Thursday, May 17, 2007

In the blogosphere

Sorry I haven't been posting much; I've been absorbed commenting on a few threads on other blogs. For my dedicated fans (both of you!) and so I don't lose track of the work, here are some links:

We're having a very interesting conversation with philosopher Steve Fuller about the use of "design" in biological evolution, and the implications thereof.

I'm having a leisurely discussion with Avery Archer about probabilistic justification in epistemology.

Stephen Law has a series of posts on whether atheism is a faith position:
The "atheism is a faith position too" competition
"Atheism a faith position too" - best shot?
"atheism is a faith position" - another example
"Atheism a faith position too" - best shot? (redux)

TBB contributor James Elliott has talks about a looming funding crisis in the social services, issues about efficient resource allocation treating developmental disabilities and the ethics of autism treatments.


  1. Larry:
    After reading the discussion with Prof. Fuller, I think you and the other commenters are arguing the wrong word in "Intelligent Design". Biological systems exhibit forms of optimization because they have been optimized by a designer, of sorts - the designer being the environment. The real burden falls on showing that structure, organism or whatever was intelligently designed, not that it was "designed", for some meaning of "design".

    Consider the difference between solving an algebra problem the way most of us have been taught to vs. the "guess and check" method. The existence of a correct answer does not mean that the problem-solver did not use guess and check as his tool. Happily, we can see the scratched-out attempts at solutions in the many genetic polymorphisms that do not convey different phenotypes - among many, many other evidences in favor of evolution.

    Those who assert ID over conventional evolution try to show that the organisms in place today could not have come from a "guess and check" system (that is, they could not have developed through mutation and differential, heritable reproductive success). However, they fail because they either misunderstand biochemistry (I believe this is the main problem with many of Dembski's arguments) or because they misunderstand evolution (Somehow, this appears to be Behe's problem - I actually favor the hypothesis that Behe knows he is wrong, but is being dishonest because he thinks it will make him wealthy). Because they have failed to do so - and because they cannot account for the sequence data that shows high levels of natural mutation - ID remains invalid.

    (Disclosure: I say this as a biology student, not a philosopher)

  2. Andrew,

    To the best of my (limited) knowledge, Prof. Fuller does not actually believe intelligent design to be true, he appears to argue that it is a legitimate scientific controversy. If biological organisms are in fact designed, then it becomes merely an extension of conventional theory to suppose the designer might be intelligent.

    Some of his comments seem to imply that he believes the conventional position of unintelligent design is an unprovable metaphysical or paradigmatic position, not an actual testable scientific hypothesis, and that the intelligent/unintelligent design controversy is about the interpretation of the theory, and thus perhaps a proper subject for a purely political process.

    These two positions (that (a) intelligent design is a legitimate scientific controversy and (b) that intelligent/unintelligent is a metaphysical interpretation) seem to indicate he might want to have his philosophical cake and eat it too.

    I have not as yet been overwhelmingly impressed by Prof. Fuller's arguments, although the press of time and the blog comment format do provide a legitimate excuse. Neither was I impressed—on an admittedly superficial analysis—by his testimony in Kitzmiller.

    To be absolutely fair, I have not yet made any firm conclusions about Fuller's position or the quality of his arguments. I do, however, feel that his existing comments justify raising the questions.

  3. Perhaps I wasn't clear in my post at my site. I'm not talking about treating autism vs. other developmental disabilities, but rather that one expensive form of treatment with a very bad success rate is sucking dollars away from services that benefit children with developmental disabilities (including autism) overall.

  4. James: You were clear; I botched the summary.


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