Josh Rosenau is an ID critic that blogs at Thoughts from Kansas. The other day, he responded to a post of mine, causing a back-and-forth between our blogs. Here's his latest response.
In his original post, Rosenau thought he saw a contradiction between the statements of my fellow Telician Mike Gene and the statements of myself. You see, Mike was claiming that intelligent design was a novel idea in the '80s, whereas I was claiming that it dated back to the ancient Greeks. Of course, there's nothing wrong with some disagreement. There's no stipulation that all contributors to Telic Thoughts must follow some party line, and when we disagree with each other, we usually hash it out in the comments. But in this case, the disagreement was an illusion. As I showed in my response, Rosenau had managed to turn Mike's position 180 degree around, ignoring his clear statements about the concept of intelligent design having a long history, which was exactly the same as what I was saying.
Rosenau offers this puzzling defense:
First, as Krauze notes, his co-blogger Mike did not say anything about ID being invented in the '80s, but that's OK, because Krauze's post (to which I was responding) did. Krauze wrote that it was "ahistorical" to claim that "intelligent design was invented by a Christian lawyer in the 80s."
This shouldn't have to be necessary to point out, but here goes: I wasn't endorsing the belief that the concept of intelligent design was invented in the '80s, I was expressing my disagreement with it. To call something "ahistorical" isn't a term of endearment; it means that the belief in question ignores crucial historical facts or distinctions, sort of like how Rosenau ignores clear statements in the writings he responds to. Bottom line: Mike don't think the concept of intelligent design was invented in the '80s. Neither do I. The point of Rosenau's original post is hopelessly, irredeemably wrong.
I don't actually know anyone who thinks that ID was invented from whole cloth in the '80s. The claim, on its face, is a strawman.
Of course, the claim is never made explicit, but a neglect of the long history of teleology does run through much of anti-ID rhetoric, leading to the belief that intelligent design is a linear descendent of creationism. A belief that Rosenau also expounds in his post, as when he links to his own review of a talk by the "U. of Chicago's Divinity School Dean":
As he did his research in preparation for the talk, Professor Rosengarten immediately found that ID was indistinguishable from Christian theology, and was struck by the similarities between the arguments advanced by the creationist school board in the Maclean case and the creationist arguments advanced in Dover. The claim that Intelligent Design is not a form of Judeo-Christian theology was "disingenuous," according to this independent expert.
He's probably seen the Wedge Document, but that's not what convinced him, what convinced him were the arguments advanced.
He was prepared to credit the possibility that some IDolators might believe that the Designer isn't the Christian God, but he noted a DI response to the Dover decision in which they went from claiming ID isn't religion to complaining that Judge Jones doesn't know his Bible, and pointed out that similar juxtapositions are commonplace in ID papers and presentations.
As for the "similarity of arguments", I adressed that in my last post to Rosenau. Since intelligent design and creationism are both inspired by the same teleological stream of thought, it is hardly surprising that they borrow arguments from each other. Socrates used the construction of the eye to argue that it was the work of "wisdom and contrivance". So should we also label him a creationist? Or maybe we should label both creationists and ID supporters as "Socratesians" For those dedicated to squeezing a complex history of ideas into a tidy box labelled "creationism", such questions deserve answers.
In his earlier post, Rosenau claimed that the problem with intelligent design was that "the concept of design which goes back to Aristotle has been rejected by science, while the concept that emerged in the '80s is indistinguishable in its claims from the scientific creationism which preceded it, or the Biblical literalism which preceded that. Either option is bad for ID creationism," to which I replied that he was "overlooking a third option: Both Aristotle, creationism, and 'modern ID' are different expressions of an age-old teleological stream of thought." Responds Rosenau:
But I don't think I ignored that possibility. I think it falls well within my first option. Paley's version of the argument is functionally indistinguishable from what Dembski is doing. And Paley hasn't gotten any less wrong than he was.
My suggestion (that Aristotle, the creationists, and modern ID supporters all dip from an age-old teleological stream of thought) doesn't fall within Rosenau's first option (that the concept of design which goes back to Aristotle has been rejected by science). Aristotle's thoughts on finality involved such notions as rocks falling to the ground because that was were they were "supposed" to be, relative to the other elements, and they have been rightly rejected by science. But the very notion of design has never been discredited, only pressed to the sidelines by the abandonment of some of its more well-known incarnations.
Krauze's reply to this argument seems to be that teleology and ateleology are both old, so anything's possible (for those keeping score at home, teleology is the study of ends or purposes, from telos). It might be true that teleology and ateleology are both true. But Ancient Greek ateleology shares nothing scientifically with the origins of life research described by Robert Hazen. This isn't philosophy, it's science. And ID offers nothing to science that Paley wasn't peddling 200 years ago, and nothing that wasn't rejected in between. Miller (who Krauze cites) built his ideas on Oparin's chemical work, not on Greek philosophy.
Rosenau is confused. I didn't raise the argument that teleology and ateleology are both old in response to his claims about similarities between intelligent design and creationism – I'd already dealt with that earlier in my post. Instead, I was responding to this claim by Rosenau:
If [intelligent design] actually did emerge as a novel idea in the '80s, that would be much, much better for them. That's how scientific ideas tend to work. Someone thinks of something new, then tests the idea. If it works, more people jump in.
I countered this sugar-coated picture of scientific progress by pointing out that the notion of an ateleological origin of life had been around for thousands of years before anyone "jumped in" on it. You see, science is at heart an activity performed by humans, and like all other such acitivities, it is influenced by social factors. An idea that lies scientifically dormant for long periods of time isn't necessarily and inherently unreasonable. It might be that the tools, methods, or mental framework required to "cash out" its potential didn't exist at the time.
In recent years, we've seen our knowledge of the molecular basis of the cell explode, leading to the realization that life doesn't consist of a mysterious elan vital or of blobs of protoplasm, but is governed by an intricate machinery. Furthermore, we're taking baby steps towards engineering life on our own, giving us a glimpse into the considerations of a designer. Finally, our understanding of evolution is growing ever more sophisticated, letting us see how designers could have incorporated it in their designs. These are all developments unavailable to Aristotle, making the teleological alternatives of today and tomorrow quite different beasts than the alternatives of Aristotle or Paley.
We don't even need to look at timescales of thousands of years to see that the sugar-coated characterisation of science as "Someone thinks of something new, then tests the idea" doesn't hold up. In his recent reply, Rosenau claims that Stanley Miller's research on the origin of life was "built … on Oparin's chemical work". Let me just concur with researcher of early life, William Schopf, that Oparin didn't actually do any "chemical work" to support his conjecture:
"A second, even more telling hurdle was that Oparin's scenario was purely theoretical – a plausible chain of ideas devoid of experimental backing. Theory first, experiment second may be the gold standard in quantum physics, but in the life sciences, observation usually leads the way and theories are only as firm as the real-work facts on which they stand. Here, Oparin failed. To him his theory was sound enough to stand alone. But it never would have caught on were it not for the experimental support provided by Stanley Miller decades later."
J. William Schopf, Cradle of Life: The Discovery of Earth's Earliest Fossils (Princeton University Press, 1999), p. 123
Back to Rosenau's response:
Krauze waves away the discussion of common descent. The problem is, as we've shown before, the leading lights of the ID movement are not so calm. To say "Darwin's writings might be damning to those ID supporters who reject the common descent of all life from 'one or a few forms,'" implies that a non-trivial number of the field's professionals fall into some different category. This does not seem to be true.
Rosenau might have a point if I had indeed claimed that most ID supporters accept common descent. But I didn't. In fact, in the very next sentence, which Rosenau chose to ignore, I write: "But Darwin was concerned with the evolution of life, whereas my ID interests center on its origin."
Krauze seems to be using the term "Intelligent Design" to mean something substantially different than Phil Johnson, Billy Dembski, Michael Behe or the rest of the DI brain trust use the term. I sat through enough of the testimony here in Kansas to know something about how they use it, and unless the testimony at Dover, the extensive ID literature attacking evolutionary biology, and my experience a year ago are atypical, we have two very different things at work here. What precisely Krauze's version constitutes is ambiguous, so I really can't comment on that.
This is rich. Rosenau initiates a discussion by accusing "ID advocates" of being "confusing" and of advocating arguments that had been refuted in Darwin's time, using posts from this blog to make his points. Now that I've illustrated that any confusion arose from Rosenau's misreadings of those posts, and that the thoughts on intelligent design expressed on this blog have nothing to fear from Darwin, he suddenly discovers that I'm not a "real" ID advocate, citing some courtroom drama.
What matters isn't demographics (how many ID supporters accept or reject common descent), nor does the opinions of those Rosenau considers "the DI brain trust". What matters is teleology and the many ways it can be expressed. For Aristotle, it was expressed in terms of the finality of falling rocks. For Paley, it was expressed in terms of inferring the existence and characteristic of the Biblical God from nature. And for myself and the rest of the Telicians, teleology is expressed in terms of life being designed so as best to use and exploit evolution. Rosenau is free to focus on the political part of the iceberg, but on this blog, we'll continue basking in the refreshing, if less visible,
gulf stream of teleology.