Fact and Fiction

Thoughts about a funny old world, and what is real, and what is not. Comments are welcome, but please keep them on topic.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

If intelligent design is science then so is astrology

I have posted before on End of the Enlightenment, and I can't resist returning to the theme. In this week's New Scientist editorial the focus is on the court case on whether Intelligent Design pseudo-science should be taught alongside evolution science in the classroom. The leading article God goes to court in all but name contains a gem on how science is defined, which I quote (who is on which side is clear from the context):

The packed courtroom came alive for Behe's cross-examination. Eric Rothschild, an attorney for the plaintiffs, sparked a heated debate about the definition of a scientific theory. The National Academy of Sciences says it is, "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses".

In court Behe accepted that ID fails to pass muster, but argued that in practice scientists use the word more broadly. He offered an alternative: "A scientific theory is a proposed explanation which points to physical data and logical inferences. "

Rothschild saw his opportunity to move in for the kill. "But you are clear, under your definition, the definition that sweeps in intelligent design, astrology is also a scientific theory, correct?"

"Yes, that's correct," Behe said, as the court erupted in laughter.

"You've got to admire the guy," comments Robert Slade, a local retiree and science enthusiast. "It's Daniel in the lions' den."

As I read it, the distinction that is being drawn here is between the following two different definitions of "science":
  1. NAS definition: "well-substantiated explanation".
  2. ID definition: "proposed explanation".

The key point about the NAS definition is that your explanation must be backed up by experimental observations, whereas this is isn't the case with the ID definition.

This distinction was discussed at length in the excellent book The Fellowship by John Gribbin, where he describes the dawn of western science, where "natural philosophy" (i.e. explanations unsupported by experiments) was replaced by "natural science" (i.e. explanations supported by experiments).


At 3 July 2008 at 16:23, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First have you read Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species ? If so
please telling me when you have see one specie changed into another specie ?

At 3 July 2008 at 17:37, Blogger Stephen Luttrell said...

I have not read The Origin of Species, but I have read a lot of relevant material written by learned people such as Richard Dawkins, which has brought me up to speed (and beyond) on the subject.

To illustrate that this is a normal approach to learning a subject, I have not read Euclid's Elements, but I have read a lot of relevant material to bring me up to speed on that subject. Learning from secondary sources is normal, and I only ever depart from this approach when I detect inconsistencies in the secondary source material.

I have not personally seen one species turn into another species. Evolution theory provides a simple and coherent explanatory framework for a large number of observations that would otherwise be unrelated to each other. I don't know the exact status of the observational evidence supporting evolution, but I do know that the body of evidence is large enough to guarantee that evolution is a fact rather than a conjecture.

As for intelligent design, I must stress that it explains nothing at all, since all it does is to say that a designer designed things without giving any indication of how the designer did this. Intelligent design is totally vacuous reasoning.

At 19 August 2008 at 00:30, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stephen, It is amusing how you toss aside ID because you do not know how the designer did it, however you claim evolution must be a fact because you have multiple observations that can be joined in a framework. Really? I can join a metal rod, a flower, and a monkey in a framework and it doesn't mean they are related.

I think the biggest problem with people who wanted to deny a creator is in how it is taught in religion. However, without the "poof here's a man creation", real science actually backs the idea of a creator. Diggers and lab guys are so worried about their "facts" they usually leave out the biggest ones.

The theory that the universe came into being on it's own actually violates most of our "hard" scientific laws. If you claim what science we have learned so far is written in stone then your "theories", like evolution, must obey those laws. If not you have to throw out one of them. A theory that fails to obey the laws already known causes a problem with either your theory or the laws before it.

The law of thermodynamics completely shuts down the idea of matter coming from nothing. Atheist scientists of old claimed the universe was always here and that's how they got around the matter problem. See, if you lived back then, you would have agreed with them on the universe always being here theory because it would have been your agenda to do so. You would have claimed hard science from leading scientists. Did you know the most brilliant scientists of the day in the middle ages claimed bloodletting cured disease. HA The most brilliant scientists just 500 years ago claimed the world was flat. HA What basis do you have to think that NOW we have everything figured out? Don't you think they thought they had it all figured out back then? All science does is continually find out that we were wrong previously about something, and then the new thing catches on for a while until it is proved wrong. Then the cycle continues over and over. Everything that man has thought he knew in science up until a few years ago has now been found to be in error. How long before people in our future laugh at our present day "theories"?

Anyway, when Einstein and others proved that the universe at one time was not here and that it came to be out of a pure vacuum, or literally nothing as to say, the scientists of today conveniently forgot about the laws of matter. Within our known scientific laws matter cannot be made or destroyed, just changed in shape. Where did the trillions of tons of matter now in the universe come from and how did it come from one single point the size of an atom? What science do you know of that would explain that? Your pseudo science that you speak of? Something from nothing. That is what you are left with. You need to figure that one out first, and no matter how you spin it with quantum phsyics and black holes and white super novas, you still come out with something from nothing. Either a creator above our scientific laws created, or our "hard" science is completely wrong.

Also a side note. Creation is an act of will. No creation can come from a lack of will. No clock comes from anything other than a clock maker. No car comes from anything other than a car designer. No book comes from anything other than a book writer. Who's will made the universe?

At 19 August 2008 at 11:17, Blogger Stephen Luttrell said...

"Laws" are not fixed in stone - in this respect, the word "law" is an unfortunate choice. Scientists never claim that they have figured it all out - exceptions to this can be found amongst some elderly scientists. Science is always being updated in response to new data and/or better models - that is a strength of science, not a weakness.

It's as simple as this:

Discard any model that either does not fit the data or which has no explanatory power, and retain any model that both fits the data and has explanatory power.

There are many "frontier" areas where there are no satisfactory models yet. For instance, in cosmology we don't yet know much about the "start" of the universe, but we do know lots more than we did a century ago. It is a lazy cop-out to simply assert that the universe was "created" as is.

Matter can be created and destroyed in accordance with known laws. Einstein's E = m c^2 allows the "transmutation" between E (energy) and m (mass). For instance, a particle of light can convert into an electron/positron particle pair (and vice-versa).

The word "science" refers to the specific activity that I discussed in my original posting, where I said:

This distinction [between science and what went on before] was discussed at length in the excellent book The Fellowship by John Gribbin, where he describes the dawn of western science, where "natural philosophy" (i.e. explanations unsupported by experiments) was replaced by "natural science" (i.e. explanations supported by experiments).

Scientists don't know and don't claim to know why the universe exists, i.e. why there is something rather than nothing. That is a very interesting question which we would like to have an answer to. I emphasise that it is a lazy cop-out to simply assert that the universe was "created" as is, or "willed" it into existence (as you put it).

However, it may yet turn out that some fundamental properties of the universe can never be explained from the point of view of entities that are trapped inside the universe (i.e. us!), in which case there would be no other course of action than to assume that those properties "just are". The honest course of action would then be to say "I don't know", rather than to assert a specific but untestable model.


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