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Nature, Design, and Science: The Status of Design in Natural Science

Delvin Lee Ratzsch

paperback; SUNY Series in Philosophy and Biology, 220 pages, 2001

Item# B050
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Del Ratzsch, Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College, has been thinking and writing about the origins debate for many years. In his latest work he weighs in with a work aimed at developing a definition of design, and particularly a more specific concept of supernatural design, which he hopes will lay the foundation for a meaningful dialog about the scientific legitimacy of intelligent design.

Despite its long history (centuries of prominence in philosophical 'arguments from design,' for instance), there have been virtually no attempts to formally analyze the concept of design. Assessment of specific cases for or against design in nature demand clarity on a number of foundational concepts and issues. Unfortunately, clarity is not prominently evident in current discussions of the issue, and as the discussion heats up positions seem to be becoming increasingly entrenched. The usual consequences of entrenchment preceding clarity are evident in most discussions in this area. The present work is an attempt to step back and survey in systematic fashion the conceptual landscape on which the growing dispute is being and will be fought.

Both critics and proponents of intelligent design will find the appendix of particular interest. Here Ratzsch takes a detailed look at William Dembski's use of specified complexity and the Explanatory Filter. While he finds Dembski's work valuable, he also points out why he thinks The Design Inference is limited in its application.

Section I (Chapters 1 and 2) is devoted to investigation of the concept of design as related to activities and productions of non-supernatural beings (finite design). Primary topics include the character of design, the nature of evidences for design, principles of design recognition, and the relationship between the concept of finite design and relevant scientific endeavors (e.g., anthropology, Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence [SETI]).

Section II. Supernatural design. Although supernatural design has some significant core similarities to finite design, it exhibits a number of extremely important differences as well. Those are related to the special character, capabilities, and alternatives open to supernatural beings. Those differences have substantive consequences both for the scope of design explanations and for principles and prospects of recognition of supernatural design. Such issues are explored in Chapters 3-6.

Section III. Boundaries of scientific legitimacy. Whether or not the concept of supernatural design falls outside the bounds of scientific legitimacy depends both upon features of that concept and upon exactly where the boundaries of scientific legitimacy lie. That latter issue is addressed in Chapters 7-9. A general picture of the conceptual structure of science is sketched, and a legitimacy criterion is developed within that context.

Section IV. The permissibility question - conceptual and pragmatic issues. The relevant pieces being in place, the overall issue comes down to whether or not relevant design concepts (Section II) are ever capable of meeting the legitimacy criterion (Section III). The answer, as it turns out, is that some types of supernatural design can, under some circumstances, meet the relevant conditions. The main thrust of Chapters 10-11 consists of arguments that the standard objections to design theories do not demonstrate what they are intended to, that a case for the in-principle permissibility of supernatural design considerations within even the 'hard' sciences can indeed be made, and that such considerations even offer some potential scientific payoffs.

A few quotes from the back of the book:

"I found it remarkable--as a skeptic of both design arguments and their relevance to science--that I have come away from this book less of a skeptic than I was. I like the fact that Ratzsch's modern philosophical exploration of the full potential range of design arguments provides a firm and convincing taxonomy of the logical possibilities. This exercise clears the waters of many naive treatments pro and con, and provides a basis for raising substantially the intellectual level of the inevitable debate."

- John Suppe, Princeton University

"It is a bold, innovative venture into a cutting-edge field of philosophy of science--design theory. It makes an original contribution to this nascent field."

- William Lane Craig, Biola University

Table of Contents
Section I. Design basics
1. Design preliminaries
2. Science and finite design

Section II. Supernatural design
3. Supernatural design: preliminary basics
4. Identifying supernatural design: primary marks
5. Identifying supernatural design: secondary marks
6. Design in nature

Section III. Boundaries of scientific legitimacy
7. Beyond the empirical
8. The Legitimacy criterion

Section IV. The permissibility question
9. Cases for impermissibility
10. Legitimacy
11. Are there any payoffs?
12. Conclusion

Appendix: Dembski's Design Inference

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