Friday, February 03, 2006

What is Science?

Popular treatments of the highly politicized controversy over Intelligent Design and Darwinian Evolution miss the central point of the argument. This failure is due primarily to popular misconceptions of the history and essence of science.

First, it should be remembered that the philosophical principle that led to the emergence of science in the Western world (and only there) relies on the Christian concept of God. Christianity depicted God as rational and dependable, and the universe as God’s personal creation, thus having a rational, stable structure, awaiting human comprehension. “Christians developed science because they thought it could be done, and should be done.”

Second, the rich tradition of science has been a continuing search for God’s grand design: from Nicole Oresme (“God’s creation is like that of a man making a clock and letting it run.”) in the 14th century; through Rene Descartes (who justified his search for natural laws on grounds that God is perfect and acts in a manner as constant and immutable as possible) in the 17th century; and Isaac Newton (the quintessential student of God’s handiwork) in the 18th century; to Albert Einstein (“I want to know how God created the world. I want to know His thoughts, the rest are details.”) in the 20th century.

Third, the science of life relies on the cold, hard-headed examination of the data, like any other science. If the Darwinian explanation of life has legs, it must be able to explain the creation of life from inorganic molecules, the creation of “irreducibly complex” molecular machines and the creation of new species, including man, from older ones. Scientists are obligated to test the theory every way to Sunday.

And here we come to the essence of Intelligent Design. Like any science it is the (scientific) search for truth in the natural world. In biology, the goals of Intelligent Design are to understand how life was created, how molecular machines were created, how animals and man "evolved," the very same goals as Evolution Science. It is a worthy human enterprise.

Darwinists believe that the ultimate explanation will be purely materialistic, involving no supernatural direction. That is their faith. On the other hand, in the grand tradition of at least seven centuries of Western science, the proponents of Intelligent Design expect that their work will reveal the glory and design of the Creator.

The central point of the controversy is unrelated to religion or to literal readings of the Bible. The central point is philosophical: Intelligent Design and Darwinian Evolution are opposite sides of the God coin, but as sciences they both must seek the truth.


Blogger Mr. P. said...

Just wanted to let you know I read your blog. Since no one has done this for me, I don't get it.

I've been interested in this subject for 20 years. I'm astonshished at how rude people can be at one another when argueing this subject, especially people on the evolution side! Yeah like anybody really knows which side of the coin is RIGHT!calm down people use reason not emotion!

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought we agreed last time that the whole ID thing is about faith (which I can live with), not logic or science. You keep referring to it (and blogging about it) as a "science". Bill, from my point of view, it is no more a biological "science" than astrology is an astronomical one.

"The goal of ID is [NOT] to understand how life was created" [PVBlog of 2/3/06] - it is to postulate it. Using the word "creation" alone implies an assumption, maybe even a conclusion, in concert with its own hypothesis. ID is indeed and only a "creation" of faith that has already answered its own question - never mind the data: if the "cold, hard-headed" data were what's really important, then it's scientific interpretation has no need for such a postulate as you have in ID.

Similarly, astrology postulates an "influence" (an intellignet design of sorts) on life resulting from planetary alignment. At least they, the astrologers, rely on data: ephemerides. ID postulates an influence on life as the creation event: no data there! And no question about the role of faith for those that read their horoscopes!

More thoughts:
(1) There is NO "god coin". The only metaphorical "coin" there is has physics on one side, and metaphysics on the other. You can't have both at the same time. If you "call" the toss as metaphysics, then as I've said before, you're stuck with all sorts of things that maybe you don't like or accept: have you seen how ugly those trolls are?

(2) I think your "rich tradition of science" as a "search for God's grand design" is not only presumptuous but ignores quite a bit of science history. For example, was Archimedes thinking about "God" when he got into the bathtub and observed the displacement volume? He couldn't have! Back then there were only gods (plural). OK, enough of that. Great fun huh!?


2:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Bill,

It's after 1:30 Saturday morning so I will try to make this short. Your title, "What is Science" brings to mind a book by Dr. J.P. Moreland (Ph.D. from USC) titled (I think): "Christianity and the Nature of Science." I believe that he offers several definitions of what we might mean when we talk about "science." I have a copy somewhere that I could probably loan to you if I can remember to look for it, and then bring it to Starbucks! Moreland's specialities are Philosophy of Mind, Metahpysics, and Philosophy of Science. He teaches at Talbot.

Tim Miller

2:09 PM  
Blogger Roseville Conservative said...

Good Post, I post a lot on this issue, too...

9:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is your best post (or least bad) on this subject, but you're still on the wrong track.

Pete is right that the scientific method predates Christ, and got its first major push with the development of the Platonic mode of enquiry.

In fact, I think the record of Christianity as an inspiration for scientific thought is actually rather poor. Two of the major forces which gave rise to the resurgence of scientific thought during the Renaissance were (1) the WEAKENING of the grip which the established church had on people's thinking and (2) the renewed fascination and respect for things Greek. Even while this was occurring scientists often suffered greatly at the hands of the church - Galileo's experience with the Inquisition was a case in point (as was Darwin's in a later era.)

Instead of SCIENCE, you should try the ARTS. I would suggest that the crowning achievements in all artistic fields were (almost) all DIRECTLY inspired (and usually financed) by Christianity. I include painting (Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, Giotto....), sculpture (Michaelangelo again), and music (J.S.Bach). A huge percentage of the world's most beautiful buildings are Christian churches.

Why is all this relevant to your post? Because I think you can see God in the Sistine Chapel or hear him in the St Matthew Passion, but you won't find him in a test-tube or cyclotron, no matter how hard you try. You can't deduce God, but you can believe in him.


3:10 PM  
Blogger Lab_FROG said...

Logical arguments are not science. Science is the creation and testing of models that explain reality. As the evolutionary model was designed to show how life evolves (not to say how it started) and has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, it is successful science. Intelligent Design arguments are merely philosophical speculation. It is possible they are right, but there is no way to test them, so they are not scientific at all.

As an aside, economists use the scientific method as well and the core theories of microeconomics (but not short-run macroeconomics), like evolution to which they are related, have also been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

11:20 AM  

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