Thursday, September 29, 2005

Intelligent Design Follow-Up

My post on Good Morning America's coverage of the Dover, PA intelligent design case prompted the following comments (in italics) which I decided to respond to here. Time will not allow me to get into a protracted debate so this may be my last word on the subject. I appreciate all who take the time to read and respond but I can't reply to each comment so please don't feel bad if your comment doesn't become a blog post. 


I wonder, if "biology" is the natural science of biological entities, where does a non-natural alternative fit in? Perhaps in church, or the home, but not in a science class. Call it arbitrary if you like, but limiting the definition of what is "scientific" to "natural explanations" has been what has helped us create medicine and antibiotics, treat cancer, create airplanes, safer cars, disease resistant food, flame retardant clothing, etc ad nauseum.

When we call biology a natural science we mean that the object of study is the natural world. However, one can engage in fruitful study of the natural world without subscribing to a naturalistic philosophy. To suggest, as you do, that materialistic presuppositions are necessary for technological and medical advancements is mistaken. Skeptics frequently charge that theistic belief would somehow bring all scientific exploration to a screeching halt because "God did it" would be offered as the answer for every imaginable problem but the history of science does not support this accusation. 

Far from being an impediment to research, the conviction that the natural world was the work of a transcendent intelligence, and therefore rational and orderly, motivated many of the founders of modern science to investigate nature. Copernicus, for example, who is frequently presented as the poster boy for faith's hostility toward science, went in search of better cosmology motivated by the belief that the universe was "wrought for us by a supremely good and orderly Creator." This, along with countless other examples of how the doctrine of creation spurred, rather than stifled, exploration of the natural world, can be found in The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy by Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton. I also recommend J. P. Moreland's Christianity and the Nature of Science: A Philosophical Investigation , Del Ratzch's Science & Its Limits: The Natural Sciences in Christian Perspective, and Stanley Jaki's The Savior of Science.

One of the hallmarks of science is that a theory must be disproveable. It must be ABLE to be disproved. ID can not, because it would require trying to prove a negative.That is why while many scientists, believe it or not, are faithful and religious, as a scientist they understand the difference between naturalistic evidence and hypothesis and supernatural, and which belongs in the realm of "science" and which belongs in the realm of faith and religion.

I'm curious. How would one go about disproving Darwinism? What evidence would sufficiently demonstrate its being false? For that matter, how would one go about falsifying the claim that the complexity and diversity of organisms is due to completely naturalistic causes? And if that claim is not falsifiable then are we to conclude that it is not scientific?

As to the assertion that ID cannot be falsified, it would appear that one of the expert witnesses testifying on behalf of the ACLU in Dover, disagrees with you. Earlier this week Jonathan Witt at Evolution News & Views reported that leading Darwinist Kenneth Miller (one of those "religious evolutionists") testified both that ID is non-falsifiable AND that it has been falsified:

In friendly questioning from the plaintiff, Miller asserted that the theory of intelligent design was not a testable theory in any sense and so wasn't science. Later, however, Miller argued that science has tested Michael Behe's bacterial flagellum argument and falsified it, by pointing to a micro-syringe called the Type III Secretory System, and arguing that it could have served as a functional step on the gradual, Darwinian pathway to the full flagellar motor.
Did the journalists covering the trial notice the contradiction? Miller tried to provide a fig leaf for it, but the fig leaf was itself a misrepresentation. Miller said Behe's argument was in every respect a negative argument (and, further, that ALL the leading design theorists' arguments he was aware of are purely negative, with nothing positive anywhere). Miller conceded that Behe's irreducible complexity argument was testable, but said Behe's inference to design doesn't follow from irreducible complexity because Behe was committing the either/or fallacy--If not A (Darwinism), then it must be B (design). Miller said there were, in principle, an infinite number of other possible explanations, so jumping from a refutation of Darwinism to design was illegitimate.
Witt goes on to demonstrate the positive argument for ID and concludes his worthwhile post with the following paragraph:
Miller has conceded that Behe's irreducible complexity argument is testable. And we see that Miller's assertion that scientists have tested and falsified Behe's argument is itself false. Finally, we see that Behe and other design theorists like Scott Minnich and Stephen Meyer have offered positive evidence for the design of the flagellum based on standard uniformitarian reasoning, reasoning well established in science. Darwinists like Miller quarrel with these claims and arguments. Behe, Minnich, Meyer and other design scientists respond. It's called a scientific controversy, something Darwinists claim doesn't exist. Now that's what I call faith-based.
(By the way, for those interested in keeping track of the Dover case, Evolution News & Views will be offering select trial transcripts in addition to their analysis of the proceedings.)

I don't think there's any debate whether ID can be presented, even in schools, in the realm of sociology and certainly in homes and churches, but since it holds no qualities of scientific principle, it does not belong in the science classroom. "Science" is just a word that humans have created, as are ALL words, to define a concept. The word "science" is used to define the realm of study of the natural world, and as a believer in God myself, I understand that since God can not be proven or disproven, matters of God do not belong in the realm of science as are ALL non-naturalist studies.Now if ID'ers who adamantly suggest that ID is not Creationism in disguise because it doe not specifically state "God" but just "unknown intelligence," want to agree to focus on that intelligence being extraterrestrials as their definition of ID includes, then it may be of a scientific nature. What do you think?

I think I've said enough already. Thanks for writing.


UPDATE: Thanks to Melinda Penner I just found out about this article about the history of intelligent design theory also by Jonathan Witt.

2 comments:

Mechphisto said...

Two comments if I may.
It problem of ID not being scientifically sound because it is not testable is at the heart of what ID is all about, not the "evidence" that is used to prove ID.

What I mean is this: If I understand ID properly, it's this, that if the universe, and life in particular, is too complex to be explained by Darwinism, then the only alternative is God (er, an intelligent designer, sorry.)
To disprove this hypothesis (remember, this is a hypothesis, NOT a "theory" in the scientific sense of the word,) you have to prove there's not a single "gap" that God is responsible for. That's proving a negative.

It's like saying "Prove there is not one single blue kangaroo in all of Australia." To do that you would need to be able at any given second to observe every square foot of the entire contenent above and below ground. And even if you COULD do that, that would only prove there is no blue kangaroos at that moment, not for the past or future.

Disproving flagellum is not a "gap" does not make the very precept of ID as a disproveable hypotheses, as a whole.

My second comment is on the fact that Darwin himself, as all good scientists do, actually gave the method by which his theory could be disproved. In fact, it's something he wrote that many Creationists often latch onto, without reading the rest of what he wrote beyond it. He stated that if there could be found any biological feature which can be shown to not have been possible to have evolved, then his hypothesis fails. Behe has tried, but each of his gaps have been countered with perfectly reasonable processes of natural selection.

In any case, ID isn't scientific because it's not a hypothesis based on research and testing, it's a false logical arguement.
"If A isn't true, then B must be true." Not only does this ignore the posibility of C or D or E etc. and thus fails logically, but is simply a statement of negation and thus not testible.

Finally, OK, a lot more than just a couple of comments, something very important to think about, and the reason why the Gof of Gaps should not be a concept Christians should adhere to when trying to "prove" God by putting him in the gaps of science:
In the history of everything that is currently understood, there was a time in which it was too complex to be understood.
Even ignoring the fact that every arguement Behe has brought up as a "gap" has been reasonably refuted, what does it mean that every decade that has passed since 1800, there have been fewer and fewer gaps?

OK, one more final question: Why is it not possible that God could not have set in motion the evolution of a universe billions of years in the making with extremely complex yet exquisite rules of physics and biology? Is that beyond him?

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