"Intelligent Design": not even interesting as philosophy
I'm probably too tired to blog, but the I've been goaded into it by, of all things, commentary on a local school board election. In Minnesota.
At Pharyngula, here's the commentary on the returns:
All of the candidates have disavowed ID as a fit subject for science courses. It's clearly perceived as a toxic issue and all have tried to distance themselves from it. That's a good sign; unfortunately, it also makes it difficult to tell who is on what side. ... Adams, Langseth, and Maes, have said they don't support ID creationism, but they also waffle with vague suggestions that it's an "interesting idea", and maybe it could be taught in a philosophy course. Sorry, ladies, it is not interesting, and I really wish people would stop treating philosophy as a safe dumping ground for any crap idea that comes along.
Of course, I love it when a non-philosopher speaks up for philosophy as not a dumping ground for crap, and said as much in the comments. But in that comments came the, "Oh yeah? Where the hell are the philosophers publicly decrying 'Intelligent Design' as a crock? If the History of Science Society is on record as against the ID movement, why has the Philosophy of Science Association been silent on the matter?"
These are good questions. This post offers my best guesses (which, given the above-mentioned fatigue, are not exhaustively researched -- I'm shooting from the hip tonight).
- Philosophers are speaking out against ID. I'm a philosopher, and I've gone off on ID repeatedly, both here and in my 3-dimensional existence. Philosophy of Biology (where Michael Ruse blogs) does too. So does Brian Leiter. So does Sahotra Sarkar. Anyone with a good search engine could turn up lots more in the blogosphere. Anyone who gains entry to a building with philosophy department offices could find a bunch just randomly knocking doors. We talk to people. We write letters to the editor. Critical thinking is our bag, baby -- how the hell do you think we feel about ID and the whole ID movement?
By the way, this open letter to the Dover school board from University of Pennsylvania faculty is signed by philosophers.
But maybe people have gotten so accustomed to tuning out philosophers (the most loathed of all those annoying "intellectuals" the American people cannot abide) that no one notices us shaking our tiny fists.
- Philosophers have been speaking out against ID and creationism for a long time, and think the whole thing is played out. There really are some issues that philosophers have achieved "closure" on, even if folks outside the philosophical bubble are still working on them. Once the good philosophers have worked out all there is to say about an issue like creationism/ID, it's time to move onto a live problem.
For example, Philip Kitcher wrote Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism (whose cover you see above) for a general audience. It was published in 1982 and is astoudingly clear. Many of his critiques of creationism carry right over to ID. Does he need to write this book again every decade just to earn his anti-ID cred? Or, would it be fair to ask members of the public to crack a book?
More recently, Elliott Sober has delivered scathing critiques of the "detection" of design claimed by Dembski. If I could be bothered tonight (what with the fatigue), I could generate a list of philosophical take-downs of both ID claims and the flaky anti-evolution strategies that accompany them. The philosophers have been on this a long time. Anyone remember David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion? I think the 18th century counts as old skool, yo!
Again, this is one of those cases where being tuned out by the public may play an explanatory role. Here, given that the public has not attended to what the philosophers have said about the issue, the philosophers decide to tune out the public and do some more fulfilling philosophical work.
- Intelligent Design is pretty sissy even for a philosophical theory. I say this as someone who has the utmost respect for purveyors of the interesting-but-clearly-wrong philosophical theories that one encounters in reading the history of philosophy. (Descartes is my favorite guy in this crowd. He's convinced me I can believe in my own existence, but his attempts to get us back reliable empirical data with which to do science don't work nearly as well as he wanted them to. Still, an interesting problem, and Meditations is a good read!)
Really, what is ID offering? Every time we can't imagine how something could come about through natural processes we holler Intelligent Designer?
Now, there may be interesting philosophical questions to be asked in the general vicinity. For instance, what conclusions are warranted when our imaginations fail us? Is "design" something of which humans are or could be reliable detectors? Is there a structural "floor" beyond which reduction does not succeed? But, for all of these questions, a serious philosopher would want to subject them to serious examination, maybe even considering real world cases of various sorts. The ID proponents don't seem to be doing any of that.
ID isn't a scientific theory. It's not even a convincing imitation of a scientific theory. Not much interest there for philosophers who want to understand scientific theory building and testing.
Maybe ID is interesting to folks who do philosophy of religion. Undoubtedly ID carries with it an interesting bundle of assumptions about the nature of the Designer. I confess that I am fairly ignorant of philosophy of religion, so I can't say whether ID is or should be a hot topic in that field.
In short: I can't think of why one would include ID in a philosophy class except as an example of how not to do philosophy (or science).
So why is the Philosophy of Science Association not on record against ID? I don't know, but I'll try to find out. Stay tuned!
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