Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke, and Johan Braeckman recently published an on-line article entitled, Grist to the mill of ID creationism: the failed strategy of ruling the supernatural out of science by philosophical fiat. The article comes across as a glorified blog posting designed to help the Gnu atheist movement in their ongoing death struggle with the “accomodationists.”
The basic argument of the article seems to be that because the “Intelligent Design Creationists” (IDCs) are correct in arguing that methodological naturalism biases science against supernatural causes, those who advocate methodological naturalism are helping the IDC by supplying “grist to their mills.”
The abstract reads:
According to a widespread philosophical opinion, the methodology of science is intrinsically naturalistic. It is simply not equipped to deal with supernatural claims, so it has no authority on questions of metaphysics. This (self-imposed) limitation of the epistemic reach of science is often used as a way to reconcile science and religion. We argue that ruling the supernatural out of science for intrinsic reasons is not only philosophically untenable, but has actually been grist to the mill of Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC),
The authors clearly think the whole “grist for the mill” saying is important, as not only is it in their title and abstract, but they repeat this saying several times in their paper:
- IMN is actually grist to the IDC mill on several accounts,
- In fact, Johnson’s remarks show that IMN, which is clearly his focus of attack here, is actually grist to the IDC mill.
- their writings show that IMN is actually grist to their mill.
According to the dictionary, the saying is supposed to mean “something that you can use in order to help you to succeed.” As such, I find this whole “grist for the mill” complaint to be strikingly irrational for two reasons.
First, whether or not X is “grist for the mill” is quite irrelevant. For example, if a leading evolutionary biologist was found guilty of fraud, this would obviously become “grist for the IDC mill.” Does that mean scientists should somehow try to excuse and defend the fraud? Of course not. The simple fact is that just because something is grist for someone’s mill does not mean it is untrue. On the contrary, truth is often the best type of grist for someone’s mill. Thus, the whole “grist for the mill” complaint comes across as little more than an appeal to the bogeyman.
Second, and more importantly, the authors provide no evidence that appeals to MN have helped the ID movement to succeed. All they offer are a few quotes from leading members of the ID movement who make the argument that MN = built in bias. But just because the authors admit to being very sympathetic to this argument does not mean they have provided any evidence is has led to any success in the ID movement. In fact, the authors seems oblivious to the fact that empirical reality contradicts their claim, even though they are aware of this empirical reality. They write:
A widespread philosophical opinion conceives of MN as an intrinsic and self-imposed limitation of science, as something that is part and parcel of the scientific enterprise by definition. According to this view (Intrinsic MN or IMN) – which is defended by people like Eugenie Scott, Michael Ruse and Robert Pennock and has been adopted in the ruling of Judge John E. Jones III in the Kitzmiller vs. Dover case – science is simply not equipped to deal with the supernatural and therefore has no authority on the issue (Pennock 1999; Scott 1998; Haught 2004; Ruse 2005; Jones 2005; Miller 2009).
Since “MN as an intrinsic and self-imposed limitation of science” played a crucial role in the Kitzmiller vs. Dover case, and Kitzmiller vs. Dover played (and still plays) the major role in thwarting the success of the ID movement, it is clear that MN has not been grist for the IDC mill, but has instead been a tornado that has flattened the IDC mill. Ironically, Dawkins himself has said that if he had been called as a witness for the Dover Trial, the ID side would have probably won.
So all that “grist for the mill” hand-wringing is a) irrelevant, b) not supported by empirical evidence, and c) is contradicted by the evidence, it seems clear to me a core argument of this paper has imploded.