Steve Fuller’s Crusade

By | 2009/01/02

Sociologist and post-modernist Steve Fuller has joined the posting crew at Uncommon Descent, joining such luminaries as David Scott Springer and Denyse O’Leary. Fuller has a couple of posts up already, and is offering his analysis of what “intelligent design” argumentation ought to be. That is, a sociologist is proposing a prescriptive philosophical take on “intelligent design” on the weblog of “intelligent design”‘s leading philosopher.

Fuller is looking at the challenge posed by the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” (FSM) response to “intelligent design” creationism (IDC) [No, Fuller doesn't properly call IDC as IDC, but here it will be.] Bobby Henderson’s 2005 letter to the Kansas State Board of Education requesting that, so long as non-science was being inserted into classrooms, his own non-science of a “Flying Spaghetti Monster” creator should also go into the curriculum, has attracted nationwide attention. Most IDC advocates and cheerleaders are pleased to call FSM arguments “silly” and there leave it, a reasonable tactic given that they don’t actually have a substantive response to the core issue of why one brand of pseudoscience should be preferred over another. Will Fuller actually address that with anything but forks and hope?

Maybe my fears are ungrounded, but I have been always struck that when the media put out a boilerplate account of a key ID concept like ‘irreducible complexity’, they tend to interpret the ‘irreducibility’ as something like ‘unfathomability’. But in fact, the spirit of the concept is to show how things had to be put together in a certain way to serve a certain function, such that even minor changes would render the thing dysfunctional. This strikes me as the very opposite of ‘unfathomability’. If anything, it speaks to the hyper-rationalism, or at least hyper-mechanism, of ID thinking.

This isn’t looking good. Fuller claims something applies as a blanket or at least common description, yet I don’t recall ever seeing the particular sort of interpretation that Fuller asserts is common in media reports. Let me go look at recent uses… Dan Jones in New Scientist got it right. Dale Husband in Nolan Chart got it right. Ian Galloway didn’t actually go into detail about what IC meant in The Scotsman. Stephen Torrence in the Daily Toreador got it right. John Timmer in Ars Technica got it right. Georgina Ferry got it right in The Guardian. I see no sign yet that the media has any such “tendency” as Fuller asserts is the case. That last sentence of Fuller’s is, so far as it may be parsed, an assertion of facts not in evidence. Please browse the Uncommon Descent site. One need not do much browsing to come to a conclusion that sub-rational thinking is the norm in the defense of IDC there, not “hyper-rationality”. As for “hyper-mechanism”, one wonders whether this verbal hiccup of Fuller’s comes from his post-modern background. Basing arguments on false premises, as Fuller does above, is bad form, or at least it is for the non-post-modern crowd.

Fuller then gets on to criticizing text from, if I am not mistaken, Denyse O’Leary.

With the aid of improved technology, the formerly fuzzy “canals” of biology (Darwin’s blobs of gelatinous combinations of carbon) are not becoming fuzzier and more easily explained by non-ID theses — they are now known to be high-tech information processing systems, with superbly functionally integrated machinery, error-correction-and-repair systems, and much more that surpasses the most sophisticated efforts of the best human mathematicians, mechanical, electrical, chemical, and software engineers.

Well, what does this mean exactly? I hope it doesn’t mean that we have discovered a limit to human bioengineering capabilities. On the contrary, the fact that we can make increasingly more sense of the cell by conceptualising it in information processing, etc. terms shows that our own minds work very much like that of the original intelligent designer, and moreover that fact should provide a spur for us to inquire further – to do more science. In any case, I remain unclear about what ‘surpasses’ is supposed to convey here. After all, how would we have been able to discover the information-processing capacities of the cell, if its design ‘surpasses the most sophisticated…’? Nevertheless, I see a lot of this potentially science-stopping rhetoric in ID. I hope it is ‘mere’ rhetoric and not indicative of some deeper sensibilities that may end up giving Judge Jones the last laugh.

Yes, Dr. Fuller, one does see a lot of science-stopping rhetoric in IDC, and not just in the prose of religious commentators like O’Leary. Props to Fuller for at least getting a glimmer that this could be a problem.

The ‘science of God’ that I shall developing in the next few posts presupposes that we get closer to understanding the ‘intelligence’ behind ID, the more our own mental and physical creations turn out to model what actually happens in nature.

Let’s hope that Fuller does more homework in his future postings than was evident in his initial outing on the topic. I’ll suggest this essay as something he might find useful as background information.

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One thought on “Steve Fuller’s Crusade

  1. Dave S.

    I do hope that Dr. Fuller doesn’t forget that new theories like the FSM need to be especially protected and nurtured.

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