Saturday, December 19, 2009

From the Vault: The Key Fallacy in Dover v. Kitzmiller

In honor of the 3rd anniversary of Dover v. Kitzmiller, the decision in which a judge, with a wave of his jurisprudential hand (a scientific procedure much favored by the those who, under any other circumstances, would criticize such an action for not being scientific), rendered Intelligent Design non-scientific--I am rerunning my analysis of the core logical flaw in the decision which ran on Dec. 4, 2007, the first anniversary of the decision. I will be re-running the companion post, "The Two Jones Thesis," on Monday.

In the Dover decision, Judge Jones unwitting lays a trap for himself, and then spends a good part of the decision falling into it. On p. 64 of the decision, Jones gives three reasons for determining that ID is not science:

  1. It permits supernatural causation
  2. It assumes a "contrived dualism" in the argument for irreducible complexity
  3. Its negative arguments against evolution (like irreducible complexity) have "refuted by the scientific community"
In all of this discussion, there is a particular view of how to demarcate science from non-science. It is philosopher Karl Popper's demarcation criterion: that in order for something to be science it has to be falsifiable, or testable. We see this in the following comment by Jones:

Accordingly, the purported positive argument for ID does not satisfy the ground rules of science which require testable hypotheses based upon natural explanations. (3:101-03 (Miller)). ID is reliant upon forces acting outside of the natural world, forces that we cannot see, replicate, control or test, which have produced changes in this world. While we take no position on whether such forces exist, they are simply not testable by scientific means and therefore cannot qualify as part of the scientific process or as a scientific theory. (p. 82, emphasis added]

It is in his statement of the second point where Jones sets himself up. He says that the argument for irreducible complexity is "central to ID". Otherwise, why would he include it in a discussion of whether ID is science? And, in reason 3., he also says it has been "refuted": in other words, falsified. But if the argument for irreducible complexity is, as Jones later determines, falsified, then ID is falsified, since irreducible complexity is "central to ID".

But if ID is not falsifiable, then (if you assume Popper's criterion, which is far from noncontroversial among philosophers of science) it is not science--and it cannot therefore be falsified. So how does Jones get around the fact that he just said both that ID is not science because it can't be falsified, and that an argument "central to ID" has been falsified?

His method is simply to skip back and forth between the two arguments hoping the reader will not notice.

He says first that the truth or falsity of arguments for ID are irrelevant:

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.
Judge Jones then goes on an extended argument explaining why he thinks the argument or irreducible complexity fails (the argument for which essentially consists of the fact that lots of evolutionists say so). But then, obviously cognizant of the inherent contradiction in his argument (that the court takes no position on the truth of the arguments for ID and that it does), he points out that irreducible complexity is an argument against evolution, not an argument for Intelligent Design:

Irreducible complexity is a negative argument against evolution, not proof of design, a point conceded by defense expert Professor Minnich. (2:15 (Miller); 38:82 (Minnich) (irreducible complexity “is not a test of intelligent design; it’s a test of evolution”). [p. 68, emphasis added]

He says this, in fact, in several places:

As irreducible complexity is only a negative argument against evolution, it is
refutable and accordingly testable, unlike ID, by showing that there are intermediate structures with selectable functions that could have evolved into the allegedly irreducibly complex systems. [p. 76, emphasis added]
Jones' argument is that the alleged failure of irreducible complexity can be charged to ID's account only if irreducible complexity is not a part of Intelligent Design theory itself, since ID itself is not science and therefore not falsifiable. And yet, if it isn't a part of ID, then it obviously cannot undermine the theory itself.

Importantly, however, the fact that the negative argument of irreducible complexity is testable does not make testable the argument for ID.
How can this be if irreducible complexity is "central to ID"? He wants to use the alleged refutation of irreducible complexity against Intelligent Design, but he doesn't want to do it at the cost of his argument that it isn't science. And he does this by employing an explicit contradiction: that irreducible complexity is both central to ID and not central to it.

He then complicates his position even further:

...[E]ven if irreducible complexity had not been rejected, it still does not support ID as it is merely a test for evolution, not design. [p. 79, emphasis added]
In other words, what Jones is saying is that the falsity of irreducible complexity can be held against ID since it is "central" to it, but that, even if it were true, it wouldn't count in favor of it, since it is not central to ID!

It is a clever bit of sophistry. No, take that back. It's just sophistry.

If anyone was in any doubt as to whether the debate over Intelligent Design was rigged, Jones dispels it here. In the duel between the scientific mystics and the advocates of Intelligent Design, the scientific mystics are the only ones allowed a loaded gun.

How can Jones justify this? The short answer is that he can't--not, at least, if he wants to maintain any kind of rational credibility. But if it is not clear how he can do this and remain within the bounds of reason, it is clear why he does it.

ID is science insofar as irreducible complexity (and other similar arguments) is part of it, and unfalsifiable insofar as it is not. And Jones knows this, but wants to have his cake and eat it too.

If opponents of ID want to hold irreducible complexity against ID, then they will have to abandon their argument that ID is not science. And if they want to preserve their argument that ID is not science, they will have to stop using arguments against irreducible complexity against ID.

Until they do, they are simply being irrational.


Anonymous said...

So, what research has ID accompished since the decision?

Martin Cothran said...

What relevance does that have to the point of the post?

Lee Bowman said...

Karl Popper's rules do not necessarily apply to all scientific hypotheses. As you stated however, args for ID are indeed falsifiable. ID would be refuted if all (or at least most) of complex systems had a natural explanation. IC has *not* been refuted by the way. Check out Behe's refutation of Kenneth Millers fatuous assuptions that the TTSS was a precurser to the Prokaryotic Flagellum. Also Behe's clarification of how IC applies to the integral portion of the clotting cascade.

IC is falsifiable only where natural functions are sufficient, and even in some of instances, a 'bootstrap' function (a designed self propagating process) may be operative.

Judge Jones erred on many fronts, but was right on target for gleaning one positive consummate result in particular. Career enhancement, paid speaking engagements and honorary degrees.

Richard Day said...

Perhaps if the evidence had not shown that ID defenders literally crossed out the word "creationism" in student text and replaced it with the words "intelligent design" the judge might have gone a different direction. If Jones failed to work out the logic of it all, he did not fail to recognize BS when he smelled it.

Martin Cothran said...


Perhaps you could explain your reasoning here more explicitly. The case of Of Pandas and People, which its detractors claim was changed from an unconstitutional and explicitly creationist text to an Intelligent Design text serves as support for the argument that the motive behind those who published the text was religious.

For the sake of argument, let's grant that the motive behind this textbook were religious in nature (although that position is not unproblematic). This would show that some (though not necessarily all) support for Intelligent Design was religious. From this, you apparently conclude that Intelligent Design is inherently religious.

In other words, some support for ID is religious, therefore ID is religious

Of course, by that same argument we would have to conclude that evolution is inherently atheistic, since some of its supporters are motivated by their atheism: Some support for evolution is atheistic, therefore evolution is atheistic.

I was just wondering: since you accept that ID is religious, do you, by the same reasoning accept that evolution is atheistic?

If it does, of course, it puts you side by side with many creationists, who also believe that.

Just askin'.

Lee said...

I happen to believe that evolution is inherently atheistic -- or part of it. Not the part that proposes that species change over time, that seems obvious. Not even the part that proposes that species morph into different species, though that has other problems. Not even natural selection, per se, since it also seems obvious that unhelpful mutations tend to die off and helpful mutations tend to be passed.

The only inherently atheistic part of evolution is the part that maintains that the diversity of all life can be explained by random mutation in concert with natural selection. This is the most objectionable part of the doctrine of evolution from a religious standpoint, and it is therefore the part that is most emphasized in teaching and in popular culture.

This is where evolutionists and their atheist fellow travelers overstep science and try to carry their DNA mappings and fossil records into the metaphysical arena. Since there is no way to test a mutation as to whether it happened randomly or was inspired by God, the absence of God from the process is simply presumed, and then called science.

There aren't very many other scientific fields where presumptions become established fact without verification taking place in between. Maybe global warming.

Richard Day said...


I'm saying the evidence of a direct rewrite of creationism as intelligent design was presented at trial and accepted by the court. It went a long way toward equating Creationism with ID and establishing intent - that the proponents wished to establish a particular religion in the public schools.

If someone claimed to believe in creationism, which is based on the Bible, but also claims that belief is not motivated by religion - I would probably assume they were being less than honest, or attempting to redefine the word for the sake of argument. Of course, I suppose that would be a form of dishonesty as well.

The same is not necessarily true for those who believe ID may provide an explanation for the world's genesis. I see design in the world but am satisfied that we simply do not know the truth of the matter- and that includes the big bang theory. I am convinced the answers are not provided in the book of Genesis. Any God who could have created this awesome universe, would surely have written a less contradictory book. Most, but perhaps not all, ID folks seem convinced otherwise. Similarly, many Christains see no conflict with Darwin's theories; yet many are atheists or agnostic.

My problem with intelligent design is that it doesn't seem to get us anywhere as a science. I remember as a child being told repeatedly by my parents, "because I said so." It was a conversation stopper. Worse, it was an inquiry stopper. It seems to me that ID functions in exactly the same way.

But for the court, linking ID with creationism was a deal-breaker.


Martin Cothran said...


The point of my response is that by the same reasoning you say that ID is inherently religious because the motivations of some who back it are religious, you are logically obliged to say that evolution is inherently atheistic because some who back it are motivated by atheism.

You want to affirm the former and reject the latter even though the reasoning (and the underlying assumption) is identical. Your response does not address my argument here, it only changes the subject.

You can be illogical if you like. It's a free country. Just remember it the next time you accuse religious people of being irrational.

I also think it is ironic that you accuse ID of being a "conversation stopper" when you yourself say you accept that there is a religious motivation behind ID because that position was "accepted by the court."

Maybe you could explain why ID is a "conversation stopper" because it says "God did it" and the opposition to ID is not a "conversation stopper" despite the fact that it says "the court said so."

What amazes me is that the people who are constantly accusing supporters of ID of being irrational are willing to swallow a completely irrational argument simply because it supports their position.

No, I take that back. I'm not amazed. I take it for granted.