Re: The NABT controversy

Loren Haarsma (
Mon, 16 Feb 1998 17:33:55 -0500 (EST)

[Note: I sent this directly to Dr. Pigliucci. Since this conversation
is also happening in the discussion groups, thanks to Burgy's
intermediation, I figured I shoud post this here.]

Dear Dr. Pigliucci,

Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my somewhat lengthy
argument. I will keep my reply short, in an effort to bring this
discussion to a close quickly.

You wrote:

>> I understand and to some extent agree with Haarsma's reasoning about the
>> random generator vs. the intervention of the programmer example.
>> However, as far as I can tell, the application to evolution (and to
>> science in general) reduces to the following: if I observe a
>> natural/random (in the technical sense) phenomenon, either there is no
>> programmer, or the programmer's behavior is such that it is
>> indistinguishable from a natural/random phenomenon.

Fair summary.

>> In either case, scientists would be justified in concluding that there
>> is *no evidence* of intelligent design.

No evidence *from the natural/random process itself*.

Personally, I don't look to the empirical details of natural/random
processes for evidence of divine oversight. I find evidence of divine
oversight elsewhere. However, that's not relevant to this discussion.
What *is* relevant to this discussion is that natural/random processes,
by themselves, do not settle the question of guidance.

>> According to Ockam's razor (and
>> to most practicing scientists) that is equivalent to *provisionally*
>> conclude that there is no conscious design. Such conclusion is
>> provisional, and can be withdrawn should the evidence change. I think
>> that that is all that was implied by the original NABT statement.
>> Our point has never been that god doesn't exist, but only that if he
>> does he operates in a naturalistic way, and therefore we are justified
>> in following a path which makes the fewer gratuituous assumptions, and
>> provisionally assume that he does not mess with evolution.

That natural/random processes are unguided and unsupervised is one
logically valid (provisional) conclusion for scientists to make. But it
is not the only logically valid conclusion. (I would be happy to argue
whether or not that conclusion really does make "fewer gratuitous
assumptions" and passes Ockam's razor, but those arguments are also
subtle and irrelevant for now.)

But we are not concerned right now with the logically valid conclusions
of one scientist or group of scientists. We are concerned with science
education and what the scientific community --- as a group --- teaches
school children about evolution. The terms "natural" and "random" have
empirical content, and they are a necessary (provisional) part of
evolutionary theory as it is currently formulated. The terms "unguided"
and "unsupervised" do not add empirical content; rather, they add
philosophical and religious content which is irrelevant to the actual
scientific theory. They could be discussed as such in classrooms, but
they need not and should not be taught as an intrinsic part of science

Loren Haarsma