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Jerry Pournelle weighs in on intelligent design


Searching news.google.com for “intelligent design” I happened across a recent article by a favorite author of mine, Jerry Pournelle. Click here for his biography on Wikipedia. Jerry has written a lot of science fiction, and I quite enjoyed some of it, but that’s not the writing of his that I liked the most. It was his many years of computer technology columns, Chaos Manor, in Byte Magazine that I most enjoyed. I also thoroughly enjoyed his many articles and short stories in Analog Science Fiction and Science Fact Magazine . I’ve read almost every issue of that cover to cover since I first discovered it in the school library in the 7th grade. I still subscribe to it today almost 40 years later. Jerry holds advanced degrees in psychology, statistics, engineering, and political science, including two PhDs. Jerry was also an infamous flame artist in the early days (1970’s) of the internet when it was still a military/university network called DarpaNet (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) which you probably won’t find connected with Pournelle in many places.

Gods, Earthlings, and Intelligent Design

Jerry Pournelle
Men’s News Daily, OP/ED

I don’t usually get into the “Intelligent Design” argument, because I don’t have a lot to add to it; but once in a while poseurs like Professor Richard Dawkins jump into the fray with such outrageous aplomb that I feel compelled to answer. See here for his latest.

Dawkins uses a simple method of argument: proof by repeated assertion, plus entirely ignoring what the other side says: instead he will tell you what he wants you to believe they said (if he bothers with the other side’s arguments at all). Then he asserts that anyone who believes that nonsense is an idiot not worth your attention, and all his opponents are ignorant buffoons at best, and more likely mendacious scam artists. To say he has no respect for the other side of the argument is a simple understatement of fact. Yet, for all that, the arguments don’t go away, which causes despair for Mr. Dawkins, Professor at Oxford University and usually considered the definitive spokesperson for the modern Darwinist position.

Example of Dawkins arguments:

“Intelligent design ‘theorists’ (a misnomer, for they have no theory) often use the alien scenario to distance themselves from old-style creationists: “For all we know, the designer might be an alien from outer space.” This attempt to fend off accusations of unconstitutionally importing religion into science classes is lame and disingenuous. All the leading intelligent design spokesmen are devout, and, when talking to the faithful, they drop the science-fiction fig leaf and expose themselves as the fundamentalist creationists they truly are.”

This statement is typical of Dawkins. It is also egregiously wrong. Begin with the last sentence: that only fundamentalist creationists assert the possibility of evolution influenced by aliens from outer space. This was in fact an hypothesis put forth by the late Sir Fred Hoyle in his book Evolution from Space ; and let me assure you that far from being a fundamentalist creationist, Sir Fred had a pretty sophisticated theory of how evolution might be influenced by extra terrestrials who were neither gods nor superbeings. Sir Fred’s theories would and did horrify fundamentalists.

Read more…

I also have much enjoyed Pournelle's writings over the years. This is a good essay. My favorite part is #2 of Pournelle's summary:
The panspermia hypothesis, which asserts that life originated on a planet other than Earth and was brought here by either natural or intelligently directed actions, is hardly ludicrous, has at least some unexplained evidence in its favor, and holding it as an hypothesis is hardly evidence of buffoonery. The late Robert Bussard was well known to believe in panspermia. Several of my science fiction novels make use of this hypothesis, and I have yet to see any definitive refutation.
I am happy to see one more intelligent, informed, prominent thinker (All good science fiction writers are excellent thinkers) perceive the inherent ridiculousness (if that's not a word it should be) of the Dawkins/Darwinist assertions. Pournelle is not the first science fiction author to acknowlege the light: Orson Scott Card wrote something similarly critical of Darwinism a few years ago, (though he did try to be equally critical of ID). The best conversion is of James P. Hogan: in his early novels he was very much a devout Darwinist. But he has seen the light and acknowledges that he was wrong: See his "Kicking the Sacred Cow" (couldn't get it to link, sorry, you can look it up on Amazon) He kicks some others in there as well. Provocative and fun reading, even if you believe in some of the cows he kicks. dacook
Pournelle doesn't say that he's a theistic evolutionist. But he certainly sounds like one when he says he sees no tension between science and religious belief. And when he explains the influence his Catholic science education had on him, he sounds a lot like Kenneth Miller. I think he wrote the piece out of distaste for the intolerance and authoritarianism of Dawkins, and not out of sympathy for ID. I was surprised to see the "random mutation plus natural selection" parody of modern evolutionary theory come from Pournelle. If he really believes that's how evolutionists account for the history of species of life, he might as well sign A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism. austin_english
Jerry Pournelle said "This statement is typical of Dawkins. It is also egregiously wrong. Begin with the last sentence: that only fundamentalist creationists assert the possibility of evolution influenced by aliens from outer space." But Dawkins doesn't say that only fundamentalist creationists assert the possibility of evolution influenced by aliens from outer space. Given Pournelle's distate for "entirely ignoring what the other side says [and] telling you what he wants you to believe they said", it seems odd for him to put words in Dawkins' mouth like this. Reg
What I thought sadly telling was that Dr. Hurd's arguments are among those commonly refuted. He really does not seem to fully comprehend the debate surrounding IC. If anything, his comment betrays a superficial understanding or at least he's purposely glossing over the problems. How can he glibly ignore that minor changes composed of 2 to 5 components derived by indirect pathways are expected by ID proponents? He's nowhere near explaining the real problem, which is systems composed of tens and sometimes hundreds of components. https://uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/chance-law-agency-or-other/#comment-289741 The end of this conversation puts the problem in perspective: https://uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/chance-law-agency-or-other/#comment-290187 Oh well, what would you expect of a co-founder of Panda's Thumb. Patrick
Pubdef ID does not say that life must have an intelligent cause. ID says that an intelligent cause is the best explanation. It's plainly stated in the side bar under "Definition of Intelligent Design"
The theory of intelligent design (ID) holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection. ID is thus a scientific disagreement with the core claim of evolutionary theory that the apparent design of living systems is an illusion.
ID is not a science stopper. It states that intellengent causation is the best explanation for the origin of life. This is something that may be falsified or at least rendered unneccessary which amounts to the same thing as falsification. It can be falsified by positively demonstrating a means of unintelligent causation in the origin of life. Falsifying the ID hypothesis is a science starter not a science stopper. I would say further that the presumption that life began through an unintelligent dance of atoms is the science stopper. When something becomes accepted as established fact there's no impetus to find additional evidence in support of it. On the other hand, the hoopla over the trivial observation Lenski made of E.coli acquiring the ability to metabolize citrate in the presence of oxygen actually reveals how little real evidence there is for chance & necessity as the creative force behind all of evolution. Time and chance pundits are clutching at straws to bolster the asserted efficacy of time and chance in evolution writ large. This pretty much proves that ID is a science starter not a science stopper. The "evolution" Lenski observed was indeed trivial. E.coli already has everything it needs to metabolize citrate in the absence of oxygen. The protein (citrate permease) that transports citrate across the cell membrane, for some unknown reason, isn't expressed in the presence of oxygen. There are at least two simple random changes that can account for the acquistion aerobic citrate metabolism: 1) Another transport protein could have lost some specificity and now transports citrate. With the loss of specificity that protein might also be transporting molecules that would kill the organism in vivo which is why I wrote that Lenski should see what happens if the organism is placed back into a natural environment. 2) The regulatory region inhibiting the expression of citrate permease changed such that it is now expressed in the presence of oxygen. Again, an in vivo experiment should be conducted to see if the expression is harmful when not under glass. In any case, all the complex stuff that E. coli needs for citrate metabolism was already present in the original cultures. Making a big deal of something new and trivial is proof positive that the so-called "overwhelming evidence" of time & chance being sufficient to explain all of evolution is actually underwhelming in the extreme. The overwhelming evidence is for descent with modification not the underlying cause of the modifications. DaveScot
soplo Tenure didn't protect the bioinformatics website from being removed from Baylor's server. Tenure didn't stop Baylor from sending back the grant money obtained to fund the bioinformatics research. It does not follow that because a job cannot be lost that there is nothing at risk. I agree with you that Gloppy is missed and I too wish he would come back. DaveScot
Rumor has it Galapagos Finch’s real name was discovered by the evos, outted, and because he’s at risk for job discrimination for public support of ID he decided discretion was the better part of valor and buried the site.
If the name I saw tossed around was correct, Gloppy already has tenure and shouldn't have to worry about being discriminated against. Tenure has certainly protected Dr. Behe from the ire of the Darwinists who would otherwise see him expelled. Gloppy should come back, he is missed. soplo caseosa
Pubdef-- “ID sees a world that must be designed and DE sees a world that need not be.” With your definition, ID is falsifiable whereas DE is not :-) Using this definition one can find a television set -- with corporate logo and all -- in the desert and still citing yet-to-be-discovered forces and random events over infinite time, claim it came to be sans design. tribune7
Well, it's always easy to "refute" the mischaracterization you make rather then the real thing, specially if you have no arguments to refute the real thing. I notce that a lot among the DOPs (Darwin Only Party), and specially among the non-american DOPs. Here in Portugal there are a few blogs wherein evolution is preached that "refute" their version of ID. When questioned what exacly are they refuting, they attack creationism, ID, Behe and other things, as if the arguements against one are the same against the other. Most DOPs don't take time to actually educate themselves about the arguments against unguided evolution. To them, attacking th belief that the biosphere created itself is attacking "science". Dawkins and other DOP priests keep their disciples in the dark by refusing to dfine the opposition correctly. Mats
The Mote in God's Eye was one of the most influential books I read as a youth, along with Rendezvous with Rama (coming to a theatre near you!), Dune, Stranger in a Strange Land, and Ringworld . Jerry Pournelle is a brilliant author and a brave man for poking a stick into the eye of the evolution monster which will now proceed to spew it's noxious poisonous gas on him.. mentok
pub also said,
"The ID proponent, on the other hand, seems, to me, to have concluded that there is no hope of discovering such a mechanism, and thus, no point in further investigation."
ID views DE as an "anti-hope" philosophy of sorts. DE seeks to reduce everything to basic principals or operations that can contain all events and thus rule out everything that may exist outside of it. DE is exclusionary and to me it is in reality the naturalistic scientific approach to ruling out God spirituality and indeed the most primal concept of all "design"- because DE is committed to mechanization, materialism and championing reductionism above all else. You see ID opens up the gates to all that exists outside of the current understanding- that is higher states of being- ID seeks the highest common understanding - while DE seeks the lowest common denominator (and even fails at doing that). So to use the word hope is misleading because hope implies "further good" of which I can find none at all in DE. So it isn’t that the positive goal of DE (forwarding science an our understanding of origins) is a hopeless dead end- it is the way in which DE goes about achieving that end that IDists see as not "hopeless" but patently false. That is hope is nowhere even connected to DE at all- any more than I might hope that turning on a TV would make a yellow shirt appear in my dresser. We best see the system of DE as "incoherent" and as having no significant relationship at all (on the fundamental level) to what it claims to be seeking to attain. Frost122585
...that is when I used the word "must" I was (in my head) referring to "the inference to design" as opposed to the general wide open logical sphere that, as you pointed out, indeed does still exist. "DE sees a world where our inference to the best explanation must not accept design as a possibility." Here I am combining both the philosophy of science attitude and the "faith in Darwin" attitude to come up with the common denominator that "ID must not be the accepted scientific theory of origins." Which is (regardless of how you want to look at it) the ultimate result of an adherence to the DE point of view. That is, DE is the antithesis of ID (as a SCEINTFIC theory based on empirical data and pure reason) and ID when viewed at a "scientific" theory, is vice versa to DE. Indeed, in this universe you have three main explanatory options when investigating origins- you have chance, necessity and design. DE only accepts the first two (as it views design as a secondary cause and or illusion) yet ID accepts the first two but sees ID as another operative inferential explanatory tool that is well warranted in the grand yet incomplete schema of origins science. One of the biggest differences between ID and DE is that ID can accommodate chance and necessity as operation that play even a large role in the origins picture- but it is DE that rules out ID as a scientific theory a priori based on a recommitment to MM. (although I am even beginning to think that MM is not even the culprit- that is I think DE rules out ID because it has a recommitment to RULING OUT ID!) Period. Frost122585
OH S*%$! Meant to say climate change. F2XL
I don't know why there is such a buzz over Dawkins being the strongest most effective critic against ID, he sure seems a little nervous at the thought of any debate with design theorists. By that alone I think maybe more effort should be concentrated towards the likes of Ken Miller. Dawkins to ID= Al Gore to Global Warming F2XL
Pub said, "I don’t think that’s a correct statement of the DE view." You are splitting hairs a bit as I was speaking in the vernacular but you are indeed correct.. Yes, indeed the rhetoric I used appealed to too general a sphere. What I mean to say was that ID sees a world that must have been designed and DE sees a world in which there exists no evidence of Design and therefore the concept of "design must not be inferred." In other words DE does essentially see a world where there is NO design. But you are correct in pointing out that logically a designer may have designed a world in which he hid or left out any scientific evidence of his designing. So my point I think is still correct with the slight caveat that you accurately pointed out. Either way DE is not enough of an explanation for the origination of complex specified information- hence design is certainly a scientific option that logically sits on the table because of the inadequacies of DE and the self referential direct coloration between SC and intelligence- (and for the outside reason you pointed out as well). Frost122585
Frost122585 said:
That is, ID sees a world that must be designed and DE sees a world that must not be.
I don't think that's a correct statement of the DE view. Rather, I would say "ID sees a world that must be designed and DE sees a world that need not be." The difference is not trivial. Take the question of "irreducible complexity." An ID proponent (Behe, for example) would say that some natural feature could not have arisen by RM+NS; therefore it must be designed. As a matter of logic, it is not necessary for a DE proponent to show that the feature in question could not be designed, or even that it must be the product of RM+NS, in order to negate the ID proposition. Rather, to establish that "it is not the case that this feature must be designed," it is sufficient to show a possible RM+NS pathway. The DE proponent could then, given sufficient resources and motivation, investigate the proposed mechanism (don't ask me how; I'm a criminal defense attorney and mandolinist). The ID proponent, on the other hand, seems, to me, to have concluded that there is no hope of discovering such a mechanism, and thus, no point in further investigation. Turning briefly to Dawkins, the DE proponent at issue: while he certainly makes no secret of his disdain for the view that the world must be designed, he devotes the lion's share of his writing to illustrating why the world need not be designed. pubdef
Frost122585 Origins science is a contradiction of terms! It really isn't science because you can't really prove anything. The only thing that records that event is the Bible, and most people will never accept that. Science touches only what you can sense directly, so it really can't be concerned too much with where and when we came from. Dahelmang
If Dawkins is logically consistent he must sneer at our Declaration of Independence. And Being as how it's the Fourth of July this seems like a pretty good spot to post this:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
It's good to see a little open-mindedness to design inferences by a highly reputed science fiction writer. I also have enjoyed Pournelle's science fiction novels, in particular his collaborations with Larry Niven (The Mote in God's Eye and Lucifer's Hammer especially come to mind). Pournelle is unusual in this among science fiction writers. I enjoy some science fiction, but am often offended by many authors rubbing their egregious assumptions of Darwinism and reductionist materialism in the reader's face, in a sort of political indoctrination through popular fiction. magnan
Rumor has it Galapagos Finch’s real name was discovered by the evos, outted, and because he’s at risk for job discrimination for public support of ID he decided discretion was the better part of valor and buried the site.
I guess this is the first kind of official confirmation that Galapagos Finch is Robert Marcks. Well done Dave. The only information I have on the matter is what Oleg posted on After The Bar Closes. Ironically Oleg unknowingly used the Explanatory Filter and reached a design inference based on the evidence. Presuming the evidence was valid I believe the design inference is indisputable. -ds sparc
mattghg I left a comment after Pournelle's article on MND stating exactly the same thing - that Dawkins hisself said life on earth could have been designed by extraterrestrials. Rumor has it Galapagos Finch's real name was discovered by the evos, outted, and because he's at risk for job discrimination for public support of ID he decided discretion was the better part of valor and buried the site. DaveScot
Dawkin's is wrong because I for one don’t have any strong evidence that the Biblical story of creation is true (or any other fantastic claim of the Bible). To hold a mono theistic belief especially a literal fundamentalist one, you for the most part have to have faith to cross that gap from science into religion. The Design argument however is as much a detraction from the "chance, necessity, purposelessness" theory and philosophy of Darwinism/materialism, as it is a statement about what the best inference of explanation is for the manifest objects (SC) of the world. The bottom line is the difference between Darwinism and ID is a matter of phenomenological perception. That is, ID sees a world that must be designed and DE sees a world that must not be. There is evidence for and against both perspectives but in the end both theories fall short of sole proprietary dominion. DE cant REALLY explain anything at all (it only roughly describes and predicts certain kinds of situations) and thus it has all kinds of compensations within it's frame work designed to deal with the data that points away from it's main modus operandi (MM). On the other hand, ID cannot seem to find any scientific evidence of THE actual designER-- who (what?) it is, and where it resides. So there most certainly is a controversy, and origins science is indeed a complex controvercial and convoluted one-- perhaps the most complex and convoluted one in all of the science.
“Not only is the universe stranger than we think, it’s stranger than we can think.” “What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” -Werner Heisenberg
This statement is typical of Dawkins. It is also egregiously wrong. Begin with the last sentence: that only fundamentalist creationists assert the possibility of evolution influenced by aliens from outer space. This was in fact an hypothesis put forth by the late Sir Fred Hoyle And by Dawkins himself in the Expelled film! Off topic: can anyone tell me what's happened to the "Brites" website? It appears to have gone dead. mattghg

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