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 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.
Requesting opinions on whether to ping the list.
Oh yes. But you see, the examples they are given by the scientific elite we are told to idolize are often inconsistent that some give way to it. Shame, isn't it? You should see my profile.
thanks for the heads up
Theory elevated to a fact? Where did you study science? Here are some definitions--you may notice that a theory is the goal of science, while a fact is just a well-confirmed observation (from a google search):
Theory: a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world; an organized system of accepted knowledge that applies in a variety of circumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena; "theories can incorporate facts and laws and tested hypotheses"; "true in fact and theory"
Hypothesis: a tentative theory about the natural world; a concept that is not yet verified but that if true would explain certain facts or phenomena; "a scientific hypothesis that survives experimental testing becomes a scientific theory"; "he proposed a fresh theory of alkalis that later was accepted in chemical practices"
Law: a generalization that describes recurring facts or events in nature; "the laws of thermodynamics"
Assumption: premise: a statement that is assumed to be true and from which a conclusion can be drawn; "on the assumption that he has been injured we can infer that he will not to play"
Observation: any information collected with the senses
Data: factual information, especially information organized for analysis or used to reason or make decisions
Fact: when an observation is confirmed repeatedly and by many independent and competent observers, it can become a fact
Belief: any cognitive content (perception) held as true; religious faith
Dogma: a religious doctrine that is proclaimed as true without proof
Based on this, evolution is a theory. CS and ID are beliefs.
Revelation 4:11Intelligent Design
See my profile for info
Of course Darwin got the idea of natural selection by observing artificial selection. He spent decades talking to animal and plant breeders. From these sources he was able to estimate the kinds and rates of variation that occurred.
From the observed rate of variation he was able to estimate the minimum age of the earth necessary to produce the variety of life now seen. His estimate was close to the currently accepted span since the Cambrian, and far more accurate than any estimate produced by the physics of his time.
Yeah, go ahead. it's not bad at all.
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