This Week in Intelligent Design – 08/12/2011

Intelligent design news, commentary and discussion from the 2nd of December to the 8th of December, 2011.

It’s well and truly holidays now, and after getting all the fiddly, tricky things out of the way first – such as doing a domain transfer and dealing with responses from the Discovery Institute – it’s time to get back into TWiID and see what the online presence of the intelligent design movement has been like over the past seven days.

What are the notable posts about this week? Why: multiverses; responding – again – to me; the identity of the Designer; and why design in nature may not be so easy to detect after all.

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First up, the multiverse! Or, to be more precise, Casey Luskin‘s take on the multiverse, in “Scientific American Challenges the Multiverse”. I don’t really have a dog in the “Is there a multiverse?” fight – my knowledge of cosmology is barely adequate at best (and shaky at worst). However, I wanted to mention this post because it’s always struck as strange how much the ID movement, especially those at the Discovery Institute, are against the idea of a multiverse existing.

Here’s a bit of Casey:

A few months ago, Scientific American ran a piece by University of Cape Town cosmologist George F.R. Ellis titled “Does the Multiverse Really Exist?” The upshot of the article was that if it does, then science has no way of discovering it. In essence, it is an unscientific concept that has its roots in philosophy. As a summary within the article stated:

The trouble is that no possible astronomical observations can ever see those other universes. The arguments are indirect at best. And even if the multiverse exists, it leaves the deep mysteries of nature unexplained.

(George F.R. Ellis, “Does the Multiverse Really Exist?,” Scientific American (August, 2011).)

So if there’s no possible way to observe or interact with the many alternate universes predicted by the multiverse, why are do some scientists advocate this idea? According to Ellis, they’re trying to get around the evidence for the fine-tuning of our universe:

Fundamental constants are finely tuned for life. A remarkable fact about our universe is that physical constants have just the right values needed to allow for complex structures, including living things. Steven Weinberg, Martin Rees, Leonard Susskind and others contend that an exotic multiverse provides a tidy explanation for this apparent coincidence: if all possible values occur in a large enough collection of universes, then viable ones for life will surely be found somewhere. This reasoning has been applied, in particular, to explaining the density of the dark energy that is speeding up the expansion of the universe today. I agree that the multiverse is a possible valid explanation for the value of this density; arguably, it is the only scientifically based option we have right now. But we have no hope of testing it observationally.

Buying more lottery tickets will give you better odds of winning the lottery. In the same way, multiverse proponents hope that inventing more universes will help them explain the insanely small probability of finding a universe whose physical laws are finely tuned for life. So the motive for believing in a multiverse stems from a materialistic philosophy that hopes to overcome the evidence for design. Unfortunately for multiverse proponents, as Ellis points out, “we have no hope of testing it observationally.”

As I said, I don’t know enough about cosmology to touch on George F. R. Ellis’s claims. But why is Casey so into the idea of multiverses not existing? He says materialists favour the hypothesis because it allows them to get around the “fine tuning” of the universe’s physical constants. Whatever. It’s not really important if that’s true or not. Does the existence of a multiverse rule out cosmological ID?

I don’t think it does. If one universe could have been designed, then multiple universes could have been designed – especially if the hypothesis about the Designer is left open so that any possible being/beings could fill the role required. If I were an ID proponent, I’d see the existence of a multiverse in just as much need of explanation as a single universe. This is true even if only one of the universes in that multiverse had physical constants that permitted life. Sure, it’s not an “optimal” scenario – it doesn’t make much intuitive sense that a Designer would want to create numerous universes to then only allow one to contain life – but since when has that stopped ID proponents? Biology is full of sub-optimality, but as we all know, intelligent design is impervious to the bad design argument: “What if the Designer wanted it that way? We can’t know of their motives.”

So, Casey, don’t feel threatened by a multiverse. Just see it as another opportunity to point to reality and shout “Design!”.

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Back to more personal matters, Evolution News & Views posted a response to my recent post “You Win or You Die” – Unintentionally nourishing the ID rhetoricotrophs – theirs was entitled “We Get Love from Leading Darwinist Group Blog”. And yes, it’s rather hilarious – albeit most likely unintentionally.

You see, I regularly cross-post my intelligent design-related posts to the wonderful group blog The Panda’s Thumb1. In fact, this very TWiID post was cross-posted there, and statistically you (yes, you) are reading this because of that. Anyway, my post mentioned above was also a victim of cross-posting, so the Discovery Institute seized on that opportunity and used my words to ensnare the whole group blog in a rhetorical trap:

We Get Love from Leading Darwinist Group Blog

Yeah, that’s right, and seemingly without irony either. The source: Panda’s Thumb. If ENV ever writes a book, we’ll include this as a dust-jacket blurb:

Evolution News & Views is arguably the best source for the views of the top-tier ID proponents.

So says author Jack Scanlan who also concedes we have “a bit of a point” in noting how “the fact that [Darwinian] science bloggers and scientists don’t even mention the main ID arguments makes it look like they don’t know how to respond to them.” Well, thanks. We accept the gracious concession. Scanlan asks, “Anyone want to take bets on how David [Klinghoffer] will spin my admission?” What’s there to spin?

 This has put us in such a good mood we’re almost tempted to open the great Black Gate that allows comments so all the other Darwinists can write in and tell us how much they love us.

Oh, when I read what had been written about what I said, I laughed for a good few minutes, let me tell you. “Really?” I stammered, between confused tears, “They really tried to get something overwhelmingly positive out of that?”

Because, come on: “Evolution News & Views is arguably the best source for the views of the top-tier ID proponents.” is hardly a positive endorsement. It’s neutral. Of course you’d expect the official blog of an organisation – which has nearly all (if not all) of the most well-known and influential ID proponents as fellows and senior fellows – to accurately report on the views of their own people. That’s the very least you would expect from a think tank like the Discovery Institute!

To put this in perspective, it’s like claiming that “My doctor tried to treat my medical condition!” is an overwhelming endorsement of that person’s doctor. Of course, the treatment may have been ineffective or harmful (much like how the views of Discovery Institute fellows may be pseudoscientific and illogical), but attempting to treat your condition is something that you would expect from any doctor that wasn’t completely terrible.

Getting back to what EN&V wrote: they never did open up comments to that post. Obviously I didn’t make them happy enough. But at least we know they have some fairly low standards – maybe some actual compliments would do the trick?

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Now onto something a bit more serious and substantial. Casey Luskin (who seems to write nearly everything interesting and noteworthy over at the Discovery Institute these days) has a post up about the identity of the Designer in ID, which is a topic very close to my heart. But this is a slightly different take than what we’ve seen before. Casey might even be bringing it up for the first time ever! How exciting. Cue  “The Identity of the Designer: How to Avoid an Incoherent Criticism of Intelligent Design”:

An astute ID-friendly e-mail correspondent read my recent article examining Frank Ravitch’s error-laden book Marketing Intelligent Design, and sent me the following observation:

In short, the ID deniers try to engage us in a game where heads they win and tails we lose. If we affirm, for example, that the God of the Bible is a very good and logical fit for the agent whose obvious power and intelligence is manifest in the universe they accuse us of “dragging” religion into the scientific realm where it has no place! And if we studiously avoid any reference to who the designer is they accuse of venal dishonesty.

This is dead-right. You can’t attack ID for identifying, but also for not identifying, the designer. Both criticisms can’t be valid.

Usually the related criticism levelled at ID proponents is that not identifying the Designer in ID makes the hypothesis untestable and non-scientific, but this also happens occasionally too, where an ID critic might do exactly as Casey’s friend describes: criticise proponents of ID for either not being honest or bringing religion into science.

My position is that you need to judge ideas as they are, not by who proposes them. It might be that an ID proponent personally believes that the Designer is the Christian God, but if the conception of ID that they’re putting forward explicitly denies any exploration into the identity of the Designer, you need to investigate that, not the one you imagine the proponent has in their head. Fortunately for ID critics, leaving the identity parameter out of the ID hypothesis does leave it extremely vulnerable to attack, so this isn’t much of a problem from a purely argumentative point of view. However, the ID movement’s steadfast denial to get into the Designer’s identity does raise an interesting question.

Before I ask it, however, let’s look at more of what Casey said:

ID proponents do not refuse to say who we think the designer is. For example, I’m very open that I believe the designer is the God of the Bible, and if you read the writings of many other leading ID proponents, it isn’t hard to discern their personal beliefs either. But nobody who understands ID would say that such claims about the identity of the designer are the conclusions of ID. My belief that the designer is God is my own personal religious viewpoint, and not a conclusion of the scientific theory of intelligent design. In fact, there are people in the ID movement who, like me, find the scientific case for design compelling, even though they have very different views about the identity of the designer. Some are Jews. Some are Muslims. Some are individuals of Eastern religious persuasions. Some of them are even atheists or agnostics. It’s pretty clear that accepting ID does not entail a particular view about the identity of the designer.

So when ID theory itself declines to try to identify the designer, it isn’t a matter of being coy. Rather, ID limits its claims to what can be learned from a scientific investigation [of] the data. The data may allow an inference to an intelligent cause, but specifying the identity of the designer may go beyond what a scientific investigation can reveal. Thus, ID stays silent on such questions.

[Emphasis mine.]

My first question: why? My second question: no, really – why?

Archaeology and forensic science, two commonly-used analogies used by ID proponents to justify their brand of “design detection” as scientific, are all about identifying the agent in question behind whatever suspicious pattern has been identified. For example, if a pot is composed of a specific type of clay, found only in a certain region, in a specific shape known to be a signature of one group of ancient peoples, then we can infer that it was made by a member of that group. Voilà! Information about the Designer is obtained! Why can’t ID, faced with biological evidence, do the same?

I’m actually at a loss here. Now, I’m not one of those people who are convinced that the Discovery Institute is actually secular and is working towards a secular goal, however pseudoscientific and misguided it may be in the process. It’s clearly an organisation founded on theistic ideas2 – but it doesn’t want to appear that way. If I were in their position, I wouldn’t use statements like “specifying the identity of the designer may go beyond what a scientific investigation can reveal”, because they ooze “big tent” religious language like nothing else. Why else would the Designer be above investigation if not to appease the vast majority of ID proponents who are religious – but not of the same religion. We can’t have ID potentially saying that a monotheistic tradition is the only one that fits with the data, or that the Designer must not be omnibenevolent. No, instead: “ID can’t answer those questions. It’s just not possible. Talk to your local pastor for more information.”

Come on ID movement, be creative. Explore your the edges of your ideas. Push them to the limit. Assuming ID is true, what can we know about the Designer? Hey, I’ll even start you off: they mustn’t want optimality in biological systems, ergo…?

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And finally for this week, we have a post by David Klinghoffer on, well, we’ll work that out later. At any rate, it’s called “A Quality of “Shyness” in the Evidence for Intelligent Design”:

Many a deer, if he were inclined, could physically intimidate a human being. 
They don’t have it in their nature, though. A powerful animal like this would be spooked by a 4-year-old boy, like our twins, getting too close or even uttering a peep. In the end, our 8-year-old daughter ventured out into the driveway. Despite walking on tiptoes, she unintentionally scared the deer off.

God, so it seems, is a little like that. This may explain a lot of things. For example, why so much of the Bible gives a superficial impression of simplicity, even primitiveness or dry legalism. Impatient readers assume that’s all there is to it, never realizing what lies beneath the surface but that can only be uncovered by subtle probing of hints and nuances, hidden and delicate pointers that give way suddenly, unexpectedly on limitless vistas of wisdom from another world.

Huh?

It may, finally, explain why the evidence of nature’s design is elusive to lots of people. Often we wonder why Darwinists can never seem to get it. They champ and cry and try to shout us down with taunts that we are “creationists.” They can never tire of boisterously waving Judge Jones in our face.

Oh.

We try to explain to them that their materialism keeps them trotting in a closed logical circle where Darwinian evolution, the rule of blind, dumb forces over all nature, must explain life’s history because only blind, dumb forces are allowed to be adduced in explanation of anything. Because that’s “science”! They can never seem to quiet themselves down and open up to the possibility that science itself suggests other influences at play in life’s development.

In truth, that evidence is subtle. It can’t be heard over a lot of noise, the hubbub created chiefly by our fears that embracing unfashionable ideas may endanger our personal prestige.

The signature in the cell, in the genetic code, in protein synthesis, in what Behe calls irreducibly complex features of biology, in the Cambrian explosion and the rest of the fossil record, in cosmology, in individual types of creatures — from butterfly metamorphosis to the history of whale evolution — whatever piece of the argument for intelligent design that you want to think of, it is all very lightly imprinted. The “signature” is in a sense misnamed because you can’t make out the name of the signer. It takes patience and study to see any of this.

Really? Lightly imprinted? Then why is design apparently so obvious to the numerous people who are creationists? To the people swayed by the “beauty” of the cosmo and of life, who think that it’s impossible it all could have happened without the intervention of an intelligence beyond our understanding? How about Metamorphosis, the recent pro-ID movie? Does it not make the case for ID blindingly clear?

David is trying, as much as I can ascertain, to romanticise intelligent design into some sort of understated, spiritual concept, one that take years to fully grasp and understand. It’s not, really. ID proponents can weaponise subjective beauty and biological ignorance into very seductive arguments. I’m not surprised that many people are taken in my them – they superficially make sense and are very persuasive.

Okay, to put it another way – Intelligent Design Uncensored is not a work of subtle poetry. I’ve read it.

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That’s all for this week! I’ve decided to retire the “Rapid Fire ID News” part of TWiID, because I really don’t want to give Uncommon Descent any more page views than they already get. Those guys are beyond productive dialogue.

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  1. I’m still in shock – why do they want me to be amongst them? I’m not worthy, really.
  2. Even though ID doesn’t have to be theistic or even supernatural.

One thought on “This Week in Intelligent Design – 08/12/2011

  1. Thanks for your thoughts on the multiverse and ID. Not being an expert on something sometimes mean one is able to think more clearly!

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