Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

For record: A comment on the issues raised by Dr Fuller (HT: Gregory and Nullasalus), and onward concerns in the wider context of debates over design theory


I have just now commented in the recent thread on Dr Fuller’s thought, and think it useful to headline for record (especially given some continued abusive misbehaviour at Anti- Evo and linked sites that has come to my attention in recent days):


>> Let me clip a few thought-sparker cites from Dr Steve Fuller:

“The failure of intelligent design theory to specify the intelligent designer constitutes both a rhetorical and an epistemological disadvantage…The epistemological disadvantage is subtler, namely, that intelligent design theory is unnecessarily forced to adopt an instrumentalist philosophy of science, whereby its theory is treated merely as a device for explaining particular phenomena (i.e. as products of intelligent design) without allowing inferences to the best explanation (i.e. the properties of the implied designer).” (171)

“I believe [it] is necessary [to] return to theology as the source of theoretical guidance on the nature of the intelligent designer (Fuller 2008a).” (171)

“In short, by studiously avoiding the appeal to theological arguments as part of their scientific explanations, intelligent design theorists only inhibit their own ability to meet the opposition of Neo-Darwinian apologists like Sober. Admittedly, making such appeals would mean not only re-opening old theological debates but also making them part of secular academic debate. A test of our collective intellectual maturity will lie in our ability to tolerate such a newly charged situation. But as it stands, intelligent design theory does itself no intellectual favours by keeping the identity of the intelligent designer as vague as Neo-Darwinians keep the identity of evolution, even if that practice appears justified as politically expedient.” (173) . . . .

“…[M]y own interest in promoting intelligent design in schools, which is much more positive than Johnson’s original worries about naturalism turning into an established religion. I actually believe that the deep theological roots of intelligent design theory provide a robust basis for perpetuating the radical spirit of inquiry that marks both philosophy and science at their best – not at their worst, as their collective response to intelligent design has put on public display (Fuller 2009b). As a true social constructivist (Fuller 2000b: Preface), I see myself as one of the constructors of intelligent design theory. I am not simply remarking from the sidelines about what others have done or are doing, as a historian or a journalist might. Rather I am making a front-line contribution to defining the theory’s identity.” (177)

“In terms of pedagogical implications, my support of intelligent design goes beyond merely requiring that students learn the history and philosophy of science alongside their normal studies. It involves reengineering the science curriculum so that its history and philosophy falls within its normal remit.” (180)

In my initial response, I first think that there is merit in raising the issues of phil of sci and what I guess could be called philosophy of nature, i.e. discourse on the relevant aspects of metaphysics etc. Also, relevant history of science and of ideas is key context. A familiarity with at least the sort of ideas on the nature and limitations of scientific knowledge that Newton discussed in his General Scholium and in Opticks, Query 31, will be a useful first nexus for all of this.

That said, I would look on the strengths and limitations of knowledge deriving from inductive inquiry (including abduction) and the inherent open-endedness of science as a consequence, as a powerful way to clear the air. There has been a miasma of scientism underwritten by implicit or explicit materialism and a grossly extrapolated and exaggerated view of the capacity of mechanisms of chance variation and differential reproductive success to innovate body plan level structures that has clouded clarity of thought and that has also created a highly polarised, ideology-driven atmosphere on scientific reconstruction of origins.

That is the sort of reason why some resort to hate sites, personal attacks, smears, outright slander and libel etc. Not to mention censorship, outing tactics, career busting and mafioso-style implied gangsterish threats against family members. All they succeed in doing when they act like that is to expose their want of basic broughtupcy, and to highlight the utter moral bankruptcy of evolutionary materialism, due to its want of a worldview foundation IS adequate to ground OUGHT. Those who act like this, and those who harbour them or indulge in enabling passivity by not correcting them, or — worse — imagine that such misbehaviour is legitimate free comment, show just how bankrupt their thinking has become. From Plato in The Laws, Bk X, this issue of nihilistic factions driven by evolutionary materialist ideology has been a significant concern for the well-being of society.

It is in that context that the sort of links from history of ideas to history issues raised by Weikart et al, become highly relevant.

But, as can be seen here, we are looking at phil context of scientific knowledge, and at broad, philosophically and historically informed questions of science in society. Worldviews and cultural agendas and issues.

By contrast, as we narrow focus to the logic of inductive warrant that makes certain ideas warranted as empirically reliable and useful so far, we can see that — again from Newton et al on — there is reasonable warrant for caution and what can be called, chastened or humbled realism that embraces some degree of instrumentalism in understanding scientific knowledge. Especially, on origins science matters where in reconstructing a remote and unobservable past we must rely on factual adequacy relating to traces of the past we can observe today and tested signs of adequate dynamics to produce explanations on a best current basis.

Where, instrumentalism can be set in relevant context with a clip from the Stanford Enc of Phil, article on Scientific Progress:

The instrumentalists follow Duhem in thinking that theories are merely conceptual tools for classifying, systematizing and predicting observational statements, so that the genuine content of science is not to be found on the level of theories (Duhem 1954). Scientific realists, by contrast, regard theories as attempts to describe reality even beyond the realm of observable things and regularities, so that theories can be regarded as statements having a truth value. Excluding naive realists, most scientists are fallibilists in Peirce’s sense: scientific theories are hypothetical and always corrigible in principle. They may happen to be true, but we cannot know this for certain in any particular case. But even when theories are false, they can be cognitively valuable if they are closer to the truth than their rivals (Popper 1963). Theories should be testable by observational evidence, and success in empirical tests gives inductive confirmation (Hintikka 1968; Niiniluoto and Tuomela 1973; Kuipers 2000) or non-inductive corroboration to the theory (Popper 1959).

It might seem natural to expect that the main rival accounts of scientific progress would be based upon the positions of instrumentalism and realism. But this is only partly true. To be sure, naive realists as a rule hold the accumulation-of-truths view of progress, and many philosophers combine the realist view of theories with the axiological thesis that truth is an important goal of scientific inquiry. A non-cumulative version of the realist view of progress can be formulated by using the notion of truthlikeness. But there are also philosophers who accept the possibility of a realist treatment of theories, but still deny that truth is a relevant value of science which could have a function in the characterization of scientific progress. Bas van Fraassen’s (1980) constructive empiricism takes the desideratum of science to be empirical adequacy: what a theory says about the observable should be true. The acceptance of a theory involves only the claim that it is empirically adequate, not its truth on the theoretical level. Van Fraassen has not developed an account of scientific progress in terms of his constructive empiricism, but presumably such an account would be close to empiricist notions of reduction and Laudan’s account of problem-solving ability (see Section 3.2).

An instrumentalist who denies that theories have truth values usually defines scientific progress by referring to other virtues theories may have, such as their increasing empirical success. In 1908 Duhem expressed this idea by a simile: scientific progress is like a mounting tide, where waves rise and withdraw, but under this to-and-fro motion there is a slow and constant progress. However, he gave a realist twist to his view by assuming that theories classify experimental laws, and progress means that the proposed classifications approach a “natural classification” (Duhem 1954).

Evolutionary epistemology is open to instrumentalist (Toulmin) and realist (Popper) interpretations. A biological approach to human knowledge naturally gives emphasis to the pragmatist view that theories function as instruments of survival. Darwinist evolution in biology is not goal-directed with a fixed forward-looking goal; rather, species adapt themselves to an ever changing environment. In applying this account to the problem of knowledge-seeking, the fitness of a theory can be taken to mean that the theory is accepted by members of the scientific community. But a realist can reinterpret the evolutionary model by taking fitness to mean the truth or truthlikeness of a theory . . .

There is a lot of room for debates in there, but it should be clear that scientific knowledge is inescapably provisional and that inductive reasoning is only capable of a weak form warrant. Inductive knowledge claims are not certain beyond correction. And, it is fair comment to note that different scientific claims come with differing degrees of corroboration and differing degrees of openness to empirical testing. So, as we are less and less open to testing, and as the degree of warrant decreases, we would be well advised to hold claims with a lesser degree of certitude. In particular, the notion of a general authority of Science that gives an imprimatur of practical certainty to dominant theories is — for good reason — highly suspect.

In that context, I would hold that the design inference explanatory filter (addressed per aspect of a phenomenon or object etc) — and/or its equivalent in mathematically structured models of complex specified information — is a legitimate approach to inferring cause on a best explanation basis, in contexts where we do not have direct access to observe the causal process in action. It is interesting in this context to see the objections often made, that there is no independent access to the inferred designer so the inference can be dismissed and denigrated. This of course is ideologically loaded and begs the question that the reason why we are inferring is that we need to see what inferred cause is best adequate, given that we did not and often cannot observe the actual causal process at work. In short, the objection is self-serving and selectively hyperskeptical.

But to infer cause by design as process or mechanism, is manifestly not to infer the identity or personal characteristics of the designer. One may infer arson as cause of a fire without knowing the culprit. Of course, that inferred deed may suggest a moral characteristic, but that is a question of motives.

My broader point is that design as process is separable as a matter of inductive investigation, from the identity or characteristics of the candidate designers in question. All that a design inference requires is a sufficiently open mind that is willing to accept the possibility of design — not ruling it out a priori — and a willingness to accept that various causal processes tend to leave characteristic signs that can be tested and warranted as reliable signs of design. With a growing toolbox of relevant techniques and signs in hand, one has a perfect epistemic right to infer the causal process on the observed sign.

One may then wish to debate characteristics of candidate designers, but that is a further exercise.

Where prof Fuller is quite right to be concerned, is the point that what is happening is that an institutionally dominant ideological school — we can term it a priori evolutionary materialist scientism — is trying to censor the reasonable process of inference in the interests of their school. So, ironically, they have made the penumbra of issues and concerns above highly relevant to a fair evaluation of scientific practice, science education, and to science, society and good citizenship concerns.

In particular as we see science professors championing atheism in the name of science — never mind the sophomoric bluster typically involved — and as we see them embracing, using, enabling and harbouring nihilistic, amoral, might/manipulation makes ‘right’ tactics and as we see them championing the ill-considered distortion of foundational societal and cultural institutions, they are the best argument as to why evolutionary materialistic scientism and secular humanism are intellectually and morally bankrupt and a positive danger to the well-being of our civilisation.

So, we do have to set science in the context of ideas and issues, and in the wider context of impact on society. But, I still think that the inference to design as cause is properly distinct from that wider connexion. Sufficiently so, that we may undertake a technical inquiry as to how well warranted the design inference is. The answer to that is actually blatant: very well warranted indeed, especially as we focus on functionally specific complex organisation and associated information [FSCO/I], the relevant form of CSI. Especially where the info is in the form of digitally coded algorithmic or linguistic symbol strings.

That is why many thoughtful people hold and will continue to hold for the foreseeable future, that C-chemistry, aqueous medium cell based life that pivots on DNA is designed. The supportive, fine tuned physics of the observed cosmos that supports that also warrants a design inference. So does the information-centric nature of body plans and key features of life forms, like the bird lung or wing and the human vocal apparatus and language ability.

We are not going away, and we are not perverse or perverted to hold such views. The resort to slander-laced smears, cruel mockery, outing tactics and threats against careers or family simply underscores the moral bankruptcy and ill-will of objectors who resort to such, or passively enable or harbour such.

We are here, we are qualified to address scientific and linked phil, history of ideas and societal issues. We have good reason to call for reform in science, in the academy, in education, in the media, and in society. We are not going away, and we will stoutly defend our reputations, careers, families and civilisation against such ideologically motivated bully-boy tactics.

And, at length, we will prevail.>>


Since this is a comment in a fresh thread, I encourage comments there, and comments will be disabled here. END