Three Problems with Scientism

Ian Hutchinson has written a very nice essay on scientism.  He defines it as “the belief that science is all the real knowledge there is” and then highlights three very serious problems with this belief system.  The problems are so serious that an intellectually honest approach would have us steer clear of scientism.

The first problem is that proponents of scientism tend to advocate for it with some sleight of hand.  Hutchinson provides an excellent example from Jacques Monod, who writes, “The cornerstone of the scientific method is the postulate that nature is objective. In other words, the systematic denial that `true’ knowledge can be got at by interpreting phenomena in terms of final causes — that is to say, of `purpose’.”

Hutchinson then notes:

“See in this quotation how there is an almost imperceptible transition from “nature is objective” to “true knowledge”. The second sentence makes sense as an explanation of the first only if all true knowledge is knowledge of nature, i.e. science” but “to extrapolate this characteristic of `scientific’ knowledge so that it becomes for Monod a feature of any `true’ knowledge is pure presumption, pure scientism.””

This analysis is spot on.  This ability to sneak scientism into the intellectual arena is then facilitated by the second problem with scientism – “The meaning of the word science is still volatile, and that volatility makes it susceptible to misuse.”

I have long noted that those who advocate for scientism exploit the fact that science can be defined in many ways.  Typically, they use a strong definition of science (“the science of the natural world, epitomized by physics, chemistry, biology, geology and so on”) to extract authority from science when they seek to prop up their metaphysical/social/political agenda.  But when it comes to actually applying science as part of their agenda, suddenly and quietly, the definition of science is watered-down and becomes something like “the use of reason to evaluate evidence.”   I highlighted a nice example of exploiting these dual meanings last year.

Hutchinson lists the third problem: in distinguishing science from scientism is made all the greater because current opinions in the philosophy of science emphasize the difficulty in demarcation between science and non-science.

He notes how an advocate for scientism might actually try to exploit this problem to serve their agenda:

If then, the thought goes, we are uncertain how science is to be practiced or identified, then who is to say where its boundaries lie? Why should we concede that there are any limits to science’s knowledge? And if there are no limits to science, then scientism starts to look very plausible.

Hutchinson then argues that true science is limited by its need to demonstrate two key characteristics:  reproducibility and Clarity.  I interpret this to mean what I have long preached – that true science must be rooted in objective measurement.

It is key to remember that the power of science is purchased through its limitations.  Stripping away the limitations with clever arguments only works to water down science and turn it into speculation.  Now there is nothing inherently wrong with speculation, it’s simply not science.

Hutchinson also notes how the advocate for scientism might try game the system:

“Maybe we don’t yet have really scientific knowledge of some aspects of the world, but that’s perhaps just because those aspects are at an early stage in scientific development. We just need to keep working to turn them eventually into truly positive sciences.”

Yet this is nothing more than hand-waving.  If we don’t have “scientific knowledge of some aspects of the world,” then science is silent on those aspects of the world.  Period. But by trying to spin things as “an early stage in scientific development” the advocate is merely trying to move their philosophy/metaphysics into the shadow of science for the purpose of extracting science’s authority to prop up the philosophy/metaphysics.  And that is a misuse of science.

 

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40 responses to “Three Problems with Scientism

  1. Two comments:

    First, Coyne has been following Biologos. I’ll be curious to see if he responds to Hutchinson or chooses to ignore him.

    Second, if repeatability is one of the criteria of science, then I think that leaves out all historical sciences, since we cannot repeat history. Evolutionary biology is an historical science. Therefore, evolutionary biology is not science.

  2. Hey, Mike, what’s with that strange last comment of yours at Biologos?

    http://biologos.org/blog/engaging-todays-militant-atheist-arguments-part-1/#comments

  3. I have to admit, Bilbo does have a point.

  4. Bilbo,

    I doubt Coyne will reply because Hutchinson’s argument is too strong. As I show in my link, Coyne is already on record as promoting scientism by watering down the definition of science to promote his agenda.

    As for criteria of science, I stick with my position – that science must be rooted in objective measurement. With evolution, we can objectively measure reproduction, mutation, selection, and survival. We can measure change over time. We can objectively determine the sequence of genes to measure whether the observed phenomena (reproduction, mutation, selection, and survival) account for what we see. In other words, a better term than repeatability is observable regularity. Science must be able to manipulate and test the proposed causes and can thus extrapolate those causes. The reason the design of life does not qualify as science because it proposes a cause that cannot be measured and a dynamic (purpose) that can only be perceived subjectively.

    Of course, since we have all been conditioned by scientism, many people, both on the ID and anti-ID side, equate the non-scientific status of design as a sign it is not true or not worthy of consideration. Such people have been blinded by their cultural conditioning. They don’t seem to understand that science can only, by its nature, provide a limited description of our reality.

  5. In other words, a better term than repeatability is observable regularity. Science must be able to manipulate and test the proposed causes and can thus extrapolate those causes.

    Yes, that is what we do in historical sciences. We extrapolate from known causes to explain past events. We cannot repeat those past events. Therefore historical sciences are not the same as experimental sciences, where repeatability is a requirement.

    Now whether the extrapolations we make are reliable is what is up for debate. I continue to spend many a sleepless night worrying about it.

    The reason the design of life does not qualify as science because it proposes a cause that cannot be measured and a dynamic (purpose) that can only be perceived subjectively.

    It’s not clear (to me, at least) that it cannot be measured. Nor that it can only be perceived subjectively. We extrapolate from present designed events to past designed events. Whether or not we can extrapolate reliably to include features of living organisms as designed is also up for debate. And I lose a lot of sleep over that, also.

    I haven’t checked cousin Jerry’s blog, today, but I suspect you’re right and he won’t respond to Hutchinson.

    And I’m still curious about that last weird post of yours at Biologos.

  6. Bilbo,

    “It’s not clear (to me, at least) that it cannot be measured. Nor that it can only be perceived subjectively.”

    Look at it this way. Why is it that 15 years after Behe’s book was published, no one has successfully developed a research program around ID? If it can be measured and detected objectively, then why doesn’t anyone in the ID community make the measurements and use what is detected to teach the skeptics some new knowledge about biology?

    Well, here’s the problem. Put yourself in a white lab coat and walk into a lab. Go to the freezer and pull out this new drug. Go get your cells. Now, you are ready to measure whether the drug will kill the cells and, if so, how much drug do you need and how long must the cells be exposed. If they survive, you could measure whether the drug mutates the DNA and, if so, measure the relationship between mutation rate and drug concentration. You can measure whether certain cells better resist the drug than others and, if so, measure what it is about this cells that makes them resistant. You’re doing science here. Skepticism of your claims can be overcome not with words, but with data.

    Now, let’s bring in ID. Can you measure whether the drug will influence the designer? Can you measure whether the drug causes the designer to mutate the DNA? No and no. Design is not a regularity. Design is more like a singularity and “detecting” it is akin to detecting another mind.

    “And I’m still curious about that last weird post of yours at Biologos.”

    Are you talking about the one that said “Comment closed”?

  7. “If it can be measured and detected objectively, then why doesn’t anyone in the ID community make the measurements and use what is detected to teach the skeptics some new knowledge about biology?”

    Let me add another point. If it can be measured and detected objectively, then why doesn’t anyone like Coyne or Myers make the measurements and use what is detected to teach the IDers that science has failed to detect design? Pay attention to the fact that anti-ID arguments are inherently subjective too (I showed this on TT not too long ago when arguing with Olegt).

  8. Why is it that 15 years after Behe’s book was published, no one has successfully developed a research program around ID?

    The top five reasons no one has successfully developed a research program around ID:

    5- Lack of resources

    4- With the resources currently available people are doing what they can

    3- This is still about conducting science and being allowed to reach a design inference if the data and evidence so warrant

    2-We still don’t understand enough about the design to launch a successful research program with the available resources

    1-150 years after darwin no one has launched a successful blind watchmaker research program, so ID still has time

  9. Whoops! I didn’t realize that there were two more pages of comments. I was referring to your last comment on the first page.

    Why is it that 15 years after Behe’s book was published, no one has successfully developed a research program around ID? If it can be measured and detected objectively, then why doesn’t anyone in the ID community make the measurements and use what is detected to teach the skeptics some new knowledge about biology?

    I’m not sure whether Dembski has significantly changed his view since No Free Lunch. I couldn’t follow the math then, and I’m pretty sure I couldn’t follow anything he has to say of a technical nature, now. So I’m not sure if he still claims to be able to measure the CSI of designed objects. Let’s assume that he can’t, yet. Does it mean that at some time in the future that he couldn’t? If some time in the future he could, then he may have a way of determining when something is designed and when it isn’t. Would this be new knowledge in biology? I think so.

    And then there’s Behe’s work. Even if we reject his two binding-sites rule, I don’t think many biologist think more than one non-functional protein evolves at a time. And given that “most proteins work in complexes of six or more,” that seems to be a major hurdle to neo-Darwinism. The Modern Synthesis occurred prior to knowing that most proteins work in multi-complexes. Given that new knowledge, I think the burden of proof has switched to those defending neo-Darwinism. So even if ID hasn’t contributed new knowledge in biology, I think it has made the need to defend the accepted theory more clear.

    . Design is not a regularity. Design is more like a singularity and “detecting” it is akin to detecting another mind.

    But in historical sciences, we extropolate from present causes to past causes. We have many known designed events, and there may be a way to extrapolate reliably to past designed events, even in biology.

  10. “If it can be measured and detected objectively, then why doesn’t anyone like Coyne or Myers make the measurements and use what is detected to teach the IDers that science has failed to detect design?”

    I thought this had been achieved, by illustrating, for example, that there are intermediates for the eye and the flagellum. There’s no chemical/biological principle that prevents these examples occuring through evolution. This demonstrates that the examples cited for irreducible complexity aren’t good ones.

    But more generally falsificationism can only show so much, and any test showing a false result is itself subject to being falsified. This by nature is a limit of not only ‘science’, but of our capacity to discover stuff in any sense. So your suggestion that someone like Coyne or Myers demostrate the falsity of ID isn’t reasonable.

    The requirement generally is that someone making a claim should demostrate it to be the case; should offer something upon which a falsification could at least be attempted. This is why ID is just so much hot air. Most of us don’t accept astrology as real science, even though it hasn’t been falsified. It’s rejected because the data just doesn’t stack up to support it.

    The rejection of ID is subjective to some extent. To the extent that on the basis of our best ways of discovering stuff ID falls well short of the mark. So much so that it has got no further than being a bald hypothesis with no supporting data. The argument from incredulity, upon which it relies, isn’t data.

  11. Ron,

    I thought this had been achieved, by illustrating, for example, that there are intermediates for the eye and the flagellum. There’s no chemical/biological principle that prevents these examples occuring through evolution. This demonstrates that the examples cited for irreducible complexity aren’t good ones.

    Yes, if someone claims that feature F cannot be accounted for by evolution, one can draw upon science to propose how evolution can account for feature F. All that has been achieved here is the turning back of claims that gaps have been shown to exist. What does this have to do with design?

    But more generally falsificationism can only show so much, and any test showing a false result is itself subject to being falsified. This by nature is a limit of not only ‘science’, but of our capacity to discover stuff in any sense. So your suggestion that someone like Coyne or Myers demostrate the falsity of ID isn’t reasonable.

    It’s much worse than a false result is itself subject to being falsified. The fact remains that neither Coyne, Myers, nor anyone else, has ever come up with an objective metric to rule out design. They don’t have any “false results.” That’s why all the arguments against design are ultimately subjective.

    This is why ID is just so much hot air. Most of us don’t accept astrology as real science, even though it hasn’t been falsified. It’s rejected because the data just doesn’t stack up to support it.

    So what type of data could possibly support ID?

  12. Hi Michael,

    “So what type of data could possibly support ID?” – That’s for IDers to figure out.

    I agree that they [Coyne, Myers, etc.] don’t have any false results, for design (the ‘false results’ they do have falsifying only specific biological examples put forward by IDers for their specific case for irreducible complexity). The point being there is nothing offered to falsify, for design as such. So that non-IDers are at liberty to dismiss the design claim. It’s not for non-IDers to figure out what must be falsified, if nothing is being offered to falsify.

    We don’t worry too much about what sort of data would support belief in fairies, or fairy magic. No, it’s for the fairyist to say, “Here’s a magic wand. It can make gold appear.” to which Myers might respond, “Great. Let’s get it into the lab.” Myers investigates and concludes it’s just a twig. The fairyist responds, “Of course – in our human hands. But when a fairy uses it, well, ….” – i.e. the moving target that is the ‘not my religion’ response.

    To emphasise my objection, it’s not that because there is no known way of testing for design (or divinity, or fairies for that matter) is in itself being claimed to demonstrate the absence of design (or non-existence of God, or of fairies). The point is that such claims, and an absence of anything to observe, can be used to make a case for absolutely any magical entity whatsoever, and so is entirely empty. Anyone wanting to make any claim should put forward reason and evidence.

  13. Mike: “The fact remains that neither Coyne, Myers, nor anyone else, has ever come up with an objective metric to rule out design.

    I think the objective metric would be a simpler explanation. If both A and B explain F, but A is a simpler explanation than B, then we should believe A. If, further, there is empirical evidence that A actually exists or occurs (such as natural selection acting upon random mutations), whereas there is little or no empirical evidence for B (designers, for example) then we should believe A.

    What I disagree with Ronmurp about it is that A (RM + NS) is a sufficient explanation for F (in this case, IC such as bacterial flagella).

  14. Ron,

    “So what type of data could possibly support ID?” – That’s for IDers to figure out.

    I agree that they [Coyne, Myers, etc.] don’t have any false results, for design (the ‘false results’ they do have falsifying only specific biological examples put forward by IDers for their specific case for irreducible complexity). The point being there is nothing offered to falsify, for design as such. So that non-IDers are at liberty to dismiss the design claim. It’s not for non-IDers to figure out what must be falsified, if nothing is being offered to falsify.

    No, it does not work that way. Imagine you lost your wallet and think you might have left it at my house. So you call me and ask, “Is my wallet at your house?” I reply, “No, no wallet.” But then you ask a follow-up question that provides essential context for my answer. You ask, “Have you looked?” If I answer, “No,” then my “No wallet” reply loses all value. If I reply, “Yes, I have looked everywhere, but no wallet,” my answer becomes valuable to you.

    The same dynamic is at work here. Y’see, you made a proactive claim, arguing that none of the data supports ID. So the question that comes to my mind is, “Have you looked to see if there are any data that supports ID?” That is, is your claim the result of a failed search or is it the result of a failure to search? Those are very different things. Now, it would stand to reason that if you had seriously looked, you would have an idea about what you were looking for and would be able to tell me what type of data could possibly support ID. Then the “lack of support” becomes significant. We should have seen X, but X is not there. But if you have no idea of what type of data could possibly support ID, then you clearly have not looked. So your “no support claim” is no different from the “No wallet, but I haven’t looked for it” claim.

    In other words, Ron, your “no support” claim does not tell me anything about the world. It tells me only that you don’t believe there is any data that supports ID, although you have no idea what such support would look like it.

  15. Hi Michael,

    I disagree with your assessment completely. In the way you put it then absolutley anything goes simply because we haven’t looked for everything. I haven’t looked for fairies, so am I to conclude that the proposition that there are fairies hasn’t been given due consideration? Where do we stop with our finite capacity to investigate an infinite number of possible extraordinary claims?

    I emphasise again. The most common atheist case, particularly from atheists scientists, isn’t that there is no God, or even that ID is definitely false. The case they make is simply that theists and IDers have not provided a case that convinces anyone but themseleves.

    “That is, is your claim the result of a failed search or is it the result of a failure to search?” – It’s a failed search, by IDers, by theists, by fairiests, by astrologers, …. They have made claims but have given no data or reason to support their cases. Atheists scientists don’t have to do the search in order to reject a claim if the basis for the claim is dodgy.

    Some attempts have been made:

    The bacterial flagellum is offered as an example of irreducible complexity, which in turn is used to support the claim for ID. But the bacterial flagellum has been shown not to be a case of irreducible complexity, so the claim it is supposed to support fails on that count. So too with the example of the eye. IDers need to come with other attempts.

    Some theists offer the bible in support of their theism. But the bible is just a book written by mortal humans with fallible minds in a time when many other extraordinary claims were made. All books we have ever seen have been normal material objects written by mortals. We have fiction books, and other books of myths claimed to represent truths. There is no good reason to suppose that just one of the books offered as divinly inspired is genuine.

    Astrologers make claims that are equally at odds with the natural sciences, and many thesist don’t have any problem discounting the evidence for astrology on the same grounds that atheists discount the bible as evidence for theism.

    IDers, theists in general, and astrologers, all tend to expect every human investigation be scrutinised rigorously using the best tools we have – except when it comes to their particular belief, where they expect special dispensation from the rigours of human investigation.

  16. “I haven’t looked for fairies, so am I to conclude that the proposition that there are fairies hasn’t been given due consideration? Where do we stop with our finite capacity to investigate an infinite number of possible extraordinary claims?”

    Are you saying that someone should be able to say “there are no fairies” or “there’s no evidence for fairies” despite A) never looking for fairies, and B) not knowing what evidence for fairies would look like? Mike seems to be making a pretty banal point at most.

    “The case they make is simply that theists and IDers have not provided a case that convinces anyone but themseleves.”

    Isn’t that tautological? ‘IDers and theists haven not provided a case that convinces anyone but IDers and theists.’ Well, someone who was convinced would be an IDer or a theist, so…

    ” But the bacterial flagellum has been shown not to be a case of irreducible complexity,”

    The ID claim isn’t that IC structures will lack precursors. It isn’t even that IC structures can’t evolve. The claim centers around Darwinian processes (natural selection) to account for IC structures.

    “Some theists offer the bible in support of their theism.”

    Actually, they offer the bible in support of Christianity, not theism. And they address arguments about the (in their view) invalidity of the comparisons to other religious books, etc.

    “Astrologers make claims that are equally at odds with the natural sciences, and many thesist don’t have any problem discounting the evidence for astrology on the same grounds that atheists discount the bible as evidence for theism.”

    Substantiate that claim, because it seems like nonsense.

    “IDers, theists in general, and astrologers, all tend to expect every human investigation be scrutinised rigorously using the best tools we have – except when it comes to their particular belief, where they expect special dispensation from the rigours of human investigation.”

    And this one as well. What ‘special dispensation’? ID proponents charge that their views are being excluded *despite* using the same tools, with the same standards, as others use them in science. The non-ID theistic arguments are that asking, say.. biologists to evaluate whether or not God exists (using the science of biology) makes about as much sense as asking an english major (using the literary discipline) to evaluate whether relativity theory is correct.

  17. Ron,

    You are side-stepping my point. You assert a truth statement about the world we share – you assert there is no support for design. None. So I ask you what would count as support for design and you have no idea what would count as support for design. You are stumped. So how can you claim to know that no data support design when you have no clue as to what supporting data might even look like? You can’t. From where I sit, it is clear to me that your perception that there is no support is not the output of any serious effort to look.

    Here’s the bottom line. I understand that you don’t think any data support design. I can respect your opinion and don’t have any burning desire to change your mind. But if you expect me to think as you do, if you expect me to agree there is no support for design, then you’ll need to make the case by spelling out a) what type of data would support design and b) showing that no such data exists.

    The most common atheist case, particularly from atheists scientists, isn’t that there is no God, or even that ID is definitely false. The case they make is simply that theists and IDers have not provided a case that convinces anyone but themseleves.

    If that is the case, I can defeat it with two words – So what?

    All this means is that the atheist scientists are not convinced. So what? It’s not as if the atheist scientists are the Metric of All Truth. If the case “isn’t that there is no God” and is just “atheist scientists are not convinced God exists,” so what? If someone backs off the strong “there is no God” claim and replaces it with the “I see no evidence of God” claim, then there is no reason for me to adjust course. In other words, do the atheist scientists expect me to think as they do? To interpret as they do? To perceive as they do? Then they need to make the case why I must do this. They need to show me that I am actually wrong and not just that they remain unconvinced that I am right.

    The bacterial flagellum is offered as an example of irreducible complexity, which in turn is used to support the claim for ID. But the bacterial flagellum has been shown not to be a case of irreducible complexity, so the claim it is supposed to support fails on that count. So too with the example of the eye. IDers need to come with other attempts.

    Hold on there! Are you saying that if the bacterial flagellum was IC, this would support design???

  18. https://designmatrix.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/three-problems-with-scientism/

    Hi Nullasalus,

    If I can paraphrase your question to make my point:

    I’m saying that if someone makes a claim for the existence of fairies, then I’m not obliged to accept their claim if I don’t think what they offer as evidence is convincing; and I’m not obliged to look for any further evidence myself in order to counter their claim. I might say that, by all current standards of good evidence, what they offer isn’t good evidence, so there is no good evidence; or more succinctly, there is no evidence. Consequently my working model of the universe is that fairies don’t exist. Not, note, that they cannot exist.

    But even so, many non-fairyist will make the claim that under current know conditions (i.e. natural laws of physics) they can’t exist in their often described form. I’m quite happy to accept that in the strictest possible philosophical case this is only a probabilistic claim itself, and not one that any physicists has gone out of his way to support. But I note also, with regard to your later comments, that no theists I know of have gone out of their way to provide evidence for the non-existence of fairies. So, should we accept the claims of fairyists, or give them the same regard as any science?

    This seems uncontroversial, and what we all do. It’s what theists generally do with regards to fairies, and many other theologies. There are some theists and spiritualists who seem prepared to accept pretty much anything as true – the multiple truths, or multiple stories concept. They see spiritualism in everything: humans, other animals, plants, Gaia, the universe.

    “Isn’t that tautological?” Yes. It’s simply stressing the point in other words. They somehow have to provide evidence that we can all agree on. Most of us agree on what evidence is for nearly all of human knowledge, on what evidence is reasonable – not necessarily in detail, but certainly in type. If theists and IDers want to offer some evidence, then let them do it. Some do try.

    I didn’t say IC lack precursors specifically. There claim is for irreducible complexity, which is the term they use to reject the case for the evolution of these forms.

    “Actually, they offer the bible in support of Christianity, not theism” – Some do, and may be content with that. Some theists offer the bible is support of other theisms, such as Islam, though Muslims say the Koran is consistent with but supersedes the OT. Judaism is the source of the OT. The OT is the basis on which Jesus was supposed to make his claims about God, and so subsequently justifies claims made about his divinity. But really, I would have thought most Christians use at least some part of the OT, starting with Genesis, as the foundation for their belief. Otherwise Jesus is just some guy who out of the blue claimed to be God, and all Christians bought it.

    About the only people who could reasonable use the bible to support a form of Christianity are those like, perhaps, The Sea Of Faith, or perhaps other recent ‘atheistic’ Christians, who have a very humanistic interpretation of their religion. They can at least claim that the bible is a book with some naturalistic human origin that contains myths that are metaphors for the general human condition, and that Jesus was basically a pretty top guy. But even with them there remains the question of how exactly they explain ‘spirituality’ in anything other than a human psychological context.

    “Substantiate that claim, because it seems like nonsense.” – It’s a fair request to ask me to substantiate the claim that theists discount evidence for astrology on the same grounds as atheists discount the bible. I guess one thing I need to do first is find theists who do discount astrology and ask them why they do that. Any volunteers? If you insist I’ll ask around, but it didn’t seem to contentious to me. Why is it nonsense?

    On excemption – IDers claim that because there is a similarity in complexity between some biological components and some human artifacts that they must come about by the same process – design. I agree they use the same tools – which is one of my main points – we all do: human senses and thinking. For them the “dispensation from the rigors of human investigation” simply means they want dispensation for the rigour with which they apply them. IDers use an argument from incredulity, which is hardly the rigorous use of thinking. Some theists on the other hand actually want dispensation for the actual tools they used – sensus divinitatis is claimed by some theists to be a tool available to them.

    “The non-ID theistic arguments are that asking, say.. biologists to evaluate whether or not God exists (using the science of biology) makes about as much sense as asking an English major (using the literary discipline) to evaluate whether relativity theory is correct.”

    (I’ll use ‘atheist biologists’ to mean non-theist and non-ID biologists)
    I agree that would not make sense, were that the case. But it isn’t. Biology is only ever used by atheist biologists to offer evidence for claims within its scope. Perhaps you mistake the nature of the argument. It goes like this. Biology (and evolution/DNA for the wider argument) only supports directly a naturalistic biological evolutionary process – in other words, that’s all biology finds, and so that’s all that is claimed for it. Atheist biologists are not saying that biology disproves or falsifies the design claim of ID, or the existence of God. Remember that it’s the IDers that are claiming some biological evidence supports their claim for design – and its this claim that isn’t shown. They don’t show how it does, they just claim it does. They try to use IC, but fail. IC fails in falsifying biological evolution because plausible intermediates have been shown to exist. It fails to support design because it doesn’t show a link between the biology and a hypothesized designer. On top of that the ID assumption that apparent design (which only means apparent to some human brains) is actual design and not some other mechanism, such as biological evolution.

  19. Hi Michael,

    I think I’ve responded to the ‘no evidence’ aspect in my response to Nullasalus. If that’s still not enough by all means come back on that.

    But to answer one specific point on that, you say, “So I ask you what would count as support for design and you have no idea what would count as support for design. You are stumped.”

    I one respect I am stumped. But no more so that IDers. What they do offer in support of design doesn’t actually support it. Again I go into detail in my response to Nullasalus.

    But I think you are being disingenuous with your statement that my claim that there is ‘no evidence’ is unreasonable. It’s normal practice. ‘No evidence’ simply means none has been offered. This is reasonable because we have no way of knowing that on some planet somewhere in our galaxy or other is some really convincing message left by God waiting for us to discover – say the complete specification for terraforming a world: kick-starting the process of evolution. But even with that hypothesis, a counter hypothesis might be that really bright aliens did it and there’s still no ultimate designer, that the aliens themselves evolved by natural processes, even if we didn’t. The infinite regress of such materialist explanations extends just as much as an infinite regress of God explanations. we can go on like this endlessly. So, to avoid agreeing that an infinite number of possibilities are in fact the case, we will only accept facts that have been shown to be the case using some common standards.

    But to repeat a point made elsewhere, evidence, in the form of material facts and reasoned explanation (i.e. senses and thinking – all we have). You keep asking me to tell you what evidence I want, but that’s just ridiculous. It’s for the theist to say, God exists, and here’s why. So how about we discuss some of your examples. And if you think you have something that goes beyond senses and reason, explain what it is. Are you claiming a sensus divinitatis?

    “From where I sit, it is clear to me that your perception that there is no support is not the output of any serious effort to look.” – OK, enlighten me. What should I do? What should I use? Because the ‘looking’ that has been explained to me by theists before consist of reading the bible, accepting it as true, and going on from there.

    “But if you expect me to think as you do, if you expect me to agree there is no support for design, then you’ll need to make the case by spelling out a) what type of data would support design and b) showing that no such data exists.”

    This simply isn’t how humans normally work when trying to investigate stuff we have difficulty accessing. After all, a presume an IDer or theist has some reason for thinking their belief is true. Isn’t it easier for them to simply offer that, and any evidence and reason that supports it?

    “If that is the case, I can defeat it with two words – So what?”

    That doesn’t defeat it. That simply seems like a desperate way to say you’re not taking on the objection, you have nothing to offer. Can I defeat theism with so what?

    “It’s not as if the atheist scientists are the Metric of All Truth.” – I’d say they are all pretty happy with that statement. They know the limitations of science. But by the same methodology, using their critical thinking and their experience of the world as investigated by them, they know these limitations apply to all of us. Including theists. It is theists that are claiming truths to be the case without being able explain why in a coherent way. If you think otherwise, give me some examples.

    “To perceive as they do?” – A big yes to this one. We all, roughly, seem to have the same biological equipment with which to perceive the world. There are some differences of course. It has been shown that some people who ‘hear voices’ when there are no detectable voice sounds in their vicinity are in fact experiencing activation of the auditory cortex, without stimulation from the ears. Some people that lose limbs experience phantom limb pain. Some people do have part of the brain in which religious experience can be inhibited or induced. So some perceptions aren’t open to all of us, but they are generally understood. What might differ more significantly is the psychological interpretation of our perceptions. Then again, maybe you’re claiming sensus divinitatis.

    “Then they need to make the case why I must do this [perceive as they do].” – Induction. We all seem to perceive using the same mechanisms. Then again, maybe you’re claiming sensus divinitatis.

    “They need to show me that I am actually wrong and not just that they remain unconvinced that I am right.” – But that requires you to offer support for your case. Please do. Then an attempt to show you you’re wrong can be made.

    “Are you saying that if the bacterial flagellum was IC, this would support design?” – No. I’m saying IDers offer the BC as an example of IC, and use IC in their wider support for ID. Is this not the case?

    I’m quite happy to play this diverting game as long as you like. I’ll keep explaining my point of view. But remember that for most common every day aspects of life the theist and the materialist atheist accept there are material elements to our lives, and happily use material methodologies to study the material aspects. But it seems theists are claiming more than that. The materialists are not claiming more than that, they are saying the material world is what we see, just as you do. You explain the ‘more’ bit, the extra, the divine, the supernatural.

    If you think my case is so week it should be easy for you to defeat it quite reasonable – but I’d suggest ‘so what?’ isn’t going to do it, any more than a ‘so what?’ from me would dismiss your dismisal of my claim that the lying Spaghetti Moster is the true creator.

  20. ronmurp:

    The bacterial flagellum is offered as an example of irreducible complexity, which in turn is used to support the claim for ID. But the bacterial flagellum has been shown not to be a case of irreducible complexity, so the claim it is supposed to support fails on that count. So too with the example of the eye. IDers need to come with other attempts.

    That is quite a story Ron. Unfortunately it is not true. Someone sold you something that you bought without inspection.

  21. Ron,

    I’m quite happy to play this diverting game as long as you like. I’ll keep explaining my point of view.

    It’s not a diverting game. When you have not the foggiest notion what would count as support for design, you are not in the position to pose as judge and jury. You want to claim there is “no support” for design, but you have no idea as to what would count as such support.

    If we are to speak of games, then I would note that when skeptics punt on spelling out what type of data would count as support for design, this is usually part of a Hide the Goalposts strategy. That is, the skeptic refuses to lay his cards on the table because the skeptic wants to maintain the existence of an escape hatch. Y’see, just as belief can blur into confirmation bias, skepticism/disbelief can blur into disconfirmation bias. And it’s always easy to argue against something. If I propose X as support for design, then there is going to be some problem with it simply as a function of our limited ability to understand the world. The skeptic can then turn that problem into the reason for there being no support. So the skeptic, who gets to posture as judge and jury in such contexts, is better off not showing his cards. If he goes on record and spells out what would count as evidence for design, he first has to be double-sure it does not exist, and then has to be extremely confident that it will not come into existence. That’s why it is easier to punt and come up with ways to posture as judge and jury.

    Anyway, I’ll be busy today, so I’ll offer a more detailed reply later.

  22. Hi Michael,

    But I admit. I don’t have the foggiest idea what counts as support for design. So tell me.

    There is no support that I know of. Will that do. And, as with Joe, if you think there is any, let me know.

    We are now agreed that I don’t know what that would be, so you can hardly ask me again to tell you what you should offer. Just offer it and we’ll go from there. Then, if you don’t like my objections we can deal with them.

    This is how I anticipate a discussion going. I’m picking ID, but it could be anything.

    R – I don’t think ID has anything going for it.
    M – Can you give an example?
    R – Yes. The flagellum, IC, and design generally.
    M – That’s not how it is.
    R – OK. What have I got wrong?
    M – Here’s my explanation of ID.
    R – Here’s my objection to that.
    M – Here’s my response to that objection.

    We actually get somewhere. Maybe we don’t change each others position, but at least we’ve learned something about where the other is coming from.

    Here’s the discussion we’re having:

    R – I don’t think ID has anything going for it.
    M – Can you give an example?
    R – Yes. The flagellum, IC, and design generally.
    M – That’s not how it is.
    R – OK. What have I got wrong?
    M – What will it take to convince you of ID
    R – I don’t know. What’ve you got to offer?
    M – Tell me what you want first.
    R – I don’t know what I want. It’s for you to tell me. ID is your thing.
    M – But you need to tell me what would count first.
    R – But how can I tell if I don’t know what you have to offer? How about irreducible complexity? That’s all I’ve got.
    M – Nope. That’s not it. You’ll dismiss that.
    R – Well what is then?
    M – You tell me what would convince you.
    R – I’ve already told you all I know, as I understand it. What else have you got.
    M – Depends what you think will convince you.
    R – Well how about some evidence?
    M – What evidence would convince you?
    R – Something that normally convinces rational humans investigating difficult stuff on the edges of our understanding.
    M – Now you’re moving the goalposts.
    R – What goalposts? You haven’t erected any goalposts for me to shoot at.
    M – No. Your goalposts. I’m gonna shoot at your objections to ID, but you keep moving the goalposts.
    R – What? What friggin golaposts? I haven’t erected any goalposts either. How can I give you an objection to counter before you’ve given me a proposal to object to. So what have you got?
    M – Depends. What will convince you?
    R – If I knew what would convince me I’d know already, I’d be convinced and I wouldn’t be on here asking you. What have you got?
    M – Your disbelief can blur into disconfirmation bias.
    R – But I’ve told you which bits I’m aware of, and why I don’t beleive them. So, yes I’m biased to that degee. So unbias me. What else have you got?
    M – It’s always easy to argue against something.
    R – Well it usually is, if I’m given something to argue against. What have you got?
    M – If I propose X as support for design, then there is going to be some problem with it simply as a function of our limited ability to understand the world.
    R – Then if we are both so limited, don’t you have that same problem with X?
    M – You will then turn that problem into the reason for there being no support.
    R – But X isn’t support if both you and I agree that there’s a problem with X due to our common issue of our limited ability to understand the world.
    M – So you the skeptic gets to posture as judge and jury in such contexts.
    R – But you’ve given me nothing more to judge. What’s X? tell me what X is and I’ll give you my opinion. Then, you can come back at that.
    M – You’re then better off not showing his cards.
    R – I thought it was goalposts? I’ve got no cards. Aren’t they your cards? Show them – pretty please.
    M – If the skeptic goes on record and spells out what would count as evidence for design, he first has to be double-sure it does not exist, and then has to be extremely confident that it will not come into existence.
    R – What? I don’t understand this. I just want to know what you know about ID – the goalposts, X, or the cards – anything will do. Please. For pities sake tell me. What’s the story on ID?
    M – What evidence will you find acceptable?
    R – What?
    M – What’s on second.
    R – I don’t know.
    M – I don’t know’s on third.
    R – That’s what I want to find out. I think. Is ID like baseball?

  23. Ron,

    But I think you are being disingenuous with your statement that my claim that there is ‘no evidence’ is unreasonable. It’s normal practice. ‘No evidence’ simply means none has been offered.

    Claims of “no evidence” are not observations of the world; they are expressions of perception. Evidence and Assumptions. So when you say “none has been offered,” it really means you do not consider what has been offered as evidence.

    This is reasonable because we have no way of knowing that on some planet somewhere in our galaxy or other is some really convincing message left by God waiting for us to discover – say the complete specification for terraforming a world: kick-starting the process of evolution. But even with that hypothesis, a counter hypothesis might be that really bright aliens did it and there’s still no ultimate designer, that the aliens themselves evolved by natural processes, even if we didn’t. The infinite regress of such materialist explanations extends just as much as an infinite regress of God explanations. we can go on like this endlessly. So, to avoid agreeing that an infinite number of possibilities are in fact the case, we will only accept facts that have been shown to be the case using some common standards.

    Very good. You are finally beginning to ponder what might support design. In this case, you “want really convincing message left by God waiting for us to discover – say the complete specification for terraforming a world: kick-starting the process of evolution.” In other words, you want something that is so earth-shattering that you would be forced to adopt to the hypothesis of design. But must support for a hypothesis necessarily come in such extreme forms?

    You keep asking me to tell you what evidence I want, but that’s just ridiculous.

    What’s ridiculous is that you think you are qualified to pose a judge and jury on the topic of design when you admit you have not the slightest clue what would support the hypothesis of design.

    “From where I sit, it is clear to me that your perception that there is no support is not the output of any serious effort to look.” – OK, enlighten me. What should I do? What should I use?

    That’s up to you. One way to begin is consider how the folks at SETI have approached the problem of detecting intelligence without having independent knowledge of the intelligent beings. If you click on the tag ‘SETI’ on the front page, I have a series of essays about this.

    “But if you expect me to think as you do, if you expect me to agree there is no support for design, then you’ll need to make the case by spelling out a) what type of data would support design and b) showing that no such data exists.”

    This simply isn’t how humans normally work when trying to investigate stuff we have difficulty accessing. After all, a presume an IDer or theist has some reason for thinking their belief is true. Isn’t it easier for them to simply offer that, and any evidence and reason that supports it?

    If I came to your blog and insisted you believe in ID or God, then yes, that would be the way to go. But you have come here to insist there is no support for my views.

    Let’s say that I don’t think President Obama should be re-elected in 2012 and you think he should. Now, if I wanted you to agree with me, it is my obligation to explain why he should not be re-elected. That as, as someone who thinks President Obama should be re-elected, you’ll want me to show you that you are wrong before you change your mind and come around to my way of thinking.

    But imagine I tried this strategy on you.

    I say, “Since you think Obama should be re-elected, explain to me why you think he should be elected.”

    You then provide some reasons to support your view.

    I then object to your reasons (as it is always easy to nitpick and naysay) and conclude, “Since you have failed to convince me, you have no support for your belief, so you should agree with me that he should not be re-elected.”

    That isn’t how humans normally work.

    “If that is the case, I can defeat it with two words – So what?”
    That doesn’t defeat it. That simply seems like a desperate way to say you’re not taking on the objection, you have nothing to offer.

    What objection? That atheist scientists are not convinced by any case for the existence of God and/or design? Is that an objection?

    To perceive as they do?” – A big yes to this one. We all, roughly, seem to have the same biological equipment with which to perceive the world.

    Then that is a big wrong on your part. “Roughly the same” brains doesn’t cut it. Any psychologist can explain to you how it is very common for two people to look at the same thing yet perceive something different.

    “Then they need to make the case why I must do this [perceive as they do].” – Induction. We all seem to perceive using the same mechanisms.

    No, we observe with the same mechanisms. Observations become perceptions as a function of the way our brain is wired and the wiring can be very different in different people. Consider the mundane example of three people seeing a snake. One person sees it and is annoyed. Another person sees it and is fascinated. Yet another sees it and is terrified. The same snake is perceived differently by different people.

  24. Ron,

    But I admit. I don’t have the foggiest idea what counts as support for design. So tell me.
    There is no support that I know of. Will that do.

    That is much better. Yes, your claim of “no support” is an expression of your perception. It is not an objective truth statement about our reality.

    Just offer it and we’ll go from there. Then, if you don’t like my objections we can deal with them.

    This is how I anticipate a discussion going.

    M – Here’s my explanation of ID.
    R – Here’s my objection to that.

    Whoa. You’ve just let the disconfirmation bias out of the bag. Without even hearing me “offer it,” you know you’ll have objections. You are clearly itching to object. I explained this dynamic before – Disconfirmation bias

    Here’s the discussion we’re having:

    No, that’s was not the discussion we are having. That is the discussion that is happening inside your brain. Let me show you

    R – I don’t think ID has anything going for it.

    No, you didn’t qualify your claim as your personal opinion. You asserted something more like “ID has nothing going for it.”

    R – Yes. The flagellum, IC, and design generally.
    M – That’s not how it is.
    R – OK. What have I got wrong?
    M – What will it take to convince you of ID

    No, I showed you what you got wrong: “Yes, if someone claims that feature F cannot be accounted for by evolution, one can draw upon science to propose how evolution can account for feature F. All that has been achieved here is the turning back of claims that gaps have been shown to exist. What does this have to do with design?”

    You never answered what IC has to do with design. And later on, you admit that if X is IC, it is not evidence of design. So the whole topic about IC is a Red Herring and my original point – “then why doesn’t anyone like Coyne or Myers make the measurements and use what is detected to teach the IDers that science has failed to detect design” – stands. Recall that was the very point that started our discussion.

    M – What will it take to convince you of ID

    No, I did not ask what would convince you of ID. You claimed no data supported ID, so I asked what data could possibly support ID. To convince and to support are different things. There are many hypotheses in and out of science that have support, yet remain unconvincing.

    R – But how can I tell if I don’t know what you have to offer? How about irreducible complexity? That’s all I’ve got.

    No, that is not all you have got. As I told you elsewhere I have used HKA to write over 500 blog entries to support my teleological hypotheses. Is there something that has prevented you from clicking on this front page entry or this front page entry?

    R – But how can I tell if I don’t know what you have to offer? How about irreducible complexity? That’s all I’ve got.
    M – Nope. That’s not it. You’ll dismiss that.

    I never said “you’ll dismiss that.” I made the point that IC is about gaps and not design.

    M – Now you’re moving the goalposts.

    No, I never said you were moving the goalposts. In reaction to you insisting I was engaged in a diverting game, I raised the alternative that you were engaged in hiding the goalposts.

    M – No. Your goalposts. I’m gonna shoot at your objections to ID, but you keep moving the goalposts.

    The goalposts are not me shooting at your objections. The goalposts are the data that is supposed to exist if ID is to be supported. The thing that you demand.

    So as you can see, we have a very serious problem here. You come here, wanting to posture as judge and jury and have me appear before you to justify myself and my views. But as we can now clearly see:

    1. You have no idea as to what could possibly support ID, indicating you have not given this topic any serious thought. That alone disqualifies you as judge and jury.

    2. You made it clear above that you will object even before hearing what you will object to.

    3. You don’t seem to be able to follow the conversation, as seen from the above analysis.

    4. You try to frame things as if I am reluctant to support my views, yet ignore the 100s of blog postings that support my views.

    There are also a couple of other excerpts that help clarify things:

    R – What? What friggin golaposts? I haven’t erected any goalposts either. How can I give you an objection to counter before you’ve given me a proposal to object to. So what have you got?

    So you admit to hiding the goalposts. You haven’t erected any goalposts because you want me to kick at them first. Then, once you see the ball coming, you can place the goalposts. That’s a very sly tactic that serves your disconfirmation bias. You come across as being deeply invested in maintaining your “no support” belief.

    R – But I’ve told you which bits I’m aware of, and why I don’t beleive them. So, yes I’m biased to that degee. So unbias me. What else have you got?

    It’s not just bias. It’s called disconfirmation bias: “When faced with evidence contrary to their beliefs, people try to undermine the evidence. That is, there is a bias to disconfirm arguments incompatible with one’s position.”

    M – It’s always easy to argue against something.
    R – Well it usually is, if I’m given something to argue against. What have you got?

    We do agree on something – it usually is easy to argue against something. And hiding the goalposts is a tactic to exploit this fact. As long as you cannot be nailed down about what could count as support, your escape hatch remains intact.

    M – If I propose X as support for design, then there is going to be some problem with it simply as a function of our limited ability to understand the world.
    R – Then if we are both so limited, don’t you have that same problem with X?

    Who said I didn’t? I have never argued that the design of life/evolution is proven or true. I have never argued the hypotheses amount to the best explanation and insisted you embrace them. I have always maintained that the hypotheses are reasonable and plausible and then supported that position.

  25. ron,

    “If I can paraphrase your question to make my point:”

    No, I’d prefer you didn’t – because your paraphrase ended up not answering my questions.

    Should a person be able to say “there is no evidence for the existence of X” and/or “X does not exist” despite A) Never looking for X, and B) Admitting that they have no idea what evidence for X would look like?

    Instead you told me that if someone tells you that X exists and you aren’t persuaded by the evidence, that that’s that and you’re under no obligation to go out and find more evidence. Wonderful. But not an answer to my questions.

    So, I’d like those answers.

    “It’s simply stressing the point in other words. They somehow have to provide evidence that we can all agree on. Most of us agree on what evidence is for nearly all of human knowledge, on what evidence is reasonable – not necessarily in detail, but certainly in type.”

    No, the idea that they “somehow have to provide evidence that we can all agree on” is inane. Do you think that evolutionary biologists have not made their case, despite large swaths of the public rejecting evolution (and even the ones who do accept it, accepting a form that goes beyond science)? No, ‘most of us’ do not agree on what evidence is. Hence one large sticking point debates being what does and does not count as evidence. Even PZ Myers doesn’t agree with Jerry Coyne about evidence for God. One of Mike’s points here was to criticize people who admit that they don’t know what would count as evidence – and this problem goes far beyond God.

    “I didn’t say IC lack precursors specifically. There claim is for irreducible complexity, which is the term they use to reject the case for the evolution of these forms.”

    No, it’s not. ID proponents, particularly Behe, argue that it’s possible for IC structures to evolve. His claim is that if they did evolve, they did not do so by Darwinian means.

    “But really, I would have thought most Christians use at least some part of the OT, starting with Genesis, as the foundation for their belief. Otherwise Jesus is just some guy who out of the blue claimed to be God, and all Christians bought it.”

    Christianity is not theism. Yes, the bible is used as a ‘foundation for belief’ – in Christianity. One can come to belief in God without the bible – through reason, through investigation, etc. Amusingly enough, the bible notes as much.

    But your later claims about how the bible can’t be used to support one’s religious belief is just bizarre. No, one can use the bible to support Christianity. Apparently you’re back to ‘Well, I’m not convinced, and unless evidence convinces all onlookers it’s not evidence.’ Go with that if you wish.

    “Why is it nonsense?”

    Because you’re making a claim for something I’ve not seen done before. So I’d like an account of how both groups discount the claims in question, and then a comparison.

    “Some theists on the other hand actually want dispensation for the actual tools they used – sensus divinitatis is claimed by some theists to be a tool available to them.”

    So what’s your claim here? Some theists claim there is a SD. If there is a SD, they’re just using yet another tool available to them. So even SD theists would not be saying they ‘want dispensation’ from anything.

    Further, the moment you admit that ID proponents are using arguments from analogy, the claim that they’re relying on an argument from incredulity goes out the window. They can’t just be incredulous if they also have analogical evidence to call on. I see no reason to regard them as failing to be rigorous, much less actively ‘wanting an exemption’.

    And finally, I’ve pointed out that plenty of theists use reason to come to their conclusions about God. Philosophical argument, scientific argument, historical argument, argument from personal experience, etc, etc. They are not asking for ‘exemptions’.

    “Biology (and evolution/DNA for the wider argument) only supports directly a naturalistic biological evolutionary process – in other words, that’s all biology finds, and so that’s all that is claimed for it.”

    Considering the modern approach to science is ‘methodological naturalism’ – in other words, all options explored or considered as possibilities are naturalistic – that doesn’t mean much. Of course, the problem there is that methodological naturalism would not mean that the evidence found is wholly explicable by purely naturalistic processes. The evaluation of metaphysical naturalism versus non-naturalisms still takes place. But it takes place outside of the field of science.

    “Atheist biologists are not saying that biology disproves or falsifies the design claim of ID, or the existence of God. Remember that it’s the IDers that are claiming some biological evidence supports their claim for design – and its this claim that isn’t shown.”

    As per the above, atheist biologists couldn’t be making the argument you’re making from a scientific vantage point – so their claims are moot. And actually, atheist biologists do make the claim that evolutionary biology disproves or falsifies the design claim of ID. In fact, Jerry Coyne explicitly identifies ‘Darwinism’ as the positive claim that evolution is unguided. He’s wrong and confused, but he’s making the move.

    “They try to use IC, but fail. IC fails in falsifying biological evolution because plausible intermediates have been shown to exist. It fails to support design because it doesn’t show a link between the biology and a hypothesized designer. On top of that the ID assumption that apparent design (which only means apparent to some human brains) is actual design and not some other mechanism, such as biological evolution.”

    Again: 1) IC arguments do not hinge on the lack of precursors and intermediates. You’re confusing an IC argument for an argument against evolution wholesale. 2) Evolution is entirely capable of being designed as well, and indeed does show some of the hallmarks of design (Not all design arguments are IC arguments), 3) ID proponents who refer to IC do not argue that it’s impossible for IC structures to come about through other mechanisms, nor do they have to by their lights. It’s enough, in their view, to say ‘Design is the best explanation we have at the moment. It’s possible we’ve overlooked something, or that in the future an IC structure will be shown to develop through a Darwinian process (Not ‘hypothesized’ but a plausible method shown). For now, design is the best explanation.’

  26. Null,

    No, ‘most of us’ do not agree on what evidence is. Hence one large sticking point debates being what does and does not count as evidence. Even PZ Myers doesn’t agree with Jerry Coyne about evidence for God.

    Excellent point.

    Coyne cites this as evidence for God:

    A bright light appears in the heavens and, supported by wingéd angels, a being clad in white robe and sandals descends onto the UMM quad from the sky, accompanied by a pack of apostles with the same names given in the Bible. Loud heavenly music is heard everywhere, with the blaring of trumps. The being, who describes himself as Jesus, puts his hand atop your head, P.Z., and suddenly your arms are turned into tentacles. As you flail about with your new appendages, Jesus asks, “Now do you believe in me?” Another touch on the head and the tentacles disappear and your arms return. Jesus and his pack then repair to the Mayo clinic and, also on film, heal a bunch of amputees (who remain permanently arméd and leggéd after Jesus’s departure). After a while Jesus and his minions, supported by angels, ascend back into the sky with another chorus of music. The heavens swiftly darken, there is thunder, and a single lightning bolt strikes P.Z.’s front yard. Then, just as suddenly, the heavens clear.

    PZ then argues that none of this would count as evidence for God. In fact, he insists that nothing could ever count as evidence for God.

    So here we have two scientists, who seem to share much in common when it comes to politics, metaphysics, and education. Both are supposed to be experts on evidence and science. But when it comes to the issue of evidence and God, they can’t even agree.

    What’s more, if the PZ approach remains a viable option, then the demand for evidence is just a ruse. It’s a very, very clever way of pushing people’s buttons and then sitting back to mock and judge.

  27. Hi Michael,

    I take your point that I have presumed too much about your position, which I confess I’d made assumptions from the discussion on BioLogos and haven’t looked at enough of your blog. Thanks for the links. I’ve been concerned specifically with theistic ID. But I assure you I have no strong agenda for the promotion of atheist, materialism, or opposition to ID for that matter. I’m more interested in finding out what is the case.

    So, for now I’ll give more of my reasoning as to why I think there is no evidence for ID.

    Evidence:

    I see ‘evidence’ as that data available to us humans, not what actually is the case in ‘objective reality’ (whatever that is), because what may be the case may not actually be available to us, remains undiscovered, and so on. The data that constitutes the evidence would typically not be just philosophical in nature.

    Generally though, since evidence will be collected, processed and presented by humans, it can only be in the form that humans can transmit to each other. As far as we know only material evidence can be used, since our senses can only transmit (speak, write, etc.) and detect material data.

    What we currently call the material world is all we know about. So, as far as I can tell any evidence we consider is bound to be material. This is the basis on which I think evidence can only be material.

    That’s not to say our sense data is all there is in reality, but only what we can use. Instruments can amplify and increase the type of data we can detect. So, for example, though the nuclear forces are present in all of us we can’t detect them in any meaningful way; but instruments can transform data we can’t detect into the data we can.

    So science is open to considering phenomena that don’t come naturally to us. That’s why I don’t think that science has a fundamental problem with what might be assumed to be non-material phenomena. We can either detect it using instruments, and incorporate it, or we can’t detect it. If we can’t detect it then to us it might as well be absent. Not that it has no effect on us – again the nuclear forces keep our atomic nuclei under control – but that we can’t detect the effect. We aren’t aware of its effect. In that sense there is no evidence of the phenomena.

    From this point of view I consider science to be the best arbiter of evidence that has anything to do with the limits of knowledge. Not because it has some special privilege, but because it’s the best of what we have. Science, through the brain sciences can account for many human experiences that are sometimes attributed to spiritual or other non-material phenomena.

    Philosophy helps, but alone it ignores the science for many phenomena, and so isn’t reliable alone. Theology always starts with the presumption of God as far as I can tell. Despite claims that God can be proven to exist logically, or that there is evidence for God, every example I’ve seen turns round to the presumption of there being a God in the first place.

    From my perspective I currently hold these views that get me to this position:
    http://ronmurp.blogspot.com/2010/05/human-fallibility.html
    http://ronmurp.blogspot.com/2010/05/contingency-of-knowledge.html

  28. My actual position on ID:

    The objections I’ve made to you about ID, including my opinion that there’s no evidence, are entirely for theistic ID.

    I have no problem with ID in principle for the following reasons:

    1) As we appear to be material beings there are questions about consciousness and free-will that lead me to think that it’s possible that we are just extremely complex automata.

    2) Using the concept that humans design things, then from (1) it’s possible complex systems of matter can perform design. This may change the concept of what design actually is.

    3) I don’t see any obstacle to humans eventually being able to design life from scratch. It seems an entirely technical problem.

    4) I don’t see any obstacle to humans eventually being able to design conscious entities. It’s not clear what different types of consciousness might exist, or what substrates it might be built on.

    5) From the above I don’t see an obstacle to ID: Intelligent humans designing life, and even intelligent life. Whether this is a direct design, or something that requires self-growth, self-generation, designed evolution, etc., doesn’t really matter.

    6) I don’t see any reason why intelligent alien life can’t have existed prior to us in this universe. There might be some issues about their source, but that simply shifts the human/intelligent origins somewhere else. Even if natural evolution is all there is we have no knowledge of the limits of the mechanisms of evolution, so we can’t say how long an alien civilisation might have had chance to develop. I’m not a fan of probability estimates in cases like these, because basically we’re dealing with the complete unknown, so all bets are off.

    My one problem with all this is that 3,4,5 haven’t actually occurred, so I think I’m safe in saying there is no evidence to support these speculations, though I do think they are plausible. On (3), is the current gene synthesis really evidence? Is it a new life designed from scratch, or just construction of existing life in vitro?

    So, with regard to our origins, and the role ID could play in our evolution, what data is available? I’m not aware of any. For example, here, you suggest that the results could imply design. First, that’s just design and not necessarily ID. Second, that it might be consistent with design doesn’t mean it supports the case for design. All science results are consistent with there being a God, as defined by some theists, but they don’t support a case for God.

    And, do you address the issue of anthropomorphizing natural phenomena?

    Having said all that, even if we take humans to be as we normally do, intelligent agents with some sort of free-will, and that design is something such agents do when creating artifacts, then I still don’t see actual evidence for the ID that might have designed life on earth. And even if we allow for design, I don’t see any evidence for the designer.

    So again, I see no evidence for ID.

  29. Nullasalus,

    Some more humble pie. I retract the comments on IC. I need to check my sources which have been mostly ID from theists who use ID to support the case for God. I have read some of Behe, but maybe not enough.

    “Should a person be able to say “there is no evidence for the existence of X” and/or “X does not exist” despite A) Never looking for X, and B) Admitting that they have no idea what evidence for X would look like?”

    First, “there is no evidence for the existence of X”:

    Depends what you mean by (A).

    If you mean carried out a scientific study to gather evidence, then provided nobody else has done that and presented evidence, then yes, it’s fine to say there’s no evidence. If there isn’t any then there isn’t. It doesn’t matter if the person making that statement carries out the investigation or not.

    If you mean reviewing the reasoning or any data provided by the proponents, then it depends on what the reasoning and data show. Of course there’s potential for disagreement here. One point of contention, as Michael has raised it, is what constitutes evidence. But that can be disputed on a case by case basis. I don’t see the need to always determine what counts as evidence first.

    If it’s actual data that’s offered, as evidence, then I think science can investigate it. If it’s simply a philosophical or theological concept for which no data is offered then we are pretty well stuck with critical thinking; though even there, given that thinking goes on inside brains, some science, such as psychology and neuroscience, might be used comment on the thinking that is being used. And some philosphical claims may have material implications, which can be investigated by science. This does assume materialism in the treatment of evidence, but only to the extent I’ve explained above on evidence.

    And “X does not exist”:

    No, because it might exist. However, if there’s no evidence then I surely it’s acceptable to work to whatever working model, or models, actually fit the bill, and to say that the situation that pertains is ‘as if’ X did not exist, without actually claiming that it does not.

    “Instead you told me that if someone tells you that X exists and you aren’t persuaded by the evidence, that that’s that and you’re under no obligation to go out and find more evidence.” – I didn’t say or imply “that’s that”. I don’t consider any human endeavour complete, or that any side in a debate has the last word.

    But if a proponent makes a claim and presents some evidence, and a reason is given for rejecting it, then the person making the rejection could choose to experiment to gather evidence, but they are not obliged to. But similarly, if the proponent really thinks they have made the case they might let it stand. Then there’s a simple stand-off. Who blinks depends on many conditions – such as, how much does the oponents still think they are right, and how much effort are they prepared to put into further investigation.

  30. Hi. I just found this site and it’s now bookmarked!

    I wanted to comment on this the scientism topic as it is something I have been studying lately. It seems that there is a bit of equivocation is involved in making the case for scientism. Science relies upon two disciplines, math and logic, both of which are based on axioms that are by definition not provable. To say that “science” is the best way of knowing is to validate logic and mathematics as well. The more dogmatic assertion – that the scientific method is the only way of knowing truth – is actually self refuting.

    As to detecting design, it is something I am just now starting to study, but something that may be simply a properly basic belief. I can certainly see how Dawkins could have been an intellectually satisfied atheist in light of Darwin’s theories, but not after Watson and Crick discovered DNA. And certainly not after Dr. Collins and his team mapped the human genome. The only “naturally” occurring instance of prescriptive coding other than the instructions contained in the cells are the laws of physics themselves, which aren’t even material objects.

    I guess I still like Paley’s watchmaker, even if not from an IC perspective. If common descent can be inferred from little more than homological similarities (which I think is a fine inference), it seems that we can also infer design. This, of course, is not significantly any less scientific than Darwin’s original inductive reasoning. We observe examples of intelligently designed objects every day. I am using one to type this as I speak.

    The issue I have with evolution isn’t common descent. Nor is it natural selection. As Berlinski puts it, natural selection seems so obvious that it is hard to imagine a scientific theory is needed to explain it. The issue comes with the random mutations part, and specifically the “random” part. Random is usually invoked much in the same manner as God (of the Gaps fame) when we meet uncertainty, yet “random” gets a pass because it lacks the obvious theological implications. But it is just as lousy an explanation according to scientism standards. A double standard seems to be at work here. Random works fine to explain a single mutation in bacteria that makes it resistant to a certain drug, but seems highly inadequate in explaining the sequence of mutations needed for much more complex physiological changes – changes that have happened repeatedly and independently (wings, eyes, etc.). This is not an IC argument I am proposing. When features such as wings or eyes pop up in separate evolutionary lines multiple times, when is it common enough to abandon random mutation as the engine of Darwin’s theory?

  31. Ron,

    I appreciate your last replies. I’ve gotten very busy again, but I’ll reply. It will just take a few days or so.

  32. Ron,

    Having said all that, even if we take humans to be as we normally do, intelligent agents with some sort of free-will, and that design is something such agents do when creating artifacts, then I still don’t see actual evidence for the ID that might have designed life on earth. And even if we allow for design, I don’t see any evidence for the designer.

    So again, I see no evidence for ID

    Let me make one quick point. “Evidence” is also context-dependent. Consider the whole crime scene situation. Evidence needed to trigger a suspicion of guilt is insufficient to support the suspicion. Evidence needed to support the suspicion is insufficient to support an indictment. Evidence needed to bring about an indictment may be insufficient to get a conviction.

  33. ronmurp-

    Intelligent Design is about the design, which exists in the physical world and is ammendable to research. One of the three basic questions science asks is “how did it (whatever it is we are investigating) come to be this way?”

    So we (try to) figure that out by seeing what it takes to account for what we are investigating. The point being is the design inference is based on our knowledge of cause and effect relationships- everytime we see X and know the cause a designing agency is always at its root. Therefor when we see X and din’t observe it being manufactured, we can safely infer it was via some designing agency until someone comes along and demonstrates that natue, operating freely can produce the same effect.

  34. Hi Michael,

    No problem. I’ve commented on another post they may carry over from here, but the points you raised there I wanted to answer specifically.

  35. Hi Joe,

    “The point being is the design inference is based on our knowledge of cause and effect relationships- everytime we see X and know the cause a designing agency is always at its root. ” – that’s not really significant, because it’s always the same agency type – humans (or animals generally if you want to attribute design capability to them). It’s not like we see design from different types of entity, some other designer, because it’s the design we see that is being used to infer the designer…which is then being used to infer design by various agency entities…

    There’s also the problem of determining what design actually is. If, as is plausible under materialism and causality, that there is no free-will, then we have no examples of designers at all – all apparent design are just by-products of complex automata. So, what you see as design from humans may actually be part of a complex natural process. Is a bird’s nest a design? An ant’s nest? Our interpretation of the greater ‘intent’ in human agency is inferred from our psychological predisposition? So, the apparent design (to some) of some aspects of life may just be an illusion that’s fooling some animals that have the additional illusion that they are agents.

  36. Ron,

    So, with regard to our origins, and the role ID could play in our evolution, what data is available? I’m not aware of any. For example, here, you suggest that the results could imply design. First, that’s just design and not necessarily ID. Second, that it might be consistent with design doesn’t mean it supports the case for design. All science results are consistent with there being a God, as defined by some theists, but they don’t support a case for God.

    Yes, but it is consistent with my specific teleological hypothesis of front-loading evolution. Over five years ago, I wrote:

    Front-loading is the investment of a significant amount of information at the initial stage of evolution (the first life forms) whereby this information shapes and constrains subsequent evolution through its dissipation. This is not to say that every aspect of evolution is pre-programmed and determined. It merely means that life was built to evolve with tendencies as a consequence of carefully chosen initial states in combination with the way evolution works.

    I also explained how gene duplication is precisely the type of mechanism we would expect from front-loading, as it solved two design problems associated with designing the future through the present.

    Along comes this large scale study to show 1/3- ¼ existing genes track back to the first cells and that gene duplication has come to take a more prominent role long prior to the Cambrian explosion. Such consistency supports the FLE hypothesis. If for example, it was determine that 1/1000 existing genes track back to the first cells and the de novo origin of genes was far more common than gene duplication, those would be inconsistent with FLE. Since the data turned out to be consistent with FLE, when it did not have to, this is evidence that adds to the plausibility of FLE.

    Contrast this to the non-teleological position, which would be consistent with all possible data patterns here.

  37. Hi Michael, I have a question for you related to the front loading theory… How deep does the front loading go? It makes me wonder if the designs of life might even be front loaded into the laws of physics themselves.

  38. ronmurp,
    What isthe methodology used to determine that the design is illusory?

    I do agree that if nature, operating freely can account for living organisms then the design infernce disappears. But can natur, operating freely account for nature, operating freely?

  39. Hi Joe,

    I don’t know there is a methodology for that, any more than there is for free-will being illusory, or mind-body dualism. So far these have been addressed only philosophically, without any clear conclusion. Without being clear about what intelligent agency is we can’t really figure out what sort of entity can design, and so can’t be sure what constitutes design, because our notion of design is wrapped up in our concepts of intelligent agents that can plan ahead. I don’t know that nature can account for nature. All I find is that the experience of the material is so forceful that we have to imagine other possibilities so that we can explain it away – but we don’t experience these other possibilities; or at least what some think of as other possibilities (e.g. solipsism) appear indistinguishable from the material, or they seem to require something in addition to the material but don’t add anything that the material can’t explain. My imagination can come up with concepts that are examples of other possibilities, such as dualism, and free-will, the supernatural, various designer agents. But that’s all they are as far as I can tell: concepts. But determinism is a very big problem for free-will, and causality is a big problem for non–determinism, and without causality the capacity for an agent to cause or to affect a design seems problematic.

    There seems to be the notion that materialists are constraining the argument unfairly, but it’s not intentional, and there is no specific agenda to do that. it’s simply that there appears to be nothing else.

  40. Hi Justin,

    How deep does the front loading go? It makes me wonder if the designs of life might even be front loaded into the laws of physics themselves.

    Yes, I wonder about that too. Check out my essay on DNA and proteins. https://designmatrix.wordpress.com/2009/12/05/the-rational-essence-of-proteins-and-dna-2/

    The similarities between the two are uncanny and cannot be attributed to common descent. On the contrary, the similarities are due to the laws of nature. What’s better is if you read to the end. You’ll find that the alpha helix of the protein looks like it is adapted to the major groove of the DNA. Or is the major groove of the DNA being adapted to the alpha helix of proteins? Either way, the source of the adaptation is not natural selection. It is natural law.

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