Del Ratzsch


Del Ratzsch presented a lecture “Could ‘Intelligent Design’ be Legitimate Science?” Tuesday, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m. in the Benton Auditorium in the Scheman Building (Iowa State Center) as part of the Areopagus Lecture Series ISU (corrected from an earlier reference to God at Work at ISU) While Del Ratzsch argues that ID may hold promises, he also remarks that so far ID has failed to make much of a case. Not surprising since ID lacks any scientifically relevant hypotheses.

The Iowa State Daily reported under the headline Intelligent design theory merits regard, speaker says

Ratzsch’s speech was based on the question, “Could Intelligent Design be Legitimate Science?” His conclusion was that intelligent design deserves attention in the scientific community as it competes with naturalistic evolution as a possible explanation for why things are the way they are.

He stipulated that he didn’t mean he espoused the claims of intelligent design theorists.

“I don’t think the design case has yet been convincingly made,” Ratzsch said. “I think that design advocates have raised some intriguing issues. Intelligent design theory merits regard Iowa State Daily

Del Ratzsch Wrote:

Whether a thing was designed can be determined without knowing who – or why or how – did it, he said. Intelligent design theory merits regard Iowa State Daily

But as I and others have shown without knowing means, motives and opportunities, an eliminative design inference is inherently unreliable.

and some disappointment

Jonathan Shier, junior in philosophy, said he came to the lecture to hear a “professional” account of intelligent design.

He said Ratzsch’s speech and responses to questions addressed the legitimacy of intelligent design “only in the broadest sense that it could possibly be a question we need to keep in our minds.”

What did Jonathan expect?

Del Ratzsch’s comment mirror his sentiments expressed during an ISCID chat

I think that one can be honestly convinced that design offers no significant scientific promise and that it represents significant scientific risk. In fact, I believe that there are Christians who believe that, and who originally came to the debate not particularly predisposed to hostility.

I think that some are certainly too far in the materialist direction, and they claim that science backs them up on that. ID can at least serve a ‘keeping em’ honest’ function, even if nothing else. I think that ID may very well have things to offer science, but I think that it is too early for ID to claim that it has done so. I don’t think that it is just obvious that ID will contribute substantively to science, but I think it has that potential, and that it should be pushed as far as it can be made to legitimately go. Del RatzschISCID chat

Del Ratzsch in his book “Nature design and science “

So typically, patterns that are likely candidates for design are first identified as such by some unspecified (“mysterious”) means, then with the pattern in hand S picks out side information identified (by unspecified means) as releavant to the particular pattern, then sees whether the pattern in question is among the various patterns that could have been constructed from that side information. What this means, of course, is that Dembski’s design inference will not be particularly useful either in initial recognition or identification of design Del Ratzsch Nature design and science p. 159

“I do not wish to play down or denigrate what Dembski has done. There is much of value in the Design Inference. But I think that some aspects of even the limited task Dembski set for himself still remains to be tamed.” “That Dembski is not employing the robust, standard, agency-derived conception of design that most of his supporters and many of his critics have assumed seems clear. Del Ratzsch Nature design and science

What if ID proponents became aware of what scientists, including ID proponents have to say about the ID movement?

Unfortunately “popular” presentations of “Intelligent Design” have tended to give the impression that it rested solely on mathematical demonstrations. Anyone who could have succeeded in showing that natural selection is incapable of generating biological structures according to standards from mathematics or logic would have constructed a mathematical proof that would have dwarfed Godel’s famous Undecideability theorem in importance. As one who read Dembski’s original manuscript for his first book, found much to like in it, and had appreciative remarks on the dust jacket of the first printing, I can say categorically that Demski surely has shown no such thing, and i call upon him as a mathematician to deny and clarify the implications of this advertising copy. Wimsatt on Yahoo Evolutionary Psychology discussion group


Just a correction - The lecture was part of the “Areopagus Lecture Series,” not the “God at Work at ISU.” Ratzsch spoke at both events, the lecture above was given at the former.

Thanks, made the correction in the main text referring to my erroneous reference.

Pim writes

But as I and others have shown without knowing means, motives and opportunities, an eliminative design inference is inherently unreliable.

For instance

Interesting. When I heard Ratszch speak at my University he was a lot more sympathetic to ID and a lot more critical of naturalism in any form.

This seems to be something of a switch for him.

Del Ratzsch is still sympathetic to Intelligent Design but considers the approach of the ID movement which involves the use of Dembski’s eliminative filter to be ill considered. For two reasons:

1. The filter is inherently unreliable and unsuitable for detecting ‘new’ design 2. The approach creates gaps for ID to hide in. Del believes that this is too restrictive.

Del Ratzsch and Wimsatt honestly admit that ID hasn’t yet accomplished anything is science. Sure it’s obvious, but it’s rare to hear from ID sympathizers. So why them? When so many pretend that ID is tearing down the ‘Berlin Wall’ of ‘Darwinism’, destroying naturalism, etc., why aren’t these guys participating in the hyperbole? Here’s a guess: they actually want an ID science, and believe it’s possible. They’re smart enough to know that pending a tail is a leg doesn’t make it a leg. They know that wishful thinking will interfere with creating an ID science. Explanatory Filter, CSI: Miami, Ontological Depth, Irreducible Complexity. While I disagree that their desired science is possible, I give Del Ratzsch and Wimsatt credit for admitting that so far it’s nothing but empty jargon and PR. I have a measure of pity for them: who wouldn’t want their deepest beliefs and desires confirmed by the arbiter of knowledge, science? I would love it if some scientists confirmed that 28-yro physics majors are all fashionable and handsome.

I’m happy to see that Wimsatt’s upset with the top ID ‘scientists’ for being dishonest. People who want to believe in ID won’t accept that it’s nonsense when we godless heathen pagans say so. They’ll have to hear it from people like Wimsatt.

Myself, I suspect that the Wimsatts are few and far between. I think that ID has a good chance of being successful. It’s really a social/political movement, not a science, and it wouldn’t surprise me in 10 years for ID to be the norm in public schools at least in several states. I think ID will find back doors in, just like those displays in which a few other historical items are rigged onto the ten commandments to affect an historical motive.

As a side note, that doesn’t bother me much. Mankind always takes two steps back for every three forward. There are thousands of biologists who will only notice when they teach undergrad classes. And lots of books and textbooks for real students of the subject. And no one’s going to ban the many evolution journals. Real science is in no danger. Geology, biology, genetics, where the rubber meets the road evolution will be there. If I were to get irate every time a society made a stupid decision, my pleasant disposition would be it tatters. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a redneck trailer park, and have lived in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and (very briefly) Texas, but I’m used to being surrounded by ignorant people, and ain’t nobody gonna tell them they granpappy was no monkey. So the inability of the best-laid arguments of mice and men to convince them otherwise doesn’t really get me down.

“pretending a tail is a leg…”. mibad.

I think the key to appreciating the relationship between Del Ratszch and ID is in his comment “We don’t yet have a good definition of science,” rather than his comments on design.

His comments on design raise the reasonable philosophical question of whether (and when) viewing something as designed helps you understand it and theorize about it. Dan Dennett approaches a similar question in The Intentional Stance, regarding whether it sometimes makes sense to view something as having goals or intentions that don’t break down into other causal models. He concludes that it does indeed.

In the case of viewing the universe as designed, of course we have a long legacy of dispute. Humans have a demonstrated temptation to see “agency” where it doesn’t in fact exist, but we also see it when it does make sense to see it.

The question becomes whether the design inference contributes more than the risk of misperceiving it, and most parties are right to point out that it has not demonstrated any such thing yet, but could “in theory.”

So we return to what I consider Ratszch’s more critical claim, that we have no adequate definition of science. That’s where the open philosophical question of the value or danger of assuming “design” becomes assumed to be solved, by being introduced into science as if it were established canonical principles equivalent with evolutionary biology. Should we teach people to gather data and ask questions based on the assumption that the universe is designed, and biological differences are “gifts” from some sort of ‘telic’ or planned design process or entity. Or should this be the province of people who are already educated as scientists and choose to spend their time in this way.

That’s where I think we need to raise objection to Ratzsch’s characterization, the point where we supposedly have no reliable way to distinguish established science from frontier science, proto-science, or “pseudo”-science. We do have a way of distinguishing them, and ironically for the tradition of positivism, it is a social criteria. Scientists work together in networks that share assumptions and ways of reasoning, so they can work on the same questions and apply evidence to them in the same way. Some of them are independent of each other, but we choose the most reliable and well established over time and the best generalized principles for textbook science.

We can agree somewhat with Feyerabend’s scientific anarchy regarding what might possibly constitute potential science, without it making any sense at all to introduce it as textbook science. As much as frontier science and proto-science may be defensible in principle, we don’t teach them as if they were basic. That’s where the *anti-secularist* element of anti-evolutionism rears its ugly (imo) head, quite apart from the speculations about “design inference.”

The “teach the controversy” concept is ridiculous at the grassroots level that the antievolution political movement is trying to introduce it, even if it makes sense to many people as a philosophical and theological question. It is not a controversy of basic science, it is partly a philosophical division and partly a political anti-secularist movement.

kind regards,


Todd Wrote:

I think the key to appreciating the relationship between Del Ratszch and ID is in his comment “We don’t yet have a good definition of science,” rather than his comments on design. … So we return to what I consider Ratszch’s more critical claim, that we have no adequate definition of science.

Oh, we have an adequate understanding of science. If you insist on a dictionary one-liner for a large multifaceted thing you have to accept the limitations of that form. Recall that the DI in Ohio wanted to make ID into science Presto Changeo! by revising the dictionary. The Ohio state board of education didn’t buy it. There is no royal road to science - you have to do the work.

Keep in mind that science has no trouble inferring design. You’ve heard of Anthropology? Or see Chapter 8 of _Why Intelligent Design Fails_. The problem for the DI is that evidence is required. A disguised argument from ignorance isn’t science. Evidence, not philosophy, is the issue. Science can’t help following the evidence.


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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on October 13, 2004 9:27 PM.

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