Thursday, June 10, 2004

Brandt on Seebach In my post for April 5 I mentioned this column by Linda Seebach, published in the Rocky Mountain News. Seebach was critical of ID, and quoted me as an authority for the proposition that ID could not properly be considered scientific.

Christian blogger Randy Brandt maintains the website Contend 4 the Faith. He was amused neither by Seebach's argument, nor by my words of wisdom quoted in the article. You can find the post here. It is the usual childish, indignant, creationist table-pounding, but I do feel compelled to comment on the brief section in which I am mentioned:


Seebach, with a little help from a Jason Rosenhouse, insists that ID is not scientific:


Intelligent design is not so obviously wrong, but it's not scientific either. Jason Rosenhouse (at evolutionblog. blogspot.com) says, “What does relegate ID to the land of religion is its reliance on supernatural forces to explain aspects of the natural world. Until they can tell us how the action of the supernatural designer manifests itself in the world in some predictable way, ID will not be scientific.”


Surreptitiously appealing to methodological naturalism rules out ID by definition. Since methodological naturalism a priori rejects anything supernatural, even if the actual evidence overwhelmingly favors design, adherents must emotionally insist that their complex brains and minds are the cumulation of nothing at all becoming everything through no fault of its own. If in reality there is an intelligent design behind our universe, methodological naturalists like Seebach are barred from ever finding the truth by the close-minded intolerance of their narrow worldview.


First, we should point out that Brandt's open admission that ID involves the supernatural is a major faux pas among ID folks. ID's more mainstream proponents insist that while the designer could be supernatural, it could just as easily be superintelligent aliens or some such nonsense.

Moving on, as far as I know I am the only Jason Rosenhouse in the blogosphere. For that reason I find it amusing to be referred to as “a Jason Rosenhouse.”

Now, down to business. Brandt's assertion here is common among ID proponents. It is a bizarre argument for them to make, since it implies that the methods of science are the only valid ways of learning the truth about nature. I happen to believe that is the case, but people like Brandt certainly don't. There is no shortage of scientists who believe that appeals to the supernatural are not useful for doing science, but who nonetheless believe in God. Barred from finding the truth, indeed.

I am consistently amazed that creationists seem completely unable to grasp the idea that science has far more to do with finding useful theories than it does with capital-T Truth. Scientists do not cling desperately to any old theory out of some irrational fear of the supernatural. When no viable naturalistic explanation for a phenomenon is at hand, scientists are happy to admit as much. Gaps in our knowledge are what keep them in business, after all.

And methodological naturalism does not reject anything a priori. In fact, it makes no statement about how the world actually is. It is simply an acknowledgement of the fact that in the centuries-long history of science it has never once happened that scientific progress was made by invoking the supernatural.

That was the point I was making in the quote used by Seebach. For a theory to be useful it has to make definite predictions that can be tested in the field or the lab. Evolution does that. ID does not. ID proponents insist that their theory entails nothing about the characteristics or motives of the designer. Their theory, in its entirety, is that at some undisclosed point in time, some sort of designer did something that influenced the course of life's development. That may be true, but it is definitely not useful to anyone doing scientific research.

When ID's claim to have evidence for an intelligent deisgner, what they mean is that they believe they have shot enough holes in existing naturalistic theories to establish design by default. That is not a style of argument scientists have much confidence in.

Like most creationists, Brandt is not content simply to make his bad argument and be done with it. Instead, he feels compelled to lard up his writing with silly banalities like “even if the actual evidence overwhelmingly favors design, adherents must emotionally insist that their complex brains and minds are the cumulation of nothing at all becoming everything through no fault of its own.” You will search the biological literature in vain for anyone who believes that nothing at all became everything through no fault of its own. What you will actually find are people who believe that a relatively simple form of life evolved, via well-understood natural mechanisms, into the complex forms of life we see today.

Is it really asking too much for people like Brandt to make an honest effort at understanding the arguments of his opponents?

2 Comments:

At 10:52 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Even if one takes the claim at face value that the designer in ID is an alien that's just putting off the question of the origins of life. The aliens had to come from somewhere, and this ends up once again being an argument over whether they came about via evolution or were created by a Supreme Being, unless you assume life was created by living beings from the future who travelled back in time to do so. Somehow I doubt ID supporters would be very amused with the idea of time travellers who perhaps created their own anscestors.

 
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