Monday, July 20, 2009


"Modern" Intelligent Design

Not content with the Discovery Institute's attempt to hijack Thomas Jefferson into the ranks of IDeologists, despite his death some 33 years before he could consider Darwin's first exposition of natural selection as a mechanism to explain evolution, David Klinghoffer has decided to go medieval. The latest hijackee is Moses Maimonides (1135-1204 C.E.).

[T]he relatively new and admirably lucid Maimonides biography by Joel L. Kraemer at the University of Chicago, Maimonides: The Life and World of One of Civilization's Greatest Minds (Doubleday) ... asks what should a student of Rambam (Maimonides) like himself reply if asked, "What is the most important idea taught by Maimonides in his scientific and philosophic writings?"

Answers Kraemer: "A good answer would be that it is the idea of an orderly universe governed by laws of a cosmic intelligence." Contemporary relevance, please?

Replies Kraemer:

Maimonides grasped the great divide between monotheists, who believe that an intelligence guides the universe, and Epicureans, who believe that everything happens by chance. The argument continues nowadays between intelligent adherents of intelligent design and Darwinian atheists who believe in chance mutation.

Epicureans? What do they have to do with Darwin, much less modern evolutionary theory? Oh, yes! As Elliott Sober explained in his book, Evidence and Evolution: The Logic Behind the Science (p. 116):

Until 1859, the main alternative [design advocates] considered was Epicureanism; here I don't mean the philosophy of eat, drink, and be merry, but the hypothesis due to Epicurus and his followers that physical particles whirling at random in the void eventually combine to produce orderly, stable, and functional arrangements.

1859? Why does that date ring a bell? Oh, yes! That's when Darwin did away with the need for pure chance as a natural explanation of the life we see around us.

So why do the Discovery drones keep dragging up such examples? Oh, yes! They are humping medieval notions of monotheistic theology as if they have contemporary relevance to science.

You'd think that even the IDiots would realize that citing pre-moderns is a rather weak form of Argument From Authority. Not that they were generally the flat-earth simpletons of popular legend, but they were still wrong about a lot of stuff (not just limited to evolution).
Well that's setled then Maimonides says that there was an intelligent designer so it must be true. I'm glad that's over, I can go back to smoking dope and reading pornos!
Today I glanced at a copy of Sedley's Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity, which discusses the debates among ancient Greek philosophers between those who thought that chance and necessity were sufficient to account for phenomena, and those who thought that design is necessary. This is the issue that divides Epicureanism (the former view) from Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Stoicism. And Maimonides of course is an Aristotelian, as much if not more than he is a Jew.

The sort of Deism favored by Jefferson and Newton (and criticized by Hume), which brought the argument from design into modern prominence, drew mostly on Stoic arguments.

Klinghoffer's overarching strategy, whether or not he recognizes it, is to say that we're still having the same debates as the ancient Greeks had, that nothing in Darwin's work or in subsequent biology makes a substantial change to the philosophical/cultural conversation.
I have that book and started reading it and got bogged down in his discussion of Aristotle and then needed to go back and reread since I had lost track of what Sedley was referring to from earlier. One of these days ...

Klinghoffer's overarching strategy ...

Well, that and sowing as much confusion as possible.
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