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.
The astute reader will note that to Freeper anti-evolutionists, earning a reputation as a liar is something they're *proud* of.
Excuse me while I gag.
astute readers also recognize sarcasm...plus it is true..he calls everyone a liar.
come on ich, dont slip on me
No it doesn't. In fact ID positively and relentlessly REFUSES to search for causes, or even speculate about causes. It restricts itself to "inferring" only the (alleged) effect -- the presence of "design" -- but won't say a word about how (or when, where, etc) that design was caused or instantiated.
Are you saying that Running-Dog is a lying, clownish, worthless, cowardly troll who can't spell, think, or understand logic?
I've never called Alamo-Girl a liar. But then, unlike many of the creationists here on FR, she doesn't engage in clear and blatant dishonesty.
That I don't have much use for evolution in my field of specialization--physics--should not be taken to imply that I have any use for the supposed alternative idea.
ok, 1 Freeper....I'll give you 1
Yeah. We all know that evilutionists never read fiction or philosophy, recite a poem, play or listen to music, learn a recipe, love a woman, ride a horse, repair a car, or do anything at all requiring, involving or acknowledging knowledge or knowhow outside of the natural sciences. They are, to a man, unidimensional automatons of soulless science!
(Do I really need sarcasm tags?)
I have had to eat my words on these threads a couple of times, so I appreciate anyone who engages in an actual discussion.
Someone has pointed out to me that Galileo did not have the technology to make precise measurements of gravitational acceleration. There is no doubt that he made measurements.
Newton was one of the brightest men who ever lived, and his work is brilliant, but he built a cosmology out of a few data points. He no more observed the workings of the cosmos than Darwin witnessed dinosaurs mating.
Science is about building explanitory theories and looking for evidence to confirm or refute the expectations of theory.
Neither. Intelligent Design is not a theory. One of the leading exponents (William Dembski) of ID claims, "Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John's Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory." This shows that ID is just another type of theology.
Then what does the fact that you didn't recognize *my* sarcasm imply about the level of your reading ability?
plus it is true..he calls everyone a liar.
No, he doesn't. Another lie in your cap.
I have never seen Dimensio call anyone a liar without him posting, or being prepared to post when challenged, compelling evidence that the poster in question is, in fact, a liar. I therefore find it remarkable that you seem to consider being labelled a liar by Dimensio some kind of badge of honour. Most of us consider lying to be shameful.
No statement made to attack the evil religion of evolution can ever be considered to truly be a lie.
He also wasted a great deal of his talents on alchemy, and an idiosyncratic theology.
(Note, I skipped all the intro pieces dealing with copyright and all that)
Once in, it takes a whole lot of effort to hold down the CTRL key and hit "F" -- after which a search box will pop up.
Nosirree Bob. I'm telling you it'll be a dark day indeed when anti-evos actually understand how to utilize the internet for research.
Newton probably had Asperger's Syndrome.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
I think he used an inclined plane to make round things "fall" slower, and he measured the time with his pulse. Not terribly precise, but it was sufficient to observe that heavy objects fall no faster than light ones.
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