Saturday, December 10, 2005

Intelligent Design Might Be Meeting Its Maker? #2

Part 2/3 of The New York Times' religion correspondent Laurie Goodstein's `obituary' on ID, with my comments bold and in square brackets.

Intelligent Design Might Be Meeting Its Maker
The New York Times
Published: December 4, 2005

[Continued from part 1]

While intelligent design has hit obstacles among scientists, it has also failed to find a warm embrace at many evangelical Christian colleges. Even at conservative schools, scholars and theologians who were initially excited about intelligent design say they have come to find its arguments unconvincing. They, too, have been greatly swayed by the scientists at their own institutions and elsewhere who have examined intelligent design and found it insufficiently substantiated in comparison to evolution. [To answer this vacuous claim, I quote the Discovery Institute's John West:

Intelligent Design Might Be Meeting Its Maker?: Ignorance on Display in the New York Times ... Ms. Goodstein was clearly surprised to learn that there are some scholars at evangelical universities who are critical of ID. In her own mind, she interpreted their criticism as disillusionment by those who had initially favored ID. As she writes in her article: "Even at conservative schools, scholars and theologians who were initially excited about intelligent design say they have come to find its arguments unconvincing." I told Ms. Goodstein that it was hard to respond to such a claim unless she gave me more specifics--such as the actual names of the scholars she was talking about. I also pressed her as to how she knew that these "scholars and theologians" had ever been open to intelligent design. As our conversation progressed, it became clear that Ms. Goodstein did not know that many evangelical scientists and theologians are Darwinists who have been critical of intelligent design from the very start. ... John West on December 4, 2005 ... .
See also my quote of Johnson in part 1, which begins, "Ironically, while my critique of Darwinism and scientific naturalism has gained a hearing in secular academic debates, it has met with surprising resistance from theistic evolutionists in the Christian academic world.". But even that there are "conservative schools, scholars and theologians who .... find [ID's] arguments unconvincing", so what? ID is a scientific theory and so it does not rely on the imprimatur of "evangelical Christian colleges" any more than any other scientific theory does. Indeed, some Christian "scholars and theologians" are not happy with ID because it is not specifically Christian enough, e.g. it does not identify the designer as the Christian God:
"Many members of the young earth creation movement emphatically do not think that intelligent design is good theology. They are sharply critical of the ID advocates, even though they sometimes adopt the arguments that the latter advance. From the YEC point of view, ID is almost as wrong as evolution, and for the exact same reason: IDers do not start with the Bible, and their science is not driven by a need to provide support for a literal reading of Genesis. That is the express purpose of young earth creationism, as we have seen. ... The most support that the biggest popular creation organization, Answers in Genesis, offers ID is to say that `we neither count ourselves a part of this movement nor campaign against it,' according to spokesman Carl Wieland, CEO of Answers in Genesis, Australia. He also notes: `God, who used even the pagan king Cyrus for His purposes, may use the IDM in spite of the concerns we have raised,' [Wieland C., `AiG’s views on the Intelligent Design Movement,' Answers in Genesis, 30 August 2002] which, considering that Cyrus was a famous old tyrant, is hardly a ringing endorsement. Kurt Wise adds: `Being compatible with virtually all worldviews, ID gives very little insight into God, thus gives very little (to no) glory to Him, and is thus of very little use to me.'" (O'Leary D., "By Design or by Chance? : The Growing Controversy on the Origins of Life in the Universe," 2004, p.208).]

"It can function as one of those ambiguous signs in the world that point to an intelligent creator and help support the faith of the faithful, but it just doesn't have the compelling or explanatory power to have much of an impact on the academy," said Frank D. Macchia, a professor of Christian theology at Vanguard University, in Costa Mesa, Calif., which is affiliated with the Assemblies of God, the nation's largest Pentecostal denomination. [Quite frankly I have never heard of "Frank D. Macchia", or "Vanguard University," and anyway his quoted words don't make sense. It is not ID that "can function as one of those ambiguous [sic] signs in the world that point to an intelligent creator" but the evidence in nature which ID provides. If Macchia agrees that the evidence of nature "can function as ... signs in the world that point to an intelligent creator" then he is on ID's side! As for ID "just doesn't have the compelling or explanatory power to have much of an impact on the academy", the only question is whether ID is true (i.e. there is empirically detectable evidence of design in nature) , not whether an "academy" comprised 90-95% of atheist/agnostics will ever find it "compelling":

"The 1998 NAS members perhaps provide a more immaculate sample of the elite than Leuba's starred entries did. Congress created the National Academy of Sciences in 1863, and after naming its first members Congress empowered them and their successors to choose all later members. Its current membership of 1,800 remains the closest thing to peerage in American science. And their responses validate Leuba's prediction of the beliefs of topflight scientists generations from his time. Disbelief among NAS members responding to our survey exceeded 90 percent. The increase may simply reflect that they are more elite than Leuba's `greater' scientists, but this interpretation would also please Leuba. NAS biologists are the most skeptical, with 95 percent of our respondents evincing atheism and agnosticism. ... The NAS is mindful of its obligation to serve the public, but it can be a delicate course to maneuver. Disbelief and belief have often become a major public relations issue for science in religious America. ... Yet, to its credit, in 1998 the NAS issued a report proudly promoting the teaching of evolution in public school. `Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral,' the report cautiously begins, before launching its broadside of scientific arguments against religious objections to teaching evolution. But the irony is remarkable: a group of specialists who are nearly all nonbelievers-and who believe that science compels such a conclusion-told the public that `science is neutral' on the God question." (Larson E.J. & Witham L., "Scientists and Religion in America," Scientific American, Vol. 281, No. 3, September 1999, pp.78-83, p.81).]

At Wheaton College, a prominent evangelical university in Illinois, intelligent design surfaces in the curriculum only as part of an interdisciplinary elective on the origins of life, in which students study evolution and competing theories from theological, scientific and historical perspectives, according to a college spokesperson. [The ID movement itself would be pleased with that and not expect any more than that at this early stage of ID's development. Recently the Discovery Institute's Mark Ryland speaking of the Dover trial, pointed out that, "When asked for our opinion, we always tell people: don't teach intelligent design. There's no curriculum developed for it ... there's just all these good reasons why you should not to go down that path":

"MARK RYLAND (DI): Sure, I'd be happy to respond. Let me back up first and say: The Discovery Institute never set out to have a school board, schools, get into this issue. We've never encouraged people to do it, we've never promoted it. We have, unfortunately, gotten sucked into it, because we have a lot of expertise in the issue, that people are interested in. When asked for our opinion, we always tell people: don't teach intelligent design. There's no curriculum developed for it, you're [sic] teachers are likely to be hostile towards it, I mean there's just all these good reasons why you should not to go down that path. If you want to do anything, you should teach the evidence for and against Darwin's theory. Teach it dialectically. And despite all the hoopla you've heard today, there is a great deal of -- many, many problems with Darwin's theory, in particular the power of NS and RV to do the astounding things that are attributed to them. .... So that's the background. And what's happened in the foreground was, when it came to the Dover school district, we advised them not to institute the policy they advised. In fact, I personally went and met with them, and actually Richard [Thompson] was there the same day, and they didn't listen to me, that's fine, they can do what they want, I have no power and control over them. But from the start we just disagreed that this was a good place, a good time and place to have this battle -- which is risky, in the sense that there's a potential for rulings that this is somehow unconstitutional." (Ryland M., "Discovery Institute and Thomas More Law Center Squabble in AEI Forum," National Center for Science Education, October 23, 2005. My emphasis).]

The only university where intelligent design has gained a major institutional foothold is a seminary. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., created a Center for Science and Theology for William A. Dembski, a leading proponent of intelligent design, after he left Baylor, a Baptist university in Texas, amid protests by faculty members opposed to teaching it. [John West points out that this first statement is false:

Intelligent Design Might Be Meeting Its Maker? Ignorance on Display in the New York Times ... Really? Biola University in Los Angeles has held several national academic conferences on intelligent design and has even started a new master's program that prominently features the study of ID. In addition, professors at a number of other colleges have instituted courses that fairly examine the debate over intelligent design. (See, for example, this article about a new course at a college in Illinois).]
Intelligent design and Mr. Dembski, a philosopher and mathematician, should have been a good fit for Baylor, which says its mission is "advancing the frontiers of knowledge while cultivating a Christian world view." But Baylor, like many evangelical universities, has many scholars who see no contradiction in believing in God and evolution. [And as for "Intelligent design and Mr. Dembski ... should have been a good fit for Baylor" West again points out Goodstein's ignorance of "the acrimonious internal struggles at Baylor to define its identity":
"the acrimonious internal struggles at Baylor to define its identity, struggles that recently led to the resignation of Baylor's president. Given the sharp ideological disagreements that exist among Baylor faculty and administrators, the treatment of Dembski was not exactly surprising. In any case, the Baylor example in no way provides evidence for Goodstein's thesis that many evangelical scholars who were open to ID later became disillusioned by it. The hostility toward ID at Baylor was there from the start.]
Derek Davis, director of the J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor, said: "I teach at the largest Baptist university in the world. I'm a religious person. And my basic perspective is intelligent design doesn't belong in science class." [West also cites professors at Baylor who are pro-ID, including Francis Beckwith, who is at the same J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor as Davis, and "Walter Bradley, Baylor's distinguished professor of engineering," who in fact was one of ID's founders, being a co-author of the 1984 book, The Mystery of Life's Origin, which Dembski regards (and I agree) marked "the start of the intelligent design movement ":
"Because intelligent design is a fledgling science, it is still growing and developing and thus cannot be characterized in complete detail. Nonetheless, its broad outlines are clear enough. I place the start of the intelligent design movement with the publication in 1984 of The Mystery of Life's Origin by Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, and Roger Olsen. The volume is significant in two ways. First, though written by three Christians and critiquing origin-of-life scenarios, it focused purely on the scientific case for and against abiogenesis. Thus it consciously avoided casting its critique as part of a Bible-science controversy. Second, though highly critical of non-telic naturalistic origin-of-life scenarios and thus a ready target for anti-creationists, the book managed to get published with a secular publisher. It took well over 100 manuscript submissions to get it published. MIT Press, for instance, had accepted it, subsequently went through a shake-up of its editorial board, and then turned it down. The book was finally published by Philosophical Library, which had published books by eight Nobel laureates." (Dembski W.A., "Intelligent Design Coming Clean," Leadership U., 13 July 2002). ]

Mr. Davis noted that the advocates of intelligent design claim they are not talking about God or religion. "But they are, and everybody knows they are," Mr. Davis said. "I just think we ought to quit playing games. It's a religious worldview that's being advanced." [Davis is simply wrong. The very fact that some like him and Davis and Macchia above, cited by Goodstein as believers in God, holding "a religious worldview", are opposed to ID, and others like David Berlinski who neither believes in God, nor holds "a religious worldview", is for ID, shows that ID is not "talking about God or religion" nor advancing "a religious worldview." As Michael Denton (an agnostic and another of ID's founders) pointed out, "the inference to design is a purely a posteriori induction .... The conclusion may have religious implications, but it does not depend on religious presuppositions":

"Paley was not only right in asserting the existence of an analogy between life and machines, but was also remarkably prophetic in guessing that the technological ingenuity realized in living systems is vastly in excess of anything yet accomplished by man. ... The almost irresistible force of the analogy has completely undermined the complacent assumption, prevalent in biological circles over most of the past century, that the design hypothesis can be excluded on the grounds that the notion is fundamentally a metaphysical a priori concept and therefore scientifically unsound. On the contrary, the inference to design is a purely a posteriori induction based on a ruthlessly consistent application of the logic of analogy. The conclusion may have religious implications, but it does not depend on religious presuppositions." (Denton M.J., "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis," Burnett Books: London, 1985, p.341).]
John G. West, a political scientist and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, the main organization supporting intelligent design, said the skepticism and outright antagonism are evidence that the scientific "fundamentalists" are threatened by its arguments. "This is natural anytime you have a new controversial idea," Mr. West said. "The first stage is people ignore you. Then, when they can't ignore you, comes the hysteria. Then the idea that was so radical becomes accepted. I'd say we're in the hysteria phase." [This is a variant of Schopenhauer's three-stage (or Haldane's four-stage) acceptance of new ideas/scientific theories:
"The acceptance of radical ideas that challenge the status quo (and Darwinism is as status quo as it gets) typically runs through several stages. According to Arthur Schopenhauer, `All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.' Similarly, evolutionist J.B.S. Haldane remarked, `Theories pass through four stages of acceptance: (i) this is worthless nonsense; (ii) this is an interesting, but perverse, point of view; (iii) this is true, but quite unimportant; (iv) I always said so.' I like to flesh out Haldane's four stages as follows. First, the idea is regarded as preposterous: the ruling elite feel little threat and, as much as possible, ignore the challenge, but when pressed they confidently assert that the idea is so absurd as not to merit consideration. Second, it is regarded as pernicious: the ruling elite can no longer ignore the challenge and must take active measures to suppress it, now loudly proclaiming that the idea is confused, irrational, reprehensible and even dangerous (thus adding a moral dimension to the debate). Third, it is regarded as possible: the ruling elite reluctantly admits that the idea is not entirely absurd but claims that at best it is of marginal interest; meanwhile, the mainstream realizes that the idea has far-reaching consequences and is far more important than previously recognized. And fourth, it is regarded as plausible: a new status quo has emerged, with the ruling elite taking credit for the idea and the mainstream unable to imagine how people in times past could have thought otherwise. With intelligent design, we are now at the transition from stage two to stage three-from pernicious to possible. This is the hardest transition." (Dembski W.A., "The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design," Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 2004, p.20)
I agree that ID is past the "they can't ignore you" stage and is now passing through the "hysteria"/"ridiculed"/this is worthless nonsense" stage(s), into the "violently opposed"/"an interesting, but perverse, point of view" stage(s). But I also think that ID is different, in that while the designer cannot be proved to be God, it is clear that those who are most strongly against ID, believe that if there is empirically detectable evidence of design in nature, then the designer would be God. And since that would radically change their lives (up to and including the loss of their job, their friends and even their family), they have a strong incentive to deny that there is evidence design in nature. This applies even to those Christian academics who have built their lives and careers on a `theistic naturalistic' view of God, that He does not/would not/could not, intervene supernaturally in nature. Then there are a lot of non-academic Christians who are not much interested in the scientific evidence for design in nature, and may even be against ID because it does not identify the designer as God. So although I am firmly convinced that ID is true (i.e. there is empirically detectable evidence of design in nature), I personally (i.e. I do not necessarily represent the view of the leadership of the ID movement in this) do not expect that the majority of scientists (and maybe not even the majority of Christians) will ever accept ID, although a substantial minority might.]

[To be continued in part 3]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

"I know no better method of introducing so large a subject, than that of comparing a single thing with a single thing; an eye, for example, with a telescope. As far as the examination of the instrument goes, there is precisely the same proof that the eye was made for vision, as there is that the telescope was made for assisting it. They are made upon the same principles; both being adjusted to the laws by which the transmission and refraction of rays of light are regulated. I speak not of the origin of the laws themselves; but, such laws being fixed, the construction, in both cases, is adapted to them. For instance; these laws require, in order to produce the same effect, that the rays of light, in passing from water into the eye, should be refracted by a more convex surface, than when it passes out of air into the eye. Accordingly we find, that the eye of a fish, in that part of it called the crystalline lense, is much rounder than the eye of terrestrial animals. What plainer manifestation of design can there be than this difference? What could a mathematical instrument-maker have done more, to shew his knowledge of his principle, his application of that knowledge, his suiting of his means to his end; I will not say to display the compass or excellency of his skill and art, for in these all comparison is indecorous, but to testify counsel, choice, consideration, purpose?" (Paley W., "Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature," [1802], St. Thomas Press: Houston, TX, 1972, reprint, pp.14-15

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