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October 08, 2003

Teach both sides? Uh, but what exactly....

Articles like this put out by the luminaries of The Discovery Institute, the foremost think tank for Intelligent Design in this country, make me wonder how on the low-down they are about their agenda. They say they want to present dissent from the scientific theory of evolution-but as their doyen Philip Johnson has noted of late, their big beef is with methodological naturalism. Look at the table of contents for Origins & Design, the flagship publication and journal of the ID movement, and you see they display plenty of flashy thought experiments. One criticism I have heard of Austrian Economics is it produces meta-economics (philosophy, methodology, etc.), not real economics research, and I think the same charge can be levelled at the Intelligent Design movement, it manufactures a lot of philosophy of science, but isn't forwarding a real research program. The great laboratory scientist of modern ID is Michael Behe, but look at his research, it doesn't seem to be especially informed by any revolutionary paradigm that flies in the face of methodological naturalism. Go here for a scathing dress down of William Dembski's article linked to above. Here is an anecdote that I think can shed light on what Dembski seems to be doing:

Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler was working at the Russian court at that time, and unlike Diderot, he was a devout Christian. So, the empress asked him for help in dealing with the threat posed by Diderot. Euler had himself introduced to Diderot as a man who had found a mathematical proof for the existence of God.

With a stern face the mathematician confronted the philosopher: "Monsier, (a+bn)/n = x holds! Hence, God exists. What is your answer to that?" Quick-witted Diderot was speechless, was laughed at by his followers, and soon returned to France.

For a more erudite critique of Dembski see here, as The Boston Review's William Orr does a thorough dismantling of the mathematician/philosopher's critique of evolutionary theory.

Posted by razib at 11:19 AM

Mr. Orr states: "Evolution has no long-term goal. There is no long-distance target, no final perfection to serve as a criterion for selection….In real life, the criterion for selection is always short-term, either simple survival or, more generally, reproductive success."

Proof of such a claim is lacking. So is disproof no doubt-but I'll keep my options open for now.

But the urge to survive-to reproduce-from whence does it arise?

Posted by: martin at October 8, 2003 08:28 PM

Proof of such a claim is lacking.

No, it isn't. It stems quite logically from the premises. (hint: "evolution" is not some sort of conscious entity.)

But the urge to survive-to reproduce-from whence does it arise?

Don't be coy with your fredreedisms. Read "the selfish gene".

Posted by: Jason Malloy at October 8, 2003 08:41 PM

The Diderot-Euler story is a myth.

Posted by: David B at October 9, 2003 03:05 AM

I agree it stems from the premises-it's the premises I'm questioning. Not that I have better alternative premises to offer-but that's no need to suppress suspicion. Fredreedism? I plead ignorance.
The Selfish Gene-check-color me unimpressed. Schopenhaeur's The World as Will and Representation will far outlast it.
Anyway, if Dawkins addressed that query, I forgot it. Save me some research and answer the question Malloy, if you'd be so kind.

Posted by: martin at October 9, 2003 12:39 PM