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Understanding the Root Controversy of Intelligent Design

I have not yet seen Stein’s movie, Expelled, but hope to by the end of this weekend.  I’ve used this week as an opportunity to highlight various issues and I have linked to corroboration of at least some of the allegations that are made in the movie.  I would like to spend a moment addressing what I believe is the real crux of the matter.  This post is mainly for Christians but I can’t stop skeptics from reading.

The central argument in Intelligent Design, in the eyes of certain scientists and budding atheists, is whether or not ID should be considered ‘science.’  If ID proponents did not present their work as appropriately understood as science, the whole issue would likely disappear.  Similarly, the main offense that ‘scientists’ have to young earth creationism is if it is presented as science… they think of ‘Creation Science’ as a contradiction in terms.

A Christian might say to himself, “Well, sure, you can’t perform experiments to recreate the creating of the universe nor can you observe the designer designing the particular feature you are examining (though perhaps you can observe him designing something else).  In that sense, sure, it isn’t scientific like, say, measuring how long it takes water to boil.  What’s the problem? Maybe just ditch the term and we can proceed to discuss what is actually true…”

The understanding of science in the above paragraph is in fact what most people think of when they think of science… a method constrained to direct empirical observation utilizing experiment, controls, and repeating phenomena.  This is what we learn in high school science classes.  When you get to college, however, the discipline of science is expanded to allow a broad range of explorations, including looking into the ‘Multiverse’ or constructing complex scenarios to explain how life might have evolved.

Today just about anything you do, any measure of conjecture or philosophizing, can be described as science so long as one thing is true:  only naturalistic explanations are permitted.

The Intelligent Design movement wishes to take advantage of the expanded definition, minus the insistence of naturalistic explanations.  So, if something like the Multiverse, a mindless, completely undetectable collection of nearly infinite amount of alternative universes can be described as science, or if it is ok to constantly tweak expectations of past atmospheres which have virtually no hope of actual verification, then exploring the hypothesis that something is design certainly can be scientific, too.

One wonders how well the multiverse remains consistent with a purely naturalistic method.

If it were just a matter of pointing out such things and being content to recognize that ID (like the multiverse) is not strictly testable in the sense we learned in high school science was, the controversy would fade away.  Here is the lurking issue underneath it all:

It is the common belief and attitude that the only. reliable. way. to know. anything. is via science. Every word of that sentence is important.

If you have any other mechanism for knowing something you’re lucky if it plays second fiddle to the processes of science.  In a recent comment on one of my other blogs, contemplating Intelligent Design was akin to making oneself out as a 16th century ‘flat earth’ Bible thumper.  For you see, anything you think you know is mere shadow compared to what is known via science.

And only naturalistic explanations are permitted in science.

So, you can say that you believe in God, but you must chalk it up to ‘faith’ or just personal desires (read: wishful thinking).  The only thing you must not do is assert that you think you have any objective evidence for something.

That’s really it in a nutshell.  Science is the only way to know anything important with any measure of reliability and Science absolutely must limit itself to naturalistic explanations.

Given such a perspective, it is obviously no surprise that they don’t generate ‘scientific’ evidence for the existence of God.  Those interpretations of the evidence are off the table from the start.  There is no sense in pointing this out to them because they are not ashamed of it.  They think that this is the way to go and the technological progress we’ve experienced is all the evidence one needs to see that the method ‘works.’  When is the last time theology put a man on the moon?

The reasons why we cannot lay down on this are plentiful, not the least of which is that the method ‘works’ in terms of producing technology but is useless in helping us decide if we even should use the technology we produce.  Ie, just because we can clone humans, should we?

Moreover, it is obvious that if your very question is “Does a supernatural, non-empirical, transcendent entity (which we call ‘God’) exist?” then beginning with a process, no matter how successful in creating microwave ovens and airplanes, that excludes from the start any interpretations that might even possibly, even scantily, suggest the possibility of God existing is pure circular reasoning, begging the question.

But that is logic: another one of those things which science depends on but is limited in what it can say.

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    • Spencer on April 19, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    “And only naturalistic explanations are permitted in science.”

    Define what you mean by “supernatural explanation.” How would one test for it?

    • Spencer on April 19, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    (Folks, watch him dodge the question).

    • Anthony on April 19, 2008 at 4:37 pm
      Author

    Why would I want to talk to you if you’re just going to be that way?

    Maybe I’m not dodging. Maybe I just have better ways to spend my time than arguing with a rude person.

    • Spencer on April 19, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    Sntjohnny, it was clear all along that you never had any real interest in engaging the “opposition” seriously and charitably, as evidenced by your general condescending attitude and the way you completely dismissed my other remarks with “more electronic blurbs.”

    Will you answer my simple question? (No, you won’t). How would one test for a supernatural hypothesis?

    • Anthony on April 19, 2008 at 6:56 pm
      Author

    You can believe whatever you like. I have nothing to prove to you but it is evident how you want to appeal to the ‘folks’ that you seem to think you have something to prove to someone.

    As for your question, it is irrelevant and shows that you miss the point of the blog entry.

    “There is no sense in pointing this out to them because they are not ashamed of it.”

    All you want to do is argue why you aren’t ashamed of it. If I wanted that argument, I wouldn’t have started the entry with:

    “This post is mainly for Christians”

    You always make these ridiculous demands.. “will you answer my question” or “I’m not going to say until…” or “Admit that…”

    Seriously, it’s childish. If you want to be treated like a grown up and not ‘dismissed’ then when you ask a question, before I’ve even said a word, don’t follow up with:

    “Folks, watch him dodge the question).”

    If you want to have an intelligent conversation, try leaving the chip on your shoulder at the woodshed. You’ll get better results, I promise.

    • Anthony on April 19, 2008 at 7:20 pm
      Author

    Now that we’ve sorted out the part where you’ve put your impressive interpersonal skills on display, let’s tend to that ‘simple question’ of yours.

    I said it is irrelevant, but now let me tell you why. It goes back to my statement:

    “It is the common belief and attitude that the only. reliable. way. to know. anything. is via science.”

    Now, Christians don’t believe that the only reliable way to know something is via science, so ‘testing’ a supernatural hypothesis does not necessarily need to be done via a scientific method, either. We would say that this attitude is absurd, and we aren’t the only ones. There is a word for that attitude. It is ‘scientism.’

    So, testing a ‘supernatural hypothesis’ would depend a great deal on what you mean by ‘test.’ The phrasing of your statement strongly implies some sort of empirical testing.

    On the other hand, if rather than a ‘hypothesis’ we’re referring to say an ‘interpretation’, like trying to decide whether or not it is reasonable, having decided that biological organisms bear marks of design, to state that the designer is God or perhaps maybe Francis Crick’s Directed Panspermia, we would ‘test’ the interpretation the way we test just about anything: is the explanation coherent, does it account for all the facts, or at least more facts than rivals, can it be corroborated, etc, etc.

    I don’t think you mean your question in the latter sense.

    • Spencer on April 19, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    “As for your question, it is irrelevant and shows that you miss the point of the blog entry.”

    Actually, it isn’t irrelevant at all. You want to argue that “supernatural” explanations should be permitted in science, but if you can’t give a coherent definition of what that is and how science could test for it, then you have no case. Scientific explanations require evidence. What kind of evidence could support a supernatural hypothesis? You have yet to tell us.

    “Seriously, it’s childish. If you want to be treated like a grown up and not ‘dismissed’ then when you ask a question, before I’ve even said a word, don’t follow up with:

    Folks, watch him dodge the question).”

    oh I see. “More electronic blurbs” is perfectly mature.

    • Spencer on April 19, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    And let me tell you why my question was NOT irrelevant.

    You said: “The Intelligent Design movement wishes to take advantage of the expanded definition, minus the insistence of naturalistic explanations.”

    As you undoubtedly know, the ID movement wants to push ID theory as a SCIENTIFIC theory. Hence, if ID is suppose to be a supernatural SCIENTIFIC theory, then we need to know just how supernatural theories or hypothesis can be tested scientifically. Hence my questin was completely on target.

    • Spencer on April 19, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    You said:

    “And only naturalistic explanations are permitted in science.”

    You want to argue that supernatural explanations ought to be permitted in science, is that not so? If so, then you owe us an account of how supernatural explanations can be considered scientific.

    • Anthony on April 19, 2008 at 7:59 pm
      Author

    “You want to argue that “supernatural” explanations should be permitted in science,”

    No, that is not what I argued. Also, the fact that I was presenting a viewpoint doesn’t mean I was arguing for it.

    “Hence, if ID is suppose to be a supernatural SCIENTIFIC theory,”

    This is simply an inaccurate rendering of what I was saying and certainly not what ID proponents are arguing. Succinctly, what IDers are arguing is that design can be reliably detected. That is the ‘scientific’ part. In regards to design in biological systems they are more than willing to remain agnostic on who that designer might be.

    “You want to argue that supernatural explanations ought to be permitted in science, is that not so? If so, then you owe us an account of how supernatural explanations can be considered scientific.”

    You are confused. Let’s say you come to a dead body. You use your forensic science to determine that the person died from a knife to the heart. A detective will now have to decide what the best explanation is for that fact. If one is constrained only to a ‘naturalistic’ explanation, then the possibility that the person was murdered won’t even be allowed on the table. A better explanation might in fact be that the person was murdered, and if you’re allowed to detect agency you might come up with a different explanation then ‘natural causes.’ The evidence will drive the investigation.

    Similarly, when confronted with what appears to be a genuinely designed object, ‘science’ in the New Atheist sense means that you aren’t allowed to consider the possibility that there is a God behind the design. But this explanation is independent of the method applied to the data. Those engaged in scientism would rather reject the possibility of detecting design at all then allow people grounds for speculation on the designer.

    Yet thanks to Carl Sagan, we know that such reliable detection is possible. In his movie Contact he did just that: posited that out of radio noise it would be possible to reliably detect design. In that case, it was a distant space alien. But if the materialists are right, then the SETI project cannot possibly be scientific, because it is not scientifically possible to detect an intelligent agent.

    Oh yea, and I wasn’t being insulting when I responded to your post by saying it was a mere electronic blip. I was highlighting the fact that in your attempt to show that we cannot reliably detect design, you were in fact opearting on the presumption that you could reliably detect design.

    • Anthony on April 19, 2008 at 8:05 pm
      Author

    Do you deny the following three central facts of my entry:

    1. Many people believe the only reliable way to know anything of importance is the scientific method.
    2. By the ‘scientific method’ they expressly embrace a naturalistic viewpoint: only naturalistic explanations are allowed on the table.
    3. They believe this is reasonable and rational.

    Isn’t this correct?

    • Spencer on April 19, 2008 at 8:37 pm

    “No, that is not what I argued. Also, the fact that I was presenting a viewpoint doesn’t mean I was arguing for it.”

    Yes, you most certainly are. Do you have a problem with the fact that “only naturalistic explanations are permitted in science?” If so, then, once again, you need to define what you mean by a supernatural scientific explanation. How are you defining “supernatural?” And how would one test for it?

    “This is simply an inaccurate rendering of what I was saying and certainly not what ID proponents are arguing. ”

    Yes, they are. http://www.atheismsucks.blogspot.com/

    Check out the March 28th post and click on the first video. Stein defines ID theistically.

    “Succinctly, what IDers are arguing is that design can be reliably detected. That is the ’scientific’ part. In regards to design in biological systems they are more than willing to remain agnostic on who that designer might be.”

    From Dembski’s book Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology.

    “Christ is indispensable to any scientific theory, even if its practitioners don’t have a clue about him. The pragmatics of a scientific theory can, to be sure, be pursued without recourse to Christ. But the conceptual soundness of the theory can in the end only be located in Christ.” p. 210

    Not agnostic?

    “You are confused. Let’s say you come to a dead body. You use your forensic science to determine that the person died from a knife to the heart. A detective will now have to decide what the best explanation is for that fact. If one is constrained only to a ‘naturalistic’ explanation, then the possibility that the person was murdered won’t even be allowed on the table. A better explanation might in fact be that the person was murdered, and if you’re allowed to detect agency you might come up with a different explanation then ‘natural causes.’ The evidence will drive the investigation.”

    I don’t follow. Why would “murder” NOT be a naturalistic explanation?

    “Similarly, when confronted with what appears to be a genuinely designed object, ’science’ in the New Atheist sense means that you aren’t allowed to consider the possibility that there is a God behind the design. ”

    But this gets back to my original question: If God as an explanation is permitted in scientific theories, how would those theories be tested?

    “But this explanation is independent of the method applied to the data. Those engaged in scientism would rather reject the possibility of detecting design at all then allow people grounds for speculation on the designer.”

    False. Don’t equate “design” with “divine design.” I think naturalistic designs can be subject to scientific scrutiny, but what would constitute evidence of supernaturalistic designs?

    “Yet thanks to Carl Sagan, we know that such reliable detection is possible. In his movie Contact he did just that: posited that out of radio noise it would be possible to reliably detect design. In that case, it was a distant space alien. But if the materialists are right, then the SETI project cannot possibly be scientific, because it is not scientifically possible to detect an intelligent agent.”

    Once again, the distinction is between “design” and “divine design.” HOw would you test for the latter?

    “Oh yea, and I wasn’t being insulting when I responded to your post by saying it was a mere electronic blip. I was highlighting the fact that in your attempt to show that we cannot reliably detect design, you were in fact opearting on the presumption that you could reliably detect design.”

    I never said you were being insulting. Instead, I suggested that you were being childish in dismissing my other remarks.

    • Spencer on April 19, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    “1. Many people believe the only reliable way to know anything of importance is the scientific method.”

    No, I don’t think anyone believes this if by “scientific method” you mean “the manner in which professional scientists practice science.” We don’t need to go into a lab to know when water is boiling.

    “2. By the ’scientific method’ they expressly embrace a naturalistic viewpoint: only naturalistic explanations are allowed on the table.”

    Depends on what you mean by “naturalistic.” If “naturalistic” means “anything but God and divine entities,” then yes, I agree.


    3. They believe this is reasonable and rational.”

    Yes.

  1. “Similarly, when confronted with what appears to be a genuinely designed object, ’science’ in the New Atheist sense means that you aren’t allowed to consider the possibility that there is a God behind the design.”

    If it is really possible to use the techniques of ID, in particular Dembski’s “Design Filter” to detect design, then I’m sure you will be only too happy to actually put these techniques to the test, and thereby validate your point.

    Here are five alphabetic strings. Four of them are just random strings of letters. The fifth string was designed by me-it is an English sentence encoded using a standard cryptographic technique that does not require the use of a computer.

    String 1: qxoigpfrrqnglbn
    String 2: jezpnmtottrtwci
    String 3: zzvxtodudponqxb
    String 4: rgsojkybqxjdqwu
    String 5: ahxfsfyevzyozcg

    Please identify the designed string, and tell me how you used Dembski’s “design filter” to identify it. Mind you, I am not asking you to decrypt the designed string. I am only asking you to use Dembski’s techniques to do what he claims to be able to do: to detect design.

    Good luck!

    • Anthony on April 19, 2008 at 10:45 pm
      Author

    “Yes, you most certainly are.”

    No, I certainly am not. Either I didn’t communicate well- certainly a possibility- or you aren’t reading it correctly. Looking over my post I can see some areas that might help clarify, but I think it is clear enough that I certainly am not. Read it again.

    “Not agnostic?”

    Again, you are confusing the matter. ID proponents insist that design can be reliably detected. Who is responsible for that design is a different question. On that you would be hard pressed to come up with a quote where he insists that the proposition that Jesus is the designer is a scientific statement.

    Good luck.

    “I don’t follow. Why would “murder” NOT be a naturalistic explanation?”

    I thought you would trip over this. Intelligent Design is about whether or not you can detect agency. ID says you can. Whether or not that agency is believed to be supernatural or not is not ultimately relevant. So, taking agency off the table in evaluating the ‘apparent’ design in biology would be like taking agency off the table in the case of murder.

    “But this gets back to my original question: If God as an explanation is permitted in scientific theories, how would those theories be tested?”

    And this is again a misunderstanding of my position.

    Let me ask this: what is the scientific explanation, read: purely naturalistic explanation, for the physical laws that we observe in the universe? Where did they come from? Why are the nuclear forces what they are and not something else?

    “False. Don’t equate “design” with “divine design.””

    Aha, but that is your mistake, not mine. In fact, that’s pretty much the point!

    You state:

    “I think naturalistic designs can be subject to scientific scrutiny,”

    But how would you know that they are naturalistic designs? How can you scientifically detect naturalistic designs and know that that is what they are? Surely that implies that you have an expectation of what non-naturalistic design might look like, or else this statement is not weighty.

    The critical point is that the source of the designer is not being placed within the purvey of ‘science.’ This is the grave mistake you are making and it is precisely this mistake that is generating all the heat. The question is whether or not design can be objectively, scientifically detected. Period. You say ‘Yes’ for ‘naturalistic design’ whatever the heck that means.

    If an ID proponent says that their belief that the designer is the Christian God he will not say that this belief is scientific. The detection of the design he says is scientific. This is a very important distinction, and it is completely missed. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be situations where his interpretation of the design is within the natural order, and in those cases perhaps he might say that his inference is ‘scientific.’

    “Once again, the distinction is between “design” and “divine design.” HOw would you test for the latter?”

    And once again, the assertion that the design is ‘divine’ is not what they are asserting is ‘scientific.’ This is a HUGE distinction.

    “1. Many people believe the only reliable way to know anything of importance is the scientific method.”

    No, I don’t think anyone believes this if by “scientific method” you mean “the manner in which professional scientists practice science.” We don’t need to go into a lab to know when water is boiling.

    I think you’re completely wrong. A lot of people believe this. It won’t be hard to document. I’m going to go to bed right now but why don’t you save me the five seconds of google search and find out for yourself.

    “Depends on what you mean by “naturalistic.” If “naturalistic” means “anything but God and divine entities,” then yes, I agree.”

    Ok, so at least 1 for 2.

    “Yes.”

    2 for 3. Now we just have to get you to agree that there is a huge mass of anti-theists who believe that the science is the most reliable way to know anything of importance. I think with a little research you’ll see that that is precisely the case.

    And for the record, where do you stand? Do you believe that there are other methods that yield knowledge as certain as that which science generates?

    Time for me to go to bed.

    • Spencer on April 20, 2008 at 1:05 am

    My post didn’t go through and I lost my response. I can’t retype it all now, but I want to get one issue straight.

    “The Intelligent Design movement wishes to take advantage of the expanded definition, minus the insistence of naturalistic explanations. ”

    “And only naturalistic explanations are permitted in science.”

    Those are your words. Do you have a problem with the fact that “only naturalistic explanations are permitted in science?” Yes or No? If so, then, once again, you need to define what you mean by a supernatural scientific explanation. How are you defining “supernatural?” And how would one test for it?

    “ID proponents insist that design can be reliably detected. Who is responsible for that design is a different question. On that you would be hard pressed to come up with a quote where he insists that the proposition that Jesus is the designer is a scientific statement.

    Good luck.”

    http://www.atheismsucks.blogspot.com/

    Ben Stein defines ID as the hypothesis that life originated “by an all powerful designer.” (2:33)

    (Btw, the Discovery Institute endorses Stein’s movie.”)

    • Anthony on April 20, 2008 at 7:11 am
      Author

    “Those are your words. Do you have a problem with the fact that “only naturalistic explanations are permitted in science?” Yes or No?”

    You’ve asked, but the answer is in the post.

    A Christian might say to himself, “Well, sure, you can’t perform experiments to recreate the creating of the universe nor can you observe the designer designing the particular feature you are examining (though perhaps you can observe him designing something else). In that sense, sure, it isn’t scientific like, say, measuring how long it takes water to boil. What’s the problem? Maybe just ditch the term and we can proceed to discuss what is actually true…”

    The understanding of science in the above paragraph is in fact what most people think of when they think of science… a method constrained to direct empirical observation utilizing experiment, controls, and repeating phenomena. This is what we learn in high school science classes.

    Obviously, Spencer, obviously I have no problem with science being limited to the natural order. I don’t understand why this was so difficult for you to figure out. The problem begins in the next sentence…

    When you get to college, however, the discipline of science is expanded to allow a broad range of explorations, including looking into the ‘Multiverse’ or constructing complex scenarios to explain how life might have evolved.

    Today just about anything you do, any measure of conjecture or philosophizing, can be described as science

    “Ben Stein defines ID as the hypothesis that life originated “by an all powerful designer.””

    A. An all powerful designer is not necessarily supernatural.
    B. Ben Stein isn’t himself one of the chief proponents of ID.
    C. The Discovery Institute’s endorsement doesn’t have to mean that they embrace every statement in the movie. No one takes an endorsement of a movie to mean 100% agreement.

    Produce a quote from the ID community proper, Dembski, Behe, Meyer.

    And again, I wish you good luck.

    Tell me, Spencer. Is the multiverse properly understood as ‘science’in your mind? The universes can’t be detected. They exist outside our universe. Science?

    • Anthony on April 20, 2008 at 7:37 am
      Author

    Here is a quote by Dembski from the book “Mere Creation.”

    Christians are not deists. God is not an absentee landlord.
    That said, the question remains what evidence has God given of interacting with the world. This is where things get sticky. Because God is intimately involved with the world moment by moment, there is no question that God interacts with the world. This is a tenet of our faith that brooks no controversy. Controversy arises, however, once we ask whether God’s interaction with the world is empirically detectable. It is one thing as a matter of faith to hold that God exists, interacts with and sovereignly rules the world. Alternatively one may argue on philosophical grounds that the world and its laws are not self-explanatory and therefore point to a transcendent source. But it is another thing entirely to assert that empirical evidence support God’s interaction with the world, rendering God’s interaction empirically detectable. Theology and philosophy are legitimate ways for understanding God’s interaction with the world. Nonetheless neither theology nor philosophy can answer the evidential question whether God’s interaction with the world is empirically detectable.
    To answer this question we must look to science.
    The science we look to however needs to be unencumbered by naturalistic philosophy. If we prescribe in advance that science must be limited to undirected natural causes, then science will necessarily be incapable of investigating God’s interaction with the world. But if we permit science to investigate intelligent causes (as many special sciences already do, eg, forensic science and artificial intelligence) then God’s interaction with the world, insofar as it manifes the characteristic features of intelligent causation, becomes a legitimate domain for scientific investigation.
    There is an important contrast to keep in mind here. Science, we are told, studies natural causes whereas to introduce God is to invoke supernatural causes.This is the wrong contrast. The proper contrast is between undirected natural causes on the one hand and intelligent causes on the other. Intelligent causes can do things that undirected natural causes can not.

    and later on, since it also touches on this topic…

    Many special sciences have already developed such methods for drawing this distinction [basically described in the above quote, but he expanded on it], notably forensic science, artificial intelligence (cf. the Turin test), cryptography, archeology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (cf. the movie Contact).
    Whenever these methods detect intelligent causation, the underlying entity they uncover is information. Intelligent design properly formulated is a theory of information. Within such a theory, information becomes a reliable indicator of intelligent causation as well as a proper object for scientific investigation. Intelligent design thereby becomes a theory for detecting and measuring information, explaining its origin and tracing its flow. Intelligent design is not therefore the study of intelligent causes per se but of informational pathways induced by intelligent causes. As a result intelligent design presupposes neither a creator nor miracles. Intelligent design is theologically minimalist. It detects intelligence without speculating about the nature of the intelligence.

    There are a number of things to point to here. First, note that he carefully distinguishes between his ‘article of faith’ and what philosophy and theology can accomplish. He very precisely lays out the part where science is applicable. Note the contrast he makes. It is a close parallel to what I am saying, ie, that ID properly concerns itself with the empirical data and not with one’s preferred explanation for that data.

    This is the root, as I have said. Of course we can reliably detect design. That’s what SETI, cryptology, forensic science, and the like all depend on.

    Anyway, I am aware of an endless supply of such quotes above, so I’m pretty sure you will not find a quote in support of your contention.

    • Anthony on April 20, 2008 at 7:44 am
      Author

    Welcome, “John the Skeptic”

    You said: “If it is really possible to use the techniques of ID, in particular Dembski’s “Design Filter” to detect design, then I’m sure you will be only too happy to actually put these techniques to the test, and thereby validate your point.”

    Actually, it would be irrelevant to my point. My goal was not to prove but to present. As I indicated in my post, I was writing to Christians, many of whom might not understand what the real root problem is.

    As for your request, you really offer a self-defeating argument. For you see, somehow you managed to detect design in order to find my post to respond to it. How did you do that without a reliable method of detecting design?

    Meanwhile, code breakers around the world are slamming their heads on the desk at the insinuation that when they manage to break complicated, hidden codes, they are not engaged in meaningful, scientific work. Religionists, they are! And they just don’t know it.

  2. Why are you so reluctant to answer Spenser’s question?

    “For you see, somehow you managed to detect design in order to find my post to respond to it. How did you do that without a reliable method of detecting design?”

    Simple: a keyword search against an indexed database. What does that have to do with the development of new species of organic life?

    “Meanwhile, code breakers around the world are slamming their heads on the desk at the insinuation that when they manage to break complicated, hidden codes, they are not engaged in meaningful, scientific work. Religionists, they are! And they just don’t know it.”

    If you knew a little more about cryptology, you would know that certain cryptographic techniques produce cyphertexts that cannot be distinguished from random character strings. The cyphertext is still designed, because it has a human author who translated it from cleartext into cyphertext. But there is no way to detect that design–it is indistinguishable from randomness.

    So Dembski’s assumption that design is detectable in the general case, is incorrect. Dembski does not appear to understand that there is an enormous difference between detecting specific instances of design, and detecting design in the general case.

  3. Of course, if Dembski is right and I am wrong, then it would be possible to identify which of my five character strings was designed, and which were not.

    Are you feeling brave enough to try?

    • Anthony on April 20, 2008 at 9:57 am
      Author

    “Why are you so reluctant to answer Spenser’s question?”

    I’m not reluctant. I answered it. The reason neither he nor you comprehend the answer is because, most likely, you do not entertain the ‘old school’ understanding of science, but rather the modern, bloated one.

    “Simple: a keyword search against an indexed database. What does that have to do with the development of new species of organic life?”

    So, you can detect design. Glad we settled that.

    “If you knew a little more about cryptology,”

    Don’t start out by making assumptions about what I know or don’t know. You don’t know me from Adam. Such comments only pave the way for flame wars.

    “But there is no way to detect that design–it is indistinguishable from randomness.”

    You are wrong.

    “So Dembski’s assumption that design is detectable in the general case, is incorrect.”

    So says you. My purpose was not to argue it but to present it. As far as I’m concerned, it is neither here nor there whether or not he is correct. The question is whether or not the ID proponents can express their views within the scientific community without them being complete asses in response. The scientific community handles things that they think is ‘incorrect’ or at least come to find out is ‘incorrect’ all the time. Theories change, new data emerges, sometimes people just propose whacked things. Cold fusion, we are told, was shown to be incorrect, but it was still permitted expression.

    For some reason, in the case of ID, it isn’t enough merely to disagree with it or provide counter arguments in the scientific literature. It is somehow very, very important that it not be permitted into the literature at all. Not very open minded, if you ask me.

    “Are you feeling brave enough to try?”

    That’s a typical move. Very much like Spencer’s belief that just because I don’t answer him I’m ‘dodging.’ I have limited amount of time at my disposal. My refusal to play your game has nothing to do with bravery and everything to do with staying on the particular point. That point was clearly stated, though it doesn’t surprise me that context gets thrown out the window when it suits people’s own purposes.

    Here is the context:

    “I would like to spend a moment addressing what I believe is the real crux of the matter. This post is mainly for Christians but I can’t stop skeptics from reading.”

    A relevant post would not ask me to justify ID’s claims to science. A relevant post would acknowledge or dispute that ID does make such a claim, that people respond in the way I have described, etc, etc.

    It is not my purpose to justify ID’s claims, but to present them. It was not my purpose to refute the counter-claims, but to identify what I believe provokes those counter-claims. Except for Spencer’s belief that people do not actually believe that science is the most reliable way to gain knowledge, it would appear that in general, my characterizations of the other side are more or less accepted, and in fact you, like him, are proving this statement true:

    “Those interpretations of the evidence are off the table from the start. There is no sense in pointing this out to them because they are not ashamed of it.”

    All you’re doing is proving that you are not ashamed of it. If I wanted to argue whether or not you should be ashamed or not, I would have written a different entry.

    • Spencer on April 20, 2008 at 10:54 am

    “You’ve asked, but the answer is in the post.”

    I gave you straight yes-no answers to the questions you asked. Why won’t you do the same?

    “The Intelligent Design movement wishes to take advantage of the expanded definition, minus the insistence of naturalistic explanations. ”

    “And only naturalistic explanations are permitted in science.”

    Those are your words. Do you have a problem with the fact that “only naturalistic explanations are permitted in science?” Yes or No? I won’t move further until you answer this question.

    • Spencer on April 20, 2008 at 11:03 am

    “Obviously, Spencer, obviously I have no problem with science being limited to the natural order.”

    So is your answer to my question a “no?” You DON’T have a problem with the fact that only naturalistic explanations are permitted in science? Is this correct?

    • Spencer on April 20, 2008 at 11:21 am

    Regarding Dembski’s quote:

    “First, note that he carefully distinguishes between his ‘article of faith’ and what philosophy and theology can accomplish. He very precisely lays out the part where science is applicable. ”

    Yes, and he clearly thinks “God’s interactions” ought to be subject to scientific scrutiny.

    “But if we permit science to investigate intelligent causes (as many special sciences already do, eg, forensic science and artificial intelligence) then [b]God’s interaction with the world,[/b] insofar as it manifes the characteristic features of intelligent causation, becomes a [b]legitimate domain for scientific investigation.[/b]”

    So the quote you provided actually helps my case. If Dembski wants to say that God’s interaction with the world should be a legitimate subject of scientific inquiry, then he needs to answer the question: how is it possible to scientifically detect “God’s interaction?” In other words, how would a hypothesis which asserted God as the cause of X be testable?

  4. “So, you can detect design.”

    In specific instances? Of course. Dembski’s error, which you follow in, is in assuming that design can detected in the general case. In fact, Dembski goes so far as to say that he has developed an algorithm, which he labels the “design filter” for generalized detection of design.

    The problem is that information theorists who have looked at his work have concluded that Dembski is engaged in nothing but arm-waving, and that his so-called “design filter” fails.

    “Don’t start out by making assumptions about what I know or don’t know.”

    If I am incorrect, and you actually ARE knowledgeable about cryptology, then of course I will apologize. (Naturally, you will be able to describe for me your education and experience in cryptology.)

    “‘But there is no way to detect that design–it is indistinguishable from randomness.’

    “You are wrong.

    “‘So Dembski’s assumption that design is detectable in the general case, is incorrect.’

    “So says you.”

    It is not a matter of my merely saying so. I have given you a specific example of a designed sequence that is undetectable. You have simply flatly asserted that I am wrong. Well, it should be straightforward to show that my counter-example is nothing of the sort, and that Dembski’s design filter actually works.

    You have Dembski’s books, essays, and other writings available to you. Use them. Use them to do what he claims to be able to do: detect design in one of those character strings.

    If you do not have time yourself, then solicit help from all of your IDC friends. What a coup for you this will be, if you can actually show that Dembski’s techniques work!

  5. By the way, I gave you a hint: In my first post I told you that the technique I used does not require the use of a computer. Anyone with a passing knowledge of cryptology would immediately guess which standard cryptographic technique I used.

    • Anthony on April 20, 2008 at 1:45 pm
      Author

    “I gave you straight yes-no answers to the questions you asked. Why won’t you do the same?”

    Because it is offensive to me when you to ask a question which is already answered for you. I don’t like wasting my time on people who don’t give me the courtesy of listening the first time.

    “Yes or No? I won’t move further until you answer this question.”

    No skin off my back, I assure you.

    If you’d pay any attention to what you are responding to, you’d see that I’m presenting ‘science’ under two different frameworks. Even as a Christian, I have no problem with the scientific method which entails what we might call ‘methodological naturalism.’ This first framework is what is taught in high school science classes. The second framework operates under the guise of ‘methodological naturalism’ but is no longer constrained by the scientific method we were led to think existed: observe, hypothesize, experiment, rinse and repeat.

    Try that with the multiverse if you like.

    “Yes, and he clearly thinks “God’s interactions” ought to be subject to scientific scrutiny.”

    Insofar as they are empirical. You are flatly ignoring his caveats.

    Here is the part you are ignoring:

    Intelligent design properly formulated is a theory of information. Within such a theory, information becomes a reliable indicator of intelligent causation as well as a proper object for scientific investigation. Intelligent design thereby becomes a theory for detecting and measuring information, explaining its origin and tracing its flow. Intelligent design is not therefore the study of intelligent causes per se but of informational pathways induced by intelligent causes.

    • Anthony on April 20, 2008 at 1:56 pm
      Author

    “In specific instances? Of course.”

    How?

    “Dembski’s error, which you follow in, is in assuming that design can detected in the general case.”

    I’m not really making that assumption. As I said, I’m presenting the viewpoints and explaining the part that I consider to be the crux of the matter. It was not the goal of the entry to opine on why I think ID is legitimately scientific. It is enough that IDers believe it is, and those entrenched in the scientific establishment believe it isn’t.

    “If I am incorrect, and you actually ARE knowledgeable about cryptology, then of course I will apologize. (Naturally, you will be able to describe for me your education and experience in cryptology.)”

    I have some knowledge about cryptology, but that is neither here nor there. If we all had to have credentials in everything we spoke about, then I think we’d find you being mute on numerous topics. To raise the expectation that I have to work for the NSA or something for cripe’s sake is ridiculous to say the least.

    I am a student of history and play on the Internet. I have studied code breaking in and after WW2 and more recently have evaluated different encryption methods in relation to server security and such. Not an expert, certainly, nor do I think I need to be in order to grasp and make this point.

    “It is not a matter of my merely saying so.”

    At this point, it is, because I have no intention to deviate from the stated purpose of this blog entry.

    “Anyone with a passing knowledge of cryptology would immediately guess which standard cryptographic technique I used.”

    Alas, I didn’t even bother to do more than glance at them. Playing your game isn’t on the agenda for this thread. I don’t understand why that isn’t clear to you.

    Or do you really think I have nothing to do with my time and life than to jump through whatever hoop some passing anonymous skeptic wishes to present? It wouldn’t surprise me if you do. There is a lot of that going around.

    • Spencer on April 20, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    “Because it is offensive to me when you to ask a question which is already answered for you.”

    Come again? I’m asked a simple yes-no question for clarification purposes, and rather than provide me with a straight response (which I never hesitated to offer you), you instead quote large chunks of text that confused the issue for me even more. Now, maybe you think the answer you gave was clear. I don’t.

    (btw, you keep bringing up the multiverse theory, but I don’t see how it helps your case in the slightest. Lee Smolin’s Multiverse theory, for instance, CAN be tested because it makes definite predictions.)

    So, I’ll ask my question again (one last time) and in a different way: do you object to the idea that God or any supernatural hypothesis have no place in any scientific theory? Yes or no?

    “Insofar as they are empirical. You are flatly ignoring his caveats.”

    No, I am not. Dembski EXPLICITLY says:

    “GOD’S INTERACTION with the world, insofar as it manifes the characteristic features of intelligent causation, becomes a legitimate domain for scientific investigation.”

    This assumes that we can, in principle, scientifically, test for “God’s interaction with the world.”

    • Spencer on April 20, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    “I don’t like wasting my time on people who don’t give me the courtesy of listening the first time.”

    Nice condescending attitude. It couldn’t possibly be that I was paying attention but you didn’t express yourself clearly enough. No, if I don’t understand your answer, it must be because I didn’t give you the “courtesy of listening the first time.”

    (See what I mean, Folks?)

    • Anthony on April 20, 2008 at 2:58 pm
      Author

    “Come again? I’m asked a simple yes-no question for clarification purposes,”

    Clarifying what you already have a simple yes-no answer to is obnoxious.

    “(which I never hesitated to offer you)”

    Wrong. I have asked you a number of direct questions which you still have not answered. We’re developing a history now, so be careful.

    “So, I’ll ask my question again” (one last time) and in a different way: do you object to the idea that God or any supernatural hypothesis have no place in any scientific theory? Yes or no?”

    “No, I am not.”

    Yes, you are.

    ““GOD’S INTERACTION with the world, insofar as it manifes the characteristic features of intelligent causation, becomes a legitimate domain for scientific investigation.””

    “This assumes that we can, in principle, scientifically, test for “God’s interaction with the world.””

    No, it assumes that intelligent causation can be, in principle, detected. Who the agent is behind that causation may or may not be accessible to science, and he says as much in his remarks about philosophy and theology.

    “Nice condescending attitude.”

    I learn from the best.

    “It couldn’t possibly be that I was paying attention but you didn’t express yourself clearly enough.”

    What, like when I said this: “Either I didn’t communicate well- certainly a possibility- or you aren’t reading it correctly. Looking over my post I can see some areas that might help clarify, but I think it is clear enough that I certainly am not. Read it again.”

    So, I am well aware of the possibility, aren’t I? I raised it first. You should realize by now that I don’t suffer bullies very well. I’m not going to allow you to dictate terms to me like you’re my daddy.

    When I said that I was writing this post for Christians, I meant it. When I said that I wasn’t intending to argue the points themselves, I meant that, too.

    • Spencer on April 20, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    Again, a simple ‘yes or no’ to my question would clarify the issue. Why do you refuse?

    Do you object to the idea that God or any supernatural hypothesis have no place in any scientific theory? Yes or no?”

    “No, it assumes that intelligent causation can be, in principle, detected. Who the agent is behind that causation may or may not be accessible to science, and he says as much in his remarks about philosophy and theology.”

    Wrong. Dembski goes beyond mere “intelligent causation” and is suggesting that “God,” if he exists, can be empirically detected. The quote you provided is VERY clear on this.

    “So, I am well aware of the possibility, aren’t I? I raised it first. ”

    Hence, once again, is why I asked my clarification question, since I didn’t find your ‘answer’ to be illuminating. Maybe it’s just me, but a direct answer to my question would definitely settle things.

    • Anthony on April 20, 2008 at 3:16 pm
      Author

    Since so much of my time has been wasted why not waste some more.

    First of all, I didn’t notice you answer my direct question about whether or not you believe that science is the most reliable way to learn about the world. Since you haven’t hesitated to answer me, perhaps you can get around to actually answering it? 😉

    Now, the reason why you have failed to understand why “I have no problem…” as a simple ‘no’ I think stems from not understanding the first 4-5 paragraphs. If by science you mean: observation, hypothesis, experiment, rinse and repeat, then my answer would be very simple: we should prefer naturalistic explanations for physical phenomena.

    However, it is not the case that science means just that anymore. There are numerous so called scientific endeavors which are not derived from direct experimentation. The multiverse (Wheeler’s) posits the existence of nearly infinite universes outside the scope of our detection. Why is it reasonable and scientific to posit an infinite amount of undetectable universes but you can’t say you can detect design because it might lend credence to an infinite undetectable entity?

    That’s nonsense and a ridiculous double standard. So you see, my problem is that by ‘science’ we are not referring to exactly the same thing. For if you were, when you asked about how to test a supernatural hypothesis, you would recognize that you were using science in the ‘old’ sense for purposes of examination of ID’s legitimacy, while perfectly content to use the ‘new’ sense in more general terms.

    The fact is, I already answered that you can’t empirically verify the existence of God. So let’s say you infer from the data a ‘supernatural explanation.’ You can’t run an empirical test. No question. Does that mean there is no test at all? What did I say?

    I said:

    So, testing a ’supernatural hypothesis’ would depend a great deal on what you mean by ‘test.’ The phrasing of your statement strongly implies some sort of empirical testing.

    On the other hand, if rather than a ‘hypothesis’ we’re referring to say an ‘interpretation’, like trying to decide whether or not it is reasonable, having decided that biological organisms bear marks of design, to state that the designer is God or perhaps maybe Francis Crick’s Directed Panspermia, we would ‘test’ the interpretation the way we test just about anything: is the explanation coherent, does it account for all the facts, or at least more facts than rivals, can it be corroborated, etc, etc.

    I don’t think you mean your question in the latter sense.

    So, why don’t you clarify what you meant by ‘test’ because I already indicated to your ‘simple’ question that my answer would depend on that, and I also indicated some ways you could test the interpretation.

    I indicated some ways you could test the interpretation in the sixth comment of this thread and we are now more than 30 comments in and you’re still repeating your flipping question about how I propose we might ‘test’ a supernatural explanation and pretending like I haven’t answered it.

    • Anthony on April 20, 2008 at 3:18 pm
      Author

    I typed my latest reply while you added a few comments. I stand by my latest which really is a clarification, while a simple ‘yes-no’, while ridiculously redundant at this point, leaves you in your confusion.

    • Spencer on April 20, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    I don’t see how you couldn’t just answer ‘yes,’ that is, you object, since that would have sufficiently clarified the issue. Obviously many scientists take multiverse theories seriously, and your complaint is that if those theories can be taken seriously, why not God/supernatural-theories? This is your complaint, correct?

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