Intelligent Design and academics

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David Klinghoffer has a column in National Review Online today on continuing developments in the case of Richard von Sternberg, the individual who was in the unfortunate position of being the editor who accepted (based on peer-reviews) an intelligent design article for publication. He has been treated rather unpleasantly since then.

And on a related topic, Telic Thoughts has a recent post with some academics' responses when asked whether they thought being an intelligent design proponent would disqualify a candidate for an academic position.

UPDATE: The WaPo has an article on the Sternberg story. I may say more on this in the near future, but check it out if you're interested.

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Yet, as this story highlights, scientists are remarkably close minded when it comes to ideas that threaten their own tightly held beliefs. This is one of the things that surprised me the most as I walked the halls of scientific academia. Read More


Jeremy (and others), what do you think of ID's long term prospects in the academy?

I don't study philosophy of religion and science and. But everyone knows that, compared to Plantinga, Wolterstorff, and Alston's work in epistemology and natural theology, Swinburne's work on probability, and (perhaps) Craig's work in cosmology, the ID stuff can't earn *any* respect. I think the situation is bad enough that any student who thinks ID arguments are worth developing and defending risks not being taken seriously from the start (and can you think of anyone who's 1) doing serious research in this area and 2) hasn't been drummed out of the academy like Bill Dembski? I can think of Tim McGrew, Rob Koons, and Neil Manson, but that's it).

In philosophy, it seems to be tolerated as a real question. In other fields, the sense I get is that mentioning it without a sneer puts you in the category of the toothless yokel who sleeps with his sister. Peter van Inwagen spends a whole chapter on the fine-tuning ID argument in his Metaphysics book, and his conclusion is somewhat favorable to the argument. He thinks many-universes explanations can get you out of the argument, but he doesn't think they're any better from the naturalistic perspective than design hypotheses. Roger White at NYU has written some favorable stuff on the same argument. Plantinga's stuff on naturalism in recent years counts as intelligent design in my book. They laugh at it, but they don't think he's a book-burner and science-hater because of it the way a biology or geology department would.

Neil Manson doesn't accept the fine-tuning argument. He told me this in person when he came back to Syracuse for a conference a few years ago. He did his dissertation on it under van Inwagen's supervision, but he came to disagree with the major claim of his dissertation shortly afterward (and it really was a very short time). He was an interesting case, because he's not religious in any sense as far as I know. He just thought the argument was successful. I don't know if he was peer-pressured out of it the way Frank Jackson was with dualism (according to one report that I consider reliable by a materialist) or if it has to do with philosophical reasons.

From what I can tell, it's the biological ID stuff that they think agreeing with requires the lowest depths of stupidity. No philosopher I've had anything to do with has endorsed that stuff publicly. I don't know what McGrew and Koons are up to, so maybe they're exceptions. I do know of a philosophy graduate student who teaches Stephen Meyer in his intro class when he covers the design argument in a unit on the existence of God, but he hasn't advertized that too much. It's the fine-tuning arguments that are tolerated, but that's because people outside the ID movement do not consider an argument ID unless it's the biological one people like Behe and Dembski are dealing with. So part of the problem is in delineating what counts as ID.

Craig's work in cosmology isn't a design argument. It's a cosmological argument. It's a rehash of what Muslims were up to before Aquinas even came along, and most philosophers consider it to be nonsense due to his outright dismissal of what calculus has shown possibly with infinity. That argument counts as serious philosophy. It's just his assumption of the impossibility of an infinite past that they think it philosophically and mathematically ignorant. I asked one prominent philosopher of physics if he thought of Craig as a crank, and he wouldn't go that far but he thought he was in that general direction. He said he confused him with someone else all the time and put the two in the same category. I can't remember offhand who it was, but it was someone else who works in the same area but doesn't accept the conclusion of a theistic explanation. It might have been Quentin Smith.

You also forgot to mention Antony Flew, who accepts an ID argument now. He was never considered one of the best philosophers of religion by philosophers, so this doesn't amount to much. Most philosophers I know consider William Rowe to be the best representation of atheism in philosophy or religion, and Flew always gets compared disfavorably to him in my experience (and this is all from before his acceptance of ID). In the end, I just don't think very many philosophers are bothered by his acceptance of fine-tuning ID arguments. The foaming-at-the-mouth opponents of ID don't call those arguments ID anyway, and those who are philosophers didn't seem to consider him one of the top defenders of atheism.

I can't speak as well as Jeremy to the philosophy side of things, but I do think ID (at present) is rather less likely to be frowned on by the philosophical crowd than the scientific crowd. As I mentioned in a previous post, it's scientifically acceptable in SOME circles to mention that something was designed, as long as you make clear that the designer was nature/evolution, not any intelligent being. But mention God, an intelligent designer, or point out anything that Darwinism has trouble explaining, and you're at risk being labeled as a crackpot. Worse, those who oppose ID like to say that intelligent design is not science because ID people don't publish any papers in peer reviewed journals. Along these same lines, anyone who is outspoken in favor of intelligent design (or even the possiblity that it might be right) tends to have remarkable difficulty getting even solid science published. (Michael Behe's last paper is an example of this; I can provide a reference if you like. Simply because of who he is, it was very difficult for him to get it published, even though the question is interesting and the science is good. Even if one disagrees with his conclusions, the paper is definitely worthwhile and provides a good example of the sort of questions even Darwinists ought to be asking).

My sense overall is that even if ID is completely wrong, the overwhelming commitment in biology is to Darwinism, to the point where interesting questions dealing with how exactly things got to be the way they are tend to be overlooked. That is, the assumption that Darwinism *must* be right leads most scientists to overlook really interesting scientific questions simply because these might be problematic for Darwinism (and no one wants to be labeled a kook). This surely isn't a good thing. Science works the best when people are free to disagree and debate, not forced to toe the line of orthodoxy.

"Craig's work in cosmology isn't a design argument'

I know that. I'm just making comparisons between theistic accomplishments in one area of phil of religion/phil of science compared to accomplishments in other areas in those same fields. What I didn't know is that Craig's work isn't taken all that seriously in the academy, as you say (all that stuff about Cantorian set theory goes over my head, so I'm in no position to say much)

Also, I understand that Plantinga is not an ID proponents, but he is still an ID sympathizer. My guess is that his work in philosophy of science isn't trashed because people respect his accomplishments in epistemology and natural theology.

"Science works the best when people are free to disagree and debate, not forced to toe the line of orthodoxy."

Well I think we all agree with that. But Darwinists would deny their view is an orthodoxy. It's just a fact, right?

The funny thing about Craig's work is that it's unnecessary for two reasons. First, scientists agree that the universe has a beginning, so we don't need to prove it philosophically.

Second, one of Aquinas's arguments in Summa Contra Gentiles assumes an eternal past to the universe and then proves the existence of a necessary being, given the contingency of all things in the universe. His argument is absolutely airtight if you assume a requirement for explanation, which we do. The only way to resist it, as William Rowe has shown, is to deny the requirement for explanations of contingent facts just in this one case, which just seems extremely ad hoc to me. Maybe it's worth exploring what Craig does to see what follows from certain premises, but if all you're interested in is arguing for the existence of a necessary being to explain all the contingent beings, you don't need to prove a finite past.

For what it's worth, I'm not sure Plantinga is all that respected among the people I've interacted with. Alston and van Inwagen clearly are. I think it's mostly because I hang out with metaphysicians, and Plantinga hasn't done much metaphysics since the 70s, and even that stuff lost out to Lewis in the competition for whose way of doing modal metaphysics would become standard. The Nature of Necessity is an important book, but no one I know uses it as a textbook the way they do On the Plurality of Worlds or Lewis' anthologies. Most of what Plantinga has done since then is so similar to what Alston and Goldman have done that I just don't think secular philosophers see him as anywhere near as influential as evangelicals who aren't philosophers think philosophers see him.

I myself think he's been incredibly influential in allowing for philosophical theology to be a live issue again, but I think that's mostly because he so effectively showed what was wrong with some truly bad arguments for atheism that philosophers had accepted uncritically as proofs for over half a century. I don't think it's as much for his later work on metaphysics and epistemology. We read some of his epistemology in Alston's epistemology class, but I think that's because it was Alston teaching. I don't see the next generation of epistemologists focusing on his stuff. If they do reliabilism, they use Goldman as the representative reading, not Alston or Plantinga. If they do modal metaphysics, they'll use his stuff at the graduate seminar level to give a view outside the mainstream. If they do philosophy of religion, they might use his stuff on the problem of evil as the introduction to issues that have moved well beyond what he did. Those are really the only places I can think of that graduate courses are likely to refer to him. He does come up (and Craig doesn't), but I wouldn't take that as a sign that people see him the way they see David Lewis. Evangelical publications have portrayed him in recent years as if he's the Plato or Aristotle of our generation, and philosophers just don't see him that way. You could say things like that about Lewis, but Plantinga's just not at that level of influence.

Thanks Jeremy.

What I was trying to get at earlier is - unless some heavy hitter theists step up to the plate, then ID doesn't have much of a chance of gaining wider credibility. If ID really is wrongheaded, then so much the worse for it (and, as you've already pointed out, philosophical fine-tuneing arguments have a better chance of making headway than biological ID arguments). But I'm not sure we can be confident about this yet.

I've noticed that, apart from Plantinga and maybe Van Inwagen (he gave Behe a book cover endorsement, didn't he?), the more prominent analytic thesis have remained silent in the whole ID debate. Perhaps most of them think ID is not worth defending and they don't want to tarnish their reputations. But again, I'm not sure we can say this yet. It could just be the case that, because ID is a relative newcomer, the other theists are reluctant to fully pronounce on it.

What I would like to see is some kind of sustained effort to keep the dialogue going. It could happen under the auspices of the SCP or something similar.

Philosophia Christi publishes ID papers all the time, on both sides and not just the fine-tuning ones. Behe and Dembski have published there (and it is peer-reviewed, but by philosophers, not scientists), and they've run reviews of books by Dembski. J.P. Moreland also published an ID paper there. They've also reviewed books by those who oppose ID arguments. Check out their website for specifics. It only goes through 2003, but there hasn't been anything since then except for Flew's account of his move to theism.

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