Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Paul Nelson’s Outrageous Lie

There is a long history of creationist misrepresentation of the views of scientists, going back to the time of Darwin himself. As the creationist movement has grown and gone through its various phases over the last century, such misrepresentations have been a powerful weapon in their arsenal. In the 20 years or so I’ve been involved in this dispute, I’ve seen it time and time again. Why is this the case? I have always suspected that it’s because they know that they can get away with it. The chances that their largely uneducated audience is actually familiar with the work of the scientists they refer to is slim, the chances that they will go and look up their work and compare it to the way it’s being characterized by the creationists even slimmer.

But during my involvement in this dispute, I’ve also often said that there are at least some creationists who didn’t do that sort of thing. I’ve defended, for example, Kurt Wise, Art Chadwick, Paul Nelson and a few others as being honest men, even genuine scholars, who do not do the sort of straw man caricaturing that so many of their colleagues do when presenting the work and thinking of scientists. And while I still have no reason to think otherwise of the first two, I can tell you that the third one, Paul Nelson, has now been caught in what I can only describe as one of the more outrageous misrepresentations – oh hell, let’s call it what it is, a baldfaced lie – I’ve ever seen. And the person whose views he distorted, Keith Miller, is one of the truly nice guys in the business. And to make matters even worse for Nelson, he’s also a fellow Christian. As we will see, this takes “bearing false witness” to a whole new level.

On May 21st, there was a debate over evolution and intelligent design at Rolling Hills Covenant Church in California. Two scientists from Cal State Fullerton, Jim Hoffman and Craig Nelson, debated against Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds, both Discovery Institute fellows and advocates of ID creationism. At one point in his presentation, Jim Hoffman put up a slide with a list of names of scientists who were also theists who believed that God could have used the process of evolution to create life. The list included Howard Van Till, Ken Miller, Terry Gray, John Polkinghorn, Arthur Peacock, and Keith Miller. Here is the transcript of Paul Nelson’s response to this slide; the response contains the misrepresentation of Keith Miller’s views:

Nelson: Ah, I would like to begin by actually responding to this slide from Jim. Ah, it’s true that of these scientists named here, ah, are theists I think, Arthur Peacock I’m not sure would call himself a Christian, he has a rather heterodox theology, but they are all theists of one strip or another.

Here’s the problem though. All of them accept a philosophy of science that excludes intelligent causation by definition. Ah, for instance, ah, Keith Miller and I served on a panel that the, ah, American Scientific Affiliation assembled a few years ago to write a statement on creation, with a variety of viewpoints. Keith was defending theistic evolution I was arguing for intelligent design.

And we had an e-mail, ah, exchange that was quite extensive, and I said to Keith, your philosophy of science excludes intelligent design by definition. He would say that if you’re a scientist you have to look for a natural cause for any event or patter, and keep looking whether you find one or not, because that’s what it means to be a scientist.

So I posed him a thought experiment. I said suppose you went to a movie and when you came out and you discovered the driver side window of you car was broken, and there was glass everywhere. And you looked inside the vehicle ah, and ah, the McDonalds bag was still there, and the road atlas was still there, the tattered road atlas of Kansas where he lives, but your digital camera was gone and your CD player was gone.

Now what would you infer from that pattern, I put the question to Keith. And rather than do what everyone in this room would do, namely get out your cell phone and dial 911 and infer that someone had broken into his car, rather than say that event, that intelligently cause event had happened, Keith said a natural regularity occurred.

[Light laughter]

Now at that point our dialog broke down.

[Heavy laughter]

Because for Keith, who I have great respect for, he’s an evangelical Christian with a strong faith commitment, he’s very up front about it in everything he does in his professional life, but his philosophy of science is non-negotiable on this, on this point.

So the reason I think I would disagree with these guy is not, not that God couldn’t use evolution, God, the absolute sovereignty of God is something that I hold very dear, as a faith commitment because it comes right out of scripture. God can do whatever He wants. The question is what does the evidence indicate.

[Reynolds: “Yes”]

If evolutionary theory is not well supported by the evidence I don’t want to say that God used a theory that is not well supported by the evidence. God can do whatever he, whatever he, he, pleases. So my disagreement with these guys has relatively little to do with evolution and a great deal to do with what kind of philosophy of science we’re going to adopt. Are we going to allow for the possibility of intelligent causation when all of us know that could have happened? That’s what science should do. Science should be free to follow the evidence where it leads.

[Reynolds: “Hear, hear.”]

Boy, that sure makes Keith Miller look pretty stupid, doesn’t it? No one in their right mind would explain Nelson’s hypothetical situation as being the result of a “natural regularity” – a weather pattern, or some other purpose-less operation of natural laws – rather than being the result of a willful, intelligent act. No wonder there was such laughter from the audience and cheering from Nelson’s partner. There’s just one tiny little problem: Keith Miller said absolutely nothing that even remotely resembles what Nelson claims. Nelson, much to my surprise, was telling a baldfaced lie in order to make Keith Miller look foolish. And since I’m about to show you the full text of what Miller actually did say, I suspect it’s going to backfire on him.

First, a note on how this came about: in the audience at this debate was Troy Britain, a frequent commenter here and an old friend of mine going back to the Compuserve Religion Forum nearly 15 years ago (I actually used a DOS-based program to access it, that’s how long ago it was). Troy recorded the entire debate and made a transcript of it. This particular claim by Nelson just seemed absurd to him. He couldn’t imagine that Keith Miller would say something that absurd, and the moment I read the transcript I knew he was right. Troy contacted Keith and showed him the transcript. Keith sent along the full text of the email exchange that Nelson refers to, and it is with his permission that I am posting that text now.

As Nelson indicated in his remarks, the exchange took place among a group of Christian scholars who were part of a committee for the American Scientific Affiliation, a group of Christian scientists. Nelson gets the question right; that is, the question he asked Keith Miller in that exchange is essentially the same question that he repeated in the remarks above. But the answer that Miller gave wasn’t even remotely close to how Nelson characterizes it. Bear in mind the key arguments that Nelson attributes to Miller above:

A. That Miller denied that it was the result of human intervention; and,

B. That Miller had claimed it was the result of a “natural regularity”.

Now let’s compare that characterization to the actual text of Miller’s response to Nelson’s hypothetical. First, here is the text of Nelson’s hypothetical question just so you can see that it’s pretty much identical:

Nelson: Suppose you go to a movie with your wife. After the show, on coming out to your car in the parking lot, you discover that the driver’s side window is broken. The camera and CD player are missing, but the McDonalds bag and tattered road atlas are still there.

Now – what would you be justified in inferring from this pattern? Theft, of course, i.e., an intelligently-caused event – even though you haven’t exhausted all the possible natural mechanisms for breaking car windows and removing only the valuable items from automobile interiors. Indeed, given the problem of induction, exhausting all the possible natural mechanisms would be impossible in any case. (At possible mechanism n, there always remains the untried possible mechanism n +1.) And, of course, no one expects you to exhaust all the possible natural mechanisms. It would be madness even to try.

Imagine catching the thief somewhere in the parking lot with the camera and CD player. Only this is a philosophically clever thief. “You can’t say I broke into the Miller’s car,” he crows, “because you haven’t exhausted all the natural possibilities! That’s an argument from ignorance. Let me go.”

But thieves do go to jail, despite the problem of induction. Archaeologists are able to assign objects to the status of “artifact” – i.e. an intelligently caused object – and to sift these objects from the natural background. In short, basic human rationality depends on being able to discriminate naturally and intelligently cause patterns, and to allot causal responsibility accordingly.

Keith, if it is in principle impossible to move beyond natural regularities in causal inference, how would you ever be able to conclude that someone – a person, an intelligence – broke into you car?

And here is Miller’s reply:

Such analogies are completely inappropriate. The thief is a natural causal agent. Humans are part of nature – in fact a part of nature that we know a considerable amount about. As a paleontologist I can similarly infer the action of long extinct animals. We can study the patterns of breakage on shells or bones to infer the likely predator. We can infer much about the interactions of organisms from the fossil record – that is in fact one of my research interests. But you are proposing that science can infer the action of a cause external to the physical universe. Can science verify a divine miracle (in the sense of breaking causal chains)? Only in the sense of concluding that there is no presently known cause-and effect explanation. What science can do is debunk claims of supernatural action (such as bogus “faith healers” or “miracle workers”) or paranormal events – which it as done repeatedly. By equating divine action with breaks in the casual chain, you make the creative action of God something that science can disprove.

Furthermore, my objection is not just that in principle some unknown causal process may be discovered in the future to provide a plausible explanation for the origin of “irreducibly complex structure,” but that research is moving us rapidly toward such explanations. New breakthroughs in self-assembly processes, for example, are being made at an amazing rate. Our understanding of genetics and development is moving at unparalleled speed. Similarly, hardly a week goes by but that significant new fossil discoveries are made which fill in gaps in our understanding of natural history. In areas that I am competent to judge, these discoveries are rapidly closing gaps in our knowledge of evolutionary history – not making them more pronounced.

So not only did Miller not deny that a thief had stolen the items from his car as Nelson claimed (“rather than do what everyone in this room would do, namely get out your cell phone and dial 911 and infer that someone had broken into his car…”), he explicitly agreed that a thief had stolen them. Nor did he claim that a “natural regularity” occured. What he did dispute is the notion that human actions are somehow outside of the sphere of natural explanations. And he points out that science can and does infer human intelligent action all the time (to explain artifacts, for example), but that what Nelson is demanding is that science infer the actions of a disembodied intelligence that exists outside of the natural universe.

Nelson’s characterization of Miller’s position is as blatant an example of misrepresentation as I’ve ever seen. He flat out lied, folks, it really is that simple. And his excuse is quite transparent. After Miller posted a message to the ASA listserv about this distortion, Nelson issued the following “apology” (scare quotes intentional, as it is nothing of the sort):

I apologize to Keith Miller for making public what he regarded as a private email exchange. I would not have done so if I had known that he saw the back-and-forth as strictly private. The group of participants in the discussion included (as I recall) Keith, Bill Dembski, Bob Newman, Dave Wilcox, and me. I saw our written interactions as the record of deliberation of the ASA committee, not as private email. But Keith does not, and for that, I apologize.

I do not think, however, that I misrepresented Keith’s position. Indeed I would welcome Keith making publicly available the relevant portion of our correspondence. Rather than say that Dembski’s explanatory filter model had a well-justified decision node labeled “intelligence,” Keith said — in response to my car theft thought experiment — that he (Keith) was himself “a natural regularity.”

The written record should support this.

Again: I apologize to Keith for not consulting him first before mentioning our ASA committee deliberations exchange in public.

Paul Nelson

I couldn’t possibly care any less about the question of whether the exchange was private or not, I care about the substance. And on the substance, there is no doubt whatsoever that Nelson lied about Miller’s position. As quoted above, he explicitly says that Miller denied that there was a human thief that stole the items. As you can see from the text of Miller’s response, that is the precise opposite of what Miller said. Yes, Dr. Nelson, you did distort Miller’s position and the apology you owe him for that is much more important than this irrelevant apology above. You lied about what he said and the text of the exchange proves that. And if Troy had not been in the audience that night with a recorder, you would have gotten away with it. Until this happened, I had you rated as one of the “good guys” in the ID movement; that is no longer the case. The fact that you would lie about not only a fellow scholar, but a fellow Christian, is bad enough; that you continue to claim not to have done so with the evidence staring you squarely in the face puts you right down at the bottom with Dembski in my book.

Comments

  1. #1 Dr. Free-Ride
    May 28, 2006

    The mind boggles.

    This kind of thing always leaves me wondering: Is it possible that the liar does not realize he has lied? Because if the lie was intentional, what does that say about the tenability of the position in whose service the lie was presented as truth? (If you can’t provide a good defense of your own position without resorting to claims you know to be lies, how on earth can you believe that it’s a position worth holding?)

    I really can’t make sense of these people.

  2. #2 Wesley R. Elsberry
    May 28, 2006

    Ouch.

    I got asked a question about “How did your presentation slides come into existence?” by Paul on our first meeting back in 1997, but I don’t recall making the sort of spiffy answer that Keith Miller did. Of course, that was in a Q&A session after my presentation, not an email exchange, so I’ll take that as my excuse.

  3. #3 VisualFX
    May 28, 2006

    Once again, you nail a liar with cold, hard evidence – something the creationist crowds consistently lacks.

    Need I say it again? Yet another Christian fundy lying. I guess it is OK to lie as long as you are doing so in support of your god – doing God’s work.

    I personally have never encountered a more dishonest group of people as a whole than these Christian fundamentalists.

  4. #4 Troy Britain
    May 28, 2006

    Paul’s description of his and Keith’s conversation, with Keith giving what would seem to be (if it had been accurate) an irrational response, simply didn’t pass the smell test with me. After years of reading their literature and listening to antievolutionists speak one tends to develop a BS detector in ones brain that goes off from time to time and this comment lit up my detector big time. And to give credit to Jim Hofmann his BS detector went of as well (however there was no way he could counter it during the debate), I just followed up on it first. What is sad is that most in the crowd of at least 500 people (probably closer to a 1000) no doubt swallowed this fiction whole (hence as you said, the laughter).

    And this is exactly the sort of dishonest tactic that led me to get involved in countering the claims of antievolutionists 15 plus years ago.

    The funny thing is that while I was preparing to leave to go to this debate (it was about an hour drive to get there) I told my wife that it would probably be a bunch of the same old thing, but I’m always afraid I’ll missing something…

  5. #5 Douglas Theobald
    May 28, 2006

    How saddening. What disappoints me most is that this one done to publicly embarass Miller, who was not there to defend himself.

    Anyway, Keith Miller’s real point is one that Nelson apparently refuses to see: humans (and consciousness and intelligence) are part of the natural world, and thus human causation is subject to scientific investigation. Divine action is not and not, respectively, end of story. Understanding this simple yet profound difference is key to understanding why “intelligent design” is scientifically vacuous. Hence, motive for the mischaracterization.

  6. #6 tacitus
    May 28, 2006

    Perhaps Paul Nelson’s finally decided to join Bill Dembski’s street theater troupe?

  7. #7 mark
    May 28, 2006

    How many, then, among the ID leading lights, are honest, versus the number of liars? We might expect a few, second-tier proponents to misstate the facts a little, but Ed presents yet another example of egregious, deliberate lying from a “fellow” of an organization that has claimed superior moral standing. The half-assed apology is a clear indication that Paul Nelson has no regard for the Christian values he claims to hold.

  8. #8 snaxalotl
    May 28, 2006

    I think the word lie gets used too much for some people who aren’t careful with the truth. They CAN’T be systematically careful with the truth, or they couldn’t support the particular sorts of religious belief they do. Not properly questioning is built deep into the system. What they know to be true and what they wish to be true blur together in a deeply ingrained manner, and what they are capable of perceiving as an accurate memory is as alien to us as their capacity to differentiate between logic and illogic. What we couldn’t “recall” without a knowing lie, they can.

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    May 28, 2006

    Lie is the only word that comes to mind here. It can’t be anything but. When he says that Miller did not accept that a thief was necessary to explain the event, he simply lied. There are no two ways about it, there is no rationalizing it away. It’s as blatant and obvious a lie as I have seen.

  10. #10 Fangz
    May 28, 2006

    Can Miller sue Nelson for slander over this? The guy made false allegations about him in front of a mass audience, portraying him as a total idiot.

    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slander#United_States_law

  11. #11 pimothy
    May 28, 2006

    Lie is the only word that comes to mind here. It can’t be anything but. When he says that Miller did not accept that a thief was necessary to explain the event, he simply lied. There are no two ways about it, there is no rationalizing it away. It’s as blatant and obvious a lie as I have seen.

    There may be an alternative explanation. Nelson, as so many other ID activists, seems to be convinced that there exists three explanations, chance, regularity and design, and that these concepts do not overlap. According to this position, intelligence cannot be reduced to chance and regularity and although this is a pretty big ‘begging the question’ assumption, it may help understand why ID activists may have a hard time dealing with natural intelligence. Remember that on the one hand Dembski argued that ID replaces methodological naturalism by adding ‘intelligent design’ as an explanation, and that the argument is that MN rejects intelligent causes a priori. And yet, Dembski also argues that science DOES use succesfully ways to detect design. So in other words, MN is sufficient for detecting design. Which brings me to the logical conclusion that when ID discusses design, they mean ‘supernatural design’, there is no other logical explanation for their claims.
    Back to ID and natural designers, the belief that MN cannot deal with natural designers, that natural designers somehow form a category separate from natural processes of regularity and chance may lead one to make the comments made by Nelson who is unconvinced that intelligence finds its explanation in nature.
    In addition, Nelson shows why design detection in science works and why it fails when using the explanatory filter. In science we do not rely on elimination of all and any possible explanation, we rely on positive indicators or motives, means, and opportunity to reach a conclusion of ‘design’. ID however is doomed to having to eliminate any and all known and unknown pathways before it can reach its conclusion without the risk of a false positive. Until then, the explanatory filter will run the risk of false positives and thus be useless (according to Dembski). That ID activists are backpedalling on having to refute any and all mechanism is understandable but that’s the logical requirement of their basic premise to detect ID. One cannot blame science for ID’s flawed or scientifically vacuous premises.
    Funny how Nelson seems to recognize the problem of induction and yet fails to see how this ruins the prospects of Intelligent Design.

  12. #12 Matthew
    May 28, 2006

    Pretty sure you can’t, Fangz. You have to prove irreparable damage and intentional deception. I believe you have to show that you’ve actually lost something; opportunities for employment for example. I think that’s the way it should be too.

  13. #13 Ed Brayton
    May 28, 2006

    pimothy wrote:

    There may be an alternative explanation. Nelson, as so many other ID activists, seems to be convinced that there exists three explanations, chance, regularity and design, and that these concepts do not overlap. According to this position, intelligence cannot be reduced to chance and regularity and although this is a pretty big ‘begging the question’ assumption, it may help understand why ID activists may have a hard time dealing with natural intelligence.

    That is essentially what Nelson is claiming in his faux apology, but it fails for the reason I stated above. Nelson specifically says that Miller denied that a human thief was the explanation for his hypothetical when he says:

    And rather than do what everyone in this room would do, namely get out your cell phone and dial 911 and infer that someone had broken into his car, rather than say that event, that intelligently cause event had happened, Keith said a natural regularity occurred.

    He is clearly differentiating between “human thief” and “natural regularity” and claiming that Miller refused to recognize that a thief had stolen the items, but had claimed it was a purely natural (in this context, read: non-willful or non-purposive) event. But in fact, Miller had explicitly attributes the missing items to a thief, but notes that a thief is also a natural agent. There is no way to get around this being a lie.

  14. #14 386sx
    May 28, 2006

    Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale; who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven.” – Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 3

    P.S.: Here’s another Dembski takedown, via The Lippard Blog. But, of course, as one of the commenters at Good Math, Bad Math says, “Demsbki isn’t putting this stuff out to persuade mathematicians and biologists.”

  15. #15 John Wilkins
    May 28, 2006

    I disagree – this doesn’t put him down at the level of Dembski. It puts him down at the much lower level of Wells, misrepresenting someone’s views to caricature and mock them being Wells’ stock in trade.

    Paul, if you are reading this, forget about any contact with me. I won’t read your manuscript. I fear that you will only do the same thing to me, as Wells did to those he sent his ms to.

    I, too, had thought you an honest man.

  16. #16 RBH
    May 28, 2006

    tacitus wrote

    Perhaps Paul Nelson’s finally decided to join Bill Dembski’s street theater troupe?

    Would that they were mimes.

  17. #17 Ed Brayton
    May 28, 2006

    Oh, I don’t put Wells below Dembski. I put them on the same level, which is pretty much at the bottom. After watching Dembski’s ridiculous behavior over the last year, with his false accusations about Shallit and then making them disappear rather than own up to them, with his false accusations against Kevin Padian, his fake bets and hypocrisy, I don’t think it’s possible to get much lower on the scale. But I genuinely am disappointed to see Nelson stoop to that level.

  18. #18 Foggg
    May 28, 2006

    Someone who attended a creationist conference in Finland not too long ago (RBH may recall this report as it was on a group he moderates) saw Nelson explicitly classify human “intelligence” as neither supernatural nor natural, but belonging to yet another metafrazical/metaphysical category. Nelson may be cognitively incapable of recognizing that “thieves as causal intentional intelligent agents” and “thieves as natural regularities” are not mutually exclusive. A DoesNotCompute flips on and Nelson simply can’t reconcile/understand Miller’s words in front of him.
    What else could explain Nelson’s amazing denial he misrepresented Miller as rejecting “an intelligently caused event occurred” — and expect to get away with it before the ASA?

    Of course Nelson’s far bigger dishonesty than a mere lie about a single exchange is the fact that he knows very well, having read it a million fricking times, the general critique ID’s opponents make against this ridiculous “Oh, so you claim science can’t detect design? Ideologue!!” charge. It wouldn’t matter if some lone Keith Miller had indeed said what Nelson claimed. Nelson knows very well it’s not the general position of informed ID critics, but he has an audience to con.

  19. #19 John Wilkins
    May 28, 2006

    Ed wrote:

    Oh, I don’t put Wells below Dembski. I put them on the same level, which is pretty much at the bottom. After watching Dembski’s ridiculous behavior over the last year, with his false accusations about Shallit and then making them disappear rather than own up to them, with his false accusations against Kevin Padian, his fake bets and hypocrisy, I don’t think it’s possible to get much lower on the scale.

    I think it’s not a unitary scale though. Dishonesty in other matters puts Dembski at the bottom with Wells, but he doesn’t entirely misrepresent his opponents. 80% perhaps. But not like Wells’ egregious lying at 100%. If Wells said there was a truck about to hit me, I’d stay where I was. If Dembski did, I might look around…

  20. #20 pimothy
    May 28, 2006

    Nelson Powerpoint Finland

    Paul places mind and agency outside the physical universe. It’s logically a poor argument, and scientifically it fares no better.

    Does it make sense, then, for Christians to say, “God is the Author and Creator of the world… but science may not discover that!”

    ROTFL

    More meaningless rethoric

    Shouldn’t science be free to discover whatever is true?

    Nelson probably means ‘True’ but science is free to discover what is ‘the best explanation’, and does not deal in ‘truth’ as is. Some ‘Truth’ may be inaccessible to science.

    Nelson then tries “what if life on earth were intelligently designed”

    Then, if scientists were strictly bound by methodological naturalism, they could not discover the truth about the history of life.

    That depends on the nature of the intelligence.

    Thus, something is very wrong with methodological naturalism as a framework.

    Yes, science is limited in that it addresses scientific claims.

    But science should not say “no design”…
    …before the evidence can speak for itself.

    And science does not make such claims. Paul should really know better.

    So why do ID activists get away with defining morality and mind and agence as residing outside the physical universe?

    Because, in fact, humans know good and evil, we
    can be certain these higher levels are real.

    Totally begging the question. First of all the concept of good and evil is quite fluid, secondly there is no reason to believe that these concepts are on higher levels.

    If Paul’s thesis were of the same ‘quality’ as this presentation, then I am not surprised that its publication is still ‘pending’…

  21. #21 Inoculated Mind
    May 29, 2006

    Nelson seems to be trying to exploit the very same equivocation that Nancy Pearcey did when I met her here in Davis. That is, that your two choices are natural and intelligent causes. They say that science can only study natural causes, excluding intelligence a priori. But “natural” in the first sense is not the same as “natural” in the second. The first refers to natural as opposed to artificial. The second refers to natural as opposed to supernatural. By switching the definition during the argument they are saying that artificial = supernatural, i.e. all intelligence = supernatural.

    AND THEN, they turn around and say that science CAN point to intelligence, such as in archaeology, and forensics, Nelson’s thought-experiment being one of the latter. But they only say this when they want to say that ID is being unfairly excluded from science.

    That Nelson went down this road, trying to cover it up with a naked lie, even, makes me wonder, has this sort of confusion, whether intentional or ignorant, been a long-term pattern, or something recent that the IDers have been attempting?

    I’ll work on the questions I asked Pearcey tonight, she didn’t know what to say when I figured it out. I’ll keep ya posted.

  22. #22 386sx
    May 29, 2006

    Nelson seems to be trying to exploit the very same equivocation that Nancy Pearcey did when I met her here in Davis. That is, that your two choices are natural and intelligent causes. They say that science can only study natural causes, excluding intelligence a priori. But “natural” in the first sense is not the same as “natural” in the second. The first refers to natural as opposed to artificial. The second refers to natural as opposed to supernatural. By switching the definition during the argument they are saying that artificial = supernatural, i.e. all intelligence = supernatural.

    Bingo, dude.

    …That Nelson went down this road, trying to cover it up with a naked lie, even, makes me wonder, has this sort of confusion, whether intentional or ignorant, been a long-term pattern, or something recent that the IDers have been attempting?

    It’s old hat.

    Dave Oldridge, 2001:

    I do not believe it is a misunderstanding on the part of the professional creationist who originated the argument. I think “deliberate equivocation” would be a better description of that behavior.

    That the scientifically ignorant are taken in by the equivocation is not, however, surprising. The target audience of the professional creationist scam artist is very used to arguments from authority and tends to take them at face value. And, unless you KNOW the basis of this equivocation, the fallacy will slip right in.

    Brian Spitzer, 2002:
    Intelligent design is rife with ambiguous definitions and equivocations.

    I’m sure it’s even older than that. Millenniums older.

  23. #23 Inoculated Mind
    May 29, 2006

    Yeah, I figured it was historical. Thanks for the references, does anyone know if this particular equivocation has been around a while, or is a relatively new tactic.

  24. #24 JeremyHandlebars
    May 29, 2006

    This equivocation is the warm, smelly sheet of used toilet paper at the very centre of all creationist fantasy: vanity.

    It is nothing but pure vanity to deny that human beings and all of our culture and emotions and so on are anything other than the product of evolution. Just because my love for my family is utterly meaningless to the universe at large does not mean it is necessarily meaningless to me, but this is something your average god-botherer can’t face and hence the wellspring of all their deranged hooting.

    ‘God musta made me, cuz I’m so durned special’

    This is just a deluxe version of the same old tired argument. When chimps use tools to prepare food, is that supernatural? Is that ‘beyond and outside the natural world’? No, of course it isn’t, it is intelligence. So when we create a painting or a symphony, is that supernatural? No, it is also intelligence. Yet if you were to play it to a mollusc it would be nothing more than white noise.

    The day you find me a scallop or an oyster that delights in the genius of Shakespeare is the day I will accept that just perhaps human beings may have a little more significance than eat, shit and sleep. Perhaps.

  25. #25 Mark
    May 29, 2006

    Most of these people are probably decent human beings in other aspects of their lives. It’s just that, to them, this is all-out war, and a bit of mendacity seems trivial when you actually think you’re fighting against the minions of Satan. The difficulty for us is that we have to treat this like an actual dialog, with the normal rules of discourse. Within that context credibility and integrity matter. But to them it isn’t as important because their troops aren’t going to lose confidence in them anyway, and they just may make a few converts if they can sound good right at that moment. The benefit outweighs the cost.

    It’s hard to have a conversation with a group of people who actually think they are soldiers for Christ and you’re trying to drag the souls of their children down to hell via the Godless Theory of Evolution. The way I rationalize it to myself, so I don’t feel so bad about wasting my time, is that it isn’t for their benefit, but for others who need to be aware of the dishonesty and, well, repugnance of ID/creationist claims. I do it more for the bystanders than for the people I’m actually talking to. Making them look ridiculous won’t make them doubt themselves, but it prevents them from getting any converts when I’m around. You have to start somewhere, I guess.

  26. #26 paulp127
    May 29, 2006

    How does Paul Nelson know that the thief is not God?

  27. #27 RickD
    May 29, 2006

    Miller’s response is spot on, and paulp127 brings up the proper way to frame this question to put it as an ID analogy. We have plenty of evidence that human beings are thieves. What we do not have is evidence of “intelligent design” by a “higher intelligence”. The only way to use the stolen stereo example as a way to motivate the ID question is to say not that a human must have stolen the stereo, but that a mischievous god had stolen it.
    It would be like looking at a forest fire, and concluding that an angry dragon must have been flying by. Or seeing lightning in the sky and thinking Thor or Zeus must be up to something. ID is simply anthropomorphism.
    So the next time you hear the watchmaker argument or the car break-in argument, bring up the dragon and the forest fire. Credit me the first time. After that, it’s public domain. :)

  28. #28 JeremyHandlebars
    May 29, 2006

    > ID is simply anthropomorphism.

    Exactly right. It is Vanity with a huge great enormous capital v.

    Besides it can’t have been god because everyone knows the universe was created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster…

  29. #29 Ginger Yellow
    May 29, 2006

    Pimothy said:

    According to this position, intelligence cannot be reduced to chance and regularity and although this is a pretty big ‘begging the question’ assumption, it may help understand why ID activists may have a hard time dealing with natural intelligence.

    Dennett takes basically this position when he tries to explain why Darwinism was and is so threatening to many creationists. The whole “made in the mage of god” thing is pretty powerful for them – like the creator God, we humans as intelligent agents also have the power to create – and it informs a worldview where creation is a top-down, intelligence led process. Furthermore, it is a worldview where only intelligence can beget intelligence – this is specified complex information in a nutshell. According to Dennett many found the idea that a bottom up, even algorithmic, process could create the glory of nature, which had been after all one of the main justifications for God, sacreligious in the extreme. And the idea of a non-intelligent cause begetting intelligence, well that kicks out one of the main props for a first cause.

    Regardless, it doesn’t make what Nelson said any less of a lie.

  30. #30 plunge
    May 29, 2006

    Nothing tops the DaveScot follies that Dembski allows on his blog and even cheers on. The recent ACLU flap, where DaveScot presented a total fabrication as fact, and then instead of apologizing, actually tried to reinforce the lie, was just mindbogglingly insane.

  31. #31 Ginger Yellow
    May 29, 2006

    Nothing tops the DaveScot follies that Dembski allows on his blog and even cheers on.

    Buckingham and Bonsell’s blithe perjury in the face of testimony from several people, including videotape, has to give that DaveScot a run for his money.

  32. #32 frank schmidt
    May 29, 2006

    This incident continues to drive home the point that the literalists are mostly opposed to their co-Christians. If the fundies can say that they are more against atheistic Darwinism than, say, Catholics or main-line Protestants, then they can use that as a marketing tool to increase their numbers, influence, and not coincidentally, dollars. An evangelical like Keith Miller is their worst nightmare because it undercuts their major premise.

  33. #33 Andy Groves
    May 29, 2006

    I’ve also had to revise my opinion of Paul downwards recently, in part because of his recent article on the Biola University dog and pony show:

    http://www.idthefuture.com/2006/05/they_said_no_thanks_1.html

    When he asked me to attend the event, I declined as politely as I could. I wasn’t expecting to be listed as part of a vast evilooshunary conspiracy to not attend his party.

    I know this pales in comparison with his lies about Miller, but it seems to be becoming part of a pattern.

  34. #34 Ed Darrell
    May 29, 2006

    At the risk of derailing a rational discussion — a small risk here, I hope — may I point out that Nelson’s and Pearcey’s attempts to distinguish “supernatural” tends toward theological error in Christianity?

    ID advocates and other creationists are fond of saying that scientists refuse to look at supernatural causes, but that is not at all what any scientist says, nor is it even what Richard Lewontin meant in the one famous line he wrote which creationists strip quote with abandon. Scientists look for proximate causes, not ultimate causes. If an ultimate cause exists, generally looking at proximate causes will establish the chain of causation, clearly and convincingly. Where ID goes off the science rails is in demanding that proximate causes be viewed as error, and asking for credence given to unevidenced, non-proximate causes.

    This has theological implications. Christians generally accept the view, as Darwin did, that God does not hide God’s actions, that everything is on display for all to see, skeptic and believer alike. For Darwin (and the large majority of thinking Christians at the time) it meant that study of nature was close to a divine calling, a way to study God’s fingerprints on creation.

    Creationists have departed from that traditional Christian view, saying that God designed and then covered up the tracks. It’s the god of Oomphalos they invoke, and they should be called to task for it by their respective congregations.

    The Godfather of intelligent design is a criminal procedures lawyer, Phillip Johnson. In crimnal law, prosecutors often impute a motive to events — the fellow who poked the gun at the old lady and took her purse had a criminal desire to get her money and credit cards, the prosecutor might assume. At trial, however, proximate causes may intervene to tell a different story: The old lady beeped the magnetometer as she was passing into the courthouse, and when the security people asked to see her purse she yelled epithets about getting some “activist judge” with the contents of her purse, and refused. The man with a gun was a deputy sheriff.

    If we listened to the ID advocates, we’d put the cop in jail and let the old lady murder a judge.

    Better we let the facts speak, and follow a chain of causation revealed by proximate causes.

  35. #35 Torbjörn Larsson
    May 29, 2006

    Well. This has been an informative discussion for me.

    I find Jeremy’s oyster ingenious. Not for that it shows that emotions, morals, culture or intelligence are insignificant I think, but it really brings home to me the relative value of them. I think I will have to use that.

    Causality is a concept with several physical connotations such as determinism or lightcone causality. Translating the proximate-distal philosophical concept to physics I believe we are discussing usual lightcone causality.

    If a nonnatural event occured in an environment of lightcone causality it would be observable. But we would still have to describe a causative agent, if only as a place holder, since the environment the event occured in is causal and it stands out against it – it borrows this property from the embedding.

    So we could observe and in principle theorise about supernatural events. (Perhaps as statistically observable miracles, with the FSM or a devil as tentative causative agents.) But as Ed says we have currently no evidence which gives credence to such miraculous phenomena, and the theories would really stink due to the ambiguous nature of them. Perhaps they are exactly the same as having a contradiction in a formal theory – you can prove anything once you let such a bad idea in. I name them evil. ;-)

  36. #36 secondclass
    May 29, 2006

    If IDer’s were at all serious about developing a real theory, they would at least try to disambiguate words like natural, intelligent, and design. Instead, they capitalize on the ambiguities, which makes them great rhetoricians, but horrible scientists.

  37. #37 Paul Nelson
    May 29, 2006

    I am going to ask Keith Miller to provide me with the entire ASA committe correspondence, because (as I recall) he has quoted here only a portion of his reply, and not the relevant portion. I am not sure that the quoted passages above actually occurred as question and response in successive emails. My copies of the committee work are not archived on my current computer.

    If it turns out that I have misquoted or mispresented Keith, of course I will apologize.

  38. #38 Ed Brayton
    May 29, 2006

    Paul-

    Unless he completely contradicts himself somewhere in that correspondence, there’s no way you can wiggle out of this. In your speech, you clearly said that he did not believe that a thief was responsible for it, but instead claimed that a “natural regularity” was responsible for it. Unless Miller is a complete idiot and actually took that position after saying that a thief was obviously responsible for it (and he’s not, and he didn’t), there is nothing that can appear in the rest of the exchange that can change the reality that you have completely misrepresented his position. You had the opportunity to apologize to him for that you chose not to; it’s a bit late now.

  39. #39 386sx
    May 29, 2006

    Mr. Nelson, over at throwawayyourtv.com they have a clip of Hunter S. Thompson appearing as a guest on the Letterman show. One thing I found interesting was that Mr. Thompson said a lot of hilarious stuff, but the audience didn’t always laugh. I suspect that might be because they didn’t know that Mr. Thompson was kidding around with them. I find it quite ironic that in the case of “intelligent design”, evrybody is laughing but nobody is kidding. If, however, you guys really are only just kidding around, then you shall have my apology sir.

  40. #40 snaxalotl
    May 29, 2006

    I propose the Apologetic (explanations are only used for defense of a position already held) oriented mind functions like this: Keith didn’t accept that my FANTASTIC thief analogy (which is INDISPUTABLY isomorphic with the evidence for and existence of god) was equivalent to a demonstration that we know for sure goddidit. Although I didn’t keep track of the details, the only possible explanation for this (given the unbelievable genius of my analogy) is his childish refusal to accept that the break in demonstrates a thief. Darwinists just refuse to consider the evidence.

  41. #41 Ed Brayton
    May 29, 2006

    This comment comes not from me, but from Mark Perakh. I am posting it on his behalf because he’s having trouble with Typekey. It is unedited:

    —————————
    Begin Mark Perakh statement
    —————————

    In Paul Nelson’s post at
    http://www.idthefuture.com/2006/05/they_said_no_thanks_1.html he wrote that some of the ID opponents who were invited to the event at Biola on May 12, initially accepted the invitation but later, under “heavy lobbying” from other invited, who refused to go, changed their mind. It looks to me that Nelson meant me in that statement, because I indeed at some time accepted the invitation but then changed my mind, while other invited (like Doolittle, Inlay, Groves) declined the invitation from the very beginning. I wonder whence did Nelson get the information that I changed my mind under a “heavy lobbying” from some other unnamed ID opponents. I had clearly explained to Paul Nelson and to the event’s moderator Professor Bloom the reasons for my ultimate refusal to participate in the event in question, and my explanation did not contain any references to any lobbying, either heavy or light, on anybody’s part. The reason for my refusal to participate was very simple: in their initial letters of invitation neither Bloom nor Nelson mentioned that there will be charge of 20 bucks a person for admission to the event and that the pro-ID panelists would be paid honoraria for their participation. When I learned about the admission charge and honoraria to Behe, Wells, Nelson, Gonzales and Dembski (who later finked out), I wrote to Bloom that I couldn’t take part in an event where money would be involved. In response, professor Bloom explained that he indeed deleted from his invitation letter to me the part about admission charge and honoraria, which he characterized as “insignificant” and asserted that the event would not be a fundraising for ID. At that time I already felt a very strong aversion to the entire idea behind the event where ID opponents would be allowed a very limited opportunity to counter the ID advocates, and the money question only reinforced that aversion. Therefore Paul Nelson’s surmise about “heavy lobbying” had no foundation in facts. I am fully capable of making decisions regarding participation in this or that event on my own, without waiting for supposed unnamed lobbyists to tell me how I should behave. Nelson’s invitation letter was very warm (which was one of the reasons I initially accepted it), but his recent post where he referred to the alleged heavy lobbying is in an utter contradiction to the tenor of his first letter. Whether it was in the first kind letter or in the recent post in question that the Paul Nelson showed his real mettle, let the readers decide for themselves. Perhaps the story with his report on Keith Miller’s statements can shed some light upon this question.

    ————————-
    End Mark Perakh statement
    ————————-

  42. #42 steve s
    May 29, 2006

    Mister Paul Nelson: whether or not you were dishonest about Keith Miller, you were famously honest about intelligent design once:

    Paul Nelson said:

    Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don’t have such a theory right now, and that’s a problem. Without a theory, it’s very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now, we’ve got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as ‘irreducible complexity’ and ‘specified complexity’-but, as yet, no general theory of biological design.

    But I can’t decide something. What do you think–is Ontogenetic Depth a notion, or an intuition?

  43. #43 Torbjörn Larsson
    May 29, 2006

    I feel bad about commenting in the middle of an heating up thread, but I want to correct my mistakes and omissions in my earlier comment. Because I can. ;-)

    “But we would still have to describe a causative agent, if only as a place holder,”

    On reflection, I think the environment causality enforces a causative agent “somewhere else”, something that I acknowledge later. Maybe this can be formalised for real, though I expect it would be nontrivial. (It isn’t as if we want to expend the wasted effort of making results on ‘supernatural science’. Not even creationists do that. :-)

    An omission here is that after translating philosophy to physics one need to take care of such small actions that they can’t be resolved from natural actions.

    The first error above made me do another error, no causative agents need to be ambigious. But the conclusion holds up anyway under Ed’s observation of absent evidence, as expected.

  44. #44 Paul Nelson
    May 30, 2006

    Keith Miller kindly provided me with the remainder of our ASA correspondence about inferring intelligent causes. As I suspected, the exchange I recounted at the Palos Verdes debate occurred later in our email discussion than the passage Keith quoted above.

    I was trying to establish (i.e., get Keith to accept) that science could infer that an intelligence had acted to cause some particular pattern or event. Keith had already agreed that my car theft thought experiment showed that inferring intelligent causation — some agent deliberately breaking a window and removing valuable objects, in this instance — was reasonable. I wanted to take that agreement as a point of commonality for the remainder of our discussion.

    But Keith disagreed, strongly. He argued that the thief was a “natural physical regularity.” Here is the back-and-forth:

    ******************

    PN: I just want to make sure we agree on this point. Let’s not move too quickly to other issues. Let me state the point again so it’s clear:

    Science can legitimately infer that an intelligence has acted to cause a pattern or event in nature.

    Do you agree, Keith?

    KM: No, I cannot! I thought I made that clear. The thief is an available natural physical regularity within the known universe.

    ********************

    In light however of Keith’s unhappiness with how I recounted our exchange, I will post an expanded apology and clarification later today at the blog ID the Future (www.idthefuture.com).

  45. #45 Douglas Theobald
    May 30, 2006

    Paul –

    I would like to see the context of the portion you quoted above. It is clear to me that Keith’s inability to agree with your point stems from his interpreting “intelligence” in your statement as referring to a “supernatural intelligence” exclusively. Otherwise he would not have contrasted that with his very next statement, that a “thief is an available natural physical regularity within the known universe”. A supernatural intelligence is not.

  46. #46 moioci
    June 1, 2006

    Dr. Nelson,

    I suspect you must realize that the passage quoted above does not aid your defense whatsoever. In your speech, you stated that Dr. Miller would not call 911, as normal folk would do in the stated circumstances. That is not a resonable inference from either the earlier cited passage or the more recently posted text, hence the strong response.

    Further, in your apology posted at http://www.idthefuture.com, you say, “I said that Keith inferred a natural regularity when given my car theft thought example. This is a lie, Brayton says, because Keith clearly acknowledges that a thief — ***an intelligent cause, not a physical regularity*** — had acted in the hypothetical case.” [emphasis mine] Here you are obviously missing the point, which surprises me, since you are a Ph.D. philosopher, and thus undoubtedly comfortable with following more involved lines of thought. Hence my suspicion that you are being willfully obtuse. In brief, Dr. Miller DID infer a natural regularity, namely a human thief, subject to observation and the principles of physics, physiology, psychology, and so forth. Ed Brayton’s accusation of a lie on your part does not hinge on that at all. Rather, it’s this bit: “And rather than do what everyone in this room would do, namely get out your cell phone and dial 911 and infer that someone had broken into his car…” I wonder why you don’t see that a thief possessing human intelligence and a natural regularity are not mutually exclusive. It seems that Dr. Miller was reacting to your ambiguous use of “intelligence” as both something a thief has and as a supernatural force to supplant natural selection’s role in biology.

    Having said all that, I do appreciate the essence of your apology and its genuine sincerity.

  47. #47 delphi_ote
    June 5, 2006

    Dr. Nelson,

    Please note what you said in your debate:

    “Now what would you infer from that pattern, I put the question to Keith. And rather than do what everyone in this room would do, namely get out your cell phone and dial 911 and infer that someone had broken into his car, rather than say that event, that intelligently cause event had happened, Keith said a natural regularity occurred.”

    You publicly implied that Keith would not dial 911 if his car was broken into during the debate. There is no way around that fact. This obviously makes the man look like a complete fool, and even if we accept the quotes from your e-mails, it remains a complete misrepresentation of his position.

  48. #48 Geoff Casey
    June 12, 2006

    Ed Brayton,

    I have been following a good deal of the creation/evolution controversy for the past 25 years to see which has the more plausible position both scientifically,philosophically and theologically. I have heard many accusations made against the creationists, one being “quoting out of context”, but when I have checked out the accusation have found that the evolutionist was not misquoted at all.

    You say that you have caught creationists lying over the years. Please do post them, for I think it can be shown that they have not lied at all.

    As to the present accusation, I would say that we need to regard it in the larger context of the philosophical difference that divides creationists (or ID proponents) from evolutionists: in examination of the physical and living world evolutionists infer that God was not necessary to bring these things about whereas the other camp infers that God was required to bring it about.

    What Paul is evidently attempting to do is get Keith to admit that if human intelligence can be inferred from artifacts or evidence of human agency, surely intelligence can be inferred in the design seen in the physical and living world. If it takes intelligence of a human sort to make a computer, surely it takes even a higher intelligence to make the computer operator, especially since the human is far more intricately “wired” (on this point I was impressed long before knowing about creation science that the human brain is far too complex to be explained by evolution).

    Whereas Keith as a lay-person would normally call the police, a point I am sure Paul would recognize outside of a heated philosophical debate, Keith’s philosophical position does not allow him to jump to the conclusion that a thief was involved, since there is always n + 1 explanations possible. This is simply the point that Paul is trying to make. He is simply trying to point out the difficulty of Keith’s philosophical position (notice that Keith seems very reluctant to use the word “intelligence” even when referring to the thief or to human agency in general). When it is acknowledged that both these scholars are arguing at a philosophical level and not regarding day to day practical matters, the “lie” rather seems to fade away or perhaps disappear. But you seem to want to major on a technicallity and say “Ah, I’ve finally caught a creationist in a lie”.

    Keith rather gets bogged down in his discussion of the supernatural and science by focusing in on miracles; there is the far wider consideration of design, purpose, and amazing complexity seen in practically everying whether it is part of the physical world or the living and not only here on earth but in the celestial as well. But just as the evolutionist can look at the physical and living world and conclude, “obviously no God was at work here”, the ID proponents and creationists are just as perfectly entitled to come to the conclusion that it did take a supernatural intelligence to create these things. Isaac Newton surely did a few centuries ago as he considered the complexity of our solar system; he referred to a divine intelligence.

    Now even though Keith is correct that science really cannot be in the business of investigating miracles, except to show fraudulent behavior among humans, scientists can look at the intricacies of say metabolic pathways, the specificity of enzymes within those pathways, and the complexity of the proteins involved and come to the conclusion that a higher intelligence must have been involved.

    Thanks for giving a read.

    Geoff Casey

  49. #49 Jeffrey Kramer
    June 12, 2006

    Keith’s philosophical position does not allow him to jump to the conclusion that a thief was involved….

    No, no, no. Keith Miller has no problem coming to the conclusion that a thief was involved. What he clearly, explicitly objects to is Paul Nelson’s suggestion that, if science can conclude that thieves are involved in certain events, then science should have no problem concluding that unobserved supernatural powers are involved in other events.

    Mr. Nelson has been doggedly missing this point for over a decade now. In 1995 he and I had the following exchange (archived on the American Scientific Affiliation’s old discussion site), regarding claims made by Phillip Johnson in his book Reason in the Balance:

    NELSON: It’s fascinating to me that the t[alk].o[rigins]. crowd simply has no category for agency as a genuine type of causation. They carve up the world into natural causes and miracles, and seem completely blind that agency — intelligent causation — is not ipso facto “miraculous”…. Suppose the engineers go out to learn why a bridge fell. They begin with natural causes (e.g., metal fatigue), and exhaust those. In the course of their investigation, however, they discover certain patterns of evidence that lead them to think the bridge was sabotaged. It fell because someone intended it to fall. That’s a real possibility. But, on returning to report their findings, they’re told, “nonsense…there must be a natural explanation. Keep looking! Don’t come to us with these magical hypotheses.” Would we blame the engineers for scratching their heads?

    KRAMER: The argument thus seems to be:
    P1) Scientists (like the engineers above) consider intelligent agency all
    the time;
    P2) Intelligent agency is not a natural cause;
    Conclusion) Therefore it is not the case that scientists only consider natural causes, and therefore it is the biological establishment which is being arbitrary in refusing to consider intelligent agency (design) as the cause of life.

    I think that when this argument is put in formal terms, Premise 2 fairly
    jumps out and demands an objection. Certainly I (and all philosophical
    naturalists I know) would classify the intentions, desires, and goal-directed actions of sentient beings like ourselves as part of the natural world. In the case of Nelson’s engineer/detective, the intentional act of sabotage is a perfectly natural (in both senses) explanation, given certain facts. Sabotage is in principle observable, and has often been observed. The traces of sabotage form patterns which are to a large extent quantifiable and repeatable. (If they were not, neither engineers nor jurors would have any confidence in relying on them.) It is those standards, roughly speaking, which form the criteria for methodological naturalism as I understand it.

    Now it is possible that there is some theory of intelligent design which
    could meet these standards. It is logically possible, for example, that life on earth developed through artificial selection by aliens of superior intelligence, and that once we become aware of their modus operandi we will see signs of it on earth. But that is obviously not the point of Johnson’s argument, nor are school-board fights being waged throughout the country over the exclusion of such a possibility from the biology texts. What the creationists are fighting for is not recognition of the possibility of some such “intelligent design,” or of intelligent design at all in the abstract, but recognition of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: whose modus operandi is (so far as we can tell) utterly inaccessible to scientific investigation.

    I don’t have the record of Paul’s response, but I don’t think he ever addressed this point.

    http://www.asa3.org/archive/evolution/199505-10/1283.html

  50. #50 Jeffrey Kramer
    June 12, 2006

    Everything down to and including “inaccessible to scientific investigation” should have been in italics, indicating it was part of my comments in 1995.

    Also, hi to Ed and Troy from another old Compuserve vet.

  51. #51 Raging Bee
    June 12, 2006

    Geoff Casey wrote:

    What Paul is evidently attempting to do is get Keith to admit that if human intelligence can be inferred from artifacts or evidence of human agency, surely intelligence can be inferred in the design seen in the physical and living world.

    First, this is a non-sequitur. Second, Ed has already repeatedly given quotes and context to demonstrate exactly how Paul lied. Third, if this was the thrust of Paul’s argument, then all that noise about whether or not Keith would have called the cops was a distraction from that argument. Why the distraction? Was Paul easily nudged off-message? Or was he looking for a way to distract attention from the vacuity of his own arguments?

    If it takes intelligence of a human sort to make a computer, surely it takes even a higher intelligence to make the computer operator…

    Biologists, psychologists and other scientists have explained, in great detail, over many years, how the computer operator can be “made” by purely natural processes. If you don’t have the time to read all the explanations, or if you simply choose a theistic explanation for the origin of human intelligence, that’s perfectly okay. Just don’t pretend your preference constitutes “science,” or that your feelings on this matter somehow “trump” science.

    PS: What’s the creationist methodology for determining the age of the Earth? And what age have they established for the Earth?

  52. #52 Ed Brayton
    June 12, 2006

    Jeffrey Kramer wrote:

    In the case of Nelson’s engineer/detective, the intentional act of sabotage is a perfectly natural (in both senses) explanation, given certain facts. Sabotage is in principle observable, and has often been observed. The traces of sabotage form patterns which are to a large extent quantifiable and repeatable. (If they were not, neither engineers nor jurors would have any confidence in relying on them.) It is those standards, roughly speaking, which form the criteria for methodological naturalism as I understand it.

    This is precisely right. We can infer the activity of human action because we know how humans operate, what our limitations are, what motivates us, and so forth. We can observe how a bridge is blown up and predict the sorts of evidence that such sabotage would leave behind – the type of fuel used for the explosion, where it would be placed, the pattern of debris, and so forth. All of that makes the possibility of sabotage testable and falsifiable. Now let’s take Paul’s example of the bridge collapsing and try to test it. What would a disembodied, supernatural entity do to make a bridge collapse? I have no idea. Neither does anyone else. It’s never been observed, we have no idea what kind of limitations, if any, there are on the abilities of this entity. For all we know, it could simply snap its fingers and the bridge could disappear, or all of the atomic bonds in it could dissolve instantaneously. Or maybe not. We have no way of knowing and thus no way of making any predictions about the type of evidence such action might leave behind. Indeed, such an entity might, for all we know, simply work through natural processes and send along an earthquake to bring the bridge down, mimicking natural processes and rendering the true cause of the collapse undetectable. That’s the thing about supernatural causation – it can be invoked to explain absolutely any set of data, including entirely opposite sets of data. And any explanation that can explain anything actually explains nothing.

  53. #53 dorkafork
    August 5, 2006

    The bridge saboteur would have used a method that follows natural laws, he wouldn’t have “miracled” the bridge down.

    Nelson’s theif example is precisely backwards. The scientist would say it was a theif, the ID proponent would say “And on what basis do you rule out leprechauns?”

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