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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Should the ID guys dump the young earth creationists? Participate in studies?

When I crossposted this post, “The Arsonist’s Tale: Misconceptions about intelligent design” over at Uncommon Descent, I got some interesting responses, including a request that the intelligent design (ID) guys like Bill Dembski blow off the young earth creationists (YECs, people who believe that the Bible says that the Earth was created in 144 hours.)

Generally, people on the ID side do not fight over the age of the earth because they view it as a non-issue. That is, Darwinism won’t work anyway. But my correspondent thought that if the ID theorists who accept conventional dating for the age of the earth blew off the YECs, their reputations would soar. Would they?

Another commenter offered to actually study the diversity of views on the ID side, a diversity which is growing all the time as a matter of fact. A refreshing and timely change from the imaginative authors of nutball conspiracy theories. Yes indeed, that’s a great project for someone who knows how to distinguish a scholar from a tenured crackpot.

Anyway, I replied as follows, addressing thee key issues around both questions, as I see them:

Thanks for raising an interesting and timely question. I appreciate it.

That said, I don't agree that ID would be better accepted if the ID guys blew off the YEC guys.

To a materialist, ID would be "anti-science" if YEC had never existed, because a materialist understands science as applied materialism.

In my little parable above, the materialist is like the defense lawyer trying to get Ratcliffe off the hook. She espouses any position whatever on the fire, tandem or seriatim, except that Ratcliffe dunit and knew he dunit. That can never be, no matter what evidence is assembled.

Consider me as an example: I am at the opposite end of the spectrum from YEC.

I'm not even an ID supporter in the conventional sense. That is, I am not sure that current ID hypotheses are the correct way to understand the large amount of information in life forms that is obviously not adequately accounted for by Darwinian fairy tales. So I describe myself as a post-Darwinist.

There is considerable and mounting evidence that the materialism that Darwinism supports is not true, either. But determining what is true could take decades or centuries. The ID guys are making a start. I don't have a science background, so I do not attempt to evaluate their assumptions in technical detail.

My main stake in this controversy is to promote a more responsible debate, less dependent on the US culture wars.

But if you think for a moment that I am less likely to be attacked by materialists, Darwoids, et cetera, on that account, well, google my name and see what you come up with.

I am a traditional Catholic, so I don't even interpret the Scriptures in any way similar to the usually fundamentalist YECs. If I started a row with YEC, it would have to be over Scriptural issues as I have no familiarity with the technical issues. I am not a trained theologian either, but many years of Bible reading and Bible study offer some modest benefits.

Thus, I would have a big fight on my hands with members of another communion that would serve no purpose except to divide Christians.

Apart from that, the reality is that all non-materialists have something in common that they do not share with materialists. I think that ID types of whatever flavour would do well to keep that in mind.

Re a poll, I suppose you'd have to ask people if they would participate and see what happens.

You might set up a blog for the purpose and invite contributors whose identity can be confirmed.*

One caution is that it takes some study to determine the questions whose answers would yield useful information (which I assume you've done or are doing).

For example, I remember a historian of science who once tried to get me to post on the Post-Darwinist what he assumed to be the positions of various ID types - I guess in an effort to draw them out. I wrote to them first, and a number wrote back and said, in essence, "No, that's not what I meant at ALL."

I didn't publish the historian's guesses, and he was a bit put out with me. But what could I do? I can't publish stuff I know is false.

My other suggestion would be to interest a social scientist in doing a more scientific poll on the actual beliefs of ID types who meet previously developed criteria as opinion leaders, criteria that - ideally - have been used in other studies of social influence (degrees, books published, number of mentions in peer reviewed or popular literature, for example).

Indeed, I see the actual study of these questions as a promising development in a field heretofore dominated by conspirazoid cranks, for whom I have no time and little patience.

*Use the moderator keys early and often if you are spammed by Internet Darwinists, who usually have much more time on their hands than the regular type.
If you want to understand why the intelligent design controversy cannot go away, read By Design or by Chance?.

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The arsonist’s tale: Misconceptions about intelligent design

When people examine a new idea for the first time, they often approach it from a basis of older, assumed ideas which cause confusion. They can't really evaluate the new idea properly until the source of confusion has been identified.

In discussing the intelligent design controversy with people, I sometimes hear the following comment:
If scientists conclude that something is designed, then they are just taking the easy way out, and they won’t be able to find out anything more about it.

The comment - actually, more often a passionate outburst - come at such an oblique angle that it requires a bit of unpacking - all the more so because it is frequently followed up by other, similar ones. On rare occasions, time is permitted for a thoughtful response, so here's one:

Let us look at a real life example: Suppose we say: If the fire marshall's office (FMO) concludes that a fatal fire has been set deliberately, then they are just taking the easy way out, and they won't be able to find out anything more about it.

What's wrong with this picture? Clearly, the question of whether the fire was set deliberately must first be addressed as a question of fact. There is no other way to determine the origin of the fire than to address it first as a question of fact.

Perhaps the origin cannot be determined at all. But only an intensive investigation can demonstrate that.

If the FMO concludes that the fire is arson, far from losing the ability to find out anything more, it is in a position to focus on key details (Where was the fire started? What accelerant and how much? What was the pattern and timing of spread?).*

(*Many other questions can later be asked by the police - for example, were the charred victims intended to die in the fire? Or was their presence unforeseen and accidental? Or were they unlucky arsonists engulfed by flames?)

Assuming that the FMO can render a decision on these questions based on fact, in what sense would it be taking the easy way out?

Not in any sense I can think of. If the police investigate the circumstances surrounding the fire and lay charges, the FMO must defend its verdict against the lawyer for the accused, who will attempt, as one strategy among many, to cast doubt on the FMO findings, imply that the FMO routinely bungles cases or - in a pinch - that virtually any pattern of accelerants can be accounted for by random events or that it is never possible to determine the cause of a fire with certainty. (The analogies to the intelligent design controversy require no unpacking.)

If her client’s case looks pretty bad, the defense lawyer may even try arguing that arson is a natural cause because people are, well, “just natural animals”. (This defense will work better if her client has looked and acted, throughout the proceedings, like a large rodent crammed into a dress suit, and appears truly unable to grasp the moral significance of the accusations against him.)

At any rate, this analogy from everyday law enforcement helped me think of how to respond to the somewhat confused outburst captured above:

Design must first be addressed as a question of fact. Evidence pro or con can only be acquired by investigation and anywhere design turns out to be a fact, it must be factored into further fruitful investigation.

Should scientists refuse to consider design a possibility because they are “objective”? Well, how about this: Suppose the FMO gets a call from a leading local politician announcing that he wants the arson investigation called off because the FMO has no business assuming that someone might have wanted that building torched?

If the FMO thinks it has reasonable grounds for pursuing its present line of inquiries, should it meekly accept that argument? Should we assume that the politician obstructing the investigation is “objective”? Or rather that he is trying to defend somebody or something? In the same way, materialists attempting to suppress ID-friendly scientists are hardly “objective” in the matter.

The reason the outburst above is confused is that the speaker assumes that design is not a conclusion that can be arrived at by considering evidence and moving on to identify patterns. Underlying that assumption is a lifetime of steady indoctrination by materialism.

(Note: I haven;’t been blogging much, because I am writing an index for somebody else’s book. Back soon though. )

My other blog is the Mindful Hack, which keeps tabs on neuroscience and the mind.

If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

My recent series on the spate of anti-God books, teen blasphemy challenge, et cetera, and the mounting anxiety of materialist atheists that lies behind it.

My review of Francis Collins’ book The Language of God , my backgrounder about peer review issues, or the evolutionary biologist’s opinion that all students friendly to intelligent design should be flunked.

Lists of theoretical and applied scientists who doubt Darwin and of academic ID publications.

My U of Toronto talk on why there is an intelligent design controversy, or my talk on media coverage of the controversy at the University of Minnesota.

A summary of tech guru George Gilder's arguments for ID and against Darwinism

A critical look at why March of the Penguins was thought to be an ID film.

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove’s critique of Darwinism.

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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