Archive for ‘ID’

January 17, 2012

James Shapiro on ID

by Neil Rickert

From time to time, ID proponents mention James Shapiro as someone who offers an alternative to the Darwinism that they much ridicule.  But they have never been sure where Shapiro stands on the question of ID.  Shapiro has now given a response.  And it is the kind of response that we might expect from a scientist at University of Chicago:

These statements are confusing. Is Dembski saying that he abandons the supernatural as a component of ID? If so, then we can start a real scientific dialogue about the possible natures of intelligence, teleology and design in biology and how to investigate them both theoretically and experimentally. However, if he does not want to abandon the supernatural (as Michael Behe has repeatedly told me he does not) and if he wishes always to have recourse to a literal Deus ex Machina, then we cannot have a serious scientific discussion. Doing that requires respecting the naturalistic limits of science. I think it would be a very positive development for ID proponents to give up on all theological crutches and engage in a strictly naturalistic inquiry, independent of whatever their beliefs in final causes may be. Is Bill Dembski willing to do that?

It is worth reading the full Shapiro post.  There’s also a reaction at Uncommon Descent, though there isn’t much to the reaction yet.  Perhaps more will follow in the comments.

November 20, 2011

Is Granville Sewell a mole?

by Neil Rickert

Mathematicians are generally pretty smart people.  So when Granville Sewell originally came out with an argument based on the second law of thermodynamics (see here), I was saddened to see a mathematician come out with an argument that is so foolish, so ignorant, so wrong.  Recently Sewell has repeated his arguments in a post at the Uncommon Descent blog.

My first reaction was to scratch my head, and wonder how a mathematician could come up with such appallingly poor reasoning.  But then it struck me.  Maybe Granville Sewell is a mole.

November 12, 2011

Uncommonly funny

by Neil Rickert

I try to follow the Uncommon Descent blog, to get an idea of what is happening in the world of ID proponents.  Some of the posts deserve a good laugh.  The last few days have been particularly rich in the humor that they have supplied.

1: In Embryo and Einstein – Why They’re Equal, vjtorley argues against abortion.  Given that the UD blog often claims that ID is a scientific program, and not a religious program, one wonders why.  But then vjtorley attempts to explain that his argument is not religious, with:

The aim of this essay is to demonstrate on purely philosophical (i.e. non-religious) grounds that a human embryo is a person, who matters just as much as you or I do.

August 28, 2011

ID debunked, by an ID proponent

by Neil Rickert

In a recent post at the Uncommon Descent blog, Eric Holloway has given a clear explanation of why ID is not science.  That may not be what Eric was intending to explain, but he succeeded whether or not it was his intention.

Eric uses the Aristotlean notions of “efficient cause” and “final cause”, with efficient causes being used in answers to the “how” question and final causes being used in answers to the “why” question.  And Eric is clear on putting ID explanations in the final cause category.

Now, to relate these concepts back to the interplay between materialism and ID, materialism implies that all events only have efficient causal explanations, and any perceived final causal explanations can be reduced to efficient causal explanations.

I’m not sure what is this “materialism” that Eric speaks of.  If materialism says that, then its a good reason to not be a materialist.  Science seeks causal explanations.  But most scientists do not deny that there can also be final cause explanations.  It is just that the final cause explanation is not science.

Let’s suppose that I want to build a house.  I hire architects to design it, and a construction firm to build it.  The way that all of the parts are put together to assemble the house constitutes the efficient cause explanation.  My intention and the insight of the architect are part of the final cause explanation.  Now if somebody else wants to build a house, then the efficient cause explanation can be very useful.  The final cause explanation might make interesting history, but it isn’t of much use to those who want to build houses, because it only answers the “why” question and fails to address the “how” question.

The main issue of ID has always been on whether ID is science.  Critics of ID fully understand that people ask the “why” question, and wonder about questions of origins.  But it is the “how” question that matters to science.  The primary objection to ID has always been an objection to attempts to force the teaching of ID into the science classroom.

A recent cartoon illustrates that the “why” question is not one of concern for science.

August 15, 2011

The improbability of ID

by Neil Rickert

ID proponents are frequently appealing to probabilistic arguments as evidence for their ID claims.  Unfortunately, most of the presented arguments are wrong.  There’s a particularly egregious example posted today at the Uncommon Descent blog.  The author of that post, JonathanM, apparently managed to get into a debate with Massimo Pigliucci.  He quotes Pigliucci as saying:

No evolutionary biologist I know…actually attaches probabilities to specific evolutionary events of the type you are talking about. There is no way to do that.

JonathanM then goes on to cite places where evolutionists have used probabilistic reasoning.  Apparently, JonathanM has no understanding of the difference between probabilities of specific events, and the use of probabilities over populations.

Here’s an illustration of the problem.  If I shuffle a deck of cards, and then deal out a bridge hand, I will have produced a highly improbable event.  If you were to list a particular hand before I had shuffled and dealt the card, then the probability calculation would show that the hand you listed was very unlikely.  If I had then dealt that actual hand, you would have reason to question whether I had been cheating.  However, once a hand has already been dealt, it makes no sense to compute the probability for that hand.  It does not tell us anything useful.

If you really wanted to look at a few hands that I had dealt, to find evidence of cheating, there is a way to do that.  You would need an alternative explanation as to how those hands were dealt.  And then you could calculate the conditional probability:  given that this hand was dealt, what is the conditional probability that it was dealt by method X (say, standard shuffling) rather than by method Y (your alternative).

It isn’t the direct probability of the hand that matters, it is that conditional probability.  And we can only use that method if we have sufficient data to realistically estimate the condition probability.

Unfortunately, the ID proponents don’t seem to understand this.  They do not use conditional probabilities in their arguments.  Perhaps this is because an estimate based on conditional probabilities would show that natural causes are far more probable than supernatural causes.

It is not just JonathanM who is confused about this.  His blog post has been made into a “sticky” and thus highlighted on the Uncommon Descent blog.  So whoever makes the decisions about such highlighting is presumably just as confused.

After citing his examples of statistics applied to population genetics, JonathanM comments “To this, I received no response.”  That, I can understand.  By this time, Pigliucci must have recognized that Jonathan was driven by ideology, and unwilling to learn anything.

August 2, 2011

ID as science

by Neil Rickert

In a recent post at the Uncommon Descent blog, we are assured that ID is not an apologetic.  Rather, it is science.  Here is how they explain it:

We find ourselves in a world of conscious beings, inventing, creating, thinking, and planning. Yet science, so far, has dealt only with the unplanned and automatic portions of it. In my view, there is a lot missing, and ID, by taking agency as a real causal force, can appropriately extend science to take into account agency as a causative force.

So there we have it.  A case has been made for the god intelligent designer of the gaps, as part of the ID apologetic science.

July 9, 2011

Chance, law, metaphysics

by Neil Rickert

This post is partly a reaction to two recent blog posts that are related to the role of chance, particularly in evolution.  The two blog posts are “Confessions of a Design Heretic” by nullasalus (at the Uncommon Descent site) and “Could God Have Set Up Darwinian Accidents?” by John Wilkins (at his Evolving Thoughts site).

I believe that both nullasalus and Wilkins are from Australia.  Perhaps their posts are reactions to the southern hemisphere winter.  Evolution is usually said as partly a result of chance, particularly as it shows up in random mutation.  In his post, nullasalus says “I question the very existence of Chance.”  In arguing that, nullasalus is supporting the idea sometimes expressed by theistic evolutionists, that God is at work behind the scenes, tweaking things so as to get the results that He desires.  Wilkins is not proposing that theistic evolution is correct, but he is suggesting that it is “a coherent position to hold.”

April 18, 2011

The Synthese flap – what’s the big deal?

by Neil Rickert

When the philosophy journal Synthese published a special issue critical of Intelligent Design, they included a disclaimer.  There has been a stink in the blogosphere, with accusations that Synthese editors have caved in to pressure from ID proponents.  And now there is a move afoot to boycott Synthese.

I am wondering why such a big deal.  Almost the entirety of philosophy is based on deeply entrenched ID thinking.  This is hardly surprising, given that the discipline of philosophy developed in an era where ID thinking was the norm.  Moreover, philosophy is respectful of those older traditions, unlike science which will quickly discard an old idea once it has a better replacement.

Epistemology is one of the core areas within philosophy.  It is a theory of knowledge that is derived from traditional ID thinking, as is philosophy of science (sometimes referred to as scientific epistemology).  This is why many scientists have little use for philosophy.  The philosophy of mind is mostly a theory of how to intelligently design a conscious mind.  It has made little progress, and some people now assert that consciousness does not exist, or is an illusion or is an epiphenomenon.  Personally, I think it is impossible to design a conscious mind – consciousness can only arise through evolution.

So now some philosophers, scholars in a tradition based on ID thinking, are criticizing one of their premier journals because it appears to be favoring ID.

This could be a fun food fight to watch.  Stock up on popcorn.

April 6, 2011

Demonic possession

by Neil Rickert

Because the intellect, unlike the other powers of the mind such as sensation, imagination, etc, is entirely immaterial, a primary disorder of the intellect would be intrinsically immaterial, and might be thought of as a spiritual disorder of character, or a tendency to sin, or even demonic influence/possession.

That was part of the post “Ask the doctor: ID-friendly neurosurgeon talks about mental illness” at the Uncommon Descent blog.

This sort of thinking is part of why there is so much discrimination against people with mental illness.  It denies that mental illness is an actual illness, and instead stigmatizes it as due to sin or demon possession.

The posters at the Uncommon Descent blog wants us to believe that they are presenting a scientific case for intelligent design.  Yet they allow posts which put forth primitive ignorant beliefs.

March 28, 2011

On materialism and meaninglessness

by Neil Rickert

Over at the Discovery Institute’s “Evolution News and Views” blog, David Klinghoffer has a post titled “What Intelligent Design Offers to Agnostics.”  He is, of course, referring to the tribune post with a similar title.  He spends some time talking about materialism.  For example, he says:

Materialism corrodes the confidence we might otherwise have that any search for meaning that we undertake is not necessarily in vain. Intelligent design offers the hope, by the refutation of materialist science, that “something is out there,” whatever it might be, capable of granting genuine purpose to our existence.

We often hear this kind of criticism coming from ID proponents and from creationists.  Yet I cannot find any basis for it.  Many of the people whom Klinghoffer would consider to be materialists, self included, live very meaningful lives and are not at all filled with the kind of despair that Klinghoffer describes.

Where do Klinghoffer and other ID proponents and creationists get these ideas?  Perhaps they have no good arguments, and they are trying this for want of a better argument.  Then funny thing is that our experience of designed things, whether they be puppets, mechanical toys or robots, is an experience of things that are mindless and have no meaning.  Based on the evidence, it ought to be ID that leads to meaninglessness and nihilism.

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