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Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Legal affairs had a recent 'debate club' topic of whether or not it is permissable to teach so-called 'intelligent design' in schools. It's very interesting, and I obviously suggest people read it (though it is, on some level, hair-splitting) - though I feel like this debate omits a fairly obvious point.

Most people (by which I mean, 'those who believe the establishment clause has merit in the first place') would agree that teaching a specific designer within the context of ID would be facially unconstitutional. That is, if you taught that Yahweh created the world in six days, it would result in some serious, Batman-style legal action. Yet ID advocates say that, as long as you remain impartial with respect to the creator, a school can teach the existance of the theory of ID. However, this impartiality is what makes it so bizarre, since it renders ID unteachable as a piece of a real science curriculum. Any cursory inquiry into the theory makes it unconstitutional, and the most blaringly obvious question that needs to be answered is the character of the 'designer,' and once you start down that path, you get into inherantly religious explanations. Or you refuse to explain.

Imagine applying a similar teaching style to, say, biology, where you tell a class of 9th graders that there exist divisions among the various animals and plants, but you can't actively tell them what the phyla and orders actually are. And frankly, it's not science. Even in the explanations that try to fit it into the mold of Baconian inquiry, there is a tacit acknowledgement that it is attempting to reach a certain conclusion and filling in the rest as they go. Even in the argument about the metascientific naturalism that his opponant presumes, the following exchange takes place:
Beckwith:"Many people claim that science is inexorably wedded to naturalism and that a non-naturalist account, such as ID, is a "science stopper" because there could always be a naturalistic answer that has yet to be discovered. But
such a view of science is unfalsifiable, for it is saying that we should never accept that the non-naturalist account is better than the naturalist account even if the arguments for the former are far superior to the latter. So, in principle, no evidence can ever falsify the naturalist component in this definition of science. But if falsifiability is a necessary condition for science, then this view of science must be rejected because it is unfalsifiable. However, if non-naturalist views could count against naturalist views, as you now seem to concede, this means that ID arguments cannot in-principle be excluded from the realm of science."

Laycock:Frank, you say I have set up a naturalistic model of science
that is itself nonfalsifiable. But it is easy to imagine how people might lose confidence in the naturalistic model of science. If science developed lots of gaps in its ability to explain natural phenomena, if science quit producing new knowledge that works, people would lose confidence in science. But this isn't happening, because the naturalistic model of science has worked so well for several centuries

While I feel like what Laycock responds with is sufficient, he's missing the larger error in Beckwith's remarks. The comment that "falsifiability is a necessary condition for science..." is the point of not teaching ID with evolution. The view that science and naturalism are conflated is definitional and a metastatement about science. Metastatements of this sort are not science, just as ID is not science. ID is, at its core, metaphysical - it takes a set of evidence (our inability to comprehend levels of complexity) and presumes that everything complex is understandable, and therefore, there must exist an 'intelligence' that understands it. It's that inductive step that damns ID, and makes it inappropriate for scientific discussion.

Intelligent Design movements seem to me to be a misguided backlash against the scientific fetish of the 50's that has continued until today. It is believed, largely without merit, that the solution to all things can be found via the rational, dialectic process. It is almost considered to be understood that the tools of science legitimize, and 'proof' is the gold-standard of any argument. Similar movements have sprung up among social scientists. The attempts at mathematizing the fields of psychology and sociology are laughable, as they deal with almost wholely unquantifiable phenomena (doing thesis research, I have come across suppsoed 'forumlas' like H + Z = B where 'H' is 'happiness.' I'm curious, is that measured in joules?). There's an almost universal reaction to percieved inequality, which is that groups, rather than seeking to attack the underlying presumptions that would render two things' valuations more accurate, they try to make the disadvantaged group, idea or theory more like the advantaged.

Look at newspapers. When television came along, it supplanted print as people's preferred method of finding out about current events, largely because it is faster to find out about a hurricane from CNN than the New York Times. The way newspapers tried to compete is to out-TV television. It didn't work, and circulation continues to fall for most papers. The publications that have done better are those that, rather than trying to dumb down, went the exact opposite way - magazines like The Economist and, of course, Legal Affairs, which tackled subject matter that is too complex for TV to effectively convey. Likewise, the fastest growing religions aren't the ones that try to keep up with science and out-science it. They're the ones that say, screw it, and focus on things like 'family values' and questions of conduct and morality. Their epistemology isn't conducive to scientific inquiry, and they need to get over it and realize that it doesn't make them inferior to science.

As an explanatory mechanism, religion doesn't do anything. Within, for example, a Judeo-Christian worldview, the only explicable actions are human action - sociology is the only thing that can be explained outside of God. That's why it's so baffling that Christians would want ID taught to their kids. Faith is antithetical to reason. And both sides would be the better to remember it.

cranked out at 11:31 AM | |

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