Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bradley Monton

Bradly Monton is a philosopher at UC Boulder. He's also an atheist. However, and perhaps surprisingly, he argues that intelligent design is a legitimate category of explanation in the sciences (in that actions of non-human intelligent agents are detectable in principle, and that appeal to such agency is legitimate in principle in the sciences). Also, he thinks ID should be taught in schools, along side evolution. He's coming out with a book on the topic: Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design.

Another point about Monton: he thinks the fine-tuning argument, although ultimately unpersuasive, is stronger than many philosophers think. See (perhaps) his most important paper of his on this, "God, Fine-Tuning, and the Problem of Old Evidence", British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57 (2006), pp. 405-424.

I agree with him about virtually all of this, and I can't wait to read his book. The reason: I've read the following books and articles on the topic, as well as the standard replies (although, I confess, not the replies of the last few years), and I'm not persuaded by the the latter -- which, by the way, rarely address the specific points made:

Moreland, J.P. Christianity and the Nature of Science, 3rd printing (1992), esp. Ch. 6.

-"Creation Science and Methodological Naturalism", in Bauman, Michael, ed., Man and Creation: Perspectives on Science and Theology (1993).

-"Theistic Science and Methodological Naturalism", in Moreland, J.P., ed., The Creation Hypothesis (1994).

-"The Explanatory Relevance of Libertarian Agency as a Model of Theistic Design", in Dembski, William A., ed. Mere Creation: Science, Faith, and Intelligent Design (1998)

Meyer, Stephen C. "The Methodological Equivalence of Design and Descent", in Moreland, ed., The Creation Hypothesis (1994)

Dembski, William. (That's right, I said "Dembski" -- not all is dross in his writings) "On the Very Possibility of Intelligent Design", in Moreland, ed., The Creation Hypothesis (1994)
-"Appendix" in Dembski, Intelligent Design (1999).

Laudan, Larry. “The Demise of the Demarcation Problem,” in R. Cohen and L. Laudan, Eds., Physics, Philosophy and Psychoanalysis (Reidel, Dordrecht), pp. 111-128.

-“Science at the Bar: Causes for Concern,” Science, Technology and Human Values, 7: 16-19.

Plantinga, Alvin. See his papers on methodological naturalism, the god-of-the-gaps criticism, and his discussions of "Augustinian" vs. "Duhemian" philosophy of science

Ratzsch, Delvin Lee. Nature, Design, and Science (2001).

Reynolds, John Mark. (That's right, I said "John Mark Reynolds". Just because his political blog posts are crazy, it doesn't follow that all is dross in what he has to say). "God of the Gaps", in Dembski, ed. Mere Creation (1998).

Swinburne, Richard. The Existence of God. (haven't read the new 2004 edition) See especially his discussion of personal vs. scientific explanation

Now I don't think all these pieces are right on everything they say, but they *do* make a good prima facie case for the in-principle legitimacy for appeals to intelligence in scientific explanations -- even in terms of an invisible designer. It's not responsible to ignore these arguments if you're aware of them.

Aristotle appealed to God in his scientific explanations. Was he a moonbat for doing so? No.

Theists -- at least sensible theists -- don't appeal to God in explanation by arguing in either of the following ways:

1. I can't think of an explanation for X in terms of natural causes alone; therefore, God is the explanation of X.

2. X is too complex to be produced by natural causes alone; therefore, God is the explanation of X.

Sophisticated theists make neither a blatant appeal to ignorance (as in (1)), nor an inference from mere complexity (as in (2)); they admit that neither is sufficient to justify an appeal to a designer. Rather, they add a further requirement that *X must also have some earmark of intelligence*. Thus, their reasoning is of the following generic form:

3. (i) x can't be explained in terms of naturalistic mechanisms within a a mature science, and (ii) x bears feature F that's known to be caused by intelligent ageny; therefore, probably, x is at least partly explained in terms of intelligent agency.

Different canditates for earmark F have been proposed throughout the centuries:

(a) x has parts that work together to perform a function. (Paley)

(b) x is irreducibly complex (Behe)

(c) x has specified complexity (Geisler & Anderson, Dembski).

(d) x exhibits "counterflow" (Del Ratzch)

These are all legitimate candidates in my book. So I think there's no problem with appeals to God in science, at least in principle. The problem I have is that they all fail *in practice*. For example, with reference to (a)-(c) above: evolution can produce objects whose parts work together to perform a function; the examples of irreducible complexity have been demonstrated no to be so on further inspection (cf. Kenneth Miller's stuff), and in any case, Behe's argument has big problems, as Paul Draper has shown; and Ratzsch, Collins, and Fitelson have shown that (c) admits of counterexamples.

A caveat: I have zero interest in discussing this topic, unless you've read at least a decent chunk of the works referenced above, and you want to talk about the specific arguments of a specific author listed there (e.g. "Meyer says X in article C in your list. I think that argument doesn't work, for reason Y").

P.S., listen to Brad's podcasted interviews on the topic of ID at his blog (e.g.) here.


Ron said...

Hey Ex,

Is that 'caveat' there for me? Has my spouting off on your blog annoyed you? If so, I mean no offense.

In any case, I haven't read much at all on ID so you are spared. ;)

exapologist said...

Hey Ron,

No, it's not there for you. I primarily had non-theists in mind who think ID is illegitimate in principle.



wissam h said...

I'd like to see what you think of this argument against fine tuning.


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