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ID is a “quasi-scientific historical speculation with strong metaphysical overtones”

[This is a follow on to a conversation began by RDFish/Aiguy which was crossposted at UD and TSZ: here and here]

Perhaps, however, one just really does not want to call intelligent design a scientific theory. Perhaps one prefers the designation “quasi-scientific historical speculation with strong metaphysical overtones.” Fine. Call it what you will, provided the same appellation is applied to other forms of inquiry that have the same methodological and logical character and limitations. In particular, make sure both design and descent are called “quasi-scientific historical speculation with strong metaphysical overtones.”

This may seem all very pointless, but that in a way is just the point. As Laudan has argued, the question whether a theory is scientific is really a red herring. What we want to know is not whether a theory is scientific but whether a theory is true or false, well confirmed or not, worthy of our belief or not. One can not decide the truth of a theory or the warrant for believing a theory to be true by applying a set of abstract criteria that purport to tell in advance how all good scientific theories are constructed or what they will in general look like.

Stephen Meyer

The Methodological Equivalence of Design & Descent: Can There Be a Scientific Theory of Creation

NOTES:

1. Thanks to RDFish for starting a conversation that needs to happen, and Stephen Meyer and JP Moreland for articulating a position that I hold better than I can express it.

2. Thanks to Denyse O’Leary for asking my help this week and inviting me to post more frequently for a few days while she works on other projects

3. Here is the comment in RDFish’s thread that spawned this thread:

It’s not so much that I disagree, but rather I object to the equivocations. You don’t equivocate – you’re willing to drop the claim to scientific status and you make the metaphysical commitments explicit, and I think that is exactly the right way to go.

Oh my goodness, we agree better than I realized!

The harm for me is that once people think they’ve co-opted the status of science for a belief in a deity, some will try to impose moral dogma and use “science” as a rationale. That’s always a recipe for disaster.

Cheers,
RDFish

I don’t have much to say regarding that issue. I’m ambivalent to it, because if there is a Designer, maybe the question of ID being science or not might be a smaller question in the scheme of things.

Sal – Thanks for posting!

And thank you for writing it! I took your side in your recent debate with StephenB because I think it proper to acknowledge what we can an cannot formally prove.

I feel mostly ambivalent and occasionally uncomfortable calling ID science for the reasons I mention here:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/good-and-bad-reasons-for-rejecting-id/

It does not mean I reject ID as truth claim, but it is a truth claim that may not even in principle (especially if we are dealing with an Intelligence with ultimate free will) be subject to repeatable observation and experiments, hence its potential to be defined as science is dubious unless of course we redefine what most people view as science.

Consider this by Stephen Meyer:

Perhaps, however, one just really does not want to call intelligent design a scientific theory. Perhaps one prefers the designation “quasi-scientific historical speculation with strong metaphysical overtones.” Fine. Call it what you will, provided the same appellation is applied to other forms of inquiry that have the same methodological and logical character and limitations. In particular, make sure both design and descent are called “quasi-scientific historical speculation with strong metaphysical overtones.”

This may seem all very pointless, but that in a way is just the point. As Laudan has argued, the question whether a theory is scientific is really a red herring. What we want to know is not whether a theory is scientific but whether a theory is true or false, well confirmed or not, worthy of our belief or not. One can not decide the truth of a theory or the warrant for believing a theory to be true by applying a set of abstract criteria that purport to tell in advance how all good scientific theories are constructed or what they will in general look like.

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12 Responses to ID is a “quasi-scientific historical speculation with strong metaphysical overtones”

  1. Perhaps one prefers the designation “quasi-scientific historical speculation with strong metaphysical overtones.” Fine.

    I prefer that to calling it science.

    There’s nothing wrong with speculation. Scientists do it; philosophers do it. Sometime speculation can lead to good ideas. At other times it leads nowhere.

    In particular, make sure both design and descent are called “quasi-scientific historical speculation with strong metaphysical overtones.”

    Common descent has progressed well beyond speculation. And I prefer to consider it without any metaphysical overtones.

    As Laudan has argued, the question whether a theory is scientific is really a red herring. What we want to know is not whether a theory is scientific but whether a theory is true or false, well confirmed or not, worthy of our belief or not.

    If Laudan said that, then this would be a time for me to disagree with Laudan. I expect scientific theories to be neither true not false, and to be supported by pragmatic considerations (how well they work) but to always remain unconfirmed. And I do not consider theories to be worthy of belief. I want theories that are worthy of practical use. I don’t want them to be distant idols to which we offer belief. We are better off using the theories, and trying to break them if we can. For breaking an existing theory can only lead to newer better science.

  2. Neil….

    You say you want theories worthy of practical use? You can rule out Darwinism, it has done zip, and is pf no use to anyone… ever

  3. This is addressed to RDFish’s original comment…

    I like your statement

    The harm for me is that once people think they’ve co-opted the status of science for a belief in a deity, some will try to impose moral dogma and use “science” as a rationale. That’s always a recipe for disaster.

    because I think it is honest.

    What it says to me is that you are admitting that you have a strong bias that causes you to evaluate the claims of ID in an incorrect manner. You are very scared about

    1. scientifically justified belief in deity leading to…
    2. imposed moral dogma, leading to…
    3. disaster.

    You don’t know how much I concur with these thoughts, although not in the way you would assume. First let me alter your statement a little

    The harm for me is that once people think they’ve co-oopted the status of science for a belief in [an absolute moral imperative], some will try to impose moral dogma and use “science” as a rationale. That’s always a recipe for disaster.

    As Sal has suggested, please apply things both ways (or in more casual parlance, “What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander.”) If you are going to call ID “unscientific” or “quasi-scientific” and bemoan the “moral imposition” justified by an “unscientific” belief in something. Let it apply both to ID and other quasi-scientific origin theories.

    1. We all know ( although few will acknowledge evolution’s direct tie to it ) that firm belief that man can scientifically breed humans in order to create a pure master race is a recipe for disaster.

    2. Belief in pseudo scientific economic theories that wrongly believe that the only problem that the proletariat has is that goods are distributed unevenly. Once good re-distribution of economic prosperity is correctly administered by unselfish new leaders, the proletariat will become universal in its contentment and peace and we will truly have, “To each according to his needs, from each according to his ability.” This has been shown to be a disaster.

    3. I think we are as a society right now demonstrating that belief in pseudo science can lead to disaster. There is popular pseudo science out there that purports to prove that gender is not important, that it is fungible, that we ought to seek to have equal distribution of the sexes in all areas of life. ( Never mind that nature with its many gender defined roles indicates otherwise ). This leads to such things as moral imperative for gender neutral rights, imposition of same-sex marriage, degradation of the traditional roles of fatherhood and motherhood, dissolution of the importance of marriage. We are seeing the effects of this wrongly headed moral imperative, justified by pseudo science, world-wide in the hurtful effect it has on the break-up of the family unit.

    I take a different approach then you. I want to fully admit my bias, and then go out and evaluate truth claims honestly. I firmly believe that anyone who actually takes these steps, and honestly applies them, will admit that ID ( and yes, more explicitly, for me, Christianity ) is a better rational explanation for the current state of the natural world.

  4. “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution”

    Dobzhansky seems to have found it of great practical use. And, incidentally, Dobshansky was a theist.

  5. Yeah, except Dobzhansky’s famous statement is little more than a faith-declaration in his preferred explanation. Furthermore, he was spectacularly wrong. There is a whole lot that makes sense outside of an evolution context. And there are a whole lot of evolutionary “explanations” that don’t make any sense.

    Oh, well, it is a nice, pithy quote.

  6. Pity the ‘light of evolution’ is turning out to be increasingly penumbral, with each surprise, new, chocolate flavour.

    ‘Oh My! This had completely blind-sided us! Who would ever have thought evolution, with all the great panoply of tricks it has played on us up to now, could continue to surprise us so gloriously?’

  7. Neil Rickert:

    Common descent has progressed well beyond speculation.

    And yet we can’t even test the premise. Not only that but we can’t even extrapolate the observed microevolutioary events into the required macroevolutionary events for Common Descent to even have a chance.

    Heck we don’t even know what makes an organism what it is. The best science has it that the forms emerge from the interactions between genome, its cellular environment and external pressures (outside of the cell).

    Evo-devo hasn’t solved anything. IOW it is safe to say that Common Descent is still in the speculation stage. That is if you want to keep within the limits of science.

    And Dobzhansky did NOT refer to blind watchmaker evolution. And THAT is teh point. Blind watchmaker evolution is useless as a heuristic. The only use it has is to explain the diseased and deteriorated.

  8. @Neil:

    “Dobzhansky seems to have found it of great practical use. And, incidentally, Dobshansky was a theist.”

    The Dobzhansky quote is useful, not in demonstrating the importance of evolutionary theory, but as an example of the rhetoric Darwinian apologists are given to employ. This has been part of the dialogue since the very beginning.

    Balance Dobzhansky with Ewert:

    “All I’ve studied and researched over the past 30 years has only strengthened my belief that nothing makes sense in biology apart from belief in an intelligent being who has created us. Those who do not believe in an intelligent being must go to great extents to rationalize that what they see as design is not the product of intelligence. Dr. Donald L. Ewert, Microbiologist, researcher at the Wistar Institute for almost 20 years.”

  9. The issue Stephen Meyer’s addresses above has been on my mind of late. I’ve been following the Darwinism vs. ID debate for a while now, and I’ve made observations that lead to a question.

    Observation: Part of the current cultural zeitgeist is the near deification of “science”, so much so that for many people, satisfactory evidence that ID is not science is ipso facto proof that it’s not true. This is ridiculous, of course, but seems to be a fairly common attitude.

    Observation: Thanks to the work of Philip Johnson, whose voice in this debate I miss a great deal, along with supporting evidence from any number of scientists and others, I realize that ID is deemed “not science” because of three assumptions:

    1) Science can only infer natural causes;

    2) An inference to intelligence is equated with an inference to the supernatural, whether rightly or wrongly;

    3) Since ID infers intelligence it is assumed that it ipso facto infers the supernatural, which is not science.

    So intelligent causation is ruled out as a precondition for doing science, which means that an appeal to the scientific consensus to support Neo-Darwinism is circular. It also makes the following statement that I encountered recently valueless due to circularity (paraphrasing):

    “Biologists accept Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection because it is the only viable scientific explanation for how species evolved over time.”

    In our culture, the mere fact that Darwin’s theory is the only “scientific” one available is inferred to be a positive for the theory, sealing the deal, as it were vis a vis correctness. In reality, this point is at best neutral. It merely shows that no one can think of anything else that could plausibly account for the ubiquitous presence of apparent design without the presence of actual design.

    The question that came to me in light of these observations is this: Why don’t those in the forefront of the ID movement stop allowing their opponents to set the standard for what should constitute a good argument for intelligent causation by insisting that ID is or should be considered science? Perhaps another approach could be fruitful, i.e. assure every scientist who insists that ID is not science that we will respect their implicit desire that we consider their scientific arguments irrelevant to the question of intelligent causation. Let’s assure Ken Miller and Francisco Ayala and others that when they offer arguments against making an inference to intelligent causation, those arguments, while possibly true, are nevertheless not scientific. Rather, they are “quasi-scientific historical speculation with strong metaphysical overtones.”

  10. I had said:

    “The question that came to me in light of these observations is this: Why don’t those in the forefront of the ID movement stop allowing their opponents to set the standard for what should constitute a good argument for intelligent causation by insisting that ID is or should be considered science?”

    Sorry, that was poorly stated. Maybe this is a little clearer:

    “The question that came to me in light of these observations is this: Why don’t those in the forefront of the ID movement stop allowing their opponents to set the standard for what should constitute a valid argument, and responding to their opponents’ dismissals by insisting that ID is or should be considered science?”

  11. Kaz,

    Why don’t those in the forefront of the ID movement stop allowing their opponents to set the standard for what should constitute a valid argument, and responding to their opponents’ dismissals by insisting that ID is or should be considered science?”

    I have maintained that the problem is really a pr problem and nothing wrong with what an ID supporter does. They are practicing science under any sense that the term has been traditionally used. The anti-ID people control the process of publication, the money and the education system as well as the popular press. It has nothing to do with what is science or not. Darwinian evolution actually fails big time as science and that does not faze the anti-ID people who are then “shocked, shocked” as ID actually practices good science.

    If one is a scientist, a typical study has the following format: (a) Background/Introduction which discusses the basic problem, its history, what is known and not known and how to look at it in a new way;(b)Methods which lists how the problem is being addressed with design, samples, equipment. statistical techniques applied etc.; ( c) Results or the finding from the research and finally (d) The Conclusions of Implications of the research with a discussion of what was learned and what the research failed to find.

    Also one does not have to do the actual research to do science. One can use the results of others and this is frequently done as a researcher analyzes one or several studies and publishes a different set of conclusions or a summary of conclusions from the various studies. This latter can combine the statistical results of several studies to do what is called a meta analysis.

    Also a review of several studies with a similar theme is common and is considered science. This is all very standard. What I am getting at is that Steve Meyers book is science. He spends much of the book discussing the findings from several research studies and speculations by various researchers. He considers all the theories that have been proffered and discards them one by one with logic and scientific findings till “then there were none”. Actually there is one still standing. He hardly mentions ID till late in the book. It is the only thing remaining.

    What Meyer and other ID researchers do that differs from so called main stream scientists is in the accepted range of things that can be considered in the Conclusions part or Part (d). Meyer expands the range of possible conclusions. He doesn’t remove any explanation from consideration as he considers what others have concluded or speculated on. He just picks from an expanded set what he thinks it the best explanation, an explanation that is automatically rejected by the current scientific community. He uses all the tools that other scientists use, statistics, study design, logic, reasoning and insight. So one could say that Meyer is practicing good science while most of the scientific community is not in the area of evolution.

    It is a pr battle not whether ID supporters are practicing science or not. That is why you get all the nonsense from the anti-ID people here. It is like being in Wonderland with Alice a lot of the time as they throw out distortions, diversions or irrelevancies. It often amazes me just to what lengths people will go to defend the indefensible.

    All they have to do is present relevant findings. But like in Silver Blaze, the dog never barked.

  12. Hi Jerry,

    I think that I should stop fancying myself a good communicator, because I regularly find that I’ve been misunderstood;-)

    I happen to agree that ID is science, and I’ve long been skeptical about whether Neo-Darwinism can make the same claim. As I’ve said elsewhere, Neo-Darwinism seems to have the explanatory power of a bumper sticker. It’s a higgledy-piggledy theory of Que Sera Sera, and its proponents defend it with a presuppositional apologetic that reminds me of Cornelius Van Til, except that rather than proving their case by demonstrating the impossibility of the contrary, they simply exclude the contrary (purposeful causation) as a precondition for doing science. In such an atmosphere, one can easily imagine an editor of a science journal rejecting an article solely because the author is a member of the Discovery Institute, and then later the same day, with a perfectly strait face, asking: “If ID is science, where are the published peer-reviewed papers?”

    My point wasn’t really about whether or not ID is or should be considered science; it’s about how to deal with those who declare that it’s not in a way that truly respects their implicit wishes while enlightening audiences about the presuppositions that under-gird their position. Philip Johnson was a master at this.

    It’s time that people be made fully aware of of the fact that (i) dismissals of ID are that are based on the assertion that it’s “not science” are hollow, and (ii) the observation that Neo-Darwinism is embraced by the majority of scientists because it’s the only “scientific” (=natural, devoid of purpose) explanation for how species evolved over time” is actually neutral vis a vis the theory’s correctness. Indeed, one cannot even begin to understand the willingness of so many to embrace such a mind-numbingly absurd theory until one recognizes that it’s all they’ve got that fits their presuppositional approach.

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