A Pleistocene Person

Some thoughts on stuff.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The march of unreason

Due to generally being rather busy (with pollen analysis don't you know) I haven't posted anything here before. It was going to take something notable for me to finally decid to get off my backside (or 'ass' as our American cousins like to say) and type something. Well, here it is:


Oh great.

I'd always had a nice, smug feeling of satisfaction that this kind of lunacy wasn't prevalent in the UK. Evidently I was wrong (yes, it is possible).

I'd like to know exactly what questions were asked; intelligent design creationism is not an especially well covered subject in the UK and it could well be that the people who responded had no real idea what it entails. On the other hand it could really be that a sizable chunk of people think that 19th century theology should be taught in science classrooms.

So, the Pleistocene Person is now up and running. Go forth and spread the word........


Blogger Mike Hosey said...

First off, Lord Martin Reese misunderstands the public controversy in the United States. He says:

"We are, however, fortunate compared to the US in that no major segment of UK religious or cultural life opposes the inclusion of evolution in the school science curriculum."

I am a U.S. citizen with a wide range of relationships which represent a diversity of cultural viewpoints. I myself am conservative and religious, but many of my friends are not. Of those who are not, I cannot personally think of any who oppose the teaching of evolution in public schools. I'm sure people like that exist, but my guess is that they are in a very small minority. However, there are a good many on both sides of the aisle who oppose teaching evolution as a universal fact. This is because it isn't. The processes of evolution are quite demonstratable, and wholly empirical. But creatively speaking, Darwinian evolution is quite inadequate in some areas.

While Intelligent Design is a form of creationism, it isn't necessarily religious creationism. And while it may not yet be an effective science, it is the only other possibility for abiogenesis.

The fact is that life was either created, or it evolved. These two explanations are mutually exclusive. If you say that God, gods, space aliens or some supernatural force created life, but used processes of evolution to do it, you are still saying life was created. You are a creationist.

But evolution (and much of modern science) is so steeped in both philosophical and methodological naturalism, that it is automatically opposed to any kind of design argument -- no matter how much it has to explain away the complexity of individual organisms.

You express a fear that a sizable chunk of people might really want 19th century theology taught in classrooms. I can't speak for the UK, but that isn't the case here. Many of us simply want the only other possibility for the origins of life and life's diversity acknowledged. Right now ID is the only movement that attempts to do this with any kind of intellectual rigor.

In fact, this was exactly the point in the most recent court battle in this country. A school board in Pennsylvania required that biology teachers tell the students that evolution has some difficulties with its explanatory power in places, and that it is not the only theory that attempts to explain origins, that this rival theory is called Intelligent Design, and that a text book is available in the library for further self study. The school board absolutely did not require the ID be taught, or that the book be assigned.

Whether accurate or not, the resistence by evolutionists in the teaching community to this Pennsylvania school board's requirement, causes some Americans to suspect that the evolutionist community fears tough questions. It looks like an attempt to squelch discussion.

In my own field of psychology, we have a plethora of theories. Some are more scientific than others. But we still mention those others. A good example is Freud's psychoanalysis. In terms of Popper's paradigm, it's quite a bad theory, but it still holds a great deal of explanatory power and is parsimonious. It is hardly methodologically naturalistic. Skinner's behaviorism, on the other hand, is wholly naturalistic. Elements of Freud's theory, may in fact reflect the truth, and one day technology may allow us to test. Skinner's theory is wholly testable, but in places not very useful in an explanatory sense. One day we may have the technology to thouroughly discredit some of Skinner's naturalistic assumptions. For psychological scientists to do their work well, they must know both these theories.

Anyway, good luck with your pollen analyses.

7:15 pm GMT  
Blogger SteveF said...

Hi Mike,

Is intelligent design religious creationism? I'm going to go with what Phillip Johnson has to say. From The Wedge:

"If we understand our own times, we will know that we should affirm the reality of God by challenging the domination of materialism and naturalism in the world of the mind. With the assistance of many friends I have developed a strategy for doing this,...We call our strategy the "wedge."

Phil on American Family Radio:

"Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools."

or possibly William Dembski:

"The world is a mirror representing the divine life. The mechanical philosophy was ever blind to this fact. Intelligent design, on the other hand, readily embraces the sacramental nature of physical reality. Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory."

11:46 am GMT  
Blogger Mike Hosey said...

I have some issues with both Dembski and Johnson. My issues with them, however, do not force me to automatically discount the arguments within intelligent design.

Nor do they interfere with my recognition that ID is the only other credible attempt to explain origins with any kind of rigor.

The question is asked, is Intelligent Design religous creationism? My answer to that is no. Intelligent Design is a method. It is neither religous nor irreligous.

Perhaps the Wedge is religious. It is certainly a political strategy. But the Wedge isn't Intelligent Design. Clearly, Johnson has a religious agenda. His motives are religious and political. Clearly, Dembski has a religious worldview. But Johnson's motives, and Dembski's worldview are not Intelligent Design. They are motives.

Just as with evolution, people may draw religious conclusions from ID. But then, people also draw religous conclusions from evolution. These conclusions are not the theories or methods themselves.

Many in the evolution community who also have theistic tendencies would have screaming fits if I said that Darwinism was automatically atheistic dogma because of the statements of Charles Darwin. If I analyzed the worldview of Richard Dawkins and drew reasonable conclusions about his motives and then automatically attached those to all evolution, the same screaming fits would ensue.

To further belabor this point about motives, let me address something in the moral domain. In this country, in the 1960s, we had what was called the civil rights movement. Many black leaders fought for other blacks to have equal rights in the American sense. In general, the arguments they delineated, and the battles they fought were right. However, a few of them had very wrong motives. Their wrong motives, however, discredited their character, not the truth of their cause, or the validity of their arguments.

As in the case of Freud and Skinner that I presented earlier, it is best for young psychologists to at least be familiar with these two poles that attempt to explain human behavior. In reality, both Skinner and Freud may be right, or they may both be wrong. But, we can't have a discussion about them if we don't know and understand them.

And again, here in this country, ID has yet to be required to be taught (to my knowledge) in any public school. It has been required to be mentioned as another view, and encouraged for self study (but not assigned). This has been met with vehement resistence by the academic community, and not the public. And as far as I know, no major entity with any kind of clout is advocating the removal of evolution from curriculum.

2:04 pm GMT  
Blogger SteveF said...


The wedge may not be intelligent design, but it directs it. In that sense there is precious little difference. The purpose of the intelligent design movement is the overthrow of materialism; you can argue that ID isn't strictly speaking equivalent to its proponents, but this strikes me as semantics.

Each ID argument has been formulated for a single purpose - the end of the (rather successful) materialistic approach to science. ID leads inevitably to the conclusion of a supernatural creator. A religious conclusion is not simply one possibility, it is the only logical outcome (lets not put forward any pretence about space aliens). In my opinion, the conclusion can not be divorced from the results and methods as you suggest (particularly as it does not utilise methodological naturalism).

In every reasonable sense it is a religious concept.

I think your mention of abiogenesis is interesting. It enables some clear differences between ID and evolution (evolution isn't strictly speaking abiogenesis, but I'm just going to use it here for convenience). What is the current ID theory for abiogenesis (i.e. how did it come about)? As far as I'm aware there isn't one. There isn't an alternative to teach, at least not in a science class. Contrast that with the evolutionary side of things. A quick literature search reveals a thiving, albeit still somewhat speculative, research field.

2:47 pm GMT  
Blogger Mike Hosey said...


I hope your weekend went well. My parents live 500 miles away and I only get to see them occasionally. When they come, we too enjoy nice restaurants and good food. I’m sorry (not that you care) that it’s taken me so long to respond to your last post. But while you were having fun with your parents, I decided to spend the weekend riding my horse and spending time with my wife and kids. Anyway, thanks for the conversation.

I think you are missing the point of my comments. I am not arguing the superiority of ID over evolution. Nor am I trying to bolster it as an effective science. I am simply pointing out that in American schools there are those who would like to see ID’s critiques of evolution included in classroom discussions. Only a very small (and probably politically meaningless) minority would advocate the removal of evolution from classrooms. And there isn’t really a strong push for the actual teaching of ID – only an acknowledgment that it exists.

As I said earlier, we got here by only one of two ways. Creation or Evolution. Neither are strictly provable – and this is something that has been argued since Aristotle.

I would, disagree with you that ID is intrinsically a religious concept. While I don’t believe Earth’s life was created by space aliens, I don’t know that it wasn’t. In that regard, it isn’t necessarily pretence. But even if pursuing an ID argument leads inevitably to a supernatural designer, there is no reason to believe that such a designer is worthy of worship, or any special treatment at all. If a supernatural designer exists, and we learn it, his or her supernaturalism would no longer be all that super. By virtue of discovery, one would have to acknowledge it as a greater part of the whole universe. It would, in one sense, be quite natural.

You address methodological naturalism. I prefer an empirical approach to science. The problem with methodological naturalism is that it is too often conflated with a radical philosophical naturalism. But even apart from the philosophical aspect, methodological naturalism has limits. Essentially, methodological naturalism says that something “supernatural” like a designer cannot be invoked to explain a phenomenon. That’s all fine and dandy – unless the phenomenon is, indeed, supernatural. If such happens to be the case, methodological naturalism will miss it every time.

And then upon missing that crucial possibility, it becomes conflated, or even transposed with the philosophical variety. A fine example of that process exists here in America. In this country, biology teachers have a professional organization called the National Association of Biology Teachers. In 1995, they had an official position statement on evolution. That statement defined evolution as “an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable, natural process. . .” They’ve since changed that position to the now more acceptable definition regarding alleles. Still, the 1995 statement is interesting. How could they make the statement that evolution is unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable, and natural if they had strictly been adhering to methodological naturalism. Methodologically naturalistic science simply does not have the ability to make such an assessment. Methodology got traded with philosophy. This is very bad if the truth actually happens to be somewhere outside the methodology. Plus, I'd be willing to bet that many ID proponents would very strongly disagree that ID's sole purpose is to overthrow materialism. More likely, many see it as a way to check materialism from becoming cloaked in the authority of empiricism.

Your reference to abiogenesis is interesting. You are quite right that evolution isn’t exactly abiogenesis. But evolution is quite dependent upon it. Without it, naturalism is awefully unpersuasive, and so is evolution. To label research into abiogenesis as speculative is an accurate understatement.

Anyway I hope you have a good day. In England, do you have to do a dissertation and defend it for your Phd?

9:07 pm GMT  

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