Thursday, January 13, 2005

A Sucker's Game

Via Panda's Thumb comes the surprising news that the reprehensible John Derbyshire, NRO's favorite homophobe-who-doth-protest-too-much, is risking his immortal soul by trashing the ID movement:

None of the ID people I have encountered (in person or books) is an open-minded inquirer trying to uncover facts about the world. Every one I know of is a Christian looking to justify his faith. This naturally inclines me to think that they are grinding axes, not conducting dispassionate science. This is, in my opinion, not only a path to bad science, but also a path to bad theology.
Give that stopped clock a cigar. Trying to prove or disprove deity is a game for suckers, whether you're a theologian or a scientist. The only likely outcomes are bad theology, bad science, or some problematic amalgam of the two.

The question of origins is immaterial to how scientific inquiry can or should be undertaken. Whether my car was made in a factory or sprang full-blown from the forehead of Zeus has no bearing on how its engine works. And if I want to repair it, I'm better off with an automotive manual than with Hesiod's otherwise admirable Works and Days. If I have questions about the spiritual implications of driving, I can always take them up with theologians or philosophers, and let scientists get back to more important business (like preparing biased air-pollution studies for General Motors).

Putting aside the fact that ID arguments would have no scientific utility even if they were logically sound, I don't like the ID folks' paranoid assumption that science is some sort of monolithic machine for imposing philosophical naturalism on people. In principle, good science doesn't require any more than a conscientious adherence to certain methodological standards. Many of our greatest scientists have been religious to one degree or another, and many of them have credited their religious ideas with the intuitions that led to their discoveries. Nonetheless, we revere them today primarily because their discoveries were demonstrable. They didn't think that their intuitions about the nature of reality were a substitute for logical proof. Gödel may have detested positivism and favored a Leibnitzian concept of deity - good for him, says I! - and this may even have aided him in formulating his incompleteness theorems, but the theorems stand today because he demonstrated them to be true. Which is why his insights belong properly to science, rather than to the somewhat less rigorous discipline of Making Shit Up.

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