Monday, March 5, 2007

Analyze This

The American Psychological Association has adopted a resolution opposing the teaching of intelligent design as science.

After having adopted the position they released an unfortunate statement which offers rhetoricians everywhere a textbook case of muddled thinking:

"While we are respectful of religion and individuals' right to their own religious beliefs, we also recognize that science and religion are separate and distinct. For a theory to be taught as science it must be testable, supported by empirical evidence and subject to disconfirmation. Thus, intelligent design lacks a basis in science."

This statement suffers from a number of shortcomings. The truth of the second clause of the first sentence, for instance, is by no means obvious. It's easy to say that science and religion occupy different domains of human experience until you try to define the boundaries of those domains. Once you embark upon that project you find that there's much overlap and that the overlap is unavoidable. In other words, the difference between science and "religion" is not as clear-cut as the APA would have us believe. Indeed, for many materialists science is a religion.

Roy Clouser explains in his book The Myth of Religious Neutrality that what all religions share in common, maybe the only thing they share in common, is the belief that there exists something which does not depend upon anything else for its existence but upon which everything else depends. For theists this is God. For atheistic materialists it's matter. The point is that religious belief is inescapable. Everyone has it. The only questions are what specific religious beliefs are to be excluded from science and why those and not others?

There is, then, a sense in which ID is religious, since it holds that there is a designer upon which all else, at least in our cosmos, depends. But so, too, is Darwinism religious in that it holds that matter and energy are the ultimately necessary existants. So where is the line between science and religion to be drawn?

The second sentence of the APA statement has the unintended consequence of ruling neo-Darwinism out of science. The fundamental premise of NDE (Neo-Darwinian evolution)is that natural processes, chiefly natural selection and genetic mutation, are sufficient to account for all biological phenomena. But precisely how does one go about testing or disconfirming that claim? What empirical evidence would bear upon its truth or falsity?

If that claim is indeed scientific then its contrary, i.e. the claim that natural processes by themselves are not sufficient to account for all biological phenomena, is also scientific, and that's the fundamental premise of ID.

Here's another problem: Many scientists are of the view that there are other uiniverses besides our own. Articles on this exotic hypothesis can be found all through the scientific literature. So evidently at least some people in the field believe this to be a legitimate topic for scientific inquiry despite the fact that it is neither testable, supported by empirical evidence nor subject to disconfirmation. But if the idea that there are many worlds is legitimate science why is the possibility that an inhabitant of one of those worlds designed this world considered to lack a basis in science? Why is it considered "religious" to think that the designer of our cosmos may dwell in some other universe when the existence of those universes is not considered to be religious speculation?

Perhaps the APA needs to reanalyze their opinions on this issue and attempt to think a little more deeply about it than they evidently have.


Inconvenient Truth

Ramirez pokes a little fun at Hollywood's limousine liberals:

Living large while telling the rest of us to carpool. That's Hollywood ... and Al Gore.


Problems of Consciousness

One of the most fascinating problems philosophers wrestle with is the problem of consciousness. What exactly is consciousness? How is it produced? What is its relationship to the brain? Etc.

Usually we think of consciousness as a state of being aware, but how does awareness arise from inanimate matter? How can atoms and molecules make us aware of ourselves and of the world external to ourselves? How does this all happen? How, for example, does an electro-chemical reaction in the brain generate the sensation of red?

Peter at Conscious Entities has an interesting discussion of what he calls the Three and a Half Problems of Consciousness.

The problems he discusses are the problems of Qualia, Intentionality, Morality, and Relevance. The article is a good primer on what is one of the most cutting edge fields in contemporary philosophy and also one of the most vexing because the problems seem so intractable.

Qualia are the sensations that we experience as part of our conscious awareness of the world. The sensations of color, sound, emotions, etc. are the qualia of our experience.

Intentionality refers to the fact that thoughts are about things. How is it that a particular flow of atoms, chemicals, and electricity can be about something.

The problem of moral responsibility concerns, among other things, the question of how we can be responsible for our actions unless we somehow cause them, but if we are bound by the laws of physics then in what sense is it us who causes our actions rather than the laws of physics which constrain us?

Anyway, read what Peter has to say on these things and you'll be well on your way to a Ph.D. in the philosophy of mind.