Thursday, April 07, 2005

Dodging the Question

William Dembski asks us to keep three things in mind when trying to decide whether Intelligent Design is science or not. To his three points, I offer three counterpoints.

1. Science is not decided by majority vote.

Nor is something scientific because it is considered to be so by a minority. Also, Intelligent Design is not a new idea. The idea that something/someone had to have designed or created life is after all, an ancient one, held by most of humanity for most of history. Minority/majority opinion is irrelevant. What counts is the quality of the evidence.

2. Just because an idea has religious, philosophical, or political implications does not make it unscientific.

If an idea is merely theology repackaged, then it is not science. ( Aside : See the sidebar "The Heathen In His Blindness..." in the left column of my blog? That is the title of a book by Prof. Balagangadhara of the University of Ghent, where he shows that the Western representation of the anthropology of religion itself is merely repackaged Christian theology, and bears little resemblence to reality.)

What the ID folks have to do is to tell us, if indeed cilia or the blood-clotting-sequence are designed, what can be said about the designer? These features of life appeared at different points in the evolutionary history of life, so the designer is at least intermittently, if not continually intervening on earth, over millions of years. What is the form of the intervention? Does the designer work by the known physical forces? Does it operate remotely? Is the designer sentient? If the only property of the designer is that it designs, and the designer has unknown and unknowable physical properties, why, then, I can fill the world with ghosts that make things go bump. The beginnings of science was when we abandoned such ghosts, even when we did not have a good idea of the causes of things. Thus Newton's theory of gravity made it possible to predict the motion of planets and comets, but gravity gave no clue as to the cause of chemical reactions. Despite not having a mechanism, chemists developed a quantitative science of chemistry, without ghosts or intentional agents, until in the early part of the 20th century, quantum mechanics made the physics of chemistry extremely clear.

Science cannot progress by postulating an invisible designer. Either the designer is another physical entity, in which case the ID folks have to show us not just that the designer exists, but provide other physical properties; or the designer is unphysical, in which case the Intelligent Design idea cannot be science.

3. To call some area of inquiry “not science” or “unscientific” or to label it “religion” or “myth” is a common maneuver for discrediting an idea.

It is a common manuever to claim victimization by the establishment as proof of the justice of one's cause. It is the quality of the Intelligent Design idea that causes objective observers to label it "not science", unscientific, religion or myth. But, you, the reader, must decide for yourself.