Taking “ID is science” out of the ID/Creation argument

I have committed the unpardonable sin of promoting ID as theology and arguing ID is not science. ID is the lineal descendant of Paley’s natural theology (as in contrast to “revealed theology”). I’ve publicly disputed the use of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics as a general argument in favor of ID/Creation, and I’ve been mildly critical of the concept of specified complexity and its successors. I’ve suggested ID is most appropriately taught in college/seminary theology and philosophy departments. When I published a 2005 exchange between myself and Eugenie Scott of the NCSE regarding the appropriateness of ID being taught in college religion and philosophy departments, Eugenie was much kinder to me than some in the ID community who insist “ID is science.” See: Correspondence between Salvador Cordova and Dr. Eugenie Scott

To that end, in conjunction with university professors, deans of Christian and secular colleges (who are favorable to both Intelligent Design and belief in Special Creation), I’m helping build out the electronic component of courses that teach ID and concepts of Creationism for such venues.

The first order of business in such a course is studying Paley’s watch argument and modern incarnations of Paley’s watch. But I’ve found compartmentalizing the pure science and math from the theological issues is helpful. Thus, at least for my own understanding and peace of mind, I’ve considered writing a paper to help define terms that will avoid the use of theologically loaded phrases like “materialism”, “naturalism”, “theism”, and even “Intelligent Design”, etc. I want to use terms that are as theologically neutral as possible to form the mathematical and physical foundation of the ID argument. The purpose of this is to circumvent circular arguments as best as possible. If found what I believe are some unfortunate equivocations and circularity in Bill Dembki’s definition of Design using the explanatory filter, and I’m trying to avoid that.

VJ Torley was very kind to help me phrase the opening of my paper, and I have such high respect for him that I’ve invited him to be a co-author of the paper he so chooses. He of course is free to write his own take on the matters I specify in the opening of my paper. In any case, I’m deeply indebted to him for being a fellow traveler on the net as well as the example he has set as a meticulous scholar.

Here is a draft opening of the papers which I present here at TSZ to solicit comments in the process of revising and expanding my paper.

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Multiverse or Miracles of God?
Circumventing metaphysical baggage when describing massive statistical or physical violations of normative expectations

Intro/Abstract
When attempting to set up a framework for expressing the improbability of phenomena that may turn out to have metaphysical implications, it may be helpful to isolate the metaphysical aspects of these phenomena from the actual math used to describe them. Additionally, the probabilities (which are really statements of uncertainty) can be either observer- or perspective-dependent. For example, in a raffle or a professional sporting league, there is a guaranteed winner. Using more formal terminology, we can say that it is normative that there is a winner, from the perspective of the entire system or ensemble of possibilities; however, from the perspective of any given participant (e.g. an individual raffle ticket holder), it is by no means normative for that individual to be a winner.

With respect to the question of the origin of life and the fine-tuning of the universe, one can postulate a scenario where it is normative for life to emerge in at least one universe, when we are considering the ensemble of all universes (i.e. the multiverse). However, from the perspective of the universe in which an observer happens to be situated, the fine-tuning of that particular universe and the origin of life in that universe are not at all normative: one can reasonably ask, “Why did this universe turn out to be so friendly to life, when it could have been otherwise?” Thus, when someone asserts that it is extremely improbable that a cell should arise from inanimate matter, this statement can be regarded as normative from the perspective of human experience and experimental observations, even though it is not necessarily normative in the ultimate sense of the word. Putting it more informally, one might say that abiogenesis and fine-tuning are miraculous from the human point of view, but whether they are miraculous in the theological or ultimate sense is a question that may well be practically (if not formally) undecidable.

The objective of this article is to circumvent, or at least minimize, the metaphysical baggage of phrases like “natural”, “material”, “supernatural”, “intelligent,” when formulating probabilistic descriptions of phenomena such as the fine-tuning of the universe and the origin of life. One can maintain that these remarkable phenomena are not explicable in terms of any accepted normative mechanisms which are known to us from everyday experience and scientific observation, and remain well within the realm of empirical science. However, whether fine-tuning and the origin of life are normative in the ultimate sense, and whether they are best explained by God or the multiverse, are entirely separate issues, which fall outside the domain of empirical science.

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662 thoughts on “Taking “ID is science” out of the ID/Creation argument

  1. phoodoo: Nor of natural.So it would be just as clear to say everything is supernatural.

    Yes, logically you can say this. But if you go one step further, and define “natural” as anything that can be measured (according to methods agreed on across cultures), this changes. Perhaps Alan is right and the more meaningful distinction is between real and imaginary.

    I think if you wish to say that supernatural phenomena are measurable or testable, and provide some examples we can all agree on, then there WILL be a distinction between what’s supernatural and what is not.

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  2. Alan Fox:

    I also think the distinction between “natural” and “artificial” is somewhat arbitrary. Some who are keen on “natural” foods look for natural sea salt rather than artificial rock salt. Yet the crystals and ions and their chemical properties are identical. Same with sugar.

    There’s been some discussion in this thread as to exactly what is meant by “artificial” and the degree of ambiguity involved in distinguishing natural from artificial. This distinction seems to vary by subject matter and circumstance, but that’s OK provided there is some agreement as to exactly what distinction is being drawn.

    Your suggestion of deliberate construction or modification is one category of artificial. Lawyers describe some arguments as artificial using another category. People are sometimes described as artificial if they are insincere. “Artificial” and “natural” bids in bridge are something entirely different. We could probably think up others.

    But in all of these cases, we can point to what we are calling artificial, and explain why that term applies. When it comes to the supernatural, my take is that the closest we can come is “not understood.” An enormous number of phenomena have been deemed supernatural until they are understood, but this is god of the gaps.

    (But I suppose I could use the religious approach, and claim that anything is supernatural if I SAY it is. If enough people agree with me, we can form a church. Those who disagree and SAY other things are supernatural can then split off and form their own church. It’s “natural” for religions to do this.)

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  3. Flint: I think if you wish to say that supernatural phenomena are measurable or testable, and provide some examples we can all agree on, then there WILL be a distinction between what’s supernatural and what is not.

    I’d argue that any phenomenon that is observable, however indirectly, cannot be supernatural. It must be real!

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  4. Alan Fox: I’d argue that any phenomenon that is observable, however indirectly, cannot be supernatural. It must be real!

    The other day upon the stair
    I saw a man who wasn’t there
    He wasn’t there again today
    I wish that he would go away!

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  5. Supernatural: I chewed some willow bark, and my headache went away. It’s a miracle, I tell you; a miracle.

    Natural: Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.

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  6. Flint,

    So everything that can’t be measured is supernatural, under this definition?

    Well, then clearly many people believe in the supernatural. Can you measure thoughts?

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  7. phoodoo:
    Flint,

    So everything that can’t be measured is supernatural, under this definition?

    Well, then clearly many people believe in the supernatural.Can you measure thoughts?

    Of course you can measure thoughts. If you were raised in the American (or, I suspect, most other) school systems, you were subjected to countless tests, of all sorts, in every subject. Many of these tests measured your ability to think, according to quite a few different metrics. And success in most life endeavors are also in large part measures of your thoughts. People’s thoughts are measured in terms of creativity, innovation, spatial visualization, marketing acumen, retention and application of lessons, and so on (and on and on and on).

    Perhaps inadvertently in your zeal to attack, you have raised what has been an interesting question. As Stephen Jay Gould wrote, everything that exists can be measured, but this does not necessarily mean everything that can be measured must exist. He was talking about IQ testing, which has been problematic. There is a school of thought that no such beast actually exists, and the various batteries of “IQ tests” that have been deployed suffer from serious problems — for example, wide variation between tests of the same person, and lack of predictive success in either school or career. Cognitive scientists differ as to whether IQ (defined entirely in terms of test results, implying that IQ ONLY exists in the test and not the tested) can be increased with practice, even though test scores certainly can. There’s also the issue that such measurements have been “calibrated” on a very homogeneous cohort, primarily white American college freshmen.

    However, despite all this disagreement, none of these people are arguing that thinking is supernatural. And it seems intuitive that some people are better at it than others, although we all have our blind spots. I happen to believe that consciousness can ultimately be understood in neurological terms, while I concede that the jury is still out on that hard question.

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  8. phoodoo:
    Flint,

    If you can measure thoughts through tests, what measures the thoughts that made the test?

    Other tests?

    Well, as I wrote, there are plenty of metrics. I already mentioned creativity, innovation, spatial visualization, marketing acumen, retention and application of lessons, among others. If you want to see relative performance by all possible metrics in all aspects of life as being “tests”, then life is a test.

    I think all of these measurements require a good deal of understanding and nuance. Reducing people’s thinking to a single number is foolish and dangerous. Properly understood, these are useful measurements. Those who attempt to reduce them to some sort of “units of thought” don’t understand the issue.

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  9. phoodoo: Other tests?

    Yes, indirect tests. The test used is judged by it’s results, when compared to other, similar tests. Tests that reliably produce outcomes that are more desirable e.g. vetting potential employees, will be recommended and experence organic growth as they are recommended by word of mouth. Tests that fail this “test” will be outcompeted in the marketplace by tests that produce better outcomes.

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  10. Flint: Well, as I wrote, there are plenty of metrics. I already mentioned creativity, innovation, spatial visualization, marketing acumen, retention and application of lessons, among others. If you want to see relative performance by all possible metrics in all aspects of life as being “tests”, then life is a test.

    I think all of these measurements require a good deal of understanding and nuance. Reducing people’s thinking to a single number is foolish and dangerous. Properly understood, these are useful measurements. Those who attempt to reduce them to some sort of “units of thought” don’t understand the issue.

    Think if we used your definition of measuring, and applied it to other things we measure. Like for instance the winner of the Indy 500. We could say, well, he sure went around that corner nicely. And the red on his car, very bright. And do you know how much money his team spent? Plus, I really wouldn’t have anticipated him doing well, so him driving that car that nicely, that sure does say something. Plus look at all the models that driver has slept with. That’s what a winner would be like.

    There, I have measured the winners of the Indy 500.

    Is it really measuring, or is it instead just random observations about an event?

    Its akin to saying you can measure enjoyment. Since people sometimes smile.

    But surely, even given this rather dubious definition of measuring, there are plenty of other things we can think of that we say are real but we can’t measure, right? Just use your imagination, that thing you say can be measured.

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  11. OMagain,

    I am thinking of a blue sky. If you think of a blue sky (hypothetically) whose thought is bigger? Whose more real? Whose is faster? Whose thought is better? Wider? More abundant? More focused? More artistically clever? More heavy?

    What is the measurement of that thought?

    (Hint-there isn’t one. Forget about trying to think of a blue sky.)

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