In light of Judge Jones coming to Southern Methodist University today and tomorrow, for what seems to be an unbalanced discussion of ID, I thought I would add some clarity to the affair with these remarks by Nick Smyth from the blog 3quarksdaily pertaining to Jones’s poor reasoning in his 2005 Kitzmiller decision as to what constitutes science:
For any formal definition of science, it either excludes too much, or includes too much, or both. It is enough to say that today, even those writing anti-pseudoscience manifestos concede that it is not possible to give a complete definition of what constitutes science or pseudoscience. Rather, they tend to revert to weak, vague and totally indefensible “ballpark” definitions that are designed to exclude specific targets. Judge Jones’ 2005 ruling in the Kitzmiller creationism case is a recent example:
ID [Intelligent Design] fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. (Jones 2005, 64)
It’s hard to properly describe how bad this ruling was, how incredibly vulnerable it is to logical and factual attack.
Take, for example, the second and third requirement. If we banish everyone who has either (2) seriously employed a false argument, or (3) has had some position refuted, it’s hard to imagine that there will be many scientists left to speak of. These requirements are patently absurd.
The first requirement doesn’t fare much better, for its meaning turns on the definition of “natural”, and to my knowledge no-one has been able to define this term meaningfully without resorting to the claim that “nature” is the stuff that natural science talks about. Circularity looms.
However, even if we can define these terms responsibly, this “ground rule” is of questionable historical validity. For example, we are going to have to explain why Newton’s acceptance of alchemical principles and Kepler’s devout mysticism don’t disqualify them as scientists.
This is a serious problem. It’s fine to talk about science in a loose and squishy sense, as a historical phenomenon or as a diverse, loosely related set of practises or what have you, but once you start denying someone else social and political power on the grounds that you are scientific and they are not, you’d better have more to say than simply “your theory is supernatural”. Otherwise, you will quickly be reduced to claiming that you just know science when you see it, and well, isn’t that just the sort of maddening claim that those pesky “pseudoscientists” love to make?