Sunday, February 14, 2010


Philosophizing ID

There is an interesting exchange between Nick Matzke and Francis J. Beckwith in the comments to the Stephen Barr article at First Things that I mentioned before.

Well, calling it an exchange might not be quite right. Nick made a generic comment that you can find by searching the page for the phrase "The ID movement is rather heterogeneous" (unfortunately there's no urls for individual comments).

Then Nick responded to comments by Beckwith (which I cannot find and may have been removed or come from somewhere else). You can find this comment by Nick by searching on "I just realized that [blockquote] tags don't work here".

There follows a number of long comments by Beckwith primarily aimed at showing that he was never an IDer himself, despite arguing that ID can be taught in public school science classes and despite his having been a fellow of the Discoveryless Institute. How successful he is at doing that I'll leave to the reader (you might want to particularly read the section containing "I was considering resigning as a DI fellow in late summer 2003". I'll only say that Beckwith has been by far the most erudite and philosophical of the IDers or their fellow travelers (yes, I'm deliberately mocking Beckwith's suggestion that the scientific opposition to ID may be a new McCarthyism) but that is not inconsistent with a certain amount of academic CYA.

You can find Beckwith's comments by searching on these phrases:

First, when it comes to ID, sometimes I feel like this guy

Then show me in one place--in all my published works--where I defend ID

First, ID is not "an argument."
Three things Beckwith says in these comments interest me enough to address them. First is this:

The term "intelligent design" has become ubiquitous in American popular culture as the most recognizable alternative to Darwinian evolution since the ascendancy of "Creationism" (or "Creation Science"). Although "Creationism" and "Intelligent Design" are each offered by their respective proponents as alternative accounts of Darwinian evolution, they are not identical, even though some writers in fact claim that they are identical. (One particularly annoying habit on the part of these writers is to refer to "Intelligent Design" as "Intelligent Design Creationism" for the apparent purpose of instilling in their readers the practice of thinking that "guilt by association" is intellectually virtuous). It seems to me that their confusion (if it is truly a confusion rather than just a form of McCarthyism) rests on two indisputable facts: (1) some ID advocates run in the same circles as some Creationists, and (2) Some ID criticisms to Darwinian evolution resemble, and are in some cases identical to, Creationist criticisms of Darwinian evolution. But that is a weak argument, for we can marshal just as bad a case against Darwinians who deny that their view supports atheism: (1) many politically passionate Darwinians run in the same circles as some atheists, (2) most Darwinian critiques of Creationism and ID are practically indistinguishable from atheist criticisms of Creationism and ID, and (3) most defenses of atheism maintain that Darwinian evolution is a defeater to theism. These facts, like the ones about Creationism and ID, are indisputable. So, it seems that "guilt by association" is a game that each side can play. ...

Moreover, some design arguments embraced by ID advocates are also embraced by ID critics! For example, two strong critics of ID, former Human Genome Project director Francis Collins and Brown University biologist Ken Miller, both Christians, defend the plausibility of design arguments that support some form of theism. Miller, who testified as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller case, maintains that the alignment of the cosmic constants soon after the Big Bang points toward an extra-natural mind as the Intelligent Cause of the universe. Collins agrees, but also offers an argument for the existence of God from the existence of the moral law, not unlike C. S. Lewis' argument in Mere Christianity. The sorts of cosmic "fine-tuning" arguments presented by Collins and Miller are also defended by thinkers associated with The Discovery Institute (DI), the Seattle think-tank that is in the forefront in supporting ID research.
This would be a fair point if we were discussing "creationism" in a context divorced from the political attempt to control what is taught in public schools. But we're not. In the context of Edwards v. Aguillard, "creationism" is the attempt to dress up religious ideas about the nature of life in scientific garb so that they can be endorsed by government employees who are educating children.

But Miller and Collins make no pretense that their beliefs are science. This is the difference between a philosopher appealing to some fact about the world, as revealed by science, in support of her philosophy and actually doing science. Nor do Miller and Collins lobby to have their beliefs taught as science in government schools. Even such an uber-"neo-atheist" as Jerry Coyne recognizes the difference between metaphysics and science and does not wish to teach science as if it is coextensive with atheism or philosophical naturalism:

And [Michael] Ruse, who seems to pride himself on his sophisticated knowledge of theology, runs completely aground when he equates teaching Darwinism with teaching atheism. I don't know of a single evolutionist who teaches atheism in their classrooms, or who even says in the classroom that Darwinism is tantamount to atheism. Show me, Dr. Ruse, one atheist who violates freedom of religion by saying, "God does not exist" in the public school (or even the university) classroom. Yes, teaching evolution may have the side result of eroding some peoples' faith, but, as I've pointed out before, the erosion of faith can occur in the geology classroom, the astronomy classroom, the ethics classroom, and even in the theology classroom! (How many believers have lost their faith when learning about how the Bible was actually put together?) As the respect for rational discourse increases, as it should with a good education, the respect for religion will erode. But that doesn't mean that a good education violates the First Amendment.
Thus, there is a factor missing from Beckwith's argument that provides a clear distinction that allows us to place ID apologists in the category of "creationists" and that fails to place those who oppose ID in the category of "atheists." Since ID advocates do seek to have their religious arguments taught in public schools (or, through the "strengths and weaknesses" ploy, to have all their arguments taught while just not using the words "Intelligent Design," in the same way the "cdesign proponentsists" made all the same arguments that "scientific creationists" did, just excluding the word "creation"), it is completely fair to call ID creationism.

Another thing that interests me was this from Beckwith:

As I was rereading chapter 3 of my book [Law, Darwinism, and Public Education] the other day, it occurred to me that I had mistakenly conflated two issues: (1) whether science as a discipline should be methodologically naturalist, and (2) whether our philosophy of nature should be methodologically naturalist.

I explain this in greater detail in a forthcoming series of blog posts that will appear on BioLogos.
Beckwith had previously dropped by my blog to deny he is an IDer. He claimed that his "project":

... addressed the question of whether certain sorts of arguments critical to philosophical materialism could be offered in a modest and tangential way in a public school science class. And the answer, of course, is clearly yes. ID was, of course, the most interesting proposal at the time I was in law school (2000-01). Today, if I had to rewrite my dissertation, I would be more careful to distinguish different sorts of challenges that are not affiliated with the ID movement. I sort of did that by treating ID as a kind of general category for all points of view that deny philosophical and methodological materialism.
My reaction at the time was to point out that Beckwith might be denying that ID was science but he, instead, was claiming that science can't be even tolerably well defined and, therefore, we might as well just go ahead and include metaphysics in science classes ... raising the question "why call them science classes at all then?" Furthermore, taken to its logical end, it winds up with the sort of redefinition of science advocated in the Wedge Document. Of course, arguments "critical to philosophical naturalism" were always allowed in public schools ... in philosophy classes, comparative religion classes, civics classes and the like. Maybe now that he has belatedly come to the realization that the methodological naturalism of science is somehow different than philosophical naturalism, Beckwith is prepared to say that ID, in whatever guise it is presently taking, has no place in science courses in public schools. I await his articles at BioLogos with minimally bated breath, because I have my doubts that there will be anything new, since he said in a comment a few minutes later (my third item of interest):

As you will see in my UST piece, I stand by the 2003 book since I do not think there is anything unconstitutional about the teaching of ID. I also stand by my distinctions between creationism and ID. What I do, however, is explain why I think ID is not good fro Christian theism and why both Judge Jones and Richard Dawkins actually believe in design. Thus, to answer the question of my article, "How can we be an anti-intelligent design advocate?" Simple. Believe in design. In fact, Nick, you employ it all the time. When you claim that ID advocates are duplicitous, you assume that human beings have particular end that requires that they be honest and forthright. But that's a final cause, brother.

Here's your assignment: critique ID and its advocates without once relying on final and formal causes in your conceptual framework.
Well, yes and no. As David L. Hull demonstrated in his seminal book, Science as a Process, the practice of science critically relies on honest reporting of results by other scientists, in that each scientist is building on the work of other scientists and dishonesty by one can ruin the work of many others. You might call this a "final" or "formal" cause of science in that honest reporting of the natural world is the "purpose" of science but it is clearly not the sort of final or formal causes Beckwith is talking about. Furthermore, the work of individual scientists honestly sharing information while working on different aspects of a huge enterprise is the "efficient" cause of science getting done. Thus, when scientists insist that alleged practitioners who are duplicitous are disqualified, they are not appealing to a final or formal cause but to the efficient cause of science.

I still have not been convinced that Beckwith was dispassionately exploring the philosophical and sociopolitical status of ID and was not advocating on behalf of it.

Hi John. As you will see in my UST law and policy piece coming out, I agree that final and formal causes have no place in scientific theory-making. What I suggest in my piece is that the absence of final and formal causes from scientific theory-making should not be confused with embracing final and formal causes in one's philosophy of nature. The problem, as I see it, is the equating of "science" with "knowledge." This is something I was really driving it in my earlier work on ID (2001-2003), but had not acquired the vocabulary to say in just the right way. Over the past six years or so I've been grappling with how to better articulate my concerns in a way that makes sense to those outside of philosophy. That's why my 2004-05 piece in Journal of Law and Religion reads the way it does.

Here's what i write in FN 59 in my forthcoming piece:

I am not suggesting that TD [thomistic design] should, like ID, claim it is a “science.” Rather, TD, like Dawkins’ atheistic materialism, is a philosophical point of view. See GILSON supra note 3, at 15–16, 133:

////[F]inalists [like TD advocates]… are constrained by the evidence of facts which in the tradition and through the example of Aristotle they desire to make intelligible. As far as I know, they do not claim anymore that “scientific” evidence is on their side; the scientific description of ontogenesis and phylogenesis remains identically what it is without the need of going back to the first, transscientific principles of mechanism or finalism. Natural science neither destroys final causality nor establishes it. These two principles belong to the philosophy of the science of nature, to that which we have called its “wisdom.” What scientists, as scientists, can do to help clarify the prob-lem of natural teleology is not to busy themselves with it. They are the most qualified of all to keep philosophizing about it, if they so desire; but it is then necessary that they agree to philoso-phize….Finalist philosophies [like TD] are responsible to themselves; they do not involve them-selves with science at all, and science, as such, has no cause to concern itself with them.”////

The article is coming out in about two weeks. I would be more than happy to send you a PDF of it when it comes out. Feel free to email me.

Thank you for your interest in my work.
Natural science neither destroys final causality nor establishes it. These two principles belong to the philosophy of the science of nature, to that which we have called its “wisdom.”

yeah, whatever
The problem, as I see it, is the equating of "science" with "knowledge."

I've taken much the same position, though I would add that science is the closest thing we have to "knowledge." But I'll be happy to wait until I get your article (I've emailed your university account) before passing judgment.
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