February 21, 2006

Casey at the bat - Swing...and a miss!

Casey Luskin was born to be a Discovery Institute mouthpiece. Like most involved with the DI, he appears to be ever watchful for criticism, and ever mindful of the terribly unfair burdens the ID movement must bear. In coming to bat (Blinded with science) against my letter (12/28/05) to San Diego CityBeat he complains about the length of the letter, the unwillingness of “Darwinists” to let pass an uncritical analysis of ID, and repeats the DI mantra that “critics don’t understand ID.”

And in the process, he somehow manages to avoid responding to the substance of my letter, opting instead to toe the public relations line set forth by his employers, dutifully hitting many of the DI’s talking points.

Luskin’s rebuttal to my letter, with my thoughts interspersed, follows:

Blinded with science

I find it amusing that CityBeat would permit a 550-word letter from Robert Camp [Dec. 28] attacking the Discovery Institute and me in response to Pat Sherman’s mere 330-word sidebar to your Nov. 23 cover story, which dared to not cast intelligent-design proponents as evil. Mr. Camp believes it is “deceptive” to claim intelligent design does not postulate a supernatural designer. But he clearly does not understand intelligent design.
To be honest, I thought I was doing pretty well to be as brief as I was, considering the overwhelming ratio of explanation to creationist canard that is usually required (don't let anyone tell you those DI boys can't gallop every bit as well as the Gish guys). And you've got to love the persecuted whinge about having to put up with those brutal critics of ID.
Darwinists and materialists have been reminding their critics for years that science cannot study the supernatural. In fact, this was their primary critique of creationism during the 1980s. Design theorists, too, have recognized that referring to the “supernatural” is not a form of scientific explanation. This is because science can only study things we can observe, and the supernatural is beyond the observable realm.
If design "theorists" do in fact recognize this, one has to wonder why they (e.g. Meyer, Johnson, Dembski) go to such great lengths to complain about the restrictions of methodological naturalism. Perhaps Luskin can explain why the reconfiguring of science to allow non-natural explanation is such a high priority for the ID movement. I'd be happy to supply him with references to this fundamental thrust of ID "theory" if he is, as he appears to be, unaware of its importance.

In any case, Luskin has written the above as if it is some kind of response to my suggestion that ID proponents are deceptive regarding their beliefs. Of course it is no response at all to that charge, merely a restatement of uncontroversial scientific methodology.
While we cannot study the “supernatural” through science, we can study intelligence. We have a huge sample dataset to tell us how intelligent agents operate: technology produced by the human race. Design theorists observe that intelligent action produces large amounts of “complex and specified” information. Language and the finely tuned, purposeful arrangement of parts in machines are prime examples of this encoded information. If the cell was designed, then we would expect to find language-like encoded information commonly throughout biology.
There are scientific disciplines in place for the study of natural (human intelligence) design. If their's is truly an empirical endeavor, Luskin and his colleagues should feel free to pursue study of archeology and forensics and cryptography and any of the other natural methodologies for investigating intelligent activity.

The reason, of course, for the creation of ID "theory" is that none of the above disciplines allows inference to the supernatural. They are scientific disciplines, after all, and they are concerned with developing substantive explanations for natural phenomena. ID, on the other hand is concerned with opening a door to inference of supernatural agency and is structured such that investigation of the cause of a particular phenomenon - as would happen in the scientific disciplines - is assiduously avoided. Thus the tired complaints that ID can say nothing about the designer.

Consider, though, that archeology and forensics etc. are primarily concerned with elucidating the methods and motives and identity of the designer. This is what science does. This is why ID is not science. It is a front for religion.

ID methodology, then, cannot be considered analogous with scientific study of human design. But beyond observations regarding methodology there are also many questions as to the legitimacy of any analogy between natural (human) intelligent design and putative non-natural design. There is no basis for considering a comparison between the two to be useful (see a piece about this here).
The cell confirms our expectations from design. Our DNA contains incredible amounts of encoded information. Living cells transform this encoded chemical message into machines that are engineered to perform necessary biochemical functions. The conversion of DNA into protein relies upon a software-like system of commands and biochemical codes. This is an information-processing system Bill Gates has described as “like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.” Moreover, the machines in our cell are often said to resemble human-design machines—such as the rotary engine found in the bacterial flagellum. This is powerful evidence that an intelligence was at work.
It is evidence of wishful thinking at work, nothing more. It is evidence that the ID "research" program consists largely of breathlessly explaining the complexity of life or the cosmos and asserting that an inference of "Intelligence" is forced. It's science for the ignorant and incredulous, not for those who think.

This droning on about the complicated chemical machinery of the cell has become the latest in the ID slogan hit parade. It is just as disingenuous and thoughtless as their other catchphrases. For a longer treatment of this subject see the article - "Very like a...machine?"
I openly acknowledged in my interview with Sherman that I am a Christian. Camp’s assertions that I am “deceptive” about my beliefs about the identity of the designer are thus baseless. What Camp doesn’t realize is that his position is self-contradictory: evolutionists cannot on the one hand attack creationists as unscientific for referring to a “supernatural” or “divine” creator, and then on the other hand slander design theorists as “deceptive” for refusing to appeal to unscientific explanations like the supernatural. Rather, design theorists should be applauded for constructing an approach to studying intelligent causes in the history of life that does not stray into unscientific territory.
Hmm, one has to wonder about Luskin's reading skills. I, of course, never attacked creationists for "referring to a “supernatural” or “divine” creator," I attacked ID "theorists" for designing a pseudoscientific methodology which intentionally leaves open inference to the supernatural. Nor did I "slander" design "theorists" for refusing to appeal to the supernatural, I called them deceptive for trying to hide the motives behind the creation of their "theory" and the prosecution of their movement.

This is by no means a contradictory set of positions. Perhaps this kind of convenient misapprehension serves Luskin in his capacity as a lawyer but it does not wash as a logical argument.
Many design theorists, including myself, believe the designer is God. But that is my personal religious belief and not a proposition of the scientific theory of intelligent design. The explanatory category of an “intelligence” is a valid scientific form of explanation because we have much empirical experience with how intelligent agents operate. The observed products of intelligent agents are precisely what we observe in the cell.
As noted before, this is all true as relates to scientific disciplines like archeology etc. In regard to ID it is utter nonsense. It sounds reasonable but means little when investigated at a deeper level. Luskin is blowing smoke.
The designer very well may be God, or a supernatural divine being. But if that is true, it is not something a scientific approach to studying origins can tell us. Intelligent design thus takes a bona fide scientific approach that is endorsed by a growing number of scientists and peer-reviewed scientific publications.

Casey Luskin, Seattle
A last marketing salvo. Luskin has hit many of the prescribed points and, as with most DI spokesman, said little or nothing. As I mentioned earlier, Luskin is free to explain why it is, if ID is a scientific approach avoiding discussion of the supernatural, that ID's leading lights all feel the need to argue for reinterpreting science's methodologically naturalistic constraints.

Luskin the p.r. hack has had his say. But I'm more interested in hearing from Luskin the intellectually honest individual. If he is reading this, I'd like him to let me know why it is that, in responding to a letter I wrote which contained the following points...

1) "Luskin says "If you want to know how old the earth is, go ask a geologist." Doesn't this advice mean that those who want to know about life on earth should go ask a biologist?

2) Biologists, many of whom are theists, overwhelmingly reject ID as both non-scientific and religious.

3) ID “theory” is an unfocused, ambiguous, often contradictory hodgepodge of pseudoscientific ideas with very empirical content, the better to allow for unconstrained inference. If it is misunderstood that is because it has no center, no foundation, no overarching methodology beyond taking issue with biological evolution.

4) ID, in that it shares goals, methods and makes common cause with creationists, must be considered creationism.

...he has addressed none of them.

C'mon Casey, here's another pitch. Let's see what you do with it.


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