Tuesday, August 05, 2008

3 Science Stoppers (by guest blogger Teed Rockwell)

The most decisive criticism of the very idea behind “Intelligent Design” theory (ID) is that it is a “Science Stopper”. There is no such thing as evidence either for or against ID, because “God did it” is not an explanation. It is simply away of filling a gap in our knowledge with an empty rhetorical flourish. If there is a God, he created everything in the Universe, and thus to use this claim as an explanation for a particular occurrence is either trivially false or trivially true.

There are, however, two other science stoppers which are not acknowledged as such.

1) The concept of “direct awareness”, so beloved by positivists and other empiricists. To say something is directly given implies we have no explanation for how we are aware of it. I believe Hume refused to define experience, because its meaning was allegedly obvious. Ned Block made a similar claim for “phenomenal consciousness”. In this context, the word “obvious” basically means “any prejudice that is so widely accepted that no one feels a need to justify it.” The prejudice here is that because we are all familiar with experience, it does not require an explanation. However, once scientific explanations became available for how our experience arises, the idea of direct awareness was rejected. The essential point here is that this would have happened regardless of what explanation was discovered. Once there a mechanical cause-and-effect explanation for our experience, it would by definition no longer be direct. In much the same way, “God created Life” seemed plausible until Darwin showed us how Life was created. However, the God-referring explanation would have been rendered inadequate by any possible causal explanation. Because of the principle of sufficient reason, explanations like “we are directly aware of X” or “God created X” are both science stoppers waiting to be filled by causal explanations. Chalmers apparently rejects the principle of sufficient reason as a metaphysical truth, for he believes that “there is nothing metaphysically impossible about unexplained physical events”. If so, what criteria does he suggest we use for dismissing Intelligent Design?

2) The concept of “Intrinsic Causal Powers.” This concept stops us a little further down the road, but stops us nevertheless. Causal explanations always need to see certain properties as intrinsic, so they can map and describe the relations between those intrinsic properties. If causal explanations didn’t stop somewhere and start talking about the relationships between something and something else, they’d never get off the ground. But this pragmatic fact about scientific practice does not justify the metaphysical claim that there are certain causal powers which are “intrinsically intrinsic.” Paradoxically, intrinsicality is itself a relational property. A property which is intrinsic in one science (say chemistry or biology) must be analyzable into a set of relationships in some other science (for example, physics). To deny this is to limit us to descriptions, and stop us from finding explanations.

One brand of physicalism claims that only very tiny particles possess intrinsic powers, but this contradicts another “physicalist” claim that brains have intrinsic powers. Those who believe in the mind/brain identity theory claim that environmental factors may cause experiences, but brain states embody those experiences. This is a fancy way of saying that brains have the intrinsic causal power to produce mental states, just as knives are intrinsically sharp. But saying that knives are sharp is just short hand for saying that they can participate in bread-cutting events, cloth-cutting events etc. Talk of sharpness intrinsically inhering in knives, or mental states inhering in brains, is accurate enough for many purposes, but it mires us in an Aristotelian world of dispositional objects which limits scientific progress.


Clark Goble said...

I'm not familiar with Chalmers on the point you mentioned him. But couldn't he simply say that the problem with ID isn't metaphysics but that it attempts to pass itself off as science? That seems a very reasonable critique.

I confess that while I find ID dubious and its proponents as typically sophists I don't see a metaphysical problem with it. The problems are either physical (evidence keeps filling in the gaps it purports to explain) and that it doesn't portray itself as a metaphysical theory but as a physical one.

If one took it as a metaphysical position that'd be less problematic although I think the biological knowledge we have would make it less and less likely.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, metaphysics isn't scientific.

Is that really news to anyone?

Clark Goble said...

I think the line between science and metaphysics is often blurry. But I think it undeniable that ID is pretty far into the metaphysical spectrum. There are some debates that are on the border (say early cosmology, some aspects of black hole theory, and of course string theory).

The other problem with ID is that while it is metaphysics I'm not sure it's very good metaphysics. Metaphysical positions are always fairly speculative. But clearly some arguments are stronger than others.

Anonymous said...

The problem I am discussing here is not Metaphysics being unscientific, But Science being metaphysical, and not realizing it. As Peirce once said " Some think to avoid the influence of metaphysical errors, by paying no attention to metaphysics; but experience shows that these men (sic) beyond all others are held in an iron vice of metaphysical theory, because by theories that they have never called in question. No man is so enthralled by metaphysics as the totally uneducated; no man is so free from its dominion as the metaphysician himself. (Peirce 1931/1958 7.578)"

I'm quoting the Chalmers from Richard's comment made on my Zombie post

Clark Goble said...

Science certainly is always metaphysical. But there is metaphysics that is somewhat decidable and then metaphysics that is more ad hoc. The Peirce quote is interesting since Peirce, unlike many philosophers, felt that inquiry could lead to knowledge of the truth of metaphysical claims. He adopted a kind of verificationalism but unlike the positivists felt that metaphysics was very meaningful and knowable.

The problem with ID is that now that their mathematical schemes didn't pan out it's unclear how it is verifiable in the least. It's not really metaphysics of the sort I think Peirce would approve of.

Clark Goble said...

To add, relative to Chalmers and ID I suspect the problem is that there's not justification yet to dismiss ID. It's not clear to me why we need to nor how this is a problem for science though. That, to me isn't the problem with ID. Now I do think there are alternative metaphysical positions with better justification. But surely that is open to Chalmers as well.

Anonymous said...

"If there is a God, he created everything in the Universe, and thus to use this claim as an explanation for a particular occurrence is either trivially false or trivially true."

You assume God's omniscience, which is not a necessary attribute of the creator of the universe. It's actually clearly NOT implied by the Hebrew bible, since God doesn't know all kinds of things in there.

Presumably, you can create a universe without knowing what will happen in it after creation. You could create a universe out of curiosity, to see what would happen. It's perfectly reasonable to think that God created the universe and was quite surprised that intelligent beings developed. He might have created it and not know that we developed. He might have created it, in fact, and have no way of knowing what is going on within it.

So, saying that God created the universe, and knew in advance that people would evolve, that He created the universe with that purpose, of created human life, is one thing. It really is an explanation of a lot of things. That is very from saying that God created the universe and people evolved in it by happenstance, or without His prior knowledge, or whatever.

The assumption that orthodox Christian theology determines the parameters of a God-created universe is, I think, unwise.

Clark Goble said...

While that's true Ken (although many would dispute it relative to the Torah) I think it safe to say that most ID proponents are conservative Christians and share that theology. Further in general the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic theology accepts logical omnipotence.

While we often do adopt a bit of a western-centric view (what about Hindus or Buddhists?) I think relative to these issues and complaints that's fair.

Anonymous said...

"I think it safe to say that most ID proponents are conservative Christians and share that theology."

If the full philosophical import of the question is how to frame an argument against a handful of American Christian conservatives, then it is silly to waste our time in the discussion at all.

But there is a much bigger philosophical question. We have a universe, and our latest cosmological theories suggest that it began at a specific time you can count back to from the present. Perhaps someone or something set that process in motion. Perhaps someone or something set the parameters of our universe. We may not have evidence one way or another at this point, but that doesn't mean they are illegitimate questions, or even in principle unknowable or unscientific.

The question of why our universe exists, or why it can support the evolution of intelligent life, is not in principle unscientific. It may be with current science we can't make any progress in answering that question, it could be that we will never make any progress, but who knows what we'll figure out. Scientific cosmology is still a very very young science.

Anonymous said...

My own personal theology is actually quite similar to Kenf's. I also think that the debate is badly skewed, but on both sides. The only alternatives considered are usually an omnipotent God, or a blind mechanical process. I don't think those are the only alternatives. But I was trying to point out that ID doesn't work, even on its own terms. Most of the arguments against ID take the Dichotomy described above for granted , then conclude that the universe must have been created by a Blind Watchmaker. I was only trying to show that you don't have to accept a blind watchmaker to reject intelligent design. Admittedly I did not consider many of implications of the cute little phrase quoted by Kenf, and he's right to take me to task for ignoring them.

Personally, I don't think it is possible to reconcile free will with divine omnipotence. I opt for free will, and say that God is therefore not omnipotent. One story I tell myself is that free will is necessary for consciousness, and God decided that a world with only one conscious being (herself) was inferior to a world with many conscious beings. So she created conscious beings, which created Free will, and therefore made evil and chaos possible.

Needless to say it would have been impossible to fit Eric's word limit and still add all that (and more) to my previous post.

Anonymous said...

Howdy Teed,

“because “God did it” is not an explanation. It is simply away of filling a gap in our knowledge with an empty rhetorical flourish.”

And “science” counters with, “Evolution did it”.

I think you miss the core appeal of Intelligent Design.

From the outside, the arguments used by both the scientific community, and proponents of religion, fail to explain the natural world with an acceptable degree of accuracy. There are many areas where religion and science have split up the territory, and apparently agreed not to trespass on each other’s turf. Science denies the existence of a spiritual/informational/intelligent component in natural systems.

For example, DNA represents a coded language. It is a system of symbols and rules used to convey abstract information. Within this code we find levels of abstraction much like those of computer code. At the lower levels, the protocols become standardized and seldom change. They are the common "agreed upon" meaning that makes the language work. Like the three codons that signify the end of a polypeptide chain, they represents internal protocols that never change. At the same time there are dynamic sections that vary widely.

If we were to find code this sophisticated carved in stone or streaming in from outer space, we would conclude that it came from an extremely advanced civilization. This stuff reeks of intelligence.

There is only one thing that we know of that can organize and store abstract concepts in a coded language... intelligence. DNA is evidence of "intelligent design" by its very existence. The intelligence does not come from some deity, but is integrated into the system itself. It functions in the very territory where science fears to tread, the spiritual/informational/intelligent component in natural systems. Metaphysics, introspection and spiritual discipline are the pathways into that territory.

One of the reasons ID has gained so many followers is that religious folks have taken the time to learn “scientific ways”, while the scientificos have failed to learn anything about spirituality. ID proponents have taken advantage of the fact that “science” is so fragmented and compartmentalized. From the outside, the field of science presents confusing and conflicted picture of reality, and swears by it. The result is a giant loss of credibility for the current scientific paradigm.


Anonymous said...

To Lifos,

The idea that information theory provides scientific evidence for the intelligent design of DNA is discussed at length in Robert Pennock's MIT press Anthology "Intelligent Design Creationism and its critics." Your argument, as expressed in your brief blog, has been pretty well answered there, I think. However I think that answer comes from a conflation with Shannon and Weaver's concept of information (which is necessarily non-semantic) and the common sense idea of information (which is necessarily semantic). Dretske has ingeniously attempted to combine the two, but I have a strong hunch that combination is ultimately unstable. To prove that,however, requires at least an article and probably a book. One of us should write that article/book.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, Teed.

The parallels you make between supernaturalism and "direct awareness" remind me of Rorty's account of Wilfred Sellar's "Myth of the Given." As I suspect you know, Rorty considered not only direct experience and the notion of "mind," but all western metaphysics to be the remnants of our supernatural traditions.

And, yet, I was struck when I read, "...once scientific explanations became available for how our experience arises, the idea of direct awareness was rejected." For I can not imagine scientific explanations being able to reject supernaturalism. Would a scientific explanation of the universe's origins be sufficient to reject the notion of a creation god? I doubt it. But, even if the notion of a creation god was rejected, would this be enough to reject supernaturalism? I doubt it. For, despite the Rockwell-Rorty observation that there are similarities between (at least some) metaphysical concepts and supernaturalism, I think important differences remain. Whereas scientific explanations can function as alternative naturalistic explanations (to naturalistic metaphysics), the very nature of supernatural hypotheses is that they are outside the domain of scientific explanations.

Or would you suggest that, in the end, science can not escape metaphysical assumptions that are analogous to supernatural explanations?

Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful post.


Anonymous said...

Michael asks

"would you suggest that, in the end, science can not escape metaphysical assumptions that are analogous to supernatural explanations?"

Actually I think it is possible to escape those kinds of metaphysical assumptions if we accept a pragmatic metaphysics, rather than a so-called "realist" metaphysics. It is of course necessary to talk about intrinsic powers when doing science (direct awareness is one such intrinsic power), because science has to start somewhere. But if we accept that our assumptions are a metaphysical fact--that there really are intrinsic powers and direct awareness--we end up with this kind of buck-stopping contradiction that says "the explanation is that there is no explanation". My Pragmatism says it is a metaphysical fact that intrinsicness is a relational property--that nothing is intrinsically intrinsic.

Rorty was wrong when he said pragmatism was anti-metaphysics. Pragmatism claims that certain properties are ontologically dependent on human purposes and activities, which is a metaphysical claim. (and I think a correct one.)

Anonymous said...

Teed, would you elaborate on what you mean by "ontologically dependent on human purposes and activities"?

Thanks, Michael

Clark Goble said...

Well my own views are pretty similar to Ken's as well, including my view of early Hebrew conceptions of God. (Levenson's Creation and the Persistence of Evil being a great book on the early creation accounts in Hebrew thinking)

Having said that though in terms of philosophical tradition it's hard to overstate the movements for the past 2000 years that led to ID. So saying that it's just a handful of conservative American Christians just seems wrong. The method of thinking has been part and parcel of the western tradition and, until relatively recent, the dominant position in philosophy.

I should also add that one needn't be an Evangelical American to buy into ID. I know some Peirceans who are closer to Buddhist than Christian who buy into ID.

The problem of evil is interesting and how it relates to free will (and what one means by free will). I'll not touch that since while I reject the Calvinist approach I'm pretty skeptical of the agent libertarian approach as well.

Jim, regarding ID the problem is that we didn't just find it recorded on a rock from outer space. We found it here with a ton of history and chemistry and ages giving us a much better way to make an informed decision. The appeal to judging with little context whether something is an intelligent message is simply misleading rhetoric on the ID part since it intentionally ignores all the evidence we do have and instead argues from a position where the evidence isn't had.

I'm certainly not going to say that people in the mid 19th century were idiots to doubt evolution. But there's been a hell of a lot of evidence gathered the past 150 years.

It's also quite wrong to say "scientificos have failed to learn anything about spirituality." There are many religious people who are scientists and think ID is plain wrong.

Clark Goble said...

Teed: if we accept a pragmatic metaphysics, rather than a so-called "realist" metaphysics.

Could you clarify what you mean here? Since to me Peirce's pragmatism was pretty realistic. Of course all the pragmatists including Dewey were going for a "third way" between the idealism and realism (materialism) debates of the late 19th and early 20th century. And as such they had elements of both.

You appear later to suggest that by pragmatism you mean that all properties are relational. But that doesn't seem like pragmatism as I understand it.

I'd second Michael's request. When you say, " certain properties are ontologically dependent on human purposes and activities" I'm not sure what you mean. Are you talking about James and Peirce's notion of truth (and thereby properties to the degree that predicates are true) are developed via inquiry and converge on a stable value? If so I might agree. That seems almost a more Heideggarian use of ontological though. One should also note that for Peirce and perhaps to a more limited extent James this was a kind of idealization.

Anonymous said...

I have a paper coming out in "Philosophical Topics" that deals with this in a more general way. But the specific point I'm making here is that, although the distinction between intrinsic properties and relational properties has to made if we are to study anything, where we draw the line changes depending on what we are studying. Biology may decide certain things are intrinsic, but Chemistry may see those same properties as being a network of relations. This is because chemistry is interested in studying what biology needs to presuppose. However, I think it's mistake to assume that this process of analysis bottoms out into something that is "really" intrinsic.

By the way,It is possible to accept that the intrinsic/relational distinction is pragmatic, without being a pragmatist about all concepts and objects.

Clark Goble said...

I suspect the issue will hinge upon what we mean by intrinsic since even intrinsic properties obviously to be useful properties must be relational in some way. Take a materialist and the idea that electrons have the intrinsic property of a particular charge or possible spin states. Obviously those matter only to the degree they involve interactions but interactions are thus relational.

Is that roughly the point you are making?

Anonymous said...

Howdy Teed,

I'll bet those MIT guys never considered combining info theory with neo-shamanism, did they? :-)

Seriously, that's were the problem lies. If those, "...theories that they have never called in question." include a mindless universe, then information can have no function within the system. It would be hard for them to come to any other conclusion.

However, my experience supports the shamanistic tradition of a fully intelligent environment. To me, information and systems theory are the only explanations offered by "science" that could explain what works in my life.

Howdy Clark,

None of the evidence for evolution discounts an integrated information processing system as its driving force. The evidence would be the same, only the interpretation would be different.

Religion(organized) and science have more in common with each other than either has with spirituality, in my book. Spirituality is a personal relationship with "the system", while institutions attempt to usurp that relationship.


Clark Goble said...

Jim, your last ditch defense of ID basically boils down to the ontology of what randomness is. Defensible but perhaps a difference without a difference.

As for spirituality are you now saying there are no spiritual scientists? Distinguishing between religion and spirituality is more than a little bit of a dodge.

Anonymous said...


I'm not defending ID, and only my very own version of geeky neo-shamanism. And i defend that only to the degree that it constitutes my best attempt to describe reality.

To me, the debate between ID and "science" is a sham. It is meant to give the citizenry the customary two, second rate options, while pushing any real debate into the background. Politics as usual.


Anonymous said...

Howdy Teed,

"To prove that,however, requires at least an article and probably a book."

Seems to me that the different definitions of information a merely the result of different points of view rather than any difference in the reality of the situation. In this case, "proof" is only a elaboration of one point of view, while ignoring the details of the other.

Seeing the universe as a primarily information processing system with matter as its memory/output, requires a non material, non-reductionist, point of view. Without making that adjustment in the mindset, nothing is revealed.


Anonymous said...

LIfeos writes

Seeing the universe as a primarily information processing system with matter as its memory/output, requires a non material, non-reductionist, point of view.

Not if you use Shannon and Weaver's concept of information, which is the only kind that science uses. Again, you should read the discussion in the Pennock Anthology. I have a hunch that a case can be made for your position, but stating your position is not the same thing as supporting it. If you're really interested in changing people's minds about this, you need to realize that the argument has to start where you're ending it

Anonymous said...

Howdy Teed,

Changing minds is not really my motivation. I don't think arguments do much in that regard. The core beliefs that give us our point of view come from much deeper in the psyche than is usually modifiable by logic or reason. It takes a "life changing" event to shake those beliefs.

We are all products of the pathway we have taken in life. Mine was unusual and brought me to a very different view of reality. My goal is to state that view as clearly as i can.


Bill Raybar said...

The intelligent design concept may be philosophically interesting, but remains scientifically drab. The attempts by its advocates to persuade people that I.d. is an explanation resulting from the methods of science are at best misguided. However, the attempts are a testament to the power of science to influence metaphysical beliefs