Beckwith, ID and science

Francis Beckwith, author of various papers on the constitutionality of Intelligent Design recently visited the comments section of PT. Since Beckwith’s legal arguments are based on the premise that intelligent design is science, I will comment.

Francis Beckwith wrote:

Dear Lenny:

First off, how’s Squiggy? Second, and more seriously, I’ve addressed your question in several of my works, including my book Law, Darwinism, and Public Education. The short answer is that there are no necessary and sufficient conditions to distinguish science from non-science on which philosophers of science agree. So, for me, the issue of what counts as “science” is not relevant. What is relevant is whether the argument offered for the point of view, ID or something like it, is reasonable or not obviously irrational and it does not rely on sacred scripture or religious authority.

Let’s for the sake of furthering the discussion point out that ID is scientifically vacuous. In other words, skip the issue of whether or not it is science, since this presents ID actvists with an opportunity to argue philosophy rather than addressing the issue at hand. That ID is religiously motivated and that ID’s designer is supernatural is self evident. So the question becomes: Can ID be reformulated in a manner which would make it non-religious and still scientifically relevant? The simple answer is no.

Since Beckwith’s legal arguments are based on the flawed assumption that ID is science or scientifically relevant, his conclusions should be rejected just as the Judge did in Dover. There is just no secular purpose which is neither a sham nor insincere when it comes to Intelligent Design.

I really urge ID activists to familiarize themselves with the excellent paper by Nichols

Ryan Nichols, Scientific content, testability, and the vacuity of Intelligent Design theory The American Catholic philosophical quarterly, 2003 ,vol. 77 ,no 4 ,pp. 591 - 611

Ryan Nichols wrote:

Proponents of Intelligent Design theory seek to ground a scientific research program that appeals to teleology within the context of biological explanation. As such, Intelligent Design theory must contain principles to guide researchers. I argue for a disjunction: either Dembski’s ID theory lacks content, or it succumbs to the methodological problems associated with creation science-problems that Dembski explicitly attempts to avoid. The only concept of a designer permitted by Dembski’s Explanatory Filter is too weak to give the sorts of explanations which we are entitled to expect from those sciences, such as archeology, that use effect-to-cause reasoning. The new spin put upon ID theory-that it is best construed as a ‘metascientific hypothesis’-fails for roughly the same reason.

Similarly Patrick Frank, author of “On the Assumption of Design”, Theology and Science, Volume 2, Number 1 / April 2004, pp. 109 - 130 writes

Patrick Frank wrote:

Abstract: The assumption of design of the universe is examined from a scientific perspective. The claims of William Dembski and of Michael Behe are unscientific because they are a-theoretic.

Finally, the argument from the unlikelihood of physical constants is vitiated by modern cosmogonic theory and recrudesces the God-of-the-gaps.

If Beckwith disagrees then perhaps he can show how ID contributes in a non-trivial manner to science directly relevant to the concept of ID?

Let me clarify with an example: Irreducible Complexity, often quoted as an example relevant to ID is nothing more than an argument against a particular Darwinian trajectory in which the original function is retained and selection is active at every single intermediate step. At most IC can be used to argue against such a limited formulation of evolutionary theory but proving that IC systems can arise naturally does nothing to disprove ID unless one conflates ID with “anti Darwinian”

The same applies to Dembski’s CSI. Even when it can be shown how CSI can be created by algorithms (necessity and chance), ID has not been falsified since Dembski can and has moved the origin of CSI to an earlier moment, taking it outside the view of scientific inquiry by arguing for the concept of front loading.

CSI nor IC do anything relevant to intelligent design. At most they argue that a particular pathway cannot be explained in purely Darwinian terms (IC) or that our ignorance should lead us to infer design rather than ‘we don’t know’.

ID is all about ignorance and scientific vacuity. This way we can at least circumvent the discussion of how to define science and at the same time show why legal arguments based on the premise that ID is science or scientifically relevant are doomed to failure.

Francis BEckwith wrote:

Calling such an argument “religious,” “science,” or “swiss cheese” does nothing to support or undercut the quality of the argument offered. If, for example, the kalam cosmological argument is not irrational to accept—and suppose it was supported by legitimate inferences from empirical premises (e.g., the universe did not always exist)combined with reasonable conceptual notions (e.g., an infinite regress cannot be traversed, something does not come from nothing)— calling such an argument “not science” contributes nothing to the dispute over it. It is a way to marginalize people who offer it. It does not advance the conversation in an intellectually exciting way. It’s the secular version of “heresy hunting.”

Fine, let’s avoid the attempt to diver the attention and portray ID as the victim of its own failure to be scientifically relevant and focus not on whether or not ID is science but whether or not it is scientifcally relevant.

Judge Jones’ opinion shows in quite some detail why ID fails to be scientifically relevant, irregardless of whether or not one considers ID to be a science or not.

Elsewhere Beckwith has argued that

Rather than leaving it at that, they offer an alternative account that takes both the present cosmological evidence and what we know about agents and infers from them that an intelligence best accounts for the state of the universe at its genesis (pardon the pun).

But no such alternative accounts are presented beyond “The designer did it because he wanted to do it” and “the designer could do it because he did it”. Not details, no evidence that their ‘explanation’ is the best one, nothing.