Richard Feynman on Intelligent Design

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Richard Feynman, as far as I know, never commented on intelligent design. But I happened to be rereading his chapter, “Seeking New Laws,” taken from a series of lectures he gave at Cornell in 1964 (Feynman 1965), when I chanced upon “ID and Falsifiability,” by Francis Beckwith (2004).

Mr. Beckwith is seriously confused, as has been noted in the comments to his essay, if he thinks that the truth or falsity of design theory has any bearing on the truth or falsity of evolutionary theory. Consistently with other creationists, Mr. Beckwith presents a false dichotomy, pretending that the choices are between evolutionary theory and creationism, in this case, intelligent-design creationism. Mr. Beckwith’s thinking is surprisingly black and white. He will do well to heed a warning by Michael Friedlander (1995), a physics professor at Washington University: “There are many more wrong answers than right ones, and they are easier to find.” Science is not a contest between two competing ideologies, with one winning by default if the other is discredited.

The problems with intelligent-design creationism, at any rate, are not limited to falsifiability. A good scientific theory has to be fruitful in the sense that it can solve a wide range of problems or suggest new areas of research. It has to have depth and predictive or explanatory power.

In “Seeking New Laws,” Feynman outlines, in a very simplified form, how a new scientific theory is developed and corroborated.

In general we look for a new law by the following process. First we guess it. Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right. Then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is - if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. That is all there is to it. It is true that one has to check a little to make sure that it is wrong, because whoever did the experiment may have reported incorrectly, or there may have been some feature in the experiment that was not noticed, some dirt or something; or the man who computed the consequences, even though it may have been the one who made the guesses, could have made some mistakes in the analysis. These are obvious remarks, so when I say if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong, I mean after the experiment has been checked, the calculations have been checked, and the thing has been rubbed back and forth a few times to make sure that the consequences are logical consequences from the guess, and that in fact it disagrees with a very carefully checked experiment.

This [analysis] will give you a somewhat wrong impression of science. It suggests that we keep on guessing possibilities and comparing them with experiment, and this is to put experiment into a rather weak position. In fact experimenters have a certain individual character. They like to do experiments even if nobody has guessed yet, and they very often do their experiments in a region in which people know the theorist has not made any guesses. …

Feynman shows here the critical interplay between theory and experiment. Experimenters and theorists both try to push the limits of what is known. Theorists suggest new experiments, or experimenters challenge theorists with unexplained observations. What experiments has intelligent-design theory suggested? What unexpected observations have challenged intelligent-design theorists? Intelligent design has, in fact, no empirical consequences whatsoever. Scientists will do nothing differently if it is right than if it is wrong. Until intelligent design theory comes up with a testable or falsifiable conclusion, we do not need that hypothesis.

Feynman goes on to discuss how an unexpected experimental result can “start us guessing again,” or lead to new theory. He continues,

You can see, of course, that with this method we can attempt to disprove any definite theory. If we have a definite theory, a real guess, from which we can conveniently compute consequences which can be compared with experiment, then in principle we can get rid of any theory. There is always the possibility of proving any definite theory wrong; but notice that we can never prove it right. Suppose that you invent a good guess, calculate the consequences, and discover every time that the consequences you have calculated agree with experiment. The theory is then right? No, it is simply not proved wrong. …

The philosopher of science Philip Kitcher (1982) would call Feynman’s position, as stated here, “naive falsificationism.” But Feynman obviously recognizes that a “wrong” result can lead to an ad hoc hypothesis that itself must be fruitful - would “start us guessing again.” For further discussion and examples, see (Young 2001).

Feynman then notes,

One of the ways of stopping science would be only to do experiments in the region where you know the law. But experimenters search most diligently, and with the greatest effort, in exactly those places where it seems most likely that we can prove our theories wrong. …

Indeed. And intelligent-design theory would bring to a dead standstill further study of, say, the origin of the bacterial flagellum, because it presumes in advance that the flagellum was designed, did not evolve. Intelligent-design creationism is at its core antiscientific.

Feynman continues,

Another thing I must point out is that you cannot prove a vague theory wrong. If the guess that you make is poorly expressed and rather vague, and the method that you use for figuring out the consequences is a little vague - you are not sure, and you say, ‘I think everything’s right because it’s all due to so and so, and such and such[,] do this and that more or less, and I can sort of explain how this works …’, then you see that this theory is good, because it cannot be proved wrong! Also if the process of computing the consequences is indefinite, then with a little skill any experimental results can be made to look like the expected consequences. …

He gives a hypothetical example of a psychological diagnosis that comes out the same whether the mother was over- or underindulgent (see [Young 2001] for concrete examples) and concludes

It is usually said when this [that the diagnosis does not depend on the quantity of indulgence] is pointed out, ‘When you are dealing with psychological matters things can’t be defined so precisely’. Yes, but then you cannot claim to know anything about it.

The same is true of the intelligent designer. If we cannot define any of its properties, cannot draw any fruitful inferences from the theory of intelligent design, then we cannot claim to know anything about either intelligent design theory or the intelligent designer.

Notes and references.

John Wilkins, Mark Perakh, Timothy Sandefur, Andrea Bottaro, and Steve Reuland offered suggestions and constructive criticisms.

Asking whether intellligent-design theory is falsifiable is like asking whether psychology is falsifiable. All we can do is test some of its claims. We can fairly say, for example, that William Dembski’s explanatory filter has been falsified by the existence of false positives. See Perakh, Mark, 2004, Unintelligent Design, Prometheus, Amherst, New York, Chap. 1, “A Consistent Inconsistency”; and Young, Matt, 2004, “Dembski’s Explanatory Filter Delivers a False Positive,” http://www.pandasthumb.org/pt-archi[…]/000166.html.

Beckwith, Francis, 2004, “ID and Falsifiability,” http://southernappeal.blogspot.com/[…]827372580570.

Feynman, Richard, 1965, The Character of Physical Law, MIT Press, Cambridge, Chap. 7, “Seeking New Laws.”

Friedlander, Michael W., 1995, At the Fringes of Science, Westview, Boulder, Colorado.

Kitcher, Philip, Abusing Science: The Case against Creationism, MIT Press, Cambridge, Chap. 2, “Believing where We Cannot Prove.”

Young, Matt, 2001, No Sense of Obligation: Science and Religion in an Impersonal Universe, 1st Books Library, Bloomington, Indiana, http://www.1stBooks.com/bookview/5559.

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This is the coolest stamp ever : This coincides with a interesting survey that was conducted by the British website Spiked in which 250 scientists were asked "If you could teach the world just one thing...". The answers are all... Read More

91 Comments

The philosopher of science Philip Kitcher (1982) would call Feynman’s position, as stated here, “naive falsificationism.” But Feynman obviously recognizes that a “wrong” result can lead to an ad hoc hypothesis that itself must be fruitful - would “start us guessing again.” For further discussion and examples, see (Young 2001).

“Naive falsificationists” are supposed to not recognise two facts. First, a new theory proposed as a result of falsification may be arbitrarily close to the old theory. As you point out, Feynman appears to recognise this. The other thing “naive falsificationists” do not recognise is that any experiment or observation is dependant on a multitude of other theories. It is always possible to “save” a theory by calling into question one of the presupositions used in conducting the experiment (though this is rarely a good idea). For this reason, scientists cannot avoid the use of parsimony in assessing scientific theories.

Beckwith writes, “The “unfalsibiabilty” carnard is so deeply engrained–though never defended–and so rhetorically useful to the unitiated, I can understand why one would not want to abandon it. But it seems to me that any naturalist account of design–whether biological, cosmological, etc–counts against a design account. But if it counts against a design account, then a design theory in principle is not unfalsifiable. Now, there may be different naturalist accounts, some which are inconsistent with others. And there may be non-naturalist design accounts, some of which are inconsistent with others. But the former, if more plausible than the latter, count against the latter. If not, then the naturalist accounts are unfalsifiable as naturalist acocunt (but not as accounts within the naturalist paradigm, interestingly enough). This seems so obvious to me that I cannot believe that anyone would find it controversial.”

Consider the problem of explaining why Beckwith thinks his reasoning is so obvious that it is thus uncontroversial. One explanation is that Beckwith is so blinded by his stereotype that ‘naturalists’ only use rhetroically canned, but philosophically unsound arguments, that he cannot escape his own mental roadblocks. This psychological explanation has several plausible accounts, some of which may not be consistent. For instance, one account is that while writing this paragraph, Beckwith was quite mentally impaired by the large quantities of intoxicating drinks due to the recent celebratory moods, and thus wrote an incogent account. The other is that Beckwith never drinks, but instead, he has had such a tramautic childhood experience defending scientific theories (his church leader would beat him senseless) that now he finds it easier not to trouble himself with contemplating any such defense.

The other explanation is that Beckwith has been revealed the Truth by God in such a convincing manner that only Beckwith knows there is no possible counter to his argument. In this non-psychological account, Beckwith’s mind was specially tweaked so that only he could comprehend the divine revelation, but God acting in his mysterious ways, has rendered him incapable of explaining it to others. Of course, this explanation has several contradicting scenarios. One is that God loves Beckwith so much that He wished only him to know the Truth. The other is that God hates Beckwith so much that He cursed him with eternal frustration in being unable to share this Revelation to others.

Now, it may be that some consider the former explanation more plausible than the latter. But it seems to me that finding plausibility in the former counts against the latter. Then to me, the notion that Beckwith had a divine revelation is in principle falsified. Otherwise, it seems that those uninitiated, close-minded skeptics who complain about ‘unfalsifiability’ of the latter explanations are just being hypocrites who champion an equally unfalsifiable account. That is, the psychological explanation cannot be falsified anymore as a psychological account than the divine revelation can be falsified as a Truth account.

This seems so obvious to me that I cannot believe that anyone would find it controversial.

Have a good new year.

As a physicist, I feel kind of an insult seeing an appeal to such a heavy artillery as Feinman when all the fuss is about exercises by the likes of Beckwith.

To start with, Beckwith fights a straw man. He asserts that opponents of ID allegedly use as an “endlessly repeated” (or some such characteristic) argument against ID a reference to ID’s unfalsifiability. Is this so? Let us see.

Look up the four most recent books opposing ID, to wit: (1) Forrest and Gross, Creationism’s Trojan Horse; (2) My book Unintelligent Design; (3) Anthology Why Intelligent Design Fails, edited by Young and Edis, and (4) Niall Shanks, God, the Devil and Darwin. The total well over 1,000 pages. In all these pages which offer many detailed arguments against ID, the term “falsifiability” appears exactly once, and in such a context that has nothing to do with the repudiation of ID. In fact, ID has been shown to lack substance regardless of its being or not being falsifiable. If ID opponents have mentioned unfalsifiability of ID, it hardly has been offered as a crucial argument and certainly has not been “endlessly repeated,” Beckwith’s lamentations notwithstanding.

Furthermore, Beckwith asserts that critics of ID, on the one hand, claim that ID is unfalsifiable, but on the other hand try to falsify it. What a stupid ilk, those critics of ID are, aren’t they.

Beckwith obviosly sees no distinction between the application of Popper’s demarkation criterion to ID as a universal conjecture and its application to specific pro-ID arguments offered in quasi-mathematical and quasi-scientific clothes. As a universal conjecture ID is a philosophical/religious thesis and as such is obviously unfalsifiable, i.e. unscientific. On the other hand specific quasi-scientific and quasi-mathematical arguments of ID advocates can be refuted (i.e falsified in Popperian sense). Among such specific refutable points are Dembski’s EF (which produces both false negaives and false positives); Behe’s irreducible complexity; Dembski’s law of conservation of informaion, as well as his misuse of the NFL theorems; Wells’s assault upon biology textbooks; etc.

Indeed, in the four above listed books (as well as in many other publications) practically all main allegedly scientific and mathematical arguments of the ID advocates have been decisively refuted and this is in no way contradictory to the unfalsifiability of ID as a universal conjecture.

A discussion on the level of Beckwith’s post is a regrettable waste of time.

Beckwith is a typical example of ID’ist using flawed logic to infer design. In this case, as Matt Young points out, Beckwith is using the fallacy of the false dichotomy to make his case for intelligent design. Additionally, he makes the same error as found in many ID relevant writings, namely the suggestion that science rejects apriori an intelligent designer. Science, as ID proponents also argue, does no such thing and in fact ID proponents often quote criminology, archaeology, SETI and cryptology as examples. Inference to an unnamed designer based on an eliminative approach used by ID is not scientific as it is unreliable, does not propose any positive hypotheses and adds little or nothing to our knowledge. Since ID hypotheses are eliminative they cannot even compete with ‘we don’t know’. I have read Beckwith’s book and papers on ID and have not been too impressed by either his understanding of science as well as his uncritical acceptance of the claims of the ID movement. But accepting the fact that he is a lawyer, may help explain why he is less interested in finding the truth than arguing a particular position. As we have seen with Johnson, this makes for poor arguments (our thanks should go to people like Denis Lamoureux for pointing out the consequences). See The Phillip Johnson Phenomenon: Are Evangelicals Inheriting The Wind? as well as the hard hitting book in which Lamoureux defeats Johnson hand-down” Darwinism Defeated? The Johnson-Lamoureux Debate”. Lamoureux sees to have so succesful that Salvador has been calling for his ex-communication.

Salvador Wrote:

If Lamoureux were in my denomination I would re-commend his ex-communication and barring from the communion table. If he wants to align himself with the Darwinists leadership rather than the evangelicals FINE, but he should label himself as such : an NCSE Darwinist who rejected a central claim of the evangelical faith. He can call himself a liberal compromiser, a die-hard Darwinist, but he has no right to say he’s an evangelical.

Salvador soon thereafter tried to delete the thread.

My apologies to Professor Perakh, who thinks it is unseemly to swat the gnat of Mr. Beckwith with the sledgehammer of Feynman. Feynman was a magician - a genius who was not just smarter than you but so smart that you could not understand his thought processes even after you understood what he had accomplished (according to the mathematician Mark Kac).

Feynman was additionally superb at explaining complex concepts so that laypeople can understand them. He also cut through baloney whenever he could, most prominently during the space shuttle Challenger investigation. His (extemporaneous) lecture on how science works is a masterpiece of clarity.

I sincerely hope that Feynman would not be offended that I enlisted his lecture to help correct a serious misunderstanding about the nature of science.

Feynman was a real smart guy whose reputation nevertheless owes a lot to his highly marketable personality. I’m still reading and rereading his Lectures on Physics and, oddly enough, I wrote Feynman’s official obituary. I cerainly respect the man. He didn’t know a great deal about the philosohy of science,however; and he couldn’t see through walls as he himself frequently pointed out. It is no derogation of anybody’s memory to note that an argument from authority is just an argument from authority no matter how impressive the authority happens to be.

Jim Harrison is, of course, wrong that an argument from authority is always a fallacy. Scienctific knowledge is based on the conclusions of experts, authorities if you will. A near consensus of professional astronomers accepts that the universe is expanding, which makes it a scientific fact. A near consensus of professional biologists accepts common descent, which makes it a scientific fact. That being said, scientific facts are highly probable, but tentative by definition. The authority of forensic scientists is the basis for imprisonment and execution. Appeal to authority can be a valid arguementative technique, depending on the authority.

But Ralph, an Argument from Authority as a technique is solely acceptable in the sciences because it is a short-hand technique for pointing out that we can reproduce the results ourselves.

I hope you are not actually advocating that Argument from Authority has some internal justification?

If you are, then America is a solely Christian country, evolution is errant nonsense, and gun-racks should be mandatory in the back of all pick-up trucks. %:->

Actually ID does suggest new lines of inquiry and ways to add to total knowledge. The most interesting, in my opinion, lies in Dembski’s work i.e. specified complexity.

A mathmatical way to detect design would apply to very many fields from bioterrorism to stock market fraud. For instance, say a nasty variant of anthrax is spread around. Could further refinement of Dembski’s mathmatical concept of specified complexity answer the question of whether the new anthrax strain is naturally occuring or should we go looking for a weapons lab somewhere because you can tell it was an engineered variant?

Could it be applied to the trading patterns in a stock to tell illegal manipulation apart from simple efficient market causes?

I wonder if anyone’s bothered to run the poliovirus genome through the SETI filters to see if it rings the bell for an intelligent signal - as my calculus teacher used to say “just for kicks”.

Actually ID does suggest new lines of inquiry and ways to add to total knowledge. The most interesting, in my opinion, lies in Dembski’s work i.e. specified complexity.

A mathmatical way to detect design would apply to very many fields from bioterrorism to stock market fraud. For instance, say a nasty variant of anthrax is spread around. Could further refinement of Dembski’s mathmatical concept of specified complexity answer the question of whether the new anthrax strain is naturally occuring or should we go looking for a weapons lab somewhere because you can tell it was an engineered variant?

Could it be applied to the trading patterns in a stock to tell illegal manipulation apart from simple efficient market causes?

I wonder if anyone’s bothered to run the poliovirus genome through the SETI filters to see if it rings the bell for an intelligent signal - as my calculus teacher used to say “just for kicks”.

Dembski did not invent the idea of inferring purpose from statistical data. He just claimed to invent a general purpose method for it, and he was wrong, and even some of previous supporters admit that.

Could further refinement of Dembski’s mathmatical concept of specified complexity answer the question of whether the new anthrax strain is naturally occuring?

Sigh.

Dembski’s “mathematical concept” was dead on arrival and has never been articulated coherently. Now you know.

To the extent Dembski’s concept had any legs – i.e., to the extent Dembski ever proposed merely that there are ways to determine whether a living thing has been genetically engineered – that concept predates Dembski by quite a few years, as everyone knows. Usually it’s called “comparative sequence analysis” or something like that.

Could it be applied to the trading patterns in a stock to tell illegal manipulation apart from simple efficient market causes?

Or detect voting irregularities.

Of course, after Dembski proves that aliens with god-like powers exist and created all the living creatures on earth, we’ll probably want to re-evaluate our priorities. Perhaps a final global war to settle once and for all whose deities were responsible would be appropriate.

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Salvador said:

I salute Feynman who promoted the real science of physics in contrast to the metaphyiscal non-science of Darwinism.

Hmmm. Feynman understood evolution, at least on a basic level, and had difficulty with people who don’t understand it.

If you’re going to salute Feynman, salute what he actually stood for, and quit trying to quote mine his work for creationism.

But Rilke, Appeal to Authority is acceptable in science by definition, not just because of experimental, reproducible results. In the historical sciences, such as archeology, geology, and forensic science, scientific fact is legitimately inferred from evidence in the present. Forensic science effectively illustrates this technique. Detectives arrive at a murder scene and observe present conditions to infer what happened in the past. They collect circumstantial evidence, such as hair samples, fingerprints, and tire tracks. Although laymen think circumstantial evidence is weak, quite the opposite is true. Adequate circumstantial evidence has persuaded many juries to sentence criminals to jail or death, which underscores the level of confidence that society places in the conclusions of forensic science. Similarly, biologists infer the phenomenon of macroevolution from present conditions. There is serious scientific debate about the various factors that cause evolution and the rate of evolution but not if macroevolution happened. Because science works this way does not mean other human endeavors such as politics, religion, or art do. Beware of False Analogy!

Ralph:

I think you and Rilke are saying the same thing. In science, it is legitimate to appeal to the authority of scientifically accepted human knowledge, even if this knowledge belongs to experts in the field and is not known to the layman. It’s OK to cite some individual person as representing that authority provided there is no direct legitimate scientific controversy involved. And so it is NOT OK (for example) to cite Feynman as an authority on the philosophy of science if his position is in the minority among science philosophers. The distinction isn’t that hard: Citing Feynman as a spokesman for what is known is fine, citing Feynman because he is Feynman to refute competing philosophers is wrong.

Flint,

My original response was to Jim Harrison who wrote, “…an argument from authority is just an argument from authority no matter how impressive the authority happens to be.” I thought I made it clear that in science appeal to authority is legitimate if the authority is a near consensus of professional scientists, not an individual. Rilke conflated my narrow justification of Appeal to Authority to other fields.

Ralph,

I agree. What good is the effort to augment human knowledge, if we cannot appeal to what we have learned as meaningful, or use it as a basis for continued investigation? I speculate that by “argument from authority” others are referring to the attempt to justify a controversial opinion with the claim that some other (presumably more respected) individual shares that opinion. The key is the controversy. Where informed disagreement exists about the relevant material, appealing to “what lots of scientists think” loses cogency.

Flint,

Do you agree that Jim was wrong and/or that Rilke conflated? I hoped to be clear about “a near consensus of professional scientists accepts,” which is nothing like “what lots of scientists think.”

Excuse me for asking, but who has appealed to what authority? Citing a source and quoting from it is good practice, not appealing to authority, unless you think every scientific reference is an appeal to authority (I agree it is, in a sense, but not in the pejorative way that the term is usually used). Feynman gave a clear and compelling, if simplified, description of how science works, and I thought quoting Feynman a useful device to help expose some of the flaws in intelligent-design creationism.

By gum, I let you guys play by yourselves for a day and look what happens.

My comment on Richard Feynman referred to his orbiter dicta about the philosohy of science, not his physics. Even in the case of the physics, however, Feynman is rightly cited as an authority because his physics is right. His physics isn’t right because he’s an authority. As it happens, I agree with a lot of the Feynman remarks Matt quoted; but that’s irrelevant to may point. By the way,allthough Feynman didn’t have much use for philosophers, he couldn’t completely escape their influence on the Zeitgeist and one can detect a bit of Carl Hemel and other figures of the 1950s and 60s in his comments so maybe the consensus in play isn’t a consensus of physicists.

O well, if you’re going to set up famous scientists as oracles, Feynman is as good a choice as any. He was once asked whether there was a god. He replied, “No, I looked.” I guess that settles that.

Ralph,

No, I don’t agree, at least as I understand the issue. An appeal to “a near consensus of professional scientists accepts” does not meet the description of an appeal to authority, in terms of a logical error.

The issue isn’t simple. Rilke is concerned about an appeal to the opinion of the majority of the people, without consideration of how well informed those people may be. I think she is correct that when knowledge matters and the majority has none, it’s an error to appeal to majority opinion. I think she’s also correct in saying that *informed* scientific opinion isn’t an appeal to authority because those opinions are founded on direct, refutable empirical results. In other words, scientific authority is a proxy for the underlying reality itself.

I think Jim Harrison was correct as I interpret him, anyway, in regarding the appeal to authority as a debating technique, where a genuine debate exists within which to apply a technique at all. Of course, the evolution/creationism debate is not a scientific debate.

And so as I see it, all three of you are saying the same thing. Reality matters. It is the ultimate arbiter of things scientific. The appeal to reality rules, whether done directly by pointing to immediate physical phenomena, or done indirectly by pointing to “a near consensus of professional scientists.” The appeal to authority means the appeal to the opinion of someone, NOT part of that consensus, who happens to be well known or respected.

But this gets us into the question of what constitutes a consensus, with respect to what we consider the point of contention. What if Feynman is in the minority? Should we nonetheless accept his position because he is known to have been an uber-genius? I don’t think you, Jim Harrison, or Rilke’s Granddaughter would wholeheartedly accept such a position solely because the Great Feynman said it. However, Feynman’s track record is such that his position is worth taking seriously; he has earned this much.

And this in turn means we must be very careful about the pronunciamentos of the scientista. Are they voicing a near consensus, or an opinion subject to dispute? Just how near does that consensus (of acknowledged experts) need to be before it is NOT an appeal to authority and becomes an appeal to an accepted reality? 80%? 95%?

Salvador Wrote:

So true, Darwnism is the epitome of a vague theory, therefore it’s not science.  Thank you, Dr. Feynman . …

Salvador, there is a finite amount of irony in the world, and your constant attempts at hogging it all are leaving others deprived.

There is nothing vague about the notion that all organisms are related by genalogical descent. That’s about as concrete as you can get. There’s also nothing vague about the idea that organisms change via mutation and selection. Again, it’s a straight-forward claim that can be simulated and tested in the real world. I’ll gladly agree that there are many sub-hypotheses which are vague, or at least highly speculative, but the basics of evolution are very clear-cut. (Not to mention extremely well-supported.)

Now, if you want to see something truly vague, you need look no further than ID “theory”. The so-called theory consists entirely of the following claim: Some undefined “intelligence” was responsible for creating some feature(s) of living things and/or the universe as a whole via some unknown mechanism for some unknown reason at some undetermined point in time. Please tell me, is it possible to get more vague than that?

Of course it is, Steve.

Just replace “was responsible” with “may or may not have been responsible” and you’re done. Think “bacterial flagellum”.…

gaebolga Wrote:

Of course it is, Steve.

Just replace “was responsible” with “may or may not have been responsible” and you’re done. Think “bacterial flagellum” . …

I submit -

“Some undefined and undefinable intelligent agent or agents may or may not have been responsible for creating some feature(s) of living things and/or the universe as a whole via some unknown and unknowable mechanism for some unknown and unknowable reason(s) at some undetermined and indeterminable point or points in time.”

Perhaps Salvador is saying that ID is not science either, on the same grounds. The distinction isn’t science/nonscience, the distinction is that Salvador’s faith is not questionable, and science is.

Apparently charm and good looks are not enough. :-) First, Mark Perakh is absolutely correct about those four books and the absence of the “unfalsifiability” carnard. This speaks well of their authors and their sophistication, as well as of Mr. Perkah’s breadth and depth of reading. Hats off to them for not extending the tradition advanced by the several bloggers who were critical of Hugh Hewitt’s commentary. If I had said that the “unfalsifiability” carnard was universally advanced without exception, then that comment would have been falsified by Mr. Perakh. But I didn’t, so I remain, fortunately, unscathed. (Pheww, that was a close one).

Second, Lurker should keep his day job. He is comedically falsified. :-)

Third, Matt Young writes that “Mr. Beckwith is seriously confused, as has been noted in the comments to his essay, if he thinks that the truth or falsity of design theory has any bearing on the truth or falsity of evolutionary theory.” If evolutionary theory means a naturalist account of everything that may include (though need not include)Darwinian and neo-Darwinian accounts of biological complexity, then, epistemologically, evolutionary theory is a defeater to any agent-causation account of apparently natural phenomena. (They are, in that sense, mutually exclusive). Of course, there is another way to understand evolution that may be congenial to certain types of design accounts, as Del Ratzsch points out in his book Nature, Design, and Science, which I reviewed a couple of years ago in Philosophia Christi. But I would include Ratzsch among those who are critical (in the best sense of the term) though open to design theory. My views are very close to Ratzsch’s. Mr. Young goes not to say that “Consistently with other creationists, Mr. Beckwith presents a false dichotomy, pretending that the choices are between evolutionary theory and creationism, in this case, intelligent-design creationism.” Please reread my work on this matter. I point out that any evolutionary account that allows for non-natural agent-causation is a design account. So, someone may be a biological Darwinian and a cosmological design theorist. Another may be a theistic evolutionist with a robust view of agent-intervention that is not merely god-of-the-gaps. Both are design accounts. So, in that sense, design (broadly construed) is incompatible with any naturalist account of the order and nature of things (which must be some form of cosmic evolution).

Since design theorists of every stripe (from theistic evolutionists to young-earth creationists) accept that both agent causation and non-agent causation can be discovered in nature, it seems that the design folks are not the ones burdened by a false dichotomy.

Third, Wedgie World writes that “Beckwith is a typical example of ID’ist using flawed logic to infer design.” I’ve never liked design arguments, and have never offered such arguments as an advocate of theism. I have described design arguments, and have presented them in my works, but I don’t really have a horse in this race. So, I’m not sure what WW is talking about. It’s possible that in my published works I could have used a bit more clarity, and perhaps that is why WW is making this judgment.

The posting on southern appeal that has gotten all your panties in a bunch does not offer an argument for “inferring design.” So, I have absolutely no idea what Wedgie World is talking about. If he were sitting next to me, I would give him a wedgie. :-)

The Wedgemeister goes not to write, “Additionally, he makes the same error as found in many ID relevant writings, namely the suggestion that science rejects apriori an intelligent designer. Science, as ID proponents also argue, does no such thing and in fact ID proponents often quote criminology, archaeology, SETI and cryptology as examples.” I was, of course, writing about the claim that design theories that try to account for natural phenomena are unfalsifiable. Thank you for allowing me to clarify what I was saying. Being conversant with my work, WW knows that I bring up, in my articles and book, these sciences that include agent-causation as a legitimate account of phenomena. So, it is a mystery to me why he tries to make it seem as if I am ignorant of this. Perhaps the New Year celebration was a bit too much. So, I forgive him. Nevertheless, agent-causation accounts can be falsified in these other scientific disciplines, which means that design accounts can in-principle be falsified. This, of course, was my pointn to begin with.

I probably should have used the term “criticizable” rather than “falsifiable,” since, as Laudan, Kuhn, and Lakatos have pointed out in their writings, anomalies and recalcitrant data that seem to count against particular theories are usually subsumed under ad hoc hypotheses when no promising rival theory is forthcoming. My bad.

Have a Happy New Year!

From Las Vegas on his way back Texas, Frank

Nevertheless, agent-causation accounts can be falsified in these other scientific disciplines, which means that design accounts can in-principle be falsified.

What’s an ‘account’ in this context? Specific claims can be falsified, but design can’t be falsified in principle, because all that’s necessary is to say “OK, maybe that example isn’t design, but this one is! And the process of identifying new candidates for design is open-ended.

Michael Behe has made this false statement as well – that ‘irreducible complexity’ is falsifiable in principle, by the straightforward expedient of demonstrating the evolvability of every possible structure from RNA to beaver dams! One at a time.

Regarding snipes against Shallit-Elsberry critique of Dembski’s specified compexity a.k.a. Complex Specified Information (see comment 12512), the best way to judge this assault is to read Shalitt-Elsberry article ( www.talkreason.org/articles/eandsdembski.pdf ). Anybody reading it with an open mind will find that Shallit-Elsberry’s discourse is impeccably logical, solidly substantiated and demolishes Dembski’s half-baked ideas decisively. The accusation by the author of the above post 12512 of Shallit-Elsberry allegedly fighting a straw man is sheer nonsense. I don’t know whether the author of comment 12512 honestly misunderstands Shallit-Elsberry’s paper or deliberately distorts its contents, in either case his critique is crock.

Wesley,

For the Van Till, thank you, thank you. Manna from Heaven, as it were. I’m in a dogfight on another board and in over my head. It’ll definitely help.

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on January 2, 2005 5:07 PM.

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