Defining terms (or, I got that ID survey, too)

Being identified as "pro-science" is pretty cool, given that some people get the idea (from my kvetching about ethics) that I'm against science. (I'm against sloppy or dishonest methodology masquerading as science, but that doesn't make me an enemy of science.) But that was about the only part of the widely distributed ID survey that gave me the warm fuzzies.

What bugs me the most about the survey is that it isn't looking for actual information -- or, if it is, it's very badly designed -- so much as it is looking to force a certain response from the targeted respondants. Really, we're talking question design on par with Stephen Colbert's standard interview closer: "George W. Bush: great president, or the greatest president?"

The survey basically holds up a (very narrow) definition of creationism, and asks the respondant to compare it to intelligent design -- which is not defined at all on the survey. (Meanwhile, a definition is provided for evolution, although the survey doesn't ask at all about points of similarity or difference between evolution and either of the other two positions.)

Why leave "intelligent design" undefined here? Is the point to find out how much "pro-science" folks know about the details of "intelligent design"? If "intelligent design" is left undefined here, does that mean that there is just a single, well-defined "intelligent design" position, and all of its adherents march in lockstep (not to say dogmatically)?

Most of the items ask what the position defined as "creationism" and what the (undefined) position described as "intelligent design" require -- what commitments about Biblical creation account(s)*, age of the earth, etc., they logically entail. These items strike me as problematic for a couple of reasons. First off, scientists (and by extension, one might think, "pro-science" bloggers) are trained to be rather more careful than most about logical entailment. So, the targeted respondants could be expected to acknowledge differences in what two positions require even if, as a matter of fact, most of the people who actually hold these positions actually accept many of the same beliefs. In other words, they might recognize the possibility that someone could advocate ID without identifying the designer as the Christian God -- even while holding that this possibility is so far only theoretical. In addition, there's the difficulty in figuring out what is logically entailed by a position that has not been defined.

And of course, holding position X doesn't require that all of one's beliefs be logical consequences of position X. Scientists believe lots of things over and above what their theories commit them to. (Newton's laws don't tell you how many planets there are obeying them.) Probably it's good if your beliefs don't contradict each other, but that still gives you plenty of room to maneuver.

So, is the point to get the science camp to "admit" that creationism and ID are different? Is the point to show the science camp to be ignorant if they claim creationism and ID (not defined) are the same? Either way, there's no good way, in the survey as constructed, to distinguish between what's required by the two positions and what's believed by the people who claim to hold either of these positions.

Is this survey being administered to supporters of ID or creationism? How do they respond to the questions about the "points of similarity" between the two positions? To my mind, that would be the more interesting pool of responses to examine.

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*By my count, Genesis contains two distinct creation accounts. So, if we're going to go all literal -- which one?

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Surely you can't call a notion "undefined" that says (in its entirety) "Sometime or other, some intelligent agent(s) or other designed something or other, and then somehow or other manufactured it without leaving any trace of either the designer or the manufacturing process", can you? Well, can you?

Hey, as an "outsider", maybe I'm not privy to the "official" notion or "theory" or dogma or whatever it is. On surveys where everything else is defined, I'm unwilling to commit to claims about the term of art that isn't defined.

I blame growing up in a house with a lawyer ...

Your are correct about there being two creation accounts in Genesis. There is also at least one other creation account in the Bible. Check out Psalm 74 for example or better yet check out Chris Heard's post on why he isn't a creationist.

But the [URL=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babel_fish]babel fish[/URL] is a dead giveaway, isn't it?

It's rather theologically disconcerting to say that the fact that there is existence proves the hand of divinity in it. I'm not talking logically faulty, I'm talking theologically. There's a spiritual weakness in needing articles of faith to be assigned the strength of facts.

In (dirty) politics, that survey might be called a "push poll."

By Raquel Maria (not verified) on 30 Jan 2006 #permalink

.INTELLIGENT DESIGNER is a inevitable step towards the truth, by wrong way. Of course there were hidden variables, hidden forces, driving terrestrial atoms to organize biological systems. So, the scientific viewpoint in biogenesis and evolution are incomplete. We need something else. Something that is the author behind the hidden variables. We can say about "previous designer". Only that: we do not know anything more than that. It is stupid to say that the previous design was intelligent. But it is stupid too do not see the hidden variables organizing mass of subsistems (atoms)in a complex system. Maybe the right thing to say is "previous natural's system design".
. Some half-living system is the ancestral of terrestrial biological systems. We need looking for it. But, if we becomes mysticals like the evolutionary scientists and the people from ID, we will not find the truh.