Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Intelligent Design and Evolution: Preliminary Thoughts

I've been writing at several blogs (Thoughts in a Haystack, Eye of the Storm) on the debate between advocates of intelligent design and evolution, and I've been taking up far too much space on those blogs with my own ruminations. (I've also been following Uncommon Descent very closely, though I was banned from there due to inappropriate language.)

Thinking over the problem from a variety of perspectives, I've arrived at the following point of view:

1) Intelligent design is necessarily committed to the existence of at least one supernatural being.
2) Intelligent design is not necessarily committed the view that this being must be God.
3) Intelligent design does not succeed as an argument for the existence of God.
4) Intelligent design fails to pass muster as a scientific theory.
5) Intelligent design should be mentioned in science classrooms in high schools and colleges.

My argument for (1) is that intelligent design theorists themselves go so far as to define "intelligence" as "that which is irreducible to the combination of chance and necessity." In this approach, basically reading Plato against Monod, they define intelligence as non-natural. Although biological intelligent design (BID) leaves open the purely formal possibility of design by aliens, this only raises the further question as to where those aliens came from. Either they did evolve, in which one can well ask why that hypothesis is not available for terran life as well, or else they were also intelligently designed. By contrast, cosmological intelligent design (CID) explicitly requires that the fine-tuning argument licenses the inference that there must be at least one being which cannot be described by the laws of the physics of this universe, and that sounds close enough to "supernatural" for it to count. (But see my note (1) below.)

My views for (2) and (3) are basically indebted to the insights of Hume and Kant, though I think that Kant sees the problem in a more general and deeper way that Hume does. (Briefly: Hume only provides a criticism of the argument from design when cast in the form of an argument of analogy; Kant provides a criticism of the argument from design in any form.)

My argument for (4) hinges on the importance of testability. Consider these two hypotheses (thanks to John Pierot of Thoughts in a Haystack for the discussion, based on work I've read by Eliot Sober):

H1: There exists a supernatural being which is solely responsible for the natural order and which wants (or would have wanted) everything to be purple.

H2: There exists a supernatural being which is solely responsible for the natural order and which wants (or would have wanted) there to be exactly as many different, and different types, of purple things as there are.

Firstly, notice that both hypotheses are claims about supernatural beings, and both make claims about the relation between supernatural beings and observable phenomena. But there's a crucial difference. If H1 is true, then there is a set of observable phenomena -- "everything being purple" -- which can be shown to be false. So H1 is testable -- that is, it can be tested, and it can be shown to be false according to the test.

But compare that with H2. The observables entailed by H2 are indistinguishable from observations that can be made independent of H2. There are exactly as many different purple things, and as many different types of purple things, as there are -- regardless of the truth of H2. Since the truth or falsity of H2 makes no difference in what can be expected, it is not testable.

My contention, then, is that intelligent design is like H2 -- it claims that there exists some intelligent being which wanted to produce either the universe (CID) or life (BID) exactly as it is. This yields zero explanatory insight, or what is the same thing, it is not testable.

Having said all that, one might reasonably expect me to argue that intelligent design has no place in the science education of our public schools, colleges, and universities. Here I depart from what is basically an entrenched consensus, on the following grounds.

Firstly, "teaching the controversy" -- that is, bringing the full weight of evidence and reasoning to bear -- is an excellent opportunity to teach students how to think scientifically and not merely master a body of scientific knowledge. Unfortunately, science educators are not themselves taught in how to teach epistemology. The easy solution is to ignore the problem. The hard solution, and the better one, is to regard the "teach the controversy" movement as an excellent opportunity for the NCSE (National Center for Science Education) to create a program on how to teach science educators how to teach epistemology and philosophy of science for high school and college students. It's a public secret that we are not teaching students how to think scientifically, we're not teaching students how to appreciate and enjoy what science can and cannot do, and the "teach the controversy" strategy is an opportunity to change that.

Secondly, consider the argument raised by Crispin Sartwell in favor of teaching intelligent design in schools (here or here). In brief, he argues that while intelligent design (or, for that matter, creationism -- though he doesn't mention creationism by name) is anti-naturalistic, and for that matter, anti-scientific, that doesn't mean that it should be excluded from science education. And I agree.

Consider, Sartwell asks us, someone who is deeply religious, and who believes, as part of her faith, that neo-Darwinian explanations are incompatible with that faith. That person is going to be very upset if her child is subjected to nothing but the neo-Darwinian point of view in a school that is supported by her school taxes. But more interestingly, Sartwell points out that it's completely reasonable for her to be upset. It would be puzzling if she weren't upset, given what she believes! Now, does her voice deserve to be heard in the classroom?

I think that the answer is "yes" -- "yes," even though intelligent design is not a scientific theory. That's because science education has be about more than instilling in young minds all the latest scientific theories. It has to be about training people about how to be scientifically informed citizens in a pluralistic and (supposedly) democratic society. And for that reason, anti-naturalistic -- even anti-scientific -- voices should not be excluded. To exclude those voices from the classroom -- or, to put it more pointedly, to silence those voices within the classroom -- is tantamount to isolating science from its social and cultural and historical and political context. And doing that is a failure of science education.

Having said that, I would take issue with Sartwell in one serious respect. On his view, the naturalistic world-view, which is (for him and for me) the scientific world-view (but see note (2) below), is the stance of "reason" -- in contrast with that of "faith." For one thing, I'm not happy with any simplistic, Enlightenment-era contrast of "reason" and "faith." For another, I'm not happy with the identification of science and reason.

If we take "reason" here in a broadly Sellarsian sense -- in the famous phrase, taking part in "the game of giving and asking for reasons" -- then it seems clear to me that anyone who deliberately excludes him or herself from that game has positioned him or herself outside the range of views that are available for dialogue in the public sphere. So if one takes up an anti-scientific position, and in doing so puts oneself outside of the space of reasons altogether, then no, I don't think that position is entitled to a public voice. (I say that even though the division between public and private is itself highly contested.) And I take it as fairly obvious that someone such as P.Z. Myers (Pharyngula) holds precisely that view: that scientific methods and rational inquiries are simply co-extensive. (But see note (3) below)

Therefore, in order to maintain that anti-naturalistic/anti-scientific voices deserve to be heard, I conclude that one can position oneself outside of science without thereby positioning oneself outside of "reason" altogether, and that means that the identity between "science" and "reason" should be rejected.

I don't doubt that this view as outlined here would be of little comfort to either party of the intelligent design/evolution debate, but for the time being, I think it's the most plausible view to hold.


(1) However, one might consider the multiverse hypothesis. Suppose there are infinitely many possible universes. Each universe is defined by a set of values of different physical constants. Possibly, a fully developed physics could explain the nature of universes as such. Call this a general physics and the physical laws for each universe are defined by a particular physics. Then a supernatural agent, in keeping with the tradition of theological speculation, would be an agent that cannot be defined in terms of a general physics.

(2) Of course, the sharp contrast should be noticed between my view and that of the advocates of intelligent design. On their view, the identification between the domain of scientifically explicable phenomena and the domain of natural phenomena is precisely what ought to be rejected!

(3) I'm not entirely sure if Myers can afford to be as committed to materialism as a metaphysical position as he advertises himself as being, for the simple reason that it has proven to be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to adequately account for mathematics and for ethics in materialist, or physicalist, terms. Myers is best understood, I contend, as an Enlightenment rationalist whose basic commitments are to science, to liberalism, and to secularism. Whether this is ultimately a compelling view, or whether the work of Nietzsche, Adorno and Horkheimer, Foucault, Wittgenstein, and Rorty shows how deeply problematic this view is, is a matter I shall address in a subsequent posting.


bobxxxx said...

Intelligent design creationism could be taught in a class called "The History of Human Stupidity".

Teaching it in a biology class would be a waste of time. However a biology teacher could spend a minute saying intelligent design is nothing more than an idiotic childish belief in magic, and it's not science.

A problem with teaching the stupidity of intelligent design is our wall of separation between church and state. No public school teacher should be talking about religious beliefs like intelligent design magic, and it's a total waste of time for a biology teacher to talk about magic.

Kirby Olson said...

Carl, I agree with you that intelligent design should be taught. There are a few intelligent intelligent design theorists even inside of the academy. After all, science doesn't prove anything and only works from theories, and so it's important to look at the competing theories and to see what evidence is available for each of them. I forget the name of the scientist who teaches at Lehigh University -- perhaps his last name is Francis -- who argues that intelligent design makes more sense in certain instances. I'm not up on this particular controversy but I think that "teaching the controversy" also makes the classroom more interesting for everyone in it, gives it some drama, some sense of competition, and provokes students to think for themselves. The term originally belonged to Gerald Graff, I think -- who argues that it should be done in English classrooms. I find it works very well, and if nothing else prepares students to take part in ongoing debates.

Nice clear brilliant post.

Kirby Olson said...

Also, just for the record -- there is no wall between church and state. That idea appears in a letter by Jefferson and is not in the Constitution. What is in the Constitution is the first amendment in the Bill of Rights that allows everyone the ability to freely express their religious faith, no matter what it is. So, to silence the religious people on any topic is un-Constitutional, and kind of communist.

Olorin said...

Carl has hit upon a crucial point. Americans know very little about “science”—that is, about what science is, about how scientific theories are developed and tested, about what constitutes evidence, about how modern science developed. And it’s not only students and the general public who are deficient is this type of knowledge. As a patent attorney who has worked with them for 45 years, I can tell you that many scientists have very little conception of science in this sense.

So what we need is to make students aware of what science is as well as what science says. Especially since evaluating purportedly scientific claims is a necessary skill in modern life.[1] There are no school classes that teach science as such, as opposed to teaching particular branches of science. Certainly there are no K-12 or even undergraduate college texts which cover these aspects. K-12 science teachers are hardly equipped to teach what they do teach, let alone philosophical aspects that remain the arcana of a small number of graduate-level courses.

As long as the general public is unfamiliar with what science actually is, junk science, distrust of scientists, and pseudoscientific fads will continue. Unfortunately, the cure for this malady will require more effort and time than anyone has so far proposed to offer.[2]

[1] A few years ago, a study revealed that counties with low population had disproportionately low cancer rates. The media were agog. The few scientists who pointed out that the nature of statistics itself generates this effect were drowned out.

[2] Teaching such material in a biology class would not be the best plan, I think, for a number of reasons. My preference would be for an 8th or 9th grade class in general science that focuses on the history of modern science, picking up important results along the way, and describing how the scientists developed and validated their results. Including some false steps, such as phlogiston and “natural theology” (i.e., intelligent design) could place them in context.

Olorin said...

Kirby seems to have a peculiar view of the nature of science. Especially as to the role of theories.

The name of the Lehigh professor is Michael Behe. He was the star scientific witness for intelligent design at the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in 2005. After all the so-called evidence that he brought forth for ID was demolished during cross-examination, he was forced to admit that there is no positive scientific evidence for ID, and that ID is plausible only if you believe in God.[1]. Oh yes—and that astrology would fit comfortably within his proposed redefinition of science to include ID.

Kirby should also reread the Constitution. Congress shall make no laws "respecting an establishment of religion." Teaching a religious belief such as ID qua science violates this language. This clause was written for the benefit of religion, not in opposition to it. Teaching a religious tenet such as ID as fact “establishes” that belief, to the detriment of other religious beliefs.[2]

[1] Transcript, Trial day 11 (Oct 18, 2005), PM session.

[2] Lemon v. Kuttzman, 403US602 (US Supreme Court, 1971)

Carl Sachs said...

I don't think that teaching intelligent design theory in public schools would necessarily be a violation of the separation of church and state, because intelligent design theory does not, in fact, work as a sound argument for the existence of God, however construed.

However: Judge Jones ruled correctly in the Kitzmiller et al. case because he took into consideration not only the logic of the argument, but also the motivations of the school board members involved. Given that they expressly acknowledged (and then committed perjury by disavowing) the religious motivations for the inclusion of intelligent design, it seems right to me for Jones to have ruled against the school board's policy.

My sense of the matter is that the school board's policy was reasonably construed by Jones as a tacit endorsement of a particular religious belief, and so was unconstitutional.

And I maintain, along with most scientists and philosophers, that intelligent design is not (at least not in its current version) a viable scientific theory. This is not because it entails the existence of supernatural entities, but because its entailments cannot be empirically tested. Claims about the supernatural can be tested, but the claims central to design theory are not like that -- that was the point of my contrast between H1 and H2 below.

For these reasons, I am willing to put design theory in the category of a non-scientific criticisms of science, rather than in the category of an alternative scientific theory. Yet I do think that, even so, it should not be silenced within the public school classroom, and perhaps not even within the science classroom.

Kim said...

Intelligent Design Theory is not the same as creationism. On my blog, I point out the differences between the two. First of all, ID theory does not identify the designer, does not rely on religious texts, and does not rely on a literal interpretation of Genesis; therefore, it leaves room for an older Earth model. The ID theory is not a religious doctrine and uses science to support the theory, not religion. As it stands now, evolution is the only explanation for life allowed to be taught to students, which means our kids are receiving biased, one-sided (and inaccurate) information. The person who claims the ID theory is a belief in "childish magic" should pick up a book on the theory and read it - assuming he/she can understand it!

Kirby Olson said...

The fact that evolutionists believe that theirs is the only theory that can or should be taught is itself a kind of religious faith that asks to be established.

Creationism has not been established, and is certainly far from being the only truth taught.

It has a long pedigree -- going back at least to Genesis.

It's almost certainly wrong, but since it is almost certainly wrong, I see no harm in teaching it, since its likelihood can be seen to be quite small.

About as small as the idea that there could be a God, when there's no proof at all for it, anywhere you look.

Unless you happen to look in the Bible, or go to almost any of the churches that 90% of Americans like to frequent.

Mary Midgley has a nice book out on evolutionary faith, and the myths that it has engendered (Dawkins' sociobiology, among them). However, it's on a stack that I haven't yet read.

Kim said...

Perhaps it's just a matter of semantics, but there is certainly evidence that God exists. It's really very simple. The complexity of the universe does not support a theory that random chance created it.

The writers of the Bible claimed to speak for God ("inspired by God"). I see no reason to doubt them based on the credible evidence the Bible alone presents.

Kirby Olson said...

Lutherans don't require faith to be backed up by science, and Luther said that faith cannot be based on reason. However, I am all for anybody who thinks that God exists no matter what the reason (or lack thereof), since it seems to me it is a question ultimately of VALUES -- which are axiomatic, and cannot be founded on anything, they in themselves found a world that is worth living in, as reason alone cannot. (Reason requires unprovable axioms, like in geometry.)

Kim said...

I don't profess to be a Lutheren - just a Christian. Faith is required whether we believe in evolution or Creation. The Hebrews writer defines faith in this way: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). While my faith in God and the Bible does not rest on "science," we can see evidence of God IN science and in the world around us (see Romans 1:18-20).

Kirby Olson said...

Well, some of us can also FEEL it. There are other people for whom logic and sense endings is all there is, no feelings (Spockian), I think science is full of them. It's like blind people who would insist that the visible world doesn't exist.

Kim said...

Kirby, I'm not a big supporter of establishing beliefs based solely on "feelings." Determining whether or not the Bible is God's word requires logic and reasoning. Feelings are not a reliable guide. I think about the people described by Jesus in Matthew 7 who thought (or "felt") they were saved, but Jesus said He didn't know them. But feelings in and of themselves are not bad or wrong.

Olorin said...

Carl, I don’t think ID is verboten in all school contexts. However, a scientific theory requires at least a soupcon of scientific evidence, and there is none at all for ID.[1] None. Nada. Nichevo. Walang. Rien. Nichts. Masen. Niente. The Kitzmiller decision went beyond the motivation of the school board; this was the gist of the Discovery Institute’s cavil against Judge Jones. He heard evidence as to whether ID is a scientific or a religious theory, and found that it was religious; in his words, it “cannot escape its creationist roots.” Cannot.

The Kitzmiller decision goes to Kim’s comment also. The evidence in Kitzmiller showed plainly that creationism and intelligent design were defined in exactly the same way; only the name was changed. And it was changed at precisely the same time that the Supreme Court decided (Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578; 1978) that creationism could not be taught as science. If science supports ID, then where is the evidence for it? Evidence of gaps in—or even failures of—evolution is not evidence for ID.[2]

Kim says that “there is certainly evidence that God exists..... The complexity of the universe does not support a theory that random chance created it.” You must understand that your sense of awe is not “evidence” in the scientific sense. Evidence requires more than a feeling, more than ignorance, more than knowing in your heart that something must be a certain way. In fact, scientists say that one of their main jobs is to show where common sense is fallible.[3]

ID’s refusal to name the designer is another giveaway as to its religious nature.[4] The first thing that a real scientist investigating ID would do is to attempt to characterize the designer: what abilities and limitations does it have; what is the physical mechanism by which it acts; how can we predict its future actions? The essence of a scientific theory is regularity and predictability. What regularity is there in a designer that can arbitrarily decide to perform one act but not another? How can we control the actions of a supernatural designer?[5]

It’s all in the evidence, folks. No evidence, no science.

P.S: Carl, I appreciate the use of your forum. I should start my own blog, rather than mooching on the facilities of others.

[1] Criticisms of Darwinian evolution, of course, are not evidence _for_ design; this is a false dichotomy.

[2] William Dembski uses a so-called “explanatory filter” as evidence of design. Anything that cannot be shown to occur by chance or operation of natural law, he asserts, is designed. The problem with this is that you must show evidence of chance, and evidence of natural law—but the filter does not require evidence for design! It is the default, the theory that needs no evidence. Michael Behe’s irreducible complexity uses the same shell game. All he has to do is assert that something is IC. If evolutionary science can’t provide a detailed explanation at the present time, then Behe essentially claims that he needs not show any evidence at all—that design is then correct by default.

[3] To the end of his life, Einstein would not accept that individual quantum effects were uncaused. He proposed the EPR paradox to demonstrate that some hidden cause controlled radioactive decay. Ten years ago, Alain Aspect showed that such hidden causes contravened experimental evidence.

[4] The fact that not all ID proponents are religious does not vitiate this point. Take a peek at American Scientist 95:294-97 (July-August 2007). Most scientists who are atheists see no conflict between evolution and religion. Say what??

[5] The goal of science is not only to understand, but ultimately to control natural phenomena. Attempting to control a supernatural being has an ancient name: sorcery.

Carl Sachs said...

Olorin, you're welcome to contribute to the discussion here -- as long as I get something out of it! (By way of sharpening and refining my own views.)

I have some minor quibbles here and there over your most recent post, but nothing serious. What is serious is this question:

Given what you've said above, about the status of intelligent design as a scientific theory (i.e. that it has none), should we conclude that it therefore should be denied a voice within a science classroom?

Answering that question requires examining what education is, what science education is, why we have science education (or any education for that matter) at all, and what purposes are and ought to be served by it.

That's really the conversation I want to have. Everything I've said thus far about the epistemology and metaphysics of intelligent design and evolution is just a lot of stage-setting.

Olorin said...

What is science education? I see two major purposes. First, science is increasingly the engine that drives modern civilization. Half the advanced SETM degrees awarded in the US today are to foreigners—who increasingly are returning to their homelands. The US needs more home-grown scientists to maintain our standing. So science education must provide incentives to kids, and the knowledge that they will need to pursue a career if they choose it. Second, all citizens need to navigate through the thicket of modern science in order to make intelligent choices in any number of areas. Teaching them junk science, or controversies where none exist, will only confuse them.

“Given what you've said above, about the status of intelligent design as a scientific theory (i.e. that it has none), should we conclude that it therefore should be denied a voice within a science classroom?” Well, look at it this way. Do you want me to teach French in your chemistry class? What purpose would that serve? If a theory has no scientific evidence nor any hope of scientific evidence, then teaching it in a science class is not teaching science.[1] Then, too, as I argued before, ID is inherently a religious theory, whether or not it employs explicitly religious terminology.[2] So, besides being a waste of time, teaching ID as science runs afoul of the Constitution by imparting the cachet of science to a particular religious tenet.[3]

[1] I’m conflating two ideas here. First, there is no evidence for ID. Second, it is not testable, and thus ipso facto cannot be a scientific theory. The resolution is that ID itself is your hypothesis H2–everything the designer wants to be purple is purple; therefore design is not testtable. But even a non-scientific theory can make subsidiary claims, such as “The universe was created in six days.” Such claims are subject to testing by evidence, even though the primary theory is non-scientific.

[2] The refusal to name a designer, or to characterize him/her/it in any way is a disguise, as noted in my previous comment.

[3] There are several examples of religion or ideology trumping science, to the detriment of the people involved. Baghdad was the scientific capital of the world, until the imams decided in the 10thC that it might be inconsistent with the Qur’an. Today Baghdad is a big nothing. The Nazis drove out relativity and quantum mechanics as “Jewish science.” Its practitioners moved to England and the US where they developed the atomic bomb ahead of Germany. Good for us, but bad for them. In the 1920s, the USSR was the breadbasket of Europe, even after collectivization. The came Lysenko, with agricultural theories that comported with communism and the class struggle. By the 1070s, recurrent famines were a major factor in tumbling the USSR. Brezhnev had come to his senses and purged Lysenko, but ti was too late. Today, several drug companies have already moved not just manufacturing but research facilities to China. Singapore and Korea go headhunting for big-name American stem-cell researchers. Should we worry? I think so.

John Pieret said...

Given what you've said above, about the status of intelligent design as a scientific theory (i.e. that it has none), should we conclude that it therefore should be denied a voice within a science classroom?

Answering that question requires examining what education is, what science education is, why we have science education (or any education for that matter) at all, and what purposes are and ought to be served by it.

Let's see if I can give some considerations off the top of my head:

1) Priorites: Science education in America is already poor by any standard for a developed nation. Teaching of evolutionary theory is particularly poor, with many educators giving it a few scant hours only. Diverting any of that time to ID can be seen as a diservice to the student.

2) Student capabilities: a romp through epistemology is probably beyond most K-12 students, certainly until at least high school but high school is too late to begin education in biology and biology without evolution is poor education.

3) There is a great deal of difference in allowing (non-dispuptive) questions by students about ID/creationism (some of which properly should be answered "ask your preacher/parents") and allowing teachers' own religious views to be taught as if they are science.

If nothing else, ID/creationism is historically related to biology and some discussion of it is warranted. The devil's in the details.

Kirby Olson said...

Olorin argues that if the Nazis had been more open-minded about science then they would have gotten the bomb first, and that this is a bad thing.

But they were against Einstein and others because they were Jewish, as Olorin himself says (note 3, above). They were also against Christianity (but this was going to be the next phase of obliteration, as the Rise and Fall and other books point out). Ultimately they wanted to completely destroy the Judeo-Christian moral framework in order to create a moral framework based on Nietzsche's Uber-Mensch (as they interpreted it) with Aryan-ism, whatever that is (a holdover from 19th century ethology in which they tried to classify people into "races").

My problem with science being taught without any kind of understanding of humane values, or the uses to which it can be put (making A-bombs, H-bombs in order to obliterate other "races"), is that if we junk the Judeo-Christian ethos as improperly scientific, and as a roadblock to science, then we may suddenly have a worse problem on our hands.

Values cannot be proven, but we still have to think about them. Science cannot do this. Reason cannot FOUND values.

So where do you turn for an understanding of values?

A value-free science is terrifying -- it's like Frankenstein's monster.

I don't expect scientific people to understand that their realm is necessary but not sufficient in and of itself.

Oy vey, the differends.

Olorin said...

John, I disagree with the spirit of your statement that “a romp through epistemology is probably beyond most K-12 students.”

As noted in a previous comment, I think a general science course could be crafted even for elementary or middle-school students that would introduce them to the nature, concepts, and practice of science through a broad historical coverage of modern science, using well-known theories—and some instructive false steps as well—as examples. If presented by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable teacher, such an introductory course could not only be a stepping-stone to later, more content-oriented classes, but could also serve as an incentive to enroll in further science classes.

(The problem, of course, is to find capable teachers at the elementary and middle-school level, and to train them in material that they have probably had no previous exposure to.)

Olorin said...

Kirby conflates two entirely different concepts: “My problem with science being taught without any kind of understanding of humane values ... is that if we junk the Judeo-Christian ethos as improperly scientific, and as a roadblock to science, then we may suddenly have a worse problem on our hands.”

The first concept is whether science should disregard human values. I agree that values should be taught, perhaps even in science classes, along with the scientific material. Science---what we know---always interacts with ethics---what we should do with what we know.

The second concept is whether religious teachings can themselves be scientific theories. Here I wholeheartedly disagree. Why does it matter whether Judeo-Christian values are “scientific” or not? There re many things that are not scientific that are still important.

[[PS: Speaking of Nazis, you may be interested in “The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil,” Philip Zimbardo (Random House, 2007). The author conducted the “Stanford prison experiment” in 1971, where he found that ordinary students given authority as guards in a mock prison began to act maliciously, despite their ordinary personalities. It’s a chilling story, with many contemporary examples, including Abu Ghraib and the genocides of Rwanda.]]

Kirby Olson said...

I agree that religion cannot be scientific. Luther argued that religion had to stay out of areas where science had its authority (he argued the same thing for art, and for things like cart repair, and agriculture --).

But can science step into the realm of ethics, or into religion?

We have to be careful when we think that any one discipline can be all things to all people.

I'm a little familiar with the Stanford Prison experiment, but haven't read this book. But check the date, and the place, and think again about the word "ordinary."

These students were in CALIFORNIA in 1971, and not just in California , but in the Bay Area.

They were not likely to be deeply felt Lutherans, or Jews, who felt that God was watching them.

At any rate, I don't know the particulars, but that's where I'd have my first question marks: what does "ordinary" mean in that setting? "Ordinary" in California in 1971 -- pretty close to the Manson period.

Would students in a small Lutheran college in Minnesota (even at the same time) act as they did in California?

It sounds to me more like an indictment of California than it does an indictment of "ordinary" Americans.

Just saying.

People ARE different from place to place and from time to time. What constitutes that difference?

"Ordinary" in northwest Pakistan, might not be "ordinary" in northwest Finland.

Just saying.

People aren't different biologically: but cultures are very different, and norms vary e-norm-ously...

Manson quite a different kettle of fish than Helen Keller...

This experiment uses the term "ordinary" as if it's a one-size fits-all description of HUMANITY itself.

Would Mother Theresa have tortured her fellow students? Would Lady Di? Would Eleanor Roosevelt?

"Ordinary" is a rather mischievous term.

Olorin said...

Kirby, "The Lucifer Effect" came about because of the Stanford experiment, but the examples in the book cover a very wide range of different times and different cultures. Particularly relevant are the stories of American soldiers from Abu Ghraib and the My Lai massacre, and the Catholic priests involved in sexual abuses. The people involved were later mystified as to how they themselves could have done such things.

The author maintains that the personalities involved were normal. His point is that, in certain circumstances, anyone can do some very evil things.

Kim said...

Considering that the ID theory is rooted in science and uses science to support the theory AND that ID theory refutes evolutionary science, it seems appropriate ID to be taught in science classes. To present only ONE theory of the origin of life is nothing short of brainwashing and propagandist. Teach both and let the students decide. It's an exercise in the art of reasoning, which students need desperately.

Olorin said...

Kim, why do you continue to believe that ID is “rooted in science.” Name one piece of evidence, one experiment or calculation that supports it. Star ID scientist Michael Behe was unable to do this when questioned in the Kitzmiller trial.

Why do you continue to think that ID “refutes evolutionary science? Does it have anything to do with 1,570 peer-reviewed papers on evolution last year alone, while ID has published absolutely no research at all in more than ten years?

This is exactly the “manufactured controversy” noted in the next thread. Intelligent design is not a theory. Even its founder, Philip Johnson, admits as much: “I also don’t think that there is really a theory of intelligent design at the present time to propose as a comparable alternative to the Darwinian theory....” (Berkeley Science Review, Spring 2006, p. 31 (at 33)). Hear chief ID theoretician William Dembski: “The conceptual soundness of the [ID] theory can in the end only be located in Christ.” (“Intelligent Design,” 1999, p210). ID proponent Geoge Gilder: “Intelligent design itself does not have any content." (Boston Globe, July 27, 2005)

Kirby Olson said...

Olorin, just interesting that it IS called the LUCIFER effect.

I still say that Helen Keller or Mother Theresa or Albert Schweitzer would be more immune to it than most.

Olorin said...

Kirby, the name "Lucifer Effect" was chosen deliberately: Lucifer, the Light Bearer, was God's favorite angel, until, like the experiment subjects, he fell.

Neither I nor the author think that everyone will turn in this manner. The Nazi era certainly provided a number of exceptions. He's talking about ordinary people, like me ... and you, perhaps.

John Pieret said...


Introducing K-12 students to the nature, concepts, and practice of science through a broad historical coverage of it is an admirable program that we both agree suffers from practical problems that may be insurmountable. But that wasn't what I meant by an epistemological romp. You're talking, as as far as I can tell, about teaching children how science is done and why, a more limited epistemology. I was talking about the philosophical underpinnings of knowledge itself and the more fundamental (no pun intended) objections to the whole ednterprise of science that is the real basis of ID.

Olorin said...

John, when I took an elementary course in the philosophy of science, my brain shorted out I don’t think we need all of that in order to refute the bases of intelligent design.

Here’s one concept that even kids can grasp. The purpose of science is to understand the physical world, and ultimately to control natural phenomena. Two things are needful for this end: regularity and predictability. To the extent that a supernatural entity can, for its own ineffable reasons, act arbitrarily, this negates both regularity and predictability. Therefore, the acts of such a being are and must remain outside science.

I don't think we need as many complicated arguments as you do.

Kirby Olson said...

Science CAN operate outside of morality (Nazi vivisection on Jews, Nazi experiments to see at what point a living body will freeze to death, etc.).

But if we want science to be morally responsible, then morality must enter the picture as a framework, but it can't itself be substantiated BY science.

Science,in and of itself, does not have any moral values.

Moral values, however, ought to still be able to comment upon, and to some extent, restrain science.

Almost all scientists have to deal with some boundaries along those lines. Scientists must deal with animal rights folks (who sometimes themselves break the law), and human rights folks (who have been known to shoot abortion doctors), and so on.

But if we don't leave the law intact (we must agree that the law is the present agreement that our society has come to on any given moral situation, and if we want change, we must work WITHIN the law), and if we don't, we only have chaos.

The scientific attempt to disassemble Christianity because it cannot be scientifically accredited, leaves us in a morally chaotic situation in which moral imbeciles like Dr. Mengele may be the one who decides whether or not a given experiment is ok to perform.

If you don't have ethics coming out of the Judeo-Christian sphere, then you sacrifice 99% of the moral philosophy of the west.

There are alternatives: Wiccan thought (do whatever you want, so long as it pleases you, and doesn't overtly harm anyone else), or Buddhist thought (everything suffers, including rocks), or secular human "thought," perhaps coming out of Rawls, but I don't see why any of these un-scientific value formations should take precedence over Christian value-formations.

Olorin said...

Kirby, guns don't kill people; people kill people. Science can't operate outside outside of morality---it's merely knowledge. But scientists can operate immorally.[1]

[1] For a novel based upon this theme, read Mark Alpert's "Final Theory" (June 2008). The plot involves A theory that Einstein hid because he believed that its knowledge alone might destroy the world.

Kirby Olson said...

I'm on vacation now and can't bounce the ping pong ball back, as I'm busy doing it next to a pool.

Best wishes, Kirby

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