"When everyone is against you, it means that you are absolutely wrong — or absolutely right."
- Albert Guinon
Critics of ID abound, which as I have pointed out in a previous post on The Design Paradigm, can be a very good thing for ID. How is an intelligent design researcher supposed to approach critiques leveled against ID? What kinds of critics are out there and how can one tell which are helpful and which are simply belligerent? This essay is intended to lay out a few helpful definitions and pointers for those seriously researching intelligent design.
A significant problem in tackling this issue is that, as Steve Fuller observed, "Every new theory is born refuted." New concepts in science do not always fit with all of the current theories, demarcations, and the interpretations of known data. Because of this, it is very easy to level substantial and weighty evidence-based criticism that would seem to refute the ID researcher’s premises, but what is actually happening is what I like to call "paradigm friction." Paradigm friction occurs when a new scientific idea goes against the grain of currently accepted ones.
Reconstructing constructive criticism
This paradigm friction causes heat and smoke in discussion of a new scientific idea, and serves to illustrate the fact that there are antithetical elements at work that may or may not be reconcilable. ID researchers must at least listen to their critics, even if it is obvious that the critic has no interest in meeting a point at face value. Often, antagonism can blind the critic to seeing any good in ID research. Yet, researchers of ID should always remember that any criticism has the potential of being helpful, no matter how bias the source. Foils often prove very useful in articulating ideas and clarifying points of disagreement. Regularly, the useful criticism is nearly lost amidst the useless information, and so an ID researcher must be willing to put in the time to hear the criticism and reconstruct what maybe helpful from the critique.
I propose that ID researchers apply a type of "helpful tractability test" to critiques of intelligent design, especially critiques of their own research. If you learn of a critique, I encourage you to read it as many times as it takes for you to understand your critic’s point of view. As you are reading a critique, look for helpful or usable statements. As you are reading critical review, ask yourself:
- Is this usable criticism that can make my research clearer or more specific?
- Have I made a mistake?
- Is there a flaw in my method?
- Has my critic misunderstood my research?
- If there is misunderstanding, how can I bring understanding?
Only after thoroughly searching out usefulness should ulterior motives be given any attention. Often the critic cannot be open to ID premises based on philosophical a priori commitments, careerism, or is exploiting paradigm friction. Because of any lack of openness, many critics cannot even entertain the idea to analyze it squarely. Critics are often so taken by the task of completely refuting ID, they entirely miss the possible gain for science that ID offers. Despite these shortcomings, the critic can still point out aspects of research that could use improvement. Always mine for the gold, no matter how much fodder and slag is in the way.
If it is unclear whether the critique is helpful, ask another researcher you trust. Also, ask the critic what they mean if their statements or questions are ambiguous. If it is obviously not helpful, forget about it for now and put it on the shelf. Come back to it later and perhaps some new knowledge will come to light that will bring relevance to the critique.
Only pay attention to nit picking if it helps make your research become more polished and lucid. An ID researcher needs to learn when a critic is using semantics, as opposed to when a critic is using sound thought. Nit picking often conflates the two.
Types of critics
ID researchers must be open to hearing out their critics. Choose carefully when to listen and who to listen to. If a critic knows ID, they can be of great benefit to trimming the fat out of an ID investigation. Remember, the title ‘critic’ does not always mean the person is against ID.
Although it seems paradoxical, the helpfulness of a critic’s comments cannot be measured by how much education the critic has received. It is possible that more education can translate into a type of self-investment into the current paradigm that makes them impotent to consider research approaches besides the ones their professors engrained into them as students. There is nothing wrong with this type of researcher, in general. They apply consistent methods to their research, which is a good characteristic in my opinion. However, they are of little use as a critic of the ID researcher.
One general litmus test of what kind of critic you are dealing with is whether (and to what degree) they know the different sub-hypotheses of ID like Irreducible Complexity, Artifactuality, Counterflow, or Specified Complexity. I advise ID researchers to not waste time on scientific critics of ID who are antithetical and have no interest in learning what ID is about.
The knowledge most critics have of ID is based on information that is available in common media publications or anti-ID websites. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of being a researcher of design. These critics are almost no help to us, but often provide for a very funny and entertaining sideshow, depending on how bold and verbose they are in expounding their ignorance.
Categorical list of critics
Here are some categories of critics an ID researcher may come in contact with. Any ID researcher who has roamed the ID/evolution blogs, sites, and news stories can probably match these descriptions with the name of a critic. I’ll leave that to your own recognizance.Unhelpful critics
These are critics that probably cannot help you in your investigation of design.
- Polemical critics - Critics who know nothing about ID, but basically “troll” the subject in order to generate controversy.
- Political critics - Pundits who have lots to say about ID’s political association with the Republican party, the "Religious Right," or Creationism.
- Cop-out critics - Critics who tow the anti-ID party line, even though they see the heuristic value of ID.
- Dogmatic critics - Critics who are absolutely and unswervingly convinced that ID must be completely wrong because “science just can’t do that.”
The amount of good mental up-time most people have in their lifetime is limited, perhaps 45-60 years. My recommendation is that if a critic is antithetical and contrary, do not waste a second of your good years in conversation with them. Unless there are some other motivating factors, avoid contact with these unhelpful critics.Almost helpful critics
- Epicyclisitic critics - Critics who are absolutely and unswervingly convinced that ID must be completely wrong because the preponderance of the evidence shows us that the blind regularity of nature can account for the appearance and diversity of life.
- Tentative critics – While tentatively convinced that no scientific value can be derived from a design-theoretic framework, they are also convinced that if any possible good came from ID, it could also be derived from current methodology more parsimoniously.
- Clueless critics - Critics who obviously have a profound depth of understanding in general, but somehow are profoundly mistaken in their criticism of ID. They "just don’t get the point" about design detection or an ID-heuristic.
- Inarticulate critics - Critics that have good insights into where ID needs improving, but can’t quite articulate their ideas in a way that is professional or understandable.
- Rash critics - Critics who are so intemperate that they end up helping ID by embarrasing those who are anti-ID. They typically do this by zealously performing an inarticulate rant against ID, resulting in an entertaining self-abasement, thereby making ID critics look like crackpots. While helpful to the general public status of ID, these critics are probably not going to aid in honing ID research.
These are the critics you want to find and keep very close to you. If they say anything about your research area, listen up. Keep their words at least as close as bookmarks on your web-portal.
- Indifferent critics - Critics who see merit in ID, but could simply careless about it. These critics are helpful because they will sometimes make off-the-cuff remarks that can be valuable, but are generally not a consistent source of useful information. Nobel laureates who have opined on ID often make this category.
- Informed critics - Critics of ID who understand the issues surrounding the concept. These are often other ID researchers.
- Open critics - Open-minded, yet uninformed critics. I find discussion with these critics fascinating. In our discussions, they are tackling ID from perspectives that most other people aren’t thinking about.
- Applicable critics - Those who understand some of the interior aspects of ID, but are nonetheless closed to the idea in general because they see that ID mostly violates scientific constraints or limitations. These critics are definitely speaking to the relevant issues. Some ID critics here at the Design Paradigm and at Telic Thoughts are of this type. Hugh Ross may also be this type of ID critic, based on some of his recent statements.
- Internal critics - Critics of ID who are applying design-theoretic premises in their own research.
- Esse critics - Critics who understand the essence of ID. A critic of this type is very rare, and can be an extremely valuable sounding board or foil. While dogmatic, I think Michael Ruse is this type of critic.
Knowing which type of critic you are dealing with can help save time, and hopefully help save you a good bit of frustration. Deciding when to respond to a critic is a trickier question. When a critic has brought true insight to your research, I would encourage you to acknowledge that fact.
If a critique is proposed in a public discussion forum on the Internet, proceed with caution. Researchers should avoid getting bogged down in public discussion forums, in general. I avoid heavy involvement in public discussion forums like the plague. They generally do not bring any benefit to research, and drain valuable library and lab time. Frequently, there are users waiting to pounce on any response from the ID researcher, creating a rhetorical entanglement that only serves to embarrass and trap the ID visitor into a long and protracted point-by-point exchange that makes no progress on any discussion details. Email correspondence or closed discussion boards are probably a better option.
Before you communicate with a critic (whether online or in person) about design-theoretic research, my advice for the ID researcher is to somehow plum their 1) depth of knowledge concerning ID, 2) knowledge of the field that you desire to apply ID in, and 3) willingness to converse. If they match these qualities, you are golden; proceed with dialogue.
A footnote about Q&A’s
This is a bit off-topic, but I cannot let this point lie for a future essay. A major venue where ID and its critics vie in public view is a debate or panel discussion. Typically, the audience is invited to take part in the discussion near the end of the event. A major embarrassment during these Q&A times is when a supporter from either side gets up to the microphone and rambles without a perceivable statement or question. Stuttering and stammering are not helpful either. If you find yourself at an event and think one of your friends at the venue may be a problem, help them find a willing and helpful friend who can ask the question. It seems that some of these stutterers and ramblers are nothing short of geniuses, but they cannot talk in front of others. Perhaps encourage them to write down their question. Please, if someone you know that stutters or rambles wants to ask a question at a debate, advise them to bring someone along that can form coherent sentences and is able to get to the point with ease in the fewest possible words.