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Friday, November 14, 2008

Intelligent design and high culture: Francis Beckwith and the plod of the philosophers

In "Francis Beckwith finally disowns ID" Bill Dembski and a number of others have offered a variety of comments about this piece, "The Truth about Me and Intelligent Design."

Honestly, Beckwith disowning ID reminds me of a guy divorcing his wife ten years after she's run off with the plumber. The question isn't "Why, Frankie, why?" but "Why, frankly, why?".

Last I heard from Beckwith, he was defending John Lilley's scorched earth campaign against the academic deans at Baylor (deans 1, scorched earth 0, as I recall - even at dysfunctional Baylor, there is some stuff you just can't do).

My take is that some philosophy types will always hate ID because it asserts the priority of evidence over theory.

Let's look at a typical Darwinist theory: The peacock's tale (cue pompous science doc intro music)

The peacock's tail evolved, we are told, because peahens somehow realized that a peacock who can carry a big tail is more fit than one who can't. To me, that's sort of like arguing that a guy with one leg is more fit than a guy with two legs, because he copes okay with his handicap.

But I am not a Darwinist, right?

In my view, the only way to confront such nonsense is with evidence, not theory. The evidence shows that the peahen doesn't pay much attention to her mate's fantail, but she loves his demented screams. No accounting for tastes, I guess.

Now, I suppose a philosopher might be looking for an overarching theory that explains that. I, by contrast, only want to know what the evidence shows. If the evidence showed that the peahen is smart enough to think things out the way the Darwinist theory requires, I would want to know just how she does it, given that she is one stupid bird - and so is her mate.

If the evidence does not show that she does anything of the kind, then that particular Darwinist theory is disconfirmed and I want that on the record. I don't want the theory taught to students because "We must stick with Darwinism until we find something better." It's just plain wrong, and shouldn't be taught, period.

Similarly, the fine tuning of the universe is best explained by a mind behind the universe. A person is not forced to believe it, but it is the most likely explanation. But again, that's evidence, not theory. Faced with different evidence, I might be forced to revise my opinion.

I don't think intelligent design will ever be acceptable to many philosophers because it is rooted in evidence, not theory. My advice is, every time you hear the words "Aquinas taught ..." grab your toolbox and run. Aquinas was a smart 13th century dude but he did not have access to the evidence available today and we don't know what he would say if he had. We are all rooted in time. We must live by what we know.

The tail:

The screams:


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