Tom Gilson

“Suspicions and Evidence”

From MikeGene at Telic Thoughts:

The debate about evolution and intelligent design eventually comes down to demands for evidence. Yet evidence is simply data that are interpreted in the light of previous experience and belief. What’s more, evidence comes in different flavors. For example, the type of evidence that might be used to guide a police investigation may not suffice as “evidence” in the context of a court room trial. In fact, an investigator is likely to look at the data differently from a defense lawyer. The investigator may initially rely on lower standards of evidence to follow up hunches and be sensitive to cliues. The lawyer will insist on the highest possible standards to defend his client.

Even though evidence that merely sparks or supports a suspicion is insufficient to effect a satisfactory conclusion to a case, it is an essential starting point for any investigation.

The standard of evidence ID opponents require is often tantamount to proof; and without that, they claim there is no science there. But MikeGene is surely correct–and this ought to be uncontroversial–in saying, later in the same blog entry, that there is something going on in the world that looks suspiciously like intelligent intervention. In cosmology it’s abundantly evident. The hints of someone tinkering with things in natural history and biology are also strong.

MikeGene goes on to show that signs like these call for further investigation. That seems so eminently reasonable!

And yet someone like Guillermo Gonzalez (a cosmologist, even!) gets thrown out on his ear for fraternizing with ID supporters. And in the popular press as well as the journal, the whole concept is universally held in derision as a pseudo-science, not worthy of mention without a snort–yet what’s presented is almost always a highly distorted, false version of ID.

Whatever you think of ID’s success rate so far in proving its case, why would you want to shut down all ID-related investigation? It makes no sense at all.

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5 thoughts on ““Suspicions and Evidence”

  1. The standard of evidence ID opponents require is often tantamount to proof; and without that, they claim there is no science there

    Actually, we’re just waiting for a hypothesis that tests a positive claim about ID. As it stands now, ID consists of nothing but criticisms of evolutionary theory.
    Irreducible Complexity basically states that some biological systems are too complex to have evolved from simpler biological systems. This does not give us any information on how an intelligent designer works, it just attempts to knock down evolution.
    Specified Complexity is supposedly a method for finding purposeful design in nature. How does one going about doing this? By ruling out evolution. Once again, we’re left with no actual substance to ID.

    And yet someone like Guillermo Gonzalez (a cosmologist, even!) gets thrown out on his ear for fraternizing with ID supporters.

    ID connections notwithstanding, if someone were to not bring in as much research grant money as his peers, publish very little research, and not see any grad students through their doctoral work, would you want to give him tenure?

    And ID proponents are perfectly free to pursue ID. It’s just interesting that when they do, it always comes in the form of getting it into public schools or, in AG’s case, taking up valuable time from established scientific research.

  2. Actually, we’re just waiting for a hypothesis that tests a positive claim about ID. As it stands now, ID consists of nothing but criticisms of evolutionary theory.

    No. It consists of criticisms of evolutionary theory, to be sure, for it could never replace evolutionary theory without mounting a major attack against its explanatory adequacy.

    Further, there seems to be an explanatory dilemma here, for at least at this point nobody knows of a third option for origins. When there are only two conceivable options, if one is proved likely to be wrong, the other’s position is considerably strengthened. So even if ID were merely negative work against evolution, success in that would be success in favor of ID.

    But ID needs its own theory if it is to actually be that second alternative to set up against evolution. Lacking that theory, if evolution were to be proved inadequate, then we would have nothing at all to go on.

    I find that objections like yours to ID’s theoretical position come down to this: you say ID has no theory, no hypotheses. ID certainly does have theory, but some of it is necessarily in the realm of philosophy rather than experimental science. By some crazy route of the history of thought, we’ve come to think that’s a serious flaw. I don’t know how we came to think that logic and inference could not be part of a theory.

    So you say ID has “no actual substance.” In fact its substance is sound and valid but it’s not couched in naturalistic cause-and-effect so you reject it.

    ID does have testable hypotheses, at any rate. Ralph Seelke is working on discovering whether evolution can do two things at once, and so far, empirically, it can be shown able only to do one genetic change at a time to produce adaptive phenotypic change. So there may be a limit to evolution there. The work is in progress.

    Cosmological ID has a lot of strength behind it.

  3. I disagree with your dichotomy. If evolution was shown to be wrong, it wouldn’t necessarily strengthen ID, since even ID’s criticisms of evolution are bad. And again, all we have are criticisms of evolution. You say ID isn’t nothing but criticism, and yet the testable hypothesis you mention is once again a test of evolution. “Ralph Seelke is working on discovering whether evolution can do two things at once” There’s nothing there putting ID by itself to the test. The work is always “in progress” but never seems to show up. And yet ID proponents want it taught in schools as if it were an established science. Why should ID get to skip all the work any other scientific field would have to go through?

  4. I don’t understand, Tom. I thought you said somewhere that evolution and ID were compatible, or at least not mutually exclusive. Why then would ID try to disprove evolution, and why would disproving evolution give more credit to ID?

  5. Evolution has many different facets. ID is not incompatible with microevolution (evolution of antibiotic or pesticide resistance, for example), and in its broad forms ID is not incompatible with common descent. (Michael Behe is a very prominent ID supporter who believes in common descent.)

    ID is specifically incompatible with undirected macroevolution. That is, it specifically contests the belief that major changes in species, or the development of new structures or functions (of higher complexity) in species or populations, has happened by undirected, purely natural processes.

    To the extent it is demonstrated that undirected natural processes are incapable of producing major, increasingly complex structures or functions, to that extent another explanation for such structures and functions must be provided. And to approximately that extent, the likelihood of other explanations’ is supported.

    If naturalistic macroevolution is shown to be incapable of having produced life as we see it, then we have two options: accept ID or something like it, or come up with another idea.

    I don’t think there’s another idea being proposed anywhere at this time, though. The game right now has just two players: naturalistic evolution, and ID. If evolution really is capable of doing what has been claimed, then ID as science will have to yield. If evolution is not capable of it, then ID seems to be the only viable answer. Therefore it is vital to know whether evolution is a correct picture of natural history.

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