Certainty is never possible. There is no fool-proof, empirical means of distinguishing which of two sets of hypothesis that can potentially produce indistinguishable outcomes is correct. However, practical experience gained from at least a couple hundreds years seems to provide some some guidelines. No certainties for sure, but to invoke another, unprecedented mechanism to research definitely requires making a case that can lead to a positive research program.
Engineering also uses Occam’s Razor when assessing explanations.
I started off as a chemist in college and used to scoff at the lack of stringent details I perceived in biology. But I was fascinated with the subject and later moved into the field of biochemistry and biological regulation. I learned that actually, biologists worked quite hard and were no less rigorous in studying what they could about the systems they researched. I work in the early stages of cancer drug discovery today, dealing with very real life and death issues. This is hard and complex, and we definitely keep working towards improving our understanding of cell and organismal biology.
I don’t see ‘historical’ issues as a defining difference in science or engineering. First, there are branches within engineering that perform forensic analysis where the specific history of a system or component matters. Second, insofar as historical information can be discerned (in biology, such from comparison with related groups, and sequences retained), hypotheses can be compared, tested and validated. Inferences and comparisons from similar systems for which we have stronger understanding is also a common method in engineering and the sciences.
The problem with time, not history per se, is that entropic mechanisms often introduce noise.
All I am advocating is a through knowledge of the limitations of scientific claims… I think science as a body should welcome such an approach.
It does. We confront the limits of knowledge and evaluate scientific claims daily in my area. Most people studying evolutionary biology do as well. This is a topic that has been continuously pondered since the formalization of modern science (circa 1700’s?). It’s part of epistemology, which has roots going back at least to the early Greeks. However, none of this makes ‘design’ a better or worse scientific research area or explanation for biological evolution.
Researchers in ‘design’ need to develop a consistent, focused, research direction that provides positive (testable) statements. It must add to our systematic understanding. This has been attempted many times in the past – You can see it in Linnaeus’ work from the 1700s. A case for design cannot simply be made as: “Design can also explain that.” or “Evolutionary theory doesn’t explain ‘X’”. That gives science nothing to work with. A biological design theory can’t be argued for on the basis that it hasn’t been refuted (Related to the the general impossibility of refuting a negative).
With regard to evolution, epistemology, and science, I think there are a number of excellent articles and books by philosophers of science. Elliot Sober is one philosopher who covers this area and I thought his book, Philosophy of Biology was a good read.