Yesterday, in his “Critics agree with Dembski” post, Eric Holloway raised the issue of a fallacy that is so significant in the design theory context that it deserves its own name: The Fallacy of Creeping Omniscience.
He provided a description that with some minor adjustments, can serve as a working definition:
It is commonly noted that when smart or educated or famous, or wealthy or powerful people or the like achieve expertise or noted success in a certain area, they suddenly think they are experts in many others, even when lacking the necessary knowledge. When listening to smart or educated or famous, or wealthy or powerful people, it is always wise to take this into consideration, and listen most closely to their opinions about what they’re carefully studied. (But, even on those topics where they have genuine expertise, we should note that no expert is better than his or her facts, assumptions and reasoning.)
It is always helpful to give a key example or two, and the now notorious NYRB 1997 clip from Professor Richard Lewontin makes a very good first example:
It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes [[ –> another major begging of the question . . . ] to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute [[ –> i.e. here we see the fallacious, indoctrinated, ideological, closed mind . . . ], for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. [From: “Billions and Billions of Demons,” NYRB, January 9, 1997. (NB: if you have been led to imagine that the immediately following words JUSTIFY the above, kindly follow the link and read the full clip and notes.)]
No wonder, Philip Johnson corrected:
As a second example, Professor William Provine’s 1998 Darwin Day Address at University of Tennessee is useful:
The first 4 implications are so obvious to modern naturalistic evolutionists that I will spend little time defending them. Human free will, however, is another matter. Even evolutionists have trouble swallowing that implication. I will argue that humans are locally determined systems that make choices. They have, however, no free will . . . .
Natural selection is a process leading every species almost certainly to extinction . . . Nothing could be more uncaring than the entire process of organic evolution. Life has been on earth for about 3.6 billion years. In less that one billion more years our sun will turn into a red giant. All life on earth will be burnt to a crisp. Other cosmic processes absolutely guarantee the extinction of all life anywhere in the universe. When all life is extinguished, no memory whatsoever will be left that life ever existed. [[Evolution: Free Will and Punishment and Meaning in Life, Second Annual Darwin Day Celebration Keynote Address, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, February 12, 1998 (abstract).]
When major and highly contentious philosophical assertions or assumptions appear “obvious” to adherents of a given theory or model or ideology, that is usually a sign that they have been embedded in it from the beginning and have been swallowed unreflectively.
In this case, following the same errors made by Lewontin, not only has the circle of a priori materialism been begged, so that we move in effect from science “must” think in a materialistic circle — not! — to materialistic science determines what is real, to therefore no God exists, but as a direct worldview consequence ethics has been reduced to radical relativism, and thence to might or manipulation makes “right.” Just as Plato warned against 2,350 years ago in The Laws, Bk X.
These are bad enough, but the real tickler is in Provine’s fifth consequence: freedom to decide and think for oneself has now vanished in the evolutionary materialist circle. While he desperately tries to make this seem to be a good thing (he actually says: “We will all live in a better society when the myth of free will is dispelled . . .”), he overlooks a pretty direct consequence, the disintegration of freedom to think for oneself above one’s genetic, socio-cultural and institutional conditioning. For if one is not free, one is a plaything of blind mechanical necessity and accidents of circumstance that may lead one to things that are adaptive in the sense of promoting reproductive success [including by way of career and bank account success] but that comes at a stiff price indeed. Professor Provine has unwittingly undercut his own ability to think and reason and know above and beyond delusions rooted in genes and memes that happen to help jumped-up apes from East Africa struggling in a Malthusian world to have more offspring. Chance Variation and Natural Selection, multiplied by conscious or unconscious eugenics forces in cultures, reward survival and reproductive success, not truth. (And of course, there is the little challenge that the survival of the fittest does not explain the arrival of the fittest (starting with first, cell-based life), but that is a topic for another post.)
To see the full scope of that price, let us turn to a third witness and case, Nobel Prize holder Sir Francis Crick in his 1994 The Astonishing Hypothesis:
. . . that “You”, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.” This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people today that it can truly be called astonishing. [[Cf. dramatisation of unintended potential consequences, here.]
No wonder, Philip Johnson rebutted, in his 1995 Reason in the Balance, that Dr Crick should therefore be willing to preface his books: “I, Francis Crick, my opinions and my science, and even the thoughts expressed in this book, consist of nothing more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” (In short, as Prof Johnson then went on to say: “[[t]he plausibility of materialistic determinism requires that an implicit exception be made for the theorist.”
In each of these cases, a well-known scientific and/or academic figure, has traipsed beyond what he has primarily studied, and is essaying, unbeknownst, into deep philosophical waters. Only, to find himself caught up in swirling currents and tossing waves of question-begging and self-referential incoherence.
The root problem is that materialist myth-making while wearing a lab coat is still myth-making, and most of today’s scientists and the like have little or no exposure to, training in or capability to use the techniques that are relevant to critical analysis of worldviews and cultural agendas,where also the border between science and philosophy is rather fuzzy.
It would greatly help if high school and college education in science embedded some basic exposure to philosophy of science themes, and related epistemology, logic and general critical awareness; without imposing evolutionary materialism — today’s reigning orthodoxy — as a censoring a priori. END