On January 3, 2006, Bradley Monton of the Department of Philosophy, University of Kentucky presented a draft (adding: « comments welcome! ») of his paper « IS INTELLIGENT DESIGN SCIENCE? DISSECTING THE DOVER DECISION« .
I do have some comments to share, not only with Bradley Morton, but with everybody who cares about the subject.
First the discussion « 2.1 The Scientific Community. », where the Intelligent Design is presented as a scientific theory. I think that this is a huge mistake to start with. At best, Intelligent Design is an hypothesis, nothing more. And it doesn’t even propose a null hypothesis to be used as the starting point, for the scientific community to work on it. There is a long way to go to gain the characterization « Scientific Theory ».
The discussion about Newtonian physics is quite tricky. Newtonian physics were refuted, certainly, and they are taught in schools, but this is because they still can be used as a fair approximation to deal with some problems. They do have a limited application and this is clearly specified.
Next comes the « 2.2. Irreducible Complexity. » part. With three parts in fact: irreducible complexity, fine-tuning, and the miracle of life.
Behe‘s « irreducible complexity » argument is clearly unscientific. Standing in front of data that one isn’t able to understand there are two options: work to understand them, and that’s the scientific path, or decide that there is no way to understand them, and that’s Behe’s path. The decision made by Behe to qualify the complexity of biological systems as « irreducible » isn’t acceptable for the scientific community, for the simple reason that it isn’t supported by any scientific argumentation. Simple decisions shouldn’t be accepted as scientific argument. At best, we have here an indication of Behe’s inability to act as a scientists when confronted to a certain degree of complexity.
Fine tuning is exactly the same case transposed to physics. There is no evidence that we should be what we are, neither that life, probably in an other form, would be impossible in a differently tuned universe. If there is a question to deal with it could be: « if the universe was different what would be the possibilities for life to occur, in what form? ». Simply deciding that the universe was modeled to give birth to life as we know it doesn’t make this hypothesis a theory and once more there isn’t any evidence to support it.
The last element is the « miracle of life« . Using the term of miracle is somehow disturbing as by definition a miracle implies the temporary inhibition of physical laws. The argument is trying to explain an occurrence (the fact that life exists) using a probabilistic approach that is incomplete. It is possible that life’s emergence is a low probability event. Let’s even say an extremely low probability event. The global probability for life’s emergence should be calculated taking in account the number of trials. Per trial the probability to have a particular event may be very low, but if the number of trials is very high, the global probability may be fair enough. And if the number of trials is huge the global probability may even tend to 1! Miracles aren’t necessary to explain why there is winners to lotteries. But the way IDers handle the calculation of probabilities seems to me quite unscientific.
Bradley Monton is aware of this, one of his papers entitled « The Infinite Universe and Dembski’s Design Inference » published on November 15, 2004 prove that. Why he isn’t using the argument here?[/edit]
More interesting things to say about the content of « 2.3. Methodological Naturalism. » The section starting by:
Imagine that some astronomers discover a pulsar that is pulsing out Morse code.
and finishing by:
I have given a counterexample to that line of reasoning, by presenting a situation where a supernatural hypothesis is testable.
have a very special flaw. It starts correctly using the verb « Imagine« , placing what follow to the domain of fiction. Then during the argument, somehow focus is loosed and, the fictional situation becomes a supernatural testable hypothesis. Fiction is allowed and quite enjoyable often, but not in scientific discussions. This classic example show that in a fictional space the supernatural hypothesis could be testable, but there is no reason to transpose it to real space. And in the same fictional space anything else and everything could be made possible; that’s literature.
Once the flaw installed, it may lead to false formulation in a quite insidious manner. Allowing to affirm below:
In my hypothetical scenario described above, the supernatural explanation is based on empirical evidence, evidence that is obtained through observations and experiments that can be substantiated by other scientists.
where it should be: » In my fictional scenario described above,… »
Let me put it in another way, starting at the beginning of the example used by Bradley Monton.
If an entity is able to use a pulsar to display Morse that doesn’t made it supernatural, I would say powerful, but there isn’t evidence for supernatural. If it can display humor by making a cloud chamber sound as biblical verses I would call it funny, but not supernatural. And if provides hints for a better understanding of nature such as a proper quantum theory of gravity I would call it « scientific expert », but not supernatural. In every of the three examples cited there is no need to hypothesize a supernatural action, natural ones may explain things. And the entity can say that it’s name is God or whatever else, this isn’t evidence for supernatural. It will have to explain more then gravity, say how is it possible in a universe to act metaphysically, providing explanations […] restricted to those that can be inferred from the confirmable data – the results obtained through observations and experiments that can be substantiated by other scientists. But then that would make it scientific according to the National Academy of Science. Even in the fictional scenario presented there isn’t any need to consider supernatural etiologies and if such an entity able to use pulsars for Morse exist I don’t see any reasons to consider it supernatural; natural is good enough. Jones could respond that way. Considering it as natural (and it may be immaterial as well) there isn’t even any particular need for science to change it’s methodology as Pennock proposes.
Let’s go back to science’s definition by the NAS, extract just the first phrase « Science is a particular way of knowing about the world. » and keep it in mind while discussing the following assertion:
All the ID proponents need to do is to provide enough evidence to confirm that there is a supernatural being – then scientific methodology will no longer include methodological naturalism.
If ID proponents, or anybody else, provide enough evidence to confirm the existence of supernatural being(s), science wouldn’t be affected. Science is about the world; if something exists outside the world then science can’t deal with it. If proof of supernatural is available, then the science will have the same fate as Newtonian physics; probably useful in a restricted manner, but, not the one to explain all known data. Something else should replace science without need to change a iota of the actual science’s definition.
The second question I formulated when I heard about Intelligent Design was « why ID proponents want to be labeled scientific? ». The only answer I found ’till now is that this is Public Relations. Who would care about what people calls his knowledge if he is certain to detain the Truth? And be able to prove it. I wouldn’t, knowing that there is more then science, on the contrary I would like to find a brand new term to design it, to avoid any relation with any previous approach to understand the universe, not only science. But if you handle a non-scientific hypothesis you may struggle to give it the label « scientific » to make it credible, because you don’t have any other means to achieve credibility.
To sum up, as Bradley Monton, I reject Pennock’s claim that science should change its methodology if the existence of a supernatural being is empirically confirmed. Unlike Bradley Monton I propose that science must be left « as is » and use another framework, to include supernature, where methodological supernaturalism will be basic.
I conclude that it is not evident that there is a consensus by scientists in favor of methodological naturalism.
is a quit cheap one! Clearly it would be a huge enterprise to do an opinion poll, but drain a conclusion by the opinion of few isn’t correct. On the other hand, NAS represents scientists and present consensus opinions from the scientific community. You don’t need an opinion pool to know what scientist’s majority think about methodological naturalism, it is evident from the rejection of the ID being a scientific theory that the scientific community approves methodological naturalism. That doesn’t mean that things wouldn’t change, if there is a majority in the future that think differently. But we are talking about actual facts.
What appealed me the more in this paper, and triggered the need to comment, is part 3:ID is Not Inherently Theistic. In this section a lot of things should be reviewed I think. Let’s start with the phrase:
“ID” means different things to different people, and while some view it as essentially committed to supernaturalism, others do not.
That’s quite true. The problem is that when you use a brand people tends to think about the genuine think. When somebody comes and tell me he is an IDer I think he is a proponent of Intelligent Design the way Behe and Dembski present it. If one would like to talk about something else he must use another term. Thus, as long as people talk about Intelligent Design there is no reason to consider that they refer to something else. I do understand that the publicity made to the term is tempting and attracts parasites, but I’m not going to indulge such practices, no more then being served a Coca Cola instead of a Pepsi Cola. Both are colas but you can’t use the brands indifferently.
When referring to the definition of Intelligent Design as given by the Discovery Institute:
The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause
there are two ways to consider it. Supernatural, which I wouldn’t discuss right here, and natural. If as raelians believe life on Earth is the fact of some extraterrestrial civilization, the question is just shifted; if we have the answer about the emergence of life and intelligence on Earth we have yet to learn about the emergence of that extraterrestrial civilization. Nothing change much. The non-ID approach remains the one to follow by scientists to explain the natural causes of the non earthly life, and of course of the universe. There is no need to consider two ID fractions, ID and ID*, one sinle, proposing supernatural causation, is enough; others are à priori accepting the naturalistic methodology de facto, even if they propose that life didn’t appeared on Earth spontaneously; and that they have to prove it by presenting evidence other then revelation to prophets, the way Raelians act.
The fourth element, « 4. Science and the Pursuit of Truth.« , seems to present the conclusions of Bradley Monton. Let’s see a few of them:
Imagine what might happen in my pulsar message scenario – long after overwhelming evidence has convinced everyone that supernatural causation is occurring, scientists would still be searching for naturalistic causes. The scientists themselves may agree that the causes are supernatural, but, because they are subject to the constraint of methodological naturalism, they are not allowed to postulate such causes while doing science.
OK, I will imagine, but this is still fictional. If supernatural causation is proven, I doubt that scientists will continue doing science. They will turn to something else, I don »t even want to imagine a name for it, that will include supernatural methodology. And science will remain in activity for the trivial of the natural world. Very much like Newtonian physics used daily when relativistic aren’t necessary. But anyway, even in the fictional framework that Bradley Monton builded, I don’t see the need of a supernatural entity.
The final statement could/should(?) be reviewed:
I maintain that science is better off without being shackled by methodological naturalism. Our successful scientific theories are naturalistic simply because this is the way the evidence points; this leaves open the possibility that, on the basis of new evidence, there could be supernatural scientific theories. I conclude that ID should not be dismissed on the grounds that it is unscientific; ID should be dismissed on the grounds that the empirical evidence for its claims just isn’t there.
I don’t see evidence through the paper that science would be improved by changing it’s precepts and accepting supernatural etiologies as long as they don’t exist. And if evidence is brought in a non fictional mode, something different, not parasitizing the term « science » should be built up to handle them, using methodological supernaturalism; I even wander if the « logical » suffix should be still be in use.
Scientific theories are naturalistic by definition of what science is. Rather then change the definition of science, it seems more interesting to coin a new term in case of supernatural being proven to exist and avoid the term of « supernatural scientific theories » which is a nonsense.
I conclude that ID isn’t and never will be scientific, essentially per construction, but it is quite theistic. And the discussion is open.