Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Denyse O'Leary: What a Design Argument Is (or isn't)

Denyse O'Leary holds forth on design arguments over here at ARN. She's enamored of John Lennox's book God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? and uses Lennox's thoughts (or so it seems, it's hard to tell which ideas are hers here and which are Lennox, which is unfortunate for Lennox) to provide some riffage on intelligent design.

Denyse O'Leary:
With admirable clarity of thought, Lennox avoids confusing design in the universe and life forms with either creationism or Scriptural literalism. A design argument asserts that the evidence for design in the universe and life forms should be taken at face value, that is as evidence that the entities are designed. And Lennox does just that.
Denyse, of course, does confuse design of the universe with creationism/Biblicism. Yet she admires Lennox's 'clarity of thought' here. Lennox conflates design with creationism himself, as it turns out, so what Denyse here is admiring, ostensibly, is Lennox's 'clarity' in sanitizing the argument, laundering out the overtly religious language and underlying epistemology, so that it might read, nominally at least, in some "science-ish" way. Earnest discussions and arguments from creationists on this topic have been disasters in the public forum, so Denyse here admires not clarity so much, but 'effective obscurantism' in avoiding overt displays of magical thinking in scientific discussions. Obfuscation as 'clarity', just another day in the ID universe.

She (and/or Lennox?) contend that a design argument simply accepts evidence for design, as, well, as evidence for design -- at "face value", doncha know. Why didn't those evilutionist scientists think of that? Just accept the evidence for the evidence it is...

It's as radical as it is vacuous. The whole point of scientific investigation is to get beyond "face value" for the phenomena we observe around us. There's nothing wrong with a "face value" interepretation, it's just exceedingly trivial, epistemically. I wonder if Denyse really understands what the term "face value" implies.
Denyse O'Leary:

There are several contrary materialist positions:

1. Design is an illusion. In recent years, that has increasingly come to sound like whistling in the dark.

Denyse is projecting. Every year, more and more evidence is added to the knowledge repository, further detailing the mechanics of evolution, the psychology of man, and man's natural proclivity for anthropomorphizing the world around him. Creationism gets incrementally more problematic as more and more gaps in the repository get filled in -- creating, perversely, two gaps in which to inject the creationist God where there previously was one. Maybe it's this sense that Denyse is appealing to? With all the gaps that get addresses over time, science is experience runaway growth in the number of holes in its theory. Surely it must soon collapse because of all these little gaps!

Enough on this one -- it's just Denyse in self-congratulatory mode.

Denyse O'Leary:
2. Or perhaps there are uncountable numbers of flopped universes out there and ours just happens to be unusually nice. That idea goes down well in popular culture - just think of the FILMS! It can spawn - but it is presently untestable.
I confess, I'm behind on the literature -- I don't even know what a 'flopped' universe is supposed to be. It certainly is true to say that other universes are untestable, given the way we define 'universe'. But it's worth pointing out that the "Cosmic Landscape", as it's called by String Theory heavy Leonard Suskind -- a complex of innumerable other universes -- it isn't so much magical thinking as is engaged by creationist "design arguments". The cosmic landscape is something that proceeds naturally out of the mathematical models that underwrite String Theory. While String Theory is nowhere close to 'established' in the scientific sense yet (and may never be), if it does bear out, then it brings with it maths that fairly require a "landscape" in which universes come to be, and develop with different cosmological parameters (it is the suite of configuration of parameters that gives rise to the term 'landscape' in Susskind's model).

It's directly not testable. It may not even be possible to test indirectly (although this isn't at all clear at this point). Nevertheless, the Cosmic Landscape idea can point to a set of epistemic credentials that creationist ideas cannot; it proceeds automatically, organically, from the solution sets that String Theory math models yield. If String Theory is correct for this universe, then the nature of the theory is such that we are reasonably led to the conclusion that this universe is one of a great many, mathematically.

Denyse O'Leary:
3. Lastly, some argue that the question is not a proper concern of science - in common parlance, "Let's just rule it out of order, and ignore the evidence." That raises the question of what science is, if it is not an effort to learn more about the universe we live in.
Yes, that's the common reaction: Let's just rule it out of order, and ignore the evidence.

I hear that all the time. It begs credulity to suppose that Denyse has not had access to the concept of methodological naturalism, or the basics of the philosophy of science. Science is an effort to learn more about the universe we live in, but it is a disciplined effort, dedicated to a concept of "learning" that is epistemically sound. Those are crucial, and daunting constraints. Science specifically seeks to avoid the magical thinking and superstitious interpretations Denyse wants to "add to the mix" here, and for good reason. Those elements delegitimize the epistemological foundations of the whole enterprise. Indulge Denyse and her creationist "learning" here, and all scientific learning gets devalued down to the credibility level of her 'knowledge'. Science is as strong as its weakest link in the epistemic chain, and Denyse is proposing imaginary segments of chain.

Denyse O'Leary:
But a design argument is not an argument for special creation -. the sudden appearance of multicellular life forms out of nothing. Design does not require such events and does not provide direct evidence for them either. In a designed universe such events are at least a possibility, but other inferences and evidence must establish them. The mere fact of design does not establish them.
Doesn't matter. Magical thinking about "design", even when it loudly disavows "special creation" and "poofing" of Adam and the animals out of thin air isn't any more respectable or useful than "poofing". Denyse might suppose it happened in a 'non-poof' way, but in a way that's still 'designed', but that's as perfectly magical as the "poof" idea. So why bother with such meaningless distinctions.

Don't agree? OK, let's think about more sophisticated, "adult" idea of how design is carried out. Panspermia, perhaps? No, that doesn't help at all, because any Designers who bootstrapped organic life on earth however many billions of years ago would themselves have to be designed, as they have all the "face value" evidence of being designed themselves! Or suppose it is Yahweh after all, and instead of the clumsy sideshow parlor trick approach -- *poof* and behold! Meet Adam -- God uses slow, gradual, organic processes that He controls in subtle, elegant ways to steer the development of organic life toward his design goals.

That doesn't help, either.

God would have to exhibit all the "face value" evidence of being designed Himself! See, it doesn't matter at all who design proponentists suppose the Designer was (or were, if there were many). Whatever he/she/it/they are like, they by definition have the capability to design organic life, which is, per the principles of Intelligent Design, de facto proof that that the Designer was designed.

It's wholly disingenuous, then, to suggest that this makes any difference at all. It's an utterly useless qualification on the merits. It does have the potential to make the ID arguments seem a little less silly, though, and I suggest that is why Denyse says what she does here.

Denyse O'Leary:
There is much confusion on this point in North America. Many on both sides profit from the confusion. The materialist atheist benefits the most because he evades the looming falsification of his central idea - an accidental, purposeless universe - by loudly insisting that design means special creation or a universe created in six days (144 hours). Because he usually has the ear of a sympathetic media corps, he can buy a lot of time for his interpretation.
Not. Design, per Design advocates, means having "complexity" and "specificity" as a Designer, and thus being designed. It invokes infinite regress, if the principles are taken seriously at all. But wait, says Denyse: God stops the regress, He wasn't designed!

Oh, yeah? Well then "specified complexity" or whatever other criterion you want to use as your razor for positively identifying "designedness" doesn't hold. If "God" can be "accidental, purposeless" -- not the product of design, in other words, why can't the universe? This is logical box Denyse cannot get out of, except for through "magical answers". God isn't beholden to these principles, after all, right Denyse? Denyse has the "Creationist Magic Answer Get Out Of Logical Contradiction Card" in her hand, and she's playing it here.

Oh, and don't forget to swirl in a small dose of conspiracy theorism into the mix here, too. That's an important part of the argument from design.
Denyse O'Leary:
Meanwhile, the special creationist hopes that the powerful arguments for design can be co-opted as arguments for special creation. Having little incentive to help set the record straight, he doesn't.

And at the same time the Scriptural literalist - usually a young Earth creationist - is primarily interested in finding science evidence that conforms to his favoured interpretation of the words of Scripture. Actually, many people in that camp do not even like design arguments, as such because design arguments are not drawn from the Scriptures and can be advanced and defended in the absence of any scriptures.

Yeah, and that should be a sobering point for Denyse to observe. YEC creationism, as ridiculous as it is, is both more honest and more coherent than Intelligent Design. ID is the worst of both worlds -- it subverts the epistemic foundation of science with its superstition, and yet it is too embarrassed of its own superstitious nature to identify with overtly superstitious ideologies. Double whammy. Many YECs rightly see it as the most hopeless case of all; it's not faithful or redemptive in its expression, and viciously vacuous as a matter of science. You gotta give YECs credit for at least offering a hypothesis that is liable to falsification, an idea that is nomimally germane as a matter of science. When they claim the earth is 6,000 years old, they are at least offering a claim that can be evaluated. ID can't even manage that.

The allergic reaction Denyse has to allegations of being a 'creationist' is quite plain to see in posts like this. But she's just in a state of denialism. She's believed her own BS, and has fooled herself into thinking ID is something more scientific than YEC, when in fact it's actually far less scientific. It's a persistent, ongoing identity crisis she's dealing with. ID is creationism, by an large, and the panspermian hangers-on do not rescue ID as 'non-religious'. They just broaden the exotic nature of the religious basis for ID.

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