"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Fetter-All Courts And 'opin' For A Mind

Judge Clarence Cooper has ruled that it was un-Constitutional for the Cobb County school district to have affixed a small sticker to the inside of its science textbooks. It read: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, concerning the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

How does it feel, folks, to be living in a country that sees (at least in its judicial outlook) this phrasing as an encroachment of religion upon science?

If you scroll down to Monday, January 10, to a piece entitled The Paradoxical Critique, you will see that there are "9 comments". Read those comments and you will see a physicist taking on Hunter and myself on the question of Intelligent Design. I will make no further comment except to promise that you will gain insight into two different approaches toward employing the human mind as a resource for living. (You might want to remember that I have an essay espousing Intelligent Design which is published in a college philosophy textbook called Philosophy: An Introduction Through Literature available through Paragon, the publisher, or Amazon.com.)

6 comments:

Francis J. Beckwith said...

Jay: Here is my response to that fella's last comments in the "Paradox" post:

Tlaloc writes: "Design can't be a _scientific_ answer because it isn't testable. You can't prove that a God doesn't exist for the same reason you can't prove any other negative like that. I can't prove that intangible giants don't lug the earth in it's orbit. But the statement `there are invisible giants lugging the earth' isn't a scientific hypothesis and shouldn't be taught in public school as science."

Three points here. First, sure you can prove that God doesn't exist. If the concept of God is incoherent, just like the concept "married-bachelor," you've proven that God doesn't exist. Second, the claim that "you can't prove a negative" is itself a negative, and thus on its own grounds lacks proof and thus I have no reason to believe it. Third, absolute disproof is very rare and hard to come by. So, it's probably best that we talk about evidence counting for or against a point of view or theory. In that sense, theories are "criticizable" or rendered more or less plausible given certain evidence and explanatory power. For example, the claim "the Holocaust didn't happen" is a negative claim, but it is unreasonable to say that one cannot offer overwhelming evidence against that claim.

Tlaloc said...

First to address the topic I find it hard to see the sticker in question as an encroachment of religion into state secular education. That having been said the sticker was a stupid idea in the first place and it never should have been put on thus negating the whole thing.

Now to address francis:

"Three points here. First, sure you can prove that God doesn't exist. If the concept of God is incoherent, just like the concept "married-bachelor," you've proven that God doesn't exist."

I have no idea what you are trying to say here but its a well known logical rule that you can't prove a negative like that.


"Second, the claim that "you can't prove a negative" is itself a negative, and thus on its own grounds lacks proof and thus I have no reason to believe it."

To explain it in basic terms you can't show something doesn't happen and from that conclude it never happens. On the other hand showing something has happened does indeed prove it can happen. Any mythical experiment to detect god that got no result would not disprove god, only show it wasn't detected. The same experiment with a positive result would indeed prove god existed. This is what "you can't prove a negative means."


"Third, absolute disproof is very rare and hard to come by."

As just stated its impossible to come by.


"So, it's probably best that we talk about evidence counting for or against a point of view or theory."

No, if we want to determine if an idea is scientific we first determine if it produces a testable hypothesis. That is the very first hudle it must pass and ID fails.


"For example, the claim "the Holocaust didn't happen" is a negative claim, but it is unreasonable to say that one cannot offer overwhelming evidence against that claim."

That's because "the holocaust did happen" is a quite testable hypothesis.

Tlaloc said...

Jay: "You might want to remember that I have an essay espousing Intelligent Design which is published in a college philosophy textbook called Philosophy: An Introduction Through Literature"

And that's fine. ID can certainly have a place in philosophy, just not in biology. It's not that ID is inferior to darwinism, it's that they address two entirely different things.

Jay D. Homnick said...

Dear Dr. Beckwith,


It is certainly an honor to have you participate in our adventures of the mind and pen.
As I implied in my posting, I had decided to leave my debate with Tlaloc in its current state, because each side had laid out a fairly comprehensive road map - with a schism that is rooted in the epistemology that we bring to the enterprise.

But I cannot resist the opportunity to address you over Tlaloc's head, as it were. It seems to me that a series of fallacies have clustered to form a protective phalanx around the sanctum wherein Darwin's opus is displayed. Our friend Tlaloc obligingly trots a few out for our surveyal.
Let me limit my comment to this last conceit: God belongs only in philosophy (or theology), not in science. Well, yes, the concept of a personal god, a god whom you can address, a god who engages in occasional interventions, a god who has behavioral expectations, a god who issues a series of moral instructions, those are the purview of philosophy and theology. But God the Designer is an intrinsically scientific theory with extensive implications.
The classic example (I am indebted here to Avigdor Miller, RIP, for this insight; he interprets this as the meaning of Maimonides' statement that "the foundation of science is that there is a preexisting force that created our universe") was the medical error, long in vogue, that the tonsils served no function. If the various components of the organism evolve randomly, there might well be extraneous projections which owe their presence only to atavism. If they evolve by design moored in perfect intelligence, we may assume that no wasted effort would be manifested in the result. Knowing this, we would feel pressured in the laboratory to unravel the mystery of the unidentified raison de etre of the tonsil.
A more recent, and extremely costly, example of the acceptance of undesigned evolution is the notion, much beloved of environmentalists, that the world is on the verge of imploding at all times. The designed world may be assumed to have self-preserving mechanisms inbuilt. Or, conversely, if it was designed to segue into obsolescence, our feckless efforts will not effect a reversal.

Furthermore, Tlaloc and his too-clever-by-half ilk are being disingenuous when they generously offer God a seat in the Philosophy Department. What they are really saying, with a wink, is 'Keep God in the playground of the mind; we are too busy stoking the coal in the engine to indulge in such fancies'.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

""For example, the claim "the Holocaust didn't happen" is a negative claim, but it is unreasonable to say that one cannot offer overwhelming evidence against that claim."

That's because "the holocaust did happen" is a quite testable hypothesis."

So, one can prove a negative: it is not the case that "the Holocaust did not happen." Or, how about this: "Abraham Lincoln did not kill John F. Kennedy." That's a negative statement and I can offer evidence and reasons as to why one has no intellectual right to believe that Abraham Lincoln killed John F. Kennedy. So, it is possible to "prove a negative."

Perhaps you mean to say "you can't prove a universal negative," in the sense that one cannot say that one can show conclusively that no such being as God in fact exists. I think that's interesting, but trivially so. For serious believers and unbelievers do not hinge their views of the divine on such flimsy "arguments." They typically offer reasons--e.g., problem of evil, cosmological argument--that they believe offer rational sustenance for their point of view. Some theists, for example, offer God as an hypothesis to account for the beginning of the universe, e.g., the kalam cosmological argument. This hypothesis is falsifiable on several possible grounds: (1) the universe did not begin; (2) the universe came to be, but not by an agent; (3) a rival hypothesis has more explanatory power, and so on. Thus, it seems to me that you're giving the believer short shrift and not exposing yourself to the more sophisticated accounts of belief offered by more rational believers. Perhaps I am wrong about that and I apologize for being presumptuous if I am. In any event, a nice place to start is the new book I edited with William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, To Everyone An Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview (InterVarsity Press, 2004).

FJB

Tlaloc said...

Jay: "The classic example (I am indebted here to Avigdor Miller, RIP, for this insight; he interprets this as the meaning of Maimonides' statement that "the foundation of science is that there is a preexisting force that created our universe") was the medical error, long in vogue, that the tonsils served no function. If the various components of the organism evolve randomly, there might well be extraneous projections which owe their presence only to atavism."

Evolution is far from random, thats a telling error of someone who hasn't studied it. Besides which given that the Appendix is an atrophied and no longer used appendage even if you hadn't made the first error there is another counter argument readily at hand.


"If they evolve by design moored in perfect intelligence, we may assume that no wasted effort would be manifested in the result. Knowing this, we would feel pressured in the laboratory to unravel the mystery of the unidentified raison de etre of the tonsil."

You might feel the need to unravel a number of other mysteries. For example why were humans designed to have fingernails? They serve no purpose for us.


"A more recent, and extremely costly, example of the acceptance of undesigned evolution is the notion, much beloved of environmentalists, that the world is on the verge of imploding at all times. The designed world may be assumed to have self-preserving mechanisms inbuilt."

Life is a series of massively redundant negative feedback loops. Ditto environments. The problem is when you exceed the capacity of those feedback loops to correct and return to the previous homeostatic condition.


"Or, conversely, if it was designed to segue into obsolescence, our feckless efforts will not effect a reversal."

Are you actually arguing that ID promotes a sense of both entitlement and waste toward the natural world and that that is a good thing? You're going a long ways toward making me re-think whether ID deserves a place in philosophy afterall.


"Furthermore, Tlaloc and his too-clever-by-half ilk are being disingenuous when they generously offer God a seat in the Philosophy Department."

There is nothing wrong with philosophy despite how you cast aspersions on it. It simply isn't a science. Not being a science doesn't make it inferior just different. If you can formulate a real scientific theory of God by all means go ahead. But you can't. It is simply not a question science can address. That doesn't mean it isn't a question worth asking, just that you have to use a different "language" to ask it.


Francis: "So, one can prove a negative: it is not the case that "the Holocaust did not happen."

What you can't prove are statements like "the sun never rises in the west." Similarly "man can't come about without a creator."


"Perhaps you mean to say "you can't prove a universal negative,"

Correct.


"For serious believers and unbelievers do not hinge their views of the divine on such flimsy "arguments."

Belief is irrelevent. In a secular education the best scientific evidence should be used.


"Some theists, for example, offer God as an hypothesis to account for the beginning of the universe, e.g., the kalam cosmological argument. This hypothesis is falsifiable on several possible grounds: (1) the universe did not begin; (2) the universe came to be, but not by an agent; (3) a rival hypothesis has more explanatory power, and so on."

It's not falsifiable because you have no evidence either way. Say it starts with the Big Bang, well how do you know "God" didn't create the Big Bang? All you've added in is a boogeyman that can take whatever shape or form you want and can't ever be detected. That isn't science. It may be true, but if so it will never be proven or disproven by science.

Please describe for me any experiment you think would offer proof of God.


"Thus, it seems to me that you're giving the believer short shrift and not exposing yourself to the more sophisticated accounts of belief offered by more rational believers."

Whether I am or not, belief has no place in biology. It sits at the philosophy table.