The Three Prisms for Science

Over at Telic Thoughts, Bilbo continues to insist that ID is science by stressing “the fact that in the not so very distant past, ID was considered science in the field of biology.”

There are three prisms by which we might perceive science – philosophy, history, and sociology.  From the philosophical prism, people try to come up with some ideal and abstract definition of science, but this effort has failed, as no one has generated a definition that has become universally embraced.  As such, there are lots of personal definitions of science and I see them all the time all over the place.  I myself stand in the tradition of Jacques Monod, who wrote:

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.”

It is my view that, in the final analysis, all design inferences must appeal to this intuition and that an ultimate reliance on a subjective judgment call is not science.  Since we have been conditioned by a culture of scientism, many people find this to be a very bitter pill to swallow (What?  Science is not the road to Truth?!).  Me?  I simply recognize this as another limitation of science – if life was designed, the design would exist within the blind spot of science.

As for the historical prism, I just don’t see how this angle can be used to determine whether or not an inquiry is science today.  It’s a simple fact that throughout history, things change.  For example, I would not argue that I should be considered a citizen of England because I would have been considered a citizen of England had I lived where I live 250 years ago.   Or consider the simple fact that today you cannot be a doctor or even a hairdresser without the appropriate licensure.  In other words, doctors and hairdressers from 200 years ago would not be considered doctors and hairdressers today.  Things change.

So look at it this way.  The philosophy prism gives us abstract notions of what science ought to be, the historical perspective tells us what science used to be, but it is the sociological perspective that describes what science is in the present.  As such, science is a human expression – it is something a group of people do.  To do science, you don’t tell the group what is and is not science.  If it is science, the group with embrace and incorporate it.  To do science, you don’t tell the group what their ancestors did.  If it is science, they will see you doing what they do.

In other words, if you think you are doing science, it is not for you to say.  The group that practices the craft called science gets to say.  So when I point out that ID is not science, it’s not that much different from pointing out an election result.  Maybe it’s not fair, maybe it’s not right, but that’s the way it is.

If you want to change the situation, it will not help to come up with arguments about science.  It will not help to complain or get mad.  It will not help to come up with a political solution.  It will not help to naysay and nitpick the positions of the scientific community.

There is only one way to change things – you must make the scientific community jealous of what you have. Bilbo was probably right when he argued that the scientific community would embrace SETI if they discovered ETI.  The scientific community would want to share in that discovery and take part in further analysis, to receive even more of a share in the discovery.  If the ID community was making discoveries that made the rest of the scientific community jealous, things would change.  But coming up with a dozen different ways to tell the scientific community that their approach is a failure and that they need to start acknowledging there are certain phenomenon that can never be explained by natural processes will never make the scientific community jealous.

It just annoys them.

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16 responses to “The Three Prisms for Science

  1. Hi Mike,

    Yes! We have agreement. I’m perfectly willing to accept the socological view, that science is whatever the scientific community calls science. But that means you need to give up calling SETI not science. No one in the scientific community objects to SETI’s premise that if they find a certain kind of radio signal then they have good reason to believe that it is intelligently designed. They would say “Hogwash” to your non-subjective criterion.

    As to ID being science, again I agree with you. The ID movement’s concentration on proving gaps is likely to have little effect on getting accepted as science. They must produce positive evidence. And I think you’ve shown them the way: explore Rationality and Foresight.

    So instead of insisting that you are not doing science, why don’t you just say that what you are doing won’t be considered science for now, and therefore you won’t call it science.

    I can agree with that position. But if you’re going to insist that it never should be considered science, then our war will continue.

  2. No one in the scientific community objects to SETI’s premise that if they find a certain kind of radio signal then they have good reason to believe that it is intelligently designed.

    You keep putting the cart before the horse, Bilbo. That is not SETI’s premise. No one can make any meaningful suggestion as to what an alien “smoke signal” might look like. Some hope and expect that alien civilisations exist and that they may attempt to communicate (not necessarily with us, maybe just amongst themselves) using electromagnetic radiation. There is no harm in looking for signals. If and when we find something (which will be a real phenomenon) that will be the moment for speculation and hypothesizing about whether the signal indicates an intelligent source.

  3. Alan, I’m afraid you have no real understanding of SETI.

  4. BTW Bilbo

    Did you get my point at Biologos about pulsars and the fact that there was originally speculation that the first observed pulsar signal might be an alien civilisation?

  5. Alan, I’m afraid you have no real understanding of SETI.

    *chuckles*

  6. So Mike, do we have a basis for a peace agreement?

  7. Alan,

    SETI is looking for narrow-band radio signals, since

    1) There is no known natural cause for them.

    2) It would be just like the radio signals we send.

    3) It would make sense to send narrow-band signals, since it takes less energy.

    If they found such a signal, it would be taken as reasonable to suspect it was from ET. If the signal contained additional information, such as a mathematical signal, and was coming from a planetary system, that would pretty much cement it as designed.

    But there would be NO INDEPENDENT evidence of ET.

  8. Hmm. No answer from Mike. I guess the war goes on. I’ll have a post up on subjectivity in science, soon.

  9. Hi Bilbo,

    I have always said that my views are, at best, a nascent proto-science which means, by definition, they are not science. Whether or not they ever become science is not for me to say. It’s not an important issue for me.

    As for subjectivity, don’t forget the human mind has a history of mistakenly reading itself into reality. There was, after all, no Face on Mars. To put that tendency into science, you’d need some very powerful controls to prevent false positives from going wild. And I don’t see any.

  10. Mike: Whether or not they ever become science is not for me to say.

    Yes, it’s not for you to say.

    It’s not an important issue for me.

    OK.

    As for subjectivity, don’t forget the human mind has a history of mistakenly reading itself into reality. There was, after all, no Face on Mars. To put that tendency into science, you’d need some very powerful controls to prevent false positives from going wild. And I don’t see any.

    Ah, what finally sounds like a legitimate objection. Let me think about this one.

  11. OK, here’s what I’ve come up with. First, the scientific community is very unlikely to call ID science, unless it produces a very good track record. Second, anytime some theory is accepted as scientific, there is always the danger of false positives. If Behe is right, then neo-Darwinism is full of false positives. So yes, there would always be the danger of false positives for ID. If some scientists think there are enough of them, and they suspect some other hypothesis is better, some day they’ll write the “Non-Design Matrix.”

  12. It is my view that, in the final analysis, all design inferences must appeal to this intuition and that an ultimate reliance on a subjective judgment call is not science.

    What do the people who make the inference that the observed design is illusory appeal to?

    What methodology did they use to make tat determination?

    As for positive arguments for ID that would make the non-IDist jealous- Alternative (gene) splicing, transcription and translation with proof-reading and error-correction.

    All that requires knowledge just as spellchecker requires knowledge.

  13. I still get caught up in this type of argument even though I know it is a short-sighted one.

    The question isn’t one of “Is this science or is that science?”

    The question is:

    Should scientists be allowed to reach a design inference (for whatever it is they are investigating) if that is what the scientific data warrants?

    Scientists doing science- people doing science- collect the pennies and add them up-> it is what it is.

    The best way to refute any given design inference is to demonstrate that nature, operating freely, can account for it.

    Remove the requirement for a designer.

    IOW the anti-ID people hold the cards-> meaning if Dr Behe went into a lab and designed a bacterial flagellum it wouldn’t be positive evidence for ID.

    However if he went into a lab and demonstrated a bacterial flagellum could evolve from a population that never had one via blind, undirected chemical processes, then he would have falsified the design inference for any structure of that complexity- he said that.

  14. Alan Fox:

    Did you get my point at Biologos about pulsars and the fact that there was originally speculation that the first observed pulsar signal might be an alien civilisation?

    The Press Alan- The Press made that speculation, not the scientists.

  15. The Press made that speculation, not the scientists.

    Joe, much as I respect your abilities in rooting out the truth, I have to go with Jocelyn Bell’s personal recollection on this one. 😉

  16. Can anybody tell me- pretty please- what methodology was used to determine the observed design is illusory?

    Or is this some super-top secret formula?

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