The Scientist Shall Live By Faith - Part One

NPR put together a terrific half-hour debate show on Intelligent Design with Stephen C. Meyer, author of Darwin’s Doubt, and Michael Ruse, philosopher of science at Florida State University.

I would like to make a few observations over the course of the next few posts.

Stephen Meyer is an exceptionally articulate advocate of his view of Intelligent Design. He demonstrates very well the prima facie absurdity of insisting on purely “natural” explanations of “information rich systems” (e.g., DNA). His illustrative challenge is entirely ignored by his opponent, from the start of the dialogue to the end. Meyer points out that if you enter the British Museum and look at the Rosetta Stone, with its beautiful inscriptions of three different languages, it would be utterly ridiculous to exclaim, “Wow! Look at what wind and erosion have done!”

We know that information is the product of intelligence. We have no empirical experience to the contrary. Indeed, insisting that information is possible without intelligence goes against all human experience; hardly very “scientific,” is it? And yet the dominant scientific regime insists that information must have a naturalistic explanation. In fact, if you don’t insist on such a naturalistic explanation (e.g., wind, erosion, mutation, natural selection) then you’re not doing science. You’re doing religion.

And this brings me to Michael Ruse, who apparently had as his goal for the exchange to excommunicate Meyer from the polite society of “science” and to banish him to the weirdo world of “religion.” Along the way, he says a few things that completely betray this purpose. Specifically, this bit, which I will break down:

“I don’t think [Intelligent Design] is pseudo-science. I think it’s religion, quite frankly.”

A stark statement of his overall purpose: Intelligent Design is not science. In fact, it isn't even pseudo-science. It isn't good enough to even be a credible counterfeit, in other words. This is characteristically bombastic and cocky, the sort of thing we've become so accustomed to by the Neo-Darwinian crowd it has lost all shock value. But in the next breath he says something curious:

“Now the thing about science is there’s no a priori necessity for being natural and not introducing supernatural causes. Newton, as we well know, did.”

Let me translate that: There is nothing in the discipline of science that theoretically demands, as a presupposition, a commitment to naturalism. In the first breath, we had two absolutely antithetical things: the discourse of science “over here,” and the discourse of religion “over there.” Naturalism belonged to the one (science) and supernaturalism, the other (religion). Never the two shall meet. In the second breath Ruse asserts that one can legitimately do science without a commitment to naturalism. Newton did it. (And, one might add, so did Kepler, Bacon, Copernicus, Galileo, etc. – religious nutcases, all.) Now the “camps” are becoming pretty blurred, at least as a matter of starting principles. Remember, Ruse is talking about a priori necessity here. It is illegitimate, in his view, to assume at the outset that science must be strictly naturalistic.

Well, if that’s the case, why all the excommunication, bluster, and banishment? And how can Ruse then claim that, by simple virtue of invoking something supernatural, Stephen Meyer is guilty of doing “religion,” not science? At first he defined science very broadly, so as to include the likes of Newton. Now he defines science very narrowly, so as to exclude the likes of Meyer.

What changed?

Not science. It hasn't moved the goalposts here. Michael Ruse is moving the goalposts. And I’ll explain why and how in the next post.