The following reply by Optimus to KN in the TSZ thread, is far too good not to headline as an excellent summary of the case for design as a scientifically legitimate view, not mere “Creationism in a cheap tuxedo” ideology motivated and driven by anti-materialism and/or a right-wing, theocratic, culture war mentality commonly ascribed to “Creationism” by its objectors:
It’s central to the ideological glue that holds together “the ID movement” that the following are all conflated:Darwin’s theories; neo-Darwinism; modern evolutionary theory; Epicurean materialistic metaphysics; Enlightenment-inspired secularism. (Maybe I’m missing one or two pieces of the puzzle.) In my judgment, a mind incapable of making the requisite distinctions hardly deserves to be taken seriously.
I think your analysis of the driving force behind ID is way off base. That’s not to say that persons who advocate ID (including myself) aren’t sometimes guilty of sloppy use of language, nor am I making the claim that the modern synthetic theory of evolution is synonymous with materialism or secularism. Having made that acknowledgement, though, it is demonstrably true that (1) metaphysical presuppostions absolutely undergird much of the modern synthetic theory. This is especially true with regard to methodological naturalism (of course, MN is distinct from ontological naturalism, but if, as some claim, science describes the whole of reality, then reality becomes coextensive with that which is natural). Methodological naturalism is not the end product of some experiment or series of experiments. On the contrary it is a ground rule that excludes a priori any explanation that might be classed as “non-natural”. Some would argue that it is necessary for practical reasons, after all we don’t want people atributing seasonal thunderstorms to Thor, do we? However, science could get along just as well as at present (even better in my view) if the ground rule is simply that any proposed causal explanation must be rigorously defined and that it shall not be accepted except in light of compelling evidence. Problem solved! Though some fear “supernatural explanation” (which is highly definitional) overwhelming the sciences, such concerns are frequently oversold. Interestingly, the much maligned Michael Behe makes very much the same point in his 1996 Darwin’s Black Box:
If my graduate student came into my office and said that the angel of death killed her bacterial culture, I would be disinclined to believe her…. Science has learned over the past half millenium that the universe operates with great regularity the great majority of the time, and that simple laws and predictable behavior explain most physical phenomena.
Darwin’s Black Box pg. 241
If Behe’s expression is representative of the ID community (which I would venture it is), then why the death-grip on methodological naturalism? I suggest that its power lies in its exclusionary function. It rules out ID right from the start, before even any discussions about the emprical data are to be had. MN means that ID is persona non grata, thus some sort of evolutionary explanation must win by default. (2) In Darwin’s own arguments in favor of his theory he rely heavily on metaphysical assumptions about what God would or wouldn’t do. Effectively he uses special creation by a deity as his null hypothesis, casting his theory as the explanatory alternative. Thus the adversarial relationship between Darwin (whose ideas are foundational to the MST) and theism is baked right into The Origin. To this very day, “bad design” arguments in favor of evolution still employ theological reasoning. (3) The modern synthetic theory is often used in the public debate as a prop for materialism (which I believe you acknowledged in another comment). How many times have we heard the famed Richard Dawkins quote to the effect that ‘Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist’? Very frequently evolutionary theory is impressed into service to show the superfluousness of theism or to explain away religion as an erstwhile useful phenomenon produced by natural selection (or something to that effect). Hardly can it be ignored that the most enthusiastic boosters of evolutionary theory tend to fall on the atheist/materialist/reductionist side of the spectrum (e.g. Eugenie Scott, Michael Shermer, P.Z. Meyers, Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Peter Atkins, Daniel Dennett, Will Provine). My point simply stated is that it is not at all wrong-headed to draw a connection between the modern synthetic theory and the aforementioned class of metaphysical views. Can it be said that the modern synthetic theory (am I allowed just to write Neo-Darwinism for short?) doesn’t mandate nontheistic metaphysics? Sure. But it’s just as true that they often accompany each other.
In chalking up ID to a massive attack of confused cognition, you overlook the substantive reasons why many (including a number of PhD scientists) consider ID to be a cogent explanation of many features of our universe (especially the bioshpere):
-Functionally-specified complex information [FSCI] present in cells in prodigdious quantities
-Sophisticated mechanical systems at both the micro and macro level in organisms (many of which exhibit IC)
-Fine-tuning of fundamental constants
-Patterns of stasis followed by abrupt appearance (geologically speaking) in the fossil record
In my opinion the presence of FSCI/O and complex biological machinery are very powerful indicators of intelligent agency, judging from our uniform and repeated experience. Also note that none of the above reasons employ theological presuppositions. They flow naturally, inexorably from the data. And, yes, we are all familiar with the objection that organisms are distinct from artificial objects, the implication being that our knowledge from the domain of man-made objects doesn’t carry over to biology. I think this is fallacious. Everyone acknowledges that matter inhabiting this universe is made up of atoms, which in turn are composed of still other particles. This is true of all matter, not just “natural” things, not just “artificial” things – everything. If such is the case, then must not the same laws apply to all matter with equal force? From whence comes the false dichotomy that between “natural” and “artificial”? If design can be discerned in one case, why not in the other?
To this point we have not even addressed the shortcomings of the modern synthetic theory (excepting only its metaphysical moorings). They are manifold, however – evidential shortcomings (e.g. lack of empirical support), unjustified extrapolations, question-begging assumptions, ad hoc rationalizations, tolerance of “just so” stories, narratives imposed on data instead of gleaned from data, conflict with empirical data from generations of human experience with breeding, etc. If at the end of the day you truly believe that all ID has going for it is a culture war mentality, then may I politely suggest that you haven’t been paying attention.>>
Well worth reflecting on, and Optimus deserves to be headlined. END