Science - How not to argue
Peter Sellick argues that Intelligent Design (ID) damages good science and good theology over at online opinion. I believe his article is a great example of how not to argue your case.
The problem starts at the very first paragraph where he states that
The idea of intelligent design is that the universe, particularly the life contained therein, is too complex to have happened by chance as the theory of evolution would have it.Therefore its sole basis lies in a negative: the failure to imagine how natural selection could arrive at the complexity of life we see all around us.This is what is known in logic as a straw man. You could stop reading Peter's article right there and then as it really isn't dealing with intelligent design, which according to the Discovery Institute claims that "The scientific theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection....All it proposes is that science can identify whether certain features of the natural world are the products of intelligence."
Notice the difference. Peter is claiming ID is simply an argument from ignorance, which is not how the ID people themselves define it. But there is a deeper problem as well. Peter is essentially doing what he accuses ID of doing. He is using his own argument from ignorance. He believes that a chance/natural law explanation is the default explanation. He believes that as we cannot prove it had a designer, it must of not been designed.
Another way of explaining it is if you argue that you cannot detect whether something was designed, then you cannot positively show that it was or wasn't designed. The group of causation types that are possible when something is not designed is chance and natural law. So if you cannot tell whether something was designed, then you cannot tell whether it happened by chance.
This is the conundrum that ID seeks to solve. It puts forward several criteria to detect design (Note these are positive evidences) so that we can tell whether something is or is not designed. ID seeks to formalise the ideas inherent in other scientific fields such as forensic science, archaeology or SETI.
But back to Peter's article. We have already seen him commit the straw man fallacy, but it doesn't get much better as he continues
Nonetheless, modern biology continues to grow from strength to strength in fields as disparate as palaeobiology, neurophysiology, evolutionary psychology, molecular biology and genetics to name but a few.
It seems that biology is doing very well with only one underlying theory, Darwin’s theory of evolution. There is therefore no pressure from science to incorporate another theory, especially one for which there is no positive evidence.
This is a non sequitor. What that means is that it does not necessarily follow from the premise that it is using the underlying theory of Darwin's "theory" of evolution that modern biology continues to grow from strength to strength. As Philip Skell recently said in an article in the secular journal 'The scientist', "I recently asked more than 70 eminent researchers if they would have done their work differently if they had thought Darwin's theory was wrong. The responses were all the same: No." It seems that Darwin's "theory" is not the base that allows all this progress to happen.
Peter continues with more logical errors, saying
The push to teach intelligent design theory, the idea that there was a guiding hand involved in evolution, is an effort to insert God into the teaching of science and to correct nihilistic conclusions that flow from it.Yet another straw man. ID has not attempted to include God in any of their work. Their findings may be consistent with the idea of God, but this is beside the point. It makes it no more or less religious than any other scientific finding that is consistent with a religion (e.g. many theistic evolutionists feel that big bang is consistent with Christianity, but the fact that it is consistent with their religious beliefs DOES NOT make the big bang religious).
Peter continues again with his poorly argued article saying
Creationism is derived from a literal reading of the first two creation narratives and would have it that the universe was created in seven days a few thousands years ago - and that God placed dinosaur bones is the fossil record to amuse palaeobiologists. In the face of the discoveries of modern science this is just too silly for wordsOnce again, Peter uses a straw man. The most popular creation science theories do not claim that God placed dinosaur bones in the fossil record to amuse anyone. Is Peter's argument so weak that he cannot actually deal with what those he is arguing against are saying?
Notice Peter also fails to give any reason other that 'discoveries of modern science' that make the young earth creation idea 'too silly for word'. Poor Peter can't even give one example of why this is so, he just expects us to accept it. This is a classic case of poisoning the well. Rather than dealing with the argument, it simply attempts to cast the ideas in a negative light.
Peter continues with another straw man
Intelligent design is a more sophisticated version that attempts to escape from the absurdities of creationism. To do that it has had to jettison the biblical texts that creationism relies on and relies instead on an unadorned concept, the idea that God created the heavens and the earth. It is as if the biblical texts are an embarrassment and have been disregarded in order to make the theory more palatable to the modern mind.ID is not any type of version of young earth creation science. Peter continues to redefine ID in order to suit his argument. Consequently, all he can possibly succeed in doing is refuting his own, incorrect version of ID and in no way addresses ID proper. He obviously hopes his readers will not realise the difference and think he has actually said something useful.
Of course, Peter also talks about bad theology in his title. It becomes increasingly obvious however, that Peter's bad logic causes his own theology to be bad. For instance
First, it is entirely wrongheaded to identify the creation stories that we find at the beginning of the Bible as being about the creation of the material world. What God creates is not a thing, a cosmos, but the setting for the covenant between Him and his people. “God does not create a world that subsequently has a history but a history that is a world.”So the bible doesn't really mean what it says because science tells us something different (remember this, as I will come back to it). But it is worse than that. Apparently, according to Peter, this gets us off the hook as God does nto create a 'thing' but a 'setting'? I'm sorry Peter, but the mental gymnastics to accept that the 'setting' God has created for his covenant is not a 'thing' is beyond me.
Reading further, we see Peter is even more confused
When the prophet stands in the community and says, “Thus says the Lord,” the creative speech of God is present and active to create a new future for the people. When God raised Jesus from the dead he did not perform a medical miracle but vindicated the one in whom His Word dwelt in its fullness and thus created a new heaven and a new earth. The creative act of God is not confined to the beginning but is present throughout history creating the holy people Israel and the church and at the end fulfilling all things at the end of history. A theology that narrows the creative act of God to the first two chapters of the Bible mistakes what is actually created.So Peter thinks that Jesus rose from the dead, but this was not a miracle? How did God vindicate Jesus if not by raising him from the dead? How is raising Jesus from the dead not a medical miracle? It certainly is more than just a medical miracle, but this means it is at least a medical miracle, because if it was not, then God did not vindicate Jesus. Peter's logic is as wrong headed as his theology.
Note that once again, Peter also creates a Straw Man in arguing that God's creative acts were limited to the first 2 chapters of genesis. (I can only assume he is talking about ID or YEC here)
Peter also has a second reason why, if God designed the world as us we can't see any evidence of his handiwork, invoking Karl Barth
The second objection to the attempt to seek God in nature has been strongly formulated by Karl Barth. He makes the point that any attempt by humanity to find God will inevitably result in us looking in a mirror. Any god that is proven cannot be God because we make the terms for his discovery and we stipulate his properties. God becomes an object at our disposal and therefore cannot be God.Unfortunately, this objection rests on the premise that we are attempting to discover ALL of God. It is clearly fallacious because if you think of a man who meets God (or jesus), then Karl Barth's argument would apply equally to that situation. The logical conclusion of Karl Barth's position as stated by Peter is that you cannot know God at all.
I have to wonder at Peter using this argument as it is clearly not biblical. Romans 1:20 tells us "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." Continuing on to verse 22 we get "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Rom 1:22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools". Futile in their thinking seems to describe Peter's article quite well.
When peter tells us that nature can't tell us anything about God, and only scripture can, then he is uttering a self-refuting statement, as scripture tells us that nature can tell us something about God.
Peter in his concluding paragraph's shows just how poor his reasoning is when he says
I think we should leave science to the scientists. If we want our children to learn about God let them be taught from the Bible not from a pseudo theology that has conformed itself to the world of science. Let us tell them the stories of old, about Noah and the ark, about Moses and the burning bush, about slavery in Egypt and escape through the waters.According to Peter, YEC is silly. Yet we should teach children stories that only make sense within a YEC framework. Noah and the ark talks about a global flood. But of course to Peter, the actual history is irrelevant, so the bible simply becomes a book of stories much the same as any other 'holy' book.
Peter rails against easy theism, and a pseudo theology that has conformed itself to science. Perhaps he should recognize that he is really talking about his own theology. Remember how he felt that the first 2 chapters of the bible were not about history because modern science has shown that view to be silly? He is the one who has conformed his theology to science. What that really means is that he is placing the authority of nature (natural theology) above that of scripture. Talk about folly.
Peter has left rational discussion at the door. He has created straw men and arguments from ignorance and poisoned the well. He has shown himself guily of the very thing he rails against. This is not the way to argue your point.