The general thrust of the plaintiff's argument was laid out in the opening remarks of their lawyer (Eric Rothschild). They intended to show that science is restricted to natural causes. It cannot make statements about the supernatural. Since intelligent design refers to God it must be religion, not science, and should not be presented in a science classroom.
At this trial, you will hear the parties use the term "methodological naturalism." Methodological naturalism is the term used to describe science as self-imposed limitation, that it will only consider natural causes for natural phenomena. Science does not consider supernatural explanations because it has no way of observing, measuring, repeating, or testing supernatural events. It doesn't mean that supernatural events, including divine miracles, have not happened, just that science cannot properly make any statements about them.This position is convenient because it defines non-overlapping magisteria. It means that someone can believe in miracles and supernatural beings without violating the principles that govern science. It's a good way of making the claims of intelligent design appear to be outside the bounds of science while, at the same time, allowing moderate religious scientists to live under the big tent of science.
But intelligent design will not accept the well-established boundaries of science and openly rejects methodological naturalism, the way science has been practiced for centuries. Why? Because it has to. In the end, no matter how many stones intelligent design throws at the theory of evolution, the only alternative it presents for the development and diversity of life, the only explanation for how a bacterial flagellum or the human eye came to be is a miracle, an abrupt appearance, an act of supernatural creation. That, by itself, establishes intelligent design as a religious argument, not a scientific argument, for the creation of biological life that cannot be taught to public school students.
It's a politically and legally effective tactic, but it it correct? I don't think it is. I think science is allowed to investigate claims of miracles and whether there are supernatural beings, just as it's allowed to investigate claims of the paranormal.
Whether or not this is a good description of science, it's clear that in the context of Kitzmiller v Dover the tactic was very successful. The Judge, John E. Jones III, accepted the definition of science and noted in his ruling that science is limited to methodological naturalism [Memorandum Opinion: Kitzmiller et al v. Dover Are School District et al.].
Expert testimony reveals that since the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena. (9:19-22 (Haught); 5:25-29 (Pennock); 1:62 (Miller)). This revolution entailed the rejection of the appeal to authority, and by extension, revelation, in favor of empirical evidence. (5:28 (Pennock)). Since that time period, science has been a discipline in which testability, rather than any ecclesiastical authority or philosophical coherence, has been the measure of a scientific idea’s worth. (9:21-22 (Haught); 1:63 (Miller)). In deliberately omitting theological or “ultimate” explanations for the existence or characteristics of the natural world, science does not consider issues of “meaning” and “purpose” in the world. (9:21 (Haught); 1:64, 87 (Miller)). While supernatural explanations may be important and have merit, they are not part of science. (3:103 (Miller); 9:19-20 (Haught)). This self-imposed convention of science, which limits inquiry to testable, natural explanations about the natural world, is referred to by philosophers as “methodological naturalism” and is sometimes known as the scientific method. (5:23, 29-30 (Pennock)). Methodological naturalism is a “ground rule” of science today which requires scientists to seek explanations in the world around us based upon what we can observe, test, replicate, and verify. (1:59-64, 2:41-43 (Miller); 5:8, 23-30 (Pennock)).One of the people who testified for the plaintiffs was John Haught, a Roman Catholic Theologian. He was asked to define science and distinguish it from religion. His testimony is a very good example of the accommodationist position so I'm quoting it below in order to illustrate that view. (The transcripts are freely available on the NCSE website, see Kitzmiller Trial Transcripts.)
As the National Academy of Sciences (hereinafter “NAS”) was recognized by experts for both parties as the “most prestigious” scientific association in this country, we will accordingly cite to its opinion where appropriate. (1:94, 160-61 (Miller); 14:72 (Alters); 37:31 (Minnich)). NAS is in agreement that science is limited to empirical, observable and ultimately testable data: “Science is a particular way of knowing about the world. In science, explanations are restricted to those that can be inferred from the confirmable data – the results obtained through observations and experiments that can be substantiated by other scientists. Anything that can be observed or measured is amenable to scientific investigation. Explanations that cannot be based upon empirical evidence are not part of science.” (P-649 at 27).
This rigorous attachment to “natural” explanations is an essential attribute to science by definition and by convention. (1:63 (Miller); 5:29-31 (Pennock)). We are in agreement with Plaintiffs’ lead expert Dr. Miller, that from a practical perspective, attributing unsolved problems about nature to causes and forces that lie outside the natural world is a “science stopper.” (3:14-15 (Miller)). As Dr. Miller explained, once you attribute a cause to an untestable supernatural force, a proposition that cannot be disproven, there is no reason to continue seeking natural explanations as we have our answer.
Q. Focusing on natural science, what is science?I think that's a prety good description of the accommodationist position as I understand it.
A. Science is a mode of inquiry that looks to understand natural phenomena by looking for their natural causes, efficient and material causes. It does this by first gathering data observationally or empirically. Then it organizes this data into the form of hypotheses or theories. And then, thirdly, it continually tests the authenticity of these hypotheses and theories against new data that might come in and perhaps occasionally bring about the revision of the hypothesis or theory.
Q. You said that science seeks to understand the natural world through natural explanations. Is that important?
A. Yes, that's critical. The science, by definition, limits itself self-consciously, methodologically, to natural explanations. And that means that anything like a supernatural reality or transcendent reality, science is simply not wired to pick up any signals of it, and therefore any reference to the supernatural simply cannot be part of scientific discourse. And this is the way that science carries on to our present day.
Q. Would that mean this is the way modern science is conducted?
A. Modern science we date from roughly the end of the 16th to the 17th Century, in that period of time. And it was at that time that the great figurists of modern science, almost all of whom were deeply religious men themselves, decided self-consciously that this new mode of inquiry would not appeal to anything that's not natural, would not appeal to things like value, importance, divine causation, or even anything like intelligent causation.
These are not scientific categories of explanation. And ever since the 16th and 17th Century, modern science, as it's called, leaves out anything that has to do with theological or ultimate explanation.
Q. Does this make science at odds with religion?
A. By no means. Science and religion, as I've written in all of my books, are dealing with two completely different or distinct realms. They can be related, science and religion, but, first of all, they have to be distinguished. The medieval philosopher said, we distinguish in order to relate. And when we have a failure to distinguish science from religion, then confusion will follow.
So science deals with questions relating to natural causes, to efficient and material causes, if you want to use Aristotelian language. Religion and theology deal with questions about ultimate meaning and ultimate purpose. To put it very simply, science deals with causes, religion deals with meanings. Science asks "how" questions, religion asks "why" questions.
And it's because they're doing different things that they cannot logically stand in a competitive relationship with each other any more than, say, a baseball game or a baseball player or a good move in baseball can conflict with a good move in chess. They're different games, if you want to use that analogy, playing by different rules.
Q. You've used another analogy in discussions with me that might be illuminating. This is the boiling water analogy. Could you give us that?
A. Yes. I think most of the issues in science and religion discussions, most of the confusion that occurs happens because we fail to distinguish different levels of explanation. And so what I advocate is layered or -- layered explanation or explanatory pluralism, according to which almost every phenomenon in our experience can be explained at a plurality of levels.
And a simple example would be a teapot. Suppose a teapot is boiling on your stove and someone comes into the room and says, explain to me why that's boiling. Well, one explanation would be it's boiling because the water molecules are moving around excitedly and the liquid state is being transformed into gas.
But at the same time you could just as easily have answered that question by saying, it's boiling because my wife turned the gas on. Or you could also answer that same question by saying it's boiling because I want tea.
All three answers are right, but they don't conflict with each other because they're working at different levels. Science works at one level of investigation, religion at another. And it would be a mistake to say that the teapot is boiling because I turned the gas on rather than because the molecules are moving around. It would be a mistake to say the teapot is boiling because of molecular movement rather than because I want tea. No, you can have a plurality of levels of explanation. But the problems occur when one assumes that there's only one level.
And if I could apply this analogy to the present case, it seems to me that the intelligent design proponents are assuming that there's only one authoritative level of inquiry, namely the scientific, which is, of course, a very authoritative way of looking at things. And they're trying to ram their ultimate kind of explanation, intelligent design, into that level of explanation, which is culturally very authoritative today, namely the scientific.
And for that reason, science, scientists justifiably object because implicitly they're accepting what I'm calling this explanatory pluralism or layered explanation where you don't bring in "I want tea" while you're studying the molecular movement in the kettle. So it's a logical confusion that we have going here.
One of the interesting aspects of the trial is that when John Haught started to testify as an expect on science there was an objection from the defendant's lawyer. He claimed that Haught was a philosopher, not a scientist, and therefore was not an expert witness with respect to defining science. The objection had to be withdrawn when the defendant's lawyer discovered that he had already approved pre-trial documents where Haught discussed science.
Later on there was the following exchange,
Q. Well, according to Gould, the message of Darwinian science is that life has no purpose. Is that a scientific claim?I'm sorry, but I can't help but snicker at such testimony from a Roman Catholic philosopher. He's testifying as an expert on science but criticizes another philosopher for making statements about science (justifiable, in my opinion, but still hypocritical). Then he criticizes a scientist for mixing up his science with his metaphysical beliefs.
A. No. And I think if you ask Gould, he would have to admit that, also.
Q. Okay. Daniel Dennett, do you know who he is?
Q. He's a philosopher. Is that right?
A. He's a philosopher at Tufts University.
Q. Right. And he claims that Darwin is incompatible with religious beliefs?
A. Yes. He's a philosopher, not a scientist. That's a philosophical belief.
Q. Well, what about E. O. Wilson, who is a biologist at Harvard, he puts Darwin's science in direct competition with religion, does he not?
A. Yes, because he is one of these people who unconsciously conflates his very good evolutionary science with a very suspect metaphysical belief system. Not always, but at times.
What, exactly are those "very suspect metaphysical belief system" that John Haught avoids but which entraps E.O. Wilson? Why it's the "religion" of materialism.
Q. And by a materialist world-view or belief system, what does that mean?So, materialism isn't something that could just arise by default among those people who don't fall for religion. No siree. It has to be a religious view of its own.
A. Materialism is a belief system that claims that matter, lifeless and mindless matter, is the ultimate foundation of all reality, and there's nothing more ultimate than that. So it's kind of religious in the first sense of my term, a belief in something of ultimate importance. For the materialist, matter is the ultimate creator, the ultimate source of all being, and therefore it excludes the existence of anything supernatural, certainly the existence of God.
If you think about it, that's very strange. Western Europeans are raising a whole generation of children who will have never been brainwashed by religion. They will be materialists by default because they've never known anything else. But according to Haught (he's not alone) they will be engaging in adopting a form of religious belief system, just like E.O. Wilson. How does that work?
So, what exactly are the limitations of science that we are supposed to adhere to? Earlier I criticized the concept of methodological naturalism because it seemed to rule out investigations of the paranormal as well as investigations of miracles. Robert Pennock, another philosopher, was asked about that during his testimony and he had a ready answer. See if you are convinced.
Q. Isn't it true that as we sit here today scientists are investigating what some people call psychic powers?Cool. You can investigate the paranormal because it's not supernatural and you can treat it as a potential natural phenomenon. Presumably you will reach the conclusion that is is not a paranormal event.
A. I know that there are a few scientists who did that I believe. Mack is one name, someone who's done this. So there are a few scientists who have done that, that's right, and what they do in that case is really the same thing. It's often misunderstood to think, to call something paranormal means that it is supernatural. Essentially what's going on in those scientific investigations is to say no, that's not so. We will again treat this purported phenomenon, ESP or telekinesis for example, as though this is a natural, still yet unknown, but ordinary causal process, treating it essentially in the same way we treat other things under the constraints of methodological naturalism, reconceptualizing it as a natural thing rather than a supernatural.
But for some reason you can't do that for miracles and the role of God in theistic evolution. That's forbidden science.
Excuse me if I'm confused.