ID is a Theory of Epistemology

@eddie has described ID as:

"ID per se is a theory of design detection, and in itself has nothing to do with what should be taught in public school science.

I wonder if it is even more correct to say that it is more about whether such detection is even possible!

It’s about both. ID writers offer general arguments for the possibility, in principle, of design detection, and they also offer particular arguments claiming to demonstrate design in particular biological systems.

I’d add that one could be an ID proponent while still rejecting many or even all of the specific design detection claims of Behe, Dembski, Meyer, etc. One could argue that design detection is possible in principle, but that the arguments of those ID proponents are flawed, and that better arguments must be (and in principle can be) found. So the main thing the ID proponents are asking is for scientists to accept the possibility of design detection in principle. If that were granted, they would probably feel less need to defend every single step of every single ID argument currently on offer. The general hostility to the idea of design detection probably makes them more defensive of particular arguments than they would otherwise be.

If they occasionally heard from their opponents, especially their Christian opponents, something like – “I’m attracted by your notion of detecting design, and I don’t rule out the idea in principle, but I’m not convinced by the specific arguments in this book. If you could come up with some more rigorous arguments, I think I and others would be open to your conclusions.” – they would probably be more willing to admit that some of their arguments are not strong ones. But usually they are told that design arguments are a waste of time, impossible to make, forbidden by scientific method, etc. This blanket rejection makes it less likely that they will try to improve their arguments. They have no incentive to do so, if design arguments, good or bad, will never be admitted in science. Why go to the trouble to turn bad arguments into good ones if even good ones will be rejected, on principle?

I think they have already granted the possibility. Their objection being that it should not be applied to biological systems, or has been and was found wanting, or there’s a better explanation on the table so design detection is superfluous in biology.

Didn’t Darwin try to provide a theory that could account for the design in living organisms? He was able to detect design well enough to attempt to explain it.

Oh goodie! I’ve been looking for an excuse to discuss the Gettier Problem! :slight_smile:


Reading about the Gettier Problem and all the responses to it, along with the subsequent failure to find any robust 4th criterion for knowledge, only convinced me that strict analytic philosophy has limits. By that standard, we don’t really know anything with certainty - we don’t even know what it means to know! It’s similar to reading Hume pointing out that there is no logical basis for an inductive argument, nodding your head and move on with doing science anyway. It also illustrates how it’s much easier in philosophy to rebut an argument rather than construct a new one that works.


What is the Gettier problem?

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Not all of them; probably not even most of them. The usual argument, especially coming from Christian biologists, is that “methodological naturalism” precludes design inferences in science. So you can have design inferences where human activity is involved, but not regarding the origin of life, or of new body plans, etc. “Science can’t speak of design” – that’s the most common line taken by EC folks. They say that design inferences belong in philosophy or theology or somewhere else.

@eddie do you see why I made a discontinuity between creaturely and divine design? You don’t have to agree it is a salient distinction, but is salient for me.

There are always differences between divine and human things. We can say that divine love and human love are different, that divine justice and human justice are different, that divine design and human design are different. But there has to be at least a justifiable analogy between divine and human, or we can’t apply the same word to both God and man. If God and man both design things, there must be something in common that makes the use of the term “design” legitimate to be applied to both God and man. Otherwise, we shouldn’t use the term “design” of God at all. Similarly, if someone tries to explain some evil by saying “God’s justice is not our justice,” one is on very dangerous grounds. If God’s justice is not at all like our justice, how do we know that God is in fact just? The word “just” as applied to God would be robbed of all meaning.

So let’s say that man designed the telescope, whereas God designed the eye. Well, granting all the differences that people have pointed out (e.g., telescopes are unliving matter, while the eye is organic), there still must be some point at which “design” means the same thing in the two cases. Otherwise, saying that God designed the universe, or life, or whatever, would have no meaning.

When are beliefs both justified and true?

^^^ My preferred site seems to be down ATM, so here is the Wiki: vvv

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And, in particular, Gettier cases are about how to avoid calling something knowledge when it is justified, true, belief but only true by luck. From SEP:

ETA: I have the vague impression one could draw an analogy between the luck in Gettier cases and the claim by IDists that various information metrics show evolution is too exceedingly impossible (ie lucky) to have happened without an outside designer. Is that what you had in mind?


This is the impossible “ask”. It flies in the face of everything modern science has learned about the philosophy of science …
ever since Alchemy has been rejected.


I would have to disagree.

Modern science has learned what? In the training of modern scientists, 99% of the time, philosophy of science plays no role. As I sat in my undergrad chemistry, biology and physics courses, I noticed the complete absence of any concern with questions such as “What are we doing when we do science?” “How does science differ from philosophy?” “How does science differ from mathematics?” “What do we mean by ‘natural’?” “What do we mean by ‘cause’?” “What does 'proof” mean in science?" And when Newton was discussed, it was his Laws that we learned, not his famous statements in the General Scholium and elsewhere about God. And when evolution was discussed, nothing was mentioned about the many metaphysical and theological arguments employed by Darwin in his writings. Nothing was mentioned of the religious motivations of Kepler, Copernicus, etc. for doing science. Hume’s famous discussion about the very possibility of induction was never mentioned, even though modern science rests on that possibility. The achievements of Descartes were celebrated, but his works were never read. We were all told that Aristotle was wrong, but his works were never read, so no demonstration of his errors was ever presented. Nor were we apprised of the fact that Galileo, the great hero of modern popular mythology about science, was dead wrong about the tides, precisely because he was an Aristotelian regarding causality. Nor were we told that there was originally much a priori prejudice in the physics community to the Big Bang theory because it smelled too much of Genesis for many physicists’ taste. All of these things I had to learn not in science departments, but in history, religion, philosophy, English and other departments.

If one wants to learn philosophy of science, with only a very few exceptions, the last place one can learn it is in a science class. Usually one learns it in courses on philosophy, theology, history of science, history of ideas, seventeenth-century studies, eighteenth-century studies, etc.

And by the way, Newton and some other giants of early modern science had a keen interest in Alchemy. But of course, the ID people aren’t pushing for Alchemy. (Not a bad idea, though, now that you mention it. :slight_smile: )

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I didn’t have anything in particular in mind, I just saw the opportunity to throw a bomb. :wink: :bomb:

Sort of. As a Christian, I also believe that God created us, and in that sense he designed us. The reasons I give for this are not bad ID arguments. I think the ultimate conclusions of these arguments are correct: God created us. The precise reasoning is wrong, however. Was this lucky? Not really. We just know this by other means. They also know this by other means before they set out to make their case. “Circular” might be a better descriptor than “lucky.”

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As you know, Newton kept his interest in Alchemy close to the vest… because he didnt want people to know he was a mystic. And ID folks display the same mystic side when they suggest God can become an independent variable.

You cannot get a full idea of how scientists are trained by taking a few undergrad classes. These ideas are gradually learned as a graduate student immersed in the field, talking with established scientists and figuring out what a “proof” means.


I wasn’t talking about a full idea, but about a basic introduction. In religion, philosophy, political science, sociology, literary theory, etc. foundational methodological considerations come up right from the start of undergrad – you don’t have to wait until grad school to discuss them.

Indeed – and your field of physics may be a bit different, because of the fact that it deals with the foundations of physical reality, and therefore often bumps up against big metaphysical and epistemological questions – I’ve rarely ever met scientists who are worried about what “cause” means or what “nature” or “natural” mean. Those things are just taken for granted, as if they are so obvious they don’t need discussion. I’ve rarely heard two biologists chatting, saying, e.g., “You know, I was reading Hume on induction the other day, and I’m now wondering whether science has any guarantee that nature isn’t run by a blatant occasionalism.”

Anyhow, regarding “proof”, I have many times on these origins sites witnessed a scientist “correcting” someone by saying, “Science doesn’t deal in proofs; proofs belong in mathematics and logic only.” Well, if that’s the case, then surely science undergrads should be apprised of that fact early on, shouldn’t they? Or are these guys on the internet who are saying “science doesn’t deal in proofs” in fact saying something false? It sounds to me as if you are saying that scientists do sometimes speak of “proofs”. Is that correct? If so, this raises the question of “Who speaks for science?”

(Another question for you: Some scientists have lately taken the line that “truth” is not a word found in the vocabulary of science, that science never determines whether or not anything is “true”. The question then arises what science does establish about nature, if not “truths” about nature. Is it really the case that scientists aren’t trying to get as close as they can to the truth about nature? Or are the people making these statements heavily influenced by post-modernism, deconstructionism, etc., and not representative of the attitude of all scientists? I’d be glad to hear your comments on what your fellow-physicists today are saying on this subject. I have the impression that Newton, Kepler, Galileo, etc. thought they were getting at the truth about nature, so if scientists no longer think in those terms, that represents a major change in the self-conception of scientists.)

I have yet to see a sentence in any ID writing in which God is described as an independent variable.