Tag Archives: Newton

This much I know

Philosopher-AC-Grayling-001The philosopher AC Grayling is one of my favourite people. Here, at age 60, he makes some brief comments in the Guardian series “This much I know.”

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Scientific dissent from . . . science?

Opponents of scientific evolutionary theory will often refer to the Scientific Dissent From Darwinism list to justify that the theory is controversial and should be discarded, or at least equal time be given to creationist “theories” in school biology classes. There is no doubt that the list is being used to attack scientific theory but its worth looking at the statement professionals on the list have signed up to. It reads:

“We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”

Few of the signatories have signed the statement for scientific reasons – rather their motives have been religious (see Who are the “dissenters from Darwinism”?). However, scientists by their nature are skeptics and should always critically examine evidence. In principle few scientists would disagree with the statement. So why has the Scientific Dissent from Darwin list attracted so little scientific support (see Dissenters from Darwinism in context)?

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Intelligent design and scientific method

The intelligent design movement (ID) is not a school of scientific research – more a political, social and religious movement. IDs initiator and main theological guru, Phillip Johnson, admitted this in 1996 when he said: “This isn’t really, and never has been, a debate about science . . . It’s about religion and philosophy.”

However, ID does aspire to change the whole way we do modern science. It has a declared a Wedge Strategy which includes the aim of replacing the modern scientific method with a “theistic science” (see, for example, The Wedge Document). Alvin Platinga (a major ID supporter) also used the terms “unnatural science”, “creation science”, or science “from a Christian perspective” to describe this (see Why Faith and Reason Clash). Phillip Johnson also used the term “Theistic realism.”

Despite this lofty plan, ID proponents reveal little of what they mean by “theistic science” and characteristically will not clearly respond to requests to do so. You have to sift through their documents for evidence and be aware of the context of their statements. Doing this you start to realise that ID people are attacking the heart of modern science, the empirical, evidence-based, methodology which makes it so powerful. They, in reality, wish to return science to the stagnant days of the pre-enlightenment.

This hostility to science is not isolated to the ID movement. As Paul Bloom points out “the battle between evolution and creationism …. is where science takes a stand against superstition” (in What Is Your Dangerous Idea?: Today’s Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable). The hostility is common to those who prefer superstitious, spiritualist and supernatural explanations. It’s worth, therefore, considering the ID attack on science as a specific example of a more widespread problem.

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