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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Science and Whistleblowing

In the Dover trial, one of Judge Jones arguments that he gave to dismiss as religion was the usual one that ID fails to live up to this or that set of criteria for what counts as science. The assumption seems to be that what counts as science must conform to an absolute set of criteria as if such criteria were the necessary and sufficient conditions for science.

Can you imagine if some materialist philosopher in Athens had bumped into Socrates and was confronted by him with the question "What is science?"? Finally, Socrates would find someone who can actually give him the sort of definition he demands, a complete conceptual analysis of "science" without any slave boys to encourage him. But I imagine that Socrates would say that in the end what the philosopher is doing is simply providing an example of reasoning and that the real relevant target is to know what reason is. And to identify the definition of reason with the example of science would certainly fail Socrates test. "Science" would then be form of reasoning the philosopher happens to like the most.

But it occurs to me that identifying what has the right to considered science is very similar to identifying whether someone has the right to blow the whistle against his superiors. In such a case, instead of providing the would be whistle blower with hard and fast rules or criteria, ethicists typically provide a set of guidelines to help people determine this such as; do you have documentation for the wrongdoing you are about to expose, have you tried the instituted channels first, will whistle blowing make significant difference, etc. However, the guidelines provide an unnecessary but sufficient criteria that succeeds in identifying the right to blow the whistle, but it is clear that in the nature of some cases, one could have the right to do it without satisfying one or another of the guidelines. For example, the whistle blower may not be able to provide documentation because of national or corporate security reasons (i.e. trade secrets) or he may already have evidence that the ones who are involved in the proper channels are part of the conspiracy. But exceptions like this would not disqualify him from the right to blow the whistle, since the provide legitimate exceptions to the guidelines.

Now why is this not true of science? There are certainly certain conditions that we would like to satisfy in providing any scientific theory such as reproducibility, explanatory simplicity, fecundity, and predictive power. However there are many things that we can explain but not predict and that we can predict but not explain. In particular, there are many things that empirical examination informs us about which are not in principle reproducible, such as the Big Bang, the extinction of the dinosaurs, and other original phenomena in nature. Why aren't these cases similar to cases where one or another guideline of whistle blowing is legitimately suspended because of the nature of the case? There may be debates about whether a particular case counts as a case of original phenomena or a phenomena that ordinarily happens but that would simple turn out to be a debate over whether a scientific approach would legitimately suspend the criterion of reproducibility or not, not whether or not the account would be scientific.

It seems to me that ID draws it conclusions based on highly specialized empirical investigations into phenomena occurring in nature. That ID argues for these cases as original phenomena does not seem to make it unscientific, given what I have said. Paul Davies in one place postulates the existence of "Informational Laws" that are other than the physical laws but which account for certain cases of sudden information complexity in nature, since physical laws alone cannot. However, he thinks that these information laws are emergences of natural processes. If this means that there was a time when information laws didn't exist and then the did, I don't see how this improves upon Dawkin's "Aliens did it" claim, now made famous in the new film "Expelled". It just removes the explanation one step back. But if information laws "immediately emerge", that is, if they are the ultimate explanation of what seems to be a fundamental and irreducible part of nature itself, then it would be explain by virtue of being a necessary part of our view of nature. There must be a non-contingent source of information laws in order to explain cosmological phenomena (and this is what everyone means by "God"). But this is science not disconfirming theology rather than theology substituting for science.


Ed Darrell said...

It seems to me that ID draws it conclusions based on highly specialized empirical investigations into phenomena occurring in nature.

Ah, then you should have no difficulty pointing me to anyplace where I can see ID advocates discussing such empirical investigations.

But alas, there are none.

I think you should reread Judge Jones' decision. You do him, and the decision, a disservice, when you blithely assume he said that ID isn't "sciency" enough.

One of the issues at trial was whether there is any effort to research ID by IDists. Under oath, ID advocates could not produce evidence of those discussions you assume.

Why would ID hide its science discussions, when to reveal them would have gotten ID into the high school textbooks?

Please read the decision again.

The Gnu said...

No, I think I am being fair to the Judge and you. The premises of the arguments for ID are not available except through sophisticated scientific inquiry (such as sub-molecular machines, information in DNA, fine-tuning factors, etc.). The inference based on this data to the ID conclusion is inference to the best explanation - a pattern of inference characteristic of science. I do not think that it is a fallacy of composition to infer that if the premises are science and the pattern of inference is scientific, then the conclusion is also properly regarded as scientific.

If one says that in the case of ID that conclusion can't be right because it does not lead to work to be done in a laboratory, my point is that this is not sufficient to refute the claim precisely because in the nature of the case of ID explanations, such requirements may be legitimately suspended -- just like in certain cases of whistle blowing. (I respectfully request that you read MY post again.)

And I suspect that one of the values of my account vis-a-vis yours is that I don't run into problem of having results from scientific evidence and scientific reasoning that wind up not counting as science. On my account, what counts as science is closed under scientific reasoning.

So if ID theorists did not bring into the court any examples of scientific experimentation currently going on in labs, this is not surprising on my account of science nor does it defeat the claim that ID is properly entitled to consider itself scientific. Working in labs hardly exhausts what scientists are taken to paradigmatically do.

It seems that Judge Jones was successful in mandating his own controversial view of science into PA law, not in resolving the question of whether or not ID should count as science.