Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Restrictive Science

One of the most troubling phenomena with respect to the Design Inference and the Design Hypothesis, popularly referred to as ID, is the science community’s adamant insistence that neither intelligent design nor supernatural creation hypotheses are “scientific.” This pronouncement has obscured important possible discoveries. What really happened to produce an orderly world? What are the causes for effects we observe in the natural world? Is apparent design merely an illusion? More important, does finding an answer to these and similar questions impact our personal worldview and aid our search for meaningful truth?

To address the proposal that ID and creationism are not scientific, we begin with a positive question: “What is science and what is considered scientific?” These questions have many answers. Science is multidimensional and not easy to define. Broadly, science is knowledge. Most would agree that knowledge involves collecting facts and information about the world around us. We attempt to understand the facts and information we acquire. Humans observe the orderliness of our environment. We long to explain the orderliness and comprehend its meaning. Predictions about future events spring from our observations. Hypotheses, theories, and laws are derived from our understanding of the facts and information gained. As we describe our discoveries we recognize the process of science discovery is foundational to the discoveries themselves.

We wonder why science is so difficult to define. Students study science from earliest grades. It is likely that mathematics, language, and history are far easier to define. Most people have a concept of what science is, albeit the concept of science is multifaceted. Were laypersons challenged to define science we speculate many may stumble at the seemingly simple assignment.

Ample commentary exists on what science is. One could study brief comments or entire volumes on the question. In most articles on the nature of science, one caveat is stressed by science professionals: Science investigates only natural phenomena, never supernatural phenomena. This “rule of the game” is inviolable. Intelligent Design, if the designer is the God of the Bible, is a religious claim. Most adherents of ID would agree, but they may not agree that the claims of Intelligent Design are unscientific. They concur that ID’s claims are not all experimentally testable, but design is strongly supported by empirical observational testability. 

This inviolable caveat is defended staunchly by naturalistic evolutionary scientists and theistic evolutionists alike. Adherence to natural explanations is virtually a religion in the naturalistic community of scientists, even when the impression of design overwhelms the observational process. Ken Miller, a theistic evolutionist from Brown University, voices a hopeful tune. Miller has stated God could be responsible for the first living cells or the sudden appearance of unique animals in the Cambrian Explosion. Supernatural causes are always possible but they are above our capacity to analyze and interpret. Attributing an event to the supernatural, Miller says, we can investigate it no further, he says, using the methods of science. In contrast, our blog has a broader view of the scope of science. 

Many commentators would voice their support of the principle that scientists study not only what is natural, but also what is real. Scientists are not in unanimous agreement about a single scientific method to discover reality. The principle of methodological naturalism (MN) supports the proposition that scientists study only the natural world. Methodological naturalists agree that religious concepts are thereby insulated from scientific study. Herein is a serious error of scientists making this claim. Some scientists, even atheistic scientists, are coming to the conclusion that there is no fundamental barrier preventing science from testing supernatural claims. Charles Peirce, famous science philosopher of a century ago, proposed abductive reasoning—inference to the best explanation. Abductive reasoning is a mainstay of scientific method. It is a natural and instinctive process, suggesting fruitful new scientific investigations. Inference is central to science methodology. It must not be overshadowed by the proposition that science may not investigate supernatural claims.

An analogy may serve to illustrate our point. Our court trial system relies on legal rules for determining truth, falsehood, guilt, and innocence. Occasionally the court determines that certain evidence is inadmissible owing to a legal technicality. Apart from valid reasons for some technicalities, we may agree that some cases end in an errant verdict. Legal rules supersede discovery of truth or reality. In the case of the “trial” of ID in the science community courtroom, we search for God’s wisdom in establishing the “rules of the game” for scientific research projects. Likewise, we ask for wisdom in discovering what is real and true, not simply what is natural.