Re: [asa] on science and meta-science

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Mon Nov 09 2009 - 11:27:38 EST


(1) I agree that it would be good if a group of thinkers could find a term different from "intelligent design", to distance the sort of intelligent design I am talking about from certain cultural and political associations. The difficulty is that no matter what it was called, its enemies would try to link it up with the ID movement of today. For example, suppose that this new "intelligent design" movement's main movers and shakers were Catholic, Jewish, and agnostic -- not a conservative Protestant among them. But suppose it included the arguments of Michael Behe. Enemies of the new term (whatever it was) would say: "Aha! Behe! He's also a Discovery Fellow! This movement is clearly just a re-dressing of ID, and is probably a secret tool of the Discovery Institute". Or even it didn't include Behe, but included holder-of-two-biology-Ph.D.s Richard Sternberg: "Aha! Sternberg! He published Meyer's article, and he used to work for the Biologic Institute, which is an organ of Discovery!" And so on. You get the drift. Unless the new group of thinkers excluded everyone who had ever had anything to do with the Discovery Institute, even indirectly -- it would be accused of being the same old gang. It wouldn't matter if its arguments had nothing to do with the Bible, if its proponents never lobbied school boards for changes to curriculum, if it had no association with any "cultural renewal" program, etc. Those who have an agenda against design thinking in biology would use any means, fair or foul, to link it up with current ID.

(2) Also, even if such a new label could avoid the above charge, it would get nowhere with most TEs, who reject the idea that design can be inferred from nature. So, while it might be less odious here than ID currently is, it would not affect TE thinking in the slightest. TEs would just dismiss it as an interesting philosophical idea which has nothing to do with science -- science as they very narrowly conceive it. The discussions here would take exactly the same shape that they do now.

(3) All right; I may have exaggerated the power of the design paradigm within the future academy. Nonetheless, I think there will be an engineering/information-science pressure upon evolutionary biology which evolutionary biology will be able to ignore only at its own peril. The information-rich structures in living things are too obvious to be swept away by just-so stories about natural selection's "creative" power. There will be a continued effort of the atheists to hold onto the evolutionary biology section of biology departments as their own private turf, but what happens if there come along about half a dozen top-notch design theorists, who combine evolutionary theory with design theory, and happen to be orthodox Christians or orthodox Jews? Sooner or later these people will have to be accepted as colleagues, if they are publishing in all the right journals, or the discrimination will be so obvious that it will make evolutionary biology look very bad. At some point it will no longer be acceptable to block design theorists from jobs, tenure and grants merely because of alleged religious motivations. People will begin to wonder about the religious motivations of the evolutionary biologists who are trying to retain the status quo.
(4) I'm not advocating the blanket adoption of approaches from engineering (or any other academic field) to all other academic fields. However, the application of engineering and computer science principles to biology is intuitively obvious, and is already underway. I think disciplines should borrow from each other if the fit is there. On the other hand, as I suggested in a reply to Ted a while back, I don't think they should borrow from each other if the fit *isn't* there. I railed against the adoption of psychological and other social-science jargon and concepts by humanities scholars and theologians, because I think that that particular jargon and those particular concepts are reductionist and destroy the phenomenon (man) that they are being called in to explain. In other words, I agree with you that "human and social sciences" (where "social science" is interpreted in the subtle European way, not the crude American way) are distinct from "natural and physical sciences" in important respects.

(5) Regarding history, we know that many historical realities were not "intelligently designed", but came about as the result of a tension between opposing forces which had no particular end in mind. For example, the ancient Roman Constitution, which looks fairly systematic and intelligent on paper, came about by a series of practical responses as classes and interests in Rome struggled for recognition and preservation. On the other hand, the American Constitution was planned out in advance, by thinkers who had read Locke, Rousseau, Hobbes, etc., and very self-consciously selected from past historical models, adopting some things and rejecting others, while providing a rationale at each point. This is not to deny that the Founding Fathers were influenced by contingent historical events, e.g., British taxation and so on. But the Constitution itself was a work of intelligent design, which was not the case with the Roman Constitution, or for that matter the constitution of ancient Athens or the British constitution. So we could, if we wished, give a sort of "Darwinian" interpretation of the rise of pre-modern constitutions -- these constitutions look designed but in fact are not --, whereas we are forced to give an "ID" interpretation of the American (and French and Communist) revolutions, which were idea-driven and attempted to design all the organs of the state with a master plan in mind.



  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Gregory Arago
  To: Cameron Wybrow ;
  Sent: Monday, November 09, 2009 8:48 AM
  Subject: Re: [asa] on science and meta-science

  Hi Cameron,

  Just wanted to comment on one statement in your most recent message to Keith.

  You wrote: "Political ID is a passing phenomenon, which will not be here 50 years from now, whereas intelligent design as a concept will endure, and will penetrate the university, emanating outward from the engineering and computer science departments, and will become so much a commonplace of thought that even the evolutionary biologists will have to take it seriously."

  Though I agree with the thrust of what you are saying against 'political ID,' one cannot deny that politics is *always* a part of 'doing science.' I think the ID people in the DI put too much focus on it, e.g. harping about the Dover decision, warning young scholars to hide themselves, putting out PR messages, blogs and using previously existing creationist group networks, IDEA, etc. However, there is some justification for this in what indeed has happened, to seemingly only a few people, whose careers have been threatened or even derailed for holding to a 'hypothesis' such as ID and trying to 'follow the evidence where it leads' with an ideology in hand (i.e. just like with MN). The 'Expelled' film showed this, and even someone who is not-American can see the political dimension of the 'controversy' on topics such as teaching evolution, ID, creation, origins *or* processes of change and development, etc. *and* this is so particularly because of the system in place in the United States that seeks a distribution of power and gives it to local school boards. It seems to me that there will be activists against/for school boards in America, about these issues for many years to come, *unless* a better way of understanding 'emerges' or an alternative replaces them.

  This leads me to 2 points.

  1) Why not 'coin' a new term that would effectively distance yourself from the DI and the IDM? I have suggested this to Mike Gene as well. There is no reason that 'political ID' as you call it should hold a monopoly over the term 'design.' It just happens to be that most of the so-called 'design theorists' happen to be fellows at the DI, which may not accurately reflect the approach of all individuals within the Big Tent called 'ID'. In fact, the DI simply reflect everyone's interest. As an anecdote, the first time that I visited the DI (I'm from the region and was curious), Jonathan Wells was there, having a conversation with others, and while I was walking by I heard him say that he doesn't read Dembski's books anymore.

  So, Cameron, why not just argue for 'design' in a general and/or sense and drop the term 'intelligent'? This would immediately distance you from the IDM. Or, instead come up with an alternative concept duo or even a single term that better represents your position and which can be used to 'follow the evidence where it leads,' which is of course a strategy not unique to the IDM or the DI?

  2) Wrt 'intelligent design' as a concept 'taking over the Academy,' I think this sounds excessive. Behe said the same thing in the Foreword to 'Intelligent Design: THE BRIDGE between science and theology,' when he said IDT has "implications for virtually all humane studies, including philosophy, theology, literary criticism, history and more." (10)

  Let me ask you a question, as a specialist in your field, Cameron, since it is one of the ones that Behe mentions. Where or how would you apply the term 'intelligent design' in historical science? Would you come right out and say 'Rome was intelligently designed' or a certain strategy, perhaps in a battle or in an historical agreement or treaty was 'intelligently designed' (e.g. the 'universal' declaration of human rights) or say the Great Wall of China was 'intelligently designed'? How could this idea you are suggesting make a difference in your field?

  What I mean is, as a sociologist, I just don't see much use for it; I don't find it helpful to speak about the 'design' of social structures, institutions or organisations, etc. Sociologists discuss this all the time already, without the term 'design' coming into play. One could certainly argue that some structures, institutions or organisations are 'not effective' or are 'efficient' or are 'unequal' or are 'balanced' or whatever else. But it would be an unusual strategy to always link this back to 'intelligence' without positing a collectve 'social mind' or 'social Mind,' as some would prefer to call it.

  I hear you railing against the failure of (neo-)Darwinian mechanisms. Keith has said he doesn't teach 'darwinian evolution.' He teaches 'evolution' in the contemporary understanding. If you accept that 'design' and 'evolution' are not exclusive terms, then there is a challenge facing your non-IDM approach (Mike Genes knows this well). Likewise, do you really want historians and psychologists widely using 'engineering' or 'computer science' terminology in their fields? Sure, there is some transferability of concepts, which is a given. But aren't you now proposing a kind of 'reduction-to-design' for many subjects/disciplines in which the concept doesn't apply? Now I would ask you to 'limit design' just like I have been asking Ted Davis, still without a successful answer imo, to 'limit evolution.' Sociology started out as being called 'social physics' (Comte). The field has come a long way since then and it would be a shame for it to now turn into/become a branch of cybernetics!

  Warm regards,


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Received on Mon Nov 9 11:28:52 2009

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