ID Isn't Science, But That's the Least Of Its Problems

Speaking of the intellectual collapse of ID, its other major blog, the Discovery Institute's “Evolution News and Views” also seems to have fallen on hard times. How else to explain the presence of this article, by Steve Laufmann?

Laufmann addresses the question, “Is Intelligent Design Science?” He divides his answer into five parts. We shall come to them in a moment.

Now, as I discuss at some length in Among the Creationists questions about what is, and is not, science generally leave me cold. Lately there's been some hand-wringing among certain physicists about whether string theory and the multiverse should be considered scientific. Such discussions are unimportant. What matters is whether the ideas are reasonable, not whether they meet some particular criterion for being considered science.

Mostly I feel the same way about ID. What I care about is whether its defenders have a reasonable argument to make. If they do, then any worries about demarcation criteria, religious implications, or political agendas are beside the point. Since they do not, we can just end the discussion right here. I say mostly, however, because the question cannot be ignored entirely. Periodically the ID folks try to have their ideas taught in science classes, you see. When that happens, it is perfectly reasonable to point out that ID bears none of the hallmarks of actual science. Instead it offers only a thin coating of science jargon on top of a right-wing religious agenda.

In other words, ID is not science, but that is the last of its problems

Which brings us back to Laufmann. Here's his first point:

1. The answer is yes, intelligent design is science, though not everyone knows it yet.

However, the reasons behind this are understood neither widely nor well. In my experience there are two common areas of misunderstanding:

First, many people try to apply demarcation criteria that are not appropriate for historical sciences. Demarcation criteria, such as observability, testability, falsifiability, predictive capability, and repeatability, do not generally apply to the causes of unobserved and non-repeatable events in the past. This is as true of the random events in Darwinist theory as it is for the actions of an intelligent agent in ID. Further, philosophers of science have largely abandoned demarcation criteria because there are too many exceptions to such rules.

Second, relatively few people are versed in the methodological nuances of historical sciences, so fail to properly apply these to ID.

This argument is an old stand-by of young-Earth creationism, but it is rarely put forth by ID proponents. And for good reason! It is a good example of an argument that is really so foolish that it embarrasses the whole cause of anti-evolutionism.

Evolution easily meets all of Laufmann's criteria. For evolution to be plausible, we must find certain patterns in the fossil record, in anatomy, in genetics, in biogeography, and in many other fields besides. Patterns, mind you, then have no plausible explanation under any rival theory that has ever been put forward.

This is obvious. It also explains why ID folks, when presented with the standard litany of evidence in support of evolution, do not generally reply by arguing that, actually, evolution makes no predictions or is non-testable. Instead they usually argue that scientists have misconstrued the evidence in some way. These arguments are not successful, but of greater importance just now is the fact that they are in direct conflict with what Laufmann is claiming.

Which brings us to his second point:

2. The dispute over ID has more to do with the definition of science than with any particular scientific merits of ID.

A central question lies at the heart of the origins debate: Are unintelligent causal forces capable of producing the complex orchestrations of information and processing machinery that we see in biology? These orchestrations occur at multiple levels, from molecular machinery within a cell to complex body subsystems (like the skeletal or circulatory systems) to the human mind.

Darwin's proponents argue that the answer is yes, unintelligent forces can do all the necessary work. ID proponents argue the other way. (See “Evolution's Grand Challenge” for my take on this question.)

As historical sciences, both Darwinism and ID deal with past events in space-time history. All historical sciences apply a similar rational process to infer the best explanation (cause) for observed outcomes (effects).

The rules are the same. The process is the same. The reasoning follows a similar path. Clearly, there is methodological equivalence between Darwinism and ID. How then can the Darwinian view be science while ID is not?

At this point we have simply left reality behind altogether. Evolution proceeds in the manner of all sciences. It puts forward a clear, detailed theory of what happened, deduces the consequences of that theory, and then carries out the necessary experiments and investigations to verify that those consequences hold.

ID, by contrast, does nothing remotely like that. This is because the ID theory is, in its entirety, that an intelligent designer of unspecified motives and abilities did something at some point in the course of natural history. There is nothing more to it than that, and there is nothing here that scientists can use to guide their research.

This is why ID literature consists almost entirely of “in principle” assertions regarding the sufficiency of natural causes. That is, rather than test the consequences of their theory against evidence, they try to establish design as the default explanation when one particular naturalistic theory is falsified.

For example, they claim that it is not plausible that an “irreducibly complex system” could evolve gradually by natural selection, and that therefore we must attribute it to design. Or they claim that various mathematical techniques they have devised can be used to eliminate chance and natural causes as explanations, thereby leaving design as the only alternative. Both of these claims are absurd, for reasons that have been explained many times. More to the present point, however, is that this is not the method of argument used by scientists when defending evolution.

Methodological equivalence would be if scientists argued, “We know that God does not exist because of all the evil and suffering in the world, so evolution must be correct by default.”

The fact is, we no longer need to speculate about whether ID is science. Earlier I said that I mostly don't care about demarcation questions, but that is not because I think they are intractable. Most of the time it is really very easy to determine whether something is science. A good minimum requirement is that the idea be fruitful. The ID folks have been telling us for more than twenty years that their ideas will revolutionize science and lead to profound new discoveries. They have had more than enough time to prove the skeptics wrong. But they have produced nothing. That is why their various attempts to produce their own research journal have all failed. Their latest attempt, BIO-Complexity, has produced nothing in 2016, and produced little in the previous few years.

For a comparison, the young-Earthers have managed to maintain their own research journal for more than thirty years.

Laufmann goes on for three more points, but we have seen enough. ID is not science. Worse, it is a vacuous idea supported by arguments that fail for obvious reasons. Small wonder it has produced nothing but rhetoric for more than two decades.

First, many people try to apply demarcation criteria that are not appropriate for historical sciences.

"Historical Sciences" being an invention of the creationist community. This is just a subtle and opaque form of the special pleading fallacy; first you invent a new category of science for your pet theory, then you say the standards applied to other scientific ideas don't apply to that category...and you hope nobody notices that what you really did there is carve out a gross exception for your idea.

Demarcation criteria, such as observability, testability, falsifiability, predictive capability, and repeatability, do not generally apply to the causes of unobserved and non-repeatable events

'Unobserved and non-repeatable' being code words for the highly scientific idea of "poof! God miracled it."

The rules are the same. The process is the same. The reasoning follows a similar path. Clearly, there is methodological equivalence between Darwinism and ID. How then can the Darwinian view be science while ID is not?

Because the process is not the same. When scientists follow the process of testing a design hypothesis, they do so by asking what other, independent empirical evidence would that designer leave behind, and checking for it. If you hypothesize a rock is an arrowhead but you can't decide the question just based on the rock itself, you look around for fire pits.. ID does not do this. In fact they take the extremely unscientific approach of refusing to hypothesize about the designer at all. That's not playing by the rules. To play by the rules, you should respond to an inability to test your hypothesis by expanding it and making it more detailed, you should not respond by making it vaguer in order to protect it from indpendent/orthognal factor testing.

But I have to say that all these philosophical arguments aren't (IMO) as powerful as - irony here - the historical argument against this 'historical science.' Which is that the who, what, and when of ID development points to it being an attempt to simply minimally repackage creationism in order to get around Edwards, by people who want to teach the biblical creation story in public High School biology classes. The timing is exact, the players are the same, the public messaging to Christians by IDers is that this is what it will do, OPAP treats the concepts as identical, heck even the copy edit mistakes and version revisions in OPAP make this apparent.

Now, as I discuss at some length in Among the Creationists questions about what is, and is not, science generally leave me cold.

You seem to be spending a lot of time and effort on a question that "leaves you cold"!

When you declare categorically that ID is not science then, like it or not, you are debating epistemology and the demarcation problem.

My position, by the way, is that there are many aspects of ID that count as science but it's all bad science.

By Larry Moran (not verified) on 10 Jun 2016 #permalink

I saw a recent report that there is a second set of rules encoded in DNA in addition to the inheritable traits. It essentially is part of epigenetics and does much to determine whether cells become an organ, foot, etc. There is a 6' long strand of DNA enfolded in each cell. The section on the outside of the clump contains the DNA encoding that part of the body.
One more fascinating piece of science explaining Darwin's wonderful law.

I feel like I've seen this episode before; is this Season 2?

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 10 Jun 2016 #permalink

Jason:

What matters is whether the ideas are reasonable, not whether they meet some particular criterion for being considered science

But what we count as "reasonable" is generally what we mean by "science". I'm not sure what distinction you're drawing here.

eric:

“Historical Sciences” being an invention of the creationist community.

I don't think that's actually true. Certainly Gould talked about the historical, contingent nature of biology, and how that means that it is often unable to employ the same methods (at least in the same way) as physics and chemistry. Anthropology and palaeontology would also be examples of historical sciences, as arguably would astronomy (and even, to some extent, astrophysics). That doesn't mean that IDers are right about ID, but it does mean that it is useful to distinguish between areas of study where experimentation and reproducibility of phenomena are easy to do, versus those that are hard or impossible.

Larry --

I'm discussing it because they're discussing it! And one blog post hardly constitutes a lot of time and effort.

As I see it, there are two main aspects to ID discourse. There are their arguments meant to discredit evolution, and then there is their alternative idea of what happened. The first aspect is bad science, the second aspect is not science at all.

Tulse--

I think William Paley was being very reasonable when he inferred the existence of a designer from the complexity of organisms, but I don't think he was drawing a scientific conclusion.

Jason, I'm not following the distinction you are making. How can a "very reasonable" inference not also be an at least informal scientific claim?

“God did it” is not a scientific hypothesis. But it might be a reasonable conclusion from the evidence. What's the problem?

If supernatural beings existed, then why wouldn't "this outcome was produced by a supernatural being" be a scientific hypothesis? I'm not clear on what you're ruling out here (which is why I think that "demarcation criteria" are actually quite important).

Tulse--

I think you're just defining science as, “that which it is reasonable to believe.” By that definition there is no difference between scientific and reasonable. A more common definition holds that a scientific hypothesis is one that can be tested against evidence from the physical world. “God did it” is not of this sort, regardless of whether or not He exists.

Actually, I think this discussion shows why demarcation criteria are mostly unimportant. Devise whatever definition of science you want, and then we can decide whether ID or anything else satisfies the definition. Outside of a courtroom the important question is whether the arguments being made are reasonable, not whether they meet an arbitrary standard for being considered science.

Of course, I'm assuming that reasonable does not need a definition. I'll go with, “you know it when you see it”, on that one.

A more common definition holds that a scientific hypothesis is one that can be tested against evidence from the physical world. “God did it” is not of this sort, regardless of whether or not He exists.

I don't follow. If it turned out that every organism's DNA had an ASCII representation of the phrase "I made this. Signed, God" in it, wouldn't that be evidence from the physical world that a god exists? Deities presumably interact with the physical world, and if they do, we can ask questions about them that potentially can be addressed empirically.

Lately there’s been some hand-wringing among certain physicists about whether string theory and the multiverse should be considered scientific. Such discussions are unimportant.

Well, assuming that funding and the next generation of physics Ph.D.'s are unimportant, sure.

May I offer my $0.02? Science is a Method of studying nature; observation, reasoning, empiricism (roughly).

Some perfectly reasonable things may be inferred without ever being subject to the Method.

“God did it” can only be a scientific hypothesis if it can be tested; that’s what empiricism is about. I am not aware of any way to test such a claim.

The claim “this outcome was produced by a supernatural being” cannot be scientific because science is limited to the natural; if a deity is testable, they are BY DEFINITION part of nature and no longer “supernatural”.

If you can propose a meaningful test of a deity, then hypotheses about them could be scientific, but then they become part of nature too, they are no longer supernatural.

“If it turned out that every organism’s DNA had an ASCII representation of the phrase “I made this. Signed, God” in it, wouldn’t that be evidence from the physical world that a god exists?”

Perhaps, but science is not about “evidence from nature”; it’s about testable evidence from nature. In your scenario, how is the evidence validated? (And how is the ASCII code translated into the genetic “alphabet”?)

“Deities presumably interact with the physical world, and if they do, we can ask questions about them that potentially can be addressed empirically.”

Well, if you can come up with such an empirically testable question, please do. I am not aware of such a question nor evidence that such questions actually exist.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 10 Jun 2016 #permalink

“If it turned out that every organism’s DNA had an ASCII representation of the phrase “I made this. Signed, God” in it, wouldn’t that be evidence from the physical world that a god exists?”

It would probably be evidence that aliens had a sense of humor.

Synonym of scientific method: methodological naturalism. Laufmann: "Many scientists conflate science with materialist philosophy."
Materialist philosophy is ID speak for methodlogical naturalism, ie the a priori neglect of supernatural explanations.
It's another tired trick: the attempt to "expand" science so that it does allow for supernatural explanations - and turn back the clock with more than 200 years, when scientists collectively decided to restrict themselves.
And you pointed out why. It worked.
But hey, for people like Laufmann it's so much easier trying to jump the bandwagon called science than actually do some work themselves and develop a method of their own.
My point is just that IDiocy can't be fruitful exactly because it's not science, ie rejects methodological naturalism.

@2 LM: "there are many aspects of ID that count as science but it’s all bad science."
Yeah, but it's those aspects that don't - the appeal to supernatural explanations - that make IDiocy unscientific. Plus of course the fact that IDiots always only try to improve on those aspects that are bad science by making them untestable - ie becoming unscientific again.

@10 JR: "Of course, I’m assuming that reasonable does not need a definition. I’ll go with, “you know it when you see it”, on that one."
I'm pretty sure Ol' Hambo, the Ayatollah of the Appalachian, is with you here. He just uses a different paradigm (or whatever he calls it - I can't remember now and don't feel like looking it up).

Tulse:

If it turned out that every organism’s DNA had an ASCII representation of the phrase “I made this. Signed, God” in it, wouldn’t that be evidence from the physical world that a god exists? Deities presumably interact with the physical world, and if they do, we can ask questions about them that potentially can be addressed empirically.

What I think you're arguing is that ID could be testable and scientific, if its proponents would just tweak it a bit so that there would be evidence out there in the world we could collect that would affect it's status (either supporting it or undermining it).

That may be so. But as I said in @1, the actual people proposing ID and the actual ID they want to teach does not meet this criteria. ID's proponents have gone so far as to assert the opposite - that their hypothesis does not tell us anything about what thet designer did exept "it designed," and furthermore that they will not hypothesize at all about anything else it may have left behind. Behe, in sworn testimony, even admitted that ID isn't science.

So I would say yes some types of ID hypothesis could be scientific. However the one creationists are using as a trojan horse to sneak the God back into schools is not one of them.

As far as I can see, "God did it" is unscientific mostly because "god" and "done by a god" are undefined. My suggestion would be to imagine one were to do science in a D&D or fantasy novel universe (or in the one imagined by the writers of much of the old testament, for that matter).

If we saw demons possessing people, gods smiting blasphemers, angels guarding dimensional portals and suchlike around us every day, and we had observed their methods of doing things for thousands of years, the sentence "god did it" would be filled with a lot more concrete meaning, and give us a much better idea of what to look for to test the claim, than it is and does in our actual universe where all those beings don't exist. And from that perspective I would say that "a god did it" could certainly be just as much an (at least in principle) testable scientific claim as "these tracks were left by beavers".

Given the right universe and those prior observations. In our universe admittedly the sentence has all the meaning of "Blorf grynked it".

I have previously put it this away: absent any reliable evidence of its existence, a god of unknown origin, unknown means of operation, and unknown motives (for "who can know the mind of god") has no explanatory value. Which I will now go on to say, means the god hypothesis (as it is now defined at least by fundamentalist Christians whom I grew up among) cannot in principle be used to make predictions.

In this it is similar to the multiverse hypothesis; there remains hope that some day in the future evidence might be found for either hypothesis (Jesus might return), but until then I don't consider either hypothesis to be part of science - although I happen to like the multiverse hypothesis personally.

Another similar hypothesis is that this universe is a simulation run on a computer of god-like capability, whose operators might occasionally intervene to change a few bits and tweak events one way or another - maybe even resurrecting some early cult leader so that his cult gains prominence. (Similar in that there is no good evidence for it and no way of making successful predictions from it.)

If the ID version of the god hypothesis wants to become part of science, it needs to show evidence and/or make successful predictions. I think it should start by doing basic research on how the "I" and "D" it refers to actually work, so that it knows what it is talking about. (I don't know of any ID researchers who have studied the history of design or designed any complex machines.) I'll suggest a starting point for their research, Gall's Law (for complex system design):

"A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system."

Jason,

You could have avoided a debate on what is or is not science by using a different title for your post. You could ha said, "ID is unreasonable but that's the least of its problems."

You didn't do that, I think you are actually very much more interested in proving that ID is not science than you let on. Why is this so important to you? Is it because that's one of the ways to win in American courts and conceding that some parts of ID might be scientific would weaken the case for censoring ID and keeping it out of public schools?

By Larry Moran (not verified) on 12 Jun 2016 #permalink

Larry-

Is the following a scientific hypothesis: “An intelligent designer of unspecified motives and abilities did something at some point in the course of natural history.” Yes or no?

I cannot reply for Larry Moran, but perhaps I may suggest another thought experiment that I have used in the past.

Imagine if we found another planet with life on it, but the organisms showed now phylogenetic structure, their population genetics suggest that they all started out with no deleterious alleles whatsoever about 10,000 +/- 500 years ago, and indeed geological studies show that organic matter and an atmosphere first appeared, apparently very suddenly, at the same time. Before that, the planet was just lifeless rock.

Faced with such a planet, would a scientist be unscientific to say "this looks as if it was created by some unknown intelligence, maybe an alien species who terraformed the planet for later colonisation"? I think not. Even without knowing anything about their motives or abilities, merely extrapolating from what we might do given enough power, intelligent design seems like a sensible tentative conclusion (to be revised or fleshed out as more data come in, as always in science).

The problem with ID is not that it can't in principle be a scientific idea. The problem is that our world and its life do not look designed at all, and the ID crowd are unwilling to admit it. That, and not the hypothesis itself, makes the movement unscientific.

Alex SL--

I would say your scientist is being unscientific, but he's not being unreasonable. Like Tulse, you seem to just be equating the two.

Re #21; No; it is not a scientific hypothesis. It is an assertion, and makes no testable claim (prediction).

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

Hm. As a scientist myself, I just find it hard to see where the boundary is; to me science is simply formalised and professional being reasonable about the world around us (as opposed to about abstract concepts, which would be math, philosophy, etc.).

Something like "my tentative conclusion is that this looks like an artifact, even if I don't yet know who exactly the artificer was and why they did it" does not strike me as something that e.g. an archaeologist, historian, engineer or geologist should reject as a scientific statement.

It sounds a bit as if you define science only as hypothesis testing through direct observation, but the actual lived practice of science is much broader than that (e.g., pure description, mathematical modelling, simulation studies, inference to the most reasonable explanation given all the data currently available, ...). If you are right then very little of what scientists do in their professional lives is science.

Now that I have seen Sean Samis' post, I would like to add that asking "is this a hypothesis?" is not necessarily the same as asking "is this potentially part of science?". There is more to science then a perennial sequence of hypotheses and their tests. My problem with #21 is not that it is not a hypothesis (it could have been a conclusion) but that it is so vague as to be meaningless.

"In this it is similar to the multiverse hypothesis; there remains hope that some day in the future evidence might be found for either hypothesis (Jesus might return), but until then I don’t consider either hypothesis to be part of science – although I happen to like the multiverse hypothesis personally."

The major difference is that the former case is testing to see if they can find out how it's WRONG, the latter ones are looking only for the bits that prove them right.

Assertive language is used in science discourse because the more nuanced and therefore accurate claims are so long winded and require such a wealth of background understanding that the conversation would be impenetrable. Positive statements are used to be clear, not to indicate "god-given" accuracy.

Hypotheses in science serve several functions, but one of the key ones is helping you decide where to direct further research. If these human space-going scientists can use Alex's hypothesis to decide what sort of experiment is likely to be useful or likely to pan out, (example: is it worth our while to investigate other planets in the system for signs of visitation? Why yes, according to this hypothesis, it is), then I think it could be reasonably counted as science.

If, OTOH, the proponents of that hypothesis said "oh, the designers we hypothesize would leave no marks on other planets. No messages. No nothing - our hypothesis states you won't find any sign of them other than this sudden appearance we've observed," then those proponents have not put forward a scientific hypothesis. In fact in that case they seem to have gone out of their way to avoid doing science and to make their idea immune to scientific enquiry, for fear of it disproving their claim. These proponents would appear to be more concerned with holding on to their idea than seeing if it's right.

I think this second case is a much more apt analogy for ID creationism than the first case.

That's essentially where string theory is: it can't yet be confirmed or falsified, but it does help us decide where to spend time, effort, and money in further investigation, which makes it a useful, valuable part of science.

Oops, I made a paragraph misordering error. My last paragraph about string theory belongs at the end of the first paragraph. I.e., I think its reasonably counted as 'a scientific hypothesis' because it helps us direct our research efforts further.

Re #29: Your distinction between String Theory and ID is on the money.

String theories (there are several) remain unproven (and may be unprovable) but efforts at proving them have resulted in many useful results. Recent work on the Higgs boson was facilitated with calculations from string theories.

ID has yet to be shown useful-even-if-unprovable; so ID is not scientific in even a broad sense of the word.

Some ID may be real—may be true—but it remains outside of science until the idea can be tested or until the idea proves scientifically useful.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

I suppose it would also be nonscientific to posit the aliens if in answer to "So what have we learned" is a mere restatement of the hypothesis.

If God Did It, what have we learned? If all we learned is God Did It, then the answer is "Nothing". If we learned that God is a compulsive fiddler and that he likes the colour blue, then we would at the least know

a) look for life on blue planets
b) we can understand the mind of god and predict their actions from the understanding of its motives, just like we can with any other entity able to consciously direct their actions

which is also why ID fails. We've learned nothing new if ID happened by chance to be right.

it's worse than that, though. It's ANTI science. It insists WE SHOULD NOT LOOK. It's irreducibly complex, therefore we should not see and test the claim it's irreducibly complex. We cannot ask questions about the designer. Or ask where THEY came from.

It stifles thought and inquiry and locks it into stagnant insistence of perfection.

It's anti science.

It's anti intellectualist.

It's anti humanity.

It's not just that it leads nowhere (by design).

If God Did It, what have we learned? If all we learned is God Did It, then the answer is “Nothing”.

We learn that common descent is wrong. We learn that potentially other undiscovered organisms on this planet may use radically different means for genetic inheritance. We learn that we should investigate more carefully apparent non-functional DNA. We learn that various apparent non-optimal and seemingly historically contingent solutions may be more optimized than first appears.

There are plenty of scientific questions that arise if it turned out that organisms were designed by an intelligent being or beings. None of them happen to be true, but that doesn't mean that hypothesis could not in principle be fruitful.

By Tulse (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

In reply to by Wow (not verified)

Re #32; I don’t think the question “so what have we learned” is as significant as “so what can we do next?” is. After all, positing some string theory might not teach us much, but it does open up a range of “next steps”; it’s not a dead-end like creationism (in all its forms, including ID) is.

That’s what you two points a) and b) are about, next steps.

As for the latter part of your comment, it should be enough that creationism is not-science. The rest is piling-on.

Believers are not generally anti-science; they just want to control how science looks at their religious beliefs. How science is conducted in other realms, they don’t object much.

“Anti-intellectualist” and “anti-humanity” are a bit over the top, and unnecessary anyway. Creationism is not science; that’s enough for me anyway; after that I lose interest in it.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

“We learn that common descent is wrong.” Not actually. “God did it” does not exclude common decent, it just makes it optional.

“We learn that potentially other undiscovered organisms on this planet may use radically different means for genetic inheritance.” Even without “God did it”, that is a possibility. Either way, we don’t learn this is actually happens until we find it, and since we are looking for new forms of life all the time, the idea that “God did it” is not necessary to this discovery.

“We learn that we should investigate more carefully apparent non-functional DNA.” I think we should already know that.

“We learn that various apparent non-optimal and seemingly historically contingent solutions may be more optimized than first appears.” I think we should already be aware of those possibilities.

And, incidentally, barring some direct communication with a deity, we could NOT KNOW that “God did it” except by discovering things like you mention; so I think you have it backwards: “God did it” does not reveal these possibilities, discovering these things and other similar things is what would make us consider “God did it” a reasonable possibility. That we have not yet discovered these things is one reason to believe “God did it” is not YET a reasonable possibility; and might never be.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

@34 ad @35 - yes IMO Sean is exactly right. The minimalist barebones claim "God designed" does not rule out hardly anything.

To rule things out, ID has posit hypothesis details that predict different observations from the TOE, and they seem to be distinctly unwilling to do that. Every observation is consistent with ID! Which is a feature if you're looking to evangelize what you see as an absolute truth, but a bug if you're trying to claim your idea is scientific.

To rule things out, ID has posit hypothesis details that predict different observations from the TOE, and they seem to be distinctly unwilling to do that

Again, we can distinguish how ID proponents actually work from whether "life was created by an intelligent being" is a scientific hypothesis. As I've said already, I agree that ID proponents are not acting as scientists, but I disagree that the hypothesis is inherently non-scientific.

“... we can distinguish how ID proponents actually work from whether “life was created by an intelligent being” is a scientific hypothesis.”

I admit I am not quite sure what this sentence even means.

If what you mean is that “how ID proponents actually work” (an activity) is distinguishable from “the claim that life was created by an intelligent being” (a theory) then that’s pretty obvious and meaningless. How chemists work is distinguishable from any established chemical theory; activities and theories are distinct even if related.

“As I’ve said already, I agree that ID proponents are not acting as scientists, but I disagree that the hypothesis is inherently non-scientific.”

I believe that “life was created by an intelligent being" is an inherently non-scientific statement because it asserts no testable claim. There’s no next thing for scientists to do BECAUSE OF IT. There is no scientific activity for ID proponents to engage in BECAUSE OF their claims; there’s only rhetorical efforts to persuade others to adopt their opinions.

If you want us to accept your claim that “life was created by an intelligent being” IS potentially a scientific hypothesis, you’ll need to show us some next steps which become apparent and meaningful ONLY BECAUSE OF the claim. Those seem to be missing here; all your previous attempts turned out to be next steps we should already be doing.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

“… we can distinguish how ID proponents actually work from whether “life was created by an intelligent being” is a scientific hypothesis.”

I admit I am not quite sure what this sentence even means.

It means that IDers are terrible scientists, but the hypothesis itself is scientific. The hypothesis that vaccines may cause autism is scientific (and false), even if its proponents don't understand how real science works. Heck, "the government has airplanes leaving chemtrails to mind control the populace" is itself a testable hypothesis, even if it is wackadoodle. Just because a hypothesis is associated with non-scientific views and practices doesn't make that hypothesis itself non-scientific.

If you want us to accept your claim that “life was created by an intelligent being” IS potentially a scientific hypothesis, you’ll need to show us some next steps which become apparent and meaningful ONLY BECAUSE OF the claim.

Again, the notion that we should not expect all organisms to necessarily share common descent is, I think, a "next step" that someone using the framework of evolutionary theory wouldn't use as their focus. As well, with an ID orientation, researchers would look more for complex systems that didn't have a clear historically-contingent evolutionary path. It would also be reasonable to try to quantify notions of "complexity" (either "irreducible" or "specified") to identify possible structures and systems that had been intelligently designed -- again, the people who have done this have not done it at all well, but that doesn't mean the notion itself is absurd and non-scientific.

Just to be clear, the Intelligent Design Hypothesis is false, and none of the work it has generated has been useful. But again, just because a hypothesis is false does not mean it is not scientific (phlogiston and ether were hypotheses that were scientific but wrong).

By Tulse (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

In reply to by sean samis (not verified)

Again, the notion that we should not expect all organisms to necessarily share common descent is, I think, a “next step” that someone using the framework of evolutionary theory wouldn’t use as their focus. As well, with an ID orientation, researchers would look more for complex systems that didn’t have a clear historically-contingent evolutionary path. It would also be reasonable to try to quantify notions of “complexity” (either “irreducible” or “specified”) to identify possible structures and systems that had been intelligently designed — again, the people who have done this have not done it at all well, but that doesn’t mean the notion itself is absurd and non-scientific.

The third, yes. For IC or CSI to really gain traction, its proponents would need to describe a heuristic that can be applied independently from them to calculate values for a variety of structures or gene sequences. Others could then calculate values and see if the results of those calculations line up with any interesting idea (like "huh, all the structures with a CSI value of 315 or higher aren't a result of single point mutation...let's figure out why..."). IDers have not done this, or at least seem to have mixed thoughts on how this is to be done. Sometimes -Log(P) gets talked about but they rarely defend that as "the" method of measuring complexity. Its worth noting that Behe and others claimed to already have calculated the complexity of a variety of things, almost 20 years ago now, which means their failure to publish the heuristic is really unconscionable and can't be chalked up to 'still working out the details.' You can always publish what you did, even if you're still looking to improve on it. They didn't publish what they did. IMO because they have no such heuristic; it's all argument from (qualitative) incredulity.

Your first two, however, are less firm. What do they even mean in terms of developing a research proposal or experiment? What should we test? And why start with a negative such as 'these things do not share an ancestor'? How about starting with a positive, such as 'this thing was created by aliens, in Montana, 2 billion years ago'? That's the sort of positive ID hypothesis that could count as scientific. Again, ID is not that sort of idea; not only does it not have any such positive claims to it, but proponents say that it will never have them because its not their job or interest to hypothesize about the nature or actions of the designer. They actively avoid the 'who, where, when, and how' of design, and make only the de minimis 'what' statement of "it was designed." That's not a scientific hypothesis.

proponents say that it will never have them because its not their job or interest to hypothesize about the nature or actions of the designer. They actively avoid the ‘who, where, when, and how’ of design, and make only the de minimis ‘what’ statement of “it was designed.” That’s not a scientific hypothesis.

Again, that's conflating the way they actually "research" the hypothesis with the hypothesis itself. In the past, natural theology was ostensibly quite happy to look at nature as a way of understanding its supposed creator. Heck, Haldane is alleged to have said that a divine creator must have had "an inordinate fondness for beetles", and although that's joke, it's also an example of how one could use observations of the natural world to draw conclusions about "the designer". The primary reason that IDers don't is to maintain the tissue-thin fiction that their interest is purely religious, which they do largely for legal reasons.

By Tulse (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

In reply to by eric (not verified)

Re #39: “Just because a hypothesis is associated with non-scientific views and practices doesn’t make that hypothesis itself non-scientific.”

Agreed. What makes an idea non-scientific is when there’s nothing to DO because if it; when there’s no “next step”. Science is an activity as well as an attitude. I think I have a scientific attitude, but I’m not really a scientist because I don’t engage in the activity in any rigorous way.

“Again, the notion that we should not expect all organisms to necessarily share common descent is, I think, a “next step” that someone using the framework of evolutionary theory wouldn’t use as their focus.”

Adopting a notion is not a “next step”. I would expect science to CURRENTLY be on the lookout for this possibility, but there’s nothing additional to DO because of this.

“... researchers would look more for complex systems that didn’t have a clear historically-contingent evolutionary path. It would also be reasonable to try to quantify notions of “complexity” (either “irreducible” or “specified”) to identify possible structures and systems that had been intelligently designed — again, the people who have done this have not done it at all well, but that doesn’t mean the notion itself is absurd and non-scientific.”

Again, adopting notions are not “next steps”. I would expect science to CURRENTLY be on the lookout for these possibilities, but there’s nothing additional to DO because of this.

It seems that you think an idea is “scientific” if it’s merely possible and that scientists should be on the lookout for it. There is an infinity of merely possible ideas that scientists can be (and perhaps should be) on the look-out for, but that does not make those ideas “scientific” because for the most part these ideas don’t impel a scientist to do more than be observant and open-minded; WHICH THEY SHOULD BE ANYWAY.

And I think eric in #40 makes some very good points also. It seems to me that, if creationists (which includes IDers) think there are experiments to design or conduct, they need to get out there and do them. Creationism is not a science because creationists DON’T DO science; they seem to just talk about it.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

Re #41; “Again, that’s conflating the way they actually 'research' the hypothesis with the hypothesis itself.”

What Creationists do is beside the point, NO ONE can “research” creationism scientifically if it makes no testable predictions and provides no utility to other fields of science. Until the “God did it” claim is scientifically testable or useful, it’s not science.

You have listed some things scientists should be on the lookout for while they are going about their work, but those are nothing special. A field geologist probably should be open minded enough to watch the wildlife around them, and maybe spot a sasquatch in the event of; but that does not change the geologist’s professional activities, so the idea of a sasquatch being real is not a scientific idea. And they might spot that grizzly they’re getting too close to, also.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

One reason underlying disagreement here could be confusion between ID/creationism as a hypothesis and ID/creationism as a movement. Again, IMO the former is a valid hypothesis (Paley was right about the watch found on a heath, after all), but the latter is still pseudoscientific because its proponents don't accept that the former has failed as applied to life on Earth.

One reason underlying disagreement here could be confusion between ID/creationism as a hypothesis and ID/creationism as a movement.

There is no "as a hypothesis" right now. At least not any scientific hypothesis. The only thing Tulse's argument really shows is that there could be such a thing. But there isn't right now. This should be an easy distinction to understand. There could be a credible steady state theory, but there isn't. There could be a competing theory of matter that doesn't involve atoms, but there isn't. There could be a credible ID theory of the origin of species, but there isn't.

IANAS, but I think at minimum science involves measurement and calculations based on those measurements.

IDism, lacking either of those, qualifies well below engineering, finance, and cooking on any reasonable scale of scientificity.

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

@ 23 Alex SL: "would a scientist be unscientific to say ..."
Unlike JR I don't think it unscientific per se. That doesn't rescue IDiocy though. IDiocy is unscientific in the first place because it proposes a supernatural intelligence, while science is about our natural reality.
I don't think JR's position helpful at all. I perfectly can imagine IDiocy repaired so that it does become reasonable. There is even a name for it: theistic evolution, ie theology superimposed on science.

I perfectly can imagine IDiocy repaired so that it does become reasonable. There is even a name for it: theistic evolution, ie theology superimposed on science.

"Theistic evolution" involves the supernatural just as much as ID does. The only advantage that "theistic evolution" has is that its handwaving vagueness and lack of specificity make it seem more reasonable on the surface, but that very lack of specificity is also what makes it far less amendable to scientific approaches than ID. ID at least makes concrete falsifiable claims (such as "the eye is so complex it cannot have evolved") -- theistic evolution doesn't assert anything concrete except that the appearance of humans somehow involved divine intervention in some manner left undefined.

By Tulse (not verified) on 14 Jun 2016 #permalink

In reply to by MNb (not verified)

eric,

But that is more or less what I am trying to get across: there could be such a thing. ID is a valid scientific statement if e.g. applied to a flint stone showing signs of having been sharpened into a tool 200k years ago, and it could be a valid scientific statement if applied to a hypothetical world where life actually shows evidence of instantaneous, simultaneous creation. It could have turned out that we are living on such a world - if that had been the case, would scientists be forbidden from tentatively making that conclusion? Are scientists supposed to say "we don't have an opinion on that" unless they happen to be born into a planet where evolution occurred?

MNb,

I have yet to understand how to differentiate the supernatural from the natural, or in other words what supernatural is supposed to mean, so that is not what disqualifies ID for me. It is their refusal to accept evidence to the contrary that is the problem.

Re #48: ID “could be a valid scientific statement if applied to a hypothetical world where life actually shows evidence of instantaneous, simultaneous creation.”

In that hypo, ID might be a valid scientific hypothesis; except that I am at a loss to understand what would constitute “evidence of instantaneous, simultaneous creation”; it seems to me no such evidence is possible except by exhaustively excluding all other, reasonable explanations. So even in your hypo, ID can only become a valid scientific hypothesis as a LAST RESORT; when all else has failed. It is rationally no different than the hypothesis: We Can Never Know.

In the real world, we are certainly nowhere near needing such a last resort.

Re: “I have yet to understand how to differentiate the supernatural from the natural, or in other words what supernatural is supposed to mean,”

I have always differentiated the natural from the supernatural by the fact that nature works its wonders through rationally understandable processes. We don’t understand them all yet, but we have good reason to think we’ll understand more of them and better as science progresses.

The supernatural refers to things that happen “magically” through mysterious and unfathomable processes.

Harry Potter is a good example: although the magicians are able to trigger magical events, there is little or no understanding of the processes behind those triggers and their events. The “Killing Curse” (avada kedavra) produced a predictable consequence; but as to how those words created that consequence, no one understood. As far as I can recall, no one even asked.

That is the supernatural: “God did it.” “How did God do it?” “We should not ask.”

Regarding #49; theistic evolution is a valid religious belief; nothing more.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 14 Jun 2016 #permalink

I am at a loss to understand what would constitute “evidence of instantaneous, simultaneous creation”; it seems to me no such evidence is possible except by exhaustively excluding all other, reasonable explanations

Something like Haldane's "fossil rabbits in the Precambrian" would count, would it not?

I think that folks are forgetting that creationism/ID have been effectively tested by scientific means, and have been falsified. In other words, they are failed hypotheses, but were hypotheses nonetheless. They are much like geocentricism, which was also a theologically motivated hypothesis regarding the physical world that was demonstrated to be false.

By Tulse (not verified) on 14 Jun 2016 #permalink

In reply to by sean samis (not verified)

I am at a loss to understand what would constitute “evidence of instantaneous, simultaneous creation”; it seems to me no such evidence is possible except by exhaustively excluding all other, reasonable explanations.

1. All forms of (animal) life first appearing in the same strata, without progression.
2. Each individual species using a different inheritance mechanism.
3. Orthogonal/independent signals of a designing intelligence being present, such as a buried spaceship.

IMO its pretty easy to come up with a scenario in which some non-creationist form of ID would be credible. Those scenarios just aren't our reality, and the creationist form of ID presented in our reality refuses to make independently testable claims. Everything we have discovered or will be discovered will be claimed to be consistent with 'God did it.'

Re: #51. A good try; really.

“1. All forms of (animal) life first appearing in the same strata, without progression.
2. Each individual species using a different inheritance mechanism.
3. Orthogonal/independent signals of a designing intelligence being present, such as a buried spaceship.”

Taken together; I have a better hypothesis: these creatures evolved on other planets and were brought here on the now-buried space-ship. They were not created where they were found, but transported from where they evolved.

And why make an exception for non-animal life?

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 14 Jun 2016 #permalink

sean samis @50:

That's odd, I find it easy to imagine what such evidence would have to look like. See my comment further upthread. In other words, what eric wrote as his first point. Your alternative hypothesis is good as applied to each individual species in turn, although we can imagine genetic evidence that is implausible under the hypothesis of evolution. But either way it wouldn't change the fact that the biosphere of that planet was evidently created.

So supernatural is everything where we don't understand the process? But that means that 2,000 years ago fire was magic and then stopped being magic once oxidation was discovered. What is more, don't we always reach a point where we can't answer the next layer of "why?", at least momentarily? And conversely, how do you know that the wizards can't find the mechanism behind their spells if they initiate a research program? This does not seem like a productive definition to me.

Tulse,

Complete agreement!

So supernatural is everything where we don’t understand the process?

'Supernatural' is a bit of a loaded term, and using it in regards to the question of what science can study etc. can cause all sorts of semantic debates that are - IMO - ultimately unhelpful and lead nowhere. I think what we should emphasize is that many of the phenomena people typically classify as 'supernatural' - ghosts, faith healing, telepathy, etc. - science can investigate (and has, and has debunked).

In fact, I would suggest that as a general strategy, if you're in a debate or discussion with someone who claims science can't study the supernatural and then cites some definitional or philosophical reason why, the most useful response for moving the debate forward would be "tell me what phenomena you specifically want to talk about, and then we can discuss whether that phenomena would be open to scientific investigation." I would bet that 90% of the time theistic or credulous people are discussing the supernatural, they aren't talking about inherently un-testable phenomena like Sagan's dragon, they're talking about historically familiar claims like ESP or miracle working. I.e., they're talking about claims that are testable by science, no matter what categorical pigeonhole you put them in.

I think what we should emphasize is that many of the phenomena people typically classify as ‘supernatural’ – ghosts, faith healing, telepathy, etc. – science can investigate (and has, and has debunked).

Exactly. Science has no trouble in principle testing hypotheses about the supernatural. Heck, there are numerous ways in which specific claims of ID have been debunked (for example, showing an evolutionary pathway for something as complex as the mammalian eye or flagellum).

Alex SL;

Given the circumstances you outline in #23, you asked “... would a scientist be unscientific to say “this looks as if it was created by some unknown intelligence, maybe an alien species who terraformed the planet for later colonisation”?”

If that statement is scientific, it is so only because it is the result of scientific efforts to explain what was found; taking your givens, it is a valid scientific CONCLUSION only if and when all other possibilities have been excluded. And of course, taking your givens, the next step is to try to find out the who, the how, and the why of this planet.

There is a conflation of things in this dispute which needs to be clarified, a conflation created by creationists for the purpose of sowing confusion. Eric alludes to this in his #55.

ID (as advocated by creationists) is different from the obvious activities of humans to design and create objects. ID is about a deity. It has to be because one tenet of ID is that life is too complex to have arisen naturally; it must have been designed and created.

The next logical question is, of course “by whom?” That HAS TO BE GOD. Intelligent Aliens are forbidden because they are obviously living things in some general sense of those words; since life cannot be natural, these Intelligent Aliens MUST BE CREATED BY GOD. If these Intelligent Aliens could evolve into existence naturally, then barring very specific evidence, we could have too.

Creationism (which includes ID) cannot accept the idea of evolution working anywhere, or at any time. If evolution does work somewhere, it can work here; a conclusion Creationists reject.

So when you or others on this thread hypothesis about worlds created by Aliens, you are mistaken if you think this is just ID, it is in fact a wholly different thing. That confusion is the goal of Creationists; it must be avoided.

Can a scientist validly conclude that some object or system X was designed and built by some as-yet-unknown maker? Of course.

Can a scientist validly conclude that some object or system X was designed and built by a deity? No. That would require the deity to be part of nature, which is for most modern concepts of deity an oxymoron. Deities operate outside nature; they are supernatural. Deities cannot be explained, explanations about them cannot be tested or otherwise verified.

I think this adequately responds to your questions in #54. Aliens might be able to manufacture a planet and an ecosystem, but their nature and their methods would be subject to scientific scrutiny too.

“So supernatural is everything where we don’t understand the process?” No. The supernatural is everything whose cause or nature we imagine instead of explain. Obviously, an imaginary “explanation” is, in this sense not a real explanation, but merely an invention of imagination.

The boundary between magic and natural is not fixed by the phenomena in question. Fire is fire, it was thus 2000 years ago and still is now.

The boundary between magic and natural is in the approach the observer takes to the phenomena. Fire was regarded magically when it was simply accepted as occurring, “explained” by imaginary stories which were then accepted without further inquiry.

Once humans decided to look closer, to seek real explanations no matter how banal or upsetting, the transition to natural began. Once humans decided to test their explanations, science began.

The wizards in the Harry Potter universe certainly could search for the actual, underlying mechanisms of the spells, charms, curses, and other phenomena they practice. If they began to, rationally and without bias, then those things would also begin to transition to natural. There have been stories based on just such ideas; Harry Potter just does not fall into that category.

Yes, there will always be unknowns, things we cannot explain. But as long as we try to find their explanation, then they will not be supernatural, just unexplained.

Scientists have attempted to use the scientific method to investigate supernatural phenomena; the results have been empty; but belief in those phenomena persists precisely because they are supernatural: their causes and nature are imagined, not explained. This is why science cannot debunk the supernatural; it can only persuade some people to give up believing in them. Those persons have explanations (imagery) which comfort them and which are immune to debunking by science because their imaginary explanations are untestable.

I think it’s fairly clear that the contributors to this thread agree that Creationism/ID are not sciences; the remaining controversy seems to be about the relationship between the scientific method and supernatural claims. The method can be applied to supernatural claims, but it cannot debunk them because ultimately their explanations are untestable. It might be fair to say that the supernatural is whatever you accept as true regardless of any doubts cast on it.

sean s.

This is a long comment written hastily, I apologize in advance for any typos or misedits.

By sean samis (not verified) on 15 Jun 2016 #permalink

Creationism (which includes ID) cannot accept the idea of evolution working anywhere, or at any time.

That's not true -- the notion of distinguishing between "microevolution" and "macroevolution" is central to many forms of creationism/ID, and almost all creationists argue that evolutionary changes can happen within limited parameters (to "kinds"), but can't produce large-scale alterations to generate new broad categories of organisms (roughly equivalent to genus).

If evolution does work somewhere, it can work here; a conclusion Creationists reject.

I agree that it isn't necessarily logically consistent to allow natural selection to produce small changes in forms, but not large changes. However, that is indeed the position of nearly all creationists (who presumably can't deny that small changes, observable over the short term, are indeed obvious).

Tulse;

Do you know any creationist who accepts even the possibility of abiogenesis? I don’t. And since you agree that creationists reject the idea of evolution creating large-scale alterations, what’s left is pretty much what I wrote: creationists reject the idea of life arising naturally and evolution producing intelligent creatures from simple, basic forms.

Therefore, when creationists refer to an Intelligent Designer, that can only refer to a Deity (usually their deity); nothing else is possible in their view. Since “putting God to the test” is forbidden, their deity could not ever be validated which makes their explanation strictly supernatural.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 15 Jun 2016 #permalink

Sean @57: I think Behe's testimony at Dover - and the Judge's incredulous response - provides a good summary of how ID views the subject of other designers. Which is to say that "on paper" the concept allows for aliens etc., and "officially" the theory does not specify who or what the designer must be. Officially, aliens are allowed. But the proponents, when they are being honest, will readily admit that the 'who designed the designers' sequence must, in their opinion, ultimately begin with God. Politically/socially, designer = God is also clearly the message the ID-supporting public sends even while organizations like the DI run around waving their arms and shouting 'don't say that!', and even judges with no science background can see the religious message underneath the hypothetical 'designer neutrality' that ID tries to project.

This somewhat reminds me of Jerry Coyne's notion of sophisticated theologians. On the one hand you've got theologians like Plantinga making arguments about uncaused causes and David Hart talking about grounds of being. But those are very different from a layperson stating they believe Jesus walked around resurrecting people and walking on water. We have a similar disjoint here between academic ID pronouncements that tend to be philosophically minimalist (analogous to Hart's concept of God), and how laypeople view it, which tends to be far more theologically meaty.

With ID, of course, the disjoint is intentional, because the whole point (IMO) was to legally wall off covert post-1987 attempts to put God back in school from overt pre-1987 attempts to put God back in school.

eric; I think we generally agree on this matter.

I read Dover in law school, I recall the judge asked the IDers if an alien was actually an option, and they said ‘no’.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 15 Jun 2016 #permalink

Nope Sean, you’re wrong about the trial. Behe in the trial says it *is* an option, though he admits it’s a far-fetched one. Here’s his testimony from Day 10 (Q is one of the lawyers, A is Behe):

Q. So is it accurate for people to claim or to represent that intelligent design holds that the designer was God?
A. No, that is completely inaccurate.
Q. Well, people have asked you your opinion as to who you believe the designer is, is that correct?
A. That is right
Q. Has science answered that question?
A. No, science has not done so.
Q. And I believe you have answered on occasion that you believe the designer is God, is that correct?
A. Yes, that's correct.
Q. Are you making a scientific claim with that answer?
A. No, I conclude that based on theological and philosophical and historical factors…

And some more from Day 11:

Q. Now we've heard some testimony about space aliens and time traveling biologists. And I believe you made some similar reference to that in your book, Darwin's Black Box, is that correct?
A. Yes.
Q. And why was that?
A. Well, this was, you know, a tongue-in-cheek effort to show people that, you know, intelligent design does not exclude natural explanations, although some, you know, explanations we might wave our hands to think up right now might strike many people as implausible, they are not, you know, utterly illogical. And it was kind of a placemaker to say that maybe some explanation will occur to us or be found in the future which will, in fact, be a completely natural one.

Behe is honest enough to admit that he thinks the designer is God. But when it comes to ID as a theory, he sticks to the party line that it allows for aliens and so on. This, of course, did not stop the judge from seeing through it. I suppose I should let Judge Jones have the last say on this matter:

Although proponents of the IDM occasionally suggest that the designer could be a space alien or a time-traveling cell biologist, no serious alternative to God as the designer has been proposed by members of the IDM, including Defendants’ expert witnesses. (20:102-03 (Behe)). In fact, an explicit concession that the intelligent designer works outside the laws of nature and science and a direct reference to religion is Pandas’ rhetorical statement, “what kind of intelligent agent was it [the designer]” and answer: “On its own science cannot answer this question. It must leave it to religion and philosophy.” (P-11 at 7; 9:13-14 (Haught)). A significant aspect of the IDM is that despite Defendants’ protestations to the contrary, it describes ID as a religious argument. In that vein, the writings of leading ID proponents reveal that the designer postulated by their argument is the God of Christianity…”

eric;

I stand corrected on the testimony in Dover. Thank you.

However, the conclusion that the ID really has to be God still stands. Aliens are merely a nominal possibility, which is what the Judge noticed too. And as we’ve discussed, aliens would not suffice anyway (who made them?).

Creationist ID is fundamentally non-science and cannot be rescued from that except by jettisoning the deity.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 15 Jun 2016 #permalink

Creationist ID is fundamentally non-science and cannot be rescued from that except by jettisoning the deity.

To be fair, though, I don't think anyone here was disagreeing with that, if we take "Creationist ID" to refer to the community who practices it. What some of us here are objecting to is the specific notion that "biological organisms were intentionally designed by an intelligent being" is not a scientific hypothesis (albeit a falsified one).

By Tulse (not verified) on 15 Jun 2016 #permalink

In reply to by sean samis (not verified)

And as we’ve discussed, aliens would not suffice anyway (who made them?).

Aliens suffice for the ID argument that some features of Earth life are too complex to have evolved. Presumably, an alien without those features could have evolved and then built us, the same way a human might build an IR camera even though we don't have IR capability ourselves.

Aliens do not suffice for broader ID creationist arguments, such as (a) intelligence is one of the features 'too complex to have evolved,' or (b) there is some 'barrier' to too much change from some baseline state or (c) genomic information must be conserved. However at least in 2005, Behe was not making any of those broader arguments. Well, at least not when speaking as a scientist. :)

Having a couple of different versions of your claim and switching them when critics attack one seems to be a somewhat common creationist strategy. So it really shouldn't be too surprising that ID has a couple of different flavors, one of which says aliens suffice.

The first argument only suffices if the creationist can be specific about what features of Earth life are “too complex to have evolved”; as soon as it is shown not “too complex” then they have to reset their goal-posts. They will continue to do this as long as they can, of course but it’s abundantly clear this is merely a ruse.

Either way, there’s no point in saying creationist ID is ever scientific; when it appears to be it is only a pretense. On it’s best day, creationism is almost a pseudo-science. Almost.

What actual science does Behe do? I ask out of genuine ignorance. If he does no actual science, then whenever he speaks, it is not as a scientist.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 15 Jun 2016 #permalink

Tulse;

“What some of us here are objecting to is the specific notion that ‘biological organisms were intentionally designed by an intelligent being’ is not a scientific hypothesis (albeit a falsified one)”

I don’t think anyone here disagrees with that; after all, there are human scientists trying to do that very thing. Certainly it would be possible that hypothetical aliens could have done that in the past and that contemporary scientists could stumble upon the evidence (though so far no one has). But of course, that is an entirely different topic from creationist ID.

You are talking about lightning bugs, they are talking about lightning; and they encourage the confusion.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 15 Jun 2016 #permalink

sean samis: it is a valid scientific CONCLUSION only if and when all other possibilities have been excluded.

Sorry, but that is nonsense. In science we often face the situation that we cannot positively exclude an option (you can always ad-hoc, after all) but we can decide that on the balance of evidence a different option is the most probable. What is more, what you write sounds rather a lot like the creationist "I don't believe in your idea, so my idea wins by default". No, in the scenarios I described there is in fact evidence for createdness, be it the marks on the flint stone or the geological history of the terraformed planet, not just evidence against the alternatives.

Apart from that, yes, obviously the ID creationists are about god, and obviously their movement is pseudoscience. But I never claimed any different. The point is that ID can in principle be a scientific inference. The idea itself is not unscientific, otherwise it would be unscientific to conclude the obvious about, say, an ancient archaeological artifact that I don't know the creator or purpose of.

So we are agreed, except perhaps where the confusion lies. I feel it is not only deliberately sown by creationists, there is also some arising from USAmerican colleagues confusing the need to argue in front of a court that the contemporary religiously-motivated ID movement is unscientific with the question of whether the ID claim can be a scientific hypothesis. Those are two different questions, but a surprising number of people cannot tell them apart.

I know two useful definitions of nature: (1) "all that exists" or (2) "stuff that hasn't been transformed or built by humans". Under either definition gods would be part of nature, if they existed. As mentioned upthread, I have yet to find a coherent, useful definition to tell apart nature and supernature. Your definition of magic, for example, does not allow me to identify something as magic if magic really exists. You merely defined it as intellectual laziness, which is clearly not how the word is used by the majority of people in our culture.

By the way, it also means you build your preferred conclusion that magic doesn't exist into the premises of your argumentation. I come to the same conclusion, but for what I consider more legitimate reasons. Instead of saying, magic / supernature doesn't exist because I have defined it as those instances where people don't look for the true explanation, I would insist on those claiming that magic / supernature exists to provide criteria that allows me to distinguish it from nature. No such criteria have ever been forthcoming, so it does not appear to be a helpful concept.

Alex SL:

“In science we often face the situation that we cannot positively exclude an option ... but we can decide that on the balance of evidence a different option is the most probable.”

That happens, and in that case, a valid scientific conclusion is that the different option is most probable.

Remember that my comment was in regard to a hypothetical option that something “looks as if it was created by some unknown intelligence, maybe an alien species who terraformed the planet for later colonization.” It may be a REASONABLE conclusion to say something “looks” that way, but that’s not a valid SCIENTIFIC conclusion because (as those underwater explorers recently rediscovered) something may “look” artificial but actually be quite natural.

You can of course posit circumstances where something does not just “look as if it were created by some unknown intelligence”; you can posit circumstances where the something actually MUST be “created by some unknown intelligence”; but that’s my point. You can make your hypo validly scientific, but only by constraining your discovery so much that no other option remains reasonable. As I said (and maintain), your hypo can only be a valid scientific conclusion if you have excluded all other possibilities. I hope that we both understand that “exclusion” need not be absolute, but merely reasonable.

And as before, when discussing designed artifacts, we need to distinguish things designed by humans or equivalent aliens and things designed by deities. The creationist ID claim cannot be a scientific hypothesis for reasons already given.

“Your definition of magic, for example, does not allow me to identify something as magic if magic really exists.”

No, the thing that is keeping you from identifying something that actually exists as magic is that you have not said what actually-existing magic would be; you have not provided any definition of such a thing.

If something actually exists and actually can be observed, it can be defined. But in this instance, I can’t tell what you are looking for. I cannot respond further until I know the object of your inquiry.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 16 Jun 2016 #permalink

Yay, we have gone in a circle at least once! Jason himself already claimed a distinction between reasonable conclusions about empirical matters and scientific conclusions. I wrote that I do not understand what the difference is given that science is more than just isolated hypothesis tests, so please consider this written again, to start the second circle.

your hypo can only be a valid scientific conclusion if you have excluded all other possibilities

Repeating an assertion doesn't make it so. Bayesian phylogenetic analyses, for example, merely assign probabilities to different options, and we accept those that show the by far highest posterior probability. I have no idea how you could, even in principle, 'exclude' the tornado in a junkyard aeroplane assembly, for example. The distinction you make does not appear to exist.

"you have not provided any definition of such a thing"

I have not claimed that magic exists, so I don't need to provide the definition. What I am saying is that magic believers fail to provide the definition, and that you use a definition that begs the question. "I can't tell what you are looking for" is precisely my position, but it did not appear to be yours as per your comment #57.

Alex SL;

Regarding: “Bayesian phylogenetic analyses, for example, merely assign probabilities to different options, and we accept those that show the by far highest posterior probability.”

Maybe true, but then your conclusion can be nothing more than X “shows by far the highest posterior probability” which is a tentative evaluation; it’s hardly a conclusion since your Bayesian analysis seems to indicate further research is needed before you can CONCLUDE the matter.

Regarding: “I have no idea how you could, even in principle, ‘exclude’ the tornado in a junkyard aeroplane assembly, for example.”

I guess you missed my comment: “I hope that we both understand that ‘exclusion’ need not be absolute, but merely reasonable.”

No one can absolutely “exclude the tornado in a junkyard” scenario, but reasonable people can agree that it is extremely improbable; and verification of that one-off scenario may be almost impossible. Verification of hypotheses is a critical part of the scientific method.

Also, it appears you think I am using the word “exclude” in an absolute sense; but I am not. Like your Bayesian analysis, I am using “exclude” in a reasonable sense; and doing so expressly.

Regarding: “What I am saying is that magic believers fail to provide the definition, ... ‘I can’t tell what you are looking for’ is precisely my position, but it did not appear to be yours as per your comment #57.”

If this is your position, then I think we agree. In #57 I wrote that “the thing that is keeping [us] from identifying something that actually exists as magic is that [none] have not said what actually-existing magic would be.” In other words: you cannot find something if you don’t know what you’re looking for; which I think is your point too.

I addressed those comments to you because you did ask how you’d identify magic; perhaps that was just rhetorical. We seem to agree, to “find magic” first you’d need to be able to say what you’re looking for.

Like you, I’ve put little effort into defining magic because to me it is little more than a category of imaginary, unexamined explanations for various phenomena.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 17 Jun 2016 #permalink

Excluding: Well, then I just don't understand where you see the difference. The tornado in the junkyard is merely improbable; likewise, evolution on the terraformed planet is merely improbable in the light of our hypothetical evidence. And all conclusions in science are tentative. It is always thus. (Slight quibble though: I think a lot of people would be a bit uncomfortable with the statement that we "verify" hypotheses.)

Magic: Okay then. I misunderstood you in #57 to define magic as that what people are unwilling to study.

((Chuckle))

Never mind, Alex. You and I just won’t agree. So be it.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 17 Jun 2016 #permalink

@Larry

You seem to be spending a lot of time and effort on a question that “leaves you cold”!

Shades of "Why do Atheists spend so much time criticising God when they don't believe such an entity exists ? "

By Deepak Shetty (not verified) on 17 Jun 2016 #permalink

BTW sean s, nice work over at UD. At After the Bar closes we've been watching and making fun of them for 10+ years, and honestly, there's basically no lower they can sink. Kairosdoofus's two competing obsessions, gay male sex and adverbs, are pretty much the nadir, and that includes BatShit77 cut-and-pasting text he doesn't remotely understand.

You gotta wonder how much cash Dembski got out of Arrington for that wreck.

What I notice about KF is his love of convoluted and poorly written prose. I genuinely think he gets himself lost in it.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 20 Jun 2016 #permalink

... oh, and Steve, Thanks for the complement.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 20 Jun 2016 #permalink

I wish more science blogs noticed the "The War is Over: We Won!" post, it is High Comedy, but UD has fallen to such pathetic depths that even most people who used to laugh at them don't even bother anymore. Half a dozen poorly educated zealots are about all that's left over there.

"Believers are not generally anti-science; they just want to control how science looks at their religious beliefs."

But "they just want to control how science looks at their religious beliefs" *IS* anti-science.

"“Anti-intellectualist” and “anti-humanity” are a bit over the top"

Not at all.

"You are NOT ALLOWED to think about this" and "YOU MUST NEVER QUESTION THIS" is anti-intellectualist. See the original Martin Luther.

And proposing that humans are only here inherently filed with sin and corrupt to worship some nonhuman entity and that no matter what, that entity IS GOOD is anti-humanity.

" If God Did It, what have we learned? If all we learned is God Did It, then the answer is “Nothing”.

We learn that common descent is wrong"

No we don't, since we see common descent and it is not, apparently, antithetical to god having done it.

"We learn that potentially other undiscovered organisms on this planet may use radically different means for genetic inheritance."

We already know this is theoretically possible, and god having done it doesn't make it any more possible, and definitely no more known to exist.

Ah, I see seamus has already gone through, I'll leave the above so I won't have wasted all my work....

"Agreed. What makes an idea non-scientific is when there’s nothing to DO because if it; "

And there's nothing to DO because there's nothing to learn if we do "something" about it. We can look at every organism and say "Welp, that was an alien's handiwork" all we like (something to DO), but it would be pointless, since there's nothing learned worth the effort of looking.

We DO things in science to learn something. Even if that is learning we were wrong.

"The supernatural refers to things that happen “magically” through mysterious and unfathomable processes."

The supernatural has a consequence that had no connection to the actions that led to it.

"EXPELLIAMUS!" is a supernatural action if it actually causes someone to be thrown through the air without any force exterted by the one shouting it and waggling their stick about that can be explained as a natural consequence of those specific actions (e.g. recoil in horror from such a nutbar, the force therefore being from the one being thrown through the air).

“EXPELLIAMUS!” is a supernatural action if it actually causes someone to be thrown through the air without any force exterted by the one shouting it and waggling their stick about that can be explained as a natural consequence of those specific actions

But that just begs the question of what is "natural". Before we understood magnetism, its actions might have seemed like they were "non-natural". Lightning seemed "non-natural" to many cultures. As Clarke's Law says, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I'm not sure how one can determine a priori whether a phenomenon is a "natural consequence" -- that's precisely the question at hand.

By Tulse (not verified) on 23 Jun 2016 #permalink

In reply to by Wow (not verified)

And there’s nothing to DO because there’s nothing to learn if we do “something” about it. We can look at every organism and say “Welp, that was an alien’s handiwork” all we like (something to DO), but it would be pointless, since there’s nothing learned worth the effort of looking.

I don't think that's true. If organisms are effectively artifacts, then one thing we can do is biological "archeology" to learn about the makers of those artifacts. (This was/is the project of natural theology, of course.)

We learn that common descent is wrong”

No we don’t, since we see common descent and it is not, apparently, antithetical to god having done it.

No, we see the appearance of common descent -- the ID folks would argue that appearance is actually false. (Again, I'm not arguing that ID is a true hypothesis, merely that it is a scientific hypothesis.)

"But that just begs the question of what is “natural”"

No it doesn't.

"Before we understood magnetism, its actions might have seemed like they were “non-natural”."

Not unless you thought magents (or iron) had thoughts and thought *on occasion* that they would like to move closer to magnets. But occasionally they "decided" not to bother.

The mechanism was unknown does NOT mean it was supernatural.

"Lightning seemed “non-natural” to many cultures. "

WRONG. They thought it was 100% natural. Later on when theology started being a thing in its own right, it was insisted that lightning was the natural result of the supernatural agents (as in they operate outside all natural laws, by definition). But despite people still believing it supernaturally caused, they still put lightning rods on their places of worship...

Rather indicates how much they think the supernatural is real, doesn't it.

"As Clarke’s Law says, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

And did Clark say that any sufficiently advanced technology is supernatural? No. Therefore it's not a statement of fact, it's drawing a parallel.

"I’m not sure how one can determine a priori whether a phenomenon is a “natural consequence” — that’s precisely the question at hand."

Nope, that's your asinine question. Why the clucking bell do we have to proclaim it's supernatural a priori???? Just because YOU want to wallow in ignorance doesn't mean we all have to bow to your ignorant uncertainty.

"I don’t think that’s true."

The fool rarely knows the truth. But insists that it must be because it's their thought.

"If organisms are effectively artifacts, then one thing we can do is biological “archeology” to learn about the makers of those artifacts"

But if it's god, we're not ALLOWED to.

And if it's aliens, go ahead, posit an alien, what they would do, how they would do it and GO FUCKING LOOK FOR THE EVIDENCE. Then, *as a scientist* GO CHECK HOW YOU COULD BE WRONG. The second part distinguishes the faithiest from the scientist. The woomancer method from the scientific method.

The entire point you are wilfully refusing to see is that NOT ONE IDer, even if they insist absolutely and, presuming for the sake of the argument that they are 100% genuine in the belief it was a natural alien race doing it, HAS NOT BOTHERED AT ALL TO DO SO.

Go off and MAKE an alien did it hypothesis.

What you can't do is presume you're a scientist because you COULD do it, if you could be bothered. That's not being a scientist, that's being a lying little bastard.

Until you have something and tested it yourself to even to the level of possible hypothesis rather than WAG, stop claiming scientific method. Walk the bloody walk.

"No, we see the appearance of common descent — the ID folks would argue that appearance is actually false."

Which is pure contrarianism.

Go see the Monty Python sketch on the "five minute argument".

"Again, I’m not arguing that ID is a true hypothesis, merely that it is a scientific hypothesis"

Nope, you're arguing that its a scientific hypothesis WITH NOTHING TO SUPPORT THAT CLAIM.

Without support, your claim falls to Hitchen's Razor.

You are wrong. No evidence required because no evidence supported your blank assertion.

"It's not common descent" is NOT a scientific hypothesis. It's contrarianism. If YOU think that is scientific, then "You're wrong" is a scientific hypothesis and you have no leg to stand on.

Hey wow, perhaps the rhetoric can be dialled back a bit? I'm happy to have a civil debate, but let's keep it civil, yes?

As for the substantive issues:

The mechanism was unknown does NOT mean it was supernatural.

Of course, but it also does not mean it had to be natural, either. Rejection of the supernatural is a consequence of science ("I have no need for that hypothesis"), and not, I would argue, an a priori scientific commitment. Science is certainly happy empirically investigating alleged supernatural occurrences (e.g., the alleged healing power of prayer, telepathy, spoon bending, etc. etc. etc.). The shrinking of the God of the Gaps is precisely because areas that were once thought the domain of the divine have been shown empirically to not require the supernatural as an explanation.

So yes, "organisms did not arise through common descent" is indeed a scientific hypothesis. It is a falsified hypothesis, but it is still as scientific as hypotheses about phlogiston, ether, and geocentrism. The falsification of that hypothesis is good evidence that the theory of intelligent design is itself false. But that doesn't make it any less an actual hypothesis, testable via empirical means.

I think we're talking past each other somewhat because your concern isn't with the philosophy of science question about what make hypotheses scientific but instead how terrible actual ID proponents are at science. I completely agree that they don't make a scientific case for their views. But that is in principle separate from whether the specific hypothesis at issue is unscientific.

By Tulse (not verified) on 24 Jun 2016 #permalink

In reply to by Wow (not verified)

Tulse @88;

I think I generally agree with you, except for one point. A theory that posits action by a deity is inherently untestable, I think. One can design a test and carry it out, of course. But if the theory seems to be falsified, the theory’s proponents can claim that the deity decided not to cooperate and declare the results moot.

For this reason, theories which posit action by deities are never actually, fully testable. So such theories are inherently outside the scientific method; they cannot be scientific. Certainly a scientist can decide to carry out a test, their time is theirs to spend as they please.

Obviously theories that posit action by some intelligent natural agent (humans, aliens) might escape this limitation.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 24 Jun 2016 #permalink

A theory that posits action by a deity is inherently untestable, I think. One can design a test and carry it out, of course. But if the theory seems to be falsified, the theory’s proponents can claim that the deity decided not to cooperate and declare the results moot.

Sure, but that only remains plausible for so long. Just as with any scientific theory, proponents can offer changes/extensions when hypotheses are falsified, but that kind of response repeatedly made is unconvincing. (Again, consider geocentrism, which eventually resorted to the contrivance of epicycles.) Scientific theories are rarely directly refuted with a single clear empirical result -- instead, the preponderance of evidence builds, and attempts to account for that evidence within the theory become too cumbersome and implausible to be credible. I don't think it is any different with supernatural or divine explanations. (Again, that's a conclusion from the God of the Gaps argument -- the overwhelming evidence is that there is no causal room for the divine in the world, and attempts to insert it look increasingly like special pleading.)

Also, an apparent failure by a deity to act can itself falsify (or at least sorely test) alleged qualities that proponents ascribe to that deity. The classic example of this is the Problem of Evil for an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent Christian god. The failure of such a being to prevent evil and suffering (especially from natural causes) has long been seen as a profound challenge to that characterization. The Problem of Evil is essentially an empirical observation that requires changing the theory of the nature of that being.

I agree that if a proponent of a hypothesis argues that no empirical result, or even collection of results, could ever falsify their position, then that is an unscientific stance. But we don't have to take that stance ourselves -- we can treat such hypotheses as hypotheses, at face value, and test them as we would any other. In the case of ID, it is a falsified hypothesis, but (which is really my only point in all this) it is a scientific hypothesis nonetheless.

By Tulse (not verified) on 24 Jun 2016 #permalink

In reply to by sean samis (not verified)

"One can design a test and carry it out, of course. But if the theory seems to be falsified, the theory’s proponents can claim that the deity decided not to cooperate and declare the results moot."

Yup, they either go this gambit or the "deist" route, which is a god which nobody cares about, thinks about or should even consider worth contemplating except in a nihilistic (in that by definition it's an end to all questions and knowledge) sense.

Which makes it either so vague it wasn't even a hypothesis (what do you mean by "god"? and what did it do?) or the antithesis of science (there's no questions to ask).

"Of course, but it also does not mean it had to be natural, either. Rejection of the supernatural is a consequence of science "

Nope.

It's a consequence of rationality.

If magic did it, if it was supernatural, then it doesn't obey any natural laws and abrogates them, causing an obvious and fatal breech in rational inquiry.

NOT a consequence of science.

Moreover "supernatural" is meaningless unless you define what it actually is in the hypothesis.

Go ahead.

Stop trying to make a hypothesis without putting the effort in to make one. STOP trying to make everyone else work out what you're hypothesising AND then test what they "think" you might mean by it.

Stop being a lazy bum and get out there and do some goddamn work.

If magic did it, if it was supernatural, then it doesn’t obey any natural laws and abrogates them, causing an obvious and fatal breech in rational inquiry.

You're simply begging the question by including "natural" in your notion of laws. Almost all notions of "supernatural" include constraints and lawful behaviour of the supernatural, which could be explored by rational inquiry. Vampires traditionally are destroyed by sunlight and stakes through the heart, and if they actually existed, we could test those claims empirically (Is it only light from the sun, or just bright light in general? If the latter, do the specific wavelengths matter? Does it have to be visible light? Can the stake be made of something other than plain wood, like fiberboard or laminate?) . Fairies are traditionally rendered powerless by iron -- again, something that could be examined rationally (Is it just iron, or do other elements act the same way? Does the iron have to be pure, or does the effect correlate with the percentage of iron in an alloy?) Arguably alchemy was a rationalist attempt to uncover how the supernatural pervades natural materials, and how that knowledge could be systematized and put to practical use.

The supernatural is not a bar to rational inquiry. One could argue that an omniscient, omnipotent being is, but that's far from all notions of the supernatural.

One thing that is a bar to rational inquiry and discourse, however, are insults and incivility. Just saying'.

By Tulse (not verified) on 28 Jun 2016 #permalink

In reply to by Wow (not verified)

"Sure, but that only remains plausible for so long. Just as with any scientific theory, proponents can offer changes/extensions when hypotheses are falsified"

But they put one forward, not just claim "something" is there.

Do some of the god damned work.

"Also, an apparent failure by a deity to act can itself falsify (or at least sorely test) alleged qualities that proponents ascribe to that deity"

Never has yet.

Every single one that was asked that test who still believed in a god after it rationalised the disconnect away by special pleading.

"we can treat such hypotheses as hypotheses, at face value, and test them as we would any other."

OK, lets see if YOU are willing to follow what you claim you do.

I hypothesise that your claims are a load of codswallop.

Please take it at face value and test it as you would any other hypothesis.

The above is the theoretical basis of Hitchens' Razor.