Thursday, February 22, 2007

Unintelligent Mechanisms

Philip Johnson, the godfather of the ID movement, has written an unwittingly elegaic piece on the early promise and current malaise of his pet discipline.

Here's my favorite part:

My hope was that the scientific community would agree that it is legitimate to question whether known natural (unintelligent) mechanisms can produce the immense quantities of genetic information that would be needed to generate complex new kinds of organisms, provided that the questioning was based upon scientific evidence rather than religious doctrine or scripture.
Of course it's legitimate to question this, and plenty of people have done so. Although Johnson cagily limits his inquiry to known natural mechanisms, the "questioning" he refers to is essentially what biologists do for a living. Unless, of course, he assumes that all unknown mechanisms must be the work of intelligence.

Despite having left an enormous naturalistic loophole in his own disingenuous argument, Johnson persists in seeing science's attempted adherence to naturalism as evidence of a conspiracy against ID:
[O]rthodox scientific bodies have had to take strenuous action to keep it from cropping up in science education, and even in scientific journals.
Lest anyone should think that this "strenuous action" amounts to anything more than peer review, and a reasonable insistence on standards, Johnson makes the self-falsifying claim that ID proponents aren't even allowed to discuss their theories, inside or outside the scientific field:
[T[hose who do not want the concept of intelligent design to flourish find it necessary to enact explicit rules against allowing scientists and others to discuss the possibility that there is a real intelligence behind complex genetic information.
Like most of his co-religionists, Johnson apparently believes that a real discussion hasn't taken place until everyone agrees with him. Little wonder, then, that his humble hopes keep being dashed:
I had hoped that the mainstream scientific profession could be persuaded to consider objections to Darwinism that rely solely on empirical evidence and logic and were directed only to the adequacy of the Darwinian mechanism....Darwinists, including many in positions of authority in science, reacted by stigmatizing the concept of intelligent design in biology as “creationism,” as if it were another attempt to defend the literal creation chronology of the Book of Genesis, rather than a scientific movement that relies only on scientific evidence and logical analysis.
Shorter Johnson: Biblical literalists are hopelessly deluded, and can't be taken seriously. This is more evidence that, as I've argued previously, the Discovery Institute's "Wedge Strategy" is more of a boomerang:
ID's willingness to make certain tactical concessions to science set it on a collision course with young-earth creationism from the start. And as Michael Behe himself noted in Darwin's Black Box, its definitions are vague enough to leave open such naturalistic "escape clauses" as directed panspermia; thus, it provides no real support for the existence of any god, let alone a specific god like YHWH. For Biblical literalists, even the trace amount of science in ID is deadly poison.
The real problem comes in the next sentence:
Although the IDM did not identify the designer as anything more than a source of biological information, there was little doubt that believers in the Christian God, including me, would find scientific acceptance of ID highly encouraging.
Encouraging? O ye of little faith! Once again, American Christianity runs afoul not of the Scientific Establishment's materialism, but of its own.

It's also odd how this exciting new form of science - which is not to be confused with creationism, and relies "only on scientific evidence and logical analysis" - seems to be able to double effortlessly as Christian witness:
I see many signs that dissatisfaction with evolutionary naturalism is spreading throughout the world. One of these signs is the many languages into which some of my own books have been translated, including French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Chinese, Czech, Finnish, and Macedonian....Clearly, reports of the death of God have been greatly exaggerated.
You are following this, aren't you? ID takes no stance whatsoever on the definition of "intelligence." But the translation of Johnson's books into Macedonian nonetheless deals a staggering blow to atheism. (How many languages has Dracula been translated into, I wonder?)

This, mind you, is the movement that claims it will save science by placing its feet back on the path of intellectual honesty.

Coincidentally, an article by Elliot Sober in the Quarterly Review of Biology makes a point I've made here before:
"If ID is to be tested," he says, "it must be tested against one or more competing hypotheses." If the ID claim about the vertebrate eye is to be tested against the hypothesis that the vertebrate eye evolved by Darwinian processes, the question is whether there is an observation that can discriminate between the two. The observation that vertebrates have eyes cannot do this.

Sober also points out that criticism of a competing theory, such as evolution, is not in-and-of-itself a test of ID.... To contend that evolutionary processes cannot produce "irreducibly complex" adaptations merely changes the subject, Sober argues.
True enough. But then, all this presupposes that ID is intended to be a scientific theory, instead of a political strategy.

1 comment:

¡El Gato Negro! said...

Joo know, eet's always a huge tell when they refer to scientists who study evolution as "Darwinists".

Thees makes me theenk that they would refer to all physicists as "Newtonists", or "Copernicists"

Joo want to see the IDiots heads go ¡Poom!... wait until they hear about Horisontal transfer of genetic information, known as a cause of what I have seen termed "Horizontal Evolution".