Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Why teach IDC?

Witness: intelligent design needs boost - York Daily Record:
[Philosopher Steve] Fuller said intelligent design is a scientific theory that should be taught in school.

But during cross-examination, he said intelligent design — the idea that the complexity of life requires a designer — is "too young" to have developed rigorous testable formulas and sits on the fringe of science.

He suggested that perhaps scientists should have an "affirmative action" plan to help emerging ideas compete against the "dominant paradigms" of mainstream science.

Later, outside the courthouse, Fuller said that public school science class is an appropriate setting for intelligent design in order to keep it from being "marginalized in cult status."

"I don't know where you think future scientists come from," he said.

As a philosopher, Fuller testified he remains open to all new views, even though he maintains that at the moment, evolutionary theory is a better explanation of the biological world.
So we should teach worse ideas because doing so will allow those ideas to compete against better ideas.


This is the sort of argument that inspires Pastafarians and Intelligent Falling activists. Why not teach about the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Intelligent Pushers? Sure, they're on the fringes of science, but that's why they need "an 'affirmative action' plan to help emerging ideas."

This guy sounds like he read the Cliff's Notes of Kuhn and decided he would completely change how science works.

Don't believe me? Consider this:
Fuller told the court that one of the problems of science is with the very definition of "scientific theory," which is the idea of well substantiated explanations that unify a broad range of observations. He said by requiring a theory to be "well substantiated," it makes it almost impossible for an idea to be accepted scientifically. But Fuller was actually proposing the definition for hypothesis — an untested idea that is the first step toward a theory.

"Does a theory have to be well established to be scientific?" he said. "That means the dominant theory would always be."
Hmmm. His logic suggests a testable hypothesis. If he's right, no new dominant theory will ever arise in science. How can we falsify this hypothesis?

We'll begin by identifying some dominant theories. For fun, let's go with neo-Darwinian evolution, general relativity, gravity, atomic theory and plate tectonics. Have those always been dominant theories?

No. Darwin supplanted an idea called "natural theology," the idea that biological systems could only be so well designed if they were the product of a designer – the Christian god.

Relativity replaced Newtonian mechanics, as we know. Gravity replaced Kepler's celestial spheres, among other things.

Atomic theory has undergone numerous internal revolutions ("plum pudding," Rutherford, Bohr, "charged cloud" models) and has itself replaced earlier ideas, such as Aristotle's theory of actual and potential matter.

And tectonic theory rose to prominence in the 1960s. Since some creationists had insisted that the continents must have moved apart, Wegener's theory faced criticism as a religiously driven theory, but he obtained copious data and proposed falsifiable mechanisms for the motion of the plates, and his theory came to be accepted. This should be seen as good news for creationists (Left2Right seems to be down, so here's the Google cache). All they have to do is actual research and scientists will take you seriously.

So the question Dr. Fuller should ask is not whether it's possible for a dominant theory to be toppled, but what that process looks like. When he works that out, he'll see that new ideas don't need affirmative action, just "rigorous testable formulas."