Why the NDE/ID Debate Is Really (For Most) A Proxy Fight

To define:

NDE (Neo-Darwinian Evolution) = OOL & evolution without prescriptive goals, both being nothing more in essence than functions of material forces & interactions.

ID (Intelligent Design) = Deliberate OOL & evolution with prescriptive goals

(I included OOL because if OOL contains purposefully written code that provides guidelines for evolutionary processes towards goals, then evolutionary processes are not neo-Darwinian as they utilize oracle information).

I’m not an evolutionary biologist, nor am I a mathematician. Therefore, when I argue about NDE and ID, the only cases I attempt to make are logical ones based on principles involved because – frankly – I lack the educational, application & research expertise to legitimately parse, understand and criticize most papers published in those fields. I suggest that most people who engage in NDE/ID arguments (on either side) similarly lack the necessary expertise to evaluate (or conduct) such research on their own.

Further, even if they had some related expertise that makes them qualified, to some degree, to successfully parse such papers, as has been brought up in this forum repeatedly is the lack of confidence in the peer-review process as a safeguard against bad science or bad math, or even fraudulent and sloppy science. A brief search on google or bing for scientific fraud and peer review process will find all sorts of studies about a growing epidemic of bad citations – citations that reference recalled, recanted, fraudulent or disproven research.

So, for the majority of us who are not conducting active research in evolutionary biology, nor are mathematicians or information theorists, what are we really saying if we assert that “evolution has been proven by countless papers”, or “ID is necessary to the formation of DNA”? When one of us claims that Dembski’s work has been “disproven”, or that Douglas Axe has proven something about functional protein probabilities, what does it mean when we (those whom I am referring to in this post) have no personal capacity to legitimately reach that conclusion via our own personal understanding of the math or the research fields/data involved?

All we can be doing is rhetorical characterizing and cheerleading. We argue as if we understand the research or the math, but in fact (for many of us) we don’t, and even if we did, unless we are doing that research, we cannot have that much confidence in the peer-review process. All we can do (outside of arguments using logic and principle) is quote abstracts and conclusions or other people we believe to be qualified (and honest) experts about data and research we don’t really understand and which may or may not be valid.  This is really nothing more than just cherry-picking convenient abstracts and conclusions and assuming the peer-review process worked for that particular paper.

Therefore, the NDE/ID argument for most people has nothing to do with (and, in fact, cannot have anything to do with) valid and informed interpretations of biological data or an understanding of the math involved in information theory as it is applied to evolutionary processes – even if they believe that to be the case. Logically, if we admit we are not really personally capable of qualitatively examining and reaching valid conclusions of research that we would somehow vet as valid research, we must admit all we are really doing is choosing to believe something, and then erecting post hoc arguments in an attempt to characterize our choice of belief as something derived from a legitimate, sound understanding of the facts (biological & mathematical) involved.

This means that for most of us, the NDE/ID argument is really a proxy argument that belies the real argument, or the reason we have chosen NDE or ID to believe in the first place. IMO, that “reason” is a disagreement of ontological worldviews, and I think that the two general worldviews that are in conflict which are fighting a proxy battle through the NDE/ID debate are:

1) Humans are deliberately generated entities that exist for a purpose;

2) Humans are not deliberately generated entities that exist for a purpose.

Now, I don’t claim those general worldviews cover every foundational motive or position in the NDE/ID debate. But, I think it is logically clear that most of us must be presenting what can only be rhetorical cheerleading in an attempt to construct post hoc rationalizations for our choice of belief (combined with attempts to make the other “side” feel bad about their position via various character smearing, motive-mongering, name-calling, belittling their referenced papers and experts, and other such invective, and so we must have chosen our belief for some other reason, and IMO the two categories above represent the two basic (and pretty much necessary) consequences of NDE/ID beliefs.

So, to simplify: for whatever psychological reasons, people either want or need to believe that humans are deliberately generated beings that exist for a purpose, or they wish or need to believe the contrary, which leads them to an emotional/intuitive acceptance of ID or NDE, which they then attempt to rationalize post hoc by offering statements structured to make it appear (1) as if they have a valid, legitimate understanding of things they really do not; (2) that they have real science on their side; (3) that experts agree with them (when, really, they are just cheerleading convenient experts), and (4) that it is stupid, ignorant, or wicked to not accept their side as true.

523 thoughts on “Why the NDE/ID Debate Is Really (For Most) A Proxy Fight

  1. Please support your premise that most people who engage in NDE/ID arguments from the pro-science side lack the necessary expertise to evaluate (or conduct) such research on their own.

    Whether or not “most people” on one side or the other are qualified is not an essential aspect of my argument. My argument still holds for those who are not qualified, but who make the kinds of claims I referred to in my O.P. There is no claim I’m making, or conclusion I’m reaching, that is dependent upon “most” people on either side being unqualified. That was simply what I considered to be a trivial observation. That you and others are reacting so strongly to it, and attempting to make it an important issue when it is not, appears to me to be an emotional reaction.

    Madbat, do you have expertise in the relevant fields? Thorton? We have others here that apparently think that a masters in Computer Science and being a professional ecologist is the equivalent of having the necessary specific expertise in evolutionary biology to qualify their judgements in independently evaluating research data.

    So, when you guys reference the supposedly vast amount of evidence contained in those papers, how many of them have you read? All of them that you are referring to – meaning, all of them, or else how would you know they all agree with NDE, or your particular understanding of it? Have you read “most” of the papers ever published relating to evolutionary biology? Dating back to when?

    Careful how you answer, because then the question becomes: why this apparently obsessive compulsion to educate yourself so thoroughly in fields outside of your expertise so that you can independently evaluate research data about NDE? Why is it so important to you?

  2. William J. Murray: Whether or not “most people” on one side or the other are qualified is not an essential aspect of my argument.

    What??? It’s the whole friggin’ crux of your argument.

    That you and others are reacting so strongly to it, and attempting to make it an important issue when it is not, appears to me to be an emotional reaction.

    When someone comes along and claims I’m ignorant about the topics on which I post, and that I’m just a sheep who’s emotionally regurgitating what I don’t understand – damn straight I have an emotional reaction.

    Madbat, do you have expertise in the relevant fields? Thorton?

    I have enough. I’ve described my scientific background in the other thread.

    So, when you guys reference the supposedly vast amount of evidence contained in those papers, how many of them have you read?

    Since there are several million of them it’s clear no one here has read more than a miniscule percentage, myself included But the ones I do read on specific topics that interest me (1-2 a week) I do understand and can intelligently comment on.

    The psychological projection of your own scientific ignorance onto others is amazing.

  3. William J Murray,

    William J Murray: “So, when you guys reference the supposedly vast amount of evidence contained in those papers, how many of them have you read?”

    Your point is that the expertise is not at the appropriate level, implying post-graduate expertise, but this “debate” doesn’t happen at the post-graduate level, it happens at a much lower level.

    To claim that arguments for the ID side, like fine-tuning or statistical improbabilities,
    are leading edge arguments, is just plain unwarranted.

    The ID argument falls apart in high school, well before university and well before we get to the type of leading edge expertise that is expected for peer-reviewed scientific papers.

    This level of knowledge is available to anyone that has the courage to crack open a book.

  4. WJM:

    Careful how you answer, because then the question becomes: why this apparently obsessive compulsion to educate yourself so thoroughly in fields outside of your expertise so that you can independently evaluate research data about NDE? Why is it so important to you?

    It’s important to me because it’s damn interesting. But it’s not an obsession, any more than my interest in cosmology or any other branch of science is an obsession. I have special chops to understand the molecular aspects based on 30 years as a molecular biologist. And I can walk and chew gum at the same time.

  5. So, when you guys reference the supposedly vast amount of evidence contained in those papers, how many of them have you read? All of them that you are referring to – meaning, all of them, or else how would you know they all agree with NDE, or your particular understanding of it? Have you read “most” of the papers ever published relating to evolutionary biology? Dating back to when?

    It’s not that hard to keep up with the major developments in a field. Just read some review papers that summarize a lot of work, and/or follow the “trends” journals like “Trends in Ecology and Evolution” (published by those Elsevier parasites!).

    I’m an evolutionary biologist (associate professor) but I also follow the developments in other sciences by reading Nature, Science, PNAS etc. just because I love to know .

  6. WJM:
    So, to simplify: for whatever psychological reasons, people either want or need to believe that humans are deliberately generated beings that exist for a purpose, or they wish or need to believe the contrary,…

    Or, careful consideration of the evidence leads them to the uncomfortable conclusion that perhaps in fact, humans weren’t deliberately generated beings that exist for a purpose, and intellectual integrity forces them to accept this view as provisionally true.

    Just sayin’.

  7. William J. Murray: Whether or not “most people” on one side or the other are qualified is not an essential aspect of my argument. My argument still holds for those who are not qualified, but who make the kinds of claims I referred to in my O.P. There is no claim I’m making, or conclusion I’m reaching, that is dependent upon “most” people on either side being unqualified.

    Really? So, let’s change every appearance of *most people* in your OP into *a few people*. At which point I have no problem at all with your argument, because it just became completely trivial and irrelevant to me, and as it would appear, most other commenters on this blog.

    Madbat, do you have expertise in the relevant fields?

    Did you read what I wrote? Apparently not. I’ll repeat it: I am a trained and practicing behavioral ecologist, which means that I have expertise in the ecological and ethological aspects of evolutionary biology. Those are usually the aspects of evolutionary biology I weigh in on in discussions on evidence.

    We have others here that apparently think that a masters in Computer Science and being a professional ecologist is the equivalent of having the necessary specific expertise in evolutionary biology to qualify their judgements in independently evaluating research data.

    So, you think that someone who professionally works with genetic algorithms has no professional expertise in important fields of evolutionary biology (like, for example, mathematics and genetics)? You think someone who understands genetic algorithms thoroughly enough to design his own cannot render meaningful judgment about genetic and mathematical evidence for NDE?

    So, when you guys reference the supposedly vast amount of evidence contained in those papers, how many of them have you read? All of them that you are referring to – meaning, all of them, or else how would you know they all agree with NDE, or your particular understanding of it?

    Many hundreds – and yes: I only cite papers as evidence for anything that I have actually read.

    Have you read “most” of the papers ever published relating to evolutionary biology? Dating back to when?

    No, of course not. What an absurd question. I read, for example, relatively few papers in biochemistry or molecular genetics relating to evolutionary biology, because I am not very versed in these fields. That’s why I read discussion threads on these topics often with interest, but don’t usually make comments on the subject. I read “most” of the papers published in ethology, ecology, and behavioral ecology relating to evolutionary biology. I also read quite a bit in many other fields of biology, all of which relate one way or the other to evolution. The oldest papers I have read date back to the mid-1700s. But since nowadays nobody can feasibly read every single paper ever published even in their field of expertise, there is the neat invention of scientific review articles.

    Careful how you answer, because then the question becomes: why this apparently obsessive compulsion to educate yourself so thoroughly in fields outside of your expertise so that you can independently evaluate research data about NDE? Why is it so important to you?

    Hahaha. *Obsessive compulsion*! It is quite obvious why you are not a scientist. What you call *obsessive compulsion* we call *curiosity*, and hold to be a scientific virtue. It is considered good practice and common sense to be able to relate and integrate your scientific findings in your particular field of expertise to all the other fields it interacts with.

  8. WJM:

    Have you read “most” of the papers ever published relating to evolutionary biology? Dating back to when?
    Careful how you answer, because then the question becomes: why this apparently obsessive compulsion to educate yourself so thoroughly in fields outside of your expertise so that you can independently evaluate research data about NDE? Why is it so important to you?

    . . . or one could form an opinion on the non-evolution of the immune system but dismiss 50+ peer reviewed papers and numerous textbooks that one hasn’t read, because they don’t address your strawman…

  9. Or, careful consideration of the evidence leads them to the uncomfortable conclusion that perhaps in fact, humans weren’t deliberately generated beings that exist for a purpose, and intellectual integrity forces them to accept this view as provisionally true.

    Well, I’m not claiming my argument is true of everyone and their motivations, but when the invective and rhetoric starts flying over relatively minor things, you can tell you’ve hit a nerve that goes much deeper than a professional disagreement about how to interpret data.

  10. Madbat, do you have expertise in the relevant fields? Thorton? We have others here that apparently think that a masters in Computer Science and being a professional ecologist is the equivalent of having the necessary specific expertise in evolutionary biology to qualify their judgements in independently evaluating research data.

    If you had read my first comment, you would have seen my argument against requiring someone to be an expert in all fields related to evolution before they can comment independently and objectively at all. No one has that knowledge. I can independently evaluate evolutionary biology and ID arguments related to my own field. For other fields, I rely on the expert opinion of those in those fields. But, according to you, my motivation is solely down to my worldview bias because I am not an expert in all of evolutionary biology. That argument is absurd.

  11. Well, I’m not claiming my argument is true of everyone and their motivations, but when the invective and rhetoric starts flying over relatively minor things, you can tell you’ve hit a nerve that goes much deeper than a professional disagreement about how to interpret data.

    Maybe it’s because you’re questioning our good faith or motivation in these debates?

  12. WJM: “you’ve hit a nerve that goes much deeper than a professional disagreement about how to interpret data.”

    You really don’t understand scientists if you don’t realize that for a lot of them, data and how to interpret it is one of the things they care most deeply about.

  13. Madbat,

    Perhaps you missed this in my O.P.:

    So, for the majority of us who are not conducting active research in evolutionary biology, nor are mathematicians or information theorists,

    I’m addressing my argument to those of us (or the majority thereof) “who are not conducting active research in evolutionary biology, nor are mathematicians or information theorists …” IOW, my argument here is for and about those on either side that make claims and assertions about research and data they are not qualified to independently evaluate.

    If you are qualified to arbit such research and have done so, then obviously I’m not making a case about you or your motivations. If, however, a person knows that they are not really qualified in those areas of research, and admit they are really only relying on the interpretations of data and the conclusions of others, then my argument applies to them.

    It was a casual and, I thought, trivial point that “most” who make these arguments are not really qualified to arbit the research data. I have no problem changing that to “some”. I really didn’t think it would be so offensive a phrasing.

  14. Maybe it’s because you’re questioning our good faith or motivation in these debates?

    My argument here is directly about motivation, not “good faith”. People make all sorts of erroneous or irrational claims in “good faith”. Whatever one’s motivation is doesn’t indicate their conclusion is right or wrong; my point is that for “some” (changed due to popular protest) people on both sides, the debate really cannot be about evidence, facts, math, or science; it must be about something else.

  15. William J. Murray: Whether or not “most people” on one side or the other are qualified is not an essential aspect of my argument.

    Dude, it is your premise. How you think your premise is not an essential aspect of argument is beyond me. You are the one that has asserted without proof that people on both sides don’t have the qualifications necessary to understand what is being discussed. I’m trying to help you whittle away your ignorance on this matter. You asked Thorton, Allan Miller, and Mike Elzinga on another current thread here for their qualifications, and you got them. Are you noticing a trend?

    Here’s another dose of clue. Name a set of sites (UD, PT, AtBC, this site, Cornelius Hunter’s blog) that characterizes ‘the debate’ to you. Name a time period. Sample the list of posters. See who you can identify, etc.etc.etc. This ain’t rocket science, this is basic social networking research. Do a reading level analysis of their text (not what they quote). See how frequently they cite on topic.

    In your OP, you referred to how the number of media reports of “growing epidemic” scientific fraud. This is a distraction, a strawman as KF would say. There is no growing epidemic of retraction and fraud in any field touching upon evolution that I know of.

  16. What strawman?

    How can we test the claim that any immune system “evolved” via accumulations of random mutations?

  17. William J. Murray:
    Madbat,

    Perhaps you missed this in my O.P.: “So, for the majority of us who are not conducting active research in evolutionary biology, nor are mathematicians or information theorists…”

    No, I did not miss this. It’s not what I was addressing. I was addressing your suggestion that this is true for the majority of commenters on both sides of the issue.

    If you are qualified to arbit such research and have done so, then obviously I’m not making a case about you or your motivations.

    Good.

    If, however, a person knows that they are not really qualified in those areas of research, and admit they are really only relying on the interpretations of data and the conclusions of others, then my argument applies to them.

    Of course. I never disagreed with this point. Why would I? That someone who knows that they are not qualified to understand and address a certain category of data, but still argues about it, has other motivations for their arguments than qualified disagreement over the data is an obvious and trivial point.

    It was a casual and, I thought, trivial point that “most” who make these arguments are not really qualified to arbit the research data. I have no problem changing that to “some”.

    Good. Please do so. Once you do so, your argument becomes trivial to me (and, I suspect, most other commenters on this blog).

    I really didn’t think it would be so offensive a phrasing.

    I did not object to your phrasing because I found it offensive. I found it baseless and suspect it to be incorrect. The evidence seems to confirm my suspicion at least for the participants that have so far spoken up on this blog.

  18. Dude, it is your premise

    It’s a trivial part of the premise. As I already said, there is no conclusion I reach that is dependent on “most” contributors not being qualified because the argument is only about those contributors that are in fact not qualified, not whether or not they represent a majority of the participants.

  19. Of course. I never disagreed with this point. Why would I? That someone who knows that they are not qualified to understand and address a certain category of data, but still argues about it, has other motivations for their arguments than qualified disagreement over the data is an obvious and trivial point.

    Good! We agree with my premise! Now perhaps you’d like to comment on the actual argument portion of my OP, which makes the case for a particular motivation for those individuals.

  20. William J. Murray: It’s a trivial part of the premise. As I already said, there is no conclusion I reach that is dependent on “most” contributors not being qualified because the argument is only about those contributors that are in fact not qualified, not whether or not they represent a majority of the participants.

    Shouldn’t lay people on both sides of the argument at least make an effort to learn some basic science of evolution?

  21. William J. Murray: My argument here is directly about motivation, not “good faith”. People make all sorts of erroneous or irrational claims in “good faith”. Whatever one’s motivation is doesn’t indicate their conclusion is right or wrong; my point is that for “some” (changed due to popular protest) people on both sides, the debate really cannot be about evidence, facts, math, or science; it must be about something else.

    Since others have made similar points, I would simply add that ID/creationism is and always has been a sectarian motivated political campaign against any science that disagrees with a narrow set of sectarian beliefs. ID/creationism has a long and well-documented history; including court battles, and political attempts to get ID/creationism into the curriculum.

    But even if ID/creationism did not have that socio/political history, ID/creationist “science” is atrocious at the most basic high school level. Papers by Sewell, Abel, Dembski, and all the DI followers are atrocious misrepresentations of fundamental science. Not only is the biology bad, but the physics, chemistry, and mathematics are just plain wrong.

    In addition to all this are the sites of Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research. The pseudo-science that gets cranked out in huge volumes from these mills is nothing but jaw-dropping stupidity.

    None of this stuff belongs in any curriculum.

    Henry Morris started the ICR back in 1970 or 71. Since that time the socio/political attacks on science have continued and repeatedly morphed to get around the courts. Everybody knows this history.

    The misconceptions and misrepresentations of science are at the high school level. Abel’s and Dembski’s math are at the high school level (taking the negative logarithm of a fraction of a set and calling it some kind of “information” is not advanced math).

    Sewell’s equation – which is totally irrelevant to his assertions – is vector calculus taught in the third semester of undergraduate calculus. Many high school students in some of the top math/science centers study this material.

    There is nothing in ID/creationist writings that passes muster as graduate or research level thinking and analysis. Most of it gets high school chemistry and physics dead wrong. Yet these ID/creationist writers want to be treated as peers in the science community.

    If ID/creationist followers detect any sense of exasperation among the folks in science, that exasperation is a result of dealing with a 50 year history of organized political attacks by people who could not pass a high school chemistry, biology, physics, or calculus course if their life depended on it.

    Yet these political activists apparently want their own ignorance placed on a par with the learning that comes from years of dedication and a love of learning. And they want that ignorance to be treated respectfully without any requirements being placed on them to take the time and effort to actually learn what it is they are objecting to.

    The battle is not about who or who is not qualified to discuss research papers. That shtick has become a hackneyed ploy for arguments on the internet.

    The real issues have always been sectarian and socio/political, with “Scientific Creationism” being implemented to give sectarian authority figures the façade of “scientific respectability” without their followers ever having to learn any science. It has gone downhill from there.

    P.S. I despise credential waving. It’s what ID/creationists think is meaningful.

    But for what it is worth in a “debate” with a creationist (nothing), my expertise is in physics, mathematics, and electrical engineering. I have a PhD and have worked and taught in these areas for well over 50 years. I have also been following the shenanigans of the ID/creationists since the mid 1970s; and it doesn’t take a PhD to know what is wrong with ID/creationist writers. Many bright high school students know as well.

  22. William J Murray,

    William J Murray: “It was a casual and, I thought, trivial point that “most” who make these arguments are not really qualified to arbit the research data. I have no problem changing that to “some”. I really didn’t think it would be so offensive a phrasing.”

    It’s not offensive, it’s misleading.

    The ID side makes claims at a level that anyone who wants to open a book can clearly see is wrong.

    Fine-tuning, improbability and “2nd LoT”, arguments don’t even require the input of leading scientists to refute.

    The arguments are bad at an entry level of scientific understanding.

    Noah’s global flood doesn’t require an understanding of leading edge physics in order to refute it.

  23. I give William J Murray credit and respect for sticking his neck out and subjecting his ideas to criticism on this site. I also credit him for persisting in answering multiple rebuttals.

    He has been representing the theological case against science better than most debaters I’ve observed.

    Now, if he would set aside whatever reservations he might have about learning some science, he might discover that it’s mightily interesting and enjoyable. As time and opportunity might allow.

  24. William J. Murray: Whether or not “most people” on one side or the other are qualified is not an essential aspect of my argument. My argument still holds for those who are not qualified, but who make the kinds of claims I referred to in my O.P. There is no claim I’m making, or conclusion I’m reaching, that is dependent upon “most” people on either side being unqualified. That was simply what I considered to be a trivial observation. That you and others are reacting so strongly to it, and attempting to make it an important issue when it is not, appears to me to be an emotional reaction.

    I think you are right about the emotional reaction, William, but I’m not sure you have accurately located it. Locating what on reflection I recognise as an emotional reaction in myself, I think it is a sense of frustration at what looks like an excluded middle, as I implied earlier.

    The two “sides”, as I see them are not: “The world/life was created with a purpose” vs “The world/life was not created with a purpose” but: “The world/llfe was created with a purpose” and “we can probably account for the world/life without recourse to postulating a purposeful designer”.

    Now there may be ideological reasons for both accepting and for rejecting the first position. But the second position is ideologically neutral, or at least, IMO, should be (the idea that evolutionary theory implies atheism is bad theology IMO).

    What people in my position (“that we can probably account for the world/life without recourse to postulating a purposeful designer”) find frustrating about the discussion about ID is the perception that we consider a) evolutionary “proven” and that b) that this means there was no ID. We find that the attacks on evolutionary theory take an ideological tone that has nothing to do with the science – “Darwinism” is condemned as an “ideology” as “evolutionary materialise” that leads to an “amoral nihilistic world-view”. It doesn’t. It’s just a scientific theory that generates testable hypotheses, that have been generally supported by data. In contrast, ID really is associated with an ideology – specifically religious ideology. Now, ID supporters may argue, understandably, that their interpretation of the data so strongly suggests a divine origin for life/the world that belief in a creator god (what we might call “ideology”) is the only reasonable inference. However, that still doesn’t make the positions symmetrical: on the one hand we have a position, claimed to be based on evidence, that implies God; on the other, we have a position, also claimed to be based on evidence, that implies nothing about God. That’s why ideology is “built in”, as it were, to the ID position whereas it is not “built in” to our position.

    That means, it seems to me, that we need to have the debate on the evidence, and if we aren’t equipped to evaluate it, then we need to become so or get out of the kitchen!

    Madbat, do you have expertise in the relevant fields? Thorton?We have others here that apparently think that a masters in Computer Science and being a professional ecologist is the equivalent of having the necessary specific expertise in evolutionary biology to qualify their judgements inindependently evaluating research data.

    Yes, it is equivalent IMO. A science training equips you to make sound arguments based on scientific methodology, and a computer science training is essentially a training in logic. It isn’t, I would argue, a question of two competing mounds of incomprehensible evidence that we are faced with, but two logical arguments based on evidence that mostly is not in dispute. And a decent training in scientific methology is the relevant expertise. Even without training, it’s possible to acquire, and, I suggest, William, well within your own capabilities. As I said earlier, it’s essentially logic, a tool you are willing to say you possess.

    So, when you guys reference the supposedly vast amount of evidence contained in those papers, how many of them have you read? All of them thatyou are referring to – meaning, all of them, or else how would you know they all agree with NDE, or your particular understanding of it? Have you read “most” of the papers ever published relating to evolutionary biology? Dating back to when?

    Speaking for myself, only a fraction. But I think the problem here is with your notion of “NDE”. Evolutionary theory is not single or monolithic. It’s vast, but it is predicated on the idea that life started very simple and spontaneously as a population of self-replicating entities and adapted and diversified by means of heritable variance in reproductive success. The idea of common descent from simple beginnings is overwhelmingly supported by the fossil and genetic evidence, as even a cursory acquaintance with the literature will show. The principle of Darwinian mechanisms (self-replication with heritable variation in reproductive success) is also well demonstrated by lab work, field work and computational modelling.

    What are at issue are the mechanisms of variation-generation; the dynamics of drift; selection and speciation; detailed cladistics; and of course OOL.

    Careful how you answer, because then the question becomes: why this apparently obsessive compulsion to educate yourself so thoroughly in fields outside of your expertise so that you can independently evaluate research data about NDE? Why is it so important to you?

    Speaking for myself: because it’s absolutely fascinating. Perhaps it’s just part of being human, this intense curiosity about where we came from – I suspect we are the only species who wonder about it, although of course we do not know that for sure. I’ve learned a huge amount from online conversations about evolutionary theory, and it’s had a big influence in my own thinking about the nature of intelligence itself – how the brain does what it does. In many ways, what the brain does is a miniature version of what Darwinian evolution does – hence the term “neural darwinism”. The big difference is that brains can simulate. But that’s for another thread, I think :)

  25. Pedant:
    I give William J Murray credit and respect for sticking his neck out and subjecting his ideas to criticism on this site.I also credit him for persisting in answering multiple rebuttals.

    Me too. Thanks William, it is very much appreciated.

  26. William J. Murray: Good! We agree with my premise! Now perhaps you’d like to comment on the actual argument portion of my OP, which makes the case for a particular motivation for those individuals.

    Well, since I am not *one of those individuals* my interest in your actual argument is rather limited. Just an observation, really: your characterization of what you think the motivation of *those individuals* is reveals a lot about your own motivation for your acceptance and defense of ID, as a professedly unqualified individual to evaluate scientific data involving NDE/ID. I commend you for your honesty in saying this:

    “for whatever psychological reasons, people either want or need to believe that humans are deliberately generated beings that exist for a purpose, or they wish or need to believe the contrary, which leads them to an emotional/intuitive acceptance of ID or NDE, which they then attempt to rationalize post hoc by offering statements structured to make it appear (1) as if they have a valid, legitimate understanding of things they really do not; (2) that they have real science on their side; (3) that experts agree with them (when, really, they are just cheerleading convenient experts), and (4) that it is stupid, ignorant, or wicked to not accept their side as true.”

  27. William J. Murray: Well, I’m not claiming my argument is true of everyone and their motivations, but when the invective and rhetoric starts flying over relatively minor things, you can tell you’ve hit a nerve that goes much deeper than a professional disagreement about how to interpret data.

    Yes, I think you can. But identifying exactly which nerve is not straightforward :)

    However, can I ask that, nerves notwithstanding, people try to keep their cool.

    Cheers

    Lizzie

  28. One stray thought:

    William, while I have some sympathy with the view that at least some internet arguments about ID or Creationism vs Evolution (and I am veteran of a few) are primarily tribal, with a fair bit of ignorance shown on both sides (and yes, I’ve seen bad arguments for evolution), I know that quite a few contributors to this forum do have relevant expertise. For example Joe Felsenstein posted a very interesting thread here a couple of days ago, and we have had a number of physicists weigh in on the 2LoT thread.

    Is it your view that they lack expertise, or is it rather that you feel you do not have the expertise to evaluate theirs? And, either way, what kind of argument might persuade you (if it were valid) that, say, Dembski’s argument is fallacious, or Sewell’s argument from the 2LoT is based on an equivocation regarding “disorder”? Would logic do it?

  29. Let me join the chorus of props to WJM for trying valiantly to argue his positions in the face of criticism levels that have caused others to flee the field or collapse into trollishness.
    If he really wanted to collect some data about posters on sites and “cheerleading” vs understanding, I think Pharyngula would be the best example of such cheerleading. I think the worldview groupies there outnumber the science groupies, and may have a lower level of general science background.

    But TEs are the big problem to the argument, which is why Dembski and the DI reserve more bile for them than most folks.

  30. And one last question, which you need not answer! Are you this William J Murray? If so, perhaps it helps me see where you might be coming from.

    And if not, it also reminds me that we are all coming from very different places.

    Briefly, this is my story:

    I was raised by a devout mother and a sort of agnostic father, and baptized in the Episcopal Church of Scotland. I was an intensely religious child, though my younger siblings were not. I sang in the local church choir at Sunday Matins from age about 8 till 11 (I still love Anglican psalm chant). I was sent to Quaker boarding school, but attended (oddly to my parents’ distress) confirmation classes with the local Anglican vicar. I became a Quaker at 18, but finally was confirmed in the Anglican church at 19. I married a Catholic, and became a catholic myself a year later. Both my parents were medics (GPs) and my mother had embarked on a research career in surgery (fluid/electrolyte replacement in a paediatric burns unit). I was fascinated by Darwin’s theory, and by palaeontology, also astronomy (I wanted to be an astronomer when I grew up). As it turned out, I did a music degree, then, later trained in architecture. I married a physicist who became a psychiatrist. I thought that was a good compromise! Eventually, aged 50, I embarked on a science PhD (cognitive neuroscience). That’s what I’ve done since (and I turn 60 tomorrow, yay me!)

    I was persuaded out of my theism (though I’ve never really lost my religion) about 5 years ago, not because I didn’t like it, but because of what seemed to me (and still does) a persuasive argument.

    But it’s not an argument that hangs on data – it is just an alternative way of looking at things that seemed to render my old model redundant – clunky, in fact. Off topic for this thread, except insofar as it’s one datapoint in the dataset of people’s emotional interest or otherwise in evidence and argument. I did not want to lose my faith.

  31. Can I just say: this is a great debate!

    I will take this as my text:

    WJM:

    We committed to a side in this debate long, long before we had a significant understanding of the arguments and evidence involved.

    I don’t think I ever ‘committed to a side’ in any debate. I learnt about evolution, and was wholly unaware that there was a debate until much, much later. Things are different in the UK than the US, I suspect.

    My religious sense has always been pretty atrophied, and I have never felt any need to support that worldview (rather, lack of one). If I’m wrong, and there really is a God, then I’m wrong. I don’t have any qualms about it – I can no more believe him out of existence than I can believe him into it. I do want to know what is true. God or not-God is a factual question, to which I happen to think the answer is ‘not’. But it is not a big deal for me. If it turns out there is one and he is angered by my reaching honest conclusions on the available evidence … well, tough; I’m pretty anti-authoritarian anyway!

    Wanting to ‘know what is true’ is how I ‘got into’ science. I think I’ve told this tale before at TSZ, but my first encounter with evolutionary theory was a wallchart in a weekly Nature magazine. I was 11, and I just thought it was really cool. It explained something about the world – specifically, a mechanistic basis for the Linnaean classification system: Common Descent. The relationship with religion simply did not occur to me. I didn’t ask for evidence – I had no reason to doubt that the chart represented an accurate understanding. I was a bit of an oddball kid; I used to draw Mendelian inheritance patterns on old scraps of wallpaper.

    And the rest – what is characterised as an ‘obsessive’ need to investigate things that are none of my professional business – is just an extension of that same simple curiosity. I just wonder ‘how does this work?’ and, with luck, I get an answer that makes sense. I’ve invested in textbooks, for no better reason than to better understand – but you don’t have to go that far to have a pretty good grasp of the issues.

    An interesting fallout of the debate is that one learns things about which one knows little. I knew little of whale evolution till I saw Jonathan M’s piece at UD. Even I – non-expert in relevant fields – could see glaring errors in his piece, and thanks to Professor Google, I soon found myself equipped with a great deal of info on the matter – including a nifty technique of phylogenetic analysis I had been unaware of. Thanks, Jonathan!

    One problem with WJM’s view, as a non-scientist, is understanding how the relevant sciences are structured, and the bearing that has on how ‘qualified’ people are to assess the claims of evolution. To suggest that a professional ecologist might not be qualified is something of a blunder, since ecology is very relevant to evolution. Members of a species are in closer ecological competition with each other than with anything else.

    Richard Dawkins is not really an evolutionary biologist, and nor, obviously, were Darwin or Wallace. Indeed, Darwin’s famed aversion to maths would probably preclude him from getting a degree in the subject he founded! I probably know more population genetics than the average biochemist, but you don’t need to know any to get the basics of evolution.

    The truth is, there is not really a single discipline. Evolutionary biology encompasses chemistry and physics and computing and population genetics and mathematics and statistics and palaeontology and ecology and genetics and developmental biology and molecular biology and …

    This, of course, is somewhat tangential to WJM’s point, which relates to the people who have no claim to qualification. I do think it’s well within the grasp of the layman (in which category, degree notwithstanding, I include myself). But the claim that it is mere cheerleading is refuted by observing what happens when a pro-evolutionist says something that another pro-evolutionist disagrees with! I have been given some very sharp lessons in population genetics and the role of randomness; the reverse – ID-on-ID dispute – seems non-existent on matters of science, if not of theology.

  32. I knew little of whale evolution till I saw Jonathan M’s piece at UD. Even I – non-expert in relevant fields – could see glaring errors in his piece, and thanks to Professor Google, I soon found myself equipped with a great deal of info on the matter – including a nifty technique of phylogenetic analysis I had been unaware of. Thanks, Jonathan!

    You bring up a topic I’ve wanted to discuss for a long time: whether ID has any value as a foil, an instigator. I’d love to know whether any research has been inspired by ID arguments. Lensky and Thornton come to mind, but I’d like to know if anyone has designed research specifically to counter ID/creationist arguments.

    I’d also like to know how many people have educated themselves in order to participate in the debate.

  33. I have a mere B.A. in biology, and my passion at the time was human evolution. Now I have a Ph.D. in philosophy. I work primarily in critical theory and American pragmatism, though I have a growing interest in epistemology and philosophy of mind, both of which I’ve taught. I’ve read fairly widely in the history of philosophy, and I’ve written on several prominent 19th and 20th century philosophers. So, while I’m not competent to assess detailed accounts in evolutionary biology, I’m pretty comfortable with the use and abuse of concepts like “truth”, “justification,” “evidence,” “theory,” and so on. (I’m not crazy about the term “world-view”, though.)

    I think of NDE as “metaphysically neutral”, in the sense that it tells nothing one way or the other about the ultimate nature of reality, or even if there is an ultimate nature of reality. NDE, as a scientific theory, doesn’t get us to any metaphysics at all. Or, more precisely, the only metaphysics is the metaphysics of the theory itself. By that, I mean only this: to accept a theory is to be committed to the existence of whatever entities are necessary in order for the sentences of the theory to be true. In the case of NDE, that means we’d be committed to entities such as organisms, genes, populations, and maybe species. Nothing in there about ultimate purpose, or value, or consciousness, or whatever — or the absence thereof.

    As for personal background: I took an interest in biology as a child, and read up on paleontology and evolution from a very young age. I was raised as a liberal Jew, and I still am. I sometimes self-identify as an “atheist,” but that’s not really accurate — I’m really an anti-clericalist in the Enlightenment tradition. I like to say that I’m against organized religion, so it’s a good thing that Reform Judaism isn’t that organized. Still, I’ve had my fair share of mystical experiences.

    Carl

  34. petrushka: You bring up a topic
    I’d also like to know how many people have educated themselves in order to participate in the debate.

    That is a really interesting question.

    I have widened my horizon and educated myself in a lot of topics based on encountering points of view that I found odd, counter-intuitive or counter-factual in relation on the limited knowledge I had on the topic at that point in time.

    My encounter with the ID claims upon moving to the US (I am native to and received the majority of my science education in Germany, where ID is basically only known as this bizarre outgrowth of American christian fundamentalist homeschooling, if at all) has definitely prompted my educating myself more in some specific areas of interest to this debate, like for example current origin of life theories and research, multi-verse theories, the evolution of moral behavior, etc.

    Like Allan Miller, Elizabeth, and probably most people commenting here, I am glad that I took those prompts to learn more about subjects like these, because I am curious: I simply enjoy finding out more about the world around us!

  35. petrushka: You bring up a topic
    I’d also like to know how many people have educated themselves in order to participate in the debate.”

    The ID/Evo “debate” has also driven me to investigate things I never thought much about, but needed to learn in order to understand the ID argument.

    What frustrates me is that the information is there for the ID side also, but they refuse to acknowledge it.

    And to me, the most frustrating thing they cannot acknowledge, is that evolution is not simply a roll of the dice.

  36. WJM,

    Assuming I understand your argument in the OP, and granting your premises for the moment, I will agree with your conclusions. Imagine we consider two people lacking any detailed, or perhaps even cursory, expertise in science. Now imagine one is a devout theist, while the other is a confirmed atheist, and furthermore those respective metaphysical positions were arrived at for reasons independent of science (since each lacks any scientific expertise).

    Now we assume that these two individuals both develop a lay-interest in science. It would not be surprising at all for the theist to gravitate to the ID position because of a prior commitment to what you’ve called worldview #1, particularly given the congruence between that worldview and the tenets of ID. Likewise, we would certainly expect the atheist to embrace the NDE position because of a prior commitment to what you’ve defined as worldview #2, given that NDE is the only option logically consistent with that worldview.

    Further, imagine these individuals, both of whom lack the scientific expertise to competently vet the claims of their adopted views of science, nonetheless engage in debate with each other in defense of those views. In this case, I agree with you that such a debate, ostensibly about views of science, is likely to really be a proxy for the debate over metaphysical worldview.

    Now, having agreed with your argument at face value, allow me to make some additional observations. First, there is an asymmetry in this scenario. The atheist, committed as he/she is to worldview #2, is logically bound to NDE. But it is not clear that the theist, committed as he/she is to worldview #1, is logically bound to ID. That would depend on the precise details of the theist’s theology. That is why I equivocated that it “would not surprising” for the theist to develop an affinity for an ID view of science. But there are certainly many theists who, despite having no expertise in science, and despite a prior commitment to worldview #1, nonetheless embrace NDE and reject the ID view of science. By way of contrast, it would be highly unlikely for an atheist, whether lacking expertise in science or not, to embrace ID given a prior commitment to worldview #2.

    This observation of the asymmetry has significance. It is an element of a larger observation that can serve as a heuristic (rule of thumb) that even lay-people can use as a generally reliable guide to justified belief, even about matters beyond their own expertise. Let me explain. Everyone has prior commitments, whether they be metaphysical, ideological, emotional, or whatnot. These will inevitably influence our thinking and beliefs, but they are not wholly determinative of them. That is, with a reasonably open mind, and in light of compelling evidence, we may justifiably come to believe some things despite our prior commitments. Thus, beliefs upon which many people converge, despite vast differences and great variety in their prior commitments, are likely good candidates for justified beliefs. This is not a proof of a belief’s quality, just a useful heuristic indicator (i.e., reliable rule of thumb). On the other hand, if a belief is held only by people with certain prior commitments, and not others, the belief, while possibly true, can justifiably, as a rule thumb, be viewed with tentative skepticism.

    Thus, if you want to identify some beliefs that are likely justified, then look for beliefs that are held in common by many people across many types of prior commitments. Now, if we look at people worldwide who do have expertise in science, and who are capable of vetting the detailed evidence and ideas, we find a significant convergence of belief on NDE that cuts across significant divides in prior commitments. Scientists who embrace NDE comprise far more than just atheists (worldview #2); they also comprise religious adherents of virtually every stripe (many variations on worldview #1), along with people from every political and ideological camp, and people of virtually every country, culture, and ethnicity. On the other hand, the group of people with scientific expertise who embrace the ID view of science are unequivocally a very small minority, and are, importantly, clustered in relatively homogeneous camps of prior commitments, specifically with regard to a very narrow subset of worldview #1.

    Thus for the interested lay-person who needs guidance in adopting a justified belief about science, and who has an open enough mind to not simply post hoc rationalize believing what is easiest to assimilate into his/her prior commitments, the convergence heuristic, in my opinion, should carry significant weight.

  37. I have been given what I regard as genuine insight by Creationist questions. One in particular, on the thorny question of sex, was phrased in such a way that it suggested its own answer – an answer I attempted to discuss (in the wrong place: Talk.Origins) and found myself on the receiving end of some of the OTT intellectual bashing that will be familiar to many a Creationist commenter. I was posting out of enthusiasm and interest, but found myself viewed as someone ‘on the other side’. “F*** off back to high school and learn meiosis” was one enlightened comment. I didn’t help my case by misusing terms in areas of unfamiliarity. So I thought I’d get a better grip on those basics – not meiosis per se, but its evolutionary consequences and constraints. Not so I could go back to Talk.Origins and give ‘em what for, but simply to improve my own understanding. To see why they were so hostile, and why I should have the hubristic temerity to disagree with the overwhelming consensus that whichever way you look at it, sex has a Twofold Cost and needs a twofold benefit. I needed to brush up my evolutionary biology. As sex has impacts all the way from chromosomes to individuals to populations and the nature of species and evolutionary genes and rates of speciation and extinction, I learnt a great deal. What to do with this notion is another matter. I know enough about the field to know that yet another ‘theory of sex’, especially from an amateur, is likely to be about as welcome as a pork pie at a bar-mitzvah!

  38. petrushka: You bring up a topic I’ve wanted to discuss for a long time: whether ID has any value as a foil, an instigator. I’d love to know whether any research has been inspired by ID arguments. Lensky and Thornton come to mind, but I’d like to know if anyone has designed research specifically to counter ID/creationist arguments.

    I’d also like to know how many people have educated themselves in order to participate in the debate.

    To some extent I have, although it’s been a two-way process – what I learned from the debate has influenced my thinking in lots of other ways, and I’m particularly glad that it inspired me to learn more about, and experiment with, evolutionary algorithms and simulations of various kinds.

    And I certainly specifically learned about ID theories, and read Dembski’s papers with great interest (and bafflement that he apparently cannot see the gaping holes in his argument), as well as Behe, and Abel. Behe, it always seemed to me, had the best argument. But IMO it’s a very poor best. At best, it simply points out that there are phenomena we don’t yet have a detailed naturalistic explanation for, and may never, but his argument that certain biological features cannot, in principle, have evolved, is full of holes.

    And I cannot see that it can have been a strong ideological bias on my part – when I began to read about ID, I was a theist, and had even been convinced, for a while, by the fine-tuning argument. So I was fertile ground, as it were. But I’ve always wanted to double check my math (a habit borne of bitter experience) so I have an inbuilt tendency to try to poke holes in any argument presented to me, as well as in any argument I myself present. And I find ID arguments riddled with holes.

    But finding holes in evidence-for-god arguments never affected my belief in God. I’ve never thought a God for which there could be evidence very convincing as theology.

  39. Strange that you talk about gaping holes when it is obvious that the “theory” of evolution doesn’t even qualify as a theory- although it might qualify as a gaping hole.

  40. from the OP:

    All we can be doing is rhetorical characterizing and cheerleading. We argue as if we understand the research or the math, but in fact (for many of us) we don’t, and even if we did, unless we are doing that research, we cannot have that much confidence in the peer-review process. All we can do (outside of arguments using logic and principle) is quote abstracts and conclusions or other people we believe to be qualified (and honest) experts about data and research we don’t really understand and which may or may not be valid. This is really nothing more than just cherry-picking convenient abstracts and conclusions and assuming the peer-review process worked for that particular paper.

    and further

    William J. Murray: Careful how you answer, because then the question becomes: why this apparently obsessive compulsion to educate yourself so thoroughly in fields outside of your expertise so that you can independently evaluate research data about NDE?

    WJM has stated that his premise “Most commentators here are unqualified” is trivial, and can be replaced with “Some commentators here are unqualified” without loss of import, so long as you accept his argument that “if you are unqualified, then you are merely cheerleading.”
    Personally, I found his focus on the peer-review process curious and his insistence that “conducting active research in evolutionary biology” be the criterion for competence rather revealing.
    As I understand it, WJM’s position is that there are no qualified amateurs, anywhere. Individuals are either active evolutionists or uninformed cheerleaders. And in case anyone claims to a qualified amateur, he has already characterized them as “obsessed” (and thus unreliable…).
    This is a false dichotomy (trichotomy?): there are plenty of people who are not “conducting active research in evolutionary biology” but follow the literature and are qualified to arbit the research therein. And peer-review is a flawed mechanism that attempts to protect the quality of the literature over the short-term. Over the medium to long term, it is REPLICATION that matters. Reality will win out in the end.

  41. I think Behe is the only ID advocate who has any real understanding of the issues. I appreciate the fact the he skips over the BS and declares that the designer is God.

    He understands the difficulties that would be faced by a lesser designer and doesn’t make up cheap science fiction. He also accepts the implication that God is the designer of parasites and disease organisms.

    So while I think he is a loon, he is an honest and intelligent loon who fully understands his position.

    I’m much more sympathetic to Michael Denton, who seems to have become a Deist.

  42. From my POV it’s NOT a proxy fight. I know and understand a great deal about biological sciences and have worked in them for decades.

    I object very strongly to the misrepresentation of, and dishonesty about, some scientific matters that is indulged in by some ID proponents (and creationists)

    Hence I will do my bit to make sure they are countered whenever I feel I have the knowledge and expertise to do so.

  43. I’ve definitely had a lot of fun and intellectual enrichment learning things in order to participate in discussions. I started out only talking about GAs where I was on solid ground, but Google was my friend. So much of the latest research is available online! I now know so much more about OOL, Cambrian explosioin, etc than I did 5 years ago. I very happy to have progressed beyond popularizations of issues, such as Gould’s Wonderful Life, to reading and understanding the primary research literature.

    While this has been personally rewarding, I doubt the limited set of challenges considered by ID are particularly fruitful.

  44. dvunkannon: While this has been personally rewarding, I doubt the limited set of challenges considered by ID are particularly fruitful.

    I agree.

    I was one of those physicists back in the 1970s through 1990s that accidentally fell into explaining misconceptions to the public; especially those involving physics and the second law of thermodynamics. During that time period, ID/creationists were getting multi-page spreads in local newspapers around the country that filled people’s heads with grotesque misinformation and misrepresentations of science.

    My early attempts at explanations were too mathematical but, I eventually had to learn to avoid the math and work with explaining the misconceptions in a way that non-scientists could understand. The exercise did provide some material for dealing with some of the misconceptions of my students, but not a lot.

    What many of us did not understand back in the 1970s were the socio/political tactics of the scientific creationists, who would eventually morph into intelligent design proponents to get around the 1987 US Supreme Court decision on Edwards v. Aguillard. It took a while for us to understand that ID/creationist debaters wanted a stage, wide publicity, and a chance to pad their résumés by getting a free ride on the backs of scientists in staged debates with rules that forbid references to the sectarian roots of scientific creationism.

    So while I have found that some of this wrangling over misconceptions and misrepresentations of science by ID/creationists has been useful in trying to get at the root of misconceptions and misrepresentations, it has been an extremely inefficient process. There are much better ways to go about it that don’t involve all the socio/political entanglements and confusions muddying the picture.

    Unfortunately we still see these socio/political tactics continuing in many state legislatures, and with state and local school boards to get these misconceptions and misrepresentations into the classroom. After more than a century of this kind of activity, what is that telling us about the people doing this?

  45. @Mike Elzinga, I think the topic of what ID can/has contributed to science is a good one for a thread here, as it is not particularly on-topic to WJM’s OP. I will ask Elizabeth for posting privileges to start it.

  46. Leviathan,

    First, I appreciate that you’ve actually (for the most part) significantly understood the actual argument I presented here. Now, to reply to you post:

    Now, having agreed with your argument at face value, allow me to make some additional observations. First, there is an asymmetry in this scenario. The atheist, committed as he/she is to worldview #2, is logically bound to NDE. But it is not clear that the theist, committed as he/she is to worldview #1, is logically bound to ID.

    Only, I didn’t make an argument about theism/atheism per se, but rather about whether or not a person believes that humans were deliberately designed for a purpose.

    That would depend on the precise details of the theist’s theology. That is why I equivocated that it “would not surprising” for the theist to develop an affinity for an ID view of science. But there are certainly many theists who, despite having no expertise in science, and despite a prior commitment to worldview #1, nonetheless embrace NDE and reject the ID view of science. By way of contrast, it would be highly unlikely for an atheist, whether lacking expertise in science or not, to embrace ID given a prior commitment to worldview #2.

    Except you’re not using the definition of NDE I specified in the O.P. ID and NDE get “defined” many different ways by many different people. It’s possible to believe in ID and not a god; it’s possible to believe in NDE and believe in god. “God”, IMO, is not the telltale, crucial difference when it comes to choosing sides in the ID/NDE debate from a largely unqualified position; it is one’s belief about whether or not humans were deliberately generated for a purpose. IOW, if you believe humans were deliberately created for a purpose, you generally gravitate towards ID or ID-friendy views. If you believe humans were not deliberately generated for a purpose, you almost invariable have to accept NDE even if you believe in a god – because there’s no other epxlanation that I know of that even attempts to explain life without design.

    IMO, Darwin essentially came up with his theory as an alternative to deliberate design, and that is the essential politics of Darwinism – that deliberate design is not necessary to the explanation. I think that is why ID evokes such an emotional reaction; it doesn’t even claim there is a god, it just claims there is deliberate design for a purpose.

    This same reaction comes up in the moral counterpart to this argument. The same group of people (more or less) avoid at all costs the concept that humans have a designed purpose which would lead to an objective “good” basis for morality, which wou prescribe universal “oughts” – which is the only way to avoid “might makes right” as one’s epistemological moral basis.

    It’s my overall theory that these ontological and epistemological roots color everything – even how professionals in the appropriate fields identify, categorize, sort and interpret data, and how they reach conclusions about it. IOW, although I was only making a case here about laymen, it’s my view that the foundations of one’s belief system organize their empirical and interpretive methodology to find results that support what they already fundamentally believe.

    So, it’s not just in the case of scientific laymen that I think the real question is being fought by proxy; I think it’s the case overall, throughout western society, that the battle between objective and subjective purpose, deliberate or accidental design, is being fought. Science is just one of the battlegrounds.

  47. And one last question, which you need not answer! Are you this William J Murray? If so, perhaps it helps me see where you might be coming from.

    No, I’m this William J. Murray and this William J. Murray.

    I was also – at one time – convinced of atheism “by argument”, or so I thought at the time, whereas now I see “being convinced by argument” a really just an observation of a process of internally changing one’s beliefs and convincing oneself that one’s beleifs are “valid”.. One can only be convinced by an argument, IMO, or evidence, or even facts, if they choose to be on some level. Humans can certainly ignore evidence and facts if they wish, and believe that entirely irrational things are logical.

    Like many atheists, I thought atheism was a kind of freedom, but I realized later that one is not free in any sense unless they are free to choose what they believe. If argument or evidence compels a belief, then one is not free to believe otherwise. I dont believe in things because evidence or argument compels me to; I believe in them because I choose to.

    Some of my beliefs I can make logical and/or evidential arguments for; others, I cannot, but my belief in any of them is not predicated upon being able to make such arguments. I believe what I choose; not what I must. I choose to believe in ID; I choose to believe in God, and II choose to believe in a universal, objective good.

  48. WJM:
    Please forgive me intruding into you exchange with Leviathan.
    When you say

    IMO, Darwin essentially came up with his theory as an alternative to deliberate design, and that is the essential politics of Darwinism – that deliberate design is not necessary to the explanation.

    would it not be relevant to consider Darwin’s own opinions on the subject over the time he formulated and published his theory? I think you’ll find that he was not seeking to advance a theological (or teleological) argument, merely a scientific proposition and supporting evidence.

    Similarly, is parsimony not a better explanation for Darwin’s proposal of an undirected mechanism, rather than a “political” (to adapt your expression) intention?

  49. Is it your view that they lack expertise, or is it rather that you feel you do not have the expertise to evaluate theirs? And, either way, what kind of argument might persuade you (if it were valid) that, say, Dembski’s argument is fallacious, or Sewell’s argument from the 2LoT is based on an equivocation regarding “disorder”? Would logic do it?

    I haven’t claimed that Dembski’s argument is not fallacious, or that Sewell’s argument is not such an equivocation. It’s irrelevant to me if their particular argument (or gpuccio’s or kairosfocus’s) are technically sound or not because, IMO, they are only attempting to supply a rigorous definition, description and methodology to a theory (ID) that is obviously true in the first place.

    You can’t logically disprove an obvious fact. Humans have and employ ID. ID exists in the universe, and can produce product that is inexplicable in terms of probable outcomes of any any other known combination of forces and materials. Details about how to formally identify and vet such artifacts are arguments best left in the hands of those who have formal training in math/information/biology or other appropriate fields. That doesn’t really concern me.

    The arguments I make about ID are based on obvious facts and logic. For example, in Joe Felsenstein’s thread, he made a glaring, simple error of logic. I pointed it out, and there was no need to – once again – argue the obvious with those that deny it. It doesn’t take a scientist trained in any particular field to recognize logical errors, rhetoric and fallacies.

    In Joe’s OP, all the functional information contained in the genome at the end of his post was there in the beginning; NS in his example didn’t add any – it just accumulated what was already there to a subset group.

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