The Intersection

Arguing By Definition

Well, I just started reading The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. All in all, I find Wells fairly lucid at the beginning of this book and I agree with most of the definitions he offers about what “evolution” is, what “creation” is, and so forth. In short, Wells starts out a lot better than Tom Bethell, his fellow author in the Regnery Politically Incorrect Guides series.

However, I don’t agree with the following from Wells’ page 8:

…since intelligent design relies upon scientific evidence rather than on Scripture or religious doctrines, it is not biblical creationism. Intelligent design makes no claims about biblical chronology, and biblical creationists have clearly distinguished their views from ID…

ID does not tell us the identity of the designer. Although most proponents of ID believe that the designer is the God of the Bible, they acknowledge that this belief goes beyond the scientific evidence. Thus ID is not the same as nineteenth-century natural theology, which reasoned from nature to the attributes of God. Instead, ID restricts itself to a simple question: does the evidence point to design in nature? The answer to this question–yes or no–carries implications for religious belief, but the question can be asked and answered without presupposing those implications.

Among other things, I thought natural theology reasoned to the existence of God. But leave that aside. Here’s your first chance to critique Wells’ on substantive grounds–no attacking of religion–so let ‘er rip…

P.S.: Wells may misrepresent evolution historian Ronald Numbers in his first chapter, writing that Numbers “says it is inaccurate to call ID creationism–though it is the easiest way to discredit it.” Compare that with how I described Numbers’ view in my own book on p. 174: “Discovery’s philosophical critique of modern science is probably the main thing that sets it apart from older forms of antievolutionism according to creationism historian Ronald Numbers.” Those don’t seem the same thing to me, but I’ll look into this further…

Comments

  1. #1 John Lynch
    August 17, 2006

    Chris:

    Generally speaking, natural theology had *two* aspects;

    1) The argument to design (i.e. argument that there was organized complexity to be explained) and from there to a designer, and

    2) The argument from design to the attributes of that designer.

    Now, while #1 is interesting, Wells is being a little disengenious. ID is still a 19thC argument (#1) that frankly isn’t interesting unless #2 is also examined.

  2. #2 James Hrynyshyn
    August 17, 2006

    Well, the obvious problem crops up right away with “since intelligent design relies upon scientific evidence…”

    As we all know, that’s simply not true. ID relies on an absence of scientific evidence and explanation (the alleged “irreducible complexity”), rather the presence of evidence. It’s what makes ID non-science in the first place. And even if that weren’t the case, where’s the evidence of which he writes?

    I suppose if you ignore this initial massive logical flaw, then the rest of Wells’ description seems fine — a little wistful, perhaps, in terms of how much thought the adherents of ID have given to the subject — but essentially OK.

  3. #3 J-Dog
    August 17, 2006

    Chris – Yes, listen to James H!

    As we all know, that’s simply not true. ID relies on an absence of scientific evidence and explanation (the alleged “irreducible complexity”), rather the presence of evidence. It’s what makes ID non-science in the first place. And even if that weren’t the case, where’s the evidence of which he writes?

    You can, and should, beat Wells up one side and down the other on this point. He has no answer, and will never have an answer other than goddiit…

    ps: Please tell Wells he is an idiot for me! Thank you.

  4. #4 BlueIndependent
    August 17, 2006

    I have no substantive points to add regarding your reading, but I would say that basing ID on “the God of the Bible” immediately throws its hypotheses into question. Why is the God of the Bible worth more than the God of the Torah or Quran? What of other monotheistic religions? What about religions that do not have a god?

    Basing an umbrella theory on one religion amongst many is subjective at its very core, and thus, not honestly testable. This is of course obvious, but I really think that evolution’s supporters need to make hay about the more than obvious existence of multiple religions, and how this fact ruins ID before it leaves the gate.

    Now if ID’s intent was to show design as being a real sign of an all-powerful god regardless of religion, then I would say OK fine. But this of course assumes all religions are monotheistic, which is obviously false.

  5. #5 mark
    August 17, 2006

    And how does Wells explain the evolution of Of Pandas and People from an out-an-out Creationist text to an Intelligent Design text? Lots of examples of Creationism’s name change can be found in the transcript of Barbara Forrest’s Kitzmiller v. Dover testimony. What was her chief weapon? Their own words!

  6. #6 dogscratcher
    August 17, 2006

    “does the evidence point to design in nature?”

    Personally, I don’t know why people don’t hammer these guys more about their use of the word “design.” Implicit within their usage is “creation.” When they say something appears designed, they don’t just mean that it was designed, they mean that it was both designed and created.

    The “design” part becomes a trivial observation to the creation. And of course creation is synonomous to “magic.”

    Ken Miller pointed this out in a presentation at Case Western U. about a year ago, but it doesn’t seem to have “caught on.”

  7. #7 Josh
    August 17, 2006

    When you debate him, I’d urge you strongly away from relatively technical arguments like these. James H is entirely right, and I agree with him wholeheartedly, but it won’t convince anyone listening to Fox Radio.

    I’d suggest keeping pressure on him to produce positive evidence that IDC offers anything of scientific value. Don’t let him frame it as “If not evolution, then IDC.” Make him present a positive case. Don’t avoid answering his challenges, but after addressing the issue he raises, hold him to answering the same question he poses to you.

    I tried that a while back on Dembski’s blog, to decent success.

  8. #8 Corkscrew
    August 17, 2006

    since intelligent design relies upon scientific evidence rather than on Scripture or religious doctrines

    The best way of describing it would be to say that Intelligent Design relies on mathematical arguments, which would be all well and good except that the mathematical community thinks the arguments are daft. Cue cries of “written in jello”.

    Two notes:

    1) Behe’s argument is also a mathematical one – there’s no scientific evidence for his claim that irreducible complexity can’t evolve, and in fact there’s considerable evidence against the notion.

    2) At some point it would be a very good idea to note that Intelligent Design is different from intelligent design. The latter is more commonly known as theism or deism, and isn’t something that science can really comment on. The former is a specific set of arguments intended to demonstrate the truth of theism, and the dodginess of those arguments does the theistic cause no good at all.

    Mark has a good point about Of Pandas And People. It might be useful to read out the before-and-after quotes.

  9. #9 Anonymous
    August 17, 2006

    Instead, ID restricts itself to a simple question: does the evidence point to design in nature?

    Maybe stab at the heart of the design argument – it defines “design” somehow and assumes that you can distinguish e.g. a designed organism from an undesigned one. Since we have no a priori knowledge of the design status of any organism, there is no way to test whether the definition is a good one before using it.

    Plus, I LOVE Mark’s suggestion, even if it is ad hominem. Although… don’t murder cases include character witnesses?

  10. #10 Dark Tent
    August 17, 2006

    The trademark of every good scientific theory is that it can be shown to be false.

    In his “Origin of Species” Darwin actually suggested a way of disproving his theory of evolution by natural selection.

    In fact, that is where the ID proponents got the “irreducible complexity” idea in the first place — from Darwin himself!

    Though Darwin did not use the term “irreducible complexity”, he proposed that if someone could provide such a case, it would strike a fatal blow to his theory.

    I’d ask Dr. Wells the following simple question:

    If ID is indeed a scientific theory, then what is the experimental test that would prove ID false?

  11. #11 Cameron
    August 17, 2006

    This is somewhat off topic. I’m in the last week of an evolutionary biology class for my master’s degree. My class is composed entirely of science teachers at various levels, mostly 9-12. We have been having an open forum on what type of alternative views are appropriate in a science class, i.e. ID. I have been very surprised by the number of teachers who think it is perfectly fine to introduce ID as an alternative, even after pointing out that it lacks any scientific substance. All of those in favor have admitted to being religious themselves, which certainly factors into their acceptance of ID. Since my program is through the U. of Maryland, most of the teachers are from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. It’s made me realize that ID is much more accepted (or tolerated) than I had thought previously.

  12. #12 Inoculated Mind
    August 17, 2006

    Here are a couple interesting questions you could ask –

    How do they know that the designer(s) is/are intelligent, when that is a characteristic of the designer?

    ID proponents often state that you can only tell that the designer intended to design the object in question – but even that requires assuming things about the designer. It could have intended to design entirely different structures, but made the ones that it did on accident.

    Finally, ID is approaching its 10 year anniversary, I guess that means the anniversary of Behe’s book. However, in those ten years, not a SINGLE experiment was done to test any aspect of the supposed “theory” of intelligent design, why is that? Wells might bring up Behe & Snokes, 2004, at which point you can point out that that was a test of evolution, not design. And even though Behe stacked the deck against evolution, such as excluding sexual reproduction, small population size, he still ended up with the conclusion that a 2-part irreducibly complex system could evolve 1.2 million times per year in the humonguous population of bacteria on this Earth.

    Also, they keep attacking “methodological naturalism,” saying that science can do without it. Know what that is? The Scientific Method. They want science without the scientific method, which makes no sense at all.

  13. #13 Gerry L
    August 17, 2006

    Wells — like all IDers — use “evidence” or “scientific evidence” almost like a magical incantation. As the others have said, challenge him to provide the evidence he alludes to, then call him on it when all he can produce is an appearance of design.

    Appearance of design does not equal evidence of design.

  14. #14 Dark Tent
    August 17, 2006

    Cameron:

    I am curious. Did anyone suggest just how they might “introduce it as an alternative”?

    Though I would not propose it as an “alternative” to Darwinian evolution, I can see the value of using ID as an example of something that does not meet the standard of a “scientific theory” — which most Americans seems to have a dismal understanding of.

    I once had an e-mail exchange with one of the Dover PA school board members who had no clue what a “scientific theory” is.

    He used the term “theory” as if it were the same as a ” guess” or a “hunch” (as in “It’s just a theory”), which may actually be the understanding that most Americans have of “scientific theory.”

  15. #15 Cameron
    August 18, 2006

    Dark Tent:

    Most of the teachers who support ID simply say that there are gaps in modern evolutionary theory and students should therefore be exposed to other ideas. It was pointed out that there are gaps in every field of science and most don’t invoke supernatural ideas to explain them. They also have a hard time coming up with any evidence in support of ID. It their eyes it’s simply being open-minded and fair to the students. There are several of us who disagreed completely, and hopefully we caused a few teachers to think more carefully on the subject.

  16. #16 SteveF
    August 18, 2006

    Chris, in addition to the wedge document, I highly recommend you make use of a letter written by Henry Morris to Dembski and basically accuses the ID crowd of simply re-hashing old creationist arguments. I can’t find the original (bit pressed for time), but here is Dembski’s response:

    http://www.designinference.com/documents/2005.02.Reply_to_Henry_Morris.htm

  17. #17 RickD
    August 18, 2006

    I agree with most of the comments above. Strike hard at the allegation that ID is based on “scientific evidence”. It’s not. Also challenge any ID proponent to describe any kind of experiment that might falsify the theory. They will inevitably fail to do so.

    “Intelligent design” is simply anthropomorphism dressed up as a scientific theory. What the ID proponents would like is to occupy an intellectual niche where their idea somehow becomes the default alternative to evolution. It should not even get that much respect. It is, at best, a metaphysical theory that has no relation to science whatsoever.

  18. #18 GCT
    August 18, 2006

    Dark Tent’s idea was to ask:
    “If ID is indeed a scientific theory, then what is the experimental test that would prove ID false?”

    If you ask this, you might get the standard reply that one can falsify ID by showing that blind, materialistic forces can account for the origin of life and variation of species. We all know that it is a bogus answer that doesn’t explain anything, nor does it really make ID falsifiable, but it would be difficult to explain that to a lay audience, especially with limited time. It’s a good idea, but it could backfire in the setting that you have to work with.

    He could also answer that question by using the criteria set forth in the Privileged Planet. Those criteria are also bogus, but once again it would be hard to explain that in a limited amount of time over the radio.

  19. #19 GCT
    August 18, 2006

    “Instead, ID restricts itself to a simple question: does the evidence point to design in nature?”

    This may be an area where you can make some good points. The way they phrase it, ID is doomed to being completely useless to us. They can hang a label on this critter or that critter and say, “That was designed,” but then what? Without delving into the nature, intent, or characteristics of the designer, we’ve hit a brick wall. There is no utility in it.

    Further, without providing positive evidence of a designer they seek to explain the same phenomena that is already explained without adding on unnecessary entities and thus violating Occam’s Razor.

  20. #20 Cash
    August 18, 2006

    No set of definitions is going to satisfy everyone. Creationism/ID can’t be proved and Darwinism/Evolution can’t be proved, it just has evidence. So the people arguing ID has no merit aren’t putting it scientifically, they are just saying the position they have taken is right because it has more evidence than the alternative.

    This is why it’s better to be a physicist. What we know, we know, and what we don’t know, we gloss over. ; ) We don’t get into arguments about who created light we just want to know what it is.

  21. #21 phobos
    August 18, 2006

    If ID simply seeks an answer to that yes or no design question, then all it will ever be, at best, is a hypothesis and not a theory.

    Relies on scientific evidence? Where are their experiments, their research, their peer-reviewed papers…?

  22. #22 Dark Tent
    August 18, 2006

    Cameron: Thanks fo the reply. Thanks also for making your position known to the other teachers. The problem, as you well know, is that presenting nonsientific ideas to stsudents in a scientific setting is itself very unfair. It may put those stduents at a future disadvantage.

    GCT: It is possible, as you say, that Wells would use “the reply that one can falsify ID by showing that blind, materialistic forces can account for the origin of life and variation of species”.

    But its pretty easy to explain that this is not a test to disprove ID, but little more than an effort to change the subject.

    One of the important things that came out of the Dover trial was the Behe was actually forced during his testimony to admit that ID does not qualify as a scientific theory according to the standard definition. I think it is important to keep hammering this point home because as long as ID is not considered science, it will be subject to legal challenge when local school boards try to include it in the curriculum.

    I think your point about Occam’s razor is excellent. ID has no real explanatory or predictive value. One of the values of a scientific theory is that it suggests the existence of natural phenomena (eg black holes) that we have never seen before. ID suggests nothing. It just is. It’s kind of like the “ether” before Einstein came along.

    After Einstein proposed his Special Relativity theory, many (though not all) physicists gladly jettisoned the ether concept because it added nothing of value to the description of how nature works and actually presented a lot of problems that had to be “explained away” with lots of ad hoc assumptions and pretezel logic. ID is on similar footing.

  23. #23 morgan-lynn lamberth
    August 18, 2006

    I.D. is just more theistic double talk ! No facts .

  24. #24 Alex
    August 18, 2006

    In support of Corkscrew and James H, not only does ID rely on the absence of scientific evididence, its foundational principles have been descredited. Irreducable complexity has been disected and shown to be a straw man argument. From their eye argument, flagella argument, human blood clotting etc..

    Basically any science they ever try to do falls apart under the scrutiny of experts in the field of study.

    http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/irreducible_complexity/

    Alos, reading the testimony and Judge’s conclusions in the Kitmiller trial is pretty damning regarding ID and science.

  25. #25 Dark Tent
    August 18, 2006

    Hey, forget Wells.

    How about that mythical mutant-hybrid beast that was just killed by a car up in Maine?

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,208683,00.html

    I have a theory about it but won’t repeat it here, since it would be ridiculed for sure (and no it doesn’t involve extraterestrials or nookyalur experiments at the local small animal hospital).

  26. #26 alienward
    August 18, 2006

    In the first paragraph in the quote in the opening post, Wells is saying ID says nothing about when ID happened. And the second paragraph says ID says nothing about who or what did the designing. Based on this from the Science Fair Handbook at school.discovery.com:

    “A science project is like a mystery in which you are the detective searching for answers. Science projects let you practice and exhibit your detective skills. You not only get to select which mystery to solve, but you can creatively design methods for uncovering clues that will lead to the final revelation of who, what, when, where, how, and why. This book will give you guidance and ideas. It’s your job to discover the answers!”

    Wells’ claim that ID doesn’t explain who, what, and when is enough to show that ID is not science and isn’t even open to the scientific method as understood by third graders.

  27. #27 Flydoc
    August 23, 2006

    Basically ID boils down to “I don’t understand how it could have happened by evolution, therefore it didn’t.” An intellectually empty point of view. Not science, not a theory, not an hypothesis, not even interesting.

  28. #28 Mike
    August 24, 2006

    I think ID is about design detection, not divine detection. It does not necessitate that an intelligent agent be divine, any more than it necessitates the intelligent agent to be human. It simply leaves the door open for a completely objective determination for whether an object or event is designed, or not. In fact, anything less would not be good science.

    If I could propose a question, maybe to ask yourself, it would be.. “Should we seek objective truth in science, following wherever the evidence leads, even if it is outside of an existing scientific paradigm”

  29. #29 Fred Bortz
    August 25, 2006

    I think ID is about design detection, not divine detection. It does not necessitate that an intelligent agent be divine, any more than it necessitates the intelligent agent to be human. It simply leaves the door open for a completely objective determination for whether an object or event is designed, or not.

    This reminded me of the contention regarding the “fossils” in Mars Meteorite ALH84001 that began in August, 1996. In this case, the people arguing for biotic origins had the burden of proof, and the people on the other side of the argument only had to propose nonbiotic alternatives. A decade later, the consensus favors the non-life arguments, though all admit there is room for discussion.

    I wrote a middle-grade book about it ( http://www.fredbortz.com/MFOE.htm ) and gave it a title that ended in a question mark (Martian Fossils on Earth? The Story of Meteorite ALH84001). All chapter titles were questions, including “Do All Scientists Agree About These Findings?”

    In this case, those proposing intelligent design rather than natural ordering are the ones with the burden of proof. Unlike those arguing for biotic origin of the Martian fossils who had four lines of evidence to support their interpretation, the ID folks produce only their statement that it looks as if it were designed.

    Meanwhile, there is an enormous body of evidence showing that order and complexity of life can arise through natural processes.

    From a scientific perspective, it seems that the past-life-on-Mars hypothesis has a significant chance to become the consensus view as new evidence becomes available, but the ID viewpoint offers no suggestion of where to find supporting evidence.

  30. #30 Phil
    January 5, 2007

    There’s lots of straw men being set up here by really strong bias. Like Flydoc saying “Basically ID boils down to “I don’t understand how it could have happened by evolution, therefore it didn’t” when he doesn’t even believe it, accept it or probably really know what it is all about. His statement is just personal opinion, and false. “And that’s OK” So this forum is officially null and void in my mind.

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