23 December 2005

Naturalism and Supernaturalism

Krauze, over at Telic Thoughts, takes me out to the woodshed over yesterday's post about why Intelligent Design is not scientific. Krauze rightly points out that I failed to mention the supernatural nature of intelligent design, which was identified by the judge as one of the reasons that ID is unscientific.

I hope that my failure to discuss supernaturalism was not misleading, and if you feel mislead I apologize. I actually skipped supernaturalism intentionally, for two reasons. The first is that I personally don't think that the lack of naturalism is the biggest strike against ID. The second is that under certain circumstances the question of whether or not an ID explanation is naturalistic or not could get quite confusing.

I am a scientist, and like many scientists I am pragmatic when it comes to what I am willing to accept as science. If you show me experimenal tests that provide positive support for Intelligent Design, I will be more than willing to consider them. I might initially be skeptical, and it might take a lot to convince me, but if someone manages to successfully devise and conduct a positive test of Intelligent Design, it is possible that I might be convinced that they have a point. Absent positive tests of specific hypotheses, there is no chance that they will convince me that they are working within the realm of science.

Since the ID proponents don't have any testable hypotheses at the moment, I don't really see a need to go beyond that. Testability is the sine qua non of science. To me, worrying about whether or not people will be concerned about the supernatural nature of your hypothesis before you actually construct and test it is just plain silly. If you show me some science, I'll start to worry about the philosophy. Until then, don't waste my time.

From a slightly more philosophical perspective, there is a reason that supernatural explanations are excluded from science. It's not like scientists sat down and just arbitrarily decided to take natural explanations and exclude supernatural ones. Natural explanations can be tested using empirical evidence from the world around us. Supernatural explanations are excluded from science because- wait for it- they can't be tested.

I imagine that in the unlikely event that ID proponents manage to come up with a successful positive test for ID, there will be a hellacious philosophical debate over the implications. One the one hand, there will be some who will argue that the test has demonstrated that supernatural explanations can be incorporated into science. On the other, some will argue that the test only shows that the ID proponents have managed to show that ID is actually a naturalistic explanation. It's possible that a stubborn few might argue, as Krauze fears, that ID is still supernatural and would have to still be excluded from science based on those grounds, but I rather suspect that the holdouts would be few and far between, and would be shouted down on pragmatic grounds.

Worrying about that is a bit premature just yet, though. I can't think of any ID proposal so far that comes close to being a positive test of design, and I haven't heard anything that would lead me to believe that this is likely to change in the immediate future. If I'm wrong about that, feel free to let me know.
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