Friday, June 09, 2006


Remember ID?

Well, evidently this fad won't go away anytime soon, as indicated by the harpy of the right -- Ann Coulter -- "believing in it" (those who ask whether she is opportunistic or crazy miss the third option -- both).

Anyway, Pharyngula has blogged on this already. The reason why I am blogging on this too is because Ms. Coulter goes right to the heart of one of the concerns of "anti-Darwinists" -- the morality one can infer from Evolution. Dr. Myers and commentators already make good work as to the ridiculousness of the idea of inferring morality from physical laws (although it must be said, morality ought to respect what is physically/biologically possible/impossible: a moral system that is feasibly or biologically infeasible is hardly a moral system worth using). But I would like to add that by conflating the scientific theory of evolution with the moral "implications" some find therein, the ID crowd actually invites a blind acceptance of the "moral implications" of evolution (e.g. libertine social Darwinism) by anyone smart enough to reject the available alternative hypotheses to evolution. As I have mentioned before, this is one of my problems with teaching ID in schools -- far from encouraging students to be sceptical of evolutionary claims, such teaching leads students to believe that social Darwinism is a "scientific" world view and hence students, most of whom will consider science as something best left to the professionals, will come to blindly accept the "Darwinian" claims of social Darwinists, monetarists and the like, as scientific even if they are not. Indeed, sometimes I wonder if the real import of the push to teach ID in schools is precisely to ensure students are apt to confuse the scientific theory of evolution with the extra-scientific implications of evolution that some would wish to consider as scientific: whether they are trying to speak against evolution as immoral rather than amoral or whether they wish to claim their social Darwinism is science rather than b.s.

Of course, there are also theological problems with ID, AFAIC (even among those of us who accept some extra-scientific/meta-physical form of the Design Argument may be queezy, to say the least, about reducing this kind of Design into a quasi-scientific argument and we may very well find this to be a perversion of theology). And the other important aspect of the opposition to evolution is the importance it places on variation as opposed to type characteristics. In this aspect, the battle between proponants of evolution and the ID theorists is a continuation of the medieval Nominalists vs. Essentialists debate. In fact both the conflation of the extra-scientific implications of evolution (of course, evolution's early defenders were often no help in clearing up this aspect of the debate) and the nominalistic implications of evolution in what Popper might call metaphysics and the rest of us would maybe call peri-physics, were from the get go the prime-motivators, even more than religious fundamentalism per se, of opposition to Darwin's theories. FWIW, I guess I should mention that in terms of science, I accept evolution (natch), in terms of periphysics I welcome rather than oppose the nominalistic implications of evolution (and cladistics is a good way to keep one's outer nominalist and inner essentialist in harmony ;) ) but metaphysically I believe in a Design Argument even if I find that its perversion into a matter of quasi-science (e.g. in ID theory) is morally reprehensible (for reasons that have been well outlined in left-blogostan).

Of course, there is, as I have mentioned in comments (have I blogged about it or merely comment-whored?) the "lost cause" aspect of creationism as pointed out by Lind and others ...

A while back on "Open Source" from WGBH they were discussing whether religon is "just" the product of some outmoded parts of our evoloutionary heritage. One of the participants, a Catholic biologist, pointed out that if you believed in evoloution and also believed in religon that it wouldn't surprise you if there is some kind of biological mechanism to enforce consciousness of it. That's a speculation but it's one that he wasn't making or that the anti-religon psychologist couldn't overcome.

I don't think psychology or evoloution will ever be complete enough to find an answer to this question based on science. The systems are too complex and the categories too undefinable. Not that that's ever stopped particularly psychologists from "finding" things in the past. That "prayer study" that was in the news and it's "debunking" are a good example. How can you define what a prayer is and how can you make certain that even any two people are doing the same thing when they pray?

I think it's something that people will have to consult their own experience and conscience about, not a matter that can be studied by science.

alberich, I discovered the next step beyond commentwhoring today. Comment pandering.
that should be not one the psychologist could overcome.

I can't overcome the fact I'm due for an eye test.
There is a short and controversial turn as well as a long history to this whole notion of religion as something that can be understood in terms of our evolution.

Of course I would reckon even many religious people would be keen to understand their religious experience as part and parcel of the human experience. OTOH, you do remember how we all (myself included) went after Dennett (am I remembering his name correctly) for suggesting that religious experience can only be understood in sociological terms. Earlier, however, many have sought to prove the existance of God and the correctness of religion by arguing that it is something that is naturally part of the human experience (of course lots of things are natural ...) and thus must be something that is somehow true. I am not sure I buy the "religion can only be understood from a sociological or evolutionary perspective" argument -- whether it is being used to deny the existance of God or to "prove" the veracity of religion.

Still, I hope we all were careful not to overreact to the Dennett's of the world and not deny that religious experience, like anything else, changes over time: both for individuals and for religious groups.
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