Tom Gilson

Further on “Why the Debate” (Intelligent Design and Thomism)

The responses to my question, “Why The Debate?” on Intelligent Design and Thomist theology have been most instructive for me. Blogging is for learning, too. Holopupenko disagreed with my characterization of Intelligent Design as a reductio-like approach, asking,

How do you think Meyer or Behe or Dembski would respond if you pressed them to re-characterize their efforts to a reductio argument? How far do you really think you’d get? (With acerbic Dembski, I doubt you’d even be given the opportunity to complete your sentence.)

As came out later in the discussion, I didn’t put Meyer’s approach in the same category as Behe’s and Dembski’s. Whether they would agree with me or not is up to them, and I think Holopupenko is right to say they would be hesitant to accept the appellation I put on them. If they said, “we’re not offering reductio arguments,” I would have to agree; that’s why I called them reductio-like. What they have in common with a reductio is pressing an opponent’s assumptions to see how far they can go. The Thomists’ objection (as it seems to me) is that ID accepts the wrong assumptions. What’s really going on instead, as I see it, is that ID accepts those assumptions for the purpose of testing them, and showing where they fail. If in my earlier post I communicated a stronger resemblance to reductio than that, I stand corrected. (Blogging is for learning, too.)

And since blogging is for learning, with some trepidation I’m going to take the risk of challenging some good Christian philosophers even further. This may be oversimplified, and if it is, then I expect it will be another occasion for learning; but it seems to me the objections to ID on that thread to boil down to two:

  1. ID inappropriately plays by the rules of the modern empirical sciences (MESs), and
  2. ID is a weak or inconclusive proof for God and/or design.

With respect to the first of these we have Holopunko’s observation,

Nowhere do I see [ID proponents] reducing their efforts to a reductio. (No pun intended.) In fact, quite the opposite is true: they bill themselves as a scientific (read: MES) THEORY. Once they do this, they MUST play by the rules of the MESs.

As well as Luke’s:

I’d have to agree with Holo… something like the MESs have a sandbox (a nice one) but it says nothing beyond the sandbox. IDT attempts to play by the sandbox rules while at the same time incorporating rules from outside the sandbox, which really doesn’t work if you can only join the sandbox by agreeing to its initial rules.

What’s wrong with ID following those rules? Holopupenko says,

One cannot possibly re-characterize ID Theory as a mere reductio argument when ID Theorists themselves are proposing it is much more: ID Theorists are NOT just trying to infer design–they’re trying to observe final causality by means of the MESs by proposing MES-based research directions, etc. NONE of which has produced a shred of strictly-MES based evidence.

The MESs are simply NOT qualified to address teleology or teleonomy.

and

One most certainly CAN infer design from nature, but one can NOT do it directly from the MESs: one needs (1) a rational agent, (2) philosophical reflection. But if that’s the case, then why are IDers hell-bent on introducing philosophical reflection into the science classroom?

What possible MES-based research program could be instituted to “see” a final cause–a being of reason only existing in the mind of a rational agent? Answer: none.

I hope that’s enough to represent the case fairly. Now, I have two concerns with this. First, ID is not limited to playing according to the MESs’ rules of naturalism, whether philosophical (which ID roundly rejects) or methodological (which ID, shall we say, handles with caution, since it often bleeds over into philosophical naturalism).

Second, although ID bills itself as science, it does not claim to be purely scientific, i.e., science not philosophically informed. We have encountered scientists here who seem to think science can operate without philosophy, but that is just false, as Holopupenko and other commenters here know very well. I have always understood ID to be both a philosophical and scientific program, as I laid out in some detail three years ago.

I have no idea where the ID literature says it is trying to observe design by means of the MESs. Instead ID theorists in the Dembski-Behe camp, through philosophical consideration, have proposed conditions that accomplish two simultaneous objectives: to support an inference of design, and to defeat a contrary non-design inference. They have proposed philosophically-based answers to, “Are there any conditions that, if they obtained in nature, would support a conclusion of design over against a conclusion of non-design?” Thus the Explanatory Filter; and thus Complex Specified Information and Irreducible Complexity.

Later Holopupenko writes,

It takes a human being (i.e., a rational agent) to demonstrate the existence of God (i.e., Existence itself… and it has been done) through philosophical reflection upon sensory-accessible knowledge.

It seems to me that’s a great description of Intelligent Design. I think he probably intends “sensory-accessible knowledge” to refer to ordinary and everyday experience, but I’m not sure on what basis we can draw a line between that and science for these purposes. The role of science in ID (as in every other context) is to amplify and to refine observations (“sensory-accessible knowledge”), and to draw conclusions therefrom. ID amounts to rational agents observing nature, reflecting upon it philosophically, and inferring design. IDers are not hell-bent on introducing ID into science classrooms, of course; that’s an old misconception. What they do want to do is to correct the philosophical reflections already present in science classrooms, and the conclusion that non-design has been demonstrated by the MESs.

Moving on to the second summary set of objections raised against ID in that thread, we have Holopupenko’s statement,

Later Holopupenko says,

Worse, the question has already been addressed by a realist philosophy of nature and metaphysics: design is fundamentally teleological–end of story. No MES-based arguments can add to or change that truth, and no MES-based knowledge is needed to validate that truth.

And Brandon noted,

If we take the reductio-like approach seriously, with the structure you suggest in 1-4, or something like it, then a striking feature of the approach is that it does not — and cannot — prove the existence of an intelligent designer; rather, it merely identifies gaps in naturalistic explanation. Indeed, neither intelligence nor design shows up in any of the steps. Since it works on naturalistic assumptions, which are to be shown wrong or problematic by the end of the argument, it can’t prove anything positive about the world….

Thus ID requires, by its very nature, a positive inference. In Dembski and, if I recall correctly, Behe it is inductive; in Meyer you note it is abductive. But it has to be there or ID fails to manage to include any intelligence, design, or complete refutation of naturalism. And the positive inference has to be based on a correct view of natural objects and of intelligence; for the Thomist there are serious problems on both points.

I freely grant that ID cannot prove the existence of an intelligent designer. It’s hard to imagine an ID case being made any stronger than it is through cosmological fine tuning, and the naturalists have found a way to evade the design conclusion through multiverse theory. I also freely grant that ID is not needed to add to or change the truths we know about God and design through other means. Or rather, I grant that for some of us, ID doesn’t show us anything we didn’t already know through other means. But it still has considerable value.

For one, it helps focus the issue. If I may be allowed to quote myself,

The psychology, the motivation for it all could hardly be clearer than it is in this from cosmologist Bernard Carr. “If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.”

“Don’t want God.” Indeed.

For another, ID has the potential to speak to those who are not moved by scriptural or other philosophical evidences for God and for design. If some regard it as superfluous, others may not. If it is less conclusive to a Thomist (or a Baptist) than philosophy or Bible, it may be more conclusive to a modernist.

But is its persuasiveness to the modernist based on invalid assumptions or arguments? Perhaps, if its point is to prove God; for ID really cannot do that. But that is not what ID is about. ID is not even about validating truths regarding design, truths that are apparent to thinkers in the Thomist tradition. ID is about making an argument in favor of design, a supporting if not conclusive argument, for those who know little about Aristotle or Aquinas and care about them even less.

God is not proved by ID. Yet if naturalism is proved absurd, self-contradictory, or (more the case here) unreasonably unlikely to have done what is claimed of it, then one is forced to think through what else might explain the universe and its many complex features, especially life. I ask the obvious question: what directions might that lead?

Further, then: What if ID hints at God? And what if its hints are less definite than Scripture (which I certainly hold to be the case) or philosophical arguments for God (or intuitions of design such as Holopupenko wrote of yesterday)? Does ID’s being less conclusive or definite make it contradictory to other arguments? And is there not something to be said on its behalf, in that it employs the very tool, science, that some falsely claim has disproved God?

Does ID provide means for a positive inference, as Brandon says it requires? I think so. I do not agree that in either Dembski or Behe take an inductive approach to it, if by that one means that Dembski or Behe see a cumulative trail of design as such in nature. Instead, as I noted above, they have proposed philosophically based answers to the question, what features in nature, if they obtained, would support an inference of design over against an inference of non-design. They have gone looking for those features, and they think they have found them. Maybe they are wrong, as the Darwinists say they are. If they are, they are not wrong theologically. They are wrong philosophically, having proposed flawed criteria for what features of nature might support a design inference; or they are wrong scientifically, misidentifying the features that they think meet those criteria. But as far as I can tell they are wrong neither philosophically nor scientifically in the way Holopupenko, Brandon, and Luke have suggested they are.

Blogging is for learning. Have I missed something important, perhaps it is in what Brandon was hinting toward here?

Thus ID requires, by its very nature, a positive inference…. it it has to be there or ID fails to manage to include any intelligence, design, or complete refutation of naturalism. And the positive inference has to be based on a correct view of natural objects and of intelligence; for the Thomist there are serious problems on both points.

I await your responses.

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25 thoughts on “Further on “Why the Debate” (Intelligent Design and Thomism)

  1. You seem to be suggesting that the problem is that ID is not definitive; but this is not what seems to be the problem, which is that its assumptions are false (at least would be judged so from a Thomistic perspective, which, of course, is what is at issue in a controversy over whether ID is compatible with Thomism). Now, as you rightly recognized, this is not a problem if it is a reductio-like argument; but we can’t interpret ID as merely a reductio-like argument — when you did so both intelligence and design simply dropped out. Now, I recognize that intelligent design theory is supposed to be a ‘big tent’, but I simply refuse to accept it can be so big a tent as to include positions that have nothing to do with intelligent design! A positive inference to an intelligent designer, in some sense, is required, or you don’t have ID. At best it’s a more general kind of argument that ID theorists make use of as part of their view. But no one is saying that the part of ID that is incompatible with Thomism is the part that simply says that certain kinds of naturalism are false or unlikely even in light of their own principles.

    I called Dembski’s inductive because Dembski justifyies it inductively in No Free Lunch; and Behe’s at least is supposed to have cumulative force like inductive arguments, i.e., just a case or two may still leave room for doubt, but the more you add the more certain the inference — or so, at least, we were told in Darwin’s Black Box; I’m not committed to the term, though; the point is that they both have such a positive inference, and, indeed, it is the whole point. Anything reductio-like, e.g., the Explanatory Filter, is set up in order to get us to the positive inference.

    This positive inference may be persuasive to people; but a Thomist (and I hope most people) would ask whether its persuasiveness is due at least in part to its truth. Likewise, unless we’re talking about it ‘hinting at God’ only in the sense that even pure fiction can hint at God, ID theory can only really hint at God if its positive inference is a reasonable inference on good grounds from correct starting-points. If it isn’t, it can’t be a supporting argument for anything.

  2. Tom,

    Here, I think, is a key problem at this point of the ID/Thomist debate. Some emphasis added:

    God is not proved by ID. Yet if naturalism is proved absurd, self-contradictory, or (more the case here) unreasonably unlikely to have done what is claimed of it, then one is forced to think through what else might explain the universe and its many complex features, especially life. I ask the obvious question: what directions might that lead?

    Since a lot of this recent fight was the result of Ed Feser (a great writer and thinker, by the way) mixing it up with the guys at Uncommon Descent, I’ll again point to what I think is are key articles by him: The Trouble With William Paley and The Greek Atomists and the god of Paley.

    Put simply: According to Feser, and perhaps other thomists, ID – granting the wildest success imaginable – can never “prove naturalism absurd, self-contradictory, or unreasonably unlikely to have done what is claimed”. Precisely because the existence of a powerful, or multiple powerful beings, ones capable of bringing our universe into existence or of orchestrating the origin of life, or ensuring the development of humanity, etc… is not in conflict with naturalism. Even if such a being would be properly called god or gods by any historically reasonable measure. Not according to Ed, at least if I interpret him properly in these posts.

    In fact, it’s funny you should mention multiverses, because my experience has been that many multiverse proponents realize that one possible fallout of the idea is that of making ID downright certain. See this post about John Gribbin’s “In Search of the Multiverse”, and what he seems to think is responsible for our own universe.

    Given the previous, I’d have to ask: Would it be right to consider John Gribbin an ID proponent, given that quote? And, if so, can any Christian ID proponent see why a thomist would view the ID project with great suspicion and possible hostility – especially if said thomist believed their own arguments really did establish the existence not only of God, but a God whose existence ID could never hope to add a shred of ‘evidence’ to?

    All this being said, I still part ways with many of the thomists here for a number of reasons. A particular one being: Even though ID can’t disprove ‘naturalism’, I consider it important to show just what the range of possibilities are even within that broadly “naturalist” worldview. ID can’t prove the God of classical theism, but it’s entirely possible for it to infer, even strongly infer, intelligence being at work in or through our universe given naturalism. And if it should do so within the scope / by the rules of (methodological? philosophical?) naturalism, why should thomists decry this development? Better to turn to the naturalists hostile to ID, shrug, and say “Their conclusions and methods are naturalistic ones. Answer them on those terms, but they’re your problem. Not ours.”

  3. Tom:

    I think again you’re missing the ground upon which ID not only rests, but proposes (through their “inference”) that an intelligent designer can be detected by means of the MESs.

    ID sells itself as an MES–there is no escaping this. They claim design can be inferred directly from the MESs–there is no escaping this. One of their goals is to insert themselves into biology classrooms–there’s no escaping this.

    It’s the nature of IDT that’s the problem. It’s the fundamental way in which ID theorists view the natural world: they view entities in the natural world through the univocity of being–the error of Scotus (and today Craig and Moreland), which means for them there is only one type of existence possible, and hence for them the MESs can “infer” design and designer. They are reductionists (irony of ironies) because they think design is accessible directly through the MES–hence, among other things, Dembski’s forays into information theory.

    Moreover, of course ID can’t disprove naturalism: you don’t employ something that bills itself as an MES and employs MES tools “to show just what the range of possibilities are even within that broadly “naturalist” worldview,” because it’s not an MES question in the first place. The “range” was determined a LONG time ago: it’s got to do with properly distinguishing what the formal and material objects of the various sciences are… BUT, on circularity grounds along, no MES can do that.

    And (directed at Crude): the following claim is flat-out incorrect: “it’s entirely possible for [IDT] to infer, even strongly infer, intelligence being at work in or through our universe given naturalism.” For the umpteenth time, IDT bills itself as an MES. The MESs can’t “infer” anything: it’s we (rational agents) that infer by reflecting upon the findings of the MESs. ID isn’t “finding” anything positive: they just claim “it can’t be done” and expect scientists to jump on board a ship that only permits MES methodologies and tools. Solid philosophical reflection is desperately needed, but it shouldn’t be “dressed up” as an MES to make headway into biology classrooms.

    One thing I’m beginning to see is that, perhaps at a subconscious level, the ID theorists sense this… and are starting to qualify what they’re about. Well, if IDT not an MES but “something like” reductio, then that alone should keep them out of the science classroom… for the same reason positivism (which “died the death of a thousand qualifications” per the words of one of its founders) should be kept out of the science classroom.

  4. Holopupenko,

    For the umpteenth time, IDT bills itself as an MES. The MESs can’t “infer” anything: it’s we (rational agents) that infer by reflecting upon the findings of the MESs. ID isn’t “finding” anything positive: they just claim “it can’t be done” and expect scientists to jump on board a ship that only permits MES methodologies and tools. Solid philosophical reflection is desperately needed, but it shouldn’t be “dressed up” as an MES to make headway into biology classrooms.

    Well, I would agree with you that no MES can ‘infer’ anything. Humans infer things. (Of course, does an MES ever ‘find’ anything? Or do only humans ‘find’ things, using MES?)

    Also, I’d point out that IDT is not just about biology. But, that’s a minor point here.

    But, let me ask you some things – and I want to stress here that I’m just trying to understand where you’re coming from as a thomist (I assume) and stern ID critic.

    * Are you saying that MES is incapable of detecting design or the lack of design in nature, even in principle? So it’s equally a mistake to say “Given what we know, it’s reasonable and within the bounds of science to infer an intelligent agent was behind (fascinatingly unlikely event-in-nature X)” and “given what we know, it’s reasonable and within the bounds of science to infer no intelligent agent was behind (exceptionally common and typical event-in-nature X)”?

    * When you say ID isn’t “finding” anything positive, what about the claims that intelligent agents (particularly humans) are absolutely capable of certain things? Isn’t “a human is capable of building a crossbow” a positive claim and, if verified, positive finding?

    * What do you think of arguments – not being advanced by me here, mind you – that the definition and scope of science isn’t set in stone? For instance, multiverse theorists, maybe even string theorists, considering their efforts as part of MES despite admitting some changes may be necessary to view it as such?

  5. Crude:

    My apologies for not getting back earlier: it was commencement weekend followed by faculty meetings…

    All your questions presuppose (somewhat unfairly) what a rational agent is and what the capacity to reason is.

    (1) Yes, indeed I am saying the MESs are incapable of detecting or inferring design or lack of design in nature—even in principle. Why? Because design (final causality) is not reducible to sensory accessible data, in a very similar way in which science can’t detect “meaning” in words on a page (the formal cause), as the MESs can’t “detect” nature or essence strictly speaking. It’s the way the MESs developed (and fragmented) and split off from the philosophy of nature. The MESs focus upon efficient causality in a narrow sense (how things came to be in the physical world), and they focus upon a narrow sense of material causality (matter in the physical world) as these are accessible to the five primary senses of humans. The MESs, to the extent they employ mathematics, do touch upon the formal cause, but certainly not in the sense of accessibility to essences and natures. The example of SETI doesn’t work because it presupposes a rational agent to “see” from the data the formal causality (“whatness”) in the signals AND to try to infer the final cause (“whyness” or “for what purpose). The difference is that between “inferring” the existence of the neutrino from observations that momentum in beta-decays appeared not to be conserved and “inferring” the existence of design. These to things are VERY different ontologically speaking

    (2) Mostly, refer to response (1) above. When you can get an MES to tell me exactly WHAT a crossbow is beyond the immediate operational definition, I’ll be all ears. When you can get an MES to tell me exactly WHY a crossbow is used, I’ll be all ears. When you can get an MES to tell us what to do about weapons of mass destruction as “located” by the wonderful MES-based technologies we employ, I’ll be all ears. When you can get an MES to distinguish a crab’s claw from a pair of pliers (beyond the immediate efficient and material causes), I’ll be all ears.

    (3) I have a low opinion of multiverse and string theory claims—not for philosophical reasons but because they themselves admit these theories can’t be confirmed. Point one. Point two: no MES can demarcate the limits of the MESs because that would be circular reasoning. Point three: I’m not suggesting MESs can’t be demarcated—the philosophy of nature and metaphysics did that long ago. Neither am I suggesting the “bounds” can’t change… but I would not buy a purely MES-argument to do so.

  6. MES (modern empirical science) is not, in and of itself, a problem. It has been an invaluable for discovery and development. Without MES we would still be huddled around smoky fires in wattle and daub huts. The problems arise when MES oversteps its proper bounds and makes metaphysical claims which cannot be substantiated through the empirical sciences.

    The suggestion that ID is ‘bad theology’ is mistaken on at least one count; ID does not make the claim that the apparent design we observe in nature can be attributed to a deity. It makes the somewhat more modest claim that the apparent design acknowledged by materialists as diverse as Hoyle and Dawkins is not a phantom but is, in fact, truly designed. This inference to design is not unique to ID, the materialist literature is replete with similar inferences to design, the difference is that the materialist insists that this appearance of design is nothing more than appearance, a phantom.

    If what we observe, the apparent design of the materialist, truly is designed, then that inference has metaphysical implications. Metaphysical implications which design proponents, unlike their materialist counterparts, try to keep separate from their MES observations.

    1) ID is an MES insofar as it deals with phenomena which can be observed and measured.

    2) ID is philosophy when it extrapolates from those observations to make assertions about the true nature of reality.

    3) Darwinism (naturalism / materialism) is an MES insofar as it deals with phenomena which can be observed and measured.

    4) Darwinism (naturalism / materialism) is philosophy when it extrapolates from those observations to make assertions about the true nature of reality.

    The empirical observations are the same for ID and Darwinism. Both ID and Darwinism both base their assertions about the true nature of reality upon philosophical assumptions. The difference in the interpretations reflect their different assumptions about the true nature of reality, and about causal possibilities within our universe.

    I happen to agree we can infer design in nature, in the same way that palaeontologists infer design when they discover flint tools, archaeologists when they discover particular configurations in stone, pottery, or other materials, philatelists when they discover particular sets of markings, or SETI in their hope to detect extra-terrestrial radio signals. There is nothing necessarily false in an interpretation that infers the “DNA code” (a particular set of markings which stores and conveys information) is the product of an intelligent agency; nor is it necessarily false to infer that the “molecular machines” which function within the cell are an artefact of intelligent agency.

    Nor does such an inference require a full, or even a partial, knowledge of the intelligent agent. The builders of Stonehenge are largely unknown to modern archaeologists outside of a few rudimentary implements and their megalithic constructions. We truly don’t know much more about their culture than some agent or agents unknown (megalithic builders) constructed Stonehenge on Salisbury plain; all other ‘knowledge’ about the builders is really little more than imaginative speculation. Even less is known about the Palaeolithic tool-makers. The assumption is that they fall into that loose category we call “human” but even that could legitimately be challenged within the Darwinian paradigm.

    The strategy employed by Darwin and Huxley et al to promote the naturalistic Darwinist paradigm was much the same as the strategy used by ID today. They paid lip-service to the dominant theistic paradigm of their day while using their 19th C. ‘science’ to undermine that same paradigm. It is a strategy which is designed to maximize influence within the academy while minimizing the chance of persecution (Kenyon, Gonzales, Crocker, etc.). The difference is that 20th C. ‘science’ has consistently overturned the assumptions of the 19th C. What once seemed a simple process of spontaneous generation and descent with modification is, in reality, a highly sophisticated, integrated, and directed, process.

  7. Dave:

    First tell me WHAT exactly design IS, and then I’ll tell you whether you can “see” it directly with the MESs, or whether you (as a rational agent) “infer” its existence–even though it may be immaterial–FROM the MESs. Is “design” the same kind of thing as a neutrino?

  8. Hi Holopupenko

    A) Undirected = “huftdngy fyuj hjuhjjhhhu”

    B) Directed = “Methinks it is like a weasel.”

    Show me how to get from A) to B) without the intervention of intelligence and agency. I believe you have the mathematical skills to calculate the odds of that happening by random mutation.

    Is “design” the same kind of thing as a neutrino?

    Not being familiar with neutrinos, I really couldn’t say, but I doubt it. A neutrino is more likely to be a designed thing rather than an intelligent agent. Much the same relation a pottery shard has to the potter. You may see the fingerprints of the potter but the shard is just a shard.

  9. Hi Dave:

    Regarding your first example, you’ve missed the point and fallen exactly into the trap that people from Paley to Dawkins to Dembski have. First, I can set up a 28-place random letter generator that can do what you’re asking. (Digression: Dawkins was VERY wrong on his point because he sneaks in an intelligence from within that acts mechanically in his infamous algorithm, Dembski is sneaking in an intelligence from without that acts mechanically through ID.)

    Here’s the crux: So what? If my machine does that, will the sentence have any real meaning (= formal cause)? NO! NO! NO! From the perspective of the machine, case A) and case B) are utterly indistinguishable except for the position/location of the letters. The machine did NOT impose a formal cause (the meaning) upon the material cause (the letters): it merely randomly arranged the letters through the efficient cause without any final cause. Here, “random” is taken to be the classical definition of “the intersection of two independent lines of efficient causality,” so that there is no violation of the Principle of Sufficient Reason: in fact, there IS a cause for the sentence to come about… but it is entirely efficient causality.

    The ONLY way the generated sentence has meaning is for an external rational agent to observe and UNDERSTAND it, but it has no per se meaning because there was no intention (final cause) “in” the machine to do so. Not even the external rational agent can impose any per se formal cause (meaning) to the sentence: that “meaning” to the external observer is only per accidens, i.e., in this case it is merely because an external rational agent who speaks English interprets meaning upon the sentence through external rational imposition. If a non-English-speaking rational agent observed the sentence, he would (rightly) conclude “it has no meaning.”

    And all this is apart from the HUGE question begging: ID theorists MUST explain NOT the secondary issue that THEY happen to observe meaning in the sentence (or DNA for that matter), but the primary issue of how a rational agent did so ENTIRELY through efficient causality, i.e., if the capacity for reason in rational agents is an immaterial power (how much more so for God!), how exactly is the immaterial supposed to affect the material? (I can respond to that, but I won’t for now because you’ve really got to come to terms both with the question AND how an MES scientist is even going to buy is given the ontological and epistemic (methodological) limitations of the MESs.) I’ll even grant you that an external agent can and does secondarily “see” meaning in the sentence (like all non-pathological thinkers can see design in creation): that’s a no-brainer… but it’s not the issue.

    Note also: the “specified complexity” thing is also a bit of a ruse—not only because it fails to explain what “complexity” means beyond the operational definitions of information theory, but also because in principle it CAN happen efficiently (time and resources interpreted through probabilistic means, etc.). Think about it this way: the word RED is mathematically more complex than the word red because more “umph” (as it were) is required to specify the word either on paper or in a computer’s “memory.” But if I ask you “which has more meaning?”, there is no way you can refer to the MES-based mathematical complexity to arrive at the correct response that “both have the same meaning.” That’s what Dembski and company are doing, and they’re wrong: they’re trying to reduce meaning (formal causality) and design (final causality) to a mathematically-accessible status, which mean—quite literally and ironically—they’re as bad reductionists as their secular boffin couterparts: to be mathematically accessible means some rational agent had to abstract the Aristotelian accident “quantity” from a real, extra-mental object, i.e., from something that is in someway accessible to our five primary senses. What, pray tell, is sensory-accessible about design? Is “design” on a blueprint or in the DNA? NO! Design is in the mind of the immaterial mind of the designer, so you can never hope to “detect” or “infer” design directly from the MESs: you MUST have a rational agent with the immaterial capacity to reason about what he/she observers to do that… but then it’s no longer in the MES realm, is it?

    On your second issue, I can’t respond: you missed the point so much I don’t even know where to begin, except to have you think again: is a “neutrino” (a real, physical, extra-mental object somehow accessible to observation and translation through our five primary senses) the same KIND of thing as a “design.” If they are the same kind of thing then I should be able to observe them in the same way. If they are NOT the same kind of thing, you’d better be ready to explain what your basis is for “knowing” design if you can’t know it in the same way as physical objects such as the neutrino. At base, you are also reducing design to something accessible to the five primary senses.

    [Here’s another example to add to the discussion on your first issue: A friend tells you that a beach party to which you’ve been invited for tomorrow will have a sign on the beach indicating its location. The next day, you get to the beach and start looking for the sign. On the beach you see three sticks unmistakably forming an arrow in on the sand. You joyously run in the direction the arrow is pointing, and after about a kilometer you join the party. Later, you’re speaking to the person who invited you. He asks, “Hey, so I guess you saw the directional sign I drew on the beach near the entrance, right?” You respond, “Oh yeah, the stick-arrow arrangement on the beach led me to you.” He responds somewhat puzzled, “What sticks? I wrote the words ‘turn right’ on a cardboard sheet with black marker and attached it to a pole. What are you talking about?” It turns out later, someone finds the real sign blown off the pole by the wind, and that there’s lots of driftwood found on these beaches. In fact, the “arrow” was not an arrow at all: three pieces of driftwood just happened to FORM the shape of an arrow that happened to be pointing the correct direction. Utterly through the intersection of several lines of efficient-only causality, what you recognized to be an arrow was nothing of the sort: it was three pieces of driftwood—end of story. It’s existence is fully explained (material cause—driftwood, formal cause—the random arrangement with no meaning, efficient cause—the action of the waves, final cause—teleonomic but NOT teleological, the NATURE of the waves and driftwood acting out their natures, i.e., it is in the nature of waves to push things along and in the nature of drift wood to float) but no intelligent agent was required. An MES scientist would limit this full explanation to the material and formal causes, and he’d largely be correct from the perspective of the limited efficacy of MES-based explanation. That’s what evolutionary scientists do regarding descent with modification… and it appears they’re correct mechanistically and reductively and MES-epistemically speaking. And that’s fine as far as it goes. But if an MES-scientist want to explain rationality, then either he has to go fully reductionist (which is silly because they his own words mean nothing) or he has to posit something beyond the MES-realm. That is NOT what the ID theorists do: they STAY WITHIN the MES-realm, spinning their wheels while employing their MES tools, and they get nowhere with the secular colleagues because neo-Darwinist theory (not to be confused with Darwin-ISM) has done so simply and somewhat elegantly… although NOT FULLY. But for either the secularist scientists or ID theorists to “infer” something beyond the MES would be for the former to cede intellectual territory (always a good, humbling experience if they ever got around to it) and not scientistically claim “science knows all,” while for the latter admission beyond their MES-tools would mean they can’t bring it into the biology classroom. And both groups are wrong, and both groups are at each other’s throats: talking past each other in a wholly unnecessary artificial war… with Satan quietly whistling to himself in the background “divide and conquer, divide and conquer, I will divide and conquer today!”]

  10. Holopupenko,

    No need to apologize for a slow reply! Just a casual conversation here, hardly urgent.

    Anyway, some replies.

    I appreciate your distinctions between MES and… well, non-MES. In fact, yours seems reasonable, and one I could agree with. So let me ask you something else.

    Can you sympathize with why ID proponents are engaged in the project they are in? And by this I mean, you’re here saying that the MESs are not capable of detecting design, meaning, purpose, etc – but look what you’re up against. How many ID critics, even the scientists among them, would insist that science IS capable of detecting design but has turned up negatives (‘Well, there’s no design here!’) time and again? Or how if we have a natural explanation for something (Evolution, of course, being the prime example) then it means God, and therefore design, was not involved at all?

    That’s accented again when you talk about how you have a low opinion of multiverse and string theory claims. Well, you may, but that hasn’t stopped the latter from being considered science (and granted a lot of funding, I presume) over the years. The former, certainly, is treated like scientific speculation/investigation at least in its popular treatment of the subject (by science journalists, etc) and even among many scientists yet again.

    See, I’m tremendously sympathetic to thomism (I’m on board with a lot of what they say, though I still struggle to understand much of it), and certainly with distinctions between science and philosophy/metaphysics. But I also see quite a lot of the treatment of ID as utterly hypocritical. The propensity to say “Science can’t address questions of design!” on the one hand, and on the other to treat known processes as proof that “Design wasn’t needed”. The claim “ID is outside the bounds of science!”, then the willingness to amend those bounds to include speculations previously outside them (Multiverse scenarios, or even “morality” if we take Sam Harris’ recent speech into account, with some qualification.)

    Please note, by the way, that nowhere in this reply am I defending ID as science – I’m putting that aside for the moment. I’m pointing out that the boundary you see between science and metaphysics, philosophy, etc is routinely and flagrantly violated (Or, in the case of multiverses, etc, openly questioned), has been for a long time, and primarily from the side of those who are ID-critical at that.

  11. Crude:

    Put in those terms, I generally agree with you. I DO (ask Tom and other believers on this blog) sympathize greatly with what ID is trying to do, and I bow to no one in a defense of ID against the ridiculously-ignorant straw men foisted upon it by atheists who frequent this blog. You couldn’t be more correct: secular anti-IDers ARE hypocrites… with the added banality of being so ignorant of what they speak. Also, of course the boundaries between the two are fragrantly, often, ignorantly, and hypocritically violated–primarily by secular scientists. Think about how much good could come about for both sides if secular scientists confronted and honestly reflected upon the question “is defining the bounds of the MESs an MES question?”

    I also think the Thomism/Scotusism/ID/Darwinism/etc-ism thing is an artificial and easy label that obfuscates what should be the substance of these discussions. You should no more “buy into” Thomism than you should “buy into” the scientism and near-worship of the MESs as the “only real thing” epistemically. The Catholic Church, for example, never has and never will elevate Thomism to “its” philosophy. Why? It’s not in the job description of the Church to do so: it venerates him and honors (very highly!) his brilliant synthetically-oriented mind. But it doesn’t honor him for Thomas’ philosophy but because of the insight he provided into God and faith. Similarly, one cannot “honor” (and some do venerate, as you know!) neo-Darwinian theories as the final word on WHAT life is and how it came to be. That would be silly and unscientific.

    My hobby-horse (perhaps I’m riding it too roughly) is my demand for understanding and exactness in the terms used and ideas thrown around. I also have an admitted emotional attachment to avoiding a big let-down for believers (similar to what happened in the wake of the Scopes trial) when they see IDT is significantly lacking in its philosophical rigor and unable to deal consistently (per its own characterization of itself) on the MES-level. What do you think the default position will be? Well, given that our society is so overly-saturated with an unchallenged undertow of scientism (“science has shown…,” “scientists have learned…,” etc.) the easy way out will be to succumb to “science knows all.” The irony is that ID theorists have, to whatever extent, done that! Science is sexy, big, expensive, it works, etc., etc. Yes, that’s all true… but that’s far from what reality is all about.

    Other than that, thanks for your kind words.

  12. I like that Hart essay too.

    On the prior discussion, you wrote,

    ID theorists MUST explain NOT the secondary issue that THEY happen to observe meaning in the sentence (or DNA for that matter), but the primary issue of how a rational agent did so ENTIRELY through efficient causality

    I’m wondering, why? How does ID assume that only efficient causation is in operation?

    What, pray tell, is sensory-accessible about design? Is “design” on a blueprint or in the DNA? NO! Design is in the mind of the immaterial mind of the designer,

    Again I’m wondering, how do you know that? From what data/ experience/ reason/ logic have you inferred it? Or is it directly accessible, non-inferential (properly basic?) knowledge?

    But if an MES-scientist want to explain rationality, then either he has to go fully reductionist (which is silly because they his own words mean nothing) or he has to posit something beyond the MES-realm. That is NOT what the ID theorists do: they STAY WITHIN the MES-realm, spinning their wheels while employing their MES tools, and they get nowhere with the secular colleagues because neo-Darwinist theory (not to be confused with Darwin-ISM) has done so simply and somewhat elegantly… although NOT FULLY.

    They stay within the MES realm long enough to show that the answer is not to be found there. That’s valuable and worthwhile information.

  13. Hi Holopupenko

    I suspect we are a little closer than you think but for different reasons. I have commented here and elsewhere that I find Behe too reductionist in his search for irreducable complexity for the simple reason that blood clotting and flagella do not exist in isolation. The design apparent in living beings, and in nature generally, is integrated within the larger organism / environment.

    OTOH Behe was instrumental in breaking the materialist spell under which I laboured for so many years. I do not, and would not, use ID as an argument for theism except as a tangential argument against materialism. If fact, I rarely mix the two. But ID is a useful tool for demonstrating the falsity of the ‘spirit of the age.’

    I am also of the opinion that what God created He created with human beings, rational animals, in mind. If that is so then the fingerprints of God should be discernable within the context of the natural world. Romans 1:20

    There is no argument, philosphical, scientific, or theological, which will move a mind which is detemined to ignore the obvious. Romans 1:21-23 But in the case of the curious seeker, or the believer under assault by a materialist paradigm, the use of ID arguments which indicate a designed and integrated natural world is a valuable tool.

    You might want to read some of Benjamine Wiker’s (Catholic philospher) material. This book, A Meaningful World would be a good start. Wiker is no reductionist but has his feet planted firmly within the ID community. It’s a really interesting book too. One of the few books I have ever read through twice in a row.

    http://www.gracecamrose.ca/blog/meaningful-world/

  14. Hi Tom:

    On the first question you raise, I should have written “ENTIRELY through physical efficient causality (with the material assumed).” This is what points to IDT’s reductionism: they’re trying to “see” through the “eyes” of the MESs the jump from the immaterial to the material. They won’t do it, and they’re certainly not going to convince any scientist they can—including me.

    On your second question: sorry, but for now the onus is on the IDers who claim (and on this I believe you’re mischaracterizing their understanding and intent) that design IS inferred DIRECTLY from MESs observations. In other words, it’s question-begging as to what “design” is, i.e., what kind of being “design” is. They are presupposing (with NO support offered as to why) that “design” is somehow material (another aspect of their reductionism) and hence whose accidents (crudely “properties” from the MES perspective) are detectable through the five primary senses and hence accessible to the MESs. I CAN show you why “design” is in the immaterial mind of a rational agent, just like I can show you why “substance” (the primary Aristotelian category) is not accessible to the MESs (a color inheres exactly in what?, when I refer to you being six feet tall, what exactly is the “you” to which I’m referring, when a cosmologist claims the known universe is 13.75 billion years old, what exactly does he mean by “universe”?,etc.). But I can NOT do it exclusively with the MES: crudely, the MESs are the “data” operated upon (reflected upon) by rational agents to reason to immaterial verities. I repeat my charge: that is NOT what IDers are doing.

    On your third point, I’m calling you on this: First let’s make sure we understand what exactly characterizes IDT from their perspective as well as having them come clean on EXACTLY what kind of a being “design” is, and then let’s proceed. Dembski and Behe claim that “design” is DIRECTLY inferred from the MESs. I’m willing to bet a large sum of money that you will experience strong push-back from them—even more so since your characterization seems to indicate IDT exists only for so long as it can put itself out of business (“They stay within the MES realm long enough to show that the answer is not to be found there…”). The ONLY way they can do that is to step above the MESs and demonstrate with sound arguments why the MESs can be demarcated per the limitation the IDers are proposing. (I’m not saying they shouldn’t… in fact, I demand they do.) But then, that wouldn’t be an MES argument, would it? Which, of course, begs the further question: why are attempts made to inject IDT into the biology classroom? I’m just as harsh against Darwin-ISM being injected into the biology classroom, as I’m opposed to the multiple non-scientific interpretations of quantum mechanics being injected into physics classrooms. The “injection” part presupposes not only the curricular limits but the competence of a biology or physics teachers being able to properly and neutrally present philosophical glosses on MES findings. Don’t get me wrong: that stuff IS VERY IMPORTANT, but it can’t be properly treated in MES-based classrooms.

    Some more things to buttress my points above: the full title of Dembski’s flagship book is Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology. Now, if that isn’t a clear indication of both Dembski’s confusion as well as his unscientific intentions, I don’t know what is. But, then again, maybe on at least that narrow point you’re correct: maybe IDT is trying to put itself out of business… because a “bridge” is not something upon which you remain for very but a means for getting from point A to point B. Here’s the title of Dembski and Wells’ book: The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems. This title is so loaded with “pregnant” meaning, I don’t know where to begin. (Yes, I’ve read the book, so I’m not focusing on the title simply to cherry pick.) Again, I challenge anyone to read this book and to point out where these gentlemen define exactly what are “design,” “sign,” “intelligence [or reason],” and “biological system.” The closest they get is to an operational definition of “biological system,” and actually it’s sloppy. In fact, they presuppose NOT that a philosophical interpretation is needed to extract meaning from scientific findings but that the MESs can DIRECTLY “see” design through irreducible and specified complexity. Why, at the end of the day, Tom, this evasiveness on their part? I’ll be charitable: it’s not intentional evasiveness but rather not being equipped with (and hence not competent in) a realist philosophy of nature that can take them further. Every so often Dembski throws a bone to the “philosophy of science” (whose formal object is methodology from certain epistemic presuppositions), but almost completely neglects understanding natures of things, i.e., neglects a realist philosophy of nature (whose formal object is mobile being).

    Dave:

    I’m largely with you (and I’m glad to see Behe helped), but it’s a bit beside my point.

    When you say “the fingerprints of God should be discernable within the context of the natural world,” you’ve got to be exceedingly precise and careful. By “fingerprint” my guess is you mean “sign.” But that presupposes being able to distinguish (note: I’m employing philosophically-technical terms of art in the realm of logic) natural from formal from conventional signs and their connection to concepts (as opposed to images). First, I provide the genus-level definition of a “sign”: “that which, over and beyond the impression it produces on the senses, brings to the mind of a knowing power (a rational agent) something other than itself.” In other words, it belongs to the nature (“nature” here used analogically) of a sign to refer us to something other than itself. Then, a “natural” sign is something that points to another thing beyond itself in the physical realm: smoke is a “sign” of a high degree of heat. A “conventional” sign can ONLY come from a rational agent, i.e., they are artifacts of reason: traffic lights are conventional signs for the flow of traffic, the sound of a buzzer is the sign for the end of class, etc. A “formal” sign is interior to the knower: images and concepts.

    And this is only the beginning of the many technical terms of art that must be well understood and internalized to be able to carefully distinguish the noise of intent from substance of intent bandied about by both sides of the debate.

    Let me continue with the “fingerprints” point you make. Your point (and Scriptural reference) is exactly the one used by Prof. Alfred Tang at a conference session in which I also presented and in which Tom was in attendance. I quote from Tang’s presentation:

    “The Apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20, ‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.’ If Paul is right, God can be seen in nature. Nature is the domain of science. Therefore science ought to be an instrument to reveal the glory of God to the unbelievers.”

    My questions to you, Dave, are: Can you tell us WHAT exactly is the “measurable evidence” by which we are to understand and accept science itself? Can you provide us any evidence accessible to the five primary senses of the existence of this thing you call science… let alone “God’s invisible qualities”? If there is no “measurable evidence” and, in fact, if that evidence is “invisible,” then exactly on what basis are we to accept the scientific method as a valid epistemological means by which to acquire knowledge of the real extra-mental world, and on what basis is any natural scientist supposed to “see” what you propose is “invisible”? And what could possibly be meant by the assertion that “God can be seen in nature” from the perspective of the MESs?

    One does not see “evidence” for God as a scientist qua scientist. One “sees” evidence for God qua intelligent agent who has the capacity—as part of the NATURE of being a human—to see evidence for God because you CAN reason to His existence. So, relying on the modern empirical sciences as sciences—i.e., bringing the intellectual battle onto the playing field of science—is to denigrate God as if He can be captured by the sciences qua sciences, is to denigrate the creatures He’s formed in His image and likeness, and is to lose the game, set, and match.

    The Scriptural reference to which you draw our attention is a perfect example of my point: the knowledge assumed by St. Paul in this passage cannot possibly be of bacterial flagella, cosmic fine-tuning, etc., but must be grounded in pre-scientific common experience which is reflected upon by natural philosophy animated by the presuppositions and good habits that find their origin in a Christian world view!

    Why are the IDers trying to “improve” upon this using the MESs? Do the MESs somehow add more ‘umph” to the argument? Can they, in and of themselves, provide any insight without a rational agent to “see” beyond? No! A major principle is being sidelined: while all knowledge comes through the senses, not all knowledge is sensory knowledge. We employ the sensory knowledge to reason to immaterial verities. There are things utterly inaccessible to the senses, and therefore they are not accessible to the MESs. Yet, there they are: everything from justice to virtue to the rules of chess to concepts such as the day after tomorrow… do “natures” and “design.”

    Finally, regarding Wiker’s book A Meaningful World, I’ve read it: my copy is highly underlined with lots of notes in the margins. One of the biggest criticisms I have of the book is that nowhere is the word “meaning” or “meaningful” defined. I also happen to know Jonathan Witt was not completely happy with the direction the book took. I also know (because I was involved peripherally in the discussion) that Dembski commissioned Wiker to critique a book by Ric Machuga that pointed out the severe weakeness of IDT, and that Wiker (it appears unintentionally because he didn’t understand Machuga’s use of terms) misrepresented Machuga’s point… and ended up criticizing a straw man. I’m not going to get into the details because it’s a fairly nuanced discussion. Suffice it to say Wiker has “follow the money” interests in the debate. PLEASE don’t misunderstand me: I repeat my great interest and support in the work of these folks… but I demand precision in terms and competence in areas beyond the MESs to engage in such efforts and debates. I am more than convinced at this point that if IDT finds it needs to reform its image (as Tom seems to indicate), then it better be ready (1) to explain its prior efforts and intentions, and (2) to reform itself competently, explicitly and vocally as being NOT only an MES-based effort. My guess if I were a betting man: sadly, I don’t think it’s going to happen because of the capital already invested and because of some fundamental philosophical and theological hurdles that must be overcome. No, I’m not going to get into it here.

  15. Hi Holopupenko

    They are presupposing (with NO support offered as to why) that “design” is somehow material (another aspect of their reductionism) and hence whose accidents (crudely “properties” from the MES perspective) are detectable through the five primary senses and hence accessible to the MESs. I CAN show you why “design” is in the immaterial mind of a rational agent, just like I can show you why “substance” (the primary Aristotelian category) is not accessible to the MESs[…]

    I think I am beginning to understand your argument and if I do understand correctly then I think it is flawed for several reasons. Let me parse the above passage to show what I think you are saying and why it is not quite correct.

    They are presupposing (with NO support offered as to why) that “design” is somehow material (another aspect of their reductionism)

    ID is not claiming that design is material, that is the whole point of the inference to design; The design is not material it is a pattern imposed upon matter by an intelligent agent. We, as intelligent agents with the capacity to shape matter, intuitively recognize matter that has been shaped by other intelligent agents. When an archaeologist examines the artefacts he digs up he does not suggest that the design of the pot is a property of the clay, but that the clay exhibits evidence that someone has imposed a pattern that is not a natural property of clay.

    […] hence whose accidents (crudely “properties” from the MES perspective) are detectable through the five primary senses and hence accessible to the MESs.

    We are both spiritual and material beings. We live in a material world and we interact with that matter through the mediation of our immaterial mind. I do not communicate with you “mind to mind” but must mediate my communication the material medium of dots of light on a screen (in this case). You detect those dots of light with one of your “five primary senses” and infer that Dave has posted another stupid argument. You have detected the imposition of design in matter from another (quasi)rational agent. The design you recognize is not inherent in the matter of light or screen so you make an inference to the best explanation that some intelligent agent has been fiddling with the parameters.

    I CAN show you why “design” is in the immaterial mind of a rational agent,[…]

    That is precisely the implication which critics of IDT understand most clearly. Materialist science (which is somewhat different from ‘empirical’ science) denies any possibility of agency in the underlying structure of reality. Some even deny it all the way through, denying even human agency in any meaningful sense. The metaphysical implications of IDT undermines their entire worldview.

    Theists who oppose IDT seem to have a different reason for their ire. They often, and mistakenly in my opinion, infer that detectable design implies that God is the ‘author of evil‘. This misidentification of God as the author of evil follows upon another error, that of reading Genesis as allegory. If there was no historical “Fall” then God made flawed humans in a flawed world – Darwin’s argument in reverse – so many modern theists accept the materialist evolutionary history and embrace a Deistic God who “wound things up” and then got out of the way.

    If the Fall of Genesis is an accurate portrayal of human rebellion and its universal consequences then God is not the ‘author of evil’. He made human beings with the quasi-divine attribute of freedom to act independent of the cause and effect laws which govern most, if not all, of the rest of creation. We were made free. Our freedom made us fit companions and servants for the Maker of the Universe. But we arrogate to ourselves the authority which belongs to God alone and use our freedom to reject His overtures. The flaw is not in how we were made but in the use we make of God’s gracious gift of free will. He, for His part, does not impose Himself upon us but graciously reaches out to us, invites us to return, offers redemption. Hosea 1:2

    Our rebellion has cosmic consequences; like ripples in a pond the disharmony introduced by human rebellion spreads through all of creation, bringing in its wake, death, disease, and corruption. When we observe “natural evil”, that symptom which the modern theist wishes so desperately to avoid laying before God’s door, we are observing the consequences of human rebellion. A simple reading of the Bible will reveal that theme writ large.

    […] just like I can show you why “substance” (the primary Aristotelian category) is not accessible to the MESs[…]

    Please do not misunderstand my meaning here, Aristotle was a brilliant man, and insightful thinker, and formalized the rules of logic, but he was only a man. While Aristotle’s insights and method are useful they are not infallible.

    http://www.gracecamrose.ca/blog/luther-and-reason/

    Luther recognized the danger of reason without revelation. He watched it mature within Scholastic theology and sensed the coming of Enlightenment ‘rationalism’ – the abortive, anti-Christian, stepchild of Aristotle. For this he was branded a “nominalist”, but he was not. He insisted that reason could only be valid when we reason from biblical premises. Luther was an accomplished logician himself, and schooled his students in the art of reason, but he was always more concerned that they reason from biblical premises.

    The fault of the great mass of logicians is not that they bring out a false result, or, in other words, are not logicians at all. Their fault is that by an inevitable psychological habit they tend to forget that there are two parts of a logical process–the first the choosing of an assumption, and the second the arguing upon it; […] It is astonishing, again, how constantly one hears rationalists arguing upon some deep topic, apparently without troubling about the deep assumptions involved, having lost their sense, as it were, of the real colour and character of a man’s assumption.

    Chesterton “Thomas Carlyle”

    (I’ll get to your comments about ‘things visible and invisible’ later – I’m out of time for now. Dave)

  16. This…

    I do not communicate with you “mind to mind” but must mediate my communication the material medium of dots of light on a screen (in this case). You detect those dots of light with one of your “five primary senses” and infer that Dave has posted another stupid argument.

    got me laughing. 🙂

  17. I’m not laughing (although I’m not trying to be nasty): the “mediate” and “infer” are incorrect because it begs the questions “infer from what?” and “mediate with what?” From the dots? No. The dots don’t mediate anything–they are dots. They are SIGNS (which is what I raised earlier), but they don’t mediate except in a very loose understanding of “mediate.” Moreover, they are SIGNS of things utterly inaccessible to the senses: concepts. Finally, I don’t “infer” (in the given case): I really KNOW. I’m very sensitive to the last point because it strays too close to Idealism. I don’t know concepts: concepts are that by which I know things. Concepts are formal signs while dots on the screen are conventional signs. It is the concept that mediates thought and signification (not the dots) because the concept is a representation of its object, a special kind of representation in an rational agent which makes that agent aware of the object of intellection.

    The points you raise in your last response, Dave, are important… but frustrating to me because it would almost take a course to unpack the terms and clarify thing… which would then go against Tom’s maxim “this is a blog, not a book.” I don’t mean to be evasive… just kind of tired of pursuing the loose ends. Please understand: I do think your points ARE important… but more effectively discussed either in the class room or over a beer.

  18. Holopupenko,

    Thanks for your reply.

    Certainly I agree that you’ve been fair (given the comments I’ve read on this blog) about the hypocrisy of many ID critics. And again, I think your criticisms of ID have merit as well.

    I thought of a way to drive home the point I’m trying to make here, and to do so I’m going to have to use another article (in two parts) by Ed Feser, about science and scientism. What I find interesting in the article is Ed’s claim that scientism is either self-refuting, or ends up defining science so broadly that even thomism pretty much becomes science or part of science. And notice that in the latter case, what’s happening isn’t that thomism is getting shoved into a reductionistic, empiricist program (Which you seem to suggest necessarily follows whenever anyone uses ‘science’ as a label for their views). The definition of science is being expanded beyond that tight, nifty MES scope – and it’s this type of ‘scientism’ which I find to be far more prevalent.

    Anyway, I just want to point out a pragmatic problem here. I like your view of science and it’s limits – I think it’s sensible and valid. I’d go so far as to say that if these were the limits most people (scientists, academics, science journalists, teachers, etc) adhered to in discourse and practice, there wouldn’t even be an ID movement. The need would simply not be there. But this isn’t the case. Instead, what we have is a very long tradition of ID critics (So to speak. These critics were around well in advance of the ‘ID Movement’) informing us that science tells us there is no design in nature, or that appearances of design are there but are illusions, etc. We see multiverse speculations considered scientific, we see string theory treated as such. Hell, we have Stephen Hawking just recently telling us about what the intelligent aliens he’s certain exist will do if they ever find us – and I would have trouble believing that that program wasn’t cooked up in part to leech off the scientific fame of Hawking.

    In other words, we have people abusing science left and right in way after way for quite a long period of time. But suddenly we’re all supposed to be concerned – especially, deeply concerned – with these Intelligent Design people, because somehow their particular use and redefinition of ‘science’ is… I don’t know. Particularly nefarious? It’s all fun and games when Hawking tells us that the aliens, if they find us, are going to beat us up because they’re more powerful – but when Dembski suggests that what we know of nature should lead us to infer the work of powerful, intelligent agents, darn it, that’s just over the line? Or how it’s tremendously important that science be limited only to strictly falsifiable claims (so ID is out), but multiverse scenarios may not be strictly falsifiable – and maybe that just means our definition of science is too myopic?

    I suppose what I’m saying here is this: I think many ID arguments, even if they are not strictly scientific, are of interest and are even persuasive to whatever degree even if they’re qualified as going beyond science’s scope. And I have trouble pretending that science is somehow sacrosanct and has a definition which is both immutable and clear, when (at least, when topics other than ID come up) few people – including many scientists – seem to really hold these views themselves.

    Put another way: I consider consistency important. If atheist equivalents of ID are treated as science, then I see no reason not to give ID the same treatment. I can’t justify upholding a certain definition of science as sacrosanct, knowing that only particular violations of this definition will be criticized, and others will have a blind eye turned towards them or worse. And I think even those who think ID goes beyond science should consider taking the tact of, “I’ll come down against ID, the moment those others who ‘abuse science’ receive the same treatment. Otherwise, consistency demands they be tolerated.”

  19. I read Tom’s OP, then a few of the comments and then gave up. A few brief comments:

    1) ID does not depend upon a faulty metaphysics of nature. We can grant that Nature and her laws are entirely contingent, dependent upon God for existence, and are teleological.

    2) There is still the further question of whether God has endowed Nature with the ability to bring forth life. And the IDist would say, “No, unless such ability has been completely hidden from view.”

    3) Whatever theories MES produces will always be philosophical at their core. We don’t “see” causes in the same way that we see buildings. They are part of our metaphysics.

    4) Therefore ID has every right to be part of MES.

  20. Bilbo, just to clarify (because I know at least one commenter who would run with this), I’m sure that in (2) you meant, “bring forth life from non-life.”

  21. An exerpt from the Signature in the Cell debate at Biola last Friday featuring Steven Meyer, Steve Matheson, and Arthur Hunt. Matheson is a theistic evolutionist.

    Matheson: I don’t find the argument convincing, I really don’t, but I think I know why. And the reason why is, I just figured out tonight, you said that we reason backwards from what we know works, which is that intelligence makes codes. I’ll agree with that. Can I see the hands of people that don’t agree? Of course not. Okay, well we reason back and say, therefore, this is the one explanation we know that can do this. I buy that, I get it, it’s, it’s obvious. But I see the world differently than you do.

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2010/05/which_steve_said_design_is_an.html

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