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Defending the Science of Intelligent Design at the Seattle Analytic Philosophy Club

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Last night, a couple Discovery Institute staff members and I attended the Seattle Analytic Philosophy Club at their invitation to discuss the question "Is Intelligent Design Science?" There were about 25 people there. Though the group was mostly hostile to ID, everyone was respectful and civil, and it was an enjoyable discussion. In addition to the folks from Discovery, there seemed to be several other ID-friendly people in the audience. Overall I think the conversation went very well, and that our side made a strong showing.

The moderator's opening presentation was excellent. He recounted how philosophers of science have largely rejected demarcation criteria, and criticized the McLean v. Arkansas and Kitzmiller v. Dover rulings. That set the conversation off on a good track.

Then I gave a short presentation on why ID is science, based upon the handout, "How Can We Know Intelligent Design is Science?," that I gave away. It covered how ID uses the scientific method, why ID doesn't fail the requirements of methodological naturalism, and how peer-review requirements don't disqualify ID. It also covers the idea of "methodological equivalence." We gave away printouts of Stephen Meyer's chapter from Nature of Nature, "Sauce for the Goose: Intelligent Design, Scientific Methodology, and the Demarcation Problem."

During the evening, lots of people wanted to know about the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, so we spent some time talking about why DI opposed Dover's policy, and why Judge Jones in his ruling shouldn't have tried to define science. We also discussed a lot of errors in the ruling, like misdefining ID and failing to recognize ID's peer-reviewed articles. Other topics that came up were: "Who designed the designer?," "What qualifications do ID proponents have?," "What is irreducible complexity?," "Does ID make predictions?," and "Can science study the supernatural?"

By the end of the night, the topic switched to attacking motives and scrutinizing the Wedge Document. I said it encouraged me that this was where the conversation was heading, because attacking motives is one of the last defenses people fall back on when they sense they've got nothing better, so it showed we'd made a good argument. But we certainly addressed this as well, noting that it's a genetic fallacy to attack motives, and that evolutionists have all kinds of atheistic motives as well. This was one benefit of dealing with philosophers: they don't put up for very long with obvious logical fallacies.

By the end of the night, one atheist in attendance said that he was going to have to stop using the argument that "ID isn't science." He said he now saw that it was a bad argument. This was very encouraging. I suspect he'd fall back to a Philip Kitcher-type position, that ID is science but it's bad science. (And what is Kitcher's reason for claiming ID is bad science, of course? The defunct argument that our cells are full of junk DNA!)

Other folks wanted to talk about science questions like the fossil record or the irreducible complexity of the flagellum. Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to even engage on these topics because the moderator wanted to keep the conversation focused on philosophy rather than science. While we would have been happy to delve into the details on those topics, we weren't allowed to.

There were a number of people I recognized from other events for "skeptics" that we've attended in the area over the past few years. So maybe we'll get to address those some other time.

Image: From Alki Point, Seattle; by and by/Flickr.