Quote of the Month: Robin Collins on why design isn’t part of science

So things have been a little quiet here over the past six months. Life has an irritating way of screwing things up and preventing me doing things like this. And it doesn’t help that I’m one of the worst offenders when it comes to procrastination. My head has been occupied with adapting to a new job and various changes at home. Anyway, I’m intending on getting back into writing. This post is just a brief one to get the ball rolling. There’s more to come soon.

The other day I was reading a paper by Christian philosopher Robin Collins (the fine-tuning chap). In the paper Collins elaborates on his concept of ‘methodological theism‘ and has some interesting things to say about ID. In his own work Collins argues for design using physics and cosmology. He accepts design, but has various friendly criticisms of ID and its relationship to science. Here’s one of his problems:

…the major problem I see with ID’s claim that we should include the hypothesis of a transcendent or generic designer as part of science is that it is not what I have called scientifically tractable. Typically, when scientists propose an explanation of some set of phenomena, that explanation can be filled in using other branches of science. For example, consider the big bang theory. The postulated “fireball” that resulted in our current universe provides a detailed explanation of such things as the microwave background radiation and the abundance of elements because we can use current particle physics to elaborate this fireball’s internal dynamics. If its internal workings were forever beyond the realm of current science to investigate, it is doubtful such an hypothesis would be of much scientific interest. Ditto for the theory of evolution and other scientific theories.

Insofar as the hypothesis of ID invokes a transcendent or generic designer, it lacks this characteristic. One cannot use current science to elaborate the internal dynamics of a transcendent or generic designer (though one might for a specific sort of non-transcendent designer, such as an extraterrestrial intelligence). Yet, lacking this characteristic is no small matter, since it is what allows scientific hypotheses to provide detailed explanations and predictions, and it gives scientists something to work with. It is not sufficient for advocates of ID to reply that intelligent design is the best explanation of various features of the natural world: many theists argue that God is the best explanation of the big bang and the laws of nature and many platonists argue that the existence of an immaterial realm of mathematical truths is the best explanation of the success of mathematics in science, but clearly this is insufficient to make the God hypothesis or platonic hypothesis part of science. So, whether or not one wants to consider ID as part of science, this significant and relevant difference between it and regular scientific hypotheses should be acknowledged.

So, what do you make of Collins objection? Note that he isn’t claiming ID is false, but merely that it can’t be considered to be a part of science.

My initial thoughts are to say that it isn’t true that the data ID seeks to explain can’t be illuminated by categories that are already found in science. As ID theorists have pointed out many times, intelligence is already a part of various sciences. We invoke it to explain data in all sorts of areas. We can utilise our firm knowledge of how design processes operate, what marks are often left behind by intelligent forces, and make various predictions based on that. Collins recognises that ID doesn’t necessitate supernatural design and can just appeal to generic intelligence, and also admits that non-transcendent, extra-terrestrial design hypotheses don’t face this problem. But ID does in fact allow such hypotheses and so to my mind Collins objection falls.

What do you think?

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2 thoughts on “Quote of the Month: Robin Collins on why design isn’t part of science

  1. Collins states…..”One cannot use current science to elaborate the internal dynamics of a transcendent or generic designer”

    I think this is clearly wrong and represents a faulty assumption forcing the rest of his reasoning to be false as well. Each branch of science supports and provides evidence for theism in multifactorial ways. Abductive reasoning provides firm evidence-based support for a creator. The evidence is well documented and easy to find in endless books, journals, etc. This abundant evidence derives from every field, from molecular biology, & paleontology to astrophysics and quantum mechanics.

  2. Pingback: Can acknowledgment of design in nature be a part of science? | Uncommon Descent

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