Saturday, December 10, 2005

Intelligent Design and the Role of Explanation

This is a wonderful example of apologetic interaction with the culture at large.  It is an opinion piece written by Douglas Groothuis regarding the typical take on Intelligent Design in the Denver paper, The Rocky Mountain News.  HT: World Mag Blog

One excerpt:

When Darwinists refuse to admit intelligent cause as a possible explanation for specified complexity, this only reveals that they define science such that intelligent causes are disallowed in principle. But this approach is not a discovery of science itself. It is rather a philosophical commitment to materialism (the belief that reality is reducible to impersonal physical laws).

This passage addresses one of the more crucial issues raised in opposition to ID.  Often ID’s opponents will regard an explanation that goes beyond the natural/physical realm as no explanation at all.  In other words, good explanations describe an event or process (or whatever) by other physical events, objects, processes, etc.  Any attempt to produce an effective explanation outside the physical realm is an effort in futility.  Non-natural explanations are not explanations at all.  (See Victor Reppert’s book, C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea for a developed engagement with this physicalist view of explanation.)

This view, though, reveals more about the typical assumptions built into the edifice of modern science than it does about the nature of explanation.  If we begin with the assumption that physical causes are all that exist, then any attempt to explain data without appealing to other physical data will be dismissed out of hand.  But, as Reppert points out in his philosophically rigorous book, exclusively physical explanations fall apart rather quickly.

If a naturalistic scientist is a fan of the N.Y Jets, his potential glee at them drafting a good quarterback next season is not at all explained by physical facts.  Intent, belief, and other non-physical realities do a better job of explaining an emotion or reaction like glee than other, “lower down the chain,” physical explanations.  Glee is not adequately described as having a causal chain beginning with neurons.

Analogously, for the scientific community to deny non-physical explanations for apparent design, is for them to say more about their philosophical presuppositions than their scientific rigor.  And, as Dr. Groothuis points out in his article, it ends up being a straw man argument anyway.

1 comment:

Brian B said...

Phil said:
"Analogously, for the scientific community to deny non-physical explanations for apparent design, is for them to say more about their philosophical presuppositions than their scientific rigor."

Or, to put it slightly differently, for the scientific community to deny, out of hand, non-physical explanations is for them to say more about the ways in which scientific rigor fails to reliably guide us to truth, than about the failure of non-physical explanations to be genuine explanations. If "methodological naturalism" constrains possible explanations such that only a physicalistic explanation is acceptable, well, that just shows us the conclusions to which we are entitled as materialists, but does not show us the conclusions to which we might be entitled given everything we know - i.e. as rational agents. Unless, of course, we somehow could know that naturalism is the undeniable truth.

Maybe science does "require" methodological naturalism. Fine - but then scientifically rigorous explanation need not be the only, or even the best, explanation for every phenomenon. There may be elements of reality that don't find a natural "home" within a naturalistic worldview. So much the worse for naturalism!