Saturday, September 10, 2005

Weekend Humor #2

Well maybe this entire post isn't that funny, but many parts are. Reading the comments is essential with this one. Perhaps it's just me, and the fact that I find Richard Dawkins so amusing almost any time he says anything. Sometimes it seems that he is actually trying to parody himself.

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.

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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.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Orwellian Smithsonian

Letters to the editor in the Washington Post concerning the Sternberg saga at the Smithsonian Institution can be found here. Eric Wang comments:
Even Charles Darwin would be hard-pressed to explain how a society founded on the principles of John Stuart Mill has evolved into one against which George Orwell warned.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Yes . . . But Is It Science?

The biology faculty at Lehigh University made this statement about ID and science:
The faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences is committed to the highest standards of scientific integrity and academic function. This commitment carries with it unwavering support for academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. It also demands the utmost respect for the scientific method, integrity in the conduct of research, and recognition that the validity of any scientific model comes only as a result of rational hypothesis testing, sound experimentation, and findings that can be replicated by others.

The department faculty, then, are unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory, which has its roots in the seminal work of Charles Darwin and has been supported by findings accumulated over 140 years. The sole dissenter from this position, Prof. Michael Behe, is a well-known proponent of
“intelligent design.” While we respect Prof. Behe's right to express his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department. It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific.

This is certainly a more balanced and respectful statement than the one the Avalos 120 put forth at Iowa State. Having said this, I find the last sentence to be noteworthy for several reasons.

First, I enjoy the irony: this statement itself is not "scientific." This is pure philosophy and the defining of terms a priori. They have every right to make this statement and believe it, but the statement itself is not "science" either.

Second, do they really want to say that ID has no basis in science? Is it helpful to make such a blanket statement that something is not "science"? Is science an on/off switch, and everything either is science or is not science? This is a good example of compartmentalism, which, I believe, is grossly simplistic. Intelligent Design clearly implicates other subject areas, including philosophy of science, but it is based on scientific facts. To say that it is in no way scientific seems obviously false and serves only to mislead.

Once again, scientists have overstated their case, and, as a result, lose credibility.

Scientific Wondering

Good commentary by Rebecca Keller here. She notes, in part:

No scientist should ever be so committed to an ideology, whether that ideology is religious or philosophical in nature, that it blinds him to possible interpretations of scientific data. That happened in Galileo's time and it is happening today whenever people close their eyes and plug their ears to design inferences in biology.

Living things are incredibly complex. Even on the
microscopic scale each cell is literally packed with interacting networks of molecular machines. It looks designed. If it looks designed, how can it be unscientific to wonder if that design is real?

. . . .

How is it less religious or less controversial to teach evolution as it is now, pretending that we somehow know that there is no design?

The only way to be religiously neutral on a subject such as evolution is to acknowledge what we know and what we don't know. Virtually all of our students come into class knowing that evolution is controversial. Pretending it's not, passing off students' questions with patronizing non-answers, or pretending "science" really knows that there is no design in biology is certainly not good educational practice.

Hat tip to Uncommon Descent.