from Thursday, July 24, 2003 9:00-10:00 PM Eastern
© by International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design
Our guest speaker today is philosopher of science, Del
Ratzsch is a professor at Calvin College specializing in logic and
the philosophy of science. He is also a fellow of the International
Society for Complexity, Information and Design. Dr. Ratzsch received
his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Massachusetts in 1975.
In addition to his interests in logic and the philosophy of science,
Dr. Ratzsch has lectured and taught courses on a wide array of topics
including Sherlock Holmes, science-religion, origins debates, intelligent
design, and "popular" philosophy.
Dr. Ratzsch has written many articles on a large variety of issues
which have been featured in journals such as International Studies
in the Philosophy of Science, Monist, and Faith and Philosophy.
You are now free to send in questions for Dr. Ratzsch. The focus of
tonight's discussion will be on his book "Nature, Design and
Dr. Ratzsch, I was wondering if you could summarize your criticisms
of William Dembski's work (from the Appendix of your book).
Maybe I should begin with a brief bit of background and context. I
became interested in design ideas some years ago, and intriguing
as I found them (and as generally sympathetic as I was to them),
I was troubled by what seemed to me to be an unfortunate absence
of philosophical analysis of both the concepts involved and the underpinnings
of design inclinations.
The key questions, it seemed to me, included e.g.: what is the content
of the concedpt of deisng? how do the concept and its connections
work when the designer is supernatural. And beyond that were traditionally
unsettled questions of scientific legitimacy, e.g. what are the boundaries
of scientific legitimacy? and could design cocnepts and theories
operate within such boundaries?
Nature, Design and Science was a result of trying to work through some
of the concepts, issues and arguments. The conclusion reached (or
the conclusions wildly leapt to) was that at least in principle,
design theories did not inevitably vilate any defensible scientific
norms, and could not be just dismissed on any of the usual grounds.
And that is a position I still hold.
that position is, however, not equivalent to the view that current
design proposals have demonstrated scientific fruitfulness, that
opponents of design theories are of necessity confused, irrational,
blinded by naturalistic upbringings, or anything of the sort.
Dr. Ratzsch, in your discussion of gaps on (47), how would you say
that Debmski's explanatory filter does at providing a solid framework
for inferring design when it seems that nature or finite agents cannot
explain some particular phenomena?
First, I have no difficulty with gaps at all - I'm not nearly as frightened
of them as some people seem to think that we all should be. I think
that Bill's filter has a lot going for it (and some pretty significant
people in the past have held filter-like views).
What I have reservations about, however, is the fact that designs produced
by the deliberate setting of natural processes to produce them seem
to escape the filter, and that means that all filter-relevant design
theories become gap theories.
Dr. Ratzsch, do you see any relationship between the philosophy of
ID and the problem of universals (e.g., if something is designed,
doesn't that imply that it instantiates some universal idea)?
It certainly, it seems to me, instantiates an idea, and for design
theories to do much the idea would need to be recognized as such
(even were its content not recognized). I'm not sure that that by
itself would commit one to a specific endorsement of universals,
or something of that sort. Could you elaborate?
Dr. Ratzsch, do you think that agent causation is a satisfactory stopping
point when it comes to causal explanations in science?
In other words, should mental causes be first-class citizens of our
In some respects, perhaps yes, although it would also open up a whole
raft of further questions - e.g., recognizing the need to appeal
to agent causation in the case of the first discovered Martian artifact
would instantly suggest further questions, but it would certainly
represent a satisfactory category to pursue. Incidentally, Micah,
I haven't forgotten that I still owe you an answer for an earlier
question - we got sidetracked.
I enjoyed your book very much, though it was challenging reading for
me, not being trained in philosophy generally, nor the philosophy
of science in particular. My question is When I read the appendix
on The Design Inference, even though your criticisms of the work
seem valid, why did the tone of the appendix seem so negative? For
example, do you not believe that a precise definition and identification
of specified complexity as being the essence of intelligent agency
to be a revolutionary idea, even if it is hard to exactly measure "side
information?" Also, the importance of a universal probability
bound seems to me very important and helpful.
Micah - re: your last. In principle, yes. John. I think a lot of Bill's
work, and certainly do not mean to denigrate it. But I suspect that
to the extent that specified complexity captures the right domain
(and it is certainly in the right area) that it does so because it
is assuming some of the very materials in question. (and some of
that material was what I was trying to sort out).
And it seems to me that the problem isn't so much one of being able
to "exactly measure" side information, as that recognition
of what does and does not constitute relevant side information requires
recognition - in effect - of design relevance. And that, it seems
to me, is exactly what needs to be done on some design-independent
basis. Perhaps, Micah, this gets in the direction of your earlier
Elaboration: I guess I was driving at the issue of metaphysical realism
vs nominalism. Is ID neutral in that regard -- that is, is it purely
an empirical science -- or does it commit one to realism over nominalism?
That sounds like a question that could use some further thought, and
I'm not sure how I want to answer it. I tend to have sort of a gut
sympathy for realism (in this sense), but on the other hand, it was
in part a nominalism arising out of theological considerations that
got science off the ground initially. At the moment, at least, I'm
not sure that ID would force one either way, although my _guess_
is that realists would outnumber nominalists among ID-friendly philosophers.
If anyone has other suspicions on that, I'd be interested in hearing
Dr. Ratzsch, if design theories do not violate any defensible scientific
norms, does that mean that the "inference to the best explanation" is
also included as a valid deduction?
I think that it is a legimate inferential move, although it is not
in the technical sense either deduction or valid. I think that it
is a rationally defensible move, although given the fact that we
virtually never have all the relevant possible alternatives in front
of us, it does not definitively establish much by way of truth.
On the other hand, once one accepts IBE as legitimate, that creates
a lot of possible space for design proposals. And of course various
ID-friendly philosophers (Jay richards, for instance) seem to take
IBE as the best we've got.
Dr. Ratzsch, it seems to me that what you are advocating is basically
an appeal to value as to what one considers "designed".
How can that be made scientific?
I would object to the "basically" in your statement. I think
that value is one design-relevant consideration amopng others. As to
making it scientific, values of various sorts run pretty deep within
science as it is. Indeed "epistemic value" is a standard
philosophy of science category at this point.
Dr Ratzsch, Given the hostility to the design movement, how can you
say that opponents of design are not blinded by their naturalistic
I think that one can be honestly convinced that design offers no significant
scientific promise and that it represents significant scientific
risk. In fact, I believe that there are Christians who believe that,
and who originally came to the debate not particularly predisposed
And if one looks historically, some of the most devout Christians there
have been in the sciences - Boyle, for instance - thought that it
was a serious mistake to mix "final causes" with "efficient
On page 48 you state: "some of course, would push the normative
claim that occurrence of such a phenomenon ought to be taken as indicating
that science was simply wrong abut nature...." - could you elaborate
on what you were getting at with this sentence (if you can remember
That, incidentally, is not to say that there are not some who _are_
so blinded. But I don't think that one can make the case that all
I take it that everyone just ran to the refrigerator?
Del, did you get the last question?
Well, I'll send a second out in case you missed the last one.
Ratzsch, what experimentally verifiable predictions does ID theory
make and what experimental methodology would you advocate to test
Hang on a minute - let me look up p. 48.
What I was referring to there were the doctrinaire naturalists (and
others) who basically take it as a matter of principle that no case
for the existence of a genuine gap in nature could be scientirfically
Next, see Sergei's question above.
Sergei - That is certainly a key question and one which, it seems to
me, the future fortunes of ID theory may hang upon. However, the
question itself is not so simple as it may appear.
I just returned from an international scientific conference. A prominent
investigator suggested that a philosopher of science be included
among the speakers at the next meeting. His suggestion was not well
received by the group. Why do philosophers of science often "get
no respect" from the "hard science" community?
Still rte: Sergei As I argued in NDS, what it is or is not legitimate
to demand of some comnponent of science depends upon exactly where
in the scientific conceptual hierarchy it operates. And the same
may apply to design.
I suspect that the answer is in part that in past decades - when the
views of many comtemporary scientists were set - philosophers of
science didn't have much of a handle on how real science worked.
It is also, I suspect, in part that many working scientists have the
opinion that they themselves do not have any philosophy of science
- a view which, it seems to me, is seriously mistaken. And maybe
we just dress wierd.
in regard to sergei's question... Is ID past the hypothesis stage?
you keep referring to it as a theory.
I don't take hypotheses and theories to be two points on a continuum.
something is a theory in virtue of the role it plays within science.
Just a general question. Do you personally believe that ID has anything
to offer science? In other words, do you think science was doing
just fine without it? Also, do you believe that the scienitific world
is now too far in the materialistic direction, and needs ID to push
it back some?
I think that some are certainly too far in the materialist direction,
and they claim that science backs them up on that. ID can at least
serve a 'keeping em' honest' function, even if nothing else. I think
that ID may very well have things to offer science, but I think that
it is too early for I
ID to claim that it has done so. I don't think that it is just obvious
that ID will contribute substantively to science, but I think it
has that potential, and that it should be pushed as far as it can
be made to legitimately go.
Do you think that Dembski and Behe focus too much on machine analogy
and machine/code complexity as opposed to the other forms of counterflow
and design (e.g. artwork)?
Not really. The machine analogy has been both crucial to and fruitful
within science, and it is a legitimate line to push hard. It is not,
I think, the only possible line, but they shouldn't be required to
As a philosopher of science, do you think that ID is well developed
enough (now or in the future) to challenge the reigning methodological
Good - because it's a tough one. I think that methodological naturalism
as anything more than simply a strategy is hard to defend. ID has
raised some legitimate questions about it, but they have not yet
been perceived - even by many of those not hostile to ID - as powerful
enough to dislodge MN. In the future that may happen - but as someone
once said, prediction is difficult, especially when it involves the
ISCID would like to thank Del Ratzsch for joining us tonight.
Thanks for the enjoyable discussion.
And thank all of you.
© by International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design