Thursday, June 09, 2005

Dembski on ID part II

Let's get back to the main point. Whether or not you think Dembski's work is correct, have the advocates of intelligent design suffered unjustified, inquisitorial attacks by at least some of their opponents? I wish I had my copy of The Design Revolution on hand, but Dembski says that scientists who come out in favor of design have their scientific careers attacked and potentially ruined, and he knows some who were dismissed from research positions when they were "outed." Even if you think that Dembski's arguments are bad or that Darwinism is true, is there something wrong with allowing a fair hearing to the attempt bring design into a scientific context? The questions posed by Intelligent Design are the questions that we would all like answered, questions that affect us existentially. If it really is wrong, shouldn't it die a natural death instead of having people working so hard to kill it? And can anyone complain about Dembski's tactics if the tactics used against him and his cohorts are what they seem to be? That is the point behind my linking to the Beckwith post on Right Reason.

Throwing design positions out of court a priori in virtue of some definition of science (and hence pseudoscience) weakens any attempt that anyone might make to appeal to the results of science as a basis for physicalism. Here's why. If science by definition must always come up with properly physicalist solutions to, let us say, the problem of mind, then the fact that all neuroscientific theories "support" physicalism will be tautological. Of course they are physicalistic, otherwise they wouldn't be science. To say that the neuroscientific evidence supports X is to imply that it could have supported Y, but didn't. But if it couldn't have supported Y no matter what, then it really lends no support to X.


Blue Devil Knight said...

These are interesting points. As for whether someone's academic position should be jeapordized if they believe in ID, I think that depends on the academic position. Booting someone from a faculty or other position based on their ideas is done all the time. If someone's research is shoddy and isn't published in quality journals, is generally not respected in their field, that is sufficient to not give someone tenure.

There are gray areas. Let's say the person is working in materials science, but on the side publishes a lot of stuff on kooky physical theories that no physicist believes. Should she be denied tenure? Not if her work is exemplary in materials science. In fact, I would think her colleagues would tolerate the outside dabblings and shrug their shoulders.

The closer the dabblings get to the person's field of expertise, and the less quality work they show in their own field, the more legitimate would be professional consequences. I would reject outright someone trying to get into a biology department if they wanted their research focus to be ID, because they would be a huge waste of university funds.

Like it or not, science is methodologically naturalistic. This is not a priori, it is not a dogma, it is something we came to after hundreds of years of nonnaturalistic "natural philosophy". Through history, science has become naturalistic because we have learned that anything else, for whatever reason, doesn't work well for science (for one, letting in non-naturalism is a fast track to stunted creativity in thinking about possible natural causes for natural events). Like all claims and methods in science, it is of course subject to criticism and revision. However, to change this well-founded naturalistic orientation will require much more than dubious statistical arguments, especially given the fossil and molecular evidence that just continues to pile up as expected with the predictions of evolutionary theory. Nearly all of the arguments of the ID folk I have seen amount to warmed over Paley with some arguments from ignorance thrown in. In fact, Dembski's explanatory filter is the ultimate argument from ignorance. ID creationists will need much more than that if they want to overthrow one of the most useful guiding principles in science. Established doctrines and methods in science are usually established because they make for good science, not because of dogma (pace "The world is not just a fiction created by an evil demon": not something for which scientists have a knock-down argument, but it sure makes for better science).

So, if you think it is sad that ID are "discriminated against" in academia, I would say that in many cases it is probably justified discrimination that any discriminating academic (especially in science) should exhibit.

Blue Devil Knight said...

One more thought. Let's assume for purposes of argument that ID people have some interesting arguments from a scientific perspective.

The fact that this makes them subject to discrimination does not make them unique. Scientists (and academics in general) can be a catty, territorial, dismissive, and argumentative bunch, sometimes to a fault. *Any* new nonmainstream theory that violates previous expectations is met with extreme skepticism.

However, how many fringe scientists go to congress and try to get them to change legislation to force textbook makers to include their fringe theory in textbooks? (For that matter, for what other scientific issue would congress even *consider* this preposterous proposal?) How many fringe scientists go through such extreme measures to circumvent the normal avenues of argument and presentation of evidence used in science? Such behavior belies their claim that they are purely interested in science. That is another reason they are not taken seriously as "scientists." They clearly are not acting like scientists no matter how often they parrot that they are just being scientific.

Imagine the headline: Physicist who doesn't believe in big bang lobbies Cambridge school board to include disclaimers in their physics textbooks!