Snoke's paper

From: Randy Isaac <>
Date: Thu Aug 11 2005 - 21:42:50 EDT

Some of you who attended the ASA meeting may have heard David Snoke's paper on whether ID was scientific in critiquing evolution. David is a highly respected physicist who has done excellent work over the years in optical properties of semiconductors, among other topics. With his permission, I am posting a dialog that he and I are pursuing to follow up on his paper. He moderates another discussion list and will post this discussion there as well. I will do this in several sequential posting while trying to stay within our guidelines.

Randy to Dave:

Your paper at the ASA meeting provided some interesting analogies
between your own research and Intelligent Design and helped us think more
clearly about what science is and what it isn't. I believe it might be
helpful to extend that analogy a little further and shed more light on the
aspects of ID with which I am most bothered.

    In your paper you recounted your own work with exciton-generated
luminescent rings in semiconductors which were originally explained on the
basis of spatial coherence. You showed how the mounting experimental data
were increasingly inconsistent with such an explanation. Your point was
that it was indeed a part of science to show the inadequacy of a scientific
theory even in the absence of an alternative better theory. By analogy, you
argued that ID is doing legitimate science when it shows the inadequacies of
the theory of evolution even without an alternative theory to offer. If we
restrict ourselves solely to the portion of ID that critiques evolution,
then I agree with you that it is a scientific endeavor. Whether the
critiques are valid, I'll leave to the molecular biologists.

     Now let's take your analogy a step further. For the sake of argument,
let's ignore the wonderful outcome you had in your research where an
entirely different explanation was developed, and focus on that time period
where all you had was data that showed the inadequacy of the conventional
wisdom. If at that time you had claimed that your data not only showed that
an explanation based on a variation of spatial coherence was not possible
but that no naturalistic explanation was possible, I believe we would all
say you were going beyond the data and stretching your conclusion from a
scientific standpoint. By analogy, wouldn't it hold that an ID advocate who
argues that no naturalistic explanation is possible for the situations cited
is also going beyond the scientifically based judgment?

    Let's take it another step further. If you had further claimed at that
time that the luminescent rings, because they could not be explained by
spatial coherence and because no other explanation had been forthcoming,
were evidence of an intelligent designer, and that "intelligent design" was
the best explanation of the data, wouldn't that be going beyond the bounds
of science? Similarly, when an ID advocate leaps from "evolution can't
describe the development of feature A and we see no possibility of an
adequate explanation" to "we have evidence for an intelligent designer",
then that person is going beyond science.

    I have no problem with ID including critiques of evolution. There
should be good and open debate about the details of evolutionary
development. That's acceptable science. But I fail to see how
extrapolating to the "detectability of intelligent design" can be described
as science. Unfortunately, ID has coupled that leap of faith with the
critiques of evolution and now the public has them all necessarily
co-mingled. The public perspective, and to an unfortunate extent even
within the scientific community, is that defending evolution is tantamount
to defending atheism and critiquing evolution is equivalent to detecting an
intelligent designer. I would like to see the ID advocates be explicit
about separating out these issues and acknowledge the philosophical leap in
detecting design rather than claiming it is part of the scientific process.

    We should also point out that ID is usually portrayed in the media as an
alternative to evolution and, to fulfill that claim, it would need to offer
such. Bill Dembski, in his remarks at the ASA Symposium, as well as on
previous occasions, wanted to be clear that he did not consider ID to be an
alternative theory and therefore did not feel compelled to offer a detailed
explanation. On the other hand, the claim that Behe frequently makes,
namely that "intelligent design" is a better explanation of the data than
evolutionary development, is a proposal of an alternative mechanism and
therefore demands a more complete explanation to be considered a serious
alternative theory. ID by its very name connotes the proposal of an
explanation and should come forth with a more robust articulation in order
to be considered scientific. Back to the point you made in your paper, it
may well be scientific to critique evolution without an alternative theory
but not to posit evidence of an intelligent design.


Received on Thu Aug 11 21:47:58 2005

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Thu Aug 11 2005 - 21:47:59 EDT