Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Science as process, science as strawman

Alleged "post-Darwinist" Denyse O'Leary seems also to be post-accuracy. Writing for the DI's blogs, she complains of the National Review's Flock of Dodos reviewer:
Surely Dick must realize that the whole purpose of the evolutionary theory bottom-up enterprise is to demonstrate that such concepts as self, consciousness, and free will are merely illusions.
O'Leary undoubtedly doesn't realize that the whole purpose of science is to provide testable hypotheses about the world and to test them. Metaphysics is down the hall.

Would that more people realize this. Paul Nelson is a philosopher of science, but manages to get himself into the same funk that O'Leary does. Writing about the origin of RNA, he asks:

if the difficulty of demonstrating the prebiotic formation of RNA, and its (relative) fragility in the absence of organisms, should be taken not as problems to be solved, but rather as signs that a different view of RNA is needed: one in which RNA is not a primal cause of biological organization, but rather an essential constituent of larger, irreducibly complex systems -- systems whose origin requres design.
In other words, should we give up and stop trying? And the answer, again, is that that isn't what science does. Science poses testable hypotheses, then tests them. By its nature, irreducible complexity isn't testable. It's what you get when you give up looking for testable hypotheses.

The error is also clear in this simple query from earlier in the piece:

Why think that the prebiotic origin of RNA actually happened?
Well, RNA exists. That means it either came to exist before, during, or after the origin of life. So one hypothesis is that RNA came before life. This is testable. Gen-e-sis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origins by Robert M. Hazen lays out several hypotheses that have been put forward and the ways that different people are testing them. Some hypotheses involve RNA before life, some involve life then RNA and some see RNA and life happening simultaneously. If RNA didn't exist, we might doubt all three, but since it does, one of those has to be true.

Science is a way of testing hypotheses, ID is a way of attacking science and advancing a political and philosophical agenda. That's the difference.

Which leads us to Billy Dembski, who introduces a truly insipid review of Al Gore's new movie by writing:
This movie review may seem off topic, but it raises important questions about the abuse of science in our culture.
Indeed it does. As Grist points out, the review is built up massive misrepresentations of science and is a perfect example of the sort of abuses of science that Chris Mooney examined in his book. Another example from that book was, of course, the creationism movement. The problem is that the Post's Kyle Smith objects to the political implications of Al Gore's argument, so he attacks the science. Bill Dembski, Denyse O'Leary and Paul Nelson object to the implications of various aspects of science, so they attack the science, rather than the implication.

It's easier to attack the data than to discuss the issues, and it's easier to ignore the scientific process and pretend that science is just an encyclopedia or a dogma.