Favorite Humorists

Using Google alerts, the philosopher Bradley Monton drifts on my radar screen with increasing regularity.


He’s a philosophically-minded proponent of the validity of the motive behind the “research” program of Intelligent Design. Also, his work is unintentionally really amusing. Too, I would count myself as a proponent of my (and the,) motivation to find humor, especially unintentional humor, in odd places. For consistent howler potential, ID is second to none.

His paper, Is Intelligent Design Science? Dissecting the Dover Decision (pdf), is worth a close reading for amusement’s sake.


My position is that scientists should be free to pursue hypotheses as they see fit, without being constrained by a particular philosophical account of what science is.

There are lot of hypotheses a scientist or someone else could pursue. What constraints a researcher enforces and suffers under are necessary to an eventual credible claim of verification or falsification. But, what this has to do with a philosophical account of any kind is not a question Monton pursues in his paper. Presumably, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, but, we’re still waiting for a cogent entry in the philosophy of ‘supranatural’ science able to issue constraints on ID researchers.

Don’t hold your breath. Still, it would be neat to learn of a philosophical account which unpacks ID’s primary posit: ‘biological systems were designed because their a lot like designed stuff.’

Monton’s paper approaches his four points of contest sideways in each of the four instances.

His kick off is remarkable:

I do, however, have specialized training which will help me to answer the question of whether ID counts as science.

So does ID count as science? I maintain that it is a mistake to put too much weight on that question.


If our goal is to believe truth and avoid falsehood, and if we are rational people who take into account evidence in deciding what to believe, then we need to focus on the question of what evidence there is for and against ID. The issue of whether ID counts as “science” according to some contentious answer to the demarcation question is unimportant.

So it is that his specialized training is inadequate to the task of peeling the onions of a demarcation problem. Whatever the answers are to the demarcation problem, one would have to demonstrate their unimportance, and this is irrespective of their being contentious. I do know you wouldn’t take your car to a mechanic who appealed to their own authority and then next told you, “But, I’ve had it with engines!”

Yet, Monton then goes into, sort of, his hollowed out version of the demarcation problem. It’s more funny then reasonable.


I will now argue that it is counterproductive to restrict scientific activity in such a way that hypotheses that invoke the supernatural are ruled out. Specifically, I will argue that it is possible to get scientific evidence for the existence of God. The scenario I am about to describe is implausible, but there is nothing logically inconsistent about it. The point of the scenario is that in the described situation, it would be reasonable for scientists to postulate and test the hypothesis that there is supernatural causation occurring.

I have a better suggestion, why not entertain a plausible scenario? Give it your best shot. In any case, his scenario is riotously funny.

If one works through the rest of his oeuvre, his basic position on ID is clarified: ID hasn’t been proven impossible. In a sense, his paper’s argument is unintentionally ironic: ‘my arguments here may be specious, but this doesn’t mean that better arguments are impossible!’

Amazingly, google alerts turned up more intellectual anti-matter. Via Denyse O’Leary’s Post-Darwinist blog, I came to listen to two interviews with another philosopher, Angus Menuge. He’s given the podcast treatment by The Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin: (1) Agents Under Fire: Part One With Angus Menuge; (2) Rebutting Methodological Materialism.

Menuge. . .much more amusing than Monton, and Monton is very amusing. On one hand, Menuge and Luskin indulge in canard-a-rama. Incredibly, the tornado whirling through the junkyard is revisited in a different guise. On the other hand, Menuge folds in a vague and very extreme picture of a hyper-positivist materialistic naturalism, adds in a fuzzy reference to an irrelevant fault line in the field of theory of mind, dribbles in a riff on downward causation, and then battles the super dooper straw man so conjoined of those disparate and completely unjustified parts. Or, to be more accurate, Menuge doesn’t articulate any justification or reasons why this category mash-up is germane to his vague argument. Maybe it was enough that the argument impressed fawning Luskin.

However, having brought up downward causation, he could at least have speculated about what the import of an over-arching designer is in the context of a particular, well-defined and operationalized system, for which the conceptions of both upward and downward causation are justified and thus may be deployed.

More Menuge.. Is Menuge a young earth creationist?

As always, my consul with respect to proponents of ID is brute simple: please, start theorizing the operations of the designer’s agency, so your movement (or research program,) can quickly depart the long discredited agenda of trying to overturn naturalistic biology, and, trying to subvert the demonstrable efficacy* of natural science.

IDers, you really do not require philosophers and their philosophical accounts. If you do, best to find some brilliant, less funny, ones.

*It would be world-shaking at such point that any ID biologist verifies a single, ‘starter,’ hypothesis.

William Dembski in 2005:

For ID to win the day, however, will require talented new researchers able to move this research program forward, showing how intelligent design provides better insights into biological systems than the dying Darwinian paradigm.

Close, but not close enough. Better: showing how intelligent design provides better understanding of the development of biological systems. Tis most of the ball game–riding on the better replacing the merely good.

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