Friday, November 9, 2007

Fake ID?

Intelligent Design gets a lot of strawman treatment, and no wonder: even its supporters don't always understand it. It isn't opposed to evolution as such, for example (some Christian evolutionists believe in intelligent design); it actually opposes methodological naturalism, the idea that anything can be dealt with scientifically as part of nature. So if angels exist, it should be possible to get hard data on them and determine the physical laws by which they work. What's amusing about this is that at this level neither ID nor methodological naturalism is "scientific": they are really metascience: metaphysical approaches to or assumptions about science.

(There is a scientific basis for ID, however: that some things cannot be reasonably explained except as products of design, and that there is a verifiable protocol for detecting such things. But back to the metascience of naturalism.)

The argument for naturalism is that it's impossible to have a theory that accounts for powers beyond nature: if miracles can occur, then the predictability of science is in jeopardy. This is true as far as it goes, but it should be clear that the result is biased, and biased in a way that can't really be justified. If the resulting theories were tagged as "accurate so far as naturalistic methods can discover," that wouldn't be bad. But it takes precious little effort to move from the theoretical acknowledgement that science has its limits to the effective pronouncement that the miraculous cannot occur. (And we may also observe that not all sciences are predictive anyway; some are more descriptive.)

Now, ID does not actually require miracles, just a Designer, and that Designer (if omniscient and omnipotent) could have simply planned for some things to happen that could not happen by chance. But what if science did allow for miracles? Would all vanish in primordial choas? No. Essentially, life and science would continue. The main difference would be in outlook: instead of claiming that appearances are truth, we would always place a limit ("so far as we can tell"). Perhaps we would even realize that our desire for knowledge doesn't justify all means of obtaining it. Similarly, "I'll do it because I can" is a terrifying statement. I found it morbidly amusing that at the same time the scientific community authoritatively dismissed Mengele's research on ethical and moral grounds, it clamored for experimentation on embryos.

So acknowledging that purely naturalistic science has its limits is a good thing. But does it help with apologetics? Not really. We'll see why next time.

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