I ate my wafer...


I was very happy to see that Blandus has returned to the ID discussion, and the following is an attempt to clearify my alledged preferential treatment of evolution, which Blandus has called "the most disappointing thing I've ever seen Bob write."

I was referring to the lack of useful results from ID theories which would be required to overturn, or modify current theory. That is, to vastly simplify, ID theories tends to fall into two classes: pointing out inconsistencies or holes in evolution (Behe, Wells, Dembski) , and inferring a designer from fine-tuning and similar (Dembski, Barrow, etc).

For the scientific community to accept a theory of the first sort, there would need to be a predictive element, merely pointing out a gap and throwing in a designer is useless. I've argued with Wells that he needs to get away from simply saying that “bacteria in X experiment didn't evolve” to “based on the fossil record, etc, evolution says that the bacteria should have certainly evolved by N generations”, that is to be seriously considered he needs to attack evolution on predictive grounds. I think that it is fair to say the scientific community is very suspicious that ID's own predictive ability, (and usefulness in experimental design) boils down to playing god of the gaps. When I said that new theories are held to a higher standard, I was specifically thinking of things such as the design of the eye, which it can be argued that evolution cannot explain, but ID can simply explain by inferring design. In the eyes of science, evolution gets a pass on explaining the eye when compared to a theory that merely referring a designer unless there is experimental evidence or a predictive ability to the theory that inferred the designer. (If that isn't clear, I would be happy to expand, but this is running long enough as is.)

Arguments of the second sort are inherently limited in effect, that is, they appeal to areas of science that are bordering on metaphysics. That is, they fall in an area of cosmology, while fascinating (especially to philosophers), is not horribly “hard” as far as science goes, and has relatively little, if any influence over the rest of science; it is to physics what psycho-therapy is to biology. Assuming for a second that I buy the logic used to support the fine-tuning argument, I would have no reason to see it having a practical consequence in science any more than the various theories on the consistency of dark matter change how biological experiments are planned. That is, the fine-tuning argument and its kin have no practical uses. This ties in with my original comment that the vast majority of science is conducted without regard to philosophy.

I will admit to being less that current on the latest literature, but I have yet to hear a practical benefit to ID theory. I've heard lots of vague references to reducing the prevalence of philosophical naturalism, occasional appeals to a desire to unify all of human knowledge, and extremely vague claims that “fixing” science to include elements of design could result in different areas of research, or somehow influence experimental design in a positive sense. Only the latter would have much relevance to the scientific community, and I have yet to hear a convincing, or even complete argument made from it.


  • Bob--this is an excellent post that is extremely fair and extremely clear about the sort of thing ID can and should do to become more respectable.

    Some quick comments on the second sort of ID arg: I would agree that a successful fine-tuning argument would have a fairly small impact on how science is done (in the day-to-day practicum). Yet, it seems to me to have fairly important non-scientific implications, not the least of which is the truth of theism. This would have a significant impact on fields of philosophy and religion, and indeed, any other field where a human self-conception is relevant (psychology comes immediately to mind). So while of limited _scientific_ value, it would have enormous value in other ways, not the least of which is in my discipline, Philosophy. Were one interested in the Rationality of Theism, this would be big news.

    By Blogger David Talcott, at 7:56 PM  

  • David,

    Are you comfortable with a faith substantially depending on science?

    By Blogger Daniel Silliman, at 8:14 PM  

  • David: First off: thank you, it was a post written in great haste. In general, I find that many people outside the scientific community underestimate how important the practical aspects are too the acceptance of new scientific theories.

    My initial reaction (back in ~2000) to the fine tuning argument was that it was a theory that would be best fought over in philosophy, religion, etc, as opposed to physics, as it contained no real material for experimental prediction. I suspect that a through discussion of the merits of the tuning argument, in philosophy, would rapidly exceed my background in the field and would be better left to others. (That is, when Sam returns from Thanksgiving, I would be most curious to hear his thoughts on the topic)

    Having added the disclaimers above, I will admit that I read your piece of the topic this spring (over at the evangel society), and eagerly awaited the "Technical Addendum." I was most curious to see if you would defend fine-tuning inside physics or on philosophical grounds.

    Silliman: I know that your question was directed at David, but personally, I am profoundly uncomfortable tying faith to science. I personally find enough reasons for doubt without introducing science (which in my mind would consist mainly of peer-review, experiments, and statistical analysis). At the very minimum, I doubt that lay persons could deal with the uncertainty.

    By Blogger Bob, at 11:07 PM  

  • Bob--So you're the one that read that piece!!! I was thinking of trying to submit it somewhere. In any case, I do have a semi-draft of the "technical addendum" that I used for a presentation last year. I recommend to you the book "God and Design" edited by Neil Manson. The examples of fine-tuning that I use come from an article in there by Robin Collins entitled "Evidence for Fine-Tuning." He will have a book out on this topic with the next year or so that is going to blow the lid off of this sort of thing--it will, at any rate, reach a new level of scientific and philosophical discussion as a result. That book is a 2003 book (Routledge), so it's got pretty recent stuff. I heartily recommend Collins piece--yeesh, guess I should get around to finishing that addendum off....

    Silliman--You're just mad because then God wouldn't be dead anymore. While the "substantial dependence" relationship has yet to be fully explicated, I strongly suspect that I made no such claim as you ascribe to me. Bob and I are having a nice conversation about the impact of a successful fine-tuning argument on various disciplines, not the relationship between faith and science, faith and reason, or anything like that.

    By Blogger David Talcott, at 12:48 AM  

  • David - Heh. No, God would still be dead. Don't interrupt your conversation or anything, but I think it's an interesting and Van Tillian question to ask yourself. I'm not trying to trap you into anything, I'd just be interested in seeing your answer.

    By Blogger Daniel Silliman, at 2:09 AM  

  • Well, perhaps the Fine-Tuning Argument and a defibrillator (aka the Flame-throwers of the Gospel) will get use close to reviving God.

    To directly answer your question: no, I am not comfortable with faith substantially depending upon science. The reason is that faith does not substantially depend upon science (grin). I'm seriously interested in the FTA because I think it holds out great promise for firmly wacking annoying "intellectual" liberals upside the head. I think it would also be of great help to the Church. What we learn from God through natural revelation we cannot see very well, until the illumination of the Spirit enlightens His Word to us, and makes us to truly understand God, ourselves, and the world around us. Then, I think, can natural revelation and natural theology hold a promise of real profit.

    Science, as a discipline, I think can _directly_ tell us _nothing_ about God.

    By Blogger David Talcott, at 2:23 AM  

  • Sort of unrelated, thought association type comment...

    Has anyone else read James Morrow's Towing Jahova and Blameless in Abaddon? If not I highly recommend them.

    By Blogger TheAmber, at 1:23 PM  

  • I've read Towing Jehovah (actually at your behest one day in the snack bar). Didn't really see any argument there about why I should think God is dead.

    And if we're talking about the convincing and persuasive effect of stories, I'll take the one about the God who sacrifices His own Son to redeem sinful humanity over the one about a big ship towing a big corpse.


    By Blogger David Talcott, at 5:36 PM  

  • Ah yes! I thought that was you I recomended that to ... but I couldn't remember for sure. Towing Jahova isn't supposed to be an argument that God is dead. Just the opposite in fact. If you read the sequel (Blameless in Abaddon) it goes on to explain that God never really died ... the discovery of his "body" was part of his devine plan to force the convictions of humanity.

    By Blogger TheAmber, at 6:11 PM  

  • Didn't realize it was a 2-part sorta deal. May have to finish reading it.....

    By Blogger David Talcott, at 9:58 PM  

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