Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Jul/09

25

Intelligent Design as philosophy

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someoneShare on TumblrShare on Google+

The most recent Bloggingheads.tv features Ronald L. Numbers, author of The Creationists, and Paul Nelson, a Creationist and Intelligent Design advocate. The discussion is civil and well-informed, but as noted by some of the commenters on the Bloggingheads.tv site, it isn’t really about science. Rather, it is about philosophy and history of science. Scientists when discussing scientific issues really don’t talk the way that Ronald Numbers & Paul Nelson do in this diavlog. I pointed out years ago that the Intelligent Design movement is qualitatively different from the Creation Science movement, insofar as it is heavily-loaded on philosophers, while old-style Creationists tend to have applied scientists heading their movement (i.e., engineers and medical professionals). In terms of science, where the traditional Young Earth Creationists are simply wrong, the Intelligent Design movement is irrelevant. Where the two movements do come together is their fear that mainstream scientific is fundamentally atheistic, and that atheism will lead to social consequences. This attitude is pithily expressed in the assertion that if you teach people they are animals, they will behave as such. Though methods of the Intelligent Design movement tend to be oblique and exhibit the semantic circumlocutions of philosophy, their ends are concrete and sociopolitical. Contra Dawkins et al. most scientists do not view their project as part of a coherent and intellectually fulfilling worldview. Rather, most science is about describing and predicting fragments of reality, and within the past century mapping those models onto practical and concrete engineering solutions. Ronald Numbers’ defense of methodological naturalism by virtue of its fruits nods to these lived realities of science.

·

22 comments

  • Ben Abbott · July 25, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    Nicely worded. If only the ID advocates understood and acknowledged that the view they promote isn’t science. I find their “oblique methods” infuriatingly irrational (imo).

  • Author comment by David Hume · July 25, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    if you listen to the diavlog, nelson is expert at subtly attempting to box numbers in. the doyen of the ID movement, phillip e. johnson, is a lawyer and that style is evident in a lot of their arguments. most of the ID folk though are more philosophically subtle than johnson’s more blunt lawerly delivery, while behe and dembski add a layer of scientific obscurity on top of the argumentation to impress.

    but at the end of the day the ID critique is a foundational philosophical one of science as it is practiced. but who cares? until it stops working, it works. and that’s that.

  • ppnl · July 25, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    Intelligent design is neither science nor philosophy nor even religion. It is a cynical political plan plain and simple.

    Look at the differences within the movement. Behe believes in common descent so that humans and chimps have a common ancestor. Dembski does not. How he reconciles that with things like ERVs and psudogenes is beyond me. And the masses of people cheering ID on are young earth creationists.

    These are some serious scientific and philosophical differences that those in the movement are willing to ignore. Why? They are constructing a big tent of creationism with a lot of money and smooth talking lawyers and lobbyists. In the end its about getting, controlling and expanding the religious right vote.

    Smooth talking lobbyist does not make it a philosophy. It does not make the scientific arguments any less stupid. And it does not make ID a coherent theory. ID is just another religious honey pot to attract the religious right.

  • Cornelius J. Troost · July 25, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    David hume is right about ID as a philosophical movement more than a scientific one. There is only one science and when philosophy is applied to science it yields a field of study loaded with interesting issues and arguments.Philosophy of science is not a domain that accommodates the methods of ID very well and the two have no basis for reconciliation.As Hume reminds us, science works and has no competition in our world.Reliable knowledge only derives from science.

    However, the loss of faith is a tragedy for many and the religion called secular humanism, while often wedded to scientific values, does in fact brazenly proselytize in our liberal culture to recruit the “fallen.” Relativistic to the core and full of egalitarian zeal, these atheists wish to create multicultural paradises dedicated to values like materialism, sexual license, crass entertainment, and hate speech legislation.All traditional “higher values” will be ground to nothingness in this secular order. In writing my Apes or Angels? book I was acutely aware of the potential dangers of secular humanism because pure relativism is the path to degeneracy. While few of us ever really grasp the “animal” part of our nature, liberals manage to ignore all differences that count in their quest for a perfect society in the Marxist tradition.Just as that highly competent policeman in Cambridge got a taste of Obama’s perverted views, we may eventually get a fuller taste of what a relativistic PC order may look like.One absolute will prevail: the mandate to be silent about differences that really matter.

  • Curious reader · July 25, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    “Contra Dawkins et al. most scientists do not view their project as part of a coherent and intellectually fulfilling worldview.”

    You’ve shifted what Dawkins said. His quote is, “An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: “I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn’t a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.” I can’t help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” He’s clearly referring to science having developed it’s own “creation myth:” a solid answer to how we came to be here.

    I don’t believe that you can support your assertion. First, we have to parse your comment into two possibile meanings. On one hand we have what you’ve claimed Dawkins said, do scientists view their small effort to add to human knowledge as “as part of a coherent and intellectually fulfilling worldview.” The second option is what Dawkins was more or less saying, which is that science itself has answered some difficult questions, and certainly serves as part of a coherent worldview as to how things are. I don’t believe I’ve ever met a scientist who didn’t believe that science itself was coherent. For the broad case, science assumes methodological naturalism; scientists certainly devote much time and effort into their work; do you have any evidence that most don’t find it to be part of a coherent and intellectually fulfilling worldview? As for the narrow case, I don’t know. Have any poll results to back up the claim?

  • Author comment by David Hume · July 25, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    curious reader, i didn’t state that artfully. right, for scientists science *is* part of an intellectual and fulfilling worldview, insofar as it is their vocation. that being said, most scientists are far less shifted toward a position of *scientism* than someone like dawkins or e. o. wilson is. in part because most scientists aren’t particularly philosophical. IOW, a question such as: “is the distinction between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism valid?” isn’t one on the radar of most scientists. it is on the radar of someone like dawkins, the ID crowd, and philosophers of science.

  • Ploni · July 26, 2009 at 1:48 am

    Cornelius J. Troost :

    Cornelius J. Troost

    … Reliable knowledge only derives from science.

    This would be on the face of it such a ridiculous statement that you must have some special esoteric definition of “knowledge” or of “science,” or maybe of both.

    While few of us ever really grasp the “animal” part of our nature, liberals manage to ignore all differences that count in their quest for a perfect society in the Marxist tradition.

    Seems to me that conservatives and libertarians are about as good at ignoring differences that count in the quest for their perfect society as liberals are, no more and no less. (Just so nobody feels left out.)

  • Secular Square · July 26, 2009 at 5:48 am

    That ID advocates consist mainly of philosophers who “do” little science should be obvious when we think about the two disciplines of philosophy and science. Physical science as “first order” knowledge is the examination of the physical world using a mode of inquiry chiefly based upon empirical methods. Philosophy can be helpful as “second order” knowledge by using its own mode of inquiry to help science clarify definitions, refine experiments, etc. When ID advocates criticize science for its materialistic or atheistic world view, I think they make two errors. First, they forget that because of the object of its study and its mode of inquiry, science cannot factor the possible existence of a deity into their explanatory models. This will become an issue only if science develops a way to detect the existence of immaterial entities (a human soul? angels? ghosts? a truly conservative Republican presidential candidate?). Their second error is that when they challenge the world view of modern science, they abandon their role as “second order” analytical knowledge and assert “first order” metaphysical knowledge about the existence of a deity. They can make some formidable arguments in support of their claims. But the claims, however logically crisp, are not science and at this time cannot be evaluated by scientific modes of inquiry. In that way they are, as you say, irrelevant to science.

    The most salient point of the article is the concern about the ethical consequences of their different world views. Ironically, ethics IS the proper domain of philosophy; science has next to nothing to say about how we should live. But ID advocates do not seem to have stepped up on this question. I assume they prefer to answer ethical questions with “God says that. . .” rather than to develop a philosophically based system of ethics. They again make themselves irrelevant.

  • Snippet · July 26, 2009 at 6:39 am

    Intelligent Design as currently construed and advocated is an attempt to somehow keep God relevant after a few hundred years of science answering questions that the Bible ignored or got embarassingly wrong.

    But yet…

    In theory, we could be designed, and if we were designed by whatever, that seems like something science could figure out, just as an intelligent computer or robot could figure out that it was designed by some smelly hairy wet emotional irrational things.

    The fact that that begs the question of who designed the designer is irrelevant.

    I don’t think that’s the trajectory contemporary ID is on, but the idea that intelligent design is by definition and in all cases scientifically irrelevant overstates the case.

  • OneSTDV · July 26, 2009 at 8:01 am

    “Intelligent Design as currently construed and advocated is an attempt to somehow keep God relevant after a few hundred years of science answering questions that the Bible ignored or got embarassingly wrong.”

    This is generally referred to as God of the Gaps.

    “In theory, we could be designed, and if we were designed by whatever, that seems like something science could figure out, just as an intelligent computer or robot could figure out that it was designed by some smelly hairy wet emotional irrational things.

    The fact that that begs the question of who designed the designer is irrelevant. ”

    Good point about the irrelevance of infinite regression. Though the issue of infinite regression does apply if one uses Ocamm’s Razor to identify the most likely position.

  • ppnl · July 26, 2009 at 9:36 am

    “I don’t think that’s the trajectory contemporary ID is on, but the idea that intelligent design is by definition and in all cases scientifically irrelevant overstates the case.”

    ID isn’t wrong by definition. It fails to make any coherent claim and so it does not even succeed in being wrong. The universe is many billions of years old. In principle a billion year old civilization could exist and could have constructed life on earth. In principle that fact could become apparent from an examination of the evidence. But at this point all you have is a plot for a cheap science fiction.

  • Cornelius J. Troost · July 26, 2009 at 11:51 am

    The ID clan has a very good basis for metaphysical claims about the creation of things like universes and life. Design is in fact built into nature, so geometry can be used to help explain the aspects of design found in molecules, crystals, etc.ID folks insist on imposing metaphysics upon science and thereby “explain” the facts of nature” in a manner that is contradictory to the way science actually works.Design in nature looks logically as though it requires a designer, so it is easy for believers to be attracted to what appears to be an option. According to naturalism, however, this “option” is a chimera, and naturalistic options may prove better- emotionally satisfying NO, but better, YES.

    Science is the most reliable knowledge we have but I respect other kinds, such as practical common sense, aesthetic, musical, religious, emotional, and mathematical. Your knowledge of Jupiter, migraine headaches, or human nature comes most reliably from science, despite the value of feelings, intuititions, and myths.Superstitions are a form of knowledge, but science allows us the power to determine how they often are wrong.Alas, the myth of human equality may turn out to be the ultimate knowledge conflict between science and liberalism, with liberalism looking mighty primitive and wrong.Maybe ID has more company than we think.

  • Snippet · July 26, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    SNIPPET: “Intelligent Design as currently construed and advocated is an attempt to somehow keep God relevant after a few hundred years of science answering questions that the Bible ignored or got embarassingly wrong.”

    OneSDTV (Nice Website, by the way…): This is generally referred to as God of the Gaps.

    To pick nits, God of the Gaps is the “argument” that any given phenomena that science has not yet gotten a handle on are proof of His existence.

    My awkwardly worded argument was simply that Intelligent Design is an attempt to bring God back to intellectual respectability after science had apparently rendered belief in Him intellectually untenable.

    I was making this point to disabuse any readers of the easy-to-make assumption that I was defending Intelligent Design as it currently stands, which I don’t.

    AS IT CURRENTLY STANDS it is irrelevant, I agree, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be.

    To belabor my argument, if one computer did figure out that he and all of Computeranity was in fact invented by humans, he would be making a genuine “scientific” (and potentially horrifying to the computers) discovery.

    We could – in theory – make a similar discovery…that we are a science experiment gone badly wrong or some such.

  • Snippet · July 26, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    ppnl,

    I’m not refuting the argument that ID is wrong. I’m offering a challenge to the notion that it is NECESSARILY (imagine italics here) irrelevant.

    Realistically, it is, but that could theoretically change, if for example, a bar code were found in our genes.

  • Author comment by Bradlaugh · July 26, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    Mr. Hume:  Your sentiments map nicely on to mine in a piece I wrote 5 yrs ago:

    Math professor Michael Harris tells a true story about a conversation held in his presence during a conference in Münster, Germany, last year. Over a restaurant dinner, three professional mathematicians resurrected an issue from the great "crisis of foundations" that racked mathematics in the early 20th century — during roughly the period from Russell’s paradox (1901) to Gödel’s theorem (1931). This crisis arose because mathematicians had begun inquiring into the logical and philosophical underpinnings of their subject, trying to find the fundamental axioms underlying all of math, seeking unshakeably firm foundations for the process of mathematical proof.

    Well, the three diners all expressed different opinions on the issue in question, which is a very crucial one. ("The ontological status of the continuum" — but you don’t need to know this to understand my point.) Harris sought to pursue the discussion down into deeper matte … but found that his colleagues did not have the necessary knowledge, and didn’t actually care. These foundational issues, though interesting in their own right, and fine for a few casual conversational exchanges over the dinner-table, do not really matter in the day-to-day work of most mathematicians.

    Mathematicians, in my experience, want to get on with doing math. Very few of them care about ontology or epistemology. My experience of biologists is rather limited, but I bet they’re not much different. "Enjoy fussing about philosophical issues" and "Enjoy doing math/science" are not completely disjoint sets, but the intersection set is way small.

  • OneSTDV · July 27, 2009 at 4:47 am

    A surprisingly large group of people actually does believe this: “We could – in theory – make a similar discovery…that we are a science experiment gone badly wrong or some such.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ra%C3%ABlism

    (Thanks for the compliment.)

  • Caledonian · July 27, 2009 at 8:38 am

    @Ploni

    This would be on the face of it such a ridiculous statement that you must have some special esoteric definition of “knowledge” or of “science,” or maybe of both.

    I suggest you investigate the etymology of “science” more closely, Ploni.

    Among other problems, you can’t distinguish between beliefs, convictions, and knowledge. The method we refer to as “scientific” is the only source of knowledge. If something produces knowledge, it’s part of science. If it’s part of science, it produces knowledge.

    Religion produces no knowledge. “Philosophy”, as that term is usually meant, produces no knowledge.

  • Caledonian · July 27, 2009 at 8:42 am

    @Snippet
    If there were evidence indicating that the Earth was flat, the Flat-Earther position would then become tenable. But there isn’t, and so it isn’t.

    ID is an attempt to build a conclusion without the supporting premises necessary. If those premises were valid, the attempt would be – but they aren’t, so it isn’t.

  • John · July 27, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    Realistically, it is, but that could theoretically change, if for example, a bar code were found in our genes.

    I’m reminded of a Star Trek episode where it turned out that our junk DNA was actually a video that showed humanity’s creators.

  • ppnl · July 29, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Snippet,

    “I’m not refuting the argument that ID is wrong. I’m offering a challenge to the notion that it is NECESSARILY (imagine italics here) irrelevant.”

    Well the study of UFOs isn’t necessarily wrong. Aliens could in principle be visiting earth. But without evidence you still only have a plot for a bad science fiction.

    At best ID is an attempt to do science backward. It start with a conclusion and desperately attempts find some way to justify it.

    But in reality it is much worse than that. It is a cynical political ploy to cloth creationism with scientific respectability so as to control the religious right vote. I believe many of the lawyers and lobbyists involved in selling this crap know better. Or more precisely they don’t give a shit one way or the other.

    If I were religious it would piss me off even more than it does now.

  • Clark · August 3, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    While I tend to think ID is bunk as either philosophy or science I think the idea that one can separate out the science from the philosophy as easily as some suggest is questionable. While the average scientist proceeds quite well without knowing philosophy (or worse has just enough philosophy to be dangerous) the fact is that it sometimes does matter. If all you care about is calculating (roughly instrumentalism) that’s fine, but to claim that is all science consists of is to make a philosophical claim and one that is hard to reconcile with how science has been done or thought about over the centuries. (Realists tend to be heavily represented at times)

    Philosophy often has an underserved bad rep. (I think in no small part due to Richard Feynmans bad experience taking a class on Whitehead’s Process and Reality while at MIT) However a strong case could be made that scientific progress depends upon thinking philosophically. While Einstein is the classic example of this I think more recently Lee Smolin’s made arguments to take philosophy seriously.

  • Clark · August 3, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    I don’t believe I’ve ever met a scientist who didn’t believe that science itself was coherent.

    I’m trying to wrap my head around what on earth that even means. Certainly aspects of science are anything but coherent. (Think QM & GR) We might have faith that eventually we’ll discover a coherent and reductionist account of everything. But there are plenty of non-reductionists out there. (i.e. who don’t think that biological laws and descriptions can be reduced methadologically to physics; even if they might think physics captures or will capture the ultimate description of the universe) However given current scientific understanding it seems quite odd to claim science is coherent since presumably we do have some falsehoods which almost by definition are incoherent with what is true in science. Scientific methadology seems to entail as a major point a kind of fallibilistic perspective on “scientific knowledge” which only allows for a certain kind of tentative stance towards even facts we are quite sure of. (Thus the overthrow of traditional Newtonian undertanding)

    Now I think such overthrows of scientific understanding are rarer than some critics of science suggest. And where they happen they also have a tendency to be in cutting edge areas where the scientists themselves acknowledge that understanding is fairly tentative. (And critics often appeal naively to Kuhn far too often unfortunately)

    However let’s not go too far the other way by suggesting a coherency in science that simply isn’t there.

<<

>>

Theme Design by devolux.nh2.me