April 19, 2005

"Follow the evidence..."

I have noticed lately a theme cropping up in the conversation of ID leaders. It has occurred to me that we may be hearing the next "teach the controversy." I’ve no idea whether their efforts at sloganeering are planned in-house but the ID guys certainly seem to recognize and seize upon a memorable riff when they hear one.

Specifically, I’m speaking of the now common suggestion that we should be willing to allow scientific investigation to "follow the evidence wherever it might lead." A few examples follow,
"...science is supposed to follow the evidence wherever it leads." (Michael Behe, DDD V conference, 2004)

"The Darwinists insist that only fully naturalistic explanations can be considered, regardless of evidence. I would describe this faith in naturalism as a philosophy, rather than in science as an investigative process that considers all possibilities toward which the evidence may point." (Johnson, Phillip. Evolution on Trial, article by Steve Kemper, Smithsonian. April, 2005)

"Follow the evidence wherever it leads." (Stephen Meyer, Creation Conflict. The Newshour with Jim Lehrer. 3/28/05)

"Lewontin’s approach isn’t science. It’s dogma. Flew’s method is more objective. He has decided to follow the evidence wherever it leads." (Jonathan Witt, Seattle Times, 2004)

"Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture takes a different view, and that’s why the Institute supports scientists who will follow the evidence where it leads." (Jay Richards, 2004)
I suspect few "evolutionists" or "Darwinists" will have trouble with this notion. However, due to the fact that every definition of science with which I am familiar somehow constrains it’s method to natural processes (even some ID methodology begins this way) I am a bit confused as to how following the evidence functions to the benefit of "Intelligent design." Perhaps an ID proponent reading this can help.

The evidence we would be following would exist, at least at the start, within the natural universe. As I see it, following this evidence can lead us to,

a) a point at which we have satisfactorily identified the natural causal agency for the phenomenon in question, or
b) a point at which the flow of new data runs dry and we are forced to await either new evidence, improvement in research techniques or revised theory that more parsimoniously explains the phenomenon in terms of natural processes

In no field of empirical inquiry is the condition of incomplete knowledge considered a warrant for inference to non-natural explanation. Yet it is well established that ID theorists expect their methodology to produce inference of non-natural agency in some cases. Thus it seems to me that for proponents of ID who are willing to be satisfied with "following the evidence," there exist two choices,

1) determine that there cannot (not "does not") in principle exist a natural explanation for a particular phenomenon, or
2) establish that “following evidence” can lead in a logical, causally connected way (each step in the connection being empirically demonstrable) from natural phenomenon to non-natural agency

We’re all familiar with attempts at #1), including such concepts as "irreducible complexity." But IC is not yet (if it could ever be) acceptable either as an evidential reality that meets the proposed criteria or as a logical premise which could invalidate the possibility of natural explanation. In any case, to suggest that a leap from an apparent terminus of data (which cannot be established as immutable) to an inference to non-natural agency leaves out exactly that coherent and connected set of steps from natural to non-natural which would establish the proposition we are considering. In other words, if you stop because the evidence ran out, then it didn't actually lead to your hoped for non-natural agency.

So it seems reasonable to me to suggest that, for ID proponents, #2) is the only viable option. It’s my opinion that, in order for "follow the evidence wherever it might lead" to be not just a truism, but an injunction to thoughtfully and dispassionately give ID a chance, the empirical foundation for this sequence of steps must be filled in. Can any ID expert out there help me with this?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

re: "I am a bit confused as to how following the evidence functions to the benefit of "Intelligent design."...Try to be objective my friend. The ratio is 10,000:1 bad to good mutations (mendelsaccount.sourceforge.net)
Is it plausible to infer natural means or some other method??

1:50 AM  

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