Sunday, April 27, 2008

Intelligent Design

With the release of Expelled, it's worth talking about some of the philosophy underlying Intelligent Design and the academic scientific community's response.

By itself, "Intelligent Design" is just a label. It has certain connotations, but without an explicit definition, the connotations don't add up to an actual meaning, at least not a meaning that we can discuss in a sensible manner.

At its most vacuous, "Intelligent Design" is a synonym for "theistic evolution", which is the unfalsifiable religious belief that God employed evolution to create present-day terrestrial life, including human beings. Why an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent deity — or even a moderately powerful, knowledgeable, and good deity — would employ such a half-assed, wasteful "design" process is completely beyond me, but I'm not a theologian; God works in mysterious ways, don'tcha know.

The academic scientific community and the citizens (such as myself) who support them, don't really give that much of a shit about the details of any scientist's theology or religion. As long as they keep their religion out of the classroom and laboratory, our response will likewise stay outside the classroom and laboratory. Ken Miller for instance keeps his science and Christianity well-enough separated. His standing as a scientist in the scientific community is not threatened by anyone's views on his religious beliefs.

While I'm a passionate — perhaps even "militant" and "strident" — anti-religious atheist, I also passionately believe that the conflict between superstition and intelligence and common sense must be played out in the marketplace of ideas, not in the legislature, courts, or the workplace. No matter how stupid and ridiculous I think your ideas are, I believe that everyone must have the freedom to believe as they will and express those beliefs in ordinarily appropriate venues without fear of criminal penalty or civil discrimination. If anyone were to discriminate against anyone, scientist, journalist, teacher, computer programmer or janitor, just because of their religious beliefs, or just because they expressed their beliefs in an appropriate manner and venue, I would join the chorus of those crying, "Foul!"

But scientists, teachers etc. are not being systematically discriminated against because of their religious beliefs.

The qualifiers of "appropriate manner and venue" are important. Until the Supreme Court decides otherwise, or until we change the First Amendment to the Constitution, the government and its agents are forbidden by law from establishing religion. And teachers in publicly supported schools and universities are agents of the government. Forswear government funds, go to a truly private school, and you can say whatever you want. But if you accept taxpayer dollars, you have to leave your religion at the door. That's the law.

If you don't like it, there's are processes in place to petition the Supreme Court to change its mind, and to amend the Constitution. I advise against such an effort, and not just to protect atheists and scientists: the First Amendment was conceived in no small part to prevent sectarian conflict, conflicts between adherents of different religions. It your call, though; it's a free country.

And, of course, it's outright fraud to call "Intelligent Design" a scientific theory but define it as a religious belief.

There are any number of advocates, including Ben Stein and Mark Mathis (Expelled), the Dover, PA school board, and many others who unequivocally present Intelligent Design as a scientific theory.

If advocates call "Intelligent Design" a scientific theory and define it in a falsifiable manner, then its truth must be decided by appeal to experimental data... all the data. If the data were to uphold a falsifiable theory of Intelligent Design, then it would be very wrong — and rank hypocrisy — for scientists to reject it on political grounds. Science is about letting the data decide. Full stop.

No falsifiable form of Intelligent Design has stood up to the most cursory experimental data.

All falsifiable versions of Intelligent Design have been found to be actually false, with almost ridiculous ease.

If you construct "Intelligent Design" as a religious belief, and you teach it in a state-supported classroom, you're breaking the law, and you should be penalized. Not for your religious beliefs per se, but for expressing them in an inappropriate venue.

If you call "Intelligent Design" a scientific theory, but you formulate it in an unfalsifiable manner, then you're a fraud, and you should be penalized.

If you call "Intelligent Design" a scientific theory, and you formulate it in an falsifiable manner, but you distort, misrepresent or cherry-pick the data to support the theory, you're a fraud or an incompetent, and you should be penalized.

When and if someone constructs a theory of Intelligent Design that is falsifiable and not immediately proven false by the data — i.e. unlike every form of Intelligent Design that's yet been proffered by anyone — I'll reconsider my position. Until then, the concept has no place in the classroom and it has no place in the laboratory. Indeed it has no place outside the church, the venue we have agreed that people may legally set aside rational thought and common sense.

30 comments:

  1. Nice post, BB! When I hear non-scientists saying crap like, "Scientists have faith in Evolution" and "give ID a chance" it makes me want to smack someone in the face with a day-old flounder. Your statement that, "Science is about letting the data decide" is one thing that tends to get glossed over in the ID "controversy" such as it is. Although, to be fair to religious types, I think they have other concerns aside from whether ID is taught in science classes. Including this: I think it's fair to say there's a popular assumption that religion is required for morality and ethics, and by this, then any scientist who tries to operate unfettered by religious dogma is assumed to be amoral and unethical. I don't know that there's any easy way to dissuade people from this particular belief, though if I find anything, you can bet that I'll be writing about it.

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  2. I read somewhere that Darwin was a believer in Intelligent Design (let us never forget that it pre-dates the theory of evolution; creationism has had it's difficulties for a loooooong time). After his voyage on the Dawn Treader... er, I mean HMS Beagle... he couldn't sustain that belief.

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  3. ID is not religious in nature, it is science because it deals with molecular evidence and posits the best explanation for information and design that appears in biology given our current understandings of cause and effect in the universe. This is what science is all about in fact. That so many people (BB included) still don't acknowledge this is quite mysterious (or pig headed).

    I haven't heard a good argument against Behe's bacterial flagellum with regard to its irreducible complexity or the information rich content of protein encoding DNA with respect to specified complexity. Those are two pieces of evidence that nobody has refuted yet.

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  4. Josh Caleb: I haven't heard a good argument against Behe's bacterial flagellum with regard to its irreducible complexity...

    Ask, and it shall be given you....

    ...or the information rich content of protein encoding DNA with respect to specified complexity.

    ...seek, and ye shall find...

    Those are two pieces of evidence that nobody has refuted yet.

    ... knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

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  5. Yeah, Bum, well, you can't use Talk Origins because they have a Darwinist agenda, so there!

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  6. ID is not religious in nature, it is science because it deals with molecular evidence and posits the best explanation for information and design that appears in biology given our current understandings of cause and effect in the universe.

    Cough hack bullshit cough cough cough!

    Not only is ID not science, it's actually bad theology.

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  7. wow. i totally didn't see that coming... someone refering to TalkOrigins... original.

    1) Co-option doesn't falsify IC. (Co-option has its own lethal problems as Behe's more recent book (Edge of Evolution) highlights in clarity)

    2) TO doesn't even define IC according to Behe, i.e. "By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning."

    Still waiting for evidence that refutes flagellum's IC...

    as for Specified Complexity, more of the same... reasoned rebuttals by Dembski go skirted and untouched by Wein, not surprising... There really isn't any good answer for where information comes from other than intelligent causation, thats why the rebuttals fail miserably.

    3) Try thinking for yourself, referencing websites is easy, self understanding and synthesis is the more difficult task. Thats why face to face discussions are so much more fruitful, b/c opponents can't hide behind thier PC screens and regurgitate.

    james,
    sneering is not an argument, while it has grown quite popular due to your probably fearless leaders Dawkins and Hitchens...

    If you have an argument why ID is not good theology I'd like to hear it (as if ID makes theological claims to begin with...).

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  8. wow. i totally didn't see that coming... someone refering to TalkOrigins... original.

    So the statement, "I haven't heard a good argument..." is a lie.

    Try thinking for yourself, referencing websites is easy...

    You mean like you did, personally and independently inventing the concepts of irreducible complexity and specified complexity?

    So you're a liar and a hypocrite. Wow. That totally never happens with ID advocates.

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  9. Thats why face to face discussions are so much more fruitful...

    That's because it's a thousand times easier to lie, which requires only imagination, than it is to refute a lie, which requires facts.

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  10. But Josh, I will make you the same offer I make to all advocates of opposing viewpoints: Put together a cogent and thorough case for a controversial assertion and I'll publish it on the blog — subject only to ordinary editorial standards of form intellectual honesty — where it will receive substantive criticism.

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  11. BB,
    It was not a lie, I have not heard a good argument against it. How is that a lie?
    A hypocrite, huh. So discussing the legitimacy of someone else's theory equates to refering to a website (instead of providing your own answers makes me a hypocrite? You people never cease to amaze me with brilliance.

    Lying about biological evidence has never been a part of ID theory. Why do you insinuate that?

    Here's a controversial assertion: ID is science, not religion, because its epistemological grounds are not a religious text, rather it is epistemologically grounded in molecular evidence and posits one type of causation over another. This is what science does, it examines the physical world seeking the best explanations for observed phenomena. In the Aristotelian sense, it is a search for causation according to material, formal, efficient and final causes. To date, Darwinism has done well in providing evidence for material and efficient causation, but not so well, in fact out right denies formal and final causation because by definition those types imply a mind and teleology. The fact that most Darwinists don't get this or have any philosophical rigor is quite sad. ID jumps into this gap or failure of Darwin's theory to posit a logical theory for formal and final causation, and many in the "scientific community" would rather stick to thier blind faith in "promissory materialism" than ask hard questions about causation.

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  12. Two honest questions:

    1. The claims ID makes, are they about molecular evidence or about deities?

    2. Assuming ID was shown to be true, would that change how science is done or funded in the future?

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  13. Josh Caleb: I will repeat my challenge: present a cogent, substantive scientific argument for Intelligent Design and I'll publish it.

    Put up or shut up.

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  14. avoidance instead of dialogue, nice cop out...

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  15. read the above, I've made an argument why ID is science rather than religion, what do you have for "substantive criticism"?

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  16. Josh Caleb: If we're going to have a dialog, I need to see a substantive argument for your position.

    Since I imagine it would be a considerable effort, I'm offering to give that work maximum exposure.

    So far you have not offered an argument, you have made a series of assertions. I have no idea, for instance, in what sense evolutionary biology "denies formal and final causation", how you would substantiate that assertion, or how you've determined that the denial is "because by definition those types imply a mind and teleology."

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  17. From a philosophical sense, I would say that Aristotle fails to prove that formal and final causes are intrinsic or necessary. Obviously, things created by intelligent beings such as human beings have a "final cause", but a materialistic theory of mind would subsume the final cause in the the efficient cause of some event. Indeed modern naturalistic philosophy considers all Aristotle's types of causes to be at best different facets of the efficient cause.

    Note too that only the final cause is necessarily teleological; Aristotle's formal cause need not be teleological. (Indeed it's a "cause" at all only by stretching the definition of "cause".)

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  18. BB said:
    "Indeed modern naturalistic philosophy considers all Aristotle's types of causes to be at best different facets of the efficient cause"

    Quite right, because naturalistic philosophy imposes an a priori limitation on causation by definition, scientists just don't get that this is a metaphysical position, not one derived from science. You can't use science to prove methodological naturalism. That's the very point.

    Congrats, you actually DO understand what I'm talking about.

    I never said formal cause implied teleology, but I did fail to put "respectively" into my sentence. For that I apologize for any confusion.
    Formal cause implies a mind and final cause implies teleology, both of which are necessarily absent from Darwin's theory of evolution. Darwinists think methodological naturalism equates to "science" and therefore justifies bashing ID because it doesn't fit thier redefinition.

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  19. Quite right, because naturalistic philosophy imposes an a priori limitation on causation by definition...

    This is not the case, indeed it is trivially false. Subsuming teleological cause under efficient cause does not deny teleological cause. Human beings are intelligent, teleological creatures as well as material entities. (Indeed "teleological" is typically defined specifically in reference to human intelligence.) Science could not impose an a priori limitation on causation excluding or denying teleology and still account for the the enormous number of plainly evidenced human artifacts.

    Science imposes rather only a methodological limitation: any scientific theory — including any purported teleological theory of biology — must a priori be falsifiable by the evidence.

    This is why I mention unfalsifiable — and not teleological — definitions of ID in the original post. Some proponents do indeed define ID in an unfalsifiable manner.

    I'm not yet convinced that your definition is falsifiable. You appear to be taking as a universal truth Aristotle's claim that all events have a final cause, therefore features of modern organisms have a teleological cause, which cannot be human beings, therefore some non-human intelligence constitutes the final cause.

    (Keep in mind that I mean precisely what I say by "not yet convinced." I do not mean "convinced of the opposite.")

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  20. "This is not the case, indeed it is trivially false."

    Haha, nice try. According to methodological naturalism, supernatural causation is dismissed out of hand because supernatural causes are not empirically testable! Therefore there is tacit a priori limitation on causation because supernatural is off limits! But clearly scientists are not so blind as to think that empiricism is the only epistemological method...?
    Because... wait for it... methodological naturalism is self-contradictory! It claims that the only way of knowing is via empirical testing and falsification, well then, simply apply this requirement to methodological naturalism itself. Please show me how one arrives at MN via scientific evidence.

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  21. Oy gevault, Josh. You're moving the goalpost so quickly that it's developing a measurable redshift.

    According to methodological naturalism, supernatural causation is dismissed out of hand because supernatural causes are not empirically testable!

    That's correct; under the definition of "supernatural" as "not empirically testable", the supernatural is indeed excluded, regardless of whether the supernatural is or is not teleological.

    Therefore, a supernaturalist theory of Intelligent Design would not be empirically testable and would not be a scientific theory — it would be religious — and would therefore have no place in the science classroom or laboratory. Which an idea you yourself appear to disclaim in your first comment:

    ID is not religious in nature, it is science because it deals with molecular evidence and posits the best explanation for information and design that appears in biology given our current understandings of cause and effect in the universe. [emphasis added]

    Anything that "posits the best explanation" for evidence is ipso facto an empirically testable scientific theory.

    [M]ethodological naturalism is self-contradictory!

    Wrong. Go back and read your Popper, and subject yourself to a little "philosophical rigor" the lack of which you denounce in others. Methodological naturalism is a metaphysical principle, it is not a scientific theory.

    The claim that ID is a scientific theory is different from the claim that the definition of "scientific theory" is somehow deficient.

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  22. Sorry, I want to correct myself, I said "supernatural causation is dismissed out of hand because supernatural causes are not empirically testable"
    when I should have said "...supernatural entities are not empirically testable"

    because testing molecular data for design or information implicitely requires intelligent causation, a possibility of which may be supernatural in type.

    With this correction (my apologies) ID is science, because the subject of testing is not the cause, but the effect, with logical inference to the right type of cause. This fits scientific endeavors, but not naturalism, thus the current discord on what science actually is.

    I suggest you read some Karl Popper; the critique of "Promissory Materialism" that I mentioned earlier is from his pen.

    "Methodological naturalism is a metaphysical principle, it is not a scientific theory"

    I would whole heartedly agree; now try to convince the rest of Darwinists of that!

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  23. To be more precise, all religious beliefs are metaphysical (unfalsifiable) principles, but not all metaphysical principles are religious beliefs.

    A religious belief is a particular kind of metaphysical principle, specifically a metaphysical principle that directly establishes a supernatural entity and/or cause.

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  24. testing molecular data for design or information implicitely requires intelligent causation...

    I don't understand this statement. Are you saying that just testing for design requires an a priori commitment to intelligent causation? Such an assertion would seem trivially self-contradictory: You can't test for that which you commit to as an assumption.

    The alternative interpretation, that one must hypothesize intelligent causation to test for design is trivially unproblematic: A hypothesis does not commit belief.

    ... a possibility of which may be supernatural in type

    This is trivially false. If we go with your definition of "supernatural" as "not empirically testable", then we cannot empirically test for supernatural causation. Perhaps you mean paranormal causation, i.e. causation that goes beyond or contradicts our present understanding of physics, but which is empirically testable.

    In the latter case, there's nothing about science that precludes conclusions of paranormality; all scientific advances discover paranormal principles, and transform them into the normal.

    I suggest you read some Karl Popper; the critique of "Promissory Materialism" that I mentioned earlier is from his pen.

    "Promissory materialism" is not a metaphysical principle, materialism is different from naturalism, the term materialism is itself ambiguous and over-broad, and science does not depend or rely on any sort of materialism as a metaphysical principle.

    Promissory materialism, as Popper uses it (The Self and Its Brain, 1977, with John Eccles), was coined regarding theories of mind, and refers not to any metaphysical principle inherent in science but rather criticizes a naive attitude.

    (However, certain constructions of materialism have proven very successful as paradigms; I'm not convinced that promissory materialism is particularly dangerous or misleading as a default attitude.)

    Again, the objections to Intelligent Design have little to do with materialism; they have to do primarily with the failure of Intelligent Design advocates to proffer any falsifiable theories which have not proven almost immediately to be actually false, and retreating (as do you) to unfalsifiable supernaturalism.

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  25. "Methodological naturalism is a metaphysical principle, it is not a scientific theory"

    I would whole heartedly agree; now try to convince the rest of Darwinists of that!


    Um, to the extent that scientists are interested in metaphysics (and to the extent that philosophers are interested in science), that methodological naturalism is a metaphysical principle is not particularly controversial.

    Yes, it's a metaphysical principle. So what?

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  26. Note that scientists — most of whom are completely uninterested in philosophy or metaphysics — tend to take some beliefs for granted without much critical thought, notably certain constructions of realism, physicalism, materialism, and locality.

    But just that scientists take certain beliefs for granted does not by itself establish that those beliefs are definitely metaphysical.

    Quantum mechanics, for example, shows that certain constructions of realism and locality cannot coexist without contradicting the experimental evidence. It took a couple decades of argumentation, but the undeniable experimental evidence forced a change in the scientific paradigm.

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  27. wow. i totally didn't see that coming... someone refering to TalkOrigins... original.

    Who called it? That would be me.

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  28. james,
    sneering is not an argument, while it has grown quite popular due to your probably fearless leaders Dawkins and Hitchens..


    Caleb, sneering is an argument when people like you persist in arguing in bad faith. There's no other option left.

    But you like to assume, and when you assume, you make an ass out of you. Just you. If you actually READ my body of work, you'd know that I've never even read a book by Dawkins, nor do I agree with Hitchens or even BB on everything.

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  29. BB,
    Sorry for the hiatus, real life calls sometimes.

    You said:
    “I don’t understand this statement”
    I’m saying that by definition, design implies an intelligent source and telic outcome. So testing for design would imply an intelligence to produce the design if and when detected. It is not self-contradictory to use a word in accordance with its definition to test something. Design is a real property that is only a product of intelligence; design is never produce by unguided processes, thus its definition as such.

    “science does not depend or rely on any sort of materialism as a metaphysical principle”
    I totally agree, but again, you’re probably not in scientific circles enough to know that most Darwinists tacitly hold to a materialist perspective, this is what ID is set against and correctly so.

    “…but rather criticizes a naive attitude.”
    Again, I totally agree, but this attitude is pervasive in science today. If you are at all invested in biological research or academia today (as I am), this is undeniable.

    “Yes, it's a metaphysical principle. So what?”
    The ‘So what’ is that Metaphys. Nat. can not ground itself by the very standard that it requires for every other assertion, therefore it is self-defeating.

    You’ve not acknowledged the differences between ID and Creationism/religion based upon their epistemic grounds.
    You’ve not provided argument to rebut the fact that Meth. Nat. is self-defeating as I’ve just argued above.
    You have balked at Aristotelian causation because it smacks against Meth. Naturalism; but not liking it does no damage to its legitimacy as a foundational cause/effect paradigm.
    You seem to be quite unaware of the foothold that Meth. Nat. has in current science research, likely due to your lack of experience in the field.

    I’ll let you have the last word; I’ll leave it to other readers to judge who has been most persuasive and logical. Cheers.

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  30. Josh Caleb:

    You raise more questions than you answer.

    I’m saying that by definition, design implies an intelligent source and telic outcome.

    I understand what you mean by design; I'm not quibbling over irrelevant semantic issues. Please re-read my earlier comment and answer the question I actually ask: Do you assert that testing for (intelligent) design entail an ontological commitment to intelligent entities/processes? Or does such testing require merely the establishing the relevant hypotheses?

    ...you’re probably not in scientific circles enough...

    Why should we believe that you have any knowledge whatsoever about what circles I am or am not in, and whether I'm in those circles enough? This statement can be considered a clear ad hominem fallacy.

    ...to know that most Darwinists tacitly hold to a materialist perspective...

    Why should we believe that you are in these circles "enough" (presumably) or otherwise know what perspectives evolutionary biologists do in fact hold?

    ...but this attitude [naive "promissory materialism"] is pervasive in science today.

    First, why should we believe this statement is true? Second, even if it were true, as I have noted before, why should we consider this attitude objectionable, given that materialism has a well-established track record for success, and dualism has so far completely failed as a scientific paradigm?

    You’ve not acknowledged the differences between ID and Creationism/religion based upon their epistemic grounds.

    You have made assertions to that effect. You have yet to substantiate such assertions, and have not established that ID and religion really do have different epistemic grounds.

    You’ve not provided argument to rebut the fact that Meth. Nat. is self-defeating as I’ve just argued above.

    Let me be more explicit: Methodological Naturalism consists of the definition of a scientific theory, and the definition of what constitutes support or falsification for a scientific theory. Since Methodological Naturalism is not itself a scientific theory (it makes no truth-apt claims about reality) it is not self-refuting... an elementary principle to anyone who has even glanced at a summary of Popper's work on the philosophy of science.

    You have balked at Aristotelian causation because it smacks against Meth. Naturalism...

    No, I merely noted that you had failed to actually argued the validity of Aristotelian causation.

    You seem to be quite unaware of the foothold that Meth. Nat. has in current science research...

    I'm simply astonished by such a statement, because I have argued here and elsewhere that not only does Methodological Naturalism have a "foothold" in science, it forms the essential character of science.

    I’ll let you have the last word...

    Don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out.

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