Origins science is a major face of science in society, because (in one sense or another) it speaks to our roots: where we have come from, how, and what we therefore are. So, although we must also never forget what Dr Michael Behe of Lehigh University terms "the distinction between an implication of a theory and the theory itself," we cannot properly survey origins science without addressing this final aspect, and in so doing we must recognise its controversial character.
Now, we may well be tempted to avoid wading though "boring" ancient texts (often, assuming with Henry Ford, that "History is bunk"; actually, instead, Santayana is right: "[[t]hose who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"), but it is well worth the time to pause for a few minutes and see how the issues raised by and societal implications of evolutionary materialism were first critically assessed by a founding intellectual giant of our civilisation, over 2,300 years ago.
Right from the start, Plato's Athenian Stranger cuts to the heart of the issue:
Cle. You are right; but I should like to know how this happens.
Ath. I fear that the argument may seem singular.
Cle. Do not hesitate, Stranger; I see that you are afraid of such a discussion carrying you beyond the limits of legislation. But if there be no other way of showing our agreement in the belief that there are Gods, of whom the law is said now to approve, let us take this way, my good sir.
Ath. Then I suppose that I must repeat the singular argument of those who manufacture the soul according to their own impious notions; they affirm that which is the first cause of the generation and destruction of all things, to be not first, but last, and that which is last to be first, and hence they have fallen into error about the true nature of the Gods.
Cle. Still I do not understand you.
Ath. Nearly all of them, my friends, seem to be ignorant of the nature and power of the soul [[ = psuche], especially in what relates to her origin: they do not know that she is among the first of things, and before all bodies, and is the chief author of their changes and transpositions. And if this is true, and if the soul is older than the body, must not the things which are of the soul's kindred be of necessity prior to those which appertain to the body?
Ath. Then thought and attention and mind and art and law will be prior to that which is hard and soft and heavy and light; and the great and primitive works and actions will be works of art; they will be the first, and after them will come nature and works of nature, which however is a wrong term for men to apply to them; these will follow, and will be under the government of art and mind.
Cle. But why is the word "nature" wrong?
Ath. Because those who use the term mean to say that nature is the first creative power; but if the soul turn out to be the primeval element, and not fire or air, then in the truest sense and beyond other things the soul may be said to exist by nature; and this would be true if you proved that the soul is older than the body, but not otherwise.
[[ . . . .]
Ath. . . . when one thing changes another, and that another, of such will there be any primary changing element? How can a thing which is moved by another ever be the beginning of change? Impossible. But when the self-moved changes other, and that again other, and thus thousands upon tens of thousands of bodies are set in motion, must not the beginning of all this motion be the change of the self-moving principle? . . . . self-motion being the origin of all motions, and the first which arises among things at rest as well as among things in motion, is the eldest and mightiest principle of change, and that which is changed by another and yet moves other is second.
Ath. If we were to see this power existing in any earthy, watery, or fiery substance, simple or compound-how should we describe it?
Cle. You mean to ask whether we should call such a self-moving power life?
Ath. I do.
Cle. Certainly we should.
Ath. And when we see soul in anything, must we not do the same-must we not admit that this is life?
[[ . . . . ]
Cle. You mean to say that the essence which is defined as the self-moved is the same with that which has the name soul?
Ath. Yes; and if this is true, do we still maintain that there is anything wanting in the proof that the soul is the first origin and moving power of all that is, or has become, or will be, and their contraries, when she has been clearly shown to be the source of change and motion in all things?
Cle. Certainly not; the soul as being the source of motion, has been most satisfactorily shown to be the oldest of all things.
Ath. And is not that motion which is produced in another, by reason of another, but never has any self-moving power at all, being in truth the change of an inanimate body, to be reckoned second, or by any lower number which you may prefer?
[[ . . . . ]
Ath. If, my friend, we say that the whole path and movement of heaven, and of all that is therein, is by nature akin to the movement and revolution and calculation of mind, and proceeds by kindred laws, then, as is plain, we must say that the best soul takes care of the world and guides it along the good path. [[Plato here explicitly sets up an inference to design (by a good soul) from the intelligible order of the cosmos.]
And, not without some historical merit; starting with the case of Alcibiades.
The problem, then, is real, and serious; especially when in our day, "Science" has become the chief authority and gate-keeper on what we view as knowledge at the same time that its key institutions are increasingly dominated by evolutionary materialistic thought. So, while it is relatively easy to show that the claims of say a Lewontin -- e.g. the mistaken, ill-instructed philosophical assertion that materialism- dominated science is "the only begetter of truth" -- are often ill-founded and ill-informed, that may not be sufficient to redress an adverse balance of power.
It is also worthwhile to pause and note that for some, who take our intuitions of good, evil and moral obligation seriously as directly accessible knowledge, the mere fact that evolutionary materialism would deny the possibility of such intuitions being knowledge in any strong sense is enough to settle the matter.
However one may be inclined regarding such radical views of the matter, it is plain that Ms Elizabeth Anscombe and -- behind her -- Plato are right: unless there is a well-warranted grounding "is" that does properly entail the "ought," giving morality the force of transcendent law, the ought is always vulnerable to challenge in a world dominated by "is only, please." Especially if that "is" is driven by Lewontinian a priori materialism.
. . . They [[Loeb and Leopold] wanted to commit a perfect crime . . . . Do you mean to tell me that Dickie Loeb had any more to do with his making than any other product of heredity that is born upon the earth? . . . .
He grew up in this way. He became enamored of the philosophy of Nietzsche. Your Honor, I have read almost everything that Nietzsche ever wrote. He was a man of a wonderful intellect; the most original philosopher of the last century. Nietzsche believed that some time the superman would be born, that evolution was working toward the superman. He wrote one book, Beyond Good and Evil, which was a criticism of all moral codes as the world understands them; a treatise holding that the intelligent man is beyond good and evil, that the laws for good and the laws for evil do not apply to those who approach the superman. [[Shades of Plato's critique . . . ] He wrote on the will to power. Nathan Leopold is not the only boy who has read Nietzsche. He may be the only one who was influenced in the way that he was influenced . . .
The corroding influence of Darwinism has spread as the doctrine has been increasingly accepted. In the American preface to "The Glass of Fashion" these words are to be found: "Darwinism not only justifies the sensualist at the trough and Fashion at her glass; it justifies Prussianism at the cannon's mouth and Bol-shevism at the prison-door. If Darwinism be true, if Mind is to be driven out of the universe and accident accepted as a sufficient cause for all the majesty and glory of physical nature, then there is no crime or vio-lence, however abominable in its circumstances and however cruel in its execution, which cannot be justi-fied by success, and no triviality, no absurdity of Fash-ion which deserves a censure: more — there is no act of disinterested love and tenderness, no deed of self- sac-rifice and mercy, no aspiration after beauty and excel-lence, for which a single reason can be adduced in logic." [[pp. 52 - 54. Emphases and explanatory parentheses added.]
(2) We should also recognise that since origins sciences are about a remote, unobserved past, their explanations, models and theories are necessarily more limited in scope, tested reliability and degree of warrant than the results of operations sciences that can directly access empirical facts through current experiments and observations.
(3) Similarly, since origins studies are about the roots of our existence and nature, it is to be expected that these studies will have significant impacts on and associated controversies linked to major worldview alternatives.
(4) A major objective of origins science studies should therefore be not only to survey dominant schools of thought the relevant facts, concepts and explanatory models and theories, but -- in light of relevant scientific and philosophical critiques of those schools -- to explore the nature, strengths, limitations and significance of science for the individual and for the society, in as balanced and objective a way as possible.
(5) Given the history of contentions, polarisation, misinformation, distortion, misrepresentation and ideologisation of topics related to origins science, it would also be helpful to provide a balancing corrective on pivotal incidents in the scientific, policy level and general public debates.
(6) Similarly, painful through it is to do so, the history of major abuses linked to ideologised origins sciences -- which beyond reasonable doubt include some of the worst abuses of science in all history -- should be explored, and used to motivate reflection on key questions of scientific and general ethics, to help equip future citizens and policy-makers to make better decisions in light of that history. (And, such should not be done in a way that seeks to shift or dilute blame through diversionary finger-pointing; though it is appropriate to point out with examples that as a rule the worst abuses in history have been done in the name of good, and that typically many factors and individuals contribute to the worst evils of any given age.)
(7) Finally, it is clear that origins science issues form an inextricably intertwined whole. Accordingly, while such studies will inevitably focus on the particular relevant aspect -- whether astronomical, geo-chemical, biological, or psychological/cognitive etc. -- curricula should provide at least brief surveys of the whole framework, so that students and educators may place their particular focal studies in context.
Thus, the education paradigm case provides a microcosm of the challenges our civilisation faces as we address the controversies that surround origins science.
That starts from recognising that what is needed — on both sides of currently raging origins science debates — is to build a reasonably well warranted empirically based explanation for the origin of certain phenomena that in our direct observation are consistently associated with the action of intelligence. (For instance digitally coded, algorithmic, functionally specific complex information.)
ID holds that — on the principle that the best explanation of what happened in the deep past that we cannot directly observe is the causal factors seen in such reliable patterns in the present — the best explanation of the FSCI in the cell is directed contingency, i.e. design. (This applies the universality/uniformitarian concept suggested by Newton when he suggested that the same laws that governed our solar system govern remote stars. It was then extended to time by Lyell and Darwin, who sought to extend the explanatory reach of scientific theories from the present into the deep past beyond direct observations.)
This is clean, simple and easily tested against experiment. To falsify it is quite simple in principle: just produce a known, directly observed case where credibly undirected stochastic contingency and/or blind mechanical necessity have produced such FSCI and the ID claim breaks down beyond repair. (Mind you, on the same statistical grounds that warrant the statistical form of the second law of thermodynamics, that will be predictably hard; indeed, ID suggests that such exceptions will be empirically unobservable on the gamut of our known cosmos.)
Darwinian evolution, and wider evolutionary materialism are committed to the contrary proposition that undirected chance and necessity are fully and with reasonable likelihood, capable of producing such.
But, to date, its supporters have never been able to produce a case in our observation that stood up to a serious scrutiny. Indeed, instead, as we have seen from Lewontin in his well-known NYRB review article of 1997 (after making some fairly unfortunate remarks that appeal to the notion that those who disagree with the evolutionary materialist "consensus" are ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked -- yes, we know enough to understand the subtext when one gives the "typical" example of an ill-informed woman who dismissed the Moon landings since she cannot even get Dallas on her TV, much less the Moon):
It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door . . .
The dismissive appeal to the rhetorically loaded, fallacious contrast natural[[istic] vs. supernatural, is little more than an atmosphere-poisoning distraction from the alternative long since put on the table by Plato: natural vs. ART-ificial, where the latter may be recognised from empirically reliable signs of purposeful directed contingency, such as coded, algorithmically functionally specific, complex information.
So, on unfettered inference to best explanation, the answer is pretty obvious: digitally coded, flexibly programmed algorithmic information systems with associated organised co-ordinated, synchronised implementing machinery are best explained as artifacts.
Even, if such a digital information processing system just happens to sit in the heart of the living cell and uses molecular nanomachines.
But, that unfettered-ness is exactly what is not being allowed to speak. As Lewontin and others summarise, there is an a priori commitment to “natural explanations,” and there is an associated active attempt to redefine science as explaining only on such patterns of chance and mechanical necessity.
So, there is a worldviews-clash tinged ideological struggle in science.
History tells us that such struggles do not fade away quietly if much is at stake. What will probably happen is that sometime within the next 20 years or so, there will be one cover-up, one censorship, one expulsion too many, and bang the light will go off. Support for the currently reigning evolutionary materialist paradigm will collapse in the tax-paying public, and the paradigm will dry up, with die-hards fighting bitterly for turf and perks at the public trough, tooth and nail every inch of the way.
Therefore, the real challenge for design thinkers seems to be to hold up the mirror of soundness and truth to the reigning a priori materialism paradigm, while building a new one among those sufficiently open-minded to see its true degree of warrant. Evolutionary materialistic thinkers face a related problem: in absence of actual directly observed evidence that the design inference is fatally flawed, is it justifiable to manipulate rules, institutional power and public perceptions to protect a paradigm under challenge?
The trend is clear, and sooner rather than later, the public will wake up, wise up and rise up, saying enough is enough.
So, now, we need to think for ourselves, analyse, and act in good time for the good.