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Fri, 2005-Dec-23

Intelligent Design

Leon Brooks points to a commentary on America's judicary choosing not to allow Intelligent Design to be taught in Kentucky's science classes.

The author, Alexander George is described as a professor of philosophy. His opinions read to me like those of a philosopher rather than a scientist. Philosophy is to science as science is to engineering. Each specialises the former based on strict conventions. The Scientific Method is a strict convention that Alexander seems to choose not to understand. Instead of claiming that ID is not science he claims it is simply not good science. His definition of science leaves a lot to be desired.

Alexander defines science for the scope of his article as "any collection of assertions about the workings of the natural world". This frees him of having to make the argument about ID being scientific or unscientific. He then goes on to argue with no further basis that "[ID and astronomy] are poor accounts of the phenomena they seek to explain and both much improved upon by other available theories." He never states his basis, but I gather from his tone it is that credible scientists back other available theories rather than backing ID.

Science vs Non-Science

There is a scientific method. The boundary between science and non-science is not as arbitrary as Alexander claims. Again without further basis he says "No, there's no such method: Doing science is not like baking a cake.". He is right that doing science is not like baking a cake, but testing science is:

  1. Does this "science" take into consideration natural observations?
  2. Does it claim a clear hypothesis?
  3. Can the hypothesis make predictions that can be tested against further observation?

Some of the greatest cutting edge work in physics does not yet pass this test. It isn't science. Perhaps one day it will be, but for the moment it is not. I belive that ID (oh, let's drop this act... creationism) fails on the third point. It isn't being a stupid idea that prevents it from being science. It isn't being backed by non-credible people that prevents it from being science. It is only the failure to make predictions that can be tested against further observation. It doesn't put itself on the line, so it isn't science. It gets itself argued out at a political rather than a scientific level, so it isn't science. If scientists were working on it, actively hypothesising, and actively testing the hypothesis against further observations it would magically become science.

This is imporant to keep in mind. Although Alexander declares that creationism is science, the argument he chooses to make against creationism is baseless. The non-science argument is much more important.

A new religion

Alexander declares that creationism is a plain old bad hypothesis. I can see two ways he could support this unbacked claim. Either he could say that a great deal of scientists say it a bad hypothesis and is therefore bad, or that the evidence is so clear that a layperson can determine its truth or not. I would argue that a lay person cannot. Creationists have adapted over the years to track the progress of science, and have theories that to a lay person like myself are not unreasonable. Stating the backing of scientists for an alternate hypothesis isn't necessarily a good basis for "dissing" creationism either. Scientists have been wrong for all of history. It is their job to be wrong, and to constantly search out how they are wrong. Science is a process of adjusting theories to correct mistakes, not of believing that they have all of the answers today.

Before Darwin provided a basis for intellectually-fulfilled atheism our culture had a bias towards creationism of one form or another. Scientists had this bias and were good at explaining how the world worked from that perspective, from the perspective of intelligent design. Since that time the bias has swung to an assumption of no unnatural interference in the course of nature. This is natural in science for reasons I outlined in an earlier article on this subject. Evolutionary theory can be argued about between reasonable people, and reasonable people can come to a consensus on which of the available hypotheses are likely to be correct. The big bang can be argued. Creation of the universe by God through unnatural means cannot be argued. It can only be taken as a matter of faith or refused as a matter of faith. It makes a poor basis for scientific understanding because reasonable people cannot determine the likelyhood of its accuracy. Science can only be based on natural phenomenon, and on assumptions that things before are pretty much the same as things are now on some level or another. Science can only interrogate theories of creationism on a natural level. If God used natural processes that are similar to the processes that occur today in nature to create nature then science has a hope of understanding the natural part of if. Science must exclude the unnatural in its thinking and in its reasoning.

There are two ways to look at this. Either the unnatural does exist and science can only interrogate its natural subset, or there is only the natural and science will eventually discover everything. I should be clear here on a definition of the unnatural and the natural. The natural is all we can observe from our present viewpoint with our present tools. The unnatural is what we cannot observe from our present viewpoint with our present tools. It would also include anything beyond a horizon that may exist beyond which no amount of science will allow us to percieve. We presently have a horizon that includes knowledge of quantum physics, and a whole bunch of useful things above that scale. We think things like string theory may exist, but there is no science that can prove it yet. If we discover more it may then fall within our natural horizon. It would seem that God is by definition beyond our present natural horizon and may be beyond any perminent natural horizon. That is, if he exists.

During the transition of our wider non-scientific culture from an assumption of creationism to an assumption of big bangs and evolution there was at one time an idea that our natural horizon was finite. This idea has been slowly chipped away as science has found more. Things that were once thought to exist but have so far not appeared within our natural horizon now have an assumption tagged on them that they do not exist. Supernatural heeby jeevies like ghosts, werewolves and sea monsters have not appeared. They should have done so by now with so many eyes watching, so it seems reasonable to conclude they don't exist outside the horizon either. This conclusion is also applying to the supernatural we call the spiritual. A spiritual void necessity for the function of resoned science has become a religion in wider culture that is displacing the old, perhaps with good cause.

The real trouble with Creationism

So we religious types have been fighting back. What we know in our hearts and what is written in our books can't be wrong. We try to battle the cultural religion that mirrors current scientific thinking. To bring it to the cultrual phenomenon we bring a mirror of our own religious thinking into the scientific arena. Scientists scoff because the ideas were dismissed hundreds of years ago, and are clearly backed only by religious dogma. We fight on because we can't be wrong. If our book is not authorative when it speaks of nature, how can it be authorative when it speaks of that beyond our horizon? It must be authorative. I know Jesus loves me because the bible tells me so.

This dry reading of religion is not the only one possible. I could say that I know Jesus loves me because I see it day by day. Well, I do... but that is subjective. We were once able to turn to the bible as a source of objective statements. If not objective between religions, at least objective been individuals. We can agree more or less on what the bible says. The bible is called holy and used to convert new believers. No wonder that alongside the cultural demolition of our book that we see calling itself science we see an attack on another front. You see, the culture of sprituality has changed as well. More and more we see people who are or try to be spiritually fulfilled without the backing of any book. We see them finding their own way or their own path. The problem is that our book says Jesus is the only way to God, and if your path doesn't lead to God it leads to hell. We see the end times painted by Jesus himself in Matthew 24:24-25:

Fake Messiahs and lying preachers are going to pop up everywhere. Their impressive credentials and dazzling performances will pull the wool over the eyes of even those who ought to know better. But I've given you fair warning.

I'm sure every religion on earth carries pretty similar warnings. Things are going to get bad. People are going to turn from you, and it'll be your job to hold the line. This creationism as science is the product of good-willed people trying to hold a line.

I wouldn't mind seeing creationism explored more from a scientific perspective. Something tells me it won't go away any time soon given the political climate. When creationism is actual science with actual developed theories I'll be one of the people reading about it. The problem is that even the best science only pushes the natural horizon back a little. If that horizon is finite as it seems it must be for God to exist somewhere, then science will never "prove" any creation story. It can only ever be challenged by it, and the evidence will only convince those who understand the problems well enough. Science and religion will always be attacking different problems, and when once crosses over into the other inevitably it will do it in an unsophisticated and clumsy way. Here is what my bible dictionary has to say about wisdom, and by implication about science:

The apostle Paul declared that the message of the cross is foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews. But to those who believe, said Paul, this "foolishness of God" is "the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:18-25).

Against the wisdom of God Paul contrasted "the wisdom of the world" (1 Cor. 1:20; 3:19), "human wisdom" (1 Cor. 2:4), "the wisdom of men" (1 Cor. 2:5), "the wisdom of the age" (1 Cor. 2:6), and "man's wisdom" (1 Cor. 2:13).

The biblical concept of wisdom, therefore is quite different from the classical view of wisdom, which sought through philosophy and man's rational thought to determine the mysteries of existence and the universe. The first principle of biblical wisdom is that man should humble himself before God in reverence and worship, obedient to His commands. This idea is found especially in the Wisdom Literature: the books of Job, Pslams, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes.

Benjamin