I want to propose, before I get to the substance of today’s post, a model for understanding how scientific theories change. There is word on the street that scientists are always changing their minds, that their models shift paradigmatically, etc, so therefore their conclusions and knowledge are limited, slanted and even erroneous. That science changes is the name of the game. How it changes is part of the game, too. I propose this:
We have for years gone to a grocery store called Jewel-Osco. It served us well. But Mariano’s came to town, and we have made the shift. To be sure, it’s a different store, down the street and on the other side, and there are plenty of differences, not the least being the number of workers. But it’s a grocery store, after all. It carries food and the same kinds of food, some of it cheaper and some of it better… but the difference between the two, while quite apparent to the one buying and to the one receiving the funds, are miniscule in the larger scale of things. Science changes like this: Jewel-Osco was the best for awhile but now we have Mariano’s and in a decade or so someone else will come along and make grocery shopping better. It’s not chasmic or cosmic in leap, but instead a shift from within so that what is there all morphs into something different but the mostly the same.
Does this model work for explaining how science theories shift?
And here’s an example of scientific proposal and hypothesis and theory, and how something new will lead us forward but not with absolute certainty (from CNN.com):
While finding the Higgs boson won’t tell us everything we need to know about how the universe works, it will fill in a huge hole in the Standard Model that has existed for more than 50 years, according to experts.
“The Higgs boson is the last missing piece of our current understanding of the most fundamental nature of the universe,” Martin Archer, a physicist at Imperial College in London, told CNN.
“Only now with the LHC [Large Hadron Collider] are we able to really tick that box off and say ‘This is how the universe works, or at least we think it does’.”
“It’s not the be all and end all – but in terms of what can we say practically about the world and how the world is, it actually tells us a lot.”
Science inches forward, day by day, but Intelligent Design’s major criticism of mainline science is that it’s method rules out God. The method is therefore often called methodological naturalism, and the implication of the method for many scientists, and for nearly all ID folks, is that “methodological” slides into “ontological” — that is, one assumes no God and then one argues for no God. I like Jason Rosenhouse’s book, Among the Creationists, because Rosenhouse is intelligent, articulate and reasonable. He can be potent in critique and strong in judgment, but he is not belligerent.
He proposes that ID folks see the world as a fishtank. Every now and then God, like human owners of fishtanks, stick their hands in and move things about and sprinkle food on the surface … he then uses this as a model for investigating methodological naturalism. Before he gets to methodological naturalism (MN from now on), he sketches some more sessions he heard at the ID conference.
Is methodological naturalism exclusive of the existence of God? Is it a “convention” or is it more than a convention?
He takes aim at Lee Strobel, though I think he’s reasonable in his criticisms of Lee. Strobel is into William Lane Craig’s version of the Kalam version of the cosmological argument (from causes to the First Cause, i.e., to God) and “fine-tuning.” Rosenhouse will have neither, though on this one Rosenhouse asserted his disagreement with the Kalam argument by appealing to authorities instead of trotting out the essence of his argument. This is unlike Rosenhouse and I think it was a mistake … he moves on, we have to as well. The fine-tuning argument turns into the anthropic principle, which scientists butt against by contending for multiverses and this universe happens to be the one where conditions were such that human life as we know was possible.
He observes that ID folks often propose powerfully intuitive ideas: Complex machines need designers, natural forces break things down, everything has a cause, cosmic fine-tuning is like winning a lottery ticket. And there is plenty of God-of-the-gaps at work in the ID approach. Rosenhouse makes an important observation: where we do know things, ID folks tend to be cynical or accusatory; where we don’t know things as well (God, etc), they get more confident.
Rosenhouse points to an important irony in much of the ID debate: ID folks want their work to be credited as science because they think science finds facts and truths, and they want their stuff to be part of public education and it must be science to get there.
Which creates the irony: science is rooted in methodological naturalism and that root creates problems for ID because it wants to contend that there is an Intelligent Designer established by science, which creates breakdowns for what most mean by methodological naturalism, which is precisely where Rosenhouse has intellectual rigor and honesty. He pushes against the radical nature of how scientists define methodological naturalism and against the way they insert presuppositions or bias that makes naturalism seemingly ontological. I think I’m being fair to Rosenhouse here, though I may be extending him slightly. Here are his points:
Methodological naturalism is not an inviolable method; it can be improved.
MN is a convention of scientists, not an absolute law — not The Rule.
Too many want absolute demarcations between science and religion, and he thinks scientist push religion off the map at times, making their method biased (if God can be proven, God can be proven he would say — though he doesn’t think God can be proven).
MN is established because it works, it is a source of prediction, but it is provisory and not ontological.
The distinction is not natural/supernatural but testable/nontestable. [This is where I think his methodological rigor is laudable.]
Scientists need to respect the limits of MN.
ID folks will have to demonstrate God, not invade gaps with God.
Put together: Darwin is Jewel-Osco; modern scientific theories on origins and development are Mariano’s; ID is not a grocery store. Is it fast food?