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.

6 Responses to “The Synthese flap – what’s the big deal?”

  1. I think you’ve missed the point. It is not that the journal is “favoring ID” (whatever that means), but that the editors misbehaved by denigrating the papers published in their guest issue. I would not have agreed to have my paper published had I known the editors would insert the “disclaimer” they chose.


  2. I have to disagree, Neil. Modern philosophy was formed when the ID approached was increasingly dropped, as science found the presumption of entelechy unnecessary. Hume comes to mind as a crucial thinker in this regard.

    Moreover, philosophy of mind, at least as I teach it, is quite the opposite of your assertion that it is about how to design a mind, unless you mean by that understanding the ways in which such systems operate, in which case physics is about how to design a universe.

    The objection is not to the editors favouring ID. It is to their behaving contrary to academic convention. If they did not want the paper published, or needed it revised to meet their standards, they should have either rejected it or sought revision. Instead they cast doubt upon the probity and professionalism of Barbara and the rest of the issue contributors, needlessly. They did this in response, so far as we can tell, to pressure from ID supporters alone. The breaking of the rules is what is at issue here.


    • I was not suggesting that philosophy has deliberately chosen an ID model. Rather, I am saying that philosophy depends on unstated assumptions that appear to come from an ID way of thinking. Philosophers are likely not aware of the unstated assumptions that they depend on.

      And no, physics is not about how to design a universe, although some of the speculative theories might be. Physics is mainly about how to describe the universe that we find ourselves in.

      As for the journal – I am not supporting what it did. But I think the reaction is disproportionate.


  3. The way you’ve set it up, I have either to argue that philosophy is scientific, and so does not support ID thinking, or that philosophy does support ID thinking and that is OK.

    Either way I have to assert that some-thing is scientific only insofar as it rejects ID thinking.

    So what! Have you words “science” and “philosophy”. I do neither. I just think about things and say how they seem to me, and I care more or less what other people think about the same.

    I want a view of the world that is true and also edifying — I want to be shown a world that is worth living in. The scientific view may be true, but I wonder if it is edifying for instance to think that some-day the whole universe is going to fizzle into stasis — so I cannot believe that without feeling depressed and anxious. The philosophical view promises edification, but collapses into paradox.

    So what am I to do? I am a human being, and I have to discover who it is that can tell me what I am, since I can-not figure that out for my-self, so every-one says.

    But it is wonderful, isn’t it, to be on the side of truth. It is as good as being on the side of God, and better, since there would be no side of God, if there is no God — and all intelligent men say that there is not, since that is the mark of intelligence.


    • I’m not sure what point you think you are making.

      It seems rather clear that you have misunderstood my post. That’s not unexpected – I am often misunderstood.

      I did not say anything about whether philosophy should be scientific. Nor did I say anything about whether philosophy should support ID.



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