Skip to comments.Is Intelligent Design a Bad Scientific Theory or a Non-Scientific Theory?
Posted on 11/10/2005 4:43:24 AM PST by Nicholas Conradin
In an election in Pennsylvania this week, voters tossed out eight members of the Pittsburgh school board who wanted Intelligent Design theory to be taught alongside evolution in school. But should Intelligent Design -- the theory that living organisms were created at least in part by an intelligent designer, not by a blind process of evolution by natural selection -- be taught in public schools? In one way, the answer to this question is simple: if it's a scientific theory, it should; if it's not, it shouldn't (on pain of flaunting the Establishment Clause). The question, however, is whether Intelligent Design (ID) is a scientific theory.
Opponents dismiss ID's scientific credentials, claiming that the theory is too implausible to qualify as scientific. But this reasoning is fallacious: a bad scientific theory is still a scientific theory, just as a bad car is still a car. There may be pedagogical reasons to avoid teaching bad scientific theories in our public schools, but there are no legal ones. The Constitution contains no interdiction on teaching bad theories, or for that matter demonstrably false ones. As long as theory is science and not religion, there is no legal barrier to teaching it.
To make their case, opponents of teaching ID must show not just that the theory is bad, but that it's not science. This raises a much more complicated question: What is science? What distinguishes genuinely scientific theories from non-scientific ones?
In one form or another, the question has bothered scientists and philosophers for centuries. But it was given an explicit formulation only in the 1920s, by Karl Popper, the most important 20th century philosopher of science. Popper called it "the problem of demarcation," because it asked how to demarcate scientific research and distinguish it from other modes of thought (respectable though they may be in their own right).
One thing Popper emphasized was that a theory's status as scientific doesn't depend on its plausibility. The great majority of scientific theories turn out to be false, including such works of genius as Newton's mechanics. Conversely, the story of Adam and Eve may well be pure truth, but if it is, it's not scientific truth, but some other kind of truth.
So what is the mark of genuine science? To attack this question, Popper examined several theories he thought were inherently unscientific but had a vague allure of science about them. His favorites were Marx's theory of history and Freud's theory of human behavior. Both attempted to describe the world without appeal to super-natural phenomena, but yet seem fundamentally different from, say, the theory of relativity or the gene theory.
What Popper noticed was that, in both cases, there was no way to prove to proponents of the theory that they were wrong. Suppose Jim's parents moved around a lot when Jim was a child. If Jim also moves around a lot as an adult, the Freudian explains that this was predictable given the patterns of behavior Jim grew up with. If Jim never moves, the Freudian explains -- with equal confidence -- that this was predictable as a reaction to Jim's unpleasant experiences of a rootless childhood. Either way the Freudian has a ready-made answer and cannot be refuted. Likewise, however much history seemed to diverge from Marx's model, Marxists would always introduce new modifications and roundabout excuses for their theory, never allowing it to be proven false.
Popper concluded that the mark of true science was falsifiability: a theory is genuinely scientific only if it's possible in principle to refute it. This may sound paradoxical, since science is about seeking truth, not falsehood. But Popper showed that it was precisely the willingness to be proven false, the critical mindset of being open to the possibility that you're wrong, that makes for progress toward truth.
What scientists do in designing experiments that test their theories is create conditions under which their theory might be proven false. When a theory passes a sufficient number of such tests, the scientific community starts taking it seriously, and ultimately as plausible.
When Einstein came up with the theory of relativity, the first thing he did was to make a concrete prediction: he predicted that a certain planet must exist in such-and-such a place even though it had never been observed before. If it turned out that the planet did not exist, his theory would be refuted. In 1919, 14 years after the advent of Special Relativity, the planet was discovered exactly where he said. The theory survived the test. But the possibility of failing a test -- the willingness to put the theory up for refutation -- was what made it a scientific theory in the first place.
To win in the game of science, a theory must be submitted to many tests and survive all of them without being falsified. But to be even allowed into the game, the theory must be falsifiable in principle: there must be a conceivable experiment that would prove it false.
If we examine ID in this light, it becomes pretty clear that the theory isn't scientific. It is impossible to refute ID, because if an animal shows one characteristic, IDers can explain that the intelligent designer made it this way, and if the animal shows the opposite characteristic, IDers can explain with equal confidence that the designer made it that way. For that matter, it is fully consistent with ID that the supreme intelligence designed the world to evolve according to Darwin's laws of natural selection. Given this, there is no conceivable experiment that can prove ID false.
It is sometimes complained that IDers resemble the Marxist historians who always found a way to modify and reframe their theory so it evades any possible falsification, never offering an experimental procedure by which ID could in principle be falsified. To my mind, this complaint is warranted indeed. But the primary problem is not with the intellectual honesty of IDers, but with the nature of their theory. The theory simply cannot be fashioned to make any potentially falsified predictions, and therefore cannot earn entry into the game of science.
None of this suggests that ID is in fact false. For all I've said, it may well be pure truth. But if it is, it wouldn't be scientific truth, because it isn't scientific at all. As such, we shouldn't allow it into our science classrooms. At least that's what the Constitution says.
The writer teaches philosophy at the University of Arizona.
Was I wrong to say that it was Galileo who measured the acceleration of gravity by direct observation of falling objects?
Was I wrong to say that Newton asserted his equations applied to all objects in the universe -- something he could not possibly know from observation?
Was I wrong to say that Newton's equations were generally regarded as receiving their first great confirmation with the reappearance of Halley's comet?
On which statement was I wrong?
Opponents dismiss ID's scientific credentials, claiming that the theory is too implausible to qualify as scientific.Hardly. The principal objection is what he says later, that ID fails to conform to what we mean by "scientific theory." Obviously Kriegel does not follow the issue very closely.
When Einstein came up with the theory of relativity, the first thing he did was to make a concrete prediction: he predicted that a certain planet must exist in such-and-such a place even though it had never been observed before. If it turned out that the planet did not exist, his theory would be refuted.Talk about getting it wrong! Kriegel is confusing the predicted discoveries of Neptune (Bouvard/Herschel/...) and Pluto (Tombaugh) based on observed discrepancies in the orbits of other planets with GR's prediction about the precession of Mercury's orbit.
I'm not sure someone so ignorant can add much to the debate.
"Under that definition, we would have to carve up dogs into several different species, as many breeds of dog cannot naturally mate with other breeds (Great Danes and chihuahuas)."
Not only that, but what about two breeds of dog that can only produce fertile offspring 50% of the time? 90%? 10%?
We all already know the answer to that one.
Why is this so hard for anti-Es to understand. There is no philosophical demand of truth, only of utility. It is very clearly useful that a scientific theory make testable predictions. While there are many aims of science, the major one is to control future outcomes. A "theory" that permits no deductions is useless for that.
You make a lot of other errors too. For example, ID doesn't "search" for causes and that Marx's and Freud's "theories" are rejected because of testing.
Aha! I've got it now. Piltdown man WASN'T FAKE AT ALL!!!! Those evil liars of evolutionary biologists realised that this great BRITISH discovery undermined the SATANIC theory of evolution. So they not ONLY capitalised random words AND lEttERs, but they tampered with that BEAUTIFUL FOSSIL that falsified evolution to make it SEEM like a fake. Oh the DEVILISH CUNNING of those Darwin Central Black-ops OPERATIVES. [/raving tinfoil hat paranoid creationist mode]
Your ignorance is astonishing. Many, and perhaps most, of those on the "Darwinism side" are religious. Here, let's try a prediction based on your theory: if you poll the "Darwinist" posters here at FR, then, if you are right, none of them should be religious. Try it and let us know the results.
The black and white areas are easy- housecats and tigers are clearly different species. The gray areas are a bit tougher- lions and tigers can interbreed to create fertile offspring. Perhaps with several more million years of speciation, lions and tigers will lose this ability to interbreed.
Species aren't distinct pigeonholes, but rather a continuum with limitless gradations along the way.
It is the way old gobucks tells them. Has me in stitches every time.
Cheap shots? Rational and logic from the demented one defending known liars? LMAO!!
Man you are funny! Glad your here though.
I think you got your answer.
(Denny Crane: "I Don't Want To Socialize With A Pinko Liberal Democrat Commie.Say What You Like About Republicans. We Stick To Our Convictions. Even When We Know We're Dead Wrong.")
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