Monday, December 03, 2007

Words Matter in the Intelligent Design Debate: A personal confession

Okay. I have a confession to make. There is a secret I have been harboring for years now, and, on the advice of my therapist, I am now making it public: I think words are important. And it doesn't stop there. There is something else: I also think logic is important.

Of course my therapist is not a psychologist, but a metaphysician, and, rather than wasting his time with Freud, he has pondered the finer points of Duns Scotus. But I am the better for it.

And besides, I feel so much better now, having revealed this deep, dark secret, a secret I felt compelled to admit after an anonymous commenter on my previous post about Ben Stein's new documentary on Intelligent Design accused me of "parsing words" when I asked him whether he was saying ID was bad science or not science at all.

Now accusing a Latin teacher of "parsing words" is a little like accusing a plumber of fitting pipes, but the question he seems to be hinting at is: "Does it matter whether ID is bad science or non-science? Isn't ID cooked either way?"

Well, yes. If ID is science, and it is bad science, then that is a problem. And if it is non-science and makes scientific claims, then, true or false, it is meaningless. But it can't be both science and non-science: it has to be one or the other.

The problem is that people like this anonymous commenter want to make two mutually exclusive claims that cancel each other out. As soon as they make the argument, their argument is refuted.

They want to say on the one hand that ID is not science at all because it does not make falsifiable claims. That is why why say it shouldn't be taught in science classrooms. But then they say that it's claims are false. But how can it make false claims unless its claims are falsifiable?

You have to commit yourself to one of these positions and argue it consistently, otherwise your position refutes itself. You either have to say that it is non-science, in which case your arguments have to be directed at the nature of ID's claims as non-scientific claims, or you have to say it's bad science, in which case you can catalogue its false claims to your heart's content--but that cuts you off from saying that it isn't science.

Critics of ID want the rest of us to look the other way when they violate the simple rules of logic and get upset with us when we point it out. This indicates a deep-seated fear of ontological realities. That's how my therapist puts it, anyway.

If you are going to argue against Intelligent Design, you're going to have to commit yourself. And if you want a recommendation on a good facility, I'm sure my personal metaphysician will be happy to recommend one.

8 comments:

motheral said...

They want to say on the one hand that ID is not science at all because it does not make falsifiable claims. That is why why say it shouldn't be taught in science classrooms. But then they say that it's claims are false. But how can it make false claims unless its claims are falsifiable?

Once again, you are misrepresenting what others have said, and, in this case, imagining "inconsistency" where none exists.

Here's the reality: SOME of ID's claims are un-falsifiable, and therefore unscientific; while OTHER ID claims (such as "irreducible complexity") are falsifiable and have been proven false. (There's also the matter of those false claims resulting from unscientific thought-processes, but that's another matter.) There's nothing inconsistent about this, unless we are alleging that this or that PARTICULAR ID claim is both unfalsifiable and proven false. You have not specified any particular ID claim about which both of these things have been said; therefore your allegations of our "inconsistency" are groundless.

Martin Cothran said...

Motheral,

So you would agree that the blanket statement, "ID is not science" is false then?

Motheral said...

No, I would not. ID is religious doctrine in a thin disguise, and its claims, both the false and the unfalsifiable ones, are made in support of a religious doctrine, not as a result of scientific inquiry or rational processes.

Just because ID makes falsifiable claims, does not make it science. "I own the Brooklyn Bridge" isn't a scientific claim either.

Anonymous said...

So Martin, since you are discussing ID creationism so much on this blog, does it mean that the Family Foundation is going to promote ID with the new education commish?

Martin Cothran said...

So, Motheral, what then is your criterion for what is science and what is not?

Martin Cothran said...

Anonymous,

I would hope that Draud already appreciates the importance of letting science teachers themselves decide what to teach in their classrooms.

Thomas said...

How about this as an explanation:

ID is a system which has fundamental tenets some of which are untestable and some of which are blatantly false. Any system with fundamental suppositions which are not testable is not scientific. Therefore ID isn't science.

Or one could take the more nuanced view that ID has aspects which are fundamentally unscientific and do not fall within the domain of science, and aspects which are falsifiable and have already been falsified.

ID, like evolutionary theory, is not summed up in one blanket statement, but by a number of statements that work together in a systematic way. Thus saying ID is not science is true in that it contains essential features outside the domain of science, and it is bad science in that it asserts things that have already been falsified.

Martin Cothran said...

Thomas,

You are saying something similar to what Motheral has said. I'm going to be commenting on that in a post this weekend.