Sunday, December 25, 2005

Faith Based Science

Despite the claims of its critics, Intelligent Design is indeed a scientific theory that can be-- indeed is--contradicted by evidence. Examples are the human appendix and the inverted construction of the human retina—bad design with good evolutionary explanations.

The real objection to Intelligent Design is not that it is not a theory, nor that it is a theory that we have reason to reject. The real objection is that its supporters are driven by religious, not scientific, motives. Somewhere in the world there must exist someone who was persuaded of its truth by scientific arguments—but looking at those arguments makes it clear that they were generated by people who knew what conclusion they wanted and were doing their best to fudge up reasons to believe it.

My first post in this blog discussed another example of faith based science--Nuclear Winter. Its scientific credentials were a good deal better than those of Intelligent Design. But it was clear from the sales campaign, at a point when the scientific basis was still very shaky, that it was a theory propounded by its supporters for a non-scientific motive. The campaign for nuclear disarmament had gotten a lot of mileage out of the claim, almost certainly false, that fallout from a nuclear war would wipe out life on earth, or at least human life. Nuclear Winter provided a new argument designed to reach the same conclusion—one that might even be true.

Quite a lot of environmentalism fits the same pattern. The economic, biological and climatological arguments--about global warming, species extinction, pollution, and the like--are sometimes right, sometimes wrong. But the driving force, for a lot of those making those arguments, is the essentially religious belief that natural is good.

As evidence, consider how few in the environmental movement are willing to support nuclear power. Nuclear reactors are the one source of power that provides a plausible alternative to fossil fuels—a way of generating electricity almost anywhere without producing CO2 or consuming fossil fuels, and doing it at a cost not wildly higher than the cost of coal fueled generators. They thus provide at least a partial solution to what environmentalists claim are two of the big problems—depletable resources and global warming.

A few environmentalists accept that argument—most, by casual observation, don’t. The reason is clear. Nuclear reactors are as unnatural as you can get—a symbol of the evils of high technology, used as such for decades by many of the same people pushing environmentalism.

The risks of faith based science.

44 Comments:

At 8:44 PM, December 25, 2005, Anonymous telomerase said...

Environmentalists who have just accepted the common US media wisdom on fission power should read the book reviewed here:

http://www.lewrockwell.com/walker/walker14.html

 
At 9:03 PM, December 25, 2005, Blogger The Sanity Inspector said...

Housekeeping suggestion: Turn on Blogger's Turing word verification, so you won't have spambots filling your comments with advertising.

Welcome to the blogosphere, and consider yourself bookmarked!

 
At 9:12 PM, December 25, 2005, Blogger The Sanity Inspector said...

In fairness, the problem of how to dispose of nuclear waste is not an imaginary one. The stuff will stay lethal for longer than recorded human history has been around so far. And some proponents of nuclear power don't make their case as skillfully as one might wish.

 
At 10:02 PM, December 25, 2005, Anonymous telomerase said...

>In fairness, the problem of how to dispose of nuclear waste is not an imaginary one.

Coal plants release 100-400 times as much radiation per kilowatt. They solve the problem of radioactive waste disposal by spewing it out the stack. Also, most US radioactive "waste" is actually uranium and plutonium which in most countries is recycled into more reactor fuel. Real environmentalists really need to get up to speed on modern reactor designs, IMHO.

 
At 10:59 PM, December 25, 2005, Anonymous mkayser said...

The problem with environmentalists is a real one, although it's not as bad as ID -- after all, there are journals of environmental science. They may not have the same level of rigor you'd find in a physics journal, but they are doing science. ID'ers, so far as I can tell, are not doing science. They really don't even try, there's no ID science research agenda (that I'm aware of).

So I would disagree with your characterization. If they were doing bad (i.e., prejudiced) science, we could point out experimental flaws and fight them that way. But, so far as I know, they simply have no research agenda. They just aren't doing science.

Plus I don't agree with your contention that ID presents a coherent, testable theory. What is the rigorous definition of "good design"? Merely a design that we can't think of how to "do better than"? Would that make legs a bad design, because we now know that cars and jets can make you go really fast, so comparatively legs don't seem like a great design anymore?

It's true that we dismiss what ID'ers say because we mistrust their motives, but we can mistrust an environmental scientist's motives and still believe he's propounding a coherent theory. The deciding issue really is what everyone says it is: is ID a testable, coherent theory? It's not.

 
At 11:40 PM, December 25, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post meanders a bit, but I understand your thesis. Unfortunately, we have to deal media-perpetuated bad science almost daily.

As for ID, I enjoyed Eugene Robinson's recent Op-Ed: A Design That's Anti-Faith

 
At 12:28 AM, December 26, 2005, Blogger Patri Friedman said...

The first 3 links I found on Google all showed nuclear as cheaper than coil and oil, although further investigation suggests its only been that way for a few years, see this graph.

Hard to know how many externalities are being taken into account, but while storing nuclear waste may be expensive, so is breathing particulate matter from coal plants.

 
At 1:06 AM, December 26, 2005, Blogger Luka Yovetich said...

David,

Why do you say that the REAL reason to reject ID is that people who support it are driven by religious motives? I agree that this is a good reason. But why is it any better of one than that it is a theory that we have best reason to reject, on scientific grounds?

 
At 7:23 AM, December 26, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If ID theorists start to research with a religious bias, is not this the same with atheistic scientists (another kind of bias)?

 
At 7:48 AM, December 26, 2005, Anonymous Sam L. said...

Global warming is recognized by a huge huge huge majority of climatological(?) research. It should not be on your list.
In the nuclear science field, there is very little concern about waste of "nuclear winter" among experts. Almost all of the concern is from the misinformed public.
With global warming, the concern is almost entirely within the scientific community, with very few outsiders taking it seriously.

 
At 7:59 AM, December 26, 2005, Blogger Rob Dawg said...

Nuclear power generation collects dangerous natural radioactive materials from wild and places them under close supervision where much of it's dangerous nature is consumed/used up. Ecoadvocacy is nothing more than thinly veiled Luddism in much the same way global warmists are thinly disguised anti-capitalists.

 
At 8:06 AM, December 26, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

there are three good reasons to oppose nuclear power. First, nuclear power is more expensive when the government subsidies for plant construction, waste disposal, and plant protection are taken into account. second, their is no long term, secure solution to the problem of what to do with this waste. even if the Yucca Mountain waste disposal facility in nevada was open for business and we began storing our waste there, we have more waste then could be accomodated by this facility. third, there are near term risks associated with nuclear power plants as targets for terrorist activity, both from a sabotage perspective and a fissile nuclear waste perspective.

given these three reasons, i would argue it is irresponsible to subsidize nuclear power plants with tax-payer money. if the true costs of power generation were internalized, renewable energy production would become a viable, distributed means of energy production that could compete with nuclear and coal. i believe this nuclear vs. coal debate presents a false choice. if we are serious about risk management from a human health and well-being perspective, coal and nuclear power plants are not our best options. if nuclear plant operators had to pay for the disposal of waste and the protection of their plants, no plants would ever be built.

 
At 8:36 AM, December 26, 2005, Blogger Jim Lippard said...

If Intelligent Design is a scientific theory, what is the scientific theory of Intelligent Design?

(I disagree that advocates of ID have come up with anything yet that qualifies as a "scientific theory." Saying that "God did it" or "the world exhibits design" is too vague to qualify.)

 
At 3:43 PM, December 26, 2005, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

Lippard,

The theory is that living things have an irreducible complexity that cannot be explained oter than by design. Scientists already implicitly use such criteria to identify designed artifacts in the fossil record.

 
At 4:03 PM, December 26, 2005, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

David,

"The real objection to Intelligent Design is not that it is not a theory, nor that it is a theory that we have reason to reject. The real objection is that its supporters are driven by religious, not scientific, motives."

Why object to that? I evaluate a theory based on the evidence for and against it, the motives of it's supporters are irrelevant to that evaluation.

I save my real objections for those who would impose their will by force, and I find the advocates of intelligent design on the whole to be no more (or less) guilty of this than the advocates of evolution.

This is only an issue because the two sides are fighting over public policy. The solution to that problem has nothing to do with the merits of the theories.

 
At 4:16 PM, December 26, 2005, Blogger David Friedman said...

Luka asks:

"Why do you say that the REAL reason to reject ID is that people who support it are driven by religious motives? "

Sorry if I was unclear. My point was not that that was the reason to reject it as true but that that was the sense in which it was religion rather than science--which was the underlying argument in the recent court case, although on a different basis, for rejecting it in the schools.

Sam I says:

"Global warming is recognized by a huge huge huge majority of climatological(?) research. It should not be on your list."

I wrote: "The economic, biological and climatological arguments--about global warming, species extinction, pollution, and the like--are sometimes right, sometimes wrong."

So I'm not denying that the arguments are sometimes right--I'm questioning motives, and offering some evidence. While I didn't go into it, further evidence is that global warming was being confidently treated as a fact well before, so far as I can tell, it achieved the status you describe.

With regard to some of the other comments, for my views on the implication of division of church and state for what should be taught in the public schools, see my next post. Real soon now.

 
At 5:18 PM, December 26, 2005, Blogger Luka Yovetich said...

I see. Thanks for the clarification, David.

 
At 5:48 PM, December 26, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gene Callahan of lewrockwell.com made a comment against ID arguing that that if the designer is intelligent, where did that designer's intelligence come from? That is, who is the designer's intelligent designer? So either the logical is circular (and hence invalid) or this a restatement of the 'first cause' or 'St. Anselm's argument' for God (in this case God would be the most primal creator imaginable). That would put ID in the realm of theology and not empirical science.

So if we are to hold that a (presumably Judeo-Christian) omnipotent God is the intelligent designer the idea /does/ indeed become unscientific: that is 'God could have created the appendix just so that you would ask' and similar arguments (referring omniscience and omnipotence) could be be applied against any evidence to the contrary (there's no way one could prove that God did not create x, since God could do anything God wants).

In a nutshell the 'non-scientific' argument against ID goes this way: ID is merely a restatement of creationism to obscure away the idea that the designer is indeed an omnipotent God; any statement which involves an omnipotent and omniscient God is itself unscientific; therefore ID is unscientific.

 
At 8:12 PM, December 26, 2005, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

"Gene Callahan of lewrockwell.com made a comment against ID arguing that that if the designer is intelligent, where did that designer's intelligence come from? That is, who is the designer's intelligent designer? So either the logical is circular (and hence invalid) or this a restatement of the 'first cause' or 'St. Anselm's argument' for God (in this case God would be the most primal creator imaginable). That would put ID in the realm of theology and not empirical science."

That doesn't make much sense to me. Scientists identify designed artifacts in the fossil record all the time. Would you say we can't say that a stone arrowhead is the product of design because that would beg the question of who designed the designer?

 
At 8:39 PM, December 26, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John T. Kennedy, but the case of ID is talking about design of /life in general/ not of an inanimate tool - such as a stone artifact.

The very question that ID attempts to answer partly asks 'how did intelligence come about' (how did the brain evolve?) so it seems circular to answer it by saying it was 'intelligently designed'. In any case, my apologies for not providing a link.

 
At 8:41 PM, December 26, 2005, Blogger Robert said...

Somewhere in the world there must exist someone who was persuaded of its truth by scientific arguments—but looking at those arguments makes it clear that they were generated by people who knew what conclusion they wanted and were doing their best to fudge up reasons to believe it.

I completely agree; and incidentally, my latest post is similar in nature:"…the idea of the supernatural, God, etc. is counterintuitive, as such is not testable by the 'scientific method'. Neither I, nor any other theist is able to empirically demonstrate the existence of God; hence “mystery”. This is where faith comes in. You’ll recall that faith is knowledge (not belief or hope) that is nontransferable between humans…"

http://robertopia.blogspot.com/2005/12/teach-your-children-well_25.html

 
At 12:27 AM, December 27, 2005, Blogger James said...

Generally, I agree. ID, even if true, isn't science. None of this would even be much of an issue were it not for the fact that both sides insist not only on being able to control what their kids learn, but also what other people's kids have to learn. Frankly, this strikes me as poor risk evaluation or an example of some very extreme preferences to control what other people's children learn about.

 
At 7:08 AM, December 27, 2005, Blogger R.J. Lehmann said...

Georges Lemaître was a Belgian Catholic priest with religious motivations for proposing what would later become known as the Big Bang theory. His intentions didn't render his theory either unscientific, or untrue.

 
At 8:06 AM, December 27, 2005, Anonymous tWB said...

Lehmann -- the difference is that Lemaître's theory was not based on his religious background, nor justified by it, either. Lemaître was working within the constraints of General Relativity and with previously-proposed expanding universe theories buttressed by Hubble's observations (though Hubble's most famous work appeared after Lemaître's 1927 paper). Although his theory was at first disfavored relative to the steady-state theory, his dogged persistence and the overwhelming weight of observational evidence proved his theory to be much more useful a tool than traditional noninflationary models.

Intelligent Design, on the other hand, is an attempt to justify certain religious beliefs, full stop. ID proponents come up with something like MHC Type II antigen presentation and say, "Gosh, it's all so complex -- it must have been designed!" Then, when researchers provide plausible hypotheses of evolution and evidence for the same, the IDers ignore them or go on to the next gap. It's a constant cycle of argumentum ad ignorantiam.

 
At 8:12 AM, December 27, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

georges earned a phd and was brilliant. evolution is not "eternal universe" and "big bang" is not intelligent design.

 
At 8:56 AM, December 27, 2005, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous asks:

"If ID theorists start to research with a religious bias, is not this the same with atheistic scientists (another kind of bias)?"

It could be. In a later post I mention the puzzle of the extraordinary success of Islam in its early years. A historian who was actually neutral on whether or not Islam is true might take that success as evidence for Islam; an atheist wouldn't seriously consider that explanation.

But in the case of intelligent design vs evolution, the people who provided the evidence for evolution were not, for the most part, people trying to prove that God didn't exist. They were people trying to explain the observed facts. That shows up in the relative quality of the arguments offered for the two sides of that particular dispute.

 
At 10:25 AM, December 27, 2005, Blogger Jim Lippard said...

JTK: Is ID really an assertion that biological organisms fall into the category of "artifact" rather than "nature," using the same techniques we use to distinguish human artifacts from organisms? If so, then where is there any published material from ID advocates demonstrating how those techniques yield a conclusion that biological organisms are artifacts?

I would agree that if that's what ID is, it should be scientifically testable (and that it will be falsified), but I've not seen any ID theorists come out and say that. Rather, they tend to argue by analogy in a way that doesn't quite come out and say that, because the intelligence they have in mind is not human or directly comparable to human intelligence--they are talking about a divine intelligence that doesn't need or use tools.

Further, ID theorists think that a deity created not only biological organisms, but everything else as well--rocks are as "artifactual" as trees.

Dembski has proposed a methodology for distinguishing design from non-design, which has the advantage of being falsifiable--but the disadvantage of not having been put to test by ID advocates, only critics who argue that it has indeed been falsified. It's too bad Dembski withdrew from being an expert witness in the Dover trial.

 
At 12:32 PM, December 27, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got nothing against nuclear energy except for the problem of disposal of spent fuel and the problem of core meltdown. If, in your study of physics, you can solve those two problems, I'm with you all the way.

Oh, yeah. And, the small problem of radiation leaks and their implications.

That's the problem with people like you, all talk and no thought about implementation in the real world.

That's very close to the way Bush operates. All hat, no cattle.

 
At 4:29 PM, December 27, 2005, Blogger The Sanity Inspector said...

But in the case of intelligent design vs evolution, the people who provided the evidence for evolution were not, for the most part, people trying to prove that God didn't exist.

In fact, many of the great scientists of the past were quite religious. As John Derbyshire said over at NRO this past August, we would probably have less scientific knowledge today, if not for the religious impetus behind their research.

ID is a fraud, though, no question.

That's very close to the way Bush operates. All hat, no cattle.

Given that every Dem in sight has subjected his and her national security votes since 9/11 to the prevailing opinion polls at the time, I'd say Bush has been remarkably steafast, in the discharge of his responsibility to protect America.

And I haven't been killed in a terrorist attack on my native soil since 9/11, either. Not once. That's more than many a lib would have been able or willing to accomplish, not with them getting electric shocks from their Inner Peacenik whenever it's time for the gloves to come off.

 
At 10:42 PM, December 27, 2005, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

Jim,

"Is ID really an assertion that biological organisms fall into the category of "artifact" rather than "nature," using the same techniques we use to distinguish human artifacts from organisms?"

I would say artifact = designed, and that ID asserts we can recognize that living things are designed by employing the same *principles* by which we recognize other designed artifacts.

 
At 6:02 AM, December 28, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David,

Read the blog, probably won't be back, as this post is pretty poorly informed.

Read the facts on the elements of a scientific theory, ID isn't one.

For those of us in the science field, this is the main issue.

 
At 1:17 PM, December 28, 2005, Anonymous Bill Seitz said...

I think that evaluating/generalizing the motives/biases of a person, rather than the content of the statements themselves, is a dangerous/messy/error-prone process.

http://webseitz.fluxent.com/wiki/MessageVsMessenger

 
At 2:01 PM, December 28, 2005, Blogger Eric said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 2:03 PM, December 28, 2005, Blogger Eric said...

Keep in mind that belief in Intelligent Design does not imply belief in Christianity. Aren't there people who believe von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods was correct and the Earth has been visited by space aliens? I don't know if those people believe in ID, but it's pretty close-- and based entirely on evidence, not on religious belief.
Many of the comments on the post show the typical objections to ID: (1) the motives of its advocates, (2) dogmatic opposition to even the possibility of an active God, and (3) lack of credentials of its advocates. It amazes me how people dare to trot these out instead of real arguments such as Prof. Friedman's example of the human appendix.

 
At 4:42 PM, December 28, 2005, Anonymous Corwyn said...

How about the risks of faith based economics?

100% of all economics I have seen, is done with the desired worldview clearly in mind beforehand. Captialist economists produce capitalistic economics. Libertarian economists produce libertarian economics. Surely, this isn't a coincidence.

 
At 7:15 PM, December 28, 2005, Blogger miltie said...

"100% of all economics I have seen, is done with the desired worldview clearly in mind beforehand. Captialist economists produce capitalistic economics. Libertarian economists produce libertarian economics. Surely, this isn't a coincidence. "

100% that seems like a pretty bold statement. Care to back it up with some evidence? What economists are you referring to and how did you come to the conclusion that the work they have "done" was with the desired worldview clearly in mind beforehand.

I can think of several economists who would not fit your depiction of economists. Thomas Sowell for one started off as a Marxist before he started writing economics from a more laissez faire perspective. I believe Hayek actually started off as a socialist before he read Mises' Socialism.

 
At 7:21 PM, December 28, 2005, Blogger David Friedman said...

"100% of all economics I have seen, is done with the desired worldview clearly in mind beforehand. Captialist economists produce capitalistic economics. Libertarian economists produce libertarian economics."

100% is a good deal too high. There are quite a lot of places in my work where I point out good economic arguments for policies that I oppose, such as national health insurance or antitrust.

On the other hand, zero % would be too low. The difference is one of degree--between looking for good arguments for positions one supports, which I expect we all do, and a policy of offering whatever arguments one can for the preferred policy, good or not, and ignoring or misstating arguments against, however good.

 
At 11:02 PM, December 28, 2005, Blogger Russell said...

I wish socialism were a viable form of societal organization, but when I go looking for evidence that it is, I don't find any. I don't find libertarian economics because I'm looking for it; I find it because it's what's there.

 
At 6:51 PM, December 29, 2005, Anonymous Jiann-Ming Su said...

Sorry for being late to the game, but a friend just pointed this site out to me.

What I haven't heard from either side of this ID "debate" is that ID is Philosophy. In Philosophy of Religion, it's commonly known as the Teleological Argument.

In that sense, ID shouldn't be taught in science classes as an alternative to evolution. It should be taught in Philosophy classes along with the Ontological and Cosmological Arguments. Of course, all the counter arguments for the existence of God must also be discussed as well.

IMO, the Teleological Argument is the weakest of the classical arguments for the existence of the God of Abraham, whom the Deist that founded this country didn't particularly believe in, either.

The ID debate seems to be just another diversionary bone tossed to the largely ignorant public. The Department of Education will live to see another election.

 
At 12:22 AM, December 30, 2005, Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

ID isn't falsified by "bad design." Maybe the designer was not perfectly competent, or had a purpose in mind we can't fathom, or maybe microevolution (which IDrs appear to accept) corrupted the design.

ID really focuses on a subset of observed phenomona which are supposedly of such complexity that they can be explained only as products of intentional design. Behe himself makes the point that we can see things that are are not designed, and things that are so complex that they must have been designed. But ID gives us no way to distinguish between the two, and simply asserts that things sufficiently complex must have been designed. And there's no test that can falsify the asertion.

It's religion, not science.

 
At 11:26 AM, December 30, 2005, Blogger John Cowan said...

Galileo's motive for presenting his heliocentric theory was his egotism and intellectual ruthlessness (he could have written the Flamer's Bible), and he was put under house arrest not for heliocentricism but for pissing off everyone who was everyone in the whole of Central Italy, up to and including the Pope.

Of course it did still move.

 
At 2:51 PM, January 03, 2006, Blogger Over A. Barrel said...

Of course Intelligent Design is a scientific, observable, testable, verifiable, existential fact. My two collies are living proof of Intelligent HUMAN Design. A more serious question is: at what point do people who believe stupid ideas qualify as stupid themselves? I also resent baseless ideas being forced down my throat by the incognoscenti. Keep your religious beliefs hidden in the closet where they belong. They offend me mightily.

You may wrongly and unfortunately take environmentalism as a kind of religion. Unchecked capitalism is a demonstrably, environmentally destructive fact, not a religion. My argument NATURALLY carries the day, but all species, including our own, lose regardless with the ravages of current global environmental insanity.

 
At 6:24 PM, January 03, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was sent to this page, and thought it might be an interesting blog, until I read the ignorant postings on ID. I believe you should reserve judgement until you have a clue.

"There are examples of bad design, but good evolution." And how can you tell? Because you would have designed it "differently?" There are many cases where someone would design X differently, until they learn about real world limitations, and the way things really work, that make them realize the original design was better than theirs. Coders face this challenge all the time.

Another waste of bits.

*sigh*

 
At 6:48 AM, January 21, 2009, Blogger wow power leveling said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home