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Narrowly-Defined Religion

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Here's an interesting analysis by D.A. Carson of three recent cases of what he calls the intolerence of tolerance that happened after his book on the subject came out: the Chick fil-A ban issue, a case of a liberal seminary trying to discipline a very respected faculty member for including a theologically-traditional book on homosexuality in the curriculum, and the HHS contraception mandate.

I'm not sure I have anything interesting to say about the first two cases he discusses that hasn't already been said ad nauseam. But he says something very interesting about the third case he discusses, the HHS mandate.
If Carson is right in his analysis of the HSS mandate, the government is willing to allow a lot of exceptions to the HHS mandate that have nothing to do with religious opposition to contraception or drugs with unintended abortifacient effects. But they won't allow a religious exception to this mandate on either of those two grounds. And they're arguing not that there should be no freedom of religion as an exception to government mandates nor that the drugs in question do not have an abortifacient effect (as some do argue). Instead, they argue that we should take taking 'religion' narrowly to include things like public gatherings for worship but not to include things like views on ethics.

What strikes me as extremely interesting about that is that would raise some serious questions about a lot of fairly common practices of excluding religion or seeking to exclude religion from the public sphere. If religion has to do with corporate gatherings of worship but not individual beliefs, then a lone science teacher who wants to include some discussion of philosophical arguments about design in a science classroom is not engaging in religion. I would have thought that patently obvious, but courts seem not to agree. The interesting question here is whether the Obama Administration's view of religion with respect to the HHS mandate can be made consistent with that practice of excluding long-standing philosophical discussions from science classrooms on the ground that such philosophical discussions are religion. They are not, on any sane analysis. They are philosophy. But that should be so much clearer if other philosophical views such as ethical views are not religion. Metaphysics surely is not either. If it is, I'd like to see the argument why one and not the other should count as religion or why we should have different standards for what counts as religion in the two cases.

Another place religion is often excluded is in the contention among many on the left that it's immoral for voters to decide who they should vote for or which policies to prefer if their reasons are based on their religious views (or politicians to decide which policies to support based on their own or their constituents' views). The same inconsistency would apply if the government's position on HHS is correct. If someone opposes abortion for purely religious reasons (which I think is true of some but certainly not all and probably not most pro-lifers), then it's not religion according to this approach, and those who resist anyone's attempt to vote pro-life on such grounds as thoroughly immoral cannot do so consistently with claiming that Wheaton College's resistance to the HHS mandate is not religion. This isn't even two different branches of philosophy, as the above example of metaphysics and ethics is. Here we have two examples of not just ethical views but of the very same ethical view, so there's no arguing that one case is religion and the other not. We'd have to argue that different standards for what counts as religion should apply in the two different cases, and I have no idea how that argument would go.

So assuming Carson is right on how the government is pursuing these cases (and I admit to not looking into them as carefully as he has), those who want to do either of the things I've pointed to have a real problem on their hands if they also want to defend the enforcement of the HHS mandate in these cases in the way the government seems to be doing it. I'm not sure how a consistent approach to all these questions can end up agreeing with the Obama Administration on this case that these ethical beliefs are not religion while still opposing the two things I've identified as religion.

California has outlawed so-called ex-gay conversion therapy. Social conservatives who might want to express outrage at this law need to make sure they're going to be consistent with their own views on other matters. Also, surprising as it may be to some, there are reasons for those with more liberal views on these matters to worry about a law like this.

I'll start with the second point. Those who recognize homosexuality as a social construction should at least be open to a worry about this law. Most experts nowadays consider our notion of being gay as socially constructed. There have been different ways of conceiving of people with same-sex desires over history. In ancient Greece, for example, it was relatively accepted for older men to favor a sexual relationship with boys over that of their wives, not because they had some notion of people who have an orientation toward people of the same sex but because they didn't think they could have as deep an intellectual relationship with women, and they thought relationships that we would now count as pedophilia were a deeper form of love because they could involve intellectual conversations.

We now have a notion that there's a phenomenon called homosexuality, where a small minority among the population has sexual desires for people of their own sex rather than for people of the opposite sex. But most people recognize now, whether they approve of such desires or not, that it's more complicated than that. There are people who have both kinds of desires, relatively in equal proportion. There are people who have more one than the other. There are people who have one predominant at one time in their life but move to a point at another time where it's the other way around. There are people who move toward same-sex sexual interaction primarily for political purposes rather than because of some already-existing inner state of being primarily attracted along same-sex lines. But our social narrative primarily divides human beings into the binary of gay and straight, with some allowance for bisexual when we're feeling a desire for more precision. The variety isn't remotely captured by that, never mind the phenomenon of trans-sexuality, and the idea that being in one of the two categories of the binary is simply a matter of how someone was born isn't exactly borne out by science, even if there is some evidence that the underlying state of how one's desires are directly can be partially influenced by genetic factors.

Many on the left on these issues push for alternative conceptions of homosexuality, including allowing those who see their same-sex attraction in a way that resists being considered gay in the usual sense, and if same-sex attraction is much more complex than just being straight or gay, as many who might be inclined to favor a law like this might think, then shouldn't we be interested in allowing therapists to encourage moving away from the homo/hetero binary? But it seems to me that this law might ban therapists from doing that, because it would be helping move someone with same-sex attraction away from thinking of themselves as gay. Many on the left on these issues should see that as highly problematic.

It's less surprising to many to see social conservatives resisting a law like this, but such resistance isn't as easy to formulate as it sounds, because the grounds for it might conflict with other conservative views. For example, if we don't have a right to health insurance covering exactly the things we think are medically necessary, then we don't have a right to health insurance covering a particular therapy that we happen to want covered. If we don't have a right to doctors performing a particular procedure that we happen to want performed, then we don't have a right to this therapy if we want it.

That being said, conservatives can consistently hold that the government shouldn't interfere with what private counselors can do, even if what they want to do is disapproved of by the main professional organization. But most people do think medical services can be licensed, and certain things done by doctors can make them lose their license. So this is, at least in principle, something that is within the government's traditional range of control. But I'd have to see the law, because if the guy NPR had on opposing it is correct then it sounds like they outlawed a good deal more than what careful study has shown to be both ineffective and psychologically harmful (i.e. the conversion therapy itself) and will not even allow a therapist to help someone who has unwanted same-sex desires to live a life that avoids what they see as sinful and unwanted (which is not remotely the same as converting them away from a sexual orientation). I'm not sure there's any scientific ground for taking it to be harmful to choose a celibate life over fulfilling one's sexual desires, and therefore the normal licensing standards shouldn't require it to be banned.

There may also be a religious issue. They did apparently include a religious exemption. But not exactly. They included an exemption for counselors who are practicing religious officials of some sort but who are not licensed counselors. A pastor, priest, or other religious leader who happens to counsel is exempt. But a nun working as a licensed counselor in a more medically-oriented psychological practice is not exempt. And a licensed counselor operating a business not being run as a religious non-profit is not exempt. Is this a violation of free exercise? I suspect it is, at least in terms of the aspects that are banned that aren't demonstrated as harmful (such as helping someone to find a counselor who can help them live a celibate life or referring them to a therapist who will encourage them to think outside the gay/straight binary or allow them to think of themselves in a way that is more about having same-sex desires than about belonging to some supposedly-scientific category of being gay, which really involves more politically than many think, and someone who opposes those politics but does have same-sex desires may well not be gay in every sense). Again, this is assuming the opponent of the law on NPR represented it accurately, but the state senator who supported the bill on that show didn't offer any correction on the matter.

There's also the issue of viewpoint-neutral endorsement. This is another place where conservatives will have a harder time making their case. They tend to think there's no problem with the government or government employees endorsing statements of religious content, because the establishment clause only prohibits the setting up of an official government-run religion, and many conservatives don't even think this applies to states. After all, several states had official religions when they entered the union. So it's going to be hard to press this argument if you hold that sort of view on the establishment clause. You might, however, make an argument involving inconsistency among those who do think it's unconstitutional for the state to endorse religious content (or rule out religious content). And you might easily make the argument on policy grounds, rather than as a constitutional problem that courts can then deal with.

On the consistency issue, I think there's some case to be made, but it's because there's already serious inconsistency. If we take seriously the prohibition of even mentioning classic philosophical arguments like design arguments in a science classroom, on the ground that it's somehow endorsement of religion, then we already are banning lots of stuff that isn't remotely religion. Because the design argument need depend in no way on any controversial religious premise, it's not as if someone who endorses such an argument has to be following any religion at all. It could be a purely secular theist who endorses a design argument. And merely teaching the argument, rather than endorsing it, is certainly not endorsement of religion. So those who claim that that's importing religion into the science classroom have such a broad view of what counts as religion that it might well be very hard to see this law as not endorsing a claim that speaks to a religious issue. It's on such grounds that a federal court has ruled that it's unconstitutional to present the arguments against intelligent design in a state-run science classroom, because it took that to violate the establishment clause.

But a much more reasonable position would be that intelligent design is not necessarily religion, even if it's also not strictly speaking science (although I would argue, and have argued, that it's not any less science than the metaphysics that commonly gets done by physicists working on cosmology, quantum-theory, and space-time). Someone who holds this more reasonable position might nonetheless not hold the conservative view on the establishment clause and therefore think that President Obama shouldn't be invoking God the way he does or that it's unconstitutional to endorse actual religious content in a public school science classroom, such as endorsing six-day creationism because the Bible teaches it. On that sort of view, it's still easy to present an unconstitutionality argument for this law. After all, the legal issues are the same as the above cases, but without the ridiculous claim that philosophical arguments are somehow automatically religious just because a lot of religious people accept them (which would make most of our beliefs religious). Then all you need to do is recognize that the value of at least some of the therapy falling under this broad ban is both (1) not as clearly harmful as some of the therapy it bans and (2) something religious people can endorse because of their religion. In that case, the government is not remaining viewpoint-neutral on a religious matter without the strong argument that the therapy is harmful.

And even someone who does hold the conservative view on the establishment clause (or who isn't willing to argue a case base on existing but wrongly-decided precedent) can give a policy argument against this at the legislative level. It's not unconstitutional, on this view, but it's compatible with that to think that as a policy matter the government should remain viewpoint-neutral on controversial matters of religious disagreement that aren't demonstrably harmful the way medical professionals do take ex-gay therapy proper to be demonstrably harmful. The result is that this is just poor policy and should be opposed as bad law. And that's something that someone pretty far on the left on same-sex issues should be all right with. The government shouldn't tell us what to think about such matters, and it shouldn't stop us from getting counseling that fits with what sort of life we want for ourselves, and if a minor happens to want this sort of therapy it shouldn't be illegal for a counselor who is willing to do it or to refer someone to someone who will out of respect for the client's wishes as long as it isn't one of those demonstrably-harmful methods that the ban doesn't limit itself to.

So I think a lot of the conservative arguments against this ban need to be very carefully done to succeed, but I think there are arguments, and some of them might appeal to those more toward the left. But those are more against the law as it stands, rather than against a different ban that could have been enacted. I do think there are real tensions on the left in how these issues are thought of, and I'm not sure it's as easy to justify this broad a ban as I assume many on the left would think.

The word 'creationism' has become a bait-and-switch term in the mouths of certain people. It first gets used to mean some very general thing when you figure out who counts (i.e. someone who believes God created or someone who believes God fashioned the universe via some means that wouldn't be likely if naturalism would be true). But then it gets applied as if it means a much more specific view, one seen as implausible by many who hold to creationism in the broader sense. When you want to say bad things about all the people who count in the more general sense, you call them creationists, and thus you associate them with those who hold to the more specific view that's much less tolerated.

For the sake of this post, I'm reclaiming its meaning in the general sense as perfectly legitimate for all who believe God created the universe. It therefore applies as much to those who accept a divine explanation behind the standard scientific account of the natural causes of human origins as much as it does to those who accept a supernatural method to begin with.

Now here are some possible views:

Naturalism: God doesn't exist, and so God had no role in human origins.

Non-creationist theism: God exists, but God didn't guide the origins of human life in any significant way, certainly not with any intention that we or any beings like us would come along.

Barely-creationist theism: God did guide along the causal processes that led to human life to some degree, but God had no concern for that aspect of the process. We're just a side-effect.

Creationist evolution: God fully guided the process of human origins by means of the standard scientific model (or something close enough to it), including natural selection and common descent of humans from animals, with the goal of producing the life forms that resulted, including human beings. Random chance, as usually thought of in evolutionary theory, is really just statistical frequency, with God guiding the process. This view is sometimes called theistic evolution, but that name technically applies to the above two views as well.

Old-Earth, non-evolutionary creationism: The Earth is as old as the standard scientific account takes it to be, and the universe is as old as the standard scientific account takes it to be. But the standard scientific account is wrong about human origins. The mechanism usually described as natural selection and random chance (which is really divine guidance) are real and observable on the small scale, but inter-species evolution did not occur (or, on a variation, it occurred for other animals but not for humans). This view is sometimes just called Old-Earth creationism, but that view technically could apply to the above view (or even the above two).

Young-Earth creationism: The Earth is about 6000 years old, and the creation framework of Genesis 1:1-2:3 describes God's creation process chronologically and with the creation days of the poetic narrative corresponding exactly to 24-hour periods in real time. Sometimes this view is simply called creationism, but that name could apply to all the views in this list except the first one.

Those who hold to the young-Earth model criticize all of the other above views. Here I'm interested only in biblical arguments. Naturalism is easily ruled out biblically, since it denies the very existence of God, and non-creationist theism and barely-creationist theism also seem a little hard to fit with the biblical view of God creating human beings with particular intent. So among those who accept the Bible as authoritative, you're not going to find very many people who accept any of those views, even if conceptual space allows for them.

I'm interested in the arguments Young-Earth creationists use to argue against the other two remaining views. They argue that those two views cannot be held consistent with a high enough view of the Bible as authoritative and infallible scripture, and I can think of three arguments along those lines.

One argument targets common descent, because they think "created according to their kinds" cannot mean that animals were created according to their kinds by means of creating other species first and then slowly evolving them to new kinds. The above sentence would be meaningless if it couldn't mean that, and it's not, so I think that debate is easy to resolve. It can indeed mean that.

The second argument is directed against all old-Earth views, namely the less-than-convincing argument that Genesis 1:1-2:3 has to be taken so that the days within that account must refer to periods of time rather than an organization according to theological purposes. You first have to assume that it means 24-hour periods within the text's framework, which I think is indeed plausible, indeed almost certain, but then you also have to go beyond that to assume that the text's framework corresponds to an actual chronology rather than a theological organization according to the themes the author intended to bring out in contrast with similar creation myths from the time. It's the second assumption that I don't see a strong enough warrant for to counteract the overwhelming scientific evidence for a contrary view.

But there's another biblical argument against old-Earth views that I think has more punch to it. Old-Earth views require animals to have been around for much longer than human existence, killing and eating each other. I suppose there's no absolute requirement for that. Maybe they just had the teeth for carnivorous lifestyles long before they needed them or something, because God foresaw what they would need for after the fall. But such a view seems unlikely to be true. So it seems the fossil record as it stands does require believing that animals killed and ate each other before the first human sin, and animals would have been as much as a threat to the first humans, it seems, whether humans were created wholesale out of dust or out of dust by means of a long chain of natural selection and random chance moving through different species until you got the level of complexity of a human being.

The problem is that the biblical narrative does seem to assume that death came as a result of the fall. So it seems there's a conflict between the biblical narrative and the old-Earth view, even the old-Earth view denying common descent. This isn't just from Genesis 3 saying that death is a result of the fall. Isaiah 11 has the wolf, lamb, and leapard lying down with a young goat in the restored creation undoing the fall, and children play with snakes, with lions eating straw. It's as if the fall is undone, and part of that is undoing carnivorous animals' diets.

There are a number of things old-Earth views have had to say about this problem. One that I think makes some sense is that the Garden of Eden might have been a special place protecting humans from this, where the animals present were different miraculously. It's only human death that the fall brought on, not all death. But that doesn't solve the problem of how restoration undoes carnivorism, when carnivorism was never part of the fall.

It occurred to me when reading Isaiah 11 recently that this assumes something that most Christians don't actually believe. Hardly anyone who holds the Bible in high regard takes the human fall to be the first fall. How did the snake get to be tempting Eve to begin with if there was no sin in the world (and thus no death in the world)? We have to infer an angelic fall from elsewhere in scripture (although I don't think Isaiah 13-14 is a legitimate place to find direct support for that). I wonder if the use of the snake image for the tempter indicates that this angelic fall did affect non-human animals, and God generated human beings (whether by direct creation out of dust or by means of descent from animals affected by the fall) in such a way that human beings were not fallen (after all, animals here aren't fallen, just affected by the angelic fall).

Putting that together with some special provision in the Garden for removing the affects of the angelic fall from animals, I think the problem is pretty much resolved. I'd grant that it's a bit complex to be the most natural thing you'd think from reading the text. However, the issue here is never just the most natural reading of the text vs. a less-plausible reading of the text. It's a whole set of issues that complicate each other. You have the most natural reading of the text on one side with a completely impossible reading of the scientific evidence, and then you have a less-natural but certainly-possible reading of the text with a rather straightforward reading of the scientific evidence on the other side. Unless you want to make our interpretation of the Bible infallible rather than just restricting that infallibility to the Bible itself, it seems the less-plausible but possible reading of scripture with the possible interpretation of the scientific evidence is much more likely than the more-natural reading of scripture with its impossible reading of the scientific evidence.

So, although I said this objection has more force, I think there's enough to say about it that I don't think it's decisive or even worth all that much time worrying about. Those who hold to a high view of scripture can without too much effort accept either of the old-Earth views without this objection really being a problem.

Stephen Meyer is a the leading proponent of intelligent design arguments. I was surprised when a friend directed me toward Thomas Nagel's brief review of Meyer's new book, and Nagel had only positive comments.

Here's his review in full:

Stephen C. Meyer's Signature in the Cell: DNA and the evidence for Intelligent Design (HarperCollins) is a detailed account of the problem of how life came into existence from lifeless matter - something that had to happen before the process of biological evolution could begin. The controversy over Intelligent Design has so far focused mainly on whether the evolution of life since its beginnings can be explained entirely by natural selection and other non-purposive causes. Meyer takes up the prior question of how the immensely complex and exquisitely functional chemical structure of DNA, which cannot be explained by natural selection because it makes natural selection possible, could have originated without an intentional cause. He examines the history and present state of research on non-purposive chemical explanations of the origin of life, and argues that the available evidence offers no prospect of a credible naturalistic alternative to the hypothesis of an intentional cause. Meyer is a Christian, but atheists, and theists who believe God never intervenes in the natural world, will be instructed by his careful presentation of this fiendishly difficult problem.

It's especially notable that a pretty mainstream philosopher not known for any work in philosophy of religion would give such a positive review of a book on intelligent design. I've long thought the origin of life issue had a lot more going for it than the complexity of life arguments that most people think of when they hear the expression "intelligent design". I've also long thought of this as a clear example of how intelligent design isn't about the evolution issue at all. It's about whether there are good philosophical arguments for accepting intelligence behind the natural world, completely independent of whatever natural processes were involved in bringing about the way things are now. Since evolution (i.e. natural selection, as Nagel puts it) isn't at issue with the first living cell (evolution can only occur after that), this is about another issue entirely. It's about whether we can infer purpose from the unlikelihood of natural causes producing a living cell, not about whether natural causes could happen to produce a cell.

Ken Miller gave a talk tonight at Le Moyne College, where I teach. I'll probably put together the thoughts I recorded as I listened to him in a separate post later, but I wanted to comment on one issue that I've written about before. I think I was wrong about him here (which I repeated here). He gave an criticism of intelligent design arguments that ID requires believing in a God who is actually a bad designer. From the way he gave that argument, it seemed to me that he couldn't really endorse what he was saying unless he thought there was no sense in which God is a designer. Basically he'd have to hold the view that God didn't design the evolutionary process with all its dead-ends but that it came about through a long evolutionary process that God didn't oversee in any way, because then that would make God responsible for the bits that are failures.

But apparently that's not his view. I still need to continue my conversation with him over email, because I'm not sure of some of the details of his view on divine providence, but he was very clear in rejecting the view I was assuming he held. 

At the very end of his talk, he gave his stance on God's role in creation. While it wasn't in-depth enough to satisfy me, and I'm not sure yet that he's answered about every question I'd like to nail him down on to understand what the above argument is saying, I think my conclusions about him from his argument on Stephen Colbert were wrong. I'm not sure yet that I was being unreasonable in drawing that inference given what he said, and I'm not satisfied yet that I understand the details of his view, but the view I thought he must hold turns out not to be his view.

He quoted the current pope as accepting the following two claims (and he said he agreed):

1. Evolution as a radically contingent materialistic process.
2. True contingency in the created order is not incompatible with God's providential plan for creation.

If he means contingency the way Aquinas or a modern compatibilist might, then I'd agree. But I'm not sure if Miller agrees with that. How does God's design through evolution work? Is it by building it into the laws of nature? But if it's radically contingent, the laws of nature couldn't assure any outcome, right? The only way it can be contingent in a way that can ensure the outcome is if it's compatibilist contingency, where God really does control all the details of what happens at least by deliberate allowance, and I don't think that's what he was saying.

Miller insists that he's not a deist. He says God is active in the world and in our lives but not in what he calls empirical way. God does it in a way that doesn't interfere with our free will. If God intervened constantly, it would undermine human freedom. We'd cease to rely on moral  choice, so God has to withdraw to allow us to be ourselves. The Holocaust is humanity's work. God allows us to do the most horrible things to each other but also to do wonderful things, including sacrificing to resist evil. Deism is about the personality of God as a creator, and he doesn't accept that approach. Miller believes God answers prayers and believes in actual miracles around him in his life. There might be a perfectly natural explanation for any miracle, but that doesn't rule out God's role.

I talked to him afterward about his problem of waste argument. I was able to get him to agree that the argument didn't apply to every ID position that there might be (although he thinks it does apply to Behe, but I'm not as sure it does even for the reasons he gave, but that occurred to me only later). I wasn't able to get all of the details that I think I need to know to be sure what his view of providence really is. Some of how this argument works depends on that, so I'll hold off on concluding anything further about the argument itself. But he clearly does not hold the view that there is no sense in which God designed the world. The evolutionary process is part of God's design, and the parts of that process that led to evolutionary dead-ends are part of the process God used, which includes death and dead-end species, because it's a process that uses natural causes, which will do that.

I want to pursue this with him over email, because we didn't have time to finish the conversation, and I think I need to know more before I take a definitive stance on his argument. But I wanted to record my re-classification of his views. In my classifications in this post, I have to revise my judgment that he would hold to 1 and 6 and not 2 and 8. He might hold 1 if that just means that the best scientific arguments assume no God. But he would accept 2, and he told me that he's even open to 3, as long as it's clear that he doesn't think we have any scientific evidence of 3. It might nonetheless be true.

He would deny 6. I'm not sure if he would accept 7, although it's probably the closest in the second list to his view. He does think the evolutionary process is a more glorious process for God to have used than special creation would have been, and that might be an indication that he does think the natural world has marks of design, but he's clear that he doesn't think the best scientific conclusion from such things is that there's a designer. I don't think he accepts 8, but I haven't seen him comment on that specifically. He certainly denies 9 and below.

President Obama has appointed human genome superstar Francis Collins to head the National Institute of Health. Collins is an evangelical Christian with a best-selling book on his conversion to Christianity from atheism and how he thinks about his scientific work as a Christian.

Collins is an interesting character for sociological study of the language of politics. He's a supporter of intelligent design, although you'd never hear him admit it. He accepts the fine-tuning argument for the existence of God, which by any reasonable standard counts him as supporting intelligent design and its detectability by scientific study. He at least thinks you can observe through science enough evidence to make the existence of God reasonable as an inference to the best explanation.

Still, he regularly speaks of intelligent design arguments as bad arguments, presumably meaning the ones based on biological evidence rather than the evidence from physics that he himself thinks makes the inference to a designer reasonable. He doesn't think biology shows the kind of evidence that leads to an reasonable inference to a designer. At least that's the charitable explanation for his resistance to ID. He might just misunderstand the argument, thinking that the arguments don't disprove evolution. I've heard him putting ID arguments in opposition to evolution even though there's nothing in the ID arguments that should rule out common descent from non-human animals or purely natural causes for how human beings came to be. That makes me wonder if maybe he'd accept the arguments given a proper understanding of them, since he is open to evidence that could be taken as a reasonable basis for an inference to a designer as the best explanation of the data. I've regularly found myself shaking my head at the failure of those who discuss this issue to make proper philosophical distinctions between the various positions in conceptual space (most of them actually occupied by real people in this case).

Consider the following views:

1. Atheistic evolution: Everything we experience is best explained by naturalistic explanations such as natural selection and random chance, with no guidance from an intelligent being.

2. Naturalistic-like theistic evolution: Natural selection and what appears to be random chance constitute the best scientific account of human origins, but God intelligently guided the process along by setting up the laws of nature so that they would lead to human development.

3. Non-naturalistic theistic evolution: Natural selection and the mechanisms of the standard evolutionary account are correct in postulating human origins from common descent with other animals, but God intelligently guided the process along by intervening in the natural order.

4. Special creation (old-earth): Divine intervention occurred to create human beings at a certain time in history without humans having descended from other animals. Nevertheless, this took place in the general time scheme scientists accept for when humans first appeared, and the universe and the earth are as old as our best science generally takes them to be.

5. Special creation (young-earth): Divine intervention occurred to create human beings at a certain time in history without humans having descended from other animals. This happened during the one exact week that God used to create the universe and all life on earth, with humans appearing on the sixth day of that week.

Now here's another set of views on a somewhat separate issue:

A U.S. District Court in California has ruled that it's unconstitutional for a public school teacher to say that creationism is superstitious nonsense. According to Supreme Court precedent going back to 1984, the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution doesn't mean merely what it says (which is just that the government can't set up a state religion) but extends even to government employees saying something that a reasonable person might take to count as endorsement of a particular perspective endorsing or disapproving religion. Add to that the conviction that creationism is religion, and you get this result. This does seem to me to be a direct application of current Supreme Court precedent and the standard view of creationism as religion (which the Supreme Court has endorsed, at least in one instance of the use of the term and a U.S. appeals court has declared to be applicable to intelligent design as well, although that judgment is only legally binding in one of the three federal court districts of Pennsylvania, just as this current decision is only legally binding on one of four federal court districts in California). [For the record, my detailed evaluation of the last case is here.]

Now I don't happen to think this is the right result, for several reasons. For one, the term 'creationism' can mean a lot of different things. It could mean the view that the the Earth is 6,000 years old, more precisely known as young-earth creationism. Some hold this view because they believe scripture teaches it, in which case it counts as a religious belief. Others claim to find it taught by science, in which case their support for it is of the kind that should count as science, even if it's bad science. The Supreme Court has declared that since it is taught in scripture, and science the scientific reasoning being presented is not good science, it can't be of the kind that should count as science. That claim has always seemed wrong to me, and I think this result is exactly what follows when you take such a view. If it's not of a scientific kind, then deriding it as bad science is also not of a scientific nature but of a religious nature (even if it's against a religious view).

But the term 'creationism' can also mean simply that there's a divine being who created. That's often a religious belief. It can also be a philosophical conclusion of arguments that have been present throughout the entire history of Western philosophy and have been held alongside religious beliefs by some but independently of religious beliefs by others. Thomas Aquinas, for example, presented arguments for God's existence that did not rely one bit on any religious beliefs. Lots of thinkers have believed in a creator without thinking they have any religious obligations to that creator. So even that kind of creationism isn't clearly religious, although it often is. Intelligent design arguments fall into this category if they conclude with the belief in a divine creator (rather than a more open conclusion, e.g. merely that there is some designer, which could be aliens if we're talking about biological ID arguments rather than cosmological fine-tuning ID arguments).

When a teacher says that creationism is superstitious nonsense, absent a context, it's not clear what that teacher means. It's certainly not obvious to me that it's a derision of particularly religious elements in any particular one of these things creationism can mean. But I do suspect that most people saying something like this aren't going to be sensitive to any of the distinctions I've just outlined, and they probably do intend to think of creationism as a religious teaching. Given some of the other statements this particular teacher made, I think this is especially likely in this case.

I've been wanting to post some thoughts on a recent piece by Richard Gray in The Telegraph on a new book by Adrian Desmond and James Moore that details Charles Darwin's anti-slavery motivations. I've been putting it off, but I decided it would be fitting to write it up on the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. Gray points to some journals from Darwin's voyages on the Beagle and letters of family members that reveal his disgust at the practice of enslaving fellow humans and involvement in the abolitionist movement. This is so contrary to the false portrayal of him in some circles that applies later Social-Darwinist ideas to Darwin himself, something he never endorsed and would not have tolerated.

This wasn't all that surprising to me, even though I didn't know of his outright abolitionist views. After all, Darwin was such a strong supporter of the common descent of all humans in explicit opposition to views that had different ancestries of different races without a single common ancestor population for humans. Such views were around in his day and had been put to use in support of slavery. In this way Darwin was closer than some of his contemporaries to the view found among many Christians that three races had arisen from Noah's three sons, with further divergence later on at the tower of Babel.

There were alternative Christian (or, I would argue, sub-Christian) views at the time as well, most notably the outright racist idea borrowed from Islam that the curse on Ham's son Canaan was really a curse on all of Ham's descendants (or more precisely the darker-skinned ones, in contrast to Canaan's middle-eastern descendants in what became Israel, who were the actual group referred to in the Genesis curse). This view involved a number of curse elements not in the Genesis text that mentions Noah's curse on Canaan, including intellectual and moral inferiority to other races among the darker-skinned Hamites from Africa and the moral justification of slavery (rather than the text's simple report that Canaan would serve Shem and Japheth without saying whether it would be morally ok for those who enslaved them). So not all support for slavery came from the view that humans arose in different and unrelated races in different parts of the world completely independently. But it's easy to see how Darwin's opposition to that view was part of his motivation for providing an account of human origins that resisted such a view.

Two things have occurred to me while reflecting on this and reading some people's responses to it. One is that it's a clear case of being motivated to adopt a thesis based on ideology. It's true that Darwin's support for the view ultimately is supported by his actual reasons presented in his work. He does in fact give arguments for his view, and he expects people to accept his view based on those arguments rather than because of his ideological motivation. It's probably true that he accepted it at least in part based on those arguments and not because it happened to fit with his preferred social view. At least he believed the arguments supported the view. But he did have an ideological motivation.

The irony is that his intellectual descendants refuse to allow an exactly parallel situation with supporters of intelligent design, who present arguments for their view that don't rely on ideological assumptions, expect people to accept the view based on such arguments, and probably believe the view at least in part because of those arguments. At least they see those arguments supporting the view. Yet opponents of intelligent design regularly deride intelligent design proponents for having ideological motivations to want to find arguments for their theistic view. I haven't yet seen anyone of that ilk deriding Darwin for his parallel motivation. Perhaps that's merely because they happen to agree with Darwin's motivation but don't agree with theism. If so, then it's an unfair double-standard, because it can't be in principle intellectually dishonest to believe something you have arguments for but also have ideological reason to want to be true unless that's true of every case of believing something you have arguments for and ideological reason to want to be true. But it's common among those who are anti-ID to confuse the motivation for an argument with its theoretical basis, as I've pointed out before.

Dawkins vs. Potter

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In a bizarrely ironic twist, Richard Dawkins has joined the anti-Harry-Potter bandwagon. I wonder if his allies in this fight will appreciate his help.

It reminds me of when secular feminists decided to recognize the harm pornography contributes toward women. The difference here is that Dawkins' reasons don't seem to be anything like the usual anti-Harry crowd's. Religious opposition to pornography typically involves some reasons the recent feminist opposition hasn't included (such as its being wrong to lust after someone you're not married to), but Focus on the Family and other evangelical groups that have opposed pornography have long accepted many of the same arguments that feminist opponents of pornography have more recently come to. It objectifies women. It sends a message about women that harms them and psychologically influences the men who view it in a way that leads them to do things that further affect women negatively. I've seen one prominent feminist, Catherine MacKinnon, claim that her religious allies against pornography didn't share any of her reasons, but when I read that I couldn't help but conclude that she hadn't actually talked to James Dobson, Josh McDowell, or any others among the most prominent evangelicals opposing pornography. I'd heard almost all of MacKinnon's arguments from evangelicals while growing up.

Dawkins, on the other hand, shares very little in reasoning with other Potter foes. He doesn't fear that kids are going to become Satanists because they read fantasy literature, and he doesn't care a whole lot about whether the series teaches kids bad morals. (By the way, David Baggett's chapter in Harry Potter and Philosophy gives an excellent response to such arguments, especialyl on the latter issue.) Dawkins just worries about whether it's a good thing to stir kids' imaginations about things that aren't possible given the way the physical world works in real life, and his reason for that is that he expects fantastical literature to open kids' minds up to the possibility that naturalism is false, which might make them more likely to become creationists or something.

Commenter Mafarmerga couldn't understand why I think the decision in the Dover, PA trial in Pennsylvania was grossly incompetent, so I thought I'd catalogue my reasons in a separate post.

I should note for the record that I'm not questioning whether the result of the decision was right, and I'm not commenting at all on some matters in the case (such as the ridiculous disclaimer they wanted to put on the textbooks). I'm merely pointing out that many of the arguments the opinion presents are not just bad but complete howlers. They're not the sort of thing that reasonable people can disagree about, and there are plenty of arguments that I do put in that category, including some on issues I have a very firm view on (such as abortion). To be in that category, you have to begin from different moral premises or different views of rights or justice. Many of the views defended in this opinion are simply unreasonable. Only an irrational or ignorant person could defend them. They involve misstatements, misrepresentations, ignorance of the history of philosophy, and simply fallacious inferences. I wouldn't give them a passing grade on a philosophy exam. I'll number my points to keep them separate in my mind as I go.

1. Jones says a reasonable student would see teaching ID as an endorsement of religion because religious people have said similar things. But this argument is pretty insufficient. It's true that so-called scientific creationists have talked about gaps in evolution, and one version of ID can be thought of as explaining things unexplained by evolution. But that doesn't mean ID is the same thing as scientific creationism, and it doesn't mean ID is religion. That's just a non sequitur.Saying there are unexplained things in a scientific theory isn't endorsement of religion just because one religion-derived view with scientific language uses a similar argument. You could never arrive at creation science unless you started with the assumptions of certain way of reading Genesis, a particular religion. ID requires neither a particular way of reading a particular religious text or any particular religious views at all. There's a huge difference.

2. Jones accepts John Haught's claim that design arguments are religious, citing Thomas Aquinas as someone who held the view. Yet Aquinas would be the first to insist that his design argument is not remotely based on religious revelation. He distinguishes between general revelation and special revelation, and he says you can't know special revelation is true apart from faith. You can know general revelation is true just by using reason. His design argument is the Fifth Way, and the Five Ways are five of his arguments for the existence of God starting from general revelation, using reason as available to anyone without the use of faith. The argument is much older than Aquinas anyway. It goes back to Plato at least, who does not use it to support any religious beliefs, and Xenophon puts it in the mouth of Socrates, who was put on trial for rejecting the religion of his time. Whatever Socrates was up to was more properly philosophical.

3. He makes much of the fact that Aquinas notes that the designer is the same being most people call God. Aquinas doesn't say that step of the argument can be known by reason, at least if that means concluding that this being has all the characteristics of God as revealed in scripture. Each argument he gives offers one or a few divine attributes as demonstrable, and then he concludes that you can know by reason that a being with many of the divine attributes exists. He doesn't think you can show that God is a Trinity or that God is of one essence with the human being we call Jesus. He does think you can show a necessarily existent, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good being who explains all the contingent things found within the universe, who designed things at some level in order to explain the purposed appearance of things. That happens to be true of the being he believes in by faith, and he thinks they're the same being, but he doesn't argue for this based on religion. His arguments aren't religious arguments. It's simple historical ignorance on Haught's part to claim that they're religious, assuming Jones represents Haught fairly to begin with.

Palin and Evolution

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In the media feeding frenzy on Sarah Palin in the last six days, some completely inappropriate and ridiculous questions have dominated the coverage I've paid attention to (which has consisted mostly of NPR, as it happens). Many of the questions getting major play would never be asked of a man, and some are actually illegal to ask at job interviews. But there have been a few genuine issues in the mix. I want to look at one that almost everyone reporting on it has gotten wrong, both in the mainstream media and on blogs (and it's taken me a lot of work to keep inaccuracies and misrepresentations out of her Wikipedia article).

It stems from a brief answer in a political debate when she was running for governor, which she was able to follow up on in an interview the next day. I have found exactly one source that details her response, although it doesn't actually include the exact wording of the question, exact wording that might actually be very important. Here is the exchange during the gubernatorial debate:

The volatile issue of teaching creation science in public schools popped up in the Alaska governor's race this week when Republican Sarah Palin said she thinks creationism should be taught alongside evolution in the state's public classrooms. Palin was answering a question from the moderator near the conclusion of Wednesday night's televised debate on KAKM Channel 7 when she said, "Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both."

I'd love to know what the question was, because I don't know what her answer means otherwise. Debate between both is a good thing. Both of what? The author of the article says creation science and evolution, but I don't trust a newspaper writer to be careful with important distinctions. Some people call intelligent design arguments creation science, despite there being a world of difference between the two categories. One is science done very badly. The other is a long-standing philosophical argument form that goes back to Plato and Xenophon whose current versions include a premise based on scientific fact but whose conclusion might be questioned, because it's an inference to the best explanation, and that sort of argument is by its very nature only probabilistic, and these particular arguments (depending on the version) can admit of alternative explanations that others will argue are the actual best explanation. So I'd like to know what they were discussing before I can interpret even her first sentence.

There's also an issue of what she means by teaching it. Does she mean (a) requiring it in the curriculum, (b) allowing teachers to include it in the curriculum, or (c) allowing teachers to discuss it if students happen to bring up the issue in class? The same article, which as I said is the only one a serious search could turn up from the time, goes on to describe her interview the next day, giving some much-needed clarification on the second issue. In short, she holds (c). (Unfortunately, it doesn't help very much on the first issue.)

In an interview Thursday, Palin said she meant only to say that discussion of alternative views should be allowed to arise in Alaska classrooms: "I don't think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn't have to be part of the curriculum." She added that, if elected, she would not push the state Board of Education to add such creation-based alternatives to the state's required curriculum. Members of the state school board, which sets minimum requirements, are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature. "I won't have religion as a litmus test, or anybody's personal opinion on evolution or creationism," Palin said. Palin has occasionally discussed her lifelong Christian faith during the governor's race but said teaching creationism is nothing she has campaigned about or even given much thought to.

I was looking at Ron Bailey's critique of Expelled, and I noticed a pretty strange argument against something mathematician David Berlinski says in the film. Here is the relevant paragraph:

And Nazism? In the film, the mathematician David Berlinski says, "Darwinism is not a sufficient condition for a phenomenon like Nazism, but I think it was a necessary one." Berlinski is suggesting that scientific materialism undermines the notion that human beings occupy a special place in the universe. If humans aren't special, goes this line of thinking, then morals don't apply.

I haven't seen the film, so I can't comment on how it uses Nazism in this way. I would actually insist that Darwinism is neither necessary nor sufficient for a phenomenon like Nazism (although I suspect Darwinism is actually necessary for a phenomenon exactly like Nazism, because it was Hitler's misuse of Nietzsche and Darwin that served as the actual basis of some of his most important claims about Aryan superiority).

But I'm struggling to understand Bailey's evaluation of this. Berlinski is saying that Darwinism doesn't automatically like to something like Nazism, but you couldn't have Nazism without Darwinism. Bailey's summary of that claim is that Berlinski thinks scientific materialism guarantees the view that there are no legitimate moral claims. This seems not to summarize Berlinski's view but the view that Berlinski denies. Berlinksi says you don't automatically get abuse like what the Nazis did just because you accept Darwinism. Therefore, he doesn't think you have to deny morality to be a Darwinist, the very claim Bailey attributes to him. He denies that it's a sufficient condition but insists that it's necessary. Why does Bailey then attribute to him the view that it's a sufficient condition? That's what he had just quoted Berlinski as denying.

Then he goes on to provide a much more helpful critique of the view Berlinski does admit to holding:

But people through the millennia have found all sorts of justifications for murdering each other, including plunder, nationalism, and, yes, religion. Meanwhile, insights from evolutionary psychology are helping us understand how our in-group/out-group dynamics contribute to our disturbing capacity for racism, xenophobia, genocide, and warfare. The field also offers new ideas about how human morality developed, including our capacities for cooperation, love, and tolerance.

There are lots of ways people do awful things. Nazism based it on misreadings of Darwin and Nietzsche, but people use other things too. So Darwinism isn't necessary for the kinds of things the Nazis did. As I said, that ignores what I think Berlinski meant, which is that Nazism actually did base its views on Darwinian-sounding claims, and thus Darwinism was the actual basis of Nazism. But the more important point is that Bailey here does seem to understand what a necessary condition is. He finds some things similar to Nazism that don't have a Darwinian basis. So Darwinian views aren't necessary for something vaguely like Nazism in their effects.

So if he understands what a necessary condition is in order to provide that critique, what did he think he was doing when he summarized Berlinski's view as if he'd said Darwinism is a sufficient condition for something like Nazism, right after quoting Berlinksi as saying the opposite?

I haven't seen Expelled, and I probably won't, but I've read some reviews of it across the spectrum of thought about design arguments and the particular species of them that people are calling Intelligent Design. It's been a nice occasion for everyone to say pretty much the same old things, with virtually all opponents of ID misrepresenting it pretty drastically amidst a few legitimate complaints and many supporters overstating their case, confusing some of the same basic distinctions ID opponents regularly confuse, and setting up science against religion rather than what the argument itself is supposed to suggest, which is that science and religion are in fact compatible.

So this film has drawn out much of the same nonsense that usually gets thrown around. Yet occasionally some real gem pops up that strikes me as insightful and helpful, and this time around I see that in Mollie Hemingway's wonderful critique of the media coverage surrounding this film. Several interesting points stand out:

1. She notices that the mainstream media have largely ignored this. That seems right from what I've seen. She only cites two examples, one that she doesn't think got the film quite right and the other that even I can see gets it completely wrong.
2. She compares it in style and tone to the strident, ideologically-colored, often fact-challenged documentaries of Al Gore and Michael Moore. Since I've seen none of the above, I can't comment, but it's an interesting suggestion.
3. She points out that Moore and Gore have garnered far more mainstream media coverage, not just of their documentaries, but of the issues their documentaries are about.
4. She also takes note of opinion media's much more substantial treatment of the film, and I think that's even much more obviously true when you take into account blogs (which she doesn't mention).

She doesn't really draw the conclusion that's just begging to be drawn and that I think she's suggesting. Whether a strident, ideological, fact-questioned documentary garners media attention and brings about a significant discussion of a certain issue seems to depend on what it's about or what ideology is behind it. It's unclear which it is in this case, which may be why she doesn't draw the conclusion explicitly. Is it because it's an ideology that's associated with conservatism and in particular religious conservatism? Or is it because of the issue rather than the viewpoint? Would a documentary by Michael Moore on the idiocy of intelligent design have the same no-impact result as this film has had in the major media? Would a conservative documentary starring Ben Stein but on health care or the Iraq war have the same attention Moore got with his films on those subjects?

My suspicion is that the answer is no in both cases, which if true means it's the ideology and not the topic that has made the difference. That doesn't demonstrate the point the documentary aims to make (which is about academic freedom), but it does demonstrate a similar point about which views are considered kosher by the establishment media.

Scientists keep discovering the number 10^122 occurring in mathematical relationships in the natural world [hat tip: GeekPress]. The last time this happened, it was when 10^4 kept appearing in both electromagnetic and strong/weak nuclear contexts, and it turns out that it signaled a common relationship between the two. So scientists are concluding that the best explanation is some common, underlying factor that explains why the same ratio keeps coming up.

Now here's what I'm wondering. If we're just one universe among a huge number, and the constants in each universe are different, then we just happen to be the universe with these constants. So why assume some common explanation for why the constants are the ones we've got? Doesn't the multiple universe explanation make the search for a common explanation otiose? At least that's what you'll hear if you try to make an inference to the best explanation when the constants happen to be in the narrow range that allow for the development of life. So what's different about this inference to the best explanation when both arguments involve what cosmological constants we happen to find ourselves with?

Slipping Into Design Talk

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It's amazing how often I find people using the language of design to describe evolutionary explanations. Consider the following account of how chameleons evolved the ability to change colors [hat tip: Geek Press]:

However, the reason why they first evolved this ability to flash bright colours was previously unclear.

Scientists report in the journal Plos Biology that it was to allow them to signal to other chameleons.

Pay attention to how that's worded. They evolved the ability to allow them to do something rather than to allow them to do something else. It doesn't say that they developed the ability by random chance, and the ones who had it survived or reproduced more because the ability benefited them in survival or reproduction. It says that they evolved it so that they would be able to stand out among other chameleons. This looks like a purpose statement to me.

Consider also this similarly-framed explanation:

Scientists think vertebrae evolved to help our ancient predecessors swim more powerfully by stiffening the body so attached muscles could generate more force.

This is the language of design. It makes sense to speak of something evolving to help the species accomplish something only if there was something that guided the evolutionary process with such a purpose in mind.

Scientists talk like this all the time. So do philosophers. I heard Kwame Anthony Appiah on NPR's Talk of the Nation this afternoon, and he slipped into this kind of design talk when giving an evolutionary example.

We are exquisitely designed by, I believe, evolution, but I don't want to get into that argument, to be very sensitive to other people's responses to our behavior and to other people's interests. Little children, tiny children, will respond to pain in those around them by seeking to comfort them, often before they can barely speak. So we're exquisitely attuned to one another....

People complain that it's not science when theists draw the conclusion that such language actually implies. If design has occurred, then someone has intended some result. Such views won't even get the honor of being recognized as versions of the classic philosophical argument that appears in many introductory philosophy books. If it's a philsophical argument, then it can't be the religious dogma that many so people are so heavily invested in pretending it is, so there's no chance the anti-ID political movement will recognize these arguments for what they are.

But then people who have no interest whatsoever in theistic or design explanations will slip into design talk whenever they're trying to explain how some beneficial characteristic evolved. Despite all the effort trying to resist any true design in nature, design talk keeps appearing in evolutionary explanations. It's as if we're subconsciously inclined to find design in things even if we consciously strive to avoid doing so. Given the premises of naturalism, this kind of talk is hopelessly confused. Since I'm no naturalist, I'm happy to accept that there is indeed something that such design talk refers to -- divine purposes. But I don't think those who accept naturalistic explanations of the universe have the intellectual right to speak this way. You can't just help yourself to design talk in science if design is something fundamentally unscientific and undetectable by science.

John Edwards' Faith

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I was reading an old entry from that I'd saved in my RSS reader until I had more time. It includes some of the Democratic presidential candidates' discussions of religion. I have a few comments on three of the candidates, but I'm going to treat them in separate posts, starting with John Edwards.

O’BRIEN: What do you say to all the people — and there are millions of people who go to church every Sunday and who are told very clearly by their pastors that, in fact, the Earth was created in six days, that it’s about creationism? Are those people wrong? Are their pastors wrong?
EDWARDS: No. First of all, I grew up in the church and I grew up as a Southern Baptist, was baptized in the Baptist Church when I was very young, a teenager at the time. And I was taught many of the same things. And I think it’s perfectly possible to make our faith, my faith belief system consistent with a recognition that there is real science out there and scientific evidence of evolution. I don’t think those things are inconsistent. I think a belief in God and a belief in Christ, in my case, is not in any way inconsistent with that.

Is that even coherent? I mean everything after the "No" is coherent, but given the question asked, and his initial answer, can he coherently say what he goes on to say? I'm having trouble imagining how unless Edwards is a relativist about religious truth such that these people are correct in their six-day creationism while he is correct in his acceptance of evolution as consistent with his faith.

One reason I worry that that's going on is his answer to the question about gay marriage. He goes on to say that he has a personal belief against gay marriage but doesn't think he could as president enforce his personal religious views. I'm sure that's how many Christians will view these statements, but I think it's a mistake.

The Problem of Waste

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A while back, Stephen Colbert had biologist Ken Miller, who teaches at my alma mater (although I never took a class with him), on his show to talk about evolution and intelligent design. Miller is known for being a devout Catholic who supports the scientific consensus of contemporary evolutionary theory. It's a a strange interview. One of Miller's main points is that people who deny evolution can't explain why we need flu shots every year, since the flu virus evolves to the point that old vaccines won't cut it. This is, of course, a terrible straw man argument, because even the most vehement critics of evolution don't deny evolution within a species, what they call microevolution.

But one argument struck me as particularly strange. Miller seems to think waste is a problem for intelligent design, since God designed things that went extinct. Oops! Fossils show God's mistakes. Miller thinks he has a higher view. God set in motion a process that gave rise to everything on this planet, and it shows God's greatness that he used evolutionary processes. So he has a theological reason for favoring the non-ID model.

But wait a minute. Doesn't the theistic evolution model have the same problem? Aren't there all these things that resulted from the process that God initiated that got left behind? If God set in motion the processes that lead to evolution of more complex species, you still get species that result from that process that die out. You get waste. Did God intend that result? If so, then the same problem arises for Miller. Something God designed died out. If not, then we seem to have a denial of God's purposes in creation. Is this the idea common in deism that God sort of set things up but didn't concern himself with the details of how it turned out? That's not very Catholic of Miller, who claims to be a pious, orthodox Catholic. But those seem to be his only options. Either there are forms that were designed by God that no longer exist, or those forms were not designed by God and do not fall under his plan of providence.

So it turns out that this is really an argument against theism and a doctrine of providence, not an argument against intelligent design. This is just puzzling. I don't know Miller's views on providence, but it seems to me that his argument is misdirected either way it turns out, and it should apply as well to any theistic evolutionary view that holds to the theological positions of the Roman Catholic Church. It's really just a particular case of the problem of evil, and I don't really know his views on that issue either. But whatever else is true, this isn't a problem for ID any more than it is for theistic evolution.

Update: Check out the excellent comments on Ted Poston's Prosblogion post on this subject. I'm in full agreement with almost all of the comments to this point (7:42 EST Aug 1, 2007), and some of them are making some of the points I wanted to make in this post but in a much better way. There are also some considerations there that hadn't occurred to me at all but seem right.

[Cross-posted at Prosblogion]

At Prosblogion, Trent Dougherty links to an entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Michael Ruse called Creationism. The SEP is usually very good, and I have to say that Ruse is much more reasonable on these issues than many in the anti-ID movement. He understands the positions he's criticizing a little more accurately and usually represents them a little more fairly. Any philosopher knows a lot more philosophy than Richard Dawkins, but Ruse stands out as someone willing to discuss the philosophical issues as philosophy, while many in the debate are dismissing them as other things (usually as religion or as bad science).

But this piece reveals that in some ways he does display a number of symptoms that I find throughout the anti-ID movement. Trent calls the article deplorable, and I do wonder how this got published in the SEP. It's not as bad as anything you'd find in Daniel Dennett or Richard Dawkins, but it's actually worse in some ways than the Wikipedia entries on these issues, which I don't have a very high opinion of.

Devin Carpenter asks in a comment why Trent finds the piece deplorable, and I decided to type up my reasons, which quickly got long enough that I didn't want to leave it as a comment. So here are some of why I consider this to be a fairly bad Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy entry. This is only after a quick skim and then once through with a closer read, so I may have misunderstood him in some places (although a couple times I think he may be at fault if I did). But I'd be very surprised to have gotten him that wrong on all these issues. Some of these are more minor and may well just be pet peeves of mine, but I think a number are much more serious. I'm listing them in the order they occurred to me as I was reading through the article more carefully.

1. He claims that six-day creationists are enthusiastic about Intelligent Design, which is simply false if he's referring to the arguments of Dembski, Behe, and Johnson (which his later section on ID makes likely). Most creationists in the narrow sense do not support ID arguments of that sort, since they think such arguments concede too much to evolutionist and to old-earth creationism. The ID leaders want to include six-day creationists, but they've had a hard time winning them over.

I received a very interesting question via email from Patrick Chan:

According to the theory of evolution, why couldn't future man be materially different from present day or modern man, such that he is no longer distinguishable from modern man (by "materially," I include genetic and biochemical differences which may or may not manifest themselves physically)?  As far as I can tell, it's possible according to evolution.

And perhaps as a result of such differences, why couldn't future man differ markedly from modern man in other ways?  Maybe future man will have a different psychological makeup and emotional life, for instance, and thus be subject to and experience different temptations, sufferings, etc. than what modern man experiences.

What I'm getting at is that it's possible Christ himself might not share with future man what he shares with modern man.  It's possible Christ would no longer be "one of us" in the sense that he would no longer be able to share in future man's "humanity," assuming future man can at least still be considered part of the mammalian species homo sapien.  (Of course, if future man is so different that he can no longer be classified as a homo sapien, then that raises other questions.)  This would undercut Scripture (e.g. Heb. 2:14-18; 4:15-16).

In other words, if it's possible for man to evolve into something different than he is today -- whether it's only a slight difference or whether it's as jarringly dissimilar as depicted in a movie like 2001: A Space Odyssey (in which man is a different species) -- then what would that make Christ in his incarnation as a man?  On the evolutionary tree of life, modern man, and therefore Christ himself since he came as a modern man, could very well be to future man what an ape-man might be to us.  Evolutionarily speaking, Christ in his incarnation would be a different being than future man.  I'll not mince words: as far as I can tell, it's possible that the evolutionary equivalent of an ape-man might have died for your sins.

My response (addressed to him, since I first wrote it in an email response to him):

As I've discussed before, Sam Brownback recently penned an editorial that The New York Times ran, clarifying his views on faith and reason, particularly with regard to evolution. I've seen several people discussing this response by evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, but nothing I've seen details just how far off the mark the Coyne piece is.

It contains several philosophical mistakes and demonstrates serious ignorance about the subject matter under discussion, which happens to be philosophy (not science), as I hope will become clear shortly. But, most disturbingly, it drastically misrepresents Brownback's view. This post consists of an almost-fisking of the piece. I do not quote the entire piece, but I've selected out quite a number of important excerpts. My not discussing something doesn't mean I agree with it. I'm simply focusing on what I do know, and I don't really know any biology, which though it's not the main subject does occupy an important part of his argument. I'm thus sticking to what I do have some expertise in, something I think Coyne ought to do in the future rather than doing bad philosophy while calling it science.

I'll start with one bit toward the end of the piece, because it illustrates the biggest misunderstanding Coyne relies on, and then I'll work through the piece in order.

According to Brownback, we should reject scientific findings if they conflict with our faith, but accept them if they're compatible. But the scientific evidence says that humans are big-brained, highly conscious apes that began evolving on the African savannah four million years ago. Are we supposed to reject this as "atheistic theology" (an oxymoron if there ever was one)?

This is a clear fallacy:

1. Brownback says we should reject scientific findings if they conflict with our faith
2. the scientific evidence says that humans are big-brained, highly conscious apes that began evolving on the African savannah four million years ago
3. Therefore, Brownback says we should reject the claim that humans are big-brained, highly conscious apes that began evolving on the African savannah four million years ago

I'm missing the crucial premise that it conflicts with the faith to hold that humans are big-brained, highly conscious apes that began evolving on the African savannah four million years ago. Since Brownback doesn't assert that claim, the argument doesn't apply. He does say that he believes microevolution is true, and he does say that he doesn't think macroevolution could be true in a way that requires a materialistic, deterministic metaphysic. What he doesn't say is that macroevolution without a materialistic, deterministic metaphysic is false or incompatible with his faith. He is perfectly silent on that issue. Only if he did say that would Coyne's argument even get going.

Jonathan Adler is belittling Sam Brownback's relatively nuanced (for a politician) position on evolution. The comment thread is getting pretty heated, almost entirely in a direction that seems to me to miss the most important factor in interpreting his position. I would go so far as to say that most of the commenters are immorally taking Brownback's position in the least charitable way possible.

Roughly speaking, the problem seems to be that Senator Brownback is using language that leaves the issue wide open, where what he says is consistent with anything from theistic evolution to six-day creationism. The charge is that he is using coded language that's supposed to tell six-day creationists he's with them, while also using coded language to tell theistic evolutionists that he's with them, or something like that anyway. The assumption is that he couldn't be genuinely conflicted on this issue in a way that's consistent with rationality. I want to suggest that the most plausible interpretation of his comments is not the political coded language one but that he really is conflicted in such a way and that it even results from rational conflictedness.

Given that many people do think the most reasonable interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis is that the world was really created in six days 10,000 years ago (note: I don't think this is the most reasonable interpretation of Genesis 1:1-2:3, given its poetic elements, but I can understand how an intelligent, rational person might think it is), I can understand why he might genuinely feel conflicted, resulting in the following views:

1. Whatever the Bible teaches is true.
2. The Bible's teaching can be interpreted in a way that's consistent with the consensus among contemporary scientists, but some interpretations are more reasonable than others.
3. Science isn't infallible and has often been very wrong, even when scientists are correct at the time to think their best information leads them to that view. Most of the time these are minor variations, but sometimes they are major overthrows.
4. The most plausible interpretation of the Bible conflicts with the contemporary consensus.

I can easily see why an intelligent, informed person who knows all the science and understands why the consensus holds what it does might still refrain from holding any belief whatsoever on whether speciation occurred in the way the consensus says it did. The key is to insist both that (a) our interpretation of the scripture might be wrong and (b) our science has at least some chance of being wrong, while insisting that (c) whatever the Bible does say is true (whether our interpretation is correct or not) and (d) whatever a perfect scientific study would result it will almost certainly be correct.

Only if you assume from the outset that divine revelation about such matters is impossible could you end up concluding that such a person is irrational.

[cross-posted at Prosblogion] Elliot Sober has a new paper, "Intelligent Design Theory and the Supernatural: The 'God or Extra-Terrestrials' Reply", in the latest issue of Faith and Philosophy (January 2007). I received my copy today, and I was amazed that this paper could get past the reviewers of a top philosophy of religion journal without serious modification, even from such an important philosopher of science as Sober.

Sober makes the following argument. Defenders of intelligent design often point out that ID arguments are not religion, and one support for this (a relatively less important one, in my view) is that the conclusion of ID arguments is silent on what the designer is like other than that the designer is intelligent and must have worked purposes into nature somehow. Sober's paper is a response to that argument, and his response is extremely strange. He argues that supernatural assumptions are implicit in the ID argument, and thus the ID defender is committed to a conclusion that there is some supernatural being.

Suppose that's all true. I'm not invested very seriously in whether that part of his argument is correct, since I happen to believe there is a supernatural being. I don't even care whether ID defenders are committed to the existence of a supernatural being, since I know no one who accepts ID who doesn't also accept a supernatural being. So I'll assume for the sake of argument that Sober is correct, and ID arguments do involve a commitment to the existence of some supernatural being. My question is how this helps Sober. His point in the paper is to show that ID arguments involve a religious conclusion. The only way he should be able to conclude that is if he thinks being implicitly committed to the existence of a supernatural being is somehow itself religious. Yet it isn't.

Lots of people think moral evaluation commits you to the existence of a supernatural being. They don't necessarily think that calling an action wrong is a religious practice. So it doesn't seem that being implicitly committed to the existence of a supernatural being is the same as practicing a religion. What's worse is that plenty of people accept theistic arguments on philosophical grounds without being religious practitioners. I personally know several people myself who do exactly that. Their theism is merely a philosophical view. It is not religious in any sense. It doesn't even affect their life. They are areligious. So how can implicitly being committed to the existence of a supernatural being amount to religion when even being explicitly committed to theism doesn't count as religion?

Joe Carter has a (perhaps unintentionally, I'm not sure) rather hilarious post about God, vampires, and the anthropic principle. Somehow Joe managed to find an academic paper on this: "Ghosts, Vampires and Zombies: Cinema Fiction vs Physics Reality" by Costas J. Efthimiou and Sohang Gandhi. 

If these physicists are right, we can reasonably infer from the feeding habits of vampires in vampire literature, together with the continuing population of non-vampire human beings, that there are at most 512 vampires in the world, assuming there are vampire-slayers. Without vampire-slayers, it seems there just couldn't be vampires at all, according to these numbers.

Now I'm not going to examine the connection with the anthropic principle that Joe is emphasizing, other than to observe that both just seem to be simple cases of inferences to the best explanation, but I do have one philosophical point to make. The argument against vampires leaves out a crucial step. One scenario ought to be considered more carefully before ruling out the possibility of vampires given our evidence. The argument takes the continuing population of humans as a piece of starting evidence. But should we be so sure that the population really is continuing in the way that we think it is? Isn't it possible that the population is just a growing numbers of vampires, and only relatively few of the people who remain are still real humans, with a huge vampire conspiracy going on pretending that humans are still around in large numbers? If the vampires have enough technology to clone humans to provide "offspring" for the vampires masquerading as human couples and a continued food source, then I can't see how this assumption can be ruled out as easily as is being done.

The paper makes some funny points about ghosts and zombies also, but I thought this was just a good example of physicists trying to pass philosophical arguments off as science, which is usually complained about when it's intelligent design but apparently just good science when it's skeptical. Well, it turns out a philosopher might have been able to point out how they're not being skeptical enough. A good skeptic wouldn't rule out the skeptical scenario I proposed without some more careful argumentation.

The Dawkins Delusion

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I'm not sure how I missed this, but it's one of the most intelligent (not to mention one of the funniest) parodies I've ever seen of anything.

This is the the twenty-second post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I looked at the fine-tuning design argument for the existence of God, along with an initial look at the many-worlds conjecture as a response to the argument. This post will spend some more time comparing that conjecture with the designer explanation for the fine-tuning of constants in physics.

Is this objection decisive? It's an alternative explanation, and we need just one alternative explanation to show that the argument original designer explanation isn't the only one. So we have two explanations to consider. Which should we prefer? Which is more reasonable, theism or all these myriads of cosmoi? Both explanations do seem to explain the surprising fact about the constants of physics, and they seem to account for this fact equally well, but how do you weigh the simplicity of each theory? It's not as if both agree on the core that everyone agrees on, and then one goes beyond that to postulate all this excess baggage. Both scenarios contain something that in their theory about ultimate reality beyond what a naturalist might want to say.

Theism, even the minimal sort necessary if you accept this argument, involves a designer or creator, which certainly goes beyond naturalism. Simplicity might nudge us to discount theism in favor of the many-worlds conjecture, since those worlds all seem to be additional parts of nature -- the kind of thing a naturalist already believes in. There are just lots more of them than the one we originally believed in. However, the many-worlds conjecture may require going beyond naturalism as well. Why do all the possible cosmoi (i.e. all the possible sets of constants) get generated? Is there some mechanism that generates these different universes, maybe all at once in different universes or maybe one after the other? What would this mechanism be? It's certainly not something you can just read off physics. There's no explanation offered why there would be such a mechanism. So it's not clear if this response really fits the naturalistic picture either. The many universes would be more of what we already believe in (though many, many more things), but the mechanism to get many universes is beyond the core theory. Yet theism involves a wholly different kind of thing, a designer, though just one thing and not very, very many. A theory can be simpler in terms of how many things it requires, and a theory could be simpler in terms of what kinds of things it requires. We have two theories. Each one is more complex than the other but in a different way.

This is the the twenty-first post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I presented two versions of the design argument for the existence of God, along with some standard responses. This post focuses in on a third version, the fine-tuning design argument.

The laws of physics contain some constants that govern how things in the universe behave. Physicists have no idea why these constants have the values they do, but they know that if they had been just slightly different then we couldn't exist. Stars couldn't form, never mind rational life. (Some might argue that rational life vastly different from anything we've seen might still be possible. That is hard to speculate about, but perhaps it's worth considering.)

Physicists all accept this fact about the laws, which leaves philosophers to figure out what to say. Some argue that, since the chances are so low of getting these exact constants, it's too much of a coincidence that the constants we happen to have are the ones that allow the possibility of rational life. This leads some to conclude that the universe must have been designed with the purpose of leading to at least the possibility of rational life.

This is the the twentieth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I finished discussing the cosmological argument for the existence of God. In this post, I'm moving on to the design argument for the existence of God.

[note: These design argument posts are based largely on discussions by Peter van Inwagen in his Metaphysics, 2nd ed. (2002) Westview Press and Gregory E. Ganssle, Thinking About God (2004) InterVarsity Press.]

The main idea behind the design argument is that something about nature is unexplainable unless a creator designed the universe for a specific purpose. Nature is hard to explain otherwise. As with finding a watch on a beach, it seems hard to conclude that it just occurred naturally on its own. It seems to be put together in such a way that calls out for an explanation.

Sometimes the argument is based on of the beauty of the world or the universe, and sometimes it picks out a specific fact. Can the fact that we find music beautiful be explained by science? Why do we happen to enjoy patterns of sound that just happen to be mathematically interesting? Some have looked at beauty in the world and wondered how anything can explain such wonder without appealing to a designer who wanted it to be beautiful. Others have questioned such arguments by saying the only reason we find it beautiful is because our preferences happen to match what's there.

The issue turns on what beauty is, what it is we perceive when we see beauty, if scientific theories can explain the nature of beauty, and many other issues. I'll focus on one particular fact that has led some to believe in a designer, but let's first look at the history of this general argument type when based on aother kinds of facts.

One of the bigger difficulties of an old-earth view of the early chapters of Genesis is how to deal with what seems to to be the biblical teaching that death came into the world through sin, since old-earth views usually involve lots of animals dying, eating each other, and even extinction of species long before humans even existed, never mind sinned. David Heddle has some very interesting thoughts on what old-earthers can say about death, some of them entirely new to me.

The most important suggestion is perhaps that death was already around before the human fall because of the earlier angelic fall, but this was not death for humans. That's what made Eden special. What separates Eden from the rest of the world on the young-earth view? If there's no good answer to that (and there are some answers in the comments, but nothing as huge as death), then this problem, originally against old-earth views, one of the few that I consider serious enough to worry about) actually favors old-earth views on one score rather than undermining them.

Uncertainty about what the original autographs said is no argument against inerrantism about what the original autographs said, not just because whether the original has errors is independent of whether we know what the original said. Kenny Pearce offers some Bayesian probabilistic reasons for concluding that a doctrine of inerrancy might still make a difference epistemically about particularly propositions despite uncertainty about whether the original autographs teach those propositions. He applies this to doctrinal issues that inerrantists who accept some principle of sola scriptura might nevertheless dispute, and then he applies it to science and evolution. I don't really know any Bayesian probability, so I can't really evaluate this in those terms, but what he's saying seems right to me in general.

I've cross-posted this at Prosblogion, so you might want to check the comments there to see if it generates a good, higher-end philosophical discussion.

Joe Carter seems to have gotten a little weary of people who constantly accuse ID defenders of committing the No True Scotsman fallacy every time they try to point out a straw man argument. So he turns it against some of the ID opposition.

I do think this gets to a real inconsistency of labeling among a certain kind of ID opponent. It's the No True Scotsman fallacy when ID proponents want to call an anti-ID argument a straw man. That's supposed to stop debate about what most ID arguments actually involve and therefore allow the dysphemistic labeling the anti-ID crowd wants to use. But then it's not the No True Scotsman fallacy when someone offers a parochial and positivistic account of what can fall under the heading of scientific reasoning, tailor-made to rule out anything remotely like ID.

It's noteworthy that such definitions also rule out any other kinds of scientific reasoning that only logical positivism would count as not science (because it's metaphysics, a dirty word for positivists) but most scientists would easily call science. See here and here for more on that. I think that's an inconsistency in science about what counts as scientific reasoning. But the more poignant issue here is that those who insist that there's no true Christianity becaue of different conceptions of Christianity and no true intelligent design argument because there are different versions of ID will then insist that there are those who occupy the scientific profession but aren't true scientists. That's an inconsistency on the popular level of those who criticize ID proponents' defenses for doing something they themselves regularly do. That hadn't occurred to me until I read Joe's post, but I think he's right.

Some people argue that contemporary science can't be right about how old the earth or the universe is, because an omnipotent being wouldn't need to take that long to make a universe. Thus the young earth must be true. Others argue from the opposite end that intelligent design arguments are inconsistent with an omnipotent being, because they involve God inputting information over a long process. (See, for example, SteveF's July 25 comment at 5:47 pm in this comment thread on this post.) I don't think this sort of argument works in either case.

If the designer is God, then God should be able to do something over a longer time or a shorter time. Young earth creationists are right that God could have created everything instantly. But the argument undermines the young earth view as much as any other, unless the young earth view holds God to have created everything instantly. It doesn't hold that but takes the period of creation to be six days. Why would God need six whole days to create everything? God could have created instantly. If it's implausible for God to do something over thousands or millions of years (because God could do it in a shorter time), then it's implausible for God to do it in six days (because God could do it in a shorter time). The mere possibility that God could have done it over a shorter time does not mean that God would have done so. A divine being with omnipotence could choose to work over a very long time or a very short time, and neither should seem more or less likely without an understanding of the purposes such a being might have for working over a longer or shorter time.

The hypothesis that there is a designer, particularly if one of the possibilities is that the designer is omnipotent, does not make it more or less likely that the designer worked over a long or short time. The length of time is not evidence against God. What's interesting is that the reverse is not true. Length of time issues may count as evidence against naturalistic explanations, precisely because they do not involve beings who can do anything (and thus can work instantly or over a longer time).

Life on Mars

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David Heddle has a brief post that nonetheless deals with a variety of issues related to the possibility of life on Mars and how a Christian should think about that. I really like David's general approach to this sort of thing.

ScienceDaily reported a few days ago on an interesting story (actually, a journal article in the April PLOS Biology) about how bats track insects they want to catch in a way that is very different from that of humans and some other animals. Essentially, humans, fish, dogs, and others use a strategy the article calls "constant bearing" to follow things -- basically, they just head straight for their target. Bats, on the other hand, actually take into account the target's velocity and direction and flies partially parallel to the target. In other words, bats work out in advance where they think their targets will be, and head there, rather than directly towards the target, which saves time.

This is pretty interesting. Even further, the article points out that this is a strategy similar to that developed by engineers for guided missiles.

But here's the part I find the most interesting:

This study also demonstrates, for the first time, that bats work out ahead of time how they will catch an insect. Evolutionary pressure to catch flying insects as fast as possible, the researchers speculate, may have pushed the bat to adopt this technique to catch a meal on the go as quickly as possible. Their paper appears in the May issue of PLoS Biology.

There is no mention of evolution in the journal article, so I assume ScienceDaily must have talked to the researchers. But the article also points this out:

The pursuit strategy is different from that reported in earlier studies of target pursuit in humans and other animals.

Now, my gripe is this:

I've got one more post coming out of the conversation at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

One common complaint I hear about design arguments that involve laws at the outset of the universe being designed is that they simultaneously make two things true. Design arguments generally take some surprising fact in nature, and then they appeal to a designer to explain why the surprising fact makes more sense than it would otherwise. The fine-tuning argument, for instance, takes the extremely small range of cosmological constants that would allow rational life as a reason for thinking there must have been a designer who intended rational life to be possibile and formed the laws accordingly.

The objection then comes in. The anti-ID move is to say that there's a contradiction between two things. (1) The natural laws are such that the origin of rational life is unlikely (otherwise there would be no reason to appeal to a designer). (2) The natural laws are such that the origin of rational life is highly likely (otherwise there designer hypothesis has done no work, and we're right back where we started).

This argument is a classic equivocation. It says something that is true when you use your terms in one sense, and then it considers something else alongside it that is true if you use your terms in a different sense. When it puts them together, it gets a false conclusion because it doesn't account for the fact that these two things are not true in the same sense and thus can't combine in this way. A classic example of equivocation is saying (1) you put your money in the bank and (2) that the flooding in the river is overflowing all the banks, concluding (3) you better take your money out of the bank for fear that it will get waterlogged. It isn't the financial institutions that are being covered with water, and that's where your money is.

In response to the claim that ID is just creationism (a slippery enough term as it is that can range from mere theism all the way to those who think Genesis 1 is a science textbook), I've been saying that ID is perfectly consistent with a closed universe of evolution, as long as the natural causes involved are not merely natural causes but are purposive, intelligent causes, and as long as those causes are detectable as intelligent causes. Most theistic evolutionists do not say that and therefore do not accept ID arguments. But someone who does should be welcome under the ID umbrella.

I looked at William Dembski's statements on this in my last post on the subject. I now turn to Phillip Johnson. Since this interview is one common place anti-ID folk have pointed to in order to argue that Johnson holds the opposite view, I've decided to use that as my source. Here is the first major quote relevant to this issue:

Theistic evolution is the same thing as atheistic evolution with a certain amount of God-talk. They don’t see any merit whatsoever in alleging that God left us some fingerprints on the evidence.

I think what's often going on is that ID opponents see him distancing himself from theistic evolution, and they then wrongly conclude that he's ruling out the sort of view with theistic evolution and signs of intelligent design together. But look closely about what he says about theistic evolution. He's not complaining about the view that everything was designed in such a way that evolution would happen but would reveal the signs of intelligent design. He's talking about the view that everything happened the way atheistic evolutionists say it did, i.e. God's fingerprints aren't on creation in order to have something to base an ID argument on. So he's not disagreeing with theistic evolution per se. He's disagreeing with theistic evolution as it's normally held. The usual theistic evolutionist does have a view that contradicts ID. The theistic evolutionist who insists that God left fingerprints that we can detect and then use as a basis for an ID argument is, of course, not inconsistent with ID, because it's the presence of those footprints that's all that the ID argument insists on.

Ed Brayton at Dispatches From the Culture Wars has been claiming that intelligent design is incompatible with the following sort of view:

God created the universe, having designed it from the outset to produce the kind of particular results God wanted, and there are signs of that creation, but it didn't involve intervention at a later time. Instead, it resulted from the natural laws God set up at the beginning that directed the universe toward the sort of thing that ID arguments are now concluding to be signs of God's design.

This was in response to my claim that ID arguments are consistent with this sort of view. The main thrust of his argument has been to affirm my claim that design arguments can result in such a view but to deny that the people who came up with the term 'intelligent design' wouldn't tolerate this. He says they consistently and repeatedly disallow this sort of view, saying that it wouldn't allow the kind of intelligent design arguments that they are giving. He says Howard Van Till holds exactly the view I was sketching, and they don't count Van Till among the ID people because of his holding this view. I think their statements about him are easily explained in terms of other things they disagree with him about, and Macht has done a good job explaining why in the comments on the post. But I think a positive case can be made that they deliberately do include the sort of view that Ed says Van Till holds. I decided to get out Mere Creation to see what William Dembski, one of the founders of the ID movement, had to say in his introduction to intelligent design arguments. What follows is an adaptation of a comment in the aforementioned discussion.

One of the most common arguments against intelligent design seems to me to confuse motivation with theoretical basis. In defense of the charge that ID is religious creationism, many opponents of ID point out that most people who support ID believe in a creator God for religious reasons. This happens to be true. Actually, they usually say that all who support ID believe in a creator God for religious reasons, and that's false. Antony Flew supports cosmological ID, and he isn't religious at all. There's a whole blog of ID proponents who are not advocating theism (I believe it's Telic Thoughts, but I couldn't find their statement on this if so). But it is true that most ID supporters are religious theists of some sort.

Here is the important distinction that those who give this argument cannot, or in some cases simply refuse to, see. Members of the Discovery Institute offer arguments for the existence of God. These are classic philosophical arguments that go back at least as far as Plato, who had no contact with Christian (Christianity didn't exist) or Jewish (no Jews were anywhere near him) monotheism. These arguments conclude that it seems likely that there must have been some designer for whatever particular phenomenon the argument is concerned with, e.g. the origin of the cell, the origin of some particular organ, the cosmological constants of the universe, etc. The Discovery Institute also happens to believe the designer that the argument's conclusion speaks of is the Christian God. They even admit that they have religious motives for wanting people to accept the argument. But the fallacy anti-ID people regularly engage in is to take that motivation to be the basis of the argument. It's simply not, and that kind of confusion would lead an introductory philosophy student to fail a critical thinking assignment.


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