Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The most dangerous innovation of ID creationism

At the Panda's Thumb, Richard B. Hoppe posts a link to a 1981 debate between Henry Morris and Ken Miller, and asks, "What arguments, if any, do contemporary ID proponents offer that Morris does not?" The overall response is that there's really nothing in "intelligent design" creationism that was not present in overt creationism. Unsurprisingly, everyone focuses on matters of science. I must say that this reflects a dangerous indifference to the role of philosophy in judicial tests of creationism.

Any test of the legality of teaching a form of creationism as science in public schools will hinge on demarcation of science and religion. My reading of the Kitzmiller decision is that demarcation was much more important than the specifics of science and pseudoscience entered into evidence. For instance (pp. 67-68),
It is notable that defense experts’ own mission, which mirrors that of the IDM [ID movement] itself, is to change the ground rules of science to allow supernatural causation of the natural world, which the Supreme Court in Edwards and the court in McLean correctly recognized as an inherently religious concept. Edwards, 482 U.S. at 591-92; McLean, 529 F. Supp. at 1267. First, defense expert Professor Fuller agreed that ID aspires to “change the ground rules” of science and lead defense expert Professor Behe admitted that his broadened definition of science, which encompasses ID, would also embrace astrology. (28:26 (Fuller); 21:37-42 (Behe)). Moreover, defense expert Professor Minnich acknowledged that for ID to be considered science, the ground rules of science have to be broadened to allow consideration of supernatural forces. (38:97 (Minnich)).

Prominent IDM leaders are in agreement with the opinions expressed by defense expert witnesses that the ground rules of science must be changed for ID to take hold and prosper. William Dembski, for instance, an IDM leader, proclaims that science is ruled by methodological naturalism and argues that this rule must be overturned if ID is to prosper.
By the way, we all laugh at Behe now, but he is really no worse a philosopher than the majority of scientists. I shudder to think how the trial would have gone if Pennock and Forrest had dropped out, and a couple of "philosophy is bullshit" scientists had testified that science proves naturalism true.

So what is the most dangerous innovation of ID creationism? The movement stopped trying to overturn methodological naturalism, and adopted a new perspective on the nature of nature. The physical Universe is now comprised not just of matter and energy, but also of information. There is conservation of mass-energy, but not of information, which is created (only) by non-material intelligence. Six years ago, the design inference was to non-natural (i.e., supernatural) cause, and mainstream scientists were denigrated as naturalists. Now intelligent design is a non-material, though natural, cause, and mainstream scientists are denigrated as materialists.

The change in ontology makes IDC much more slippery than it was in Kitzmiller. On a verbal level, IDC has stepped entirely within naturalism. It does not obviously appeal to supernatural explanations. Many physicists accept the notion that information is in some sense physical. Thus it is much harder today than it was six years ago to argue that IDC is not science and that teaching of IDC as science does not serve a secular purpose.

Of course, most of us regard an unobservable entity that creates physical stuff, whatever it may be, out of nothing as supernatural. But we really should worry about a judge who is disposed to accept intuitively that people are creative, and that what they create by virtue of intelligence is not matter, but the information that gives form to matter. On the face of it, this does not seem a religious claim. And when IDCists say they can measure the information created by intelligence, citing the peer-reviewed publications of Dembski and Marks, it does not seem an unscientific claim. I believe that it is of the utmost importance to develop a simple explanation of why such a seemingly innocent notion of creation of information must be regarded as supernaturalism.

7 comments:

  1. The main problem with your post is that it accepts Judge Jones’ ruling as a valid description of ID. In fact, both Behe and Minnich testified that ID is NOT a supernatural explanation.

    Minnich NEVER said that "the ground rules of science have to be broadened to allow consideration of supernatural forces." In fact he noted that the opposing attorney was "extrapolating to the supernatural" but he said "I won't necessarily" do that. Rather, Minnich said:Q. Do you have an opinion as to whether intelligent design requires the action of a supernatural creator?
    A. I do.
    Q. What is that opinion?
    A. It does not.Behe said the same thing, and was open that he believes the designer is God but noted this is not a conclusion of ID:Q. So is it accurate for people to claim or to represent that intelligent design holds that the designer was God?
    Behe: No, that is completely inaccurate.
    Q. Well, people have asked you your opinion as to who you believe the designer is, is that correct?
    Behe: That is right.
    Q. Has science answered that question?
    Behe: No, science has not done so.
    Q. And I believe you have answered on occasion that you believe the designer is God, is that correct?
    Behe: Yes, that's correct.
    Q. Are you making a scientific claim with that answer?
    Behe: No, I conclude that based on theological and philosophical and historical factors.So your whole criticism of ID is predicated upon a misrepresentation of ID.

    You wrote: "Six years ago, the design inference was to non-natural (i.e., supernatural) cause." That's not correct because ID proponents have been very consistent: even in the pre-Dover world, they made it clear ID does not try to specify the designer as natural or supernatural.

    Consider these quotes from Pandas:"If science is based upon experience, then science tells us the message encoded in DNA must have originated from an intelligent cause. But what kind of intelligent agent was it? On its own, science cannot answer this question; it must leave it to religion and philosophy. But that should not prevent science from acknowledging evidences for an intelligent cause origin wherever they may exist." (Pandas, p. 7, 1993.)

    "[T]he place of intelligent design in science has been troubling for more than a century. That is because on the whole, scientists from within Western culture failed to distinguish between intelligence, which can be recognized by uniform sensory experience, and the supernatural, which cannot. Today we recognize that appeals to intelligent design may be considered in science, as illustrated by current NASA search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Archaeology has pioneered the development of methods for distinguishing the effects of natural and intelligent causes. We should recognize, however, that if we go further, and conclude that the intelligence responsible for biological origins is outside the universe (supernatural) or within it, we do so without the help of science" (Pandas, pp 126-27, 1993).And there are other pre-Dover sources saying the same thing. From Behe:"[A]s regards the identity of the designer, modern ID theory happily echoes Isaac Newton's phrase hypothesis non fingo.” (Behe, "The Modern Intelligent Design Hypothesis," Philosophia Christi, 2001)From Dembski:“intelligent design nowhere attempts to identify the intelligent cause responsible for the design in nature … design theorists recognize that the nature, moral character and purposes of this intelligence lie beyond the remit of science.” (Dembski, Intelligent Design, pp 247-48, InterVarsity Press, 1999)Your conspiracy theory that ID has changed in its discussion of the identity of the designer is contradicted by the consistency of what ID proponents have said over time.

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  2. Ron, go back and read carefully. I've said nothing about the identity of the designer. The design inference was all about determining that a phenomenon could not have arisen by strictly natural cause. This means that there was a supernatural cause.

    If you understand yourself as having a spirit or a soul, then you are not strictly a natural entity, are you?

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  3. On a verbal level, IDC has stepped entirely within naturalism. It does not obviously appeal to supernatural explanations
    Ironically, the 'science' of ID has always followed methodological naturalism: both CSI and IC are naturalistic concepts. Of course, they have to ditch that if they're to go any further, which why be why they insist on not saying anything about the identity of the designer.

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  4. By the way, we all laugh at Behe now, but he is really no worse a philosopher than the majority of scientists. I shudder to think how the trial would have gone if Pennock and Forrest had dropped out, and a couple of "philosophy is bullshit" scientists had testified that science proves naturalism true.

    Behe's detractors can't do much else but chuckle under their breath. They have failed miserably to ruffle his feathers or provoke an outburst. He just plods along, explaining scientific observations with his easy to understand (folksy even) explanations any layman can grasp, and more importantly, relate to.

    Laugh and ignore at your own risk.

    Where's your Sagan or your Gould when you need him, right?

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  5. Oh, by the way Tom, only the Trinity is supernatural. All else, angels, demons, souls, are natural.

    So there is plenty for science to discover which is real, yet unseen.

    Patience, man. Patience. There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.

    Knock.

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  6. Steve,

    Behe's detractors can't do much else but chuckle under their breath.

    Face it — any scientist who, testifying in a court of law, offers a definition of science that encompasses astrology has made an ass of himself. Dembski, as a philosopher of science, would have made a much better showing than Behe did.

    I genuinely was not singling out Behe. Mark Perakh, a physicist, recently dismissed philosophy of science as "entertainment," evidently forgetful or unappreciative of the vital roles that Pennock and Forrest played as expert witnesses for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller.

    I got my first taste of the philosophy of science 35 years ago, as an undergrad in experimental psychology, and I have believed ever since that everyone should learn a bit about it. In my interactions with scientists — primarily biologists — over the decades, I've found that they are so bad at philosophy that they have no comprehension of just how bad they are.

    There's a lot of sound and the fury of the IDC-evolution debate. The mouthiest on one side are good at philosophy and relatively ignorant of the relevant science. The mouthiest on the other side are bad at philosophy and relatively knowledgeable of the relevant science. When they go at each other, there's no reason to expect any resolution. No fan changes sides any more than he or she would at a football game.

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  7. Steve,

    They have failed miserably to ruffle his feathers or provoke an outburst. He just plods along, explaining scientific observations with his easy to understand (folksy even) explanations any layman can grasp, and more importantly, relate to.

    There's no arguing that Behe actually knows a great deal of science, or that he expresses himself well. But he blundered when he drifted into probability and statistics in The Edge of Evolution. I hope that you have the sense not to pretend that the chapter "The Mathematical Limits of Darwinism" made sense to you.

    Where's your Sagan or your Gould when you need him, right?

    You seem to have mistaken me for someone who wants people to arrive at particular beliefs. I consider it dehumanizing to attempt to make people believe as you do, rather than to teach them to arrive at their beliefs independently. I object to both extremes in the IDC-evolution debate. However, the IDC movement disgusts me with its lies heaped upon lies, along with its utter disregard for constitutional separation of church and state.

    Oh, by the way Tom, only the Trinity is supernatural. All else, angels, demons, souls, are natural.

    Well, hell. I threw out my divining rod just the other day. What do you suggest I do now to detect these natural-spiritual entities?

    By the way, Steve, other IDCists believe that the Holy Spirit is present in nature: "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters" (Genesis 1:2). Significantly, the spirit is feminine, not masculine. (I suspect that Dembski gets his cherished uniform distribution from the verse.) Gil Dodgen has opined that nature encompasses everything real, i.e., a real god is natural.

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