My apologies for the unscheduled hiatus. Over the past two weeks, I was working frantically to complete my term papers, and then taking some much needed rest. Incidentally, I expect to post a draft of a paper on Aristotle under the title "The Homonymy of Predicative Being" in the near future, and hopefully there will also be a draft of my Kant paper in the next month or two. Anyway, I should now be getting back in the swing of things. Currently, I am reading the last couple issues of Faith and Philosophy which had piled up during the school year, so that's what I'm writing about today.
John Beaudoin's recent paper "Sober on Intelligent Design Theory and the Intelligent Designer" contains the following fascinating remark in a footnote:
[William] Dembski has suggested that the designer referred to in ID theory need not be real: it could in principle be treated by design theorists as a mere useful fiction, if that should better fit with a particular design theorist's philosophy of science.
I haven't bothered to read too much on the whole ID thing because it is not closely related to my main philosophical interests and from a theological/religious perspective seems like a mere distraction. Furthermore, most ID types seem to me to exaggerate the problems of 'orthodox' evolutionary biology. (Note that, contrary to popular belief, most of the original advocates of ID - as opposed to its politicizers - believe in macro-evolution, and this, at least, is a significant difference from most of the old 'creation science' establishment.) However, based on what I have read and heard, Dembski seems to be the most respectable of the bunch, and this remark reinforces that impression. By this assertion (which, granted, I am getting second-hand), Dembski is restricting ID to the claim that a designer (of undetermined nature) is an unobserved postulate of a well-supported scientific theory. That is, we have the same sort of evidence for a designer that we have for, say, quarks. By claiming that a scientific theory is well-supported, I mean to claim that we have good reason to suppose that it is correct in whatever sense of 'correct' is appropriate to scientific theories. So, according to Dembski, we can reasonably believe that the correct theory of biology postulates a designer.
The question raised is, does it follow from this that the designer actually exists? Most people would say yes: the correct theory of physics postulates quarks, so we know that quarks actually exist. However, some theories in the philosophy of science, most notably 'instrumentalism,' deny this. Berkeley was the first major proponent of instrumentalism, and it is defended today by Bas van Fraassen. On Berkeley's view, natural scientists are engaged in "fram[ing] general rules from the phenomena, and afterwards deriv[ing] the phenomena from those rules." People who do this, he says, "seem to consider signs rather than causes" (Principles 108). By these signs "we are instructed how to regulate our actions in order to attain those things that are necessary to the preservation and well-being of our bodies, as also to avoid whatever may be hurtful and destructive to them. It is by their informations that we are principally guided in all the transactions and concerns of life" (New Theory of Vision 147). Thus in a later work he says that the legitimacy of the concept of 'force' (as a technical term of physics) does not depend on some sort of metaphysical cognition, or any fact of fundamental ontology. Rather, 'force' is a legitimate concept because "by considering the doctrine of force, men arrive at the knowledge of many inventions in mechanics, and are taught to frame engines, by means of which things difficult and otherwise impossible may be performed" (Alciphron 7.7).
Instrumentalism is thus a metaphysically deflationary view of science: it holds that scientists are in the business of constructing useful generalizations and are entitled to whatever conceptual apparatus is useful - including the postulation of entities which do not, in fact exist. The correctness of a scientific theory is to be measured by the success of its empirical predictions, not by its correspondence to metaphysical reality.
Accordingly, if Dembski is to convince an instrumentalist that ID is natural science and not metaphysics, he must drop the claim that ID proves the existence of a designer, because the instrumentalist denies that natural science can prove the (metaphysical) existence of anything.
Now, trying to define 'science' is so problematic that many (staunchly anti-ID) philosophers of science have stopped trying. This difficulty is really the motivation for the differences between previous formulations of 'naturalism' and the approach Penelope Maddy calls 'second philosophy' in her excellent book by that title. The courts may say that ID is prohibited from schools because it is 'unscientific,' but today ID's philosophical opponents tend, it seems to me, to prefer to claim that the reason it shouldn't be taught in schools is that it is laughably bad science.
Nevertheless, the instrumentalist does have a strong distinction between the 'scientific' and the 'metaphysical' - correct metaphysical claims are literally true and correct scientific claims aren't (necessarily)! It does seem right to me (perhaps because I have instrumentalist leanings myself) to say that if the claim that ID is 'science' is to stick, it will have to be possible to consistently hold ID and instrumentalism, and thus to consistently hold both that ID is a component of the correct theory of biology and that there is no designer. Of course, since this requires some exotic philosophical theories, it is unlikely to assuage any ID opponents.Posted by Kenny at June 21, 2009 9:08 PM
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