That a priori muddle

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We've had a few discussions here, and there have been several more elsewhere, on a strange idea: that scientists automatically exclude the supernatural from science because of some close-minded metaphysical bigotry, that for instance there is an a priori determination that any explanation that mentions the words "ghosts" must be wrong and excluded from science. I disagree. We practice methodological naturalism, and all that matters is whether we have an operational toolkit to evaluate a claim. I don't dismiss "ghosts" (or Intelligent Design) because I have some prejudice against supernatural beings, but because those beings are so poorly described and delimited by their proponents that I have no way to evaluate them—and if these proponents want to be taken seriously, they must make the effort to establish clear definitions, criteria, and procedures for their study, something Intelligent Design creationists have steadfastly refused to do.

Now Brian Leiter has ripped into this topic at length. One of the interesting points there is that this represents a common strategy of trying to muddy the waters and pretend that science is religion, and that religion is science, and therefore religiously-motivated babble, like Intelligent Design creationism, is on an equal footing with evolutionary biology.

I assumed that he [VanDyke] --like all the others who peddle Intelligent Design--might be making a non-trivial point, namely, that methodological naturalism was genuinely a priori, i.e., a dogma immune from and indifferent to the empirical evidence, and thus on a par, epistemically, with supernaturalism. If that were true, then we would have an argument for saying that evolutionary biology, with its genuinely a priori commitment to methodological naturalism, was indistinguishable from supernaturalism. Alas, it is not true that methodological naturalism is a priori in the only sense that is relevant.

I've also written up an anecdote from 1999, Scientific bias and the Void-Of-Course Moon. Scientists are willing to consider even the most ridiculous hypotheses, if they are stated with sufficient clarity that they can actually assess them. Even if the idea is as absurd as astrology.

55 Comments

Scientists are willing to consider even the most ridiculous hypotheses, if they are stated with sufficient clarity that they can actually assess them.

I think you are missing the point that I and Mr. Buck have been trying to make. If you are claiming that certain theories are not excluded a priori then how can you determine what a “ridiculous hypotheses” is prior to testing it?

The argument (at least for now) isn’t whether scientists are justified in having an a priori bias against certain hypothesis. The debate is whether scientists are excluding them on an a priori or an a posteriori basis. Either you have a way to test all possible theories or you don’t. If you don’t then you either (a) choosing only theories for which you know how to test or (b) excluding, a priori, certain theories because you believe they are not worth wasting time on. Either way you can hardly claim that the exclusion is made a posteriori.

Just about every remark you’ve made has shown that you personally exclude some theories on the basis of both (a) and (b). Why do you have such a hard time admitting that you are doing so from an a priori standpoint?

PZ,

By the way, I must applaud you for finally addressing the point of my initial argument. Whether you agree with it or not I think you should be commended for debating the original point rather than a strawman of your own making (as others have done).

Joe Carter: Either you have a way to test all possible theories or you don’t. If you don’t then you either (a) choosing only theories for which you know how to test or (b) excluding, a priori, certain theories because you believe they are not worth wasting time on. Either way you can hardly claim that the exclusion is made a posteriori.

Yes, we do choose (for testing) only those theories we know how to test, so I’m going to go with,um,…[can I use a lifeline here?]…(a).

Either way you can hardly claim that the exclusion is made a posteriori.

Is it just me? Does this make sense to everyone else? Seems to me we’ve just rendered these Latin terms meaningless. But not useless! They can still be used to dazzle an anxious-to-believe public into thinking that there’s some substance to this argument.

How much clearer can I make it? Clarity, testability, evidence: these are the criteria we use to determine whether a hypothesis is ridiculous. My example of the astrological hypothesis should be clear: it was ridiculous, idiotic, inane, and unbelievable, but we still treated it seriously when an astrologer gave us a testable observation. Just as we would treat an Intelligent Design theory seriously, if they ever got around to giving us one.

Joe Carter asked

I think you are missing the point that I and Mr. Buck have been trying to make. If you are claiming that certain theories are not excluded a priori then how can you determine what a “ridiculous hypotheses” is prior to testing it?

I’m not PZ (and I wouldn’t play him on TV on a bet!) but I’ll make one or two remarks in response. I see three related criteria that indicate that a judgment of “ridiculous” with respect to Intelligent Design Theory is warranted.

The first criterion for a judgment of “ridiculous” is to encounter a conjecture that claims to be a scientific hypothesis but that has none of the characteristics of a genuine scientific hypothesis: No identification of relevant variables, no hint of a historical narrative of events to be explained, no hypothesized processes at work, no proposed causal mechanisms to account for the events, and no actual content beyond a labelling mechanism (the Explanatory Filter cum Irreducible Complexity cum Specified Complexity) that has never been validated, calibrated, or systematically deployed. That is, the first criterion looks for some evidence on the part of the proponents of the new conjecture that they themselves actually take it seriously as a scientific endeavour. Absent that, “ridiculous” isn’t a bad judgment.

The second criterion for “ridiculous” is inflated claims for a conjecture made in the absence of any of the characteristics described by the first criterion. For example, consider the locution “Intelligent Design Theory itself. Where can I read a chapter summarizing the content of Intelligent Design Theory? I’ve read The Design Inference and No Free Lunch and Darwin’s Black Box and Icons of Evolution and innumerable essays and popular articles by Dembski, Behe, Wells, Meyer, Johnson, and their brethren, and I have found no actual description of Intelligent Design Theory itself. I see references to an “inference to the best explanation,” but never an actual description of that explanation. So the claim that “Intelligent Design Theory” even exists is still in question as far as I’m concerned. The claim that there is an “Intelligent Design Theory” is a wildly inflated claim. Once again, a judgment of “ridiculous” is indicated.

The third criterion is the imbalance between doing actual science and hyping the conjecture on the part of proponents. The cold fusion imbroglio is instructive in this respect. Pons and Fleischman announced their findings at a press conference, subsequently supplied few or no details about their actual experimental apparatus and conditions, went to the Utah state legislature for funds (around $5mm worth, as I recall), and dodged hard questions from their scientific peers about the experiments they claimed to have performed. Repeated attempts to replicate the claimed findings failed, and it finally dropped out of sight. Cold fusion might have been a real phenomenon – there is still a small group of researchers scattered around the world working on it – but there is little hope among close-minded hide-bound orthodox physicists that it is anything like the initial claims of Pons and Fleischman.

Every working scientist has to make decisions about where he or she will put limited resources – time, effort, money, and graduate students – to work, vs. what is likely to be a waste of those resources. So there are judgments to be made. Those judgments are made on the basis of the accumulated knowledge of centuries. They are not “a priori” with respect to that knowledge: they are made in the light of it. And that accumulated knowledge tells us that vague conjectures that are not pursued with any rigor even by their proponents are generally not worth wasting resources on.

RBH

As far as I can tell, he’s saying that because there is no legitimate way to test Intelligent Design, it follows that your rejection of ID without testing it is ipso facto an apriori rejection of it. On the other hand though, if you were to test it - in the process ignoring the fact that there is no way to test it - your rejection of it would then be an aposteriori rejection, and perfectly acceptable. Or have I missed something? Or has Mr. Clark missed something?

I think you are missing the point that I and Mr. Buck have been trying to make. If you are claiming that certain theories are not excluded a priori then how can you determine what a “ridiculous hypotheses” is prior to testing it?

If it can’t be tested, isn’t any conclusion about that hypothesis “prior to testing it”? Since you never get to the point of being able to test it, you never get to any point past “prior to testing it”.

The argument (at least for now) isn’t whether scientists are justified in having an a priori bias against certain hypothesis. The debate is whether scientists are excluding them on an a priori or an a posteriori basis. Either you have a way to test all possible theories or you don’t.

We don’t. Who ever claimed that they have a way to test “all possible theories”? I’m assuming by “theory” you mean “possible explanation”, not the scientific meaning of the term, which requires that it be testable before it qualifies for the term. We can envision all sorts of possible explanations that are not testable. Carl Sagan’s example from the Demon Haunted World of the invisible dragon who breathes fire that can’t be detected with heat sensors is a perfect example. Supernatural explanations are, by definition, not testable through natural means. It’s hardly a criticism of a process that relies upon testing explanations that it limits itself only to testing those explanations that can be tested, especially when the one making the criticism can’t come up with a way to test this explanation either.

I think you are missing the point that I and Mr. Buck have been trying to make. If you are claiming that certain theories are not excluded a priori then how can you determine what a “ridiculous hypotheses” is prior to testing it?

If it can’t be tested, isn’t any conclusion about that hypothesis “prior to testing it”? Since you never get to the point of being able to test it, you never get to any point past “prior to testing it”.

The argument (at least for now) isn’t whether scientists are justified in having an a priori bias against certain hypothesis. The debate is whether scientists are excluding them on an a priori or an a posteriori basis. Either you have a way to test all possible theories or you don’t.

We don’t. Who ever claimed that they have a way to test “all possible theories”? I’m assuming by “theory” you mean “possible explanation”, not the scientific meaning of the term, which requires that it be testable before it qualifies for the term. We can envision all sorts of possible explanations that are not testable. Carl Sagan’s example from the Demon Haunted World of the invisible dragon who breathes fire that can’t be detected with heat sensors is a perfect example. Supernatural explanations are, by definition, not testable through natural means. It’s hardly a criticism of a process that relies upon testing explanations that it limits itself only to testing those explanations that can be tested, especially when the one making the criticism can’t come up with a way to test this explanation either.

Joe (previous): The terms “a priori” and “a posteriori” refer primarily to how or on what basis a proposition might be known. A proposition is knowable a priori if it is knowable independently of experience. A proposition is knowable a posteriori if it is knowable on the basis of experience.

Russell: Yes, we do choose (for testing) only those theories we know how to test, so I’m going to go with,um,…[can I use a lifeline here?]…(a).

Thank you, Russell. Everyone else in this forum would, I presume, make the same choice. Why they refuse to acknowledge this is an a priori choice is rather baffling.

Joe: Either way you can hardly claim that the exclusion is made a posteriori. Russell: Is it just me? Does this make sense to everyone else? Seems to me we’ve just rendered these Latin terms meaningless. But not useless! They can still be used to dazzle an anxious-to-believe public into thinking that there’s some substance to this argument.

Rendered the Latin terms meaningless? Let’s take a look at their meaning: The terms “a priori” and “a posteriori” refer primarily to how or on what basis a proposition might be known. A proposition is knowable a priori if it is knowable independently of experience. A proposition is knowable a posteriori if it is knowable on the basis of experience.”

If, for whatever reason, you cannot test a theory how can you have propositional knowledge (specifically whether it is true of false) of it on the basis of experience?

PZ: My example of the astrological hypothesis should be clear: it was ridiculous, idiotic, inane, and unbelievable, but we still treated it seriously when an astrologer gave us a testable observation.

Your example is a false analogy because it includes an example of both an a priori and a posteriori approach. Before it was tested you thought it was “ridiculous, idiotic, inane, and unbelievable” without any direct experience. You rejected it, in other words, on an a priori basis. After – and only after – you tested the theory could you claim that the rejection was made a posteriori.

Bob: As far as I can tell, he’s saying that because there is no legitimate way to test Intelligent Design, it follows that your rejection of ID without testing it is ipso facto an apriori rejection of it. On the other hand though, if you were to test it - in the process ignoring the fact that there is no way to test it - your rejection of it would then be an aposteriori rejection, and perfectly acceptable. Or have I missed something?

Exactly correct! Finally, someone (almost) gets it. The only thing I would change is that you seem to think that I find only a posteriori rejections “acceptable.” That’s not necessarily the case. I’m not (again, at least at this point in the argument) claiming that there is anything wrong with making certain a priori assumptions. My problem is in confusing them with a posteriori ones.

Ed: If it can’t be tested, isn’t any conclusion about that hypothesis “prior to testing it”? Since you never get to the point of being able to test it, you never get to any point past “prior to testing it”.

Well, as a matter of fact, yes. That is precisely my point. If you don’t have a way to test it then you either (a) must reject it on an a priori basis or (b) come up with some way to test it.

Ed: I’m assuming by “theory” you mean “possible explanation”, not the scientific meaning of the term, which requires that it be testable before it qualifies for the term.

I am, of course, using the common meaning. There are often numerous “theories” bandied about that aren’t (at least presently) testable (i.e, the multiverse theory).

I really think you need to stop using the terms “a priori” and “a posteriori”. You’ve mangled them enough.

Also, you are mistaken if you think we haven’t had enough exposure to the premises of astrology to decide that it is ridiculous, inane, etc. before I saw the specific hypothesis of Thomas Seers.

As far as I can tell, he’s saying that because there is no legitimate way to test Intelligent Design, it follows that your rejection of ID without testing it is ipso facto an apriori rejection of it.

But Intelligent Design is testable and I argue that various sciences succesfully test and establish ‘Intelligent Design’. Criminology and archeology are two that come to mind immediately.

Of course when ID proponents keep insisting that ID is not testable they are implicitly arguing that ID is supra natural

Well, as a matter of fact, yes. That is precisely my point. If you don’t have a way to test it then you either (a) must reject it on an a priori basis or (b) come up with some way to test it.

I don’t think it’s incumbent upon us to come up with a way to test ID. It’s up to the proponents of ID to derive testable hypotheses from their model. But since we all agree here that there is no way, at present, to test ID - indeed, that there is no real model from which one could derive testable hypotheses - why on earth are ID advocates going around the country trying to get their “model” into science classrooms? As you note, there are lots of possible explanations that can’t be tested, but no one lobbies to get them equal time in science classes, or builds long term strategies for “cultural renewal” based upon them.

Now that we’ve eliminated the distraction of (b), it seems your comment could be edited to this:

The debate is whether scientists are excluding [certain hypothesis (sic)] on an a priori or an a posteriori basis. [You choose] only theories for which you know how to test. [Y]ou can hardly claim that the exclusion is made a posteriori.

I was under the impression the whole Beckwith argument hinged on the alleged, unjustified “a priori” rejection of the philosophy underlying intelligent design “theory”. Now it’s the “a priori” rejection of the notion of testing untestable hypotheses?

Pim: I think science can and does test intelligent causes. ID, intended as proposed by Dembski, Behe & C, is not testable, except perhaps as a sort of ever-retreating negative argument about the scope of evolutionary mechanisms. That of course hardly makes it more of a science than just plain old ignorance.

Hey Joe! Guess what? The premise that scientists reject ID a priori is itself a testable hypothesis! All you (or any other ID proponent) have to do is propose a testable hypothesis for ID. If science rejects that hypothesis without testing it, then you’re right. (Note that it does have to be truly testable, not some indistinct hand-waving ala the Design Inference.) Nobody’s done this yet, so anything you have said on the topic so far is simply an unsupported allegation.

Oh, wait… you’ve already decided that scientists will reject any such hypothesis. Hmmm… So far the a priori reasoning scoreboard stands zero for science, one for ID. Like golf, high scores in this game are not good!

Joe, you left off my last sentence: “Or has Mr Clark missed something?”

It seems to me that Behe and other champions of IDC, having invented the “theory” and done their damndest to have it declared Science, bear the burden of devising valid tests and demonstrating repeatable results. As Ed points out, it is not up to evolutionists to disprove your theory, it is up to you to provide a valid basis for it’s even being taken seriously. In the absence of a testable hypothesis, there can be no test, which was the point of my initial post - which you pronounced “exactly correct” by the way. And in the absence of a test, “a priori” and “a posteriori” are, I think, inoperable concepts. Before or after what? Provide a basis for testing, and you might have a valid point.

“Filters” based on flawed and jury-rigged math prove nothing except when one is preaching to the choir. It is my understanding that the only claimed examples of irreducible complexity or whatever the current concept is, are features for which biologists, etc. have not yet found an answer.

The flagellum has been removed from your irreducible complexibility “proof” column, as has blood clotting. What’s next? Does the “God of the gaps” concept apply here?

Some interesting discussion from the website www.claremont.org:

Only from the point of view of modern science – which assumed all being is but cause and effect – could reason be sure in its atheism. But the same reason that demanded no God can exist outside the physics of cause and effect, demanded simultaneously that reason itself cannot exist outside the physics of cause and effect.

Put differently, the argument of modern philosophy (i.e. science) against the existence of God is at the same time an argument against modern philosophy. The only thing modern reason knows to be true is that there is no truth, including modern reason itself. At best, then, the atheist can only assert his atheist will against the wills of those who believe, but he cannot lay claim to any ground of truth or any judgment of who is right and who wrong.

Modern science, however impressive its experimental fruits continue to be, must rely on philosopy for its awareness of the cosmic issues. But modern philosophy (i.e. science) has abandoned reason and its inseparable companion, an intelligible and purposeful cosmos, and embraced thorough metaphysical materialism. As to what is the cause of the being of all things, science cannot go beyond finding the greatest material and efficient causes, whether those are so-called “natural selection” for living things or a “big bang” for all things. Both of these, of course, beg the most basic questions of what caused these movements to occur and for what end.

Without intelligiblity, even material and efficient cause are questionable; hence, nihilism.

Well, that was pretty much unintelligible. Is the Claremont Institute espousing nihilism now?

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Joe asks: How is intelligent design tested for in the biological sciences?

Testing the hypothesis about the origin of the HIV virus comes to mind.

Ed: I don’t think it’s incumbent upon us to come up with a way to test ID. It’s up to the proponents of ID to derive testable hypotheses from their model.

Joe: That’s a rather odd claim if you are ruling ID out a posteriori. On the other hand, if you think you have good a priori reason for rejecting ID then I would understand why you would not feel compelled to find a testable hypotheses.

That’s rather odd, and somewhat disingeneous since you are now accusing Ed of something that should be up to ID to propose. It is not that ID is ruled out apriori, but based on the fact that 1) ID has failed to provide a scientific theoretical foundation 2) ID has failed to apply its ideas 3) ID has failed to contribute to science 4) ID has failed to provide for positive hypotheses relevant to ID. In light of this failure it ID has to be rejected a posteriori. But perhaps ID can come of with better arguments and science may have to reconsider its rejection.

Joe: haps a more fitting example is the way we fill in the “gaps” with theoretical phenomena such as dark matter. We infer that dark matter exist because it is necessary to explain certain theories in cosmology.

And observations. Don’t forget that dark matter would explain several observations. In fact science has uncovered several likely candidates for dark matter. What about ID? Any testable hypotheses? Of course not.

Bob: The flagellum has been removed from your irreducible complexibility “proof” column …

Joe: I wasn’t aware of this. How was it proven that the flagellum is not irreducibly complex?

Well actually what was shown is that IC is not a reliable indicator of intelligent design. In fact plausible pathways have been presented, but I guess ID is unable to test such pathways. Again it’s our ignorance that makes ID fail to impress.

Has it been shown that the flagellum IS IC? Of course not, ID is not in the business of making positive claims. Notice that other than a few meaningless ‘calculations’ by Dembski little work has been done by ID to support its claims of specified complexity, irreducible complexity. In fact given the lack of much relevant research science has but one choice to reject ID a posteriori.

Simple reallly

Joe: Perhaps you can explain how accepting the theory of natural selection, whose “purpose” only ensures survival, gives us reason to believe that our cognitive faculties are able of producing true beliefs?

What are ‘true beliefs’ anyway? Even if our senses deceive us, we seem to do quite well with them ignorant of ‘reality’. By ‘survival’ should hardly be trivialized, accurate senses of the environment seems quite understandable in terms of selection and survival.

Joe: The idea, that everyone seems to be claiming, that they only reject theories on an a posteriori basis strikes me as rather peculiar.

And that’s the difference between faith and science.

Bob: The flagellum has been removed from your irreducible complexibility “proof” column …

Joe: I wasn’t aware of this. How was it proven that the flagellum is not irreducibly complex?

Here’s the link, or the url - still haven’t got this site figured out

http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/e[…]article.html

Bob: It seems to me that Behe and other champions of IDC, having invented the “theory” and done their damndest to have it declared Science, bear the burden of devising valid tests and demonstrating repeatable results.

Joe: Again, this seems like an odd claim if you’re rejecting ID on an a posteriori basis. Either you reject it, a priori, as invalid nonsense or you should expect that scientists would want to have the most inclusive and accurate means of testing theories.

Sorry Joe, you’re babbling. We all know, at least those of us who aren’t wearing blinders, that ID is just Divine Creation all gussied up in a new set of clothes, unless you’re proposing little green men as the intelligent designers - which merely delays the same problems for you. Present a valid way to test supernatural origin scenarios, and your own repeatable results from those tests, and you may have a point, and a respectable hypothesis. It’s in your court. Until that happens you’re playing games

Russell: I was under the impression the whole Beckwith argument hinged on the alleged, unjustified “a priori” rejection of the philosophy underlying intelligent design “theory”. Now it’s the “a priori” rejection of the notion of testing untestable hypotheses?

Joe: First of all, my argument may differ drastically from Beckwith’s since he is defending a point about law while I am defending one about philosophy. As for your second point, I think there are two ways in which we could reject a theory that is “untestable.” We could do so because we simply believe the untestable theory is nonsense or we could do so because the theory is currently untestable …

Oh, now I see. It’s the old “Bait & Switch” dodge! What we agreed that we were rejecting “a priori” was the notion of testing an untestable hypothesis, not the hypothesis itself.

I’m going to bow out of this conversation at this point, and refer you once again to my earlier quote from St. Augustine.

Joe asks: How is intelligent design tested for in the biological sciences?

PZ: Testing the hypothesis about the origin of the HIV virus comes to mind.

Though I believe that HIV was not man-made, I’m not familiar with how that was determined. Could you suggest any references that would help me understand how that was determined? Also, are you claiming that the same method could be used to differentiate intelligent from non-intelligent causes in evolutionary biology?

That’s rather odd, and somewhat disingeneous since you are now accusing Ed of something that should be up to ID to propose. It is not that ID is ruled out apriori, but based on the fact that 1) ID has failed to provide a scientific theoretical foundation 2) ID has failed to apply its ideas 3) ID has failed to contribute to science 4) ID has failed to provide for positive hypotheses relevant to ID. In light of this failure it ID has to be rejected a posteriori. But perhaps ID can come of with better arguments and science may have to reconsider its rejection.

Granted, ID may be an inadequate theory. Perhaps you can explain what criteria that would be sufficient to test ID. Falsifiablity? Confirmation? Predictability?

And observations. Don’t forget that dark matter would explain several observations. In fact science has uncovered several likely candidates for dark matter.

Again, I wasn’t aware of this. Where can this news be found?

What about ID? Any testable hypotheses? Of course not.

How exactly is natural selection tested on the macro scale?

Bob: The flagellum has been removed from your irreducible complexibility “proof” column … Joe: I wasn’t aware of this. How was it proven that the flagellum is not irreducibly complex?

PZ: Well actually what was shown is that IC is not a reliable indicator of intelligent design. In fact plausible pathways have been presented, but I guess ID is unable to test such pathways. Again it’s our ignorance that makes ID fail to impress.

Plausible pathways? So the best that can be said for claiming that this is not a “reliable indicator” of ID is that it is “plausible” that another option is valid? Can’t we say that same for ID since it is “plausible” that the flagellum could be irreducibly complex? In fact, shouldn’t we determine which is the more likely explanation rather than just which ones are possible?

Has it been shown that the flagellum IS IC? Of course not, ID is not in the business of making positive claims.

Why, if it could be shown that the flagellum is IC, would that not be a “positive claim?”

Notice that other than a few meaningless ‘calculations’ by Dembski little work has been done by ID to support its claims of specified complexity, irreducible complexity. In fact given the lack of much relevant research science has but one choice to reject ID a posteriori.

Relevant research? How long has ID been around? How long should we wait before we abandon research programs? And who decides what is “relevant research science” and what isn’t? Since the 10 dimensions of super string theory have not been shown to be “testable”, should we throw out that theory? (By the way, why would extra dimensions be a legitimate preternatural phenomena but an intelligent designer would not?)

PZ: What are ‘true beliefs’ anyway?

A belief that corresponds with reality.

Even if our senses deceive us, we seem to do quite well with them ignorant of ‘reality’.

True enough. We could get by but it would certainly undercut the ability to make certain claims to “knowledge” (i.e., that natural selection produced our brains).

By ‘survival’ should hardly be trivialized, accurate senses of the environment seems quite understandable in terms of selection and survival.

Survival, of course, isn’t’ trivial. But we should note that accurate senses are really not necessary for selection and survival

Joe: The idea, that everyone seems to be claiming, that they only reject theories on an a posteriori basis strikes me as rather peculiar.

And that’s the difference between faith and science.

No, that’s the difference between philosophy and science. You have a similar type of “faith” in science that I do. After all, your “beliefs” about scientific knowledge are based on your accepting a particular epistemology.

I don’t think it’s incumbent upon us to come up with a way to test ID. It’s up to the proponents of ID to derive testable hypotheses from their model.

That’s a rather odd claim if you are ruling ID out a posteriori. On the other hand, if you think you have good a priori reason for rejecting ID then I would understand why you would not feel compelled to find a testable hypotheses.

Okay, let’s put all of this stuff together and see how this would go as a single conversation:

IDer: I’ve come up with an incredible new model that will overturn one of the most successful and universally accept scientific theories. Not only that, it will revolutionize all of science and lead to an entirely new type of science (“theistic science”) that will change all of American culture forever.

Scientists: Really? And what is this model? What does it say about the natural history of life on earth?

IDer: We’re getting to that. But basically, every time we find a situation in which evolutionary theory does not have an adequate answer yet, we’re substituting “Some unnamed intelligent agency intervened to lend a hand. We don’t know how or when or why.”

Scientist: Uh, okay. So how can we tell if this model is true? Is there any way to test it?

IDer: It’s not up to us to come up with a way to test it! If you don’t come up with a way to test it, it proves that you’re rejecting it a priori!

This is pretty much what you’re arguing here, and it’s pretty silly. Why on earth should I feel compelled to search for a testable hypothesis? The folks who so breathlessly announced this world-shaking theory should at least have thought it through well enough to be able to derive testable hypotheses from it.

The bottom line is this. Until ID advocates can come up with an actual model with explanatory power from which testable hypotheses can be derived, and then test the model against real world examples, they are not going to be taken seriously. This is no more an a priori rejection of ID than it is of any other explanation that doesn’t explain anything and can’t be tested. Science requires explanations that can be tested. If someone has an explanation that can’t be tested, it’s pretty much ignored until someone comes up with a way to test it. It doesn’t mean it’s “rejected” or “marginalized”. It goes into this big bin marked “intriguing but irrelevant at this point”. I would put the multiverse idea in that bin as well. Intriguing idea, but pretty much pointless.

Why is it you seem to think that finding a way to test ID is up to those who don’t advocate it and not up to those who do?

Joe: Plausible pathways? So the best that can be said for claiming that this is not a “reliable indicator” of ID is that it is “plausible” that another option is valid? Can’t we say that same for ID since it is “plausible” that the flagellum could be irreducibly complex? In fact, shouldn’t we determine which is the more likely explanation rather than just which ones are possible?

Remember that the IC argument hinges on the impossibility of pathways to IC systems. Of course ID is always plausible, since it really fails to present any positive hypotheses. But scientifically ID has failed to impress.

In order to reject the IC argument it IS sufficient to show plausible pathways, that’s the problem of negative arguments. Of course in order to determine which hypothesis is the best we need to compare them. So far there is the pathway described by Nic versus … Well, what really does ID have to offer in the form of positive hypotheses. Hmmm.…. Embarassing isn’t it how ID makes claims but then fails to deliver.

Joe’s arguments keep switching as quickly as they are debunked. Why do I even bother to argue what is so obvious I wonder.

Joe remarks: Survival, of course, isn’t’ trivial. But we should note that accurate senses are really not necessary for selection and survival.

Wow, I guess a blind prey animal is not really that much in a disadvantage after all. Really Joe, think before you post.

Me: What about ID? Any testable hypotheses? Of course not.

Joe: How exactly is natural selection tested on the macro scale?

Aha the tu quoque defense, I believe that you are doing it thus it is ok for ID? But evolutionary theory does present testable hypotheses. ID offers none. Let me repeat ID is offering none. If Joe wants to argue that evolutionary theory is similarly limited, that’s fine but we can all agree then that my comments that IC has failed to show itself scientifically relevant has to be accepted?

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By the way, Joe, you’ve changed meanings of a priori in this conversation. Initially, your claim was that scientists chose MN a priori, in contrast to Leiter’s argument that they chose MN because it works, hence it was a posteriori. Now you’re arguing that the rejection of ID is a priori, and by a priori you seem to mean “before it’s been tested”. But since we all agree, including you, that there is as yet no way to test it, either rejection or acceptance is “a priori” in that sense. But the only sense in which non-IDers reject ID is in the sense that we point out that it can’t be tested and that the arguments made in favor of it so far are weak. I’m at a loss to understand why you think this is a problem. How are scientists suppose to handle an untestable idea that is being trumpeted as revolutionary despite the fact that it doesn’t seem to do anything useful in the field in which its advocates want to see it applied?

Correcton (in CAPS) to my comments above:

In a certain decisive respect, NOT WITHOUT LEGITIMACY ONE COULD READILY ASSERT THAT under the likes of Dawkins (and philosophic epigones ala Brian Leiter), Reason has erected …

Joe: Relevant research? How long has ID been around? How long should we wait before we abandon research programs?

Since ID made some claims, it now seems that they may have been a bit premature? What about the claim that the design inference has no false positives, what about specified complexity? ID has failed in the last decade to provide much of anything to support its claims. ID is still struggling to apply these concepts to non trivial examples. Thus so far not only have the approaches of ID been shown to be fallacious, but also their claims have been shown to be based on ignorance rather than positive knowledge.

Joe: And who decides what is “relevant research science” and what isn’t? Since the 10 dimensions of super string theory have not been shown to be “testable”, should we throw out that theory? (By the way, why would extra dimensions be a legitimate preternatural phenomena but an intelligent designer would not?)

ID should be rejected at this moment based on 1) failure to support its theoretical claims 2) failure to provide relevant research to support its claims 3) inherent appeal to ignorance 4) its inability to address the various critiques of ID. Note that ID does not make positive hypotheses, ID is based on ELIMINATION of all alternatives. A gaps argument, an appeal to our ignorance.

Joe could of course put all this to rest by showing some evidence contradicting my claims. Reality however is that such evidence seems to be suspiciously absent :-)

No false positives: Wrong IC systems cannot evolve: Wrong Natural processes cannot increase specified complexity: Wrong No Free Lunch theorems: Oops, wrong again

Has it even been shown that ID can in fact generate specified complexity? Nope…

SO many claims, so many rebuttals. And so far no research. How come that science in the same time has managed to address some of these issues and ID seems to have remained stagnant or in retreat?

Joe, my apologies - just realized I’d blown it on your last name a couple of posts ago.

Bob

Bob: Joe: I wasn’t aware of this. How was it proven that the flagellum is not irreducibly complex?

Here’s the link, or the url - still haven’t got this site figured out http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/e[…]article.html

And here’s Dembski’s rebuttal: http://www.iscid.org/papers/Dembski[…]g_030403.pdf

Bob: Sorry Joe, you’re babbling. We all know, at least those of us who aren’t wearing blinders, that ID is just Divine Creation all gussied up in a new set of clothes, unless you’re proposing little green men as the intelligent designers - which merely delays the same problems for you.

I’ll humor you and give you the benefit of the doubt on this one. Let’s say its true. So what? What does that have to do with the veracity of the theory?

Bob: Present a valid way to test supernatural origin scenarios, and your own repeatable results from those tests, and you may have a point, and a respectable hypothesis. It’s in your court. Until that happens you’re playing games. Personally, while I’m not sure how the entire ID theory will hold up, I think irreducible complexity provides a “respectable hypothesis.” If you disagree then you should explain why natural selection provides an inherently more plausible explanation than what the ID people have come up with. Ed: This is pretty much what you’re arguing here, and it’s pretty silly.

As usual, you don’t understand what I’m arguing at all. My contention that some scientist reject certain theories on an a priori basis doesn’t require me to invoke ID at all. While I’ve attempted to answer as many points about ID as I’m able (I’m certainly no expert on the subject) it really doesn’t have anything to do with the gist of my main argument. It is simply an amusing digression.

Why on earth should I feel compelled to search for a testable hypothesis?

Unless you are rejecting it on an a priori basis, the idea that biological systems arose from either undirected causes or where designed by an intelligent agent are equally plausible. If you were trying to test which one was correct you would need to be able to have a testable hypothesis that could either test both (so that comparisons could be made) or have one that was able to rule out the other as a plausible explanation.

Why is it you seem to think that finding a way to test ID is up to those who don’t advocate it and not up to those who do?

I would say that the onus is on any scientist (who does not reject ID on an a priori basis) to find a way to test it regardless of whether they are an advocate or not.

PZ: Remember that the IC argument hinges on the impossibility of pathways to IC systems.

No, actually it doesn’t. The standard of logical impossibility is too high a standard for scientific “proof.” The argument hinges on which is more probable.

PZ: Wow, I guess a blind prey animal is not really that much in a disadvantage after all. Really Joe, think before you post. Tell that to all the species of bats that have managed to survive. (Really PZ, think before you post.) Joe: How exactly is natural selection tested on the macro scale?

Aha the tu quoque defense, I believe that you are doing it thus it is ok for ID?

Not at all. I simply want to see what standard ID would need to live up to.

But evolutionary theory does present testable hypotheses.

Again, what are the testable theories for natural evolution on the macro scale? Also, how could the theory be falsified?

If Joe wants to argue that evolutionary theory is similarly limited, that’s fine but we can all agree then that my comments that IC has failed to show itself scientifically relevant has to be accepted?

If you are saying that neither theory can be tested at the macro level then that hardly helps your argument.

Ed: By the way, Joe, you’ve changed meanings of a priori in this conversation.

Um, no, I don’t think I have. A priori is a priori.

Initially, your claim was that scientists chose MN a priori, in contrast to Leiter’s argument that they chose MN because it works, hence it was a posteriori. Now you’re arguing that the rejection of ID is a priori, and by a priori you seem to mean “before it’s been tested”. But since we all agree, including you, that there is as yet no way to test it, either rejection or acceptance is “a priori” in that sense.

First of all, I don’t “agree” with the assertion that there is not way to test it since no one seems to be able to explain what a testable model would look like. You say that ID doesn’t work, yet you can’t be bothered to come up with one of your own. Okay. But that doesn’t mean that it is “untestable.” It simply means that no one has bothered to come up with a test that you would agree is valid. In other words, many people (including you, I believe) are rejecting it a priori – if not in theory then at least in practice.

How are scientists suppose to handle an untestable idea that is being trumpeted as revolutionary despite the fact that it doesn’t seem to do anything useful in the field in which its advocates want to see it applied? It seems to have worked for macroevolution just fine. PM: ID should be rejected at this moment based on 1) failure to support its theoretical claims

Which claims are you referring to?

2) failure to provide relevant research to support its claims

I would say that have been able to do that on IC.

3) inherent appeal to ignorance

Let me get this straight. When ID proposes to explain a phenomena by invoking a designer it is an “appeal to ignorance.” Yet when evolutionary theory proposes to fill such gaps in its theories by invoking the tautology of “natural selection” it is perfectly acceptable?

4) its inability to address the various critiques of ID.

Could not the same be said for the critiques of macroevolution?

Note that ID does not make positive hypotheses, ID is based on ELIMINATION of all alternatives. A gaps argument, an appeal to our ignorance.

That’s not the case when it comes to IC. As Dembski points out, Darwinians have no clue how IC biological systems are produced, nor do they have an explanation for what type of causal power could produce such a feature. ID theorists, on the other hand, know that intelligent agency can produce such a feature and draw the logical inference that it was therefore produced by such an intelligent agent. You’ve claimed before (re: HIV) that there is such an ability to detect intelligent agency in biological systems so what is the problem?

IC systems cannot evolve: Wrong

Whether is it logically possible for them to have evolved is not the question. The question is did they. According to Darwin’s own criteria, if one could find an organ or structure that could not have been formed by “numerous, successive, slight modifications,” his “theory would absolutely break down.” Yet when someone points out that this is the case it suddenly becomes an “argument from ignorance.”

Natural processes cannot increase specified complexity: Wrong

Then cite some proof.

Has it even been shown that ID can in fact generate specified complexity? Nope …

Has natural selection? Nope. If nothing else ID has an argument from analogy to fall back on. The same can’t be said for the tautology of natural selection.

SO many claims, so many rebuttals. And so far no research. How come that science in the same time has managed to address some of these issues and ID seems to have remained stagnant or in retreat?

Perhaps because people like you simply do a lot of hand waving rather than cite the actual rebuttals. Let me make my position clear. While I do believe that design is testable in biological systems, I’m still open-minded about ID theory and am not convinced that it is the correct formulation and approach. From what I can tell, though, it isn’t any more or less plausible than the theory that everything has evolved from the blind process of natural selection.

Joe wrote

From what I can tell, though, it [ID “theory”] isn’t any more or less plausible than the theory that everything has evolved from the blind process of natural selection.

Actually, evolution is locally sighted but globally blind. A population “knows” the local topography of its fitness landscape(s) very well: the distribution of reproductive fitnesses in the existing population is a more-or-less faithful map of the local topography of its fitness landscape(s). Evolution is blind only outside the range of the distribution of extant fitnesses. And local ‘sightedness’ is all that’s required for evolution to occur.

RBH

Joe: Are you actually reading what people are writing? Why are you crediting everyone else’s words to me?

And as long as you’re complaining about handwaving, how about them specific hypotheses from ID, hmmm?

Philebus: Get some help. Soon. I’m worried about you, man. I warned you about those ‘shrooms.

Joe wrote

From what I can tell, though, it [ID “theory”] isn’t any more or less plausible than the theory that everything has evolved from the blind process of natural selection.

Actually, evolution is locally sighted but globally blind. A population “knows” the local topography of its fitness landscape(s) very well: the distribution of reproductive fitnesses in the existing population is a more-or-less faithful map of the local topography of its fitness landscape(s). Evolution is blind only outside the range of the distribution of extant fitnesses. And local ‘sightedness’ is all that’s required for evolution to occur.

RBH

Joe totally misses the point when he states in response to my assertion

PZ (Should be PvM): Wow, I guess a blind prey animal is not really that much in a disadvantage after all. Really Joe, think before you post.

Joe: Tell that to all the species of bats that have managed to survive. (Really PZ, think before you post.)

A wonderful example of moving goalposts. When Joe argues that “But we should note that accurate senses are really not necessary for selection and survival. “ and I provide an example he rejects it because bats have found another way to have accurate senses allowing them to capture their prey. Really Joe, don’t embarass yourself.

Much of the rest Joe is arguing is a logical fallacy of the ‘tu quoque’ kind. Joe, if you really are interested in discussing this without these fallacies let me know.

Joe: The question is did they. According to Darwin’s own criteria, if one could find an organ or structure that could not have been formed by “numerous, successive, slight modifications,” his “theory would absolutely break down.” Yet when someone points out that this is the case it suddenly becomes an “argument from ignorance.”

Nope, the argument from ignorance is claiming that IC systems cannot arise through gradual darwinian steps. When it is pointed out that this is an argument from ignorance since it has not been shown that IC systems exist, Joe seems to object. Remember that IC is pretended to be evidence for design, although it is indeed far more accurate to call it evidence against Darwinism. If ID can truely show that the flagellum could not have evolved, an argument they seem to be making when claiming that it is IC and that IC systems cannot evolve, then pointing out that they are wrong is sufficient to undermine their argument.

I see little progress with Joe. He seems to be constantly moving the goalposts, uses logical fallacies.

In addition Joe seems to be utterly unfamiliar with the evolutionary literature relevant to why science has dismissed intelligent design claims. I see no reason to do his homework for him what should be self evident is that his claim that ID is rejected a priori is WRONG.

Simple.

Joe: Not at all. I simply want to see what standard ID would need to live up to.

Nice attempt to save face here Joe. But from the context that is not what you seemed to be arguing. If you want to move the goalposts fine, let me point out that ID has to live up to the same standard as any other hypothesis, present a positive hypothesis that can be compared with other hypotheses. That is exactly what you seemed to suggest. Of course ID is totally lacking and by virtue of its eliminative nature, fundamentally incapable of providing such hypotheses. But perhaps Joe can surprise us.

:-)

I don’t think scienists have, or should have, a set of criteria for rejecting any thoery, out of hand, as a ridiculous hypothesis. Rather, we have a set of standards and heuristics. It must be stated clearly, with its various concepts defined; it must be testable in a straightforward way; and it must not incorporate things that have been thoroughly disproved (e.g., unless new evidence arises showing that the Earth is the center of the universe, we shouldn’t find the earth at the center of the universe as part of acceptable theories in astronomy, or more relevant to the current discussion, we can’t have theories of evolution that are built entirely on the ideas of Lamarck). In addition, if a theory has been tested repeatedly, and absolutely no evidence has been found for it, or its predictions have failed over and over again, it’s a good bet that we can throw it out. Other criteria may apply to more developed sciences. For instance, in physics, a theory must be formalizable (the same seems to be true, under neo-classical views, in economics, but economics is far from a mature science). If you can’t put it into equations, why bother?

In sum, science doesn’t exclude any theory automatically. Rather, science has standards that serve as rough, but not hard-and-fast guidelines. Some theories, particularly in their infancy, may not meet the criteria but still be worth considering based on other merits they might have. All of this is not to say that some individual scientists might exclude certain kinds of theories automatically. Max Plank did say that the best way for a new theory to gain acceptance is for all of its detractors to die.

PvM: Has it even been shown that ID can in fact generate specified complexity? Nope …

Joe: Has natural selection? Nope. If nothing else ID has an argument from analogy to fall back on. The same can’t be said for the tautology of natural selection.

So many errors in one paragraph, seems that I am correct that ID is an argument from ignorance after all.

1. Several authors have shown that natural selection can increase specified complexity in the genome. Tom Schneider, Adami, Lenski come to mind. Do a search on ‘Schneider Ev” and “Adami evolution of complexity” and “Lenski Ofria Nature” to get access to some fascinating papers that put to rest the claims by Dembski. Or check out Wolpert’s response to Dembski’s abuse of the NFL theorems where he calls it ‘written in jello’. Wolpert is one of the original authors of the NFL theorems. Dembski messed up. Simple. Dembski is now on the record claiming that the NFL did not play that significant a role but a careful reading of his book shows that he considered it a major argument.

Of course then there is the argument that natural selection is tautological. Perhaps Joe should read what Endler has to say about this. Again, Joe repeating erroneous claims is not making your case any stronger.

If a population has

a. variation among individuals in some attribute or trait: Variation

b. a consistent relationship between that trait and mating ability, fertilizing ability, fecundity and or survivorship: fitness differences

c. a consistent relationship for that trait between parents and their offspring which is at least partially independent of common environmental effects: inheritance

Then: 1. the trait distribution will differ among age classes or life history stages beyond that expected from ontogeny

2. if the population is not at equilibrium then the trait distribution of all offspring in the population will be predictably different from that of all parents beyond that expected from a and c alone.

It looks to me like Joe Carter is exercising the weblog verson of the Gish Gallop: flinging out errors and misconceptions so ferociously that no one can keep up, and every one of his one-liner screwups requires a ten-paragraph essay to clear up.

I think I’ll repeat a couple of comments from another thread that I think are relevant here.

Joe wrote:

Please explain how naturalistic methodolgy is able to empirically distinguish between natural phenomena that is produced by an undirected natural causes and that which is produced by intelligent causes.

Intelligent causes operating via effective methods will produce patterns that may be distinguished from undirected natural causes via such techniques as the universal probability distribution (UPD) of algorithmic complexity theory. Jeff Shallit and I explain this in an appendix introducing an application of the UPD that we call “specified anti-information” (SAI) (see our paper). This procedure does everything useful that Dembski claims for his “design inference”, but has the advantage of actually being able to be applied to real-world problems. What SAI does not deliver, though, that Dembski desires is a specific category of agent causation. What is detected by the UPD, and thus SAI, is that the causal explanation likely lies in a simple computational process. Since this class includes processes of directed natural cause in addition to whatever-it-is that ID advocates say “intelligence” is this week, SAI is unsuitable for the antievolution program of ID advocacy.

Joe wrote:

Actually, I think that you are missing the point of Dembski’s argument. Either the bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex or it is not. If the experiment shows that the structure was produced by natural selection then it would prove the ID’s hypothesis was false.

Showing that one hypothesis is causal and another is not discards one hypothesis. That’s not the point of falsifiability, which has a specific technical meaning via Sir Karl Popper. Popper was interested in what could be known about theoretical statements, and his thesis was that while the truth of theories could not be established by confirming examples, they could be falisified if found to entail conclusions that proved false to our experience. It is not an enailed conclusion of “intelligent design” that the bacterial flagellum, specifically, must be “designed”. It’s a conjecture that places no risk on “intelligent design” taken as a “theory”.

I hammered both Bill Dembski and Michael Behe on this point on June 17, 2001 at the CTNS/AAAS “Interpreting Evolution” conference.
(See video of my presentation and my PowerPoint presentation.) They didn’t understand “falsifiability” then, and improvement seems to be coming slowly and painfully. Witness the string change that Dembski deploys in his new book, The Design Revolution, in his chapter on “Testability”. This is reworked from an earlier Internet essay of Dembski’s that featured a long discourse on “falsifiability” displaying his misapprehension of the term. The new word Dembski uses to replace it is “refutability”, which has no particular significance to anything. But it saved him having to retype, or worse, rethink, much of anything. Of course, I received no credit for this particular part of Bill’s remedial philosophical education.

I pointed out at the same conference that scientists are pragmatists at heart, and that all ID advocates had to do was demonstrate that ID actually got real-world results for them to adopt it; nobody was going to care about philosophical niceties about methodological naturalism and the like if this were the case. But the simple fact is that doing this is going to require that ID be capable of generating a hypothesis of its own (not just “not natural, therefore designed”) and delivering, either implicitly or explicitly, the epistemology by which the hypothesis can effectively be tested.

Over the years, I have proposed tests of Demsbski’s “explanatory filter/design inference”. Jeff Shallit and I have an article on challenges for ID advocates in the latest Reports of the National Center for Science Education (taken from our longer paper) that outlines specific things they can do to demonstrate that they have a research program, rather than just the “bare possibility” of some future research program. Unfortunately, “testing” seems to be something that ID advocates only approach in the vaguest and inept manner seemingly possible. Witness Demsbki’s “inductive generalization” argument for the reliability of his “explanatory filter/design inference”, which falls squarely into the confirmationist fallacy Popper so clearly exposed as inadequate. This argument of Dembski’s has been in his oeuvre since the mid-nineties, and still graces his latest book, The Design Revolution, and is notable primarily because is it so completely bogus. No matter how many “confirming cases” Dembski might accummulate for his “inductive generalization” (and it must be noted that the number thus far is 0 (zero, zilch, nada), none of these could in any case be said to “test” reliability in that they would be, in principle, unable to explore whether a false positive case could be generated.

Repeating from my second post on this blog: To actually test his methodology Dembski and other ID advocates would have to examine cases where we had biological systems with a sufficiently detailed evidential record that even the ID advocates would agree beforehand that natural causes were sufficient to explain their development. Only then would running them through Dembski’s “explanatory filter/design inference” place the EF/DI at hazard of showing a “false positive” result. I suggested that Dembski and his comrades at the (then) Discovery Institute Center for Renewal of Science and Culture concentrate upon systems like the impedance-matching system of the mammalian middle ear and the Krebs citric acid cycle, which exemplified complex systems for which biologists have accumulated a strong set of empirical data concerning their development.

To P.Z. Myers – sorry you couldn’t find the means or the time to make a more intelligent response to my statements. Seeing how they are culled from various arguments made by other people of sound learning about whom one can also assert (with near apodictic certainty) never to have indulged hallucinogentic substances, there is thus no legitimate, rational basis for you to belittle in the manner you do the arguments I presented. I would have expected better from you.

Bob: “As far as I can tell, he’s saying that because there is no legitimate way to test Intelligent Design, it follows that your rejection of ID without testing it is ipso facto an apriori rejection of it. On the other hand though, if you were to test it - in the process ignoring the fact that there is no way to test it - your rejection of it would then be an aposteriori rejection, and perfectly acceptable. Or have I missed something?”

Joe: “Exactly correct! Finally, someone (almost) gets it. The only thing I would change is that you seem to think that I find only a posteriori rejections “acceptable.” That’s not necessarily the case. I’m not (again, at least at this point in the argument) claiming that there is anything wrong with making certain a priori assumptions. My problem is in confusing them with a posteriori ones.”

Ed: “If it can’t be tested, isn’t any conclusion about that hypothesis “prior to testing it”? Since you never get to the point of being able to test it, you never get to any point past “prior to testing it”.”

Joe: “Well, as a matter of fact, yes. That is precisely my point. If you don’t have a way to test it then you either (a) must reject it on an a priori basis or (b) come up with some way to test it.”

Ed: “I’m assuming by “theory” you mean “possible explanation”, not the scientific meaning of the term, which requires that it be testable before it qualifies for the term.”

Joe: “I am, of course, using the common meaning. There are often numerous “theories” bandied about that aren’t (at least presently) testable (i.e, the multiverse theory).”

Lots of apples and oranges going on here I think, Joe. You defend ID, which depends on untestable supernatural causes, as a valid Scientific theory, until you’re pressed, at which point you shift to the “common meaning” of theory to continue your argument. Let’s stay on the same page.

Let’s readdress ‘a priori” and “a posteriori,” and Scientific theories. In order to have any standing as a Scientific theory, a hypothesis must be testable. It would seem to me that this then is the first, threshold, test - or “filter,” to use Dembski - that must be applied. By your own admission, ID is not testable. ID is therefor rejected ipso facto and “a posteriori” - not “a priori” as you claim - as having any claim to Scientific validity at this point. If and when ID proponents devise valid tests and publish repeatable results, that may change. Whether or not you concur, it is my position that ID proponents bear the responsibility of devising those tests.

Dembski’s “rebuttal” of Miller’s flagellum paper doesn’t seem to be much of a rebuttal to me. Miller shows the flagellum to be not IC, and Dembski then tries to redefine IC. For the record, would you mind providing, as concisely and precisely as possible, your working definition of the concept?

I continue to find it amusing and dishonest that ID proponents restrict their claims to those areas where questions or gaps in knowledge remain. It’s like watching a row of dominoes. Y’all frantically try to stay ahead of the game by coming up with new objections to evolution, while all the while those objections fall one by one behind you as the ever increasing body of scientific knowledge takes its toll. We all look forward to an attempt on your part to present positive evidence for ID, rather than continual carping about what is still eing learned. As a related observation, I’ve been intrigued by the possible role played by Hox genes in claimed irreducibly complex systems.

As usual, you don’t understand what I’m arguing at all. My contention that some scientist reject certain theories on an a priori basis doesn’t require me to invoke ID at all. While I’ve attempted to answer as many points about ID as I’m able (I’m certainly no expert on the subject) it really doesn’t have anything to do with the gist of my main argument. It is simply an amusing digression.

But the only thing you’ve shown here, Joe, is that scientists reject “a priori” theories that can’t be tested. And the definition of “a priori” you seem to be using is “prior to testing”. The obvious response is “Well, DUH”. Yes, scientists reject theories that can’t be tested without testing them. They reject them without testing them because - stop me if I’m going too fast here - they can’t be tested. We’ve challenged you to come up with ways to test ID; you’ve failed to do so. You say you still believe that it is, but you can’t or won’t tell us how it can be done. But I’ll give you a clue here - you don’t convince scientists that a theory is sound by withholding the means of testing it. You convince them that it is sound by testing it, publishing the results for your peers, making the data available and engaging in a discussion on the merits of that work. IDers have all of that except, well, all of it. They skipped right over the testability part. Ergo, they’re not taken seriously as a scientific matter. They are taken seriously as a political matter, of course, because they’re pushing for the inclusion of ID in science classrooms without bothering with that silly testing thing.

So yes, congratulations, you have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that scientists don’t bother to test ideas that can’t be tested. With any luck, you’ll also be able to prove such breathtakingly obvious assertions as “scientists are human” and “scientists ingest food”. When you have a means of testing ID, come back and let us know what it is. Until then, you are merely babbling.

God knows why, but I’ve read nearly all of these comments. I’ve really got no idea what Joe means by ‘apriori’. It seems to me that his big idea is this:

  1. If it hasn’t been deductively proven that p, then anyone who believes that p is doing so for apriori reasons.

  2. It hasn’t been deductively proven that apparent design can be explained by natural mechanisms.
  3. Therefore, anyone who believes that apparent design can be explained by natural mechanisms is doing so for apriori reasons.

Valid, but premise 1 is false. So false it’s hard to know how anyone could believe it, both because (logic and math aside) science isn’t in the business of deductive proof, and because it makes hay of the traditional notion of apriority, which is something like ‘justifiable without appeal to experience’, not ‘believed without deductive proof’.

Joe, et. al. I guess a Masters in Philosphy from UC Berkley should help me out here but… The “a priori” and “a posteriori” terms have taken on a new definition here.

A priori knowledge is testable. All you need is reason. The backbone of science right? Your evolutionist/ID scientist may be able to see and describe his quixote windmillls but still not be implementing reason. And, btw, don’t for a second think that b/c a published (whatever the hell that means) scientist has a body of sympathetic voices, it mean that the claims are in fact true.

Any and all “a priori” based arguments for an evolutionary cosmology theory inherently provides support for intelligent design. All “a posteriori” claims in these arguments merely need to be reevaluated to be placed in an ID structure for origins. It seems to be that an “a priori” preponderance of the evidence is sufficient to keep ID theories in the minds and hands of scientists. To deny this claim is to reveal a certain preference of our a priori windmills. Godel himself showed the ability for “a priori” analytic calcualtions to allow one to arrive at conclusions that can’t be proven, that lie outside the system. Should they then be ignored? No, of course not. Particularly when you have various anecdotal and verifiable accounts of supernatual events.

What did Steven WEinberg respond with when asked what happened before the big bang? “I don’t know.” A posteriori of course. The best “a priori” argument is going to say “The ordering of the universe.” Peace. PLP Any and all misspellings are the fault of this editor which failed to provide a spell check utility. ;)

Patrick Leonardo wrote:

Godel himself showed the ability for “a priori” analytic calcualtions [sic] to allow one to arrive at conclusions that can’t be proven, that lie outside the system. Should they then be ignored? No, of course not. Particularly when you have various anecdotal and verifiable accounts of supernatual events.

The incompleteness theorems apply to collections of statements written in a purely formal language that are sufficiently large to contain the theory of Peano Arithmetic. It shouldn’t be missed that the rules of deduction are also assumed.

However, we don’t have the luxury of expressing the structure of the universe in a purely formal, analytical manner–let alone in a collection of sentences containing PA. The incompleteness theorems are a tempting analogy, but they simply do not apply here.

Incidentally, I would very much like to see an example of a “verifiable account of a supernatural event”. Even more useful would be a “verifiable experimental claim of intervention by an intelligent designer”, or something along these lines.

Just a comment from an infrequent visitor:

If non-falsifiable hypotheses are “not science,” why do origin-of-life (as opposed to evolution-of-life) speculations turn up in middle and high school science textbooks? You know what I mean — the “simple organic molecules formed when inorganic matter washed up on the side of an active volcano and was then struck by lightning” sort of thing. (I realize that I’m caricaturing the argument, but not intentionally; it’s just been a long time since I’ve looked at it.)

IIRC, a team of scientists managed to produce some simple organic molecules from inorganic molecules after a great deal of fussing about with temperature, relative proportions, and high-voltage shocks. The most that shows is that under some atypical conditions, such molecules might have been formed. I don’t see that it shows that they were formed that way; and, more to the point, I don’t see any way that the hypothesis could be falsified. We haven’t got the means to demonstrate that there were no active volcanos or electrical storms a few billion years ago. In fact, we have considerable evidence that there were.

So what was this hypothesis doing in my middle-school biology textbook, exactly, if unfalsifiable hypotheses aren’t science? (I hasten to add that it wasn’t presented as fact, or even as solid theory, just as “one idea” about how life might have originated. Still, it was the only such “idea” in the book.)

Perhaps a dumb question, but what does an ID scientist DO all day? How does one set up experiements or investigations into the hypothesis of intelligent design in the natural world? What is the ID research program? What would the NSF or other funding agencies be asked to fund? “I haven’t figured this out yet, therefore God” doesn’t count.

C. J. Colucci asked:

Perhaps a dumb question, but what does an ID scientist DO all day? How does one set up experiements or investigations into the hypothesis of intelligent design in the natural world? What is the ID research program? What would the NSF or other funding agencies be asked to fund?

I’ve wondered the same thing myself. I think Dembski has a non-teaching position at Baylor, so what does he do? Does he do research? Research what, exactly? How? Where does Baylor get the funding for Debmski’s work?

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Gödel’s theorem works for any formal system in which a theorem can refer to itself. One then constructs a would-be theorem G which states:

G is not a theorem

which is true, but which cannot be proven to be true inside that formal system. Gödel’s theorem may also be interpreted as a version of the Liar Paradox:

This statement is false

Peano’s axioms of arithmetic are:

1. Zero is a number. 2. Every number has a successor which is also a number. 3. Zero is not the successor of any number 4. Two numbers with equal successors are themselves equal. 5. Axiom of Induction. If a theorem is true for zero, and if the truth of it for any number also implies its truth for that number’s successor, then it is true for all numbers.

This yields the nonnegative integers; one can then define addition and multiplication by this number-successor approach, etc.

This is for those that think that “just you can’t see something or touch it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist” I too used to think this. But i have found evidence much greater: Faith. Physical evidence can be interpreted in so many ways. Just look at our court system, as lawyers are able to manipulate the evidence to fit their case. What is faith? Trusting in something unseen that you believe soooo strongly to be true, it becomes truth. If you don’t believe in faith, i must ask you this: Does your mom love you? Does you dad love you? Do you love your mom? dad? Wife? Husband? Best friend? Do they love you? think about it, if you answered yes to any of these questions, i must now ask you, Prove it. Show me proof of their’s or your love. Any physichal (can’t spell :p) evidence? Can you test love in a laboratory. YOu have faith in it. You can’t bottle love into a canister and see if it’s there, it’s something that deep down inside, you just know it exists.

I truly belive there is much more than just physical evidence in life. This world is a spiritual one of many feelings, dreams emotions etc. We are too complex to be explained in labs and by experiments by scientists. We are, children of God. A Heavenly Father that loves us more than we could ever imagine.

Sincerly

Clint James Luna

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by PZ Myers published on April 11, 2004 10:45 AM.

Last Word on Establishment (I Hope) was the previous entry in this blog.

The Privileged Planet Part 2: The failure of the ‘Design Inference’ is the next entry in this blog.

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