Monday, April 10, 2006

Is ID really an "attack on science"?

I hang out on a good number of message boards that discuss Intelligent Design and the like. On them, there is a general consensus among the science minded that ID is possibly the most dangerous part of a full scale attack on science.

However, the question was recently raised on how we define this "attack on science".

In and of itself, Intelligent Design is not an attack on science. It is a intellectually bankrupt attack on a particular branch of science, but not science in general.

So why do we still maintain that science is under attack?

Aside from ID, there are more than just this simple assault. Although it is often assosciated with ID, many people presume to challange the entire concept of methodological naturalism which posits that science can only look for non-supernatural causes for events given that supernatural ones are beyond testing. Their argument is that excluding these possible explanations limits what science is able to explain and thus, it will yield false results if the true answer lies outside the scope of investigation. This is surely a valid critisizm in that regard. However, if science is not able to answer something conclusively, it does not place the prohibition that philosophical or religious methods of inquiry must be banished.

This prong of attack has been very prominent recently, being manifested in Behe's admittance that, to include Intelligent Design as science, one must also include other non-naturalistic methods of investigation, such as astrology. Of course, that is only one person's opinion and not truly a credible threat. So what is a credible threat? The recent action of the Kansas school board, removing the stipulation that science seek only natural explanations, a position that will be taught to thousands of children, is a credible threat to science.

And keep in mind that this is not just biology that this redefinition is threatened by, but the foundation upon which all scientific investigation is founded. This means the damage moves far beyond biological sciences, but extends into chemistry, physics, astronomy, geology, etc...

Aside from these attacks, the attacks on the rest of the scientific fiels are also mounting. Dembski's recent hasty actions in ratting out an opinion with which he agreed to Homeland Security is an example of this. The censoring of scientists at NASA by unqualified media relations people ganining their job through cronyism is another. The long standing Young-Earth-Creationists make their attacks on far more fronts than just biology, as do non-religiously motivated anti-scientists, such as the moon hoax theorists, planet-X theorists, and others.

So, in short, Intelligent Design does not constitute an "attack on science" any more than a cough constitutes a flu. However, when combined with the sore throats, the fevers, sneezing, and other symptoms, the diagnosis can be firmly established: Science is under attack.

5 comments:

Tom said...

Is it only happening here, or has Medievalism taken root in other countries as well?

Jon Voisey said...

ID is trying to pop up in several other countries. It has strong roots already in place in Australia, as well as seeds in many countries in Europe.

However, no country is as gung-ho about promoting it as the US. It's also interesting to note that the ability for ID to take root is directly proportional to how much of the population is Christian...

The Lab Rat said...

Well, after a rocky start, you're 2 for 2 now, Jon.

I can almost hear Galileo crying from the grave, "Don't recant, don't recant!"

You still seem to insist on equating Christians with fundamentalists, though, unless I'm misinterpreting what I'm reading. While I keep the fundmentalists of any religion at extreme arm's length, I don't think it's accurate to automatically equate the two.

I'm probably talking to the exact right person for this, because there's a question I've had in my mind for a long time (as you'll see in my response to your "Brother Jeb" blog, my background is not in physics or astronomy, but in chemistry...mostly I just like to combine two test tubes' contents and watch them blow up). :)

Now, the extreme Christians who say that the Bible is literal and we all descended from Noah's relatives...well, I don't know about all that. I can't say with 100% surety that they're wrong, but that's not where my logic leads me. What I am curious about though, is, where did all the matter in the universe originate? I read Hawking's "A Brief History of Time," which, if memory serves, stated that the answer to that question would be undefined, much like division by zero, because basically that's where time started and anything before that is outside the scope of the discussion. (Please feel free to correct any misconceptions...I'm going on memory...and don't go too far into the deep end; it's been a long time since I took quantum mechanics and Newtonian physics).

There's a middle ground in my head, which seems quite plausible to me at least....why not a Creator? A pronouncement of natural laws here, a few billion years there, a cleverly cast Magic Missile to catalyze the reaction, who knows? And, more relevantly, who COULD know? I mean, given the vast amount of information that is as yet undiscovered about our universe (and with a wink and a nod to my roots as an RPG'er...when I'm an old man, my "walking 5 miles in the snow to get to school" story will be "when I started playing D&D, we had to play on paper!"), how can the idea of a Supreme Being be absolutely discounted? And would it care if we mere humans called it God, or Allah, or Warty Green Toad?

Hey, it works for me, you know? It keeps me from strapping a bomb to my chest, or dancing with snakes on Sunday (which, by the way, is representative of only a very small percentage of either group, a fact you frequently seem to forget in your all-encompassing denouncements of faith), and it allows me to reconcile the observations I can make with my physical senses with the questions of faith that have so many people so perplexed.

In your insistence of the absolutes of science, it strikes me that you're only exhibiting a different facet of the extremism you so frequently decry. Strive for balance, young man. Ponder the significance of the yin and yang.

Jon Voisey said...

You still seem to insist on equating Christians with fundamentalists, though, unless I'm misinterpreting what I'm reading.

Perhaps you could point me to phrases that are confusing you. I try to leave the "moderate" Christians out and refer only to "Creationists" or other terms that appropriately subdivide the larger population. I'm sure I've been sloppy at points, but overall, I do try to make the distinction.

where did all the matter in the universe originate?

Good question. The only honest answer is "we don't know." As you pointed out from Hawking, things break down when you get to the actual event that triggered the big bang. With our current understanding of physics, you're right, it is kind of like dividing by zero. Everything blows up and it doesn't work. But at the same time, we have to remember that our understanding of physics isn't meant to cover such high energy densities. We know that at some point, the fundamental forces of the universe branched off, but we cannot yet say how the last one of them (gravity) fits in with the other three. That's why we keep building bigger and bigger particle accelerators; In hopes that we can eventually reach the energy density that it converges at, and then we can see how things should have worked. In other words, we need a new theory: A Grand Unified Theory. This is currently one of the holy grails of physics.

But until we have that, we really can't honesty say we know what happened that early. However, just because we can't say, does not mean that miracles need be invoked. History has shown that invoking miracles is not a good solution to problem.

why not a Creator?

Why not a cheeseburger? It's equally as silly to me, and equally as unnecessary. Without evidence, there is no need to invoke additional causes. To do so violates the notion of parsimony.

how can the idea of a Supreme Being be absolutely discounted

I've said several times in this blog and elsewhere: It can't. However, it's certainly not necessary and as such, seems utterly superfluous.

And would it care if we mere humans called it God, or Allah, or Warty Green Toad?

I wouldn't presume to know.

Hey, it works for me, you know?

Then congratulations. However, saying something works does not mean it is necessarily the best solution.

when I started playing D&D, we had to play on paper!

Pfft. I still do.

The Lab Rat said...

Well, after a rocky start, you're 2 for 2 now, Jon.

I can almost hear Galileo crying from the grave, "Don't recant, don't recant!"

You still seem to insist on equating Christians with fundamentalists, though, unless I'm misinterpreting what I'm reading. While I keep the fundmentalists of any religion at extreme arm's length, I don't think it's accurate to automatically equate the two.

I'm probably talking to the exact right person for this, because there's a question I've had in my mind for a long time (as you'll see in my response to your "Brother Jeb" blog, my background is not in physics or astronomy, but in chemistry...mostly I just like to combine two test tubes' contents and watch them blow up). :)

Now, the extreme Christians who say that the Bible is literal and we all descended from Noah's relatives...well, I don't know about all that. I can't say with 100% surety that they're wrong, but that's not where my logic leads me. What I am curious about though, is, where did all the matter in the universe originate? I read Hawking's "A Brief History of Time," which, if memory serves, stated that the answer to that question would be undefined, much like division by zero, because basically that's where time started and anything before that is outside the scope of the discussion. (Please feel free to correct any misconceptions...I'm going on memory...and don't go too far into the deep end; it's been a long time since I took quantum mechanics and Newtonian physics).

There's a middle ground in my head, which seems quite plausible to me at least....why not a Creator? A pronouncement of natural laws here, a few billion years there, a cleverly cast Magic Missile to catalyze the reaction, who knows? And, more relevantly, who COULD know? I mean, given the vast amount of information that is as yet undiscovered about our universe (and with a wink and a nod to my roots as an RPG'er...when I'm an old man, my "walking 5 miles in the snow to get to school" story will be "when I started playing D&D, we had to play on paper!"), how can the idea of a Supreme Being be absolutely discounted? And would it care if we mere humans called it God, or Allah, or Warty Green Toad?

Hey, it works for me, you know? It keeps me from strapping a bomb to my chest, or dancing with snakes on Sunday (which, by the way, is representative of only a very small percentage of either group, a fact you frequently seem to forget in your all-encompassing denouncements of faith), and it allows me to reconcile the observations I can make with my physical senses with the questions of faith that have so many people so perplexed.

In your insistence of the absolutes of science, it strikes me that you're only exhibiting a different facet of the extremism you so frequently decry. Strive for balance, young man. Ponder the significance of the yin and yang.