Review:  Lehigh Prof Critiques ID Colleague in Science Wars

first_imgDr. Steven Goldman (Lehigh University) has produced a series of lectures for The Teaching Company entitled Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It.  CEH highly recommends this series for its wealth of historical background applied to an intriguing question: what is the nature of truth claims in science?  To what extent do scientific hypotheses and theories, built out of the particulars of our experience, apply to reality as it is, beyond our experience?  Goldman explains that many books on this history of science talk about what scientists know, but almost none talk about how they know what they know.    In this second of his lecture series for The Teaching Company, after the equally-informative Science in the 20th Century, Goldman does a superb job of developing this fascinating and important problem.  For 12 hours divided into 24 lectures, he brings in many important philosophers, thinkers and scientists from Socrates to the present to show the diversity of opinions on this controversy within science – a dispute that remains unresolved to this day.  Anyone afflicted with logical positivism, objectivism or naive realism will get a reality check from this series that shows how difficult it is to say with certainty that scientific theories are true to an external reality beyond our experience.  They may work; they may predict things; they may give us some control over nature, but to ask if a scientific theory is true with a capital T; i.e., whether it represents a reality beyond experience that is the cause of our experience, yielding knowledge that is timeless, universal, necessary and certain, is an entirely different question.    A colleague of Michael Behe, Goldman ends by discussing whether intelligent design is a scientific hypothesis.  Though he takes a strong position against it, he refrains from emotional arguments and does try to defend his position with arguments from history and logic.  Our analysis follows.Let’s see if any of the pillars of his argument are left standing after our critique of his critique.Intelligent Design is a second-generation version of creationism that has already lost several court rulings.  Actually, the controversy goes much further back, to the ancient Greeks at least.  Later, Goldman acknowledges that design arguments are ancient and that asking the question is an intelligent hypothesis (though, he says, not a scientific one) worth discussing, but then defends theistic evolution as a compromise: i.e., God as the ultimate designer, but evolution as the process.  These are incompatible positions (see David Klinghoffer op-ed) despite the ability of many schizophrenics to claim they can have it both ways.  We doubt, also, that Goldman seriously believes that politically-appointed judges should be the arbiters of what constitutes science.Who decides if a hypothesis is scientific, if not the community of scientists who deal in science?  Somebody has to decide, he argues, and who else but the very people doing the research in question?  This ignores the possibility that the entire community can become entrenched in a habit that excludes new ways of thinking and discourages asking new questions.  It also downplays the role of the maverick in science who bucks the establishment and turns out to be right.  Further, it fails to distinguish between the science communities of the past, who were often theologians working independently out of their own resources, and the Big Science establishments of today, whose motives are tainted by the need to keep government funds flowing.  (Elsewhere in the series, Goldman shows he is keenly aware of these issues.  He has a good treatment of Kuhn’s argument that science has a paradigmatic character.  He concludes that, with all its flaws, Kuhn’s critique cannot be entirely dismissed.)I.D. fails the minimum criteria of a scientific hypothesis.  Goldman hastens to explain that there are no ironclad formulas, or methodological rules to decide if a hypothesis is scientific, but argues that, at a minimum, it should include the following:Explanatory power:  He claims that a legacy of science from the earliest medieval philosophers is that scientific explanations for natural phenomena can only appeal to natural causes.  He argues that I.D. necessarily invokes a supranatural agent, and that this breaks the rules of the game (and only the scientific community can make the rules).  Further, he argues that without access to the Designer to interview, or without the blueprints of the design, pursuing a design explanation is vacuous.  What instruments do we build to detect the signals? he asks.  Radio telescopes?  he asks in an offhand way (though catching himself to remember that radio waves were discovered accidentally).    In answer, what if intelligent design is true?  What if there really is a Designer, a Creator, or God, that intentionally made the universe, the world and life?  A science committed to natural causes will never find the truth.  We believe that science should at least be a search for the truth about the world.  This cannot exclude a cause from the toolkit of science just because of a philosophical dislike for it.  A science restricted to natural causes when intelligent causes were responsible will degenerate into a false religion or cult, and that is what many in the ID movement believe has happened.    Goldman should recall his own sermon that science is not just a game, but that it has huge sociological implications: nuclear weapons, stem cells, health and safety, matters of life and death.  Science is much more serious in the 21st century than just making up a game as they go along.  In fact, Goldman’s whole series struggles with the truth claims of science and how they should be understood.  Why, he asks, is Darwinian evolution so threatening if it is just about method?  “Because the evolutionary explanation claims to be true.”  If evolutionists deny they are searching for at least a semblance of truth, and believe instead they are just playing a game, let them set up their own game clubs, like bingo or lotto, and not expect the citizens to pay for it and have it force-taught to their children.    The most serious flaw in this argument is that it does not address the capacity for Darwinists to trade in just-so stories in order to keep their pet paradigm going.  Busy-ness with all kinds of ecological, geological and biological storytelling does not justify evolutionary theory’s continuance, with its insatiable demand for public funding, when the facts keep stacking up against it (e.g., the Cambrian explosion, the fine-tuning of the universe, the molecular machinery in the cell).  Goldman also fails to recognize the sciences that already invest huge amounts of money on design-theoretic assumptions, such as SETI, cryptography, forensics, archaeology and information theory.  It’s ironic that he mentioned radio waves.  ID supporters have long pointed out that SETI proceeds on the assumption of intelligent design.  SETI presupposes that intelligence is detectable by the methods of science.Predictive success: while not necessary for a scientific hypothesis, this is at least valuable, Goldman argues; a good hypothesis predicts novel phenomena and makes startling predictions that at least give us confidence in the hypothesis.  Yet throughout the series, Goldman repeatedly pointed out the “fallacy of affirming the consequent” – i.e., just because a prediction comes true, this does not prove a hypothesis.  ID predicts that we will find large amounts of functional information in DNA and proteins, even if we don’t understand the function.  This prediction continues to bear fruit.Control over nature:  Though there are exceptions to this rule, like black hole theory and the big bang, a scientific hypothesis should produce a research program that gives us some degree of control over nature.  Without access to the design blueprints, Goldman claims, ID does not specify the kind of research a scientist would do, so what good is it?  Since the design scientist would end up doing the same kind of research as the evolutionist, ID is operationally vacuous, he claims.    Tell this to SETI, then.  Tell it to the FBI searching for patterns in noise.  They are spending an awful lot of money building elaborate detectors and computers on the assumption that intelligent design leaves footprints.  None of these and the other design sciences have the blueprints either, but they know that intelligently-caused patterns are detectable.  ID does have a criterion.  It is complex specified information (CSI), any effect that, as William Dembski argued exhaustively in The Design Inference and No Free Lunch allows us rule out chance as a cause, and infer intelligence as the cause.  As for control over nature, biomimetics (see below) is the most promising avenue today for such control.Testability and verifiability:  Goldman knows that these are sufficient criteria, but not necessary ones, for scientific hypotheses.  He fails to recognize that Darwinian evolution is so malleable that it bends itself to every anomaly, and therefore fails this test.  ID, by contrast, has an ironclad criterion: CSI.  Dembski granted an extremely generous universal probability bound of 10-150 before excluding chance and natural law and making a design inference.  ID can have false negatives – there may be cases where a designer hid his design from us, as in some modern art – but it does not generate false positives.  When CSI exists, it came from an intelligent cause.  That’s testability.Suggestive of a research program:  What experiments will a scientist do to research intelligent design? Goldman asks.  He repeats the common canard that ID brings explanation to a halt: “God did it–end of story.”  He says this should at least make us deeply suspicious about the ability of ID to satisfy the rules of scientific hypotheses.  Apply this rule to the Darwinists, then.  When they say “evolution did it,” or disguise that simplistic answer in phrases like “This represents a remarkable case of convergent evolution,” the playing field is level.  Darwinists brought the study of interesting biological phenomena to a halt by explaining away unknown biological phenomena as junk DNA or vestigial organs.    Goldman recalled Francis Bacon’s measure of good scientific hypotheses, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (three guesses where Bacon got that idea from).  So here is the fruit: design thinking is actually producing some of the most vibrant and cutting-edge research in the world today: biomimetics.  Whole multidisciplinary labs are springing up to mimic nature’s designs.  To do so, these designs must be understood – and science marches along. Irreducible complexity is an argument from ignorance.  Goldman claims that ID cannot merely argue that Darwinian evolution is inadequate because it cannot explain the spontaneous emergence of complex biochemical systems (e.g., Behe’s mousetrap).  Debunking Theory A does not establish Theory B.  This is the “argument from ignorance,” he says, a logical fallacy.  Granted, but it does not follow that Darwinism must be taught as fact without debate, either: that would be the best-in-field fallacy.  Darwinists have an endless capacity to rationalize and tiptoe around the problems.  Refusing to let serious challenges be heard is not healthy for any scientific explanation.  That being understood, irreducible complexity is not merely an argument against Darwinian evolution, anyway.  It is a marker for CSI that allows one to discriminate intelligent causes from non-intelligent causes.Scientists are not convinced irreducible complexity is a challenge to evolutionary theory.  Maybe evolution cannot explain complex systems yet, he says, but the community of biologists does not seem worried about it.  This is a very weak response.  Maybe they should be worried about it.  Geologists weren’t worried about plate tectonics and catastrophic floods for decades, either, till they were forced to follow the evidence.  How the community of scientists feel about something is no measure of its validity or importance.  They’ve had 146 years to explain complex systems by unguided processes and are in worse shape now than in Darwin’s time.  How much longer do they get to filibuster?Self-organizing systems show promise for explaining irreducible complexity.  The new study of self-organizing systems shows that complex systems can emerge spontaneously, Goldman argues; ID needs to make sure self-organization is incapable of producing complex systems before reaching outside of nature to explain them.  Been there, done that.  Why is this a requirement?  Why is it better to follow blind alleys?  For how long should we take a wrong road before giving up?  We already know that intelligent causes are adequate to explain CSI.  The kind of complexity that self-organizing systems exhibit is very different from information, the hallmark of intelligent design.  Spilled ink might produce wave patterns if shaken or subjected to the wind, but it does not produce meaningful text.By analogy, technological systems do form spontaneously without planning.  Goldman argues that nobody followed a master plan that resulted in all the complex systems built around the automobile: the internal combustion engine, gasoline as fuel, highways, carburetors, filling stations–these were all co-opted after the fact without any top-down design.  The system emerged from the bottom-up emergence for self-interested reasons, so why not consider this as a model for how the biochemical world emerged?  (“I’m not saying it’s true,” he adds).  My dear Dr. Goldman, do you fail to realize that your analogy is irrelevant, because human beings are intelligent agents?Criticizing gaps in evolutionary theory misunderstands the nature of scientific theories.  ID focuses its criticisms on “Darwinian” evolution, but a lot has happened since Darwin.  Theories evolve.  Evolution is now woven into a web of correlated theories, which is a key test of a scientific theory.  Geology, ecology, molecular biology, and genetics have all incorporated Darwinism or some variation of evolution, though there is still a controversy whether natural selection is the only force acting.  These are lively controversies, he argues, but none of the combatants have raised intelligent design as the missing ingredient that stymies their progress.    Again, science is not just a game, and you cannot trust Big Science to set the rules of their game fairly when they have a great deal of self-interest to perpetuate their ideologies and exclude alternatives from consideration.  In the history of science, proponents of one view have failed to see the significance of gaps in their explanations even when face to face with contradictory evidence.  Sometimes they died maintaining their flawed theories.  No historian of science can claim that evolutionary theory is immune from a massive paradigm shift.  Its critics feel it is a monstrous house of cards on a shaky foundation and that the pressures of new discoveries are making it vulnerable to a collapse of historic proportions.    Goldman had argued forcefully in the earlier lectures that scientists cannot entirely dismiss the sociological and historical nature of their theories.  He illustrated this not only by quotes from the most eminent philosophers of science, but also with specific instances.  Our concepts of the universe, the earth, life and atoms have changed dramatically since 1900.  We have no guarantee there will not be similar radical transformations in the future.  That being understood, he cannot rule out that science is evolving again in the current controversy.  Biology of the future will include intelligent causes in its toolkit, while evolutionary theory may be on the way out.ID may be a legitimate support for believing in a Designer behind nature, but design is not a scientific hypothesis.  Goldman recognizes that the design argument has a long and venerable history.  Everyone knows that nature looks designed, he acknowledges.  So are we to throw out the evidence of our senses, and our common sense, and be forced to invoke uncaused, undesigned forces to explain the most elegant machinery we know?  Who decides?  Calling something a scientific hypothesis does not make it so, nor does the converse make it not so.  Since evolutionary theory fails all of Goldman’s own minimum criteria for scientific hypotheses, and ID does not, he cannot simply dismiss ID as a scientific hypothesis by a flat-out statement of his opinion.Attacking a theory because it threatens one’s religious convictions is not a scientific posture.  OK, so ID threatens materialism and atheism.  Let the Darwinists admit that, and let’s talk about the evidence.  Evolutionists continually attack ID and creation as being religiously motivated.  This rule cuts both ways; Dawkins said that evolution allows one to be an intellectually-fulfilled atheist.  Attacking one’s motives instead of his argument is the ad hominem strategy.  So evolutionists, stop attacking the motives of creationists, and focus on the evidence.Goldman noted that he only wished only to critique ID, not malign it.  We leave it to the reader to judge if any of the pillars of Goldman’s critique are left standing.  Though cogently argued, none of his points are new.  William Dembski has answered them all, and many more, in his book The Design Revolution, to which the interested reader is referred for more detail.    At the end of the lecture, Goldman acknowledged that “Imperial Science” misconstrues the debate as much as “Imperial Religion.”  He says that the defensiveness of the scientific community over the attacks by sociology, philosophy and religion “obscures the fundamental fact that we have learned in this course, namely, that no theory – no theory – can have the status of an empirical fact.”  It is a category error to claim that evolutionary theory or any other scientific theory is a fact, “contrary to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and various op-ed pieces opposing intelligent design,” he remarks.    Sounds like we have a legitimate controversy here.  Good; 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