Those who do not learn from history…

| 19 Comments

My favorite essay arguing against intelligent design isn’t one of Gould’s, or Dawkins’, or Sagan’s. Rather, it’s one that has portions I disagree with, but the eloquent prose simply can’t be beat:

“The analogy which you attempt to establish between the contrivances of human art, and the various existences of the Universe, is inadmissible. We attribute these effects to human intelligence, because we know beforehand that human intelligence is capable of producing them. Take away this knowledge, and the grounds of our reasoning will be destroyed. Our entire ignorance, therefore, of the Divine Nature leaves this analogy defective in its most essential point of comparison.

You assert that the construction of the animal machine, the fitness of certain animals to certain situations, the connexion between the organs of perception and that which is perceived; the relation between every thing which exists, and that which tends to preserve it in its existence, imply design. It is manifest that if the eye could not see, nor the stomach digest, the human frame could not preserve its present mode of existence. It is equally certain, however, that the elements of its composition, if they did not exist in one form, must exist in another; and that the combinations which they would form, must so long as they endured, derive support for their peculiar mode of being from their fitness to the circumstances of their situation.”

These come from an 1814 essay by Percy Bysse Shelley, analyzing the claims in William Paley’s Natural Theology, a text which explores arguments very similar to those used by modern-day ID advocates. So similar, in fact, that although some of the minor details have changed, Shelley’s refutation of it can be easily used today.

As this essay demonstrates, and as recently highlighted in this post, it behooves us to know our history—and none know this better than those who teach the subject. University of Iowa history professor Douglas Baynton wrote an interesting letter to the Washington Post this past Saturday, offering a unique perspective on the “controversy” regarding Intelligent Design by using 19th century geography texts to speculate about how a course using intelligent design might look.

(Continued at Aetiology)

[Note: I’d planned to post this Tuesday, but didn’t want it to get lost in all the Dover issues. I think, given the decision and the role the history of the ID movement played in that, it’s even more relevant today that this history is considered.–T]

19 Comments

If it behooves us to know history, then it shods those hooves when we write history.

Please get involved here:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v._Dover_Area_School_District

I’ve not been totally interested in this case (because the public isn’t aware/involved, I don’t think it has settled anything, and any victory is short-term) but I think I noticed problems in the wiki version quite early on. Specifically about Dembski’s non-involvement, and the reasons therefor.

I’m not worried if I am right or wrong, just that if I wanted to know I could get the right facts.

:)

This is why I read Panda’s Thumb. This sort of commentary, which cuts through the crap so eloquently, is hard to find. By the way, JS Narins, you have a good point. We fail our descendants if we do not record the present properly.

Truly amazing text for 1814, from an original thinker expelled from Oxford for his atheism. His wife was the author of Frankenstein.

Nice work. It is marvelous that someone as cool and brilliant as Shelley should have written something that’s still elegant and dead-on relevant as ever, 189 years later. Most time periods don’t produce many really original thinkers (it’s not usually rewarded), but there’s one.

It is also nauseating that Paley’s nonsense is still being recycled for-all-intents-and-purposes verbatim after all this time. That’s what you get when you don’t have real scientists doing real research…

> that’s still elegant and dead-on relevant as ever, 189 years later.

perhaps because the mindset he is criticizing hasn’t changed in that amount of time? ;)

S Mgr - Change your “perhaps” to “absolutely” and I think you nailed it!

Happy Holidays, Kwanzaa etc to all, and to all a good night!

This is for jeffw. If you look at the preface for Frankenstein you’ll notice a plea to Dr. Darwin. This is for his grandpa Dr. Erasmus Darwin a man who wrote iambic pentameter about the erotic lives of plants and paeans to Jean Baptiste chevalier de Lamarck. Eventually his grandson would unseat this most maligned of French natural philosophers who coined the word “biology”.

The romantic poets were a varied bunch, weren’t they?

Stunning Tara..

I feel you could say that Shelley had just tumbled across the idea of natural selection, and had recognised it’s consequences. How are all those humanities graduates going to feel when we credit Shelly as the founding father of evolutionary theory?

Shelley’s wifes mother, Mary Woolstencroft, was the first feminist, and wrote a tract

Stunning Tara..

I feel you could say that Shelley had just tumbled across the idea of natural selection, and had recognised it’s consequences. How are all those humanities graduates going to feel when we credit Shelly as the founding father of evolutionary theory?

Shelley’s mother-in-law, Mary Wollsteonecraft, was the first feminist, and wrote a tract .. ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Women’.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vindic[…]hts_of_Women

Great to see a working female scientist and mum remind us of our history, some great poetry, and why science is so cool.

I am astonished by you Tara - thanks for the post, and have a great Christmas with your family

Our entire ignorance, therefore, of the Divine Nature leaves this analogy defective in its most essential point of comparison.

It would appear to be an argument from ignorance. I thought you didn’t like those.

*sigh* Blast, did you even read any of the rest of it? Or did you just seize onto that one word and stop there?

Yes Blast. When an argument is acknowledged as lacking justification it is an argument from ignorance.

-Schmitt.

dear blast: Shelley was from the 18th century science has come a long way since then. It took people like Darwin to begin to move biology out of the churches and into the labs and fields. Its an ongoing process and there is much to be learned. Scientists actively working do not take the “give up, you cant figure it out, its too complex” position favored by Michael Behe. As Americans we’ve got to decide into which century we want our children educated to compete in a global biotechnology market. Intelligent Design (now clearly unmasked as nothing more than natural theology) is fine in case our kids have to relive the 18th century, but I’ll take my chances that they’ll really have to survive in the 21st.

There’s nothing wrong with Shelley’s arguments anyway, and as Dr Smith points out in the main post they’re still hilariously applicable. Shelley’s simply asserting that the argument from design rested on a few completely unevidenced assumptions, one of which is that we should assume God would design things in a fashion comparable to humans (he goes on to demonstrate how vacuous anthropic metaphysics are.) It isn’t an argument from ignorance to point out that your opponents are making their premises up wholesale.

Where’s Slaveador? I expect him to come by and reveal that Shelley did not have a Ph.D in Information Theory.

It would appear to be an argument from ignorance. I thought you didn’t like those.

You’re right, Blast. We *don’t* like you.

Hey Blast, if you had gone to Dover and told the judge all about your, uh, frontloading — think ID would have won?

(snicker) (giggle)

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This page contains a single entry by Tara Smith published on December 23, 2005 1:03 PM.

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