Sunday, April 05, 2015

Why "Intelligent Design" Is Not a Scientific Hypothesis

"Whatever cannot be conceived quantitatively cannot belong to scientific knowledge." -- Michael Oakeshott, Experience and Its Modes, p. 221

Thus, the critics of ID are quite correct: there is no way to quantify the idea "X designed Y to be so," and thus "design" is an idea excluded from scientific discourse.

That truth in no way implies that "design" is a nonsense idea: it just means that, in the world of science, which seeks to establish mathematical relationships between measured quantities, "design" has no place.

As objections to this fact, I often have seen two cases offered:

1) Archaeologist detect design in their research.
Yes, they do, but archaeology is an historical, and not a scientific, discipline.

2) SETI researchers look for evidence of intelligent design.
OK, while this search has been conducted by scientists, is there any evidence it is scientific? I think not.


  1. Gene, if we were to find out tomorrow that every single living cell has a message inscribed in English that says "made by Yahweh", then don't you think that intelligent design would be a legitimate scientific hypothesis for the origin of life?

    1. No, because it is not a scientific hypothesis at all. (It might be a fine hypothesis, but just not a scientific one!)

    2. Not every correct idea is a scientific idea! For instance, I suspect Keshav wrote this comment, but that certainly is not a scientific idea.

    3. For instance, I suspect Keshav wrote this comment, but that certainly is not a scientific idea.

      It would be weird to call that a scientific hypothesis, but I can't say why.

  2. What mathematical relationship between measured quantities did Darwin establish?

    1. "And again, even so imperfect science as biology is not content with the enunciation of a nearly General view such as the 'theory of evolution', or the 'theory of
      natural selection'; it must at once set to work upon a quantitative and statistical implementation of these general theories." -- Michael Oakeshott
      Which is exactly what occurred!
      So we might say Darwin proposed a brilliant hypothesis, which was turned in to a scientific theory over the succeeding century and a half.

    2. "merely general," not "nearly general"!

    3. So you admit then that Darwin's Theory is science? That it asks and addresses scientific questions? Because you just denied that archaeology, or Keshavology, could involve scientific questions, because they are "historical".

    4. Ken, the annoyance level is getting pretty high for me here: you seem to want to go around playing gotcha by making things I said up and refuting them.
      1) Darwin's idea was, perhaps we could say, proto-science, that was made scientific over time. And it is certainly not an historical theory: it USES natural history as evidence, but to the extent it is scientific, it is about timeless relationships between fitness, genes, etc.
      2) Why is "historical" in scare quotes? Do you not believe history exists?
      3) I never said "archaeology cannot involve science." I said it is an historical discipline, but that doesn't mean they can't use carbon dating!
      As far as Keshav's proposition, I said nothing whatsoever about it being historical.


  3. "Keshavology", as the neologism implies is about the study of Keshav. You wrote:
    "I suspect Keshav wrote this comment, but that certainly is not a scientific idea."
    It is a historical claim for sure. But why can it not also be scientific?
    There are theories -- Laplace had one -- which are perfectly time reversible.
    The question where the billiard ball came from is just as scientific as the question where it will go;
    the equations for each are equally scientific.
    Just being past does not make it less scientific.
    But that seems to be why you say archaeology is not a science, and why you say the question of the Keshav's comment is not scientific.
    The contrast is implicit in your wording:
    "but archaeology is an historical, and not a scientific" discipline.
    Science is broader than your definitions.
    For example, I know of not a single biologist who denies The Origin was science.

    1. "It is a historical claim for sure."

      No, not at all. A practical claim. I certainly did not engage it as an historian would! (For instance, I just assumed Keshav wrote it, rather than taking it as a piece of evidence to investigate, as an historian would.)

      "But why can it not also be scientific?"

      Well, nothing whatsoever can be both an historical claim and a scientific one: they are modally distinct inquiries, and a statement in one is categorically irrelevant to a statement in another.

  4. Guided evolution is what I believe.

  5. You might want to update your reference on the notion of design in biology.

    May I kindly suggest:


Euphemisms II

It's not just abortion where these euphemisms bug me either. I think it is sometimes OK to euthanize your pet, but... you did not "...