Re: Creationists Running for School Board

From: Ted Davis (
Date: Tue Sep 23 2003 - 13:34:36 EDT

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    My comments inserted below,


    >>> Keith Miller <> 09/23/03 01:30PM >>>

    > (3) Generally, yes. IMO, some ID arguments are
    > powerful and have not been refuted, they have only been shouted down.
    > example is Dembski's point that science *does* accept the validity of
    > inferences to intelligence--something like that must underlie the SETI
    > project, archaeology, anthropology, etc. But scientists simply won't
    > the intelligence to be "supernatural."

    I don't have time to make an extended response here. I will just make a
    brief points.

    Ted: Ditto!

    The kind of "intelligent" action that science can deal with
    is that of known natural agents. We are natural agents that we know a
    amount about as far as our capabilities. We can attribute artifacts to
    human or hominid agents because those agents are part of the physical
    that we know and can study. To extend this idea, I can infer the action
    past organisms from trace fossils. These traces of past activities can be
    distinguished from those of non-organic processes because all are part of
    the natural world open to our observation. Humans and horseshoe crabs are
    natural agents.

    Ted: Agreed. But I do think it is valid, for us to ask from time to time,
    whether our conceptions of what constitutes genuine science are too
    restrictive. By assuming that we can detect in specific objects only the
    activities of minds found in animals and humans, are we perhaps ruling out
    *a priori* the possibility that specific artifacts of another Mind may
    occasionally turn up? There are many reasons why we might take pause at
    such a thought, I dont' want to trivialize or demonize those objections.
    But I am really not convinced that this restriction is not held as an
    absolute for *a priori* reasons.

    With regard to ETs, we can only presume to be able to detect their action
    the extent that we assume that they share some aspects of the other
    organisms that we know about -- Us.

    Ted: Without the kind of lengthy discussion neither of us can presently
    afford, I'm not sure I would agree fully with this.

    We cannot infer the action of a divine agent through scientific
    investigation because a divine agent can theoretically do anything. An
    agent that has no limitations is equivalent to a black box. Appealing to
    divine agency in science is simply an appeal to ignorance.

    Ted: This is a very old argument, found even in the Hippocratic physicians,
    and I understand it well. There's an important truth here, that we must
    never use "gods" as a cover for our own ignorance. I entirely agree. But
    the general question, can we establish criteria to recognize "design" (that
    something is an artifact of a mind, not of blind forces), still seems
    legitimate. At least it does *not* seem legitimate simply to declare that
    this line of inquiry would be "unscientific." If from our *actual
    knowledge* and not from our ignorance, we can draw the inference that
    something looks like a product of an intentional process, then I say let's
    leave that open.

    The problem, of course, is in the details. How exactly do we do this? I
    fully agree with critics of ID who want to be shown precisely how we do
    this. But those same critics, it seems to me, need to show a real openness
    to considering such an approach. The rhetoric thrown around on both sides
    does seem to inhibit this. (Recall for example the well known case of
    Richard Lewontin spouting off about how science just can't let "a divine
    foot in the door," that's purely a priori from where I sit.)

    Finally, science CAN deal with issues of fine tuning. And these arguments
    are already seriously discussed within the scientific community. ID as
    presently promoted contributes nothing new to this line of thinking.

    Ted: And how exactly *can* science deal with fine tuning? The multiverse
    hypothesis in my view is a good candidate for the kind of
    religiously-motivated metaphysics that critics of ID are finding in ID. We
    have one known universe, we'll never know others, we need to stick with what
    is known. (This really does seem like a "god of the gaps" for nontheists,
    just find a way to get infinite time and infinite universes into the picture
    and all bets are off. Secular "gods" is what it sounds like.) I realize
    that "inflation" might account for some of this, but we know so little about
    the physics of the "early universe" that I regard that also as highly
    speculative, though less so than the multiverse hypothesis. Thus far, I do
    think "creatio ex nihilo" is the best inference.


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