Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Intelligent Design


Bush Remarks Roil Debate
on Teaching of Evolution - New York Times


In an interview at the White House on Monday with a group of Texas newspaper reporters, Mr. Bush appeared to endorse the push by many of his conservative Christian supporters to give intelligent design equal treatment with the theory of evolution.

Recalling his days as Texas governor, Mr. Bush said in the interview, according to a transcript, "I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught." Asked again by a reporter whether he believed that both sides in the debate between evolution and intelligent design should be taught in the schools, Mr. Bush replied that he did, "so people can understand what the debate is about."...

But critics saw Mr. Bush's comment that "both sides" should be taught as the most troubling aspect of his remarks. "It sounds like you're being fair, but creationism is a sectarian religious viewpoint, and intelligent design is a sectarian religious viewpoint," said Susan Spath, a spokeswoman for the National Center for Science Education, a group that defends the teaching of evolution in public schools. "It's not fair to privilege one religious viewpoint by calling it the other side of evolution."


Intelligent Design isn't a sectarian doctrine--it is simply bad science. And it is not merely a superficial mistake about how things work: it is bad science in a deep way. Methodological naturalism is a fruitful research program and one of the fundamental assumptions of the program is that you don't look for explanations in terms of intelligent agency unless all other possibilities are exhausted. When it comes to the origin of species, explanation in terms of natural selection, without intelligent agency do very well and there's every reason to think that the details that remain unexplained will eventually be explained in these terms.

The real mystery though is why Christians balk at swallowing this gnat. Even relatively conservative Christians are comfortable with the idea that other natural phenomena are a consequence of mindless, purposeless natural forces. No one is pushing the idea that floods, hurricanes and tsunamis are a consequence of intelligent agency; no one is claiming that landslides, tornados or volcanic eruptions are punishments for sin or have any other purpose in the grand scheme of things.

Now it may be that the idea that these natural phenomena are not a consequence of intelligent agency and have no purpose in the grand scheme of things undermines religious belief--though it doesn't do anything to my religious belief. If so Christians should be disputing scientifically orthodox explanations in geology, meteorology and vulcanology. But they aren't, and it's hard to see why they dig in their heels when it comes to evolutionary biology. Why? Why is this issue special?

It's quite remarkable that conservative politicians have spun this as a "controversy" and claimed the high ground of open-mindedness. Certainly "intelligent design" is worth looking at--in a class in philosophy of science where the issue of agency explanation should be considered. But that's a separate issue from what should be taught in high school biology. Intuitionists, on sophisticated meta-mathematical grounds, won't accept reducio proofs. But you don't tell this to kids in baby logic, or in calculus: it's a philosophical issue, not an issue within these disciplines. And students in math and logic classes had better learn how to do these proofs, and learn the rationale, how and why they work.

Shit or get off the pot. If you want open-mindedness fund serious classes in philosophy of science and philosophy of religion in high schools, recognizing that you may not get the results you want.

5 comments:

Andrew Brown said...

Even relatively conservative Christians are comfortable with the idea that other natural phenomena are a consequence of mindless, purposeless natural forces. No one is pushing the idea that floods, hurricanes and tsunamis are a consequence of intelligent agency; no one is claiming that landslides, tornados or volcanic eruptions are punishments for sin or have any other purpose in the grand scheme of things.

Erm, No one is pushing this idea? I thought that Pat Robertson had mentioned a hurricane as punishment for Florida being civilised about gays.

I sympathise with your general point, and have often argued the fundamentalist Christians don't make the financial bets that their ostensible beliefs entail. If you really believed in providence, you would not take out insurance on anything. But they do say these things.

H. E. said...

Ah, but it was providential that you took out insurance!

Boofykatz said...

What is the difference between providence and determinism? Presumably something akin to the difference between creationism and intelligent design.
Do you consider Alvin Platinga an intuitionist? I haven't noticed his use of mathematics and logic to subvert reductionist arguments, but perhaps that is because I am a philosophical dilletante.

Anonymous said...

I don't have any problem with the fact that earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc are part of the grand scheme of things. Actually, everything is part of the grand scheme, including "evolution".

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