April 13, 2006

"Big Questions" for ID

One of “Intelligent design’s” most voluble “theorists,” William Dembski, is fond of a dialectical device whereby he lays out a list of Big Questions intended to offer serious challenge to his target - usually evolution by way of random mutation and natural selection. Of course in these cases the problem perceived by Dembski invariably turns out to be based upon a misapprehension begotten of his ideological propensities. In other words, his supposedly difficult questions can, and have been, answered.

Turn about is fair play. In the course of observing the ID movement I have, at various junctures, run across what I believe are fundamental flaws in the logic of ID proponents. And it seems to me that these observations lend themselves quite nicely to the Big Question device. Additional motivation comes in the form of an event being held at Biola University on May 12 in which many of "intelligent design's" leading theorists will bare their chests to the pointed questions of the movement's "toughest critics."

Thus am I roused to emulate Dembski’s method (though hopefully not his dismal performance).

Here goes,

0th question - Nearly every prominent ID theorist has, at one time or another, expressed disatisfaction with methodological naturalism (MN), regarding it as unfairly restrictive of alternative explanations. Many, if not all, of those same theorists have stated categorically that ID methodology does not invoke supernatural agency. Please explain why an investigation of a non-supernatural designing agency would require the restructuring of scientific methodology (MN).

1For those who suggest “common design” as a reasonable explanation for common descent – hypothesize a biological datum that would falsify “common design.” Regarding this datum, please explain how you know the designer could not or would not design in such a fashion.

2Scientific investigation identifies a set of observations that require explanation, hypothesizes a causal agency for the observations, then tests the hypothesis. ID identifies the observations and hypothesizes the causal agency, but refuses to perform the actual science by testing the hypothesis. Name another science that operates in this fashion.

3Methodological naturalism is considered unfairly restrictive by ID proponents. Please suggest a method by which science could accommodate inference to the non-natural and remain operationally potent. In other words, explain how we can empirically establish a direct causal connection between natural phenomena and non-natural agency.

4Many proponents of ID include cosmological phenomena as evidence of design. Please suggest a class of cosmological “designer” which would not contradict the ID movements’ long running repudiation of necessary inference to the supernatural (religion).

5ID proponents insist that we need know nothing of the designer in discussing design. Hypothesize an example of a scientific inference to intelligent design that can be made without any knowledge of the designer. Describe this “design” using arguments that neither directly nor indirectly suggest methods, motives or the nature of the designer.

6aIf ID can be viewed as a reasonable inference in the case of a lack of natural explanations, why do we not do the same for all other cases of incomplete inquiry?

6bIf an ID inference is arrived at as the result of a methodology which eliminates natural processes, how does the ID theorist justify the presumption that this methodology is comprehensive enough to allow him to discount any possible natural explanation?

This list is neither offered as comprehensive nor assumed to be rhetorically bulletproof. I welcome comments from both sides of the aisle and fully expect to revise and extend these remarks.

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding quetion #1:

> 1. For those who suggest "common design" as a reasonable
> explanation for common descent


This statement is a contradiction in terms.


> - hypothesize a biological datum that
> would falsify "common design."


A controlled experiment showing the production of biological diversity from a common ancestor on par with what is extant.


>Regarding this datum, please explain
> how you know the designer could not or would not design in such a
> fashion.


Irrelevant since the issue is to methodologically establish the quality of a scientific inference to an unguided naturalistic mode of causation for any such datum.

6:01 AM  
Blogger RLC said...

"A controlled experiment showing the production of biological diversity from a common ancestor on par with what is extant."

Considering that instead of offering an observation or datum you have suggested that we must be capable of replicating something on the order of planetary biology and timescales, let me rephrase the question - "...hypothesize a biological datum, that is not so obviously chosen for its removal from the reality of scientific investigation that it is functionally equivalent with refusing to answer the question, that would fasify "common design."


"Irrelevant since the issue is to methodologically establish the quality of a scientific inference to an unguided naturalistic mode of causation for any such datum."

Yes, when investigating natural processes the issue certainly is to "methodologically establish the quality of a scientific inference to an unguided naturalistic mode of causation for any such datum." And the quality of such an inference is dependent entirely upon the characteristics and processes of said "unguided naturalistic mode of causation," not independent of knowledge of it.

In other words, we know that a particular mode of causation is responsible for a particle phenomenon precisely because we know, and can empirically establish, how and under what conditions that mode of causation actually works to produce the phenomenon. In natural intelligent design this is uncontroversial because we know all about humans and their activities. There is no need to evidentially support an inference to the possibility of human design.

This is not true of design wherein the identity of the causal agency or methods and motives for causation have not been established. Put simply then, it is not only relevant, but crucial to demonstrating the connection of the phenomenon to its cause, to ask how one knows what factors led to the phenomenon in question, or "how you know the designer could not or would not design in such a fashion."


Neither of your answers has addressed the issue so much as continued to promulgate the ID equivocation that "we need know nothing of the designer." This is a scientifically vacuous diversion designed to insulate "intelligent design" from those evidentiary requirements of legitimate science which would reveal ID's theological commitments.

I will say, though, that you were correct about my first statement. It could have been worded more accurately.

8:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(2) – "Scientific investigation identifies a set of observations that require explanation, hypothesizes a causal agency for the observations, then tests the hypothesis. ID identifies the observations and hypothesizes the causal agency, but refuses to perform the actual science by testing the hypothesis. Name another science that operates in this fashion."


False. This is a crass mis-characterization of ID. It commits a fundamental category error.

The ID scientifc initiative is concerned with returning the process of scientifc inductive reasoning to soundedness and completeness by ensuring that said process is capable of reasoning to a true ontogeny.

There is not an empirical consideration, but a logical one. As such, ID is not an initiative to alter the mechanics of science, but to correct the axiomatic and reasoning basis of science.

ID does not refuse to do anything except begin the process with a categorical denial which is unsound logically. Ironically it is the Naturalistic Rationalists who engage in this irrational posture.

By contrast it is Naturalistic Rationalists who do not test that unguided natural processes have achieved the results they claim for them; they merely test that explanations in the form of naturalistic arguments-of-persuasion meet the test of philosophical conformance.

12:38 PM  
Blogger RLC said...

False. This is a crass mis-characterization of ID. It commits a fundamental category error.

Well of course the proposed category error is the crux of the question, isn't it? The last sentence, I'll admit, is nothing more than a call to address the categorization.

As regards the rest of your answer, it is not responsive to the question you are purpotedly addressing.

You appear to be suggesting that there is a problem with methodological naturalism. Stop repeating yourself and go ahead and tell us just what the problem is.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

3 - "Methodological naturalism is considered unfairly restrictive by ID proponents. Please suggest a method by which science could accommodate inference to the non-natural and remain operationally potent. In other words, explain how we can empirically establish a direct causal connection between natural phenomena and non-natural agency."

c.f., Dembski, W.A : "The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities (Cambridge Studies in Probability, Induction, and Decision Theory), Cambridge University Press.

1:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

4 – “Many proponents of ID include cosmological phenomena as evidence of design. Please suggest a class of cosmological “designer” which would not contradict the ID movements’ long running repudiation of necessary inference to the supernatural (religion).”


ID formally regards intelligence as a primitive, and as such all intelligence is considered non-natural or super-natural from a categorical perspective.

1:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

5 – “ID proponents insist that we need know nothing of the designer in discussing design. Hypothesize an example of a scientific inference to intelligent design that can be made without any knowledge of the designer.”


The obvious scenario is the one of first-contact with some artifact of previously unencountered designers.



“Describe this ‘design’ using arguments that neither directly nor indirectly suggest methods, motives or the nature of the designer.”


c.f., Dembski, W.A : "The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities (Cambridge Studies in Probability, Induction, and Decision Theory), Cambridge University Press.

1:56 PM  
Blogger RLC said...

Anonymous - Your answers to 3,4 and 5 are all utterly unresponsive. I know what Dembski thinks and he has not specifically addressed these questions.

If you have something substantive to offer I re-extend the invitation. But if more of these non-answers are all you are able to muster then please accept your limitations and refrain from posting what amounts to wishful thinking.

3:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

noctiluca wrote:

(6a) – “If ID can be viewed as a reasonable inference in the case of a lack of natural explanations, why do we not do the same for all other cases of incomplete inquiry?”



Is this a sociological question?



(6b) – “If an ID inference is arrived at as the result of a process which eliminates natural processes, how does the ID theorist justify the presumption that his methodology is comprehensive enough to allow him to discount any possible natural explanation?”



Unlike the Naturalistic Rationalist, the design theorist has no such presumption as he realizes that any such attempt at this kind of categorical negation requires omniscience or a scientific problem which is not underdetermined and is not part of a rational program of scientific inquiry.

6:21 AM  
Anonymous Phillipok said...

Under intelligent design theory, gaps in the fossil record are points at which "intelligent agents" infuse large amounts of genetic information into the biosphere to create new basic types. There are no natural evolutionary mechanisms that bridge the gaps, meaning that gaps represent historical discontinuities. (Human Origins and Intelligent Design, by C. Luskin).

If there is no natural reason why a basic type should first appear when it does, isn't it perfectly OK in ID theory to have Tiktaalik first appearing after dinosaurs, and dinosaurs first appearing after humans?

How can ID theory predict a new species?

10:19 AM  
Anonymous phillipok said...

I meant to say -

How can ID theory predict where to dig for fossils of a new species?

10:59 AM  
Blogger RLC said...

phillipok

Either way, it's a good question. And it further demonstrates the inevitable confluence of ID and creationism.

12:33 PM  

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