Essay / Misc.

A Thoughtful Response

Rand Simberg has posted a very thoughtful response to me on ID and related theories. There is more charity and wisdom in it than one hundred years of writing from the Washington Post. I don’t agree with some of it and I have responded below. However, on the whole this seems the sort of position that is sensible and would create “live and let live” harmony if widely adopted. Well, as I feared, I did set off a debate about Intelligent Design, which wasn’t my intent, but was inevitable (unless I allowed no comments on the post). Hugh hopes that I’ll respond to this post. As I said, I’ve discussed this in depth previously, and I suspect that Professor Reynolds (John Mark, not Glenn) is reading some things into my comments that I don’t intend. I apologize if I have done that. I understand that this is not a science discussion, but a science (and philosophy) metadiscussion. That is, a discussion about how to discuss it. I (unlike many scientists and evolutionists) recognize that science is a philosophy in itself, and one that is faith based. I don’t know if anyone followed my link to my previous discussions on this topic, but it would have been helpful if they had. Particularly if they continued to follow the links back to this post and this one. For instance, I wrote:

The problem with creation theories is not that they’re inconsistent with the evidence–they are totally consistent, tautologically so, as Eugene [Volokh] says. The problem is that they tell us nothing useful from a scientific standpoint. In fact, there are an infinite number of theories that fit any given set of facts. I can speculate not only that all was created, but that it was created (complete with our memories of it) a minute ago, or two minutes ago. Or an hour ago. Or yesterday. Or the day before. Or, as some would have it, 6000+ years ago. Each is a different theory (though they all fall into a class of theories) that fit the observable facts. They are all equally possible, and all (other than some form of naturalistic evolution) untestable. I think this is wrong. Let me assume for a moment that ID as a meta-theory is untestable. Naturalism (in this sense) would also be untestable. That is not a knock on either since this sort of theory is not going to be testable by doing things like kicking rocks!However, some forms of a theory open to an Intelligent Designer would be open to be tested and shown to be false. If we assume ID is a metaphysical assumption (again for the purpose of discussion), then predictions can be made based on other assumptions (the Razor, Beauty, Goodness) about the action of the Creator. These actions can be tested against nature. For example, the not-bizarre religious notion that God must created and maintained (non-human) nature in a state of design perfection is known to be false, if anything is. One might believe that God directly created all breeds of dogs, but that can also be shown to be false. In short, creation and design is a way of looking at the world that can produce ideas about how the world is. These ideas can be test against the world. My examples are simple ones (this is a blog not a book), but one can refer to Moreland (cited below) for more complex examples.Comments on Rand’s board (though certainly not Rand) begin comparing belief in God to belief in Santa. Leaving aside any polemically sting, this shows how different belief in (some form) the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God (henceforth God) is from belief in Santa. Predictions are made about Santa working in space and time. These predictions are false and are known to be false by all adult humans. Predictions are made about the working of God in space and time. Some of these predictions turn out to be false, hence certain forms of Christian fundamentalist (KJV-only for example) are known to be wrong. On the other hand, other forms of Christianity make predictions about God’s work in space and time (Jesus Christ) that at the very least are worth discussing. Theories about pink bunnies and Santa just don’t do that. And furthermore, they offer no hope of making predictions for the future. After all, if a creator can whimsically create a universe in whatever manner he wishes, including evidence that he didn’t do it, how can we know what he’ll choose tomorrow? Orrin Judd likes to make much of the fact that many evolutionary psychologists believe that free will is an illusion, but if that’s the case in a naturalistic world, how much more so must it be with a whimsical creator, who can not only make us as he chooses, but unmake, and remake us on the same basis, whenever he chooses? The point is that this is one theory of what the Creator is like, however, it is not the most plausible one. Given the existence of physical laws, one would not anticipate a whimsical creator. On the other hand, even if the Creator was whimsical you could still have free will. The fact He could stop you from doing a thing (whimsically) would not keep you from willing it. I will (freely) many things I cannot carry out. Perhaps, it is being argued that God could (whimsically) take away our free will, but I would argue that best reason and best experience shows that such a god could exist, but probably does not. In short, theology can (often) apply the same sort of reasoning that science uses to develop. In fact, it has. This is not surprising since theology is a knowledge tradition. Of course, the argument to that is that the scriptures say that God grants us free will, which may be true, but once again, it isn’t science… No. It is not. Science is not everything (it is not math for example). However, Scripture provides one picture of how God is. Some of that picture can be tested against reality. The New Testament makes claims about Jesus of Nazareth. Some of those claims can in principle be falsified (in fact internet infidels claim to have done so!). …I have faith in the scientific method, but I can’t prove it’s the best way to achieve knowledge to anyone who doesn’t. Unlike many who believe that the scientific method is the correct one, I admit that this belief is based on faith. Great. I agree it is a good way to obtain knowledge, just not that it is the only way. It is the best way in certain areas, not such a good way in others. This is not surprising since science developed in a religious matrix, particularly a Christian one. The myth that it was born in conflict, for the most part, with religion is a myth. (And I am happy to see no trace of that myth in this post! My comments here are directed more to the general attitude I sometimes see.) To me, the argument of evolution versus…well, other unspecified (and unscientific) explanations is not about true and false–it is just about science versus non-science. If I were to teach evolution in a school, I would state it not as “this is what happened,” but rather, “this is what scientists believe happened.” This is what most scientists believe happened, particularly ones who assume a certain defini
tion of what science is or can be. However, there are other ways of looking at reality that open up other possibilities. In other words, I don’t want to indoctrinate people what to believe–I just want to make sure that when they take a science class, that they’re getting science, and not a religion dressed up as science. Whether they want to accept science is up to them… And I don’t want science forced to not consider the claims of those who believe that theories about the work of intelligence in the cosmos (the very idea of which would not have developed without ID folk like Plato) are interesting by definition. You have one definition of science. It is defensible, but it is also not written in philosophic stone. I prefer a more “open” philosophy of science (as do even some secularists). It is not about “accepting science.” My religious tradition helped create science and has always supported it. I accept some of what “scientists” tell me, because it fits their area of expertise and seems true. Other times, I believe a commitment to one view of science (as applied naturalism) has caused them to be shut off from other views. In any case, students should be exposed to a debate as old as Plato and Lucretius. …Unfortunately, the debate can tend to degenerate quickly, on both sides. Many creationists view evolutionists as godless propagandists, with the agenda of poisoning the minds of their children against their faith. Some evolutionists (particularly devout atheists), don’t recognize that their own belief system is faith based, and believe that it really is an issue of right versus wrong. Just so. Many evolutionists are theists (mistakenly in my view, but there you go!). Many secularists (some mentors of mine) are warm and wonderful people. One does not have to “wimp” out to recognize that statements that say the other side is stupid are not very productive. Of course, a little rhetoric now and then never hurt anyone! I don’t believe that people who believe in creationism are stupid, or mad–they just have a different belief system. The only thing that I object to (and justifiably frustrates people like [biologist] Paul Orwin) is when they try to argue the issue, when they clearly don’t understand evolution, and don’t want to take the time to learn about it (other than, perhaps, wrongly, from creationist screeds). This isn’t a matter of intelligence or sanity, but ignorance (which can fortunately be readily cured). I agree. Believe me some “creationists” are not well informed. A big part of my speaking is to religious people to urge them to read more. . . and not just “Christian stuff.” However, many of us have read the books we are told to read that “will make Darwin plain.” We just are not persuaded. Again, I was a theistic evolutionist. I did not switch because my faith was threatened OR because of creationist material. I first began to doubt Darwin from reading Isaac Asimov and other anti-creationist stuff. Frankly, I had low expectations of creationist writing, alternative points of view are often a bit odd at the edges. However, the anti-creationist stuff was pretty bad, lots of it, and was trumpeted by “mainstream” science as good. Go read “Tower of Babel” to give one example. I came to the conclusion, looking at all the evidence, that ID was the best way to look at the world. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should say my own views are more traditionally Christian, as a matter of intellectual speculation, than most people in ID. I am willing to entertain a “younger” earth. See my chapter in Three Views of Creation and Evolution. ) If one is going to critique a scientific theory, it is only polite to become educated on it (which means reading the works of its proponents–not just strawmen written by its opponents). Otherwise, it’s a waste of everyone’s time, by asking questions that have been answered many times, and often long ago.

With regard to my statement that science is a philosophy that rests on faith, I wrote the following:

Belief in the scientific method is faith, in the sense that there are a number of unprovable axioms that must be accepted: 1) There is an objective reality2) It obeys universal laws3) Its nature can be revealed by asking questions of it in the form of experiments4) The simplest explanation that fits the facts is the one that should be preferred There are other tenets, but these are the main ones. I accept all of them. I would also argue that all were either developed by theists (see 4) for reasons having to do with theories about a particular theology or fit well with some forms of theism. I think any form of theism that does not accept 1-4 is not a form worthy of belief. In fact, all traditional Christians say this sort of thing. The question is: should science be allowed to consider the work of intelligence or purposefulness (teleology) in biology? This need not even be a religious question. ID is open to teleology in biology. Much of evolutionary biology (though by no means all) is not. We arguing (in part) about what science is. ID folk do not agree with the more recent definition. So this is all about accepting a particular philosophy of science, not science (per se).

I’m not saying that Professor Reynolds is ignorant of evolution, and I apologize for simply snipping so much old stuff rather than responding directly with new prose, but it’s frustrating to rewrite things I’ve written in the past, and it’s important for him to understand that I am not arguing the truth of his or my beliefs–I am only arguing about what the name of the class in which they are taught should be. I don’t take your repost personally. We are in a public forum and cannot help but address some of our comments to “others.” This is what I did in my response to “you.” If that caused unintentional confusion, believe me can I understand the frustration. I have written book chapters on this topic and have several short articles on my web site. It often amazes me how few people read past my first blog page. We should all try to read more and opine less.! He claims that the boundary between science and non-science is not the clear bright line that I claim it to be. He also claims that not all scientists are Popperians. Perhaps. I can only speak to my own view of what constitutes the scientific method, which I believe (notwithstanding my heresy about it relying on faith in the form of unprovable axioms) is reasonably mainstream among practicing scientists. Right. It is mainstream amongst practicing scientists, but since it is a question of philosophy of science, they really aren’t the right group to poll, yes? Let me assume (for the sake of argument) that is also mainstream amongst philosophers of science. Still, there are very serious philosophers (Al Plantinga) who take a more open philosophy of science. The entire Platonic tradition (see A.E. Taylor) also takes a dim view of what Taylor calls “Spencerianism.” There are also secularists who are open (!) to an open philosophy of science. So my views, with the relevant community, are not sectarian nor silly. Can’t they be mentioned in the part of science class that talks about the scientific method (does philosophy of science). Even one sentence? Wouldn’t that help science education? Most American students are theists. A sentence that made the points we are making would go a long way in stirring some interest in the religious students. Instead of feeling defensive in biology, they would hear: “Some of what you are going to learn is based on philosophic as
sumptions held by the majority of scientists. However, some philosophers and scientists adopt different assumptions about purpose and the role of intelligence in biology.” What would harm “Science” in that? My own gripe about science education in this country is that it’s not taught as a philosophy of how to attain knowledge, but rather it’s simply taught as a compendium of “facts” that must be learned. Given that it starts out with this fundamental misunderstanding (promulgated, unfortunately, by many incompetent science teachers), it’s not surprising that many take umbrage at the teaching of “facts” that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs. Nothing to argue with here. So if science is a religion (in the sense of a belief system, which I think it is), then is it a legitimate subject for public schools? As I’ve said previously, this is largely a symptom of a much larger problem–the fact that we have public schools, in which the “public” will always be at loggerheads about what subjects should be taught and how. But given the utility of learning science (something that I employ every day, whenever I troubleshoot my computer network, or figure out what kinds of foods are good or bad for me), I think that it is an important subject to which everyone should be exposed. But if I were teaching evolution, I would offer it as the scientific explanation for how life on earth developed, not a “fact” or “the truth.” Great! The problem arises when some scientists, blind to their own faith and its tenets, come to believe that their beliefs represent Truth, and that those who disagree are fools and slack-jawed yokels. And with that, I come full circle in once again agreeing with Hugh that the media does a disservice to the debate when it doesn’t respect the beliefs of those who feel that their children are being indoctrinated away from their faith. You represent what I found in grad school. Thoughtful people can disagree and make progress. I benefit from your point of view. . . and you have been generous to hear mine. I hope our dialogue can continue. It is rare on the net and again points to the power of blogs over mainstream media.

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