Is ID Compatible with Scientific Methodology?

It is often said by opponents of Intelligent Design that this is not a scientific question, and therefore cannot be a valid part of scientific enquiry. For example, in his column Intelligent Design not science by Richard Olmstead, we are told:

"Science classes should teach alternate scientific theories wherever competing theories collide. However, for a theory to be "scientific," it must provide the basis for testable hypotheses. Scientists and philosophers agree -- if a theory is not amenable to testing, it doesn't belong in a science classroom.

Intelligent design offers no testable hypotheses and, instead, offers only an explanation for observations of complex structures and phenomena in biology that must be taken on faith..."

Now, I understand the need to be able to test and either verify or falsify an hypothesis, but what I do not understand is why Olmstead, and other opponents of ID make the claim that ID is not a testable theory. Consider the following examples:

Imagine a doctor performing an autopsy in which the good doctor has decided, from the outset, that the cause of death must be entirely natural, or, at most, accidental. Any possibility of the subject having been murdered is ruled out a priori. I do not think that most of us would find this position to be, at best, odd, and more probably would consider it to be incompetent. If there is evidence that a person was murdered, then we must not expect the coroner to declare this to be impossible but we already "know" that the cause of death must be either by natural causes, or an accident.

Now consider an archeologist on a dig who finds some rocks that could be either tools or merely natural occuring rocks. If this archeologist told us before the dig that it is not possible for anything he finds to be shown to have been created by a tool making mind, then we should not be surprised that he would declare his knife shaped stone to be a mere fluke of nature.

Our third example involves an arson investigator brought in to investigate a fire. Before she begins she tells everyone that she already knows that all fires begin by accident or as acts of nature, so there is no chance that a human being could have set this fire. One need only imagine the reaction.

Each of the above examples involves a scientist engaging in his or her work. Had any of them ruled out the possibility that their investigation would uncover evidence of being the product of an intelligent mind would be drummed out of the business, and rightly so. This leaves me to wonder if the opponents of Intelligent Design actually understand the purposes of science.



Anonymous said…
Your analogies are dissimilar from the real scientific method, because depending on the autopsy, the simplest explanation could in fact, (for the evidence) be that the person was murdered. Additionally saying that the person was murdered, and finding a culprit a motive and a means, would be highly explanatory.
Nomad said…
Hello Anonymous

I am afraid that I do not follow your line of reasoning. The conclusion that person was murdered would be based upon scientific evidence. The rejection of such evidence could only be based on a demonstration that the evidence was not conclusive, or by an a priori rejection of the possibility that a person can be murdered. If we begin with the premise that all deaths are the result of accidents and natural causes, then it becomes impossible to conclude that the death was at the hands of a willful murderer.

This is pretty cut and dried. Do we follow the evidence whereever it takes us, or do we reject the possibility of intelligent action behind the results we discover from our scientific enquiries?

Anonymous said…
I'm not necessarily talking about the evidence for design, but the method behind the 'ruling out' supernatural explanations, and under a more complex understanding of the scientific method, your comparison of the autopsy is entirely dissimilar.

Even if there was evidence for intelligent design (it would have to be very strong) intelligent design is operating under the huge burden of the added complexity of the designer. e.g., instead of the 'natural laws' by themselves, you have 'the natural laws, plus a designer (probably God)'. Even if there were roadblocks to design, the fact that a naturalistic explanation is so much simpler, in terms of parsimony, drives the scientists to prefer that one. If we adopt the principle behind Occam's razor as being valid, then we are in the epistemic position of judging the naturalistic 'laws of physics' position to be most probably correct, even if there are unexplained phenomena.

The other problem is that in terms of the autopsy, the hypothesis X was murdered is highly explanatory. But the explanation 'God did X' is only explanatory in the sense that 'The painting is purple because the painter painted it purple' is explanatory. It doesn't explain why the painter painted it purple, what methods he used, who he/she is, etc...

Note I am not saying God did not design the laws of physics in the first place to give rise to evolution. That would seem the more theologically sound wouldn't you agree (i.e. God made a universe so wonderful it didn't require his specific intervention to produce life)? Only that there are basic problems using the scientific method to conclude there is a designer in evolution's process.
Anonymous said…
this is a mesageadasd
poiuqwerty said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nomad said…
Hello again Anonymous

You had said:

"Even if there was evidence for intelligent design (it would have to be very strong) intelligent design is operating under the huge burden of the added complexity of the designer. e.g., instead of the 'natural laws' by themselves, you have 'the natural laws, plus a designer (probably God)'."

Actually, this is not my argument at all (besides, your example fails to provide the simplest explanation, as all of nature is contingent, and until we identify the non-contingent we are left, with at best, a mystery). I am not arguing for the validity of Intelligent Design. My post is intended to question the operating assumption of some scientists that science cannot possibly identify if their is evidence of an intelligence that stands behind the universe. They have ruled out the possibility completely, and thus become like the coroner that does not believe murder is ever a possible cause of death, or an arson investigator that believes all fires are the result of natural causes. This would be bad science. If the evidence points to action by an intelligent actor, then accept this, and consider it. But do not rule out the possibility before the investigation even begins.

I note that you have stated twice now that it may be most reasonable for a coroner to accept that murder is the best explanation, but this ignores the point in my post. The coroner BEGINS with the assumption that murder is not even possible. Operating under these circumstances he will NEVER come to believe that murder is the best possible explanation, or even that it is any kind of explanation at all.
Anonymous said…
My argument is - do you understand why? Why no reference to God or some other unnamed intelligent designer?

BTW, the reference to contingency is superfluous as most professional philosophers don't believe there is a valid contingency argument.

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