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

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.