How would you define "science"?

Again we must come back to the distinction between what some people in “the ID movement” may do, and what ID as a theory holds.

Many people in the ID movement (though not too many of the leading lights) are concordists, as you point out, and many of them overrate the importance of science. This is true of most creationists as well, and there is some overlap between ID and creationist folks. All of this is true.

Nonetheless, ID as such has no position on concordism, the Bible, Christianity, etc. It does, however, have a position on the nature of science, and its position is opposed to that of many in the atheist and TE/EC scientific communities. It holds that the purpose of natural science is to get at the truth about nature, following the evidence wherever it leads, unhampered by arbitrary rules such as “methodological naturalism.” Thus, if reason and evidence seem to point to design as the explanation for the origin of something, most atheist and TE/EC people reflexively respond, “No, we can’t go there,” ID people say “Why can’t we go there, if that’s what reason and evidence seem to indicate?”

I don’t see any resolution to this problem any time soon. If a ruling is made that design inferences can’t, even in principle, belong to science, because of “methodological naturalism,” then ID cannot proceed as a scientific project. If a more nuanced ruling is adopted, i.e., that design inferences might in principle be acceptable in science, though the particular design arguments offered by ID proponents are weak or invalid, then ID can keep on trying to improve itself. But if the ruling from on high is that design inferences by their very nature can’t be allowed within science, then ID people and their opponents are playing two entirely different games (as if one is playing by the rules of ping pong and the other by the rules of tennis), and all discussion must end.

George’s position is clearly that design inferences are ruled out of court by science, by the very nature of science, and therefore that ID was the pursuit of a chimera from the beginning, and ought to be abandoned. He’s entitled to that belief, but it rests on a particular account of the nature of science, the nature of knowledge, the nature of nature, etc. I’m not obliged to accept that account, and I don’t. I go with a more nuanced account in which design inferences are generally not relevant in natural science, but are not absolutely forbidden. This was the attitude of Newton, Boyle, and Kepler. The ID folks are mostly with Newton etc. The TE/EC folks, on the other hand, go with Descartes, Bacon, and Kant, and of course the atheists do, too. The differences thus go back to major disagreements in early modern philosophy – though most of the proponents of the various modern schools are completely oblivious of the history of those differences, and how they play out in modern arguments.

I wasn’t give an advance copy of Behe’s new book, and so haven’t read it, and I doubt you were given an advance copy, either. For all I know, he may not discuss God at all in the book, so I can’t comment on what he might say about God there. When the book comes out and we have both read it (a big “if”, given your track record of never reading an ID book all the way through), we can return to the discussion of Behe’s exact position then.

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Book is out!

Right, and when that’s combined with:

I can see why we end up with endless “ID is science, no it’s not, yes it is, no it’s not” discussions that don’t really go anywhere. Is there no hope or can we agree on some sort of definition or process to arbitrate the dispute?

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You can’t do science without the scientific method.

That’s completely false. Atheists, TE’s, and EC’s are asking you to go there, with “there” being a testable scientific hypothesis. The failure of ID supporters to produce a testable scientific hypothesis for ID is what leads us to reject ID as science.

I see a resolution. ID supporters can start by constructing a real scientific theory. It needs to explain whole swaths of data, such as the nested hierarchy, mutational biases seen in comparative genomes, intron and exon divergence, orthologous ERV’s, and a whole host of other evidence that is already explained by the theory of evolution.

“It looks designed” is not science. Trying to get rid of methodological naturalism is only an admission that ID is not science. No other theory in science requires us to abandon methodological naturalism, so why would ID need us to?

The ruling of the court was that ID, as presented in the Dover case, was the same as creationism. That could change if ID supporters actually put in the work and constructed a real ID scientific theory. No one is stopping them.

The best one I have is a “community of discourse”. The way I described it is that ID not welcome in mainstream science, whether or not this is jusrified, so they are not part of mainstream science. ID want to change this, and think it is unfair, but they agree it is an accurate characterization.

That makes Peaceful Science valuable to them. We are the only place we know of that is aligned with mainstream science, and is willing to hear them out. For now at least, we are all the @discovery_institute has got.

I mostly agree. But I disagree with the “truth about nature” bit, because a scientist should not presuppose that there is such a thing as truth about nature.


More than once I’ve read a Creationist say simply: If God’s work is found in the world of nature, why wouldn’t science be able to address the nature of design?

It’s almost senselessly optimistic… and not having any formal training in epistemology, I find it difficult to get a “grip” on what is the best approach for a response…

So do you see it kind of like “suspending the rules” (methodological naturalism, etc.) for purpose of having a discussion rather than making conforming to the rules a prerequisite to conversation?

I would say, if we lift methodological naturalism to aid conversation, but keep empirical experimentation and testable/falsifiable hypotheses there is still a basis of reasoning. I guess the question is, would both sides agree to that?

It is the nature of natural language, that you cannot adequately define everything.

No. If you look at the framing, I am silent about whether ID is science or not. I just describe the situation in a way they agree with, and grant that they may be doing something sciencey if they think so.

The problem with ID is not just that they want to change the rulea, but they have a bad habbit of relying on bad logic and inaccurate reads of the evidence. They rarely retract anything. So they don’t have a way to shed bad arguments. If @discovery_institute is lucky this time around, they will shed the worst of Behe’s arguments before he is gone. That would do a lot good for them, perhaps even showing them a way forward.

I actually think there are some ways they could get into mainstream, but they have to be ruthless in shedding the bad arguments first. The camel and needle. They are pretty upset with me, but if they take a good hard look at Behe’s case, they might come around to thanking me in the long run. They need to shed the bad arguments, or they are done for.

I may be the atheist here, but I’m pretty sure you want to go with “The camel and gnat”. The camel and the needle could perhaps refer to the fiduciary policies, but I don’t think that is where you are going with that one.

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I would be okay with that. I don’t know about others.

What the ID folk need, is to come up with some sort of useful criteria that would distinguish between “designed” and “not designed”. And then they would need to apply this in practice, and demonstrate that the resulting division into “designed” and “not designed” was actually useful.

They have not done this. They seem to have deliberately avoided this. They have come up with criteria, but their criteria always seem too abstract to be able to apply to actual things.

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A very interesting topic, @Jordan. As usual, I can’t download that whole section of my brain in a few minutes. I’ll try unsuccessfully to keep it brief and simple.

Partly, yes, YECs and OECs take an all-too-modern view of the Bible, though I would never say as a general observation that they take science for the final arbiter of truth. Concerning the part we agree on (about the Bible), I’ve always found very helpful an analysis by the late Conrad Hyers, a biblical scholar. As he said in this context, “if there appears to be a conflict between biblical statements and scientific or historical statements, the latter must give in as misguided or misinformed. Biblical statements, it is argued, can only be said to be true, reliable, trustworthy and believable if they conform to these, largely modern and essentially secular, uses of language. Thus, quite ironically, those who would dismiss the Bible as pre-scientific, and those who would defend it as the true science, find themselves in agreement that these biblical texts are to be interpreted “literally”–that is, as intending to offer literal statements of scientific and historical fact.” See D:\ASAWEB~1\PSCF\1984\JASA9-84Heyers.htm, an article that’s always on my short list of “must read” pieces for anyone interested in Christianity and science. Be sure to notice that Hyers’ critique applies no less to someone like Coyne or Dawkins than to Ham or Hugh Ross. Indeed, one can fairly say that his term, “dinosaur religion,” anticipated the coming of Coyne and Dawkins by a few years. I wrote a BL column about that aspect some time ago, but the site is undergoing a major redesign and I can’t find it right now.

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My other brief comment is that YECs aren’t concordists, at least not by their own understanding of the “two books” position. They explicitly reject such an understanding. By “they,” I mean Ken Ham, Terry Mortenson, John C. Whitcomb, Jr., and many others. Again, my columns about this are temporarily unavailable.

By “the ruling from on high” I wasn’t referring to the Dover trial – as if a philosophically and scientifically ignorant judge could even understand the epistemological issues, let alone rule on them! – I was referring to the haughty way that narrowly trained bench scientists on these websites lay down laws about methodological naturalism, etc., even though they have very little philosophical and historical training on the basis of which to discuss such matters. I regularly find that I have read far more of the original words of Newton, Darwin, Boyle, Kant, Descartes, Bacon, Kuhn, Gould, Gaylord Simpson, etc. than 95% of the science Ph.D.s who pontificate on these matters.

If you don’t presuppose that, what motivation have you got for doing science in the first place? If you aren’t sure that any truth about nature exists, what would drive your scientific quest?

Telling others how ignorant they are of philosophy and history compared to your own brilliance is an example of haughtiness. Practice what you preach, brother.

Can you think of another theory in science where we have to throw methodological naturalism out the window?

The scientist wants to understand how things work. Even if Boyle’s law is not strictly true, it still gives a very useful account of how gas volume changes under pressure. Common descent is still a very useful idea, even if horizontal gene transfer makes it not strictly true.

The term wasn’t even invented until the 1980s, and it wasn’t invented by a scientist, but by a philosopher at a Christian college. Scientists got along fine without ever using the phrase from the time of Galileo onward. But now all you guys repeat it at breakfast, lunch, and supper every day, like a mantra, as if the lifeblood of science depends on the use and enforcement of the term.