Re: [asa] Natural Agents - Cause and Effect, Non-Natural Agents

From: Gregory Arago <gregoryarago@yahoo.ca>
Date: Sat May 23 2009 - 15:26:03 EDT

Hi Keith,
 
Do you really think there has been only one 'prayer study'? Cameron referred to 'prayer studies' and you came up with a name and called it 'THE prayer study'. But there might be others you are missing. I'm sure you'll grant this possibility.
 
You wrote: "My acceptance of a crucified redeemer and creator is an act of faith.  Period. What else could it possibly be?"

Well, how about an event in actual history?
 
You also wrote: "To the extent that your are discussing MN, it is an underlying assumption that applies to all of modern natural science.  It is not prescriptive but descriptive of how science proceeds.  I am unaware of any scientific research, including that by ID advocates, that is not consistent with standard scientific practice and MN."

Actually, when modern science was 'being formed' the idea of 'MN' was far from yet conceptualised. MN is not how 'science proceeds,' but rather how a limited range of naturalistically-oriented sciences proceed. There is a *big* difference between these two things. You may be unaware of research that is not consistent with what you call MN, but of course that doesn't mean it is not nevertheless still done.
 
I have followed up this thread, with questions to your particular definition of MN, Keith. It is a long message and thus seemingly awaits moderation. I suspect the questions there will challenge the view you express above.
 
<Non-natural agents that are not at the same time supernatural> - this became the main theme of the thread.
 
Gregory
 

--- On Sat, 5/23/09, Keith Miller <kbmill@ksu.edu> wrote:

From: Keith Miller <kbmill@ksu.edu>
Subject: Re: [asa] Natural Agents - Cause and Effect, Non-Natural Agents
To: "Cameron Wybrow" <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>, "AmericanScientificAffiliation Affiliation" <asa@calvin.edu>
Received: Saturday, May 23, 2009, 10:47 PM

Cameron wrote:

I will only reply briefly to the comments that relate directly to my response to Cameron previous question to me.

I thank Keith Miller for his reply.  I understand that he cannot undertake to continue the conversation; however, others might wish to.  I will offer a few rejoinders.
 

1.  First, I cannot think of a major ID proponent who has argued that "prayer studies" are good science (or good theology for that matter).  I wish Keith Miller would name names here.  If I may use myself as an example, I'm sympathetic to ID, but I find the idea of putting God to the test in that way to be sacrilegious.  In any case, since Keith admits that this point is not central to his case against ID, I won't pursue it.

The study in question was authored by William S. Harris who is the  cofounder of the Intelligent Design Network <http://www.intelligentdesignnetwork.org/>.  This organization was the primary force behind the efforts by ID advocates to change the Kansas State Science standards.  The IDNet has the full support and backing of the Discovery Institute (including Dembski, Behe, and many others).  Before Dover, Kansas was thought to be where ID advocates would make their primary effort at a legal challenge.  

The article coauthored by Harris is :
William S. Harris, et al., 1999, "A randomized controlled trial of the effects of remote intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients admitted to the coronary care unit."  Arch. Intern. Med., v. 159, p. 2273-2278.

A discussion of this article appears on another ID website -- <http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/prayer.html>.

 
2.  Second, most of the Christian ID proponents that I know of would agree that God lies behind all the phenomena of nature, not just special ones such as the bacterial flagellum.  They would see God in the thunderstorm or the sunset, just as Keith Miller does.  And, on the other hand, they would also see natural causes in the thunderstorm and the sunset, just as Keith Miller does.  There is no debate between ID and TE proponents on this matter.

However, comments by individuals such a Phil Johnson suggest that design that is not detectable by scientific methods is not of any value.  This degradation of the witness of Creation (the only kind of witness to which scripture points) is a serious theological error.  Johnson demands that God's action be testable.  This is a huge barrier to people truly seeing God as present and creatively active in all of creation.  

He has stated, "God-guided evolution would be genuinely theistic, but the doctrine of methodological naturalism rules out the possibility that God did the guiding in any way that is testable.  ... The theism is in the mind (or faith) of the believer.  For this reason, I have written that theistic evolution can more accurately be described as theistic naturalism."  (Darwinism Defeated? p.50)

For me the statement above runs completely counter to scripture.  My acceptance of a crucified redeemer and creator is an act of faith.  Period.  What else could it possibly be?  As I have stated repeatedly, seeing the Creator in nature is an application of revelation to our understanding of nature.  Not the other way around. 

 
3.  If the question is asked, "Well, if ID proponents see God *everywhere*, why then do ID proponents put so much emphasis on special cases such as the bacterial flagellum?"  The answer is straightforward.  Nothing tricky is going on in ID behaviour.  It is simply that in such cases the "design" features become most striking, and the claim that non-intelligent causes alone can explain them appears the most implausible.  This does not mean that ID proponents do not see "design" in less celebrated cases.  Indeed, most ID proponents that I know of see "design" everywhere in nature.  (See Michael Denton's writings, in which there is design from top to bottom in nature; yet Denton still mentions the flagellum and the avian lung and so on as particularly striking cases.)  There is no inconsistency here.  There is nothing intellectually dishonest about focusing on the most dramatic demonstrations of a principle. 

These are theological arguments.  My point was that the inference to God's action is theological NOT scientific.   Science can make no such inference.

 4.  Darwinism (defined as I've repeatedly defined it here, i.e., Darwinism "in its pure form") claims that the origin of all biological species, systems, structures, organelles, etc. can be explained in terms of the interplay of necessity and chance (natural selection, mutations, etc.), without any reference to intelligent causes.  This is either a personal metaphysical requirement of Darwin -- in which case it is not a scientific statement of any kind, and scientists are under no obligation to take it as a working assumption -- or it is a scientific hypothesis.  If it is a scientific hypothesis, then it cannot be treated as a necessary truth; it must be regarded as subject to falsification.

I will not get into the use of the term "Darwinism" which I find completely useless and usually highly abused in the public discussion of evolution.  It has its proper historical place, but that is rarely how it is used by the public.  I will not use the term.

To the extent that your are discussing MN, it is an underlying assumption that applies to all of modern natural science.  It is not prescriptive but descriptive of how science proceeds.  I am unaware of any scientific research, including that by ID advocates, that is not consistent with standard scientific practice and MN.  

7.  The rest of Keith Miller's argument is more or less the same as Randy Isaac's.  He argues that one cannot infer design without some prior knowledge of the designer or the means.  I would like to make two points about this  (A) Even if he is right, he still has not established that ID tries to "investigate divine action".  Design-inference in ID is not God-inference (all IDers concede that God can be identified with the designer only by non-scientific arguments), and in any case, God's *effects* are not the same as God's invisible *actions*.  ID as a theory, therefore, does not "investigate divine action", in any reasonable sense of that phrase.  But it makes great theological rhetoric, which is why TE people keep using it.  This greatly disappoints me.  (B) The argument that prior knowledge of either the designer or the means is required for design detection strikes me as unsound, but to establish that will require a separate post. 
 So I will leave it here for the moment.

I  have addressed this in my previous post.  A cause cannot be invoked if its possible actions and limitations are not known.  A particular agent cannot be claimed as the cause for an observed effect if the properties of that agent are unknown.  A divine agent has no limitations and to appeal to such an agent as a scientific explanation is no explanation at all.  It is absolutely indistinguishable from ignorance.  

It is nonsensical from a scientific perspective to speak of identifying "effects" of a causal agent, and yet denying any interest or ability to investigate the action of that agent.  Without the connection of a plausible means of causing the observed effect, there is no basis upon which to invoke the agent.

Also the definition of Intelligent Design given on the webpage of the IDNet is:

"Intelligent Design is an intellectual movement that includes a scientific research program for investigating intelligent causes and that challenges naturalistic explanations of origins which currently drive science education and research."

That  sounds fairly close to "investigating divine action" to me.  To argue that someone is "investigating intelligent causes" without any attempt to understand the "action of the intelligent agent" seems to me unsupportable.  Also remember that William Harris is one of the leaders of the IDNet and a coauthor of the prayer study.  I don't think that he would be trying to force the distinction that you are making.

Keith

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Received on Sat May 23 15:26:27 2009

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