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Monday, September 10, 2007

Spectator Sport: ID on the Right

I sometimes find it hard to believe that the intelligent design debate continues, particularly on the right, as has happened recently at the American Spectator (ends here). I'd have thought buy now everybody would have gone back to the their corners. Then again John Derbyshire is not one to pass on mixing it up, or so it seems. Of course, Iike a moth drawn to flame, I'm the one who keeps jumping in. But that's neither here, nor there.

As I've mentioned before, there are two ID groups, the one for convenience I'll call the "scientists," trying to establish a body of scientific work to challenge the neo-Darwinist mechanism of random mutation and natural selection on the merits, and the other, the "movement," trying as its main object to counter its philosophical extension, materialism. True blue, literal creationists predominantly fall into this second category. There is an overlap to be sure. This is not to say that an anti-materialist cannot operate authentically as a scientist, for to do so would at best reveal sloppy thinking and at worst be intellectually dishonest, with all due respect to the finding in the Dover case. Nevertheless, there are two distinct characteristics of ID, and its opponents have effectively blurred the difference in the public square.

One thing that comes out in the series exchange between Tom Bethell and Derbyshire that I hadn't appreciated is the extent to which they are basically exploiting each other, although perhaps unintentionally, as buyers and sellers of the "Intelligent Design road show," to use Mr. Derbyshire's phrase. In some ways it is a strange alliance. And a bit of a public relations mess for both camps.

Another thing is one that I've touched on briefly, where Mr. Bethell uses the same example I have toward the end of the exchange, the case of SETI. In this case he notes that operating within scientific protocol, SETI is attempting to use structure to infer design. Earlier Mr. Bethell noted that Mr. Derbyshire was asked what would it take to falsify Darwinism, to which he replied, "I think miraculous creation would do it. The miraculous appearance of an entirely new species." Of course, we would need to begin almost immediately the parsing of "miraculous" and probably even "entirely new." The scientists investigating ID are not quite this whimsical. In effect, they are attempting to describe this characteristic of miraculousness as "complexity," or "orthagonal information," or whatever. I'd ask why some get so torqued over this modest pursuit, but I've already been there (with follow-ons).

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