Isaac Newton and intelligent design

A modern parable about the search for truth. (You can download a pdf version here)

Background: The great scientist Isaac Newton (1643 – 1728) developed a few simple equations descring the effect of gravity and how bodies move. He went on to explain the motion of the moon around the earth and the planets and comets around the sun, using these equations. His work showed the planets moved in a common direction and in a plane, whereas comets move more randomly. He could not explain why movement of the planets was so ordered and ended up attributing this “design” to God. He wrote: “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being.”

In this parable we imagine how Newton may have carried out his research in a modern scientific environment. He works in the Physics Department of a modern university.

An intelligent approach to design

Isaac was feeling good. He had been able to explain how the moon, the planets and comets moved. On the whole it had been successful. A few loose ends but he had written it up and sent the paper off to the journal Acta Cosmologica. Now he had the Editor’s letter with the results of the peer review.

First, he scanned through the referees’ comments. He was keen to see of they accepted his ideas or if they were demanding significant revisions. There were three referees.

Referee 1 was favourable. “Most of the conclusions are well supported by evidence and the literature has been well reviewed. I feel movement of the planets and their orbits are explained well but you seem unable to explain why the planets are in the same plane with the same direction of movement. Attributing this to God is weak and unexplained. I recommend the paper be published after rewriting to remove the last section.”

“Bloody hell,” thought Isaac. “That means more work.”

Referee 2 gave only a one-paragraph response. “I recommend the paper not be accepted even in a revised form. The ideas are not worth publishing. It is arrogant to think you can explain how God controls movement of the heavenly bodies.” He didn’t justify these views.

“There’s always one,” laughed Isaac. Of course this anonymous referee may have been a theologist. However, every scientist knows that at least one referee reviewing a paper will give this response. Comments like these were just a waste of time and were always ignored, both by the scientist and the editor.

Referee 3 was extremely positive. “I feel these findings will have a significant effect on future efforts to explore the solar system. However, the last section lets the whole paper down. It’s just an opinion, an expression of belief, without even a suggestion of a mechanism. As such it has no place in a scientific paper. This section needed more work. I recommend against accepting the paper in its present form. The author should do further work on the last section and submit a revised version.” The referee stressed that considering the importance of the work it was essential the final ideas on the planetary plane, the direction of movement and their mechanisms be developed and explained.

The covering Editor’s letter was also flattering about the novelty and importance of Newton’s findings. “I concur with the 3rd referee’s request for development of explanatory mechanisms for the planetary order. However, given the importance of the findings I will accept a revised paper provided that you either:

  • remove the final section on planetary order, acknowledging that it required further investigation, or
  • you do further work to develop that section and incorporate the resulting findings in the revised paper.”

Isaac groaned. He was depressed.

Discussions over coffee

Isaac vented his anger by complaining about the peer review system to his colleagues. How dare they demand extra work from him. “I’ll get round those bastards,” he said. “I’ll publish my results as a book, just like those mavericks in the Biology Department. Look, I’ve already thought of some titles. What do you think of these: Gravity’s Black Box, Reducing Planetary Complexity, The Edge of Disorder, The Planetary Inference, Irreducible Order. Any of these should be catchy enough to attract readers. What do you think?”

His colleagues tried to calm him down. They were used to this. Scientists always reacted badly to referee’s comments, at least initially. And Isaac was more sensitive than most. It was just something you had to work through. Try to see what suggestions were valid and make the appropriate changes. If you felt a criticism was unjustified you could usually convince a good editor by a calm presentation of your case.

“What about removing the controversial section?” said one colleague. “That way you will get the paper published straight away. A paper in a peer-reviewed journal has more credibility than a popular book. Haven’t those biologists just made themselves look ridiculous? They don’t have any support from others in their discipline.”

Isaac started to think it through. “Yes, I guess that will get quick recognition for my work. It would be another paper on my CV. But, what annoys me is the cheek. I had the right to say what I believed. They shouldn’t insist on removal of my views.”

Another colleague chipped in. “Look Isaac, you know my views. Like you I know that God is the original creator and mover. He is behind everything. He created the planets, set them in motion and controls their movement.”

“But, look, God created an ordered universe so we could discover that order. It’s up to us to find out how things work, to reveal God’s plan. I can understand the Editor’s decision. In that last section your have simply stated what we believe, but you haven’t revealed God’s plan, you haven’t discovered the mechanism.”

“But I’ve done so much work on this. I should get recognition for it. I guess I should just accept the insult and remove that section. Get the results out there. Get the recognition.”

“Hold on,” a third colleague intervened. “You might get recognition for describing the planetary movements but not for the big question – why the ordered arrangement? Why the apparent design? If you publish the current results you know what well happen. Others will solve the problem and they will get all the credit. Look at Kant and Laplace.You know they are breathing down your neck. Give them this information and they will solve the final problem. They will get the credit. Look at it. This work is important. There could well be a Nobel prize in it.”

Those words – Nobel Prize – had a chilling effect. A cold shudder went down Isaac’s spine and he felt his anger evaporate suddenly.

“You are right,” he said. “I have put in so much work and I should be recognised. I’m not going to hand it over to those upstarts!”

“That’s the attitude,” said his colleague. “You know you can do it. You were just being lazy with that final section. I can understand that – you had put in so much effort and wanted to rush to publication. It made you blind to the defects. But you can do it. You have the ability.”

“Don’t forget,” said another colleague, a department head. “It’s not just your reputation that’s at stake. This work will be a feather in the cap for our university. Just imagine, it’s going to make interplanetary travel possible. Your equations enable us to plan trajectories for such travel. There’s huge kudos in that. If you give up now those other buggers will deprive us of that.”

Isaac’s eyes lit up. “You are right of course. I did let things slide a bit at the end. Lost my judgment, I guess. I’ll withhold the paper and do some extra work on that last section. That way, when it is published, it will be a complete work.”

Six months later

Isaac had solved all the problems. He had shown how the planetary order could arise from condensation in an elliptical solar nebula. He got the idea from the work of Kant and Laplace on the rings of Saturn. All he needed was some new mathematics. This was original stuff and he was going to publish the mathematical development in The Mathematica Journal. Another one for his CV!

But first, he would send of the revised paper. He knew there would be no trouble getting it accepted now. It was much better. He could now see that he had been lazy not to have completed the work before his first submission. Now he had a full theory. It explained movement of heavenly bodies, planets, moons, comets and future manned spacecraft. But it also explained why the planetary system was so ordered. Why the planets all moved in the same direction and in the same plane. He could see now that it was not enough to state the obvious fact, the system was ordered, was designed. The real science was in researching and discovering the mechanism, the reason for this order. He had now done that, and he felt proud.

Footnote: What actually happened, though, is that Newton missed out on the discovery. He attributed the planetary “design” to God.

On the other hand, Kant (1724 – 1804) and Laplace (1749 – 1827) proposed a solar nebula or accretion disk. They showed how this led to the planets being in the same plane with the same direction of movement and the same sense of rotation.

If only Newton had not been lazy!

Related Articles:
Should we teach creationism?
Humility of science and the arrogance of religion
Intelligent design/creationism I: What is scientific knowledge?
Intelligent design/creationism II: Is it scientific?
Intelligent design/creationism III: The religious agenda
Intelligent design/creationism IV: The religion – science conflict
Intelligent design/creationism: Postscript
Evolution’s threat to religion?

24 responses to “Isaac Newton and intelligent design

  1. This really reminds me of the Neil deGrasse Tyson talk at the 2006 Beyond Belief meeting. Had you seen it before writing the parable?


  2. Yes, I had Konrad. several months ago. (Enjoyed his contributions). Also came across a reference in Sagan’s talks. However, what also interested me is this peer review process (having some experience) and the attempt by ID people to present it as a “establishment” control, preventing their publication.


  3. Is this some exercise in historical revisionism? See, the ridiculous thing about that is you end up obscuring the true genius of Newton. Truth is, most of his “peer reviewers” wouldn’t have been able to understand “the method of fluxions” (i.e. calculus). As to gravity’s cause, we still don’t have a sense of its “cause” — that’s why there’s experiments like LIGO set up to try and find and measure gravity waves.

    There’s so much silly presentism in this portrayal its hard to not get a little put off. Newton’s most significant body of work still remains his alchemy and Biblical exegesis (which could fill numerous books…) as compared to his physics and mathematics (which fills a few…).

    Reflecting on Newton using something of Carl Djerassi’s “this is how modern science is done — collectively” kind of approach defies everything that defines him. His oddness, piety, solitary nature, and devoted and focused “personal” quest to understand the mind of God.

    I’m a historian of science, not a religious zealot, but paining Newton in this inaccurate way does a disservice to history and your own personal quest to open minds.

    You want a example of someone whose scientific quest was developed in response to religious ignorance and hysteria, then talk about Kepler…


  4. Necromancer, I really do not understand why you react the way you do to what was clearly meant as a partially humorous story, the anachronistic elements of it being there to underscore this. I do not see how your comments undermine Ken’s general points, which do not rely upon him having presented an accurate depiction of Newton. Of course Ken’s Newton is not the historical Newton. In addition, some of the points you raise seem to me to be trivially false. I am thinking in particular of the claim that “Newton’s most significant body of work still remains his alchemy and Biblical exegesis”. The only measure of ‘significance’ that would justify such a claim would be the amount of paper Newton wasted on those issues. In terms of the historical impact Newton’s work has had, the significance of his physics is so much greater that it is ridiculous to me that I even have to write this sentence. The interesting and valuable historical issue that what you write is aiming at is how the various aspects of Newton’s intellectual activity combined in his mind. This is not really what Ken was considering, however, it seems to me and, what is more, the way you introduce the issue does not help to push to the front whatever insights can come from considering it.


  5. Necromancer, you seem to have misunderstood. The point of my parable was to show the fallacy of the approach taken by modern intelligent designers.


  6. You write that: “He could not explain why movement of the planets was so ordered and ended up attributing this “design” to God.” yet go on to say that as long as he went deeper into finding the reason and design of things then it would be fine to say that at some point of deeper knowledge/scientia.

    It seems to me that it’s fine for him to say it because supposedly deeper knowledge will never end, especially when so many scientists adhere to a Darwinian standards of “reasoning” which allow them to cite their own imaginations as evidence as long as what they imagine seems natural to them or seems to be methodically mixed with atheistic types of negative theology. You say that Newton ought to have been barred from positive theology, yet those who support Darwinian reasoning make “panda’s thumb” type of arguments all the time that are rooted in negative theology. E.g. “God wouldn’t have made this thing this way so that’s evidence that it came about by natural selection.”

    The ironic thing about your parable is that biologists who want to conclude such reasoning with philosophical or theological forms of naturalism have often compared Darwinian theory to Newtonian theory and in so many words try to say that they are equivalent. It’s Darwinian theory that has to be compared this way because it actually isn’t the same form of knowledge or science.

    Given their arguments one is supposed to begin to assume that Darwinism is “just like” gravity or some other well established knowledge/scientia like the earth revolving around the sun and so forth. But very well, if Darwinism is “just like” Newtonian physics or some other form of science that actually comports with the empirical evidence instead of either transforming its conceptual form to fit itself, then what is the well established metric for natural selection? What is the equation for Darwinism’s most basic and foundational tenet? Shouldn’t such equations be learned by every student of biology? Is Darwinism “just like” a form of knowledge that is so well established by empirical evidence that any anomalies ought to be fit to the theory, at least for now? These “just like” associative arguments that biologists are so fond of seem to reveal that they actually can’t track and predict the destination of an adaptation “just like” the trajectory of a physical object can be traced given gravity and physics. If it is too difficult a task then why try to argue that the knowledge of biologists is the equivalent of Newton’s? What is the mathematical language that represents natural selection and makes predictions that can be falsified or verified, as sure as gravity? Given the incessant attempt at an association, aren’t Darwinian principles as sure as gravity and as verifiable as tracing the trajectory of an object before it is set in motion? Perhaps biologists feel that physicists sit around after an object comes to rest and then write an equation summing up the knowledge that they claimed to know before? Or perhaps they believe that physicists write a little story about how Nature selected it to be there by an unverifiable force? Is Darwinism on the same epistemic level as theories that make predictions and have been repeatedly tested and encoded in the precise language of mathematics, or not? What equation represents the notion of natural selection, what trajectory of adaptation has it predicted in a group of organisms and how has it been verified by empirical evidence? All such questions are easy to answer in physics with respect to gravity’s impact on physical objects and Darwinian “reasoning”/imagining is incessantly said to be on the same epistemic level. Given that, Darwinists should be able to make predictions about the adaptations found in living organisms and so have an actual theory subject to falsification.

    When it comes to a conceptual theory of natural selection which actually predicts a trajectory of adaptation using conceptual information that can then be verified in the material formation of organisms biologists begin to make excuses about how complex living things and their relationships are. So it seems that they should have never made the argument about their hypotheses being on the same epistemic level as the theory of gravity. The irony of your parable is that the Herd of peering peers that tends to form in science based on an urge to merge into Mother Nature have always tended to shut down the forms of thinking and knowledge that Newton specified.


  7. So I take it, Mynym, humanity should have just accepted Newton’s divine explanation of the ordered nature of the solar system and stooped looking for a scientific explanation?


  8. So I take it, Mynym, humanity should have just accepted Newton’s divine explanation of the ordered nature of the solar system and stooped looking for a scientific explanation?

    Ironically the illusion of knowledge acts as a bar to progress, which is why I try to strip away the illusion of knowledge which biologists have tried to prop up. Newton’s theological opinion which you seem to imply is okay in the end is much less a supposed science stopper than the illusion that scientific explanations are already a “…fact, fact, FACT!” as one charlatan put it. If you’re really concerned about progress in knowledge you should spend less time on theology and more on biology and its charlatans. It seems that people knew that was Newton’s theological opinion, thus they felt free to go around it because theology historically acted as a metascientific idea under which science operated. Scientists expected Nature to be intelligible and to operate by logical laws because it was structured by divine Logos, etc. So they typically felt free to find more of the hidden logic and reason to things. In the case of Darwinism there are errors that have gone on for well over a century because they are garbed in “science.” That’s not the case where an illusion of knowledge is “scientific” because it’s not a metascientific idea, so suddenly your professional identity as a scientist is on the line if you challenge such supposed knowledge and so on and so forth. If you’re really concerned about progress in knowledge then you should spend more time seeking out illusions of knowledge which are said to be scientific, they’re the real science stopper. It’s basically a hallmark of such a science stopper when people seem to be spending more time talking about what is “scientific” by definition or their supposed professional identity as a scientist instead of focusing on facts, logic and evidence. Note how in the case of Darwinism such arguments are typical: “Well, all biologists say this…” “I’m a scientist so this is what I have to say as a scientist.” “It may not be true but at least it seems scientific.” “Let me tell you what science is and how it works or somethin’.” Etc.

    A historical example:
    “For the biologists, the test of a scientific outlook was generally identified with a society’s attitude towards eugenics; that is, its willingness to adopt a genuinely scientific stance towards questions of what used to be called “race betterment.” The Marxist and Fabian biologists believed that Western societies had largely failed this test.”
    (Eugenics and the Left
    by Diane Paul
    Journal of the History of Ideas,
    Vol. 45, No. 4. (Oct. – Dec., 1984), pp. :569)

    These types of testy testers tend to form a Herd of peers that gets things totally wrong because they’re more interested in science as an pure ideal than science as defined by sound philosophy, empirical evidence and basic logic. A lot more informs our judgment about what is true than a supposedly pure science that will lead to inevitable progress and Enlightenment for the human race. History shows that the peering purists of science who tend to murmur the very term “science” as the equivalent of Truth and the summation of all knowledge and Progress are also those who tend to fall into errors supposedly “irrelevant” to science, errors rooted in moral degeneracy or spiritual mendacity.

    Richard Dawkins seems to be going back to errors typical to the purists of science:
    “…if you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability?
    I wonder whether, some 60 years after Hitler’s death, we might at least venture to ask what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons.”


  9. mynym, I think you confuse a lay discussion about scientific theory with science itself. Scientific theories are not facts, nor are they claimed to be. They are attempts to understand and explain empirical evidence. As such they are relative, continually evolving and updating with more evidence and testing. This doesn’t happen with theology hence theological explanations tend to be “science stoppers”. That is the case with “intelligent design”, and when you understand the motivations of the principeal proponents you see that is what they intend – to stop science and return to a theocracy.

    Anyway, I take from what you say that you hate “science’. I guess, though, you still partake of the benefits accruing to society from scientific knowledge, including evolutionary theory.


  10. “mynym, I think you confuse a lay discussion about scientific theory with science itself. Scientific theories are not facts, nor are they claimed to be. They are attempts to understand and explain empirical evidence. As such they are relative, continually evolving and updating with more evidence and testing.”

    It’s ironic that you seek to judge exactly what you’re engage in a few sentences later when you seek to conflate the theory of evolution with science itself. Convenient, if science is evolution then evolution will ultimately never be falsifiable or testable scientifically. You also seem to conflate science with ignorant notions of “evolution” or Progress, as if it is inevitable that science will lead to progress even when history shows that’s certainly not the case. You go on to define science as subservient to your political or theological views as you seem to assume that empirical evidence and so on could never falsify progressive political views.

    Once artificial rules which bar testing a priori are stripped away could list error after error when it comes to basic empirical facts vs. a Darwinian theory of progress by natural selection, i.e. orthodox “evolution.” There is one simple reason why Darwinian speculation goes so far off the more sapience/intelligence an organism has, the sentience and intelligent selections of higher organisms are not governed or explained by natural selection. One could cite our own experience of sentience or any number of plain empirical facts to make the case against Darwinism but typically proponents shift away from explaining higher life forms and begin to argue how effective it is at explaining fish or cod or a minute change in the size of bird beaks. But since you seem to believe in Darwinian reasoning and reject intelligent design let’s say that it applies in your case, therefore all the symbols and signs of intelligence you try to write or communicate are an illusion brought about by things like chance, time and natural selection. So it would seem that we cannot identify the text which you write here as an artifact of intelligent design recognizable by its highly specified nature or its information rich traces of symbols and signs typical to intelligent design and so on and so forth. Given that, one should not talk to the illusion of you as a sentient being capable of creating information in the formation of things through the ultimately intelligible workings typical to intelligence. Instead one should focus on the real truth of all organisms as they are governed by things like natural selection. So it would seem that you may think you are thinking but your thoughts are ultimately just an illusion dictated by the mating habits of some ancient worms, so one should study ancient worms instead of your words.

    “I guess, though, you still partake of the benefits accruing to society from scientific knowledge, including evolutionary theory.”

    More benefits accrue to society from creative people making use of their capacity of intelligent design and engineering solutions to problems than from Policemen of Knowledge that often govern peer review:

    (Alternative Science: Challenging the
    Myths of the Scientific Establishment
    by Richard Milton :85-87)

    The charlatans at (a leading Darwinist website) developed something they called the Salem Hypothesis to explain why engineers were often “creationists,” i.e. critics of simply imagining stories about the past that don’t actually work logistically in the real world. The irony of it is that engineers have more to do with progress in the real world while Darwinists simply imagine little stories about progress in the past which are then peer reviewed as if that is more important than real world testing and empirical evidence. You seem enamored with peer review but it often has little to do with the truth.


  11. On peer review:
    “Sometimes, scientists who declare a taboo will insist that only they are qualified to discuss and reach conclusions on the matters that they have made their own property; that only they are privy to the immense body of knowledge and subtlety of argument necessary fully to understand the complexities of the subject and to reach the ‘right’ conclusion. Outsiders, on the other hand, (especially non-scientists) are ill-informed, unable to think rationally or analytically, prone to mystical or crank ideas and are not privy to subtleties of analysis and inflections of argument that insiders have devoted long painful years to acquiring.
    Yet the history of science abounds with examples that contradict this kind of elitist thinking: amateurs or non-scientists like the Wrights, Edison and even Charles Darwin; and outsiders like John Dalton (the self-taught meteorologist who revolutionised chemistry) and Fleischmann and Pons, the chemists who ‘rescued’ fusion physics.
    Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the taboo reaction is that it tends to have a cumulative and permanent discriminatory effect: any idea that is ideologically suspect or counter to the current paradigm is permanently dismissed, and the very fact of its rejection forms the basis of its rejection on all future occasions. It is a little like the court of appeal rejecting the convicted man’s plea of innocence on the grounds that he must be guilty, or why else is he in jail? And why else did the police arrest him in the first place? This ‘erring on the side of caution’ means that in the long term the intellectual Devil’s Island where convicted concepts are sent becomes more and more crowded with taboo ideas, all denied to us, and with no possibility of reprieve.
    How exactly do the guardians of the temple of knowledge impose their taboo? On the face of it, even the suggestion is implausible. Surely scientists, however prejudiced some individuals may happen to be, lack a mechanism to impose their world view on others in any systematic way? In practice, it is the easiest thing iii the world for those who manage the profession of science to declare a subject taboo. For any young scientist to progress in the profession, or even to be employed in science at all, he or she has to conduct research (or to teach what has already been learned from research to students). But to conduct research, the scientist must receive funds from some institu tion or organisation and getting such funds means placing proposals before a number of scientific colleagues who will evaluate them and decide whether or not to recommend that the financial and other necessary resources should be used in this way.
    At this stage, the research scientist may be persuasive enough to secure funding or the institution enlightened enough to grant the resources, even for research which apparently flies in the face of orthodox scientific belief (although this happens less and less often today). But the researcher will then encounter the next obstacle which is usually insuperable. To continue to receive funds, he or she must publish their initial findings. A paper has to be submitted to one of a few professional journals where it will be reviewed by distinguished senior scientists from the field. Nominally, these reviewers are the researcher’s scientific peers. In reality they are likely to be academically superior. Even if not senior in rank they are superior in at least one important respect: they decide who gets published and who doesn’t. If they believe the research to be without merit (regardless of the results obtained) they will block its publication. And unless the researcher can get some findings published, he or she will find it impossible to get the grant renewed. Unless there are very unusual extenuating circumstances, non-publication is taken in science to mean experimental failure.
    The net effect of this peer review system is that, at any given time, almost the entire research effort of the country is directed into subjects that are tacitly approved by those who comprise editorial review committees of the scientific press. Those review committees are, in turn, frequently drawn from among the more conservative scientists in the community and the system is self-perpetuating from supervisor to postgraduate to undergraduate. For this reason, virtually the only scientific research being conducted anywhere in Britain into taboo subjects is privately funded and is usually carried on in ‘skunk works’ — private laboratories with little or no resources — and its results are privately published usually in short-run paperback or photocopied editions that do not receive general circulation, or reach major libraries.”
    (Alternative Science: Challenging the
    Myths of the Scientific Establishment
    by Richard Milton :85-87)


  12. Milton points out interesting historical examples where the scientific establishment and peer review stymied progress, given that your original post is ironic.


  13. You really are anti science, Mynym. Does this result from your own negative personal experience? Or is the attitude part of a defense and promotion of “intelligent design”?

    Science is very much a human activity. As such it has its share of problems resulting from ego, ambition, stupid beliefs, commercial interests, etc. However, the need to test ideas against reality, and the associated publication system with its peer-review process do help to keep the whole endeavour honest. They help to build a body of reliable knowledge which has produced so many benefits for humanity.

    You probably won’t accept my comments on this – all I can say is that I have experienced the process from both sides (giving as well as receiving) and assure you that Milton’s description is quite false.
    The process is very imperfect (very human). Recipients of negative reviews often react emotionally – very natural. It is an easy path for them to complain about “the establishment,” “suppression of ideas,” etc. A good scientist will get past this, attend to the content of the review in an adult way, and resubmit. (A good scientist is concerned when she doesn’t get any negative reviews and a paper is immediately accepted. They know that non one’s work is perfect).

    On the other hand the charges of the “intelligent design” proponents are malicious – attempting to blame the rest of the world for their inability to even present a reasonable scientific hypothesis, let alone do the work required to test the hypothesis.

    You may not accept my comments but that are based on personal experience and they are honest.


  14. Having gone through the peer review process myself I know that when I get back a simple “publish” comment on my work I feel somewhat cheated and not at all sure that my work should be published. I feel that the reviewer has not really engaged with my work as this is the only plausible reason for why they would have no negative comments. On the other hand, I have at times been quite distraught at the negative comments I have received to what I had felt were good articles. But, always, the only way forward is to pick yourself up, understand the problem, see why the comments were made and, even if you think that part of the reason lies in the reviewer, seeing how you can change your article to avoid the problem or better communicate what you want to say.
    What it comes down to is to a way of thinking about what ‘scientific realism’ means that goes back to Charles Peirce. Usually, scientific realism is taken to mean that scientific theories are true. That’s wrong. What it means is recognising that scientific theories can be wrong (unlike according to various social constructivist theories), that we can realise that they are wrong (thanks to the world surprising us in various ways) and that by using the various methods developed by scientists we can change our theories in such a way as to avoid these problems. The whole construction remains highly fallibilist – as it should given human abilities. The strength of science is to constantly test the conclusions we reach and to think of new ways to make use of the limited abilities that we have so as to improve on what we have achieved.
    As for the claim that scientific establishment and peer review sometimes stymied progress… Sure. But, so what? Does that mean that we should tear them down when they are the very mechanisms that have generally made progress possible? Or should we recognise their fallible status and try to improve them. You might as well point out that democracy sometimes leads to inequality. To paraphrase Churchill, scientific institutions are the worst institutions for understanding the world, except for all of the other institutions that have been tried.


  15. Your remarks are entertaining, thought-provoking and rightfully humbling. As all good science debate should be.

    Putting aside for a moment your flair for jesting, we are still left with the hypothesis that some intelligent player is involved in the scheme of things.

    Newton was wrong this time, maybe more than this time. If I am allowed to learn anything from this event, it is the need to allow for a more natural and deterministic explanation for anything. I accept that challenge. Indeed, we are not allowed to rule it out. Agreed.

    But, you do not become right through the errors of others.

    It is hard to escape the impression that you will not countence the alternative view at any point. Hardly scientific.

    We will demonstrate the ID concept the way most anything is approached in this post-Newtonian era: By statistical analyses. Let the odds speak for themselves.

    Are you afraid that maybe the ID crowd will create pain points for you, as you have done to creationists for decades?

    I guarantee this exciting outcome: Both sides will publish data that is utterly delicious. Why rob yourself of pending knowledge? Relax and enjoy the show.



  16. It is hard to escape the impression that you will not countence the alternative view at any point.

    Don’t be an idiot.
    No, really, just stop.

    We will demonstrate the ID concept…

    Of course you will. One day. One fine day. In a galaxy far, far, away.

    Are you afraid that maybe the ID crowd…

    Nope, wrong again. The ID crowd are just work shy. It’s nothing more than creationism dressed up in a cheap tuxedo.

    Both sides will publish data….

    One side (the science side) is publishing data right now. It’s doing the hard work that science demands. It’s successful. Antibiotics, yeah?

    The IDiots, on the other hand, do no work. The year is 2013 and…still nothing.


  17. You open warmly, Cedric:

    “Don’t be an idiot.
    No, really, just stop.”

    Thanks. I needed that.

    I was surprised very recently to find a statement in a mainstream Scientific journal that upon the the discovery of “Junk” Non-Coding DNA, researchers had initially avoided studying it. If I find the reference, I may come back and post it. But it reminds me a bit of Newton’s error.

    I have learned that research opportunities overlooked by the some are simply scooped up by others. I use the scientific method most every day of my professional life. I know the joy of publication, the pain of getting the hard work done. I also know the struggles of a promoting new concept.

    I will win you over some day. I am in a hurry, now, but here is one bunch working on the ID concept from a respectable direction.



  18. The biological institute is a joke – as is their pretend journal and its pretend “peer review.”

    One has to be desperate to fall back on them and claim them “respectable.”

    Sam, what about letting us know what your job position is where you use “the scientific method most every day.”?

    How about a link to your publications – let us check them out and judge for ourselves?


  19. OK, Ken. Post some of your professional details, and I will post some of mine. I’m just looking for parity, here. I’m not sure what *you* are seeking. Maybe my claims to understand the scientific method seem a stretch. I do have 2 degrees, one a Bachelor of Science and the other a Master of Science (with Thesis). If you don’t think the word “Science” belongs in those degrees, please notify the engineering schools around the USA that confer those titles.

    I suspect that no matter what I post, it won’t be good enough for you. Like – “Agree with us, and you’re OK. Disagree, and you are found not qualified to disagree.” But I’ll take the chance.

    While I have the freedom to respect both evolutionary science and the emerging ID theory, many of you do seem to lack that flexibility. I will check the notify button, below, and see if you are willing to post what you demand of me. I think my accomplishments are modest, but the need for professional integrity and scientific rigor is always there, cracking the whip. Indeed, my biggest challenge is keeping my employer’s and clients true to scientific methods they would demand of me – even when the science conveys unhappy possibilities.

    By the way, “Sam Waters” is my alter-ego. Probably the worst kept secret on the Internet. I use it for fun and a to give me a little edge against spam, etc. Let’s see what happens.


  20. Sam, your question is trivial and redundant. My information is listed under About me. It has a Google Scholar link to many of my publications. And I don’t hide behind a false name – there is absolutely no need to.

    I’m just asking you to back up your claim that you “use the scientific method most every day of my professional life.” And that is because your tone and declared beliefs and assertions indicate to me that you don’t understand the science process. An academic qualification doesn’t guarantee an understanding. I could be wrong – but scientists don’t hide behind false names, do they?

    Your little comment on “the discovery of “Junk” Non-Coding DNA” was hardly indicative of “professional integrity and scientific rigor.” Nor was your promotion of the biologic institute.


  21. Thanks. I needed that.

    Sadly, you still keep being an idiot.

    I was surprised very recently….

    Don’t care. ID remember?

    I use the scientific method most every day of my professional life.

    So you do ID research? Oh please say you do. Pretty, pretty please.

    I will win you over some day.

    Not with bullshit you won’t. Less talky-talky, more worky-worky.

    …and the emerging ID theory…

    Oh happy day. 🙂
    So, Sam. Tell us how ID is a theory. Please do. No, really. Go into all the details. Go for it!


  22. Sorry for the delay, Ken. I had to “tape-out” several chip designs before the deadline.

    My question was relevant to me. I appreciate your answer.

    The name “Sam Waters” has personal meaning. With a brief search, I see many others here have used pseudonyms. I can too.

    Your out-of-hand rejection of academic credentials from a college, offering accredited science-based curricula, shows a breathtaking prejudice.

    A thin, humble slice of my technical life, as evidence of understanding the scientific method, can be sampled here:,14

    I cite that scientific magazine more fully below. Yes, it looks like Noncoding DNA was unpopular research at one time. Now it’s active. Important to you and me both, Noncoding DNA enhances the organism’s ability to evolve (I read “survive”).

    I made a mistake in dropping by this place. My sincerest apologies. Really.

    Good bye.


    “Although very catchy, the term “junk DNA” repelled mainstream researchers from studying noncoding genetic material for many years. After all, who would like to dig through genomic garbage? Thankfully, though, there are some clochards who, at the risk of being ridiculed, explore unpopular territories. And it is because of them that in the early 1990s, the view of junk DNA, especially repetitive elements, began to change. In fact, more and more biologists now regard repetitive elements as genomic treasures. It appears that these transposable elements are not useless DNA. Instead, they interact with the surrounding genomic environment and increase the ability of the organism to evolve by serving as hot spots for genetic recombination and by providing new and important signals for regulating gene expression.”


  23. Sam, you say:

    Your out-of-hand rejection of academic credentials from a college, offering accredited science-based curricula, shows a breathtaking prejudice.

    What is breathtaking is your claim about me. Whenever have I rejected academic credentials? Nowhere. All I have said in that respect is that these don’t necessary “prove” the holder understands the scientific process. That’s all.

    Now, what is you motive for such an extreme lie? Why do you feel the need to misrepresent me in such an obvious way?


  24. …and the emerging ID theory…

    Tell us how ID is a theory.

    (…crickets chirping…)


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