Re: [asa] on science and meta-science

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Mon Nov 09 2009 - 17:54:14 EST


I dissented specifically from this sentence of yours: " 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."

And, as written, it is manifestly not true. I backed this up with specific names of TE advocates who believe that design *can* be inferred from nature.

Your reply modified or qualified your claim, as follows (to quote you again): "I haven't read all of the above, but surely most of these people do not think that design inferences are scientific inferences. Many of them have explicitly denied that they are. And some of them, and several people on
this list, have denied that design inferences ever *could* be scientific
inferences, on the grounds that design inferences are inherently
"metaphysical" rather than scientific."


Cameron, this is not the specific claim I responded to. It is one thing to affirm that design inferences from nature are possible, and even to endorse a few of them oneself. It is another thing to affirm that they are "scientific" inferences, as vs metaphysical or philosophical or theological inferences. As you know, I have myself maintained that design arguments are mainly (if not entirely) of a non-scientific nature, for various reasons, including my belief that without some knowledge of (or some assumptions about) a specific designer it is not possible to draw the inference of design or purpose. We probably disagree about that, which is fine; but, this IMO does count as affirming the possibility of making design inferences from nature. Many of the others I cited would probably say something similar.


Cameron continues:

"Further, my impression of most of these writers is that they would deny that design can be proved even
employing philosophical rather than scientific reasoning. The sense I get is that they believe that design inferences are only suggested (albeit for some of the above people strongly suggested) even by philosophical
reasoning. So a "design inference" is, strictly speaking, not possible. It is at best a "soft inference", i.e., not a logically firm conclusion. <SNIP> I get the impression that every one of these people believes that the design inference is never compelled, and therefore that an atheist's impression of nature is every bit
as rational and consistent with the facts as a theist's."


Cameron, this fits the people I mentioned, to the best of my knowledge. I do not believe that design can be "proved" in the sense you seem to require here; it cannot be "compelled," as you say. Asa Gray realized this early on: that Darwinism *does* make it possible, as Dawkins puts it, to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. Where Dawkins errs, IMO, is by entirely and constantly failing to acknowledge that one can also be an intellectually fulfilled theist--despite the basic truth of evolution. Indeed, I would say that the inference to design is still more strongly supported than the inference to its absence. Like Polkinghorne (among others), I believe that the whole universe and the its very intelligibility make more sense on theism than on non-theism. Like Polkinghorne, I also believe that the atheists are not idiots: nothing compels them to theism, just as nothing compels me to atheism.

Lamoureux holds that nature shouts design, as the Psalmist says, but that spiritual darkness causes the atheist to deny this. Given this, would you say that Lamoureux believes in design inferences, or not? His view is not identical to mine, but I have some sympathy for it.

Finally, Cameron, you wrote:

" But I think
that all ID proponents would say that the philosophical inference is so
strong that the person who rejects it is on rationally much weaker ground
that the person who accepts it. Or, to put in another way, even if science
in the narrow sense cannot establish design, philosophy, building upon the
results of science, can, for all practical purposes, establish design as a
genuine piece of *knowledge* (not "feeling", not "faith", not "purely
private interpretation", etc.) about nature. Would the above TEs agree with
that? If not, then I see no need to retract my generalization."


As I've already said, I think you have already modified (not retracted) your generalization, by giving specific meanings to "inference" that I do not share. I do think that we can find evidence for purpose/design in nature, but the inference is not on the same level as it is for you. You said that we needed to ground a knowledge, "in the strong sense of the word "know", i.e., in the sense that we "know" that Columbus sailed in 1492 or "know" that PV = nRT."

I do not agree with this. I don't think that Dawkins has this kind of "knowledge" that there is no design in the universe; nor do I think that I have this kind of "knowledge" that there *is* design in the universe. Polkinghorne puts it like this, in "Belief in God in an Age of Science," pp. 1 and 10. Please read (and re-read) carefully, for nuance is part of the essence of Polkinghorne's position and of mine.

"The world is not full of items stamped 'made by God' -- the Creator is more subtle than that -- but there are two locations where general hints of the divine presence might be expected to be seen most clearly." [These are the cosmos and our own consciousness.]

[Speaking of anthropic phenomena, ...] "Once again the theistic conclusion is not logically coercive, but it can claim serious consideration as an intellectually satisfying understanding of what would otherwise be unintelligible good fortune. It has certainly struck a number of authors in this way, including some who are innocent of any influence from a contemporary religious agenda [P Davies is cited]. Such a reading of the physical world as containing rumours of divine purpose, constitutes a new form of natural theology, to which the insight about intelligibility can also be added. This new natural theology differs from the old-style natural theology of Anselm and Aquinas be refraining from talking about 'proofs' of God's existence and by being content with the more modest role of offering theistic belief as an insightful account of what is going on. It differs from the old-style natural theology of William Paley and others by basing its arguments not upon particular o!
 ccurrences (the coming-to-be of the eye or life itself), but on the character of the physical fabric of the world, which is the necessary ground for the possibility of any occurrence (it appeals to cosmic rationality and the anthropic form of the laws of nature)." [etc. The etc. can be really helpful and important, but I don't have time to copy it all out. This makes my point well enough.]

OK, Cameron, having seen all this, do you still want to say that someone like me or Polkinghorne (who speaks for me above) "denies that design can be inferred from nature"? If so, then we strongly disagree on what it means to infer design from nature. I've said many times, including a few times in exchanges with you, that ID advocates seem to want something like knock-down proofs of God -- er, excuse me, knowdown proofs of design, which carry the direct implication that there is a designer who can only be "God" if it's the universe and life that we are talking about. I've expressed my strong hunch that ID advocates want this kind of knockdown proof, in order to be able to use it in culture wars: another place where I think we just can't separate ID from its religious/political/social context. I am not making this point to be critical in the negative sense, but to be critical in the analytical sense. On the other hand, most TEs are content with something more like what I!
  have stated above. We don't see this as a "proof" of a Paleyan, old-style type. Whereas, I think that Behe and Dembski and Meyer and you *do* see your arguments as Paleyan-style "proofs."

Is this a fair statement of our differences, Cameron?

If so, do you see why I contest your claim?



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Received on Mon Nov 9 17:54:58 2009

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