Creationism Intelligent Design Philosophy

Clearly it’s Time to Revisit ID’s ‘Explanatory Filter’, even if Barbara Forrest Doesn’t Think So …

Spread the love

Casey Luskin has posted an interesting response (part II) to Barbara Forrest’s Kitzmiller Account, Here he addresses Dr. Forrest’s usage of quotations from ID proponents: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2006/09/response_to_barbara_forrests_k_1.html

As is typical in the Evo camp, Dr. Forrest attempts to make the usual conflation of ID and religion by quoting Phillip Johnson and William Dembski. Many cite Johnson as the founder of the current ID movement. Popularizer perhaps, but founder he was NOT, nor can he authoritatively be credited with setting its parameters. Luskin notes (as does Dembski in ‘Cosmic Pursuit’, 1998) that Charles Thaxton and Dean Kenyon first wrote on the subject during the ’80s. But is concept even that new?

“Throughout the centuries theologians have argued that nature exhibits features which nature itself cannot explain, but which instead require an intelligence over and above nature. From Church fathers like Minucius Felix and Basil the Great (3rd and 4th centuries) to medieval scholastics like Moses Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas (12th and 13th centuries) to reformed thinkers like Thomas Reid and Charles Hodge (18th and 19th centuries), we find theologians making design arguments, arguing from the data of nature to an intelligence operating over and above nature.” (Wm. Dembski, ‘Cosmic Pursuit’, 1998)
http://www.arn.org/docs/dembski/wd_idmovement.htm

Luskin notes that Forrest, in an attempt to define ID’s defined parameters as religious, made reference to a July 1999 article in Touchstone Magazine by William Dembski in which theological references were made. That perspective, presented to a religiously oriented readership, makes perfect sense, and may in fact ring true to many of us. No mention, however, was made of Dembski’s basic proffered tenets, defined extensively in numerous publications, that correctly lay out ID’s precepts. To wit: Intelligent Design, while logically having religious inferences, is properly defined as an empirical study of design inferences, by which science is the logical investigator.

Casey Luskin’s critique of Forrest is revealing of the fact that she and others have it in mind to discredit the ID movement, label it as religiously motivated, and attempt to classify it as not being scientifically investigable. But is that criticism justified? Logic and ethics would have it that a personal faith based orientation is entirely separate from a person’s investigative field, and should not even be considered in evaluating that field. Luskin correctly points out that Theistic Evolutionists like Kenneth Miller have made similar theistic inferences (in ‘Finding Darwin’s God’), but are never likewise criticized.

So the question of an empirical examination of ID comes to roost on things like specified complexity, the origin of data, the mechanistic view of irreducible complexity, and in my view, order, organization, synergy, motive and aesthetics. Its investigative focus is not a designer’s mind or mindset, but the artifact due to a designer’s mind. When will critics of ID, and unfortunately our legal system, get it right? Barbara Forrest (and the others) have thus far failed on all counts.

18 Replies to “Clearly it’s Time to Revisit ID’s ‘Explanatory Filter’, even if Barbara Forrest Doesn’t Think So …

  1. 1
    fbeckwith says:

    What is odd about Forrest’s strategy is that it is almost a textbook example of the genetic fallacy, something that Forrest herself has the intellectual capacity to detect and shoot down as fallacious when it is employed against her views. Consider, for example, her comments on page 869 in a December 2000 article she published in the journal Zygon, “The Possibility of Meaning in Human Evolution”:

    “Now let us apply this reductive analysis to the question of the meaning
    of human existence. Evolutionary theory, by demonstrating that human
    life has evolved from nonhuman life, is thus accused of robbing human
    existence of meaning. But this accusation is well placed only if there is no
    other source of meaning in human existence. If the possibility of meaning
    is contingent upon the development of intentionality, and if intentionality
    is a product of evolution, making the possibility of meaning likewise a
    product of evolution, to deny the value of any meaning human beings
    themselves construct because of its roots in our evolutionary development
    is to commit the genetic fallacy of condemning or devaluing something
    because of its origin, which is irrelevant to value.”

    Now if we can only get her to practice what she preaches.

  2. 2
    Mark Nutter says:

    Luskin correctly points out that Theistic Evolutionists like Kenneth Miller have made similar theistic inferences (in ‘Finding Darwin’s God’), but are never likewise criticized.

    Why not?

  3. 3
    leebowman says:

    Welcome Dr. Beckwith. Although I haven’t read your lecture (Court of Disbelief), I agree with the fallacy of so called ‘religious motive’ as a pejorative tenet of justice. It seems to have been a factor in the Dover school board case.

  4. 4
    leebowman says:

    “Luskin correctly points out that Theistic Evolutionists like Kenneth Miller have made similar theistic inferences (in ‘Finding Darwin’s God’), but are never likewise criticized.”

    I guess I would simply say that they seem to get away with more. On the other hand, I give credit to any scientist who acknowledges a creator while navigating the slippery slope of naturalistic evolution.

  5. 5
    mike1962 says:

    “To wit: Intelligent Design, while logically having religious inferences, is properly defined as an empirical study of design inferences, by which science is the logical investigator.”

    There is no logical reason whatsoever to infer “religion”, with all it’s subjective and fanciful notions (angels, demons, candles, stained glass, hymns, genuflection, etc, etc), from the existence of any designer(s).

    Let’s keep religion out of Intelligent Design.

  6. 6
    Carlos says:

    (5) Let’s keep religion out of Intelligent Design.

    Well, many times on this blog I’ve seen it argued that the reason why most biologists resist intelligent design is because they’re atheists.

    And some here have even held that the ultimate resistance to intelligent design comes from people who don’t want to held accountable to an absolute moral standard (which, apparently, can only be theistic — the thought that atheists can’t adopt an absolute moral standard is taken for granted rather than argued for).

    These sorts of moves really do seem to push intelligent design and religion (of some kind) very close together. In light of that, I think it’s entirely understandable that ID critics would tend to think that the real motive behind intelligent design is a reaction against secularization.

    If you don’t want ID critics to conflate ID and theism, you might want to start by getting your own house in order.

  7. 7
    mike1962 says:

    Forrest: “Evolutionary theory, by demonstrating that human
    life has evolved from nonhuman life,”

    It has done no such thing. What a waste of time.

  8. 8
    mike1962 says:

    Forrest: “If the possibility of meaning is contingent upon the development of intentionality, and if intentionality
    is a product of evolution, making the possibility of meaning likewise a product of evolution, to deny the value of any meaning human beings themselves construct because of its roots in our evolutionary development is to commit the genetic fallacy of condemning or devaluing something because of its origin, which is irrelevant to value.””

    Essentially “intent” equates to desire. With language any bureaucrat would admire, Forrest is basically saying if NDE is true, life has meaning because we desire things. What a revelation!

  9. 9
    fbeckwith says:

    Let me follow up. Forrest’s statement, quoted by mike1962, is strange in another way: What if I reject her view because I do believe that an idea’s origin is relevant to its value. Of course, Forrest will say that I am wrong. But why? Am I not too a product of evolution just like everything else including the arising of intentionality in human beings. Why are some intents better than others? Why should I accept Forrest’s evaluation of the genetic fallacy over mine? Again, I too am a product of the grand story of the undirected goo. Why are the thoughts emanating from my goo any less valid than her’s? There is a way around this, of course: there is cluster of evaluative principles–both logical and moral–that are not the product of the grand story of the undirected goo. But that’s what we call natural law, something that Forrest’s worldview will not permit her to entertain. She’s living off inherited capital from a Father she claims she never had.

  10. 10
    Carlos says:

    I agree that acceptance of a “cluster of evaluative principles –- both logical and moral” is fundamental for getting any kind of story off the ground, regardless of whether that story is philosophical, theological, or scientific. To adopt a metaphor coined by Wilfrid Sellars, we take up a place within “the space of reasons.” Another way of putting it is to say that rationality is non-optional. Call this the primacy of rationality thesis.

    But the primacy of rationality only establishes that the evolutionist must tell a story about how rational beings (i.e. beings capable of giving and asking for reaons for one’s beliefs) could have evolved — that is, how beings which are non-rational and non-moral (wherever one wants to draw the line, at apes or at worms) could have evolved into rational beings. The thesis doesn’t establish that evolutionists don’t have a story to tell at all. If that were the case, then natural law (or any number of other alternatives) would look good.

    Now, the evolutionary story, whatever it turns out to be, does impose certain constraints. Evolutionary explanations tend to be about species-specific adaptations: spider’s webs and beaver’s dams. So it’s reasonable to say that the evolutionary story about rationality would say that the human capacity to take up a place within the space of reasons is itself on the order of a spider’s web or a beaver’s dam.

    This is, undoubtedly, a radically deflationary picture of rationality. But that is not, by itself, an objection. And a radically deflationary picture of rationality is consistent with a commitment to the primacy of rationality. In short, evolutionary thinking can lead us to revise our understanding of what rationality is without requiring us to abandon it. To think otherwise is to confuse rationality with a specific conception of it.

  11. 11
    fbeckwith says:

    Carlos. The normative claim that you seem to assume–we ought to adjust our understanding of rationality in light of new insights–is the sort of claim of rationality I am talking about. It is the norm that justifies the adjustment, which means that it itself is not subject to the flux of nature, since it is assumed in our very discovery of nature including the emergence of rationality. In addition, when you say that “to think otherwise is to confuse rationality with a specific conception of it” is to assume a rational principle as normative in order to assess the distinction between rationality and conceptions of it. This means that here is a rationality above rationality and conceptions of it.

    Frank

  12. 12
    mike1962 says:

    fbeckwith: “She’s living off inherited capital from a Father she claims she never had.”

    You, sir, are a man after mine own heart.

    I wish C.S. Lewis’s “Miracles”, at least the merely philosophical parts, were required reading by every middle school child. Lewis used a different analogy, that materialists are sitting on a branch that they are attempting to saw off. As if human reason (that Forrest herself employs) is somehow above suspicion from the great nexus of irrational causality. Forrest, and many like her, do not seem to be aware of the problem.

  13. 13
    Carlos says:

    Neither (11) nor (12) seem to do what’s assumed to have been done — to show that no commitment to rationality is compatible with an evolutionary picture of human beings.

    If a commitment to rationality necessarily requires a “Platonic” conception of rationality — rationality as the capacity to get the human mind in contact with transcendent, non-natural (and non-historical) structures — then OK, I can see how that’s going to run into conflict with an evolutionary picture.

    But absent the requirement that rationality requires Platonism, or some other version of antinaturalism, the argument doesn’t get off the ground. It would be something indeed if one could show that a commitment to rationality could only be maintained through anti-naturalistic foundationalism. And that line of thought has been presented in enormous detail by some brilliant philosophers, including Plato himself.

    Unfortunately for Plato and for Platonism, there is Nietzsche. He may be wrong, but he cannot be ignored.

    On the other hand, this does show that there’s a burden of proof on evolutionary thinkers to show how rationality could have evolved. And it’s very likely that, in the course of meeting that challenge, evolutionary thinkers will present a picture of rationality that makes it look like photosynthesis or metamorphosis — just another interesting adaptation of just another unique species. It’s not flattering, but who says we need to be flattered?

    (The real trick, philosophically speaking, is to show that antifoundationalism and naturalism are consistent with a commitment to objectivity and to rationality. This is actually what I’m working on now, though I’m going about it by way of commenting on John McDowell’s response to Richard Rorty.)

    It may be helpful to point out that 20th-century academic philosophy began with a family of attempts to establish a foundation for knowledge that was immune to contingency and to actuality. It was widely assumed that one couldn’t get objectivity off the ground without necessity, but that one couldn’t get necessity off the ground without anti-naturalism. So one finds a series of arguments that criticize naturalism on the grounds that, if one accepts naturalism, one must give up on objectivity.

    The problem with these arguments is that they don’t work — or at least they don’t work in the way that their inventors thought they did. While there might be a way of rescuing Husserl from the criticisms of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, and of rescuing Carnap from the criticisms of Neurath and Quine, it doesn’t look promising from where I sit.

    And of course even if anti-naturalistic foundationalism of the Husserlian or Carnapian variety could be vindicated, that’s not to say that it would give succor to theists or to proponents of anything like a “Biblical world-view.”

  14. 14
    mike1962 says:

    Carlos: “And it’s very likely that, in the course of meeting that challenge, evolutionary thinkers will present a picture of rationality that makes it look like photosynthesis or metamorphosis — just another interesting adaptation of just another unique species.”

    This is summarized by “if useful then true” of the pragmatists, which is not a bad philosophy to adopt in daily life (and it’s pretty much how people function in daily life), but when it comes to towering constructs of philosophic thought, such as naturalism and it’s children, how can they be said to be “true”? Upon what rock does any kind of objective morality lie?

    The problem is not whether human reason can make pragmatic choices that seem to benefit humans, just as animals do. The problem is there is no rational justification for humans to consider their own reasoning powers capable of apprehending “truth.” Without truth, “meaning” and “morality” are merely whims of atoms in action, completely subjective, and hardly worth talking about except to forward one’s own agenda. Forrest is all smoke here.

  15. 15
    Carlos says:

    Upon what rock does any kind of objective morality lie?

    Why does objective morality need a “rock”? How do you know that it needs one?

    The problem is there is no rational justification for humans to consider their own reasoning powers capable of apprehending “truth.”

    This looks like a version of Plantinga’s argument that naturalism is self-defeating. And I don’t think it works. Or, more precisely, it would work if one were already committed to thinking that “truth” must mean absolute truth. But there’s no good reason to think that it must mean that, if one is willing to go without a whole host of metaphysical assumptions that have become codified in Platonism and in Christianity.

    So if one is willing to relinquish these assumptions, then one can let go of “absolute truth,” and so embrace a theory of truth which is objective (because it refers to a reality independent of ourselves) but fallibilistic (because what we say and think is conditioned by our needs and interests, and so always partial and limited, and so always standing in need of further correction).

    The real difference between traditional theism and the sort of post-secular humanism I prefer comes down to this: on the theocentric view, there is absolute truth, even if it is unattainable for us in this life. Whereas the sort of humanism I prefer would ask, “how is something that is utterly unattainable to us in this life supposed to make a difference for us in this life?”

    Having said that — and perhaps also having said too much — I am strongly tempted by the “division of labor” envisioned by the philosopher Habermas.

    According to his theory, science alone is objective, properly speaking, whereas ethics is intersubjective — this allows for ethics to transcend the needs and interests of any particular person or society, since there are no boundaries to intersubjectivity — but, unlike science, it is not responsive to “how the world (independent of all subjects) really is.”

    I don’t mention any of this with the expectation of persuading anyone here — I’m not that naive — but in order to show that the slippery slope to perdition, i.e. “Darwinism –> materialism –> atheism –> antifoundationalism –> relativism” can be interrupted at any number of inferences, and that there are more possibilities than seem to be on the table. Thus, while I share in the widespread antipathy to relativism expressed by ID supporters, I don’t think that one must oppose Darwinism in order to do so.

  16. 16
    antg says:

    “And it’s very likely that, in the course of meeting that challenge, evolutionary thinkers will present a picture of rationality that makes it look like photosynthesis or metamorphosis — just another interesting adaptation of just another unique species.”

    Perhaps evolutionary thinkers will present this picture and perhaps even they are correct. However, this cannot be held as a scientific fact. How would this be empirically testable, repeatable and falsifiable? This is the standard that is being asked of ID and all other hypotheses need to be held to the same standard unfortunately.

    Methodical naturalism is a good and useful principle in science, but when it comes down to issues like the origin of reason and rationality all avenues should be open for inquiry.

  17. 17
    Carlos says:

    All avenues are open for inquiry. I’ll pursue mine, and you’re free to pursue yours.

    An evolutionary picture of rationality would be a picture, a conception. It wouldn’t be a “fact” at all. It would be a way of seeing the world, and our relation to it, in a different way.

    Notice we got started on this because of how Beckwith wanted to respond to Forrest: not by making a scientific objection to her interpretation of evolutionary theory, but by making a philosophical objection to it. I responded in kind. So we’re on a different terrain than the terrain of “scientific fact.”

    But on general philosophical principles, I object to the ways in which the theory/fact distinction gets used to say, “well, it’s only a theory, not a fact.” Theories are explanations of facts, and not all explanations are created equal.

  18. 18
    Karl Pfluger says:

    fbeckwith asks:
    “What if I reject her view because I do believe that an idea’s origin is relevant to its value. Of course, Forrest will say that I am wrong. But why? Am I not too a product of evolution just like everything else including the arising of intentionality in human beings. Why are some intents better than others? Why should I accept Forrest’s evaluation of the genetic fallacy over mine? Again, I too am a product of the grand story of the undirected goo. Why are the thoughts emanating from my goo any less valid than her’s? There is a way around this, of course: there is cluster of evaluative principles–both logical and moral–that are not the product of the grand story of the undirected goo. But that’s what we call natural law, something that Forrest’s worldview will not permit her to entertain. She’s living off inherited capital from a Father she claims she never had.”

    Hi Francis,

    Unfortunately, assuming that logic derives from a supernatural source (e.g. Forrest’s “Father”) does not solve the problem. How do we know the assumption is correct? If it is correct, how do we know that the Father has bestowed a trustworthy system of logic upon us? And assuming He intended to give us a trustworthy system of logic, how can we be sure that His own logic is trustworthy? If logic comes from a supernatural source, we have no way of judging its validity except by the consistency of the results it provides — a criterion which is also available if our logical abilities were produced by evolutionary processes.

    And whereas logic bestowed from above is always questionable, we can have some confidence in logic produced by evolutionary means. After all, creatures who employ bad logic are not going to survive as well, in general, as their more rational counterparts. Logical abilities should improve as the illogical among us are weeded out. Our logical abilities may not be perfect — indeed, there is abundant evidence that they are not — but they have certainly progressed to the level where we are able to apply the consistency test with some success.

Leave a Reply