September 12, 2005

"The Designer's Identity" - Mike Gene's 'never rebutted' essay

While perusing the Telic Thoughts blog a while ago I noted in a post by Mike Gene a link to an essay of his that deals with the issue of identifying ID’s designer. In the post he claims that this essay has “never been rebutted.”

Now what self-respecting malcontent can resist a challenge like that, eh? So I thought I’d check out this immovable object of an essay.

The Designer's Identity, by Mike Gene

Intelligent Design proponents refuse to publicly identify the designer. If you are familiar with the debate surrounding ID, then you have probably heard this claim. The claim is almost always made by critics of ID. But what is the relevance of the claim?

I suspect that most critics of ID are quite sincere and think this observation is important for two reasons. First, any sincere interest in ID would entail a further interest in the designer.
No. I don’t, nor do I suspect that many others care about the sincerity of interest on the part of ID “theorists.” What we care about is the obligations they must meet if their methodology is to be considered legitimate. Any resemblance of ID to scientific methodology would obligate not only interest but evidence and data regarding the designer. With this kind of structure in place anyone, even those whose interest is anything but sincere, can expect to have a testable foundation upon which to base further investigation.
Thus, why make the identity of the designer off-limits? Why be coy about speculating about the designer's identity when its perfectly natural to ask this follow-up question? Secondly, the major players in the ID movement all happen to be religious. Thus, it is obvious that they believe the designer is God. But given the socio-political climate, where the ID movement is trying to get ID incorporated into public schools, the silence is part of a political strategy itself. This, at least, is how many critics of ID think.
[The contrary evidence for which, it will be discovered once having read it all, will not be forthcoming in this essay.]
While the motives of the ID critics may be sincere, the question itself ends up poisoning the well. Let's use Michael Behe as an example (although we could just as easily use Bill Dembski).

Behe infers design as a function of irreducible complexity. Behe argues that an IC system could not have evolved. And this leaves us with design as the only plausible explanation for the origin of such systems.
[I will assume the above's legitimacy only for the sake of further discussion.]
Now, note carefully that no where in this argument is the identity of the designer involved. It is not a necessary, unstated assumption. And it is not part of any conclusion.
How does one acknowledge “design” as the only plausible explanation yet still assert that “no where in this argument is the identity of the designer involved?” Even if one avers that nature has designed an IC system (something I suspect MG would not agree with) it is not possible to separate design from designer.
There can be only one set of circumstances under which the identity of the designer in this case is not a “necessary, unstated assumption,” that being the acceptance by all concerned (those doing the “research” and those for whom they are writing) that there is no need to evidentially establish the existence of the designer. And the only intelligence that meets this criterion is that of humans. In other words, only in the case that it is assumed that we are speaking of human, intelligent agents (designers) does this inference not require further explanation. These are the only intelligent designers of which we know, and are consequently the only designers that can be invoked without necessarily stating the evidence for, and assumptions behind, their inference.

The identity of the designer in Behe’s argument is indeed an assumed and unstated part of the conclusion because we know (Behe has made this clear himself) that he is not inferring humans as the intelligent designers of any particular IC system. Inferring a causal “intelligence” that is unconnected with evidence or data is logically equivalent to inferring supernatural agency and it then becomes incumbent upon any researcher invoking this “intelligence” to establish its existence as a legitimate causal agency. Absent this, the inference is meaningless as science.
For example, say the bacterial flagellum is IC. For the sake of argument, say this means it could not have evolved. Thus, someone infers design as the best explanation. Just how does one extract the identity of the designer from the design of the flagellum?
Far from being an indictment of those who suggest ID should involve identification of the designer, the above is an example of the vacuity of ID “theory” as a methodology capable of producing anything we would consider empirical evidence. The fact that one cannot identify the “designer” based on the “design” of the flagellum would testify to the intended purpose of ID methodology being to leave causal inference open to preferred personal predisposition. If MG has a problem with this he should talk to Behe, Dembski et al about the rigor of their “theory.”
Let's go so far as to relax our demands for the specific identity of the designer and instead put all possible designers into two categories - natural and supernatural. Okay, you infer the bacterial flagellum is designed because it is IC. Now, using this conclusion, and the data used to conclude IC (i.e., biological data about the flagellum and its parts), can you tell us whether the designer was a supernatural intelligence or a natural intelligence? No.
[If we are dealing with real biology, the characteristics of the flagellum make it abundantly clear that it was “designed” by natural processes. But to continue on assuming MG’s deference to Behe…]

Well of course we cannot distinguish between natural and supernatural based upon Behe’s (or ID’s) conclusions. This is part of the purpose of ID “theory,” to leave this inference wide open. But unfortunately, the only designer (the existence of) anyone gets to assume without proof is natural intelligent designers – humans. Again, unless ID proponents and defenders wish to argue that their “theorists” are simply researching human intelligent design there are no other intelligent designers that can logically be inferred without prior demonstration of their existence.
Thus, it should be perfectly clear to any objective person that the identity of the designer is not indicated, in any way, through the IC-to-ID inference.
This is indeed clear. As I’ve said, it is intended. I thought it was MG’s intent to establish that requests for the identity of the designer are unreasonable. We already know these requests are ignored by ID “theorists,” we want to hear the justification for this position.
To carry the IC-to-ID inference to the point where the designer's identity is indicated, one would have to carefully argue that the property of ICness is exclusive to a specific class of designers or any particular designer. In the past, I have asked dozens of ID critics to put themselves in Behe's shoes and imagine they have inferred that the bacterial flagellum was designed as a consequence of IC. Then, I asked them from there, to identify the designer. Every one has failed.
My, what a comeuppance. Being unable, through use of ID methodology, to establish the identity of ID’s designer?

MG appears to believe that critics of “intelligent design,” when asking that design “theorists” take the next (actually first) step and demonstrate the causal activity of their designer, actually expect them to be able to do so through use of design “theory.” I can’t speak for others, but I certainly don’t. It is obvious from the development of the methodology that identification of the designer is the last thing ID “theorists” want their “theory” to do.

But that doesn’t change the fact that it is the relevant question to ask as regards their supposed investigation into intelligence.
The bottom line is that an IC analysis fails to deliver the identity of the designer. Furthermore, assumptions about the designer are not needed to carry out an IC analysis. Thus, the reason Behe does not identify the designer is because his method does not provide it. Behe is being both intellectually responsible and logical. Ironically, when his critics insist that he identify the designer, they are baiting him to behave in an intellectually irresponsible and illogical manner.
That an IC analysis “fails to deliver the identity of the designer” does not in any way absolve ID “theory” from its obligations in this regard. It simply points out the inefficacy of IC analyses. Behe may be intellectually responsible, that is a matter for his conscience, but he has certainly demonstrated that he is intellectually incapable and illogical. Behe’s method is pseudo-investigation. It disregards empirical constraints in favor of an open-ended inference. When his critics insist he identify the designer, they are asking him to demonstrate the science behind his research (religious assertions). The fact that his methodology is incapable of producing evidence as to the nature of the very causal agency he is attempting to empirically establish demonstrates the impotence of his ideas, not those of his critics.
But what of the fact that Behe is a Catholic? That Behe personally believes the designer is God is not relevant. He has the freedom to add this extra layer of personal interpretation to his conclusions. That is, just as someone like Ken Miller can see God behind natural selection, someone like Michael Behe can see God behind design. Miller uses his own theology to interpret natural selection. Behe uses his own theology to interpret his design inference. And while Behe makes it clear he thinks the designer is God, he does not argue that those who make his design inference are likewise obligate to conclude God is the designer.
This is wholly uncontroversial. Anyone asking Behe or any other ID “theorist” to establish that his favored deity is the designer revealed by design “theory” is mixing epistemologies (in fact a constant practice of ID “theorists”). The nature of the designer is a matter of dispute due to its complete absence from design “theory.” This argument is appropriately restricted to science.
Refusal to identify the designer from the design is simply good logic. It's the intellectually responsible move if one is inferring design on the basis of IC. That some might have exploited this point of logic for political purposes is not important except to those focused on politics.
“Refusal to identify the designer from the design” is good marketing strategy. It is not logical in any methodological sense. In no other scientific discipline is the demonstration of causal agency for a particular phenomenon accepted without evidence of the existence of the causal agency, or evidence of the way in which the agency acted to cause the phenomenon. Developing “theory” with the express purpose of exempting it from scientific methodology is “good logic” only if one’s interests are not scientific.

That MG fails to understand the difference between the capacity of an analytical method (IC) and its obligations as science merely undercuts his assertions about intellectual responsibility and the political designs of his opponents (and wasn’t that a blatant bit of projection?).
And in comes our poisoned well. If a design proponent infers design, she will be asked to identify the designer. If she adheres to the logic of the design inference, she can't do this.
She certainly can. All he/she/design proponents have to do is revise and extend design theory so that it meets the requirements of empirical methodology. Take the next step. Consider cause and effect. Establish connections between them. Come up with the hypotheses, do the experiments. Make the observations, take the measurements, accept what the data tell you. Act like real scientists.

If the design proponent wishes to be satisfied with a truncated methodology that only pretends at science, then he/she may well rant and rail at the very legitimate request for theoretical rigor in pursuit of a “designer,” but this is neither logical, nor responsible.
This sets the stage for the critic's question. And if she also turns out to be religious, instead of recognizing the refusal to identify the designer as an adherence to rational thinking, it is interpreted in sinister terms. The design proponent becomes "religiously motivated." She is a closet religious apologist. A proselytizer. Someone fighting a cultures war. That's what her "refusal" really means in that poisoned well.
No. This is just MG’s confused rationalization. The fact that ID as a movement is “religiously motivated” is inarguable. Refusal to identify the designer may be related to these motivations, but its connection to an argument about the scientific potency of ID is negligible. ID is incapable of identifying the designer because it is designed to be so limited. This is the point made clear by requests from ID critics for the designer’s identity.
Suffice it to say, I have little patience with the "identify the designer" rhetoric. It's not just an example of sloppy thinking. It's a form of sloppy thinking that gunks up any sincere interest in design. It turns an attempt to adhere to logical, responsible thinking into a sinister motive. So perhaps, there is a better question to ask. Why do ID critics refuse to publicly acknowledge that it is illogical to identity the designer using the criteria of mainstream ID (IC and CSI)?
Because MG's case for this proposition is misguided, poorly reasoned and foolishly self-important. The shoddy nature of the argument here suggests that his impatience regarding the “identify the designer rhetoric” has more to do with an inability to craft logical responses than it does flaws in his opponents position. It is not up to anyone to demonstrate a “sincere interest in design” absent evidence that this would be a profitable avenue to pursue. And despite the weak protest, there are indeed those with “sinister motives” involved pushing their religion in design disguise (present company excluded of course).

Legitimate scientific attempts to investigate the phenomenon of design either include as part of their methodology vast informational resources pertaining to the putative designer (as with archeology, forensics, etc.), or draw assumptions from those resources (as with SETI). These inquiries deal with the only intelligence with which we are familiar. And they do not avoid any aspects of designer identification.

It is simply not possible to separate the phenomenon of “design” from the causal “designer” in any theory that proposes to establish that the “designer” has indeed acted to effect the phenomenon. It is a thinly veiled attempt at methodologically assuming the conclusion.

It is sophistry, not science, and so, unfortunately, is most of Mike Gene’s ‘never rebutted’ essay.


Blogger -== mist ==- said...

Another excellent critique. Sometimes, it's shocking how stating the obvious can still be profound.

As for the original piece by MG, it like the rest of his site, is ridiculous.

Thanks for providing me quite a few hours of entertainment this week.

4:15 AM  
Blogger JM O'Donnell said...

Very well trounced actually. I read many of the essays and other things that MG put forward, but for the most part he doesn't really have much of an interest in actually responding to the points made. For example, I objected to his comparisons of ID and the animal rights movement and explained how they were completely different things. He never responded to the majority of my points and ignored the main issues that seperate them.

Like most ID proponents, he knows how to whine about "Darwinian orthodoxys" and the like, but doesn't know how to actually present evidence that supports his position like a scientist does.

6:03 PM  
Blogger Ed Darrell said...

Isn't "Mike Gene" a pseudonym for a woman? What's the proper pronoun to use in such a case?

11:13 PM  
Anonymous John A. Davison said...

The ID people made a terrible strategic error by presenting ID as a subject for debate. Without ID there could never have been either ontogeny or phylogeny, both of which have been prescribed from beginning to end. Only ontogeny continues.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous John A. Davison said...

What makes anyone so sure there was just one designer? That there were one or more is undeniable. My personal feeling is that there were at least two, a benevolent one and an evil as I don't see how else one can understand anything of what we see going on around us.

10:18 AM  
Blogger dobson said...

What makes anyone so sure there was just one designer? That there were one or more is undeniable.

What if there were three - one good, one bad and one neutral. There might have been a forth one who felt a bit naughty from time to time but essentially had a heart of gold. Perhaps even a committee of designers each perusing a wildly different agenda. Perhaps there were untold gazillions of of designers operating at a nano scale each following their own mindless agenda resulting in today's complexity.


3:24 AM  

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