Intelligent Design

Driving Down the Piles

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In a post earlier today Denyse responded to a student’s charge that ID is a “God of the gaps” scientific show stopper.  Apparently, the student assumes if a researcher performs a scientific investigation of a phenomenon and concludes that design by an intelligent agent is the best explanation for the phenomenon, the matter is then settled and all further scientific inquiry is foreclosed.  But that is not the way science works.  All scientific conclusions are tentative and contingent.  Popper put the proposition this way:

“Science does not rest on solid bedrock.  The bold structure of its theories rises, as it were, above a swamp.  It is like a building erected on piles.  The piles are driven down from above into the swamp, but not down to any natural or ‘given’ base; and if we stop driving the piles deeper, it is not because we have reached firm ground.  We simply stop when we are satisfied that the piles are firm enough to carry the structure, at least for the time being.”  Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, (New York, Routledge Classics, 1959, reprint of first English edition, 2002), 94.

For centuries most physicists looking at Newton’s theories probably would have disagreed with Popper.  We know the answers, they probably thought.  We’ve hit bedrock.  This is how the universe works.  It’s all about sussing out the details now.  The fundamental questions have all been answered.  But, as Mr. Einstein demonstrated, they would have been wrong.

All scientific conclusions are subject to revision.  Scientists should never be satisfied (in an absolute sense) with ANY conclusion.  If they conclude unguided natural forces were the cause of an effect, that conclusion is no less tentative and contingent than if they had concluded the effect was the result of the actions of an intelligent agent.  Either conclusion is subject to revision (as with Newton’s theories) or outright abandonment (as with Ptolemy’s cosmology) after further investigation. 

If all scientific conclusions are contingent, why does our student assume that only conclusions that an intelligent agent acted are non-contingent inquiry enders?  The answer is that the student assumes that any conclusion that an intelligent agent acted is not a scientific conclusion, but a religious conviction.  He seems unwilling to take ID researchers at their word that when they conclude a phenomenon is best explained as the act of an intelligent agent, their conclusion is in no sense final.  It is just as contingent as any other scientific conclusion.  They have only stopped driving the piles down for the time being, so to speak.  They do not claim to have reached bedrock.

For example, researcher A may examine a small piece of flint and conclude that the pattern of chips in the stone is best explained by the act of an intelligent agent (i.e., our infamous Indian of the Gaps).  But the inquiry does not end.  Researcher B is free to posit a competing theory that the chips were caused by erosion or some other unguided force. 

Similarly, researcher A may conclude that the information content of DNA is best explained as the product of design.  This does not stop researcher B from pushing a rival hypothesis that the information arose as a result of “X” natural causes.  Both researchers throw their ideas out to be challenged or supported by others, and in the end perhaps a scientific consensus is reached.  But a scientific consensus is far from absolute knowledge.  It is not bedrock.  It is only a measure of the current depth of the piles. 

13 Replies to “Driving Down the Piles

  1. 1
    bFast says:

    BarryA:

    For example, researcher A may examine a small piece of flint and conclude that the pattern of chips in the stone is best explained by the act of an intelligent agent (i.e., our infamous Indian of the Gaps). But the inquiry does not end. Researcher B is free to posit a competing theory that the chips were caused by erosion or some other unguided force.

    I think a better example is the researcher who pursued the exact mechanism and technique used by the indian. By the same token, assuming ID, there is so much discovery that is available to be made. For any given gene, was it the product of agency, or chance? Of the 6% or whatever of DNA unique to humans, what order were those changes added? There is lots of room for scientific exploration within an ID framework.

  2. 2

    Remember Darwinists thinking that figuring out how the bumble bee flew disproved ID?

    I can figure out that a Chevy is designed. That doesn’t preclude me from figuring out how it works.

    For instance, I would love to figure out how cells know to become kidney cells or brain cells. I bet you that discovery would bolster ID.

  3. 3
    idnet.com.au says:

    Good post Barry. I agree that ID is no research stopper. Reverse engineering and modifying or combining existing designs requires research. I think that most molecular biological research has moved to the position where they consider all things to at least look and act as if they are designed. This enhances their success and interest. The term “junk DNA” has all but disappeared from scientific papers. Interestingly though, yesterday in discussions of the compact nature of the bird DNA, I read someone resurrecting the term “junk”.

  4. 4
    kairos says:

    Concerning this classical and flawed objection I think it’s very good what Robert Larmer did argue in his excellent paper “Is There Anything Wrong with ‘God of the Gaps’ Reasoning?” (International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion 52: 129-142, 2002).

    http://www.newdualism.org/papers/R.Larmer/Gaps.htm

    I strongly suggest to read it because it shows why that objection is flawed, and just on logical grounds.

  5. 5
    DaveScot says:

    Gaps is gaps and unproven gap fillers are all equal. God of the Gaps is no better or worse than Darwin of the Gaps on an objective, non-philosophical basis.

  6. 6
    BarryA says:

    Dave is right. My point is that all scientific conclusions are in the nature of gap fillers. If I conclude that X is caused by unguided natural forces, that conclusion fills the gap until a better explanation comes along. I don’t claim to have settled the question for all time. In the exact same way, if I conclude X is caused by the act of an intelligent agent, that conclusion fills the gap until a better explanation comes along.

  7. 7
    Joseph says:

    Reality:

    Reality demonstrates that in EVERY instance that design was detected more research was done-

    Stonehenge- design determined, more research to attempt to figure out how, why and perhaps who built it.

    Nasca, Peru- deisign determined; more research to figure out how, why and perhaps who.

    Dead body- how, why and perhaps by who

    Is it a “scribe of the gaps” to say some inscription found on a cave’s wall is the doings of some intelligent agency?

    Design detection is a driving force for scientific research. No one would expect SETI researchers to pack up and go home after they determined a signal was from ET.

    The main problem is that anti-IDists seem to think that ID is ONLY about detecting design. They do not comprehend that the study of is also a major component of ID. We studdy it so that we may be able to understand it.

    They also fail to realize that saying “it evolved” without knowing how or if it even can, is a huge gap filler.

    Did I mention that we know it matters a great deal to any investigation if what we are investigating occurred via intentional design or accidently, ie nature, operating freely? Well reality demonstrates that it does matter.

    geoff:
    For instance, I would love to figure out how cells know to become kidney cells or brain cells.

    Culled genetic accidents, ie evolution. 😉

    And if that isn’t good enough fer ya then I suggest you get published in a peer-reviewed journal. 🙂

  8. 8
    gpuccio says:

    bFast:

    “I think a better example is the researcher who pursued the exact mechanism and technique used by the indian.”

    Perfectly right! It’s absolutely true that ID, in its present formulation, has no aim to tell anything about the designer, but it is certainly possible, and feasible, to investigate the design itself and its implementation. So, there is room for infinite acquisition of new knowledge, because be sure, both the design and its implementation are certainly much more complex and interesting then we actually expect (and that includes the most imaginative of us IDists).

    Just to speculate, the following are points perfectly open to ID framed investigations, both theoretical and experimental:

    a) How did life originate from non life? With which temporal pattern?

    b) What is the real difference between life and non life? Is it only at the level of information, or is there something else?

    c) How did the different “plans” for living beings originate? Is there a meaning in the different solutions for the expression of life? Is there a detectable informational structure in the evidence of different basic designs?

    d) How do single celled zygotes become multicellular beings? What is the code or the information which guides this differentiation? Where is it? How big is it? Is it digital or analogic?

    e) Is there a relationship between the design of different species and the design of single multicellular organism? (designed evo-devo?)

    f) What is consciousness? How and when does it arise? What is its relationship with observable design?

    g) What is the relationship between design, will and feeling?

    h) What is the relationship between design and known physical laws? How does the building of CSI in complex beings invert the trend of entropy so systematically, without violating the second law of thermodinamics? Does the imparting of design require energy tranfer?

    i) Can known physical laws really explain life and consciosness? Is that explanation deterministic, or probabilistic, or what else? Can new physical laws be discovered? (I bet yes!) Can they be discovered by studying more deeply, and with open mind, living beings? (I doubly bet yes!)

    l) Can biophysics become the new leading science in biology, and explain much of what is left unexplaind by biochemistry?

    m) What is the role of quantum mechanics in explaining life and consciousness?

    n) Can a rigorous theory of meaning and purpose be inspired by the scientific study of living and conscious beings? Can it complete and expand the existing approaches to information theory?

    Obviously, not everybody will agree with the above questions, but for me they are all very interesting and stimulating questions. And many of them are not merely about gaps to fill, or details to discover, but offer real challenges to the structure itself of our present knowledge.

    So, it is not only a problem of scientific theories being only temporary (which is perfectly true). The real point is that there is a lot we don’t know. A lot we don’t understand. Not in the details, but in the fundamentals.

    And in no way ID is a stopper. ID is an inexhaustible generator of good questions. The only stopper is, and has always been, (un)scientific arrogance.

  9. 9
    sagebrush gardener says:

    For example, researcher A may examine a small piece of flint and conclude that the pattern of chips in the stone is best explained by the act of an intelligent agent (i.e., our infamous Indian of the Gaps). But the inquiry does not end. Researcher B is free to posit a competing theory that the chips were caused by erosion or some other unguided force.

    After all the excellent comments above, I may be beating a dead horse, but inquiry is about so much more than “design vs. no design”. That is precisely why ID is not a science-stopper. The classic questions – who, what, when, where, why, and how (especially why and how) – can provide enough mystery to keep inquiring minds busy for a long time even if all researchers agree that x is designed.

  10. 10
    Larry Fafarman says:

    Intelligent design is definitely not a “science stopper.” Consider the following:

    (1) ID forces scientists to confront weaknesses in evolution theory. The same is true of non-ID scientific criticisms of evolution, e.g., criticisms concerning co-evolution. The Darwinists generally describe co-evolution as simply “mutual evolutionary pressure” between two kinds of organisms, but co-evolution is much more complex than that.

    (2) Pro-ID scientists are under enormous pressure to find evolutionary pathways for seemingly irreducibly complex systems before the Darwinist scientists do. If the Darwinists find those pathways first, they sure crow about it.

    (3) Scientists have “designed” a “salamander robot” to try to determine how the first animals crawled onto land. An AOL article about this robot says,

    The work, the researchers reported Friday in the journal Science, is “a demonstration of how robots can be used to test biological models, and in return, how biology can help in designing robot locomotion controllers.” See
    http://news.aol.com/topnews/ar.....3409990001

    ID and non-ID scientific criticisms of evolution actually contribute to our knowledge of biology and science & technology in general. The only “science stoppers” are the anti-intellectual Darwinists who are trying to suppress criticism of Darwinism.

  11. 11
    Joseph says:

    What ID needs is an ID PRATT (Points Refuted A Thousand Times) list:

    I have one started:
    ID PRATT list

    All we have to do is to keep it current, post it somewhere readily available and then call on it as required.

    Just a thought…

  12. 12
    BarryA says:

    Joseph, that’s a good thought, but we need to refute and refute and refute. We must continue to think about all issues and re-articulate our position in different ways. In one sense, there is nothing new under the sun, as you imply. However, we stay sharp when we continue to think about and discuss even the old issues. Also, have you ever read something on an issue that you’ve read about a thousand times and slapped your forehead and said, “Oh, now I get it!” That writer put it in terms you finally understood. This has happened to me many times. I like to say that error rarely dies from a single killing thrust. It must die the death of a thousand cuts.

  13. 13
    Joseph says:

    Barry, That is why I push the “designed to evolve” phrase.

    It is a clean neat way to put it to people so that ID does not even appear to be anti-evolution. Then it may make that person ask “what do you mean by that?”

    Then we have them in that “Oh, now I get it” mode.

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