Let's light a few fires right now. We'll look at the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. It was written by Judge John E. Jones III and it reflects on the nature of science and whether intelligent design (ID) is science. You can find the complete transcript on the TalkOrigins Archive website at: Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District: Decision of the Court. The decision was published in December 2005.
Let's look at Section E4: "Whether ID is Science." I'll put Judge Jones' statement in boldface italics and my comments in regular type.
The first sentences is ...
After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science.
Right off the bat we have an interesting conundrum. Judge Jones is not taking a position on whether ID is correct or not but, regardless, it's not science.We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's; and (3) ID's negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.
Let's think about this for a minute. Imagine that the "scientists" at the Biologic Institute have proven conclusively that an intelligent designer exists and that he has created bacteria flagella, protein-biding sites, and the Cambrian Explosion. In other words, Intelligent Design Creationism is an accurate description of the way today's world came to be. To my way of thinking, that fact would become part of our scientific explanation of life. I would also claim that the process of discovering that fact was scientific.
I can't imagine what other process could have worked.
What would we teach students in science classes? Would we tell them that we don't know how bacteria flagella came to be or would we lie to them and say that they must have evolved by entirely naturalistic means?
The opening statement is a farce. The truth or falsehood is ID is the most important issue. If it's true then it's science and we teach it. If it's not true then we don't teach it and it may, or may not, be science.
We are about to look at the three criteria in more detail but already we have an inconsistency. If ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, as it has, then that's because it is false. But the correctness of ID is not supposed to be relevant. And whether a proposition has been accepted or not is not the same as whether it is science or something else.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)).
(I note in passing that all of natural philosophy incorporated belief in the supernatural before the middle of the 1800s. I don't know where these "centuries old" ground rules came from.)
I reject this limitation of science and so do many other scientists and philosophers. I believe that we can use the scientific way of knowing to investigate any question and that includes questions about the role of supernatural beings.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).
We've discussed this issue many times. It's closely related to the Demarcation Problem in epistemology [see: The Nature of Science (NOS)].
Judge Jones is expressing an opinion supported by many people who want to make science and religion compatible. By restricting science to the "natural world" they leave the door open to other kinds of investigations that may uncover truths by another means (faith?).
He is entitled to his opinion—an opinion shared by the National Center for Science Education—but that doesn't mean he's right. And it certainly doesn't mean he's right to declare that this is a universal criterion that defines science for everyone.
And just because the American National Academy of Sciences also shares this opinion doesn't make it right. Every claim made by the creationists is subject to testing and amenable to scientific investigation. In the case of Intelligent Design, the proponents make a lot of noise about their claims being scientific and open to scientific challenge. Unfortunately, for them, many of us have taken up the challenge and shown that their claims are false and that's how science works.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. Id.
That's nonsense. A lot of ID is about finding scientific evidence of intelligent design.ID is predicated on supernatural causation, as we previously explained and as various expert testimony revealed. (17:96 (Padian); 2:35-36 (Miller); 14:62 (Alters)). ID takes a natural phenomenon and, instead of accepting or seeking a natural explanation, argues that the explanation is supernatural. (5:107 (Pennock)). Further support for the conclusion that ID is predicated on supernatural causation is found in the ID reference book to which ninth grade biology students are directed, Pandas. Pandas states, in pertinent part, as follows:
The real science stopper is methodological naturalism. It rules out, right from the get go, any study that postulates the existence of supernatural beings. Science can't study the efficacy of prayer, for example, or whether miracles exist, if it's limited in such a manner. Science also can't investigate whether Ken Miller's view of theistic evolution is correct but that hasn't stopped some of us from trying.
What are we supposed to do when someone says that the Earth was created 6000 years ago by the god of the Bible? Are we supposed to throw up our hands and say that science has nothing to say on the matter because god is a science stopper?
Darwinists object to the view of intelligent design because it does not give a natural cause explanation of how the various forms of life started in the first place. Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly, through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact – fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc.>P-11 at 99-100 (emphasis added). Stated another way, ID posits that animals did not evolve naturally through evolutionary means but were created abruptly by a non-natural, or supernatural, designer. Defendants' own expert witnesses acknowledged this point. (21:96-100 (Behe); P-718 at 696, 700 ("implausible that the designer is a natural entity"); 28:21-22 (Fuller) (". . . ID's rejection of naturalism and commitment to supernaturalism . . ."); 38:95-96 (Minnich) (ID does not exclude the possibility of a supernatural designer, including deities).
Yawn. We all know that the intelligent designer is god. The question before us is how do we determine if Intelligent Design Creationism is correct or wrong? According the expert witnesses, science can't help us and, besides, the correctness of ID isn't relevant.It is notable that defense experts' own mission, which mirrors that of the IDM itself, is to change the ground rules of science to allow supernatural causation of the natural world, which the Supreme Court in Edwards and the court in McLean correctly recognized as an inherently religious concept. Edwards, 482 U.S. at 591-92; McLean, 529 F. Supp. at 1267. First, defense expert Professor Fuller agreed that ID aspires to "change the ground rules" of science and lead defense expert Professor Behe admitted that his broadened definition of science, which encompasses ID, would also embrace astrology. (28:26 (Fuller); 21:37-42 (Behe)). Moreover, defense expert Professor Minnich acknowledged that for ID to be considered science, the ground rules of science have to be broadened to allow consideration of supernatural forces. (38:97 (Minnich)).
If we can't use science to find out whether Intelligent Design Creationists are right or wrong then what method can we use? I've written a ton of blog posts showing why Jonathan Wells, Michael Behe, and Stephen Meyer are wrong and it really, really, felt like I was doing science. But Judge Jones says it isn't science. Bizarre.
The "ground rules" that Judge Jones refers to are the opinions of a subset of philosophers and scientists. Those "ground rules" are not universally accepted, especially by atheist scientists and philosphers. In this sense, philosophers like Maarten Boudry are more aligned with the defense experts than the experts on the plaintiff side [Is Science Restricted to Methodologial Naturalism?]. So am I.Notably, every major scientific association that has taken a position on the issue of whether ID is science has concluded that ID is not, and cannot be considered as such. (1:98-99 (Miller); 14:75-78 (Alters); 37:25 (Minnich)). Initially, we note that NAS, the "most prestigious" scientific association in this country, views ID as follows:
Creationism, intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life or of species are not science because they are not testable by the methods of science. These claims subordinate observed data to statements based on authority, revelation, or religious belief. Documentation offered in support of these claims is typically limited to the special publications of their advocates. These publications do not offer hypotheses subject to change in light of new data, new interpretations, or demonstration of error. This contrasts with science, where any hypothesis or theory always remains subject to the possibility of rejection or modification in the light of new knowledge.P-192 at 25. Additionally, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (hereinafter "AAAS"), the largest organization of scientists in this country, has taken a similar position on ID, namely, that it "has not proposed a scientific means of testing its claims" and that "the lack of scientific warrant for so-called 'intelligent design theory' makes it improper to include as part of science education . . ." (P-198). Not a single expert witness over the course of the six week trial identified one major scientific association, society or organization that endorsed ID as science. What is more, defense experts concede that ID is not a theory as that term is defined by the NAS and admit that ID is at best "fringe science" which has achieved no acceptance in the scientific community. (21:37-38 (Behe); Fuller Dep. at 98-101, June 21, 2005; 28:47 (Fuller); Minnich Dep. at 89, May 26, 2005).
This gets really confusing. Now we seem to have an entirely different set of opinions about what is, and is not, science.It is therefore readily apparent to the Court that ID fails to meet the essential ground rules that limit science to testable, natural explanations. (3:101-03 (Miller); 14:62 (Alters)). Science cannot be defined differently for Dover students than it is defined in the scientific community as an affirmative action program, as advocated by Professor Fuller, for a view that has been unable to gain a foothold within the scientific establishment. Although ID's failure to meet the ground rules of science is sufficient for the Court to conclude that it is not science, out of an abundance of caution and in the exercise of completeness, we will analyze additional arguments advanced regarding the concepts of ID and science.
One organization claims that something is not science unless it's "testable by the methods of science." What does that mean? Does it mean that string theory and the multiverse are not science? What about hypotheses on the origin of life? What are these "methods of science"?
The next claim is that ID is not science because their claims " ... subordinate observed data to statements based on authority, revelation, or religious belief." That's true of a lot of things. Take theistic evolution as an example. Francis Collins and Ken Miller both claim that intelligent beings arose because god planned it that way. This subordinates observed data that strongly suggests that life has no purpose and no direction.
Both Miller and Collins think they are using rational thought and evidence to reach their conclusion and that's science by my definition. They are wrong, but that's not the point. There's a big difference between bad science and "not science."
NAS also says that Intelligent Design Creationists do "... not offer hypotheses subject to change in light of new data, new interpretations, or demonstration of error." I don't think this is always true of every Intelligent Design Creationist but, in any case, it's not a criterion that makes them any different than a lot of scientists. NAS officials should meet the ENCODE Consortium.
It's true that no scientific organization has endorsed ID as a correct interpretation of life. That makes it bad science. They haven't endorsed Lamarckism or Phlogiston Theory either but that doesn't mean that those views aren't scientific. It just means that they are wrong—just like ID is wrong.
It's important to keep straight the difference between rejecting some idea because it's bad science and not supported by evidence on the one hand, and keeping open the possibility that it might be correct but just isn't science on the other hand. You can't argue from both sides of this issue.
If it's not science, as Judge Jones claims, then why is it relevant that scientific organizations don't accept it? Isn't that exactly what you'd expect of something that's not science?
Here's the problem. These American science organizations, and NCSE, don't want to be put in the position of saying that intelligent design is wrong because that would offend believers. Instead, they want to accommodate believers by declaring that the issue of god is outside of science. They want to maintain the illusion that science and belief in supernatural beings are compatible. Science and religion are different ways of knowing according to AAAS and NAS.
But then there's a problem because Intelligent Design Creationism maintains that evolutionary theory is wrong because god did it. So the scientific organizations have to say that Intelligent Design Creationism is scientifically flawed when they refute evolution AND that ID is not science.
It makes your head spin.
Of the two criteria, "testable" and "natural", I reject both as limitations of science. I think it's possible for something to be part of a scientific investigation without being necessarily testable in the immediate future. I think it's possible for something to be subject to scientific investigation even if it postulates a supernatural explanation.
I think that ID is science and it's fair game for science just like every other question is open to scientific investigation. We use science as a way of knowing to determine whether the claims of creationists are valid or not. They aren't. And that's why we don't teach creationism in Canadian schools.1
1. Although I favor using creationism as an example of bad science.