Thursday, September 15, 2005

I Thought You Said Intelligent Design!

The ID controversy seems unwilling to go away. The Troglodyte, Scott Warmke, has this to say on the matter, and although I ordinarily find his blog very good, this is a case where he really falls on his face. One of my favorite lines in there is this one:
Curiously, or perhaps not, all three groups gravitate to the same stock phrases, albethey [sic] for different reasons. "ID is not science!" "ID is creationism!" "ID is not testable!" "ID teaches religion in the classroom!" yada yada yada.

You've especially got to love the "yada yada yada" comment. You just can't argue with logic like that! I'm reminded of a line from Plato's Republic, where Socrates has been asked to say what he thinks justice is, but his interlocutor, Thrasymachus, has told him that he may not say that it is "what's beneficial" or "what's necessary" or "what's profitable" or any of the other popular definitions floating about. As it happens, Socrates doesn't happen to think that justice is any of the things that Thrasymachus has mentioned, but the constraint put upon him prompts him to say
Clever of you, Thrasymachus. Clever enough to know what would happen if you were to ask someone what twelve was, but then give him a warning before he answered: "Now look here, don't go telling us that twelve is twice six, or three times four, or six times two, or four times three. I'm not going to take any nonsense of that sort from you."

"I'm not going to take any nonsense of that sort from you" here = "yada yada yada."

In other words, what if the demarcation criterion for science (not a phrase one will find in Warmke's essay, by the way) just happens to be testability? Apparently we're not allowed to mention that, since it would preclude Warmke's favored candidate from the field of the scientific. Now that's the way to win arguments!

Things are a little better, but not much, over at Mark Shea's blog, where he has this contribution to make. I agree with some of what he has to say, but he continues to make the central error that sets ID apart from genuine science: he continues to think that like effects entail like causes, a non-sequitur of biblical proportions.

Tom Kreitzberg, a favorite blogger of mine for a variety of very different reasons, has this to say on his blog Disputations. (You simply must admire the charity of a man who calls Mark Shea "nuanced and cautious". Don't get me wrong--I love Mark Shea, I respect Mark Shea and his work/calling. But "nuanced and cautious"? Come on.) Of the three contributions I've mentioned here, this last one is by far the best.

In particular I agree so strongly with Tom's final paragraph, that I'm just going to lift it, with apologies to him:
Another point of those objections is how scientific they sound today. The first objection offers a hypothesis ("God exists"), determines what should be observed if the hypothesis is true (no evil in creation), makes an observation (evil exists), and corrects the hypothesis ("God doesn't exist"). The second objection is Occam's Razor avant Occam, and Occam's Razor is forever being wielded by acolytes of modern science who think it can carve God clean out of His creation. (These same acolytes look down on medieval thinkers like St. Thomas and their backward notions of science.) A culture that values scientific-sounding arguments as much as ours is one particularly susceptible to atheism.

There is a genuine danger of atheism, in my opinion, only if you wed the "value" of "scientific-sounding arguments" to realism about science. If you remain an anti-realist, then "scientific-sounding" arguments really are valuable not just because they sound scientific, but because they are scientific.

If you look at the so-called "Five Ways" of the Summa Theologiae, you will see that they are, in essence, a posteriori arguments. That is significant, I think. Others had made a priori arguments that failed, but St. Thomas attempts to appeal to human reason and the powers of human observation to make his proof of God's existence. He is all for the utilization of the entire, integrated, human person, body and soul, reason and observation, because that is the sort of faculty of knowledge that is peculiarly human, though directed at objects that are the objects of any kind of knowledge.

I have stressed, in my own meagre contributions to this debate (you can check the archives for them), my own sense that the defenders of ID have lost sight of the place of knowledge and exploration in human experience--in spite of the fact that they are claiming that it is the evolutionists who want to "stifle" the "debate". When I was in graduate school I often went running with a friend who was a very strict creationist (not the same thing as ID, but close enough in some important ways) who claimed that the fossil record is deceptive: those dinosaur bones may look like they're millions of years old, but God made them to look that way in order to test our faith. That's a pretty good example of what Karl Popper had in mind when he proposed falsifiability as the demarcation criterion for science. I'm not sure Popper was entirely correct, but when I think about what my friend was willing to say in order to save his hypothesis from falsification, I think I know what Popper was worried about.

I, for my part, can't for the life of me imagine what the motivation behind ID is supposed to be. If one is an evolutionist who believes in God, and who believes that evolutionary processes are themselves examples of the design that God built into the kosmos, on what grounds are we supposed to then reject evolution in favor of a hypothesis that says, in effect, everything you already believe is true, except for the evolution part. In short, ID is antecedently denying that certain examples of design can really be counted as examples of design. But no reason is given for thinking that these forces ought not to count as proof of God's design.

No reason. That's a rather pithy saying, now that I think about it.

1 comment:

Apollodorus said...

Don't most people who reject Darwinism do so because they believe that evolution, at least as explained by Darwinian mechanisms, entails the rejection of any sense of design in nature? The claim would be, if I understand it, that Darwinism, if accepted, leads inescapably to the conclusion that the development of life is purposeless and that nothing is as it is because it is supposed to be that way, but simply because it ended up that way as a result of the operation of those mechanisms. Some people try to solve the problem by rejecting the idea that random mutation and natural selection can do all of the work, and that God or some similarly intelligent force must have guided evolution along the way. You seem not to be taking that route, but rather suggesting that 'evolution' itself is one of the things designed by God, where 'evolution' doesn't just mean 'the development of life' but rather 'the development of life through the mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection.' Is that to say that God designed a world in which life unfolds according to random mutation and natural selection, but that's it? Or is there more to it?

Given the various backgrounds you bring to this discussion, your reasoning can not fail to be fascinating. So please, give us more.