Tuesday, February 16, 2010


A Circle of Theologians

Jay Richards is a "philosopher" who I have written about before and who was co-author with Guillermo Gonzalez of The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery, during the course of which Gonzalez was ignoring his work in astronomy, leading, eventually, to his being denied tenure. Richards is over at the Discovery [sic] Institute's Ministry of Misinformation weighing in (has anyone got one of these?) on the Stephen Barr article that is causing so much agita among ID apologists.

The reason for the scare quotes is that he is endorsing this view of Michael Behe's claims:

Consider Mike Behe. When he is discussing the bacterial flagellum, he is evaluating the powers and limits of regular, repetitive physical laws (or, as I would say, of matter insofar as it acts according to these laws), and of the Darwinian "mechanism"—natural selection and random genetic mutation. He concludes that these processes, which are not intelligent agents per se, probably don't have the power, by themselves, to produce the bacterial flagellum. That's because the locomotive function of the flagellum is inaccessible to the cumulative power of natural selection. It is, as Behe says, "irreducibly complex." It needs many separate parts working together before it gets the survival-benefitting function. That's the negative part of his argument.

To get a working flagellum, according to Behe, you need foresight—the exclusive jurisdiction of intelligent agents. That's the positive part of his argument—not just against the adequacy of selection and mutation, but for intelligent design. An agent can produce a system for a future purpose, for an end. Now it's the obvious purpose of the flagellum, along with the fact that it is almost surely inaccessible to Darwinian selection—not merely the fact that it's really complicated—that justifies his conclusion that the bacterial flagellum is better explained by intelligent design than by repetitive natural laws or the Darwinian mechanism.
So, the flagellum's present function is its "purpose" that it and any precursors must have been aimed at; purpose only come from "agents;" therefore, we know that an agent aimed at making the flagellum because it has a purpose. People making such tight circular arguments are in danger of disappearing up their own butt and any "philosopher" worth his salt would recognize it and point it out.

But it easy to see why Richards doesn't, because he is, in fact, a theologian:

But it's a misunderstanding to construe Behe's arguments as complete descriptions of what God is doing. He is talking about detectible design in a subfield of biology, in which physical constants are treated as given, and the limits of mutation and natural selection can be discerned. In the case of the bacterial flagellum, intelligent design goes beyond what known, repetitive, natural processes, as well as selection and mutation would do if left to their ordinary capacities. So we invoke intelligent design rather than impersonal processes alone here. Contrary to Barr's argument-free assertions, this is not an appeal to go "beyond science" or a claim that science is incompetent. It's an argument for why science ought to include teleology within its explanatory toolbox if it wants to adequately account for major aspects of nature. [Emphasis in the original]
And, of course, despite previous claims that the "Designer" could be a space alien or other natural agent, it's God. But ID isn't religious at all ... nosiree Bob!

And how are they intending to get God into science? Why, the usual way:

Anyone familiar with ID will know that Barr is simply defining science to exclude consideration of intelligence, whereas the burden of ID is arguments is to show that intelligence is within the purview of science properly construed. ...

When an ID theorist in question is also a theist, then these distinctions are always in the background, even if they don't show up in every argument. That's because ID arguments often focus on discrete, empirical evidence of design in nature—that is, with "design" insofar as it is detectible and tractable in an open-minded scientific framework.
Wedge Document anyone? ... Or, for that matter, 1 Timothy 6:20?

Labels: ,

If we hang around a long time, then look at that bacterium again, we may see that its flagellum is used for, perhaps, lassoing prey, rather than for locomotion. Then we must conclude that its obvious purpose is feeding, not locomotion. We might also conclude that an argument based on "obvious purpose" is as useful as the weather forecast for yesterday.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

. . . . .


How to Support Science Education