Posted by: Dan | November 19, 2007

The Design Matrix, or the Persistence of Theological Thinking

MikeGene of Telic Thoughts has a book out – The Design Matrix: A Consilience of Clues. I haven’t read it, nor do I think that it will be all that interesting from a scientific standpoint, so I probably won’t read it. For instance, the “design matrix” is itself described as:

The Design Matrix is a method for assessing a design inference and can help when using the hypothesis of design to guide research. This method is both tentative and open-ended, and can be used by both supporters and critics of intelligent design.

He goes on to describe a version of intelligent design called “front-loading,” which could also be called “pre-programmed” or “theistic” evolution, or even classical deism, in some senses. These ideas certainly appear to be the natural progression from classical theology, in which these thinkers are trying to reconcile their delusional beliefs in a god with the scientific evidence. Kudos to them for trying to reconcile the two, but it still comes off looking a lot like this:


  1. I love the performance video! I recognized the accordionist was playing the theme from Koyanisqaatsi to accompany the fast-motion evolutionary scenario. Hysterical.

    And Ince’s explanation of the teleological dimension behind biodiversity is really no more nebulous than any given by the design-theory proponents themselves: “You know, maybe a pushy force. A growy force. A forcy-force force.”

  2. Hi Dan,

    I hope you do decide to read the book along with being open-minded to the ideas in the book. You’re clearly a very intelligent guy…. at times more considerate at other times pretty closed-minded. But why just write the book off?
    Considering that you were an active member of telicthoughts for awhile you do have some interest in these topics.
    And what if Mike is closer to being right than you’re letting on (or willing to consider)? Why let assumptions and preconceived notions cloud your willingness to hear him out…. and maybe learn something in the process?

    Just a thought…..
    Take care, Dan.

  3. And what might I learn that I couldn’t learn from some other treatise of classical deism?

  4. You’ll have to read the book to find out :)

    you also might want to read Menuge’s book “Agents Under Fire”. It will help you see why your materialistic position is flawed. THEN you should read the Design Matrix.

  5. You misunderstand. I’m not interested in deism or natural theology at all. I’m interested in the more parsimonious explanation that known neurological and psychological processes explain the hyperactive agency detector.

    Nick Matzke hit the nail on the head in his recent comment on Telic Thoughts: MikeGene smells of unparsimonious wishful-thinking, much like all of the strained logic of deism and natural theology.

  6. For completeness, I also took a few minutes to look up descriptions of Menuge and his book – not flattering in my opinion. For instance, before even getting to his criticisms of Menuge, Luke Jerzykiewicz explains the central message:

    It runs as follows: Since the Enlightenment, most natural scientists in collusion with their philosophical allies have worked to eliminate teleological and intentional categories from our explanations of worldly phenomena. The approach has largely seemed successful in accounting for the workings of inanimate reality. In fact, it has seemed so successful that some “extremist” philosophers and scientists have taken to “scurrilously” identifying the scientific method with materialist reductionism [p.11]. Today cognitive scientists and biologists are attempting to explain the nature of human beings themselves in non-intentional and non-teleological terms. This, Angus Menuge thinks, is one bridge too far. We routinely understand ourselves and each other precisely in terms of our plans, intentions and designs–that is, we typically understand ourselves as agents. An explanation of human nature which purports to explain away agency (and related notions) in non-teleological, non-intentional terms threatens to rob us of our dignity [p.31]. What Agents Under Fire wants to show is that, when considered carefully, the reductionist project is in fact self-defeating. The book takes aim at both radical and moderate versions of the reductionist program (so both at the work of the Churchlands and of Dennett). It argues that the reductionist overtly disavows notions that she covertly goes on to make use of. In particular, since the notions of explanation and of understanding–scientific or otherwise–presuppose intentionality and rational agency, the very idea of a reductive explanation of agency is au fond incoherent [p.53]. Having argued that agency, purpose and design are irreducible elements of human reality, Agents Under Fire turns its attention outward to biological phenomena more generally. It is argued that some biological structures also display clear signs of irreducible purpose [p.111] and therefore of intelligent design. This casts into doubt the ‘Darwinism’ (sic.) on which ‘secularist’ biology is predicated. Agents Under Fire concludes by suggesting that academic freedom and tolerance demand that universities and journals treat avowedly Christian accounts as equals alongside ‘secularist’ psychology and biology [p.212].

    Various reviewers who are knowledgeable on science point out that he fails to acknowledge or discuss emergent properties, and either misrepresents the practice of science, or misunderstands it (which is glaringly obvious by the end of that quote). MikeGene certainly appears to outdo Menuge in this respect, as he concedes that his position fails as science by falsifiability and parsimony criteria.

  7. So you haven’t actually read the book?

  8. Nope. Please see my explanations in the comments above.


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