Professor Larry Moran’s latest post on Sandwalk criticizes Jonathan McLatchie for claiming that Intelligent Design is a legitimate scientific investigation. On the contrary, declares Moran, Intelligent Design is a movement whose members are motivated by a desire to discredit materialism and defend their belief in a Creator. 99% of ID activities, he claims, are attacks on evolution, rather than attempts to scientifically identify which objects were designed. Moran respects McLatchie for his solid grasp of evolutionary biology, but regards him as having “fallen in to the trap of deceiving himself about his true motives.”
But even if Professor Moran’s characterization of the motives of ID proponents were entirely correct, it would be utterly irrelevant. The reason is that science is a methodology – a point highlighted by McLatchie in a recent video on Uncommon Descent. As McClatchie aptly puts it:
“Well, I think Intelligent Design certainly is a science, because it’s based on the standard principles of scientific methodology, with respect to the past: it’s basically an historical abductive method, which is the methodology employed even by Charles Darwin, in his formulation of the theory of evolution by natural selection. Charles Darwin, of course, was influenced by the work of the famed nineteenth century geologist Charles Lyell, in his Principles of Geology, where Charles Lyell basically insisted that … if you want to explain events in the remote past, one should let one’s present experience of cause and effect guide one’s search for the best explanation. So I would argue Intelligent Design is a science by virtue of the fact that it’s … predicated upon historical standard scientific principles.”
Because science is defined by its methodology, any attempt to discredit a field such as Intelligent Design by casting aspersions on the motives of its leading practitioners completely misses the point. No matter what their motives might be, the only question which is germane in this context is: do Intelligent Design researchers follow a proper scientific methodology, and do ID proponents support their arguments by appealing to that methodology? The answer to this question should be obvious to anyone who has read works such as Darwin’s Black Box, The Edge of Evolution, Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt. Intelligent Design researchers and advocates commonly appeal to empirical probabilities (which can be measured in the laboratory), mathematical calculations (about what chance and/or necessity can accomplish), and abductive reasoning about historical events (such as the Cambrian explosion) which bear the hallmarks of design.
In his endeavor to smear the reputation of Intelligent Design as a discipline, Professor Moran commits the genetic fallacy, which can be defined as the attempt to “discredit or support a claim or an argument because of its origin (genesis) when such an appeal to origins is irrelevant” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, article Fallacies). Moran tries to discredit the claims of the ID movement by arguing that these claims have their origin in the religious motivations of their leading proponents. However, the appeal to origins is irrelevant because it is methodology, not motivation, which determines what counts as good or bad science.
When Moran writes that “it’s just a bald-faced lie to claim that Intelligent Design Creationists are motivated by a genuine scientific search for evidence of design,” he is engaging in propaganda, by portraying scientists as dispassionate researchers who are totally devoid of personal motives in their research. This is nonsense. The question of whether life on Earth was designed or not is one which we are all, to some degree, motivated to either accept or reject, on temperamental grounds. Nevertheless, most of us are capable of putting our feelings aside when we have to.
I suspect that many evolutionary biologists are not only skeptical of God’s existence, but actually don’t want there to be a God. In particular, they may feel nauseated by the idea of a Being who produced human beings by a bloody, messy process such as evolution, killing billions and billions of animals in the process. But even if a visceral opposition to the notion of a Deity were the driving force animating their research, it would in no way invalidate that research. The only thing that could undermine these scientists’ work would be poor methodology.
Creationism, on the other hand, makes no attempt to follow a scientific methodology in arriving at its conclusions. In creationism, the conclusions are dictated by the Bible, and what it says trumps any scientific findings which may point to a contrary conclusion. Hence it is highly misleading of Professor Moran to argue that Intelligent Design is no different from creationism, because its main goal is simply “to provide scientific justification for the belief in a creator god.” Intelligent Design, unlike creationism, has no “higher authority” which can dictate the scientific conclusions it reaches.
As for Professor Moran’s claim that Intelligent Design proponents’ focus is primarily aimed at discrediting unguided evolution rather than building a positive case for design, I can only reply that a design inference in ID can only be made after other explanations have been ruled out, so as a matter of necessity, much of what ID researchers do will be negative, and aimed at eliminating conventional explanations, before any positive conclusion can be reached that a given object was designed.
I shall stop here, and throw the discussion open to readers. What do you think?