Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Doug Groothuis letter to The Chronicle of Higher Education

[This edited letter of mine was published in the February 16, 2007 edition of The Chronicle Review. It responds to an article by Lawrence M. Krauss, "Reason, Unfettered by Faith," The Chronicle Review, January 12.]

To the Editor:

Lawrence Krauss does little more than assert that religious beliefs are unfounded. ...
For example, he says, "Even scholars with years of training in theology and history have trouble combining the possible existence of divine purpose with a universe governed by natural laws." But the concept of a universe governed by nothing but natural law is the very definition of naturalism (or philosophical materialism), a worldview that excludes in principle a creator or designer. Of course naturalism is incompatible with theism; no theologian — or anyone else — could make them friends.

While theistic philosophers and theistic scientists readily accept the existence of natural laws,...they also point out that empirical investigation has given good evidence that the universe was created (otherwise the Big Bang has no cause or explanation) or designed (otherwise the fine-tuning of so many cosmic constants necessary for life remains inexplicable, and many irreducibly complex molecular machines cannot be adequately accounted for). ...Moreover, there are solid philosophical and historical arguments for biblical miracles such as the resurrection of Jesus (see Richard Swinburne's The Resurrection of God Incarnate).
Professor Krauss fails to interact with any of these arguments. Instead he simply claims that religious beliefs must emanate from bad sources. Now who is being unreasonable?

Douglas Groothuis
Professor of Philosophy
Denver Seminary
Littleton, Colo.

8 comments:

john alan turner said...

Isn't this sort of assertion -- without any appeal to reason and without allowing any dispute -- simply another form of fundamentalism?

Douglas Groothuis said...

Secular Fundamentalism is what Kraus offers. He did the same in a NY Times article against ID, which I also responded to. Maybe I should debate him in person.

John Stockwell said...

DG wrote:
...they also point out that empirical investigation has given good evidence that the universe was created (otherwise the Big Bang has no cause or explanation) or designed (otherwise the fine-tuning of so many cosmic constants necessary for life remains inexplicable, and many irreducibly complex molecular machines cannot be adequately accounted for). ...


First of all, all of this is the same sort of vapid "argument from ignorance" that characterizes any of the other science-based religious apologetic.

Remember the good old days of "have you ever seen an atom?" or "did you know that bumblebees can't fly?", I am sure you heard those arguments when you were a kid. The difficulty for that type of apologetic is that atoms were imaged a long time ago, and bumble-bee flight was modeled successfully more than 20 years ago.

It just happens that all of the ID stuff pops in where not merely our science is weakest, but where our ability to do science is weakest, or at the very least only very preliminary.

Second, you are arguing two diametrically opposed and contradictory types of "design". On one, hand when you talk about the Big Bang and fine tuning, you don't seem to realize that "fine-tuning" means that the Universe is fine-tuned so that biology can originate purely by chemistry and physics means within the system. If the God has to pop in periodically to oil the mechanism, then the universe is *not* fine tuned. So, which is it "fine-tuned" or not "fine-tuned"?

Third, of course, is that your statements are basically false. There is no science to back up the claims you are making, because "design" is not a scientific topic, and most of the stuff written by the ID movement is either scientifically inaccurate, scientifically irrelevant, or scientifically dishonest.

Douglas Groothuis said...

The anthropic factors are necessary for life, but not sufficient. The smaller scale features show that intelligence is required. Laws and constants are not sufficient to explain them. So, there are two levels of design, and no contradiction between them.

These are not arguments from ignorance. That claim just presupposes naturalism: "If we don't know what caused X, it must be a natural cause. Just wait until we find it." Call it "the matter of the gaps argument." So, for the naturalist, if you don't know what it is (you are ignorant) it must be material. That seems to be an argument from ignorance. Perhaps the cause it not material. If so, how could you ever know it if you always assume naturalism?

The ID arguments are based on new knowledge, such as that of the inner workings of the cell. Its specified or irreducible complexity is best explained by intelligent design and not by merely natural causes.

John Stockwell said...

DG wrote:
The anthropic factors are necessary for life, but not sufficient. The smaller scale features show that intelligence is required. Laws and constants are not sufficient to explain them. So, there are two levels of design, and no contradiction between them.


It is clear that all of the chemistry and physics that we know do not give us answers to the questions of the origins of life and the origin of the universe, and to a great many other questions, as well. It is also clear that we do not know all of chemistry and physics. Hundreds of thousands pieces of new scientific knowledge are published every year; it doesn't seem to be tapering off.

So, until we know all of the relevant chemistry and physics, we cannot rule
out that future understanding of chemistry and physics will answer those questions. Maybe further scientific investigation will never resolve these issues. However, we do not have sufficient knowlege to make that claim. (Even if further scientific investigations don't resolve those questions, we we will learn something in the course of those investigations.

The second thing that we don't know is what IDers actually mean by "intelligence". Apparently, it can be anything that they want it to be. If this is on some human model, we do know that intelligence all by itself does absolutely nothing all except reflect on the world.
What mechanisms to IDers put forward that we can test? Ans. None.

DG.
These are not arguments from ignorance. That claim just presupposes naturalism: "If we don't know what caused X, it must be a natural cause. Just wait until we find it." Call it "the matter of the gaps argument." So, for the naturalist, if you don't know what it is (you are ignorant) it must be material. That seems to be an argument from ignorance. Perhaps the cause it not material. If so, how could you ever know it if you always assume naturalism?


Strawman demolition, at best.
This paragraph illustrates the damage that ID thinking has on a person's ability to reason about scientific matters.

All science is tentative. Though we may regard particular scientific results with greater or lesser degrees of confidence, we recognize that any result, theory, observation, or hypothesis is subject to revision, reinterpretation, or dismissal as new data becomes available or as new theories are formulated.

The ID community puts a disproprortionate (and apparently unshakable) confidence on a collection of very preliminary and not well understood aspects of our scientific knowledge.

In fact, it is *only* in those shadows of our knowledge that ID seems to be put forward. Yet, if ID is some all-pervasive principle, then it should be easy to devise an experiment that would reveal ID in some standard, well-studied phenomena. Anyway, that is what real scientific theories are like.


The ID arguments are based on new knowledge, such as that of the inner workings of the cell. Its specified or irreducible complexity is best explained by intelligent design and not by merely natural causes.


First of all ID consists *only* of arguments and not of scientific results.
Science is about observations and theories, not about arguments from presupposed "truths".

Both the concepts of "irreduceable complexity" and "specified complexity" pressuppose manufacturing neither provides the necessary description of mechanism of manufacture. It is not clear that these concepts have any scientific meaning whatsoever.

Jeremy said...

John wrote:

"It is clear that all of the chemistry and physics that we know do not give us answers to the questions of the origins of life and the origin of the universe, and to a great many other questions, as well. It is also clear that we do not know all of chemistry and physics. Hundreds of thousands pieces of new scientific knowledge are published every year; it doesn't seem to be tapering off.

So, until we know all of the relevant chemistry and physics, we cannot rule
out that future understanding of chemistry and physics will answer those questions. Maybe further scientific investigation will never resolve these issues. However, we do not have sufficient knowlege to make that claim. (Even if further scientific investigations don't resolve those questions, we we will learn something in the course of those investigations."

Let me try to paraphrase these paragraphs just to make sure I'm not strawmanning. It seems that John is saying something like this: There's a lot out there to know about physics and chemistry, and we don't know it all yet. Maybe, someday in the future when we know more, then we can answer those interesting questions about the origins of the universe, etc. But look, even if we can't, at least we'll have learned something.

If this is what John means, then I have a one comment and a question.

(1) Here's the comment. The "at least we'll have learned something" bit is a non sequitor. Nobody's arguing against that; who in their right mind would deny that, given a bit more time, science will uncover new and interesting features of the universe? But who cares? THE QUESTION will still not have been answered. This leads me to my question...

(2) Is there a date of payment on that promisory note?

Next main point: John, you're wrong about criticising Doug's comment as being a strawman "at best." As far as I can tell, presupposing naturalism means that the answer must be a natural one. You've already claimed that you don't know what it is, and you've also claimed that you may never know what it is--but we should still believe you're looking in the right place, right? If you can't answer (2) above, and refuse to contemplate whether it may be naturalism's fault, and still expect me to believe there to be a natural cause you can't experiment on, then you've got yourself a big argument from ignorance.

Regarding your comments about the tentativeness of scientific theorizing: From what vantage point do you interpret new data? What forms the limiting cases for new theories? As far as I can tell it's merely your current theoretical viewpoint. What if your current theoretical viewpoint is mistaken (which, due to its perpetual tentativeness, is possible), is the interpretation of the new data flawed as well? What about these new theories? The replacement theories are limited by the findings of the old theory being replaced! One may say, "Well we know these parts are true!" Bull! You only think they're true because you get a little bit of empirical success. Larry Lauden has argued quite convincingly in his article "The Pessimistic Induction," that success, reference, approximate truth, and real truth can all come apart. If that's the case, science doesn't really tell us anything about the world. No wonder it's so tentative. Being a "useful" theory does not equal being a "true" or even "approximately true" theory (by the way approximate truth is strictly false). Why get so up in arms over ID when you can't even explain why I should think science is more than useful, but true (specifically regarding Darwinsim).

Maybe you should back up and give some arguments supporting your assumption of methodological empiricism and ontological naturalism. Yelling, "That's not science!" while pounding your fists and stomping your foot doesn't go very far intellectually.

Jeremy said...

John wrote:

"It is clear that all of the chemistry and physics that we know do not give us answers to the questions of the origins of life and the origin of the universe, and to a great many other questions, as well. It is also clear that we do not know all of chemistry and physics. Hundreds of thousands pieces of new scientific knowledge are published every year; it doesn't seem to be tapering off.

So, until we know all of the relevant chemistry and physics, we cannot rule
out that future understanding of chemistry and physics will answer those questions. Maybe further scientific investigation will never resolve these issues. However, we do not have sufficient knowlege to make that claim. (Even if further scientific investigations don't resolve those questions, we we will learn something in the course of those investigations."

Let me try to paraphrase these paragraphs just to make sure I'm not strawmanning. It seems that John is saying something like this: There's a lot out there to know about physics and chemistry, and we don't know it all yet. Maybe, someday in the future when we know more, then we can answer those interesting questions about the origins of the universe, etc. But look, even if we can't, at least we'll have learned something.

If this is what John means, then I have a one comment and a question.

(1) Here's the comment. The "at least we'll have learned something" bit is a non sequitor. Nobody's arguing against that; who in their right mind would deny that, given a bit more time, science will uncover new and interesting features of the universe? But who cares? THE QUESTION will still not have been answered. This leads me to my question...

(2) Is there a date of payment on that promisory note?

Next main point: John, you're wrong about criticising Doug's comment as being a strawman "at best." As far as I can tell, presupposing naturalism means that the answer must be a natural one. You've already claimed that you don't know what it is, and you've also claimed that you may never know what it is--but we should still believe you're looking in the right place, right? If you can't answer (2) above, and refuse to contemplate whether it may be naturalism's fault, and still expect me to believe there to be a natural cause you can't experiment on, then you've got yourself a big argument from ignorance.

Regarding your comments about the tentativeness of scientific theorizing: From what vantage point do you interpret new data? What forms the limiting cases for new theories? As far as I can tell it's merely your current theoretical viewpoint. What if your current theoretical viewpoint is mistaken (which, due to its perpetual tentativeness, is possible), is the interpretation of the new data flawed as well? What about these new theories? The replacement theories are limited by the findings of the old theory being replaced! One may say, "Well we know these parts are true!" Bull! You only think they're true because you get a little bit of empirical success. Larry Lauden has argued quite convincingly in his article "The Pessimistic Induction," that success, reference, approximate truth, and real truth can all come apart. If that's the case, science doesn't really tell us anything about the world. No wonder it's so tentative. Being a "useful" theory does not equal being a "true" or even "approximately true" theory (by the way approximate truth is strictly false). Why get so up in arms over ID when you can't even explain why I should think science is more than useful, but true (specifically regarding Darwinsim)?

Maybe you should back up and give some arguments supporting your assumption of methodological empiricism and ontological naturalism. Yelling, "That's not science!" while pounding your fists and stomping your foot doesn't go very far intellectually.

John Stockwell said...

Jeremy wrote:

(1) Here's the comment. The "at least we'll have learned something" bit is a non sequitor. Nobody's arguing against that; who in their right mind would deny that, given a bit more time, science will uncover new and interesting features of the universe? But who cares? THE QUESTION will still not have been answered. This leads me to my question...

(2) Is there a date of payment on that promisory note?


The mindset that seems to take people over when they begin espousing ID seems to be that it is already proven that it is impossible for us to understand the origin of life or the origin of the universe, or perhaps other things by scientific means. This is not the case. We do not have enough knowledge to claim that science has failed, only that science has not yet succeeded for answering specific questions. Maybe the questions are the wrong questions.

There are no promises in science, so there is no promisory note, nor due date.

Jeremy wrote:
Next main point: John, you're wrong about criticising Doug's comment as being a strawman "at best." As far as I can tell, presupposing naturalism means that the answer must be a natural one. You've already claimed that you don't know what it is, and you've also claimed that you may never know what it is--but we should still believe you're looking in the right place, right? If you can't answer (2) above, and refuse to contemplate whether it may be naturalism's fault, and still expect me to believe there to be a natural cause you can't experiment on, then you've got yourself a big argument from ignorance.


The claim that scientists are presupposing 'naturalism' is the strawman. This is done in order to bring philosophical argumentation to bear against questions and results that can only be answered in the realm of theory and observation.

Jeremy wrote:
Regarding your comments about the tentativeness of scientific theorizing: From what vantage point do you interpret new data?


We interpret new data in the light of the theoretical structure that we have available to us. Theory provides fills in the gaps between our observations. When new observations come in, then the theory is tested. Each generation of scientists rebuilds the structure of scientific theory in light of new data. Data are reinterpreted in the light of the new theory. It's a bootstrapping process.



What forms the limiting cases for new theories? As far as I can tell it's merely your current theoretical viewpoint. What if your current theoretical viewpoint is mistaken (which, due to its perpetual tentativeness, is possible), is the interpretation of the new data flawed as well?


The social aspect of science involves fads and fashions, but these are tempered by the competition for limited funding for prestige within the community, and personally for the simple desire of solving problems, and the opportunities supplied by serendipity.

These motivations are tempered by an ethical system which enforces open, honest, and competent reporting of results. The system rewards innovation and novelty. It also rewards economy in thought. Dishonesty, incompetence, and wastefulness are punished.

It is taken as a given that our theoretical structure continually needs to be improved. We hang our data off of our theories, and use our theories to know what to expect from future data. This utility is a powerful force in driving the modification of theories. Scientists are not rewarded for maintaining the status quo, engaging in mere scholarship,
or simply restating "old stuff".



What about these new theories? The replacement theories are limited by the findings of the old theory being replaced! One may say, "Well we know these parts are true!" Bull! You only think they're true because you get a little bit of empirical success.

Larry Lauden has argued quite convincingly in his article "The Pessimistic Induction," that success, reference, approximate truth, and real truth can all come apart. If that's the case, science doesn't really tell us anything about the world. No wonder it's so tentative. Being a "useful" theory does not equal being a "true" or even "approximately true" theory (by the way approximate truth is strictly false). Why get so up in arms over ID when you can't even explain why I should think science is more than useful, but true (specifically regarding Darwinsim).


Right off the bat, if you are looking for truth, or looking for a system that is based on some axiomatic collection of assumed "truths", then you are looking for a worldview philosophy, or other logico-deductive system, such as mathematics.

Science is not a worldview philosophy, but rather a system of investigation. The big difference is that in science there are no a-priori worldview truths that are espoused as being absolutely inviolate.

There are metaphysical notions, such as uniformity (we have consistency from day to day and place to place in our observations), causality (a unique temporal ordering to events), objectifiability (we can divide our experience into "objects", that have attributes that we can agree on). Yet, even these are not inviolate. The notion of causality has been refined in the light of discoveries in quantum physics and in general relativity.

Taken together the metaphysics is the common everyday metaphysics that we all use to operate through our mundane tasks. Science has simply extended the mundane far beyond the everyday level.

I think that the strength of science is that it does give us a notion of "approximate" or "asymptotic" value, if not truth, per se. It's a living enterprise that could be derailed if the ethical system breaks down, if it is prevented from operating by outside forces, or if people decide someday that they are "finished".

As to why what the ID people are doing is not science, it is because the ID community does not adhere to the ethics of the scientific community, nor the methods of science. Nor, at the end of the day, do any of the claimed results of ID seem to have any utility whatsoever, except to give some folks philosophical comfort.

Because you seem to think that science is a weak system, I am saying that ID isn't even science.


Jeremy wrote:
Maybe you should back up and give some arguments supporting your assumption of methodological empiricism and ontological naturalism. Yelling, "That's not science!" while pounding your fists and stomping your foot doesn't go very far intellectually.


The term "naturalism" means nothing in science. The claim that we assume "ontological naturalism" is false. What we require from scientific matters is that we can deal with "phenomena" which is to say that which can be apprehended with the human senses, possibly augmented with instrumentation, that we deal with concepts that we can comprehend with the human intellect, possibly augmented with instrumentation, and communicate to other scientists human language, possibly augmented with instrumentation or formal rules.

Effectively all of the metaphics goes with the notion that there is a world that we are investigating "out there".
Science is therefore is grounded in a variety of realism, but makes an effective use of an interplay of empirically-constrained idealism---theories being tentative "ideals"---, playing a world of theory against a world of experiment and observation.