Intelligent Thought: Science versus the Intelligent Design Movement


The book, Intelligent Thought: Science versus the Intelligent Design Movement edited by John Brockman contains 16 essays by Edge contributors such as Jerry Coyne, Leonard Susskind, Daniel Dennett, Neil Shubin, Richard Dawkins, Stuart Kauffman, and others on the topic of ‘Intelligent Design’. What caught my eye however were not the essays as much as the comments by various scientists on Intelligent Design. I was pleasantly surprised to see how the concept of scientific vacuity of Intelligent Design is surfacing more and more.

“Evolutionary biology certainly hasn’t explained everything that perplexes biologists, but intelligent design hasn’t yet tried to explain anything at all.” –Daniel C. Dennett, Philosopher

Not only is ID markedly inferior to Darwinism at explaining and understanding nature but in many ways it does not even fulfill the requirements of a scientific theory. –Jerry A. Coyne, evolutionary biologist

The geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky famously declared, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” One might add that nothing in biology makes sense in the light of intelligent design. –Jerry A. Coyne, evolutionary biologist

The supernatural explanation fails to explain because it ducks the responsibility to explain itself.—Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist

What counts as a controversy must be delineated with care, as we want students to distinguish between scientific challenges and sociopolitical ones. —Marc D. Hauser, evolutionary psychologist

Incredulity doesn’t count as an alternative position or critique. —Marc D. Hauser, evolutionary psychologist


  • Orlando Weekly: Review of : Intelligent Thought SCIENCE VS. STUPID By Jason Ferguson
  • These essayists are scientists, leading lights in their field, and possibly some of the smartest people in the world; the topic is “Intelligent Design,” and you can imagine the ease with which these men (and woman) demolish the wobbly speciousness of the pseudoscience behind ID’s creationist claptrap. Though some of the scientists readily admit to playing right into ID-promulgators’ hands — the whole trick behind getting ID taught in schools is to pretend that there’s a “legitimate debate in the scientific community” — in the end, they don’t seem to care.

    By elegantly and eloquently explaining the airtight science behind Darwinism (not a theory anymore, by the way, but a scientifically proven fact) and deftly swatting away the distortions and dogma that define ID, Brockman and the other contributors to Intelligent Thought may not end the “debate” with this book, but they’ve managed to provide an excellent and readable primer on evolution and the power of the scientific method.




“Darwinism” is a proven fact? Please, do not compromise evolution to your specific anglo referents. Thanks

The worst kind of argument to have is one with someone who Just Doesn’t Get It. The debates that find your well-reasoned points countered with the tautological equivalent of “nuh-uh” or “because, that’s why” may not make you feel like you lost the argument, but you certainly don’t feel like you won, either. Especially when the topic you’re disagreeing on isn’t even something that should be up for debate.

Wow, well-said. A very good review. Short, to-the-point, and not holding anything back.

I’d say that Darwinism is a proven fact, of course the question is how much of evolution can be explained by Darwinism.

That selection and variation happen has been quite well established. But your point is well taken.

Jason Ferguson’s article is another datum going to the point that commentators in the media are increasingly taking the proper tone with intelligent design. The brainlessly-neutral he said vs. she said framing is being replaced by Pro science vs Pro ignorance. Last week Dembski whined that the ‘pro science’ label is being used to mean anti-ID.

“Darwinism” isn’t a proven fact, but evolution is. For that matter “Newtonism” or “Einsteinism” aren’t facts, or theories (in the scientific sense), either. The explantory ideas these men discovered have a life outiside their crearors. This is the hallmark of a scientific idea. It is not the hallmark of a religious one. To assert otherwise is a “category error” (I like this phrase - so true. Anthony Kerr

Does anyone else feel that the term “Darwinism” is a pejorative replacement of Darwinian Theory?

So what the heck is Darwinism? Better have a good definition if you want to claim that it is “airtight.” This guy might have fallen into the creationist trap. Creationists don’t have a set definition of Darwinism. If you check out places like ARN “Darwinism” just means anything that they don’t like about science. It isn’t a good description of evolutionary biology.

As a biologist; I’d give Jerry a big smack upside his head for using the term “darwinism”.

It’s all the more heinous considering the context he used it in.


Design can’t ‘have’ intelligence. Stupid authors design foul smelling creation. Intelligent authors design beautiful rebuttal.

For a different - and dishonest - view, here’s Jerry Bergman:

Posted on Sat, May. 27, 2006 Intelligent design leads to forsaking atheism By Jerry Bergman Northwest State College

Why did the court rule against teaching intelligent design in the Dover, Pa., case? Judge Jones’ ruling was summed up by one commentator as follows: Critical analysis of evolutionism leads to intelligent design, which leads to the Creator requirement. The Creator requirement leads to religion, which leads to God. The courts have consistently ruled that the state cannot hinder or aid religion — and that teaching intelligent design aids religion.

Of the many examples I know of people who left atheism and became theists because of intelligent design, I will cite only two. … The above are only two case histories involving conversion from atheism to theism because of intelligent design discussed in a book I edited that will be published this fall by Master books.

I’m a Darwinian biologist whose interpretation of data is informed by Darwinian theory. Don’t let the non-scientists define scientific terms.

Yeah once the press catches onto the “Darwinism” thingy expect more DI bitching, they can replace it with “Dawkinism” for all I care. I think both camps use it as a kind of dog whistle political hammer. One side as an acid proof test for BS and the other side as acidic BS- you decide.

Last week Dembski whined that the ‘pro science’ label is being used to mean anti-ID.

hahahahaha ..own the word .… considering he registered or some such and the very name ‘pro-life’ was an Orwellian construction I would say ..just deserts.

science nut:

Does anyone else feel that the term “Darwinism” is a pejorative replacement of Darwinian Theory?

I’m sure someone else does feel that, but I do not.

I do not because “Darwinism” was the word used to describe Darwin’s biological theory of origins and its intellectual descendants from the beginning; and has had current usage amongst evolutionists in that sense until very recently. Thus Michael Ruse could happily write the book, “Darwinism Defended”, in 1982 with no sense of irony. And Ernst Mayer could happily introduce that book, writting, “To a convinced Darwinian like myself it may seem puzzling that in this day and age Darwinism should still be in need of defense.”

Evolutionists only became wary of using the word “Darwinism” because creationists started making the silly argument that because “Darwinism” was an “-ism” it was just an ideology. The argument is silly, for it taken seriously we must consider atomism and copernicanism as merely ideology as well, and in the process surrender all of science to the true ideologues.

In fact, “Darwinism” is just a common English construction meaning (approx) that theory proposed by Darwin. Somebody who accepts that theory is a Darwinist or a Darwinian (interchangable in English). “Darwinian theory”, on the other hand, is a convoluted and obscure way of saying “Darwinism”, and only has currency because many Darwinists have decided to evade rather than dispose of the silly creationist argument. That, I consider, to be a futile tactic; for if you concede vocabulary to the forces of ignorance, you cut of access to older defences of Darwinism that use an older vocabulary. You also set the ground for the creationists to repeat the strategy on your new vocabulary, whatever it may be.

Well said, Tom Curtis! As a footnote, many textbooks on geology continue to discuss ‘uniformitarianism’. Who was Uniformitarian, by the way? A Roman? ;-)

Does anyone else feel that the term “Darwinism” is a pejorative replacement of Darwinian Theory?

Not at Cornell University, they don’t.

Thursday, Feb. 9 (2006)—

“Where Do We Go From Here? The Future of Darwinism in American Society,” at the Museum of the Earth, 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m.

This panel discussion, moderated by Cornell Provost Biddy Martin, will examine the impact of the recent Dover decision on the future of Darwinism.

To which Mike Gene replied, “Since only creationists use the term ‘Darwinism’, it looks like the Trojan Horse is more insidious that anyone suspected.”


FL Wrote:

To which Mike Gene replied, “Since only creationists use the term ‘Darwinism’, it looks like the Trojan Horse is more insidious that anyone suspected.”

Ahh, Mike Gene… Imagine that. Telic Thought, while much better than Uncommon Descent has yet to explain why ID is not scientifically vacuous. In fact, FL may give it a try :-)

It’s odd to me all this discussion of whether we are Darwinists. I wouldn’t describe myself as one: I’m an evolutionary biologist. There’s no need to explicitly pin my colours to Darwin’s mast, simply because that’s the only game in town. OK, we’ve changed the rules somewhat since Darwin’s day but we still ackowledge his antecedence.

As a matter of linguistic politics, insisting on “evolutionary biologist” is useful because it pushes the IDers out of being, well, evolutionary biologists. I think this could be an effective strategy: both sides (the other side being specifically ID) agree that we’re talking about evolution, but it’s the mechanisms that are under discussion. So. if we’re evolutionary biologists, then what are the other side going to call themselves? Intelligent Designers? That doesn’t sound like anything to do with biology. Intelligent Design Biologists? Not much better.


Wamba wrote

For a different - and dishonest - view, here’s Jerry Bergman:

Good old Jerry Bergman and his mail order “human biology” degree. I love the way he always claims to teach at “Northwest State College”, when it’s Northwest State Community College. Inflating those credentials to the end.


Sir_T Wrote:

As a biologist; I’d give Jerry a big smack upside his head for using the term “darwinism”.

It’s all the more heinous considering the context he used it in.

Perhaps, but I find this particularly well chosen

Jerry A. Coyne Wrote:

nothing in biology makes sense in the light of intelligent design


BTW, I recommend his latest book to everyone who’s interested in speciation (it requires some good knowledge in evolutionary biology).

Judge Jones’ ruling was summed up by one commentator as follows: Critical analysis of evolutionism leads to intelligent design, which leads to the Creator requirement. The Creator requirement leads to religion, which leads to God.

But ID isn’t about religion. No siree Bob. It’s just them lying atheist darwinists (like Judge Jones) who say it is.


These idiots STILL have no idea at all why they lost.

Hey FL, if ID isn’t creationism, then why does Discovery Institute list defending “traditional doctrine of creation” as one of its “five-year objectives”?

Are you lying when you claim ID isn’t creationism, or is DI lying when they claim it is?

See Lenny? See how good it feels to be succinct? Isn’t it refreshing?

At the risk of sounding stupid, and of being accused of putting words in someone else’s mouth: I think it has been said here or on the Science Blogs that the reason that evolutionary biologists resist the “Darwinism” label is because the current version(s) of Evolution are much broader and deeper than was Darwin’s. In other words (at the risk of sounding like GBW) Darwin’s original views are now considered simplistic.

Ok, Karl, I’ll go with that. But I do wish that biologists would use a phrase such as ‘biological evolution’, or something such as ‘bio-evolution’. The reason is that there is also the evolution of the visible universe, the evolution of the sun and other stars, the evolution of the solar system, the evolution of Terra, … and the evolution of human thought.

FL’s post is EXACTLY the reason why evolutionary biologists should drop the use of “darwinism” in the PR wars.

it isn’t a matter of real-world usage or definition; it’s simply a matter of PR.

don’t be stupid to think otherwise.

which is also the reason I said that Coyne’s usage of it in this particular context was er, bad.

Theoretically, I don’t think “darwinism” describes modern evolutionary theory any better than “einsteinism” would describe quantum theory (if he even agreed with it).

It’s been repeatedly pointed out that scientists are losing the PR war.

it’s a small thing, but this is one of the reasons.

We simply choose to ignore or deprecate the traction that creobots gain by using “darwinism” as a perjorative term.

There is no value in maintaining it as a descriptor except for one’s own personal vanity.

Excuse my ignorance, but what is the ‘PR war’?

Excuse my ignorance, but what is the ‘PR war’?

public relations.


pretty much where this whole ID thing is really being “debated”, if you could call it that.

the problem is, that especially here in the US, the media has tremendous influence on public opionion.

while this appears to be gradually shifting in favor of science, especially after Dover, I see no reason to give the creobots ANY fuel for their fires whatsoever.

and that includes common usage of the term “darwinism” when we really mean evolutionary theory.

““Darwinism” isn’t a proven fact, but evolution is.”

Maybe it is because english is a second language, but I don’t like the term “proven fact” either.

As with validated theories, facts aren’t verified “without doubt” but beyond reasonable doubt - there is still room for bad experiments, new findings, new theories that use the facts differently, et cetera.

What is worse, “prove” also suggest results from formal reasoning or formal theories, which both might be incorrect. And especially it is incomplete - verifying propositions still need observations.

Only the archaic meaning of “prove”, to find from experience, comes close. This is confusing (for me, at least). So I would prefer observed, verified or validated fact, or something such.

““Darwinism” is just a common English construction meaning (approx) that theory proposed by Darwin.”

But how common is it in science?

I don’t think any other hard science uses it, you don’t hear about ‘newtonism’ for example.

Darwinism and Lamarckism were perhaps appropriate once, but it seems it is time to let these terms rest.

Looking over this thread, I think if someone gave you guys a free cake, you’d complain that it wasn’t german chocolate.

Tom, you still have not demonstrated to me how any “supernatural explanation” would work.

I’m still waiting.

Re “The Dyson sphere projection would fail in that it would not show the proper angular changes due to parallax.”

Unless it’s a holographic projection, using lasers and interference effects to get the result image to vary with angle of reflection. ;)


Tom Curtis Wrote:

Sure, light shielding is the least of it. A former giant shell of space dust 10,000 ly thick surrounding us, or maybe the being involved was an enormous and visually opaque swarm of nanobots. Or, like Wheels suggests, we’re still surrounded by a Dyson sphere holographically projecting a fictious view of the rest of the universe (and radioactive atoms were selectively teleported into all the minerals on Earth to screw up our dating. Or just about anything.

The Dyson sphere projection would fail in that it would not show the proper angular changes due to parallax. It is possible that the makers of the sphere could shift the projection to compensate for motion of the planet, but not for more than one observer at a time (ie, in the space age) without consistency.

Sure they could. It’s a holographic projection. Hell, it doesn’t even involve our piddly conventional photons. It involves, uh, holotons. They’re great at dealing with parallax and any self-respecting supercivilization capable of building Dyson spheres can pump them out like Cool Whip.

A dust cloud would need its inner shell to retreat from the Earth a light velocity in all directions simultaneously.

No, it simply popped out of existence (by a complex and technical process involving “quantum”) 10,000 years ago, so the light from stars within that region was finally able to propagate into interstellar space.

Nanobots would have to do either that, or change position to compensate for parallax, again for multiple observers in the space age.

No parallax worries needed here, or for the dust cloud case. It’s genuine starlight we’re seeing, it’s just that all the other starlight generated by stars outside the future light cone of Earth 10,000 kya either got absorbed or isn’t here yet.

In all cases, introducing these naturalistic, but malicious observers who screw with all our experiments introduces exactly the situation that Wheels thinks makes supernaturalistic theories untenable as explanations. If the possibility of a supernaturalistic demon interfereing systematically with all our experiments makes supernaturalistic theories untenable, why does the possibility of a technically advanced race doing the same thing make all naturalistic theories untenable?

Why doesn’t it do so, you mean? Because a naturalistic theory need not make sweeping statements about the true nature of reality, and so such deceptions are practically irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether gravity obeys the inverse-square law or whether tiny demons simply push subatomic particles around to make it seem that way–as long as we don’t include any claims about the demons in the theory, we’re good either way.

No, I don’t see that all. Suppose we (all living creatures on Earth) were designed by a semirandom evolutionary algorithm and said beings didn’t have time or energy or inclination to rerun it until they had a better design? Or suppose different beings had different plans for what Earth should look like and interfered with one another?

OK, all life was designed by a semirandom evolutionary algorithm, but it was then (in the scenario) implimented from the outset. So your proposal is that there was a design process and then a construction process for a feature that had no function in the purpose of the overall construction. That, I’m afraid, is simply not plausible.

Not plausible? Have you ever seen a dog? We designed bulldogs to fight other animals, using a semirandom evolutionary algorithm called “selective breeding.” As a side effect of a desirable short muzzle, we produced an undesirable tendency to respiratory diseases. A bulldog theologian might reason, “Well, my creators saw fit to grant me constant shortness of breath, so they must have some purpose in mind for that feature,” but it would be wrong.

How does “functional complexity” differ from Dembski’s “specified complexity?” Both sound to me like “complexity by which I happen to be particularly impressed.”

A system or process has a function if it is part of, or is, a “directively organised system”.

A directively organised system is a system such that:

1) The state of each of the component subsystems of the system at a given time, t, together with all the others at that time, causes, in a purely physical way, the attainment of an outcome, O, later time, t + d.

2) The state of each of the subsystems at t is instantaneously independant of the states of the others at t.

3) Each subsystem has a restricted range of states.

4) If the state of one of the subsystems changes greatly enough at t, then, in the absence of changes in the other subsystems, a t + d, the whole system S will be caused not to attain outcome O.


5) The subsystems are so causally linked that whenever such a great change occurs in one of them at t, this change causes changes in the other subsystems at a later time t + e, which together with the initial great change at t causes the whole system to attain the specific outcome O at t + d.

Following Ernst Nagel, “The Structure of Science, 1979; and Alexander Rosenberg, “The structure of biological science, 1985; we can call the outcome of a directively organised system its “Goal”, and say that the system or its components have the function of bringing about (their share of) the goal. The “functional complexity” of a process or object is the minimal kolmogorov complexity of an object or process that can be substituted into the directively organised system and the directively organised system still accomplish its goal.

There you go. That is a straight forward and decidable measure (within the limits of decidability of Kolmogorov complexity in general). It does pick out living things has having a high functional complexity compared to other things in the universe, but doesn’t justify a design argument. The nearest parallel term I know of would be Dawkin’s “complex design”, ie, the thing Darwin explained in life.

Good lord. Somebody actually tries to use that? How in the world do you objectively determine the “outcome” of, say, a rabbit? More rabbits? A rabbit corpse? A well-grazed field?

Oh, and this:

It does pick out living things has having a high functional complexity compared to other things in the universe, but doesn’t justify a design argument.

seems inconsistent with this:

Granted for the sake of argument that we are inferring a being (or beings) who brought about the hypothetical state of affairs, then we can infer that the functionally complex features of that state of affairs are closely related to the purpose of the state of affairs. The lifeforms and ecosystems are the most functionally complex features of the hypothetical design, and so are close to the purpose of the hypothetical design.

As to not acknowledging your sources, sorry, I am not into argument by proxy. If you think they said something cogent, quote or paraphrase their argument.

I have already done so in regards to defining supernatural explanations. If you want yet more quotes because you’re too lazy to check sources:

Pennock Wrote:

Could science investigate God and the Creation hypothesis in the same manner that it investigates the natural world and the human intelligent creators that populate it? Could we have a “theistic science” as Johnson suggests that admits the possibility of supernatural interventions?… The first and most basic characteristic of supernatural agents and powers, of course, is that they are above and beyond the natural world and its agents and powers. Indeed, this is the very definition of the term. They are not constrained by natural laws. Indeed, on some views it is a supernatural creator that makes the laws in the first place, and those that make the laws have the power to break them. Of course, this is why humans hanker after access to occult powers, since they would supposedly free us from the laws that bind us. … The second characteristic of the supernatural, that we have mentioned before and that follows rather directly from the first, is that it is inherently mysterious to us. As natural beings our knowledge all comes via natural laws and processes. If we could apply natural knowledge to understand supernatural powers, then, by definition, they would not be supernatural. The lawful regularities of our experience do not apply to the supernatural world. If there are other sorts of “laws” that govern that world, then they can be nothing like those that we understand. Occult entities and powers are profoundly mysterious to us. … These characteristics of the supernatural show why supernatural explanations should never enter into scientific theorizing. Science operates by empirical principles of observational testing; hypotheses must be confirmed or disconfirmed by reference to inter-subjectively accessible empirical data. One supports a hypothesis by showing consequences obtain that would follow if what is hypothesized were to be so in fact. Darwin spent most of the Origin of Species applying this procedure, demonstrating how a wide variety of biological phenomena could have been produced by (and thus explained by) the simple causal processes of the theory. But, as we have seen, supernatural theories can give no guidance about what follows or does not follow from their supernatural components. … Finally, if we were to allow science to appeal to supernatural powers even though they could not be tested, then the scientist’s task would become just too easy. One would always be able to call upon the gods for quick theoretical assistance in any circumstance. Once such supernatural explanations are permitted they could be used in chemistry and physics as easily as Creationists have used them in biology and geology. Indeed, all empirical investigation could cease, for scientists would have a ready-made answer for everything.

That’s the long version, which is summed up nicely in Wilkin’s paper:

There are two ways science cannot be non-naturalistic. It cannot make the assumption that phenomena are themselves non-natural - it has to assume that everything observed is amenable to a naturalistic investigation. Call this methodological naturalism.

Science must also avoid non-natural explanations. This is explanatory naturalism. Any explanation that uses a non-natural explanans (thing doing the explaining) fails to be testable. I could propose that some process is the result of an Invisible Pink Unicorn’s powers. You can neither falsify nor verify this (in the ordinary senses).

Emphasis added. Note that I have made all or almost all of these arguments already, in my own words, and thus providing the sources was merely providing background information and not an argument by proxy. Otherwise I would have just said “Here are some papers, read them and see that you are wrong! Ho ho ho!” In order to pin down a supernatural agent or agents, you would have to be able to test them and isolate them and make them generative of risky predictions. The very “nature” of the supernatural denies this possibility.

When you do, please make sure you quote Stenger when he says:

I disagree. M[ethodological] N[aturalism] can be used to investigate God” (p. 12, my emphasis.) (I can’t believe you have been citing in your favour an article which claims that science can investigate the supernatural, has investigate the supernatural, and has demonstrated that there is no supernatural. Talk about “selective illiteracy”.)

Tom, that’s just disingenuous. I specifically said that I rejected Stenger’s assertion of supernatural conclusions because of the reasoning provided in the other sources. Your selective illiteracy is acting up again. More specifically, even in the situation described you only arrive at a supernatural explanation by declaring that no naturalistic explanation exists or can be concieved of. To me this represents a classic Appeal to Incredulity or Argument from Ignorance. Dawkins said that in the event no natural answer is apparent, that would should try to think a little bit harder. Failure of the human imagination and a lack of data do not constitute a valid conclusion that there is no natural explanation, otherwise I’m quite sure that Darwin’s idea of descent with modification would have been correctly ruled impossible before he ever put it forth. There is a real difference between saying “we don’t have enough data to make a natural conclusion,” however, and “we can’t accept supernatural explanations because they don’t follow from empiricism and aren’t open to testability.” So yes, I disagree with Strenger’s assertions. I provided them for the purposes of presenting a representation of your own arguments, while also providing other sources which show why those views are erroneous.

On the contrary. The hypothesis of deception must invoke some description of the actual state of the world; some conception of the actual state of the world in the deciever (both of which must be invoked by the non-deciever model); plus some conception of the apparent state of the world that the deciever wants the scientists to believe; plus a number of discrete acts approx equal to the number of experiments conducted as the deciever systematically distorts the data. That is not simpler. On the contrary it is far more complex.

I disagree. Both conditions, deciever or not, can involve the same number of premises, just with different possible truth values. The actual condition of the world either IS how we percieve it, or it NOT how we percieve it. (Empirically there isnt’ a way to tell). The experiments either ARE representative, or they are NOT. (Again, empirical data can’t discern if they are, because it depends on observations being true). The agent presumably remains the same, but here again we can’t tell if it’s a different agent, or whether there is one or more. All the numerous acts of a Creator could be to equivalent to acts by a deciever. Perhaps the deceptions are built into the acts of Creation as part of the process, making the two possibilities both quantitatively the same and in actual deed the same. Emperically, how would we determine any of that? Since all we have to rely on with empiricism is the natural world and our sensory input of it, supernatural agencies are free to violate empirical reasoning and thus empirical reasonging cannot ever pin them down.

Natural forces are not constrained by natural laws. Rather, the laws are just the description of how the forces work.

Fair point.

The laws constitute the description of the theory…

Vice-versa, actually. Theories describe the workings of Laws in terms of mechanisms and agents. Laws are simply particular statements that specific relationships exist.[/nitpick] In the vain hopes that this will clear things up further, allow me to present the relevant definitions side-by-side. Wrote:

adj. -Of or relating to existence outside the natural world. -Attributed to a power that seems to violate or go beyond natural forces. -Of or relating to a deity. -Of or relating to the immediate exercise of divine power; miraculous. -Of or relating to the miraculous. adj : not existing in nature or subject to explanation according to natural laws; not physical or material;

Wikipedia Wrote:

While the exact definition varies, any concept of supernaturality requires that supernatural phenomena are not accessible by the scientific method. Contrary to common prejudices, science is not restricted to laboratory experiments but can be based on any form of experience. If a phenomenon is by definition outside of the realm of science, it therefore cannot be experienced and has by definition no impact on our lives

Pennock Wrote:

The first and most basic characteristic of supernatural agents and powers, of course, is that they are above and beyond the natural world and its agents and powers. Indeed, this is the very definition of the term. They are not constrained by natural laws. Indeed, on some views it is a supernatural creator that makes the laws in the first place, and those that make the laws have the power to break them. Of course, this is why humans hanker after access to occult powers, since they would supposedly free us from the laws that bind us.

Wilkins Wrote:

The usual way to define non-natural is that it is not explicable in terms of natural laws; that is, it breaks the causal chain. If we abandon the methodological assumption of naturalism - that everything is open to empirical investigation - we can say that anything not presently explained by scientific laws is non-natural, but that’s not what is meant. We can distinguish between our present ignorance and something that’s in-principle not scientifically explicable, surely. We want something that is completely outside the course of physical events [some proponents of the term ‘supernatural’ use it to mean ‘uncaused’ - what that actually means is really unclear]. But if we had it, could we incorporate it into a scientific explanation? We could obviously not use empirical observations - they depend on the ordinary course of physical processes. So what else is there? The answer is, nothing. Non-natural explanations are not scientific.

(emphasis mine) Empirical? Wrote:

Empirical: Based on use of the senses, observation, or experience generally. Hence, the empirical coincides with what is a posteriori. Empericism: Reliance on experience as the source of ideas and knowledge. More specifically, empiricism is the epistemological theory that genuine information about the world must be acquired by a posteriori means, so that nothing can be thought without first being sensed. Wrote:

Empiricism is a theory which holds that the origin of all knowledge is sense experience. The term also refers to the method of observation and experiment used in the natural sciences. Often, empiricism is contrasted with rationalism, a theory which holds that the mind may apprehend some truths directly, without requiring the medium of the senses. Wrote:

-The view that experience, especially of the senses, is the only source of knowledge. -Employment of empirical methods, as in science. -An empirical conclusion.

Wikipedia Wrote:

In philosophy, the term empiricism is used to describe a number of distinct philosophical attitudes, practices, and propositions. As a general rule, a philosophical empiricism emphasizes, perhaps exclusively, the role of experience in constituting some other category, for instance, concepts, existence, knowledge, meaning, reality, truth, or universals. The category of experience may include all contents of consciousness or it may be restricted to the data of the senses only (Keeton, 1962). In the philosophy of science, empiricism refers to an emphasis on those aspects of scientific knowledge that are closely related to experience, especially as formed through deliberate experimental arrangements. It is generally taken as a fundamental requirement of the scientific method that all hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world, rather than relying on intuition or revelation. Hence, science is considered to be methodologically empirical in nature.

Notice how every definition of “supernatural” or “non-natural” pretty much eliminates the philosophical underpinnings of empirical methodology, if you try to invoke one in regards to the other. Supernature has every ability to exceed natural phenomena and constraints as well as the constraints of our experience, and remains inscrutible from such means. Empiricism rejects special revelation as a valid means of drawing conclusions, and since special revelation is just about the only way a supernatural agency can make itself or any aspect of itself known, to put it simply, this is why empiricism cannot be used to justly infer supernatural agencies over natural ones, nor can it distinguish between all possible supernatural agencies. Since supernature “breaks the causal chain,” you can’t use empiricism to infer the supernatural at work and especially not what specific kind of supernatural agent is acting. If you want to call that a mere appeal to definitions, tthen you should take the next step and see whether or not the definitions involved in this argument make your sstance valid or invalid, rather than just dismiss it as an appeal to definitions. Personally I find the proper use of key terms to be a crucial part of the logical process, otherwise I could be talking about a hat when I mean a pencil and nobody would be able to make sense of my ravings. This happens to be one of the very pillars of the whole “ID” shebang. Intelligent Design assumes that you can use empirical data (and, as you in your model claimed, simple natural facts) to infer supernatural agencies. Nearly every rebuttal to ID has shown that this is not the case. In all my admittedly few years of watching and participating in the “debate,” I have never seen anybody provide valid reasoning for inferring supernatural agencies from natural data. That is one of the reasons why ID is not going to be science.

I sense that this conversation is no longer going to be productive. I hope that, should you hit upon a way to draw supernatural inferences from empirical methodology and data, you will share it with the rest of the philosophical community and especially the philosophers of science, most of whom I’m sure would find it very important in rethinking what they currently consider scientific.

So someday someone may find “evidence” that god or ET made the cell, huh?. Wow, that surely sounds jolly exciting…but I, at least, STILL want to know HOW was that darn cell made!!!! In good old scientific, mechanistic terms, please!

Discussions of scientific methodology in these parts (and elsewhere) puzzle me because they talk about that methodology as if it were a set of timeless, universal rules that could be applied to any subject matter whatsoever. As I understand the history of the sciences, however, the methodology of the sciences, no less than substantive scientific theories, evolved out actual scientific practice. The nature of things has had a hand in the emergence of methodological naturalism because it was fooling around with stuff that taught the scientists what worked and what didn’t.

The point is, if the scientists had encountered spirits and gods in their researches, what counts as science now would be a very different enterprise, something rather closer to the mix of magic and empiricism we call alchemy. Such a state of affairs is not at all difficult to imagine. Indeed, the writers of fantasy novels have endlessly imagined what research would look like in an enchanted world.

In response to that, however, it must be remebered that we’re not talking about encountering spirits and whatnot and the effect that would have on history. As for the use of a single idealized model of philosophy of science, it’s generally my view that you should use the most current and most accepted version to the best of your understanding. Somebody once tried to argue with me about science and supernature by bringing up supernatural mechanisms science had considered from hundreds of years ago into the beginnings of the 20th century, but I have to point out that those ideas are not considered kosher anymore and that appealing to them is basically denying all the advances that have been made in the Phil of Sci since. Besides, most have proven to be premature conclusions and/or not follow from the empirical data.

The philosophers of science are hardly the science police. So far from legislating how things should be done, they would be doing very well if they could accurately describe the rules that obtain in actual research. In fact, the disconnect between the accounts of the scientific method you find in the introductory chapters of the textbooks and what the scientists actually do is painfully obvious and raises very interesting questions about the political and cultural meaning of scientific ideologies like positivism and Popperism.

Jim Harrison Wrote:

The point is, if the scientists had encountered spirits and gods in their researches, what counts as science now would be a very different enterprise, something rather closer to the mix of magic and empiricism we call alchemy. Such a state of affairs is not at all difficult to imagine. Indeed, the writers of fantasy novels have endlessly imagined what research would look like in an enchanted world.

But in such novels, magic and the activity of “spiritual” beings falls under empirical investigation. When you find a dead guy and say “I bet a demon killed him,” that comes with solid predictions–he’ll be torn up as with immense claws, there’ll be arcane writing on the wall, he won’t have been wearing any of the charms or talismans that are well-known to project against demons. Demons and magical spells and even deities are functionally part of the natural world, with at least partially understandable and predictable behavior. Statements that I would consider to have supernatural content would be things like “Demons operate by violating the laws of nature,” or “The ruler and creator of the universe is hostile to demons,” and those remain untestable and useless.

Or, to take a particular example–if you were in the Narnia books, and you saw Aslan doing all his amazing tricks, it’d be obvious that he’s an incredibly powerful being, capable of running his own pocket universes and independent of his material (in the casual sense) body and so forth. But could you say that he’s God, creator and ruler of all, who can dictate and ignore natural law at his will? I don’t think so. He could just be a talking lion fortunate enough to have stumbled upon a paw-shaped Infinity Gauntlet, or he could be a computer gamer from a higher universe running an enormous simulation. Any claim that goes beyond “He’s really powerful” to say that he’s actually outside nature is still, I think, off-limits.

Iow, if a phenomena produces consistent repeatable effects it can be studied and described. The more consistent and/or repeatable it is, the more reliable any conclusions are apt to be. That’s the distinction that matters, not the intuitive notion of whether something is “natural” or “supernatural”. (Plus, if I were to try to define that distinction myself, it’d most likely come out as whether the thing has consistent repeatable effects or not.)


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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on May 27, 2006 11:52 AM.

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