Tuesday, August 16, 2005

My road to the ID problem

I thought I should spell out some of my own intellectual history as it bears on the Creationism, evolution, and ID issue. I remember being in grade school when some minister in Phoenix tried to get an initiative on the ballot banning the teaching of evolution in public schools. The minister of my church, Central Methodist in downtown Phoenix, gave a sermon opposing the effort, saying that Christians do not need to oppose evolution. I had always grown up with the idea that opposition to evolution was in order to defend what I thought was a hyper-literal understanding of the book of Genesis. I could never see why you had to accept that kind of literalism in order to be a Christian, and so the evolution problem didn't seem to be something you had to get so worked up about. C. S. Lewis never supported the kind of creationism that I encountered during my undergraduate days. Besides, if you really want to say the world was created in six literal days, then a conflict with Darwin is the least of your worries. Garden-variety astronomy is sufficient to cause a problem. If there are stars out there more than 6000 light years away, and the universe was created 6000 years ago, then we have a problem. Further, these creationsts believed in a worldwide Noachian flood. Let's see, all the animals in the WHOLE WORLD had to get on the ark, the ark is only yea big, (the Bible tells you how big it is), and then after the flood is over, the kangaroos have to get back to Australia, the three-toed sloths, who ordinarily live up to their name, have to go lickety-split to go back to the tip of South America, and so forth. If you say, "It's a mystery but God managed it," then please don't complain about the mysteries left by the theory of evolution.

At the same time, I thought, and still think, the historical case for a miraculous career and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is, on the whole, reasonably good. Just as an example, what sense does a skeptic make of Acts 4: 7-13:

They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: "By what power or what name did you do this?" Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: "Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is " 'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.' Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

I mean this takes guts. Peter is basically telling the people who got Jesus crucified (and therefore have the power to get people crucified), that Jesus, whom they condemned to death, was right and they were wrong, and that God had proved that by raising Jesus from the dead. If you say something like that, you had better be right, because there's an awfully good chance you are going to end up on another one of those crosses.

Things like this are the cornerstone of the standard historical apologetic which I first encountered in Josh McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict. That book has many deep flaws, but I think the resurrection apologetic is a strong one.

But I became a philosophy major, and encountered Hume's essay on Miracles. Here was a problem. Hume's argument implied that no matter how stong the evidence for a resurrection is, we should reject a miraculous historical account "from the very nature of the fact." Hume presents this test case for the question of the miraculous;

But suppose, that all the historians who treat of England, should agree, that, on the first of January, 1600, Queen Elizabeth died; that both before and after her death she was seen by her physicians and the whole court, as is usual with persons of her rank; that her successor was acknowledged and proclaimed by the parliament; and that, after being interred a month, she again appeared, resumed the throne, and governed England for three years: I must confess that I should be surprised at the concurrence of so many odd circumstances, but should not have the least inclination to believe so miraculous an event. I should not doubt of her pretended death, and of those other public circumstances that followed it: I should only assert it to have been pretended, and that it neither was, nor possibly could be real. You would in vain object to me the difficulty, and almost impossibility of deceiving the world in an affair of such consequence; the wisdom and solid judgment of that renowned queen; with the little or no advantage which she could reap from so poor an artifice: all this might astonish me; but I would still reply, that the knavery and folly of men are such common phenomena, that I should rather believe the most extraordinary events to arise from their concurrence, than admit of so signal a violation of the laws of nature.

Now this strikes me as going a little too far. It would have the implication of making it impossible for Almighty God to convince Hume (except perhaps by performing a miracle that Hume directly perceived) to reasonably believe that He existed. I ended up writing three papers in college in seminary on the Hume's argument, and eventually I wrote two published papers on the subject, one that appears at www.infidels.org/library/modern/victor_reppert/miracles.html, but the first appeared in the International Journal for Philosophy of Religion in 1989, entitled "Miracles and the Case for Theism."

Now the odd thing was that although I never especially wanted to defend creationism, very often the arguments against it sounded a little too much like Hume on miracles to be correct. One book I read attacking creationism actually used Hume's essay to do it.

When I studied New Testament criticism, I reacted to the radical Bultmannian stuff (precursors of the Jesus-seminar stuff that is coming out today) much the way Lewis did: the most sensible explanations involve accepting the reports as mostly accurate. Attempts to avoid this have always seemed contrived; the really ridiculous phenomenon was those attempts to preserve Jesus as a hero while accounting for his actions naturalistically. The arguments used by Bultmann weren't even as serious as Hume's; all he said that in the modern era we can't continue to use the wireless and the electric light and believe at the same time in the NT world of spirits and miracles. (Why? Isn't this just a bald version of the fallacy of chronological snobbery?)

So while I didn't care about defending creationists, at the same time I had found that dogmatic methodological naturalism, in the case of people like Bultmann, didn't lead to more "scientific creativity"(as BDK would say), it led either to groundless guesswork or the frank confession that we have no idea what happened. (That's really what you have to conclude if you think supernaturalism is false, since all the available sources are tainted. But people keep re-inventing the Historical Jesus while impugning the reliability of any of the sources that would tell us anything about Jesus).

So some people come along and say "Forget all that Genesis literalism. Can't we figure out a way to determing if things in nature have intelligent designers? After all, we do make "no-design or design decisions" on a regular basis .

In my first published paper, the above-mentioned "Miracles and the Case for Theism," I wrote:

"We can illustreate the problem of reasonably believing that nature has been interfered with by using the example of a poker game. Now it is certainly possible for events to occur in a poker game that are impossible given its rules, e. g. if five aces were to be dealtina poker hand, that could only occur if someone had tampered with the deck. On the other hand, consider a game in which the dealer's best friend gets royal flush after royal flush. Were the dealer to be accused of cheating, he might suggest that the charge of cheating had not been proved, since it is afterall possible that the hands dealt came up at random. Nevertheless, players in the game would be well advised, for thes ake of their own pocketbooks, to regard such hands as the result of intelligent "interference" on the part of the dealer with the ordinary pattern of dealing. There are always players, of ocurse, who are inclined to suspect cheating every time they get a run of bad luck, just as there are people who are inclined to jump to the conclusion that a miracle has occurred every time someone testifies to something the least bit unusual. On the other hand contintued refusal to suspect interference on the grounds that, after all, it is possible for a string of unusual hands to work by chance to the advantage of the dealer's best friend, would be clearly irrational and hazardous to one's wealth.
Of course, if soemone does not believe that there is an intellgent dealer, then he can reasonably be expected to be more reluctant than otherwise to suspect foul play. If, for example, there wree a supposedly tampre-proof dealing maching, more evidence than ordinary would be required to convice us that the cards were being interfered with. Yet if the evidence were strong, or if ewe had some dounts to begin with about the machine's being tamper-proof, we might be convinced that some bright young hacker had rigged the machine. If a coherent story can be told about how the mahcine came to be rigged, and that story generates expectations about what we should expect to occur, then that account can be confirmed or disconfirmed by future events. Similarly, in the case of miracle claims, we can ask ourselves wheter the evidence,
all things being equal, is mroe like what we sould expect given a miracle, or more l ike what we should expect if there had been no miracle. If the evidence more resembles what we should expect given the miracle, then this evidence is mroe like what we should expect if thesim is true than if naturalism is true. Therefore, evidence for miracles can be evidence for theism.

Later, Plantinga would illustrate my point in a more colorful manner, in his review of Dennet's Darwin's Dangerous Idea entitled Darwin, Mind and Meaning, in the context of the "fine-tuning" argument for theism:

Dennett's rejoinder to the argument is that possibly, "there has been an evolution of worlds (in the sense of whole universes) and the world we find ourselves in is simply one among countless others that have existed throughout all eternity." And given infinitely many universes, Dennett thinks, all the possible distributions of values over the cosmological constants would have been tried out; as it happens, we find ourselves in one of those universes where the constants are such as to allow for the development of intelligent life (where else?).

Well, perhaps all this is logically possible (and then again perhaps not). As a response to a probabilistic argument, however, it's pretty anemic. How would this kind of reply play in Tombstone, or Dodge City? "Waal, shore, Tex, I know it's a leetle mite suspicious that every time I deal I git four aces and a wild card, but have you considered the following? Possibly there is an infinite succession of universes, so that for any possible distribution of possible poker hands, there is a universe in which that possibility is realized; we just happen to find ourselves in one where someone like me always deals himself only aces and wild cards without ever cheating. So put up that shootin' arn and set down 'n shet yore yap, ya dumb galoot." Dennett's reply shows at most ('at most', because that story about infinitely many universes is doubtfully coherent) what was never in question: that the premises of this argument from apparent design do not entail its conclusion. But of course that was conceded from the beginning: it is presented as a probabilistic argument, not one that is deductive valid. Furthermore, since an argument can be good even if it is not deductively valid, you can't refute it just by pointing out that it isn't deductively valid. You might as well reject the argument for evolution by pointing out that the evidence for evolution doesn't entail that it ever took place, but only makes that fact likely. You might as well reject the evidence for the earth's being round by pointing out that there are possible worlds in which we have all the evidence we do have for the earth's being round, but in fact the earth is flat. Whatever the worth of this argument from design, Dennett really fails to address it.

So, in spite of growing up pretty much a theistic evolutionist, I have trouble with attacks on ID which maintain that it's a nonstarted because it appeals to the supernatural. In fact it may well be that terms like "natural" and "supernatural" should not be used without some detailed definitional work. But that is a subject for another entry.


Steven Carr said...

Plantinga writes 'Furthermore, since an argument can be good even if it is not deductively valid, you can't refute it just by pointing out that it isn't deductively valid.'

There goes his defense to the logical problem of evil, condemned out of his own mouth.....

You have to admire Planting'a chutzpah, and his ability to contradict himself - *and keep going as though nothing had happened*.

Steven Carr said...

Fine-tuning is a problem, of course, but is God the answer?

When Einstein worried why gravitational mass was identical to inertial mass, did he throw his hands up and say 'God simply fine-tuned them to be the same.'?

No, he did science and came up with a reason for it. That is the only correct aproach.

Naturally, we do not have all the answers yet. Perhaps we never will.

Fine-tuned design is a problem, but God is not the answer.

Could God fine-tune the human body to run 100 meters in 6 seconds? Or 1 second? Or 0.1 second?

Would there come a time when , no matter how much God made our legs strong enough to run fast, the problems of supplying oxygen to the legs would be insuperable? Or perhaps some other problem would occur?

Or would such a point never happen?

Suppose it was impossible for God to fine-tune the human body to run 100 meters faster than 0.33 seconds.

If I then challenged God to produce a human who could run in 0.35 seconds, God could do that, but He would be very lucky that I did not ask him to do it in 0.25 seconds, as that would be too much for even a God.

Suppose I challenged God to create a universe where the strength of gravity was enough to allow the Big Bang to expand , but strong enough to make stars and planets form, yet weak enough to allow us to move around.

God would say, I can do that, but he would be very lucky that I did not ask him to produce a universe which was so finely-tuned that problems fixing G would have led to insuperable problems fixing the electric charge or the capacitance of a vacuum or whatever.

So was God just lucky that a universe can be made which does not have to be fine-tuned *very much more* than ours is, or was it always possible for God to find a combination of constants which allowed a universe to exist?

Surely if it is always possible to find a combination of constants which allow a universe to exist, this is just a brute, unexplainable fact - indeed the very fact that the fine-tuning universe is supposed to solve.

It means there was no luck involved in the project to create a universe, as there would be luck involved in having to meet the specification of creating a human to run in 0.35 seconds, when it could easily have been the impossible task of making a human to run 100 meters in 0.25 seconds.

So where does the fact that there is a solution to the universe building problem come from, when there could easily have been no solution?

Was God just lucky he was not stymied, as he would be stymied by the task of making a human being run 100 metres in 0.0000001 seconds?

The alternative, that it is a priori always possible to find laws of physics which allow universes to exist, seems equally mysterious, as though it is always possible to create a human who can run at almost light speed.

To sum up, the fine-tuning in the universe is a mystery, but positing somebody who set up the laws of physics to satisfy these fine-tuning constraints just replaces one mystery with another, as we cannot explain how such a task is always possible, when proponents of fine-tuning point out themselves how unlikely it is.

Planting'a dismissal of multiple universes works against fine-tuning here, as wants to say that God can do all that is logically possible, so his dismissal of alternative universes where God *can* create human beings that run at almost light speed, means that he believes in a God that is constrained by the *physically* possible, which is not the omnipotent God of Christianity.

Steven Carr said...

Can I put my point more succintly please?

Under naturalism, a universe containing life can only have one value of G, and that is the value we see.

Under theism, a universe containing life can have any possible value of G, and the value we see is the same one as under naturalism.

Jason Pratt said...

Yep; I agree--Steven is basically correct in his refutation of the argument from fine-tuning. (A couple of details could stand some fine-tuning {g}, but it isn't strictly necessary.)

Ahab: Bultmann was following a _very_ common bit of faulty metaphysics being popularly propogated by some scientists at the time. All of them were wrong to use that argument (and its variations).

I think Victor was critiquing _dogmatic_ methodological naturalism--i.e. the misuse of it by sheer assertion, question begging, etc. (taking dogmatic in what is now--and what was then-- its commonly pejorative sense.)

Obviously, Victor accepts methodological naturalism to some degree, as being proper; or he wouldn't have been using elements of it to speak about beliefs he accepts.

I suspect he accepts it in much the same way that most people normally accept it (and in fact as it has been accepted throughout Christian history): if what you intend to study are the reactions and counterreactions of the natural system, in order to learn those interrelationships, then that's what you focus on. That special focusing is why we have the word 'science' (from 'scientia') at all.

Where tensions start coming in (and this is true, too, throughout Christian history), is when the methodology begins to be elided over into a philosophy of naturalism. Aside from such a move being very logically dubious, philosophical naturalism is obviously in opposition to any kind of supernaturalism (whereas mere methodological naturalism is not). Understandably, such a move would result in opposition--and there would always be some worry about even accidentally (much moreso intentionally) making that move.

There are, and have been, other problems, of course: bad philosophy, for instance, (often unrecognized or even denied as being philosophy at all) being used by various sides to apparently protect and/or foster various claims. (And I can name theological abuses of this just as easily as anyone here. I'm currently gnashing my teeth at the ridiculous insistence--and _overt_ insistence!--of circular argumentation, in a class on purportedly 'systematic' theology, for example. Which example, I'm sorry to say, is not in the least uncommon.)

Anyway, my point is that any fair examination of the history of thought on these subjects will show numerous mistakes being made by all parties. That's why it _can_ be a good thing to have inter- as well as intra-party criticism, for purposes of peer review (so to speak).

Daniel said...

Plantinga's Tombstone argument doesn't seem to work. The possible universes argument has the added premise that we intelligent beings would only exist in a universe capable of creating intelligent life. However, it doesn't seem that royal flush after royal flush is a necessary condition of intelligent life.

Therefore, it would be highly improbable that so many royal flushes would arise in a row in a universe with intelligent life. However, there should be some minimum standard of regularity without which intelligent life would not exist, and this minimum standard would be necessary in any universe that intelligent life was looking at. As such, we can be surprised by royal flushes, but not necessarily by regularity (assuming an infinite succession of universes, that is).

Thank you for the really interesting post, Viktor.

Jason Pratt said...

{{I'm sorry but that is just a base, ad hominem attack against scientists.}}


What part of what I wrote, was an attack on scientists (base and ad hominem or otherwise)? Or even on methodological naturalism?

I didn't say that all scientists use dogmatic methodological naturalism (in the popularly pejorative sense). On the contrary, I spent some length _defending_ a use of methodological naturalism that I figured we all could agree on (including Christians throughout our history). Heck, I didn't even say all scientists in Bultmann's time were propogating the sort of false metaphysics that he picked up and used--though it ought to be intensely obvious that this sort of error was, and often still is, commonly mis-perceived to be specially "scientific", and promoted for acceptance on that ground. Bultmann was certainly using it for the supposed superiority of its "scientific"-ness; but theologians, even exceedingly loose ones like him, aren't and weren't the ones who primarily tag the importance of being "scientific" in such a way.

Yes, I agree that what Bultmann was doing thereby wasn't scientific. Nor was it any more so when that sort of thinking was being propogated _as_ scientific by actual scientists. What part of this was an ad hominem attack against scientists in general? Did you think my calling coup later against a lamentably common trend in theology toward overt circular argumentation, was a base and ad hominem attack against theologians??

Good grief.

Let me make something as clear as I can possibly make it. I love a (folk) anthropologist more than anyone else in the world. I don't have a single solitary problem with her using _methodological_ naturalism in her studies. I would do the same thing myself, and indeed I _do_ do the same thing myself, when it's appropriate to do so.

And I would consider an ad hominem attack on "scientists" to be an ad hominem attack on _her_ (in the same way I would consider such an attack on pagans and/or agnostics to be such an attack on her).

That doesn't mean I agree with everything she does, or believes. It does mean that I am not going to sit around launching ad hom attacks on anything touching _her_ (just like I'm not going to sit around launching ad hom attacks on anything touching my own disciplines. Come to think of it, I'd sooner do _that_ first.)

It also means that I'm going to be _very_ sensitive to people (especially Christians) launching ad hom attacks in what amounts to her general direction. If I thought Victor was doing that, I'd be _first_ in line to zorch him--not defend him.

So go back and read what I wrote, and judge fair judgment please.

{{Science has developed methodological naturalism}}

No. _People_ developed methodological naturalism, from which methodology they progressively developed the sciences we have today. There would be no sciences, unless people had _first_ decided to focus on studying natural operations.

It ought to be intensely obvious that in pointing this out, I am saying nothing at all against (and indeed implying much in favor of) methodological naturalism--in _that_ sense.

{{I fail to see how criticising a theologian for practicing philosophical naturalism has anything to do with the validity of scientists relying on methodolical naturalism.}}

It doesn't. Victor never claimed it did. Neither did I (and more clearly otherwise, I would have thought.) His point was _specifically_, that he tends to find people _abusing_ methodological naturalism, in order to attack ID (and even old-style creationism). He didn't even remotely imply that it was all abuse, nor that the abuse abolishes the proper use.

Heck--_Victor wasn't even bringing up the Bultmann example against abuses of method-nat against creationists/ID proponents per se!_ He was criticising a prevalent abuse of method-nat for philosophical purposes, in regard to nailing up a philosophical constraint for interpreting what couldn't have happened historically.

The abuse he was speaking of, was this: people sometimes get a notion that if something cannot be explained by means of scientific method, then it couldn't possibly have happened. That's a jump between an experimental method for generating data about which to draw inferences concerning a particular system reality (i.e. the evident natural system); and a tacit philosophical constraint in favor of the system being the only existant system.

That kind of jump _still does commonly happen_. Recognizing that it still does commonly happen, is not even remotely a criticism against the original methodology, or even (strictly speaking) the philosophy being illegitimately jumped to thereby; any more than my criticism of specious theological tactics means I'm making a criticism necessarily against what the proponents are thereby trying to claim and defend. (On the contrary, the more I care about the truths I believe are involved in such claims, the more strongly I'm going to care about finding and rooting out faulty groundings for _those_ claims--the ones I generally believe myself.)

What Victor _did_ do, was make some assumptions, that if he's been discussing similar abuses of method-nat against ID, then it would be obvious he was referring back to _that_, when he occasionally jumped topics tacitly as a matter of comparison. In hindsight that wasn't a good idea; but you can hardly fault him for assuming in advance that you'll be competent at reading him closely and remembering implications (it _is_ an assumption in your favor, after all.)

Now--having said all that--I agree (more-or-less) with your criticism of ID. {g}

What I _don't_ agree with, is the general attitude that methodological naturalism entails or requires philosophical naturalism to be a necessary presumption.


Victor Reppert said...

If Darwinism is not only our best science but also true, then the Argument from Reason must be incorrect, since I take it a comprehensive Darwinism would be a complete materialistic account of how the mind came into existence. But if MN defines science, then it can very well be that our best science is Darwinism and the truth is ID.

Jason Pratt said...

{{That seems clearly to be an ad hominem attack on scientists - after all they are the ones adhering to and practicing MN (methodological naturalism).}}

So all the things I had immediately written afterward were worth nothing. I might as well not even have wasted my time typing them out. (And apparently still might as well not have.) If I wrote 'dogmatic' next to 'methodological naturalism', and distinctively emphasized it, then of course that must mean I think everyone adhering to MN is behaving in _that_ way, and/or I think Victor means that. Whatever I write afterward has no contextual bearing worth considering.

Apparently I'm making my posts too long. {sigh}{s}

{{Of course MN does not entail or require philosophical naturalism, but the ID proponents sure like to link the two together. As if teaching evolution in school equates to teaching atheism.}}

I doubt the ID proponents are against MN (per se). It can hardly be denied, however, that there are now (and always have been) extremely vocal proponents of evolution (and MN, too), who _do_ insist on linking these together with atheistic naturalism. Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett (to pull two names from a hat) aren't working in a vacuum; Dawkins in particular has specific agendas precisely along this line.

At the same time--it must be admitted that there are strong contingents among Christians, who see b.e.t of any kind as striking against a particular theological understanding of scripture; and who are trying to be loyal to God by accepting this particular belief about scripture. (A situation compounded by what amounts to their gnosticism: that unless you have a proper set of knowledge, you cannot be saved from unremitting permanent hopeless torture. Which is very probably a key part of the "Abrahamic theism" you're being atheistic against--you're rejecting a heresy, if you are, btw. To which I say yay! {g!})

Those people aren't really going to leave a situation alone, except to the extent they're restrained by people on their own side whom they accept as authoritative.

Consequently, strong evangelical pushes (so to speak) from people like Dawkins, give apparently good grounds for trying to do end-arounds of the middle-ground establishment which he and people like him are working very hard to identify themselves with.

So it's a big mess all around. {s}


Jason Pratt said...

Sorry; I should have just forgiven you and left it at that. {s} My bad this time.

{{I could be mistaken here, but I don't believe he's ever claimed that evolution or any scientific theory proves there is no sort of god at all.}}

Well, the subtitle of TBW is pretty telling. {g} He bounces back and forth a lot, about whether what he's doing proves there is no god--partly from sloppiness, but mostly because he flatly presumes this from the outset. He clearly wants to justify his acceptance of that presumption by arguing along a path that requires the presumption first.

(I wrote a 500+ page analysis of TBW back in 1996 for its 10 year anniversary. When I tallyed at the end, I thought about 64% of it was pretty good, and the rest wasn't all bad--but when he does mess up, it can be like reading Mr. D Science Theater 3000... {g})

Well, maybe he's doing better about that nowadays. Isn't impossible. {shrug}

{{I doubt he'd be flaunting his atheism quite so much if some of the religious creationists quit trying to debunk evolutionary theory.}}

Maybe. It would certainly be easy for me to believe that.

{{And I'm sure the creationists are delighted to point to anything he says that might support their claim that evolutionary theory equates to an atheistic belief.}}

In my experience, they're more delighted to point to the bad logic he often uses, as being typical of 'evolutionism'. He can be a real richness of embarassments. {wry g} (So much so that I generally treat him as being a straw man--which is why I eventually titled my exercise Straw Man Burning. In TBW he also tended to focus on setting up lots of straw men himself to zorch.)

But yes, they do also tend to believe him when he conveniently aligns b.e.t so, um, vigorously with atheism. {s}

They also tend to ignore any key Christian thinkers they respect, who are quite willing in principle to accept the biology; including C. S. Lewis, and Benjamin B. Warfield (early 20th century Dean of Princeton and father of modern inerrancy theory.)

{{So in that sense, scientific findings can disprove certain metaphysical claims.}}

Actually, that particular claim wasn't metaphysical; it was historical.

More precisely, "God created" is a metaphysical claim; "according to their kinds, 6000 years ago" is historical.

If there's a metaphysical claim that was disproved thereby, it was the claim of a certain type of inspired authorship. We hardly needed science to disprove _that_, though--so far as I can tell, that claim was based on faulty argumentation already.


Jason Pratt said...

Oh--forgot to add: what the scientific conclusions _could_ do (and did do), however, is provide grounds for re-examining the grounds for the metaphysical claim (in this case, of a particular type of inspiration.) That's an entirely legitimate process.

Which, in fact, had been done 1500 years ago, too, on a not-uncommon basis. {shrug}