Creationist Wisdom #623: The Design Hypothesis

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the Star Press of Muncie, Indiana — the home town of Ball State University. The title is Intelligent design not a dangerous idea. The newspaper has a comments feature with almost 40 comments so far.

Because the writer isn’t a politician, preacher, or other public figure, we won’t embarrass or promote him by using his full name. He writes a lot of letters-to-the-editor — we posted about one last year: #416: Plausible Explanation — but he still doesn’t qualify for full-name treatment. His first name is Kevin. Excerpts from his new letter will be enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. Here we go!

The notion that intelligent design is a dangerous idea is utterly ridiculous. Why would scientific research be jeopardized, or advances in medical science be curtailed, by postulating the past activity of an intelligent designer?

Kevin can postulate the past activity of the tooth fairy, the boogeyman, leprechauns, a guardian angel, or anything else that makes him happy. We won’t waste our time explaining why no one can do scientific research with any of that as a starting point. Then he says:

While it is not possible to subject God to scientific verification, it is certainly possible to detect the effects or results of conscious activity.

Yes, just as our ancestors detected the conscious activity of the gods as the cause of earthquakes, lighting, disease, etc. Let’s read on:

We know experientially that intelligence is necessary to produce highly complex or specified information, such as is used in computer technology.

Aaaargh!! Specified complexity again. See The Discoveroids and Their Magic Inference. Kevin then indulges in a bit of quote-mining:

Microsoft’s Bill Gates has said, “DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.” Thus it is entirely logical to infer that intelligent agency was responsible for the genome in living systems.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Humans write computer programs, so it’s obvious that Yahweh designed your colon. Kevin continues:

To exclude the design hypothesis on the assumption that everything in the empirical realm must be given a materialistic explanation to to diminish the rationality of scientific inquiry.

Alas, Kevin fails to grasp that a scientific hypothesis isn’t a wild theological conjecture. It’s a tentative, educated, observation-based proposal about the natural world that can be either supported or refuted through experimentation or additional observation. The magic designer fails every element of that definition. Here’s more:

“While it would not be appropriate to invoke intelligent agency in every scientific context,” says philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, “design theory can explain certain facts in biology. The way that science is done would not in any way be affected by allowing the design hypothesis as the best explanation for some events in the history of the cosmos.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Stephen Meyer is Vice President and a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute. It should not be forgotten that Meyer was a central figure in the infamous Sternberg peer review controversy. Here’s the last of it:

He [Meyer] further states that “all questions about how nature normally operates without the special assistance of divine agency remain unaffected by whatever view of origins one adopts.”

I agree.

We agree too. Arbitrarily adding an unobserved dash of untestable Oogity Boogity to any aspect of science is consistent with everything, and provides no meaningful explanation of anything. That means it’s absolutely worthless. Great letter, Kevin!

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23 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #623: The Design Hypothesis

  1. Christine Janis

    I would like to note that, although Meyer obtained a degree in Philosophy of Science a quarter of a century ago or so, he has published nothing in this field (not even his thesis). He is thus not a “philosopher of science” in any active/realistic sense of the term.

  2. Uninformed and stupid, but not necessarily dangerous. Sort of like fairies at the end of the garden.

  3. I too was shocked to discover that Meyer did not even publish his thesis in any form. If nothing else, he could have posted it online as a free e-book. The fact that Meyer hasn’t published his thesis makes me wonder if its stance or even its subject matter would not go over well among his creationist constituents. Considering how pitifully unimpressive is the publications sections of his C.V., I would have thought him the type to play the Cambridge-prestige card as often as he can.

    Christine, do you still see Stephen Meyer’s office assistant promoting and defending Darwin’s Doubt in the Amazon book review comment threads? I can’t recall the fellow’s name but his silly but maniacally confident attempts to convince a half dozen well-informed professor-scholars that the error-filled book was a major milestone in the history of science remain among my favorite Dishonesty Institute propaganda-fests.

  4. Wha? Re “To exclude the design hypothesis on the assumption that everything in the empirical realm must be given a materialistic explanation to to diminish the rationality of scientific inquiry.” Basically he is saying that if we exclude magic, we diminish science?

    Do these people think at all? If they think the universe was created by magic, why not five minutes ago? We were created five minutes ago with embedded memories causing us to think we have existed by far longer than that. Hah, disprove that!

    And why would Yahweh have created a world that contradicts everything his prophets, et. al. say about the physical world in his inerrant scripture? Is He playing with us?

    Sheesh, morons abound!

  5. The one thing the creationist/ID crowd can never do is admit what the definitions of hypothesis and theory are. Nor can they admit how they are formed, tested or modified as new and better evidence is discovered.

    Ultimately all they have is goddidit because we said so.

  6. Third Prof wonders ” if its stance or even its subject matter would not go over well among his creationist constituents.”
    So I googled a bit and indeed this is all the info available about Meyer’s thesis:

    http://www.researchgate.net/publication/35722512_Of_clues_and_causes__a_methodological_interpretation_of_origin_of_life_studies

    This one is that Oparin guy:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Oparin

    It’s interesting that a creationist writes his thesis about a Soviet commie.
    Anyone who desires to pursue the thesis might start here:

    http://www.worldcat.org/title/of-clues-and-causes-a-methodological-interpretation-of-origin-of-life-studies/oclc/53502789/editions?lang=en&editionsView=true

  7. michaelfugate

    So let science = s and God = G.
    s + G = s therefore G = 0?

  8. Microsoft’s Bill Gates has said, “DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.” Thus it is entirely logical to infer that intelligent agency was responsible for the genome in living systems.

    Once again, we are treated to:
    What is green, hangs on the wall, and whistles?*
    -OR-
    Because DNA is so unlike anything that is designed, it must be designed.

    One can have a slight bit of sympathy for those who are reduced to arguing from lame analogy. But when they insist on pointing out the disanalogy, what is going on?

    *The answer is: A herring. I painted it green. I nailed it to the wall. And whistles? It didn’t want to make it too easy.

  9. Is I.D. and idea or rather a claim? A claim that cannot be substantiated by any behavior detected in nature. A claim that was elevated from being only an idea for purely political and financial reasons. A claim that is designed to support a document, a document designed to bring about the end of the Enlightenment.

    Does Kevin even understand that the cause he thinks he is supporting has little interest in his own future or well being?

  10. @Dean –
    ID is neither an idea or a claim. ID is an advertising “concept”: The “hook” that an advertising campaign is based on. Rather like what politicians call a “negative campaign”. That you try to tear down the opponent, in hopes that the audience believe the campaign and assumes that what you are advertising is (1) not subject to the same fault and (2) there is no other alternative.

  11. michaelfugate says:

    So let science = s and God = G.
    s + G = s therefore G = 0?

    That’s what he says.

  12. The notion that intelligent design is a dangerous idea is utterly ridiculous. Why would scientific research be jeopardized, or advances in medical science be curtailed, by postulating the past activity of an intelligent designer?

    Well, one could start by noting that “postulating the past activity of an intelligent designer” is an ingenuous way of putting the matter, since creationists believe the “designer” is active today as well and would reject the notion that He is merely “postulated.”

    Then there’s the little matter that this designer is routinely said to operate
    “outside nature.” In other words, He (we might as well stop pussyfooting around and use the capital) is supernatural–and therefore outside the domain of science altogether–so pretending there is such a thing as “creation science,” by any name, violates at least one of the Ten Commandments.

    But how is ID “dangerous”? Well, by “postulating” supernatural causes for natural phenomena and demanding that students be taught this “postulation” as science will weaken commitment to finding natural explanations, which will inevitably harm science as it has been understood for four hundred years. What the practical consequences might be cannot be foreseen, but they are unlikely to be benign.

    Just for the record, I think “supernatural” is a null word anyway. Anything that exists is part of nature. If it appears to violate natural law, that means either that we have been deceived by appearances or that our understanding of natural law is imperfect.

  13. @Eric Lipps: Agreed. “Supernatural” is definitely a meaningless word, and anything alleged to be supernatural simply doesn’t exist.

  14. There are many words which are meaningful, which do not refer to any existing thing: “Superconducting supercollider”. “Kra Canal”. “Vulcan” (the “inframecurial planet”). “Largest prime number”. “Nonexistent”.

  15. Letterwriter Kevin:
    “To exclude the design hypothesis on the assumption that everything in the empirical realm must be given a materialistic explanation to to diminish the rationality of scientific inquiry.”

    We can all agree that Kevin’s sentence is too too much, but that aside, he’s dead wrong. By definition, everything in the empirical realm has a materialistic explanation. Granted, there are some things in the empirical realm for which we haven’t yet discovered the materialistic explanation, but that doesn’t mean “Goddidit”.

    In other words, Kevin’s entire argument boils down to God of the Gaps. And demanding a materialistic explanation for everything in the empirical realm does not diminish the rationality of scientific inquiry — it is the entire basis of scientific inquiry!

  16. @retiredsciguy-
    I don’t want to get into a dispute about this, but I just want to suggest that you reconsider.
    Is it true that everything has an explanation? Are there not things which happen to be as they are, purely by chance? Quantum level events? Butterfly effects? Why did so-and-so win the lottery? Remember the argument of Stephen Jay Gould in “Wonderful Life”, that if we rewound the tape of life, would everything turn out the same?

  17. TomS: Wouldn’t “purely by chance” be a valid explanation? And so-and-so won the lottery because he or she chose the correct numbers, or the computer chose the numbers for him or her. That’s a material explanation. So-and-so might thank God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster for the good fortune, but there would be no empirical evidence that either deity had anything to do with “why” so-and-so won.

    I stand by the assertion that there is a logical explanation for every event happening in the physical universe. Of course, we don’t know all the explanations yet; that’s what science is working on.

  18. @retiredsciguy-
    I “purely by chance” is a valid explanation, then what is not a valid explanation? Why is “goddidit” any less of an explanation? Is something an explanation if there is no evidence for it? Why do you believe that there is a (material) explanation for everything? What good does it do me to believe that there is an explanation? There are a heap of questions that your assertion brings up.
    It isn’t that I have any answers to these questions, so I don’t care to discuss them.

  19. Christine Janis

    “Christine, do you still see Stephen Meyer’s office assistant promoting and defending Darwin’s Doubt in the Amazon book review comment threads?”

    Andrew McDiarmid stopped posting after his posts were routinely deleted by Amazon —- someone must have pointed out that there was a clear conflict of interest (and additionally it appears, on several occasions, that somebody [ahem] was posting anonymously under Andrew’s name).

    I shall be resident in Cambridge for a week in February and intend to track down Meyer’s thesis.

  20. TomS:
    “What good does it do me to believe that there is an explanation?

    Well, isn’t this the driving force behind all scientific inquiry? I mean, we wouldn’t go searching for explanations (answers) if we didn’t think there were answers to be found.

    Yeah, I’m not much into philosophical discussions either, so I feel the same way as you expressed in your last sentence.

  21. TomS asks: “Why do you believe that there is a (material) explanation for everything?”
    First of all the scientific method a priori doesn’t exclude any immaterial agent. It says nothing about it; as soon as you start talking about immaterial agents science remains silent. So I disagree with Rsg that everything in the empirical realm by definition has a materialistic explanation. I totally can imagine that the scientific method cannot explain everything.
    However jumping to immaterial agents without any further requires a salto mortale though, as the Dutch deconverted theologian Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis already noticed about 135 years ago – a salto mortale the IDiots from Seattle have become experts of. What is required for accepting an immaterial agent is two things.

    1. A reliable method to separate correct claims about such agents from incorrect ones (like invisible dragons in garages);
    2. A mechanism available to those immaterial agents to interact with our material reality, describing the procedures and means used.

    Believers rather ignore those points than trying to address them. The inductive conclusion is that the scientific method is the only way to do research. It’s just not a deductive conclusion – believers remain invited to develop an alternative.
    But until they succeed we can say that everything in the empirical realm only can have a materialistic explanation – which is slightly different from Rsg’s formulation.

  22. @mnbo-
    In general, I accept your approach. ISTM that there has been no work done in describing a connection (“mechanism”) by which a supernatural agency can influence a natural event.

  23. Christine Janis reports

    I shall be resident in Cambridge for a week in February and intend to track down Meyer’s thesis.

    I hope you will share with the readers of this blog your findings–and I salute your courage in fortitude in confronting Meyer’s screed!