Saturday, December 24, 2005

If only we could take Intelligent Design seriously

An excerpt from something I posted in a mailing-list discussion of the Judge Jones's ruling on Intelligent Design in the Dover Panda Trial:

The problem with ID is that the ID movement presents it as a fairly mature and corroborated hypothesis, even a major theory, which it isn't. Worse, they are pretty clearly not going to let educators seriously explore that hypothesis scientifically. They have zero interest in that, and they're actually quite opposed to it.

If you did, you could and would scientifically disprove their notion of God. The Christian god is a scientific impossibility.

So their strategy is to push back the arbitrary boundary of what's "scientific" to include the core hypothesis of intelligent design, but to draw a line just the other side of that, so that you can't really critique the idea. That is exempt from scientific scrutiny, because it's magic, and science can't go there.

And that's cheating. The problem is not that the core idea of intelligent design is intrinsically unscientific. It's that if you're going to accept it as a scientific hypothesis, you can't exempt the alleged designer from rational scrutiny. People actually have explored some ID hypotheses scientifically (like directed panspermia) and they haven't gotten much traction for pretty good scientific reasons. Not because they're unscientific hypotheses, but because they're not the best available explanations. The ID movement wants to force ID into science, by an end run through education, and that's not how real science or education work.

If it weren't all about political feasibility and huge democratic pressures, I'd say, "make my day!" Let's bring intelligent design into biology, and take the vague theory and refine it into mutually exclusive families of clearer hypotheses. Each of which we analyze for explanatory power, corroborating and disconfirming evidence, and so on.

And in the process, we will show that the Christian concept of God is scientifically false---we can say with a fair degree of scientific confidence that there is no god much like the God they want.

But of course, that will never happen. They'd accuse us of violating their boundary between "science" and "religion," and taking a "religious" stance. (Well, anti-religious, and in a sense they'd be right on that.) If we said the truth, which is that scientists know orthodox Christianity to be scientifically false, we'd be lynched.

4 Comments:

Blogger M.C. said...


And in the process, we will show that the Christian concept of God is scientifically false---we can say with a fair degree of scientific confidence that there is no god much like the God they want.


I'm not a Christian, but I'd like to hear more about this.

How is the Christian God scientifically false?

Thanks!

5:09 PM  
Blogger havoc said...

They'd accuse us of violating their boundary between "science" and "religion," and taking a "religious" stance. (Well, anti-religious, and in a sense they'd be right on that.)

Wow... that's certainly different. I'm a Christian, and an engineer. I don't, and never have seen or understood there to be a boundary between "science" and "religion." I'm not familiar with this school of thought. Can you give me some more info on that school?

If we said the truth, which is that scientists know orthodox Christianity to be scientifically false, we'd be lynched.

Wow (again)! Really!? I am not aware of this happening. Maybe I just don't pay attention to the news, but I haven't heard about this. I know that "scientists" make claims of Christianity's "falseness" on a regular basis, but I haven't heard of any physical attacks on those making the claims. I am appalled! Furious! This is not acceptable! Those reacting in such a way should face the law.

Also, can you show me how Christianity is scientifically false? I have certainly never encountered any such evidence.

Thanks.

9:11 AM  
Blogger thoughtpimp said...

The main thing I meant was that if we take intelligent design seriously as a scientific theory, theological debates become scientific debates.

Most theological debates don't get anywhere, and in scientific terms, that means that the theories fail.

One way that theories can fail is by being internally inconsistent; another is by being inconsistent with observable facts, on any reasonably rational interpretation.

No leaps of faith are allowed---and especially no acceptance of outright contradictions as divine "mysteries." Theologies, it turns out, are generally bad theories in scientific terms. (Even most religious people implicitly agree with that, since their theologies disagree with each other.)

The most important way that the orthodox Christian theory of God fails is due to the Problem of Evil.

If there's a designer, he is either incompetent or evil by any reasonable standard. For example, the Designer is inordinately fond of beetles, and incredibly fond of parasites---most biological entities and species are parasistic. (Most parasites above the virus level have many parasites, even.)

And most biological systems are kludged in various ways---with many mis-designs of particular subsystems being patched, rather than fixed properly.

There is not one all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good Designer. There might be many limited, inattentive, or not-so-nice designers, and that becomes scientifically relevant if ID is taken as science---Western monotheism is far less credible than pagan polytheism, scientifically speaking.

That, of course, is not something supporters of ID generally want taught in schools; they'd conveniently draw a line and say that was theology, not science.

Here's an article from talk.origins on that subject
http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/postmonth/dec02.html

But it is what we would have to do, to take ID seriously as a scientific hypothesis. We'd have to formulate various more specific theories, including monotheistic good-God versions, monotheistic bad-God versions, etc.

And since we're not committing to religious interpretations, we'd have to cast all of those things in terms of powerful aliens of various sorts, which you might or might not call gods.

We'd also have to try to figure out what it would mean to call something a god vs. calling it a powerful alien and leaving it at that.

So, for example, we'd find that Q from Star Trek: the Next Generation is more scientifically plausible than Jesus Christ. He doesn't suffer from the Problem of Evil, because the theory doesn't claim that he's good.

Christian orthodoxy fails in various other ways as well. One is that faith in scriptures is demonstrably not a good way to arrive at truth; there are too many conflicting scriptures, and conflicts within scriptures. They demonstrably lead to various conflicting theories at every level of theology.

So, for example, some scriptures say there's one god, others say, three, and others say many.

And in trying to interpret these scriptures, theologians disagree on such basic things as how salvation works---is there free will, or is everything predestined? Can we achieve salvation through works, by grace, or what?

The inability of theologians to converge to a clear and consistent story within a few hundred years would matter a lot, if they were scientists. Even if they weren't hardasses about outright contradictions, it would suggest that there was something fundamentally wrong with the theory---the research program is going nowhere, and there's probably one or more fundamental errors at the core of it.

Scientists normally reject such theories, if only provisionally; they look for better theories.

That is why good scientists are overwhelmingly not orthodox theists.

12:58 PM  
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