17 Mar 2014

The Unexpected Relevance of the Missing Airliner to the Evolution Debate

Evolution 33 Comments

As crystallized in my recent Facebook Status Update:

So a lot of the news commentary is talking about the fact that the course diversion of the Malaysian flight seems deliberate, rather than accidental. That means the investigators have called in priests, right? I mean, from the evolution debate, I heard that looking for signs of intentionality was, by its very nature, unscientific. *runs away*

In a shocking turn of events, the people who already were skeptical of the standard Darwinian view thought my post was hilarious, while the others thought it was stupid.

33 Responses to “The Unexpected Relevance of the Missing Airliner to the Evolution Debate”

  1. Matt M (Dude Where's My Freedom) says:

    Heh. Before reading your last sentence, I was getting ready to comment “This is either a very wise and clever insight into the nature of man, or it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

  2. Major_Freedom says:

    If the airplane were moving without evidence of a necessary consciousness, then it might make a little more sense to say that people who insist the plane was deliberately programmed to crash by a conscious entity, are doing something in the same ballpark as the intelligent designers.

    But it’s hard to think otherwise when you’ve convinced yourself that you are seeing consciousness behind *everything*. Pure thought (Christianity) easily leads to the notion that there is thinking behind everything.

    Atheists just insist that thought isn’t universal. That there are both phenomena caused by thought and phenomena caused by no thought. Or even no thought anywhere but purely mechanical cause and effect.

    • Gene Callahan says:

      “the notion that there is thinking behind everything.”

      I believe Berkeley demonstrated the truth of this quite effectively.

      • Major_Freedom says:

        You have a very loose and cavalier notion of what constitutes “truth” and “effectively.”

        Didn’t Berkeley habitually confuse subjectivity and relativity?

        Is it not the case that his arguments, while affirming subjectivity, did not, and could not, succeed in denying objectivity? In other words, it is not the case that arguments that solely concern subjectivity cannot possibly succeed in denying objectivity?

        His notion that if there are no human minds, or lower animal minds, perceiving objects, then there must be a God perceiving those objects, is I would say one of the most glaring examples of a “deus ex machina” in all of literature.

        • Gene Callahan says:

          No, Berkeley never denied objectivity at all: in fact, his goal was to affirm it.

          • Major_Freedom says:

            My understanding of Berkeley is completely opposite to that.

            Berkeley was perhaos the most famous subjective idealist. He denied the existence of the material world. He argued “to be is to percieved.” He said he had no idea what a material world even means.

            How are you getting the notion that not only did Berkeley accept objectivity (which I think is wrong), but in fact set out to prove it (which to me is crazy talk)?

            To Berkeley, subjectivity was all.

  3. Silas Barta says:

    While I obviously don’t agree with most of the stuff IDers put forth, I do have to agree that it’s disturbing when advocates for the other side start to overbroadly dismiss the very idea of looking for intentionality.

    There’s a difference between ‘this specific structure lacks evidence of design’ vs ‘searching for design is stupid’ and many advocates aren’t careful about it.

  4. joe says:

    skeptical of the standard Darwinian view? C’mon, you believe that God created and designed every hair on the human head. You said so on this blog.

    Let’s not pretend that rejecting science due to a religious belief is merely “skepticism.”

    This is not skepticism:

    “Christianity also teaches that everyone is a child of God, every aspect of which–down to the individual hairs–was deliberately designed as part of His perfect plan. “

    • Gene Callahan says:

      Nothing in what Bob wrote there is contrary to the biological theory of evolution. Of course, it contradicts some of the unwarranted metaphysical baggage that materialists have tried to strap on to the theory, but THAT is what is unscientific!

      • Ken B says:

        Wouldn’t that talk of god itself be unwarranted metaphysical baggage?

        • Gene Callahan says:

          Not at all, Ken: Aristotle demonstrated quite clearly how the continued existence of the world itself is incomprehensible without the “prime mover unmoved.”

          • Ken B says:

            Whether Aristotle is right about that or not, it isn’t the kind of god Christianity talks about.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              I notice that when a theist of a particular religious persuasion (persuasioh of which has its own particular duties and obligations of how to carry oneself on Earth), is challenged to justify that particular religion, they almost always defer back to very general, Plotinean or Aristotelean “the one” or “first cause” arguments.

              It’s like asking “What is the justification for stoning non-virgins to death if they get “caught” by their fathers?” And then getting the answer: “Most theologians are talking about a single God, and even Aristotle talked about a prime mover. There are good arguments that God exists.”


              Aristotle’s “prime mover” argument does not actually imply any God. It could just mean the boundary of our knowledge, or, as some philosophers have pointed out, the Ego fulfills the requirements of an uncaused mover.

              Roderick Long has shown quite convincingly that we actors cannot coherently regard ourselves as past causually determined (Newcomb’s paradox). I can consider my actions as uncaused. As pure activity. As the ultimate foundation for everything I do know and could ever know.

    • Gene Callahan says:

      But also: not every Christian believes what Bob believes about “every hair” being designed: there are a diversity of viewpoints on this.

    • andrew' says:

      Skepticism of people who don’t know sciece and their erroneous views on science and evolution and religion for that matter so they can demagog their way to election wins so they can legislate their misunderstandings of economics is not rejection of science.

      • andrew' says:

        There is a design for every hair, BTW.

        Your side is so trigger happy to disagree so you can angle for elections you can’t even be bothered to understand the science you think you are blindly championing while you are threatening it.

        To continually claim “the science is settled” only to hush debate for example is anti-inquiry and far more threatening to actual sciwnce than anything creationists could muster. They aren’t attacking the foundational philosophies of science. In fact I observe them on the side more often defending them.

  5. andrew' says:

    I thought it was going to be how people who love patting each other on the back for how smart they are don’t really know much of use.

  6. Harold says:

    “I heard that looking for signs of intentionality was, by its very nature, unscientific.” You heard wrong. Looking for it is not unscientific. Concluding it is there without evidence is unscientific.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Harold wrote:

      You heard wrong. Looking for it is not unscientific. Concluding it is there without evidence is unscientific.

      No, Harold, you are wrong. This is a standard talking point, offered by leading lights in the evolution debate. They say that not only is Behe wrong in his specific claims about the bacterial flagellum, but more generally, the very idea of looking for intelligent motives behind biological structures is unscientific on methodological grounds.

      If you think no serious person on the “pro-science” side has said that during this debate, you haven’t been following it very closely.

      • Keshav Srinivasan says:

        Bob, you’re right in a sense – one of the main arguments usef against creationism being a scientific theory is that creationists reject methodological naturalism, the doctrine commonly used in science that observable effects should always be ascribed to physical causes. (Creationists believe that a supernatural agency was involved in the development of life.). Here’s an example of such an argument:

        But that doesn’t mean your plane argument works. The reason that the theory that the plane was intentionally taken somewhere follows methodological naturalism is that the pilot is presumed to have a naturalistic origin himself. If you were to make a theory that life on Earth was brought here by aliens, but posited that the aliens themselves evolved in a naturalistic fashion, then that theory wouldn’t be rejected off the bat as violating methodological naturalism.

      • Andrew' says:


        Please don’t call them the “pro-science” side.

        Do you think I’ve been joking or something?

        • Andrew' says:

          If I were joking, I’d say “a horse walks into a bar..”

        • Bob Murphy says:

          That’s why I put it in quotation marks. They are clearly the side claiming they are being scientific, in contrast to their opponents.

          • Andrew' says:


            Inquiry Deniers might be fun to slander them with.

      • Harold says:

        Well, concluding and looking for are different things, so technically we could both be right. We must differentiate a creationist from an ID’er. Any testable hypothesis is scientific, so if the design hypothesis is potentially testable then it is scientific. However, it may be extremely poor science.

        Keshav has a good point. ID does not assume a supernatural designer, so aliens would fit the bill here. There is however an implication of God in the way it is presented.

    • Andrew' says:

      “Concluding it is there without evidence is unscientific.”

      Wait, I thought this was inference 😉

  7. Scott H. says:

    This is not a great example to make your point.

    We know there was pilot (designer?) in this case. The question is the state of the mind of the designer during the flight.

  8. Yancey Ward says:

    It certainly isn’t unscientific to look for evidence of intention in anything, and certainly there are a lot of people who wrongly criticize this effort on the part of IDers. Of course, I think a lot of IDers wrongly identify the evidence, but that is again a question of scientific inquiry.

  9. Ken B says:

    ” the people who already were skeptical of the standard Darwinian view thought my post was hilarious, while the others thought it was stupid”

    Is hilariously stupid an option?

  10. Benjamin Cole says:

    Well, then, who do I blame for my bald head? And the evolutionary advantage is?

  11. Tel says:

    We have a large pool of background information about what aircraft do, and how an autopilot functions.

    You can program an autopilot to follow some course, make turns, etc. but the thing won’t start inventing its own directions. People put a lot of work into software to ensure it avoids surprising behaviour. What I’m saying is we aren’t exactly starting from a blank slate, like we are with biological systems.

  12. John says:

    This is a discussion about whether evolutionary theory explains how life originally arose on the earth, right? In other words, at some point something became alive, and we’re arguing about how that happened? Some people think a supernatural agency caused that to happen; some don’t. We’re not arguing about whether evolution accounts for the development of the species that walk and have walked the earth after something became alive, right?

  13. Philippe says:

    “So a lot of the news commentary is talking about the fact that the course diversion of the Malaysian flight seems deliberate, rather than accidental.”

    Because there was a human flying the plane. Humans sometimes take deliberate actions.

    “That means the investigators have called in priests, right?”

    No, of course not. Humans deliberately doing something does not require the presence of any priests.

    “I mean, from the evolution debate, I heard that looking for signs of intentionality was, by its very nature, unscientific”

    Humans intentionally doing something has absolutely nothing to do with any supposed evolution “debate”.

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