Thursday, June 28, 2007

Truth By Stipulation

Posted on behalf of Steve Hays...

In his knee-jerk reaction to my review of Kitcher’s new book, T-stone, as a good little foot soldier, recites by rote the procedural objections to YEC and IDT that his atheistic handlers have drilled into him.

But what’s so ironic about this is that Kitcher himself, in the very book I reviewed, to which T-stone takes such predictable exception, rejects these facile objections.

It’s easy to understand why many scientists (and the journalists to whom they give interviews) find the “not science” strategy attractive. After all, it is a quick way of dismissing the opposition, one of the shortcuts the tedious work of analyzing the proliferating texts the opponents produced. But I think it can only succeed when the central issues are blurred.

If the substance of the charge is that intelligent design is not science because it is religion, then the acquitting response should be, first, that the position can be formulated without making any religions claim (intelligent design is the two-part thesis just distinguished).

Second, for much of the history of inquiry great scientists have advanced specifically religious hypotheses and theories. On the other hand, if we suppose that the two-part thesis doesn’t have the characteristics required of “genuine science,” then it is appropriate to ask just what these characteristics are.

True, the architects of intelligent design don’t spend a great deal of time performing experiments—but then neither do many astronomers, theoretical physicists, oceanographers, or students of animal behavior. Science has room for field observers, mathematical modelers, as well as experimentalists.

Social criteria for genuine science, such as publishing articles in “peer-reviewed journals,” are easy to mimic. Any group that aspires to the title can institute the pertinent procedures. Hence those procedures no longer function to distinguish science from everything else. So, what is left?

Many scientists believe that there is a magic formula, an incantation they can utter to dispel the claims of intelligent design. Indeed, intoning the mantra “science is testable,” in the public press or even in the courtroom can produce striking effects. This, however, is only because of an overly simple understanding of testability.

When the proponent of intelligent design points to some collection of natural phenomena, declaring that these could not be products of Darwinian natural selection but must instead be the effects of a rival causal agent, Intelligence, it isn’t directly obvious how to test the hypothesis advanced.

Unfortunately, that is the nature of the core hypotheses of many important scientific theories. The same could have been said for the hypothesis that chemical reactions involve the breaking and forming of bonds between molecules, or for the hypothesis that the genetic material is DNA (or, in the case of some viruses, RNA), or any number of sweeping assertions about things remote from everyday observation, when those hypotheses were first introduced.

Invocation of the magic formula thus faces a dilemma. If core hypotheses, taken in isolation, must be subjected to a requirement of testability to be taken seriously, then the greatest ideas in contemporary science will crumble along with intelligent design. If, on the other hand, all that is required is to supplement a core hypothesis with some auxiliary principles that allow for testing, then the spell fails to exorcise anything…Any right to dismissal cannot be assumed at the outset—instead, it must be earned.[1]

[1] P. Kitcher, Living with Darwin (Oxford 2007), 8-11.


  1. Touchstone is clearly well-intentioned, but I fear that this separation of science and religion into 'non overlapping magisteria' is bedevilled by problems, the most obvious of which is that the scientists are not fooled for one moment. Dawkins has ridiculed the claim publicly, and for once the man is not wrong. There can only be one end to putting a thing into a ghetto - just ask Hitler and the anti-semites of the Middle Ages what that is. Isolate, then destroy.

    Yes, it is a siren song, but the siren song had one purpose, to cause men and women to make shipwreck.

  2. I know there has been some doubt about the evidences for Macroevolution. Have you seen this file:

  3. Hiraeth,

    I'm not a NOMA guy; I assert that science and religion have significant overlap. That's why things like YEC timelines are a problem - it's an intersection of claims about the *same* phenomenon (cosmogony, in this case) that are contradictory. Scientific cosmogony and YEC interpretations cannot both be true. It's an unavoidable overlap, and at least *one* of the two (could be both) must be incorrect.

    If I embraced NOMA, YEC claims would be no problem. I don't; I reject the concept of NOMA in favor of a unified magisterium.

    As for ghettoization, I agree with you about the perils of ghettoization. It's precisely because of the effects of YEC doctrines that we see the "Ghettoization of Christianity". YEC doctrines put Christianity in the "evidential kill-zone", and, to Dawkins immense pleasure, I'm sure, make a stronger case for the falsity of Christianity than he is able on his own.


  4. Hmmm,

    Which is more dangerous, the proponent of YEC or the one who says that justification by faith alone may or may not be true?

  5. Touchstone said:

    It's precisely because of the effects of YEC doctrines that we see the "Ghettoization of Christianity". YEC doctrines put Christianity in the "evidential kill-zone", and, to Dawkins immense pleasure, I'm sure, make a stronger case for the falsity of Christianity than he is able on his own.

    Keep in mind all this is coming from a supposed "evangelical Christian" who does not believe it's possible to know anything with certainty; who rejects such things as objectivity and truth; who maintains it's possible Mormons who presumably believe in the doctrines of their church can be saved; who holds that Christian doctrine is ultimately adjudicated by church councils; and, oh yeah, who blasts anyone who so much as questions the theory of evolution as either dumb or deceitful even before beginning to engage in any sort of argumentation.

  6. For the reasons stated above by Chan it is clear that Touchstone is the absolute worst to ever appear on the Triablogue.

  7. "For the reasons stated above by Chan it is clear that Touchstone is the absolute worst to ever appear on the Triablogue."

    I don't know. Loftus is pretty bad mainly due to his recycling of old stock objections to Christianity and his emotional problem of evil argument.

    The problem with Touchstone is that he assumes every single humanistic presupposition in the book that is opposed to Christianity. As I've read his comments, I have now realized the strength of presuppositional apologetics.

  8. He's much worse than Loftus because Loftus doesn't post his views under the pretext of being a Christian.

  9. Touchstone,

    Thanks for your reply. Surely evidence for the fact that two people can look at one thing and come to precisely opposite conclusions.

    I would disagree with you on YEC as 'ghettoisation.' Possibly a case might be made for reckless engagement of the foe, after the manner of the Charge of the Light Brigade, but 'ghettoisation' agrues for a passivity in being herded, not venturing forth into the valley of death with the bulger blowing the 'charge.'

    As for Dawkins, I think you'll agree that he, a man brought up in a land where theistic evolution would be the main viewpoint among the Christian community, has hardly been prodded into atheism by creationism. The simple fact is that Dawkins is an intellectual bully, and has been for a good many years. Dawkins' problem is that, quite simply, he is unwilling to believe in anything that limits the sovereignty of Richard Dawkins. The fact is, the hysterical approach of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, et. al. indicates that their atheism is not based on 'science,' whether evolutinary or otherwise. Since much of 'The God Delusion' was based on recycled arguments and poor philosophy, one shudders to think what he would have come up with had there been no creationsim.