Saturday, October 29, 2005

Meta-thoughts on the Intelligent Design discussion

Kelly's post on Intelligent Design:

I have been trying to find time to react to Kelly's post on Intelligent Design. As I mentioned in my previous blog, I am not terribly up-to-date on all the arguments on either side of the debate. I did spend a few minutes in the local bookstore looking for some material on ID, but I didn't see anything.

I can not pretend total ignorance, however. I have not been living in a bottle for that many years. The truth is I have encountered some of the issues before, but did not take the time to inform myself about the details. Due to a lack of free time, I will have to more or less confine my scope to whatever has already been discussed in Kelly's post.

What I would like to do in this post:

What I would like to do in this post, is to think aloud, so to speak, as I sidle up to the issues. I don't pretend to be a great thinker, or that I think any better than anybody else. But I do believe that one way blogging can serve the planet is by opening up our thinking processes -- so that we can learn how each other thinks. So we can see people trying to improve their thinking. So we can practice together, and learn by example. Of course, this means that I am open to suggestions about my own thinking process.

Please be mindful that this will be artificially long and ponderous, as I am trying to explain my thinking in writing.

I would like to do 3 main things in this post:

First, I would like to explore my own biases, beliefs, pet notions, ignorances, predispositions and fears. These are all components of everybody's thinking, and they all play necessary roles in the thinking process. But they can also become the sources of much of our stupidity and intellectual arrogance, when we take them for granted.

Second, I would like to follow up with a look at the structure of the known arguments to try to identify what the crucial arguments are, which arguments play a subordinate role, and which may not even be that important. Actually, Kelly has really already broken it down pretty nicely for us, so there should not really be much for us to do. Still, I would like to take a shot because I think it is a worthwhile exercise.

Third, I would like to extract any conclusions, arguments, questions, or just anything I might want to follow up on.


My biases, fears, beliefs, ignorances and predispositions:

My overall bias is towards the notion that Intelligent Design should not be taught in schools.

I was thinking about it the other day, when I realized that, from the outset, I have a nagging sense of fear that somehow a successful ID campaign might lead to religious fundamentalists overrunning the protective walls of secularity, causing our youth to succumb an agenda of scarcely disguised religiosity, and retarding free thought everywhere. (When I hold it up to the light of day, that does seem a bit exaggerated.) All this to say that I do have biases, and I have to stay alert to that fact.

I am open to certain traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic faith-based notions about religion, such as monotheism, but not others. I have no interest in being affiliated with any formal synagogue, church or mosque, any denominations, or sects. The supernatural aspects of religion are not really of interest to me. For the most part, I see them as quite beside the point.

I am predisposed to think that any attempt to suppose that the Bible must be literally true is misguided. I can accept that parts of some Biblical stories have historical value. I might be receptive to some views that hold the Biblical creation story to be true, but only in a very abstract way. But I am not predisposed to subscribe to any attempt to treat the Biblical creation story as literally true. I am also predisposed to consider the existence, or non-existence, of God to be a matter of faith, and not even remotely likely to ever be determinable by science.

I have a strong attachment to the notion of a secular society. I think religions profit from this as much as those who are not religious.

I do not see much merit in believing just because one's parents, or one's community, believes it. Or because there is a punishment for not believing it.

I am willing to entertain notions that might be considered of the same ilk as Intelligent Design -- up to a point. I do not see it as problematic to posit the existence of a creator who allows randomness, natural selection and evolution to do the work. However, I am predisposed to think this is quite unprovable (and un-disprovable), and therefore useless as science.

I have a layman's knowledge of science. Maybe slightly better than average. But there are huge gaps in my knowledge.

I have a layman's knowledge of the Bible. Maybe slightly better than average. But there are huge gaps in my knowledge. One of my main sources of understanding is "Asimov's Guide to the Bible", written by Isaac Asimov in the late 60's, that discuss the historicity of the Old and New Testaments.

It occurred to me recently that my attachment to science and reason may be more attributable to faith than to first-hand experience with science. On the one hand, I do know the outlines of what is popularly known about science. But I really know very little of issues where science falls short. I mostly just know that such areas exist, and I have been content to trust that somehow they will be resolved. Or somehow, it's okay. I also can't think of many places where I really practice using scientific methods in depth. So, I must admit I do accept many generalities about science on faith.

Intermediate conclusion:

So, I have now identified what I think are the main things that may limit my ability to really learn in any discussion about Intelligent Design:

I am definitely starting from the position of being biased against the introduction of Intelligent Design into the schools. But at least part of that bias is rooted in a fearful mental image that deserves to be questioned. Another part of that bias may arise from my earlier negative estimations of fundamentalist religion.

On the other hand, I am not opposed to a belief in a deity, and I do not necessarily feel the need to dispute all possible formulations of Intelligent Design. If one were to suggest the existence of a God-creator that simply uses evolution as the mechanism through which he-she-it brings his-her-its creatures into existence, then I do not have an immediate problem with that, though I do not assign it any truth value from a scientific standpoint.

Particularly shocking, to me, was the realization that my belief in science may be as much a matter of faith as anything else.

Figuring out what's important in the argument:

My next step would be to review the structure of the Intelligent Design arguments, then try to decide which points are of primary importance, which are subordinate, and which are not necessary. (In the past I have wasted time and effort dickering about side issues.)

I would like to reiterate that, for practical reasons, I am only going to use Kelly's post as my source of infomation. The fact of the matter is that Kelly has already predigested everything for us through his own analysis and presentation of the issues. Nonetheless, I think it is worthwhile to go through this exercise.

Something to bear in mind is that Kelly acknowledges that he does not personally favor ID. That said, he seems to do a good job of working their case.

I hope Kelly won't mind if I plagiarize his 4 point summary of the main premisses and conclusion of the ID argument as to why ID should be included in schools (click on the link to see his whole post):

Intelligent Design (or ID) is a hot topic these days. For those not in the know, the basic premises are these:
1. Evolution is only a theory, and is not proven
2. There are many holes in the theory of evolution
3. ID resolves this problem by positing that some intelligent force is at work in the evolutionary process, or that evolution is false entirely and that species are the work of some intelligent force.
4. Therefore ID should be taught alongside evolution in public school science classes


He certainly has made our work easy. Point #4 -- the conclusion -- is what it's all about. The argument is about whether or not ID should be taught alongside evolution in public school science classes. The argument as to whether or not ID is valid or true is secondary, for example.

When you play baseball, you're supposed to keep your eye on the ball. If you take your eye off the ball, it'll go whizzing right past you. Likewise, you should keep your eye on the conclusion because that is what matters here. All the other points -- the premisses -- are there to presumably support that conclusion.

But there is more to it than just the explicit premisses. All three premisses might be true, and the conclusion remain false. That's because there is an implied premiss that says something "IF 1 is true AND 2 is true AND 3 is true THEN 4 must be true."

Anyway, the obvious main lines for arguing against ID (assuming we accept Kelly's summarized version of the argument) would be to prove something like one of the following:

1. Evolution is not just a theory,
OR
2. There are not many holes in the theory of evolution,
OR
3. ID does not resolve the (so-called) holes,
OR
4. Even if 1, 2 and 3 were true, that would not warrant that ID should be taught alongside evolution in public school science classes,
OR
5. One or more of the (pro-ID) premisses is irrelevant, dishonest or in some way improperly conceived,
OR
6. Some variation or combination of the above.

I would like to point out that each of these lines of argument would probably entail many deeper sub-arguments. For example, to argue that ID does not resolve the (so-called) holes, would probably entail wading through a lot of sub-examples/premisses in order to prove whether or not it does resolve the issues. Premiss 3 may be a premiss with respect to conclusion 4 in Kelly's argument summary, but it is a conclusion in its own right, with its own premisses. Those premisses are not stated here, but if you attack premiss 3, you will most likely have to deal with the premisses and examples that support it.

One mistake I have made innumerable times in the past, is to not clearly see what the main lines of argument should be, and to jump around from one line of argument to another. As with driving and coloriing, it is often better to stay within the lines.

Another problem I encountered was when I felt I had (more or less) successfully attacked some set of sub-arguments only to find I could not make the leap to destroying the conclusion of the subarguments -- premiss to the main argument -- without resorting to a feeble generalization.

As an example of this last folly, suppose a pro-ID debater were to advance the example argument that lungs and eyes could not have evolved through natural selection, but could be explained if God created them as is. This would be a support to their intended conclusion that ID resolves the many holes in Evolution. The problem may be that, even if the anti-ID debater were to successfully fend off that particular argument -- followed by 10 just like it -- they still might have a long way to go. It doesn't necessarily follow that if you successfully refute any 10 examples that you may therefore assert that you have thereby refuted the conclusion they were in support of. It may seem obvious to you that if you refuted 10 examples in a row, that all their examples are refutable, but nobody has to accept that.

In my own case, there have been times when the other guy would not acknowledge my right to claim that I had proved the generalization, so I got frustrated and tried to blame them for being unreasonable.

Kelly discussed 3 main arguments commonly used to try to refute the 4-point ID argument. They were summarized as:
A. Intelligent Design is just a subterfuge for teaching religion in public schools
B. If Intelligent Design is taught in public schools, then you will have to teach any and all ideas, even crackpot ones, and
C. Intelligent Design is not scientific.

I'll call them Refutations A, B anc C.

Refutation A primarily argues a variation of the anti-ID argument line that read,
"Even if 1, 2 and 3 were true, that would not warrant that ID should be taught alongside evolution in public school science classes". It's a variation because it seems to entail the presupposition that ID fails to resolve the holes of evolution.

Refutation B Seems to touch the same lines of argument as refutation A.

Refutation C. Seems to be a variation of the anti-ID line of argument that says that "ID does not resolve the (so-called) holes". If it is not scientific, then it can't really be said to resolve the holes in evolutionary theory. [This might also be said to fall under the line of argument "One or more of the (pro-ID) premisses is irrelevant, dishonest, or in some way improperly conceived."]

I won't go into them now, but it seems to me that most of the commentaries up to now have made arguments that are variations of at least one of the 6 main lines of argument available to the anti-ID side that I listed earlier.


Intermediate conclusion:

I have taken a look at the structure of the arguments, but I was forced by time to only focus on the main lines of the anti-ID arguments. Ideally, I would take a deeper look at what the pro-ID arguments would need to prove. That is, deeper than what is stated in Kelly's 4-point summary. At any rate, I consider this to have been a useful exercise.

When I looked at the comments to Kelly's post, I could see that a number of the argument lines were accounted for. For example, there was some discussion of the true nature of scientific theory. Some of these discussion would probably fall under the anti-ID line of arguments "Evolution is not just a theory" in conjunction with "One or more of the (pro-ID) premisses is irrelevant, dishonest or in some way improperly conceived"

I think enough of the anti-ID arguments were accounted for that I don't really feel I will add much if I wade in. But if I did, I think I would want to stick closer to anti-ID argument lines 1 "Evolution is not just a theory", or 4 "Even if 1, 2 and 3 were true, that would not warrant that ID should be taught alongside evolution in public school science classes". But that would just be for practical reasons: I don't know enough about evolutionary theory to know its shortcomings; and I also wouldn't want to get bogged down in a number of subarguments that I suspect would require me to refute every possible example the pro-ID forces might throw at me.


Final arguments, questions, conclusions and general follow up:

This was a long exercise, but of value to me. Hopefully it was at least interesting in some way, or perhaps even instructive. There is a lot more that I would have liked to achieve, but it requires more time than I can take away from my family.

I think the biggest benefit to me was from examining my biases, fears, beliefs, ignorances, predispositions, etc. I realized that I take science on faith. I also realized that I have what may overreact to the notion of teaching ID in the schools. This doesn't mean that I would go out and vote for it, if I were given such a vote. But it does mean that I might want to explore that in a bit more detail. It's worth noting, that Kelly touched on a similar point in downplaying the negative effects of allowing ID to be taught in the schools.

Up to this point I have focused a lot on the argumentive approach to this whole issue. It crossed my mind that it might be worth exploring the significance, and possible variations of ways in which ID might be taught in the schools that would not bother me. For example, if it were taught in philosophy class, alongside other great philosophies, I probably would not be even thinking about it. It probably is, in many good schools. In general, it is easy to become so focused on the debate as to miss other ways to resolve an issue. Unfortunately, this is something I can not explore in depth at this time because of time constraints. (It's getting late, and I have to work tomorrow.)

Missing from all of this was a determined representative of the pro-ID side. I am intrigued enough to want to follow up this subject. When I do, I would like to visit a site where the pro-ID people are in the majority.

At any rate, I feel that this was a good exercise for me. There was lots more I had hoped to do, but I will have to cut it short (LOL) at this point.

Good night.

4 Comments:

Blogger Kelly said...

It's not so much the particular debate that's important. What's really important is what you've done here: examining your own biases and predispositions and trying to look at the debate objectively. I'm glad my post had the intended effect!

8:03 AM  
Blogger Mr K said...

Yeah, thats some very interesting stuff there. I am perhaps too involved in the ID argument emotionally to detatch myself, but its always healthy to argue. Or debate. Heh

On your point of taking science as faith, I think thats an interesting one. I have been met with that argument before, but I think its not a faith in science as such- its a faith in EXPERTISE.

Nowadays it is impossible to be well versed in all subjects, and so we often defer to expertise. We assume those who have studied a subject have a good knowledge of it. In particular, scientists have not only studied their particular subject, they are critisised by other scientists also versed in the subject. That way is good science made, although there always failure in the system. A lot of pro-ID people have NOT studied natural systems; at least their arguments suggest as such, calling on "facts" that are easily, and often are, debunked by any scientist. So in that case I will put my faith in the scientists.

So, it is faith, but its not necessarily unwarranted. Still, healthy skeptisism is always a good idea. As is trying to learn as much as you can about everything.

1:54 PM  
Blogger Copernicus Now said...

Thanks to both of you for your involvement.

8:24 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

Many science fiction authors (notably the great Isaac Asimov) have predicted that everyone will be extremely specialized in the future, much more so than we are now, simply because of the sheer volume of information that will be available in every subject.

As someone going into the legal profession, I find myself in a plight similar to that of the evolution theorists. Both groups are very specialized and have to go through a great deal of schooling in order to master their trade. And both groups are heavily criticized by regular people who have absolutely no schooling in that area at all.

6:10 AM  

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