Levitt Responds to Steve Fuller

Skeptic (Altadena, CA), Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Levitt Responds to Steve Fuller


Prof. Fuller's protest of my review obviously invites a rejoinder. I tag each of my responses with the last line or so of the passage containing Fullers specific objection, though the full passage should be consulted to see the central point:

"That the universe is intelligently designed need not imply that God micromanages it from moment to moment."

There is a point here, but it badly misfires when conscripted to Fullers intended argument. One might assert that some supernatural entity intervenes in the processes that produce the array of life forms that we see (including ourselves) or in the shaping of the course of the universe in general, but that this "divine intelligence" operates in ways which our lamentably limited mentalities cannot distinguish from mere randomness. Logically, this is possible. But it constitutes an extremely weak argument for the actual existence of a divinity--a last ditch attempt to rescue an hypothesis for which there is no real evidence. More to the point, however, is that this argument, or anything like it, is thoroughly repellent to Intelligent Design creationists. The chief ID dogma incorporates the insistence is that "design" is not only a biological reality, but that it can be indisputably discerned and identified, even to the point of absolutely invalidating a Darwinian alternative. This point, by the way, was insisted upon by no less an authority than Phillip Johnson in an e-mail exchange with me; he was clearly horrified by the idea of a Creator who did not ostentatiously sign his handiwork.

   Darwin's botched understanding of heredity should count against
   methodological naturalism (which Levitt misnames 'materialism').

Fuller here attempts to draw a parallel between two vastly incomparable situations. Newton's attempt to find some room in his cosmology for an activist, interventionist Deity was clearly a fudge, something which his own incomparable insight into the logical structure of "Newtonian mechanics" should have proscribed. Darwin, on the other hand, can hardly be said to have had a "botched" understanding of heredity simply because there was no body of knowledge on the subject, due to Darwin or anyone else, which he can be said to have misunderstood, willfully or otherwise. He made the best guesses he could, as did any contemporary concerned with the matter.

"I count these people as ID theorists just as much as Dembski and Behe."

This is so confused one hardly knows where to begin refuting it. First of all, Newton was in no sense an adherent of the deus abscondatus, a notion that had begun to creep into the philosophical literature through Spinoza and other bold materialists. That was precisely the dragon he was trying to slay in his desperate attempt to find room in his system for an activist, interventionist deity directing the courses of planets and comets in occasional defiance of Newton's own "laws."

Furthermore, Newton's anti-Trinitarianism was extremely well-disguised, and very far from being a matter of common knowledge in his day. It is only rather recent historical scholarship that has made it well-known. Thus it can hardly have been a significant influence on scientific thought or methodology in the century or so following his death. But, in fact, in the early 18th century the term "Newtonian" did have a well-known and precise theological meaning. Specifically, it was embraced by the most Establishmentarian of the Anglican Establishment as part of its rather complacent creed. Briefly, "Newtonianism" in this very unscientific context meant the view that, just as the Deity had established laws that governed the movement of celestial bodies so as to exhibit exquisite orderliness and intellectual perfection, He had also created a civil, political, and ecclesiastical earthly polity that was likewise perfect in its orderliness and rationality. …

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