Thomas Woodward, author of the new book Darwin Strikes Back: Defending the Science of Intelliigent Design turned up at the Washington D.C. offices of the Discovery Intstitute last night. Since it’s alays nice to have an excuse to hang out in the big city, I decided to check it out. There’s rather a lot to report, so I’ll break it up into two pieces.

According to the bio read at the start of his talk, Woodward holds a PhD from the University of South Florida in the rhetoric of science. He is a professor at Trinity College in Florida, where he teaches history of science, communication, and systematic theology. There were roughly 30 people in the audience.

I have often had reason to note here that ID folks all read from the same script. Cranks are notoriously good at staying on message. I thought about that as Woodward began with the obligatory conversion story. He was a student at Princeton, firmly in the Richard Dawkins camp, “livid with anger” at the thought that there could be people who would reject Darwin. But then, he was forced to confront the evidence.

This is something of a mantra among ID folks. Lee Strobel told nearly the identical story in opening the recent ID conference in Knoxville.

What turned the tide for Woodward? It was, in large part, the book The Mystery of Life’s Origin, by Thaxton, Bradley and Olsen. Woodward described this book as “unparalleled in its excellence” in challenging naturalistic theories of life’s origin. It represented a “new genre” of evolutionary critique.

Somehow this led to him hanging out with the biochemistry professors at Ohio State University. He had been told to expect that they would be be able to rip apart such anti-Darwinian nonsense. But then one professor (unnamed, of course) brought him into his office and proceeded for 45 minutes to tell him how great he thought the book was. This is another familiar trope in ID presentations; anecdotal evidence about how behind closed doors skepticism about Darwin runs deep.

This was mere preamble. Woodward then got down to his main businsess: hawking his book. He began by noting that the title was specifically chosen to liken the evolution side of the debate to the Empire of the Star Wars films, trying to crush the rebellion led by Michael Behe and William Dembski. Considering that Woodward spent much of his talk lamenting the vitrioloic rhetoric from some on the evolution side, even to the point of claiming that Darwin would be horrified by the way his modern defenders behave, I found this a bit rich.

His next point was that “the Darwinian orthodoxy” finds it very threatening (for obvious reasons, he claimed) when people propose to argue from physical evidence to the conclusion of design. Perhaps, but such arguments are hardly novel. Contrary to Woodward’s presentations, Behe and Dembski have only contirbuted a bit of gloss to some of the oldest anti-evolutionary arguments around. They are threatening not for the force or novelty of their arguments, but for the deep, politically influential pockets that back them.

There now followed a few minutes of standard talking points. ID has no religious premise. Intelligence is detectable. Even Richard Dawkins recognizes design in nature. Complex specified information indicates design. ID is only focused on the idea of the inadequacy of random mutation plus natural selection. Yawn.

At this point Woodward blundered into an interesting statement. He divided evolution into pieces, common descent on the one hand vs. mutation and selection as the creator of complex structures on the other. He then said that something like 98% of ID folks reject the idea of a tree of life. This is a significant admission, given that ID folks often like to argue that evolution viewed as common descent is actually not incompatible with ID. The reality is that Michael Behe is largely alone among ID folks in accepting the tree of life. Woodward now added that 100% of ID proponents reject both mutation and selection as an engine of macroevolutionary change, and the possibility of a naturalistic origin of life. (Actually, that’s also a significant admission. It absolutely commits the designer to having personally crafted the first life form. Normally ID folks like to be coy about what the designer actually did and when he did it.)

He now summarized the main points of the ID movement being (1)That Neo-Darwinism’s grand extrapolation from micro to macro evolution is unjustified, and (2) That with tools like irreducible complexity and the explanatory filter, we can now identify the products of design.

This was followed up with another of those folksy anecdotes where the fearless creationist (Woodward in this case) squares off with some skeptical scientist and wins him over in the end. In this case Woodward was in Italy, conversing with a physicist. The physicist apprently said, “I’m physics oriented. I’m math oriented. If this theory can pass physics and math then its okay.” To put it kindly, I find it unlikely that any actual physicist ever said any such thing.

The physcist grilled him for a half an hour over dinner. Woodward explained the explanatory filter and the need for a probability of less than 10^{-150) and the importance of a specification. The physcist challenged him on various points, and Woodward did his best to answer them (he’s not a physics professor, you know). Have you guessed what this is building up to? Eventually the physicist, apprently overwhelmed by the force of Woodward’s arguments, said, “I can say it, intelligent design is good science. It’s mathematical.” The other people at dinner applauded his approval.

From here we got the usual blather about the demarcation problem. He showed a diagram with astrology on one side (as a clear example of pseudoscience) and astronomy on the other (as a clear example of science). ID was placed somewhere in the middle. Then the question was, where should we draw the line between science and nonscience? Should we group ID with astrology as pseudoscience? Or with astronomy as science? Woodward made clear his preference for the latter option. This, of course, puts him in opposition to Michael Behe, who in the Dover trial testified as follows (The questioner is attorney Eric Rothschild, the answerer is Behe):

Q: And using your definition, intelligent design is a scientific theory, correct?

A: Yes.

Q: Under that same definition astrology is a scientific theory under your definition, correct?

A: Under my definition, a scientific theory is a proposed explanation which focuses or points to physical, observable data and logical inferences. There are many things throughout the history of science which we now think to be incorrect which nonetheless would fit that — which would fit that definition. Yes, astrology is in fact one, and so is the ether theory of the propagation of light, and many other — many other theories as well.

Q The ether theory of light has been discarded, correct?

A That is correct.

Q But you are clear, under your definition, the definition that sweeps in intelligent design, astrology is also a scientific theory, correct?

A Yes, that’s correct. And let me explain under my definition of the word “theory,” it is — a sense of the word “theory” does not include the theory being true, it means a proposition based on physical evidence to explain some facts by logical inferences. There have been many theories throughout the history of science which looked good at the time which further progress has shown to be incorrect. Nonetheless, we can’t go back and say that because they were incorrect they were not theories. So many many things that we now realized to be incorrect, incorrect theories, are nonetheless theories.

According to Behe, the line should be drawn somewhere to the left of astrology, which would put it in dange of being somewhere off the screen altogether.

As I commented to a friend at the time of the trial, if your definition of science includes astrology, then your definition is wrong. Demarcation in the abstract might be difficult, but it tends to be considerably simpler in concrete cases.

Woodward sees things differently. As he tells it, ID does not judge a structure to be designed until it passes certain tests, like the explanatory filter. But the Neo-Darwinian side automatically files things under “undesigned” prior to doing any tests. This shows that Neo-Darwinism is the side that suffers from metaphysical bias.

That, of course, is total nonsense. First, evolutionists file complex biological systems under uknown origin until some data comes in. They do not investigate the possibility of supernatural intervention simply because they lack the means for doing so. At this point in history, however, so many complex systems have been studied and have shown clear evidence of their evolutionary history, that the provisional conclusion that the unstudied or mysterious systems are likewise the products of evolution seems reasonable. From the other side, ID folks test nothing. They merely assert that if a system is found to fit a certain definition of irreducible complexity then it could not have evolved gradually. This is not a test. Similarly, they assert that a few back of the envelope probability calculations can show that a system was designed. This is likewise not a test. And even if it were, Dembski himself has made only a single attempt (in section 5.10 of No Free Lunch) to apply his method, and he ended up with a calculation so biologically unrealistic that it had no significance at all.

The sheer gall of these folks is simply not to be believed. Scientists laboriously work out how a particular complex system works, working out the strucutre and function of its parts, finding the genetic basis for particular features of the system, studying the way the system forms in development, and comparing all of this to comparable structures in other organisms. Over many years they gather huge masses of data and then point out that a particular evolutionary trajectory seems to account for all the known findings. They then use their hypothetical scenario to make predictions. And after a while enough data comes to light and enough predictions prove to be successful that the scientists conclude they have a grasp on how the system evolved.

This, according to the ID folks, is the result of metaphysical commitments and a priori assumptions.

But when Behe or Dembski make bald assertions about what can evolve and what can not, without the slightest bit of experimental data to back up those assertions, they call it testing a conclusion experimentally and keeping an open mind about the data.

And Woodward has the nerve to wonder why real scientists get so angry with his colleague’s worthless expectorations?

Woodward changed gears at this point, adn turned to some discussion of the critics who, in his mind, are guilty of ridiculous rhetorical excess. In particular, he seemed keen to justify his description of the dispute between evolution and ID in warlike terms. He argued that he is merely reporting on the verbiage used by ID critics.

He then went on to list some of my favorite people, starting with Niall Shanks. Woodward read the first two sentences from Shanks’ book God, The Devil and Darwin:

A culture war is currently being waged in the United States by religious extremists who hope to turn the clock of science back to medieval times. The current assault is targeted mainly at educational institutions and science education in particular.

He now paused, and informed us that Shanks goes on to say:

The chief weapon in this war is a version of creation science known as intelligent design theory.

Since Woodward would go on to describe this and several related quotes as laughable hyperbole, we ought to have a closer look at what Shanks actually said. And since creationists of all stripes are constitutionally incapable of presenting anyone’s words accurately, we should suspect something fishy is going on here.

Woodward conveniently omitted the sentence that came between the two quotes given above. Shanks wrote:

However, it is an important fragment of a much larger rejection of the secular, rational, democratic ideal of the Enlightenment upon which the United States was founded.

I’d say that’s pretty significant, seeing as how it makes clear that the war in question is not simply between evolution and ID, but rather that this is merely one battleground in a much larger war. It’s not as if teaching ID in science classes will satisfy evolution’s critics and lead to peace and harmony. They will use that foot in the door to argue for more sweeping changes.

Where could Shanks have gotten that idea? What could make him think that the battle over evolution and ID is just one aspect in a larger culture war? Well, maybe he read books like Phillip Johnson’s The Wedge of Truth, where he writes:

The Wedge in my title is an informal movement of like-minded thinkers in which I have taken a leading role. Our strategy is to drive the thin edge of our wedge into the cracks in the log of naturalism by bringing long-neglected questions to the surface and introducing them into public debate. Of course the intial penetration is not the whole story, because the Wedge can split the log only if it thickens as it penetrates. (pp. 14)

This, incidentally, in a book dedicated to the congeregation of The First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, CA.

So it would seem that Shanks had good reason for seeing the fight over evolution as a merely the first battle in a much larger war. Shanks went on, in the very next paragraph, to provide some further context for his remarks:

The aim of intelligent design theory is to insinuate into public consciousness a new version of science — supernatural science — in which the God of Christianity (carefully not directly mentioned for legal and political reasons) is portrayed as the intelligent designer of the universe and its contents.

That, surely, is ridiculous. I mean, where could Shanks possibly have gotten the idea that ID is part of a movement to change the definition of science to something friendlier to Christianity? I mean, it couldn’t be that he read the Discovery Institute’s own Wedge Document could it?:

The social consequences of materialism have been devastating. As symptoms, those consequences are certainly worth treating. However, we are convinced that in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source. That source is scientific materialism. This is precisely our strategy. If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree, our strategy is intended to function as a “wedge” that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points. The very beginning of this strategy, the “thin edge of the wedge,” was Phillip ]ohnson’s critique of Darwinism begun in 1991 in Darwinism on Trial, and continued in Reason in the Balance and Defeatng Darwinism by Opening Minds. Michael Behe’s highly successful Darwin’s Black Box followed Johnson’s work. We are building on this momentum, broadening the wedge with a positive scientific alternative to materialistic scientific theories, which has come to be called the theory of intelligent design (ID). Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.

Get the picture? Politically right-wing people braying that evolution is one manifestation of the larger, anti-Christian philosophy of naturalism, and that by attacking evolution they are driving the thin edge of a wedge into the larger tree of that philosophy, that’s just good folks telling it like it is.

But people taking note of what those folks are saying and thinking they are involved in a culture war, that’s just crazed scientists being ridiculous.

The next salvo was the old chestnut that the ID folks, far from being religiously motivated, came to their evolutionary skepticism by a sober consideration of the evidence. The scientific establishment does not like to admit that, Woodward intoned, because they don’t want the true story coming out.

Woodward used Michael Behe as an example, quoting him with regard to his fondness for empirical evidence. Behe, of course, was the one who wrote in a Reply to Critics for the journal Biology and Philosophy:

So far I have assumed the exitence of God. But what if the existence of God is denited at the outset, or is in dispute? Is the plausibility of the argument to design affected? As a matter of my own experience the answer is clearly yes, the argument is less plausible to those for whom God’s existence is in question and is much less plausible for those who deny God’s existence.

It’s a strange scientific theory indeed whose plausibility is afected by one’s prior religious beliefs. Unless you believe in a God who doesn’t design, belief in God is equivalent to beilef in design. Behe is here saying that if you already believe that God designed, then the argument that complex biological structures provide evidence of God’s handiwork seems more reasonable to you. Fine theory, that. This admission, incidentally, was one of many items that convinced the Judge in the Dover trial that ID’s scientific pretensions were a sham.

So it’s nice that Behe claims he was moved by a review of the evidence, but by his own admission his opinion on the matter was doubtless influenced by his prior belief in God.

Of course, these sorts of claims are ubiquitous in ID writing. Here’s Jonathan Wells, from the preface of his book Icons of Evolution:

During my years as a physical science undergraduate and biology graduate student at the University of Califronia, Berkeley, I believed almost everything I read in my textbooks. I knew that the books contained a few misprints and minor factual errors, and I was skeptical of philosophical claims that went beyond the evidence, but I thought that most of what I was being taught was substantially true.

As I was finishing my PhD in cell and developmental biology, however, I noticed that all of my textbooks dealing with evolutionary biology contained a blatant misrepresentation: Drawings of vertebrate embryos showing similarities that were supposed to be evidence for common descent from a common ancestor.

The familiar story. There I was, a perfectly conventional scientist, until I was forced by all that gosh darn evidence to confront the truth about evolution. The difference here, however, is that in the case of Wells’ we know to a certainty that this tale is not true. We know this because Wells’ had previously written the following:

At the end of the Washington Monument rally in September, 1976, I was admitted to the second entering class at Unification Theological Seminary. During the next two years, I took a long prayer walk every evening. I asked God what He wanted me to do with my life, and the answer came not only through my prayers, but also through Father’s many talks to us, and through my studies. Father encouraged us to set our sights high and accomplish great things.

He also spoke out against the evils in the world; among them, he frequently criticized Darwin’s theory that living things originated without God’s purposeful, creative activity. My studies included modern theologians who took Darwinism for granted and thus saw no room for God’s involvement in nature or history; in the process, they re- interpreted the fall, the incarnation, and even God as products of human imagination.

Father’s words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father chose me (along with about a dozen other seminary graduates) to enter a Ph.D. program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle.

Sure sounds like Wells had made up his mind about evolution well before he ever went for his PhD in biology. Why do you suppose he would be, shall we say,, less than honest on that point in his public presentations?

So I am afraid Woodward will have to do better than repeat the insistences of people like Behe in making his case that ID is primarily about science, as opposed to religion.

Coming Up: The Biological Significance of Long Words, Throwdown in the Q and A.

Comments

  1. #1 Dave Carlson
    June 6, 2007

    Nicely done, Jason. I look forward to the “throwdown.”

  2. #2 Wes
    June 6, 2007

    At the end of the Washington Monument rally in September, 1976, I was admitted to the second entering class at Unification Theological Seminary. During the next two years, I took a long prayer walk every evening. I asked God what He wanted me to do with my life, and the answer came not only through my prayers, but also through Father’s many talks to us, and through my studies. Father encouraged us to set our sights high and accomplish great things.

    He also spoke out against the evils in the world; among them, he frequently criticized Darwin’s theory that living things originated without God’s purposeful, creative activity. My studies included modern theologians who took Darwinism for granted and thus saw no room for God’s involvement in nature or history; in the process, they re- interpreted the fall, the incarnation, and even God as products of human imagination.

    Father’s words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father chose me (along with about a dozen other seminary graduates) to enter a Ph.D. program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle.

    There are few things creepier and more bizarre than the way Unificationists talk about Sun Myung Moon.

    Oh, and you seem to have left a bold tag open…

  3. #3 Chris Harrison
    June 6, 2007

    I love these posts from you Jason. They’re always highly informing and entertaining.
    Looking forward to the next entries.

  4. #4 Kevin
    June 6, 2007

    wow. thrilling read.

    you have a high pain threshhold. may the FSM “noodle” you so that you are re-freshed.

  5. #5 hoary puccoon
    June 7, 2007

    Jason: “This is an other familiar trope in ID presentations; anecdotal evidence about how behind closed doors skepticism about Darwin runs deep.”
    Well, really Jason, why do you think the IDers aren’t telling the truth about these conversations? If you were trapped in your office by an obvious nut case who was clearly off his meds, wouldn’t you agree to just about anything to make him go away?

  6. #6 Thony C.
    June 7, 2007

    First I will say that this an excellent post and I’m almost entirely on your side however,in my opinion, you make one serious error.

    You write:

    As I commented to a friend at the time of the trial, if your definition of science includes astrology, then your definition is wrong. Demarcation in the abstract might be difficult, but it tends to be considerably simpler in concrete cases.

    It is in fact very easy to frame astrology as a theory that fulfils all of the criteria of a scientific theory that is fully testable and falsifiable. If however you do test it, then it will be falsified and therefore becomes a failed or disproved scientific theory. As far as I know ID has never been framed as a scientific theory and from the information supplied by its supporters up till the present can’t be so framed thus making it less of a scientific theory than astrology. ;)

  7. #7 Richard Wein
    June 7, 2007

    The claim that proposition X is “scientific” can be taken in two very different ways:
    1. X is the sort of thing that can be accepted or rejected on the basis of empirical evidence;
    2. X is supported by sufficent empirical evidence to be accepted (or at least taken seriously).

    Behe and Thony are using the term in the first sense, as is Dawkins when he claims that the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis. I think it’s best to avoid this sense, especially in discussions of pseudoscience. It invites equivocation between the two senses. Cranks whose claims are contradicted by the evidence (e.g. YECs) can say: “Aha! You agree that my claim is a scientific one [because it's capable of being contradicted by evidence]. If it’s scientific, it should be be taught in science classes.” I think this sort of equivocation is what Behe was aiming for.

  8. #8 Nick Anthis
    June 7, 2007

    Nice post. I think you left a bold tag open, though.

  9. #9 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 7, 2007

    Sorry about the open tag. The problem has been fixed.

  10. #10 Eric Thomson
    June 7, 2007

    A nice summary. I have one bone to pick.

    You said:According to Behe, the line should be drawn somewhere to the left of astrology, which would put it in dange of being somewhere off the screen altogether.

    I think you are being somewhat uncharitable here. Behe was clearly using ‘theory’ as normal scientists use the term ‘hypothesis’ (the ID advocates like to do that, the ‘It’s just a theory’ argument). Behe is right that astrology could be construed as a scientific hypothesis to explain the evidence. Clearly, it turned out to be wrong, but that doesn’t retroactively make it nonscientific (which is a point he made, and tried to drive home with the statement about the aether).

  11. #11 Thony C.
    June 8, 2007

    Richard Wein wrote:

    The claim that proposition X is “scientific” can be taken in two very different ways:
    1. X is the sort of thing that can be accepted or rejected on the basis of empirical evidence;
    2. X is supported by sufficent empirical evidence to be accepted (or at least taken seriously).Behe and Thony are using the term in the first sense, as is Dawkins when he claims that the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis. I think it’s best to avoid this sense, especially in discussions of pseudoscience.

    Richard, Eric Thomas is of course right and I am guilty of being sloppy in my use of terminology. Astrology can be framed as a scientific hypothesis, your (1), that when subjected to empirical testing fails and thus becomes a failed scientific hypothesis. A scientific hypothesis that survives rigorous testing then becomes a scientific theory, your (2). To deny the status of scientific to your (1) is dangerous as would be shown by any survey of the history of science.

    For example, in 1543 the available empirical evidence supported the hypothesis of Ptolemy much more than the freshly published hypothesis of Copernicus. The newly won empirical evidence at the end of the first decade of the 17th century, telescopic observations, refuted the Ptolemaic hypothesis but not that of Tycho which was now better supported than that of Copernicus. Further developments in both physics and astronomy tipped this situation in favour of the Keplerian hypothesis by about 1640 and this hypothesis became the accepted scientific theory by about 1660.

    As I hope you can see from this abbreviated example the status of a scientific hypothesis is dependent on the empirical evidence avaiable at a specific point in time which is itself dependent on many factors i.e. technological developements, new knowledge from other fields of science etc.

  12. #12 Richard Wein
    June 8, 2007

    Thony C, wrote: A scientific hypothesis that survives rigorous testing then becomes a scientific theory, your (2).

    That’s one possible way of using those terms. But note that you are using “scientific” in two different senses here (the two senses I listed above). If you doubt that, think about the difference between scientific and unscientific hypotheses. Then think about the difference between scientific and unscientific theories. Are the two dichotomies analogous?

    The short answer is that these terms are not uniquely defined, so you should always make sure to clarify your meaning when the precise meaning is important.

  13. #13 Thony C.
    June 8, 2007

    Richard Wein wrote:

    That’s one possible way of using those terms. But note that you are using “scientific” in two different senses here (the two senses I listed above). If you doubt that, think about the difference between scientific and unscientific hypotheses. Then think about the difference between scientific and unscientific theories. Are the two dichotomies analogous?

    I think you are missing the point, scientific is only used in “one” sense i.e. testable and falsifiable. A hypothesis that is testable and potentially fasifiable is scientific, all other hypotheses are non-scientific. An scientific hypothesis that has survived substantial testing is called a scientific theory. A non-scientific theory is a theory from outside the realm of science and per definition non-testable. There are not two different meanings for the concept science but two (in fact several) different meanings for the word theory which from the original Greek just means view point.

  14. #14 Richard Wein
    June 9, 2007

    Thony C. wrote: I think you are missing the point, scientific is only used in “one” sense i.e. testable and falsifiable…. A non-scientific theory is a theory from outside the realm of science and per definition non-testable.

    Earlier you wrote that a scientific hypothesis becomes a “scientific theory” when it becomes sufficiently well supported. Since you say that a “non-scientific theory” is non-testable, presumably you believe that it cannot be well-supported. In that case, it follows that one of the differences between a scientific theory and a non-scientific theory is that only the former is well-supported. Hence one of the meanings of “scientific” must be “well-supported”.

  15. #15 Richard Wein
    June 9, 2007

    By the way, Thony, what do you call a theory which is testable but not well-supported? By your definitions, it is neither a non-scientific theory (non-testable) nor a scientific theory (well-supported). ;)

  16. #16 SLC
    June 9, 2007

    Re Thony C

    Actually, the Ptolemaic Hypothesis was falsified by Galileos’ discovery of 4 of Jupiters’ moons. His observation was they they revolved around Jupiter, thus falsifying the Ptolemaic hypothesis that all observable objects revolved around the earth.

  17. #17 Thony C.
    June 10, 2007

    SLC wrote:

    Actually, the Ptolemaic Hypothesis was falsified by Galileos’ discovery of 4 of Jupiters’ moons. His observation was they they revolved around Jupiter, thus falsifying the Ptolemaic hypothesis that all observable objects revolved around the earth.

    Thony C. wrote earlier:

    The newly won empirical evidence at the end of the first decade of the 17th century, telescopic observations, refuted the Ptolemaic hypothesis but not that of Tycho…

  18. #18 Thony C.
    June 10, 2007

    Richard Wein wrote:

    Hence one of the meanings of “scientific” must be “well-supported”.

    You are confusing the concept “scientific” (testable and potentially falsifiable) with the concept “scientific theory” (tested and well supported).

    Richard Wein wrote:

    a theory which is testable but not well-supported

    If it has been tested and refuted it is a failed scientific hypothesis. If it has been tested and not refuted but is not yet considered well suported then it is a tentative or disputed scientific theory. Before you ask, no one has yet succeeded in defining the point when a hypothesis has been sufficiently tested to be considered well supported.

  19. #19 Richard Wein
    June 10, 2007

    Thony C. wrote:

    If it has been tested and refuted it is a failed scientific hypothesis.

    Then why do scientists still refer to the steady-state cosmological theory, the phlogiston theory, etc?

    Thony C. wrote:

    If it has been tested and not refuted but is not yet considered well suported then it is a tentative or disputed scientific theory.

    Is a tentative theory a type of theory, or is just a hypothesis that might become a theory? Can’t we call a hypothesis a tentative theory? If not, can we at least call it an untested theory?

    While some people take your view that theories and hypotheses differ only in the extent to which they have been confirmed, others define a theory as something having a wider scope than a hypothesis. According to Wikipedia (“Theory”):

    A theory is a logically self-consistent model or framework for describing the behavior of a related set of natural or social phenomena. It originates from or is supported by experimental evidence (see scientific method). In this sense, a theory is a systematic and formalized expression of all previous observations that is predictive, logical and testable. In principle, scientific theories are always tentative, and subject to corrections or inclusion in a yet wider theory. Commonly, a large number of more specific hypotheses may be logically bound together by just one or two theories. As a general rule for use of the term, theories tend to deal with much broader sets of universals than do hypotheses, which ordinarily deal with much more specific sets of phenomena or specific applications of a theory.

  20. #20 Richard Wein
    June 10, 2007

    P.S. In the same Wikipedia article, there’s this quote from Stephen Hawking:

    “any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis; you can never prove it.”

  21. #21 Thony C.
    June 10, 2007

    others define a theory as something having a wider scope than a hypothesis

    That I would call a group of theories or following Lakatos a “scientific research programme”.

    Then why do scientists still refer to the steady-state cosmological theory, the phlogiston theory, etc?

    Because at one point in time these “theories” appeared to be well supported but further research refuted them or replaced them with better supported theories. “Relativity” has replaced “Gravity” but within limits Newton is still well supported and so still earns the honour of being refered to as a theory. As I tried to point out in my earlier post about Copernicus et al. the status of any particular hypothesis (and all such statements or collection of statements always remain hypotheses) is time dependent. Last year’s “scientific hypothesis” is this year’s “scientific theory” is next year’s “refuted theory”.

  22. #22 John
    June 11, 2007

    Jason,

    I find it troubling that you like Shanks. His evolutionary arguments in “Brute Science” are simply ludicrous, and in a mathematical way (that’s obvious to a biologist, at least).

    If you’re interested, I can Email more details to you.

  23. #23 Kristine
    June 11, 2007

    Yeow, Jason, you have a strong stomach. Thank you for going there so others don’t have to.

    For the life of me, the more I learn about arguments for intelligent design, the less I understand what the whole point of it is. It seems to be the mere changing of active verbs to passive ones to me. (“It didn’t evolve, it was designed.”) So what? What does that do?

    What is that supposed to give to humanity?

  24. #24 Ed Darrell
    June 11, 2007

    You note Wells’ famous line:

    As I was finishing my PhD in cell and developmental biology, however, I noticed that all of my textbooks dealing with evolutionary biology contained a blatant misrepresentation: Drawings of vertebrate embryos showing similarities that were supposed to be evidence for common descent from a common ancestor.

    I never did official graduate study in biology, so didn’t get the textbooks — but I can’t get over the sensation I get when I read that line that Wells is exaggerating a lot, or making stuff up whole cloth when complains about vertebrate embryo drawings. Has anyone ever bothered to check the texts that Wells would have used? I’ll wager the drawings do not exist as Wells claims.

    Can anyone deny my claim?

  25. #25 Fastlane
    June 20, 2007

    Ed Darrell:”I never did official graduate study in biology, so didn’t get the textbooks — but I can’t get over the sensation I get when I read that line that Wells is exaggerating a lot, or making stuff up whole cloth when complains about vertebrate embryo drawings. Has anyone ever bothered to check the texts that Wells would have used? I’ll wager the drawings do not exist as Wells claims.

    Check out ‘Flock of Dodos” when it comes out in August. Randy Olsen does just that.

    Spoiler: It doesn’t turn out well for the IDists, so if you can find someone to take that bet…

    Cheers.

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