A Problem of Knowledge

18 01 2009

ScienceInsider, the science-policy counterpart to the journal Science, has reported that Louisiana state educators may not have the ability to teach Intelligent Design (ID) in schools. Officially, teachers have the ability to teach “controversial” scientific theories, such as evolution, origins of life and global warming. Really? While it pains me that these are considered “controversial” as science, I suppose there’s some morsel of relief that they can now be taught.

What is making many scientists anxious is that this can open the door for the teaching of ID.  Proponents of ID claim it’s a issue of censorship, and that rival ideas to Darwinian evolution deserve strong footing from where a fair comparison can be made. I see this as deceit: the issue with ID is not that it is presented (an issue of censorship), but that it is presented as science (an issue of authority). ID is a religious or philosophical stance, and that stance I cannot revoke (no matter how absurd I may think it is), but it is not a scientific stance. We live in a society that trusts scientific claims to knowledge and religious claims less so. My view of the matter is that proponents of ID want to elevate creationism to a “science” to gain authority for their belief.

There are several reasons why ID cannot be counted as science. The first is that it makes no testible hypotheses. How do you test for a cosmic creator? The second is that it is an empty explanation. You can explain anything by saying “God (…oops, I mean ‘some creator’) made it”.  For each of these points I will defer to the blunt oration of Christophy Hitchens: “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”; “a theory that explains everything explains nothing.” The third reason ID cannot be counted as science (and should not be given equal status with evolution) is that not enough scientists believe it as science. This point may seem strange, but it comes with how humans understand knowlede and truth. Theoretically, truth is indifferent to human views; truth is not democratic. Knowledge is dependent on human perception and the suffrage of those who study knowledge. String theory is an example of science that is not testible but still science because scientists believe it.

ID will require some good arguments and evidence if it should ever be considered scientific. I doubt this will ever happen though. Most arguments for ID seem to involve how incomprehendible the universe is. The problem is that in no way does the observation of incomprehension lead to the sole conclusion of some celestial creator; the problem is that ID simply doesn’t have any good arguments.

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6 responses

28 01 2009
lopez

I mostly agree GerBear… i think the distinction you make between darwinian theory and ID, as science and philosophy/religion, respectively, is key.. and highly appropriate.

What i feel, though, is that this current polarized debate is missing the point… ID feels that the way evolution is taught, that it *negates* the philosophical-religious-metaphysical worldviews of many of the stakeholders…. i’d argue that this doesn’t have to be the case at all, and can be sufficiently handled by separating the good evolutionary theory and evidence from the materialist, value-laden Darwinian scientist chaff that so often accompanies it (at least as an unspoken undertone, if not as explicit part-and-parcel) …

For instance, evolution as a process can be presented as just such, without using such philosophically loaded words as ‘random’… ‘genetic copying “error” ‘ … and so on.

This is what i liked about Simon Conway Morris’ talk, if somewhat more conjectural/mildly correlational than falsifiable. What many scientists and self-styled ‘Darwinians’ fail to recognize is that their view is not a *lack* of philosophical bias, but rather merely a *different* philosophical bias from that held by most, say, evangelical Christians (whose official stances i personally find amusingly childish, if not downright backwards) …

… Dawkins et al. make the case that raising a child as a religious adherent is child abuse. Labelling that child, and then instilling (at least in the not-so-old days) a visceral fear of hell, the devil, ect. is simply abusive.

…Well, to play devil’s advocate, if you will, one could quite easily construct an argument that raising a child with a purely materialist ethic… that there is no ultimate purpose, that there is no guiding force, intelligence, etc. leaves children prone to mental disturbance, existential crises, excessive materialist concerns, an unhealthy focus on comfort over greater truth, etc. … i may or may not believe in this argument (im merely airing it here), but that does not mean a cogent one cannot be made (imagine if someone paid Chris Hitchens to do it, for instance 😉 )

28 01 2009
GerBear

My issue isn’t with the existence of alternate viewpoints, and I’d agree that this is the (sorry) state of the argument. My point is that Intelligent Design is trying to present itself as something it’s not (science) in order to gain credibility. Conway Morris tries to reconcile his scientific and religious beliefs, which is fine, but that is a philosophical stance rather than a scientific one. That is, he does not claim to present evidence for a Christian God in a scientific way. He draws on science and religion for his views.

And growing up with a materialist mindset is not necessarily malevolent or child abuse. There is no threat associated with it, and none of the byproducts you suggest that could be associated with a materialist viewpoint are ever stressed or forced. There is no coercion, so I cannot see a parallel argument given for a material upbringing.

29 01 2009
lopez

I agree 100% with the argument that ID is trying to present itself as something it’s not (science). This is disingenuous, misleading, and fraught with lameness. We’re on the same page there.

What i’m suggesting is that the reason ID proponents feel the need to promote their agenda is inherently tied up with the fact that, not least through the semantic terms it uses, *science* tries to present itself (inadvertently) as something *it’s* not: a worldview expressing an opinion on where there is ‘agency’ and where there is not. Where there is ‘order’ and where there is not, where and what ‘intelligence’ is, and where and what it is not. This is not science–this is metaphysical opinion!!! This is hubristic. Subtle, perhaps, maybe indetectable for those engaged in science, but hubristic nonetheless.

E.g. by saying genetic variation is the result of copying “errors” — which is precisely the word that’s used in modern darwinian discourse — the implication is that it’s a ‘machine’ that *mal*functions occasionally. I.e. it’s imperfect and ‘tries’ to do something, but ‘fails’ at this.. because of these ‘failures’
we get variation, adaptation over generations, and voila, evolution… a ‘mindless’, ‘random’ process. This assumes ‘mind’ and ‘intention’ are *produced* by complex neural structres such as the human brain. But there are alternatives to this view–current mainstream darwinian discourse ignores this.

Conway Morris tries to account for this by inverting the whole idea of agency, consciousness, or intelligence. He posits that material structures are not ‘producers’ of intelligence/agency, but rather ‘receivers’ of intelligence/agency.

His point is that we may be mistaking the radio program as a *product* of the radio, rather than something ambient that we can receive via the complex machinery of the radio!!!

It’s like mistaking your browser for the cloud. My grandma makes this mistake all the time. She thinks all the stuff she can access via the internet is somehow stored permanently on her computer, and she has to continually ‘erase’ all the stored up data. She makes the simple mistake of thinking the browser *is* the information, not a tool for *accessing* the information.

Darwinian discourse so far hasn’t accounted for this. The Evo-ID debate could probably be somewhat defused if this was taken into account. It takes some metaphysical humility on the part of scientists, however.

29 01 2009
Evolution, discourse, and agency via « ecobobble « halewistan | هلويستان | הלויסטן

[…] Jump to Comments As follows are my comments on an ongoing evolution-education post over at ecobobble: I agree 100% with the argument that ID is trying to present itself as something it’s not […]

29 01 2009
GerBear

I actually agree that science is not a description of the world outside of human interpretation. That is, scientific objectivity is not pure objectivity. But I don’t think that’s how science presents itself anymore. I think that is a lingering belief from decades past carried on in the media and common understanding.

Where we disagree is that I seriously doubt that ID is promoted because of science over embellishing itself. I doubt this because this is not the argument that ID makes. It makes the argument that it is science.

No, ID is subterfuge, as far as I can tell. It’s trying to push an agenda, and it does so by false advertisement. The arguments you raise are from creationism in general. I actually have a respect for theology (I’m not sure you can tell), but not for a belief system based in deception.

30 01 2009
lopez

Well said, GerBear. To clarify, i completely agree that the ID movement is subterfuge, and that it tries to promote itself as science; and this is bunk. You’re right.

I’m looking at the underlying causes of the ‘conflict.’ So to speak… why would ID feel impelled to call itself ‘scientific’ if the ‘scientific’ discourse didn’t (inadvertently) push its own non-scientific discourse of the nature of agency, intelligence, etc. in the first place?

You could make the argument that these ‘ID bible thumpers’ would try to push their agenda anyway, but as it stands, it’s hard to know, since modern Darwinian discourse *does* make subtle (but for some, disturbing) metaphysical claims outside of it’s empirical claims.

Ironically, i don’t think the ID movement’s cloaking itself as science is ‘intelligent’ in any sense.. this is a knee-jerk reaction. “Well, if thats what *science* says, since we have a claim on truth, we must be equally *scientific* as well” … what i’m suggesting is that parsing out the metaphysical claims from the empirical observation would threaten a creationist (or Hindu, Buddhist, First Nations, etc.) worldview far less, and, in fact, be more “purely” empirical (although i still agree you with that science is, of course, not purely objective.)

Apropo the ‘creationism’ thing, i’m not making any claim here about the validity of ‘creation’ versus any other worldview… if anything, i think Simon Conway Morris’ concept sounds a bit more like Hindu/Buddhist/(Sikh?) metaphysics than traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic dogma.

The point is that, while science is never purely objective, the ideal is to get as close to pure objectivity as possible. Darwinian discourse isn’t there yet—but getting there takes a willingness to confront one’s own metaphysical (and semantic!) assumptions.

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