The Design Meta-Scientific Hypothesis

@swamidass and @Agauger

Somewhere up there it was discussed whether or not ID is science or not. I’m curious what you think of the mediating position of Robin Collins. It seems to make very good sense to me, and addresses problems on both sides.

"On the other hand, the major problem I see with ID’s claim that we should include the hypothesis of a transcendent or generic designer as part of science is that it is not what I have called scientifically tractable. Typically, when scientists propose an explanation of some set of phenomena, that explanation can be filled in using other branches of science. For example, consider the big bang theory. The postulated “fireball” that resulted in our current universe provides a detailed explanation of such things as the microwave background radiation and the abundance of elements because we can use current particle physics to elaborate this fireball’s internal dynamics. If its internal workings were forever beyond the realm of current science to investigate, it is doubtful such an hypothesis would be of much scientific interest. Ditto for the theory of evolution and other scientific theories.

Insofar as the hypothesis of ID invokes a transcendent or generic designer, it lacks this characteristic. One cannot use current science to elaborate the internal dynamics of a transcendent or generic designer (though one might for a specific sort of non-transcendent designer, such as an extraterrestrial intelligence). Yet, lacking this characteristic is no small matter, since it is what allows scientific hypotheses to provide detailed explanations and predictions, and it gives scientists something to work with. It is not sufficient for advocates of ID to reply that intelligent design is the best explanation of various features of the natural world: many theists argue that God is the best explanation of the big bang and the laws of nature and many platonists argue that the existence of an immaterial realm of mathematical truths is the best explanation of the success of mathematics in science, but clearly this is insufficient to make the God hypothesis or platonic hypothesis part of science. So, whether or not one wants to consider ID as part of science, this significant and relevant difference between it and regular scientific hypotheses should be acknowledged.

Instead of treating the hypothesis of an intelligent designer as part of science, what I propose is that we treat the hypothesis of design, particularly design by God, as not itself a part of science, but an hypothesis that could potentially influence the practice of science. I call such an hypothesis a metascientific hypothesis. Such an hypothesis can influence science by affecting how we think the world is likely to be structured. Taking seriously the possibility of design opens science up to investigate, instead of simply dismissing, various hypotheses about the nature of the physical world that postulate “designlike” patterns at a fundamental level. Hypotheses falling in this category include those advocating biocentric laws and higher-level patterns of teleology in evolution, such as explored by Teilhard Chardan, Rupert Sheldrake, Simon Conway Morris, and others. I thus applaud the kind of work being engaged in by some of supporters of ID at the Seattle based Biologic Institute in which they look for design-like patterns in nature that seemingly cannot be explained by neo-Darwinian evolution. Although such patterns themselves are purely naturalistic, one would probably not look for and discover such patterns (given that they exist) if one rejected any sort of design hypothesis. In contrast, those who subscribe to a purely naturalistic view of the world favor hypotheses that minimize the appearance of design."


I’ve been arguing this for years. Unfortunately, this is against the entire premise of ID, which insists that the argument is part of science. So, until ID changes, this position is not the direction DI will go.



I’m very curious. Beyond whether or not ID should be taught in public schools, what other ways would considering ID science or not influence the scientific world?

Suppose we lived in a world of 100% private schools. Would you still say this is an important debate to have? It seems to me that it is, but I can’t quite articulate why. Other than to say making ID science would seem to slow the progress of science a bit. But maybe you could say more about this.

Yep. It’s what I’ve been arguing for for the last several days.


In general, scientists reject scientific arguments that require us to change the rules of science. As it is, science works really well. Changing, for example, methodological naturalism I expect would break science, making it unrecognizable from what I know. I like science how it is, and see no reason to change it. I’m pretty sure, also, that none of us have the right to change it any ways.

Well, we already know that neo-Darwinism is not sufficient. Non-darwinian mechanisms are important too. There aren’t any patterns we have found yet that can’t be explained by evolution, as far as I have seen.


Of course, @Agauger if you have found a pattern that is puzzling you, I’d love to see the data. We’ve already gone over @Winston_Ewert’s work, and are looking forward to the next installment. Maybe you will some day find something.

@swamidass I can’t give away all my secrets :grin:

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May I ask, beyond neutral evolution with drift, what other kind of non-Darwinian evolution is there @swamidass?

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There is a really long list.

All of the EES mechanisms, for example, are largely accepted as legitimate. There are also biochemical / biomolecular causes for many patterns too. Mutational clusters, for example, are well explained right now by a biomolecular mechanism, which solves the seperate “wait time” problem that ID frequently references; for example, it shows one way how Behe’s math on malaria is wrong.

There are also new mechanisms proposed all the time. Remember the “baton pass” mechanism for syncytin back when we were discussing placenta? That was a surprising variation on horizontal transfer; it would be non-Darwinian. Transposon hopping, also, is proving to be an effective way of influencing gene expression.


Why would you wish to keep strong scientific evidence for ID a secret?



I think all the mechanisms you are mentioning could CONFIRM ID as a metascientific hypothesis. I think this is what Collins is talking about, and even Denton.

These non-darwinian mechanisms are natural as are, as far as we know, all examples of convergence. Denis Alexander might deny it, but his new book on purpose in biology IS ID as a metascientific hypothesis. He is arguing that the way evolution operates makes more sense under theism than atheism. This cannot be proven scientifically but can be argued about philosophically and I think that that’s all Collins is asking of ID as a metascientific hypothesis.

I can’t see how that could possibly be the case. These are all natural mechanisms, that do not require the input of conscious intelligence.

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I’m assuming @swamidass would consider most everything under the EES as really part of the MS. Whatever the case, I’m guessing he would accept these main non-Darwinian patterns in evolution. If there are any he doesn’t accept, I’d be interested to know.

This is not ID because ID is argued intentionally from within science as an argument against evolution.

I would say that Alexander is arguing for Design as a metascientific hypothesis, but he is also rejecting ID. Non Darwinian mechanisms are important for science but irrelevant to this argument.

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Why does @Agauger says she agrees with this then?

Are we interpreting Collins differently?

But science is about trying to FALSIFY your hypothesis. Are you proposing reversing that aspect of science too?

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He specified that these patterns are entirely natural. @Agauger, you’re ok with ID being naturalistic science then? Am I missing something?

That webpage is a mess. They are struggling hard to make a distinction that does not exist. Let me give you an example:

genetic mutations, and hence novel phenotypes, will be random in direction and typically neutral or slightly disadvantageous


novel phenotypic variants will frequently be directional and functional

Notice that genetic mutations are typically neutral and slightly disadvantaged, but it is also simultaneously true that phenotypic variants will be frequently directional and functional. It is absurd to set these things up as in conflict.

The scientific approach, regardless, is to determine in specific cases which is the better description. We expect there will be exceptions, and there are. We can even recite some of them. The exceptions, however, do not disprove the rule. Moreover, in this case, the two are not even necessarily in conflict.

What a mess.

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Science is trying disprove God’s existence? Lol

Collins is not aware that neo-Darwinian evolution was falsifed a long time ago by Kimura in 1968. Unfortunately, many people trying to find a middle ground between ID and mainstream science are unduly influenced by the narrative of “Science teaches Darwinism”. He seems to have fallen victim to this.

So, yes, @Agauger has been arguing that Darwinism is not enough to explain what we see in biology. So what? We already knew that, for over 50 years.

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