Ed Brayton posted Entry 118 on April 7, 2004 08:31 AM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/117

Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost has jumped into the Leiter/VanDyke fray, in a post filled with misconceptions and illogical statements. He begins:

For a legal scholar and professor of philosophy, Brian Leiter has a remarkably poor grasp of basic logic. For the past week Leiter has been bashing a defender of Intelligent Design theory using his typical rhetorical style of bullying and bluster. Instead of thinking up creative new ad hominem attacks, though, he should be paying closer attention to his reasoning.

At the risk of being pedantic, I have to point out this very common mistake in claiming the ad hominem logical fallacy. An ad hominem, contrary to how seemingly everyone conceives of it, is not merely an insult. Calling someone a jerk is not an ad hominem. An ad hominem is a logical fallacy, so there must be a mistake in reasoning in the formulation. The logical fallacy in an ad hominem attack is in responding to a substantive claim by referring to an irrelevant personal trait of the person making the argument. For example, if I said, "Joe Carter shouldn't be listened to when he talks about ad hominems, look at the way he dresses", that would be an ad hominem. I would be rejecting his arguments based upon an irrelevant personal trait. While Leiter is often rude and harsh in his attacks on people, those are not ad hominems. They may be insulting, but that doesn't make it ad hominem.

Joe quotes this passage from Brian:

The difficulty, however, is that science did not "a priori pick a naturalistic methodology"; it adopted, based on evidence and experience (i.e., a posteriori), the methods that worked: it turns out that if you make predictions, test the predictions against experience, refine the hypotheses on which the predictions are based, test them again, and so on, you figure out how to predict and control the world around you. This is what the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and a few other ancient events apparently not covered in Mr. VanDyke's education, were about: the a posteriori discovery of the most effective ways to predict and control the world. This, of course, distinguishes the naturalistic worldview of science from the supernatural view of religion, which is genuinely a priori.
And begins his response:
There are numerous problems with Leiter's reasoning but I will point out just three. The first is that his methodology would lead to conclusions that Leiter himself woudl presumably reject. Take for example the "anthropic principle." We could predict, post hoc, what type of universe would be required to produce human life, but we'd be unable to test the theory (we aren't able to repeat the Big Bang).
Does Joe really think that if we can't repeat an event, we can't test explanations for that event? This would rule out whole fields of science, including the one he mentioned. Big bang cosmology is entirely testable, and has been tested, without having to repeat the big bang itself. Testability requires making predictions about the nature of new evidence, not repeating the event itself. It would also, by the way, rule out the entire field of forensic science, which is used to convict people and even put them to death on a daily basis in this country. By Joe's reasoning, you would have to actually recreate the murder in order to test forensic explanations for the murder. But that's not how it's done, of course. You test the forensic explanation by making predictions. If the bullet came from gun X, then we make predictions Y and Z. If Y and Z are confirmed, the explanation is validated.

He continues:

We could, however, determine the likelihood that the event could have occurred by pure chance. Since the probability of such a series of events occurring by coincidence would be close to zero, we would be lead, by evidence and experience, to the conclusion that the universe was "designed." (To conclude otherwise would require taking an a priori prejudice against supernaturalism.)
I'll take issue with Joe's claim that we can determine the likelihood of the big bang, or the so-called anthropic coincidences, occuring by "pure chance", and I'll challenge him to produce such a calculation. We hear this argument over and over again, but it's never accompanied by an actual probability equation. If you think we can calculate the probability of either of those two things, let's see the probability equation.

It should also be noted here that even if such a probability equation were possible, it wouldn't tell us anything meaningful about whether the event could have occured naturally or supernaturally. The perfect illustration of this is Marshall Berman's example of the rock in the backyard:

Go outside and pick up a small rock. The probability of that rock being on that spot on the earth *by chance alone* is roughly the area of the stone divided by the surface area of the earth, or about one chance in 10 to the 18th power (one followed by 18 zeros). If picking up the stone took one second, the probability of such an event occurring at this precise moment over the lifetime of the universe is now even smaller by another factor 10 to the 18th power! This simple event is so incredibly unlikely (essentially zero probability) that one wonders how it could be accomplished!
Joe continues:
The second reason is that the "what works" approach gives us no reason to believe that our conclusions are true. I may believe, for example, that my dryer contains a black hole that causes socks to disappear. Every time I put a load of clothes in the machine I find that I'm missing a sock. The more I repeat this experiment the more socks I lose, thereby providing sufficient evidence to confirm my theory.
Joe seems to be confusing facts with explanations. Socks disappearing from your dryer would be a fact; the "black hole hypothesis" would be a potential explanation for that fact to be tested. The continued occurence of the fact does not test the potential explanation. Doing laundry would not constitute "repeating the experiment", since doing laundry does not test the explanation at all. In other words, this is an absolutely absurd analogy for how science tests a hypothesis.

The black hole hypothesis could of course be tested in other ways, as black holes have predictable effects. If there was a black hole in your dryer, it would have a quite noticable effect on gravitational pull around the dryer. It would also not be able to distinguish between socks and other types of clothing, since black holes are not conscious entities and would simply obey the laws of physics. Now, Joe might invoke a violation of the laws of physics here and say that this is a magic black hole that only makes socks disappear and doesn't have any other predictable effects. But in doing so, Joe would demostrate for us exactly why science rules out supernatural explanations, because once you allow them, all bets are off - there is absolutely no way to discern true supernatural explanations from false ones. Can you propose a means of distinguishing the "magic black hole" hypothesis from the "malevolent demons" hypothesis or the "mischievous leprauchans" hypothesis? Of course not. In other words, Joe's analogy is a really good argument against his thesis.

Leiter, of course, would claim that we should use Occam's razor and exclude the necessity of the black hole to explain the missing socks. But this would require us to take an a priori position in favor of the principle of parsimony in order to preserve methodological naturalism. My theory would work well enough that I would have no reason to test it further and while it might not be "true", the a posteriori examination of the evidence makes it a plausible explanation. After all, naturalistic methodology doesn't require us to take a priori assumptions about truth.
Leiter would not have to invoke Occam's Razor to distinguish between two explanations here, because Joe's hypothetical explanation hasn't been tested at all, and if it was tested by making predictions about the effects of a black hole, it would be falsified. Joe is pretending that he has two equally plausible explanations that explain the exact same things equally well, when in fact he doesn't have such an explanation at all. He has one very bad analogy that, if made more analogous, would fail miserably as a theory.
The third reason Leiter's argument fails is that he has no justification for excluding other theories or methods that don't rely on methodological naturalism. Just because a method works doesn't mean it is infallible. The method provided us with Newtonian physics, a hypothesis that "worked" well enough. . .until it didn't. Do we regard the theory as having always been an implausible scientific hypothesis just because it was replaced by another? Of course not. The same applies to methods. Just because methodological naturalism "works" (at least sometimes) does not mean that it is the only valid method or that it cannot be replaced. Besides, you can't (without resorting to an a priori assumption) exclude other methods as invalid without allowing them to be tested.
This would be a serious objection if, and only if, there was some means of testing those "other methods", in this case the ID explanation. And if Joe can come up with a testable hypothesis that flows from ID, or a way to falsify ID, he'll be the first to do it.
Leiter's reasoning shows that his bias against intelligent design theory is not rooted in science but in prejudice. By acknowledging that science does not require an a priori submission to naturalism he inadvertenly undercuts his own argument. He can't claim that methodological naturalism is the "most effective ways to predict and control the world" while refusing to allow other methods to be tested.
Again, Leiter is not ruling out ID without allowing it to be tested. He's challenging the ID advocates to put forth a real model with testable hypotheses that flow logically from it and propose a means of testing those hypotheses. But they haven't done that, and I don't think they can. It's not by accident that all of their publishing efforts to this point have been trying to poke holes in evolution. The entire ID argument up to this point comes down to one big God of the Gaps argument - "Evolution can't explain X, therefore God (sorry, the unnamed - wink, wink - intelligent designer that we know nothing about) must have done it". There are no testable hypotheses that flow from that. So it simply isn't a question of anyone "ruling out" ID without testing it, it's a question of there not being any means of testing it. And if the ID advocates think that's false, all they have to do is actually publish some means of doing so, as we have been challenging them to do since at least 1997's NTSE conference. That deafening silence you've been hearing in that regard is quite telling, don't you think?

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Comment #739

Posted by Pim van Meurs on April 7, 2004 10:03 AM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'blockquote'

Comment #740

Posted by Joe Carter on April 7, 2004 10:08 AM (e)

At the risk of being pedantic, I have to point out this very common mistake in claiming the ad hominem logical fallacy.

While I agree that Leiter may not have committed such a fallacy in the technical sense, it is the basic purpose of his insults. He attempts to cast doubts on his opponents arguments by demeaning their intellectual abilities. Leiter may be a smart guy but you couldn’t tell if from the way he argues. Strip away the bluster and insults and he rarely has anything substantive to add.

Does Joe really think that if we can’t repeat an event, we can’t test explanations for that event?

No, I don’t. But then, that wasn’t my claim. We may be able to test individual explanations but we cannot test unrepeatable events. That is the problem with your forensic science analogy. While we may be able to confirm whether the bullet came from a particular gun, we are unable to test all the elements that could have been involved in the murder.

We hear this argument over and over again, but it’s never accompanied by an actual probability equation. If you think we can calculate the probability of either of those two things, let’s see the probability equation.

U= The known universe
N= Occurrence of an event necessary for human life to exist

Prob(U)= prob(N) + prob(N1) + prob (N2) + prob (N3) …

The perfect illustration of this is Marshall Berman’s example of the rock in the backyard.

Actually, Berman’s is a bad example since it commits a form of the inverse gambler’s fallacy. Since there is nothing special about each of the events that are being used to calculate the probability, there is no reason to assume the event was unlikely.

The continued occurrence of the fact does not test the potential explanation. Doing laundry would not constitute “repeating the experiment”, since doing laundry does not test the explanation at all. In other words, this is an absolutely absurd analogy for how science tests a hypothesis.

While it may be an absurd analogy and a bad hypothesis, there is nothing in it that violates Leiter’s explanation for how science works.

Now, Joe might invoke a violation of the laws of physics here and say that this is a magic black hole that only makes socks disappear and doesn’t have any other predictable effects. But in doing so, Joe would demostrate for us exactly why science rules out supernatural explanations, because once you allow them, all bets are off - there is absolutely no way to discern true supernatural explanations from false ones.

But in order to get to that conclusion you would have to make an a priori assumption about science, which is precisely my point about Leiter’s silly misunderstanding of how science works.

In other words, Joe’s analogy is a really good argument against his thesis.

No, it is a silly analogy that provides a good argument against Leiter’s thesis.

And if Joe can come up with a testable hypothesis that flows from ID, or a way to falsify ID, he’ll be the first to do it.

That’s hardly the case. Dembski provides a rather good one that uses the bacterial flagellum: “To falsify such a claim [that it is irreducibly complex], a scientist could go into the laboratory, place a bacterial species lacking a flagellum under some selective pressure (for mobility, say), grow it for ten thousand generations, and see if a flagellum–or any equally complex system–was produced. If that happened, my claims would be neatly disproven.”

Comment #743

Posted by Pim van Meurs on April 7, 2004 10:16 AM (e)

Joe misses the point when he quotes Dembski on falsifying ID at the same time exposing that ID is an appeal to ignorance. Note that ID did not propose a hypothesis but rather states a negative. While one can disprove the negative, this does nothing to disprove the concept of ID.

It is easy to get confused by the ‘logic’ of Dembski and it should be a warning not to rely too much on Dembski’s faulty arguments.

I thank Joe for exposing the fallacy of ID namely that it does NOT present ID relevant hypotheses but rather ‘Not Y’ thus ‘X’ arguments.

Comment #744

Posted by Pim van Meurs on April 7, 2004 10:19 AM (e)

Joe: Prob(U)= prob(N) + prob(N1) + prob (N2) + prob (N3) …

Are you sure Joe that probabilities are additive here? Seems that Prob(U) will soon be 1 that way. It’s this kind of sloppiness which seems to prevalent in ID literature. Appeal to vague and absurd probabilities, a confusion of probability with complexity. Of course Joe did not really address how we calculate the individual probabilities in any meaningfull sense. ID seems to suffer quite a bit from such problems, see Dembski’s probability calculations of the flagellum for a good example

Comment #746

Posted by Pim van Meurs on April 7, 2004 10:22 AM (e)

Joe: Prob(U)= prob(N) + prob(N1) + prob (N2) + prob (N3) …

Are you sure Joe that probabilities are additive here? Seems that Prob(U) will soon be 1 that way. It’s this kind of sloppiness which seems to prevalent in ID literature. Appeal to vague and absurd probabilities, a confusion of probability with complexity. Of course Joe did not really address how we calculate the individual probabilities in any meaningfull sense. ID seems to suffer quite a bit from such problems, see Dembski’s probability calculations of the flagellum for a good example

Comment #748

Posted by C.E. Petit on April 7, 2004 10:41 AM (e)

I’m afraid that Joe has misunderstood the distinction between “testable” and “repeatable.” The forensic science example is a good one because:

  1. The individual tests have been previously validated through repeatability, AND
  2. The individual tests have been applied under identical field boundaries to a nonrepeatable post hoc condition, RESULTING IN
  3. Individual test results consistent with the previously validated repetitions. THEREFORE,
  4. The “nonrepeatable event” (in this instance, the murder) has been tested by using measuring instruments that scientific inquiry is satisfied will produce repeatable results.

The inference is that the causation of the consistent result is similar to the causation of the validated, repeatable results.

This can certainly be applied to testing the Big Bang. Not being a cosmologist, I can speak only in general terms; but there is substantial relativistic, nonrelativisitic, and quantum mechanical evidence from quasar shifts, etc. that supports some form of a Big Bang origin. The event itself is not repeatable (or at least I hope not during my lifetime); but the post-event characteristics are.

What I see Joe Carter wanting is a single test that proves or disproves the Big Bang. Given that there is virtually nothing in all of science that is concluded from a single test, this is essentially forcing a negative answer by the form of the inquiry. Instead, science works by accretion of evidence and tests. For example, Michaelson-Morley did not show the quantum-mechanical nature of light; it ruled out the previously accepted theory.

This should surprise nobody; it is the favorite “evidence” method of Philip Johnson—and, for that matter, of the medieval philosophers who spent their time enumerating angels on pinheads rather than paying attention to what the world around them showed.

Comment #749

Posted by DS on April 7, 2004 10:41 AM (e)

Joe,

I realize you may be relatively new to this issue, so don’t take my comments as too condescending. I’m personally glad you’re interested in this discussion, and I hope some of us can clear up any confusion or questions you may have about it.

When one of us (evil evolushunists) ask’s for a testable prediction from the Theory of ID, what we’re asking for is something which the theory predicts DOES exist. Something which must exist, for the theory of ID to be however it is you stated it to produce the prediction…errr…sorry I’m not a very good writer…
And, and if it DOES NOT exist, then the theory is in jeopardy- or at least in need of some tweaking.
Enough of these failed predictions and the theory might get tossed out.

Falsifiability in other words. What type of evidence could exist, in prinicple, which would falsify the Theory of ID. Come to think of it, what IS the Theory of ID?
Using your example of the flagellum, what could be found in regard to the Irreducible Complexity which would falsify ID?

~DS~

Comment #751

Posted by Eddie Rios on April 7, 2004 10:42 AM (e)

Unfortunately, I think the deafening silence will not be broken any time soon because the essential intent of ID theorists is not the advancement of science but the propagation of their religious beliefs.

Propagation of one’s religion in itself is not bad nor is it even dishonest. But when one tries to use empirical methods to prove the existence of one’s god and that as a kind of logical coupe de gras, he/she ends being not a Christian but a prevaricator.

In my opinion, Fundamentalist Christians would be better off getting back to the basics. That is nurturing their religious faith and using the attendant betterment of their individual lives to spread their gospel. They should furthermore abandon this immoral quest of theirs to transform their religion into science. In doing so, they might regain respect they’ve sought for over two centuries.

Comment #752

Posted by Joe Carter on April 7, 2004 10:42 AM (e)

Pim,

Joe misses the point when he quotes Dembski on falsifying ID at the same time exposing that ID is an appeal to ignorance. Note that ID did not propose a hypothesis but rather states a negative. While one can disprove the negative, this does nothing to disprove the concept of ID.

Actually, I think that you are missing the point of Dembski’s argument. Either the bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex or it is not. If the experiment shows that the structure was produced by natural selection then it would prove the ID’s hypothesis was false.

Comment #753

Posted by PZ Myers on April 7, 2004 10:43 AM (e)

Wait a minute. The guy who thinks missing socks means he can argue that there is a black hole in his dryer wants to claim that Leiter has a “silly misunderstanding of how science works”?

As PvM points out, he’s asked for the probability of the simultaneous occurrences of multiple independent events, and he spits back a vaguely defined formula that sums rather than multiplies the probabilities?

Jebus.

One of the continuing problems with arguing with creationists is the hyperdevelopment of our sense of irony.

Comment #756

Posted by Andrew on April 7, 2004 11:07 AM (e)

How does a person even begin to estimate the probability of event without knowing the alternatives? If I roll a fair die, I understand that the probability of any one result is 1 in 6, because there are six sides.

But how can one meaningfully estimate the probability of the Universe existing? Or of the speed of light being c, or the gravitational constant, or the relative strength of the strong nuclear force, or any of the other events supposedly “necessary” for human life? Until someone demonstrates that it is possible for the fundamental constraints of the universe to have been other than they are, I’m forced to conclude that both p(U) and p(N) are 1.

Comment #757

Posted by Andrew on April 7, 2004 11:11 AM (e)

Joe:

No, you miss the point. If Dembski were confronted with a specific mechanism for the evolution of the flagellum (which, IIRC, has been done), he would simply conclude that the flagellum is not irreducibly complex and shift the goalposts to some other biological mechanism (clotting, perhaps).

It’s a fun game to play if you’re on the creationist debating team circuit, travelling merrily from church to church and rallying the faithful. But let’s not pretend it’s science.

Comment #758

Posted by Tom Herbst on April 7, 2004 11:12 AM (e)

Quote:
While I agree that Leiter may not have committed such a[n ad hominem] fallacy in the technical sense, it is the basic purpose of his insults. He attempts to cast doubts on his opponents arguments by demeaning their intellectual abilities.
Close quote.

I’m afraid I must agree with this. Almost always when a debater directly insults his opponent, it is to suggest intellectual weakness in that opponent or else to suggest that the opponent is so mentally lacking that something must be missing from hiargument. It is not relevant that the statement “John is stupid, therefore his argument is flawed” never appears; the fact of the insult is enough to qualify as ad hominem.

Quote:
“To falsify such a claim [that it is irreducibly complex], a scientist could go into the laboratory, place a bacterial species lacking a flagellum under some selective pressure (for mobility, say), grow it for ten thousand generations, and see if a flagellum–or any equally complex system–was produced. If that happened, my claims would be neatly disproven.”
Close quote.

That wouldn’t work, actually. The ID researcher could afterwards claim (indeed, he *must* claim) that the second bacterium was itself designed by the Intelligent Designer, so the experiment was either guaranteed to succeed or doomed to fail, all by original design, and the human researcher’s involvement is irrelevant. The test as Dembski formulates it is not falsifiable.

What is needed to test ID theory is an experiment whose outcome cannot be claimed post hoc to have resulted from original design. However, any life form on Earth 9or any lifeform created by humans) would by definition lack this required purity.

~Tom ~

Comment #760

Posted by DS on April 7, 2004 11:16 AM (e)

BTW Joe,

There’s no way you can answer everyone so don’t bother trying, or you’ll be in here typing all day.

Pick out one or two folks, one or two topics, and stick with them.

~DS~

Comment #762

Posted by Paul Orwin on April 7, 2004 1:00 PM (e)

Have to agree with PZ and others above, this argument from the Anthropic Principle bugs me greatly. Aside from the ridiculous misunderstandings of probability theory (independent probabilities being multiplied) there is no good reason to assign them independent probabilities. To go to the rock analogy cited above, the event in question isn’t “picking up this rock” but rather “picking up a rock”. Since you had no parameters for the rock in question, the probability of picking up a rock can be defined as the probability of happening upon a rock (approx. the amount of the earth’s surface containing rocks, expressed as a ratio to total surface area (dry)) multiplied by the probability of picking up the rock (1). You can build, in this manner, a set of conditional probabilities for different rocks (flat, round ones near a lake, eg). It is a gross oversimplification to suggest that the big bang state probabilities (i.e. the probability of the grav. constant being 6.67x10^-11, the speed of light being c, etc) are independent. It is equally hard to identify alternatives (c-1?), and assess their probabilities. If and when a comprehensive grand unified theory (GUT) is presented, it *might* make some of this more clear.
It has always seemed to me that a tautological explanation for the state of the universe is the most parsimonious. The universe is the way it is because, if it we’re different, we would see it differently. The universe is uniquely set up to support life like us because if it weren’t, we wouldn’t be here talking about it.

Comment #763

Posted by Jim Harrison on April 7, 2004 1:17 PM (e)

ad hominem arguments are inevitable in a discussion of ID. If you meet somebody who thinks that they’re really a two-ton cat person from the planet Schwartz, it’s hardly surprising if you’re more interested in figuring out what’s the matter with the guy than in trying to figure out how to refute his “theory.”

Comment #764

Posted by Reed A. Cartwright on April 7, 2004 1:24 PM (e)

Joe,

Please explain how you can calculate the probability of an event from a sample size of 1?

Comment #765

Posted by Joe Carter on April 7, 2004 2:45 PM (e)

While I’m working on answering some of the other questions I have to ask an honest question. Is this doubting of the weak anthropic principle just a ploy to get me bogged down in defending a rather uncontroversial point or is there really a disagreement that the principle is valid? (Since I doubt that so many people who are familiar with science would not have heard of the WAP I have to assume that it is an intentional distraction from the main argument.)

Comment #766

Posted by PZ Myers on April 7, 2004 3:01 PM (e)

The Anthropic Principle is consistently over-interpreted, misapplied, over-extended, and mangled beyond recognition by creationists. It is not any form of scientific evidence in favor of a god-like intervention in the creation of the universe.

I also recommend that you avoid getting bogged down in it. It’s a waste of time.

Comment #767

Posted by Reed A. Cartwright on April 7, 2004 3:18 PM (e)

Personally, I prefer the Pants Principle, which holds that everything exists in the universe for the sake of pants.

In fact it can be shown that God more than likely created for pants rather than for humans.

U = The known universe
Ni = Occurrence of an event necessary for human life to exist
Mj = Occurrence of an event necessary for pants

Prob(U)= prob(M1)*prob(M2)*prob(M3)*prob(M4)*…*prob(Mm) = prob(N1)*prob(N2)*…*prob(Nn)*prob(Mn+1)*…*prob(Mm)

Since a universe for pants must also be suitable for humans, a universe for pants is less likely than a universe for humans; therefore, pants are more likely to be the purpose of creation than mankind.

Because of this, I used to be jealous of pants, now I just accept my place in creation.

Comment #769

Posted by Joe Carter on April 7, 2004 3:58 PM (e)

P.Z.,

I also recommend that you avoid getting bogged down in it. It’s a waste of time.

Agreed. So let’s get down to business.

Please explain how naturalistic methodolgy is able to empirically distinguish between natural phenomena that is produced by an undirected natural causes and that which is produced by intelligent causes.

Comment #770

Posted by Joe Carter on April 7, 2004 3:59 PM (e)

Sorry. I sent that before it was spellchecked.

Comment #771

Posted by PZ Myers on April 7, 2004 4:02 PM (e)

Errm, aren’t you the one who is supposed to be telling us how ID does that?

Comment #772

Posted by Matthew Heaney on April 7, 2004 4:20 PM (e)

When asked for a way to falsify the ID hypothesis, Joe said:

That’s hardly the case. Dembski provides a rather good one that uses the bacterial flagellum: “To falsify such a claim [that it is irreducibly complex], a scientist could go into the laboratory, place a bacterial species lacking a flagellum under some selective pressure (for mobility, say), grow it for ten thousand generations, and see if a flagellum–or any equally complex system–was produced. If that happened, my claims would be neatly disproven.”

This is of course a silly test. A bacterium doesn’t try to grow feet or a tail. The only thing it tries to do is become two bacteria!

The point is that the environment in which a bacterium lives doesn’t select for a flagellum specifically or even for mobility. Rather, it selects for (any) traits that confer a reproductive advantage. (Think of all the fauna that make a living as slow and lumbering, or indeed don’t move at all.) In the space of ways bacteria are able to make a living, having a flagellum is merely one (small) possibility. (Aren’t there kinds of bacteria without a flagellum? How do they solve the motility problem? Would that count as a falsification of Dembski’s test? How “equally complex” does the motility system need to be, exactly? And how do you even measure that?)

The fact that a bacterium has a flagellum depends on a Vast (see Dennett) number of contingent (see Gould) events. For a more concrete example, read about the devilishly hard time Dawkins had reproducing his chalice biomorph (see Blind Watchmaker).

Comment #773

Posted by Mark on April 7, 2004 4:21 PM (e)

If the sky opened up and a big guy’s face came down and said, “watch!”, and produced neat new animals together with fake fossils, and did other cool magic tricks and explained away a lot of pretty major coincidences, I’d be sold!

Comment #774

Posted by Joe Carter on April 7, 2004 4:37 PM (e)

Errm, aren’t you the one who is supposed to be telling us how ID does that?

Um…no. If you read my original post it was disputing Leiter’s contention that naturalistic methodology does not take an a priori stance toward naturalism.

Am I correct in assuming that since you avoided my question that you don’t have an answer?

Comment #776

Posted by Ed Brayton on April 7, 2004 4:45 PM (e)

Please explain how naturalistic methodolgy is able to empirically distinguish between natural phenomena that is produced by an undirected natural causes and that which is produced by intelligent causes.

It seems you want to “avoid getting bogged down” by completely changing the subject. The subject of this post was my fisking of your post; if you scroll up, you’ll see it. There were several things at issue, including your obvious misunderstanding of how science operates. Specifically:

1. You claimed that merely observing the fact to be explained provided proof for a possible explanation of that fact. This is patently false.

2. You erroneously claimed that if you can’t reproduce an event you can’t test an explanation for that event.

3. You claimed that only Occam’s razor would distinguish the “black hole in the dryer” hypothesis from a natural explanation, when that is obviously not the case.

In addition, you offered a very poor probability equation for which you cannot possibly know all of the variables. Which means, essentially, there is no legitimate probability equation at all. Several people in this thread offered critiques of why that is. You didn’t respond at all.

Lastly, you offered a “test” for ID that proves that ID is not a real model at all, but only a negative argument from ignorance - “not evolution, therefore ID”.

All of these criticisms have been made and supported in this thread, and you have responded to none of them. But now you want to change the subject to something entirely different. How scientists would discern designed objects from undesigned objects has no bearing on either A) whether Leiter was correct about MN being a posteriori, or B) whether ID can discern supernatural design from non-design. I daresay your zeal to avoid being bogged down really means a desire to avoid answering all of the reasons why the arguments you’ve made so far are poorly reasoned and invalid.

Comment #777

Posted by Mark on April 7, 2004 4:52 PM (e)

Am I correct in assuming that since you avoided my question that you don’t have an answer?

That was my answer. Those easily conceivable observations would convince me that ID was correct. And if I’d grown up seeing a big sky guy do magic tricks all the time, I would be very doubtful of naturalistic explanations. The fact that I regard ID explanations as immensely improbable is not an a priori commitment but is due to the evidence of the actual course of my experience—it is a posteriori. I think every other “naturalist” is the same as me in that respect.

No doubt ID fans think naturalists underestimate the probability of ID explanations given the evidence. But that has nothing to do with naturalism being a priori.

I myself don’t care a whole lot if they teach my kids ID. My kids are smart enough to survive that. Heck, I had to go to Sunday school. :-)

Comment #779

Posted by Jason on April 7, 2004 4:56 PM (e)

At risk of sounding naive in this matter, what is the point of debating ID?

First, let me say that I do think that ID is just a way to get religious folk to force God/Allah/[insert intelligent designer here] into science.

Second, I am very religious. I’m also a physics major (well, I’m switching it to a minor soon, but I took the classes).

The reason I ask this is because whether or not ID is responsible for the universe, physics works. Any purported “miracle” doesn’t negate physics. And if there were no ID, physics still works.

I think it is important to note that I don’t believe in a 6-day creation (the original hebrew of Genesis doesn’t even say “day”), nor that creation was ex nihlio (sp?) (the original hebrew has a different connotation for “created” that falls closer to the word “organized”).

From the above, I would ask: why couldn’t evolution just be one of the tools “the designer” used to create life? Why isn’t the big bang the catalyst necessary to “organize” the existing parts of the universe into what we live in and examine today? And, to restate my first question, does it really matter to the progress of science anyway?

Comment #780

Posted by Paul Orwin on April 7, 2004 5:07 PM (e)

Matthew Heaney finally asks questions I can answer (except possibly the last one):
(quote)
In the space of ways bacteria are able to make a living, having a flagellum is merely one (small) possibility. (Aren’t there kinds of bacteria without a flagellum? How do they solve the motility problem? Would that count as a falsification of Dembski’s test?
(endquote)
Many bacteria have flagella, but whole large groups do quite well without them. A great many are non-motile (a discussion of the value of motility is probably outside the bounds of the panda’s thumb comments), relying on the forces of nature and man to carry them from place to place. Others use notably cool motility mechanisms, such as producing surfactants (detergents) that they float over a surface on, pili that they use to pull themselves along a surface, or glide by mysterious means (here’s a cool site with a bunch ofmotility info).
In fact, if I had to sort of distill it down to its essence, I would probably call bacterial motility, in its glory and variety, a great example of evolutionary adaptation.
Since Dembski’s test, to the best of my understanding, is bunk, I am not sure that this qualifies as falsification of it, but I think the flagellum and motility in general is a tremendously bad example of “intelligent design”, and a nearly perfect example of adaptation to niches and evolution. The whole debate is spookily similar to the old “half an eye” debate I remember reading about in Skeptic magazine as an undergraduate. Santayana, anyone?

Comment #781

Posted by Paul Orwin on April 7, 2004 5:11 PM (e)

BTW, here is the video I was looking for of Neisseria gonorrheae (gonococci to those in the know) crawling using their pili, long cylinders of pilin protein that protrude from their surface.
motility movies
This was published in nature in 2002.

Comment #784

Posted by Joe Carter on April 7, 2004 5:40 PM (e)

Ed,

There were several things at issue, including your obvious misunderstanding of how science operates. Specifically:

Since you appear to have completely missed my point, I’ll concede that my sloppy writing resulted in your your fisking a strawman rather than my real argument.

1. You claimed that merely observing the fact to be explained provided proof for a possible explanation of that fact. This is patently false.

No, actually it’s not if we use Leiter’s criteria. But my point was that we would still have no reason for determining whether the absurd hypothesis was either true or false.

2. You erroneously claimed that if you can’t reproduce an event you can’t test an explanation for that event.

Admittedly, my wording is a bit sloppy (I wrote the post at 1 a.m.) but what it is intended to claim was that since we can’t repeat the Big Bang we are unable to tell if different conditions (of the anthropic principle) would still produce the same outcome (human life).

3. You claimed that only Occam’s razor would distinguish the “black hole in the dryer” hypothesis from a natural explanation, when that is obviously not the case.

I made no such claim. What I said was that it would produce a plausible hypothesis and since Leiter’s methodology doesn’t require the hypothesis to be true, it certainly fits the criteria.

In addition, you offered a very poor probability equation for which you cannot possibly know all of the variables. Which means, essentially, there is no legitimate probability equation at all. Several people in this thread offered critiques of why that is. You didn’t respond at all.

I had assumed that the WAP was a relatively non-controversial theory. If that is not the case then I will concede the point and move on since it really has little to do with my main point.

Lastly, you offered a “test” for ID that proves that ID is not a real model at all, but only a negative argument from ignorance - “not evolution, therefore ID”.

No, what I provided was a test that, while it would have the ability to falsify ID, would not necessarily prove it was true.

But now you want to change the subject to something entirely different.

This is not “changing the subject” since it was the purpose of my main post. Methodological naturalism takes an a priori stance toward philosophical naturalism.

How scientists would discern designed objects from undesigned objects has no bearing on either A) whether Leiter was correct about MN being a posteriori, or B) whether ID can discern supernatural design from non-design.

Of course it would. If MN is strictly based on a posteriori reasoning then there must be some way to tell what has been designed from an intelligent cause and what is the result of completely naturalistic causes.

I daresay your zeal to avoid being bogged down really means a desire to avoid answering all of the reasons why the arguments you’ve made so far are poorly reasoned and invalid.

This is the main point of my argument. If you cannot or choose not to rebut it then simply concede that I was right about Leiter and we can move on to other topics.

Comment #785

Posted by PZ Myers on April 7, 2004 5:41 PM (e)

Tsk, tsk, Joe. You’re the one trying to argue that ID has some intellectual standing, not me, and you’re the one who argues that ID can answer the question.

I know how I would determine if something was built by intelligent design: I’d watch it being built. I’d figure out the process. If it builds itself with no outside intervention, using the ordinary principles of physics, chemistry, and biology, I’d say that there is no need to invoke celestial forceps wielded by industrious angels.

Your turn.

Comment #787

Posted by Joe Carter on April 7, 2004 5:53 PM (e)

Tsk, tsk, Joe. You’re the one trying to argue that ID has some intellectual standing, not me, and you’re the one who argues that ID can answer the question.

Contrary to what you might think, I don’t automatically assume that ID is true. But unless you assume that naturalism is not only true but beyond question, then you have to allow other explanatory theories to compete on the same playing field. ID may be complete bunk but it should be given a fair hearing so that an adequate judgement about its merits can be made.

I know how I would determine if something was built by intelligent design: I’d watch it being built.

How would you “watch something be built” if it were a biological process?

Your turn.

Actually, I think you should take another shot at it.

Comment #789

Posted by PZ Myers on April 7, 2004 6:02 PM (e)

How would I “watch something be built” if it were a biological process? Joe, I’m a developmental biologist. I do it every day.

Here you go. Watch the pretty zebrafish assemble itself.

Comment #790

Posted by Reed A. Cartwright on April 7, 2004 6:08 PM (e)

The problem is, Joe, that you don’t have explanatory theories unless you use methodological naturalism. Scientists realized a few centuries ago that supernatural explainations actually explained nothing. Natural explainations can be tested, refined, and improved. Supernatural explainations cannot.

If you disagree with this, how about proposing a way to objectively distinguish between these two competing supernatural explainations for rainbows and determine which one is more wrong than the other one.

1) They exist because leperchauns need a place to hide their gold.

2) They exist because YHWH promises not to destroy the earth again.

Comment #793

Posted by Joe Carter on April 7, 2004 6:38 PM (e)

Reed,

The problem is, Joe, that you don’t have explanatory theories unless you use methodological naturalism.

I disagree. Forensic science provides explanatory theories and it doesn’t rely on methodological naturalism.

If you disagree with this, how about proposing a way to objectively distinguish between these two competing supernatural explainations for rainbows and determine which one is more wrong than the other one.

Those are not explanations for how rainbows are produced but rather reasons why they might exist.

Comment #796

Posted by Ed Brayton on April 7, 2004 6:45 PM (e)

I disagree. Forensic science provides explanatory theories and it doesn’t rely on methodological naturalism.

Huh? It doesn’t? Can you name a single instance in which a forensic examiner has ever hypothesized a supernatural explanation for a crime, like ghosts or demons or leprauchans? Of course you can’t. They limit themselves to naturalistic explanations because there is no way of testing any other type of explanation. For crying out loud, you seem to have nothing even approaching a coherent point of view on these issues. You don’t know what testability means, you confuse facts with the explanations for them, you think events need to be tested, and you think that methodological naturalism rules out any and all intelligent actions. Frankly, you’re just clueless on this entire issue.

Comment #797

Posted by Andrea Bottaro on April 7, 2004 6:52 PM (e)

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Comment #798

Posted by Reed A. Cartwright on April 7, 2004 7:00 PM (e)

I disagree. Forensic science provides explanatory theories and it doesn’t rely on methodological naturalism.

Joe,

I can’t believe that you just said that. Do even know what methodological naturalism is? Methodological naturalism holds that supernatural forces, e.g. miracles, do not affect scientific observations and experiment, i.e. only natural events, things that can be studied and tested, are responsible for what is being studied.

Everybody is a methodological naturalist one way or another. Let’s say that you are hungry for a Big Mac, but your wallet is empty. Do you A) go to an ATM and withdraw $20 or B) skip the bank and pray that angels will slip a twenty in your wallet while you drive? If you do the former, you a making a decision based on methodological naturalism. If you chose the latter, you will soon find out while methodological naturalism works.

Now if you still think that forensic science doesn’t use methodological naturalism, please demonstrate where it has allowed supernatural explainations for criminal events.

Those are not explanations for how rainbows are produced but rather reasons why they might exist.

You didn’t answer my question. Now please propose a way to objectively distinguish between the two competing supernatural explainations for rainbows and determine which one is more wrong than the other one.

Comment #799

Posted by Geoff on April 7, 2004 7:17 PM (e)

I find this argument about whether or not the commitment to methodological naturalism is “a priori” sort of bizarre. (a) is either true or false:

(a) Naturalistic explanations of phenomena are generally better* than supernaturalistic explanations of those same phenomena.

That it’s true is just so blazingly obvious that I can’t imagine anybody quarrelling with it. But if it’s true, then methodological naturalism doesn’t involve a priori reasoning–doing something because it works better than the alternatives is as a posteriori a reason for doing it as there is. Help me understand what I’m missing.

*=more liable to be right, more satisfying, simpler, more elegant, more reliable, prone to yield more testable hypotheses, more profitable, more practical, more beautiful, more conducive to enabling people to do cooler stuff, whatever. Pick a way an explanation can be better than another and plug it in.

Comment #800

Posted by Ed Brayton on April 7, 2004 7:17 PM (e)

Joe, on his webpage tonight:

Leiter has repeatedly stated that proper scientific methodology particularly “naturalistic methodology) relies on a posteriori rather than a priori reasoning.

No Joe, Leiter has argued no such thing. Leiter has argued that science decided to use methodological naturalism - one aspect of the modern scientific method - through the use of a posteriori reasoning, not a priori reasoning. In other words, scientists didn’t rule out supernatural explanations as a matter of assumption, it ruled out supernatural explanations for two reasons:

A. Because history has demonstrated over and over again that supernatural explanations end up being replaced by natural ones. There was a time when virtually every aspect of life, from the weather to illness to wealth to good crops, was given a supernatural explanation - God was either happy with us or angry at us, so he sent good weather/bad weather/a good harvest/a bad harvest/illness/good health. But now we know that all of those things have natural causes. Had we stopped at the supernatural explanations, we would never have found the truth. In other words, methodological naturalism WORKS, and it works better than methodological supernaturalism (MS). So scientists, based upon that history, choose a posteriori to use MN when trying to solve a problem. MN allows for testable hypotheses, MS does not. MN provides fruitful new avenues of research, MS does not.

B. Because there is no alternative to MN. MN allows for a means to test competing hypotheses as explanations through the process of experimentation, prediction and discovery. MS has no such means. Because supernatural explanations are not falsifiable and there are no boundaries on what “might be”, there is no ability to discern true explanations from false ones. Go back to the socks in the dryer. We can pose and test all sorts of natural explanations for it. But let’s take two possible supernatural explanations for it:

A. A magic black hole swallows up only the socks and nothing else.

B. Mischevious invisible imps steal the socks and turn them into gold.

Is there any means you can devise that would test those two hypotheses? Nope. Not even hypothetically. Is there any means of falsifying either explanation? Nope. Not even hypothetically.

So what alternative do you have to using MN in science? Answer: you have none. You have no alternative, and you have no good reason why it’s a bad idea given the history of success that the scientific method has in solving problems. The ONLY thing you can do is point to areas where science doesn’t yet have a complete answer to a specific problem and say, “Ah ha, you don’t have a natural exlanation for it yet, so there must be a supernatural explanation for it.” That’s why the only means of testing ID you could come up with was in fact a negative test of evolution, because this kind of God of the Gaps argument from ignorance is the only basis for a non-natural explanation. But if we had applied that logic throughout history, we would never have solved any scientific problem of explained any set of phenomena in the first place.

Comment #801

Posted by Geoff on April 7, 2004 7:30 PM (e)

Reed: it does seem like Joe’s got a point in his response to your rainbow cases.

As you’ve stated them, they’re not theories, because they just say what reason somebody might have had for making a rainbow, not what caused the rainbow to exist. But a supernatural explanation could easily take the latter form, too. Though you obviously couldn’t run an experiment to distinguish the following two claims, they are both supernatural and represent different explanations:

(1) Rainbows are made by invisible little leprechauns painting the air with magic colors;

(2) Rainbows are made by God’s invisible hand reaching down and putting rainbow dust in our retinas.

Bad theories, but theories. Your original claim was not just that supernatural explanations are such that it’s awfully hard to see how you could determine which one was better than the others, but that supernatural explanations aren’t theories at all. But it doesn’t seem, conceptually at least, that x is a theory only if x comes with a procedure for determining whether or not it’s accurate. A good theory, on the other hand, is a whole different ball game.

Comment #803

Posted by asg on April 7, 2004 7:51 PM (e)

As a fascinated lurker, I must say I am really looking forward to an example of any case in which forensic scientists have not relied on methodological naturalism.

Comment #804

Posted by Joe Carter on April 7, 2004 8:25 PM (e)

Ed and Reed,

One of the obvious problems is where we differ on the line of demarcation between what is natural and what is supernatural. You seem to be taking the medieval understanding that the supernatural only concerns such imaginary beings as ghosts and goblins. But I take the more nuanced view that super-natural is anything that is not solely composed of matter and subject to the laws of nature. Under that definition, the human mind/personality would be considered supernatural phenomena.

Before you let loose with a knee-jerk disagreement, let me clarify that the under a strict materialism (which is what you claim that science must adhere to) the mind (as opposed to the physical brain) is an epiphenomenon and not composed of matter. It is, therefore, is an example of supernatural phenomena (or at least preternatural, which would still put it outside the realm of MN).

This is why I claim that forensic science (particularly forensic psychology) is not based on methodological naturalism.

Comment #805

Posted by Timothy Sandefur on April 7, 2004 8:30 PM (e)

I wish to very emphatically disagree with the suggestion that if one believes a) the proper definition of “supernatural is anything that is not solely composed of matter and subject to the laws of nature,” that one must believe that b) “Under that definition, the human mind/personality would be considered supernatural phenomena.” I agree with the defition of the former, and most certainly do not agree with the latter.

Carter’s suggestion to the contrary rests on an equivocation about the definition of “epiphenomenal” which Dennett obliterates in chapter 12 of Consciousness Explained.

Comment #806

Posted by Joe Carter on April 7, 2004 8:37 PM (e)

Geoff,

I find this argument about whether or not the commitment to methodological naturalism is “a priori” sort of bizarre. (a) is either true or false:

(a) Naturalistic explanations of phenomena are generally better* than supernaturalistic explanations of those same phenomena.

(A) is neither true nor false but contingent on the phenomena being explained.

This entire exercise is to get people to understand that their view of MN is based on an a priori rather than an a posteriori reasoning (we’ll have to come back to the issue of why it matters once this is resolved). Your comment provides an excellent example of what I am referring to. Say for the sake of argument that God exists and that he caused a miracle (an action caused by non-naturalistic means) to occur. Now if we take the assumption that all events must be explainable using MN then we would have to conclude that the event was a natural occurrence even though we “know” this is false.

If we have no alternative to MN and it cannot be used to detect supernatural phenomena then we will have a false explanation for the event that occurred. By sticking to our method we would lose the truth. While we may good a posteriori reasons for believing MN is a valid methodology we would have to concede that it could lead us to believe false theories.

Comment #807

Posted by Joe Carter on April 7, 2004 8:39 PM (e)

Mr. Sandefur,

I’m confused. In your opinion, is human conciousness composed of matter or not?

Comment #808

Posted by Matthew Heaney on April 7, 2004 8:42 PM (e)

Thanks, Paul, for the motility links.

I thought of some more problems with Dembski’s test.

First of all, why is more complexity a sign of intelligent design? Why not less complexity? As any programmer knows, it’s the poorly skilled programmers who write the most complex code. In contrast, the best programmers write code that is simple and elegant. Complex code is just what you’d expect evolution to write, not an intelligent designer.

The other issue is just how do you judge what constitutes a “better” motility system? Dembski (really, Behe) is arguing that better means “more complex” (and hence designed), but who’s to say that a simpler system that propels the bacterium just as fast isn’t better? How exactly do we know that it wasn’t the simpler motility system that was designed instead of the complex one? Maybe there were two designers. Maybe there was a team of designers. Who knows?

(Consider the extreme motility problem for a plant, which can’t move at all. To “move,” a tree very cleverly wraps its seed inside fruit. The fruit is sweet, which entices animals (who can move) to eat it, because the sugar is part of their diet. The seeds are hard, so they pass all the way through the digestive system of the animal, and end up somewhere else away from the tree. Now, is that motility system more or less complex than a flagellum? Was it intelligently designed, or not?)

Consider also some of Dawkins’ favorite examples:

He spent some time on how the imperfections of organisms were more revealing, “…not what you would find if life had been Designed.” Some examples given in word and picture were of the flatfish with grossly distorted skull, having evolved from an upright position to bottom dwelling existence; the eye moving around “Picasso fashion” so that both were on one side.

The male testes was another, where migration of them to their current position caused an extreme elongation of the uretheter as it looped around other structures before getting to the kidney. [This example is also in Tim Berra’s book. –MJH]

The laryngeal nerves that extend into the chest, then reroute around a main blood vessel before going back up was another un-engineered example as was the vertebrate eye which Dawkins demonstrated was actually backwards wired, creating the “blind spot.” The eye evolved many times independently and in not all organisms was this “design flaw” in effect. Correcting these oddities where they presented no real harm would have been “too much upheaval for natural selection” but should have posed no problem, Dawkins maintained, for an Intelligent Designer.

http://www.freethoughtassociation.com/minutes/1999/Oct11-1999.htm

Here’s another example. Suppose we’re playing a game of poker, and I get a royal flush. That’s a rare event, and I assume it meets Dembski’s definition of “complex system.” Dembski and Behe want you to assume that a flagellum is like a royal flush. But there’s nothing special about that hand, except for the fact that it’s rare. So what? I could win the game with that hand, or I could lose the game. I could win that game without getting a royal flush. In fact, most of us never get a royal flush, but someone always wins the game. You could win the hand by having just a pair, or simply having the highest card.

The point is that having “more complexity” is not what matters in the game of life. The only thing that matters is living long enough to get your genes in the next generation. You don’t need a royal flush to win at poker, nor does a bacterium need a flagellum to win at life.

Dembski’s test to “falsify” the ID hypothesis is analogous to demanding that you play 10,000 games of poker, and then concluding that since no one got a royal flush during the test, that when someone somewhere else does get a royal flush it must be because God made it so. But we all know that getting a royal flush is just a contingent event like any other (even if it’s not very probable), and that you can win the hand even without getting a royal flush.

And besides, as someone else in this thread also pointed out, even if the scientist were able to breed a bacterium with a flagellum, it proves nothing since you have no way of knowing whether God (oops! I mean the “intelligent designer”) influenced the outcome of the test. Indeed, if you weren’t able to breed a bacterium with a flagellum then that might simply mean God intervened to make non-flagella bacteria. What test do you perform to resolve which interpretation is correct? As they say, you can’t put God in a test tube, or keep him out of one.

Comment #809

Posted by Ed Brayton on April 7, 2004 8:43 PM (e)

One of the obvious problems is where we differ on the line of demarcation between what is natural and what is supernatural. You seem to be taking the medieval understanding that the supernatural only concerns such imaginary beings as ghosts and goblins. But I take the more nuanced view that super-natural is anything that is not solely composed of matter and subject to the laws of nature. Under that definition, the human mind/personality would be considered supernatural phenomena.

Wow. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but that may be the dumbest argument I’ve seen in years. This view isn’t more “nuanced”, it’s just plain ridiculous. You’re using a completely anachronistic definition of “natural” and “supernatural” to make arguments against concepts that no one, other than you, would define that way. Frankly, I don’t buy it. I think you’ve just found yourself on the giving end of so many dumb statements that have resulted in your arguments getting beaten like a pinata that you’re just grasping for any straw you can to keep from suffering any more embarrassment. I’m sorry, I was willing to give you some benefit of the doubt up to this point, but this is just breathtaking in its sheer stupidity. I give you high marks for chutzpah, however. You have truly mastered the art of destroying a straw man. But I venture to say that no one with an IQ above room temperature is going to be the least bit fooled by this handwaving silliness. Bravissimo!

Comment #810

Posted by Joe Carter on April 7, 2004 9:06 PM (e)

Ed,

50 posts. That’s quite impressive. I sort of figured from your earlier tone that you would eventually find some way to be jump ship and give up on any substantial argument. I thought surely that you would eventually quit beating up the strawman you made and address my core argument but I see that is not within your ability.

Is using supernatural to describe the mind “anachronistic?” Possibly, though its still applicable. But let’s be honest. If I had used the term “preternatural” you wouldn’t have understood what I was talking about (I’m not saying you are dumb just that you haven’t shown much ability to understand what I’ve been arguing – even after I’ve repeatedly pointed it out to you). Besides, even if you had looked it up in the dictionary I would have had to explain how it relates to the case against assuming MN.

Honestly, Ed, if you don’t take me seriously I could really care less. I’d be more than happy to keep corresponding with your commentors, many of whom seem to at least grasp what is being said even if they don’t agree with me. If not they can follow me to my blog and we’ll carry on the conversation there.

Comment #812

Posted by Pim van Meurs on April 7, 2004 9:24 PM (e)

Joe: If the experiment shows that the structure was produced by natural selection then it would prove the ID’s hypothesis was false.

But I argue that this is not an ID hypothesis but rather an anti Darwinian hypothesis. All it does is either show problems with Darwinian hypothesis or strengthen it. That should not be confused with pro-ID in any form although some of the ID proponents seem to have used this fallacy.

Comment #814

Posted by Matthew Heaney on April 7, 2004 9:44 PM (e)

Joe said:

This entire exercise is to get people to understand that their view of MN is based on an a priori rather than an a posteriori reasoning (we’ll have to come back to the issue of why it matters once this is resolved). Your comment provides an excellent example of what I am referring to. Say for the sake of argument that God exists and that he caused a miracle (an action caused by non-naturalistic means) to occur. Now if we take the assumption that all events must be explainable using MN then we would have to conclude that the event was a natural occurrence even though we “know” this is false.

If we have no alternative to MN and it cannot be used to detect supernatural phenomena then we will have a false explanation for the event that occurred. By sticking to our method we would lose the truth. While we may good a posteriori reasons for believing MN is a valid methodology we would have to concede that it could lead us to believe false theories.

The problem with this argument is that even if were to allow for direct intervention by God in our explanations of observed phenomena (that is, we didn’t use MN), there’s still no way for us to tell whether God really did intervene.

Joe’s assumption is that God’s fingerprints are visible by us. But that assumption is incorrect. We as human observers don’t stand in the priveleged position that allows us to tell the difference between that nature does all by herself, vs. what happens when God intervenes directly.

Science is all about prediction and control. It’s not about metaphysics. Nature comes with knobs and dials, and all a scientific theory can do is tell you that when you turn the knob by this much, then the dial will move by this much. We as human observers can’t know the ontological reason why the needle of the dial moves as it does, but science does allow us to predict when and by how much it will move, when we turn the knob.

You can spot the mistake when Joe used the phrase “lose the truth.” Scientific theories are simply models, not descriptions of ontic reality. Like all models, they aren’t true or false, only more or less useful. For example we know that Newton’s laws don’t accurately predict the motion of the planet Mercury (Einstein figured out that Newton’s laws break down when you’re near a large mass as the Sun), but they’re good enough for most purposes.

Joe appears to be a realist. This is to be expected, since most theists (especially Philip Johnson, who started all this MN vs. PN business) are realists. In constrast, science is essentially anti-realist. It’s the difference between Platonism and positivism.

To understand what theistic realism is, read interviews with Don Cupitt, who is a theistic instrumentalist. See the article here:

http://www.philosophers.co.uk/portal_article.php?id=43

If you can get your head around instruementalism, then you’ll realize that scientific models aren’t objective, they’re intersubjective. That’s what is means for science to be a process conducted by a community of human scientist-observers.

Asking whether a scientific theory as evolution is “true” means you don’t really understand the nature of scientific theories. If there is a clash between science and religion, it is a clash between intersubjectivity and objectivity. But as George Lakoff explained in Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, objectivity is a myth. That’s the source of the tension for theists, who still cling to an objectivist model.

The real problem for theists is epistemological, not scientific. The theory of evolution should be the least of their worries. Serious theologians like Nancey Murphy and Ernan McMullen already understand this. But most theists have been so preoccupied by the Darwinian revolution they don’t seem to be aware how much of a threat cognitive science is.

Comment #815

Posted by Ian Musgrave on April 7, 2004 10:21 PM (e)

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Comment #816

Posted by Joe Carter on April 7, 2004 10:46 PM (e)

Matthew: You make some great points.
“The real problem for theists is epistemological, not scientific. The theory of evolution should be the least of their worries.

I agree. We should spend more time explaining how naturalism is self-refuting than worrying about evoltionary theories.

…revolution they don’t seem to be aware how much of a threat cognitive science is.

I’m not sure what you mean by this.

Ian: You also make a great point and provide an excellent example of how science “moves the goalposts” when it comes to what is and is not “natural phenonmena.”

Science and “methodological naturalism” removed epilepsy from the domain of the supernatural, but you want to return it there.

No, actually, I don’t. All I really want is for people to drop their illusions. What they believe about science, in my opinion, has less to do with a particular methodology than it does about the underlying philosophy.

Comment #820

Posted by Pim van Meurs on April 7, 2004 11:20 PM (e)

Joe: What they believe about science, in my opinion, has less to do with a particular methodology than it does about the underlying philosophy.

Is that not projecting your own views onto others? Any particular examples relevant to science that you would want to present?

Methodological naturalism is so succesful because it works. ID is such a failure because it cannot live up to its claims and has yet to show itself scientifically relevant.

Does this mean that ID is incorrect? Of course not. Just scientifically irrelevant.

Comment #823

Posted by Ian Musgrave on April 8, 2004 12:16 AM (e)

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Comment #824

Posted by Ian Musgrave on April 8, 2004 12:52 AM (e)

Joe wrote:

Ian: You also make a great point and provide an excellent example of how science “moves the goalposts” when it comes to what is and is not “natural phenonmena.”

What goal post moving? Scientists investigated epilepsy, and found that it was produced by natural causes. They didn’t change the definition of natural cause or supernatural agency. They didn’t have to invent new natural causes. This example stands as a full refutation of your argument.

Science and “methodological naturalism” removed epilepsy from the domain of the supernatural, but you want to return it there.

No, actually, I don’t. All I really want is for people to drop their illusions. What they believe about science, in my opinion, has less to do with a particular methodology than it does about the underlying philosophy.

Your opinion is incorrect. There is an enormous literature on scientific methodology, but one only has to briefly peruse the scientific literature on mind (or any other epiphenomenon) to see that you are incorrect. Again, I will point out that I am a working neuroscientist, a member of and regular presenter at the Australian Neuroscience Society, not to mention the odd international neuroscience meeting, and I can tell you that no neuroscientist thinks that mind is a supernatural thing, but very firmly in the realm of the natural. You may have your own private definition, but neither scientists nor philosophers agree with you.

Comment #825

Posted by Richard Wein on April 8, 2004 3:26 AM (e)

Regardless of whether science requires a principle of methodological naturalism, the issue is a red herring.

First, the IDists themselves claim that their argument only points to intelligent design, not supernatural design. So methodological naturalism does not rule out ID. Indeed, IDists themselves point out correctly that inferences involving intelligent (human) design do occur in other fields of science. Their claim that science is ruling out ID in the field of biology as a result of some general rule is inconsistent with this observation.

Second, whatever some scientists may say when they are in a mood to philosophise, the reality is that they follow the evidence wherever it leads. Of course, I’m not saying that scientists never make mistakes or allow themselves to be swayed by prejudices. Scientists are humans too. But the idea that most scientists would, as a matter of principle, reject a certain type of explanation even if the evidence clearly pointed to it seems to me absurd. Scientists reject ID in biology because there is no evidence of it.

Third, contrary to the claims of Beckwith and Van Dyke, critic of ID have not rejected it without consideration of the arguments. The arguments for ID have been critiqued in many articles (including some by me). It turns out that the main argument for ID is just the old God-of-the-gaps argument dressed up in misleading pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo.

The alternative methodology which IDists would like science to adopt is not one which considers all explanations (natural and supernatural) on an equal basis. In reality they want ID to be given preferential treatment. See the articles by Dembski and Behe in which they insist that “naturalistic” accounts of evolution must be given in exhaustive detail before they can be considered adequate, while insisting that ID be accepted despite an utter lack of any details whatsoever.

Comment #828

Posted by Ian Musgrave on April 8, 2004 5:12 AM (e)

Joe wrote:

I disagree. Forensic science provides explanatory theories and it doesn’t rely on methodological naturalism.

Even if minds were supernatural (which they are not) forensics, anthropology etc. still proceed through ordinary “methodological naturalism”. Take a recent real case. Researchers found piles of stones in the rainforest. They wanted to know if these were hammer stones accumulated by an intelligent agent, or just accumulations of stones produced by standard geological processes. They examined the stones for use marks, wear patters associated with hammerstone use, and watch intelligent agents behaviour with regard to hammer stones (they tended to pile used hammerstones up in one spot). Similarly, when they looked at accumulations of stones produced by normal geological processes in rainforests, the stones were not of the number nor size distribution of the caches, nor did they show signs of wear. All these procedures (comparing stones, looking for wear marks) are decidedly non-supernatural, forensics does indeed proceed by “methodological naturalism”. And the intelligent agents, they were the local rainforest chimpanzees.

Comment #830

Posted by PZ Myers on April 8, 2004 6:43 AM (e)

Ian: As the resident neuroscientist here

Hey! Wotcher elbows. I happen to have a Ph.D. from the Institute of Neuroscience at the University of Oregon, I’ll have you know.

So what if it’s in developmental neurobiology?

So what if Graham Hoyle used to always hiss at me that I wasn’t doing real neuroscience?

So what if I think neurons are much more interesting in that period before they make those things called “synapses”?

OK, but otherwise, as the resident assistant neuroscientist here, I agree with everything Ian says.

Comment #831

Posted by Ed Brayton on April 8, 2004 7:01 AM (e)

50 posts. That’s quite impressive. I sort of figured from your earlier tone that you would eventually find some way to be jump ship and give up on any substantial argument. I thought surely that you would eventually quit beating up the strawman you made and address my core argument but I see that is not within your ability.

Joe, you’re just digging yourself a deeper hole here. I’ve addressed every single substantive argument you’ve made, as have others. You gave up even attempting to defend any of them long ago. A short list of the substantive arguments you’ve made that have gotten hammered over and over again and you’ve long since given up trying to defend:

1. Claiming that an insult is the same as an ad hominem when it’s not.

2. Making claims about the “weak anthropic principle” that was not, in fact, the weak anthropic principle, but the strong anthropic principle.

3. A ridiculous probability equation for the odds of the universe being capable of sustaining life.

4. Claiming that if we can’t repeat an event, we can’t test any explanations for that event - including in forensic science, which you later claimed does not use MN.

5. Claiming that you could confirm a hypothetical explanation for a phenomenon merely by seeing if the phenomenon repeats. If you were in even an 8th grade science class proposing to test a hypothesis that way, you’d get a failing grade.

6. A proposed test of ID that actually proves what we’ve been saying all along, that ID is not a model at all but a god of the gaps argument that relies solely upon evolution not being able to explain something. This point has been made repeatedly and you’ve been dead silent on it.

7. Claiming that scientists “refuse to allow other methods to be tested”, when you’ve been challenged repeatedly to come up with some means of testing supernatural claims and have offered exactly none.

8. Claiming that not being able to “test an event” is somehow a problem for science, when events are not tested, only explanations are tested.

You said that you were “working on answering” these questions. You’ve answered none of them. Instead, you tried to change the subject to this:

Please explain how naturalistic methodolgy is able to empirically distinguish between natural phenomena that is produced by an undirected natural causes and that which is produced by intelligent causes.

But then a few hours later, you were claiming that science DOES distinguish between natural causes and intelligent causes, in forensic science, only instead of “intelligent causes” you were calling them “supernatural causes” because the mind is an epiphenomenon. Sorry, I just don’t buy that this is what you mean by “methodological naturalism” all along. You didn’t use it to mean that in any other context. If you actually used it to equate intelligent with supernatural, then why did you ask how science distinguishes between “natural” and “intelligent” causes, and why did you point out taht forensic science DOES distinguish between them? Sorry, this is a bunch of nonsense.

Look, the bottom line is that you got in way over your head here, making arguments you didn’t really understand about a subject you don’t understand. In scrambling to cover previously silly arguments, you made even more silly arguments. I think that’s clear to pretty much anyone at this point. But your ego won’t let you admit that to yourself, so you project a failure to address substantive arguments on someone else, when the reality, as anyone who merely reads down this page can see, is that every single substantive argument you’ve made has been shown to be false so far and you’ve given up defending them entirely, preferring to change the subject instead. And the more you keep this up, the worse it looks. While attempting to take Leiter to task for his allegedly poor reasoning, you have demonstrated that you simply are not capable of understanding the issues at all and that you were out of your depth to even attempt it. I’m sorry if that’s blunt, but it’s the truth. And I’ll be happy to have others scroll through all these messages and judge for themselves whether that statement is justified.

Comment #843

Posted by Joe Carter on April 8, 2004 10:04 AM (e)

First, let me say to everyone reading this that if my argument was as convoluted as the strawman Ed Brayton presents then I would agree that it is laughable and worthy of derision. But the fact is that Ed, even after it has been pointed out to him, has misconstrued my argument from the very beginning. At first I thought that since I wrote the post at 1 a.m. weeknight that it was probably incoherent. And while I agree that it is not as tight an argument as I could have made, it is nothing like Ed presents. He is either very dim or very dishonest and I say that with all sincerity.

I believe in civil discussions but I really tire of my points being repeatedly misconstrued. Anyone who thinks my arugument is full of holes should at least have the decency to read the original post in it context rather than with the spin Ed put on it.

Now, as to Ed’s claims:

1. Claiming that an insult is the same as an ad hominem when it’s not.

I never made such a claim. The fact that you choose to start out with a bald-faced lie is rather telling.

2. Making claims about the “weak anthropic principle” that was not, in fact, the weak anthropic principle, but the strong anthropic principle.

This is either a intentional misrepresentation of what I said (in other word, another lie) or you don’t understand the difference between WAP and SAP.

3. A ridiculous probability equation for the odds of the universe being capable of sustaining life.

I’ll admit that I screwed that one up. I wrote that comment on my lunch break and thought that was how you did addition in Bayensian probability. I confess that I blew that one, though it really doesn’t change all that much.

4. Claiming that if we can’t repeat an event, we can’t test any explanations for that event - including in forensic science, which you later claimed does not use MN.

I never made such a claim. You even asked, “Does Joe really think that if we can’t repeat an event, we can’t test explanations for that event?” And I said no, I don’t. So why are you resorting to dishonesty?

5. Claiming that you could confirm a hypothetical explanation for a phenomenon merely by seeing if the phenomenon repeats. If you were in even an 8th grade science class proposing to test a hypothesis that way, you’d get a failing grade.

Please show me where I claimed that my intentionally absurd analogy was a scientific hypothesis. Seriously, Ed, I want you to show me. My point was that pragmatic explanations do not have to be true in order to fit with a posteriori assumptions.

6. A proposed test of ID that actually proves what we’ve been saying all along, that ID is not a model at all but a god of the gaps argument that relies solely upon evolution not being able to explain something. This point has been made repeatedly and you’ve been dead silent on it.

Because that’s not my point! How many times do I have to repeat this, Ed? I honestly don’t care if ID theory works or if it doesn’t. My concern is with the presumption that such theories are not even given consideration.

7. Claiming that scientists “refuse to allow other methods to be tested”, when you’ve been challenged repeatedly to come up with some means of testing supernatural claims and have offered exactly none.

Let me repeat this again. My point is that science should be able to find a way of distinguishing between intelligent causes and unintelligent causes in nature. If it can’t then there is an inherent weakness (or bias) in sciences methodology. Why should I need to produce such a methodology when the onus is on the scientists to do so?

8. Claiming that not being able to “test an event” is somehow a problem for science, when events are not tested, only explanations are tested.

What?

You said that you were “working on answering” these questions. You’ve answered none of them. Instead, you tried to change the subject to this:

Please explain how naturalistic methodolgy is able to empirically distinguish between natural phenomena that is produced by an undirected natural causes and that which is produced by intelligent causes.

Yes, Ed, I changed the subject from your strawman back to my original point. And the problem with that is … ?

But then a few hours later, you were claiming that science DOES distinguish between natural causes and intelligent causes, in forensic science, only instead of “intelligent causes” you were calling them “supernatural causes” because the mind is an epiphenomenon. Sorry, I just don’t buy that this is what you mean by “methodological naturalism” all along.

Let me make a distinction for you: intelligent causes require a mind; supernatural causes could be any form of epiphenomenon and are not strictly limited to causes produced by a mind.

You didn’t use it to mean that in any other context.

Please point that out for me.

If you actually used it to equate intelligent with supernatural, then why did you ask how science distinguishes between “natural” and “intelligent” causes, and why did you point out that forensic science DOES distinguish between them? Sorry, this is a bunch of nonsense.

Forgive me for being precise and not holding your hand through every explanation. Shall I draw a Venn diagram that shows how supernatural causes can also be intelligent causes?

Look, the bottom line is that you got in way over your head here, making arguments you didn’t really understand about a subject you don’t understand.

Hey Ed, go peddle this nonsense somewhere else. You have repeatedly misstated my argument and then kicked the strawman around as if you have won some victory. When I started off I gave you the benefit of the doubt but now I see that you just lack credibility and have an ax to grind against anyone who disagrees with you.

In scrambling to cover previously silly arguments, you made even more silly arguments. I think that’s clear to pretty much anyone at this point. But your ego won’t let you admit that to yourself, so you project a failure to address substantive arguments on someone

Comment #845

Posted by Joe Carter on April 8, 2004 10:28 AM (e)

I believe I do have a duty to apologize for some of my comments yesterday. Many of them were written in haste in between breaks at work or breaks in doing the chores my wife had assigned me. After reading over some of them again I see that I made too many assumptions about what I had intended to say rather than stating it explicitly. While it might have been fine at my own blog, before an audience that is used to filling in the blanks of my sloppy writing, it was unacceptable to be so slapdash in the comments on this site.

I still stand by my claims about Ed and hope that people will read my original post and make a judgement for themselves. In the oft chance that anyone wishes to continue this conversation I promise to be more thourough in my explanations.

Comment #846

Posted by Ed Darrell on April 8, 2004 11:31 AM (e)

Matthew Heaney said: >>First of all, why is more complexity a sign of intelligent design? Why not less complexity? As any programmer knows, it’s the poorly skilled programmers who write the most complex code. In contrast, the best programmers write code that is simple and elegant. Complex code is just what you’d expect evolution to write, not an intelligent designer.

Yes, precisely! Design is generally not demonstrated by complexity. Instead, design is more often demonstrated by simplicity. The invention of the fork in 1589 did not completely replace fingers, but it did simplify the work of the fingers and offer a better alternative to burned thumbs.

Were design an indication of intelligent intervention, Rube Goldberg woul be a god.

Complexity, on the other hand, often results when certain tasks must be accomplished with the stuff that is available, biologically.

So one of my complaints about ID is that it gets exactly wrong the relationship between life and design.

Ed

Comment #849

Posted by Russell on April 8, 2004 11:53 AM (e)

Joe:
I really think you ought to ponder these words by St. Augustine:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of the world … and so forth, and this knowledge he holds … from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian … talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions … If they find a Christian mistaken in a field in which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions … , how are they going to believe … in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven … ? [They] bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books

To read further thoughts on this check out your co-religionists here:
http://www.lettersfrombabylon.com/archives/2004_04_01_lfb_archive.html#108122232972212884

Comment #850

Posted by PZ Myers on April 8, 2004 12:00 PM (e)

Joe: In regards to your incessant, obtuse claim that methodological naturalism can’t be used to detect design, and that no one can answer your question, read Matt’s article on designoids. If we can’t distinguish these things, how was it determined that they were natural objects? Did someone consult a Ouija board?

I’ve already pointed out that we can do this by setting up criteria determined empirically.

And even if there are deficiencies in our method, you and your ID creationist pals have failed abysmally to provide any alternative.

Comment #854

Posted by Ed Brayton on April 8, 2004 12:47 PM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'kwickxml'

Comment #856

Posted by Joe Carter on April 8, 2004 2:17 PM (e)

Ed,

1. First of all, there is a difference in an insult and an ad hominem. Leiter uses both. The fact that you would repeately waste time on this point shows that you really don’t have anything substantial to add. The clear implication of this is that forensic science can’t test any theory fully, right? That’s why I replied by saying that if your argument is true, we better empty the prisons and stop convicting people on forensic evidence.

You need to do your homework about how forensic science works. No, it can’t test any theory fully and it makes no claims to do so. What it does is provide evidence to support a particular case.

5. It was pointed out to you that there are genuine ways to test the black hole hypothesis (which you are apparently using as an example of a non-MN hypothesis that shouldn’t be simply ruled out), but you didn’t bother to reply to any of those. Why on earth would you use an admittedly stupid example to illustrate something, especially when you have been challenged repeatedly to come up with a way to test ANY non-naturalistic hypothesis.

Here is a prime example of how you misrepresent my argument. My analogy was simply to show that if pragmatism is the sole criteria then as long as solution is found that will satisfy the observer, it can be considered plausible. My point was that pragmatism does not necessarily lead to a true theory. Once again you flout that red herring about me needing to provide a test for non-naturalistic hypothesis. But my point is not that I have one or even that one exist but rather that one would be necessary in order to produce more complete theories.

6. It’s not your point? Then why did you say it in the first place? I asked you for a way to test ID and this is what you offered. When it was pointed out to you that this did not test ID at all, but was simply a god of the gaps argument, you suddenly decided that it’s not important.

Let me walk you through this one more time, Ed. You come out of the blue and expect me to provide a test for ID even though it was not part of my original argument. I humored you and provided an example. Was it a good example? I don’t really know since I’m not a defender of ID theory but a defender of the idea that the theory should be given a chance. If it doesn’t work, then fine, we’ll move on. After I provide the example – the one you asked for – you start kicking the straw man around. When I point out (yet again) that it really isn’t pertinent to my argument you act like that is a strike against my case. You really need to start paying closer attention.

7. So why is this still even a question? It was answered already.

Okay, I’ll give you partial credit on this one. But unless you are claiming that the same processes that are used in forensic psychology can be applied to other fields, such as biology, then you need to add a bit more to it.

8. The problem with that is that it’s a completely false statement. You go back to your “original point” - the post that I responded to that started all of this - and show me any statement in that post even remotely like the statement “Please explain how naturalistic methodolgy is able to empirically distinguish between natural phenomena that is produced by an undirected natural causes and that which is produced by intelligent causes.”

Leiter’s contention was that a posteriori naturalistic methodology, which excludes a supernatural view of religion, is the most effective method for predicting and controling the world. My whole post explained why MN was insufficient. Take, for example, this statement: “He can’t claim that methodological naturalism is the “most effective ways to predict and control the world” while refusing to allow other methods to be tested.”

Why would it not be the most effective? Because it can’t distinguish between natural phenomena that is produced by an undirected natural causes and that which is produced by intelligent causes.

If you disagree that this was what I was talking about then please use my post to explain exactly what my point was.

Every time you accuse me of lying about what you said and I show your words saying it, you look foolish.

Actually, Ed, I make the statements in order to do two things. The first is that I hope some of your more open-minded readers will look at my post and find that it does not fit the straw man that you created. The second is that I hope to raise a warning flag so that when you resort to this type of tactic again people will think, “Didn’t he do that with the other guy … “ and they will see the pattern of dishonesty that emerges.

In other words, you know you didn’t make much sense and that you made silly claims that weren’t well thought out, but I still say Ed is a horrible person for pointing that out. Like everyone else, I responded to what you did say, not what you wish you had said.

I had a feeling that you would try to use that against me. In an honest debate (something you might try sometime) it is courteous to assume the blame for any misunderstandings. I take my share and I will even take the blame for letting you twist my words around. I should have been more suspicious of your motives and realized that this was not intended to be a forum for honest questioning but just another “smear the creationist” site. Obviously the fact that you would defend the repugnant Brian Leiter should have tipped me off sooner. Oh well, live and learn.

How about this, Ed. Why don’t we set aside this little squabble and move ahead. If it salves your ego you can put a check in the box and say you beat me. I’ll let you take your pyrrhic victory if you will agree to move on to more substantial questions. Deal?

Comment #857

Posted by PZ Myers on April 8, 2004 2:43 PM (e)

Pyrrhic victory? Does Joe even know what the phrase means?

Comment #858

Posted by Joe Carter on April 8, 2004 2:51 PM (e)

P.Z.,

Yeah, actually I do. A victory gained at too great a cost. The cost being Ed’s credibility.

(If you need help with any other vocabulary words just let me know.)

Note: While I am usually civil to most people, PZ has shown himself to be so rancorous and unable to participate in genuine discourse that I can’t take him seriously. He is one of the few who call hold his own on the Leiter scale of peevishness.

Comment #862

Posted by Ian Musgrave on April 8, 2004 3:55 PM (e)

Joe wrote:

Okay, I’ll give you partial credit on this one. But unless you are claiming that the same processes that are used in forensic psychology can be applied to other fields, such as biology, then you need to add a bit more to it.

I’ve already pointed out one example where forensic methodology was applied in biology, with the rainforest chimp hammer stones. Actually, even worse for your case is that almost all the methods used in forensics comes directly from biology (and chemistry and physics). Here’s another example. It has been claimed that HIV was maunfactured as a biowarfare agent. Using the techniques of biology, it was found that the virus lacked the inserts used by humans to modify viruses, furthermore, phylogenetic studies and sampling of related viruses in the wild showed that HIV was firmly rooted in an African virus clade with none of the modifications expected of a biowarfare agent, finally, testing of stored samples revealed human infection occurring long before the virus could have been cultured or manipulated by humans. Biology, even, no especially, molecular biology, can and does address issues of intelligent agency using “methodological naturalism”.

Comment #863

Posted by PZ Myers on April 8, 2004 4:07 PM (e)

Ed has not lost any credibility in this affair at all.

Comment #865

Posted by Ian Musgrave on April 8, 2004 4:29 PM (e)

G’Day Joe

Well, I’m not a curmudgeon (yet, my students are rapidly sending me that way though), nor particularly peevish, so why not address my posts then.

BTW, for reasons not clear the submission process stripped out the URL’s I posted. Here they are to manually cut and paste.
My flagella article: http://www.health.adelaide.edu.au/Pharm/Musgrave/essays/flagella_1.htm
Nic’s faleglla article can be found at
http://www.talkdesign.org in the menu sidebar.

Comment #866

Posted by Ed Brayton on April 8, 2004 4:47 PM (e)

Yeah, actually I do. A victory gained at too great a cost. The cost being Ed’s credibility.

LOL. I’ll tell you what. I’ll take the pyrrhic victory and you can take your mythical one. If you need to believe that I’ve lost any credibility in this exchange to help you feel better, knock yourself out.

Comment #881

Posted by Ian Musgrave on April 8, 2004 7:42 PM (e)

G’Day Paul

I abjectly apologize for not considering you, of course developmental biologists can be neuroscientists as well. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about alpha5-integrin signaling and neurite development? Or have a handy assay for NGF? I think my receptor increases neurite formation by activating NGF expression, and am looking for a way to test this.

Comment #885

Posted by Jason Malloy on April 9, 2004 1:15 AM (e)

“I don’t really know since I’m not a defender of ID theory but a defender of the idea that the theory should be given a chance. If it doesn’t work, then fine, we’ll move on.”

You have no real argument that ID creationism has been given any less of a “chance”[1] than it merits nor have you demonstrated any academic malfeasance in suppressing it. Don’t play word games, you are defending ID. It had its chance Joe, it doesn’t work. Let’s move on, as promised.

[1]Whatever that means, what isn’t ID being given to allow its hidden efficacy to bloom? Money? Yeah right. Attention? Plenty {We see you - you’re wrong}. What? Ohhhh, that’s right - you of course mean “given a chance” by allowing it to by-pass all that potential cramping “research” and “peer” stuff, and put straight into the public science classroom, and then down the road those now properly instructed students will eventually come up with all the evidence for it.

Stop these lies, Joe, this political cum religious gambit is offensive.

Comment #890

Posted by Ed Brayton on April 9, 2004 6:53 AM (e)

“I don’t really know since I’m not a defender of ID theory but a defender of the idea that the theory should be given a chance. If it doesn’t work, then fine, we’ll move on.”

There are three problems with this claim. First, it’s false. Anyone who goes to his blog archive labelled “intelligent design” can see that Joe IS a defender of ID.

Second, if there is no model to test and no means of testing if it there was one - and Joe has been challenged repeatedly to come up with one, and so have the leading ID advocates, and they’ll all failed to do so - then it is pointless to claim that the theory should be “given a chance”. If it can’t be tested, it’s not a theory at all. And if it can’t be tested, there’s no way of determining if it “works” or not.

Third, I think scientists are more than happy to “give ID a chance”. All its proponents have to do is offer up a genuine model with explanatory power, derive testable hypotheses from it, and propose tests. Scientists will be glad to run the tests and see what happens. The problem, as noted above, is that there are none to run. When asked to provide a means of testing it, the only thing they can come up with is a test for evolution so they can use the false dichotomy (either evolution or ID) to argue for a god of the gaps solution.

Despite this complete lack of real science at its core, the ID advocates still insist on pushing ID into classrooms, where even one of their own, Bruce Gordon, admits it has no place being:

design-theoretic research has been hijacked as part of a larger cultural and political movement. In particular, the theory has been prematurely drawn into discussions of public science education where it has no business making an appearance without broad recognition from the scientific community that it is making a worthwhile contribution to our understanding of the natural world…

This also despite the fact that they claim over and over again that they don’t push legislation to get their views into classrooms. Here’s Phillip Johnson in an interview in 2001:

We definitely arent looking for some legislation to support our views, or anything like that. What our adversaries would like to say is - these people want to impose their views through the law - No, that’s what they do. We’re against that in principle and we dont need that.

And here is Bill Dembski claiming the same thing:

Instead of pressing their case by lobbying for fair treatment acts in state legislatures (i.e., acts that oblige public schools in a given state to teach both creation and evolution in their science curricula), design theorists are much more concerned with bringing about an intellectual revolution starting from the top down. Their method is debate and persuasion. They aim to convince the intellectual elite and let the school curricula take care of themselves.

Incredible that they don’t lobby for inclusion in school curricula because they’re “against that in principle”, yet they can always be found lobbying for and testifying for inclusion of ID in public school science classrooms in front of school boards, state legislatures, state boards of education and even at the federal level with the infamous (and mythical) Santorum amendment. But they don’t do that, remember - “that’s what they do”, says Phil Johnson. That’s what creationists do, says Bill Dembski. ID advocates don’t do that. And the fact that you see them doing that all over the country is apparently irrelevant.

Comment #903

Posted by Joe Carter on April 9, 2004 12:13 PM (e)

There are three problems with this claim. First, it’s false. Anyone who goes to his blog archive labelled “intelligent design” can see that Joe IS a defender of ID.

Actually, Ed, what I have is a sub-category of Science labed “Intelligent Design.” I also have sub-categories for Judaism, Catholicism, Libertarians, and Democrats. While I may, at times, be in agreement with each of these groups I am not a “defender” of their views.

Anyone still wondering why I question Ed’s credibility should have to look no further than that example.

Second, if there is no model to test and no means of testing if it there was one - and Joe has been challenged repeatedly to come up with one, and so have the leading ID advocates, and they’ll all failed to do so - then it is pointless to claim that the theory should be “given a chance”. If it can’t be tested, it’s not a theory at all. And if it can’t be tested, there’s no way of determining if it “works” or not.

I’ll give you credit for tenacity, Ed. Though I have repeated, ad naseum, that my point is not that ID is better but that MN should have a way of accurately determine between that which can be produced by unintelligent natural causes and preternatural intelligent causes. You keep claiming that such a process already exists yet you haven’t explained how “design” can be ruled out.

If ID is inadequate then we should find another, better way to test for design in nature. Otherwise we are ruling it out a priori which – and pay attention here – is what sparked my argument to begin with.

Comment #904

Posted by Ed Brayton on April 9, 2004 12:33 PM (e)

Actually, Ed, what I have is a sub-category of Science labed “Intelligent Design.” I also have sub-categories for Judaism, Catholicism, Libertarians, and Democrats. While I may, at times, be in agreement with each of these groups I am not a “defender” of their views. Anyone still wondering why I question Ed’s credibility should have to look no further than that example.

LOL. I didn’t argue that the mere fact that you have such a category proves that you support and defend ID. I said that if you read the archive with that label, it will be clear that you do support and defend ID. Come on Joe, you are an ID advocate. Your webpage makes that very clear. I can’t for the life of me imagine that you think you can deny that with any credibility. Why do you have to pretend that what is obvious to anyone with an IQ above room temperature isn’t true? No one is going to believe you.

Second, if there is no model to test and no means of testing if it there was one - and Joe has been challenged repeatedly to come up with one, and so have the leading ID advocates, and they’ll all failed to do so - then it is pointless to claim that the theory should be “given a chance”. If it can’t be tested, it’s not a theory at all. And if it can’t be tested, there’s no way of determining if it “works” or not.

I’ll give you credit for tenacity, Ed. Though I have repeated, ad naseum, that my point is not that ID is better but that MN should have a way of accurately determine between that which can be produced by unintelligent natural causes and preternatural intelligent causes. You keep claiming that such a process already exists yet you haven’t explained how “design” can be ruled out.

But science DOES have ways to accurately determine what objects are intelligently designed (willfully designed is a better phrase in this context) and what objects are the result of blind processes. Ian gave you a perfect example of how it does so above, and you even admitted that it was a good example. You even admitted that it was answered, and you admitted that you had no response to Ian’s answer. So why do you keep bringing this up?

The problem is that you seem to be equating “intelligent design” with “supernatural design”. In a case like a naturally formed arrowhead-shaped rock and a willfully designed arrowhead, there are obviously ways to discern between the two. In a case like the pile of rocks that Ian mentioned, there are obviously ways that you can tell whether it is simply a random pile of rocks, or if the pile was the result of conscious activity (“willful design”). Science has ways to do that, in every field where it would is required to be done, meaning primarily archaeology and anthropology. Where else is this needed? What you seem to be demanding makes no sense, mostly because you keep using slightly different terminology. Intelligent causes are “natural causes” - they exist in material nature and can be studied. Supernatural causes, on the other hand, cannot be tested by any means that anyone can come up with, and THAT is what the ID position requires.

If ID is inadequate then we should find another, better way to test for design in nature. Otherwise we are ruling it out a priori which – and pay attention here – is what sparked my argument to begin with.

If ID is inadequate to do what? ID doesn’t help us distinguish between objects in nature that are intentionally or willfully designed and those that are the result of blind processes - we already know how to do that whenever it’s necessary. ID doesn’t change that a bit. What ID is positing are supernatural causes, and those causes cannot be tested. It isn’t ruled out a priori, it’s ruled out because it can’t be tested. If you or they can come up with a means of testing it, we’d be happy to test it.

So in essence, you’re claiming that ID helps us do what we were doing long before ID came along, and claiming that we should “consider” ID even though it doesn’t actually DO anything other than posit the existence of causes that cannot be tested for, causes that it presumes must be true as long as they doubt that evolution can account for whatever phenomenon is being discussed.

Comment #907

Posted by Jason Malloy on April 9, 2004 1:53 PM (e)

If scientists don’t have a method to prove that my crazy religious beliefs are true, then they need to come up with one; if they don’t then science is corrupt. Oh yeah and if they don’t then I’ll also just go right on proudly supporting a pseudo-science {or, I’m sorry, the idea of a pseudo-science}, because at least it’s even trying to prove what I already believe in.

Comment #950

Posted by Pim van Meurs on April 10, 2004 12:12 PM (e)

Good sarcasm Jason.

Joe missing the point: If ID is inadequate then we should find another, better way to test for design in nature. Otherwise we are ruling it out a priori which – and pay attention here – is what sparked my argument to begin with.

There are already good ways to test for design in nature, sadly enough ID proponents seem to be more intent on testing the supernatural in nature and avoid dealing with scientific design inference methods. Thus while ID methods so far are inadequate to infer the design in nature so much sought after, the fact that science cannot address this kind of design is NOT a shortcoming of science but a shortcoming of the expectations of ID proponents.
As a Christian I always marvel at the arguments that God’s design in nature should be measurable scientifically. Why is a flagellum ‘designed’ and the sunset isn’t? I personally find support for God’s design in all of nature, not just through cherry picking. My God does not hide in gaps.

Comment #966

Posted by Aaron Baker on April 10, 2004 4:07 PM (e)

I don’t dispute the scientific position taken by this site at all, but I do take issue with your treatment of the ad hominem fallacy:

“At the risk of being pedantic, I have to point out this very common mistake in claiming the ad hominem logical fallacy. An ad hominem, contrary to how seemingly everyone conceives of it, is not merely an insult. Calling someone a jerk is not an ad hominem. An ad hominem is a logical fallacy, so there must be a mistake in reasoning in the formulation. The logical fallacy in an ad hominem attack is in responding to a substantive claim by referring to an irrelevant personal trait of the person making the argument. For example, if I said, “Joe Carter shouldn’t be listened to when he talks about ad hominems, look at the way he dresses”, that would be an ad hominem. I would be rejecting his arguments based upon an irrelevant personal trait. While Leiter is often rude and harsh in his attacks on people, those are not ad hominems. They may be insulting, but that doesn’t make it ad hominem.”

In his treatment of the ad hominem fallacy, Irving Copi, author of the standard textbook on the subject, defines it as “a fallacious attack in which the thrust is directed, not at the conclusion, but at the person who asserts or defends it.” Commission of the fallacy includes “disparag[ing]the character of opponents, deny[ing] their intelligence or reasonableness, question[ing] their integrity.” Doing so is fallacious because “the character of an individual is logically irrelevant to the truth or falsehood of what that person says, or to the correctness or incorrectness of that person’s reasoning.” Therefore, not just an attack upon an irrelevant trait of the person, but an attack upon the person himself will qualify as ad hominem, unless the person himself is somehow at issue. Those who think of insults as ad hominem are right, more often than not.

Suppose my insult-laden attack contains substantive, relevant, and even accurate content. By verbally abusing my opponent, I’m not just dispassionately dissecting his argument; I’m also attempting to enlist my hearers against him with the emotional connotations of my abusive language. This is routinely the method of Brian Leiter, and he ought to be called on it.

Comment #974

Posted by PZ Myers on April 10, 2004 6:15 PM (e)

Oh. So, like, accusing a person of routinely using ad hominem would be an ad hominem argument that attempts to enlist my hearers against him with the emotional connotations of my abusive language?

I hope I can manage to consider this idea with the same dispassionate, objective self-examination you have exhibited here.

Comment #978

Posted by Ed Brayton on April 10, 2004 7:33 PM (e)

Aaron-

I think you’ve missed the key words in your own quotation from Copi. Here’s what I mean:

In his treatment of the ad hominem fallacy, Irving Copi, author of the standard textbook on the subject, defines it as “a fallacious attack in which the thrust is directed, not at the conclusion, but at the person who asserts or defends it.” Commission of the fallacy includes “disparag[ing]the character of opponents, deny[ing] their intelligence or reasonableness, question[ing] their integrity.” Doing so is fallacious because “the character of an individual is logically irrelevant to the truth or falsehood of what that person says, or to the correctness or incorrectness of that person’s reasoning.”

If you are using the insult as a reason to reject the argument they make (“his argument is wrong because he’s an idiot”), it would be an ad hominem. The insult itself (“he’s an idiot”) is not making a statement about the truth or falsehood of an argument, and hence is not, by itself, the ad hominem. Certainly a conclusionary statement (“his arguments are so bad that he must be an idiot”) is not an ad hominem, however insulting it might be.

Comment #979

Posted by Aaron Baker on April 10, 2004 8:10 PM (e)

Let’s see: to take two targets that Leiter picks for political reasons, not b/c of their scientific views: Andrew Sullivan is “morally repulsive,” “a noxious creature,” with “moral tunnel vision” and “historical ignorance.” Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit is “Glenn ‘no bit of rightwing sliminess is beneath me’ Reynolds,” a man who has displayed “moral depravity” (this, btw, by linking approvingly to a picture of an Afghan beauty contestant), and who also apparently just isn’t very bright, according to some of Leiter’s other posts.

Does any of this reach the merits or demerits of a single argument that either man has made? And can you say with a straight face that these comments fail to fit Copi’s definition?

I haven’t verbally abused Leiter (for examples of “verbal abuse,” see above) by pointing to what he (I’ll repeat the word) routinely does, so your rejoinder completely misses the mark.

A pragmatic observation: I have observed, here and elsewhere, specialists in a particular field taking on cranks of one kind or another; and I’ve seen that the temptation to resort to scornful denunciations is a strong one (understandably so). It has a tendency to backfire, though. Too much fulmination, and the uncommitted and uninformed start to wonder: is all that shouting and abuse covering up some kind of weakness? In the area of holocaust studies, for example, many historians have made tactical errors in refusing to debate holocaust deniers, or by giving too much vent to their anger when responding to them. At the community college where I teach part time, I have students ignorant enough that whether the holocaust happened is an open question for them. (One of them vaguely remembered Hitler (she couldn’t name him) as “that guy with the armband.”) Rather than furiously denunciatory books, I recommend to such students Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman’s Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It?, a work that methodically, AND CALMLY, demolishes the claims of holocaust deniers from start to finish. It should be required reading for angry Darwinians.

Comment #984

Posted by Aaron Baker on April 10, 2004 9:04 PM (e)

The previous post was for Professor Myers.

Mr. Brayton:

I would agree that an ad hominem comment is a premise rather than a conclusion.

But: keep in mind that most off-the-cuff rhetoric is not tightly reasoned: he is X, therefore Y. If an attack on someone’s position is peppered with language that one can reasonably interpret as “abusive,” (a slippery concept, I know), I think you can often conclude that it’s ad hominem, even if it isn’t structurally clear whether the abusive characterization is premise or conclusion.

Also keep in mind that much language is highly inflammatory: there’s not really any dispute as to whether it’s abusive to impute “rightwing sliminess” (or “leftwing sliminess” for that matter) to somebody.

Does it ever make sense to speak of ad hominem language in a conclusion? Well, if a chain of reasoning leads you to conclude that someone really isn’t very bright, or doesn’t understand the issue at hand, you’re clearly not guilty of a fallacy in so concluding. But if the language in which you express your conclusion is violent enough (“he’s a blithering idiot,” “a raving lunatic,” what have you), then I think you’re likely stepping over the ad hominem line. That conclusion, after all, is also a premise for a further conclusion (perhaps unstated) along the lines of “you can’t take this imbecile, or moron, or lunatic seriously.”

Your point here, of course, is that Leiter’s language about VanDyke simply states an inescapable conclusion. I would qualify that judgment, given the manifest violence of the language.

Comment #985

Posted by Aaron Baker on April 10, 2004 9:35 PM (e)

I see that I could have phrased myself better in my first posting. I should have said: “Therefore, IN AN ARGUMENT, not just an attack upon an irrelevant trait of the person, but an attack upon the person himself will qualify as ad hominem.” Of course, an insult by itself isn’t an example of fallacious reasoning.

Comment #992

Posted by PZ Myers on April 11, 2004 7:25 AM (e)

Aaron: just curious, but are you yet aware that your anti-Leiter campaign is an excellent example of these ad hominem attacks you deplore? Or do you have some rationale that excuses you?

If so, please share it so we can all take advantage of it.

I saw that Joe Carter has excuses that allow him to call people “intellectually vapid” without being guilty of ad hominem, but they didn’t really ring true for me. Maybe you can do better.

Comment #994

Posted by Ed Brayton on April 11, 2004 9:55 AM (e)

Aaron Baker said:

Your point here, of course, is that Leiter’s language about VanDyke simply states an inescapable conclusion. I would qualify that judgment, given the manifest violence of the language.

Actually Aaron, I didn’t say that at all. I said that Leiter made that as a conclusionary statement, I did not say that his conclusion was correct. Whether the conclusion was correct or not has no bearing on whether it was an ad hominem. My only argument here is that his attacks on VanDyke do not constitute an ad hominem fallacy. I have never defended what he said as true, I have never defended the fact that he is often very harsh. In fact, I have several times said that I think he is overly harsh. For some reason, people (you’re the second one in a week to do this) seem to think that if I point out that Brian’s abrasive rhetoric on one particular issue is not an ad hominem but is merely an insult, they think that I A) must think he’s right in opinions he has offered on totally unrelated issues, and B) should therefore defend statements he has made that have no bearing on this situation. I can’t tell you how bizarre this reasoning seems to me. I’m not Brian Leiter’s public defender. Is he often given to nasty assaults on those he disagrees with? Yep. You’ve never seen me offer any defense of that. In fact, if you look at what I’ve written on the subject, you’ll find quite the opposite. From posts on my own blog on the subject:

For the record, I don’t think my posts on this situation can fairly be portrayed as a vicious attack. Professor Leiter’s reply, I suppose, might be called such. While I agree with him on the substantive issues, I think he would do better to restrain his rhetoric and be a bit more collegial. It only distracts from the substantive issues.

And likewise:

Academic freedom does not insulate one’s published writings from criticism, no matter how sharply worded that criticism is. Still, I think even the informal charge of academic fraud is over the line. I think Mr. VanDyke is guilty of wishful thinking, of badly misreading (as opposed to intentionally misrepresenting) several sources, and of swallowing a lot of nonsense that would not stand up to scrutiny. I don’t think he’s guilty of academic fraud, which is a serious accusation that shouldn’t be thrown around casually even in an informal context.

And as it relates to either Andrew Sullivan or Glenn Reynolds, about the only thing I know about Andrew Sullivan is that he’s a gay conservative. I’ve read virtually none of his writings, so I know virtually nothing about him, certainly not enough to either agree or disagree with Leiter’s opinions on the matter. Glenn Reynolds, on the other hand, I’m very familiar with. I have no idea if he is morally depraved or not. I know that he’s a pretty good legal thinker, and I’ve used 2 law review articles he has written on the subject of unenumerated rights and penumbral reasoning in my own legal writings. That’s all Brian being Brian. But whether he’s right or wrong has no bearing on whether it is or is not an ad hominem, which is the only statement I’ve made on the subject other than disagreeing with him being so nasty.

I really wish people would read what I say rather than what they imagined me to have said.

Comment #995

Posted by Wesley R. Elsberry on April 11, 2004 10:16 AM (e)

Joe wrote:

Please explain how naturalistic methodolgy is able to empirically distinguish between natural phenomena that is produced by an undirected natural causes and that which is produced by intelligent causes.

Intelligent causes operating via effective methods will produce patterns that may be distinguished from undirected natural causes via such techniques as the universal probability distribution (UPD) of algorithmic complexity theory. Jeff Shallit and I explain this in an appendix introducing an application of the UPD that we call “specified anti-information” (SAI)
(see our paper). This procedure does everything useful that Dembski claims for his “design inference”, but has the advantage of actually being able to be applied to real-world problems. What SAI does not deliver, though, that Dembski desires is a specific category of agent causation. What is detected by the UPD, and thus SAI, is that the causal explanation likely lies in a simple computational process. Since this class includes includes processes of directed natural cause in addition to whatever-it-is that ID advocates say “intelligence” is this week, SAI is unsuitable for the antievolution program of ID advocacy.

Comment #996

Posted by Wesley R. Elsberry on April 11, 2004 11:09 AM (e)

Joe wrote:

Actually, I think that you are missing the point of Dembski’s argument. Either the bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex or it is not. If the experiment shows that the structure was produced by natural selection then it would prove the ID’s hypothesis was false.

Showing that one hypothesis is causal and another is not discards one hypothesis. That’s not the point of falsifiability, which has a specific technical meaning via Sir Karl Popper. Popper was interested in what could be known about theoretical statements, and his thesis was that while the truth of theories could not be established by confirming examples, they could be falisified if found to entail conclusions that proved false to our experience. It is not an enailed conclusion of “intelligent design” that the bacterial flagellum, specifically, must be “designed”. It’s a conjecture that places no risk on “intelligent design” taken as a “theory”.

I hammered both Bill Dembski and Michael Behe on this point on June 17, 2001 at the CTNS/AAAS “Interpreting Evolution” conference.
(See video of my presentation and my PowerPoint presentation.) They didn’t understand “falsifiability” then, and improvement seems to be coming slowly and painfully. Witness the string change that Dembski deploys in his new book, The Design Revolution, in his chapter on “Testability”. This is reworked from an earlier Internet essay of Dembski’s that featured a long discourse on “falsifiability” displaying his misapprehension of the term. The new word Dembski uses to replace it is “refutability”, which has no particular significance to anything. But it saved him having to retype, or worse, rethink, much of anything. Of course, I received no credit for this particular part of Bill’s remedial philosophical education.

I pointed out at the same conference that scientists are pragmatists at heart, and that all ID advocates had to do was demonstrate that ID actually got real-world results for them to adopt it; nobody was going to care about philosophical niceties about methodological naturalism and the like if this were the case. But the simple fact is that doing this is going to require that ID be capable of generating a hypothesis of its own (not just “not natural, therefore designed”) and delivering, either implicitly or explicitly, the epistemology by which the hypothesis can effectively be tested.

Over the years, I have proposed tests of Demsbski’s “explanatory filter/design inference”. Jeff Shallit and I have an article on challenges for ID advocates in the latest Reports of the National Center for Science Education (taken from our longer paper) that outlines specific things they can do to demonstrate that they have a research program, rather than just the “bare possibility” of some future research program. Unfortunately, “testing” seems to be something that ID advocates only approach in the vaguest and inept manner seemingly possible. Witness Demsbki’s “inductive generalization” argument for the reliability of his “explanatory filter/design inference”, which falls squarely into the confirmationist fallacy Popper so clearly exposed as inadequate. This argument of Dembski’s has been in his oeuvre since the mid-nineties, and still graces his latest book, The Design Revolution, and is notable primarily because is it so completely bogus. No matter how many “confirming cases” Dembski might accummulate for his “inductive generalization” (and it must be noted that the number thus far is 0 (zero, zilch, nada), none of these could in any case be said to “test” reliability in that they would be, in principle, unable to explore whether a false positive case could be generated.

Repeating from my second post on this blog: To actually test his methodology Dembski and other ID advocates would have to examine cases where we had biological systems with a sufficiently detailed evidential record that even the ID advocates would agree beforehand that natural causes were sufficient to explain their development. Only then would running them through Dembski’s “explanatory filter/design inference” place the EF/DI at hazard of showing a “false positive” result. I suggested that Dembski and his comrades at the (then) Discovery Institute Center for Renewal of Science and Culture concentrate upon systems like the impedance-matching system of the mammalian middle ear and the Krebs citric acid cycle, which exemplified complex systems for which biologists have accumulated a strong set of empirical data concerning their development.

Comment #1000

Posted by Aaron Baker on April 11, 2004 12:03 PM (e)

Mr. Brayton:

Maybe I did interpret you as defending Leiter’s modus operandi; if I did, I was mistaken. That the attack on VanDyke (the substance of which I actually mostly agree with) is disfigured by ad hominem abuse still seems to me to be glaringly obvious (for reasons I’ve already given and won’t repeat).

In response to Prof. Myers, what can I say? There’s a certain breath-stopping arrogance, a certain violation of the ethics of argument there that really offends the hell out of me, so I’ve harped on it. If pointing out these abuses makes me guilty of the same offense, so be it (though I think I’ve struggled to avoid the kind of language that would make me guilty). You haven’t yet addressed what I said about the abusive, violent quality of the language used. I’ve seen that you you’re not immune to insulting, belittling characterizations of others, and more than a little touchy when they’re thrown at you. Maybe after trying to set my house to rights, you can put your own in order.

Looking back at it, I would say that I’ve certainly spent more time on all of this than it was worth, and I’ll resolve not to waste any more.

Comment #1005

Posted by Wesley R. Elsberry on April 11, 2004 12:50 PM (e)

Aaron,

I think these discussions could be more civilly conducted, and it probably would improve things if they were. Unfortunately, we’ve got people making all sorts of claims that impugn the chararacter of others. Now, while you can find this occurring on both sides of the debate, there are some interesting defenses of this practice on the ID side, and some even more interesting examples of deployment of such arguments by ID advocates.

I doubt that the desiderata of dispassionate discourse you espouse will be achieved here, for this is, at basis, a socio-political rather than strictly scientific issue at stake, and the socio-political dimension demands the involvement of our faculties for detecting deception and sharp practice in those whose positions we oppose. This is necessarily going to bring in those elements of character and integrity that are being discussed.

Comment #1020

Posted by Aaron Baker on April 11, 2004 3:02 PM (e)

Fair enough, Mr. Elsberry. The examples you cite look pretty egregious.

Comment #1100

Posted by von on April 12, 2004 9:03 PM (e)

Thanks, all, for providing this forum. Y’all got fans in the blogosphere: We’re not scientists (I’m a lawyer – shudder), but we’re catchin’ up and rememberin’ on the science we pretty well forgot during our headlong rush(es) into The Humanities. (A nice way of saying that we all became drunkards.)

That the attack on VanDyke (the substance of which I actually mostly agree with) is disfigured by ad hominem abuse still seems to me to be glaringly obvious (for reasons I’ve already given and won’t repeat).

Gotta agree: like Leiter; think he’s brilliant; and think he’s right this time.* Also think he’s a pretty poor advocate – you’ll never convince nobody by relying on the distinction between an insult and an ad hom. (It’s like trying to explain that it all depends on what the meaning of “is” is – you may be right, but no one’s gonna gladly admit it.) So I suppose it’s better he’s in academia.

My best,

(and apologies for using a pseudonym, ‘least in public.)

*As a humanities major, I’m permitted to butcher the language.