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Sunday, November 25, 2007

By Jove, I Think She's Got it!!!

Denyse O'Leary muses about the lecture I attended last Tuesday where Kirk Durston presented the case for Intelligent Design Creationism [Kirk Durston's Proof of God].

Here's what she says on her blog Uncommon Descent [We have the hat, but where’s that rabbit? High levels of information in “simple” life forms]. I'll go through it slowly but the bottom line is that Denyse O'Leary is finally beginning to understand mechanistic naturalism and what science is all about. It's only taken her, what ... ten years? Sheesh.
In Tuesday night, a guest speaker spoke to my adult night school class in why there is an intelligent design controversy. He talked about the central problem of evolution: The fact that high levels of information are present in life forms that are supposed to be early and simple.
We've discussed this on other posting. Kirk Durston did, indeed, say that ancient bacteria were complex and modern ones have become more simple. But his most important point was that the existence of protein folds cannot be explained by evolution, therefore they must have been intelligently designed (i.e., God did it).
Some guests attended the talk, and one of them announced that if intelligent design is correct, scientists would not see the need to do any research because Goddunit. Or something like that.
Actually, it wasn't one of the "guests"—it was one of the regular students. It happened to be the one who invited me as a "guest."

The question referred to the fact that "God did it" is a science-stopper. As soon as Kirk Durston concludes that protein folds are designed by God, that's the end of doing science. What else can be done? Does he plan to design experiments to prove that God did it? Does he plan to investigate how God might have done it, or when? Of course not. It's a science-stopper.
The more I thought about what he was saying, the more it puzzled me. Finally, I realized:

For the materialist, the PURPOSE of science is to show that high levels of information can be created without intelligence.

Therefore, in looking for causes of events, the materialist accepts ONLY a solution that shows that high levels of information can come from random assembly (= without intelligence).
I'm delighted to hear that Denyse O'Leary is capable of serious thought. (Who knew?) She's pretty much got it right.

In science you cannot invoke the supernatural. You are committed to finding naturalistic explanations of the natural world. The procedure is called methodological naturalism or methodological materialism [see Theistic Evolution: The Fallacy of the Middle Ground].

The debate over the conflict between science and religion has been going on for hundreds of years. In the past 50 years the debate has focused on the methodology of science and how it must exclude the supernatural if it's supposed to work properly. I'm shocked (not really) that Denyse has never heard of this before. It's one of the main themes in the writings of Phillip Johnson [see Are You as Smart as a Second Year University Student? Q1 and comments].
He has not shown that high levels of information can be created without intelligence. He assumes that his assertion is true and looks for evidence to support it.

Discoveries that disconfirm his initial belief are not treated as evidence.

Keep looking, he says, keep looking … that magic information mill has GOT to be somewhere!
"Disoveries" that claim to disconfirm the assumption of naturalism are tested against reality. If a hypothesis appears to conflict with a naturalistic explanation then it's back to the drawing board. Scientists will re-examine their assumptions to see where they went wrong. They will devise new approaches and do experiments to collect more data. In other words, the apparent conflict stimulates research, it does not shut it down.

Keep looking, keep looking. This is an approach that has been enormously successful in science over the past several thousand years. Without that attitude we would still believe that all of humanity was wiped out in a flood and that the sun went around the Earth.

Contrast this scientific approach with the typical Young Earth Creationist approach to learning. How many of them are looking for evidence of how God made the Universe 6000 years ago? Where did he get all the atoms, for example? Did he make any mistakes? Belief in the Bible is a science-stopper.

Here's another example. Kirk Durston stops doing science once he's decided that God made proteins. There's nothing else he can do. On the other hand, scientists look at his data and try to explain where he went wrong and why there could be naturalistic explanations. In this case, it's not too hard to discover where Kirk made most of his errors. This is what science is all about and this is why Intelligent Design Creationism isn't science. It's a science-stopper.

Look at bacterial flagella. Michael Behe pronounced that flagella were created by God when he published Darwin's Black Box in 1996. How much research into the origin of flagella did this stimulate among Intelligent Design Creationists? None at all. What's the point?

Scientists did not accept the conclusion that God did it. They continued to work on the problem and now we have a pretty good explanation for the origin of bacterial flagella. Pretty soon the creationists will have to abandon this example but it sure won't be because of any scientific work they did. No scientific advances come for assuming that God did it.
What if random assembly is not in fact the answer? Then either

1. No solution is found (because there never was any solution in the direction in which he is looking)


2. An inadequate solution is patched together and defended as the best available solution - usually that means that claims for the solution are overstated wildly to the public.

But it is the materialist scientist’s duty to keep looking for the magic mill even if the fact that random assembly did not occur is overwhelmingly obvious.
Actually the two scientific possibilities are:
  1. We found a naturalistic explanation for the claims of religion. Historically, this is what happens most of the time and it's why the claims of religion have repeatedly been shown to be false.

  2. We don't know the answer but we'll keep working on the problem. This is what's happening with the most recent claims of the creationists. It takes a few years to demonstrate their nonsense and during that time the correct scientific position is that the questions hasn't been decided. (Sometimes we can say we have a tentative solutions that needs refinement.)
So far, in several thousand years of testing creationist claims there isn't a single one that hasn't fallen to the onslaught of rationalism.
And he displays his virtue to his peers by never questioning the system and by showing hostility and contempt for anyone who does question it.

Given his initial convictions, the materialist cannot believe that a non-materialist is actually doing science. He cannot envision any approach to the fact base that does not have as its base an effort to show that the information was created randomly.
There are many religious scientists who do a pretty good job of being scientific most of the time. They know that methodolgical naturalism is a powerful assumption with a proven track record and that resort to the supernatural has never led to further understanding. As I said above, I'm shocked that Denyse is only now coming to the realization that her understanding of science was seriously flawed. Apparently, in spite of the fact that she has written two books, she never understood the scientific method.

As for "hostilty," yes, it's true. Some of us get very frustrated with so-called scientists who don't understand the fundamental concepts of the scientific methd and what it means to be a scientist.
As a matter of fact, the fact base could easily be approached otherwise, and often more fruitfully, too. If we assume that an object in nature is designed, we do not waste time trying to imagine how it could have come about randomly. We study its characteristics and make predictions about its behaviour, function, and so forth.
That's just a bunch of bull manure. Part of the statement is true—creationists stop trying to find an evolutionary explanation as soon as they conclude that God did it. But the second part is completely false. Creationists stop all investigations once they've concluded that supernatural beings are involved. They don't try to figure out how God's mind worked.

I hope Denyse does some reading in order to catch up. She should look at Philip Johnson's proposal for a God-based (non-materialistic) science. It ain't gonna happen. Why in the world would scientists shop using a method that has bee so successful?

The idea that invoking the supernatural could be a more "fruitful" approach to science, as Denyse says above, is outlandish to the point of idiocy. There are no scientific advances that have come from assuming God did it. That's always a science-stopper.


  1. ID is a show-stopper only if the agent is assumed to be supernatural. A "higher intelligence" that's a part of the natural world could be studied as a legitimate topic of science.

  2. My favorite example (from a rich field of choices!) of science vs. magical thinking: the solar neutrino deficit. YECs were trumpeting this one as a show-stopper: missing neutrinos => sun shines by gravitational contraction, not fusion => sun and earth are not billions of years old => the Bible is right, hallelujah!

    It took a few years, but eventually the astronomers found those missing neutrinos AND a very interesting new piece of physics: neutrino flavour oscillation. But by YEC-logic, they should have just given up and joined their nearest prayer-meeting.

  3. A "higher intelligence" that's a part of the natural world could be studied as a legitimate topic of science.

    I suspect this is already being done in a very small way - is there a branch of Archeology (or Anthropology) concerned with the domestication of plants and animals by humans? Once the intelligent designer is identified, and characteristics assigned to it, then it becomes possible to ask some interesting questions. But those questions are automatically not interesting to the main body of ID supporters, creationists who wish to dress up their delusions with something they call scientific support.

  4. It appears as though she's finally getting an inkling of what science is about, but she's still spinning the imperative not to just make stuff up in science into some unreasonable "faith in naturalism."

    No, Dense O'Leary, we do not insist on anything but sufficient evidence. We're not opposed to the "supernatural", we simply cannot get evidence from this purported "realm" at all (depending on the fuzzy definition of "supernatural", naturally).

    And the only bias we have collectively is that conclusions must be based upon repeatable observations, not on reports from visionaries and prophets (or books by these). We do prefer a poor scientific explanation for a phenomenon (non-teleological evolution is not, on the other hand, a poor explanation, it's a good one) over a "good" explanation which lacks evidence for how this "good explanation" was supposed to occur.

    Or in other words, we're basically insisting on the same sorts of evidence that Denyse would insist on being presented prior to her conviction on some charge. Exactly why they're supposed to be safe from conviction based on insufficient evidence, even though they insist that "science" used to produce such evidence should be based on a complete lack of evidence, is a mystery even to their ignorant minds.

    Glen Davidson

  5. Maybe she got some, but by any reasonable definition of "it", she doesn't get much. Terms like "information" and "random" still gets banded about without any precise definition, in desperate attempts of use in the other false show-stopper, the fallacy of false choice.

    While information by any specific definition (for example Dawkins "survival information") isn't necessary to describe biological processes, it is certainly understandable how the gene pool acquires it from the environment.

    And it is contingent on both variation and selection, which makes O'Leary's fudge precise. "Random" for O'Leary is what she doesn't like of both "chance and regularity". "Goddunit" is the remains, what a surprise!

  6. > There are no scientific advances that have come from assuming God did it.

    But this is incorrect, most of the early scientists were creationists, believing God upheld creation, and then they went examining what (as they believed) God had done.

    Do check it out, please!

    One example, when it became clear that the planets did not move in perfect circles, Kepler said he expected nonetheless that there were beautiful laws regulating the movement of bodies in the heavens.

    When the elliptical orbits were discovered, there, he said, we found it.

    He knew they were there, naturalists proceed along the same lines, remarkably enough.

    They look for order, for laws that explain nature, this amounts to an article of faith in science, taken right out of the theist's book.

    Out of the Christian book, I might add, for Hindus believe nature is an illusion, and seek no such order, Muslims believe God can be completely arbitrary and capricious, and expect no order either.

    So the next time you see an IDiot, thank him or her for their engine donated to the scientific method--it runs very well, too.

  7. Quote-mining Denyse O'Leary: "If we assume that an object in nature is designed, we do not waste time trying to imagine...."

    How true. ID is not only a science-stopper, it stops the imagination and curiosity that are at the heart of science and all other human learning.

    lee_merrill delights so much in creationism he creates a fictional history: "Muslims believe God can be completely arbitrary and capricious, and expect no order either."

    Research medieval history, lee, and see who was largely responsible for the preservation and enlargement of mathematical and scientific knowledge while Christian Europe relied on religion during what came to be known (purely coincidence, I'm sure) as the "Dark Ages."

  8. > Research medieval history, lee, and see who was largely responsible for the preservation and enlargement of mathematical and scientific knowledge while Christian Europe relied on religion during what came to be known (purely coincidence, I'm sure) as the "Dark Ages."

    There was one great Muslim mathematician I am aware of, but let's trace the history of modern science is what I meant, the early lineage is distinctly Christian.

    But regardless, the point is that the expectation of order in nature has its origin in Christianity, and so the statement that "there are no scientific advances that have come from assuming God did it" is incorrect.

  9. Stuff and nonsense. The expectation of order in nature goes back- at least- to the ancient Greeks. (And it was from Greek philosophy that it made its way into late-antique and medieval Christian thought.)

  10. P.S. And into medieval Muslim thought, of course.

  11. Well, still the point remains that the statement that "there are no scientific advances that have come from assuming God did it" is incorrect--was the main point here.


  12. That "point" is also complete nonsense. If anything early modern scientists were trying to FIND OUT HOW "God did it" rather than "assuming" anything.

  13. P.S. To understand this you need only look at contemporary scientists who happen to be religious believers. As they themselves are often at pains to point out, when in the laboratory they are not doing science any differently from the way their unbelieving colleagues do it.