AC Grayling: Origin of the specious (review of Fuller)

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AC Grayling has reviewed Fuller’s latest book “Dissent over Descent” and does not hold back any punches.

Grayling Wrote:

For at the end of these nearly 300 pages of wasted forest he tells us what science needs in order to justify its continuation (oh dear, poor science, eh?) and what Intelligent Design, a theory he defended before a US Federal Court in the 2005 Dover Trial, needs to “realise its full potential in the public debate” - that is: how a theory trying to bend the facts to prove its antecedent conviction that Fred (or any arbitrary and itself unexplained conscious agency) designed and created the world and all in it, can attain its full potential in the public debate. This, note, from a professor at a proper British university. Well: if this is not proof of the efficacy of Jesuit educational methods, nothing is.

Somewhat foolishly, Fuller decided to ‘respond’ and Grayling delivered the technical KO

Some may remember Fuller as the ‘witness’ for the defense in the Kitzmiller v Dover trial where his testimony ended up serving mostly the plaintiffs’ cause. Not satisfied with driving a nail in the coffin of ID, Fuller decided to publish a book with his musings.

AC Grayling Wrote:

Here I have commented only on some of the premises of Fuller’s book. The demerits of ID theory itself - so woeful as to be funny: in this world of ours, with so much failed experiment of life, so much repetition and haphazard variety of endeavour to meet the challenge of passing on genes, to claim the existence and activity of a supernatural designer would be a sort of blasphemy on the latter, if it existed - are well enough known not to require the wasted effort of iteration; nor does the overwhelming security of evolutionary theory in biology require defence. In the interests of our forests, therefore, I stop here, save to bemoan the fact that Fuller has produced not merely an irresponsible but a bad book, whose one saving grace is that, by default, it drives another nail in the ID coffin.

In response to Fuller’s ‘response’, foolishly making the claim that “ID is an inference to the best explanation”, Grayling observes:

Grayling Wrote:

I am, says Fuller, ignorant (sheerly so; this is the glaring deficiency in my case) of “ID’s argument structure”, which is - argument to the best explanation! Oh pul-eese! I ignored this bit in my review out of a kind of residual collegiality, for even among the toxicities that flow when members of the professoriate fall out, embarrassment on others” behalf is a restraint. But he asks for it. Argument to the best explanation! Look: there is a great deal we do not know about this world of ours, but what is beautiful about science is that its practitioners do not panic and say “cripes! we don’t understand this, so we must grab something quick - attribute it to the intelligent designing activity of Fred (or Zeus or the Tooth Fairy or any arbitrary supernatural agency given ad hoc powers suitable to the task) because we can’t at present think of a better explanation.” They do not make a hasty grab for a lousy “best explanation” because they have serious thoughts about the kind of thing that can count as such. Instead of quick ad hoc fixes, they live with the open-ended nature of scientific enquiry, hypothesising and testing, trying to work things out rationally and conservatively on the basis of what is so far well-attested and secure. What looks like having a chance of being both an “explanation” and the “best” in a specific case turns on there being a well-disciplined idea of “best” for that specific case. But an hypothesis has no hope of becoming the best explanation (until a better comes along) unless it survives testing, is specific, and is consistent and conservative with respect to much else that is secure. This is a far cry from the gestural “best explanation” move that ID theorists attempt, which - and note this carefully - does not restrict itself to individual puzzles only, but applies to Life, the Universe and Everything. It has to, at risk of incoherence; and yet by doing so, it collapses into incoherence.

The fact that Intelligent Design lacks any scientific content has not prevented some ID proponents from arguing, quite illogically, that ID should be seen as an ‘inference to best explanation’, even though it cannot even compete with “we don’t know”. This may be ID’s best kept dirty little secret, namely that ID neither explains, let alone “best explain” nor that it has any scientific content.

30 Comments

It’s only a secret to the incurious and ignorant.

That is totally wonderful :)

I can see Denyse O’Leary responding now… “But Darwinists are mean… Without God life has no purpose… All these fancy pants scientist are just too stupid to realize that Darwinism is hanging on only by a thread…”

LOL

He Explained … Intelligent Design … needs to “realise its full potential in the public debate”

Well, that shouldn’t be too hard.

Um, so what is the theory of intelligent design?

I ask this because if you’re going to go out and “publicly debate” your point, phrases like “the set theoretic complement to reality” are just not going to make for very good sound bites.

I think that there’s more continuity between religious thinking and scientific thinking than Grayling apparently allows. After all, I like to point out that it was religious (often church) people who worked out much of the rules of evidence used in courts and transferred to science over time.

The main difference between religion and science is that the latter applies the rules of evidence across the board, while the former tends to exempt certain questions from those rules (I would not say that all religions or religous people do this). ID has no chance at all using the standard rules, and it means to overturn science to allow religious “thinking” to count as science, for it fails to provide the required evidence.

So the fact that science comes out of a kind of religious type of thinking (although that is because the Abrahamic religions incorporated a relatively secular Greek strain of thought into itself) bites Fuller’s arguments in half, since clerics themselves resorted to “materialism” in the “mundane realm.” Only if Fuller is foolish enough to claim that science ought actually to become theology, and thus to cease using “worldly thought” to understand the world according to “God’s laws,” would he have any kind of argument. But then he would be resorting to a completely self-refuting “argument,” which is that theology ought to be applied to science, when that very theology claims that it ought not to be applied to science.

He is extremely Jesuitical in the bad sense, and not in the good sense that one often finds at Catholic Universities (wherein the Jesuits typically know their place).

Glen Davidson
http://behefails.wordpress.com

Well, Fuller got something right:

At the very least, it reveals that science is not governed as a representative democracy.

Correct. Science is governed by reality. Vaccines don’t work based on a hand vote.

But I still laugh at this (my emphasis):

…our current level of scientific achievement would never have been reached, and more importantly that we would not be striving to achieve more, had chance-based explanations dominated over the design-based ones in our thinking about reality…

Steve Fuller just proved people like PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins can’t possibly exist. Quick, someone tell their families before they disappear. :)

ad chance-based explanations dominated over the design-based ones in our thinking about reality…

Quick, somebody alert all those quantum physicists that they’ve allowed chance-based explanations to dominate! ;)

So here we have Fuller saying that ID is the best explanation (for what? the origin of species, or something else, in which case it’s not an alternative to evolution anyway). And there we have Johnson, Nelson, and probably other IDers by now, admitting that it isn’t yet science.

The next time some clueless rube proclaims that evolution is “only a theory,” please ask him if he thinks that creationism or ID (whichever he prefers) is also “only a theory.” Then, when he answers or evades the question, tell him that on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being a mere “bag of intuitions” and 10 being what he would call a “fact,” a “theory” is a 10, and that IDers themselves have admitted that ID is only a 1 (Nelson used the phrase “bag of intuitions”).

If he hasn’t changed the subject by then, you could use the more accurate technical terms (theories “are” not facts but rather explain facts), but before that, make sure that he knows that the claims in YEC and OEC are not only “bags of intuitions” but ones that have been shown to be false.

Eric Wrote:

Steve Fuller just proved people like PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins can’t possibly exist. Quick, someone tell their families before they disappear. :)

“Expelled” admits that Myers and Dawkins exist, but pretends that theistic evolutionists like Miller and Collins do not.

ptet said:

That is totally wonderful :)

I can see Denyse O’Leary responding now… “But Darwinists are mean… Without God life has no purpose… All these fancy pants scientist are just too stupid to realize that Darwinism is hanging on only by a thread…”

LOL

I guess the response to that would be …

“Without God, I am held responsible for my own actions”.

Why aren’t you guys over in that thread egging on Grayling, and just simply egging, Fuller??

https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?b[…]6&page=1

with so few comments so far, there’s plenty of room for fun!

*Disclaimer* I have not read Steve Fuller’s book.

Any Jesuit I know would turn a a delicate shade of puce if Grayson’s summary of Fuller’s reasoning is to be believed. Here in Ireland the Jesuit schools are probably the most successful boys’ schools you can find. Perhaps Fuller left early ;)

Glen Davidson said:

He is extremely Jesuitical in the bad sense, and not in the good sense that one often finds at Catholic Universities (wherein the Jesuits typically know their place).

I was educated by Jesuits myself. Advanced training in sophistry. I’m not particularly down on my Catholic upbringing, but I don’t recollect the Jesuitry with any particular fondness.

White Rabbit (Greg Goebel) http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

*Disclaimer* I have not read Steve Fuller’s book.

If you’ll pardon me for interjecting on that, it’s very much equivalent to saying “I haven’t read Jonathan Wells’ book.”

bottom line…

there’s really no need.

There’s nothing new in it, same old re-hashed and oft refuted inanities.

You should see the comments from Fuller in that thread, basically asking the webmaster to silence the dissenting commentary. Obviously, the man is used to fora like Uncommonly Dense, where any dissent is quickly dispelled so as not to disturb the delicately constructed cognitive dissonances of the original posters.

dispelled dispensed

Dear Frank,

Excellent points you’ve made here, but I would go much further:

Frank J said:

The next time some clueless rube proclaims that evolution is “only a theory,” please ask him if he thinks that creationism or ID (whichever he prefers) is also “only a theory.” Then, when he answers or evades the question, tell him that on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being a mere “bag of intuitions” and 10 being what he would call a “fact,” a “theory” is a 10, and that IDers themselves have admitted that ID is only a 1 (Nelson used the phrase “bag of intuitions”).

If he hasn’t changed the subject by then, you could use the more accurate technical terms (theories “are” not facts but rather explain facts), but before that, make sure that he knows that the claims in YEC and OEC are not only “bags of intuitions” but ones that have been shown to be false.

I would demand from such a “clueless rube” how Intelligent Design creationism (or some other kind of mendacious intellectual pornography that calls itself “creationism”) does a better job than contemporary evolutionary theory in explaining the structure and history of Planet Earth’s biodiversity. What predictions can it make in explaining both this structure and history? How would one go about testing such predictions?

As I have noted earlier elsewhere, I have asked both Behe and Dembski how Intelligent Design creationism does a better job than evolution in explaining the structure and history of our planet’s biodiversity. Of course neither one could offer an answer.

Regards,

John

As I have noted earlier elsewhere, I have asked both Behe and Dembski how Intelligent Design creationism does a better job than evolution in explaining the structure and history of our planet’s biodiversity. Of course neither one could offer an answer.

Of course, Dembski is on the record that this is a ‘pathetic’ demand.

William (Bill) Dembski Wrote:

As for your example, I’m not going to take the bait. You’re asking me to play a game: “Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.” ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering.

Fuller keeps talking about his Jesuit education. I had a Jesuit education (for high school at least) and I was taught evolution in science. Heck even in religion class Gensis was treated as parable rather than being literal.

PvM said:

As I have noted earlier elsewhere, I have asked both Behe and Dembski how Intelligent Design creationism does a better job than evolution in explaining the structure and history of our planet’s biodiversity. Of course neither one could offer an answer.

Of course, Dembski is on the record that this is a ‘pathetic’ demand.

In other words, Mr Dembski is explaining, in his own words, that Intelligent Design is a science in name only, and that its proponents can not possibly be bothered to make even the most paltry attempt at doing any actual science or labwork to validate Intelligent Design as a science.

William (Bill) Dembski Wrote:

As for your example, I’m not going to take the bait. You’re asking me to play a game: “Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.” ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering.

And yet, Intelligent Design proponents bristle whenever someone points out that no one has ever bothered to even attempt to demonstrate how Intelligent Design is a science, let alone that no one has ever bothered to explain how Intelligent Design can explain things better than Evolutionary Biology can.

John Kwok said:

Dear Frank,

Excellent points you’ve made here, but I would go much further:

I would demand from such a “clueless rube” how Intelligent Design creationism (or some other kind of mendacious intellectual pornography that calls itself “creationism”) does a better job than contemporary evolutionary theory in explaining the structure and history of Planet Earth’s biodiversity. What predictions can it make in explaining both this structure and history? How would one go about testing such predictions?

As I have noted earlier elsewhere, I have asked both Behe and Dembski how Intelligent Design creationism does a better job than evolution in explaining the structure and history of our planet’s biodiversity. Of course neither one could offer an answer.

Regards,

John

You know, this got me thinking. Given that there are all of these “creationists” who insist on equal time in the classroom, I do so wish that in one of those counties or states wherein some ideological board slips words in favorable to such thinking, that a biology teacher would assign to his or her students as homework to write up a scientific summary of ID that provides answers to these specific points:

What is the Theory of ID?

What are the underlying hypotheses in this Theory?

What predictions can be made from the underlying hypotheses?

Are these hypothetical predictions testable and if so, how could one go about testing them?

How does ID explain the history of life on Earth?

I mean, if they want equal time, these foundational scientific principles should be able to be answered by whatever grade it is that they insist be taught about ID.

Frank J said:

So here we have Fuller saying that ID is the best explanation (for what? the origin of species, or something else, in which case it’s not an alternative to evolution anyway). And there we have Johnson, Nelson, and probably other IDers by now, admitting that it isn’t yet science.

The next time some clueless rube proclaims that evolution is “only a theory,” please ask him if he thinks that creationism or ID (whichever he prefers) is also “only a theory.” Then, when he answers or evades the question, tell him that on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being a mere “bag of intuitions” and 10 being what he would call a “fact,” a “theory” is a 10, and that IDers themselves have admitted that ID is only a 1 (Nelson used the phrase “bag of intuitions”).

If he hasn’t changed the subject by then, you could use the more accurate technical terms (theories “are” not facts but rather explain facts), but before that, make sure that he knows that the claims in YEC and OEC are not only “bags of intuitions” but ones that have been shown to be false.

Personally I’m more fond of asking whether gravity or heliocentrism are only a theory…

Dear Robin,

Yours are excellent points, however, as Stanton and PvM have noted, Intelligent Design advocates like Behe and Dembski aren’t interested in explaining how Intelligent Design is valid science. Instead, they are busy asserting that it is without offering any valid scientific proof. They’re so busy asserting it that it sounds too often as though they are engaged in being slick hucksters. In other words, in plain English, they are too busy being eager mendacious intellectual pornographers of the mendacious intellectual pornography known as Intelligent Design creationism.

Regards,

John

John Kwok said:

Dear Robin,

Yours are excellent points, however, as Stanton and PvM have noted, Intelligent Design advocates like Behe and Dembski aren’t interested in explaining how Intelligent Design is valid science. Instead, they are busy asserting that it is without offering any valid scientific proof. They’re so busy asserting it that it sounds too often as though they are engaged in being slick hucksters. In other words, in plain English, they are too busy being eager mendacious intellectual pornographers of the mendacious intellectual pornography known as Intelligent Design creationism.

Regards,

John

Ahh…yes, I’m well aware of the brand of snakeoil that Dembski et al are trying to push. I was really addressing the more garden variety clueless rube. But the point is well taken - there is the slice of the general populace that does not understand science and just holds firmly to the religious beliefs upon which their social structure and world view is built and there is the political propagandists who are (in general) pandering to the former group. The later are cunning and disingenous while the former merely parrot things they hear that support their way of thinking.

the best explanation is always magic, isn’t it?

Robin, I’m sure students would be very happy with an assignment where handing in an empty sheet of paper would get them an A.

slang said:

Robin, I’m sure students would be very happy with an assignment where handing in an empty sheet of paper would get them an A.

Well…I’d like to think that an A would require a bit of elaboration on why ID can’t answer those questions, but I admit that perhaps such would have to be outlined in the instructions. ;)

For a philosopher Grayling really gives the impression of “getting” science. [I read the back and forth yesterday, so I’m not going to go and dig up quotes today. But there were many good ones.]

Glen Davidson said:

I think that there’s more continuity between religious thinking and scientific thinking than Grayling apparently allows. After all, I like to point out that it was religious (often church) people who worked out much of the rules of evidence used in courts and transferred to science over time.

As I always have to point out in these cases, I’m no study of history. Are there accounts, or better, evidence, of transferral?

Also, I’m trying to think of what have been transferred and I come up blank: courts admit eye-witnesses and sometimes hearsay, science doesn’t; courts don’t do tests (vs standard probabilities, say on DNA), science rely on testing; courts have expert testimony but science have peer review; courts follows laws, scientists makes (discovers) laws ;-); et cetera.

I can see a certain analogy based on common grounds, but I don’t see that there is much of a relation, and I have certainly never suspected more than a trivial social influence on such a basis. So the above account on transferal is unfamiliar and interesting.

Oops, above comment wasn’t intended as a “replied to” - darn check boxes. [And now there is no check box, and still the preview come up “replied to”!]

One big difference between science and courtroom is that science looks for generalizations, and courtrooms look for specifics for each particular case. (Another difference is that nature does not (afaik) deliberately lie to those trying to analyze it.)

Henry

Those interested in “the flagellum is (not) intelligently designed” argument should take a look at my recent postings here:

In particular, Nick Matzke should wake up and smell the flagellar coffee!

If flagella were designed, what did the presumed designer get out of the project?

Henry

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