Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Science, Intelligent Design and Public Education

Amidst the encyclopedic volumes capable of satisfying a pyromaniac's bonfire dreams, there is the discussion here in this title. And I'll be a pyro's pariah for this one, I'm sure. I'm willing to learn and be corrected on this. Nevertheless, permit me to think "out loud" for a moment. But let me repeat: I'm willing to be corrected on this.

Let's first get down with some definitions. There's always definitions to be had, and by golly, we ought to have them. First, Science--with a capital "S" because well, hey, it's Science man! Can you see the high priests in their white lab coats demanding our obedience?

Serious. Simple: Science is basically the interpretation of the physical world. More specifically, Science is not about "what is observable, measurable and repeatable." Rather, science is a body of knowledge built up about the physical world obtained through deductive reasoning based upon the results of empirical inquiry. Of course, some philosophers of science would point out that there is no deduction without induction (probability). Science is based upon empiricism, which uses the senses to determine knowledge. But the a priori set of rules for the proper use of empiricism is that empiricism is the best way to go about obtaining scientific knowledge. Does that sound circular? "Those who believe in the ultimacy of sense-experience must presuppose it in arguing for their philosophy (empiricism).1 "Science," properly so-called is a philosophy, folks. There is no such thing as "bare factual Science" awaiting our arrival for its snatching away by our inquiring minds and working hands, like a treasure buried near Robinson's cave. There's philosophy in them thar laboratories.

Secondly, Intelligent Design (ID). ID is based upon the following enthymeme:
1) design is observed
2) design requires information
3) information requires mind
4) therefore, there is a mind as the causal agent of the information.

There is nothing here about God, the Bible, creationism or anything like that. There exist ID proponents who are atheists and agnostics. Repeat: there exist ID proponents who are atheists and agnostics.2 It is therefore impossible that ID is "creationism in scientific garb" (pseudo-science, in their minds). Furthermore, ID is not the "god of the gaps." The "god of the gaps" fallacy is the following thought: "Well, looks like we've reached our limits on scientific knowledge, and can't explain any more about the universe. Wup, God musta did it."

In fact, what ID opponents are guilty of is the "science of the gaps" fallacy. Consider the following thought: "Well, we don't really know how all this information got in the cell. Guess we'll just have to wait and see and keep researching, cuz Science will provide the answer."

In each case there is
1) knowledge of a thing
2) a limitation of that knowledge (the 'gap')
3) a conclusion of how the thing known came to be
Hence, either "god" or "science" of the gaps.

Neither "god of the gaps" or "science of the gaps" is good for the human enterprise in the quest for knowledge of the physical world and of our universe. But ID is not "god of the gaps." Rather, ID is the deduction of an informal syllogism that information requires mind. There is no "gap" that is crossed in making such a conclusion. To say that mind is required for information to exist is just plain good sense. Indeed, where does information come from, if not from mind? Information is abstract and unseen. It is manifested in what is seen, but it is unseen, just as gravity is unseen, but is manifested in its display of power. If the information comes from Chance, then that too, is a "gap" theory. And isn't that what Darwinists want us to believe, that Chance is the Father of us all? The Philistines believed the same thing (1 Samuel 6. Cool story).

Example: You're walking in the woods, and a bunch of stones are lined up in a certain sequence: "Girlfriend, you gotta dump that loser." You've gotten yourself some information, haven't you? And there's a mind behind it. You're not "unscientific" in concluding so. He really is a loser, and you'd best get out!

Thirdly, the public classroom. Opponents of ID say that ID should stay out of the science class, but should be welcome in philosophy or religion class. Opponents of ID also say that "science tells us the how" and "religion tells us the why." This latter statement is odd, because it is guilty of the "god of the gaps" fallacy, the very fallacy it intends to eschew in opposing ID. The former statement about the separate classrooms is fallacious as well. This is because we have already seen that science is the interpretation of the physical world. The fact that the physical world is interpreted by us humans shows that science is philosophical in nature and essence. There are no "brute facts" out there, as philosopher Cornelius Van Til used to say. All "facts" are interpreted. And just how are they interpreted by the high priests of science today? To wit, the epistemic dichotomy occurring here is one between faith and reason (evidence or "Science"), and no such dichotomy should exist. This is because empiricism, swimming in league with methodological naturalism, must assume a priori (beforehand) its tenets that observable data tell us all there is to know about reality. In other words, Science uses circular reasoning. That's religion, folks. There is no science without a prior faith commitment to how the world works, and why.

Today, science is whoops--forgot the capital "S." Er, Science, as the interpretation of the physical world, is built upon the epistemological paradigm of methodological naturalism. That is, Science's theory of how we know things (epistemological paradigm) has its way of doing things (method) in terms of naturalism. Naturalism is the idea that nothing exists except the natural world. Naturalism tells us that if you can't experience something with the five senses, then it ain't real, Jack. This is why people say things like, "Science belongs in the lab, while ID belongs in the philosophy department." It's a nice, condescending way of saying, "Hey bud. We know you got your religion and all, just don't bring it into the public sphere, because you and I both know that religion ain't real." Und so weiter.

In all my discussions on the great expenditure of my time on the internet, I've always challenged people with a proper definition of Science, and I've always challenged them on their epistemological grounds. The usual remarks I get are ad hominem attacks. Except the attacks aren't against me, as they are against a theory, ID. "ID is not science!" (But they never tell me what Science actually is). "ID is crap!" (But they never say why, except laying claim to the "god of the gaps fallacy" fallacy). These are mere assertions, and do nothing but sound like the angry boy screaming for his ice cream.

Finally, if people want to keep "religion" out of the classroom, then fine. I'm okay with that. But, there's a price you have to pay. When the student asks, "Teacher, why is there so much complexity in this cell?" or, "How did the information get there?" the teacher must reply in one of two ways:
1) we don't know: science will tell us some time in the future,
2) information requires mind.

Either way, the Science Teacher has encroached upon the philosophy teacher's can of coffee, and it's the good stuff. Someone's going to pay a price. But the real price will be the one placed upon the student's education. The student will not be able to ask questions of "why?" or even "how?" Instead, they'll just have to take their Teacher and what Science says...on faith.

I'll put the last word here: I'm willing to be corrected on this. But enough of the ad hominem attacks. Use reason and rationality, not mere assertion-making.

1.John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, P&R publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ.
2.For one such example, see Bradley Monton in his latest book: Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design."

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