Monday, July 11, 2005

New Scientist reaction 2

ID's appeal to supernatural forces by definition puts it outside the scope of science, says Eugenie Scott head of the NCSE. After all, saying "God did it" can never be disproved.

This was highlighted in the text - the editors presumably regarded this as a key point. However, it is misleading. ID isn't appealing to "supernatural forces". It is appealing to intelligent agency. It is saying that various characteristics of creatures and the universe cannot be explained by naturalistic mechanisms. The same analysis occurs when archaeological artefacts are discovered; the same process is occurring at the moment as the SETI programme analyses radio signals from outer space; the same process occurs when a pathologist looks at a corpse and has to come to a conclusion as to the likely cause of death.

What ID - more specifically, Dembski's Explanatory Filter and the mathematics surrounding it - have done is seek to provide a mathematical basis for this previously intuitive assessment. And what happens when this Explanatory Filter is applied to the information in creatures is that it suggests that they require agency.

The argument against ID should not be on the level of objecting to the conclusion - that an intelligent agent is required. It should be on the level of the presuppositions - either the Explanatory Filter is wrong, or the assessment of the amount of complex, specified information in organisms is wrong.

Secondly, as was pointed out in "By Design or by Chance?" by Denyse O'Leary (as well as elsewhere), requiring the presence of a god doesn't place a line of enquiry outside the scope of science. It places it outside the scope of philosophical materialism. It is incorrect to identify philosophical materialism as science. Maxwell, Newton, Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, and many other people who have shaped science would strongly disagree with this sentence.

Finally - theological point - there is a false dichotomy here. Materialistic science here is still playing the "God of the Gaps" game - if we can just show that God isn't required, then we can show that belief in God isn't required, and we can do away with the whole God thing once and for all.

Of course, it isn't worded like that. The article talks about the politics of the ID movement. However, the anti-ID movement is playing political games as well - by seeking to relegate all religious belief to an entirely private sphere, and exclude it from public discourse. See "Rocks of Ages" by Stephen Jay Gould for his perspective on this - I suppose that we should at least be thankful that, unlike Richard Dawkins, he wasn't pushing to have people with religious beliefs locked up.

However, from a theological perspective, it is incorrect to argue that God is only involved if we can't come up with a naturalistic explanation of a phenomenon. From a theological perspective, the universe behaves in an orderly manner because God is orderly. The sun rises because God commands it to - although the mechanism that allows the sun to rise is the rotation of the earth. Yes, I know that there is the problem of evil - but there are answers for that, it isn't insurmountable. On the other hand, to the best of my knowledge, the only answer to the problem of tractability is the rather lame anthropic one - "well, it has to be like that, or we wouldn't be able to observe it." Another key ID book - "The Privileged Planet" - addresses this and other cosmological issues. Again, the authors of the New Scientist article made no reference to it.