Thursday, January 7, 2016

For the Hundredth Time, ID is Not Science

Victor, just won't listen.  I've explained all this before, as in this post for example, but he persists in his stubborn ignorance about what science is and what it is not:
The dog, the evidence, is wagging the tail, the no-design conclusion. But if that is the case, then someone ought to be free to explore the possibility that this conclusion is not true, and still be doing science. You might be doing bad science, or mistaken science, but you should be able to be mistaken and still do science. - Reppert
Victor pretends that this is the dogma of science - that it isn't allowed to investigate anything that isn't based on materialism - and then uses that as an excuse to claim that ID should be treated the same.  Either ID and evolution are both science, or they both are not, he says.  "You can't have you cake and eat it too."  And that's exactly right.  We certainly should be consistent about what constitutes science.  And I'll try once again to explain it to him.  Maybe this time, the concept will penetrate the thick shield of theistic thinking that obstructs his cognitive processes.

To make his point, he uses several examples.  First up is the title of Dawkins' book The Blind Watchmaker - Why the evidence of evolution reveals a world without design.  Victor actually makes a very good point here, as quoted above.  Yes, he's absolutely correct.  ID could be the subject of scientific inquiry, just as evolution is, and there's nothing to prevent that from happening.  All they have to do is follow the methods of scientific inquiry, just like any other scientific investigation.  In a nutshell, they need to come up with a testable hypothesis, and then subject that hypothesis to rigorous testing designed to show that it is fully consistent with observation.  The problem with ID is that they have never done that.  And the real reason is that ID is nothing more than a religious assertion.  The concept of "complex specified information", one of the key components of "ID science", is unquantifiable and completely untestable.  And to the extent that ID claims can be tested, they have failed miserably.  For instance, every example of so-called "irreducible complexity" made by the ID community so far has proven to be false. 

One such claim is made in this article  that Victor cited.  It asserts that the human brain and nervous system is a case of irreducible complexity, and lays out the reasoning for that assertion.  But it is based on profound ignorance of biology.  All one has to do to refute this is to note that there are many examples of primitive nervous systems and proto-nervous systems that clearly demonstrate an evolutionary pathway exists for the development of a complex, human-like nervous system.  See this article, for example.  If you want to claim that something is irreducibly complex, you should at least make an effort to find out what is already known on the topic.  And like this case of supposed irreducible complexity, every other claim of irreducible complexity falls flat in the face of real scrutiny.  That being the case, no serious scientist can regard this pillar of ID as a valid scientific principle.

The fact is that any hypothesis can prove to be false, and that doesn't make it unscientific.  But it is the failure to follow a scientific approach to investigating it, or the failure to reject what has been disproved in favor of something that fits better with observation, that removes it from the realm of science.  ID is not science for these reasons, not because it postulates a supernatural cause.

Next, Victor attacks methodology:
Consider the statement “The DNA evidence reveals that O. J. Simpson killed Nicole and Ron.” The statement clearly implies that the evidence could have implicated O. J. or exonerated him, but it implicated him. If any conclusion but “O. J is guilty” would have been thrown out on methodological grounds, then we would have to question the methodology. It is presupposing the answer, not deciding the question for us.
It's a little difficult to discern exactly what his point is, but he seems to be saying that a faulty methodology was used in the jury verdict, because they presupposed the answer.  Again, Victor makes a very good point about presupposed answers, but I would quibble about his use of the term "methodology".  Forensic investigators examined the physical evidence, and their methodology is not in question here.  It was the jury that failed to examine the evidence objectively.  The jury was swayed by emotional reasons to ignore the story told by an objective view of the evidence.  And this is precisely what we see again and again with ID.  They have a presupposed answer (God did it), and they refuse to look objectively at the totality of evidence that tells a different story.

Then, Victor cites the decision of Judge Jones in Kitzmiller vs. Dover, which says that ID isn’t science because it “violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation”.
Well, if in order to follow the grounds rules of science we have to rule out design, then the evidence of evolution didn’t reveal a world without design, it presupposed it in order for its work to count as science. The investigation could not have gone either way, it could only go one way.
Once again, Victor is correct to note that there should be a level playing field.  But science doesn't rule out ID on the basis of supernatural causation.  It is unfortunate that Judge Jones made that statement, and scientists everywhere were cringing when he did.  The ruling was correct in that ID is religion masquerading as science, but it was not correct in asserting that science is limited as to what it can and can't investigate.  Science is necessarily limited in its investigative tools by methodological naturalism, but not by any dogma or philosophy such as metaphysical naturalism.  The idea of "non-overlapping magisteria" is a contrivance made by religious people or their sympathizers to try to keep science out their playground, but most scientists reject that.  Anything that has an observable effect in the world is fair game for science to investigate.  That would include theories about creation or design. 

And this brings us to Victor's final example, the statements of evolutionary scientist of Richard Lewontin, which claim that science is a religion, dogmatically committed to materialism, and that this dogmatic view refuses to allow any "Divine Foot in the door".
On this view the tail, materialism, wags the dog, the evidence, and not vice versa. The evidence of evolution didn’t tell us there’s no divine foot in the door, our a priori adherence to material causes does that.
And if Lewontin's view of science were correct, Victor would have a good point again.  But Lewontin is not expressing a view that is shared by all scientists.  In fact he is expressing the very same straw-man view of science that many theists use as an excuse to reject science as an objective arbiter of evidence.  Lewontin's statements are found mostly on ID and other theistic or anti-science websites.  I did a search for references to him, which confirmed this.  It seems he has had a much bigger impact in the battle against science than he has had in advancing scientific understanding. 

Victor should pay more attention to broadly held views of science that don't reject any particular line of inquiry based on the grounds that they are non-materialistic.  There have been many legitimate scientific studies on the effects of prayer, for example, or paranormal phenomena.  Victor Stenger examines the existence of God as a scientific hypothesis in his book, God: The Failed Hypothesis.  Jerry Coyne agrees that supernatural claims are subject to scientific testing

If the ID community wants to be seen as legitimate science, they only need to work within the scientific community and use a scientific approach to examining their claims.  They have failed to do so.  It's not good enough to write papers with scientific-sounding words and terminology.  That can fool a lot of people, but it's not science.  What they need to do is put their claims to the test, and reject them if they fail.  This is the essence of science.  And this is what the ID community has refused to do.  It's not a case of science rejecting their hypothesis in dogmatic grounds.  ID has rejected science.

1 comment:

  1. Victor comments (in his own blog): So, theism can make testable claims if and only if those claims fail. So long as they succeed, they fall into the god of the gaps fallacy?

    Heads I win, tails you lose.

    I reply: Theism can make whatever testable claims they like. The fact is that theistic claims always fail. That should tell you something. Just maybe it could be because there is no truth to theism.