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Jesus The Game Changer

Jesus The Game Changer 10 of 10: REASON & SCIENCE

Pop quiz – Which work of ancient literature contains the following: “Come, let us reason together”?

The answer is, of course, the Bible. The Sunday school teachers or taught may have got that one right, but I highly doubt anyone else did. Reason and religion are oil and water to today’s enlightened mind.

Are religion and science really enemies?

Thanks to a bunch of influential pseudo-philosophers and historians, a vast number of people now think that religious claims lack any authority and are completely at odds with the claims of ‘objective’ science.

In order to do science, one must assume that reality is orderly, intelligible and understandable. Do the dominant narratives of today – materialistic naturalism and humanism – provide these foundations or are they borrowing capital from more capable worldviews?

Only certain subject matter is accessible via the scientific method. For example, science can tell us about the various processes at work in the baking of a cake – the combination of chemical ingredients and their reactions, the force required to mix them together, the heat of the oven and what it does to the cake – but it can’t tell us the why of reality, the deep questions that we all seek answers to. Science can explain the cake rising, but not the reason for which the cake is baked – to celebrate the birthday of a loved one and to see joy spread across their face.

My hope for the future

Pop up quiz 2 – Which religious text contains the commandment to “love God with all your mind”? Contrary to public opinion, you don’t leave your mind at the door when embracing Christianity. Quite the opposite.

These small thoughts can by no means provide a detailed analysis of the relationship between religion and science but hopefully they can start a conversation – one where both sides bring reason and tolerance to a vital topic.

Intelligent Design: Science, Philosophy, or Theology?

Following Stephen Meyer’s talks in NZ, a few people will be thinking more about intelligent design. What is it, and why does it matter?

The central claim of the intelligent design movement is that design is 1) empirically detectable (distinguishable from ordinary ‘natural’ processes), and 2) instantiated in the natural world. 

There are different claims that fall under this idea of intelligent design. Probably most controversially, the claim is about certain aspects of biological organisms that are said to particularly clearly evince design, but other areas in which evidence of design is said to be found include cosmology, astronomy, and chemistry/biochemistry.

As such, intelligent design seems to be a scientific kind of hypothesis. Perhaps not purely scientific, if we decide, firstly that science must be constrained by methodological naturalism, and secondly that design as a kind of cause falls outside the appropriate definition of naturalism; but still dealing with the same general realm that science generally does. Perhaps ‘natural philosophy’ or ‘meta-science’ might do as a term.

Inferences about the nature of the design observed quickly move into philosophical territory. But the same is probably true when dealing with anything near the foundations of science. 

So, the concept that design is evinced in the natural world includes aspects of science and of philosophy. Intelligent design, however, is not theology. It comports well with some theological claims, for sure – but so does belief in scientific law, and no-one calls the work of theoretical physicists acts of theology.

Proponents of intelligent design often argue that Christians must believe in it, because the Bible says that the universe declares things about God. I disagree with them – it may be that, indeed, the universe declares things about God – but that the nature of the declaration is not scientific or empirical in quite the way that ID sees it. Reformed epistemologists such as Alvin Plantinga, for example, have spoken about design beliefs being a ‘properly basic’ response to the natural world, rather than based on what we’d think of as an evidence-based inference. His book ‘Where the conflict really lies’ is a fascinating discussion of many things relating to the ID question. There are lots of interesting theological questions over whether God provides us with ‘scientific’ evidence of his existence.

Atheistic opponents say that ID is merely theology disguised in thin pseudo-scientific garments. But I disagree with them too – ID is compatible with very many different kinds of theologies, including many non-traditional views of God/gods/spirit/aliens etc and complete agnosticism on the existence of any kind of deities. Theistic opponents argue on the other hand that it is insufficiently theological, failing to identify the designer as e.g. the God of biblical Christian theism. Given that ID doesn’t claim to be theology, the critique as often made seems misplaced. The fact that it gets flak from both atheists and theologians says to me that ID occupies a very interesting place!  Along similar lines, both atheists and people with a theological bent often argue that ID is simply a ‘god of the gaps’ approach – and so both bad reasoning and bad theology! Bad reasoning for ignoring other possible natural causes, and bad theology for implying that God only acts in ‘gaps’ in the natural order’. 

However, it may be (heresy as it is to suggest it) that we don’t actually live in a causally closed universe – all theists, I think, should be at least sympathetic to the possibility, and it may well be required by theism. If God, or some other mind, does genuinely intervene in nature at one or more points in history, then perhaps ordinary natural processes will not be sufficient to explain the products of such action. In some cases, the gap may be large enough, and the product of the action similar enough to what we would tend to see as ‘designed’ to legitimately infer the action of a designer. Theologically, it is perfectly coherent to say that God has multiple methods of action – sometimes He acts specially in history (e.g. at the resurrection), presumably in a way that isn’t entirely explicable in terms of physical law and the initial conditions of the universe. If He acted in that way then, then why not also in other cases? This doesn’t prevent us believing that He also upholds the universe from moment to moment, by way of the ‘ordinary’ means of physical law. It may also be, as suggested before, that God does intervene but that this is not detectable (at least definitively) by the scientific kinds of means employed by ID theorists – this seems to me to be an interesting open question.

Finally, a philosophical suggestion: the evidence for design suggested by ID arguments (spanning the gamut from cosmology to molecular biology), while not an exercise in theology per se, certainly has theological implications. The kind of mind revealed or at least implied by ID arguments (if they succeed – perhaps e.g. the arguments from cosmology do succeed, but those from biology don’t – as many theistic evolutionists seem to think) fits better with biblical Christian theism than it does with a vague kind of deism, panentheism, or such. On biblical Christian theism, we have reason to expect that God has an interest in life, and particularly in human life. On the existence of some unspecified kind of cosmic mind, we have less (if any) reason to expect the outcomes we see. The arguments offered by the intelligent design movement (whatever their merits) imply a broadly ‘personal’ God, rather than an impersonal computer somewhere out there.

The Use of Science in the Debate with New Atheism

mcgrath

Last month, Professor Alister McGrath delivered a lecture at Gresham College on the way science has been used to defend the intellectual credibility of Christianity. He highlights particularly how New Atheism’s unsophisticated appeal to science is being matched by a more sophisticated appeal within Christian circles.

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An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design

Last year, Bradley Monton, a philosopher of science and an atheist, gave a lecture for the Reason and Science Society on the topic of Intelligent Design. In the lecture he considered the arguments for intelligent design and argued that intelligent design deserves serious consideration as a scientific theory. Monton also offered an account of the debate surrounding the inclusion of intelligent design in public schools and presented several reasons why students’ science education could benefit from a careful consideration of the arguments for and against it.

RSS have kindly made the video available (check out their YouTube channel for other videos and a few debates with  several of the Thinking Matters team). For more by Monton, check out his book on Amazon.

The Nature of Nature

With some big names and weighing in at over a thousand pages in length, The Nature of Nature looks to be a new landmark title in the discussion of science and naturalism. Based on a conference held at Baylor University back in 2000, editors Bruce L. Gordon and William A. Dembski have collected some great essays on topics such as scientific methodology, biological complexity, consciousness, scientific realism, and the multiverse.

Although published last month, the book is only now becoming more widely available (Amazon seems to have stock at the moment but you can also get it from the publisher, ISI Books, for $23.20 USD).

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Has origin-of-life research reached an impasse?

That’s exactly what John Horgan suggests. Writing for Scientific American, the science journalist argues that, twenty years since he first wrote about the topic, atheistic explanations have not moved any closer to establishing how life first emerged.

Questions answered on the role of evidence

A while back the blogger Ken Perrott asked of me a series of questions on the role of evidence and its relation to the what makes acceptable belief. The following are the answers I promised I would eventually get to when final assignments were in and exams were over.

Q: Do you accept the key role of interaction with reality and validation of any conclusions against reality?

(I have confirmed with Ken that by “reality” he means the mind-independent world. He and I share this definition.)

A: Yes, we should be testing hypotheses according the best methods we have available. Yes, this testing plays a key role in verification. 

The question is, overall, a little unclear, so let me clearly affirm the hypothetico-deductive method as very useful in scientific investigation.

Q: Do you accept that this should be a social process open to critique from colleagues?

A: Yes. I also accept this is an excellent way for curtailing errors, and for public confidence. However, I do not accept this critique is a truth-making property.

What do I mean by that? I mean that just because something is passed by a community who were involved at critiquing it does not mean the truth of that something is guaranteed.

Now, why do I say that? First, its an informal fallacy, specifically called an appeal to authority. The truth of any opinion, hypothesis, model, theory, explanation, etc., is unrelated to a persons beliefs about it, no matter who that person is or how qualified they are. Second, authorities – even peer-reviewed papers – in the history of science have later been found to have passed or believed conclusions that were wrong.

Q: Do you accept that logic/argument alone is worthless without validation?

(I’m not sure what the question is getting at here. What does “logic/argument” refer to precisely? And worthless for what exactly? As a basis for living? As a basis for research? One should expect different tests for different purposes. I’m going to take a gamble and respond to the following interpretation, “Do you accept that logical arguments are worthless without validation?”)

A: Logical arguments are already valid. Think about it – if they weren’t valid they’d be illogical arguments. 

We can validate the premises of an argument with several methods, including the discovery of physical-evidence, our store of past experiences, scientific testing, etc. 

Before these premises are validated, are logical arguments worthless? No, I don’t think so. Ken continually goes on about how in science we can test our theories “against reality.” So if he admits that science proceeds on uncertainty, it’s curious as to why he’d require a premise from an argument be validated as true for certain before the argument is considered worth anything. 

Here are some other reasons why a premise is worthwhile even if it is not validated. (1) Unvalidated premises can provide a conceptual basis to formulate hypotheses. (2) Unvalidated premises can be held provisionally until such time as they receive evidentiary support. This means scientific thought and speculation can proceed in advance of time-consuming lab work or expensive testing procedures. (3) Provisional premises can provide conclusions which can be used as premises in a “second-level” logical arguments which can be tested. (4) (i) If logical arguments were truly worthless without evidentiary validation we should never believe in high-level theoretical entities (such as quarks, black holes, or an early inflationary period in the history of the universe), which are in-principle unable to be empirically detected. (ii) Even low-level theoretical entities (such as ice-age glaciers and dinosaurs) would be ruled out as unbelievable if all premises in logical arguments had to be validated with certainty before they were worth anything – like believing. 

The Point?

Now, exactly what the point was by asking me these questions is unknown to me. Why Ken should want to know my opinion is quite odd. Almost as odd as why he felt the need to ask these particular question in the first place, when I have (with the possible exception of the third question) never explicitly or implicitly (to my knowledge at least) denied these things. The context in which these questions emerged was Ken’s blog “Theological intrusions into science,” which made out it was responding to my article “Are logical arguments evidence?” (In fact, it was not a response to my article. It was a response to one paragraph of my article – and a paragraph not vital to the purpose of that article. It began by misstating of my position and went on to waffle about appropriate belief forming methodology. I have detailed his misreading of that article in the comments to “Are logical arguments evidence?”.) From this I suspect that Ken holds the mistaken belief that I “denigrate the value of evidence and validation.” Which is completely wrong.

Ken guards jealously the methods of scientific discovery and proclaims science as a superior way of knowing to any other. He also takes a special interest in those who appear to be, in his opinion, anti-science. But I’m not in any way anti-science. This, I hope, is demonstrated by my forthright answers to his questions above. And neither are others that Ken claims are anti-science for that matter. A possible caveat.

If disagreeing with, or reserving judgment on, certain scientific beliefs that Ken and others who agree with him is being “anti-science”, then I guess I am according to that definition. But if thats the case, I would respectfully suggest that it is Ken who is actually closer to being anti-science. Why? Several reasons, but here is the main one:

In order for science to succeed it requires free enquiry and should allow others the freedom to question or reserve definitive judgments. Some of the greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. When Ken and many of his regular commenters shout down those honest enough to say, “I don’t know if thats really the case,” or bold enough to say “I have a critique of this hypothesis,” and “I think this different hypothesis should be considered thoughtfully,” then he is curtailing or discouraging free enquiry, which is much closer to being anti-science.

Its ironic that the defender so easily becomes the destroyer of what he originally sought to protect.

Simultaneous Causation

In discussing the Kalam Cosmological argument[1] an objection is often raised against the conclusion that the universe has a cause. This is that there cannot be a cause of the universe because there were no prior instants of time before t = 0 in the initial Big Bang singularity. Similarly, for the universe to have a beginning requires there be a time before the universe existed, and since the universe includes time there is no “before” the universe, making the notion apparently incoherent.

One of the worlds leading philosophers of time and proponent of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, Dr. William Lane Craig, definitively answers this objection bellow.[2]

For he [Grünbaum] fails to consider the obvious alternative that the cause of the Big Bang operated at t = 0, that is, simultaneously (or coincidentally[3]) with the Big Bang. Philosophical discussions of causal directionality routinely treat simultaneous causation, the question being how to distinguish A as the cause and B as the effect when these occur together at the same time [Dummett and Flew (1954); Mackie (1966); Suchting (1968-69); Brier (1974), pp. 91-98; Brand (1979)]. Even on a mundane level, we regularly experience simultaneous causation; to borrow an example from Kant, a heavy ball’s resting on a cushion being the cause of a depression in that cushion. Indeed, some philosophers argue that all efficient causation is simultaneous, for if the causal conditions sufficient for some event E were present prior to the time t of E‘s occurrence, then E would happen prior to t; similarly if the causal conditions for E were to vanish at t after having existed at tn < t, then E would not occur at t. In any case, there seems to be no conceptual difficulty in saying that the cause of the origin of the universe acted simultaneously (or coincidentally) with the origination of the universe. We should therefore say that the cause of the origin of the universe is causally prior to the Big Bang, though not temporally prior to the Big Bang. In such a case, the cause may be said to exist spacelessly and timelessly sans the universe, but temporally subsequent to the moment of creation.

My favorite example of simultaneous causation is that of a submerged log which causes the water to be displaced. Another example is of a man who from eternity has been standing, and by sitting (the cause A) creates a lap (the effect B). In these there is no question of the causal directionality, even though the cause and effect are operative at the exact same instant.

So the so-called problem of it being impossible for the universe to have a cause is not at all insuperable. As Craig says, it is “pretty clearly a pseudo-dilemma.”[4]


Footnotes

[1] 1.) Everything that begins to exist has a cause,

2.) The universe began to exist

3.) Therefore, the universe has a cause.

[2] William Lane Craig, “Creation and Big Bang Cosmology.” Philosophia Naturalis 31 (1994): 217-224.

[3] – coincidentally in case “simultaneity” is strictly defined in terms of occurrence at the same time. Since the singularity is not an instant or moment of time, but a boundary of time, a cause producing its effect at the singularity could not be strictly said to be simultaneous with its effect. Nonetheless they both occur coincidentally (in the literal sense of the word), that is, they both occur at t = 0. Ibid., Craig, “God and Big Bang Cosmology.” Footnote 1.

[4] Ibid., Craig, “God and Big Bang Cosmology.”

Are logical arguments evidence?

It is said that an argument will convince a reasonable man, and a proof will convince even an unreasonable man. So why do so-called atheists insist upon evidence? In a previous discussion, a claim was made that logical arguments are not evidence. Here I want to unpick that comment and see if we can find a way of thinking about the relationship between evidence and logical arguments that is helpful.

First I want to draw a distinction between two different types of evidence. First there is physical-evidence. This would be material stuff, such as bullet shells, exit wounds, DNA, photographs, lab results, etc. All of these would be available, either directly or indirectly to the five senses.

I take it that it was this type of evidence that was meant by the claim logical arguments are not evidence – that is, physical-evidence. Such as an arrowhead in cave can be said to be evidence for human habitation of that cave. Or that a shivering of a body can be said to be evidence it is cold.

What is troubling is that if physical-evidence is a necessary for knowledge, then we should know nothing of moral truths, aesthetic values, and meta-physical intuitions. Yet surly we do know that torturing babies is wrong, open graves are macabre, waterfalls are sublime, that the past is objective and other minds do exist. The Achilles heal of this particular epistemological theory is it is self-referentially incoherent. If its reasonable, then its unreasonable by its own merits. For no physical evidence is able to to reveal that evidence is required for reasonable belief. If it could be rationally affirmed and were true, then the Christian would be in an awkward position, for a further implication would be there is no hope for reasonable belief in non-physical entities. In fact the criteria, if adopted, would rule out the possibility of attaining reasonable belief in non-physical entities before any discussion or debate began.

There must therefore be something terribly wrong then with the criteria. Which is why I’d like to draw our attention to another type of evidence called argument-evidence. Evidence is broadly speaking that which lends support to a proposition or claim. Argument-evidence is any reason given for believing something is true or false. That is not to say that all argument-evidence is good evidence. That is just to say that arguments can count as evidence, in that they too give support for believing some proposition or claim. There can of course be counter-evidence that could dissuade belief.

For those not inclined to accept this distinction I have drawn between and physical-evidence and argument-evidence, and those who disagree with me that arguments can count as evidence, it will be useful to consider the following.

Physical evidence doesn’t speak. That is to say, all physical-evidence passes through the filter of an interpretative lens, and, perhaps unnoticed by the advocate, acquires certain meaning that was not intrinsic to the object or event itself. More colloquially, material objects have no voice to tell you what they signify. Everything is interpreted by a person who brings with them additional premises from their world view and store of experiences.

We have all gone through what its like to say one thing, and for two people to hear totally different things. A fossil will tell a paleontologist one thing. The same fossil will tell the next paleontologist another thing – sometimes even used to support mutually exclusive theories. Yet if physical-evidence was all there was available for investigation, how is it then that disparate theories can arise over the same object or event?

What happens is that somewhere between an objects discovery and its interpretation additional premises are added. These premises combine to form arguments. One hopes of course that these arguments are logical. Different premises given by different perspectives lead to different conclusions. Thus, in a way, all evidence is argument-evidence, for the physical-evidence, if left to itself, remains silent and tells us nothing.

Teleology in nature: biology's next paradigm shift?

The debate over the presence of design in nature is a fierce and intractable one. Not everyone, however, accepts that Intelligent Design theory or Darwinism offer the only positions in this debate. Some have argued that there is room for a recognition of intentionality in nature that does not depend on the notion of a designer.

J. Scott Turner, a professor in the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology at State University of New York in Syracuse, has written a recent book called The Tinkerer’s Accomplice: How Design Emerges From Life Itself, arguing for a position in this middle ground. With the inadequacy of modern evolutionary biology to explain certain biological phenomena (as pointed out even by evolutionists such as Stephen J Gould), Turner defends the indispensability of the notion of unconscious intentionality in nature and tries to show how this arises.

Turner is not alone, and in fact suggests that “we’re on the verge of a major philosophical shift in biology”. It will be interesting to see what effect this will have on the current debate. Some Christian theists have welcomed this renewed thinking in the classical teleology of Aristotle and Aquinas. Edward Feser, who contends that the Darwinian criticisms of William Paley do not necessarily count against Aristotelian teleology, follows Aquinas’s belief that the existence of natural teleology is clear but that we must supply additional arguments to show that this teleology requires God.

John Farrell has posted an interesting discussion with Scott Turner on Farrell’s blog:

John Farrell: Ed Feser had an interesting post a while back about how both sides of the ID/evolution debate misunderstand classical teleology. The ID types think proving teleology in nature means the existence of a Agent Designer (i.e., God) will be much easier to demonstrate, and the militant atheists shun teleology basically because …they agree. But Ed argues–rightly in my opinion–this is because both sides misunderstand Aristotle and Aquinas.

My first question is, as a scientist, do you feel based on your experience that this is true: i.e., that your colleagues who are materialists/atheists react to the subject of teleology negatively because they think it is intrinsically tied to an ID perspective?

Scott Turner: I’m inclined to agree with Ed Feser, but not completely. It’s obviously true that the ID issue is pretty polarized, needlessly so in my opinion, and I agree that there has been a bit of “closing of minds” on “my” side about purposefulness (or teleology), largely because ID has been pushing the issue so publicly, and also because of a bit of a “those icky creationists are back” mindset. Yet the whole issue of purposefulness and teleology has been at the heart of evolutionary thought since before Darwin, and there’s been quite a lot of deep thought about it since, I think. Unfortunately that’s all been submerged by the heat of the current rhetoric (Richard Dawkins and his cult followers have done us no favors in that regard.). This has pushed the more superficial arguments to the fore which can easily give the impression that the two sides are largely ignorant of the issue. So Ed Feser is correct in that regard. It does not credit the fact that there’s a pretty large body of biological thought that has grappled seriously with the idea.

I decided to write The Tinkerer’s Accomplice in part because I thought biological design was a serious and unsolved problem, and in part because I thought both the Neodarwinist and ID camps were missing something essential about the problem. In short, I wanted to write a book that took the issue of design seriously and proposed a scientifically credible way forward. Even the hint of design was a red flag, however. I had people refuse to review the book, and reviewers who branded it a “stealth ID” book. One reviewer opined that I was a “closet deist”, and I recently found myself described as a “known creationist.” I never knew that about myself! And there has been some private correspondence from colleagues that, to put it mildly, surprised me. So the issue itself does seem to unhinge people a bit. But on the positive side, there have been many people who have taken the time to consider the book seriously and to work through the ideas carefully and to tell their friends. So, even though the reception of the book was a bit negative at first, it’s slowly getting more positive.

John Farrell: Do you think teleology gets short shrift because–from a methodological stance– most evolutionary biologists think it’s really not much use anyway? In other words, unless teleology can make some predictions or offer some obvious questions worth researching (something the Intelligent Design movement has repeatedly failed to do), scientists just can’t be bothered with it?

Scott Turner: We biologists are trained to think very skeptically about teleological arguments, and rightly so, I think. Again this mindset has long predated the ID issue. In fact, I think ID is so emotive because it has inflamed already latent tensions in our thinking rather than caused them.

While there is clearly a radical materialist/Neodarwinist school of evolutionary thought, evolutionary biology is not monolithic in this regard. Evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) is probably the most prominent area that has grappled seriously with the issue of teleology. Niche construction theory is another…

John Farrell: In an earlier email, you wrote: “Right now, I think we’re at a very exciting time in evolutionary biology because the idea is emerging that we are now bumping up against the limits of the materialist/atomist philosophy, and are coming to realize that there is indeed something special about life that simply must be understood. There are various opinions out there about just what that special quality is (my two cents is the special quality of homeostasis), but no matter how it comes out, I think we’re on the verge of a major philosophical shift in biology.”

I assume you see specialists like Sean Carroll (Evo Devo) on this side? And Kirshner and Gerhart (The Plausibility of Life). In your experience is there already a clear cut divide, for example, when biologists get together at conferences and symposiums, where the reductionists are more vocal and hostile to teleology and the other side content to keep working away at the research and entertaining different theories of how designedness comes about?

Scott Turner: I’m not sure I’d describe it as a divide so much as a re-emerging perspective. Ever since the rediscovery of Mendelian genetics, there’s been this debate about the role that genes play in Darwinian evolution. At first, of course, the rediscovery of the Mendelian gene was thought to be the death knell for Darwinism. This is what makes the Neodarwinist synthesis–the reconciliation of Mendelian genetics with Darwinian natural selection–one of the greatest intellectual achievements of all time. Once that was achieved, though, the question became whether genetic natural selection could explain everything (what might be called the “parsimonous” explanation), or whether there is something else involved. Richard Dawkins, of course, has been the most vigorous defender in our time of the “parsimonist” idea. But even though, for much of the 20th century, the scientific case seemed to be swinging decisively in favor of the “parsimonists”, the other side never really went away, and it has re-emerged in schools like evo-devo, or niche construction theory, or in Simon Conway Morris’ ideas about the importance of convergence. Most of these ideas that are bubbling up are, in fact, rooted in older ideas–evo-devo draws heavily on the work of D’Arcy Thompson, for example, who was a trenchant critic of Darwinism–that were part of an incredibly rich intellectual debate over evolution that was thriving prior to the modern synthesis. Those other perspectives submerged for a while, just because the modern synthesis seemed to settle so many things. But we’re seeing now that even though it solved a lot, it didn’t settle everything. And that is why, in my view, we’re seeing these ideas emerging anew.

Of course, that’s not to say the debate isn’t heated. For the most part, that’s fine–it helps keep us all honest. But it does have its down side. For example, I often run into criticism of my notion that homeostasis makes evolution a far more intention-driven process than the Darwinist idea can comfortably accommodate. Nearly always, the criticism is that intentionality is not necessary, that we can explain everything without it–the parsimonist idea. Never mind that it actually can’t explain everything–there’s no good Darwinist explanation for the origin of life, for example–but there’s a deeper issue. The parsimonist defense of Neodarwinism usually invokes Occam’s Razor–always go for the simpler explanation. But this is a fundamental misreading of Occam’s Razor, which really says that you must not make hypotheses without necessity. If you don’t believe intentionality is a real phenomenon, than invoking it is indeed unnecessary. But what if intentionality is real, actually is a necessary attribute of living things? Then in this case Occam’s Razor becomes Occam’s blinders. Which is never a pleasant thing to hear.

Read the whole thing.

The Tinkerer’s Accomplice: How Design Emerges From Life Itself is available on Amazon.

(Source: Edward Feser)

Challenging naturalism: David Gordon on the Nagel controversy

David Gordon of the Ludwig von Mises Institute has made some interesting comments about the recent controversy created by Thomas Nagel’s endorsement of Stephen Meyer’s new book on Intelligent Design. In reviewing Nagel’s Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament: Essays 2002–2008, Gordon writes:

Although he does not accept Intelligent Design, Nagel refuses to dismiss the movement as merely religious. Critics claim that design cannot be a legitimate scientific hypothesis; but at the same time, they maintain that the theory can be shown to be false. Nagel pertinently asks, how can both of these assertions be true together? Further, Nagel sees no constitutional obstacle to teaching Intelligent Design.

Nagel’s opinions on this issue have led to a remarkable episode. Brian Leiter runs a blog, Leiter Reports, which is read by philosophers, owing to detailed accounts of promotions, jobs, and other news about philosophy departments. Leiter’s comparative rankings of philosophy departments also attract much attention. Leiter obtrudes his own political and social views on his audience; were he to present these in a separate venue, it is a safe bet that his audience would vastly diminish. Among Leiter’s many aversions, the Intelligent Design movement ranks among the foremost: he often attacks what he calls the “Texas Taliban.”

When Nagel’s article on Intelligent Design appeared, Leiter could not contain his rage. We were presented with the unedifying spectacle of Leiter’s speaking in abusive and condescending terms about one of the foremost philosophers of the past half-century. Nagel’s The Possibility of Altruism, The View From Nowhere, and the essays collected in Mortal Questions are classics of contemporary philosophy.

Matters worsened when Nagel recommended in The Times Literary Supplement Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell as one of his “Best Books of the Year.” Meyer is a leading proponent of Intelligent Design, and his book argues that naturalistic accounts of the origin of life on earth confront severe difficulties. Only a designing intelligence, Meyer contends, can account for the intricately specified information contained in DNA. Nagel did not endorse Meyer’s conclusion but praised the book for its account of the “fiendishly difficult” problem of life’s origin.

This recommendation aroused Leiter to new heights of contumely. It seems quite likely that Leiter never bothered to look at Meyer’s book. He quoted from an English professor of chemistry protesting Nagel’s claim that natural selection cannot account for DNA because it presupposes its existence. The chemistry professor, echoed by Leiter, said that natural selection exists in the preorganic world: was not Nagel ignorant to deny this? Both Leiter and the chemist ignored the fact, much emphasized by Meyer, that such resorts to natural selection are controversial. To appeal to the fact of their existence against Nagel is to assume what is much in dispute. Leiter extended his attack to accuse Nagel of ignorance of the relevant fields of study. Nagel has never claimed authority in biology; but had Leiter bothered to read Nagel’s well-known essay, “Brain Bisection and the Unity of Consciousness,” he would discover that Nagel has more than a passing acquaintance with neurobiology.

I have gone on at some length about this, because the attempt by Leiter and others to block inquiry that challenges naturalism seems to me altogether deplorable. To some people, evidently, the first line of the False Priestess in In Memoriam is Holy Writ, not to be questioned: “The stars, she whispers, blindly run.” But even if these avid naturalists are correct in their metaphysics, debate needs to be encouraged rather than suppressed. Perhaps Leiter should reread On Liberty. Pending that happy event, one can only say of his abuse that the barking of Bill Sikes’s dog just tells us that Bill Sikes is in the neighborhood.

(Source: Bill Vallicella)

Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design

The argument from design is the Comeback Kid of theistic arguments.  Once long neglected, recent discoveries in cosmology and physics have brought the word design back into philosophical and scientific discussions. Molecular biologist and Nobel Prize winner, Francis Crick once concluded “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would be satisfied to get it going.”

However, many (including Crick) are critical of allowing a theistic conclusion to follow from the growing awareness of the finely-tuned cosmic architecture. Some go so far as to say that such theories are not scientific – either because theories of design violate the purpose of science ( it is argued that science a priori must be defined as the pursuit of naturalistic explanations to natural processes) or because such theories violate the practice of science (not meeting requirements of observability, testability, etc).

Into this debate, philosopher of science and atheist, Bradley Morton has written a new book arguing that the theory of Intelligent Design is science and that its arguments are stronger than most realize. In Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design, the professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado discusses the plausibility of arguments for a cosmic designer, the scientific legitimacy of design theories and even whether such theories may be taught in public school education. The book is a unique one in the philosophy of science and it looks to significantly develop and enhance the debate surrounding Intelligent Design.

Check out Dr. Monton’s website here (includes several published articles) and also his  blog here.
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