Follow the money: more Dembski/Baylor-related mischief?

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One of the most puzzling aspects of the recent Dembski - Baylor spat over the web site for Robert Marks’s “Evolutionary Informatics Lab” was the basis for Dembski’s part time appointment at Baylor as “Senior Research Scientist” (a post-doctoral position). Dembski has stated that Marks had “procured a small grant from the LifeWorks Foundation” specifically for him to work on the project. The impression given is that an indepedent agency found Dembski and his ideas scientifically worthwhile enough to put some dough into them. The strange thing was, a Google search for “Liferworks Foundation” only seemed to yield a Tennessee-based charity with a focus on the arts, and little apparent interest in science, whether of the mainstream or pseudo- varieties.

Well, earlier today JAllen, a commenter at the pro-ID blog Telic Thoughts, reported that in fact there is a second Lifeworks Foundation, this one incorporated in the state of Washington. The President and sole employee of the Foundation is a Mr. Brendan Dixon, who used to be a software programmer at Microsoft. His current occupation? He works as a “computational biology researcher” at the “ID lab”, the Biologic Institute, famous for being announced to the press several months before actually existing.

OK, so what we may have now is a Microsoft millionaire who decided to set up a foundation and use some of its money to help a buddy, among other worthwhile endeavors. Fair enough. If one explores the 990 forms Lifeworks has filed with the IRS over the years, one finds that it started very much as a conventional charitable foundation, with assets averaging around one million dollars, and giving about $60-135,000 every year, mostly spread between a number of local charities, except for the year 2005, in which they only distributed ten thousand dollars. No Lifeworks grants were ever given for scientific work.

Then, according to their 990 form for the year 2006, they decided to give away almost the entire endowment of the foundation, a total of $980,000 in one year. The main beneficiary of these donations? The Discovery Institute’s Center for (the Renewal of) Science and Culture, recipient of two donations totaling a staggering $700,000. And, of course, the Lifeworks Foundation also reported their donation for $30,000 to Baylor University for “public education”, the amount of the grant to Marks that was to pay for Dembski’s work, and was returned earlier this year from Baylor. Lifeworks.JPGDistributions from the Lifeworks Foundation for fiscal year 2006, from their IRS 990 form.

It is impossible to know what happened that made the Dixons decide to make such a major donation to the DI, and almost completely deplete their charitable foundation’s coffers as a result. We know that at some point in late 2005 or early 2006 Dixon started working for the Biologic Institute - perhaps he found the work highly rewarding, and wanted to thank the people who made it possible. Perhaps the DI’s CRSC was in need of financial support, and appealed to Dixon for help - who knows?

However, what is clear is that the “grant” awarded to Marks for his work looks suspiciously like the result of a personal agreement between long-time friends and associates, rather than of a competitive application process as are the vast majority of research grants from public or private agencies to academic scientists. Did Marks actively seek out Lifeworks as a funding source, and did he know about the connections between the Foundation and the DI? Dembski himself stated the following:

This grant and the invitation to work with Prof. Marks was entirely at his initiative.

It is quite possible, also, that Marks knew Dixon personally, having moved to Baylor from the University of Washington at Seattle, where they may have met in ID sympathizer circles. Still, the grant is a bit odd in Mark’s extensive funding history, which overwhelmingly consists of conventional grant awards, mostly from major governmental agencies (NSF, NIH, Office of Naval Research, JPL, etc), private companies (such as Boeing) and institutional sources How did it dawn on Marks to ask for money for Dembski from a private foundation that up to that point had supported only local hospitals, missions, etc in the Seattle area, we can only guess.

Over the years, I have learned that with ID things are often quite different than what they seem: “centers” and “labs” are virtual online or paper entities; “peer-reviewed” papers are published by cutting shortcuts through the very process of peer-review; lists of “skeptical scientists” are mostly made up of people who are not professional scientists at all, and when they are, they have no specific expertise in the field they are so vocally skeptical about; textbooks are carefully crafted not to teach knowledge, but to obstruct it and erase it… the list of misrepresentations is endless. Now we learn that “grants” can be more like gifts between friends than actual awards for competitive scientific ideas. It’s all good to ID advocates, as long as they can sell the illusion to their followers.

177 Comments

I’m still curious about this thing. Still doesn’t smill right.

Why would Dembski, a professor at another institution, take a “post-doc” position in engineering, for any reason? Wouldn’t any work he might have done have more credibility published as an interdisciplinary work between two institutions?

It just doesn’t smell right, still. There’s another shoe yet to drop on this.

Dembski Wrote:

This grant and the invitation to work with Prof. Marks was entirely at his initiative.

Odd that the ever modest Dembski went out of his way to say this. It must have a shock when Marks called him. Oh well, that answers Ed’s question.

Odd too that the name “Liferworks Foundation” foils an ordinary search, which finds only the innocent one in Tennessee.

What surprised me so far is how Dembski is making such a big deal of Baylor protecting its good name while not having raised the issue of Baylor having returned the grant for almost nine months. Now I understand, a bit of digging would have been to embarrassing. Nice research.

Of course, despite all this, Dembski’s admissions that his work so far was hardly as solid as some had led to believe is interesting, of course, will the new ‘papers’ address the many shortcomings of ID? I doubt it.

Do people still remember ISCID which was nothing more than a POBox address in Pennsylvania? ID is funny in its desperate attempts to pretend it has some scientific credibilities.

There’s another shoe yet to drop on this.

and no doubt that shoe has already tred in some brown smelly stuff.

LOL, it is just so unexpected…

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Dixon has the right to give his money to anyone he wants to, and the Biologic Institute has the right to hire whom they choose. But where’s the science in all this?

Does Dixon have a degree or work experience in biology? Were his former donations to hospitals for specified medical research projects?

Does anyone know anything about Dixon’s personal religious beliefs? Were the missions he contributed to strictly homeless shelters, or were they centers for evangelical Christian proselytizing? And is he associated with Christian dominionism, like other major contributors to the Discovery Institute?

I can’t see that any laws were broken. But I do find it strange that the Disco Institute is reporting this as a normal scientific grant. If the ID proponents have nothing to hide, why do they keep hiding?

Just to be clear, I agree with hoary puccoon 100% with regard to the money. The problem here is not where the money comes from per se. As long as laws aren’t broken, Marks and Dembski have the right to seek funding wherever they can find it, in whatever form they can get it (grant, gift, endowment, etc), Baylor has the right to accept funding for their faculty from whatever source they wish, and the Lifeworks Foundation can give their money to whoever they damn please.

The alluded “mischief” here is for Dembski to present this as a run-of-the-mill research grant from some “foundation”, or as the DI EN&V blog put it “an outside organization”, without coming clean about the source of the money. If they had simply said something like “Marks secured funding from a Discovery Institute-friendly donor” I would have found no problem with it whatsoever.

Indeed, I have long advocated that the DI itself should give their money to ID “scientists” willing to write up competitive grant applications (to be fair, they actually even tried to do some science-funding a while ago, namely for Doug Axe’s project), rather than overwhelmingly to lawyers and PR hacks as they currently seem to be doing. Alas, it looks like the DI head honchos consider their lawyers and PR hacks a more productive investment than their scientists.

At least OU Pursuit College Ministry doesn’t claim that Dembski’s talk will have anything of a scientific talk:

He will preach at Trinity Sunday morning and then make several presentations at OU during the rest of his time in Norman.

Make no mistake about it, our goal for this project is not to win a debate or to simply present an alternative worldview. Our prayer for this entire effort is for God to open doors so the power of His gospel would be made known to groups of people who need to hear the truth. The issues of intelligent design and evolution are far greater than simply differing perspectives about science. The overall issue is one explaining the world in which we live. Another issue, Naturalism, eliminates God from the equation and thus affects every other part of life. That makes this issue one of vital gospel importance!

…not to win a debate? Doesn’t really fit to the wedge strategy and one wonders why in hell Dembski would need a lab at Baylor’s for these efforts.

It is never cheap to make this kind of gospel investment. We have many expenses such as speaker honorarium and expenses, facility rentals at OU, meals, lodging, promotion, advertising, etc. The goal that Trinity has set is $5,000.

$5000? I guess I’ll try to convince the organizers of the next meeting I will attend that mytal is a gospel investment. Twelve talks a year, some royalties from your books and you don’t have to care if the lab is running or if your PhD students are working. Again, why in hell does Dembski have to apply for a lousy postdoc position? I’m afraid, tomorrow we’ll see the famous disclaimer

before the page disappears completely.

Yeah, and when Dembski talks of “press coverage” of the controversy he is referring to posts on evolutionnews.org, and postings by DO’L on UD.com! Pomp!

Under the heading of more of the same, Anika Smith reports

The lab’s scope of research is described on evolutionaryinformatics.org (now hosted by a third party):

A simple Whosis search reveals the website owner to be none other than William Dembski.

Why the cloak and dagger “third party” description?

Why not just say that EvoInfo is being hosted by Dembski?

Rimpal: Did you mean “pomp” or “pimp?

[yawn] Just more adventures fromm the Wizard of ID. PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN!

The issues of intelligent design and evolution are far greater than simply differing perspectives about science. The overall issue is one explaining the world in which we live. Another issue, Naturalism, eliminates God from the equation and thus affects every other part of life.

Oh for Cthulhus sake. Another antiscience nut waving a bible around and lying. Does this guy from Trinity Luddite Dark-Ages-Wannabe “church” ever wonder why 2007 is a lot differenct from 1507? Or where the computers, medical care, safe running water, and plentiful food, etc. came from?

It wasn’t prayed into existence. The first Big Lie. The fundies always have a few. Methodological Naturalism also known as science doesn’t eliminate god from the equation. Science simply declares the supernatural as out of bounds, being beyond the reach of our senses and instruments and is neutral about it.

The other Big Lie. “The issues of intelligent design and evolution are far greater than simply differing perspectives about science.” This isn’t at all about differing perspectives about science. It is about something true and proven and important to our material well being versus some pseudoscience based on a few pages of 4,000 year old bronze age mythology.

This attitude is a disgrace in the 21st century at a major university like OU.

The fundies see no problem with complaining about science while obliviously enjoying all its benefits. Just once I would like to see these lying hypocrites walk their talk and go back to an 18th century tech level life style.

Got to give Demski some credit here. He is a big fish in a small and rather murky pond, the pseudoscience swamp. Milton said it centuries ago, “It is better to rule in hell than serve in heaven.”

Looks like one can make a reasonably profitable living pushing bafflegab nonsense. Real scientists have to keep coming up with real and tangible results in the real world. It isn’t always easy.

J-dog; I mean Pomp of course - all that is left of Dembski 10 years after.

And Raven, Dembski is such a pathetic little whiner; how could you ever compare him to Milton’s Lucifer?

Alas, it looks like the DI head honchos consider their lawyers and PR hacks a more productive investment than their scientists.

you could scale that up to the current white house administration and still be just as accurate.

The problem here is not where the money comes from per se. As long as laws aren’t broken, Marks and Dembski have the right to seek funding wherever they can find it, in whatever form they can get it (grant, gift, endowment, etc), Baylor has the right to accept funding for their faculty from whatever source they wish, and the Lifeworks Foundation can give their money to whoever they damn please.

The main problem what I see here is that it looks like they are successfully presenting the initial appearance of a multiplicity of entities– the DI, the Biologic Institute, Robert Marks’ “lab”– whereas as always the entire plate of spaghetti is just different tendrils of the DI, to the point of the funding originating there.

After the more-or-less collapse of the ID scam and the bad press this collapse engendered, it’s to the DI institute’s benefit both to allow evolution deniers to distance themselves from the DI, and to present the appearance there’s more than one group of people working in Intelligent Design, really. To the extent that these appearances are false, the DI shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. I for one wouldn’t have realized the Marks thing was connected to the DI had this article not been posted.

By the way, as long as we’re on the subject, I notice there is no mention of the Biologic institute on wikipedia, anywhere. I think I’m going to try to remedy this. Does anyone have any suggestions for citable sources of information about the Biologic institute besides the New Scientist “God lab” article? Also, does anyone know whether the Biologic institute is part of the DI, or whether the DI just supplied seed money– i.e. would it make more sense for the Biologic institute get their own wikipedia entry, or to just have a section in the main DI article? Thanks.

Biologic Institute on Wikipedia.

*scratches head* See, now that’s what I would have expected to see. I wonder why I didn’t see that when I tried to search for it. Sorry about that :)

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Re “Alas, it looks like the DI head honchos consider their lawyers and PR hacks a more productive investment than their scientists.”

That seems logical, considering that their lawyers and PR staff are actually doing lawyer and PR type work.

Henry

Andrea

However, what is clear is that the “grant” awarded to Marks for his work looks suspiciously like the result of a personal agreement between long-time friends and associates, rather than of a competitive application process as are the vast majority of research grants from public or private agencies to academic scientists. Did Marks actively seek out Lifeworks as a funding source, and did he know about the connections between the Foundation and the DI?

Clearly this LifeWorks Foundation was a private foundation. The grantors of these types of foundations don’t have to have any application process at all and are free to make grants to whomever they wish, as long as the recipients meet the qualifications established by the IRS, which clearly Baylor does. It matters not one whit if Dembski and Allen or Marks and Allen are friends or not.

It is sometimes (though not often) the case with private foundations that the grantors approach the potential recipient first because they’ve heard of a specific project or cause in which they have an interest.

In short there’s nothing out of the ordinary or “fishy” here. I see nothing suspicious in the 990 either…looks just like the hundreds of others I’ve looked at over the years. I know of a few private foundations that believed so strongly in something that they opted to give from their corpus and not just the earnings of their foundation. If Allen wanted to reduce his principle by $500k to support the DI, more power to him. Allen may have had personal financial reasons to give away the foundation. That’s between him, his CPA and the IRS.

Andrea:

The alluded “mischief” here is for Dembski to present this as a run-of-the-mill research grant from some “foundation”, or as the DI EN&V blog put it “an outside organization”, without coming clean about the source of the money. If they had simply said something like “Marks secured funding from a Discovery Institute-friendly donor” I would have found no problem with it whatsoever.

Well, fortunately for Baylor, Marks, Allen and Dembski, the rules of disclosure are written to keep you from having a “problem”. The funding source is “an outside organization” by any definition. The fact that the source is “DI friendly” makes not one whit of difference. It is not for Dembski or Marks to disclose, in fact would be inappropriate for them to disclose, what other organizations were funded by thier funding source. That’s for the funder to decide. With a private foundation, the emphasis is on the word “private.” As long as they meet the IRS disclosure rules, there’s no requirement that annoucements must be made every time they make a grant.

The only “mischief” here was done by the Baylor administration…again! First Dembski, then Beckwith and now Marks. Baylor continues to give itself black eyes.

Clearly this LifeWorks Foundation was a private foundation. The grantors of these types of foundations don’t have to have any application process at all and are free to make grants to whomever they wish, as long as the recipients meet the qualifications established by the IRS, which clearly Baylor does. It matters not one whit if Dembski and Allen or Marks and Allen are friends or not.

It is moderately clear from original context and made crystal clear by Andrea’s comments here that she is not talking about whether or not what LifeWorks did was legal.

Raven:

The first Big Lie. The fundies always have a few. Methodological Naturalism also known as science doesn’t eliminate god from the equation. Science simply declares the supernatural as out of bounds, being beyond the reach of our senses and instruments and is neutral about it.

Methodical Naturalism (MN) is not “known as science.” MN is an arbitrary constraint upon scientific practice that supposedly protects science from some ill-defined possibility of deviating into the supernatural or metaphysics. The claim that the “supernatural is out of bounds” is itself not a scientific statement, by your own definition, because it would be beyond the reach of science and MN to determine whether or not the supernatural is, in fact, beyond the reach of our senses. Perhaps you could share how came by this knowledge, since it clearly wasn’t through science.

Contrary to what you write here, MN is virtually indistinguisable from PN, something which even some anti-ID Darwinists, like Massimo Pigliucci, have stated.

Raven:

The other Big Lie. “The issues of intelligent design and evolution are far greater than simply differing perspectives about science.” This isn’t at all about differing perspectives about science. It is about something true and proven and important to our material well being versus some pseudoscience based on a few pages of 4,000 year old bronze age mythology.

It is very much about differing perspective about science. Either intelligence played a part in bringing about the existence of the cosmos or it didn’t. Either intelligence played a part in bringing into existence biological systems on planet earth or it didn’t. We have no scientific basis upon which to claim we know that it did or it didn’t. However, defining science in such a way that intelligence is eliminated from consideration before the investigation begins does not constitute scientific confirmation that intelligence did not. Maybe it did; maybe it didn’t. But is highly unscientific to claim we already know, because we don’t. This confusion can be cleared up quickly if someone could simply state how it is we know scientifically (and not philosophically, metaphysically or theologically), that the properties of the cosmos are such that no natural system, including biological systems, no matter how much appearance of design is observed, could be the result of actual purposeful intelligent design, even in principle. So-called ‘methodological naturalism’ rigs the game before it is even played, which is about as unscientific as you can get!

Coin:

It is moderately clear from original context and made crystal clear by Andrea’s comments here that she is not talking about whether or not what LifeWorks did was legal.

True, but the implication is that something improper took place. The word “miscief” was used. I’m making clear that that is simply not the case.

By the way, Andrea is a he: http://www.urmc.rochester.edu/gebs/[…]_Bottaro.htm

Unless there are two of them, one of each gender!

Dembski wants to be able to point to ID research coming out of Baylor. “Research” sounds like science, and Baylor is the closest he’s been able to get to academic respectability. This connection evidently means enough to him that he’d rather wrangle a postdoc with a pittance and a broom-closet office at Baylor than be a collaborating scientist or co-PI from his own institution. (They can’t be any too pleased about this arrangement either, nor that one of their own professors would prefer to present a public face as a Baylor post-doc rather than as a Whatevertheheckitis professor, but those are other stories.)

The academic world strongly favors external competitive funding, and the more competitive the better - “a gift from a rich friend” is welcome, but it falls well below top-notch (it’s green, but it doesn’t constitute an external, critical, and competitive validation of the researcher and his/her research). If Marks and Dembski could show Baylor independent external funding, Baylor would have been much more likely to go along with the whole charade and let Marks have his research lab or whatever. It would be really interesting to hear what the Baylor officials were given to understand about the Lifeworks Foundation. The fact that they sent the money back may indicate some problems here. So I’m with Ed - there may still be shoes to drop.

From Dembski at http://www.uncommondescent.com/inte[…]b/#more-2641

I had a postdoctoral grant, procured by Bob, back in 2006, which President Lilley nixed. I was paid about 1 mos. part time salary in November 2006 and then for 1 week of December.

He got shut down in early December, which accounts for the single week, so this was apparently intended to be an ongoing thing, presumably for a year. After fringe benefits and university overhead, but pre-taxes, the $30k might not even have paid Dembski $1500 per month, but as he said, it’s part-time. It’s interesting that Marks & Dembski didn’t run it as summer salary paid through Dembski’s college, which would be far more normal, although the post-doc fiction lets Dembski get paid immediately rather than waiting for the summer. Also universities get funny about outside earnings during the academic year: you can’t double-dip on research that you should be doing as part of your regular full-time job, and you shouldn’t be moonlighting at a second full-time job, although they will let professors earn some consulting fees and the like and put in a certain amount of hours per week on external commercial work. No doubt Dembski is following his intstitution’s regulations, but he is probably cutting close to the corners, and his bosses probably aren’t overly happy with him, if they have any pride in their own institution.

Dembski’s latest post ( http://www.uncommondescent.com/inte[…]b/#more-2641 ) is a lengthy and persuasive defense of Marks as a serious academic plus a summary of how Baylor usually treats quasi-formalized research groups and research “Labs”. Marks has lots of grants and publications; Baylor is usually hands-off and happy to see professors actively adding to Baylor’s reputation. It is hard to imagine how awful Dembski’s reputation must be if he can simultaneously bring a bad odor to Marks and make a university eager to give back a donation. I suspect all that farty-noise animation and belittling of a federal judge made more of an impression than Dembski intended, and I suspect that the tin ear for reasonable behavior that he demonstrates so frequently on his blog indicates that he behaved similarly toward the Baylor administration, so that their policy has become, 1) try to maintain a blanket of dignified silence, and 2) keep Dembski as far away as legally possible without showing up in court to take out a restraining order. Lastly, was Dixon maybe part of the reason that the Discovery Institute had such surprisingly close ties to & support from Microsoft back in its early days?

DonaldM the supernatural ghost expert:

Methodical Naturalism (MN) is not “known as science.”… Deleted nonsense… Perhaps you could share how came by this knowledge, since it clearly wasn’t through science.

From talkorigins.org:

The naturalism that science adopts is methodological naturalism. It does not assume that nature is all there is; it merely notes that nature is the only objective standard we have. The supernatural is not ruled out a priori; when it claims observable results that can be studied scientifically, the supernatural is studied scientifically (e.g., Astin et al. 2000; Enright 1999). It gets little attention because it has never been reliably observed. Still, there are many scientists who use naturalism but who believe in more than nature.

I got it from talkorigins.org, repeated above, list of claims. This issue also came up at the Kitzmiller versus Dover trial.

If science could study the supernatural, they would. Running gels and writing papers gets boring. No one I know has figured out a way to do so. If you think we can, explain it. This could make Halloween a lot more interesting, LOL.

The Journal of Supernatural Studies and Ghostbusting isn’t considered a real scientific journal.

Some say that if we could study the supernatural it wouldn’t be the supernatural. So far this is a moot point.

Donald M. -

How ironic that the likes of you should show up just as lawyers and PR hacks were being mentioned.

The only “mischief” here was done by the Baylor administration…again! First Dembski, then Beckwith and now Marks. Baylor continues to give itself black eyes.

Garbage. Dembski and Marks are clearly engaged in possibly legal but overtly unethical behavior.

Their objective is to create the false appearance, in the public eye, that some sort of respectable research is going on, and that it meets the standards expected from work at a major research university, when in reality the money secretly came from an ideological fellow traveler, and the scheme was pulled off behind the back of the university.

I’m not 100% sure that making use of university property and implying university affilitation is legal in this case.

Methodical Naturalism (MN) is not “known as science.” MN is an arbitrary constraint upon scientific practice that supposedly protects science from some ill-defined possibility of deviating into the supernatural or metaphysics. The claim that the “supernatural is out of bounds” is itself not a scientific statement, by your own definition, because it would be beyond the reach of science and MN to determine whether or not the supernatural is, in fact, beyond the reach of our senses. Perhaps you could share how came by this knowledge, since it clearly wasn’t through science.

It sure is easy to string together words like “materialism”, “naturalism”, and so on. So what? How old is the earth? Does life share common ancestry? How does life evolve? Do humans and apes share recent common ancestry? What is YOUR answer to these questions? Please don’t reply to me without answering these questions.

Contrary to what you write here, MN is virtually indistinguisable from PN, something which even some anti-ID Darwinists, like Massimo Pigliucci, have stated.

I’d call that statement a bare-faced, trivially demonstrated inaccuracy, since the pope, for example, clearly endorses science without endorsing “philosophical naturalism”.

But for the sake of argument, let’s say that they are “nearly indistinguishable”. I don’t think they are, and don’t care, either, but if we grant that they are, how does that affect you?

Does that mean that you have to deny the scientific description of reality OR choose “PN”?

Faced with such a dilemma, how do you decide? Do you accept the fact that putting pressure on the accelerator peddle usually makes a car go faster, for example, thus endorsing “MN”, and therefore, forced into “nearly indistinguishable” “PN”, which is presumably the same thing as atheism?

Or on the contrary, to you firmly reject all “naturalism”, thus rejecting “MN”, and having no basis upon which to decide whether jumping out of an airplane without a parachute is or is not a dangerous idea?

Which is it?

Laseer

I was afraid that would confuse you. I put that there only to provide context. He’s an ID proponent because he ignores comprehensive scholarly work on a question that he tries to address. He’s an ID proponent because he wrote a chapter in a book that was edited by Dembski. He’s an ID proponent because of the content of many of his other articles. There, is that clear enough for you?

Ratzsch may be willing to give ID a hearing, but that hardly makes him a proponent. I suspect you only want to label him as one so you can dismiss everything else he writes. FYI, I know Del personally and have had a few conversations with him over lunch on this very subject and can tell you he is not an ID proponent. He is, however, at least open to the possibility that ID could be scientifically fruitful. D

IanBrown

But the burden of proof is not on our side, surely? It is your side making the extraordinary claim, whereas we are merely stating we believe what we see.

So YOU provide evidence.

I’m not the one making the extraordinary claim here. The extrodinary claim is somehow we know that nature is a closed system of natural cause and effect. If we don’t know that, then MN really doesn’t make a whole of sense. Rather than approaching the data with a ready made stipulation as to what the data must tell us, why not let the data tell us where the relevant boundaries are. But MN doesn’t allow for that and dictates the boundaries prior to the investigation or examination of the data. The burden of proof, as it were, is on those who want to continue defending MN.

…But, as far as I know, no one has demonstrated that the properties of the cosmos are such that any apparent design we observe in any natural system can not be actual design, even in principal. If that has been established scientifically, then I’d love to see the research studies!!

As people have pointed out repeatedly, no-one actually claims “that any apparent design we observe in any natural system can not be actual design, even in principal. (sic)” C.f. Last Thursdayism.

What you can not do, Andrea, is have it both ways, as I’ve said before. If MN is true,…

MN does not have a truth value.

…then no supernatural explanation for any observation is allowed. Period.

Only methodologically. Therefore the next bit is blatantly false:

And thus MN does, in fact, rule out a priori what may in fact be the correct (as in the actual truth) explanation.

The fact that the assumption was strictly methodological means that a priori supernatural explanations are not ruled out.

MN=PN and there’s no getting around it.

Only if in your small, unimaginative mind.

And, like I said, this argument isn’t useful.

Please describe how ID or Creationism is useful in the ways I listed ET and other well established theory purport to be useful.

Andrea, this is simply incorrect and you seem to be confused as to what MN really is as an principle applied in scientific practice. It is by definition a principle that holds that for the sake of doing science only natural causes for any observed phenomenon will be considered.

From talkorigins.org:

The naturalism that science adopts is methodological naturalism. It does not assume that nature is all there is; it merely notes that nature is the only objective standard we have. The supernatural is not ruled out a priori; when it claims observable results that can be studied scientifically, the supernatural is studied scientifically (e.g., Astin et al. 2000; Enright 1999). It gets little attention because it has never been reliably observed. Still, there are many scientists who use naturalism but who believe in more than nature.

Donald you are simply repeating your wrong points over and over. See what you said which is contradicted by the definition from talkorigins.org. You are just wrong.

You are also wrong to keep plugging away at methodological naturalism. Most scientists have never even heard of it. This is philosophy/history of science stuff. Those courses are taken by humanities majors. Science majors are too busy taking courses in the core and relevant electives to bother with them.

There is no oath to MN sworn on The Origin of the Species, no thought police enforcing the MN only rule, no secret society of MNs trying to hide god. Scientists are a varied and odd lot and herding cats would be easy compared to herding scientists. You clearly have zero working knowledge of what scientists do all day. It isn’t sitting in a chair thinking. Collecting and analyzing data is far more crucial.

And BTW we don’t give a damn what you believe. 6,000 year old earth, no Big Bang, god keeping the planets in their orbits, flat earth, sacrificing chickens to Vodoo on full moons. Whatever, it is a free country. We do object to people sneaking their religious views into our kids science classes. It is in fact, illegal, separation of church and state and has been ruled on in court many times.

I’m done here. Donald has repeated his fallacies over and over and looks to be able to continue for another 1000 posts. Sorry, I don’t have the time and interest for discussions that go nowhere.

Explain how we can study the supernatural for a change of pace. Ectoplasmic imagers, soul catchers, email to god, angels in the incubators, summoning demons from within a pentagram (not recommended, what if the necronomicon is wrong). Handwaving is not a good experimental strategy.

And forget about ID. After 150 years it is a dead end. Went nowhere. If that is the best the GOD-PROVEN-TO-EXIST guys can come up with they are in deep trouble. Recycling pseudoscience for centuries is a sure loser.

Andrea, this is simply incorrect and you seem to be confused as to what MN really is as an principle applied in scientific practice.

Quacky, who admittedly does no science, has never actually studied science, and has never even tried to publish in a scientific journal, accuses Andrea, who in fact has a very extensive background in science, and has published articles, of being confused as to what science is and how it is practiced.

Quacky, I’d slap you in the face if you said that to me on the street, considering the large number of years I myself have put into the practice and study of science.

you really cannot see that you haven’t the slightest clue what you’re talking about, can you?

seriously, I think I will encourage others here to encourage you to seek a mental health care professional. you obviously have some serious mental health issues that certainly no-one here is qualified to treat.

or is it only apparent design

he means “is it only projection”, but he’s too busy projecting to even realize it.

you’re simply nuts, quacky.

seek treatment.

all will become clear afterwards, and maybe after you do seek treatment, you might come back and say something that actually makes sense.

Andrea, this is simply incorrect and you seem to be confused as to what MN really is as an principle applied in scientific practice. It is by definition a principle that holds that for the sake of doing science only natural causes for any observed phenomenon will be considered. Even if the real cause of a certain observation is, in fact, non-natural, MN demands that preference be given to the natural explanation.

Now I am starting to suspect you are purposefully playing stupid. MN is not an a priori principle that a cadre of hooded materialist scientists have decreed has to be enforced in practice, but on the contrary, it is derived from the practice that all scientists (materialists and non) adopt for purely utilitarian reasons. By its nature, because it depends on observability, reproducibility, and testability, science is limited to natural explanations. It simply cannot be otherwise, as you have realized by failing for now a few days to come up with any plausible scientific test for a supernatural explanation of any phenomenon of your choice. These limitations of science, which are also its strengths, prevent it from examining supernatural causal mechanisms (note: as I said before, science can however very well examine purportedly supernatural phenomena, and it does). Science doesn’t say that supernatural mechanisms or entities don’t exist, or should be rejected in principle, just that if they do, they can’t be tested using the scientific method. They. Just. Can’t.

It all comes down to what one thinks the business of science is about. Is science about coming up with a natural explanation for every observation; or is it about discovering the truth about how nature actually works.

Neither. It is to arrive at reliable explanations of natural phenomena by observation, experimentation and hypothesis-testing. Natural phenomena that can be explained in such a way, will be considered scientifically explained. Those that can’t, won’t.

If there is a supernatural realm and activity on the part of a supernatural being played a significant role in certain features of nature, then that would be, in fact, how nature (or at least that particular part of nature) actually works and any explanation that didn’t make reference to that cause would, in fact, be incorrect, no matter how well constructed and how tightly it adhered to the stipulations of MN.

Indeed. But you must realize that if a naturalistic explanation is wrong, than it will have little or no explanatory and predictive power, and people will reject it on that basis. If on the other hand it does have good explanatory and predictive powers, then it is sensible to accept it (tentatively and provisionally, as every explanation in science) over supernatural explanations not because of these mythical MN shackles, but because of the principle of parsimony. For instance, I am sure that even you, free from the constraints of MN and the scientific method, would reject as unparsimonious the hypothesis that this message I am typing will get to your computer because it is carried forth by internet angels, as opposed to the more prosaic naturalistic explanation that electronic signals from my computer are transmitted to yours via a network of cables and servers (or a series of tubes, whichever you prefer).

Now, we could of course decide to reject the principle of parsimony in the name of affirmative action for explanatory systems, but then there would always be an infinite number of heuristically equivalent (i.e. all equally untestable) supernatural explanations for every natural phenomenon, and we would have no reason, other than metaphysical ones, to prefer one over another. That would paralyze not only science, but even trivial technological applications (how would you like your plumber to consider water pipe gremlins as a cause of your flooded basement?). Indeed, it would paralyze your own life, as you ponder whether every event in it is natural or supernatural in origin, and plan to respond to it accordingly.

Donald wrote:

“I’m not the one making the extraordinary claim here. The extrodinary claim is somehow we know that nature is a closed system of natural cause and effect. If we don’t know that, then MN really doesn’t make a whole of sense. Rather than approaching the data with a ready made stipulation as to what the data must tell us, why not let the data tell us where the relevant boundaries are. But MN doesn’t allow for that and dictates the boundaries prior to the investigation or examination of the data. The burden of proof, as it were, is on those who want to continue defending MN.”

This is completely wrong.

First, you are the one making the extraordinary claim. You are the one claiming that everyone should believe something for which there is no evidence.

Second, no one is claiming that “nature is a closed system of natural cause and effect”. If a devout Christian uses MN to do reseach, that in no way negates his belief in God or anything supernatural. In the same way, saying that I can make a tire without rubber in no way implies that rubber does not exist.

Third, we have “let the data tell us where the relevant boundaries are”. We tried making supernatural assumptions to explain observed phenomena for thousands of years. It got us exactly nowhere. Then we applied MN to the problems and presto, progress occurred.

Fourth, the burden of proof is definately on those who claim that supernatural explanations are superior to those found by MN. For example, if I ignore the possibility of alien intervention when I study the structure of Ipateus, I don’t have to justify that assumption. If I can propose a reasonable natural explanation that accounts for all of the known facts, then I have a reasonable confidence in the conclusions. If I cannot account for the facts using natural explanations, then I am fully justified in examining the alien hypothesis. However, until I have some positive evidence of alien intervention, until I have some facts that are inexplicable by any other explanation, then the alien explanation is not justified. And until I have some direct evidence of alien intervention, the alien hypothesis remains simply an unsupported hypothesis. If I claim that aliens created Ipateus, then the burden of proof is definately on me. If you claim that God did something supernatural, then the burden of proof is definately on you.

Ratzsch may be willing to give ID a hearing, but that hardly makes him a proponent.

It also hardly makes him neutral. In your post in which you introduced Ratzsch’s work, you said, “Directly to your point here, I invite you to consider the thoughts of Philosopher of Science,Del Ratzch, author of the very intriguing Nature, Design, and Science (2003, State University of New York Press):…” Perhaps unintentionally, you make it sound as if he is a disinterested observer. He isn’t.

I suspect you only want to label him as one so you can dismiss everything else he writes.

Wrong. I plainly told you that I read several of his articles that I could immediately access and gave you my assessment. From what I read, he clearly does not understand the science of evolution. And, as I pointed out in my (inadvertently multiple) previous post, he posed a question as to why ID has been labeled as warmed-over creationism, and he ignored a major scholarly work on precisely that question. That egregious error calls into question his scholarship. I label each work of his individually. The paper at Ars Disputandi was lacking in rigor. As Andrea and others have pointed out ad nauseam, MN is not the same as PN, nor does it exclude the supernatural a priori, and his and your takes on that are incorrect. Taken together, these seem to fit the pattern of someone who is pro-ID.

FYI, I know Del personally and have had a few conversations with him over lunch on this very subject and can tell you he is not an ID proponent. He is, however, at least open to the possibility that ID could be scientifically fruitful. D

Perhaps he is not a proponent in the sense that Dembski and Behe are proponents. So ask him this, next time you have lunch: Should ID be taught in science courses?

Is there any real difference between “Methodological Naturalism” and simply “basing conclusions on the available relevant evidence”?

If not, seems like using the later phrase would avoid some confusion.

Henry

FYI, I know Del personally and have had a few conversations with him over lunch on this very subject and can tell you he is not an ID proponent.

“I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

which drugs were you on during this alleged lunch?

David Stanton

This is completely wrong.

First, you are the one making the extraordinary claim. You are the one claiming that everyone should believe something for which there is no evidence.

I made no such claim or anything even remotely resembling this statement. I’ve made no statement at all about what “everyone should believe”.

Second, no one is claiming that “nature is a closed system of natural cause and effect”. If a devout Christian uses MN to do reseach, that in no way negates his belief in God or anything supernatural. In the same way, saying that I can make a tire without rubber in no way implies that rubber does not exist.

Neither did I say that you or anyone else is claiming that nature is a closed system of natural cause and effect. No one has actually made that claim nor did I say anyone did. What I did say is that that claim is the upshot of taking MN seriously. MN by definition means that for the sake of doing science we’ll pretend that nature is a closed system of natural cause and effect (whether or not it really is). If that stipulation is strictly adhered to, as most here seem to think it ought to be, then it follows that even before investigation begins, certain explanatory resources (i.e. supernatural causes) are ‘off the table’. But if the truth of the matter under investigation is that supernatural causation is the correct explanation, then no matter how consistent with the evidence the natural explanation is, it would also be wrong…and as Ratzsch has made clear, will be wrong in precisely the same way and for the same reasons as a science built on philosophical (as opposed to methodological) naturalism would be. Thus, the conclusion to be drawn is that unless we actually do know that nature is a completely closed system of natural cause and effect, then the stipulation of MN is arbitrary and rests on shaky philosophical foundations. And we’re unavoidedly back to MN=PN.

Third, we have “let the data tell us where the relevant boundaries are”. We tried making supernatural assumptions to explain observed phenomena for thousands of years. It got us exactly nowhere. Then we applied MN to the problems and presto, progress occurred.

That is a very simplistic and inaccurate view of the history of science. Several of the greatest names in the history of science had no problem at all including the agency of God within the structure of their scientific investigations, and our knowledge progressed quite nicely.

Further, claims of the past victories of MN are over-inflated. First off, it is an inductive argument along the lines of “since naturalistic explanations have routinely filled our knowledge of the world, there’s no reason to think that they won’t continue to provide us with a true picture of the world”…or something to that effect. Being an inductive argument, we are not dealing with a proof here of any sort. Secondly, it isn’t the case that all gaps in our knowledge of the world have been closed through natural explanations…we still have long-standing mysteries in science, which is why we keep looking. If Kuhn is right, then even gaps we once thought were closed are often re-opened in what he calls scientific revolutions. The upshot of that is even if it were the case that all gaps in our understanding of nature were closed by some naturalistic explanation, there’s no guarantee that they remain closed. Third, if part of reality…the way things really are…lies beyond the natural world, then science couldn’t get to it under the stipulation of MN. Thus, for all science could tell, present mysteries might actually be the result of some supernatural activity. The fact that science practiced under the stipulation of MN couldn’t even see that takes a lot of the starch out of the claims of victories past.

Worse, there’s no reason to think that science ever can solve through natural explanation all the mysteries it defines for itself and that lack of explanations is not a temporary situation. Incompleteness is unavoidable, even if we could, in principle, explain every natural phenomenon with reference to some natural cause or set of laws or other. But, at some point, we have to explain the existence of those laws. What then? Do we say they’re ‘just there’ like some brute fact? Or do we say there’s some other set of principals outside the normal scope of science? Is that the point we appeal to a supernatural explanation? The first route isn’t even an explanation and the second just pushes the need for an explanation up a notch. The third goes beyond what science allows under MN, so would provide no complete scientific explanation. From that it would follow that explanations within nature can either be complete or scientific (under the stipulations of MN) but not both at the same time.

That makes the conclusion of your inductive argument about the victory of naturalistic explanations not true even in principle.

Fourth, the burden of proof is definately on those who claim that supernatural explanations are superior to those found by MN. For example, if I ignore the possibility of alien intervention when I study the structure of Ipateus, I don’t have to justify that assumption. If I can propose a reasonable natural explanation that accounts for all of the known facts, then I have a reasonable confidence in the conclusions. If I cannot account for the facts using natural explanations, then I am fully justified in examining the alien hypothesis. However, until I have some positive evidence of alien intervention, until I have some facts that are inexplicable by any other explanation, then the alien explanation is not justified. And until I have some direct evidence of alien intervention, the alien hypothesis remains simply an unsupported hypothesis. If I claim that aliens created Ipateus, then the burden of proof is definately on me. If you claim that God did something supernatural, then the burden of proof is definately on you.

I wasn’t aware that aliens and supernatural causes were equivalent. How is that aliens fall outside the natural cause realm?

“Fourth, the burden of proof is definately on those who claim that supernatural explanations are superior to those found by MN.” As opposed to claiming that natural causes are superior to supernatural ones? Just because we have a natural explanation that seems to fit all the data doesn’t mean we have the correct explanation. Data always underdetermines theories in science. Given a natural explanation for a particular observation and a supernatural explanation for the very same data, why is that we must first choose between them as if they were competitors and second give preference to the natural explanation? What is the justification for that competition and choice, or is it just someone’s philosophical preference, as it seems to be. In order for this claim to even make sense, there needs to be some knowledge of what we ought to expect to see if a supernatural agent was involved…but that we could ever have such knowledge is the very thing being denied.

Laser

Perhaps he is not a proponent in the sense that Dembski and Behe are proponents. So ask him this, next time you have lunch: Should ID be taught in science courses?

I can already answer that for him and for me. No. Neither he nor I have ever advocated for that.

How is that aliens fall outside the natural cause realm?

It’s funny that you suppose alien causation to be a “natural” cause, since it equates nicely with the ID being based on “natural” causes.

the problem with equating non-know causation is the same, however, whether we are talking about unknown pre-supposed aliens, or a supernatural event.

you don’t get that, though, do you?

seek medical attention.

I can already answer that for him and for me. No. Neither he nor I have ever advocated for that.

you’re insane enough that I don’t believe you, quacky.

without any proof of your meeting, I say you’re making this up in your head, just like everything else you spout monthly on this blog.

medical attention?

remember?

Raven:

And BTW we don’t give a damn what you believe. 6,000 year old earth, no Big Bang, god keeping the planets in their orbits, flat earth, sacrificing chickens to Vodoo on full moons. Whatever, it is a free country. We do object to people sneaking their religious views into our kids science classes. It is in fact, illegal, separation of church and state and has been ruled on in court many times.

Tell me, Raven, what does a worldview free science class look like?

Tell me, Raven, what does a worldview free science class look like?

you wouldn’t know, not having ever attended any science classes for comparative purposes.

but, even if you had, inevitably your own massive levels of projection would have forced you to conclude that all science instruction is entirely based on worldviews instead of method and results.

you’re nuts, quacky.

seek treatment.

Donald wrote:

“But if the truth of the matter under investigation is that supernatural causation is the correct explanation, then no matter how consistent with the evidence the natural explanation is, it would also be wrong…and as Ratzsch has made clear, will be wrong in precisely the same way and for the same reasons as a science built on philosophical (as opposed to methodological) naturalism would be.

And that is exactly my point. If the natural explanation is wrong, then it will be inconsistent with the evidence. If it is consistent with all the evidence than you can not demonstrate that it is wrong. This is a limitation of science. If supernatural explanations are indeed correct, it doesn’t matter. It still won’t be science even if it is the truth. No one ever claimed that science wiould always give the correct answer. But abandoning an answer that is consistent with all the evidence will not get you a better answer. Assuming a supernatural explanation where noen is required is unwarranted.

“Several of the greatest names in the history of science had no problem at all including the agency of God within the structure of their scientific investigations, and our knowledge progressed quite nicely.”

Once again you make my point for me. They did not need to insist that God did not exist in order to do science. But as long as they posited supernatural explanations for natural phenomena they got nowhere. As soon as they started coming up with natural explanations they made rapid progress. That may indeed be a little simplistic, but can you name any supernatural explanation that has served to increase our knowledge of the natural world?

Donald asks:

Tell me, Raven, what does a worldview free science class look like?

It would have adherants from a wide range of worldviews, Christians, atheists, socialists, capitalists, etc. In other words, like evolution, or global warming, or the Pythagorean theorum, or any of the other sciences.

Sciency sounding stuff based on a world view looks like ID/creationism, or holocaust denial, having adherants overwhelmingly ascribing to a particular worldview.

“I’m not sure what they did, but somebody had to have done something.”

interpolating the likely previous line by same imaginary forensic expert:

“I mean, the vic’s dead, right?”

can you imagine an entire spoof of a Law and Order episode entirely using the projection and “gut instinct” ID supporters use on a daily basis?

man, that would be hilarious.

oh, nevermind, that’s kinda what happened in the Kitzmiller case. spoofs are only good if there isn’t already a real-world case example.

hmm, that got put into the wrong thread.

Tell me, Raven, what does a worldview free science class look like?

That is a hysterically off the wall question.

You just see a normal cross section of the university population sitting in a classroom or lecture hall while a professor gives a lecture. AV aids are common, slides, powerpoint.

Unless it is a lab class where the students run experiments which can be controlled chaos.

The exact number of college and university level worldview free science classes in the USA is anyones guess. Per year maybe 100,000, maybe 500,000.

The only worldview contrained science classes I’ve seen are Xian fundamentalist. They frequently are full of outright lies and almost devoid of content. Imagine trying to teach geology assuming the earth is 6,000 years old. It isn’t, it is 4.5 billion years old.

We don’t worry about worldviews too much or at all really. We worry a lot more about being right and having other people being able to repeat the work. In my field, medical research, whether people live or die depends on us doing good science, literally and directly.

Re “or the Pythagorean theorem,”

What’s this, Euclidism? Teach the controversy! If the world isn’t flat, space might not be flat either!

:D

Henry

And that is exactly my point. If the natural explanation is wrong, then it will be inconsistent with the evidence. If it is consistent with all the evidence than you can not demonstrate that it is wrong.

Del Ratzsch is clearly speaking about a supernatural designer here. Which is quite different from what ID pretends it is all about. While ID’s intelligence is clearly supernatural, it likes to pretend that ID is all about intelligence but as we know, real science can quite accurately deal with natural intelligence.

No science, and certainly not the scientifically vacuous concept of ID will address this. The supernatural remains a topic of faith not science, by any definition. Admitting the supernatural in science will be the end of science, it surely has no redeeming qualities. Which is why ID has remained scientifically vacuous… Of course IDers are quick to blame discrimination and other excuses but honestly… nobody has explained yet what non trivial contributions can be expected from a negative argument like ID.

It’s funny how IDers can be so inconsistent in their claims.

As long as science works, there is no scientific need for assigning miracles to some unnamed entity. From a religious perspective it is even more embarassing that ID proponents have to deny their God.

. While ID’s intelligence is clearly supernatural, it likes to pretend that ID is all about intelligence but as we know, real science can quite accurately deal with natural intelligence.

the problem with the putative designer of ID, isn’t even that it might be supernatural. it’s simply that it’s unknown.

no data regarding how suggested designer actually operates in the world, ergo no possible way to even start to produce a legitimate, testable hypothesis as to what might or might not have been “designed” by suggested designer.

this is direct contrast to things like archeology, where we indeed do have a model of how humans interact with their environment (duh), so can easily hypothesis what might or might not have been designed by them.

Donald wrote:

“I wasn’t aware that aliens and supernatural causes were equivalent. How is that aliens fall outside the natural cause realm?”

Presumably they do not (unless of course aliens are supernatural). My point was that they are outside the realm of science as long as there is no evidence of their existence (whether they exist or not), in exactly the same way that the supernatural is outside the realm of science as long as there is no evidence for it (regardless of whether the supernatural exists or not). The only difference is that it might be possible to study aliens empirically using MN. As has been pointed out already, this may not be possible for supernatural causes.

“As opposed to claiming that natural causes are superior to supernatural ones? Just because we have a natural explanation that seems to fit all the data doesn’t mean we have the correct explanation. Data always underdetermines theories in science. Given a natural explanation for a particular observation and a supernatural explanation for the very same data, why is that we must first choose between them as if they were competitors and second give preference to the natural explanation?”

Because, as I already stated, natural explanations increase our knowledge and understanding of the natural world. They provide testable hypotheses ammenable to falsification. They provide predictions and potential applications. Supernatural explanations do not, even if they are correct. Also, if the two explanations fit the data equally well, yes the natural explanation is preferred due to Occum’s razor (as has already been pointed out by Andrea).

If you don’t beleive that MN is a useful approach, fine, don’t use it. If you believe that you can study the supernatural, fine, you are free to do so. If you think you have a better way of doing science, fine, go right ahead. But don’t try to convince anyone that MN has been unsuccessful or that supernatural explanations have been equally successful at explaining the natural world. And don’t try to equate MN with PN, no one is going to fall for that either.

Good grief.

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This page contains a single entry by Andrea Bottaro published on September 7, 2007 10:45 PM.

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