In a post earlier today Denyse responded to a studentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s charge that ID is a Ã¢â‚¬Å“God of the gapsÃ¢â‚¬Â scientific show stopper. Ã‚Â Apparently,Ã‚Â the studentÃ‚Â 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.Ã‚Â But that is not the way science works.Ã‚Â All scientific conclusions are tentative and contingent.Ã‚Â Popper put the proposition this way:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Science does not rest on solid bedrock.Ã‚Â The bold structure of its theories rises, as it were, above a swamp.Ã‚Â It is like a building erected on piles.Ã‚Â The piles are driven down from above into the swamp, but not down to any natural or Ã¢â‚¬ËœgivenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ base; and if we stop driving the piles deeper, it is not because we have reached firm ground.Ã‚Â We simply stop when we are satisfied that the piles are firm enough to carry the structure, at least for the time being.Ã¢â‚¬ÂÃ‚Â 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 NewtonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s theories probably would have disagreed with Popper.Ã‚Â We know the answers, they probably thought.Ã‚Â WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve hit bedrock.Ã‚Â This is how the universe works.Ã‚Â ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all about sussing out the details now.Ã‚Â The fundamental questions have all been answered.Ã‚Â But, as Mr. Einstein demonstrated, they would have been wrong.
All scientific conclusions are subject to revision.Ã‚Â Scientists should never be satisfied (in an absolute sense) with ANY conclusion.Ã‚Â 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.Ã‚Â Either conclusion is subject to revision (as with NewtonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s theories) or outright abandonment (as with PtolemyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cosmology) after further investigation.Ã‚Â
If all scientific conclusions are contingent, why does our student assume that only conclusions that an intelligent agent acted are non-contingent inquiry enders?Ã‚Â The answer is that the student assumes that any conclusion that an intelligent agent acted is not a scientific conclusion, but a religious conviction.Ã‚Â 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.Ã‚Â It is just as contingent as any other scientific conclusion.Ã‚Â They have only stopped driving the piles down for the time being, so to speak.Ã‚Â 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).Ã‚Â But the inquiry does not end.Ã‚Â Researcher B is free to posit a competing theory that the chips were caused by erosion or some other unguided force.Ã‚Â
Similarly, researcher A may conclude that the information content of DNA is best explained as the product of design.Ã‚Â This does not stop researcher B from pushing a rival hypothesis that the information arose as a result of Ã¢â‚¬Å“XÃ¢â‚¬Â natural causes.Ã‚Â Both researchers throw their ideas out to be challenged or supported by others, and in the end perhaps a scientific consensus is reached.Ã‚Â But a scientific consensus is far from absolute knowledge.Ã‚Â It is not bedrock.Ã‚Â It is only a measure of the current depth of the piles.Ã‚Â