Archive for August, 2009

Why do they call me an IDiot?

Monday, August 17th, 2009

I’ve been having a lively discussion on a “science blog” (“Dispatches from the culture wars“) about Intelligent Design (ID) and the nature of Darwinism. In the discussion, I noticed a new term, “IDiot”. The term is used to imply that anyone who defends ID is an idiot. This is fairly typical of a large segment of people who continue to defend Darwin. I suppose those who persisted in defending a flat Earth in the face of mounting evidence of the planet’s roundness had a similarly snarky attitude and for the same reason. (To be fair, no one in the discussion referred to me specifically as an IDiot.)

Anyway, in the discussion, I mentioned a brief filed in the case of Edwards v. Aquillard in which the Supreme Court ordered (correctly, in my opinion) that Biblical Creationism could not be taught alongside evolution in public schools. Despite what both the Darwinists and Creation Scientists would like you to believe, ID is not stealth creationism. It’s a valid scientific hypothesis that continues to gain traction in the secular scientific community despite decidedly non-scientific attempts to suppress it.

One of those in the debate asked me “of all the cases you could’ve brought up, why in the Intelligent Designer’s name did you pick Edwards v. Aguillard?” I replied that I brought it up because there is something much greater than specific biological questions at stake. According to the brief,

Science is devoted to formulating and testing naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. It is a process for systematically collecting and recording data about the physical world, then categorizing and studying the collected data in an effort to infer the principles of nature that best explain the observed phenomena. Science is not equipped to evaluate supernatural explanations for our observations….

Science seeks only naturalistic explanations. Sounds reasonable, but it isn’t. The a priori assumption is that a naturalistic explanation exists for every natural phenomenon (i.e. observed event in the “physical world”). If evidence points to a supernatural cause, science won’t bow out of the investigation but will continue to pursue (and promote) a naturalistic one – whether one exists or not. (The state of modern science is such that any crummy naturalistic explanation is better than admitting the possibility of a supernatural one.)

Now you might claim that these scientists just made a simple statement of fact because “natural” (phenomena) is identical in meaning to “naturalistic” (explanations). If that were the case, however, the statement would be tacitly acknowledging the possibility of non-natural phenomena that might also be observed in the physical world (otherwise, why qualify it?). The original statement could then be recast as something like “science looks for naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena but does not look for non-naturalistic explanations for non-natural phenomena”.

But that would introduce the fundamental problem of categorization – how could science, without determining all of their causes, possibly separate the non-natural phenomena from the natural ones and study only those? The inability to categorize the observed phenomena would leave science with no legitimate areas of inquiry. That position would obviously be untenable, so the signatories to this brief did the best they could; they punted.

More specifically, they created the (possibly false) impression that any phenomenon that occurs in the physical world is both “natural” and subject to a “naturalistic explanation”. But there’s that sneaky a priori assumption again – based only on philosophy, not science. The assumption is neither verifiable nor falsifiable. And it’s not falsifiable because science specifically declares that any effort to falsify it is outside the bounds of science! Neat.

The brief also claims that “without passing judgment on the truth or falsity of supernatural explanations, science leaves their consideration to the domain of religious faith.” But of course it doesn’t. Whether it’s rooted in petulant hatred of God and his followers (atheist stooge Richard Dawkins) or simple hubris, many scientists do indeed pass such judgments. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of epistemology (the philosophical study of what knowledge is and how we get it) knows that there are ways of knowing other than the scientific method (and a seriously compromised one at that). When scientists become amateur philosophers and operate on the ridiculous assumption that theirs is the only way of knowing, their credibility suffers.

There’s a reason the public does not trust science as it once did. Arrogant scientists will look outward and blame it on public stupidity, Walmart, and talk radio. Smart scientists will look inward to see if they’ve overstepped their bounds, particularly their own. Science has been defined by a majority of its practitioners (by no means unanimously) as an endeavor that by definition must always reject ID and must always support a naturalistic explanation even if it is repeatedly shown to be fatally flawed and barely credible.

Why would anyone – whether they have confidence in other ways of knowing or not – trust such an enterprise?

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