October 07, 2005

Misconceptions About Intelligent Design (part 2)

"ID is not science because supernatural explanations are outside the scope of science"

First of all, it should be noted that this is a philosophical claim, not a scientific one. Defining the scope of science is the domain of the philosophers of science; science itself cannot be employed to define itself any more than persons can conceive themselves.

Studying the operation of the natural world and its causal connections is certainly a valid pursuit. In fact, it is perfectly in line with a Christian worldview, which believes that the world is made by a God of order and purpose. But studying natural processes and claiming that they are omnipotent are two different things. Being aggressive in the pursuit of natural causes and saying that "nature is all there is, was, or ever will be" available as an explanation are two different philosophical positions.

Naturalistic scientists are determined to set the boundaries of "science" to disallow outside causes. Nothing outside the "box" is game for consideration. This means that the idea of a transcendent designer is ruled a foul before it can even come up to bat. For this reason, many of the debates over ID end up being less about the evidences and more about the rules of science. This makes questions of origins rather problematic. With these naturalistic rules in place, if there were a designer how could we ever know it in principle? And even if the "designer" were a part of the natural world (an alien for instance), then we shall never arrive at that conclusion.

"If ID is science, then why doesn't it publish in peer reviewed scientific journals?"

As mentioned above, modern science has stacked the deck against certain kinds of answers. When the qualification for being "scientific" is that your explanations are naturalistic, it is kind of difficult in principle to meet the requirement for publication if your conclusion gives quarter to the supernatural. Soundness of argument and quality of evidence are secondary to the larger issue of maintaining naturalistic orthodoxy. One editor discovered this the hard way when he was careless enough to allow an ID theorist's paper to slip into his publication because it was camouflaged as compelling science. Those interested in reviewing the inquisition that ensued may begin their journey here.

In spite of such opposition, ID has made some fairly impressive forays into the academic world, and has gotten far more scientific attention and "review" than biblical creationism has had the fortune to receive. This is largely because, even from the outset, ID books and papers have drawn their conclusions and supported their case from approved publications. And those who are raising the concerns over the adequacies of Darwinian theory are not just fundamentalist High School science teachers, but dissenting voices in the academic community. Even if ID did not face these strong philosophical barriers, it is still the case that science has its sacred cows and its axioms die a hard death.

"Accepting ID would mean the end of scientific investigation"

The gist of this complaint is that if we are free to appeal to God in the face of mystery, then we shall not push the scientific envelope; we'll just say "goddunnit" and leave it at that. But history proves otherwise. It must be remembered that materialistic science is a relative newcomer on the historic western scene, where most of the great scientists, on whose shoulders we stand, have been Christians who took the idea of a creator/designer for granted. In fact, it was their commitment to this God of law, order, and purpose that drove them to imagine that there was something worthy to be explored at all. As Kepler stated, they wanted to "think God's thoughts after Him."

In fact, there are grounds for accusing materialistic science of being the cause of much backward and dismissive thinking. Consider the following, and how an assumption of design would have influenced the thinking in each case.

There was a time when nearly 100 human organs were considered nonfunctional "vestigial" leftovers of evolution. Purposes have been discovered for these, one by one, on further investigation (I believe the appendix was the last to be crossed off the list).

When genetic researchers discovered a large volume of DNA that did not seem to code for proteins, the ignorance over its actual purpose was translated by naturalistic scientists into the assumption that it must be "Junk DNA," which is merely a product of failed or outdated evolutionary development. You would be right to guess that further investigation has yielded new insights as to the utility of this DNA.

In times past, when it was observed that mold forms on cheese and maggots on meat, the idea of "spontaneous generation" arose among those of high credulity and low regard for a creator.

As the evidence began to mount for a cosmological "big bang" event, many of the objectors were non-theists who took exception on less than scientific grounds. Consider this quote by Sir Arthur Eddington: "Philosophically the notion of a beginning of the present order is repugnant to me . . . I should like to find a genuine loophole. I simply do not believe the present order of things started off with a bang."

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12 Comments:

At 10/07/2005 9:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why are Christian fundamentalists so stubbornly stupid? Science and religion are totally different.

I find your arguments against science to idiotic. I know of no one that claims scientists to be infallible. A great many initial theories have proven to be incorrect, so they have been discarded and replaced with more accurate theories. That is what science is about.

Scientists start by observing many occurrences of some natural phenomenon, devising a theory to explain what was observed, testing this theory by making predictions about future occurrences of the phenomenon, and finally revising or replacing the theory whenever future observations fail to match the predictions. All evidence is considered, not just that which supports the theory. As more observations conform to the theory’s predictions and none disagree, the theory becomes stronger. Evolution is one of the strongest theories.

Religion starts with a myth, accepted on faith. Observations of the real world are never purposely made. If anyone does notice that reality doesn’t match the myth, it is assumed that reality is wrong, or that the observer is fabricating the facts. If too many people start noticing that reality doesn’t match the myth, a search will be made to find some facts that will support the myth or that can be twisted so that they appear to support the myth. Any evidence that does not support the myth is discounted and ignored. Religion must be accepted on faith, because it cannot be supported by evidence.

As I understand it, the argument for Intelligent Design is that everything is so complex that it couldn’t have come into existence through random chance. Therefore, it must have been designed by some superior intelligence. I guess the person who came up with this must have spent too much time staring at his navel. He certainly didn’t look up into the night sky.

The universe is infinitely large. There are billions upon billions of galaxies. In each galaxy there are billions of stars. Around a great many of these stars, there are several planets. Not all planets have life forms, but considering how immensely large the number of planets it would be inconceivable that there are not an extremely large number of them that do. In view of the enormous numbers we are dealing with, it is entirely probable that highly complex life forms could develop. In fact, it is probable that a number of life forms have developed on some planets that are even more complex than those here on earth.

Is there a supreme being? I don’t have an answer to that question. I have seen no evidence to prove that there is, and I have seen no evidence to prove that there isn’t. Christians accept the existence of God based on a book: their bible. They “know” that their bible is the absolute truth and anyone or anything (even reality) that disagrees with their bible must be wrong. Considering that their bible is a translation of a translation with numerous errors, that it is a compilation of selected texts and that many other texts were discarded because they did not agree with their idea of what the truth should be, and that many things in their bible cannot possibly be accepted literally because they are physically impossible, it is hardly what one would consider as compelling evidence. (Of course, they do have a counter-argument to the last problem because God is all-powerful and can do the impossible.)

Logic tells me that evolution is the best explanation for life as we know it. On the other hand, Intelligent Design is logically and scientifically unsound. As such, it has no place in any science class. The issue is not whether competing theories should be taught, it is whether mythology will be taught in science classes. When you consider how poorly American students do in science these days, it is plain that we don’t need to be taking up time in their science classes to teach mythology.

 
At 10/08/2005 12:36 AM, Blogger Paul said...

Anonymous,

Are you actually looking for an answer here or are you just venting steam? I suspect the latter since you begin your rant by accusing me of being "so stubbornly stupid" — hardly an invitation to dialog. I am not going to waste my time responding to this unless I hear otherwise. It is not even worth unpacking this response merely for the benefit of my readers, since there is neither anything new here nor does it represent anything near the leading edge of this debate. In any case, thanks for finding my post worthy of your time.

 
At 10/08/2005 2:03 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...

I'll unpack it.

Why are fundamentalists so stubbornly stupid?

Your question assumes facts not in evidence. Before it make sense to ask why they're stupid, you first have to establish that they are stupid. And while you're at it, explain how the stupidity of fundamentalists is at all relevent to Paul's posts.

Science and religion are totally different.

There is some overlap, so they are not totally different. Both depend on inductive reasoning, and make inferences from observation. Religion consists of worldviews and assumptions about reality and our place in it just as science does.

But this point of yours is totally irrelevent. Paul has argued that ID is not strictly religious, even if it may happen to have implications for religion, or be consistent with some religious views.

I find your arguments against science to idiotic.

Paul hasn't made any arguments against science, so your discussion of how science works is irrelevent to his posts.

Religion starts with a myth, accepted on faith. Observations of the real world are never purposely made.

In that case, you must agree that ID is not "religion," since it does not begin with myth, but rather with obsevation, just as you explained science begins.

Religion must be accepted on faith, because it cannot be supported by evidence.

Why are anonymous Christian-bashers so stubbornly ignorant? One, you paint religion with too broad a brush. Two, the Christian idea of faith does not mean "belief without evidence." Three, there are scores of books full of evidence to support Christianity.

Christians accept the existence of God based on a book: their bible.

And advocates of ID accept the existence of an intelligent designer from biology and cosmology.

Considering that their bible is a translation of a translation...

Most English translations are not translations of translations; rather, they are translations from the original languages.

But your discussion of the Bible is completely irrelevent. No scientist in the ID movement bases their theory on the Bible.

...with numerous errors...

Most of which are corrected by textual critics.

many other texts were discarded because they did not agree with their idea of what the truth should be

Most were discarded, because they were deemed forgeries or did not agree with the earliest writings. And modern scholars don't seem to disagree. Just about all of the non-canonical gospels were written much later than the canonical ones. The gospel of Thomas is the only exception, and only a handful of scholars think it has an early date.

In fact, it seems that most scholars have the opposite view that you take. Rather than thinking some books were wrongly excluded, they think some books were wrongly included. Of the 13 letters attributed to Paul in the New Testament, only 7 are universally recognized as authentic. The rest are accepted with varying degrees of certainty and doubt.

Logic tells me that evolution is the best explanation for life as we know it. On the other hand, Intelligent Design is logically and scientifically unsound. As such, it has no place in any science class.

Right now, scientists disagree on whether evolution or ID is the better theory. Why should one be banned from the science class just because everybody on the other side is convinced that their side is right?

The issue is not whether competing theories should be taught, it is whether mythology will be taught in science classes.

If that were the issue, then there would be no controversy, because even ID people would agree that mythology should not be taught in science classes.

 
At 10/08/2005 8:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ephphatha has proven my point. Christian fundamentalists are stubbornly stupid.

"In that case, you must agree that ID is not 'religion,' since it does not begin with myth, but rather with obsevation, just as you explained science begins."

Charles Darwin and others started by observing how species in isolation adapted. Over time, natural selection favored those members that were better able to cope with their environment so their favorable characteristics were passed to the next generation. His theory is independent of religion. It neither requires the existence of God nor denies his existence. It is an explanation of scientific observations about a particular aspect of nature.

ID presupposes that God exists and tries to prove his existence by selectively taking observed facts and trying to interpret them in a manner consistent with that belief. Facts that are not consistent with that belief are ignored. Let me demonstrate how unsound your logic is.

Earth is actually a gigantic insane asylum. Criminally insane people from the planet Knarf, are sent here to isolate them from normal people. Since Knarf is much more advanced, they are able to erase our memories so we don't remember our former world. My evidence is quite straightforward. People on earth are criminally insane: they commit all sorts of atrocities against each other, from petty theft to murder and war. Of course, some of us have reformed and try to live sane, law-abiding lives. The numerous sightings of flying saucers prove that people are being brought here.

Is my myth any more nonsensical than yours? True, I don’t have a book written about it, but I do have some physical evidence for it. Astronomers at the CalTech Jet Propulsion Laboratory have recently discovered that Knarf does exist. It orbits a red dwarf star in the constellation Sagittarius, about 17,000 light years away.

 
At 10/08/2005 9:23 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...

ID presupposes that God exists and tries to prove his existence by selectively taking observed facts and trying to interpret them in a manner consistent with that belief.

Anonymous has proven my point. Christian-bashers are ignorant. ID does not presuppose God; ID infers an intelligent designer.

And your story is not at all analogous to how folks in the ID movement reason.

 
At 10/08/2005 10:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to my dictionary, infer means to derive as a conclusion from facts. Which facts show an intelligent designer? As I pointed out in my original post, complexity does not necessarily require an intelligent designer. All of the facts that I have seen point toward evolution, with occasional intervention from naturally occurring catastrophes. I cannot absolutely rule out the existence of an intelligent designer, no more than you can absolutely rule out the existence of people on the planet Knarf. On the other hand, there is no more convincing evidence for an intelligent designer than there is for people on the planet Knarf. The only way you can show an intelligent designer is to presuppose an intelligent designer.

 
At 10/08/2005 11:48 AM, Blogger Paul said...

Anon, it would seem that your steam is not yet fully vented, but it does look like you've at least improved your focus with Sam's (ephphatha's) help.

Where we take issue is with your own presupposition of the motives of Intelligent Design theorists. Since you believe that Darwinian evolution is such an unassailable fact, you seem to think that the only possible reason one would have to question it is on the grounds of religious conviction. But this idea displays both a lack of knowledge regarding the scientific issues that ID is raising as well as ignorance over the members of this movement. (The discussion of ID is curiously fixated on motives and philosophy with science only along for the ride.)

Here are a few items for your consideration:

Michael Behe, one of the chief advocates of ID theory, was actually propelled into this debate not as a result of his Roman Catholic beliefs, but after he had read Michael Denton's book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Denton is not a theist, and even Behe holds to a very modest view of the activities of this designer, which makes the pure "creationists" blanch.

There are members of the ID movement, such as David Berlinski, who are not even theists.

And I was a Christian well before I came to reject the theory of evolution. I did so only after looking at the pros and cons of the theory. Before I was a Christian I did not even bother to look at the evidence against it. So, at which point was I "biased" by my worldview?

However, you are right in a sense when you say, "the only way you can show an intelligent designer is to presuppose an intelligent designer." We must certainly be open to the possibility of a "designer" before we could ever even hope to come to some conclusion regarding one
(but please note that there are also certain assumptions made about the mind, the senses, and the physical world on which science itself is dependent). If you did not first suppose that there could be a God, then even were one to appear before your very eyes you would be forced to write the experience off as an hallucination. God could never breach your fortress of unbelief even through an eternity of hell.

But I think this idea of a designer is one that is definitely in play for a variety of reasons that go beyond the scope of biological evolution. Are you suggesting that a "designer" is off limits in principle? Are you dogmatically resistant no matter how many pointers may be found in support? ID claims that those pointers have mounted to a sufficient level to warrant notice.

 
At 10/08/2005 1:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have not claimed, nor do I believe, that Darwinian evolution is an “unassailable fact.” Given the scientific evidence that is known today, it is unequivocally the best explanation for the variety of life on the earth.

Your assumption that I “think that the only possible reason one would have to question it is on the grounds of religious conviction” is equally incorrect. I observe that the vast majority of those who do question it, do so for religious reasons, and almost all of those who are pushing to have ID taught in science classes are Christian fundamentalists who oppose the idea of evolution because it conflicts with their claim that the bible is literally accurate. I think that ephphatha was mistaken when he said that most English translations of the bible are from the original languages. It is my understanding that the original books of the bible have been lost. The books he assumes are originals are actually translated from Greek translations of the original books.

My statement that, “the only way you can show an intelligent designer is to presuppose an intelligent designer” was to point out the circular reasoning of ID. That type of reasoning is logically unsound. You can prove anything, if you presuppose it to be true.

I am not suggesting that the idea of an intelligent designer is “off limits.” I am merely pointing out that evolution is a perfectly sound theory that adequately explains the variety of life. Unless you can show that it is not correct, the only reason I see for an alternate theory with the extra baggage of the supernatural, is to foster religious doctrine. If you want to accept the idea of an intelligent designer on faith, be my guest. But, unless you can produce some evidence for it, I shall remain skeptical.

 
At 10/08/2005 5:11 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Anon, I think you've stepped up your game a bit. I'm glad to see that.

"Given the scientific evidence that is known today, it is unequivocally the best explanation for the variety of life on the earth."

This argument I can respect: arguing to the best explanation. However, I think that naturalistic evolution is not, in fact, the best explanation. I think it suffers serious flaws, but I imagine you would far rather say "give us more time" regarding these shortcomings than to admit that any of them provides contrary evidence.

"I observe that the vast majority of those who do question it, do so for religious reasons."

By saying "for religious reasons" I wonder if you really mean that the majority happen to be "religious" people? There is a difference here. If observing that life is the product of intelligent design requires one to first accept the thesis that a designer may exist, then of course you'd see a high number of "religious" ID supporters. Atheists are certainly not ready to cave in to an ID conclusion, and if they do they will not soon be atheists. Antony Flew is a case-in-point. It was ID theory itself that actually pushed him over the line from atheism to theism. It begs the question to assume that because many of the ID proponents are theists that it is a fallacious theory. I would encourage you to keep your eye on the ball: stick with the merits or deficiencies of the theory.

"Almost all of those who are pushing to have ID taught in science classes are Christian fundamentalists who oppose the idea of evolution because it conflicts with their claim that the bible is literally accurate."

I wonder how you would know what all these people's motives and agendas are. Are you seeing literal statements to this effect or are you just parroting their critics and making assumptions? I do not dispute that there is some truth to what you say, but most of the "fundamentalists" that you have in mind are not completely on board with ID theory. Many do not understand it and others think it gives too much ground to evolutionary science. I am not seeking here to make a case for what Christians would ideally like the world to be, but I am simply defending ID theory at this point.

"I think that ephphatha was mistaken when he said that most English translations of the bible are from the original languages. It is my understanding that the original books of the bible have been lost. The books he assumes are originals are actually translated from Greek translations of the original books."

Let's try to keep our focus here. If you want to have a debate over the veracity of Scripture, start by reading this post and then drop your comments there. Be sure to give any references you have to support your critical theories.

But let me just make a clarification here. Sam didn't say that the English translations are derived from the original writings of the authors; he said they were translations from the original languages. The many ancient Greek and Hebrew books that we have in our possession are not, then, translations but copies. This means that the debate is not over the modern translations, which any non-Christian ancient language scholar can evaluate for themselves, but over the state of those ancient copies. This is the exact same problem faced by those who would seek to know what Julius Caesar, Tacitus, or Homer originally wrote. The difference is that the biblical manuscript's evidence (in both number and age) puts all other books of ancient history to shame.

"My statement that, 'the only way you can show an intelligent designer is to presuppose an intelligent designer' was to point out the circular reasoning of ID."

Again, they're not starting with the assumption that biological life was intelligently designed, but I would say that they are open to the option and allowing the evidence to speak for itself. Even if there is a God, it does not necessarily mean that He has designed life in the way that ID suggests that He has based on the evidence. I could equally say that the only way to prove nuclear physics is to first presuppose atomic particles. Should the fact that there were atomists (for metaphysical reasons) long before modern science cloud our judgment, or should we let the observations speak for themselves?

"You can prove anything, if you presuppose it to be true."

This is a stretch and it ignores the fact that ID does indeed have evidence in its favor. I'm not sure how you think we could prove that lake Michigan was made of chocolate pudding if we first presupposed it to be true.

"I am merely pointing out that evolution is a perfectly sound theory that adequately explains the variety of life. Unless you can show that it is not correct, the only reason I see for an alternate theory with the extra baggage of the supernatural is to foster religious doctrine."

And we end on a reasonable closing thought. You seem willing to accept, in theory, arguments against evolution. And if evolution is found wanting, I wonder if you would do like Antony Flew and "follow the evidence wherever it leads?" I can admit that if ID failed in its task (not failed to convince just you), then the only people who would still be clinging to it are those who do not realize that they have lost the battle or those who believe that their understanding of theism demands that evolution must be false.

 
At 10/09/2005 11:00 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...

Which facts show an intelligent designer?

Whole books have been written about it, so I can't go into all the details, but two off the top of my head are irreducible complexity and information in DNA.

Given the scientific evidence that is known today, it is unequivocally the best explanation for the variety of life on the earth.

Even if we grant that evolution happens to be the best explanation, should we disallow alternate explanations when evolution admittedly is not without its difficulties? Whether it's the best explanation is obviously in dispute among experts. Should we teach only evolution just because you happen to find evolution more convincing than ID?

I observe that the vast majority of those who do question it, do so for religious reasons, and almost all of those who are pushing to have ID taught in science classes are Christian fundamentalists who oppose the idea of evolution because it conflicts with their claim that the bible is literally accurate.

You may be right about that, but it's not relevent. In the debate over whether or not ID is a viable option, we must base our decision on the merits of the arguments for it, not on the fact that many who jump on the band wagon have a religious motive to do so.

I think that ephphatha was mistaken when he said that most English translations of the bible are from the original languages. It is my understanding that the original books of the bible have been lost. The books he assumes are originals are actually translated from Greek translations of the original books.

I think you're confusing "translation" with "copy." You're quite right that the originals are lost. But copies have survived in the original languages. The entire new testament, for example, was written in Greek (with the possible exception of Matthew), and we have copies of the entire new testament in Greek. Likewise, the Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew with some Aramaic, and we have all of it in Hebrew and Aramaic. Daniel is debatable. The first few chapters and the last few chapters have been preserved in Hebrew with everything inbetween in Aramaic. There is some dispute as to whether it was originally written in Hebrew and then translated into Aramaic or Aramaic that was translated into Hebrew.

To be quite honest with you, I don't know enough about evolution or ID to have an opinion on which theory is better. I tried to educate myself on it a few year ago, but discovered that it would require more knowledge of biology and chemistry than I was willing to get into at the time. My suspicious is that there are strong opinions on both sides held by people who really aren't anymore qualified than I am to debate the issue. I suspect that there are motives on both sides that have little to do with the actual evidence. Since most people are not that educated in chemistry and biology, the strong opinions they have must somehow be based on their trust in those who are qualified. But right now, the experts disagree, and as Paul has shown, the disagreement is not entirely because of religion. Not that any of this is relevent to the debate, but it is my hunch.

That is not to say that I am agnostic regarding a creator. I do believe there is a creator, but not because of the arguments for intelligent design. I have other reasons that have nothing to do with ID.

Sam

 
At 10/09/2005 4:09 PM, Blogger Paul said...

While I did not formally reject evolution until after my conversion, I was set on the road to faith by way of "design" arguments. These included the teleological argument (relating to physics and cosmology) and the problem of abiogenesis. This design evidence opened my mind to the possibility of a personally involved designer, which in turn enabled me to consider the possible activities of such a designer. The snowball began to roll simply because I was exposed to data that tends not to be emphasized by naturalistic science.

 
At 10/10/2005 6:45 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

An observation: Anonymous either didn't read the original blog entry whatsoever, or he assumes Paul was lying, and presumes to tell us what he (and ID) really believes.

I think I understand the science behind both theories pretty well, and I can debate the issue based on the science itself. But, if you want to do that with me, you'll need to stick to the science. Oh, and at the first hint of displaying a predisposition of naturalism, I'll call you a hypocrite ("You can prove anything, if you presuppose it to be true.").
And I propose we debate this issue over email, and when we are done that we post it publically and solicit opinions on who is the most rational and intelligent one.

 

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