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What is the difference between science, non-science and pseudo-science?

What is the difference between science, non-science and pseudo-science?

Each question must be 1200-1500 words.Do not merely repeat the notes. Illustrate examples of arguments elsewhere. Questions: 1) What is the difference between science, non-science and pseudo-science? Are non-scientific explanations ever correct? What should we do when a scientific explanation clashes with a non- scientific explanation? Illustrate with examples. 2) What role do appeals to ignorance play in conspiracy theories? When should we believe that there has been a conspiracy? Illustrate with examples. Each question must be 1200-1500 words.

Critical Thinking Lecture 9: Science, Pseudo-Science & Non-Science 9.1 What is Science? In the US for the past few years there has been controversy raging over the status of Intelligent Design Theory and whether it should be taught in school science classes. The US has a constitutional ban on the teaching of religion in State schools, so a large part of the political issue concerns whether Intelligent Design Theory is science or not. This is a particular instance of a really interesting question concerning the nature of science and the difference between science, pseudo-science and nonscience. We will consider this particular question and its more general counterpart, as well as related questions: Should scientific explanation be privileged? If so, why? How much can science explain? When are non-scientific explanations appropriate? Science aims to discover the way the world is and explain why it is how it is. Scientific claims, then, are descriptive claims and explanatory claims. Scientists use a distinctive but fairly varied method that includes a combination of some or all of the following: the framing of hypotheses the testing of hypotheses through observation and experiment the duplication and verification of other scientists’ experimental results the use of mathematical models the use of measuring instruments and other investigative technology open argument when there is disagreement While all scientists use some combination of these methods, the various sciences are divided up according to subject matter, e.g. geology is the scientific study of the Earth’s crust; physics is the scientific study of fundamental particles, forces, space and time; biology is the scientific study of living things, psychology is the scientific study of mind and behaviour.Since the Scientific Revolution in the 16th and 17th centuries, scientists have been spectacularly successful in explaining many things that had previously been total mysteries. e.g. The structure of the solar system, the mechanism of biological inheritance, the cause of many illnesses, the cause of earthquakes. Scientific discoveries have also allowed us to construct new technologies that fill the modern world. e.g. cars, computers, televisions, artificial hips, etc. This success might lead us to think that science can explain everything. Is this the case? 9.2 What Science Can’t Do There are many very important questions that science cannot answer. Philosophers tend to be more aware of this than others, as many of these are questions that we try to investigate philosophically rather than scientifically. e.g. Normative questions: Questions about what to do. There are several different kinds of normative questions. Some concern rationality and epistemology, e.g. What should I believe? When should I seek more evidence? Note that scientists rely on implicit answers to these questions whenever they do science, but they are not themselves questions that can be investigated scientifically. Other normative questions concern morality. What morally ought I do? Should I give money to charity? Should I ever tell lies? Should I use animals in research? Science does not address these questions. It tells us the way the world is, not the way the world should be. Evaluative questions: Questions about what is good or bad, admirable and excellent or deplorable and deficient. Again, there are several kinds of evaluative questions, including epistemic, moral and aesthetic. What makes a theory a good theory and what makes a theory a bad theory? What is justification? Is courage always morally admirable? What is just society? Who deserves to have the right to vote? Is the Renzo Piano building in Sydney beautiful? Questions about meaning: What does the word “natural” mean? How do words and sentences come to have meaning? Non-empirical questions: e.g. Some non-empirical questions are questions concerning maths and logic. Note that there definitely are mathematical and logical facts or truths, and that we definitely have objective mathematical and logical knowledge. (Some people might describe maths and logic as weird kinds of science.) Some non-empirical questions are questions about what happens in some hypothetical unobservable realm that has no observable effect on our own, e.g. a separate afterlife. Others are metaphysical questions, e.g. about the nature of causation, or about the nature of particulars and universals, in which the disputing parties agree that all observable facts would be the same regardless of which theory is correct. Questions about the subjective character of experience; e.g. What is it like to be a bat? What is it like for a colour-blind person to see red-green? We can answer questions about the nature of our own experience through introspection, so these are not non-empirical questions. Nonetheless, we cannot answer these questions scientifically, because we cannot observe another person’s experience. There can be no objective data on these issues. How might scientists respond to these claims about the limits of scientific investigation? One response is to argue that science can answer these questions (or can answer some subset of them). Strictly speaking, I think this is not true. What is certainly true is that science can help us to answer some of these questions by showing us what causes what, and hence which are the likely effects of various courses of action. Ignorance of the scientifically accessible facts can prevent us from making correct decisions about what we should do. e.g. Some normative and evaluative disagreements turn on the empirical question of what is the likely outcome of certain courses of action. Suppose that we agree that we ought to act so as to reduce poverty, and some people think we can do so by giving money to the poor while others think we can do so by not giving money to the poor. In this dispute, knowledge of the effects of those two policies will help us to decide what we ought to do, and the best way to acquire such knowledge is through the social sciences, including economics. The basic questions in these domains, though, cannot be answered by science. e.g. Should we act so as to reduce poverty? Or, should we confiscate the property of the rich, if that is the best way to reduce poverty? We often should appeal to science in order to help us to answer normative and evaluative questions, but science alone is not sufficient to answer them. Another possible response to the purported limits of science is offered by logical positivists, who maintain that science can get at all of the facts, but to deny that there are any facts concerning what is right or wrong, good or bad, no facts concerning the subjective character of experience or God or the afterlife. (Logical positivists say that there are lots of true claims concerning maths and logic and meaning, but that such claims are tautologies, and hence do not express facts.) If the logical positivists are right, then there is no point in arguing about whether God exists or whether going to war is wrong. For the purposes of this course, let’s note that we do argue about these things, and we think that they are some of the most important arguments we ever have. We think that we have been mistaken about some of these things in the past. e.g. I used to think that homosexuality was wrong, and now I see that I was mistaken in holding that view. This suggests that there are facts in this domain, and that some kind of knowledge in these domains is possible. Another possible response to the purported limits of science is to claim that there are facts in these domains, but that we cannot ever know what the facts are, and hence that there is no point trying to find out what they are. In this case, all useful inquiry is still scientific inquiry because all accessible facts are accessible only via science. Science can answer every question that is answerable. This is obviously not true with regards to maths and logic. Why suppose that science is the only way in which we can get at the facts? There are other forms of inquiry as well. The best response that scientists can make to the arguments concernin
g the limits o
f scientific inquiry is to accept those limits and to defend the excellent achievements of science within the domains to which is does apply. Science has given us unparalleled success in predicting and explaining events. To admit that science has a limited domain is not to devalue science, nor to undermine the power or authority of science in the domains to which it does apply. 9.3 Science and Disagreement Obviously, though the domain of science is very broad. Scientists attempt to tell us what there is in the world, how the world works, and why the world is as it is. Thus, the claims made by scientists sometimes clash with the claims made by people from outside of science. What should we do when scientists disagree with another source of information, such as religion or history or tradition? Sometimes people respond to such clashes by arguing that science and other sources of information are equal in the relevant respects, so that we have no reason to favour science. e.g. Some people say that science is a religion just like the other religions, or that science is a matter of faith, so we have no reason to privilege scientific claims over religious claims. Is science a religion? No, in part because religion is partly defined by its subject matter – the sacred, the divine – and in part because the method of inquiry in science is very different to the method of inquiry in most religions. Religious inquiry is varied. It often relies on authority and sacred texts, but it can also include straightforwardly philosophical argument (e.g. Aquinas) and “natural theology”, which makes an inference to the best explanation from the explanandum of world to the existence of the most likely explanans – God. But almost all religious people who employ these philosophical styles of argument also accord a significant role to scripture as a source of knowledge about God and the world. Is science a matter of faith? There are different senses of the word “faith”. To have faith in something can mean to trust it and rely on it, but to believe something on the basis of faith means to believe it despite a lack of evidence for its truth. Some religious people have faith in God, in the first sense, but think that there is very strong evidence for the existence of God, so they do not believe on the basis of faith, in the second sense. In contrast, some people have both kinds of faith in God. Scientists have the first kind of faith in science, but they do not believe in science on the basis of faith. They cite strong evidence that science reveals the way the world works, e.g. evidence of our increased ability to predict and control events due to scientific theories. Thus, it is misleading to claim that science is a matter of faith, that there is no reason to trust in science, and that there is no evidence that favours a scientific explanation over a non-scientific explanation. In some cases it is very easy to see that a scientific claim is stronger than competing religious, historical or traditional claims. Sometimes we can do it by observation. e.g. The claim that the rain is caused by our sacrifices to the Rain God is easily disproved by ceasing the sacrifices and noting that it still rains. In some cases, though, it is harder to find a predictive difference between competing scientific and non-scientific explanations. This is often true when the events to be explained are one-off historical events. e.g. The creation of the universe and the creation of species as described in Genesis in the Bible and as described by physicists and biologists. In such cases we must consider which explanation fits better with the observed facts. As we shall see, there can be deep disputes over this. 9.4 Are All Scientific Claims Correct? Critics of a particular scientific theory often point out that we know that scientists have been wrong in the past. e.g. Newton’s physics was very widely accepted, but then it turned out to be rejected after Einstein’s theory of relativity. Does the fact that scientists have been wrong show that we ought not accept the claims of individual scientists? Does the fact that the scientific consensus has been wrong show that we ought not accept the scientific consensus? There is an important conclusion that we ought to draw from these facts. It is that scientists, like everyone else, are fallible, and that we should hold open the possibility that their claims are false. It is possible to have very good evidence for a theory, even though that theory turns out to be false. But the fact that science is fallible does not give us a reason to reject specific claims made by scientists. As we have seen earlier in the course, a general sceptical worry should not lead us to reject specific claims for which evidence is being offered. Note that exactly the same general sceptical argument can be directed against every group, not just against scientists. Thus, if it were a good argument, we should not accept the claims of scientists, OR the claims of priests, OR the claims of historians, OR the claims of philosophers, because members of all of those groups have made false claims. When scientists put forward a theory, they are not asking you to accept it merely on the basis of the fact that it is put forward by scientists. Scientists offer evidence that the specific theory is true, and the appropriate response is to evaluate that evidence as best we can and form our beliefs accordingly. The fact that a theory is accepted by the scientific community might give us an extra reason to believe that the theory it is true, although such a reason is obviously defeasible (i.e. it might be overridden by other facts, or might dissolve in light of new information). “Scientific” is not a synonym for “true” or “well-justified”. Obviously, lots of scientific theories have been incorrect, and it is very likely that some currently accepted scientific theories will also turn out to be incorrect. In some cases, there is no consensus amongst the scientific community. What should we do when scientists disagree with each other? As in the case where scientists agree, we should evaluate the evidence they offer as best we can and form our beliefs accordingly. 9.5 Science and Non-Science Some theories are scientific theories that have been proved to be true. e.g. Matter can be converted into energy, e = mc2 . Other theories are scientific theories that have been proved to be false. e.g. Light waves travel through an ether that fills all of space. Character is revealed by the shape of a person’s head (phrenology). Some theories are not scientifically generated but are scientifically testable. e.g. The rain is caused by our sacrifices to the Rain God. The entire surface of the Earth was covered by water in the flood described in the Book of Genesis. Angles and Saxons invaded Britain and displaced the native Britons, so most of the current English are the descendants of Anglo Saxons (an historically generated claim that has been scientifically tested via DNA testing and disproven). Other theories are not scientifically generated theories and are not scientifically testable. e.g. That we have a perfect duty not to tell lies, and an imperfect duty to help others. The fact that a theory is not a scientifically generated theory and is not scientifically testable does not in itself imply that there is something wrong with the theory. e.g. A moral theory, which tells us which things are good and which actions are right, which things are bad and which actions are wrong, is not a scientific theory, but that is perfectly fine, because fundamental moral questions are not within the domain of science. There does seem to be a problem, though, when a theory appears to be within the domain of science, in that it makes descriptive and explanatory claims about the world, but is not scientifically testable. Such a theory should be scientifically testable, but it is not. When such theories are presented as if they were scientific, we call them pseudo-science. The philosopher Karl Popper offered a famous and influential account of the difference between scientific and pseudo-scientific
theories (or scientifically tes
table theories and those that are not scientifically testable). According to Popper, Marxism and Freudian psychology are presented by their proponents as science, but neither are proper scientific theories. Surprisingly, Popper claims that the reason that Marxism and Freudian psychology are not scientific theories is that both theories do too good a job of fitting with the observed facts. Traditional Marxists claim that history inevitably moves through economic stages from feudalism to capitalism and finally to socialism. It seems that Marxism generates predictions that can be tested against historical events. However, a feature of the theory is that the progress towards socialism is not linear and direct, but is dialectical in structure. Thus, even if a society moves from socialism to capitalism, Marxists can say this fits with their theory, as it is just a dialectical step that will eventually be followed by a permanent move to socialism.Freudians posit lots of unconscious mechanisms that explain our behaviour. e.g. Oedipus complex (a desire to kill your father and have sex with your mother). But some people do not behave as if they want to kill their fathers. How can this fit with Freudian theory? Freud posits another unconscious mechanism called “reaction formation”, which causes people to repress their desires and do the opposite of what they really want to do. Thus, the Freudian claim that every man has an Oedipal complex fits with all observed behaviour. Popper rejects the view that theories which fit with all possible observations are thereby convincing and well-confirmed. Rather, they are not proper scientific theories. The right kind of theory, according to Popper, is a theory that makes falsifiable claims. A claim is falsifiable if it would be shown to be false by some possible observations. e.g. The claim that all ravens are black is falsifiable, because the observation of a white or pink raven would show that it is false. The claim that Virgos might meet the man of their dreams in the coming month are not falsifiable: if they do meet that man, the claim is true, but if they don’t meet that man, the claim could still be true. The psychologist Bertram Forer conducted a famous experiment which demonstrated that the problem with astrology was not that its star sign descriptions did not apply to people who those particular star signs, but that the description for any star sign applied equally well to everyone. He gave an “individually tailored astrological description” to each of the subjects in the study, after which we asked the subjects how well the description fitted them. Here is the description: You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and selfcontrolled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic. The problem is that this description fits virtually everyone pretty well, and that people who believe that it has been written especially for them are even more likely to say that it is accurate. What seems like a detailed an specific description is actually so broad and vague that virtually everyone identifies with it. Popper claims that all theories that are genuinely scientific make falsifiable claims. Some such scientific theories have actually been falsified. e.g. Phrenology led to predictions that were falsified, so phrenology was a scientific theory but an incorrect scientific theory. Other theories, including Marxism and Freudian psychology, count as pseudo-science because the theories are unfalsifiable. Note that claims can be falsifiable yet unfalsified, because no actual observations have shown them to be false. According to Popper, the scientific theories that we should accept are those that make bold, falsifiable predictions but have been tested and not yet falsified. e.g. Einstein’s theory of relativity made a bold prediction that light would be bent by a gravitational field. This was tested in 1919 via observations during a solar eclipse, and the prediction was vindicated. Hence, Einstein’s theory remains unfalsified. Popper is an inductive sceptic, so he thinks that we can never know for sure that a scientific theory is true. Popper thinks that a form of deductive inference (modus tollens) lies at the heart of scientific knowledge. If all ravens are black, then we will never observe a black raven. We have observed a non-black raven. Therefore, not all ravens are black.Popper thinks that via this argument we can know that many scientific theories are false. This makes it seem as science is always a negative exercise: ruling theories out rather than discovering the true theory. Yet Popper thinks we should believe scientific theories that are falsifiable, well-tested, and as yet unfalsified. It is not clear whether Popper’s inductive scepticism is warranted. Nonetheless, his point about unfalsifiable theories is very important. 9.6 Is Popper Right? Popper’s account of the difference between science and pseudo-science has been deeply influential, but is still contentious. One of the most significant objections is that many scientific theories that we now think are very clearly true did not fit with some observations in the past. If we had followed Popper’s rule and rejected a theory that clashed with an observation, then we would have rejected these true theories. e.g. Copernican astronomy suggests that the Earth moves around the Sun but the stars do not. This leads to the prediction that the apparent positions of the stars should change through the year as we move closer towards some and further away from others – a phenomenon called stellar parallax. However, stellar parallax was not observed. The positions of the stars remain constant throughout the year. This observation seems to falsify Copernican astronomy. But it would have been a terrible mistake to reject the Copernican theory on these grounds. The reason that we should not have rejected Copernican astronomy is that the apparent falsifying observation was not really a falsification of the theory. The stars are so far from the Earth that the parallax is undetectable without sophisticated telescopes and measuring instruments. What appears to be a falsifying observation might itself be misleading. It can be better to hold onto a scientific theory in the face of apparently disconfirming evidence, and hope that the evidence can be explained away in future. Sometimes the first premise in Popper’s deductive argument is false. In this case perhaps we need to make our scientific theory more complex, and then we will see that the truth of the theory is compatible with the observation. Alternatively, perhaps we just need to think through the implications of our theory more clearly, and we will see that the theory fits with the observation. E.g. If a creature has evolved by natural selection then it must be totally selfish, and never help others. We observe that human beings do help others. Therefore human beings have not evolved by natural selection. This argument has the kind of form that Popper recommends. Does it really show that Darwinism is false? It does not. The first premise of the argument is a false claim about what is implied by Darwinism (see the literature on the evolution of cooperation). Sometimes the second premise in Popper’s deductive argument is false. A seeming observation of
X might turn out to be m
istaken. If the Earth revolves around the Sun then through the year Venus should sometimes appear bigger and sometimes appear smaller. We observe that Venus remains a constant size throughout the year. Therefore the Earth does not revolve around the Sun. This argument has the kind of form that Popper recommends. Does it really show that Copernicanism is false? It does not. The first premise of the argument is true (so long as by “appears” we do not mean “appears to the naked eye”). The second premise is false, as Galileo discovered by using the telescope. This is the case with stellar parallax as well. The stars are so far from the Earth that the parallax is undetectable without sophisticated telescopes and measuring instruments. What appears to be a falsifying observation might itself be misleading. It can be better to hold onto a scientific theory in the face of apparently disconfirming evidence, and hope that the evidence can be explained away in future. From this dispute in philosophy of science we can draw two important conclusions: We should be wary of theories that are designed so as to fit with all possible observations. Such theories are unfalsifiable, and not scientific. We should be wary of rejecting an otherwise well-confirmed scientific theory simply because there are a few observations that apparently falsify the theory. Sometimes the observations themselves are misleading, and sometimes the interpretations of the observations are misleading. Unfortunately, these two conclusions are in tension. It is better that we recognise this tension and the subsequent difficulties that we have in assessing scientific theories, rather than pretend that there are simple rules for determining whether a theory is scientific and whether a theory is true. 9.6 Biological Explananda The dispute between Darwinians and Intelligent Design theorists illustrates this problem. Both theories are aimed at explaining the same facts about the biological world, and the explanations offered are very different. Darwinians say that complex plants and animals evolved gradually via an unguided process of natural selection, whereas Intelligent Design theorists say that plants and animals must have been designed and created in their complex form by an intelligent being. Intelligent Design theorists usually believe that God is the intelligent designer, but they try to separate that claim from the “scientific” part of their theory. Thus, most Intelligent Design theorists are Creationists, but in the context of Intelligent Design theory they do not call only evidence from religious texts to support their view. Intelligent Design theorists argue that their theory is both scientific and true. Both Darwinism and Intelligent Design are the result of arguments to the best explanation. In order to assess them, we need to fix on what needs to be explained, and then consider which of the theories offers a better explanation. Biological Explananda:* The origin of life – Where did plants and animals come from? Who or what made them? By what process were they formed? * Apparent design – How can we explain the fact that organisms contain parts that are intricately and cleverly arranged to perform useful functions. e.g. the eye, with its pupil, lens, etc. seems to be purposefully put together in order to allow us to see. These parts all fit together into a coherent functioning whole. Why? * Adaptive fit – why do organisms have traits which are particularly suited to their environments. e.g. Why do polar bears have warm coats? Why do anteaters have long, thin snouts? * Apparent change – Fossil evidence suggests that many species no longer exist (e.g. dinosaurs), that some species have came into existence later than others (they are not found in older rocks), and that many species appeared to have undergone change over time, and that more complex organisms appear later in the fossil record. Why have some species changed over time, why have some remained the same? Why have some species become extinct and others arisen later on? Why is there an increase in complexity over time? * Embryonic weirdness – e.g. Human embryos have tails, gills, etc. at some stages of their development * Vestigial organs/limbs – Why do dolphins and whales have useless bones in their bodies at the place where land-mammals’ back limbs would be? Why do humans have a useless (and dangerous) appendix? Why do lizards which live in utterly dark caves have vestigial non-functional eyes? 9.7 The Darwinian Explanation Darwin claimed that complex organisms evolved via natural selection. The Three conditions required for Evolution by Natural Selection (illustrated by an easy example): (1) phenotypic variation – there must be variation in a population for natural selection to occur. e.g. some rabbits have slightly lighter winter fur than others. (Again, variations may be of bodily form or of instinctive behaviour.)(2) which affects reproductive success – this variation must have a differential affect on reproductive success, i.e. organisms which possess the unusual trait must do better or worse (on average) than those who lack it. e.g. rabbits with lighter winter fur are less likely to be spotted by predators, and hence have a greater chance of surviving the winter and reproducing. Over the course of their lives, they have more offspring than darker rabbits. (3) variations are inherited by offspring – the offspring of parents who possess the unusual trait are (on average) more likely to possess that trait too. The variation is “heritable”. NB What causes the inheritance is irrelevant; so long as there is some positive correlation between parent and offspring, the process of natural selection can operate. Why is each condition essential? Without (1) every organism is the same. There is no difference in virtue of which one can be selected over another. All rabbits will be the same shade. Without (2) the differences between organisms don’t make a difference to their respective reproductive capacities. Whiter rabbits will do no better than darker ones at producing offspring. Natural selection can’t see these differences. Without (3) even if whiter rabbits have more offspring than darker ones, the babies of whiter rabbits will not themselves be more likely to be white. Hence, the proportion of white rabbits in the population will not grow. Natural selection can see the differences but the selection cannot accumulate – the slate is wiped clean at each new reproductive stage. One of the catchphrases used by Darwinians is the “survival of the fittest”. What does this mean? Some organisms possess traits which make them fitter, i.e. stronger, better suited, hardier, more resourceful, less frail. Fit organisms will (on average) have longer life spans, but this doesn’t get at the significance of “survival of the fittest”. Those organisms in a population which are fitter than others are better able to survive and reproduce than their counterparts. Hence, there will come to be a greater number of their offspring in the population. If their offspring tend to inherit the trait that increases their fitness, then, bit by bit, that trait will become dominant across the population. Thus, evolutionary change has occurred. Darwin claimed that the huge changes we see in the fossil record are accumulations of small changes due to natural selection. How does the Darwinian mechanism explain the explananda? * Apparent design – How is it that organisms consist of an intricate arrangement of complex parts, unless they are the product of an intelligent designer? Darwin says that this arrangement is built up step by tiny step over vast periods of time. e.g. a light sensitive cell can give an advantage to an organism, and will be selected. Variations on this – a clump of cells, a clump of cells in a fold to increase density, a circular layer of cells at the back of a pin-hole camera style cavity, a pinhole camera behind a clear protective barrier, the fluid in the cavity differentiates into a lens – will each be selected, and come to predominate. Thus, apparent design requires no designer,
just lots of accumulated incremental advantages over a lo
ng period. God is not required. * Adaptive fit – Organisms are well-suited to their environments because the environmental conditions play a huge part in determining respective fitnesses of the organisms. Any type of organism slightly better suited to its conditions will have a reproductive advantage, and will be selected. Over time, this will lead to the evolution of complex ecosystems full of inter-connections and adaptations. e.g. rabbits in snowy climates will have white fur in winter. * Apparent Change – Darwin has a great explanation for the change that is apparent in the fossil record. This change is evolution in progress. Given the pressure of natural selection, you would not expect all species to remain the same over time, and you would expect complexity to increase gradually. * Embryonic weirdness & Vestigial Organs – These are not the kind of features you would expect to find in creatures designed by God, but they are just the kind of features you’d expect in species that are gradual modifications of other species. Darwinism does not explain the origin of life. 9.8 Intelligent Design Intelligent Design theory suggests that an intelligent designer created organisms in their present complex form. Thus, Intelligent Design theory is a competitor to Darwinism. Moreover, Intelligent Design is presented as a science. NB Many people who are religious, and who believe that there is an intelligent creator of the universe, do not believe Intelligent Design theory. How does Intelligent Design Theory account for the explananda? Intelligent Design theorists have an neat explanation of apparent design and adaptive fit: they think that apparent design is actual design, and that the designer designed creatures so that they would be suited to their specific environments. In fact, the ID theorists argue that Darwinians cannot explain the structured complexity of many features of organisms, and that only a designer could have produced such complexity. Darwinians must respond by showing how a complex organ or process which contains many necessary parts can evolve bit by bit. They do offer such explanations.

How do ID theorists explain the apparent change in species over time? They could argue that these apparent changes are merely apparent (i.e. there is merely an illusion of change), and that the designer created organisms all at roughly the same time and in their current form (and maybe some died out). This does not fit well with the geological evidence. Alternatively, ID theorist could argue that God created organisms in their current form but not all at roughly the same time. Rather, he designed and created the simpler ones first, and then created more complex ones later on. This is certainly possible, but is it an ad hoc response? How do ID theorists explain embryonic weirdness and vestigial organs? They simply have to say that the designer designed creatures that way. They might try to make this sound more plausible by looking for functions possessed by vestigial organs, but this will be pretty difficult. Obviously, the danger with ID theory is that it seems to be unfalsifiable. Whatever we observe in organisms fits with the theory, because the designer could have designed things in that way. If the theory does not make falsifiable claims, Popper would say that it is not a scientific theory. The following text in italics is from the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Centre website http://www.ideacenter.org. (I have deleted some sections to make it shorter.) It is a nice example of arguments for both the view that Intelligent Design is a science and that Intelligent Design is true. FAQ: Does intelligent design make predictions? Is it testable? At the heart of science is observations, which is what forms the beginning of the scientific method. These observations allow us to make a hypothesis which make testable predictions about what we would expect to find if that hypothesis were true. Putting Intelligent Design to the Test: Intelligent design theorists begin with their theory with observations about how intelligent agents act when designing, to help them understand how to recognize and detect design: Ways Designers Act When Designing (Observations): Intelligent agents … (1) Take many parts and arrange them in highly specified and complex patterns which perform a specific function. “Experience teaches that information-rich systems … invariably result from intelligent causes, not naturalistic ones. … Finding the best explanation, however, requires invoking causes that have the power to produce the effect in question. When it comes to information, we know of only one such cause. For this reason, the biology of the information age now requires a new science of design.” (Stephen C. Meyer, “The Explanatory Power of Design,” in Mere Creation, pg. 140 (William A. Dembski ed., InterVarsity Press 1998)) “Indeed, in all cases where we know the causal origin of ‘high information content,’ experience has shown that intelligent design played a causal role.” (Stephen C. Meyer, DNA and Other Designs) (2) Rapidly infuse any amounts of genetic information into the biosphere, including large amounts, such that at times rapid morphological or genetic changes could occur in populations. “Intelligent design provides a sufficient causal explanation for the origin of large amounts of information, since we have considerable experience of intelligent agents generating informational configurations of matter.” (Meyer S. C. et. al., “The Cambrian Explosion: Biology’s Big Bang,” in Darwinism, Design, and Public Education, edited by J. A. Campbell and S. C. Meyer (Michigan State University Press, 2003) (3) ‘Re-use parts’ over-and-over in different types of organisms (design upon a common blueprint). “An intelligent cause may reuse or redeploy the same module in different systems, without there necessarily being any material or physical connection between those systems. Even more simply, intelligent causes can generate identical patterns independently: We do so, for instance, every time we sign a bank check or credit card slip” (Nelson and Wells, Homology in Biology, in Darwinism, Design, and Public Education, pg. 316, 318 (John Angus Campbell, ed. Michigan State University Press 2003). (4) Be said to typically NOT create completely functionless objects or parts (although we may sometimes think something is functionless, but not realize its true function).These observations can then be converted into predictions about what we should find if an object was designed: Predictions of Design (Hypothesis): (1) High information content machine-like irreducibly complex structures will be found. (2) Forms will be found in the fossil record that appear suddenly and without any precursors. (3) Genes and functional parts will be re-used in different unrelated organisms. (4) The genetic code will NOT contain much discarded genetic baggage code or functionless “junk DNA”. These predictions can then be put to the test by observing the scientific data: Table 3. Examining the Evidence (Experiment and Conclusion): (1) Biochemical complexity / Laws of the Universe. High information content machine-like irreducibly complex structures are commonly found. The bacterial flagellum is a prime example. Specified complexity found in the laws of the universe may be another. Prediction of Design Met?: Yes. (2) Fossil Record Biological complexity (i.e. new species) tend to appear in the fossil record suddenly and without any similar precursors. The Cambrian explosion is a prime example. Prediction of Design Met?: Yes. (3) Distribution of Molecular and Morphological Characteristics Similar parts found in different organisms. Many genes and functional parts not distributed in a manner predicted by ancestry, and are often found in clearly unrelated organisms. The “root” of the tree of life is a prime example. Prediction of Design Met?: Yes. (4) DNA Biochemical and Biological Functionality Increased knowledge of genetics has created a strong trend towards functionality for “junk-DNA.” Examples include recently discovered functionality in some pseudogenes, microRNAs, introns, LINE and ALU elements. Examples of DNA of unknown function persist, but discovery of function may be expected (or lack of current function still explainable under a design paradigm). Prediction of Design Met?: Yes. In this manner, intelligent design is clearly testable as it observes how intelligent agents act when designing (Table 1) in order to make predictions about what we should find if an intelligent agent had been at work (Table 2) , and then goes out and tests those predictions to see if they are met (Table 3)! 9.9 Assessing Darwinism and Intelligent Design Are the so-called predictions made by ID any different to the predictions made by Darwinism? Darwinians say that their own theory explains the existence of so-called irreducibly complex structures, e.g. the eye. A quote from “Devolution” by H. Allen Orr: As biologists pointed out, there are several different ways that Darwinian evolution can build irreducibly complex systems. In one, elaborate structures may evolve for one reason and then get co-opted for some entirely different, irreducibly complex function. Who says those thirty flagellar proteins weren’t present in bacteria long before bacteria sported flagella? They may have been performing other jobs in the cell and only later got drafted into flagellumbuilding. Indeed, there’s now strong evidence that several flagellar proteins once played roles in a type of molecular pump found in the membranes of bacterial cells. Behe [an Intelligent Design theorist] doesn’t consider this sort of “indirect” path to irreducible complexity—in which parts perform one function and then switch to another—terribly plausible. And he essentially rules out the alternative possibility of a direct Darwinian path: a path, that is, in which Darwinism builds an irreducibly complex structure while selecting all along for the same biological function. But biologists have shown that direct paths to irreducible complexity are possible, too. Suppose a part gets added to a system merely because the part improves the system’s performance; the part is not, at this sta
ge, essential for function. But, because subsequent evolution
builds on this addition, a part that was at first just advantageous might become essential. As this process is repeated through evolutionary time, more and more parts that were once merely beneficial become necessary. Darwinians also say that they can explain why some complex creatures appear suddenly in the fossil record. The fossil record is patchy and highly dependent on chance. But Darwinians will also argue that in many cases there is a fossil record of the gradual development of complex creatures. Darwinians will also explain why distantly-related organisms have similar functional parts. If the functional part is really useful, it is possible that it will evolve separately in distinct lineages. e.g. Wings in birds and bats, tail fins in sharks and dolphins, eyes in humans and cockroaches and bees. But note that in these cases there are often interesting differences between the functionally similar parts, e.g. orientation of fins, structure of eyes. If the idea is that a designer would reuse existing designs in many organisms, why are there such differences? Why didn’t a designer slot in the same kind of eye for all insects? Darwinians also explain why most of the parts of organisms have functions. If the parts were shaped by natural selection, then the parts contributed something to the raising of the organisms’ fitness, i.e. they have a function. Showing that ID’s so-called predictions are confirmed does not give us a reason to favour ID over Darwinism, because Darwinism makes roughly the same predictions on the specific points mentioned by ID theorists. Could we distinguish the two theories by getting them to make different predictions and then testing which predicts correctly? Are there really clear predictions made by ID? Or are there merely descriptions of what we know already about biology? Is this a case where prediction plays little role and we instead have to assess the theories according to how well they fit with the observed facts? Does either Darwinism or ID make any falsifiable predictions?Does Darwinism make any novel predictions or offer explanations of facts that are not explained by ID? Some biologists say that it does. e.g. Darwinism explains why there must be gradual development of complexity of life through the fossil record. This generates a prediction: we will not find a fossil of a horse in Cambrian rock. Such a find would falsify Darwinism, and that fact that we made no such find seems to confirm the Darwinian account of evolution. Note that such a find would not falsify ID theory. Can ID theorists explain why fossils show animals getting increasing more complex over time? A designing God could have created creatures in ascending order of complexity like this, but why would he? Was he learning along the way? Darwinians argue that it is ad hoc to claim that God created animals but did so in ascending order of complexity, so that it looked as if they were evolving. Can we know what an intelligent designer would design, and what methods he would use, without knowing more about his aims? e.g. Is the aim of the designer to make creatures that are nice to each other? Is the aim of the designer to make strong and disease resistant creatures? Is the aim of the designer to make clever creatures? Whose teeth did not decay? Were there limits on what the designer could accomplish? ID assumes that designers do not include many things in their designs that do not have functions. They typically do not create functionless parts. Is the ID theorists claim a falsifiable prediction? Suppose that the ID theorists are correct, and that designed objects typically do not include parts that have no functions. What about the Darwinians’ favourite evidence: vestigial limbs and eyes, vestigial leg bones in whales, the appendix in humans, the tail and gills on human embryos. These parts have no useful functions, but they are easily explicable on the Darwinian account as being the remnants of things that once did have useful functions in the ancestors of the current organisms. Darwinians also draw on other examples of non-optimal design, e.g. the Panda’s thumb, which is not well-designed, but is good enough for some basic purposes. Why would an intelligent designer who knows how to make a really good thumb give the Panda a dud?What will Darwinians say about the ID theorists’ claim that junk DNA will turn out to have a function? They might be happy to accept this. The standard explanatory model in Darwinism is to suppose that a trait is an adaptation, and hence has a biological function. Note that Darwinians have an explanation for why some traits of organisms no longer fulfil their function – the environment has changed or the organism has evolved (e.g. the appendix). Darwinians also can explain why there could well be a lot of functionless junk DNA. They offer a gene-level selection story which also fits well with difficult cases like meiotic driving genes. See your biology textbooks for a detailed description. Note, however, that the ID theorists’ claim is couched in language that makes it harder to falsify. Designers typically don’t include parts that have no function, so designed objects will not contain many of such parts. Thus, even if we discover that there is plenty of functionless junk DNA, ID theorists can hold on to their theory. As we have seen, this kind of unfalsifiability does not make a theory stronger. In fact, it suggests that it might not be a scientific theory at all. If Intelligent Design Theory were true, what else would we expect to observe? Other evidence of the designer. Why doesn’t the designer enter the debate and tell us that he designed organisms? Is Darwinism itself really falsifiable? Some critics accuse Darwinians of being adaptationists, i.e. of assuming that every feature of an organism must be designed by natural selection, and must have been fitness enhancing. Then Darwinians invent “Just so” stories to explain what they have observed. But how then can we test whether the Darwinian explanation was correct? Darwinists offer possible means of testing which “Just So” stories are correct: Corroborative evidence from DNA studies, which allows us to place organisms in the phylogenetic tree. Paleontological investigation of past environments. This process of testing explanations is very difficult.

1 Luke Russell: Reason Lecture 5 Critical Thinking Lecture 7: Abduction & Conspiracy Theories 7.1 Abduction So far we have considered deduction and inductive generalisation, and set out criteria for what constitutes good or bad deductive arguments and inductive generalisations. The criteria for good deduction were quite tight, those for good induction quite loose. Now it is time to consider another major form of argument – Abduction, or Inference to the Best Explanation. An abductive argument points to a phenomenon that requires explanation, assesses the strengths and weaknesses of various possible explanations, and concludes that the best explanation is true. Interestingly, the kind of inference that Sherlock Holmes called “deduction” was actually abductive inference. e.g. Holmes uses an abductive argument to conclude that Dr Watson has come from Afghanistan: I knew you came from Afghanistan. From long habit the train of thoughts ran so swiftly through my mind that I arrived at the conclusion without being conscious of intermediate steps. There were such steps, however. The train of reasoning ran, ‘Here is a gentleman of medical type, but with the air of a military man. Clearly an army doctor, then. He has just come from the tropics, because his face is dark, and that is not the natural tint of his skin, for his wrists are fair. He has undergone hardship and sickness, for his haggard face says clearly. His left arm has been injured. He holds it in a stiff and unnatural manner. Where in the tropics could an English army doctor have seen such hardship and got his arm wounded? Clearly, in Afghanistan.’ (Arthur Conan Doyle, “A Study in Scarlet”, ch.1) Note that Holmes in this example and elsewhere does not argue deductively.2 Luke Russell: Reason Lecture 5 e.g. If he is blushing then he is the murderer. The butler is blushing. Therefore the butler is the murderer. Abduction need not be so complicated, nor so showy as it is in detective whodunits. (Nor so risky! Note that fictional characters can be bold in their inferences and not pay the consequences, because the author can ensure that they always get things right.) There are two interestingly distinct forms of abductive inference. Suppose that p is the explanation of q (e.g. p = the moon is in the Earth’s gravitational field, and q = the moon orbits the Earth). In some abductive inferences we are sure that q is true and comparatively unsure that p is true, but the fact that q would be best explained by p gives us a reason to believe that p is true. Thus, the argument gives us a reason to believe that p is true. e.g. There are giant stone heads on Easter Island, but when Westerners discovered Easter Island it was populated by a small number of Polynesians who did not have the resources to build such grand statues. There are several possible explanations, e.g. that aliens built them, or that the Inca built them and shipped them over, or that there once was a bigger society of Polynesians on Easter Island. The last of these is the best explanation of what we have observed. Therefore, there must have been a much larger flourishing Polynesian society on Easter Island before it was discovered by Westerners. This is inference to the best explanation, in the proper sense. In such arguments we must be careful not just to consider whether the truth of p would explain q, because usually a wide variety of facts are possible explanations of q. We must also ask whether we have other evidence for or against p. In other arguments that, loosely speaking, could be called abductive inferences we are quite sure that both p and q are true but we are unsure whether p really is the fact that explains q. Thus, the argument gives us a reason to believe that p explains q, rather than giving us a reason to believe that p is true.3 Luke Russell: Reason Lecture 5 e.g. This afternoon you picked up your niece from preschool, and then this evening you ate oysters. Now at midnight you are vomiting and have a fever. It is possible that you had picked up a virus from the kids at preschool, but it would be unusual to get the symptoms so soon after contracting the virus. It is more likely that eating the oysters made you sick. 7.2 Identifying Abductive Arguments Abduction is a very common form of argument. How can we distinguish abduction from ordinary explanation, from inductive & statistical generalisation, and from deduction? – Explanations, in their ordinary form, do not include an argument. An ordinary explanation assumes that the explanandum is the case, assumes that the explanans is the case, and then suggests that the explanans makes sense of the explanandum. – Deductive arguments have premises, often including conditionals or disjunctions, whose truth is supposed to guarantee the truth of the conclusion. – Inductive generalisations and arguments about what will happen in the future have premises about what has been observed (the sample) and conclusions about what has not been observed (the population). A good inductive argument is one whose premises give us a strong reason to believe that the conclusion is true. – Statistical generalisations are inductive generalisations that contain premises that attribute a statistical property to a sample and conclusions that attribute that property to the population. – Abductive arguments An argument to the best explanation assumes that the explanandum is the case, then either suggests that the fact that p is the best explanans gives us reason to believe that p is true, or that the fact that p is a better explanans than the alternatives gives us reason to believe that p really is the explanans. A couple of tips to help you spot abductive arguments: 4 Luke Russell: Reason Lecture 5 Sometimes abductive arguments do not explicitly include the claim that the best explanation for all of these facts is p. Often they simply present the explanandum and then give us reasons to accept one explanans rather than the alternatives. Often we use the word “must” to mark an abductive inference. e.g. You’ve got a black eye, so you must have received a blow to the head. Homer is not a good player, but he won the game, so he must have cheated. Geri Halliwell appears to be singing in tune, so she must be miming. Note, though, that we do not mean by the word “must” that these explanations are the only possible explanations, and hence that the conclusions of these arguments are guaranteed by the truth of the premises. (The word “must” has at least two senses, the must of necessity and the abductive inferential must.) After all, it is possible that you have a black eye because you’ve had surgery, and it’s possible that Homer did not cheat but won the game by chance, and it’s possible that Geri Halliwell has greatly improved her vocal ability. 7.3 Good & Bad Abductive Arguments When we put forward an abductive argument (of the first kind), we suggest that the conclusion is probably true because it is the best available explanation, not the only possible explanation. This means that it is always the case that the conclusion of a very strong abductive argument might turn out to be false. e.g. Is the Earth moving in a circle through space or is it still? Well, many of the things which we observe suggest that it is still. It doesn’t feel like it is moving (cf. a merry-go-round). It doesn’t look as if some stars come closer whilst others recede. If a 5 Luke Russell: Reason Lecture 5 branch falls out of a tree it is not left behind (cf. spitting out of a moving car). The clouds and birds in the air are not left behind (cf. running away from sand flies). What is the best explanation for all of these observations? That the Earth is still. This is a pretty strong abductive argument. Yet its conclusion is and was false, and we came to see that it was false only after we factored in lots of new observations (e.g. stellar parallax, varying apparent size of Venus) which relied on telescopes, and constructed lots of new, seemingly crazy theories (e.g. gravitation, diffraction of light). The best explanation for all of our current observations is that the
Earth orbits the Sun. Even if the premises of abd
uctive arguments are true, their conclusions might be false. (In the broad sense of “induction”, then, abduction is a form of inductive argument. But note that not all abductive arguments are inductive in the narrow sense, because some abductive arguments don’t move from observed to unobserved.) People who put forward abductive arguments sometimes signal this inherent uncertainty in the conclusion – “The best explanation for these facts is p, so it is probably the case that p”. Some philosophers have been sceptical about inference to the best explanation as well as about induction. If it is always the case that the conclusion of an abductive argument might be false, why should we suppose that it is true? How can we think we have knowledge via abduction if we admit that the beliefs we form via abduction might be false? This is a tricky problem in epistemology, and you might look at it in more detail later in your philosophical studies. As we saw in the case of inductive scepticism, we should not allow the general sceptical worry about the possibility of falsehood to undermine any and every abductive argument. Nor should we let people reject an abductive argument simply due to the fact that such arguments are not deductively valid. e.g. 6 Luke Russell: Reason Lecture 5 Trev: The best explanation for the fact that Flo Jo won gold medals in sprinting was that she was on steroids. She always denied that she took steroids, but she died at a young age, which is very common amongst steroid users. Dave: All sorts of things can kill people. It could have been anything. Even if she did die young, it is possible that her death was caused by something other than steroids. Therefore, you can’t claim to know that she took steroids. In fact, we have no idea whether she took steroids. The above claims by Dave are not convincing because they appeal to general sceptical doubt about abduction rather than to specific doubts about Flo Jo and the effects of steroids. Trev should respond by saying one of two things. The first option is to claim that we do have knowledge in this case because knowledge does not require certainty and all the evidence points to steroid use. The second option is to claim that we don’t have knowledge in this case, but that we have a very strong reason to believe that Flo Jo took steroids nonetheless. If Dave wants to support his view that Flo Jo did not use steroids, he ought to offer specific evi

 

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