Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Is methodological naturalism relevant to intelligent design?

If an earlier post about this is on target, the answer may very well be no. It looks as if if we develop a scientific method for detecting design, then there is no reason based on methodological naturalism not to use the method and accept the claim that a designer is responsible. The identification of the designer as outside of space and time, or in space and time, can be done independently from the detection of design itself, and will probably have to be based on the antecedent credence function of the individual scientist. That is, the scientist who says that speciation on earth is the result of intelligent design may believe that the designer is the Abrahamic God, but perhaps should not include that as a part of the actual scientific theory.

Apparently the scientists responsible for SETI are prepared to determine what messages were designed without knowing (but only surmising) that they are products of extraterrestrial evolution. It would take an implausibly strong version of methodological naturalism to claim that we cannot infer design unless we are now in a position to explain the existence of the designers natuarlistically. But you need a version of methodolgical naturalism that strong to rule out intelligent design.

By the way, wouldn't it greatly help the intelligent design debate if people would refrain from using terms like "supernatural," "God", "religion," and "creationism". The central theses of ID can be states without reference to any of these, and using them invariably confuses the issue. Design inferences can establish a designer, they need not necessarily establish God. You can believe that the designer is God without making that a part of your theory.


Ahab said...

Archeologists and anthropologists have been studying intelligently designed artefacts for decades now. Yet none have them have felt the need to rely on ID theory. And SETI is not based on ID theory either. ID theory is currently sterile: it provides no reliable method for determining intelligent design, it fails to provide a workable hypothesis for the designer and hasn't a clue about how this design was effected.

At least you are headed in the right direction here, Victor: it really has nothing to do with the supernatural - ID is just plainly and simply a lousy excuse for science.

Jason Pratt said...

Actually, the reason archaeologists and anthropologists have been studying artifacts without need to rely on anything like ID theory, is because it's already manifestly obvious that the artifacts are artificial (i.e. intelligently designed). It's pointless to ask whether a pyramid of blocks or a text or a temple or a spoon or a pot (lots and lots and lots of pottery in archaeology {g}) was designed (and built) by sentient entities, or whether they happened to automatically process into existence by some non-sentient mechanism. (Well, unless one is an eliminative materialist, maybe... {g} In which case the question will still have been settled before going to the evidence.)

I was thinking more along the lines of the ID crew using SETI paradigms. Or maybe using paradigms like forensic pathologists: if a man's car runs off the road, how do we tell if it was an accidental process, or intention (i.e. suicide, murder, etc.)?

Problem is, there may be no relevant analogy--those methods are designed to detect the intentions (communication, murder) of creatures like us, with basically our natural restrictions.

Still, it might be interesting to try the experiment and see what turns up (or doesn't). {shrug}

Steven Carr said...

I'm sure that if the SETI people find a radio broadcast of the New Testament from a source more than 2,000 lightyears away, they will not write it off as a freak of nature.

See how easy it is for God to communicate with us. A lot easier than gluing tails on to bacteria to make them more virulent....

Victor Reppert said...

But wouldn't at least some of them argue that there are aliens who want to inculcate biblical values? I think you are moving to supernaturalism a little quicker than I would.

Ahab said...

A nice blog post regarding the use of SETI as an analogy for ID.