Monday, June 20, 2005

Jim Lippard replies to Matt Jordan on ID

Would you mind forwarding this? I'm NOT an expert in evolution and am
somewhat out-of-date, but I did spend over a decade with study of
evolution vs. creation as a major avocation.
On your blog, he says "I am willing to acknowledge that Darwinian
evolution really might be the correct account of our origins. But
based on what I've seen, it's just plain inferior to ID."
That's quite interesting, since *there is no scientific theory of ID* that has
ever been published anywhere, while there is a wealth of scientific theory behind evolution.
In response to his questions:
> 1. Do you know of any one book which details in systematic fashion
>the evidence for Darwinian macroevolution? I'm looking for something
>accessible to the non-expert which answers the question "why should I
>believe that Darwinian evolution offers the correct account of the
>origin and diversity of life on earth?" (I'd also be interested in any
>single-volume critique of ID that you can recommend.)
Try any college textbook on evolutionary biology. Or, if you want a contrast
between creationist claims and evolutionary claims, try Eugenie Scott's
Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction, or Doug Futuyma's (now somewhat out
of date) Science on Trial. For philosophers' contributions, try Philip Kitcher's
_Abusing Science_ and Robert Pennock's _Tower of Babel_. The latter is particularly
directed at ID, and is by a Christian philosopher (Pennock's a Quaker).
> 2. Are the ID folks correct in their claim that the plausibility of
>Darwinism derives largely from a prior commitment (in the scientific
>community) to methodological naturalism? If so, how is that commitment justified?
All science uses methodological naturalism. Auto mechanics use methodological
naturalism. It's used because it works. Appeal to the supernatural occurs when
no other explanation is available. Biology is not looking for supernatural
causes, and it doesn't seem to need them. Ditto for chemistry, physics, geology.
If ID is right that we should adopt a framework of theistic science (Plantinga's
term), then why shouldn't we adopt that in all other sciences as well? How
about in legal theory and criminal forensics?

> 3. I've seen a number of scientists criticize ID on the grounds that
>it is neither testable nor useful for making predictions. These are
>both understandable criticisms, except that I don't see how
>evolutionary theory is likely to do better than ID in either
>regard. It seems like both theories should be understood as inferences
>to the best explanation. Is that wrong? Or are there other "epistemtic
>virtues" possessed by Darwinism but not by ID?

Evolution has the huge advantage of being an actually existing scientific
theory. ID has the huge disadvantage of not being formulated in any scientifically
useful way.

> 4. In your view, does the initial presence of genetic information
>pose a special challenge to Darwninism (as advocates of ID have
>argued)?

It's a harder problem, but it's still capable of scientific test as well as
computer modeling (e.g., Thomas Ray's Tierra program).

> 5. Same as #4, but with 'irreducible complexity' in place of 'the initial
presence of genetic information'.

"Irreducible complexity" is not a problem at all. Behe's very examples have
already been addressed... e.g.,
on blood clotting, see the Davidson 2003 source cited here:
http://www.evowiki.org/index.php/Blood_clotting

> 6. Is there one specific feature of ID which you would cite as the
>fundamental flaw with the theory? (Obviously, I'm assuming that
>neither of you is a proponent thereof.)

What *is* the scientific theory of ID? Or *a* scientific theory of ID?

> 7. I've sometimes heard the following sort of argument, which is
>related to question #2 above. "Critics of ID reject it because ID
>appeals to the work of a (probably nonphysical) agent as the efficient
>cause of natural phenomena, and those critics believe that this makes
>ID nonscientific by definition. But it is at least possible that the
>correct account of the origin of life involves the work of such an
>agent. And since science is, if anything, the domain of inquiry which
>seeks true explanations of natural phenomena, ID should count as a
>scientific theory. If we claim that ID is unscientific solely because

What's the theory? If simply saying "God did it" counts as a
legitimate scientific theory, then doesn't that work in all other
sciences as well? Doesn't that work just as well as a defense in a
criminal trial? Is that what you're advocating is a way of increasing
our knowledge of the natural world?

>it appeals to the work of an intelligent agent, and we grant that an
>intelligent agent could be the cause of life, then we are forced to
>hold that science as such may be in principle incapable of discovering
>the truth about the natural world. No scientist wants to claim that,
>however, so it should be agreed that ID is a scientific theory
>(whether it's actually a good theory or not). Q.E.D." In your view,
>does this sort of argument hold any water?

Not as an argument for the scientific value of ID. I think there's no
doubt that science (or humans) may be in principle incapable of discovering
certain truths about the natural world (though I disagree with your phrasing
above--I think humans have discovered a great many truths about the natural
world already). But that doesn't make ID science, and it certainly doesn't
make science a waste of time. It does mean that some truths may be beyond the
reach of science--I think that's relatively uncontroversial, even among
scientists.

What's a mistake is to say that X is inherently out of reach of
science, therefore no one should try to apply scientific methods--yet
that seems to be the real message behind ID.

I've not read any of these yet, but these are critiques of ID more
recent than Pennock's book (which addresses Behe, Johnson, and some of
Dembski's work): Niall Shanks, God, the Devil, and Darwin
Mark Perakh, Unintelligent Design Matt Young and Taner Edis, ed., Why Intelligent Design Fails If you think Dembski has any credibility at all, I recommend reading
the critiques of his work by Elliott Sober, Branden Fitelson, and
Christopher Stevens (http://philosophy.wisc.edu/sober/dembski.pdf), by
David Wolpert (http://www.talkreason.org/articles/jello.cfm), by
Wesley Elsberry
(http://www.antievolution.org/people/dembski_wa/rev_nfl_wre_capsule.html),
and by Wesley Elsberry and Jeffrey Shallit
(http://www.antievolution.org/people/wre/papers/eandsdembski.pdf).
Elsberry has a page full of detailed critiques of Dembski here:
http://www.antievolution.org/people/dembski_wa/
--
Jim Lippard http://www.discord.org/
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3 comments:

Matt Jordan said...

I assume Mr. Lippard is reading this; I address it to him:

Before saying anything else, I want to say thanks for the nurmerous sources you recommended. I’ve downloaded all of the critiques of Dembski you suggested, and though I don’t know when I’ll have a chance to read them carefully (I’m enrolled in a PhD program but my own research has nothing whatsoever to do with ID), I promise to do so before I teach ID to any undergrads!

Concerning the points you raise, here are a few brief thoughts (I’ll stick with the numbers used in my original questions)…

0. You note repeatedly that there is “no scientific theory of ID.” What, in your view, counts as a scientific theory? I am no expert on the matter, but I find it highly unlikely that any plausible definition of ‘scientific theory’ will entail that Darwin’s theory was scientific in 1870, but ID theory is not scientific in 2005.

2. I build in the “plausibility” stipulation above because I don’t think it’s reasonable to assert that science needs to presuppose methodological naturalism. In regards to your claim to the contrary, it seems you’ve missed the point… ID as such doesn’t warrant positing a supernatural intelligence; all it claims is that there are telltale signs of intelligence, and that those signs are present in, e.g., DNA. So (the argument goes) we have good reason to believe that DNA is the product of an intelligent designer, not the product of merely natural forces. (Of course, the thoroughgoing physicalist will maintain that intelligent designers are themselves a species of “natural forces.” Granted, but note two things: physicalism is a purely philosophical thesis, not a scientific one, and this argument still would entail that Darwinian macroevolution is false as an explanation of the origin of DNA, even granting the physicalist thesis.)
So, the long and the short of it is that we do (and rightly so!) use ID-style reasoning in legal theory and criminal forensics. To apply methodological naturalism to those fields (in the sense in which biologists insist we apply it to their field) would, loosely speaking, be to insist that we should always prefer explanations which do not appeal to the work of intelligent agents to those which do. So if Jones is found with a dagger in his back, we should figure out some story about how it got there that does not require the work of an intelligent agent. But that, of course, would be silly. There is nothing unscientific about appealing to intelligent agency in forensics; why should there be something unscientific about appealing to it in biology?

7. Here I’m not sure I follow you at all. Let me try re-phrasing the original argument:
(1) Science is the domain of inquiry that seeks to find true explanations of natural phenomena. [by definition of ‘science’]
(2) Therefore, science includes the project of explaining the origins of life on earth. [from (1)]
(3) Possibly, the true explanation of why there is life on earth involves the work of an intelligent agent. [premise]
(4) Therefore, science as such should leave room for the possibility that the true explanation of why there is life on earth involves the work of an intelligent agent.

At a glance, it’s clear that this argument is formally invalid. I will resist the temptation to improve it, or to make the intuition driving it more perspicuous. (However, I invite anyone who is inclined to do so to do it and e-mail me your results!) I’m confident that can be done; I just don’t have time for it this morning.
Loosely, the point I’m trying to make is not that scientists have to claim that human beings are capable of discovering every truth there is. That would be ludicrous. Rather, my point is that conjoining a commitment to methodological naturalism with (3) entails that science may be incapable of discovering basic truths about the natural world – not because these truths are so difficult to discover, but because science itself isn’t permitted to countenance explanations of the sort described in (3). And that seems like a flagrant violation of (1).
To put it another way: It seems uncontroversial to grant that “some truths may be out of the reach of science.” But what does that mean, exactly? If it means that some truths are out of the reach of scientists, then no one can reasonably dispute it. But if it means that some truths about the natural world are such that science cannot in principle discover them, well, I can’t imagine that many scientists would find that result acceptable.

Best,
m

Ahab said...

Matt,
I've posted a few thoughts on your post below. I'm no expert in evolutionary or ID theory. Though I am interested in this issue and trying to learn what I can about it. Since you also seem to be trying to understand this area better, I hope the responses I've provided below will give you something to think about. I've surrounded your original commets with dashes, so hopefully it will not be to difficult to distinguish your writings from mine.



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I build in the “plausibility” stipulation above because I don’t think it’s reasonable to assert that science needs to presuppose methodological naturalism. In regards to your claim to the contrary, it seems you’ve missed the point… ID as such doesn’t warrant positing a supernatural intelligence;
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If it really doesn’t warrant a supernatual intelligence then there is no reason for science not to continue relying on methodological naturalism (MN). The only reason I could see for abandoning MN is to rely on the supernatural. Or am I missing something here?

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(Of course, the thoroughgoing physicalist will maintain that intelligent designers are themselves a species of “natural forces.” Granted, but note two things: physicalism is a purely philosophical thesis, not a scientific one
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Sorry, but this simply seems like a red herring to me. It doesn’t matter what the physicalist thinks here. If a scientist learned that some alien intelligence had designed life on this planet, he would want to know how this intelligent being did this designing. He would also want to know how that alien life form came to be. Why couldn't MN be used to help learn that information?


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, and this argument still would entail that Darwinian macroevolution is false as an explanation of the origin of DNA, even granting the physicalist thesis.)
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Unless you are going to postulate that every species that has ever lived was individually designed, I don’t see how you can avoid macroevolution. The fossil record provides adequate proof that millions of new species have come into being since the origin of life. It also provides proof that millions of species have gone extinct. Does ID really postulate that this intelligent being has been tweaking these new species into and out of being continuously since the origing of life on this planet? If so, wouldn't one also have to assume that this intelligent being (or is it beings?) is presently engaged in such design activity? Where is the empirical evidence that can show us their present day design activity?


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So, the long and the short of it is that we do (and rightly so!) use ID-style reasoning in legal theory and criminal forensics. To apply methodological naturalism to those fields (in the sense in which biologists insist we apply it to their field) would, loosely speaking, be to insist that we should always prefer explanations which do not appeal to the work of intelligent agents to those which do.
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I would disagree with that. There is vast empirical evidence for the existence of these intellligent beings we call humans. There is no reason at all that MN can’t be applied to them.


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So if Jones is found with a dagger in his back, we should figure out some story about how it got there that does not require the work of an intelligent agent. But that, of course, would be silly. There is nothing unscientific about appealing to intelligent agency in forensics; why should there be something unscientific about appealing to it in biology?
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First we have empirical evidence for intelligent beings on this planet. We take pictures of them, we converse with them, we send them emails and they send emails back to us. Etc.,etc.

Interestingly, your analogy of appealing to intelligent agency in forensics actually helps to illustrate why ID is not a valid scientific theory. That same forensics science can use the techniques that have been developed through the application of MN to tell not only a great deal about the killer who stabbed Jones in the back, but also HOW the act itself was done. It is possible that the killer's height, his knowledge of weapons, whether or not he is left or right handed, etc. can be determined from the analyzed evidence. Through fingerprint and DNA sample analyses it may also be possible to identify the specific person who committed the crime. It also woud be possible to reconstruct the crime - to show HOW it was committed. It is now possible to program a computer so that we could see a simulation of the crime played right before our eyes.

The theory of ID tell us nothing. It gives us no clue as to the identity of this intelligence who designed life. Tells us nothing even in the most general terms about what kind of being this intelligence is. Whether or not it (he, she?) has a body, comes from another planet or inhabits some supernatural realm. It also tells us nothing about HOW this intelligence designed life.
I've capitilized "how" because that is one of the primary pieces of information that a scientific theory should help us to learn.

If I really believed ID was the answer, instead of spending my time and money lobbying to get school districts to ok its teaching, I would be using those resources to develop a laboratory to show how life could be designed. Why don't all these ID'er just show us skeptics how it would be possible to take some inorganic matter and fit it together so that it becomes a living thing?

By the way, best of luck with your studies.
Ahab

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