomy. There is much more to life than science, but science is a huge cultural authority and there are many philosophical, sociological and educational implications that follow scientific theories. ID theorists present the theory as a scientific one and want more scientists, and the public, to view it as such. The scientific classification of ID raises important educational questions about what is included or excluded from the science class. Analytic philosopher Alvin Plantinga notes the importance of the classification of ID pointing out that it 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?’’3
One more thing I wish to note is with regard to the original question under consideration. We are only using the opening question as a catalyst for further discussion. The question ‘Is Intelligent Design science or creationism in a cheap tuxedo?’, presents us with false alternatives. If it isn’t science, that doesn’t automatically mean that it is creationism. It could be a whole host of other things. Perhaps it’s neither creationism nor science? Because creationism isn’t a scientific belief, to show that ID is essentially creationism is to show it to be unscientific. However, to show ID to be unscientific is not to show that it is creationism per se. Unless, of course, some of the reasons given for why it is unscientific are the same reasons given for why it is a brand of creationism.
Francis has claimed that although ID certainly isn’t the same as young earth creationism, it does have a ‘creationistic’ flavour to it. We have both agreed that it is not fair to lump ID with creationism. In his last response, Francis did not provide any more reasons to support his belief that ID and creationism are as close as he thinks. It was not clear to me whether he was giving up on this line of critique, or merely trying to move the discussion along. I will leave that up to him to clarify.
There are, as far as I can see, seven ways by which critics attempt to argue that ID and creationism are the same (or similar), and that it shouldn’t be considered scientific:
1. By showing that design and creation, as concepts, are necessarily synonymous.
2. By showing that, historically, ID emerged from the same source as creationism.
3. By bringing up the infamous Dover trial.
4. By showing that ID proponents are religiously motivated
5. By showing that ID theorists don’t publish their work in peer-reviewed journals.
6. By showing that methodological naturalism (MN) is an essential part of science. This includes the prohibition of supernatural causation. ID necessarily has theological implications and thus violates the principle of MN.
7. By showing that ID doesn’t follow ‘the scientific method’ and is neither falsifiable nor verifiable.
There is some overlap between a few of these points but I hope they serve to clarify the discussion . Francis has not used points 2 and 5 and although he brought up 3, the Dover trial, he did not use it for the purpose of arguing that it is unscientific/creationism.
To defend point 1, Francis argued ‘What design theory identifies, therefore, is not a designer but, rather, a creator…’4 But as William Dembski explains “Creation is always about the source of being in the world. Intelligent design is about arrangements of pre-existing materials that point to a designing intelligence…One can have creation without intelligent design and intelligent design without creation.”5 ID theorists are generally very careful with making such distinctions and it is contrary to the principle of charity to suggest they are just making the distinction in order to slip it under the radar. Michael Behe explains that ‘diligence in making proper distinctions should not be impugned as craftiness.’6
Francis defended 4 by pointing out that most of the key ID theorists are Christians. He writes “…the four fathers of the ID movement—Johnson, Dembski, Behe and Meyer—are all Christians. They all, presumably, believe the intelligent designer to be the God of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, despite their insistence that this is not inferred from the detection of design.”7 I pointed out that this is an irrelevance. If an ID proponent were to adopt such bad reasoning, they could easily point out that many key neo-Darwinists are atheists. Does this not mean that neo-Darwinism is a cover for atheism? Of course not. You can’t judge a theory by the company it keeps. Again, Dembski puts it well “I might add that my views on Christian theology should be just as irrelevant for evaluating the scientific evidence I present for intelligent design as Richard Dawkins’ views on atheism are irrelevant for evaluating the scientific evidence he presents for Darwinism.”8
Furthermore, there are many ID proponents who have different religious backgrounds and. There are also atheists and agnostics within the ID movement. For more details on this, see my article: “Are these atheists and agnostics really covert creationists?”9
Points 6 and 7, it seems, are going to be where the rubber hits the road. Francis devoted the majority of his previous response to 6 and I believe this is where the meat of the discussion will lie. Although I haven’t directly responded to his points on this issue, I will in subsequent writings. For now, I just wanted to review some of the ground we have covered in order to reach a few conclusions along the way that otherwise might have been left behind. I apologise to Francis for there not being much he can respond to with regard to his last instalment, but perhaps he could distil and clarify some of his thoughts and comment on a few of the points I have brought up from our previous exchanges. It would be useful if he could point out which lines of attack, out of the seven I have outlined, he still finds legitimate and those he does not. I thought some clarification from both of us would be necessary because of the long period of time that has passed since we last wrote. I don’t want to assume that we haven’t changed our minds on anything.
I greatly look forward to continuing this spirited and substantive dialogue.
1. Williams, P.S “Intelligent Designs on Science: A Surreply to Denis Alexander’s Critique of Intelligent Design Theory”, available from http://www.arn.org/docs/williams/pw_designsonscience.htm
2. Nagel, T. “Education and Intelligent Design”, 195. Cf. Alvin Plantinga, “Whether ID Is Science Isn’t Semantics”; available from http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=3331.
3. Plantinga, A. “Whether ID Is Science Isn’t Semantics”; available from http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=3331..
4. Smallwood, F. Debating Darwin and design: science or creationism? (4), Second Response. Available at: http://musingsofscience.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/debating-darwin-and-design-science-or-creationism-4-2/
5. Dembski. W.A. The design revolution: answering the toughest questions about intelligent design. (Nottingham: Inter-varsity press, 2004). p.38.
6. Behe. M.J. ‘Whether Intelligent Design Is Science: A Response to the Court in Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School Distric’. Available at: www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDB-download.php?command=download&id=697, p.8.
7. Smallwood, F. Debating Darwin and design: science or creationism? (4), Second Response. Available at: http://musingsofscience.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/debating-darwin-and-design-science-or-creationism-4-2/
8. Dembski. W.A. “Coming clean” about YEC? Available at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/coming-clean-about-yec/
9. Gidney., J. “Are these atheists and agnostics really covert creationists?”, available from http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/are-these-atheists-and-agnostics-really-covert-creationists/