[I’ve combined all the recent science/design entries together to make it easier to read. However, I did not have the time to thoroughly edit, so some parts might seem a little repetitive and awkward.]
A portion of Douglas J. Futuyma’s textbook Evolution is available on the web – the chapter that describes natural selection and adaptation. The NCSE describes Futuyma as the “Distinguished Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.” In other words, he is a highly respected, mainstream evolutionary biologist. His textbook (the linked chapter is from the second edition) is a widely used, mainstream text on evolution which was reviewed by dozens and dozens of other scientists. While it may seem trivial to point this out, we will soon see it is a very important consideration.
I want you to consider a key excerpt from the text, entitled Design and mechanism:
The complexity and evident function of organisms’ adaptations cannot conceivably arise from the random action of physical forces. For hundreds of years, it seemed that adaptive design could be explained only by an intelligent designer; in fact, this “argument from design” was considered one of the strongest proofs of the existence of God. For example, the Reverend William Paley wrote in Natural Theology (1802) that, just as the intricacy of a watch implies an intelligent, purposeful watchmaker, so every aspect of living nature, such as the human eye, displays “every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which exists in the watch,” and must, likewise, have had a Designer.
Supernatural processes cannot be the subject of science, so when Darwin offered a purely natural, materialistic alternative to the argument from design, he not only shook the foundations of theology and philosophy, but brought every aspect of the study of life into the realm of science. His alternative to intelligent design was design by the completely mindless process of natural selection, according to which organisms possessing variations that enhance survival or reproduction replace those less suitably endowed, which therefore survive or reproduce in lesser degree. This process cannot have a goal, any more than erosion has the goal of forming canyons, for the future cannot cause material events in the present. Thus the concepts of goals or purposes have no place in biology (or in any other of the natural sciences), except in studies of human behavior. – (p. 282; emphasis not added).
Let’s pull out the key point to make it crystal clear:
This process cannot have a goal, any more than erosion has the goal of forming canyons, for the future cannot cause material events in the present. Thus the concepts of goals or purposes have no place in biology (or in any other of the natural sciences), except in studies of human behavior.
- the concepts of goals or purposes have no place in biology
- evolution cannot have a goal
- the future cannot cause material events in the present
These are ground rules, folks. The rules of science.
Science, and biology, cannot incorporate any concept that assigns a goal or purpose to evolution; that thinks the future helps us understand the past. To incorporate such concepts, by definition, renders your inquiry non-science as it violates the very rules of science.
Some might be tempted to dismiss this statement as the opinion of Futuyma, but that will not work. As I noted then, Futuyma is a mainstream scientist who has written a mainstream science text used in mainstream colleges and universities all over the world being promoted by a mainstream science organization. And I can tell you that the vast, vast majority of people using and learning from this text book will be college students who are majoring in biology. In other words, those who are being trained to become scientists.Futuyma is not offering his own idiosyncratic views. He speaks for Science. It is not his rule. He speaks for Science.
That is why biologist Jerry Coyne, from the University of Chicago, recently and independently spells out the same rule:
Either way, such a view completely violates the scientific presumption (and evidence) that evolution is a purely materialistic and unguided process — a process without a goal or, indeed, any determined outcome.
But any injection of teleology into evolutionary biology violates precisely the great advance of Darwin’s theory: to explain the appearance of design by a purely materialistic process — no deity required.
If we’re to defend evolutionary biology, we must defend it as a science: a nonteleological theory in which the panoply of life results from the action of natural selection and genetic drift acting on random mutations.
That is why in 1995, Nobel laureate Christian De Duve’s adhered to the same rule in his approach to origins:
I have tried to conform to the overriding rule that life be treated as a natural process, its origin, evolution, and manifestations, up to and including the human species, as governed by the same laws of nonliving processes. I exclude three “isms”; vitalism, which views living beings as made of matter animated by some vital spirit; finalism, or teleology, which assumes goal-directed causes in biological processes; and creationism, which invokes a literal acceptance of the biblical account.”[Vital Dust, p. xiv]
That is why forty years ago, another leading scientist outlined the same rule.
The cornerstone of the scientific method is the postulate that nature is objective. In other words, the systematic denial that “true” knowledge can be got at by interpreting phenomena in terms of final causes – that is to say, of “purpose.”…… It required the unbending stricture implicit in the postulate of objectivity – ironclad, pure, forever undemonstrable. For it is obviously impossible to imagine an experiment which could prove the nonexistence anywhere in nature of a purpose, of a pursued end.
But the postulate of objectivity is consubstantial with science; it has guided the whole of its prodigious development for three centuries. There is no way to be rid of it, even tentatively or in a limited area, without departing from the domain of science.
That’s why the rule was invoked in a book review of in mainstream science journal ninety years ago.
But the adoption of Mr. Quevli’s would interfere with the business of men of science. It would be a hindrance to research. They will, therefore, continue to deal with cells without ascribing any intelligence to them. For the purpose of research, science must be mechanistic. But at the same time, it is well to remember that the mechanistic view sees only one side of evolution. From a philosophical point of view, it is quote possible that the whole universe might be interpreted in terms of intelligence just as well as in terms of chemistry and physics.
That why Eugene Koonin felt the strong urge to defend his controversial paper by pleading with his peer reviewers he was not, NOT, NOT proposing teleology.
The concepts of goals or purposes have no place in biology.
Now, at this point it is natural to react by arguing the rule could be dropped or changed. In other words, science could have developed without the rule or science could one day discard the rule. Those are interesting points to ponder, but that route completely misses the more interesting feature of the rule.When people attempt to challenge the rule, and its importance to the biological sciences, they are engaged in philosophy. In other words, they basically argue, “While the rule exists, we need to question whether it ought to exist.” That is the route of endless argument that sooner or later, could very converge with the route of socio-political agenda (given the authority role our culture has assigned to science).
I suggest a different route, a different perspective. Instead of looking at the rule from the perspective of a philosopher, try to see it from the perspective of a sociologist. The American Sociological Association defines sociology as follows:
Sociology is the study of social life, social change, and the social causes and consequences of human behavior. Sociologists investigate the structure of groups, organizations, and societies, and how people interact within these contexts. Since all human behavior is social, the subject matter of sociology ranges from the intimate family to the hostile mob; from organized crime to religious cults; from the divisions of race, gender and social class to the shared beliefs of a common culture; and from the sociology of work to the sociology of sports. In fact, few fields have such broad scope and relevance for research, theory, and application of knowledge.
When people talk about science, they often talk as if it is an other-worldly entity that looks in and pronounces its judgments – “Science says,…” “Science has shown,…” “According to Science….” Yet science is a human expression. If the infamous asteroid that failed to kill off the dinosaurs means no humans would have come into existence, it also means no science would have come into existence.
Since science is clearly an example of human behavior, then we can think of the rule not as some idealized conception in the realm of philosophy, but as a shared feature of the group of people who practice science – scientists. And science is what scientists do.
As Dan Berger writes:
Science is what scientists do.
This is not an evasive answer. In fact, Michael Polanyi, who was a successful physical chemist, defined science as a guild in which masters train apprentices to the point that an apprentice is able to phrase and pursue scientific problems on her/his own. What qualifies as a scientifically interesting problem is then defined by the judgement of practicing scientists. Science is a social construction of scientists, who jealously guard the perceived accuracy of each others’ results by constant questioning and correction.
This is a very key point. Scientists do not learn about science by taking courses in the philosophy and/or history of science. In fact, I’ll bet most never took any such coursework. Scientists learn about science from other scientists, precisely as Polanyi describes. As such, they don’t learn the rule as part of a list of Science Rules. They learn the rule from mimicking the behavior and approach of their mentors. It is passed down, generation after generation.
So let’s pause for a moment to take this all in.
One is certainly free to argue about the legitimacy or need for the rule. You’ll get lots of different, even thought-provoking, opinions from different people because it’s a question about what science ought to be.
But when it comes to a description of science, the science that studies life and evolution, there is very little room for differing opinion, because it’s a question about what science is. That is, if you step back to survey biology, the rule is in place because it is among the very things that bind the community. Remember, communities are bound by shared values, shared goals, and shared rules. Take away the rule (and with it, the shared goals and values), and you have taken away a foundation for the community.
Let’s now turn to why it is that the rule exists in science. We can understand why the rule exists as a feature of science when we make another sociological observation about science:Without independent evidence of the designers, science has no method to evaluate and determine whether or not something was designed.
When we look to science to identify the disciplines that do have methods to evaluate and determine whether or not something was designed, they invariably rely on a large set of independent evidence about the designers. Thus, as a matter of simple sociological observation, we find science has no method to evaluate and determine whether or not something was designed when it has no independent knowledge of the designers to work with.
So why is it that science requires such independent knowledge of the designers? At this point, let’s go back and consider one of the first entries to this blog. I am convinced that Jacques Monod has spelled out the essential aspect of any design inference:
Hence it is through reference to our own activity, conscious and projective, intentional and purposive-it is as makers of artifacts-that we judge of a given object’s “naturalness” or “artificialness.”
And as I commented at the time:
A reference to our own activity is an appeal to subjective knowledge. And maybe it is simply not possible to make such judgments without accessing this subjective element. After all, recognizing design may indeed be akin to recognizing another mind. For how do we recognize other minds if not by recognizing what they design?
This would explain why science has never come up with an objective method for detecting the existence of design. We cannot truly measure the conscious, projective, intentional and purposive activity of the mind, yet as Dan Berger notes, “crudely speaking, that’s what scientists do: number, weigh and measure.” Since measurement is the foundational aspect of objective knowledge and science, it would mean that science cannot ever truly detect design.
So there you have it. Since design originates as part of a conceptual reality, as explained here and here, we are not going to be able to detect it objectively unless we already have knowledge about the putative designers. For it is the knowledge about the designers that gives us the objective anchor – something to measure, characterize, and then apply.
Let me sum it up. The rule exists because there is no way to objectively measure goals or purposes. A goal or purpose is only recognized subjectively – we all subjectively have goals and purposes and act on them, so we can recognize it when others act accordingly. But of course, we also have a tendency to “recognize” goals and purposes when they don’t exist in other minds. And that’s a big problem.
In order for a telic inquiry to be science, it needs a way to a) objectively detect purposes and goals and b) control for the fact that we can see purpose when no purpose exists and don’t see purpose when purpose does exist. Since we have neither, science cannot detect design without independent knowledge about the designers.
Take the hypothesis that evolution was designed. It is a reasonable hypothesis that has become increasingly plausible over the years (as I have shown). But it can really never rise to the level of science. To place this hypothesis in science, we would need controls. For example, we would need a planet A where evolution has been designed by designer X. We would also need a planet B, where it was independently known that the evolution occurred on this planet without any input from a designer.
If we had that information, planet A would serve as the positive control and planet B would serve as the negative control, with our planet being the unknown. We could thus takes the measured features of both planets and use that information to probe our planet to determine the degree to which our evolution was like that of planet A or B and proceed to make an objective case rooted in measurement.
But we will never have that information.
Without independent evidence and knowledge of the designers, science is unable to determine whether or not something is designed. How do we know this to be true?
1. Observation. Any scientific discipline that does determine whether or not things are designed (archaeology, forensic science) invariably relies on independent knowledge about the designers. The only single, plausible exception to this observation is SETI. But it is not clear that SETI is indeed science and it is clear that SETI has a track record of failure. Thus, SETI is not a serious exception.
2. Philosophy. Jacques Monod has spelled out the essential aspect of any design inference: Hence it is through reference to our own activity, conscious and projective, intentional and purposive-it is as makers of artifacts-that we judge of a given object’s “naturalness” or “artificialness.”
All successful design inferences have relied on this subjective dimension, which helps explain why science excludes teleology. Archaeology and forensics have developed as science because this subjective dimension is anchored in objective knowledge about the designers.
3. Experiment.You can test this position for yourself by asking any scientist the following question(s):
a. What would cause you to suspect that something in biology had been designed by non-human intelligence?
b. What would you count as evidence that something in biology had been designed by non-human intelligence?
When you do this little experiment, from experience, I predict you will get one of four possible answers:
i. A demand for independent evidence of the designers. This will simply confirm my point.
ii. A demand for something that cannot possibly be explained by evolutionary theory or natural law. This is not only an appeal to god-of-the-gaps, it is illogical, as any scientist should know that just because something is inexplicable does not mean it signals another mind.
iii. A vague demand for a “testable hypothesis.” This is an example of hiding the goalposts, as it deflects the question. Does anyone really believe a scientist would suspect design because another person came up with a testable hypothesis? Or that a scientist would consider someone else’s testable hypothesis as evidence for design?
iv. No reply. No need to comment on this one.
The reason why you will get these four replies is because without independent evidence of the designers, scientists have no method for determining whether or not something was designed. It’s just not part of science.
I have now spent some time nailing down what seems clear to me – without independent evidence of the designers, science has no method to determine whether or not something was designed, explaining why it is that the concept of purpose or goals has no place in science. Many will deny this. But if you can see this, then it is time for the next step.
What I have been outlining is a key limitation of science – in order for science to detect design, it requires independent information about the designer.
Without that information, science is blind to the possibility of design.
Meaning that if life and/or evolution was designed, science could not detect it.
We should pause and take that in before moving to the next step.
Earlier, I just pointed out that if life and/or evolution was designed, science could not detect it. It is the clear implication of the limitations of science we have discussed. Now, if you bristled at that conclusion and find yourself in disagreement, it is probably because you subscribe, consciously or subconsciously, to scientism.
So what is scientism?
PBS defines scientism as follows:
Unlike the use of the scientific method as only one mode of reaching knowledge, scientism claims that science alone can render truth about the world and reality. Scientism’s single-minded adherence to only the empirical, or testable, makes it a strictly scientifc worldview, in much the same way that a Protestant fundamentalism that rejects science can be seen as a strictly religious worldview. Scientism sees it necessary to do away with most, if not all, metaphysical, philosophical, and religious claims, as the truths they proclaim cannot be apprehended by the scientific method. In essence, scientism sees science as the absolute and only justifiable access to the truth.
This is not bad, but the author confuses things some by conflating science with the scientific method. We could get into that if you want, but let’s move to a better description as found in the Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics.
Scientism is a philosophical position that exalts the methods of the natural sciences above all other modes of human inquiry. Scientism embraces only empiricism and reason to explain phenomena of any dimension, whether physical, social, cultural, or psychological. Drawing from the general empiricism of The Enlightenment, scientism is most closely associated with the positivism of August Comte (1798-1857) who held an extreme view of empiricism, insisting that true knowledge of the world arises only from perceptual experience. Comte criticized ungrounded speculations about phenomena that cannot be directly encountered by proper observation, analysis and experiment. Such a doctrinaire stance associated with science leads to an abuse of reason that transforms a rational philosophy of science into an irrational dogma (Hayek, 1952). It is this ideological dimension that we associate with the term scientism.
If you place the natural sciences above all other modes of human inquiry, then the realization that science may be unable to detect design will be perceived as a threat, especially if you are using natural sciences as a foundation for your metaphysics. If science is supposed to support one’s metaphysics, then it will become essential to believe that science has no such blind spot. It will, in fact, infuriate you to think otherwise.
Let’s move on to the next part:
Epistemological scientism lays claim to an exclusive approach to knowledge. Human inquiry is reduced to matters of material reality. We can know only those things that are ascertained by experimentation through application of the scientific method. And since the method is emphasized with such great importance, the scientistic tendency is to privilege the expertise of a scientific elite who can properly implement the method. But science philosopher Susan Haack (2003) contends that the so-called scientific method is largely a myth propped up by scientistic culture. There is no single method of scientific inquiry. Instead, Haack explains that scientific inquiry is contiguous with everyday empirical inquiry (p. 94). Everyday knowledge is supplemented by evolving aids that emerge throughout the process of honest inquiry. These include the cognitive tools of analogy and metaphor that help to frame the object of inquiry into familiar terms. They include mathematical models that enable the possibility of prediction and simulation. Such aids include crude, impromptu instruments that develop increasing sophistication with each iteration of a problem-solving activity. And everyday aids include social and institutional helps that extend to lay practitioners the distributed knowledge of the larger community. According to Haack, these everyday modes of inquiry open the scientific process to ordinary people and they demystify the epistemological claims of the scientistic gate keepers. (p. 98)
I have never read Susan Haack before, but I should. It appears that her critique is the same one I have been making for at least a decade now. Read that paragraph over a few times and let it sink in.
The description then becomes even more thought-provoking:
The abuse of scientism is most pronounced when it finds its way into public policy. A scientistic culture privileges scientific knowledge over all other ways of knowing. It uses jargon, technical language, and technical evidence in public debate as a means to exclude the laity from participation in policy formation. Despite such obvious transgressions of democracy, common citizens yield to the dictates of scientism without a fight. The norms of science abound in popular culture and the naturalized authority of scientific reasoning can lead unchecked to a malignancy of cultural norms.
Whoa. Now it should start to become clear why it is that the Creationist Movement, the ID Movement, and the New Atheist movement are so strikingly similar – they all draw heavily from the well of scientism as they engage the culture. As I noted when I first started this blog:
This would mean that science can never detect design, even if it exists, as science cannot be built upon such a subjective foundation. And this is a bitter pill for many. Part of this is, of course, cultural. We have all been shaped by a culture that invests science with great authority. This becomes clear even in the realm of pop culture, where a late night TV ad for a new diet pill claims to have “scientific studies” showing it works. So everyone wants science to be able to resolve this issue and everyone wants science to be on their side.
The ID people will tell me, “But if your views are not science, no one will take them seriously.” The New Atheist people will me, “Since your views are not science, there is no reason to take them seriously.” Fine. Who cares? But don’t lose sight of the fact that embedded in such demands and complaints is a lack of respect for critical thinking and intellectually honesty. How so? Y’see, I don’t view critical thinking and intellectual honesty as valuable or important only if they can be absorbed by the cultural label ‘Science’ in order to get attention.
If open-ended curiosity, guided by critical thinking and intellectual honesty, is worthless to you because such inquiry is not science, then you embrace scientism. You are the product of your culture.
I’d like to draw your attention to an excellent article by Edward Feser who is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, CA. It is entitled Blinded by Scientism.
Feser begins by outlining scientism:
Scientism is the view that all real knowledge is scientific knowledge—that there is no rational, objective form of inquiry that is not a branch of science. There is at least a whiff of scientism in the thinking of those who dismiss ethical objections to cloning or embryonic stem cell research as inherently “anti-science.” There is considerably more than a whiff of it in the work of New Atheist writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who allege that because religion has no scientific foundation (or so they claim) it “therefore” has no rational foundation at all. It is evident even in secular conservative writers like John Derbyshire and Heather MacDonald, whose criticisms of their religious fellow right-wingers are only slightly less condescending than those of Dawkins and co. Indeed, the culture at large seems beholden to an inchoate scientism—“faith” is often pitted against “science” (even by those friendly to the former) as if “science” were synonymous with “reason.
Yes, people do commonly make that equation and yes, science is not synonymous with reason, as I clearly demonstrated here. While Feser goes on to refute scientism from the perspective of a philosopher, I’ve been trying to draw your attention to the manner in which scientism has illegitimately skewed the whole question of design in life.
The first obvious point is to get people to realize that when I acknowledge The Design Matrix is not science, this is not some admission that The Design Matrix is pure irrational fantasy, rooted in faith, and completely without any evidential support. On the contrary, there are now over 300+ substantive essays on this blog, in addition to the book itself, that show my perspective is both reasonable and plausible. And no one has shown otherwise.
Second, pay attention to this part:
How are we to reconcile this commonsense “manifest image” of the world with the quantitative “scientific image” (to borrow philosopher Wilfrid Sellars’ famous distinction)? The answer is that they cannot be reconciled. Thus the commonsense, qualitative “manifest image” came to be regarded as a world of mere “appearance,” with the new quantitative “scientific image” alone conveying “reality.” The former would be re-defined as “subjective” – color, sound, heat, cold, meaning, purpose, and the like, as common sense understands them, exist in the mind alone. “Objective” reality, revealed by science and described in the language of mathematics, was held to comprise a world of colorless, soundless, meaningless particles in motion. Or rather, if color, temperature, sound and the like are to be regarded as existing in objective reality, they must be redefined – heat and cold reconceived in terms of molecular motion, color in terms of the reflecting of photons at certain wavelengths, sound in terms of compression waves, and so forth. What common sense means by “heat,” “cold,” “red,” “green,” “loud,” etc. – the way things feel, look, sound, and so forth in conscious experience – drops out as a mere projection of the mind. The new method thus ensured that the natural world as studied by science would be quantifiable, predictable, and controllable – precisely by redefining “science” so that nothing that did not fit the method would be allowed to count as “physical,” “material,” or “natural.” All recalcitrant phenomena would simply be “swept under the rug” of the mind, reinterpreted as part of the mental lens through which we perceive external reality rather than part of external reality itself.
It is my position that because detecting design is akin to detecting another mind, the place to perceive (“detect”) design must reside among the “manifest image” of the world. I’ll try to explain this more clearly by walking through the four criteria of the Matrix. But if I am correct, then not only does it mean the Matrix can never rise to the level of science, it also means that science can never truly detect design, even if it exists.
In the comments section of a previous entry, chunkdz posed an excellent question to me. So let me use this opportunity to stand on my soapbox.
First, you are asserting that your approach is not science but simply “open-ended curiosity, guided by critical thinking and intellectual honesty”
But you simultaneously acknowledge Haack’s assertion that science is not limited to the scientific method but that it should include “everyday modes of inquiry”:
“…scientific inquiry is contiguous with everyday empirical inquiry. Everyday knowledge is supplemented by evolving aids that emerge throughout the process of honest inquiry. These include the cognitive tools of analogy and metaphor that help to frame the object of inquiry into familiar terms.”
Sounds like a description of your own Design Matrix. An “everyday mode of inquiry”, as the article says, which relies upon analogy, metaphor, and honest inquiry.
If Susan Haack says your approach is contiguous with scientific inquiry and therefore part of science – then why should you so vehemently disagree?
Yes, Haack’s description is very close to what The Design Matrix is all about and I am delighted that chunkdz sees this. But I don’t think she is saying science is not limited to the scientific method but that it should include “everyday modes of inquiry.” If she is, I am not. What I am saying, and I think she is saying, is that the scientific method is not limited to the domain of science as the scientific method is part of everyday modes of inquiry. That is, since we can all employ the scientific method in everyday modes of inquiry, we should not fall victim to the message of those who preach scientism – “Either your views are part of science and of great value or they are little more than subjective fantasy and of little value.”
So why is it that I do not consider my approach as part of science?
First, there is my inner Felix.
(the guy with the cigar goes by the screen name “Rock”)
Here’s my inner Felix layin’ down the law to science’s #1 blogger. What’s that? I’m not supposed to practice what I preach? I think not. Speculating about design in a book or on a blog no more rises to the level of science than Richard Dawkins arguing against the existence of God in a book or magazine article. I think we live in a society that all too often uses the word ‘science’ and ‘scientific’ in sloppy and reckless ways and this simply plays into the perpetuation of scientism. So I’m trying to do my part to tidy things up a bit
Second, as I have been pointing out for some time now, the ability to detect design entails a subjective judgment call, while science must be anchored in objective measurement. Consider, for example, the criterion of Rationality as laid out in The Design Matrix. I happen to think it is an important criterion that gets us closer to design than any of the popular Complexity arguments out there. The problem is that Rationality is subjectively perceived and cannot really be objectively measured. How would one measure rationality such that nearly everyone would come to the same conclusion about the rational content of any system? What would be the units of measurement for Rationality? Lepus? System X is likely to be designed because our Rationality-Meter scores it at 4.6 Leps? I don’t see it. Can rationality truly be housed in some reductionist framework? Again, I don’t see it.
If someone wants the Design Matrix to become science, they would need to come up with ways to objectively measure the four criteria. Until that is done, it’s simply not science. Of course, that does not mean the Matrix is useless and a waste of time. Only someone beholden to scientism would think that.