Evolution vs. ID


Paul Phillips has some interesting thoughts on the Ev vs. ID debate, casting it in terms of the struggle over scientific inquiry in general. First, on the question of whether non-biologists believing in evolution are showing "faith":


In fact, a huge percentage of what we "know" to be true rests on our faith in the word of others. However, what separates us is who we choose to believe. You don't have to be a scientist or know much about science to determine to your satisfaction that scientists are far more likely to be right than any other group. Nobody can be an expert in more than a very few topics. For everything else the real skill is in identifying who is likely to know what they're talking about and who isn't.

To this I'd like to add that while no one can become an expert in many fields, our modern wealth of good books and free time means that the intelligent layman can get a good grounding in many important fields, including evolutionary biology. My belief in evolution is not simply based on it being the theory of scientists, but on how well the books I've read match with each other and the world around me.

Paul then looks at the struggle another way:


And that highlights another problem I have with the supposed "evolution vs. ID" faux debate. When it is spun that way the IDers have already won, because it positions them as competing theories. They are not. The REAL conflict here is between science and anti-science: nothing more and nothing less. Evolution just happens to be the most prominent scientific theory that threatens deeply held superstitions. Once upon a time it was heliocentrism, and perhaps in the distant future it will be some branch of cosmology. The details change but the battle is always the same. One group wants to find the truth and one group wants to protect their idea of the truth, and these approaches will forever be irreconcilable.


I have no tolerance for ID because no matter how innocuously its supporters may paint it, its entire reason for existing is to undermine the scientific method in the minds of the impressionable. It isn't that it particularly matters whether someone holds false beliefs about this or that scientific theory, it is that once people surrender their minds like this they become far easier to control.

I suppose one could try to demonize this sort of attitude as a rejection of a type of inquiry, but it isn't that at all. Those who think God made the world are welcome to participate in the scientific process, forming hypotheses, testing them, and advancing the sum total of human knowledge. Playing by the rules is welcomed. But ID advocates don't - their "research" is too shoddy to make it into any real journal. Heck, its often so bad that even my layman's knowledge is sufficient to see their errors.

This all reminds me of my favorite atheist quote, from Penn Jilette (paraphrased) "It's not that atheists aren't interested in the big questions of life. We just don't believe in making up the answers."

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"Lippard, You do realize

"Lippard,

You do realize this is an ad himinem argument, don’t you?

Isn’t the truth or falsity of a proposition independent of any motive for which it was advanced?"

It is not an ad hominem argument--it is not even an argument for the falsity of ID. It is an argument about *what ID is*, and you haven't even attempted to address it.

BTW, if ID is a proposition, can you state it and say why you think it is a scientific hypothesis that should be taught in science classes?

oops, ad hominem

oops, ad hominem

Lippard, "Many? Try all

Lippard,

"Many? Try all except the Raelians. And many ID proponents have explicitly stated that it has to entail a supernatural designer (after all, who designed the alien designers postulated by the Raelians?). I think your claim is false–ID was originally formulated with the explicit intent to argue for a supernatural designer, and that is the primary purpose of all of the major advocates, who are generally happy to say so when they are in front of an audience of believers."

You do realize this is an ad himinem argument, don't you?

Isn't the truth or falsity of a proposition independent of any motive for which it was advanced?

The fact that everybody who

The fact that everybody who has studied X believes Y is not a valid argument for Y. What matters is if they arrive at Y by way of valid argument. No amount of polling can anser that question.

It's not airtight proof, but absent any compelling counterarguments, the fact that everyone who's studied X believes Y is a good argument for believing Y (assuming that studying X is related to Y).

We can't always be certain of everything. Sometimes it's impossible, and sometimes it's just not worth the effort--the cost of achieving complete certainty may be greater than the payoff. That's where probabilistic reasoning comes in. Certain evidence increases the probability that a proposition is true, and other evidence decreases it. You stop seeking out additional evidence when the marginal utility of greater certainty equals the marginal cost of achieving it.

When you can accept less than 100% certainty, then the opinions of experts can be valuable tools for achieving a reasonable degree of certainly at a low cost, especially evaluating or reproducing the methods by which the experts have arrived at their conclusions is prohibitively expensive or requires specialized knowledge that you don't have.

especially evaluating or

especially evaluating or reproducing the methods by which the experts have arrived at their conclusions is prohibitively expensive or requires specialized knowledge that you don’t have.

You have to be a little careful here--if you don't know anything about their methods, then it begs the question of why they are an authority. For example, when Hugh Ross tries to form an opinion about the universe, one of the key resources he uses is the Bible. When Stephen J. Gould tries to do the same thing, he looks at empirical evidence and tries to come up with an explanation fitting it. I don't know about JTK, but I'm much more willing to believe Gould over Ross, even though I haven't exhaustively read over all of Gould's research articles.

Stefan, http://daviddfriedman

Stefan,

http://daviddfriedman.com/Miscellaneous/past_quotes_of_the_week.htm

I gather it's a common opinion of prominent biologists that Gould doesn't exactly know what he's talking about, so where does that leave you?

Brandon, "It’s not

Brandon,

"It’s not airtight proof...

Not airtight?

It fact it cannot concievably be the slightest part of a proof of the matter in question, now can it?

"X says Y" advances the argument for Y by precisely nothing.

(I'll mention in passing that I've omitted special cases where a person can be an authority. For instance I am an authority on certain internal states I experience. But that's not relevant to the discussion.)

"I have no tolerance for ID

"I have no tolerance for ID because no matter how innocuously its supporters may paint it, its entire reason for existing is to undermine the scientific method in the minds of the impressionable."

Did anyone else notice that Paul was engaging in ad hominem here? To impugn your opponent's motives is not a valid argument against his position. Yet Patri cites this approvingly.

Why are all the defenders of evolution in this thread, except for me, letting bad arguments on their side pass without comment?

"If an authority in the

"If an authority in the field under question says Y, then that certainly is a valid argument for Y."

Hmmm... I wonder if that holds up...

If a homeopathist says that water has a memory, then that's a valid argument that water has memory.

If a witch doctor says that bleeding expels the demons, then that's a valid argument that bleeding expels the demons.

If an economist says that value arises from labor, then that's a valid argument that value arises from labor.

Yup. I'm convinced.

I gather it’s a common

I gather it’s a common opinion of prominent biologists that Gould doesn’t exactly know what he’s talking about, so where does that leave you?

After looking at the links you gave me I'll concede Gould is not completely representative of mainstream biology. However, I think my claim that the widely known and impartial methods of scientists, especially the ones that are in mainstream biology, lends them better authority than Hugh Ross (whom I do know exists, having seen him myself) on the origin of life on this planet. In what I hope doesn't look like an appeal to authority, here is the wikipedia explanation of it. They give the particular example of whether or not the planet Neptune exists. I have never seen Neptune, nor identified it through telescopic imaging. I do know that experts, the astronomers, have methods which are widely known and held to be consistently in accord with reality. Thus I can rely on the word of the astronomers that Neptune exists. To take a more extreme example, what would you do if your child asked about Murry Rothbard's life in New York? Would you seriously tell your child that you cannot claim to know that New York exists, nor Murray Rothbard for that matter, and so won't answer the question?

"After looking at the links

"After looking at the links you gave me I’ll concede Gould is not completely representative of mainstream biology."

So who's right, him or them? What is our calculus of authority?

"I do know that experts, the astronomers, have methods which are widely known and held to be consistently in accord with reality. Thus I can rely on the word of the astronomers that Neptune exists."

You can if you like, but the conclusion is only as sound as their arguments for it. If you can't evaluate the arguments you're out of luck because nothing else suffices.

Scott, "If an authority in

Scott,

"If an authority in the field under question says Y, it certainly is a valid argument for Y."

It's not, because the truth or falsity of Y is absolutely independent of what anyone says about Y.

So who’s right, him or

So who’s right, him or them? What is our calculus of authority?

Well the specific problems had to do his repeated attacks on adaptationism and vehement argument with Richard Dawkins, John Maynard Smith, and others. However, whether traits are mostly adaptations are not is a specific claim advanced under the large "umbrella" of evolutionary biology. The claim we are discussing is the much more general one of whether we should assign more credence to evolutionary biologists than creationists and ID'ers on the issue of how life arose.

“I do know that experts, the astronomers, have methods which are widely known and held to be consistently in accord with reality. Thus I can rely on the word of the astronomers that Neptune exists.”

You can if you like, but the conclusion is only as sound as their arguments for it. If you can’t evaluate the arguments you’re out of luck because nothing else suffices.

I think that's sort of the idea--I'm not an astronomer, and the most evidence I can see is the pictures of Neptune from various telescope shots. You ask me for a calculus of authority, but I'm very curious as to your standards for accepting or rejecting empirical evidence that is based on the word of other people. I sort of get the impression you're a radical skeptic based on your remark about being an authority on your internal mental states, and if so, why not just doubt your senses in general as opposed to just the expertise of Stephen Gould?

Lippard, "While it’s true

Lippard,

"While it’s true that the truth or falsity of Y is independent of what anyone says about Y, it’s also the case that an expert in the field in question says that Y is evidence for Y (not “a valid argument for Y"–we’re talking about inductive evidence not deductive reasoning here)."

"X says Y" does not advance one's understanding of the underlying reality a whit.

John T. Kennedy wrote:

John T. Kennedy wrote: "Intelligent Design is not in principle a supernatural explanation, even if many of it’s proponents may believe in one."

Many? Try all except the Raelians. And many ID proponents have explicitly stated that it has to entail a supernatural designer (after all, who designed the alien designers postulated by the Raelians?). I think your claim is false--ID was originally formulated with the explicit intent to argue for a supernatural designer, and that is the primary purpose of all of the major advocates, who are generally happy to say so when they are in front of an audience of believers.

It may be possible to formulate a non-vacuous scientific ID hypothesis that is not in principle a supernatural explanation, but nobody has done that to date. On the scientific vacuity of ID, see http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2005/06/id_in_their_own_1.html

Now I do. Therefore, I was

Now I do. Therefore, I was wrong about the Discordian getting it right. This seems to have devolved, or at least is on the path to devolving, to a debate over what the proper definition of "valid argument" is.

Scott, "Leave it to a

Scott,

"Leave it to a Discordian to get it right."

You notice that Lippard just said I was right and you were wrong, right?

I wrote: "And there’s

I wrote: "And there’s nothing more to ID than bad criticisms of evolution."

I must confess that this is hyperbole--for example, I omitted the PR and political efforts (e.g., the Discovery Institute has hired the same PR firm that managed the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign, rather than spending money on scientific research grants). "Bad criticisms of evolution" are the pretty much all that ID has offered that is actually within the realm of science.

Not only is Intelligent

Not only is Intelligent Design a form of creationism, the original book advocating Intelligent Design (of the modern rather than Paley variety), _Of Pandas and People_, originally used the term "creationism" everywhere it says "intelligent design." Most of the people pushing ID are young-earth creationists (though most of them prefer to remain silent on the age of the earth, or say that it's not important), and they use the same collection of bad arguments against evolution that the young-earth creationists have used. And there's nothing more to ID than bad criticisms of evolution.

For the historical record on ID, see the plaintiff's brief opposing summary judgment in the Dover, PA case:

http://www.ncseweb.org/kitzmiller/briefs/Motion_Opposing_SJ.pdf

On the subject of the "calculus of authority," I recommend Philip Kitcher's excellent book _The Advancement of Science_. I also recommend this Stephen Dutch rant:

http://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/PSEUDOSC/SelfApptdExp.htm

Not all opinions have equal weight.

"So in your view most people

"So in your view most people in the evolution vs ID debate, when asked the question “Which theory is correct, evolution or ID?” should just shrug and say “I don’t know"? That doesn’t seem right to me somehow."

The ID folks don't have a theory yet. We're still waiting for one.

They've done things like offer an algorithm (Dembski) for distinguishing non-design from design, but they have yet to apply the algorithm to known cases and show that it works, while critics have shown that the algorithm is seriously flawed (e.g., see Elsberry and Shallit).

"“If an authority in the

"“If an authority in the field under question says Y, it certainly is a valid argument for Y.”

It’s not, because the truth or falsity of Y is absolutely independent of what anyone says about Y."

While it's true that the truth or falsity of Y is independent of what anyone says about Y, it's also the case that an expert in the field in question says that Y is *evidence for* Y (not "a valid argument for Y"--we're talking about inductive evidence not deductive reasoning here).

Much of what we know is dependent on testimony rather than first-hand experience, including our knowledge of language and the conceptual frameworks which we have learned through social interactions, and this is true for knowledge in scientific institutions as well as ordinary knowledge. It's not feasible to be an expert in everything, and even expert knowledge has dependencies on testimony (e.g., reports of the results of experiments conducted by other people).

Yet it is still possible for non-experts to identify who experts are, though it's also possible to get it wrong (clearly). In Kitcher's book (recommended above), see the chapter titled "The Division of Cognitive Labor." I haven't yet read James Surowiecki's _The Wisdom of Crowds_, but I suspect he covers some of this same ground, and in particular the conditions under which aggregation of opinions can converge on truth (like market pricing).

Leave it to a Discordian to

Leave it to a Discordian to get it right.

Fnord!

"“While it’s true that

"“While it’s true that the truth or falsity of Y is independent of what anyone says about Y, it’s also the case that an expert in the field in question says that Y is evidence for Y (not “a valid argument for Y"–we’re talking about inductive evidence not deductive reasoning here).”

“X says Y” does not advance one’s understanding of the underlying reality a whit."

Of course it does, if you pay attention to and comprehend the content of Y expressed by X. To say otherwise is to deny the possibility of learning from books, the Internet, or other people at all. I take it that's not your position, and that your interaction here is predicated upon the possibility of mutual understanding and learning.

Jim, "I have to say I tend

Jim,

"I have to say I tend to lean towards mandated minimal education standards, where real science is taught in science classes."

That doesn't seem to square with your last comment where you said you wouldn't outlaw the teaching of ID in private schools. Wouldn't your mandated standard for real science preclude the teaching of ID?

"I don’t think it’s just a matter of my preference, as if all viewpoints are equally valid–they aren’t."

No they aren't. But that doesn't mean either of us should get to decide how the other raises his own children or spends his own money, does it?

"I’m not sure that people paying for their own stuff in the area of education would lead to improved education if the purchasers completely determined their own standards."

I'm not sure you spend your money as well as I'd spend it for you. But so what?

The point I was originally making was not that a free market would improve education in general (it would, but leave that for another day) but that it would end the struggle between evolutionists and anti-evolutionists - they'd go their separate ways in the market with nothing to fight over.

"If the state standard requirements were removed, would there be further improvement of education? It’s an empirical question,..."

Then so is whether you spend your money better than I'd spend it for you.

But who is entitled to spend your money is not an empirical question.

I wouldn't outlaw the

I wouldn't outlaw the teaching of ID in private schools, but if I had children being taught ID as science in private schools, I'd demand a tuition refund, just as I would if they were being taught astrology as science. (Fortunately, we have dogs instead of children.)

You're correct that falsified hypotheses are falsifiable. There have been other ID claims put forth which do not appear to be falsifiable (e.g., the scientifically vacuous versions I've made reference to earlier). It's always amusing when simultaneous charges of falsehood and unfalsifiability are made against the same claim--it happens occasionally against some aspects of creationism (and such critics should rightly get called on it), and on a regular basis by creationists against aspects of evolution. My favorite is the charge that natural selection is a tautology, is unfalsifiable, and is false--gotta love the false tautologies.

"I wouldn’t outlaw the

"I wouldn’t outlaw the teaching of ID in private schools, but if I had children being taught ID as science in private schools, I’d demand a tuition refund, just as I would if they were being taught astrology as science."

But someone whose kids were being taught evolution when they wanted them taught ID would be just as entitled to a refund, wouldn't they?

In fact aren't they really entitled to that now? They shouldn't havt to pay for what you prefer, should they?

As I said from the first, this whole issue would disappear if people paid for their own stuff. But Democracy is about who gets to shove what down whose throat. I don't have sympathy for either side of that squabble.

"But someone whose kids were

"But someone whose kids were being taught evolution when they wanted them taught ID would be just as entitled to a refund, wouldn’t they?

In fact aren’t they really entitled to that now? They shouldn’t havt to pay for what you prefer, should they?"

I have to say I tend to lean towards mandated minimal education standards, where real science is taught in science classes. I don't think it's just a matter of my preference, as if all viewpoints are equally valid--they aren't. I'm not sure that people paying for their own stuff in the area of education would lead to improved education if the purchasers completely determined their own standards. I live in Arizona, where charter schools have had some success, and some are top-notch and in high demand, but they do have to meet state educational standards (and Arizona's are pretty good, unlike Kansas's). If the state standard requirements were removed, would there be further improvement of education? It's an empirical question, and I could see pressures in both directions--we're already seen charter schools be shut down that have failed to meet the standards; removing the standards might allow those schools to continue, or market forces might shut them down.

Jim, "Actually, I should

Jim,

"Actually, I should revise what I said–what people say is not completely independent of the truth of propositions..."

I said that the truth of a proposition was absolutely independent of what people say. You're now talking about something different.

X says Y is absolutely irrelevant to a proof of Y, it can't have any place in one whatsoever.

Jim, "Of course it does, if

Jim,

"Of course it does, if you pay attention to and comprehend the content of Y expressed by X."

Any understanding of Y lies in the argument X offers, none of it lies in "X says Y".

Let's say an economic propositon X comes up of which you currently understand nothing. I tell you truthfully "Five Nobel prize winners winners in economics say X is true".

Full stop.

Do you better understand the reality underlying X now?

Jim, "BTW, if ID is a

Jim,

"BTW, if ID is a proposition, can you state it and say why you think it is a scientific hypothesis that should be taught in science classes?"

I'd say ID is the proposition that intelligent design can be inferred in nature from irreducible complexity. I think this is in principle how intelligently designed artifiacts are aready identified and nobody seems to dispute that such identification is valid science.

I think what should be taught in science classes is whatever those paying for the classes want, if there's someone willing to teach it.

John: "X says Y is

John:
"X says Y is absolutely irrelevant to a proof of Y, it can’t have any place in one whatsoever." Proof is for mathematics and logic. Everyday reasoning and science is based on evidential support and statistical inference. X says Y is evidence for (not proof of) Y if X is a reliable source.

John:
"Any understanding of Y lies in the argument X offers, none of it lies in “X says Y".

Let’s say an economic proposition X comes up of which you currently understand nothing. I tell you truthfully “Five Nobel prize winners winners in economics say X is true".

Full stop.

Do you better understand the reality underlying X now?"

Knowing that X is true and understanding why X is true are distinct and separable; the latter entails the former but the former doesn't entail the latter. The case you describe is one in which I can obtain the former but not the latter.

John:
"I’d say ID is the proposition that intelligent design can be inferred in nature from irreducible complexity. I think this is in principle how intelligently designed artifiacts are aready identified and nobody seems to dispute that such identification is valid science."

That's a false proposition. It has already been demonstrated that something that is irreducibly complex (IC) now can result from stepwise evolution from something else, through changes in function. Kenneth Miller has shown how Behe's chosen example of the clotting cascade can evolve in stepwise fashion. See http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/behe.html. This is why Dembski doesn't endorse irreducible complexity as the measure of design but moved on to complex specified information (CSI), which also doesn't distinguish design from non-design (see http://www.antievolution.org/people/dembski_wa/19990913_csi_and_ec.html, as well as Elsberry and Shallit's paper, http://www.antievolution.org/people/wre/papers/eandsdembski.pdf).

BTW, check out Jerry Coyne's excellent article on Intelligent Design in The New Republic: http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20050822&s=coyne082205&c=1

John:
"I think what should be taught in science classes is whatever those paying for the classes want, if there’s someone willing to teach it."

I think that if someone pays for a science class and is taught nonsense, they've been defrauded.

So would you outlaw the

So would you outlaw the teaching of ID in private schools, since you consider if fraud? Or do you agree with me the content of a curriculum is properly the business of it's patrons?

Jim, I'm not saying those

Jim,

I'm not saying those aren't good answers to the examples raised. Looks to me like some good came out of the process. I'd also note that when a hypothesis of ID has been falsified, that can't be squared with the charge that ID is unfalsifiable.

"That doesn’t seem to

"That doesn’t seem to square with your last comment where you said you wouldn’t outlaw the teaching of ID in private schools. Wouldn’t your mandated standard for real science preclude the teaching of ID?"

You're right.

Are private schools (as distinct from charter schools, which are privately operated but publicly funded) bound by state educational standards? I'm pretty sure they are quite free to teach ID; they certainly teach religion.

So I'll modify my statement about minimal mandated education standards to limit it to publicly funded schools (and also limit it to education standards that are actually good--some states have horrible standards, as documented in Ravitch's The Language Police), until evidence persuades me otherwise. There has been a decline in the number of advanced degrees in science and math awarded in the U.S., I'm not sure of the cause. I'm in favor of sufficient diversity in experimentation to see what produces better educated students, and Arizona seems to be providing the best state environment for such experiments at the moment.

I tend to take different positions depending on whether I'm arguing about what an ideal world could look like (where ancap seems quite appealing) or whether I'm arguing about what changes should be made to the current one (where ancap doesn't seem to be likely to spontaneously form; instead we get situations like Somalia, and where a surprisingly large number of libertarians and classical liberals are George W. Bush supporters, which I find baffling). I am skeptical that the ideal is in the realm of the possible, though it has been used well in fiction by authors like Vernor Vinge.

BTW, I'm off on vacation for a few days, but plan to be back here late in the week. I've very much enjoyed the discussions here, though I think I've allowed it to consume a bit too much of my time.