August 3, 2004

Jonathan Wells - Limits to natural investigation

I recently watched a panel discussion including Bruce Tiffney, Michael Ruse, and Jonathan Wells. Wells is one of the four or five most well known advocates of "intelligent design" theory. In answering a question about what science is and why we should believe what it tells us, he said this,
"It seems to me that science is a search for truth. It's a subtle difference [from a previously offered definition] but I think it matters because, if I'm searching for the truth, part of the truth may be that there are things, in heaven and earth, that do not have natural explanations, and as a scientist who's seeking the truth it's up to me to acknowledge that when I confront these limits, rather than insist, as some scientists do, that we must have a natural explanation for absolutely everything."
Because of the way Wells phrases this from the perspective of a scientist, the questions that come to mind can be very pointed, e.g. how can Wells, or any scientist, know when he has reached these proposed "limits?"

Since it should be trivial for us all to acknowledge that empirical investigation can be unfinished without necessarily being bounded, incompleteness cannot qualify as an answer to this question. It is my inference, then, that for Wells to be correct there must be markers of this discontinuity that are recognizable by any scientist.

Wells never bothered to propose how these limits might manifest themselves and I suspect he could not do so if he tried. This is a proposition that is paradoxical, at best (how would nature grade into the supernatural?), and more likely cynically motivated by a desire to force conclusions upon a methodology that cannot accommodate them.

This basal logical flaw is shared by most of the prominent ID theorists and it is something I have yet to hear one of them address in detail. Surely scientists such as Wells and Michael Behe, and multi-degreed academicians like William Dembski can appreciate the need for a precise exposition of the mechanics by which scientific methodology would proceed after alteration to include non-natural agency.

It is not hard to imagine limits to scientific investigation. But what comes to mind are restrictions that might be the result of a fragile, short-lived species trying to understand an unimaginably vast universe.

What is hard to imagine is that these barriers would manifest themselves as luminous, preternatural traffic signs boldly proclaiming, "Thou shalt go no further."


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