Thursday, July 14, 2005

An exchange with Ahab on ID

Ahab wrote: Just respond to the question I asked in my original post:Given a choice between saying that a supernatural being causes lung cancer in people that smoke or finding and explaining the physical processes that link smoking to lung cancer, where do you want this scientific funding to go? Which methodology do you honestly think is going to be most effective in understanding how lung cancer is caused and helping to prevent and cure it?

VR: Well, I happen to think it was a physical process, so I would certainly look for a physical process, but does that mean I have to maintain my physicalism even if the evidence points the other way? You have to look really hard for physical causes before concluding that there are none. In one sense I am all in favor of methodological naturalism, as a defeasible heuristic. I don't think we should write it an infinite blank check, and say that nothing could disconfirm my belief that this or that event has a natural cause.But if it turns out to be true that God did bring about the correlation between smoking and cancer, then I would want a science that could, in principle tell me that this is so.

At least ID can come up with a reason why God might want bacteria to have flagella; it plays an important role in the development of future species. There is a teleological account that makes at least some sense; given that God wants complex creatures to develop, the BF is a good idea.

Ahab: Given what has already been learned from evolutionary theory, there is very good evidence to suppose that the bacterial flegellum is a result of those some processes. And, given what we already know about the laws of physics, you'd need some very strong evidence to abandon the assumption that any physical effect does not have a prior physical history.

VR: If this were correct, then neither Big Bang cosmology nor quantum-mechanical indeterminism would have ever gotten off the ground, because in both cases we are taking events in nature and saying that they do not have determining physical causes. If we were really locked into physicalistic determinism, then both Big Bang theory and QM would be thrown out as pseudoscience.

Ahab: When archeologists study artefacts that were intelligently designed they are able to approximate how these artifacts were made because the designers were very much like us. Often they will recreate one possible way to make a particular artefact. They can also figure out for what purpose the designers made these artifacts. Again, because they already have a very good idea of who these designers are. All of this information about the artifact is filtered through MN. ID'er's often insist there is no way to know who this intelligent designer of the bacterial flagellum is. If not, how can we know the purpose behind the design? Was this intelligent designer(s) simply playing a practical joke by making something that could be taken to resemble an outboard motor?

VR: Again, I really do think that the design theorist needs to come up with an account of why this development fits somebody's purposes. I'm not too sure that that wouldn't be too hard to do here, however.

Ahab: A theistic explanation is fine within the realm of theology and people's faith systems. I've never claimed or argued here that theists shouldn't be allowed and even encouraged to use their faith to help them understand this world. But those kind of explanations are not scientific. Science doesn't deal with trying to prove or disprove the existence of God or of any of the particular theological claims any particular faith may have. That is why any scientist (whether the is an atheists, theists or agnostics) can adhere in good conscience to the scientific theory of evolution.

VR: Of course they can be evolutionists. I accept an ancient earth, the gradual appearance of species, and common descent myself. (As does Behe). But I do see design behind the process, and I have always wondered, is there a scientific way to detect that design, or does that always have to be an extrascientific belief that may or may not be reasonable to hold?

Ahab: The last part of your sentence can be understood in a couple of different ways... (The sentence was that many first-rate scientists have been Christians) However, if you mean that they should take one of their cherished theological doctrines and try to get other scientists to accept it, I couldn't disagree more. You keep hand-wringing over how science is going to be ruined by not accepting your AfR. If you inject supernturalistic based explanations that rely on your particular belief of what God wants into science, you will see science ruined so quickly it will make you dizzy.

VR: Which cherished doctrine? If you mean six-day creation or something like that, then ID theorists have said over and over and over again that they are not out to defend that kind of position. Whatever motivations design theorists have in mind, at the end of the day the evidence has to support their position. You don't have to screen them out at the entrance to science; they will leave quietly as the weight of the evidence stacks up against them, if it does stack up against them.

Ahab: And after all, if God is willing to create a world in which there is so much evil, why couldn't He create one in which natural selection directs the random variations that result from things like mutations of DNA? If you are able to swallow evil why do you spit out natural selection? Do you really think natural selection is a worse problem for theodicy than evil?

VR: I would be the last person to deny natural selection. I don't think all ID theorists want to deny evolution in toto. I sure as heck don't. The question for me is whether there is any way to detect design along the way. I spent most of my life calling myself a theistic evolutionist. But I don't think you have to make methodological naturalism an absolute, the way Lewontin does in his review of Sagan. And I don't think it's necessary to conflate ID with creationism, when ID theorists say over and over that they are not creationists. And I don't think it's necessary to attack the intellectual credentials and motives of everyone who has doubts about Darwin. ID theorists are asking serious, important questions, that the culture as a whole is asking. They do not deserve the kind of arrogant dismissal with which they are all too often greeted.
As for public school education, all I would ask is that educators not be dogmatic either way. Last I heard, science education was about letting people make up their own minds based on the evidence. Why teach evolution in a brainwashing way? I don't think we are anywhere near getting to the bottom of the issues posed by intelligent design.

3 comments:

Ahab said...

Victor, thanks much for your reasoned response to my post. This is an emotional issue and it can at times be difficult keeping a clear head.
I've just responded to a few of your points below. Will try to make time to get to the rest, but I think the issues I've dealt with below get fairly close to the heart of the differences between us.


VR:At least ID can come up with a reason why God might want bacteria to have flagella; it plays an important role in the development of future species. There is a teleological account that makes at least some sense; given that God wants complex creatures to develop, the BF is a good idea.

It is evolutionary theory that is able to provide us with the teleological explanation that the bacteria have the flalgella because it plays a role in their chance for survival. And evolutionary theory is able to do that because it has identified the designer: natural selection. True, it is not intelligent, but it plays the role of designer nonetheless.

ID is unable to even identify who this intelligent designer is. Given this, how can ID provide credible evidence to support any speculation regarding the motives of this unkown designer?

Through evolutionary theory we know the 'motives' of natural selection.


VR: If this were correct, then neither Big Bang cosmology nor quantum-mechanical indeterminism would have ever gotten off the ground, because in both cases we are taking events in nature and saying that they do not have determining physical causes. If we were really locked into physicalistic determinism, then both Big Bang theory and QM would be thrown out as pseudoscience.


I'm puzzled. You seem to be equating physicalistic determinism with MN. Yet the Big Bang Theory and QM were developed within a science using the MN methodology. Maybe we have different ideas of what MN (methodological naturalism) is? I'm happy with the Wikipedia definition:

"Methodological naturalism (MN) is the operational ground rule that, within natural science enquiry, one can only use natural explanations - i.e. one's explanations must not make reference to the existence of supernatural forces and entities. Note that methodological naturalism does not hold that such entities or forces do not exist, but merely that one cannot use them within a scientific explanation. Methodological naturalism is often considered to be an implied working rule of all scientific research and logically entails neither philisophical naturalism nor atheism, though some would argue that it implies such a connection."

Here is the link to wikipedias article:
Methodological Naturalism.

I think the fact that science has been able to develop QM and the Big Bang theory shows that it is more than willling to 'go wherever the evidence leads. '
And keep in mind that this MN didn't just appear out of nowhere. It developed slowly as scientists gradually became more aware of the problem with supernatualistic explanations in regard to understanding natural phenomenon. MN is an assumption that scientists make in how to conduct science, but it is an assumption with a long track record of success.


VR: Again, I really do think that the design theorist needs to come up with an account of why this development fits somebody's purposes. I'm not too sure that that wouldn't be too hard to do here, however.


ID is unwilling to even speculate on who this designer (or designers) is - at least in public. Did you listen to the testimony that was give in Kansas regarding the science standards? Most of the witnesses refused or hedged on the subject of how old the earth is, rejected the notion of common descent and refused to say who they thought this designer is.



VR: Of course they can be evolutionists. I accept an ancient earth, the gradual appearance of species, and common descent myself. (As does Behe). But I do see design behind the process, and I have always wondered, is there a scientific way to detect that design, or does that always have to be an extrascientific belief that may or may not be reasonable to hold?


As archeologists show every day, there are ways to detect intelligent design. The problem for ID is that all of those intelligent designers are natural beings.
ID needs to get its act together. Stop wasting its time trying to convince school boards that their ideas should be included in the cirriculum. Stop the public PR of trying to win converts by claiming it is only 'fair' to include both sides in any issue. It needs to provide some hypothesis that other scientists can test. Can it, for instance, lay out some kind of timeline for when this intelligent designer tweaked the evolutionary process to cause sturctures they say are 'irreducibly complex?' Did this intelligent design activity occur just around the time of the origin of life or has it been active through evolutionary histroy? If the latter, can ID'ers point to some current developements in evolution that can be attributed to intelligent design?



VR: Which cherished doctrine? If you mean six-day creation or something like that, then ID theorists have said over and over and over again that they are not out to defend that kind of position. Whatever motivations design theorists have in mind, at the end of the day the evidence has to support their position. You don't have to screen them out at the entrance to science; they will leave quietly as the weight of the evidence stacks up against them, if it does stack up against them.

The entrance to science is through research and publication of peer-reviewed papers. It is not through the public school system. Only that science which is well established in the scientific community should be taught at the elementary and high school levels in public schools. A scientific theory does not gain credibility by seeking the rubber stamp of approval from school board members who are not trained scientists.

There has been a growing disatisfaction in the scientific community with the Big Bang Theory. Some of the new findings regarding the structure of the universe don't seem to correlate so well with that theory. Should those scientist who are unhappy with Big Bang spend their time petitioning school boards to warn students about the weaknesses of the Big Bang Theory? Of course not. They should be working on developing alternative theories and finding ways to test them.
If there is a way for ID to become accepted by the mainstream, the proponents of that theory should be spending their resources in the same way.

Ahab said...

VR: I would be the last person to deny natural selection.

Perhaps a clarification is in order at this point.

Often in these kinds of discussion it is easy to confuse or fail to distinguish the difference between evolution and the theory of evolution. I know I've been guilty of doing this.
Evolution, the changing of life forms over time, is so well-documented in the fossil record, genetics,etc. that it is considered to be a fact. But the theory is still being worked on. Darwin did provide a basic mechanism: random variation with natural selection. I don't understand all the details, but Darwin's original theory has been modified and 'improved' by other scientists.
It's like gravity. Gravity is a fact. But the theories to explain it have changed overtime.
I bring this up now, because I'm not sure that I would be the last person to deny natural selection. There is always the possibility that a better theory could come along, but to be accepted it going to have to have more explanatory power than the present theory. Like Einstein's theory of gravity replaced Newton's. Doesn't seem very likey, but then a radical revision like that usually doesn't. And the present theory of evolution has a lot of explanatory power.

Interestingly, I think ID rather than explaining more just adds more that needs to be explained. If it is true, then we have to try and figure out who this (or these) designer is. How did this designer gain the intelligence and ability to design things that are so complex? Why were some things designed so poorly by such an intelligent being? Etc., etc.


I don't think all ID theorists want to deny evolution in toto. I sure as heck don't. The question for me is whether there is any way to detect design along the way. I spent most of my life calling myself a theistic evolutionist. But I don't think you have to make methodological naturalism an absolute, the way Lewontin does in his review of Sagan.


You keep quoting this Lewontin chap. I don't believe he is the one who determines what science is. Is it just because he's made some statements that you find easy to attack?
By the way MN, is not an absolute. It's just that so far it seems to be the best way to get the kind of information that really helps us to understand the natural processes occuring in this world. It has a very good track record. Much better than the old supernaturalistic methodology. I don't see how we could ever have developed a cure for smallpox by limiting ourselves to the supernatural explanation that smallpox is caused by a god.


And I don't think it's necessary to conflate ID with creationism, when ID theorists say over and over that they are not creationists. And I don't think it's necessary to attack the intellectual credentials and motives of everyone who has doubts about Darwin. ID theorists are asking serious, important questions, that the culture as a whole is asking. They do not deserve the kind of arrogant dismissal with which they are all too often greeted.


It seems to be an unfortunate fact that anybody proposing a theory that falls so far outside the mainstream of scientific thought is going to face very harsh scrutiny and even mockery. Scientists are humans, they have emotions like the rest of us.
I think there has been a fair amount of mud-slinging on both sides in this matter.

One can, I guess, argue about whether or not ID is creationism. I have to say, any theory that says life was brought about by the power of some intelligent designer sure sounds like some kind of creationism to me. Would it be unfair to call this intelligent designer a creator? Especially in light of the accompanying claim that the thing being designed could not have occured through natural processes?



As for public school education, all I would ask is that educators not be dogmatic either way. Last I heard, science education was about letting people make up their own minds based on the evidence. Why teach evolution in a brainwashing way?


I really don't think it is called for to accuse our hard-working public school teachers of trying to brainwash their students. This is the kind of mud-slinging we see too often from the ID camp.
And when did science determine that the way to authenticate a theory was by presenting it to teenagers and letting them vote on it?

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