Monday, February 20, 2006

Ruse v. Dembski

Michael Ruse, an anti-ID philosopher, and William Dembski, one of the leading intellectual lights of the ID movement, had a debate in Marietta, Georgia recently. Part of the exchange, as recounted in the Baptist Press News, went like this:

Ruse...returned to his argument that Intelligent Design presupposes the Christian God.

"Are you seriously suggesting that some grad student on Andromeda is running an experiment and we're it?" Ruse asked. "Of course you're not. You're invoking God, and that's just not acceptable in science, and not necessary."

"So the grad student on Andromeda is more acceptable than God?" Dembski quipped.

Ruse said his problem with ID theory is the unnamed designer and the refusal to answer the "God question."

"I don't think you can keep it just hanging and simply say, 'Oh well, I don't have to answer that question,'" Ruse said. "I think that's cheating."

"I've always said that naturalism, if you like, is ... an act of faith," Ruse said to an outburst of applause from the audience. "I would feel more comfortable saying it is a metaphysical commitment. I don't think metaphysical commitments are stupid."

Those who are not naturalists, Ruse claimed, have other "burning concerns" they deem more important than science. He suggested that Christians are motivated by fear of facing God after life, a concern that outweighs a commitment to science.

Ruse makes several important admissions in the above passages. He acknowledges that naturalism, and by extension, whatever is uniquely entailed by it, is an act of faith. In other words, the commitment to a mechanistic view of evolution is not a result of scientific discovery but of metaphysical preference. Why, then, is this meatphysical preference privileged in public school classrooms to the exclusion of competing views?

He also suggests that if one is committed to a Christian metaphysics then one will tend to subordinate one's science to that commitment, whereas a commitment to naturalism incites one to place science first in his life. What Ruse says here, however, is simply not true. If one is committed to naturalism (i.e. the view that nature is all there is) then one is just as likely to subordinate one's science to that metaphysical conviction as a Christian is to subordinate scientific evidence to his conviction. If the evidence one gathers in the field points to an entity beyond nature, the naturalist is faced with the choice of ignoring the evidence or rejecting naturalism. A person committed to naturalism, however, will find the latter course exceedingly difficult and will be much more inclined to reject the evidence.

In other words, the naturalist is no more likely to be governed by the results of his science than is the Christian. It's past time that naturalistic philosophers realize that their naturalism has all the fieldmarks of a religion and stop pretending that it is somehow more intellectually respectable than Christianity.

Early Retirement?

Looking forward to retirement? You better hurry before this fellow's idea catches on:

The age of retirement should be raised to 85 by 2050 because of trends in life expectancy, a US biologist has said. Shripad Tuljapurkar of Stanford University says anti-ageing advances could raise life expectancy by a year each year over the next two decades.

That will put a strain on economies around the world if current retirement ages are maintained, he warned.

Dr. Tuljapurkar is right, of course. There's no reason to maintain economic structures designed around the demographic facts of life in the 1930s in an era in which those facts no longer obtain. We have to admit, though, that 85 sounds a bit extreme. We were expecting the retirement age to be raised to 67 - 70, at least for the near term.

Hiding the Truth

Over at Evangelical Outpost Joe Carter takes the abortion establishment to task for withholding from women all the relevant potential consequences of having the procedure done. In any other area of medicine the failure to tell women what the long term effects of their having a procedure might be would be considered malpractice but not when it comes to abortion. Pro-choicers are presumably afraid that were the potential harm of abortion procedures widely disseminated not only would women be more reluctant to have them, but it would be far easier for opponents to pass legislation curtailing or banning the practice.

Carter writes:

When most people prepare to undergo elective surgery, they expect to be fully informed of the risks involved in the procedure. But what if a doctor refused to tell you that after you recovered you would be at an elevated risk of developing suicidal behavior, depression, substance abuse, anxiety, and other mental problems? What if you were told that the justification for withholding such information was that you had a "civil right" to have the surgery and that the evidence concerning risk of mental illness "didn't matter"?

Most people would be outraged if such information had been withheld from them. Yet there is one medical procedure in which the risks are paternalistically withheld from the patient. That procedure, of course, is abortion.

In one of the largest and most comprehensive longitudinal studies ever conducted on the subject, a research team led by Professor David M. Fergusson, director of the longitudinal Christchurch Health and Development Study, found that women who had abortions were significantly more likely to experience mental health problems.

"I remain pro-choice. I am not religious. I am an atheist and a rationalist," said Fergusson in an interview on Australian radio, "The findings did surprise me, but the results appear to be very robust because they persist across a series of disorders and a series of ages. . . . Abortion is a traumatic life event; that is, it involves loss, it involves grief, it involves difficulties. And the trauma may, in fact, predispose people to having mental illness."

Although he is still accepting of abortion, Fergusson believes women and doctors should not blindly accept the unsupported claim that abortion is generally harmless or beneficial to women. In his report, Fergusson singled out the American Psychological Association (APA) for criticism over its handling of research on women's post-abortion psychological adjustment. "It borders on scandalous that one of the most common surgical procedures performed on young women is so poorly researched and evaluated," said Fergusson. "If this were Prozac or Vioxx, reports of associated harm would be taken much more seriously with more careful research and monitoring procedures."

It's awful hard to make a credible claim that the chief concern of pro-choicers is the welfare of women when the welfare of women seems to be largely irrelevant to what women are told prior to their abortion.