Thursday, March 6, 2008

ID and science

To briefly continue a thought from here:
The second problem is that definition: what is science? Our current definition of science is quite narrow compared to all that ‘science’ was thought to encompass from the ancient world through the Renaissance. Our current definition of science involves examining mechanisms in a closed system. By way of crude analogy (that A.V. came up with), if a man brings a modern scientist a car and tells him that something is wrong with the brakes, the modern scientist will test out the brakes, examine the car, examine the brake pads, check the brake fluid, etc. If this man is coming in every week telling the modern scientist that something is wrong with the brakes, the scientist will continue doing the same tests to try to fix the brakes. The modern scientist will not begin to wonder if perhaps the man is a reckless driver with anger management issues who repeatedly hits the accelerator and then slams on his brakes during the drive home. The modern scientist makes the assumption that the answers are “in here” – under the hood of the car – and not “out there”–something is wrong with the driver. (Actually, most scientists would eventually begin to wonder if user error was the problem, which is where the analogy falls apart, but I think you can get the picture.) There is no room to teach ID or creationism in a science classroom – they are not science, as it is currently defined. Now if we were to expand the definition of science (and the tools science uses), it might be possible to teach these things as competing “theories.” (Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, after all, were both astronomers and Neoplatonists, without conflict, where the one informed the other.) But that would involve a larger debate about science, education, and our general philosophical approaches.

When the proponents of ID demand that it be taught in the science classroom, they concede to modern science all the points that matter: modern science, instead of being one way of knowing about some components of our universe, is the best way of knowing; truth can only be uncovered through empiricism, naturalism is the only correct philosophical approach. Most discussions by ID proponents don’t revolve around the problems of naturalism as a philosophical approach, but are instead attempts to say that ID should be included by association with naturalism, the rules of modern science. And that’s affirming that the philosophy behind modern science has superiority above all others for understanding truth.


arturovasquez said...

Very true. The problem with contemporary forms of discourse is that they assume that contemporary science is the only form of knowledge that matters, and ID is a way to get a piece of that "market". The real problem isn't even with secular scientism, it is a problem of metaphysics, or lack of it. You can't win a real argument without being "scientific", and if it's not "scientific", it's not truth. Thus, we can never have a real idea of whether abortion is right or wrong, pre-emptive war is right or wrong, etc., etc., because these decisions cannot be reduced to scientific methods. But in this case, it is one form of thinking trying to conform to the laws of another form of thinking, to its own impoverishment.

The solution is not to try to intrude in scientific discourse, it is making room for another form of discourse that is all the more necessary in our day and age. Personally, I don't know why they wouldn't be able to teach philosophy in high school. Maybe you could argue about design there.

FrGregACCA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
FrGregACCA said...

Sorry. Typo. Anyway, thanks for this great post, AG. I've been saying this for 20 years regarding so-called creationism in general, but not quite so well.

Conflation, in this case between the assumptions of the Enlightenment and a hyper-textual reading of Genesis 1-2, always leads to some interesting results, but often, these results are highly problemmatic, as is the case here.

CrimsonCatholic said...

Can't disagree with any of that. I think there is some progress to be made in arguing that what motivates science ought to motivate inquiry into some other areas as well. As Arturo says, the very notion that morality is somehow a question drastically different in kind than science already dissects the human experience falsely and gives the lever by which moral inquiry is pulled down. And as AG says, granting the false account of human experience practically gives away the game.

Completely off-topic, here's a post about New Orleans in AG's spirit.