Tuesday, December 20, 2005

On ID and testability

I am troubled by the claim that all intelligent design claims are untestable. Look, if I could believe that Elvis was raised from the dead by God, but also be prepared to give up my belief if we exhumed the guy and I could see that he was dead. I could hold to my belief that Elvis was alive as an untestable thesis, by saying that Satan had faked the exhumation evidence, but I don't have to. The fact that I could do this doesn't make my claim untestable, so long as I don't in fact make it untestable. It seems perfectly possible to produce a testable intelligent design thesis, with falsification requirements built in. In fact, I think Dembski has indicated what it would take to falsify an ID claim about the bacterial flagellum.

13 comments:

Steven Carr said...

How does Dembski's test falsify ID?

If I claimed , for example, that HIV had been intelligently designed as part of a biological weapons programme, would that claim be falsified if somebody could produce a similar virus by another mechanism?

Does the production of a natural mechanism for something automatically falsify claims that a personal agent designed and created it?

I would say no.

What would others say?

Victor Reppert said...

Of course, strictly speaking no hypothesis, naturalistic or supernaturalistic, is falsiiable strictly speaking. Whether or not you have supernatural commitments in the theory, you can "fix" it by adding auxiliary hypotheses.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_holism

But if Darwinists were to come up with a good explanation for the emergence of the bacterial flagellum, it might be possible to believe that in fact the BF was the result of design, but one could not say that the evidence supported this.

Anonymous said...

There is no evidence to support the claim now.
"Looks like it is designed" is not evidence.

amstar said...

It is very easy to argue that Dembski’s thesis regarding the bacterial flagella is false. There is substantial evidence that cooption played a role in the evolution of the bacterial flagella. Given the importance of cooption, the probability of the flagella having arisen via the process of evolution is great enough that Dembski’s filter does not demonstrate a need for ID.

As I’ve said before, the current ideas touted by the ID movement (Dembski’s and Behe’s) are bankrupt. If you really want to find an alternative to the modern theory of evolution, it is time to find other ideas to champion.

Victor Reppert said...

So which is it? Has the ID claim been tested and found wanting, or it is untestable? Untestable theses can't be tested and found wanting.

Anonymous said...

It's like you said:
But if Darwinists were to come up with a good explanation for the emergence of the bacterial flagellum, it might be possible to believe that in fact the BF was the result of design, but one could not say that the evidence supported this.
-----------------------------------

Even if the evidence supports evolution, one can still believe the BF was designed. If ID can still be true w/o any evidence, how can it be tested?

amstar said...

I am not making broad statements about ID. You used Dembski’s thesis in your original post. I am specifically pointing out that you need to find other ideas to promote your cause. Dembski’s representation of how the bacterial flagella evolved is disingenuous. His position is refuted by the evidence. Cooption is important and with it, the events required to get a flagella are not improbable enough for his filter to be of any value. I am interested enough in this whole thing to have given Dembski’s a close read. It is his fault not mine that his arguments so weak.

The more I work over the ideas surrounding this debate, the less I care about exactly how falsifiable one or another idea is. It is a distraction. As a scientist I am most interested in working with the ideas that best explain the data available. The modern synthesis does that. Nothing else even comes close. I look forward to the day that someone comes up with a compelling argument against our current understanding but I ain’t holding my breath.

As an aside, Dover anyone? At least now I can go back to admitting I am from Pennsylvania.

Jim Lippard said...

"I am troubled by the claim that all intelligent design claims are untestable."

Whose claim/argument are you referring to? Which "intelligent design"?

The problem with ID is that it hasn't developed any methods, any predictions, anything that is remotely scientifically useful or fruitful.

See http://lippard.blogspot.com/2005/08/intelligent-design-and-genetically.html

Jim Lippard said...

"It seems perfectly possible to produce a testable intelligent design thesis, with falsification requirements built in."

I agree, but it hasn't been forthcoming. The DI is spending all of its money on PR instead of research. They aren't even following their own Wedge strategy, which said to do the science before the PR.

Even Wells' latest--a poster presentation at a conference--shows that the best he can do is spin a hypothesis of dubious testability, and make no attempt to test.

http://pharyngula.org/index/weblog/comments/wells_at_ascb/

Victor Reppert said...

Very often opponents of ID say that ID cannot be scientific because it appeals to the supernatural, and all claims that appeal to the supernatural are claims that are untestable. The Dover decision said that ID is untestable. Not that Discovery Institute hasn't gotten around to devising ways of testing it, but that it is untestable. I have studied arguments like this in the context of Hume's essay on miracles and have concluded that these arguments don't work.

I think this is a fundamental error on the part of ID opponents. If you mean that ID propoents haven't been testing their hypotheses, then that is what you should say, rather than make the claim, which seems to me to be clearly false, that ID is untestable.

Anonymous said...

No one has ever been able to devise a test that provides evidence that there is such a thing as the supernatural.
Do you know of one?

Anonymous said...

From the Dover judge:

After a searching review of the record and applicable case law, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's; and (3) ID's negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.

Anonymous said...

"So which is it? Has the ID claim been tested and found wanting, or it is untestable? Untestable theses can't be tested and found wanting."
--------------------------

Dover judge:
As irreducible complexity is only a negative argument against evolution, it is refutable and accordingly testable, unlike ID, by showing that there are
intermediate structures with selectable functions that could have evolved into the allegedly irreducibly complex systems. (2:15-16 (Miller)). Importantly, however, the fact that the negative argument of irreducible complexity is testable does not
make testable the argument for ID. (2:15 (Miller); 5:39 (Pennock)).