Re: Quality of 'ID Science'

From: Howard J. Van Till (
Date: Mon Dec 30 2002 - 12:52:45 EST

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    You say, in agreement with my point re the computation of P(X|N) -- the
    probability that some biotic system X could be actualized by the joint
    action of all natural causes:

    > Computation of P is clearly impossible (especially if you include any
    > possible future knowledge ;-) ). But even if this is impossible, might
    > it perhaps be possible to estimate a Q > P such that Q < 10^(-150) (or
    > any other terribly small number)? Such a result would be extremely
    > interesting.
    > We agree as far as P is concerned, but apparently not with respect to
    > the very much weaker claim about Q.

    Quite correct, but it seems to me that this weaker point re Q runs into
    essentially the same difficulty as the one encountered in the attempt to
    make the stronger point re P.

    One substantial problem with your introduction of any kind of "generous
    estimate" like Q is this: One does not KNOW enough to say that Q > P until
    one KNOWS all of the natural causes that are capable of contributing to P.
    As I see it, the same problem that stood in the way of computing P stands in
    the way of determining that Q > P. The problem of insufficient knowledge
    will not go away.

    Now, that does not make the attempt to develop such an estimate, Q,
    completely without merit, I suppose (although I must admit that I am not
    inclined to spend any of my own time on it), but whoever does so must
    candidly admit that the door to FALSE POSITIVE INDICATORS regarding the need
    for "ID action" has been opened wide (where "ID action," for most ID
    advocates, appears to mean "indescribable, non-natural, non-miraculous,
    form-conferring action by an unidentified, unembodied, choice-making

    If that vulnerability to false positive indicators were openly and candidly
    admitted by ID advocates, especially when speaking or writing to a general
    public that is not likely to see it for themselves, OK. However, if and when
    the ID movement claims to have "indisputable evidence" for their case, that
    claim must be seen as an outright falsehood.


    Regarding the usefulness of the ID approach, I had said:

    >> I cannot help but ask how this ID approach will contribute any actual
    >> fruitful "insights." If the the provocation by ID advocates serves to
    >> stimulate molecular biologists and other scientists to learn more about
    >> evolutionary processes at the molecular level, then that will be more to the
    >> credit of those working scientists than to the "insights" contributed
    >> directly by the advocates of ID.

    Peter Reust replied:

    > As I wrote in my answer to Dick Fischer, the trouble is that those who
    > just _assume_ the configurational space is chock-full of functionality
    > will never trouble themselves with any thought of checking this
    > assumption. "We are here - therefore the spontaneous emergence of any
    > biological functionality is no problem". As long as they don't see any
    > problem here, they are not going to investigate these evolutionary
    > processes at the molecular level, because they assume they already know
    > the answer, cf. Dawkins.

    OK. I will offer no substantial objection here.

    > I am not suggesting that you are guilty of such circular reasoning. In
    > your case, if I understood you correctly, this assumption is based on
    > the theological argument of the functional integrity of creation.

    Not on theology alone. My choice of assuming the applicability of the RFEP
    (or the functional integrity of the creation) is made on the basis of the
    confluence of: 1) my theological inclinations (which invite the RFEP), and
    2) the track record that the natural sciences have built of the foundation
    of the RFEP assumption.

    > However, I feel we should be free to investigate such questions, both on
    > the scientific side (what Dembski is trying to do), and on the
    > theological side (which is your concern). Of course, I agree with you
    > that the two sides should talk to each other, both about the scientific
    > and the theological questions. Some time ago, I attempted to discuss
    > these questions with Dembski, but never got an answer from him.

    Yes, of course we should be free to explore. We should be equally free to
    criticize explorations on either their scientific or theological merits. My
    criticisms of the ID movement cover both territories. Dembski's
    argumentation is not purely scientific, and mine is not purely theological.

    > And you know that I feel the functional integrity of creation is
    > irrelevant to the question of the Creator possibly using "hidden
    > options".

    Irrelevant, perhaps, to their possibility, but very relevant to the question
    of their necessity.

    > Our job as scientists is to try to find scientific answers
    > (probabilities...) to questions about the emergence of life, biology,
    > evolution, etc., without regard to metaphysical convictions like
    > functional integrity of creation or the scalable back side of Mount
    > Improbable.

    OK, but would you be willing to add: "... or to theologically-based
    expectations of either occasional form-conferring divine interventions
    (common in ID advocates) or the occasional exercise of hidden options by a
    Creator (your preferred concept)? I presume that for the sake of symmetry
    you would grant that addition.

    At the same time, I presume that we both realize that metaphysical
    convictions are hard to deactivate. They can be operative even when we are
    trying to disregard them. The best we can do, then, is to make both
    ourselves and our audiences as aware of their presence as we possibly can.

    Howard Van Till

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