Evangelical Outpost on Leiter/VanDyke

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Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost has jumped into the Leiter/VanDyke fray, in a post filled with misconceptions and illogical statements. He begins:

For a legal scholar and professor of philosophy, Brian Leiter has a remarkably poor grasp of basic logic. For the past week Leiter has been bashing a defender of Intelligent Design theory using his typical rhetorical style of bullying and bluster. Instead of thinking up creative new ad hominem attacks, though, he should be paying closer attention to his reasoning.

At the risk of being pedantic, I have to point out this very common mistake in claiming the ad hominem logical fallacy. An ad hominem, contrary to how seemingly everyone conceives of it, is not merely an insult. Calling someone a jerk is not an ad hominem. An ad hominem is a logical fallacy, so there must be a mistake in reasoning in the formulation. The logical fallacy in an ad hominem attack is in responding to a substantive claim by referring to an irrelevant personal trait of the person making the argument. For example, if I said, "Joe Carter shouldn't be listened to when he talks about ad hominems, look at the way he dresses", that would be an ad hominem. I would be rejecting his arguments based upon an irrelevant personal trait. While Leiter is often rude and harsh in his attacks on people, those are not ad hominems. They may be insulting, but that doesn't make it ad hominem.

Joe quotes this passage from Brian:

The difficulty, however, is that science did not "a priori pick a naturalistic methodology"; it adopted, based on evidence and experience (i.e., a posteriori), the methods that worked: it turns out that if you make predictions, test the predictions against experience, refine the hypotheses on which the predictions are based, test them again, and so on, you figure out how to predict and control the world around you. This is what the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and a few other ancient events apparently not covered in Mr. VanDyke's education, were about: the a posteriori discovery of the most effective ways to predict and control the world. This, of course, distinguishes the naturalistic worldview of science from the supernatural view of religion, which is genuinely a priori.
And begins his response:
There are numerous problems with Leiter's reasoning but I will point out just three. The first is that his methodology would lead to conclusions that Leiter himself woudl presumably reject. Take for example the "anthropic principle." We could predict, post hoc, what type of universe would be required to produce human life, but we'd be unable to test the theory (we aren't able to repeat the Big Bang).
Does Joe really think that if we can't repeat an event, we can't test explanations for that event? This would rule out whole fields of science, including the one he mentioned. Big bang cosmology is entirely testable, and has been tested, without having to repeat the big bang itself. Testability requires making predictions about the nature of new evidence, not repeating the event itself. It would also, by the way, rule out the entire field of forensic science, which is used to convict people and even put them to death on a daily basis in this country. By Joe's reasoning, you would have to actually recreate the murder in order to test forensic explanations for the murder. But that's not how it's done, of course. You test the forensic explanation by making predictions. If the bullet came from gun X, then we make predictions Y and Z. If Y and Z are confirmed, the explanation is validated.

He continues:

We could, however, determine the likelihood that the event could have occurred by pure chance. Since the probability of such a series of events occurring by coincidence would be close to zero, we would be lead, by evidence and experience, to the conclusion that the universe was "designed." (To conclude otherwise would require taking an a priori prejudice against supernaturalism.)
I'll take issue with Joe's claim that we can determine the likelihood of the big bang, or the so-called anthropic coincidences, occuring by "pure chance", and I'll challenge him to produce such a calculation. We hear this argument over and over again, but it's never accompanied by an actual probability equation. If you think we can calculate the probability of either of those two things, let's see the probability equation.

It should also be noted here that even if such a probability equation were possible, it wouldn't tell us anything meaningful about whether the event could have occured naturally or supernaturally. The perfect illustration of this is Marshall Berman's example of the rock in the backyard:

Go outside and pick up a small rock. The probability of that rock being on that spot on the earth *by chance alone* is roughly the area of the stone divided by the surface area of the earth, or about one chance in 10 to the 18th power (one followed by 18 zeros). If picking up the stone took one second, the probability of such an event occurring at this precise moment over the lifetime of the universe is now even smaller by another factor 10 to the 18th power! This simple event is so incredibly unlikely (essentially zero probability) that one wonders how it could be accomplished!
Joe continues:
The second reason is that the "what works" approach gives us no reason to believe that our conclusions are true. I may believe, for example, that my dryer contains a black hole that causes socks to disappear. Every time I put a load of clothes in the machine I find that I'm missing a sock. The more I repeat this experiment the more socks I lose, thereby providing sufficient evidence to confirm my theory.
Joe seems to be confusing facts with explanations. Socks disappearing from your dryer would be a fact; the "black hole hypothesis" would be a potential explanation for that fact to be tested. The continued occurence of the fact does not test the potential explanation. Doing laundry would not constitute "repeating the experiment", since doing laundry does not test the explanation at all. In other words, this is an absolutely absurd analogy for how science tests a hypothesis.

The black hole hypothesis could of course be tested in other ways, as black holes have predictable effects. If there was a black hole in your dryer, it would have a quite noticable effect on gravitational pull around the dryer. It would also not be able to distinguish between socks and other types of clothing, since black holes are not conscious entities and would simply obey the laws of physics. Now, Joe might invoke a violation of the laws of physics here and say that this is a magic black hole that only makes socks disappear and doesn't have any other predictable effects. But in doing so, Joe would demostrate for us exactly why science rules out supernatural explanations, because once you allow them, all bets are off - there is absolutely no way to discern true supernatural explanations from false ones. Can you propose a means of distinguishing the "magic black hole" hypothesis from the "malevolent demons" hypothesis or the "mischievous leprauchans" hypothesis? Of course not. In other words, Joe's analogy is a really good argument against his thesis.

Leiter, of course, would claim that we should use Occam's razor and exclude the necessity of the black hole to explain the missing socks. But this would require us to take an a priori position in favor of the principle of parsimony in order to preserve methodological naturalism. My theory would work well enough that I would have no reason to test it further and while it might not be "true", the a posteriori examination of the evidence makes it a plausible explanation. After all, naturalistic methodology doesn't require us to take a priori assumptions about truth.
Leiter would not have to invoke Occam's Razor to distinguish between two explanations here, because Joe's hypothetical explanation hasn't been tested at all, and if it was tested by making predictions about the effects of a black hole, it would be falsified. Joe is pretending that he has two equally plausible explanations that explain the exact same things equally well, when in fact he doesn't have such an explanation at all. He has one very bad analogy that, if made more analogous, would fail miserably as a theory.
The third reason Leiter's argument fails is that he has no justification for excluding other theories or methods that don't rely on methodological naturalism. Just because a method works doesn't mean it is infallible. The method provided us with Newtonian physics, a hypothesis that "worked" well enough. . .until it didn't. Do we regard the theory as having always been an implausible scientific hypothesis just because it was replaced by another? Of course not. The same applies to methods. Just because methodological naturalism "works" (at least sometimes) does not mean that it is the only valid method or that it cannot be replaced. Besides, you can't (without resorting to an a priori assumption) exclude other methods as invalid without allowing them to be tested.
This would be a serious objection if, and only if, there was some means of testing those "other methods", in this case the ID explanation. And if Joe can come up with a testable hypothesis that flows from ID, or a way to falsify ID, he'll be the first to do it.
Leiter's reasoning shows that his bias against intelligent design theory is not rooted in science but in prejudice. By acknowledging that science does not require an a priori submission to naturalism he inadvertenly undercuts his own argument. He can't claim that methodological naturalism is the "most effective ways to predict and control the world" while refusing to allow other methods to be tested.
Again, Leiter is not ruling out ID without allowing it to be tested. He's challenging the ID advocates to put forth a real model with testable hypotheses that flow logically from it and propose a means of testing those hypotheses. But they haven't done that, and I don't think they can. It's not by accident that all of their publishing efforts to this point have been trying to poke holes in evolution. The entire ID argument up to this point comes down to one big God of the Gaps argument - "Evolution can't explain X, therefore God (sorry, the unnamed - wink, wink - intelligent designer that we know nothing about) must have done it". There are no testable hypotheses that flow from that. So it simply isn't a question of anyone "ruling out" ID without testing it, it's a question of there not being any means of testing it. And if the ID advocates think that's false, all they have to do is actually publish some means of doing so, as we have been challenging them to do since at least 1997's NTSE conference. That deafening silence you've been hearing in that regard is quite telling, don't you think?

4 TrackBacks

Oh dear god from Letters of Marque on April 7, 2004 1:01 PM

Snippets of a conversation... Joe Carter, defending ID, says We could, however, determine the likelihood that the event could have occurred by pure chance. Since the probability of such a series of events occurring by coincidence would be close to... Read More

My recent criticism of >Brian Leiter has stirred quite a debate about the merits of Intelligent Design theory and has produced numerous thoughtful comments, both on this blog, at The Panda‘s Thumb and Letters of Marque. Unfortunately, the debate h... Read More

The Panda's Thumb has smoked out its first raving creationist, and hoooo-whee, is he a ripe one. Check out the comments to the article Evangelical Outpost on Leiter/VanDyke, and look Read More

WHat is Probability? from The Corpus Callosum on April 16, 2004 9:44 PM

There has been a log of blogbuzz lately about Intelligent Design (ID), probability, and Evolution. Moreover, these three things tend to be mentioned together. I started to write a piece about linguistics and the Sapir-Whorf-Korzybski Hypothesis, af... Read More

96 Comments

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At the risk of being pedantic, I have to point out this very common mistake in claiming the ad hominem logical fallacy.

While I agree that Leiter may not have committed such a fallacy in the technical sense, it is the basic purpose of his insults. He attempts to cast doubts on his opponents arguments by demeaning their intellectual abilities. Leiter may be a smart guy but you couldn’t tell if from the way he argues. Strip away the bluster and insults and he rarely has anything substantive to add.

Does Joe really think that if we can’t repeat an event, we can’t test explanations for that event?

No, I don’t. But then, that wasn’t my claim. We may be able to test individual explanations but we cannot test unrepeatable events. That is the problem with your forensic science analogy. While we may be able to confirm whether the bullet came from a particular gun, we are unable to test all the elements that could have been involved in the murder.

We hear this argument over and over again, but it’s never accompanied by an actual probability equation. If you think we can calculate the probability of either of those two things, let’s see the probability equation.

U= The known universe N= Occurrence of an event necessary for human life to exist

Prob(U)= prob(N) + prob(N1) + prob (N2) + prob (N3) …

The perfect illustration of this is Marshall Berman’s example of the rock in the backyard.

Actually, Berman’s is a bad example since it commits a form of the inverse gambler’s fallacy. Since there is nothing special about each of the events that are being used to calculate the probability, there is no reason to assume the event was unlikely.

The continued occurrence of the fact does not test the potential explanation. Doing laundry would not constitute “repeating the experiment”, since doing laundry does not test the explanation at all. In other words, this is an absolutely absurd analogy for how science tests a hypothesis.

While it may be an absurd analogy and a bad hypothesis, there is nothing in it that violates Leiter’s explanation for how science works.

Now, Joe might invoke a violation of the laws of physics here and say that this is a magic black hole that only makes socks disappear and doesn’t have any other predictable effects. But in doing so, Joe would demostrate for us exactly why science rules out supernatural explanations, because once you allow them, all bets are off - there is absolutely no way to discern true supernatural explanations from false ones.

But in order to get to that conclusion you would have to make an a priori assumption about science, which is precisely my point about Leiter’s silly misunderstanding of how science works.

In other words, Joe’s analogy is a really good argument against his thesis.

No, it is a silly analogy that provides a good argument against Leiter’s thesis.

And if Joe can come up with a testable hypothesis that flows from ID, or a way to falsify ID, he’ll be the first to do it.

That’s hardly the case. Dembski provides a rather good one that uses the bacterial flagellum: “To falsify such a claim [that it is irreducibly complex], a scientist could go into the laboratory, place a bacterial species lacking a flagellum under some selective pressure (for mobility, say), grow it for ten thousand generations, and see if a flagellum–or any equally complex system–was produced. If that happened, my claims would be neatly disproven.”

Joe misses the point when he quotes Dembski on falsifying ID at the same time exposing that ID is an appeal to ignorance. Note that ID did not propose a hypothesis but rather states a negative. While one can disprove the negative, this does nothing to disprove the concept of ID.

It is easy to get confused by the ‘logic’ of Dembski and it should be a warning not to rely too much on Dembski’s faulty arguments.

I thank Joe for exposing the fallacy of ID namely that it does NOT present ID relevant hypotheses but rather ‘Not Y’ thus ‘X’ arguments.

Joe: Prob(U)= prob(N) + prob(N1) + prob (N2) + prob (N3) …

Are you sure Joe that probabilities are additive here? Seems that Prob(U) will soon be 1 that way. It’s this kind of sloppiness which seems to prevalent in ID literature. Appeal to vague and absurd probabilities, a confusion of probability with complexity. Of course Joe did not really address how we calculate the individual probabilities in any meaningfull sense. ID seems to suffer quite a bit from such problems, see Dembski’s probability calculations of the flagellum for a good example

Joe: Prob(U)= prob(N) + prob(N1) + prob (N2) + prob (N3) …

Are you sure Joe that probabilities are additive here? Seems that Prob(U) will soon be 1 that way. It’s this kind of sloppiness which seems to prevalent in ID literature. Appeal to vague and absurd probabilities, a confusion of probability with complexity. Of course Joe did not really address how we calculate the individual probabilities in any meaningfull sense. ID seems to suffer quite a bit from such problems, see Dembski’s probability calculations of the flagellum for a good example

I’m afraid that Joe has misunderstood the distinction between “testable” and “repeatable.” The forensic science example is a good one because:

  • The individual tests have been previously validated through repeatability, AND
  • The individual tests have been applied under identical field boundaries to a nonrepeatable post hoc condition, RESULTING IN
  • Individual test results consistent with the previously validated repetitions. THEREFORE,
  • The “nonrepeatable event” (in this instance, the murder) has been tested by using measuring instruments that scientific inquiry is satisfied will produce repeatable results.

The inference is that the causation of the consistent result is similar to the causation of the validated, repeatable results.

This can certainly be applied to testing the Big Bang. Not being a cosmologist, I can speak only in general terms; but there is substantial relativistic, nonrelativisitic, and quantum mechanical evidence from quasar shifts, etc. that supports some form of a Big Bang origin. The event itself is not repeatable (or at least I hope not during my lifetime); but the post-event characteristics are.

What I see Joe Carter wanting is a single test that proves or disproves the Big Bang. Given that there is virtually nothing in all of science that is concluded from a single test, this is essentially forcing a negative answer by the form of the inquiry. Instead, science works by accretion of evidence and tests. For example, Michaelson-Morley did not show the quantum-mechanical nature of light; it ruled out the previously accepted theory.

This should surprise nobody; it is the favorite “evidence” method of Philip Johnson—and, for that matter, of the medieval philosophers who spent their time enumerating angels on pinheads rather than paying attention to what the world around them showed.

Joe,

I realize you may be relatively new to this issue, so don’t take my comments as too condescending. I’m personally glad you’re interested in this discussion, and I hope some of us can clear up any confusion or questions you may have about it.

When one of us (evil evolushunists) ask’s for a testable prediction from the Theory of ID, what we’re asking for is something which the theory predicts DOES exist. Something which must exist, for the theory of ID to be however it is you stated it to produce the prediction…errr…sorry I’m not a very good writer… And, and if it DOES NOT exist, then the theory is in jeopardy- or at least in need of some tweaking. Enough of these failed predictions and the theory might get tossed out.

Falsifiability in other words. What type of evidence could exist, in prinicple, which would falsify the Theory of ID. Come to think of it, what IS the Theory of ID? Using your example of the flagellum, what could be found in regard to the Irreducible Complexity which would falsify ID?

~DS~

Unfortunately, I think the deafening silence will not be broken any time soon because the essential intent of ID theorists is not the advancement of science but the propagation of their religious beliefs.

Propagation of one’s religion in itself is not bad nor is it even dishonest. But when one tries to use empirical methods to prove the existence of one’s god and that as a kind of logical coupe de gras, he/she ends being not a Christian but a prevaricator.

In my opinion, Fundamentalist Christians would be better off getting back to the basics. That is nurturing their religious faith and using the attendant betterment of their individual lives to spread their gospel. They should furthermore abandon this immoral quest of theirs to transform their religion into science. In doing so, they might regain respect they’ve sought for over two centuries.

Pim,

Joe misses the point when he quotes Dembski on falsifying ID at the same time exposing that ID is an appeal to ignorance. Note that ID did not propose a hypothesis but rather states a negative. While one can disprove the negative, this does nothing to disprove the concept of ID.

Actually, I think that you are missing the point of Dembski’s argument. Either the bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex or it is not. If the experiment shows that the structure was produced by natural selection then it would prove the ID’s hypothesis was false.

Wait a minute. The guy who thinks missing socks means he can argue that there is a black hole in his dryer wants to claim that Leiter has a “silly misunderstanding of how science works”?

As PvM points out, he’s asked for the probability of the simultaneous occurrences of multiple independent events, and he spits back a vaguely defined formula that sums rather than multiplies the probabilities?

Jebus.

One of the continuing problems with arguing with creationists is the hyperdevelopment of our sense of irony.

How does a person even begin to estimate the probability of event without knowing the alternatives? If I roll a fair die, I understand that the probability of any one result is 1 in 6, because there are six sides.

But how can one meaningfully estimate the probability of the Universe existing? Or of the speed of light being c, or the gravitational constant, or the relative strength of the strong nuclear force, or any of the other events supposedly “necessary” for human life? Until someone demonstrates that it is possible for the fundamental constraints of the universe to have been other than they are, I’m forced to conclude that both p(U) and p(N) are 1.

Joe:

No, you miss the point. If Dembski were confronted with a specific mechanism for the evolution of the flagellum (which, IIRC, has been done), he would simply conclude that the flagellum is not irreducibly complex and shift the goalposts to some other biological mechanism (clotting, perhaps).

It’s a fun game to play if you’re on the creationist debating team circuit, travelling merrily from church to church and rallying the faithful. But let’s not pretend it’s science.

Quote: While I agree that Leiter may not have committed such a[n ad hominem] fallacy in the technical sense, it is the basic purpose of his insults. He attempts to cast doubts on his opponents arguments by demeaning their intellectual abilities. Close quote.

I’m afraid I must agree with this. Almost always when a debater directly insults his opponent, it is to suggest intellectual weakness in that opponent or else to suggest that the opponent is so mentally lacking that something must be missing from hiargument. It is not relevant that the statement “John is stupid, therefore his argument is flawed” never appears; the fact of the insult is enough to qualify as ad hominem.

Quote: “To falsify such a claim [that it is irreducibly complex], a scientist could go into the laboratory, place a bacterial species lacking a flagellum under some selective pressure (for mobility, say), grow it for ten thousand generations, and see if a flagellum–or any equally complex system–was produced. If that happened, my claims would be neatly disproven.” Close quote.

That wouldn’t work, actually. The ID researcher could afterwards claim (indeed, he *must* claim) that the second bacterium was itself designed by the Intelligent Designer, so the experiment was either guaranteed to succeed or doomed to fail, all by original design, and the human researcher’s involvement is irrelevant. The test as Dembski formulates it is not falsifiable.

What is needed to test ID theory is an experiment whose outcome cannot be claimed post hoc to have resulted from original design. However, any life form on Earth 9or any lifeform created by humans) would by definition lack this required purity.

~Tom ~

BTW Joe,

There’s no way you can answer everyone so don’t bother trying, or you’ll be in here typing all day.

Pick out one or two folks, one or two topics, and stick with them.

~DS~

Have to agree with PZ and others above, this argument from the Anthropic Principle bugs me greatly. Aside from the ridiculous misunderstandings of probability theory (independent probabilities being multiplied) there is no good reason to assign them independent probabilities. To go to the rock analogy cited above, the event in question isn’t “picking up this rock” but rather “picking up a rock”. Since you had no parameters for the rock in question, the probability of picking up a rock can be defined as the probability of happening upon a rock (approx. the amount of the earth’s surface containing rocks, expressed as a ratio to total surface area (dry)) multiplied by the probability of picking up the rock (1). You can build, in this manner, a set of conditional probabilities for different rocks (flat, round ones near a lake, eg). It is a gross oversimplification to suggest that the big bang state probabilities (i.e. the probability of the grav. constant being 6.67x10^-11, the speed of light being c, etc) are independent. It is equally hard to identify alternatives (c-1?), and assess their probabilities. If and when a comprehensive grand unified theory (GUT) is presented, it *might* make some of this more clear. It has always seemed to me that a tautological explanation for the state of the universe is the most parsimonious. The universe is the way it is because, if it we’re different, we would see it differently. The universe is uniquely set up to support life like us because if it weren’t, we wouldn’t be here talking about it.

ad hominem arguments are inevitable in a discussion of ID. If you meet somebody who thinks that they’re really a two-ton cat person from the planet Schwartz, it’s hardly surprising if you’re more interested in figuring out what’s the matter with the guy than in trying to figure out how to refute his “theory.”

Joe,

Please explain how you can calculate the probability of an event from a sample size of 1?

While I’m working on answering some of the other questions I have to ask an honest question. Is this doubting of the weak anthropic principle just a ploy to get me bogged down in defending a rather uncontroversial point or is there really a disagreement that the principle is valid? (Since I doubt that so many people who are familiar with science would not have heard of the WAP I have to assume that it is an intentional distraction from the main argument.)

The Anthropic Principle is consistently over-interpreted, misapplied, over-extended, and mangled beyond recognition by creationists. It is not any form of scientific evidence in favor of a god-like intervention in the creation of the universe.

I also recommend that you avoid getting bogged down in it. It’s a waste of time.

Personally, I prefer the Pants Principle, which holds that everything exists in the universe for the sake of pants.

In fact it can be shown that God more than likely created for pants rather than for humans.

U = The known universe Ni = Occurrence of an event necessary for human life to exist Mj = Occurrence of an event necessary for pants

Prob(U)= prob(M1)*prob(M2)*prob(M3)*prob(M4)*…*prob(Mm) = prob(N1)*prob(N2)*…*prob(Nn)*prob(Mn+1)*…*prob(Mm)

Since a universe for pants must also be suitable for humans, a universe for pants is less likely than a universe for humans; therefore, pants are more likely to be the purpose of creation than mankind.

Because of this, I used to be jealous of pants, now I just accept my place in creation.

P.Z.,

I also recommend that you avoid getting bogged down in it. It’s a waste of time.

Agreed. So let’s get down to business.

Please explain how naturalistic methodolgy is able to empirically distinguish between natural phenomena that is produced by an undirected natural causes and that which is produced by intelligent causes.

Sorry. I sent that before it was spellchecked.

Errm, aren’t you the one who is supposed to be telling us how ID does that?

When asked for a way to falsify the ID hypothesis, Joe said:

That’s hardly the case. Dembski provides a rather good one that uses the bacterial flagellum: “To falsify such a claim [that it is irreducibly complex], a scientist could go into the laboratory, place a bacterial species lacking a flagellum under some selective pressure (for mobility, say), grow it for ten thousand generations, and see if a flagellum–or any equally complex system–was produced. If that happened, my claims would be neatly disproven.”

This is of course a silly test. A bacterium doesn’t try to grow feet or a tail. The only thing it tries to do is become two bacteria!

The point is that the environment in which a bacterium lives doesn’t select for a flagellum specifically or even for mobility. Rather, it selects for (any) traits that confer a reproductive advantage. (Think of all the fauna that make a living as slow and lumbering, or indeed don’t move at all.) In the space of ways bacteria are able to make a living, having a flagellum is merely one (small) possibility. (Aren’t there kinds of bacteria without a flagellum? How do they solve the motility problem? Would that count as a falsification of Dembski’s test? How “equally complex” does the motility system need to be, exactly? And how do you even measure that?)

The fact that a bacterium has a flagellum depends on a Vast (see Dennett) number of contingent (see Gould) events. For a more concrete example, read about the devilishly hard time Dawkins had reproducing his chalice biomorph (see Blind Watchmaker).

If the sky opened up and a big guy’s face came down and said, “watch!”, and produced neat new animals together with fake fossils, and did other cool magic tricks and explained away a lot of pretty major coincidences, I’d be sold!

Errm, aren’t you the one who is supposed to be telling us how ID does that?

Um…no. If you read my original post it was disputing Leiter’s contention that naturalistic methodology does not take an a priori stance toward naturalism.

Am I correct in assuming that since you avoided my question that you don’t have an answer?

Please explain how naturalistic methodolgy is able to empirically distinguish between natural phenomena that is produced by an undirected natural causes and that which is produced by intelligent causes.

It seems you want to “avoid getting bogged down” by completely changing the subject. The subject of this post was my fisking of your post; if you scroll up, you’ll see it. There were several things at issue, including your obvious misunderstanding of how science operates. Specifically:

1. You claimed that merely observing the fact to be explained provided proof for a possible explanation of that fact. This is patently false.

2. You erroneously claimed that if you can’t reproduce an event you can’t test an explanation for that event.

3. You claimed that only Occam’s razor would distinguish the “black hole in the dryer” hypothesis from a natural explanation, when that is obviously not the case.

In addition, you offered a very poor probability equation for which you cannot possibly know all of the variables. Which means, essentially, there is no legitimate probability equation at all. Several people in this thread offered critiques of why that is. You didn’t respond at all.

Lastly, you offered a “test” for ID that proves that ID is not a real model at all, but only a negative argument from ignorance - “not evolution, therefore ID”.

All of these criticisms have been made and supported in this thread, and you have responded to none of them. But now you want to change the subject to something entirely different. How scientists would discern designed objects from undesigned objects has no bearing on either A) whether Leiter was correct about MN being a posteriori, or B) whether ID can discern supernatural design from non-design. I daresay your zeal to avoid being bogged down really means a desire to avoid answering all of the reasons why the arguments you’ve made so far are poorly reasoned and invalid.

Am I correct in assuming that since you avoided my question that you don’t have an answer?

That was my answer. Those easily conceivable observations would convince me that ID was correct. And if I’d grown up seeing a big sky guy do magic tricks all the time, I would be very doubtful of naturalistic explanations. The fact that I regard ID explanations as immensely improbable is not an a priori commitment but is due to the evidence of the actual course of my experience—it is a posteriori. I think every other “naturalist” is the same as me in that respect.

No doubt ID fans think naturalists underestimate the probability of ID explanations given the evidence. But that has nothing to do with naturalism being a priori.

I myself don’t care a whole lot if they teach my kids ID. My kids are smart enough to survive that. Heck, I had to go to Sunday school. :-)

At risk of sounding naive in this matter, what is the point of debating ID?

First, let me say that I do think that ID is just a way to get religious folk to force God/Allah/[insert intelligent designer here] into science.

Second, I am very religious. I’m also a physics major (well, I’m switching it to a minor soon, but I took the classes).

The reason I ask this is because whether or not ID is responsible for the universe, physics works. Any purported “miracle” doesn’t negate physics. And if there were no ID, physics still works.

I think it is important to note that I don’t believe in a 6-day creation (the original hebrew of Genesis doesn’t even say “day”), nor that creation was ex nihlio (sp?) (the original hebrew has a different connotation for “created” that falls closer to the word “organized”).

From the above, I would ask: why couldn’t evolution just be one of the tools “the designer” used to create life? Why isn’t the big bang the catalyst necessary to “organize” the existing parts of the universe into what we live in and examine today? And, to restate my first question, does it really matter to the progress of science anyway?

Matthew Heaney finally asks questions I can answer (except possibly the last one): (quote) In the space of ways bacteria are able to make a living, having a flagellum is merely one (small) possibility. (Aren’t there kinds of bacteria without a flagellum? How do they solve the motility problem? Would that count as a falsification of Dembski’s test? (endquote) Many bacteria have flagella, but whole large groups do quite well without them. A great many are non-motile (a discussion of the value of motility is probably outside the bounds of the panda’s thumb comments), relying on the forces of nature and man to carry them from place to place. Others use notably cool motility mechanisms, such as producing surfactants (detergents) that they float over a surface on, pili that they use to pull themselves along a surface, or glide by mysterious means (here’s a cool site with a bunch ofmotility info). In fact, if I had to sort of distill it down to its essence, I would probably call bacterial motility, in its glory and variety, a great example of evolutionary adaptation. Since Dembski’s test, to the best of my understanding, is bunk, I am not sure that this qualifies as falsification of it, but I think the flagellum and motility in general is a tremendously bad example of “intelligent design”, and a nearly perfect example of adaptation to niches and evolution. The whole debate is spookily similar to the old “half an eye” debate I remember reading about in Skeptic magazine as an undergraduate. Santayana, anyone?

Joe wrote:

Please explain how naturalistic methodolgy is able to empirically distinguish between natural phenomena that is produced by an undirected natural causes and that which is produced by intelligent causes.

Intelligent causes operating via effective methods will produce patterns that may be distinguished from undirected natural causes via such techniques as the universal probability distribution (UPD) of algorithmic complexity theory. Jeff Shallit and I explain this in an appendix introducing an application of the UPD that we call “specified anti-information” (SAI) (see our paper). This procedure does everything useful that Dembski claims for his “design inference”, but has the advantage of actually being able to be applied to real-world problems. What SAI does not deliver, though, that Dembski desires is a specific category of agent causation. What is detected by the UPD, and thus SAI, is that the causal explanation likely lies in a simple computational process. Since this class includes includes processes of directed natural cause in addition to whatever-it-is that ID advocates say “intelligence” is this week, SAI is unsuitable for the antievolution program of ID advocacy.

Joe wrote:

Actually, I think that you are missing the point of Dembski’s argument. Either the bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex or it is not. If the experiment shows that the structure was produced by natural selection then it would prove the ID’s hypothesis was false.

Showing that one hypothesis is causal and another is not discards one hypothesis. That’s not the point of falsifiability, which has a specific technical meaning via Sir Karl Popper. Popper was interested in what could be known about theoretical statements, and his thesis was that while the truth of theories could not be established by confirming examples, they could be falisified if found to entail conclusions that proved false to our experience. It is not an enailed conclusion of “intelligent design” that the bacterial flagellum, specifically, must be “designed”. It’s a conjecture that places no risk on “intelligent design” taken as a “theory”.

I hammered both Bill Dembski and Michael Behe on this point on June 17, 2001 at the CTNS/AAAS “Interpreting Evolution” conference. (See video of my presentation and my PowerPoint presentation.) They didn’t understand “falsifiability” then, and improvement seems to be coming slowly and painfully. Witness the string change that Dembski deploys in his new book, The Design Revolution, in his chapter on “Testability”. This is reworked from an earlier Internet essay of Dembski’s that featured a long discourse on “falsifiability” displaying his misapprehension of the term. The new word Dembski uses to replace it is “refutability”, which has no particular significance to anything. But it saved him having to retype, or worse, rethink, much of anything. Of course, I received no credit for this particular part of Bill’s remedial philosophical education.

I pointed out at the same conference that scientists are pragmatists at heart, and that all ID advocates had to do was demonstrate that ID actually got real-world results for them to adopt it; nobody was going to care about philosophical niceties about methodological naturalism and the like if this were the case. But the simple fact is that doing this is going to require that ID be capable of generating a hypothesis of its own (not just “not natural, therefore designed”) and delivering, either implicitly or explicitly, the epistemology by which the hypothesis can effectively be tested.

Over the years, I have proposed tests of Demsbski’s “explanatory filter/design inference”. Jeff Shallit and I have an article on challenges for ID advocates in the latest Reports of the National Center for Science Education (taken from our longer paper) that outlines specific things they can do to demonstrate that they have a research program, rather than just the “bare possibility” of some future research program. Unfortunately, “testing” seems to be something that ID advocates only approach in the vaguest and inept manner seemingly possible. Witness Demsbki’s “inductive generalization” argument for the reliability of his “explanatory filter/design inference”, which falls squarely into the confirmationist fallacy Popper so clearly exposed as inadequate. This argument of Dembski’s has been in his oeuvre since the mid-nineties, and still graces his latest book, The Design Revolution, and is notable primarily because is it so completely bogus. No matter how many “confirming cases” Dembski might accummulate for his “inductive generalization” (and it must be noted that the number thus far is 0 (zero, zilch, nada), none of these could in any case be said to “test” reliability in that they would be, in principle, unable to explore whether a false positive case could be generated.

Repeating from my second post on this blog: To actually test his methodology Dembski and other ID advocates would have to examine cases where we had biological systems with a sufficiently detailed evidential record that even the ID advocates would agree beforehand that natural causes were sufficient to explain their development. Only then would running them through Dembski’s “explanatory filter/design inference” place the EF/DI at hazard of showing a “false positive” result. I suggested that Dembski and his comrades at the (then) Discovery Institute Center for Renewal of Science and Culture concentrate upon systems like the impedance-matching system of the mammalian middle ear and the Krebs citric acid cycle, which exemplified complex systems for which biologists have accumulated a strong set of empirical data concerning their development.

Mr. Brayton:

Maybe I did interpret you as defending Leiter’s modus operandi; if I did, I was mistaken. That the attack on VanDyke (the substance of which I actually mostly agree with) is disfigured by ad hominem abuse still seems to me to be glaringly obvious (for reasons I’ve already given and won’t repeat).

In response to Prof. Myers, what can I say? There’s a certain breath-stopping arrogance, a certain violation of the ethics of argument there that really offends the hell out of me, so I’ve harped on it. If pointing out these abuses makes me guilty of the same offense, so be it (though I think I’ve struggled to avoid the kind of language that would make me guilty). You haven’t yet addressed what I said about the abusive, violent quality of the language used. I’ve seen that you you’re not immune to insulting, belittling characterizations of others, and more than a little touchy when they’re thrown at you. Maybe after trying to set my house to rights, you can put your own in order.

Looking back at it, I would say that I’ve certainly spent more time on all of this than it was worth, and I’ll resolve not to waste any more.

Aaron,

I think these discussions could be more civilly conducted, and it probably would improve things if they were. Unfortunately, we’ve got people making all sorts of claims that impugn the chararacter of others. Now, while you can find this occurring on both sides of the debate, there are some interesting defenses of this practice on the ID side, and some even more interesting examples of deployment of such arguments by ID advocates.

I doubt that the desiderata of dispassionate discourse you espouse will be achieved here, for this is, at basis, a socio-political rather than strictly scientific issue at stake, and the socio-political dimension demands the involvement of our faculties for detecting deception and sharp practice in those whose positions we oppose. This is necessarily going to bring in those elements of character and integrity that are being discussed.

Fair enough, Mr. Elsberry. The examples you cite look pretty egregious.

Thanks, all, for providing this forum. Y’all got fans in the blogosphere: We’re not scientists (I’m a lawyer – shudder), but we’re catchin’ up and rememberin’ on the science we pretty well forgot during our headlong rush(es) into The Humanities. (A nice way of saying that we all became drunkards.)

That the attack on VanDyke (the substance of which I actually mostly agree with) is disfigured by ad hominem abuse still seems to me to be glaringly obvious (for reasons I’ve already given and won’t repeat).

Gotta agree: like Leiter; think he’s brilliant; and think he’s right this time.* Also think he’s a pretty poor advocate – you’ll never convince nobody by relying on the distinction between an insult and an ad hom. (It’s like trying to explain that it all depends on what the meaning of “is” is – you may be right, but no one’s gonna gladly admit it.) So I suppose it’s better he’s in academia.

My best,

(and apologies for using a pseudonym, ‘least in public.)

*As a humanities major, I’m permitted to butcher the language.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Ed Brayton published on April 7, 2004 8:31 AM.

Desperately Evading the Toughest Questions about Intelligent Design: A Review of Dembski’s The Design Revolution was the previous entry in this blog.

Beckwith and the Understanding Evolution Website is the next entry in this blog.

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