Sunday, October 15, 2006

Intelligent Design In The Square

I have a personal theory that is gaining speed all the time. Naturalists, atheists and well-meaning agnostics have a sense of academic and intellectual entitlement that leads them to believe they have a corner on the market of truth and science. It has lead many of them to become intellectually lazy. Theists and Christians have been on the receiving end of the academic blows for the past several decades (if not centuries) and have become all the stronger for it. As a result, many of them present superior arguments and demeanors in public debate when serious academic issues are at stake.

To put a fine point on it, when I say they present “superior arguments,” I mean they actually present arguments about the issues and not about the people involved. Many of the “arguments” against views that overlap with theistic views today are, frankly, ad hominum and off point.

Case in point.

In a recent edition of Think Tank on PBS, Dr. Stephen Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, was on to present the Intelligent Design point of view. His interlocutor was Dr. Michael Ruse, Director of the Program in the Philosophy of the History of Science at Florida State University and a leading Darwinist. In the first few minutes the host asked Meyer if he could distinguish ID from Creationism. He did a very good job of doing so. He then asked Ruse to rebut or respond to Meyer’s assertion.

How long do you think it took for Ruse to argue that because Meyer and other ID proponents were theists of one stripe or another that their theory should be rejected? If you read the transcript, you will scroll through about 4 pages of material (most of it introductory). In fact, Ruse revealed all his philosophical cards early on in the interview:

Nevertheless, I would want to say, for both creationism and intelligent design theory, there’s a deeply, deeply, antiscientific, anti naturalistic attitude which ultimately goes back to the bible being read more literally than traditional Christians would read it.

In other words, to be scientific in any publicly acceptable meaning of the word is to, by definition, be a naturalist. This ubiquitous opinion is exactly why Johnson’s and the Discovery Institute’s famous “Wedge Strategy” is so on point—the first battle to be won in this debate is philosophical.

Ruse was not shy in his evaluation of ID’s basic flaw:

I think you’re profoundly mistaken, I think you are often more religious than you let on, I think that you do try strategies to get around the separation of church and state, I think all of those things. But I think that you are deeply sincerely, if misguided evangelical Christians. So that is very much where I come from, and that’s where I feel at least we can meet there. Now let’s get back to the science.

And this after dwelling on the topic of religion which he and the interviewer raised as real defeaters for the ID case.

To this particular point in the discussion, Dr. Meyer has made it clear that the premises of ID are not theological, and to damn it for its possible theological implications is what he called a “fashionable way of avoiding our arguments.” And of course, Ruse rejected that point while continuing to make theology and religion the issue. By the time Ruse accuses Meyer of possibly being a “misguided evangelical,” Meyer has stated in no uncertain terms, at least twice, what the basic scientific position of Intelligent Design is: is design in nature apparent or real? To this same point, Dr. Ruse’s only rebuttal has been ad hominum: you and your kind are Christians and not naturalists.

Dr. Meyer has also, by this point, revealed the flaws in Ruse’s reasoning. First, Ruse dislikes a possible philosophical/theological implication of ID, and thus rejects the scientific arguments. That is a little bit like arguing: I really want to be able to fly, so I am going to reject the science of gravity. (ID is not a natural law like gravity, but the point is analogous—avoid the premise by denying the implications of the conclusion.)

Secondly, Ruse commits the ‘guilty by association’ fallacy. Because Meyer is a practicing Christian (the interviewer questions him on his religious beliefs at least twice), his motives are devious and his science is inadmissible. I have a friend whose mother would not let him grow a mustache because, she believed, all people with moustaches were “hiding something.” Dr. Ruse has a moustache. Am I justified, based on his reasoning, and taking a cue from my friend’s mother, in believing that he is hiding something?

I am willing to believe that there are serious Darwinists and Naturalists out there who are actually doing scientific and philosophical work on ID, but every time an expert is pulled out of the queue, even on a serious program like Think Tank, they never do.

1 comment:

Ben said...

The debate has undergone quite the reversal. It seems like only a few years ago that evangelicals engaged in this debate by calling the scientists "devils" and their theories inadmissible. Now we have naturailts calling evangelicals "angels" and their theroies irrelevant.

Low-brow, personal debate is not the exclusive domain of the defensive naturalist either. One has only to watch a few minutes of television this month to be bombarded by the embarrassing cheap shots would-be politicians are making at each other.

Perhaps we are entering an age where it no longer matters if you are right or stand for anything good as long as the person next to you is worse.