Over at Real Climate, Raypierre has an exceedingly enlightening post about the similarities and differences between attacks on evolution and attacks on global warming. As someone who has explored both areas extensively–and who has also found striking similarities, if also some differences–I think he gets almost everything right.
Almost. You see, there’s one philosophical point that bugs me. Raypierre strains the entire discussion through an attempt to explain what constitutes science, and on this matter he takes guidance from Judge Jones’ already famous opinion in the Dover evolution trial. However, Raypierre seems to think that the Jones opinion relies heavily on Karl Popper’s problematic attempt to demarcate between science and non-science based upon a criterion of falsifiability. As he writes:
The first argument is against ID as science is that science does not rely on untestable supernatural causes. Supernatural explanations are “science stoppers” which preclude further inquiry. This is, in essence, a restatement of the falsifiability (positivist) criterion. Among the many documents Judge Jones cites is a National Academy of Sciences statement that notes that the publications arguing for ID “do not offer hypotheses subject to change in light of new data, new interpretations, or demonstration of error. This contrasts with science, where any hypothesis or theory always remains subject to the possibility of rejection or modification in the light of new knowledge.” The Judge declares, on the basis of the evidence, that “ID fails to meet the essential ground rules that limit science to testable, natural explanations.”
I am not a philosopher of science, but I disagree that Jones relied so heavily upon the falsifiability criterion (which is generally regarded by philosophers of science as being very problematic). What’s great about the Jones opinion, in my view, is that it wisely skirts this philosophical chasm. Instead, Jones defines science in a heavily sociological and historical vein, by describing what scientists a) currently do; and b) what they have traditionally done. That’s where the criterion of “naturalism” comes from–the history of modern science is, in essence, the history of a search for non-supernaturalist explanations. Similarly, Jones emphasizes the present day norms of the scientific community–i.e., publishing in peer reviewed journals–in order to emphasize that “intelligent design” doesn’t play by the rules.
So I disagree with Raypierre that Judge Jones is appealing to a problematic criterion like falsifiability. Rather, I think Jones has “defined” science in a much less troubling way–and that’s what makes his opinion truly one for the history books.