Re: What goes around comes around

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Sat Oct 08 2005 - 18:20:22 EDT

Dear Cornelius,


Please excuse me for taking issue with some aspects of your argument. Still I believe in your genuine concerns with the state of science today in America, and that your faith is faithful, which is more important than how I view your ideas about ID or how your views about ID affect your perspectives. So please accept my friendly criticism, on 'what goes around comes around.'


As far as I can gather, you are defending the ‘intelligent design’ (ID) position here. I’ve been quite intrigued by some of the conversations at ASA in which you’ve participated with some clever people, scientists, scholars and people of faith regarding ID, evolution, creation and other associated topics. But this recent foray you’ve made into philosophy and in labelling some (‘other’) persons as ‘rationalists’ is beyond the scope of what is acceptable for friendly conversation.


Everyone uses philosophy, even if few are trained in it or know the history of philosophy in any great detail. Europeans often comprehend the history of philosophy somewhat better than North Americans (the mainstay of the audience here) if only because they remember historical figures in their cultural-national histories who were influential philosophers. Generally speaking there are no significant philosophers in America, unless one counts William James or John Dewey or R.W. Emerson, etc. as important for the current discussion you are carrying on about ID. Nevertheless, labelling evolutionists as ‘rationalists’ and thus concluding that IDists or anti-evolutionists are something else is fallacious or at best misleading.


Labelling a person a ‘rationalist’ is unacceptable because we are all rational, and therefore we all practise rationalism to one degree or another. Reason, capitalized if you wish, was one of the pillars of the Enlightenment, which Americans subscribed to very deeply, if not in some cases almost completely. Instead, it appears from your message that you would rather support agnosticism, the ‘we don’t really know’ or ‘we aren’t really sure’ approach to science instead of further exercising our reason in scientific pursuits. Thus, it could seem that you’re trying to stunt science this way.


“Many IDs have no problem with ‘gee, I'm not sure about that…’ and dealing in probabilities.” – C. Hunter


O.k. then, fair enough, we don’t know it all, even those who accept the explanatory power of evolution should agree. But then in the next breath, when making your argument on another topic related to ID, you obviously MUST (by reason of ID logic) take the opposite approach. We ‘know’ it was designed because we feel it, or because it couldn’t have evolved (or at least that is our guess) or because the probabilities for it to have evolved are incredibly low. This is what IC is supposed to contribute to this discussion. In a way I think your argument is clever because it adapts to the situation and speaks (in a post-modern tone) to the situated knowledge of the individual or group with which you are conversing. In another sense, however, it appears to be disingenuous and hypocritical since it commits the same error it accuses others of making.


“The positions and details may evolve, but the common thread is those who are sure vs those who are not and are suspending judgement.” – C. Hunter


So, to be on the safe side, science should accept its limitations? Suspend our judgments - fine. Disconnection, fragmentation, gaps in knowledge - o.k. However, we should remember that ‘epistemology’ is merely one ‘branch’ of philosophy. It is not the whole thing and should be considered alongside with ontology, metaphysics, ethics, political philosophy, aesthetics, etc. Notice please, that you are using evolution as a philosophical, not as a natural scientific concept in this example about positions and details supposedly ‘evolving.’


One of Plantinga’s problems, if we can all agree he is, as are we all, fallible, is that he has spoken steadfastly in several places for a contemporary version of ‘theistic science.’ For many religious persons and theologians, this is unacceptable because it tries to rationalize or positivize what cannot be contained or explained by mere science or reason. It conflates what should not be conflated and runs a risk of idolizing things that should not be idolized. There are mysteries that will not be reached using such claims as the ID Movement (and apparently Plantinga sometimes) makes continually to their own brand of ‘theistic science.’


Plantinga’s philosophy, allied with Demsbki’s scientific rhetoric (is it really true that they’re allies?), do not inevitably win the day with all open-minded theists. Dembski jumps around between statistical, philosophical, psychological and theological, sometimes throwing in mathematical logic, as it suits his chants for ‘revolution.’ But many scholars haven’t bought into Dembski’s (or Plantinga’s) call for a ‘revolution’ in knowledge, simply because whatever case they are presenting is inevitably partial, incomplete and situated to the particular context in which it was invented. All concepts and perspectives have a history and a home. The ‘likelihood’ that a Professor in Northern Indiana or a Texus-turned-Kentucky scholar could create such a gigantic theory that would eclipsing Newton, Descartes, Einstein, Darwin and even Aristotle is extremely small. But IDists seem not to worry or to care deeply about the numbers in such a case. Their ideology seems too sound to them, s
 they think they know they can know confidently.


Statements like: ‘It was designed’ and ‘there must be a designer’ are undoubtedly (potentially) great when used as an apologetic tool. But they have the same downside as Pascal’s wager did for Christian apologetics when used pretentiously as being scientific. It may be helpful for some people, but is in the end all-too-rational and tends to place belief in God into some kind of a gambler’s form; it puts God-in-a-box. This is one reason why G. Murphy’s theological position, working in collaboration with his scientific knowledge, is much more realistic and progressive than ID’s contribution to science, philosophy and theology. He doesn't try to proove God's existence using science and demonstrates how one can accept certain forms of evolution and still believe in the trinitarian Creator. Do you not find his approach more appropriate than the pretensions to 'revolution' presented by leading IDists? Or maybe this wasn't what you meant at all by referring to epistemology and I've
 your meaning?


Perhaps the only reason ASA’s scholars and scientists aren’t receiving the attention that IDists are receiving (in the popular news anyway) is because they are not so busy and focussed upon parading a ‘revolution’ to the American public with a repatriated early 19th century concept singled out from William Paley, i.e. that is now tied together with information theory. Instead they continue to engage with solid, practical science in the laboratories, research centers and classrooms of American academia. The latter, though less provocative for court cases and school board disagreement hearings, actually contributes to improving science in America.


If this is not accurate or fair, then please help me with what I’m distorting in this conversation and how my account is inevitably biased and partial.


With thanks and kind regards,


G. Arago



p.s. as for the following statement, I think we could find some interesting ground for discussion:


“I am not the one who is theologically or philosophically opposed to evolution, per se. (I do have scientific problems with it.)” – C. Hunter

Cornelius Hunter <> wrote:Folks:

Much of the discussion between evolution and ID reflects different
epistemologies. What do we know, how do we know it? Evolutionists, generally speaking are rationalists (for lack of a better term) in the sense of elevating certain axioms. ID folks are more like moderate empiricists who are not quite certain of the details, and think they see obvious evidence for design. Many IDs have no problem with "gee, I'm not sure about that ..."
and dealing in probabilities.

Rationalists see some set axioms or presuppositions as obvious and true, and these set them down a very specific path. They have a tight, well defined, epistemology. It is remarkable how these discussions have gone on for centuries. The positions and details may evolve, but the common thread is those who are sure vs those who are not and are suspending judgement.

If this is too much theorizing for you, here are a couple of examples.
Evolutionists are sure that nested hierarchies and the cyctochrome c...

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Received on Sat Oct 8 18:23:17 2005

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