Should Science Pursue Methodological Supernaturalism?

| 83 Comments

Paul Nelson offers his affirmative answer here. Over at EvolutionBlog I explain in some detail why he’s totally wrong. Enjoy!

83 Comments

I was actually going to comment on it over on IIDB - since Paul so blatantly equates ‘intelligent design’ with ‘supernatural design’. He’s the kind of person who does the DI incredible damage by making it so clear that this is all about God.

I think the biggest reason that ID (the movement) as opposed to ID (the concept) will never get anywhere is the one that Lenny has pointed out: they simply can’t stop themselves from making it obvious that this is all about God.

And then, after posts like that one, folks like Dave Scot claim that it’s entirely scientific.

Humbug, I say!

A snippet from Nelson’s essay, in which he describes the reaction of Prof. Howard Stein to a paper than Nelson wrote for him in graduate school (emphasis in original):

I had struggled for pages to show that design was a genuine empirical possibility. Stein was quite impatient with this approach. In the tiny and precise hand that filled the margins of any paper one gave him, Stein wrote that I had merely labored to establish what Russell (and anyone else thinking clearly) had already conceded, namely, that design was indeed possible. Get on with it, Stein urged. What’s the evidence?

Not a word from Howard Stein about the necessity of methodological naturalism.

Maybe I’m just impatient, but I can never muster that much interest in the angels-on-pinheads preoccupations of philosophers. It seems to me that the excerpt from Nelson’s essay says all that needs to be said. I would happily use methodological supernaturalism in scientific experiments. I would consult the Magic 8 Ball, submit my hypotheses to a Ouija board, read chicken entrails, or cook up a pot of spaghetti and wait for enlightenment from a Noodly Appendage–

IF any of these methods led me to accurate, empirically verifiable statements about the objective world.

Sometimes I feel that these philosophical squabbles over the definition of science actually help the antievolutionists to create a smokescreen– that they distract everyone from the points that really matter. Perhaps I just lack a sensitivity to the importance of philosophy. I dunno. But I want to say to Paul Nelson, “No problem. Use whatever methods you want to. If you can come up with some way of discovering facts about the natural world, and we can verify that it works as well as methodological naturalism, I’ll be first in line to shake your hand. But you have to demonstrate that your methods work, OK?…

“What’s that? You can’t show that methodological supernaturalism works? …Well, what the dickens are you complaining about, then?”

Because naturalism – the ultimate causal sufficiency of autonomous physical laws – might be false. The best way to discover its actual strength, therefore, is not to assume naturalism’s truth without challenge, but to let other contenders into the field of play. Ordinary testability is more than enough as a ground rule for science.

Unless one wants to win, no matter what the evidence. In that case, make methodological naturalism an in-principle stricture on scientific reasoning.

Rig the game, in other words.

How does the non-bold text follow from the bold text? I would make the student rework that paragraph. I would ask for specific examples. I didn’t find anywhere in the essay the argument for the point he concluded with.

Here’s mine:

I like ice-cream. I like peanut butter. Therefore, Fundies are stupid.

But I want to say to Paul Nelson, “No problem. Use whatever methods you want to. If you can come up with some way of discovering facts about the natural world, and we can verify that it works as well as methodological naturalism, I’ll be first in line to shake your hand. But you have to demonstrate that your methods work, OK?…

One more time, just for Paulie:

The scientific method is very simple, and consists of five basic steps. They are:

1. Observe some aspect of the universe

2. Form a hypothesis that potentially explains what you have observed

3. Make testible predictions from that hypothesis

4. Make observations or experiments that can test those predictions

5. Modify your hypothesis until it is in accord with all observations and predictions

NOTHING in any of those five steps excludes on principle, a priori, any “supernatural cause”. Using this method, one is entirely free to invoke as many non-material pixies, ghosts, goddesses, demons, devils, djinis, and/or the Great Pumpkin, as many times as you like, in any or all of your hypotheses. And science won’t (and doesn’t) object to that in the slightest. Indeed, scientific experiments have been proposed (and carried out and published) on such “supernatural causes” as the effects of prayer on healing, as well as such “non-materialistic” or “non-natural” causes as ESP, telekinesis, precognition and “remote viewing”. So ID’s claim that science unfairly rejects supernatural or non-material causes out of hand on principle, is demonstrably quite wrong.

However, what science DOES require is that any supernatural or non-material hypothesis, whatever it might be, then be subjected to steps 3, 4 and 5. And HERE is where ID fails miserably.

To demonstate this, let’s pick a particular example of an ID hypothesis and see how the scientific method can be applied to it: One claim made by many ID creationists explains the genetic similarity between humans and chimps by asserting that God — uh, I mean, An Unknown Intelligent Designer — created both but used common features in a common design.

Let’s take this hypothesis and put it through the scientific method:

1. Observe some aspect of the universe.

OK, so we observe that humans and chimps share unique genetic markers, including a broken vitamin C gene and, in humans, a fused chromosome that is identical to two of the chimp chromosomes (with all the appropriate doubled centromeres and telomeres).

2. Invent a tentative description, called a hypothesis, that is consistent with what you have observed.

OK, the proposed ID hypothesis is “an intelligent designer used a common design to produce both chimps and humans, and that common design included placing the signs of a fused chromosome and a broken vitamin C gene in both products.”

3. Use the hypothesis to make predictions.

Well, here is ID supernaturalistic methodology’s chance to shine. What predictions can we make from ID’s hypothesis? If an Intelligent Designer used a common design to produce both chimps and humans, then we would also expect to see … ?

IDers, please fill in the blank.

And, to better help us test ID’s hypothesis, it is most useful to point out some negative predictions — things which, if found, would FALSIFY the hypothesis and demonstrate conclusively that the hypothesis is wrong. So, then — if we find (fill in the blank here), then the “common design” hypothesis would have to be rejected.

4. Test those predictions by experiments or further observations and modify the hypothesis in the light of your results.

5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until there are no discrepancies between theory and experiment and/or observation.

Well, the IDers seem to be sort of stuck on step 3. Despite all their voluminous writings and arguments, IDers have never yet given ANY testible predictions from their ID hypothesis that can be verified through experiment.

Take note here — contrary to the IDers whining about the “unfair exclusion of supernatural causes”, there are in fact NO limits imposed by the scientific method on the nature of their predictions, other than the simple ones indicated by steps 3, 4 and 5 (whatever predictions they make must be testible by experiments or further observations.) They are entirely free to invoke whatever supernatural causes they like, in whatever number they like, so long as they follow along to steps 3,4 and 5 and tell us how we can test these deities or causes using experiment or further observation. Want to tell us that the Good Witch Glenda used her magic non-naturalistic staff to POP these genetic sequences into both chimps and humans? Fine —- just tell us what experiment or observation we can perform to test that. Want to tell us that God — er, I mean The Unknown Intelligent Designer — didn’t like humans very much and therefore decided to design us with broken vitamin C genes? Hey, works for me — just as soon as you tell us what experiment or observation we can perform to test it. Feel entirely and totally free to use all the supernaturalistic causes that you like. Just tell us what experiment or observation we can perform to test your predictions.

Let’s assume for a moment that the IDers are right and that science is unfairly biased against supernaturalist explanations. Let’s therefore hypothetically throw methodological materialism right out the window. Gone. Bye-bye. Everything’s fair game now. Ghosts, spirits, demons, devils, cosmic enlightenment, elves, pixies, magic star goats, whatever god-thing you like. Feel free to include and invoke ALL of them. As many as you need. All the IDers have to do now is simply show us all how to apply the scientific method to whatever non-naturalistic science they choose to invoke in order to subject the hypothesis “genetic similarities between chimps and humans are the product of a common design”, or indeed ANY other non-material or super-natural ID hypothesis, to the scientific method.

And that is where ID “theory” falls flat on its face. It is NOT any presupposition of “philosophical naturalism” on the part of science that stops ID dead in its tracks —- it is the simple inability of ID “theory” to make any testible predictions. Even if we let them invoke all the non-naturalistic designers they want, intelligent design “theory” STILL can’t follow the scientific method.

Deep down inside, what the IDers are really moaning and complaining about is NOT that science unfairly rejects their supernaturalistic explanations, but that science demands ID’s proposed “supernaturalistic explanations” be tested according to the scientific method, just like every OTHER hypothesis has to be. Not only can ID not test any of its “explanations”, but it wants to modify science so it doesn’t HAVE to. In effect, the IDers want their supernaturalistic “hypothesis” to have a privileged position —- they want their hypothesis to be accepted by science WITHOUT being tested; they want to follow steps one and two of the scientific method, but prefer that we just skip steps 3,4 and 5, and just simply take their religious word for it, on the authority of their own say-so, that their “science” is correct. And that is what their entire argument over “materialism” (or “naturalism” or “atheism” or “sciencism” or “darwinism” or whatever the heck else they want to call it) boils down to.

There is no legitimate reason for the ID hypothesis to be privileged and have the special right to be exempted from testing, that other hypotheses do not. I see no reason why their hypotheses, whatever they are, should not be subjected to the very same testing process that everyone ELSE’s hypotheses, whatever they are, have to go through. If they cannot put their “hypothesis” through the same scientific method that everyone ELSE has to, then they have no claim to be “science”. Period.

I tried to make a trackback to this article on my blog but apparently I can’t. (My fault, not the result of a sinister plan to silence Dave Scott)

Anyway, It’s pretty tangential to the way you are looking at it so I decided to try it out over there where you can be ruder if you want. (I don’t delete any comments unless I want to. As opposed to DS who does it because he is compelled to.) AtBC isn’t opening for me so that was my only avenue.

http://brainwashedgod.blogspot.com

Lenny,

Brilliant. As usual.

However, the Flying Spaghetti Monster delivered another hot meal to my house, via Correli’s and my “a priori” prediction is that it will be delicious, but missing a breadstick which has been observed previously.

Ramen

methodological supernaturalism??

Isn’t that the study of Ghostbusters?

why oh why do they cling to this crap.

does it make them sound smart to the illiterate, or what?

Lenny wrote:

“It is NOT any presupposition of “philosophical naturalism” on the part of science that stops ID dead in its tracks —- it is the simple inability of ID “theory” to make any testable predictions. Even if we let them invoke all the non-naturalistic designers they want, intelligent design “theory” STILL can’t follow the scientific method.”

Quite right, so it would be good if our side of the debate would stop insisting that science presumes naturalism or some apriori conception of nature, as all too often happens. For instance, the National Academy of Science says in “Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science,” p. 58:

“Science is a way of knowing about the natural world. It is limited to explaining the natural world through natural causes. Science can say nothing about the supernatural. Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral.”

And the National Science Teachers Association says (also in “Teaching About Evolution…,” p. 124):

“Because science is limited to explaining the natural world by means of natural processes, it cannot use supernatural causation in its explanations. Similarly, science is precluded from making statements about supernatural forces because these are outside its provenance. Science has increased our knowledge because of this insistence on the search for natural causes.”

As Lenny points out, science *isn’t* limited to the consideration of natural causes or phenomena, since it can test any proposed hypothesis. ID fails as science not because it’s supernatural, but because it generates no testable predictions.

Science doesn’t assume a pre-existing natural world separate from the supernatural that gets identified on extra-scientific or philosophical grounds. Rather, science is in the business of providing transparent, unified, evidence-based and intersubjectively testable explanations of phenomena. In so doing, science identifies phenomena that end up playing well-confirmed roles in such explanations, and these end up *constituting* what we call nature. So science doesn’t presume naturalism; it isn’t, as the Kansas Board of Education says in its revisions, “driven by a naturalistic preconception.” And since science is metaphysically neutral it doesn’t need to be “balanced” by requiring the consideration of supernatural causes. It need only consider hypotheses that have sufficient empirical content to be testable.

ref: “On the integrity of science” at http://www.naturalism.org/science.htm#integrity

Let’s Make Science Stupid. That’ll even things out

hey Tom!

how’s it going over at naturalism.org? I’ve referred several folks there who have found the site quite informative.

cheers

Lenny wrote:

“It is NOT any presupposition of “philosophical naturalism” on the part of science that stops ID dead in its tracks —- it is the simple inability of ID “theory” to make any testable predictions. Even if we let them invoke all the non-naturalistic designers they want, intelligent design “theory” STILL can’t follow the scientific method.”

Quite right, so it would be good if our side of the debate would stop insisting that science presumes naturalism or some apriori conception of nature, as all too often happens.

Do you mean PHILOSOPHICAL naturalism, or METHODOLOGICAL naturalism?

Science uses one. Science ignores the other. They are not the same.

Tom, Thank you for a providing yet another view (and a useful link). I’m trying to grasp the current status of ideas around science and naturalism, so this is helpful, especially as wikipedia isn’t since it seems onesided.

I must say that your idea of methodological naturalism as a natural (hep!) consequence of the scientific method feels… natural. It even follows actual history.

The next consequence in line with your idea is that we can use discovered general conservation laws (on energy and probability) as a falsifiable test for nonnatural causes. I see that Lenny mentions some specific cases, where these or different tests are done.

But far better seems to be that one in principle can test a massive amount of different simple systems (mostly chemical ie EM and gravitational ie GR long range forces). This ‘sieve’ would let one conclude in a common manner once and for all that the best first order theory is that nonnatural (including the not defined supernatural) stuff doesn’t exist.

Then anyone who wants to falsify the theory outside these experiments would have to come up with another test - which is impossible since you can’t make a real theory on supernatural causation without some observations as guide.

I’m sure the feasibility of such a naive idea is debated somewhere on naturalism.org. Do you have any pointers?

Another crazed meathead swinging Occam’s Hammer If you follow that link, from the PT archives, it’s funny to note that the same week’s offerings include Nelson’s famous No Duh moment “what ID lacks is a theory.”

There’s nothing new with creationism, ever.

I previewed and everything, but that link won’t hunt. http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives[…]_c.html#more

I sent the following message back to [Enable javascript to see this email address.]. They probably won’t post it anywhere, but at least I feel better about telling them how stupid I think this article was.

Paul Nelson and other ID creationism proponents fail to see the difference in testable aspects of “Special Creationism” and the supernatural actions of ID creationism. Nelson notes that Darwin proved the theories of special creation false, bragging that these theories were testable. What ID creationists do not recognize is that difference between testing a scientific hypothesis, such as “the immutability of the species”, and testing a supernatural hypothesis, such as “god created the universe with light from distant stars already on its way to earth.” Some people have a hypothesis that heaven exists. Is this a scientific hypothesis or a supernatural hypothesis? If it is scientific, can we see heaven in a telescope? Until Nelson and other ID creationists see the difference they will continue only in proving their ignorance.

Edwin Hensley Louisville, KY

Tom Wrote:

Quite right, so it would be good if our side of the debate would stop insisting that science presumes naturalism .…

Is so! Is not! Stow it. This is a routine case of arguing over (unstated, for added fun) definitions or word usage, while pretending to dispute facts. The word ‘supernatural’ is often used as a stand-in for ‘untestable’ and/or an argument from ignorance. As you know, when something regarded as supernatural becomes testable and predictable, it doesn’t seem supernatural anymore.

It’s entirely useless to make the hypothesis that “life is designed” and leave it at that–what does the hypothesis explain? If Darwin had simply said “life has evolved” we wouldn’t be any better informed. Rather, we have a theory of evolution that is a set of specific explanatory mechanisms. Where are the explanatory mechanisms of Intelligent Design? “Goddidit” and “poof” just don’t suffice.

Where does Nelson explain how methodological supernaturalism (or Incredible Design, or whatever name you wish to apply to “magic”) brings about the results we see in the world about us? Would any of those mechanisms be testable by the methods of science, or are we looking at a magical basis, with magical mechanisms, where a magician not only “designs” the cosmos but “poofs” this and “poofs” that, until the universe is complete and the magician is all tuckered out and retires?

Science does not rule out phenomena as potential subjects for investigation. It also does not put constraints on what may be part of nature – obviously our understanding of what nature is has constraints, but our understanding can be wrong.

Science is perfectly capable of examining pixies, domovoi, angry leprechauns, ghosts, vampires, vengeful mummies, unicorns, alien Greys, gremlins, and Eskimos. If any of those things exist, however, they are necessarily part of the natural world.

Nature is an all-inclusive category. The side effect of retaining such an open mind about the possibilities of the real is that anything defined as being supernatural is automatically unreal.

Star Trek’s Q, while possessing powers far beyond human comprehension, is a natural entity. The Bible’s Yahweh is supposedly not a part of nature, and as such is incapable of the many acts of intervention in the natural world attributed to it.

Speaking only for myself, I’d just *love* for theists to admit that the question of whether deities exist is examinable with the scientific method.

I was moved to state this plainly because of this bizarre post up at IDtheFuture, written by Paul Nelson. I say bizarre because the arguments he is making are so bad that it is simply impossible to accept that Nelson really believes what he is saying.

Paul Nelson is a YEC. He might has well have a bumper sticker on his Pontiac Aztek which reads “I (heart) Batshit Insanity”.

Jason Rosenhouse Wrote:

I say bizarre because the arguments he is making are so bad that it is simply impossible to accept that Nelson really believes what he is saying.

Maybe if such scattered comments get repeated enough, people will start to at least consider them instead of automatically assuming, with no basis, that all anti-evolutionists honestly believe what they say.

Jason Rosenhouse Wrote:

Maybe I’m just a closed-minded skeptic…

Is that something like an honest politician?

steve s Wrote:

Paul Nelson is a YEC.

If you mean he peddles YEC, I agree, even though he does a lot more “don’t ask, don’t tell” than, say, AIG. But if he really believes that nonsense he should have no problem challenging Behe’s “old earth, common descent” position as often, and with as much passion as he devotes to evolution.

If you ask me, there’s only one reason that IDers go off on the “naturalism” tangent. They know that they have no scientific alternative to evolution.

He was working under a Guggenheim fellowship to write his book The Creationists (which will soon be re-issued in an updated edition from Harvard, with material on intelligent design), and wanted to gather as many primary sources as possible.

So, on Tuesday, October 18, 1983, Ron showed up at my apartment in Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania, and spent the morning huddled over piles of old paper at a table in the living room.

They don’t care anymore. They admit that it’s creationism.

Does that mean the game of cricket is thereby impossible – with no foul lines?

Of course not. It’s just not the same game as baseball. That should alert you to a defect – and not a minor one – in the view of methodological naturalism as an historically contingent convention (a rule) that by dint of its necessity now defines science in principle. Rules change, depending on the game being played, and even within the same game, participants may suspend or adopt a rule, given new circumstances. (I’m old enough to remember the NBA before the 3 point shot and the American League before the designated hitter.)

This is what creationists do the most. They make awful analogies that don’t really fit and assume they’ve made a convincing argument. The sad thing is, some people will be quite satisfied with that explanation.

B. Spitzer suggests laboratory apparatus where [he] “would consult the Magic 8 Ball, submit my hypotheses to a Ouija board, read chicken entrails, or cook up a pot of spaghetti and wait for enlightenment from a Noodly Appendage—“

Does this require special lab facilities, similar to the early days of DNA cloning which required special containment facilities? Would a department have to build a “core” facility to hold this type of equipment and distribute the costs of operation? Security at such a core facility would be an issue since operation of this sort of equipment could lead to horrible accidents, burns from hot water, pirate attacks, food poisoning from uncooked chicken, so that its location would be kept secret. Access would be strictly limited to those working in this supernatural research facility (SNRF). The facility would have to be located someplace safe and isolated from other campus buildings. Perhaps underground in a bunker facility similar to the Vice President Dick Cheney’s secret bunker. This would protect the facility and researchers from:

1. Other intelligences who might get wind of the goings on and show displeasure with thunderbolts or other such nasty retributions. 2. Other researchers who are still wed to methodological naturalism and are bound to protest this departure from standard scientific practices. 3. Animal rights groups who would protest the inhumane treatment of chickens.

From its undisclosed location, SNRF could begin to change the current paradigm by quietly providing researchers access to equipment and methodologies not available to the wider scientific community.

An unforeseen problem arises with other competing intelligences and as other biological disciplines begin to vie for the use of a single SNRF facility. As mentioned above, measures must be taken to prevent other intelligences from discovering the SNRF facility. But even its underground location is no guarantee that SNRF will remain secret. As the peer reviewed literature begins to blossom with papers using SNRF equipment and methods, other intelligences and biological disciplines will discover its existence and eventually its location. This could give rise to a pantheon of intelligences each coupled to specific biological disciplines and utilizing different intelligence specific methodologies.

While the short term gains resulting from the initial competition of different intelligences would increase our scientific knowledge about biology in general, long term benefits are doubtful. As competition among the various intelligences produced advances in different biological disciplines, various intelligences might find easier methods to increase their individual status and promote advances in their supporting biological disciplines by sabotaging other disciplines. Inhibiting advances in other disciplines would lead to an overall slowdown in advances in the growth of our understanding of the natural world.

Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

The scientific method produces results. If Paul Nelson and his amchair army of laymen, lawyers, engineers, and philosophers, have a new method which can produce results, they have it all to themselves for the time being. And they have millions of dollars in funding. Therefore they should be publishing breakthrough after breakthrough. But they don’t. And that set of circumstances doesn’t make sense, as long as you assume their method works.

I say we need to challenge ID people. Maybe this has been brought up before.

They must OFFICIALLY deny Biblical Creationism.

We must openly challenge William Dembski, Michael Behe, The Discovery Institute, etc. to issue an official statement denying the plausibility of Noah’s Flood, Flood Geology, Catastrophic Plate Techtonics, a 6000 year old Earth, all of it.

If they don’t we can say that they indeed embrace Biblical Creationism.

If they do, which they won’t, they’ll alienate their financial base, which consists of Biblical Creationists.

Until these people deny the utter implausibility of Biblical Creationism, there is no alternative but to categorize these ID people as Biblical Creationists.

Really, I’d love for them to come out and officially deny it and start to lose funding and eventually go away.

Jason, I’ll second that.

The problem with the “it doesn’t produce results” card is that to these theocrats, it does produce results, viz., one can see the place of theism in one’s world view, and then procede to beat people with it like a stick.

As for naturalism, I have argued for a long time that metaphysical naturalism is methodological naturalism and vice versa. Either that or methodological naturalism is inconsistent.

Short version: once you admit there could nonlawful events, then at any given time you have no reason to not suppose that patterns “suggested by” your life, scientific experiment, whatever, are at the whim of whatever it is that is nonlawful (god, for example). Hence, science (and indeed, common sense every day life) is impossible on a consistent lawful worldview, whence metaphysical naturalism (better, some form of materialism sensu Bunge) is the only consistent metaphysics.

Of course, humans can believe six impossible things before breakfast, so the mere existence of people who are otherwise than the above conclusion would suggest is not so surprising.

The’ll never take you guys up on your challenge. It would ruin them. Well, ruin them more.

I have an hypothesis about celebrity creationists like Dembski, Behe, etc. etc. Their whole careers and - in most if not all cases - livelihoods depend upon their never conceding, no matter how obviously wrong they are. There’s no danger that their real target audience will call them on it.

But with Nelson, it may go beyond that. Here it’s not just his career, it’s also the family heritage. If creationism is revealed as the hoax that it is, it’s not just Paul, it’s Dad and the whole proud Nelson tradition of being on the cutting edge of backwardness. I’m no expert on it, but I believe cultural anthropologists can testify to the widely cross-cultural power of ancestor worship.

Of all the comments on this thread those by Lenny Flank seem to be the closest to how I see the matter in question. I also largely agree with Jason Rosenhouse’s ideas as expressed in his post on his blog (with one difference - see below).

While Lenny Flank may be not familiar with my book Unintelligent Design where there is a whole chapter dealing with definitions of science, the legitimacy of the supernatural as a subject of scientific inquiry, etc., Jason is certainly familiar with it, as he has published a review of my book in Reports of NCSE. (Btw, the text of that chapter is available online, see here.)

Likewise, the question of MN as the science’s way to approach problems has been discussed in a chapter, co-authored by Matt Young and myself, in Why Intelligent Design Fails (and our thesis there is quite close to Lenny Flank’s).

The difference between my and Jason’s interpretation of the point about the “2” as the power of the distance between two masses subjected to gravitational force is as follows: Jason’s explanation for choosing “2” instead of, say, 1.99999999 or 2.0000001 is that “2” is the simplest choice and a simplest choice is always preferable. I am not sure that d2 is indeed “simpler” than, say, d1.99999999 except for taking less space in the text, which is hardly a defining requirement. I think perhaps both Newton (for gravitation) and Coulomb (for electric force) chose “2” because they believed in a “Creator” whose thinking must be similar to that of humans. If a human were creating a law of gravitation or of electric interaction, he would choose “2” rather than, say, 1.99999999, as the most beautiful choice best fitting the orderly universe, as having no bias toward either the lower or the higher values than the apparently middle point among the imprecisely measured values. Their choice happened to be justified by the further progress of science, when the concept of a “field” entered science. To justify “2” rather than any other close number, we need only one assumption - that the space is Euclidean, which is eminently reasonable. In an Euclidean space, the force of either gravitational or electric field is decreasing with the distance from the source of the field (either a point source, or a spherical one) proportionally to the squared inverse distance, because it spreads over a spherical surface, whose area is proportional to the squared distance from the source. This is a simple geometric fact. Hence “2” is the only possible choice and, say, “1.999999” would not do regardless of the precision of the measured data.

I apologize for referring to my publications; while it may perhaps be chalked up to the vanity of an old curmudgeon, maybe some visitors find there some food for thoughts.

Hunter S. Thompson observed: “No point in mentioning these bats, I thought. Poor bastard will see them soon enough.”

And Nidaros concluded: “I guess Paul Nelson expects us to see those bats too.”

Bat gods (intelligence) are known from Central America, the pacific north west, and Samoa.

This would appear to be a step toward recruitment of the first intelligence for a SNRF. I’m not sure what area of biology a bat intelligence would support but perhaps an aspect of applied microbrobiology since caves have been proposed as a unexplored resource for new antibiotics and are also study sites for nonphotosynthetic based ecosystems.

A small intelligence, interacting with a limited area of a single discipline will certainly lead to jealously when other intelligences are supported by broader areas of biology. This will certainly lead to disputes between biologists and different intelligences in the pantheon over the relative merits of each area of research.

Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

“Re: comment 89287 by Torbjorn Larsson. I am sorry to admit that I don’t see where your notions disagree with my comment.”

I was unclear, sorry. What I meant was that if the experiments had given an inverse exponent close to 2.5 for example, perhaps some superposition of scalar and (many weak) quadrupolar fields could have been used.

[Of course, when classical particles/charges comes along that is awkward. With QFT and/or gauge theories it may be impossible.]

However, it was close enough to 2 so simplicity of description originally made it the most feasible, especially considering what William describes, and I agree that Gauss law clinched the case as you described.

“This leads away from the thread’s topic, so I’ll stop here.”

Off topic, agreed. Thanks for your comments!

To Keith Douglas and William Emba (commments 89345 and 89351). Thanks for the interesting information. Since the fire that consumed most of my house, including my library, I have almost no books at hand to check anything I think I remember. I had on a shelf an English edition of Principia (which converted into ash on January 11) but I never got to re-reading it, and the last time I read it (in a Russian translation) was some sixty plus years ago. It is a sad fact that many things one used to be interested in, get forgotten: in the early fifties I authored an article on the application of Tricomi equations for a certain problem of stress computation, and recently, prompted by an email request from some young guy, I tried to remember the chain of thoughts in it, but utterly failed - the details disappeared from my memory. Cheers!

To Mark Perakh

I am sorry to hear about your house fire. It has never happened to me, but it has to persons close to me, and it is a trauma no one should have to face.

In contradiction to some commentators here who say that ID can make no testable predictions, it seems to me that the ID conjecture that life is “irreducibly complex” and that its origin is a singular event unexplicable in terms of known natural laws DOES have a falsifiable test in principle. If, say, by the year 2500, astronomers have examined 20,000 extra-solar planets of similar size, temperature, and chemical composition as the planet Earth, and NONE of these have any life, then that would be evidence that the origin of life on Earth was a highly improbably, perhaps singular event. If, on the other hand, life is found on Mars, or Europa, or anywhere else, and especially if that extra-terrestial life had a different genetic code, uses a different set of amino acids, … that would contradict the “singular-event-engineered-by-intelligent-designer” hypothesis of ID. Right now the jury’s still out on this one.

Even if the original of life were shown to be a singular event, it would just join a roster of other singular events and other foundational issues not easily understood in terms of methodological naturalism. Others might include the origin of the universe, the origin of physical laws, the role of elegance (Mark’s inverse square law example) in physics, the apparent cosmological fine tuning, etc. etc. Methodological naturalism by definition looks for regular patterns in multiple observations to establish empirical “laws” which can be broadly applicable to a wide range of phenomena, and cannot handle singular events very well. At the present time, we can only observe one example of a planet with life and one example of a universe. At that point, science ends and philosophy begins. Whether one “solves” the problem by postulating multiverses, one God, many gods, one is introducing a huge number of extra degrees of freedom not constrained by observation. These are all philosophical accomodations, not science. Theists (like myself) may find a more comfortable fit between one God, our moral values and what we accept about the historicity of the Bible or other holy books, but this is a philosophical/religious position which I would not want to be taught as science in the science classroom, lest someone with a different philosophical/religious position starts doing the same in my children’s science classroom.

Stan wrote In contradiction to some commentators here who say that ID can make no testable predictions, it seems to me that the ID conjecture that life is “irreducibly complex” and that its origin is a singular event unexplicable in terms of known natural laws DOES have a falsifiable test in principle. If, say, by the year 2500, astronomers have examined 20,000 extra-solar planets of similar size, temperature, and chemical composition as the planet Earth, and NONE of these have any life, then that would be evidence that the origin of life on Earth was a highly improbably, perhaps singular event. If, on the other hand, life is found on Mars, or Europa, or anywhere else, and especially if that extra-terrestial life had a different genetic code, uses a different set of amino acids, … that would contradict the “singular-event-engineered-by-intelligent-designer” hypothesis of ID. Right now the jury’s still out on this one.

Good post Stan, but don’t you think that if life was found on other planets that the ID people can just say “goddidit” anyway? This is the reason I think ID cannot be falsified, because no matter what, the super natural entity can just be invoked as an explanation. They can also just claim (with no proof) that the new life forms are IC and carry on with their rantings like they currently do.

I agree that finding other life forms might weaken the ID case, but even so they will move the goal posts and focus on other “gaps”.

Of course, all theists believe as a foundational principle that “God did it” in the sense that God is the ultimate creator and sustainer of the universe. Where theistic evolutionists differ with ID and creationists is that TE’s accept that God can work through natural laws as the mechanism, whereas ID and creationists don’t accept the adequacy of “natural law” and point to gaps as evidence of the creator. That’s ironic considering that the Christian roots of science were the belief that the Creator acts in comprehensible and consistent ways (laws of science), and now the creationists seem to agree with the atheists that natural laws are atheistic and it is the apparent gaps in science (where God presumably works in incomprehensible and inconsistent ways) that shows the existence of the Creator!

Although some die-hard Biblical literalists would always want to say “goddidit” as a mechanism for as much as possible, I think that the discovery of widespread life in the universe would convince even people like Behe that it is not irreducibly complex, but just complicated enough that we haven’t worked out all the mechanisms yet. But the sword cuts both ways: if life is shown to be singular, then that will be another singular event that will pose a challenge to methodological naturalism.

if life is shown to be singular, then that will be another singular event that will pose a challenge to methodological naturalism.

How.

Posted by ‘Rev Dr’ Lenny Flank on March 26, 2006 11:43 PM (e)

if life is shown to be singular, then that will be another singular event that will pose a challenge to methodological naturalism.

How.

Methodological naturalism assumes repeatability. It can’t really deal with observations of singular events (assuming that the events are genuinely singular), nor with foundational questions. So if life is shown to be unique to Earth, and not present anywhere else on the 20,000 other earth-like planets, one could either attribute it to a wildly improbable set of circumstances that has never re-occured anywhere else in the galaxy, or factors outside the realm of science as we know it. It’s a philosophical choice at that point, not one that science can answer. By a challenge to methodological naturalism, I meant reaching a boundary beyond which the technique of methodological naturalism alone can give no further answers. That doesn’t mean one can’t speculate about possible extensions to “science” and “natural” to “explain” the singular event, but if real science has predictive power, I don’t see how you could make a prediction about future behaviour if the event is truly singular. Similarly, invoking the “cosmological anthropic principle” to explain the fine tuning in cosmology and physics doesn’t really have any predictive power, and I would consider that to be a philosophical accomodation of the facts, not science. Very interesting philosophy, but still not science.

The ID position does not offer alternative models, either of biological structures and processes or of cosmological structures and processes.

Here is, I propose, an analogy more apt than baseball:

If you are not allowed to make an entry in a dog show, you might: (1) complain that the admission rules are arbitrary, (2) accuse the people who enforce the rules of being biased, (3) claim that all of the other dogs have defects, and (4) say that the other entrants are telling lies about you.

Any or all of these things might be true, but few people will take you seriously if you haven’t actually brought a dog to show (even if you think that a dog is a pathetic detail or if your entry is not that kind of dog show entry.)

stan Wrote:

Methodological naturalism assumes repeatability. It can’t really deal with observations of singular events (assuming that the events are genuinely singular)

False. All events are singular, unique in space and time. Methodological naturalism copes with them quite well.

Methodological naturalism assumes repeatability.

How.

So if life is shown to be unique to Earth, and not present anywhere else on the 20,000 other earth-like planets, one could either attribute it to a wildly improbable set of circumstances that has never re-occured anywhere else in the galaxy, or factors outside the realm of science as we know it.

The pattern that got burned into my toast this morning is singular and unique, and has never occurred anywhere else.

Is it the product of a wildly improbable set of circumstances that has never re-occurred anywhere else in the galaxy, or is it the result of factors outside the realm of science as we know it.

Time for a song;

The Monty Python ‘Galaxy Song’ from “The Meaning of life”

Tap tap tap …and 2,3,4

Whenever life gets you down Mrs. Brown And things seem hard or tough And people are stupid, obnoxious or daft And you feel that you’ve had quite enough… Just, remember that you standing on a planet that’s evolving And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour It’s orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it’s reckoned A sun that is the source of all our power The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see Are moving at a million miles a day In an outer spiral arm at forty thousand miles an hour Of the galaxy we call the Milky Way Our galaxy itself, contains a hundred billion stars It’s a hundred thousand light years side-to-side It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick But out by us it just three thousand light years wide We’re thirty thousand light years from galactic central point We go round every two hundred million years And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions in this amazing and expanding universe The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding In all of the directions it can whiz As fast as it can go, the speed of light you know Twelve million miles a minute and that’s the fastest speed there is So remember when you’re feeling very small and insecure How amazingly unlikely is your birth And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space Cause there’s bugger-all down here on Earth

Paul Nelson Wrote:

The Creationists (which will soon be re-issued in an updated edition from Harvard, with material on intelligent design)

How can a book titled The Creationists be updated with material on Intelligent Design?

Paul Nelson Wrote:

I cited the atheist Bertrand Russell’s favorable gloss of the design argument (the only argument for God’s existence Russell thought had any merit)

The Design argument is an argument for God’s existence?

Those poor, poor ID/Creationists. They can’t play because the rules don’t let them. While I was growing up, all the kids in the neighborhood would get together to play games. We wanted to play baseball, but we didn’t have the regulation field described in the rules. We didn’t have the fancy equipment, or umpires, or enough players for nine on a team. Little did I know that instead of making do with broomsticks and tennis balls and ghost runners, we should have whined, cried, and protested about how unfair the rules of baseball were and how they excluded us a priori. Like sheep in an elitist baseballistic slaughterhouse, we never demanded our spot in the big league playoffs, and accepted their champion even though they had never played our teams. We never decried how the major publications refused to publish our stats without even looking at them, and yet automatically published the big league stats no matter how badly some of those teams played. Looking back, I realize what dupes we were - keep fighting the good fight Paul Nelson.

stan Wrote:

Methodological naturalism assumes repeatability. It can’t really deal with observations of singular events (assuming that the events are genuinely singular), nor with foundational questions. So if life is shown to be unique to Earth, and not present anywhere else on the 20,000 other earth-like planets, one could either attribute it to a wildly improbable set of circumstances that has never re-occured anywhere else in the galaxy, or factors outside the realm of science as we know it.

So you are saying that scientists who studies the crash of comet Shoemaker-Levy into Jupiter weren’t really doing science? Just some kind of bizarre comet philosophy?

Also, could you speculate just what the factors outside the realm of science would be in this case? Some kind of supernatural sporting event maybe?

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Comment #89408

Posted by stan on March 26, 2006 08:51 PM (e)

If, say, by the year 2500, astronomers have examined 20,000 extra-solar planets of similar size, temperature, and chemical composition as the planet Earth, and NONE of these have any life, then that would be evidence that the origin of life on Earth was a highly improbably, perhaps singular event. If, on the other hand, life is found on Mars, or Europa, or anywhere else, and especially if that extra-terrestial life had a different genetic code, uses a different set of amino acids, … that would contradict the “singular-event-engineered-by-intelligent-designer” hypothesis of ID.

That’s pretty funny because they infinite capacity for denial and reconstructing the universe in their self-image and they’ll just “poof” you and rattle off some explanation about God making life on Mars, or whatever specious rationalization that they can come up with at the drop of a hat…

You can’t stop a zealot’s desire, and the conclusion “life is designed” is exactly that.

“In contradiction to some commentators here who say that ID can make no testable predictions, it seems to me that the ID conjecture that life is “irreducibly complex” and that its origin is a singular event unexplicable in terms of known natural laws DOES have a falsifiable test in principle.”

Renier shows why “creation” is in principle unfalsifiable.

“Irreducible complexity” and “complex specified information” have problems too. Not surprising, since they are arguments from incredulity.

“Irreducible complexity” has the same unfalsifibility problem as “creation” when applied; every time a purported “IC” system has been proved to be partly explainable, the goal post has been moved. But in principle it can be falsified, I agree; and it has already become so. There seems to be systems of interacting computer agents that has produced systems from simpler parts that are very hard to reduce without loosing its new function.

“Complex specified information” has apparently never been successfully defined.

“Whether one “solves” the problem by postulating multiverses, one God, many gods, one is introducing a huge number of extra degrees of freedom not constrained by observation.”

I don’t agree.

For big bang, the specific models we choose between either don’t go back to the presumed singularity in a big bang (like inflation), or go back indefinitely (like selfreproducing inflation). Here “origin” is both an unmotivated and unobserved constraint.

For life, evolutionary processes like generation, variation and selection already exists in the prebiotic chemistry, and selfreplication mechanisms have been proposed that work there before genetic material made it faithful. So while it may be very hard to define life and then point and say “life started here”, it is easier to observe these processes. Again, “origin” is an unmotivated and possibly unobserved constraint.

freelurker Wrote:

Any or all of these things might be true, but few people will take you seriously if you haven’t actually brought a dog to show (even if you think that a dog is a pathetic detail or if your entry is not that kind of dog show entry.)

Have we learned nothing from Futurama? Maybe their dog is just invisible. ;)

Should Science Pursue Methodological Supernaturalism?

Sure, why not? Aren’t some scientists (or at least some people playing scientists on TV) trying to develop actual METHODS for detecting supernatural phenomena? (Of course, all they’ve done so far is debunk and disprove allegations of supernatural phenomena, but hey, it’s something.

How can a book titled “The Creationists” be updated with material on Intelligent Design?

By changing the title to The Cdesign Proponentsists, of course. What a silly question!

You can’t be 41710 serious?!?

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This page contains a single entry by Jason Rosenhouse published on March 24, 2006 7:30 PM.

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