Somebody at the Discovery Institute came across an old interview with Brian Josephson done as part of a CBS documentary. They are now highlighting it as “evidence” for Intelligent Design on the blog “Evolution News”. …
He compares design in evolution to human creativity, and concedes that his ideas about ID may not be consistent with traditional theism. The kicker comes at the end. Kuhn asks: “What is your confidence level, on a scale of 0 to 100, that the design of the process of evolution is by some kind of transcendent intelligence?”
Josephson answers: “Well, about 80 percent perhaps,” adding that “materialism would have a hard time if that were known to be correct.” And that is certainly true.
This claim is problematic for a wide variety of reasons.
The reference they use comes from a CBS interview but they don’t link to the source. Without a reference there is no way of checking to see how accurate the quote is or what the actual context was. The lack of a reference to the actual interview does make me very suspicious. If you do watch the various CBS Closer to the Truth interviews with Brian Josephson that are on-line (here and here), you find that he babbles on about the reality of ESP, and also talks about consciousness being separate from the universe. He clearly believes in a higher power, but it is in no way a belief that is aligned with the more traditional religious views.
Key Problem 1: If they are going to cite him as an authority, then it is a package deal. They need to either accept everything he says, or none of it. They can’t just cherry pick a snippet that aligns with their specific beliefs and toss the rest for no reason at all.
Key Problem 2: He is a physicist and not a biologist, his expertise regarding evolutionary theory is non-existent. When it comes to physics, I have no problem with him being cited as an expert, but to cite him as an authority for anything else is highly problematic.
Who is Brian Josephson?
He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1973 for his prediction of the Josephson effect. That prediction was made in 1962 when he was a 22-year-old PhD student at Cambridge University. For this he quite rightly deserves all the applaud, praise and associated awards.
When it comes to physics then he is quite clearly an outstanding individual, but he also has a reputation for stepping way outside the normal scientific mainstream. He has also been a supporter crackpot ideas that do not have credibility such as parapsychology, water memory, cold fusion, and now also apparently some variation of Intelligent Design, but I suspect not as advocated by the ID community.
Is this an Ad Hominem?
The basis for the Discovery Institute highlighting Brian Josephson’s opinion is his status as a Nobel Prize winning physicist and not because he has some specific evidence. Since they are playing the reputation card here, I’m simply pointing out that while his reputation as a physicist is rock solid, his reputation for opinions on things outside that core domain have resulted in him being labelled a bit of a crank. The DI folks might indeed latch on to his 80% confidence in ID, but I suspect they would in reality choke on many of the other ideas he advances.
To illustrate that point, the DI folks highlight him as …
an emeritus professor at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge University.
… but that is not strictly the whole story here. If you check his own homepage at the university, then you discover that he is in fact working on a lot of crackpottery …
In summary: Physics and he gets a big tick and lots of well-deserved associated applause. The other stuff … well, that is perhaps eye-roll territory that triggers my skeptic meter.