Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Nibbling at the Kool-Aid

The Discovery Institute's attack mouse, Casey Luskin, is at it again, threatening to loose multiple sleep-producing screeds upon the internet, the major result of which will be to acutely embarrass whatever thinking proponents ID may have left. This one is entitled "Principled (not Rhetorical) Reasons Why ID Doesn't Identify the Designer," which is followed closely by the dread-inducing "(Part 1)."

As a "hook," Casey recycles a complaint made by Mike Gene of Telic Thoughts about Dr. James F. McGrath, Assistant Professor of Religion at Butler University, whose blog, Exploring Our Matrix, you'll find over in my blogroll (for good reason). I'll let the good doctor handle that part of Casey's bleating (as he answered Mike Gene). I'm more interested in a couple of other "points" Casey swipes at.

Amusingly, for a supposed defense of allegedly "principled" actions by ID proponents, Casey complains that Judge Jones, in his decision in the Kitzmiller case, "misused" a passage from the ID "textbook," Of Pandas and People. Reminding people of that case (and what went on there), while claiming ID advocates are honest, might not be the best strategy. In any event, Judge Jones (at p. 25-26) says this:

Although proponents of the IDM [Intelligent Design Movement] occasionally suggest that the designer could be a space alien or a time-traveling cell biologist, no serious alternative to God as the designer has been proposed by members of the IDM, including Defendants' expert witnesses. In fact, an explicit concession that the intelligent designer works outside the laws of nature and science and a direct reference to religion is Pandas' rhetorical statement, "what kind of intelligent agent was it [the designer]" and answer: "On its own science cannot answer this question. It must leave it to religion and philosophy."

In answer to this, Casey quotes a more extensive passage from Pandas (though I have no way of checking its accuracy -- something that should always be done with Luskin):

If science is based upon experience, then science tells us the message encoded in DNA must have originated from an intelligent cause. What kind of intelligent agent was it? On its own, science cannot answer this question; it must leave it to religion and philosophy. But that should not prevent science from acknowledging evidences for an intelligent cause origin wherever they may exist. This is no different, really, than if we discovered life did result from natural causes. We still would not know, from science, if the natural cause was all that was involved, or if the ultimate explanation was beyond nature, and using the natural cause. [Emphasis in original]

Casey also states:

... the staunchly anti-ID website, TalkOrigins, admits that "an anthropomorphized designer need not be a deity. The atheistic religion of Raelianism, for example, proposes that humans were created by extraterrestrials."

How accurately Casey quotes that article (and how fairly he characterizes Mark Isaak's motives as being to protect atheism) I'll leave as an exercise for the reader.

The real question is whether Casey is actually so stupid (or whether he just hopes his audience is) that he misses the giant black hole of a logical contradiction sitting at the center of his argument? Sure, it is conceivable, as Judge Jones acknowledged, that a natural being "created" and "designed" life on Earth, though John Wilkins' assessment becomes relevant here:

ID requires a designer who can visualise all possible combinations of chemistry over billions of years. If that isn't a supernatural designer, I'll eat my epistemological hat!

But, if the "designer" really could be a natural being, why did Pandas rule, a priori, that we must leave its nature and identity to religion (of all things!) and philosophy? Surely the Raelian designer is potentially amenable to scientific study!

And there is no help for Casey's case in that weaseling at the end of the section from Pandas:

We still would not know, from science, if the natural cause was all that was involved, or if the ultimate explanation was beyond nature, and using the natural cause.

That too is a philosophical possibility applicable to all scientific results. But that's just it, it is philosophy, not the science that ID keeps disingenuously claiming to be.

So, basically, the take-home lesson of Casey's own presentation is that either ID proponents are not thinking clearly or they are lying through their teeth ... they're either dumb or dishonest.

Nice defense there, Luskin!

Update: Professor McGrath has responded to Luskin as well.

Thanks for mentioning this. I think the most significant detail in Luskin's reply is that he says the identity of the designer is a theological problem. In other words, it is a problem that has to do with God, even though he said in the previous paragraph that the designer isn't necessarily God.

I just hope this is documented well before they tweak their web page, as they inevitably will.
I thought that the DI drones had said that before, which is why I didn't focus on it. A quick search didn't find any other examples, however, though their "book" on Judge Jones' decision, Traipsing Into Evolution, makes the same claim but puts it as "the larger question (of whether the "designer" is inside or outside of nature) involves philosophy, including metaphysics."
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