Wednesday, November 09, 2005

What about Intelligent Falling?

Billy Dembski asks What Counts as a Plausible Scientific Theory and then gets the answer wrong. A colleague (one suspects not a scientist) says:
as far as I know, evolution is the only theory in the canon of science which is established primarily through methodological naturalism, in the precise sense that the central arguments for it are of the form: “This is the only possible explanation consistent with MN.” This weakens the evidential force of evolution.
This is mind-bendingly wrong. Consider it a creationist koan, if you can extract a coherent and true thought from within it, you have reached enlightenment.

MN is what we at TfK call "practical naturalism." It's what makes you fix your carburetor rather than sacrificing chickens to the God of Camrys (Camries?).

There is no scientific theory that is defined in terms other than practical (methodological) naturalism. None.

The difference between evolution and other sciences is that no one else is picking supernatural fights with them. At least they weren't until TfK developed a robust model of Intelligent Falling (the Wikipedia entry has been translated into German and Polish).

One can challenge quantum physics by asserting that tiny pixies, not "baryons," "quarks" or "leptons" compose all matter, and these pixies exist only as particles, but they can fool all your "naturalistic" equipment and act like waves if they like.

Hell, a solipsist could argue that the whole world is just his imagination. Goodbye zoology, cosmology, physics, history, etc., etc., etc.

Does this qualify as a theory in Dembski's schema? Sure. It explains everything possible, and other things don't.

The problem is, it isn't science. It cannot be falsified itself. It can explain anything because, like any supernatural explanation, anything is consistent with it. And science thrives on the possibility that a theory could be falsified with empirical data. A scientific theory is not just one that's better than its competitors, but that has survived successive attempts to locate data inconsistent with the theory's own predictions.

When you start shoving supernatural beings, especially God, into things, you are insisting that people try to falsify the existence of God. And that's not science either. Despite what critics of evolution claim, scientists (as scientist) don't want to argue against the existence of God. And before you start quoting Richard Dawkins, what scientists do with their spare time is their business.

Update: See also Hoagland and the face on Mars.

"Everything Is Fair" by A Tribe Called Quest from the album The Low End Theory (1991, 2:58).