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.
"we shouldn't allow it into our science classrooms. At least that's what the Constitution says" AFAIK there are no statements in the US Constitution speaking to scientific theory. Maybe the author means some other constitution.
Have you read Popper? Have you read on his 'falsifiability'? How would you falsify creation theory, ID theory or evolution? This is just what the age-old argument is on; those that understand enough philosophy of science to make the decision aren't closely involved, those that are closely involved are not familiar with falsifiability, e. g.
PH's posse will be thrilled w/ this article.
But be sure of one thing: 'falsifyability' must be philosophically accepted a priori as being 'true' for 'science'.
Popper's argument, though it can be argued is logical, is nonetheless a starting point that must be accepted by faith. You have to trust that 'science' MUST be defined this way, in order for it to 'be' science.
The problem is this: ID searches for causes. Evolution, good for explaining certain things that appear to be 'caused' does not sufficiently grapple with other things that are 'caused.
ID provides an alternate cause ... and an argument presenting that it is not falsifyable is not really an argument.
For Marx attracted followers and his 'theories' were tested ... and proven false. Freud has been utterly deligitimized ... because much of what he wrote proved to be, in practice, false.
But both of them got an audience.
Funny ... ID is the only non religious body of thought I have ever seen which is been so vociferously attacked and being denied an audience.
How can it be any more robust that Marxism and Freudism ... what is being risked by letting it be falsified, like they were?
Is Intelligent Design a Bad Scientific Theory or a Non-Scientific Theory?
Wow, just from reading the headline I could tell that this article is a slanted, biased, puff piece of propaganda.
It reminds me of the loaded question, "Have you stopped beating your wife?"
The real debate is not over science, which is concerned with the observable, but over whose underlying metaphysical view one accepts: materialism vs. some form of theism. The problem is that those on the Darwinism side of the debate refuse to see or studiously ignore the fact that the natural sciences do not contain all possible knowledge.
One of the problems with the Origins of the Species, is biologists hava a CRAPPY definintion of what a species is.
Then the theory is elevated to a fact, shutting down all rational discussion.
ToEs like Natural Selection have not shown much utility up to this point in time. Definitions are changed, exaggerated claims are made, without any real utility, it is strictly not very useful.
It is not a very important theory.
It certainly hasn't been in history.
Theory - not theory, call it what you want, it deserves the same amount of teaching in the classroom as the Darwin Theory.
I'm getting so tired of seeing people making statements like this. ID is not getting attacked in order to deny it an audience. It's getting attacked because its proponents want it taught as science, when it is not science. I personally would have no problem if the ID'rs were trying to have ID added to social studies or philosophy curriculums, where it belongs. ID's own proponents are the ones denying ID its proper audience.
Science is based on observations (facts). For a hypothesis to become a scientific theory, one needs to find a way to test the theory in the laboratory/field. And then the test must be repeated over and over and peer reviewed. If the test agrees with the hypothesis it can become a scientific theory.
Scientists then continue more experiments to either prove or enhance the scientific theory or falsify the theory. They realize a scientific theory is not absolutely unlike the way you and a lot of your friends on this db have to believe (at all cost) in that literal reading of the Book of Genesis. Thus, scientists never shut down all rational discussion as you have suggested. If they did we never would have got where we have in all sorts of scientific fields including inventing this computer.
Is this what the argument is reduced to now? "It may be completely incorrect and/or intensely stupid, but hey - it's legal!" LOL.
Who died and made Popper the god of science? He is just one among many who wrestled with what constitutes the same. "Intelligent design is not science" is a mantra for those who would stifle free inquiry. Neither science nor education nor mankind in general are bound to burden themselves with this constraint.
First of all, the concepts of evolutionary theory can be observed in the fossil record. It can be argued that the fossil record is showing us something other than evolutionary change. But it is not arguable that what the fossil record shows can be interpreted as evolutionary change. ID has nothing at all, period, nada, even remotely as demonstrative.
Second, evolutionary theory does not postulate a cause. It postulates the "how". Big, big difference.
So, where does String Theory belong?
Irreducible complexity could be falsified by demonstrating reducible complexity for the biochemical reactions cited in ID.
That is the sticking point. One side says "we don't know how they got that way...but we will someday", and the other side says "it could have been an act of creation".
It is nothing to get bothered about, both sides react to the facts but it isn't so much intelligent design that is the problem as it is the idea of irreducible complexity on a molecular level.
It doesn't. :) Next question?
You know, the letter M is where they are now regarding that theory. Funny, that theory, with its 11 dimensions, is not falsifyable; dimension 8 or so simply is not available to be falsified.
... but it is still treated as a theory, and scientific.
Dgray ... I'm sorry to hear you so tired of statements. But, hey, look at the bright side. You woke up on the right side of the turf today, and can actually feel tired!!
Possible Darwin Central ping.
It does no such thing. It simply assumes a supernatural cause, without definition or attempt to understand its mechanisms, and decides that everything the observer is intellectually unequipped to understand is automatically a product of that supernatural cause. (And please, don't trot out the "Xenudidit" nonsense, or you'll have to tell me how Xenu was created, and how the creator of the creator of Xenu was created).
Query: Do Darwinists become closed-minded zealots and fools by education and training, or are these inborn traits?
Scientifically, we can express the ID conjecture as: "There exists at least one biological structure or process that cannot be explained by natural selection". ID advocates have cited some examples they think are candidates, such as the bacterial flagellum. Are any scientists out there willing to scientifically test the hypothesis, or are they going to take natural selection on faith, as with "human-induced climate change"?
Creative Design is, by definition, not a theory. To be a theory a hypothesis must be testable. Creative Design is not. When a theory becomes untestable it become philosophy.
Evolution isn't a theory, it's a fact based on the observed reality of the fossil record. There are theories about how it occurs. Natural selection is the most widely accepted theory of how evolution occurs (an early 20th c competitor was Lamarckism). Natural selection is falsifiable- one would merely need to show that genetic mutations are never beneficial to an organism, or that these mutations are acquired (Lamarckism) in the lifespan of an organism. Clearly the evidence is in favor of natural selection, but the theory of natural selection itself has undergone several major revisions over the past 100 years as a result of new evidence and a closer examination of existing evidence.
To the contrary of your assertion, I know several evolutionary biologists, and they are all thoroughgoing Popperians.
Query: Are Creationists capable of debating without using the ad hominem fallacy?
Science has never claimed to be the oracle of all possible knowledge. To make such a statement underscores your own ignorance of scientists. Do you actually know, in person or on line, any scientists? Any scientist who claimed science was such an oracle, would never pass his or her dissertaion exam.
This article seems fairly sound to me. But the same standard should apply to the other side. Proponents of evolution being a "blind process" -- i.e., purely the product of natural forces -- also propose no test by which that belief may be falsified, and therefore it is not scientific. Neither view belongs in a science classroom. Both are philosophies.
Neither should someone who does not know the difference between philosophy and science.
Falsifiability, especially in rhetoric (via a continually reinforced argument) is a good starting point. As to 'science', the Science Wars, have they been won or lost and by whom?
I would agree that falsifiability has it's place in science, but it is not the only element that qualifies it as such. Furthermore, much of what is posited by evoluionists as "falsifiable" is no such thing. The attitude ought to be "no options left out." I don't see that attitude in those who use the courts to enforce a particular, unproven, view of world history.
Here's another one about ID.
Sorry, what makes Genesis correct? There are hundreds of creation stories that claim equal validity. What you purport is not knowledge, but faith, because you have no proof.
The decendants, from "Adam", just don't add up and stupidly indicate a "New Earth" and if we want to be critical of agnostic science, we should also be just as critical of what religious "truths" we accept as fact. Just because some past generation has "canonized" writings doesn't mean search for devine truth should be aborted.
Personally, I believe there is no conflict between true scientific discovery and creation. It is simply our very slow discovery of the original design.
"Is Evolution a flawed scientific theory that will never become an established LAW, or is neo-darwinism nothing more than wishful dogmatic socialistic ideology masquerading as science???????"
LOL - my thoughts too - e.g. - "When did you stop beating your wife?"
In what way is it scientific to assume that an unsolved problem has no solution?
Unfortunately in modern education (and the mass media) evolution, natural selection, and abiogenesis are mixed together as a single concept. So Darwinian natural selection based evolution is seen as the explanation for the origin of life -- something even many evolutionary biologists would have a hard time supporting or justifying.
Natural selection clearly plays a major role in evolution, but it also isn't the only factor. The existence of domestic animals, like cows and dogs, certainly can't be explained by natural selection. Nor can the existence of modern commercial hybrid plant species. So clearly other factors are involved, at least since humans became active on the planet.
Interestingly, I know of no researchers today who can accurately define a test which can identify biological entities designed and created in labs by humans, which one would assume would be "intelligently" designed. If you can't identify a living genetically engineered and created organism how would you expect to know if other organisms were or were not "intelligently designed"?
There are also cases of simple organisms that modulate their development based on their environment - which is essentially Larmarckian evolution, although apparently the organisms retain the ability to grow into multiple forms. This ability, if widespread, adds quite a bit of complexity to the simple natural selection models.
And a theory which says "life must have begun as a result of a lot of random molecular interactions which ultimately ended up producing a living organism" isn't much of a theory. It really has no more basis than someone that says "life must have begun as a result of some space ship arriving on earth and leaving organisms here". Both rely on a long statistical chain of events. To really dig into the origin of life requires a very deep understanding of how molecular biology works, probably more than is now available.
Instead of schools wasting time fighting over what shallow "theory" or "fact" they teach, they should make an effort to teach the students about what the various theories really mean, and how one might go about testing, understanding or evaluating them. Hopefully those students will go on to advance our understanding of our world and how life began.