Thursday, May 19, 2005

I'm Thinking There Really Must Be Something To It

Yes, another Intelligent Design post. See this, and this, and also read the Tech Central Station column they reference. As I've said before, I've read just about all of the key Intelligent Design books. Not only do they make sense to me, but the sorts of "refutations" that are being trotted out are just plain pathetic and widely miss the mark. The Tech Central Station column shows zero familiarity with the meaning of "Irreducible Complexity" as defined at length in "Darwin's Black Box", and, in addition, the author of the column uses the old fallback: making a theological argument to support his scientific viewpoint. If the science of Darwinism is so darned good, why is he talking theology?

From the first piece linked above:
A curious feature of most of the recent media coverage and commentary on intelligent design, is how insubstantial it is. Rarely do critics feel the need even to give an accurate definition of ID, let alone provide evidence that they've ever read anything written by an ID theorist. In fact, they seem unaware that they're substituting venom, ad hominems, and bigotry for actual argument.

Robert McHenry's therapeutic rant at Tech Central Station is a nice example. Presumably he feels better for having written it. He's the Former Editor in Chief of the Encyclopædia Britannica, and author of a book called How to Know. So presumably the guy is smart. And yet he seems to know nothing about ID except the prejudices he started with.

Anyone with superficial exposure to the ID literature, whether an ID sympathizer or critic, can evaluate McHenry's critique without help from me. Responses like his suggest that we're onto something. When critics have real arguments, they use them. When they don't, they sneer.


Yup.

9 comments:

Mark Nutter said...

I agree that there is something to intelligent design in theory. The theory of intelligent design has actually been around for as long as the theory of evolution has, and there are a number of well-respected men and women who have managed to advance the idea that divine intelligence lies behind both the design for life on earth and its origin and development. These men and women have managed to champion both their beliefs and their research without succumbing to a bias against the supernatural or against God on the one hand, and without raising serious questions about their professionalism or scientific objectivity on the other. These latter-day intelligent design theorists could learn a thing or two from the previous generation, I think, but unfortunately that's unlikely because the older generation are theistic evolutionists. Which makes them part of the new guys' "Cartago delenda est," more's the pity. Dembski and company may say they support Intelligent Design, but they're just not open to the possibility that evolution itself, in the Darwinian sense, could have been intentionally designed, no matter how sophisticated a design that would be.

Matteo said...

Mark, thanks for the comment. I understand where you're coming from on this. I think I still side with the ID'ists rather than the theistic evolutionists because, as far as I can tell from my readings on the subject (from both sides), there is no reason to think that Darwinism itself is particularly well founded from an evidentiary point of view absent a prior commitment to naturalism or a completely hidden God. Without that commitment, the evidence and arguments and extrapolations backing the Darwinist philosophy (random mutation, natural selection, no goal) are simply not very compelling.

On the entire subject, I'd be satisfied for scientists of all stripes to be able to do their work and have their opinions without fear of ostracism and persecution. And it would be nice to see atheists/secularists refrain from using an insufficiently supported scientistic philosophy as a club against theists. The problem is not necessarily with the scientists themselves but with an entire academic culture that, no matter what the subject, has assumed that atheistic Darwinism (which theistic evolutionists acknowledge as "the way things look") is a proven fact of the universe.

Mark Nutter said...

Well, consider: you have certain folks with an a priori commitment to naturalism. You have folks with an a priori commitment to faith in God. You have folks with an a priori commitment against naturalism--not quite the same thing, as I'm sure you'll agree, though of course there's overlap.

Now, go back to the nineteenth century: most scientists were working from basically creationist presuppositions and many if not most had an a priori commitment to faith in God. That's the environment in which people first began to be convinced that Darwinian evolution was true.

Look around today. Who thinks evolution is true? People with a priori commitment to naturalism, sure, but also a lot of people with an a priori commitment to faith in God. It's the people with the a priori commitment against naturalism who are saying there's problems with it, and even they are admitting that more and more of it is actually correct. Steve Meyers, an ID leader, lists some six definitions for evolution and says that any scientifically literate person will agree that four of them are true: variations in allele frequency over time, natural selection, (limited) common descent, and random mutation I think the fourth one was.

That's why modern creationists make a big deal over MICROevolution versus MACROevolution--it's not possible to deny any longer that most of what Darwin said can be observed happening all around us, so the only place left to draw battle lines is whether the process can continue to the point that the really big differences can be produced. But nobody wants to say, "Ok, I guess you theistic evolutionists have been right about a lot of things, maybe we should listen to what you have to say." The TE's are still "Darwinists," which makes 'em "THEM" as far as the ID'ers are concerned.

To me, that's really unfortunate, because I think there is indeed a clear design in Nature, and evolution itself is the most intelligent aspect of that Design. Putting theistic evolutionists on the other side of the barbed wire is a major strategic error, IMO.

Matteo said...

Well, Mark, as an electrical engineer, I have an a priori commitment against bad science. When I became Catholic, I had no grudge against Darwinism at all. In fact, one of the books that powerfully steered me toward the faith in a mystical sense presupposed evolution as a theological imperative, and this is how I looked at things. I'm an ID'ist for scientific, not religious reasons. My belief in the Trinity is not based on the design argument.

Based on my own investigatory reading (and really, this isn't the sort of thing that can be hashed out in web comments), I don't agree that the theistic evolutionists have been right about a lot of things because it's simply not the case that the Darwinists have been right about a lot of things.

The four definitions that Meyers (and I) affirm, simply do not logically imply macroevolution.

Your last comment also seems to have an implied argument from authority along the lines of "See, you're in the minority because both theists and atheists can affirm Darwinism. Therefore Darwinism must somehow be neutral and reasonable, requiring no particular a priori commitment. You both have such a commitment, and are just one out of 3 possibilies, the other 2 of which affirm Darwinism. So you should accept that you are probably wrong."

As I said before, I'd be more than content to have these kinds of differences of opinion not result in social, academic, or career persecution. In other words no one should really be putting anyone "on the other side of the barbed wire" based on the evidence we actually have. Freedom of inquiry and all. There are, in fact, some very good reasons that you never hear anyone saying that "Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity are valid science and just as well established as Darwinism!", while you quite often hear the opposite.

My position is quite similar to the scientist I quoted here:

http://cartagodelenda.blogspot.com/2005/05/well-well-well.html

Also, I took a look at your blog. Nice work.

Mark Nutter said...

Ah, but what is "Darwinism" then? If natural selection does in fact work, and common descent does in fact work, what's left to belabor Darwin about?

I think there's something to ID too, I'm just not ready to say, "Ok, so evolution must be bankrupt then." There may be more to that design than we've given it credit for. Certainly we shouldn't assume that evolutionary theory has all the answers, because it clearly hasn't, which is why they're still looking. But that doesn't mean we should say they'll never find any either.

Matteo said...

I wouldn't agree that natural selection does, in fact, get the job done, but I don't have any objections to common descent. I also don't belabor Darwin himself much of anything. His mid- nineteenth century claims were a bit more humble than the way the ACLU looks at things.

From looking at your blog I can see that you regard the evolutionary process (random mutation, natural selection) itself to possibly be a wonderful design of some sort. As for myself, given my 20 years as an engineer, I don't see the mere presence of a "natural selection feedback loop" to be a sufficient explanation. I can see that it would be attractive and elegant if it did work, but I just don't see that it would.

It's fine with me if Darwinists keep on looking. However, the ACLU ought to keep the hell out of it. It can't possibly be the case that factual evidence in favor of Darwinism is "science" but factual evidence against is "religion".

Also, I don't see why the Darwinists get to shout "God of the gaps!" and tell everyone else to shut up. First of all, to say "God of the gaps" is to admit there ARE gaps (and you seem to agree with that). It is also to say, "only WE get to fill in the gaps". Well that's as arbitrary a power play and leap of faith as anything else. Darwinists and their secularist "sick the lawyers on the biology teacher" friends should not be asserting ownership of the gaps. I'll take my chances with risking a failed "god of the gaps" argument. It's my choice to make, not the Darwinists. Anyway, shouldn't they gleefully anticipate the prospect? So why all the strong-arm tactics? Aren't they standing on solid ground? Or is to have one's mind infected with ID arguments a form of mental pollution that makes one unable to see the Real Truth? Is Darwinism that fragile?

As I've said, I'm seeking a neutral playing field where no one is legally and professionally intimidated into submission. I believe you are seeking the same thing...

Mark Nutter said...

Anyone who can fill in the gaps with objectively verifiable answers is welcome to do so.

Anonymous said...

I see alot of discussion about micro/macroevolution, natural selection, mutation, ect. I feel these issues are beside the point.

The point we really should be focusing on is the origin of the first organism.

ID seems to be saying that nature alone could not account for the immense complexity and information in the first organism. I tend to agree.

Evolutionary Mechanisms, such as the ability to initiate or repair mutation (see http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/05/050518175350.htm) could have been programmed in.

I have yet to see a plausable scientific explanation for the origin of the first organism. Other than ID, that is.

Denyse O'Leary said...

Matteo, I don't know if you will see this, but thanks for your kind words about my book, By Design or by Chance?

Re archives and the Post-Darwinist, I tried it the way you suggested, but then the box that lists the other ID blogs of interest ended up at the bottom of the page.

I found three was not a huge difficulty reading archives if I just clicked on the date.

cheers, Denyse