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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Intelligent design and evidence: First, what counts as evidence?

Recently, an ID-friendly scientist assured me that intelligent design would easily be accepted if only the ID guys would come up with evidence. To my mind, that shows the difficulty people have in understanding what is at stake: the very question of what may count as evidence. Here is how I replied:

Bench science, like book editing, is independent of content under normal circumstances.

But as Thomas Kuhn points out in Structure of Scientific Revolutions*, paradigms determine what COUNTS as evidence.

Mark what follows:

If materialism is assumed to be true and Darwinism is the creation story of materialism, then Darwinism is the best available explanation for the history of life.

So Darwinism is treated as true.

I am NOT saying that that follows logically. Materialism could be true but its orthodox creation story could be untrue at the same time. Some other materialist story could better account for the evidence, for example.

However, most people do not think that way. (I am describing a course of mental events here, not a logical argument.)

Because Darwinism is treated as true, questioning it is irrational or malign.

If you are a scientist, it is no defence to say that you have uncovered evidence against Darwinism. That makes you a heretic.

Don't try claiming that you do science better without Darwinism. If you don't believe it, you shouldn't be doing science at all, right?

The purpose of science is to uncover the evidence for materialism, and you may as well deny Genesis in a God-fearing chapel as deny Darwinism at the Smithsonian.

You could outperform all your colleagues in research and accomplish nothing except get yourself denied tenure. It happens, as Jerry Bergman can testify.

What if a theory that clashes with Darwinism better explains changes over time (and even makes verified predictions)?

Well, here's where the importance of a materialist paradigm comes in: Any explanation that conforms to Darwinism will be preferred to any explanation that does not conform to it - irrespective of a difference in explanatory power that favours the latter.

In the research for the neuroscience book, I found that really inane and unsatisfactory explanations for various mental states were preferred if they supported the materialist paradigm, over against better explanations that didn't particularly support it. Sometimes it was ludicrous. But always it was deadly serious.

You will find Kuhn's Structure a very useful book to read, for understanding how paradigms determine what can even be considered as evidence.

Thus, in my humble opinion, evidence that supports an ID perspective will be primarily useful to the ID scientists themselves in understanding their own view of the world.

It will be useless for making any general point against the materialist paradigm. ID-friendly evidence will merely be shelved as a problem to be solved or reinterpreted along materialist lines, no matter how flimsy.

So yes, by all means, find evidence, but mainly to educate yourself and sketch out your own theory. The more evidence you find, the more unwelcome you will be elsewhere.

Mike Behe was compared to Osama bin Laden, and that wasn't because he was thought to be a crank. One doesn't compare a crank to Osama bin Laden.

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