ID is a Theory of Epistemology

No, but it is precisely what a scientist would hope to do with God to make sense of what evolution with and without him would look like.

I’m all for STEM students learning more philosophy, but I would prioritize ethics over philosophy of science.

ETA: Consider: politics and Facebook/Google, morality and AI, genetic technology and engineering human babies, placebos and medical ethics, weapons research and morality of war. Seems to me these topics are more important than the nature of causation and scientific realism. Admittedly, that claim about priorities is philosophical, not scientific!

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Two separate questions here, I think: A psychological question about what motivates scientists and a philosophical question about what scientific theories tell us about reality.

I’m not aware of any psychological research on motivation of scientists, but it seems reasonable that they believe in their work because they believe it is revealing the world as it is, not just as it appears. Under this view, science is not just a tool to make better predictions – for example, paleontologists don’t postulate ancient dinosaurs to help them predict where to find more bones! (H/T Wallace). However, the “shut up and calculate” school of quantum physicists may be an exception, if these people really feel that way in their hearts (and not just when annoyed by philosophers!).

OTOH, anyone who argues whether science can succeed in determining truth is doing philosophy. Specifically, the philosophy of scientific realism. The adjective ‘scientific’ is meant to qualify the argument to be about the in-principle unobservables of scientific theories, eg quarks. (Unobservable is meant to refer to unaided normal human perception).

Anti-realists have at least three reasons to question whether we are justified in claiming scientific statements about unobservables are true:

  1. Underdetermination: in general, many different theories fit observations, each covering different unobservables
  2. Limited choice of available explanations: Science is mainly about Inference to the Best Explanation, but at any given time, we do not know all explanations, as shown by the development of new ones in later science
  3. Pessimistic meta-induction: scientific theories change and changed theories say different things about reality (eg phlogiston is no longer part of science); hence current theories will be replaced and we should not trust what they say about unobservables.

Realists claim that the success of science in making novel predictions can only be explained because science says something true about the world. Realists then have to discount understermination, usually by arguing IBE includes more than successful prediction in “best”. And they have to show some kind of continuity in scientific theories to argue against unconsidered explanations and the pessimistic metainduction.

I am puzzled by the title of the thread, since epistemology is a part of philosophy, and I understand that ID theorists claim ID is a scientific theory, not “merely” philosophical. More specifically, epistemology is about the general nature of knowledge, and ID claims to provide a specific piece of scientific knowledge.

Now it is true that skepticism about certain types of knowledge is part of epistemology. But design detection through examination of tool use is part of the sciences of anthropology and psychology (including animal psychology). So I don’t think epistemological skepticism about design detection in any type of science can be justified.

However, ID applies to biology, and not to agent-centric sciences like psychology. So there is an issue about whether design can be scientifically defined for biology in a way which still meets the requirement for methodological naturalism, as defined and imposed by the community of biologists. As argued in other threads, this definition is a matter for science, not philosophy. Here I do think biological methodological naturalism would exclude any definition of design (or function) which involves intelligence, even though such a definition is acceptable in eg psychology.

It is fair to say ID is based on a philosophy. Namely, ID theory is a form of modern rationalism, in that it claims that a priori (ie purely mathematical) reasoning can limit the claims of science. Such a limitation assumes that philosophy can dictate how science works, a view which the large majority of philosophers now reject.

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Aaahh, I see. Then someone better explain this to Jeff Schloss, one of “star” science and religion “experts” touted by BioLogos. For years he has been saying that “God is mightily hands-on in evolution” but has never explained how we can tell the difference between a hands-on and hands-off God. Maybe he would be a good person to invite here for a guest column, for the specific purpose of explaining that phrase!

@Eddie, you proposed the following: “If they occasionally heard from
their opponents, especially their Christian opponents, something like
– “I’m attracted by your notion of detecting design, and I don’t rule
out the idea in principle, but I’m not convinced by the specific
arguments in this book. If you could come up with some more rigorous
arguments, I think I and others would be open to your conclusions.” –
they would probably be more willing to admit that some of their
arguments are not strong ones.”

The irony is that I am more convinced that science cannot detect
design than I am in most any part of the Bible.

I have no objections to scientists studying ethics, but I think the other questions are important, too.

This all started because George wrote about

My point was that modern scientists, in their day-to-day work, don’t usually do philosophy of science at all (except maybe in some areas of theoretical physics, where they are forced to ask philosophical questions willy-nilly). That is, most of what we “have learned about philosophy of science”, we haven’t learned from actively working scientists, who aren’t much interested in that subject. (Of course, many philosophers of science have some prior training in science, but when they do philosophy of science, they are doing something different from what they did when they were doing scientific research.)

But then Daniel came in from another angle, when I mentioned the notion of “proof”, and the topic shifted to when scientists do learn, or should learn, what counts as scientific “proof” (or whether scientists even use the word “proof”, something probably a dozen scientists have denied in my presence, contra Daniel’s apparent statement). I still would like to hear back from Daniel on what notion of “proof” scientists eventually adopt after the years of grad school training he is talking about – and why the scientists who keep denying that science speaks of “proof” haven’t received that training. It gets awfully confusing to the layman when a number of scientists tell him that he is uninformed if he thinks scientists look for proofs, but another scientist tells him that scientists do have a notion of proof, but the notion is kept secret until they reach grad school. :slight_smile:

I agree, and you provide a good discussion on both points.

So am I! That’s why I questioned it.

Yes, and that is why philosophers of science within the ID community (Meyer, Nelson, Dembski, etc.) have written frequently about the epistemological cost of this restriction. Some of the discussion can be found in the new Crossway book, but they have written about it many times before.

I doubt the ID people would characterize their view in this way. In any case, I haven’t seen them make that claim. They seem to be more empiricist than rationalist, in traditional terms. Whereas Descartes the rationalist made absolute the exclusion of final causes, Boyle the empiricist allowed for their use on occasion. But of course the term “rationalist” has many meanings, so we may be using different meanings.

From the ID people’s point of view, a particular philosophy is already dictating how science works! A particular epistemology dictates that we must turn a blind eye to final causes, even if it looks as if they might be there. They want to lift that restriction, which they consider to be justified not by any scientific argument, but by a philosophical preference. Another way of putting it: methodological naturalism as a principle is not established by scientific research, but is the condition of modern scientific research, and therefore has to be established as a principle by a field other than natural science itself, i.e., epistemology of nature.

Sorry, I missed this part of the exchange. I agree with you and I agree that more info on Daniel about proof in science would be helpful.


You write: “I have yet to see a sentence in any ID writing in which God is described as an independent variable.”

Which, in my view, Eddie, is a general problem with ID folks. How do they expect to prove something about God if they cannot make a test that “controls for God” ???

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You seem to look at that as a criticism of science. By contrast, I see it as showing that there’s a problem in philosophy of science.

You write:

“I am puzzled by the title of the thread, since epistemology is a part of philosophy, and I understand that ID theorists claim ID is a scientific theory, not “merely” philosophical. More specifically, epistemology is about the general nature of knowledge, and ID claims to provide a specific piece of scientific knowledge.”

ID folks have a problem in dealing with the study of what is knowledge, and what is legitimate knowledge.

There is no known way to force God to reveal himself if he doesn’t want to be revealed:

e·pis·te·mol·o·gy [noun] the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.

You mean like the term “ID Theory”? What is this ID Theory, exactly?

How is it that you allege that scientists don’t understand the philosophy of science when that philosophy covers the formulation and testing of hypotheses and theories, all of which is ignored by the ID movement when it uses those terms constantly and falsely?

On what basis are you making this claim? What knowledge do you have of day-to-day work in modern labs?

Your claim about courses being representative of scientific training was shown to be absurd, so it appears that you’re just jumping to something even less tenable.



You write: “Then someone better explain this to Jeff Schloss, one of “star” science and religion “experts” touted by BioLogos. For years he has been saying that “God is mightily hands-on in evolution” but has never explained how we can tell the difference between a hands-on and hands-off God. Maybe he would be a good person to invite here for a guest column, for the specific purpose of explaining that phrase!”

I would be surprised if Jeff Schloss’ answer was much different from stating that it is one’s faith that makes the distinction between a Hands-on God and a Hands-Off God. There doesn’t seem to be a way for Science to make such a distinction!

Correct, but comparing ID to those real sciences would make the absurdity of ID’s claimed lack of interest in the designer and the construction of life (as design is not assembly) more obvious.

I think it’s fairer to say that it is based on politics and that ID theory, in any scientific sense, doesn’t exist.

I think that your literal claim of “99% of the time, philosophy of science plays no role” is far closer to “full” than it is to “a basic introduction.”


I am confident you and I are having a raging agreement, but I’d like to respond to that just for my own peace of mind.

MN is not something external to science; it is the name for a collection of criteria used to judge the best explanation in IBE. For biology, I can think of two such criteria: unification with other sciences and Occam’s razor.

Unification with other sciences leads to rejecting explanations which violate accepted physics. Hence biologists reject designers operating outside of physics and they reject backwards causation.

Occam’s razor implies rejection of intelligent designers who are constrained by physics because other explanation which omit them explain observations just as well.


On the basis of 45 years of close contact with scientists, and finding that 90% of them are uninterested in philosophical questions. Physicists and astronomers are sometimes more philosophically inquisitive than the rest. Biochemists are generally at the rock bottom. (But mathematicians sometimes show a keen interest in philosophical questions, probably because of the inherent Platonism of mathematics.)

You’ll find some of it in No Free Lunch, The Design Inference, Darwin’s Black Box, Signature in the Cell, Nature’s Destiny, and other works. Happy reading!

I agree that ID theorists seem motivated by considerations external to science But I think the nature of ID, eg why it is not science, does deserve an examination which is separate from the motives of its proponents.

ETA: I agree ID is not science; I am trying to explain why I think that. ID does formulate hypothesis and test them according to its own lights, but not according to science. And we should believe science because it succeeds better than any other discipline in accomplishing the goals of explaining, predicting, and controlling the world.

I need help with the acronym.

No – but the philosophical justification of it is not part of science, but of philosophy of science or philosophy of nature. When Descartes and Bacon first justified it, they were writing as philosophers, trying to set forth a better way of studying nature.

I agree that it’s helpful if the natural sciences can be connected, but “unification with other sciences” can conceal a lot. The object of biological science is the phenomenon of life. What if life has some fundamental characteristics that differentiate it from the objects studied by physics and chemistry? What if those fundamental characteristics require (at some points, anyway) an approach different from that of physics and chemistry? If the price of “unification of the sciences” is the distortion of the object which one of those sciences is trying to study, then the price of absolute unification is too high. Aristotle, Aquinas, etc. would not have insisted on uniformity of method as the thing that trumps all else. It is only in the 17th century that method started to to trump contents in science. Prior to that, students of nature spoke not of Science with a capital S, but of the various sciences, and of the methods appropriate to each of them.

In various ways, some biologists (even outside of ID) are questioning the homogenization of science. We earlier discussed (well, in some cases “savaged” would be a better word, but never mind that) the work of Scott Turner in this area. I find his approach to biology to be an attempt to line up the science of life with the nature of life, as opposed to the more usual method (which dominated 20th-century biology with its physics envy) of reducing life to something the methods of physics and chemistry can handle. I still haven’t finished reading his new book, but I think you might enjoy it.