20 May 2005

Ignorance in Kansas

The people arguing that Intelligent Design (ID) should be included in their school curricula are either wholly ignorant about science (if they have their way, they'll soon be joined in that by many students), or know what science is and are trying to destroy it. They have put forward the view that all possible explanations are equally scientific, and that only those which disagree with the available evidence should be discarded.

One thing they are ignoring is that scientific theories must be falsifiable. I may believe, say, that the world sprang, full-formed, from the gall bladder of a supernatural, undetectable gryphon on 14 December 1986, and all of our memories of times before that were implanted in us. This is a hypothesis which accounts for all known facts, and thus, by the reasoning of the proponents of ID, is therefore "correct".

I agree, it is a hypothesis; but it is not scientific. The primary reason is that it is not falsifiable. No experiment could be devised, no evidence could be put forward, which would prove it false. This is the reason why science insists on natural explanations. There is no way to disprove the existence of a supernatural being who, by definition, does not interact with the world in the same way as everything else.

Another reason is that the "theory" of ID makes no testable predictions. Once you posit a supernatural being who can do anything, unfettered by natural laws, there is no way to predict what might happen next. Compare this with our ability to predict when the next solar eclipse will occur.

It's not enough to show that current theories have problems. It's not a matter of current evolutionary thinking versus ID. All scientific theories have problems explaining everything — and that's another difference between science and faith. Faith-based explanations, like ID, have no problems, because anything that might seem to contradict them can be explained away as the Devil's work, or as God testing the faith of believers.

Science requires different explanations. If the proponents of ID want it to be accepted as science, they'll have to present better evidence than a feeling that the world is too complex to have resulted from natural processes. It'll have to be evidence that all can see, that can be repeated. And they will have to show how their "theory" could ever be falsified.

Religion has given much to humanity. I often encourage my atheist friends to learn about religion — I once taught Bible Study For Atheists — because without, for instance, an understanding of Christianity, there's no way to make sense of the history of Western art, or of philosophy.

But religion, even cloaked as ID, has no place in science.