The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Epistemic Responsibility Vignette re: Intelligent Design

So I'm doing some research the other day on different methods of measuring inductive confirmation and while going through the bibliography of the leading expert on it--Brian Fitleson--I find an article reviewing a book defending the argument from design to God's existence. It was coauthored by a guy who I knew was an atheist and raucous lambaster of the design argument--Elliot Sober. Now Sober is pretty smart, but he's so closed minded that he usually doesn't say mutch helpful. However, I'd never read Fitleson on design before and he is so freaking smart it's scary. He's just brilliant and all I've read of him is well-reasoned and balanced (I've since found a major misrepresentation of Plantinga in one of his presentations, sadly). Well, I could just click on it and read it or I could ignore it. I wasn't particularly interested because I'm not an advocate of the argument advocated in the book under review: Bill Dembski's _Design Inference_ (Cambridge University Press). Still, something made me not want to read it. I had a good excuse, I was busy working on another paper, I could always come back to it later, etc. Still, there was this nagging voice that said, "You're just afraid to read it." So I read it. It wasn't very good. It seemed to be a Sober-driven jeremiad with Fitelson brought in to handle the tough math. The conclusions were either no less speculative than the theses being advanced, trivial, or one's I'd already reached myself. No big deal. So I suppose two lessons could be drawn from this. One is that you shouldn't bother reading such stuff because you don't learn anything anyway. I really really hope you don't think that's the lesson. The other lesson you could draw, which I hope you do, is that you should not listen to that nagging voice. Read on, you have nothing to lose: if your beliefs are true, then they'll either be confirmed more or at least not disconfirmed. If you're beliefs are false, they will rightfully be disconfirmed, which is what a truth-seeker should want. This is a sort of Bayesian faith which can be questioned and caveats must be added to account for misleading evidence, but ultimately I am a man of Bayesian faith and would rather err on the side of epistemic responsibility than intellectual cowardice--testing my beliefs a little too much, even when it's not necessary, rather than to little.

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