Thursday, September 08, 2005

Is It Science? Does It Matter?

I have previously commented that intelligent design is, at least in part, science. Mike Gene, who is a very insightful blogger (and whom I have cited with agreement here), has taken the position that ID is not science. He gave his reasons:
You ask for a link where I explain why I think ID is not science. . . . Suffice it to say that I define science as many others do – “Science is what scientists do”. Since scientists don’t investigate the hypothesis of Life’s design (as evidenced by the fact that there are no papers exploring this question), I cannot consider ID as science. This does not mean I think ID cannot be explored using the scientific method, by that in of itself does not make ID science – we all use the scientific method is various aspects of our lives.

I think that there are better definitions of science than his, but even if we accept his, how can he say that no scientists are doing work having to do with intelligent design? There actually are papers and books exploring this issue.

He then seems to define ID as "investigat[ing] the hypothesis of Life's design." This may be an aspect of ID, but I think we should stick with the broader definition that the Discovery Institute uses:
The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

This definition puts ID squarely within the realm of science. What do scientists do? One thing that they do is examine and describe the physical world around us and try to explain it.

But does this discussion matter? Aren't we just talking about words and meanings, and don't words have many potential meanings? Yes, words do have ranges of meanings, and, yes, this matters very much. I am very interested in the public policy aspects of these questions, and specifically, how should the issue of life's origins be taught in public schools. Teaching only the evidence that supports macroevolutionary theory, and withholding the evidence that would tend to undermine it, seems to be bad public policy, bad education and bad science. There are many who would like to keep any challenges to macroevolutionary theory out of public schools, and are quite happy to use contrived or misleading labels and definitions to achieve their ends. We need to insist on fairness and accuracy in defining terms and resist those who would avoid civil discussion on the merits by means of simplistic categorization. A reading of Edwards v. Aguillard, one of the leading Supreme Court cases addressing this, should be enough to convince anyone of the importance of these issues.

Intelligent design is science, at least to a very significant extent, and we should insist on that quite firmly.

This discussion raises the related question: Is macroevolutionary theory science? Sure, but it involves many other disciplines as well. It depends on a priori philosophy more than many scientists admit, and more than the public and many judges understand. I have much more to say on that issue, but it will have to wait for another post.

* * * *

Post note: By the way, I agree with Mike that it is fair to say that ID is bigger than science. But this does not mean that it is not science.


Post a Comment

<< Home