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The difference between science and philosophy - Her Most Regal Majesty, the Queen of Snark
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sesquipedality
sesquipedality
The difference between science and philosophy
(Reposted in edited form from a comment in pickwick's journal.)

The Intelligent Design Hypothesis in its least offensive form, namely that the basis of the universe is so complex as to imply the existence of a higher power guiding it, is scientifically totally neutral, in that there's no real way to apply the scientific method in order to test it. This is a long way from saying that science has proved it wrong, which some people seem to be implying. (Science has, of course, pretty conclusively debunked the whole "earth was created in seven days" hokum, but I believe that this is known as Creationism rather than Intelligent Design.)

Anyway, I think the point is that Intelligent Design is no more science than say, Cartesian dualism (the idea that reality is comprised of the physical and the metaphysical, and that the soul, as the metaphysical component of our identity, in some way interfaces with physical reality). While such things are interesting ideas, with merits that are arguable, they aren't really susceptible to the scientific method, and thus really don't belong in any scientific discussion, not because they exhibit poor cognitive structuring (much though rabid fundies like Dawkins would like you to believe), but because they aren't subject to scientific analysis, unlike the Theory of Evolution.

In maths we don't by and large have theories. If something is believed to be true it's a hypothesis or conjecture. If it's proven true, it's a theorem. You've gotta love a subject where things are actually demonstrably correct in terms of the axioms of the system. If only science were more like maths scientists would have a lot easier time of it.

On a personal note, I don't believe in Intelligent Design. However in its more acceptable form as distinct from Creationism, there's no inherent logical fallacy in it, and I feel that in the interests of maintaining the moral high ground, it's important to remember that, even while we firmly and politely maintain that it's philosophy rather than science.

Science really has nothing to say either for or against the existence of a higher power. It's part of a class of questions which science has no power to answer because they aren't framed in terms that are susceptible to analysis under the scientific paradigm.
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Comments
t_rrific From: t_rrific Date: March 28th, 2007 03:15 am (UTC) (Link)
Being a definite atheist (or apathist in some cases), I find some of Dawkins postulations to be quite interesting and thought provoking. Yes, Science cannot prove or disprove the actuality of a deity-type, but it CAN investigate the probability of something existing in that space. And I do personally find it amusing that the arguments used to 'prove' God can also apply to the God in question (irreducible complexity etc).

However, on reading The God Complex, I was amused to see Dawkins claim that the hypothesis of a God is rubbish, but then postulate somethiing just as hypothetical and unbelievable for the suspension of known laws for a big bang event in the absence of said deity. He seems to forget his own rules in an attempt to 'kibosh' the religious opposition.

Its good to see ID being placed as a philosophy (where it works) instead of a science (where it quite obviously doesn't). But science can only be said to be powerless to answer questions *for now*. After all, people once said science could never answer why apples fall from trees....
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: March 28th, 2007 02:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's entirely possible that when quantum theory shakes down properly, it may give us a toolkit for looking at these sort of questions within the scientific framework. As a mathematician by training, I'm more inclined to suspect that science has some sort of analogous principle to Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, and that there's a class of problems that will simply never be susceptible to scientific analysis, because it's just not the right tool for the job. The pattern feels right to me.
al_fruitbat From: al_fruitbat Date: March 28th, 2007 04:28 am (UTC) (Link)
I think that's an extremely polite way of saying three things.

1) God is not falsifiable, and thus Intelligent Design is not science. (I think the reason this debate becomes heated is that there are those who want it taught in schools as equivalent to science.)

2) While science does not disprove god (yet), the principles of science - such as Occams Razor - are opposed to unfounded belief, so at the very least science is antagonistic towards god.

3) [simpsons] The court hereby orders that Science and Religion stay 200ft away from each other at all times [/simpsons]
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: March 28th, 2007 02:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not sure I'd entirely agree with point two. I think I'd rather say that science is opposed to presenting conclusions as empirical on the basis of unfounded belief. That might be splitting hairs a little too finely though.

But there's a hell of a lot of good scientists out there with unfounded beliefs.
ao_lai From: ao_lai Date: March 28th, 2007 06:51 am (UTC) (Link)
Speaking for myself, of course, I find the most annoying part of Intelligent Design to be the way it seems to be based on the idea that 'I cannot think of a way that such-and-such a thing could have evolved from something simpler in single simple steps, therefore *there is no way that it could have happened*, therefore a higher intelligence made it like that.'

But no, say I. There might still be a way, but the ID supporter just hasn't thought of it. It seems to me to be basing its conclusions on little more than a gut instinct of the observer.

As I think Carl Sagan said, I try not to think with my gut. And as I think he may also have said, but very likely with different wording, in science, 'I don't know' is a perfectly acceptable answer...
rysmiel From: rysmiel Date: March 28th, 2007 02:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
'I cannot think of a way that such-and-such a thing could have evolved from something simpler in single simple steps, therefore *there is no way that it could have happened*, therefore a higher intelligence made it like that.'

I particularly hate this in cases like eyes or wings where it's trivially easy to see the path of simple steps in question if you just look around a bit.
akcipitrokulo From: akcipitrokulo Date: March 28th, 2007 07:44 am (UTC) (Link)
It irritates me when it is included in "science". I believe in God, and that he created everything (through a process of evolution, obviously!) but that hasn't got anything to do with science. I also studied physics/astrophysics, and adore the subject.

There are no laws in science. The best you have is a description wich accurately describes the universe as we know it, and can make predictions. Which is one of the great things about it :)

The way I see it, is that science deals with the "how" and philosophy deals with the "why" - the two don't have to come into conflict.

By its very nature, it's not possible to prove or disprove faith, so it seems a pointless thing to me to try. Especially when there are such cool things happening as "*very* special relativity" where the universe doesn't acutally have symmetry in all directions, which explains how come neutrinos are always left-hand spinning but can change flavour *bounce* :)
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: March 28th, 2007 02:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
In my opinion reality all comes down to probability anyway at its lowest level. But then you might expect someone with a background in Bayesian stats to think that.
davywavy From: davywavy Date: March 28th, 2007 08:55 am (UTC) (Link)
Having recently read Dennetts "Darwins Dangerous Idea", the overriding impression I brought away from it is that evolution is such a berserkly, insanely, mind-numbingly complex and unlikely process that to say that there was at no point an external hand pushing it along is just as much a leap of faith as to say there way. What that maybe external hand was? That's philosophy/theology.
al_fruitbat From: al_fruitbat Date: March 28th, 2007 09:39 am (UTC) (Link)
I always thought that Darwin's idea was incredibly simple. I've no idea what Dennett claims, but the basic tenets of Darwinian evolution are neither complex nor unlikely. Their simplicity is part of their unassailable truthfulness, in fact.

Admittedly, getting something to reproduce is very complicated. Then again, only things that reproduce will be observable, as they're the only things that will last.
Anyway, once reproduction is there, Darwinian evolution is a tiny step away, and very likely to occur.

Anyway, that's a long-winded way to say that I'd refute the idea that an invisible friend is necessary or useful for evolution. The invisible friend theory cannot surmount its own problem (where did the invisible friend come from?) so it's not even a useful addition anyway - if it doesn't help work out where reproduction came from, then it's nothing more than a distraction.
ewx From: ewx Date: March 28th, 2007 12:24 pm (UTC) (Link)

inherent logical fallacy in intelligent design

I've never been convinced that ID is a well-formed argument at all.

Lest I accidentally argue against a straw man I should state my understanding of it. The starting point goes that if you see (for instance) a statue, you assume a designer, you don't assume it got to be that shape by random processes: you see evidence of a designer. The analogical extension is then that living things should be subject to a similar logic: that they are too complicated to have got like that by chance, that beyond a certain point complexity can't just come from nowhere, it needs a designer.

The philosophical objection is that if it's valid at all then it must apply recursively: the hypothesized designer, too, must be too complicated to have arisen by chance.

Plain old "God did it" creationism seems more like an actual argument: believers think the existence of a creator is just a given, and while that may be right or wrong it doesn't lead you into nonsensical conclusions merely before you've even looked at the real world.

sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: March 28th, 2007 02:26 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: inherent logical fallacy in intelligent design

Well, one could well argue that once you'd stepped outside the system, all bets were off, because the paradigm within which you're working no longer applies. Compare this to a related 'paradox'. The question "Who created God?" has no answer, because it is poorly framed, on the same level as, say "What colour is pi?" Why? Because creation implies temporality. For something to be created there must be a before and after. If a divine being exists outside of time, it simply isn't meaningful to ask questions about what came before, because there wasn't a before.
simont From: simont Date: March 28th, 2007 12:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
The Intelligent Design Hypothesis in its least offensive form, namely that the basis of the universe is so complex as to imply the existence of a higher power guiding it, is scientifically totally neutral, in that there's no real way to apply the scientific method in order to test it.

I've often thought, actually, that out of the two statements
  1. There is no plausible mechanism by which the {universe, human body, whatever} could have arisen as a result of natural non-sentient processes
  2. Yes there is
the former sounds, at least in principle, more falsifiable: to falsify it, one need only exhibit such a mechanism. Whereas to falsify the latter statement, one must either enumerate every candidate mechanism and refute its plausibility, or construct some sort of mathematical-style proof that rules out whole categories at a time. It sounds a lot more difficult, put like that!

Of course it's in the practicalities that this argument falls down, and just as well really.
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: March 28th, 2007 02:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, I'm not entirely sure that that's right, given that the way to falsify the former is to demonstrate a mechanism by which the latter could occur, which would, in effect, go a long way towards proving the latter. (After all, Occam's razor suggests that the simplest explanation as to how the universe might come to be without the absence of a sentient guiding hand may well be the correct one.)
fractalgeek From: fractalgeek Date: March 28th, 2007 11:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
1) ID is a hypothesis/conjecture, not a theory.
2) Its worst argument is that most proponents of ID accept that evolution happens for the "Little" things, just not for complex - at least not until they find the intermediate steps.
3) A god pretending to create a universe filled with evidence of aging, progression and evolution cannot be logically disproved, he's (...) just not necessary.

4) At its boundaries, science is often untestable, and therefore is on an equal footing. However logic, rational thinking and a willingness to explore ideas takes a larger part than dogma.
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