November 17, 2005

“Everybody’s a critic” – Often in the service of their own narrow agenda

I’ve just returned this evening from a lecture by a Dr. Keith Lockitch of the Ayn Rand Institute. Lockitch has a Ph.D. in physics and was introduced as an instructor in writing and history of physics courses at ARI. His topic - Creationism in Camouflage: The "Intelligent Design" Deception.

That’s a nifty title, I'd thought, and the thing was free, so I decided to give it a shot. Although I suspected this talk might be a rather superficial treatment of the issues meant to initiate an audience of “Objectivists” (Ayn Rand aficionados), I figured what the heck, it’ll be a harmless little diversion.

Turns out it was a harmful little diversion. Here’s the dish.

Dr. Lockitch was pretty solid in spending about an hour covering a shallow but accurate history of the evolution of creationism culminating in ID, even if he did often conflate religion and literalism. I thought at the time that this was probably just an oversight, a bit of sloppy language. But it was an indication of difficulties ahead.

As he began to discuss in detail the main thrusts of ID he landed heavily on the movement’s rejection of naturalism and never lightened up. Now this, in and of itself, would not have been such a bad thing, except for the fact that he never noted the distinction between metaphysical naturalism and methodological naturalism. In fact he never mentioned methodological naturalism at all. After observing that ID proponents such as Phillip Johnson decry science as metaphysical naturalism (and offering a definition thereof) I fully expected Lockitch to begin his rebuttal of this business with the obvious rejoinder - that science is a methodologically natural enterprise, not a philosophy, that P.J. and his pals are indulging in a convenient obfuscation of the operational nature of science.

But such reasonable argumentation was not forthcoming. As I was to discover, this was because the conflation of science and philosophy served Objectivist Lockitch’s purposes every bit as much as they serve those of creationists like Phillip Johnson.

Not only did Lockitch not note the distinction, he went on to assert that science is indeed founded on metaphysical naturalism and proceeded to defend it on that basis. Insisting, and offering precious little but insistence, that metaphysical naturalism is the only logical view of the universe, Lockitch proceeded to cast science as irrevocably, irreconcilably in opposition to religion (I’ve never considered the rather obvious example of theistic scientists to be such a difficult concept to grasp, but in addition to the constant ignorance of creationists on this score here is further evidence that even some atheists don’t get it). Obviously, at least by Lockitch's lights, the problem with ID proponents is simply that they are too backward to recognize the Truth value of metaphysical naturalism, not, as many of the rest of us apparently mistakenly think, that they are unable or unwilling to acknowledge the distinction between metaphysical naturalism and methodological naturalism.

Lockitch ended with an enthusiastic extended endorsement (surprise!) of Objectivism as the scientific alternative to religion and supernaturalism. This disappointing silliness, followed by comments made after the talk by Dr. Yaron Brook (the evening’s moderator of sorts) including “if you believe in reason and science, then faith and religion are OUT!” left a sour aftertaste.

As I withdrew halfway through the somewhat cultish and self-indulgent Q and A session, I couldn’t help but think that this kind of twisting of the issues is bound to follow on the heels of more and more publicity. I’m used to seeing it on the ID side (and used to watching the DI pretend to be “shocked, shocked” that some creationists are using ID for their religious purposes), but I think it’s something those of us who critique “intelligent design” will also have to recognize and try to correct when it happens in support of our purposes.

So to those such as Lockitch and Brook I’d just like to say – if, in the process of weighing in, you’re going to misrepresent science in pursuit of your philosophical agenda, then please, resist the temptation to help. Maybe you could just remain stoic, self-involved, and above such petty political triflings.

Hey, it worked for Howard Roark, didn’t it?


Blogger beajerry said...

Great post!

1:17 PM  

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