Friday, April 25, 2008

Richard Dawkins and Darwinian Fundamentalist

In the film "Expelled" (reviewed below), Richard Dawkins is asked how intelligent design might be identified. He replies that an alien civilization might have designed life on earth and left a signature somewhere in the biosphere (my paraphrase). But, the alien designers would themselves have to have been evolved through Darwinian mechanisms.

Think about that for a moment...

Dawkins grants that it is possible that an alien civilization designed us, but that they themselves must be undesigned. So, he is explaining design in terms of nondesign. It must be Darwinism all the way down--or nothing. Dawkins's explanation leaves the postulated alien designers unexplained in terms of any original design. This indicates his a priori (or philosophical or worldview) commitment to naturalism as the only explanation for life. He can admit no possible evidence for any original designer. Now who is closed minded?

This illustrates that Philip Johnson pointed out near the beginning of the Intelligent Design movement in his work, Darwin on Trial: Darwinism is supported more by an a priori commitment to naturalism than it is by the empirical evidence. If naturalism is true, then something like Darwinism must be true. But if one keeps both design and naturalism on the table, the evidence for design can at least be seriously considered (and should be considered in the same way that evidence for design is detectable in archaeology, SETI, cryptography, forensics, and so on. See chapter one of William Dembski's The Design Inference on that.)

The Dawkins's response is a poster child example of a point made--but not adequately made--in "Expelled." The Darwinists claim that their science leads to their worldview (Darwinism). But, in reality, it is more like the opposite situation. Their naturalistic worldview demands Darwinism (or something very much like it--that is, some design-free explanation for all of life). This kind of philosophical commitment is a brand of fundamentalism: I have made up my mind, don't confuse me with the evidence. Consider this quote from biologist, Richard Lewontin.

Richard Lewontin on materialism as absolute

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.--Richard Lewontin, ‘Billions and billions of demons’, The New York Review, January 9, 1997, p. 31.

Thank you, Professor Lewontin. You revealed what many of us have seen for years, and what Richard Dawkins recently confirmed--on the big screen, no less.

1. See Bruce Gordon's essay on Dawkins's comments.
2. See also Jon Wells essay on Dawkins's comments.

3 comments:

Sirfab said...

Good evening to you, Dr. Groothuis, and to your curmudgeonly readers.

Round #100 coming up. :-)

Richard Dawkins has posted a reply to the kind of accusation you level against him in your post on his website. Readers who are interested in his point of view, can follow this link.

Regarding your suggestion that Dawkins's view against ID make him close minded, I would say that open-mindedness is not an end of scientific research. Science is not a contest that rewards the most open-minded person. Science rewards accuracy in the observation of facts, unified in a theory based on testable hypotheses which yield correct predictions about natural phenomena. Granting credibility to unsupported and unsupportable theories simply in the name of open-mindedness is, in fact, a mark of shoddy science.

Additionally, I believe that Dawkins resorted to his "directed panspermia" argument as a means of exposing the hypocrisy of the Discovery Institute, when it proclaims that, "unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design is agnostic regarding the source of design and has no commitment to defending Genesis, the Bible or any other sacred text." If it really is agnostic, why do supporters of intelligent design immediately pour derision on those who suggest that life on earth could be the result of extraterrestrial seeding? The scientific attitude by proponents of IDs would be, if I understand science's framework correctly, to ask Prof. Dawkins to prove his hypothesis, not to deride him. So, in my opinion, Dawkins hits the bullseye.

As for Lewontin's statement, I believe that the key to interpreting it correctly is the phrase "no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated." In essence Lewontin is saying that, with all its faults and "the absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories," (probably including, may I add, ID) science, with its adherence to "materialism" provides better answers regarding the natural world than any theory that would allow a "Divine foot in the door." The fact that the uninitiated (those who know little or nothing about science) might find a theory counter-intuitive or mystifying has nothing to do with the effective merits of a theory. And, in that sense, it is easy to turn the accusation you level against Darwinists ("I have made up my mind, don't confuse me with the evidence") back towards supporters of ID.

So, albeit for completely different reasons, I join you in thanking Prof. Lewontin.

Best,

John Stockwell said...

Dr. Groothuis wrote:
In the film "Expelled" (reviewed below), Richard Dawkins is asked how intelligent design might be identified. He replies that an alien civilization might have designed life on earth and left a signature somewhere in the biosphere (my paraphrase). But, the alien designers would themselves have to have been evolved through Darwinian mechanisms.

Think about that for a moment...

Dawkins grants that it is possible that an alien civilization designed us, but that they themselves must be undesigned. So, he is explaining design in terms of nondesign. It must be Darwinism all the way down--or nothing. Dawkins's explanation leaves the postulated alien designers unexplained in terms of any original design. This indicates his a priori (or philosophical or worldview) commitment to naturalism as the only explanation for life. He can admit no possible evidence for any original designer. Now who is closed minded?


Well, of course, Richard Dawkins does
not take the notion of a divine
creator as being an a priori assumption
of the universe. Even if a scientist
does have such an a priori belief,
and many do, the nature
of science as a discipline that seeks
answers to the question of "how," means
that scientists are going to look for
"how" evidence. Indeed, as scientists
even believing in God, is not enough
to consider God as being an active
player in the process, unless we have
physical evidence of "how" He did it.

So, for Richard Dawkins to believe that
aliens created life on earth, he
is going to require that
there is some physical evidence that
aliens exist, have visited the earth,
and while visiting were in the
biology manufacturing business. This
last one is the most important.

In fact, the "how" evidence is much
more important than any other evidence
about the aliens.

Furthermore, Richard Dawkins is not
alone in this requirement, as this is
the primary reason that the so-called
evidence presented by the ID community
isn't really getting much positive
attention from the mainstream
scientific community.

As to the question of where the
aliens came from, or more properly
"how" the aliens came to be. The
only thing we have to work with
scientifically in the "how" department
is abiogenesis and evolution by
common descent with modification and
natural selection.

John Stockwell said...

Dr. Groothuis wrote:
But if one keeps both design and naturalism on the table, the evidence for design can at least be seriously considered (and should be considered in the same way that evidence for design is detectable in archaeology, SETI, cryptography, forensics, and so on. See chapter one of William Dembski's The Design Inference on that.).


...Except there is one problem. Dembski's notions pretty much have fallen flat, because his notions
are merely speculative. Until he
can actaully deliver on his promises
of defining a measurable complex
specified information quantity, and
actually generate testable hypotheses,
his notion "design inference" is simply
another still-born ad hoc hypothesis.

In the world of mainstream
science, each of the disciplines that
you mention ground any inferences
of manufacture on experiments that
give us information or constraints
on "how" the items being studied
came into existence.