Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Wiki’s F – – on ID, 3: The pseudoscience false accusation vs the demarcation challenge for origins sciences


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As we continue to mark up the Wikipedia introductory remarks on ID in its dismissive article, the next focal issue on failure to achieve the vaunted NPOV or carry out responsibilities of truthfulness, warrant and fairness,  is:

Intelligent design is viewed as a pseudoscience by the scientific community, because it lacks empirical support, offers no tenable hypotheses, and aims to describe natural history in terms of scientifically untestable supernatural causes.

I will contend  — as can be seen from last time — that:

a: on the contrary, the design inference on tested and reliable empirical signs such as FSCO/I is empirically credible and well supported, thus

b: it is itself a tenable hypothesis (all laws of science or metrics or criteria are in principle hypotheses under test that could be overturned by a solid counter-instance), and

c: it should by now be patent that the contrast between natural vs ART-ificial is so longstanding (dating to Plato) that it is inexcusable to substitute the loaded strawman caricature, natural vs supernatural.

But first, we need to pause to deal with the issue of the demarcation challenge and the dismissive notion and epithet that Wiki’s anonymous ideologists tried to use as a skewer to spit ID on like a piglet to be roasted, “pseudoscience.”

What is science and what is pseudoscience or simply non-science? Is methodological naturalism (which Wiki’s ideologues tried to impose as a defining criterion) a legitimate rule of what is or is not scientific, especially on matters of origins?

At this level, what is lurking here is the Judge Jones Dover ruling on what marks the border between science and pseudoscience. Bradley Monton’s remarks in his dissection of the Dover ruling just one month after it was issued, are very appropriate:

Jones’s ruling holds that that intelligent design (ID) counts as religion, not science, and hence the teaching of ID in public school is unconstitutional. In Jones’s 139 page decision, he gives an answer to the contentious demarcation question – what criteria can we use to demarcate science from non-science? . . . .

For example, as I will show, a consequence of Jones’s criteria is that the aim of science is not truth. While this may be the case, one would expect this to be established by philosophical argumentation about the aim of science (along the lines of e.g. van Fraassen 1980), not by a specification of demarcation criteria to distinguish science from pseudoscience. My position is that scientists should be free to pursue hypotheses as they see fit, without being constrained by a particular philosophical account of what science is . . . . Larry Laudan got the answer right:

If we would stand up and be counted on the side of reason, we ought to drop terms like “pseudo-science” and “unscientific” from our vocabulary; they are just hollow phrases which do only emotive work for us. (Laudan 1983, 349)

If our goal is to believe truth and avoid falsehood, and if we are rational people who take into account evidence in deciding what to believe, then we need to focus on the question of what evidence there is for and against ID. I recognize that, if we can’t declare ID unscientific, this makes it harder to exclude ID from pubic school. But we first need to figure out the right thing to think about the scientific status of and the empirical evidence for ID; only then can we take up the very different question of what should be included in public school curricula. [IS INTELLIGENT DESIGN SCIENCE? DISSECTING THE DOVER DECISION, Jan 18, 2006 ]

In short, the game being played here by Wiki’s ideologues intent on a hatchet job — see how the shoe pinches on the other foot, and worse, I have shown all of this to be true already — is little more than definitional gerrymandering, multiplied by name-calling. In a context where the demarcation of science from non-science (much less pseudoscience) is widely known to be extremely problematic.

Feyerabend is acidly apt:

The idea that science can, and should, be run according to fixed and universal rules, is both unrealistic and pernicious. It is unrealistic, for it takes too simple a view of the talents of man and of the circumstances which encourage, or cause, their development. And it is pernicious, for the attempt to enforce the rules is bound to increase our professional qualifications at the expense of our humanity. In addition, the idea is detrimental to science, for it neglects the complex physical and historical conditions which influence scientific change. It makes our science less adaptable and more dogmatic: every methodological rule is associated with cosmological assumptions, so that using the rule we take it for granted that the assumptions are correct. Naive falsificationism takes it for granted that the laws of nature are manifest and not hidden beneath disturbances of considerable magnitude. Empiricism takes it for -ranted that sense experience is a better mirror of the world than pure thought. Praise of argument takes it for granted that the artifices of Reason give better results than the unchecked play of our emotions. Such assumptions may be perfectly plausible and even true. Still, one should occasionally put them to a test. Putting them to a test means that we stop using the methodology associated with them, start doing science in a different way and see what happens. Case studies such as those reported in the preceding chapters show that such tests occur all the time, and that they speak against the universal validity of any rule. All methodologies have their limitations and the only ‘rule’ that survives is ‘anything goes’. [Opening words, Against Method, 1975]

In short,and on a serious study of the actual history of scientific breakthroughs, methodological gerrymandering by imposition of the sort of question-begging rules we have seen that demand materialism as an a priori or insist that science must explain by naturalistic mechanisms of chance and necessity to the exclusion of ART, is not a promising approach. At least, if we are actually concerned to find out the truth about our world by empirically grounded investigations, insofar as that is achievable.

Nowhere is this more the case than on matters of origins, where we simply cannot directly observe the remote past. So, we are forced to infer on best current explanation, in light of comparing reasonable alternative hypotheses. So also, imposing a priori materialism by the back door of a claimed longstanding methodological constraint on what science is about, is actually censorship that turns science into a handmaiden of materialist ideology, exploiting its prestige as a vehicle of discovery to advance a cause that seems to be in serious difficulty advancing openly on its own merits as a philosophy.

As Haldane aptly summarised, we are looking at a case of sawing off the branch on which we must all sit, here:

“It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” [[“When I am dead,” in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209.]

So, now, let us examine in steps of thought:

1 –> “[T]he scientific community” that views the design inference as pseudoscience, of course is being constrained by a “no true Scotsman [scientist]” rule.

2 –> That is, as can be directly seen, those qualified and practicing scientists who accept that empirical investigations on reliable, tested signs can and do lead to the ability to detect design as causal factor, are being artificially excluded from the community of “true” — a priori materialism adhering — scientists by imposing a pejorative label: pseudoscientists.

3 –> this is also a case of censorship and improper appeal to authority. In science, the only thing that should be decisive is empirical evidence and associated reasoning.

4 –> But one cannot beg the question too blatantly, so one has to trot out some “evidence” of failure to dismiss those who disagree. Thus, the cluster of assertions:

[ID] lacks empirical support, offers no tenable hypotheses, and aims to describe natural history in terms of scientifically untestable supernatural causes

5 –> Let us remind ourselves of just what the design inference on reliable sign does as we look at aspects of an object:

The per aspect explanatory filter that shows how design may be inferred on empirically tested, reliable sign

6 –>Observe, the default is that phenomena or objects are first shaped by natural regularities tracing to forces acting in accordance with in principle discoverable natural law3s such as F = m*a or E = m*c^2, etc. On seeing a low contingent, consistent pattern under similar circumstances, we go hunting for descriptive then dynamical laws and seek to embed in theoretical frameworks and go on to further aspects of the object or phenomenon that are of interest. That has been a major feature of science since Galileo, as a student,  timed a church candelabra viewed as a pendulum with his pulses, on seeing that within a certain range, faster wider swings and slower shorter ones both seemed to have the same period.

7 –> Now, there are other cases that under similar initial circumstances, show considerable diversity of outcomes; such as the dropping of a die. For such cases, the default is chance acting by some known or unknown distribution and showing itself in a pattern that may be sampled through observations. In short, high contingency leads us to suspect chance as first likely explanation. This too is a longstanding scientific approach, and is the root of say the field of statistical thermodynamics.

8 –> But now, suppose we cane upon a long linear tray of about 200 dice [6 ^200 ~ 4.268*10^155 possible arrangements], all of which showed 1, or 1, 2, 3,4,5,6 in succession then repeat. Would we  infer to chance as best explanation? Would we be justified to infer that we can only explain scientifically by blind chance and blind mechanical necessity so to infer that such dice were probably intelligently arranged, is “pseudoscientific”? Patently, not.

9 –> Now, suppose we had a code by which the six die states in string arrangements, could express English sentences etc. Now, suppose we came across a pattern that has no simple orderly repetition, but then saw that it is in fact was organised in accordance with the code, to spell out say the opening sentences of this post.

10 –> I think that any reasonable person would conclude that the organised pattern was contrived, on the principle that the possible arrangements that fit such a tight criterion of functional specificity are deeply isolated in the field of possibilities, so much so that intelligently directed configuration is the only reasonable, empirically warranted explanation.

11 –> Now, suppose, we had another similar string, and found out that it was arranged in the object code for a computer program that carried out a definite procedure on a specific machine. I am sure the reasonable person would conclude the same, and would continue to do so unless and until it could be shown per observations that blind chance and mechanical necessity writes computer code.

12 –> This is of course the exact case we have with protein-coding DNA.

13 –> I would therefore say, that the world of digitally coded strings in books, blog posts, the Internet, the IT industry, the related world of CAD drawings for functional objects, computer generated imagery etc etc all stand in empirical support of the empirically grounded inductive generalisation that functionally specific, complex information and related organisation are reliable signs of design as cause.

14 –> I would go on to say that there are no credible exceptions to the observation that such FSCO/I is an empirically tested, reliable sign of design as cause. (That includes Genetic Algorithms and the like, which are not only intelligently designed and organised on intelligently devised algorithms, but work within strictly limited islands of function in the space of possibilities for items of that much complexity.)

15 –> Q: Why then is there such a bold assertion that “Intelligent design . . . lacks empirical support”? ANS: Selective hyperskepticism that refuses to acknowledge the force of the chain of reasoning above, and is multiplied by the sort of Lewontinian hostility and a priori materialism seen already, that refuses to accept that something could count as evidence of design in an origins context. Ideological censorship, in one short phrase.

16 –> Similarly, it is obvious that the design inference can be tested on the reliability of such observable signs: if we were to see an object with 500 – 1,000 or more bits of functionally specific complex information in it that was known — per observation, not a priori assumptions — to have come about by blind chance and mechanical necessity, FSCI would at once collapse and with it the whole intelligent design inference on complex specified information.

17 –> So, given that design is a feasible and empirically grounded– directly observed –process for the creation of objects exhibiting FSCI, it is a false assertion that ID is not subject to tests, has no empirical warrant and so  “offers no tenable hypotheses.”

18 –> Now, finally, look at the steps of thought above. Do you see any inference to “the supernatural” as an explanatory category or cause? Not one.

19 –> What you will see is plenty of inferences to something we routinely observe and exhibit: intelligence acting by ART and skill to effect complex, functionally specific entities, which then often show signs that point to design as most credible causal explanation.

20 –> So, the accusation “Intelligent design . . . aims to describe natural history in terms of scientifically untestable supernatural causes” is willfully false (as for twenty five and more years leading design thinkers have repeatedly taken public pains to point out that inference to intelligent design as causal factor is not the same as inference to any particular designer much less a supernatural one), erecting a conveniently polarised strawman to be pummelled.

21 –> What is really going on instead is little more than appeal to -prejudice and a priori materialism imposed by the back door through a questionable — and patently question-begging — methodological constraint. Just as Feyerabend warned against.

22 –> To wit, inference to intelligence on sign that is empirically testable, falsifiable on counter-example and the like are not at all the same as appealing to some untestable supernatural entity.

23 –> And, indeed, if such a supernatural entity is intelligent and would manifests signs of such in its work, then there is no good reason why such action of intelligent design by a suggested supernatural entity would be inherently and inescapably untestable on signs that are known to be reliable per empirical testing! (Such would be problematic only if we KNOW otherwise that supernatural entities are impossible, which plainly is not the case.)

24 –> What comes out in the end, is that what is really going on is a thinly disguised appeal to prejudice against God, embedded in a priori materialism that then assumes that the supernatural is impossible in any case and suggests ignorantly that a world in which a supernatural God has acted as creator and sustainer would be a chaos not a cosmos, making science impossible.

25 –> Which is directly contradicted by the sheer fact that modern science was birthed in a world that operated under just such a worldview.

26 –> Let one of those founders of modern science, therefore speak, in light of his discoveries of mechanics and universal gravitation as well as optics, i.e. Newton in his General Scholium to Principia:

. . . This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. And if the fixed stars are the centres of other like systems, these, being formed by the like wise counsel, must be all subject to the dominion of One; especially since the light of the fixed stars is of the same nature with the light of the sun, and from every system light passes into all the other systems: and lest the systems of the fixed stars should, by their gravity, fall on each other mutually, he hath placed those systems at immense distances one from another.

This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God pantokrator , or Universal Ruler . . . . We know him only by his most wise and excellent contrivances of things, and final cause [i.e from his designs]: we admire him for his perfections; but we reverence and adore him on account of his dominion: for we adore him as his servants; and a god without dominion, providence, and final causes, is nothing else but Fate and Nature. Blind metaphysical necessity, which is certainly the same always and every where, could produce no variety of things. [i.e necessity does not produce contingency] All that diversity of natural things which we find suited to different times and places could arise from nothing but the ideas and will of a Being necessarily existing. [That is, implicitly rejects chance, Plato’s third alternative and explicitly infers to the Designer of the Cosmos.]


So, clearly, something is very, very wrong with the Wikipedia article on Intelligent Design. It should be severely corrected and a permanent notice of apology should be affixed, given what has been done in the teeth of easily accessible corrective information, and what has been sustained in the teeth of repeated attempts to correct the record. END