Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Is IC falsifiable?

I happened upon the blog of one "professorsmith" in a Google search, and a couple of exhanges ensued here and here. Due to professorsmith's increasingly itchy trigger finger, it's probably wise to just post this here, where it won't be "disappeared", as has happened a couple times already. Here's my latest comment to William Bradford:

William Bradford,

You said:
The historic nature of the analysis does complicate things does it not? Let me note that ID critics do not hesitate to allege that ID is unscientific because of evidentiary difficulties. Let me return the favor in a way by pointing out that a legitimate position to take is that the answer to a specific question currently lies outside the boundaries of an empirical answer.
Yes, since we don’t have certainty, let’s just call it a solipsistic tie, shall we? I understand that’s a position many ID proponents would like to sue for, but there’s no legitimate expectation of certainty in any of this, especially in forensic questions. Instead, we depend on consilience, parsimony, predictions, and liability to falsification. That won’t produce the kind of satisfaction you’re demanding, but that’s the point: such demands are euphemisms for “unfalsifiable”. That is, the reason my researcher friend say “get outta here” with that suggestion (along the lines of what you demand) is that it’s not a practical expectation, even in principle.
And while science is all about “evidentiary difficulties”, the difficulties ID struggles with of a different kind. As I said, a century ago, we didn’t have the knowledge of DNA that led to the modern synthesis, and even when the modern synthesis was formulated, we had not uncovered the evidence that has given rise to the move towards evo-devo extensions of the model. The whole reason for engaging in the enterprise of science is because we have evidentiary difficulties, but as the evidence accumulates, positive hypotheses emerge that excel in terms of explanatory and predictive power, as well as rationalizing the evidence and surviving potent opportunities to be falsified. The problem is addressed in a positive way.

IC, as I was mention to professorsmith, is a negative argument applied evolutionary theory. It doesn’t have an “evidentiary problem” of the same sort mainstream science does. It is committed to “proving a negative” as a principle, asserting that X cannot be accounted for, as opposed to saying “here is the evidence that X happened, and if X were not true, this other evidence would be in view, but is absent”. It’s a negative model, which completely reverses the nature of the evidentiary problem.

Unless ID proponents are prepared to advance a positive hypothesis (”here is evidence of the Designer as a phenomenological entity, and here is the explanation of of how the Designer effected the phenomena we see…”), it simply must remain a “critique”, a sophisticated expression of incredulity.

I have no problem with that orientation for ID, so long as they are upfront about that orientation. The evidentiary challenges are fundamentally different for evolutionary theory and ID, though.

You said:
Indeed. Unsatisfactory as they are incapable (so far) of rendering definitive answers.

I think you misunderstood the objection. “Definitive” is an artificial hurdle criterion for science. It’s precisely when the complaint comes back that a given framework isn’t ‘definitive’ that the scientist shrugs and realizes he’s been pushed outside of the boundaries of science. It’s an illicit demand, scientifically speaking, when “definitive” becomes the bar to acceptance.

You said:
This is a revealing comment Touchstone, although one you probably have not thought through thoroughly. My comments about IC (and those of other IDists) are firmly grounded in what we know. When I point out that translation mechanisms needed to enable protein synthesis are dependent on the function of enzymes x, y, z… I’m making an observation backed by the evidence of effects of rare diseases brought about by the disablement of a single one of these enzymes. No suppositions needed. You and others may argue that we will someday find pathways to mechanisms needed for translation and you can label criticism of that contention critiques based on ignorance however you need to note that the belief that such non-telic pathways exist is one firmly rooted in a form a faith.
Sure, I don’t think that’s even controversial. Science doesn’t eschew axioms and epistemic presuppositions. I certainly haven’t claimed that, and do not encounter that position in scientific circles I travel in. It’s a method, and as such, begins with a set of givens it considers necessary to enable the enterprise — natural explanations as a requirement for natural phenomena, for example. That’s not a revelation to anyone.

There’s no “guarantee” that the world is intelligible in naturalistic terms. It may not be. But science proceeds on the “faith-based” assumptions that it is, as a means of enabling the acquisition of (natural) knowledge. There are plenty of other domains (e.g. religion) that do not need the constraints of methodological naturalism, as they are not organized around the development of natural knowledge, as science is.

Science may well “overlook” God, if he’s invisible on natural terms, and that’s a risk inherent in the model. But it’s a profitable risk, as MN provides essential protection from the conflation of supernatural ‘knowledge’ with natural knowledge. Epistemically, natural knowledge is fundamentally destabilized if supernatural “evidence” is mixed in.

You said:
Neither do worn out tread mill arguments aimed at straw men. Try dealing with what IDists are actually claiming.
I keep hearing that I’m offering strawmen, but I’ve yet to see what the strawman is. In this post, professorsmith states “IC is falsifiable”. So I think that quote is clearly what one IDist is “actually claiming”. As I took that statement up in the comments, I learned from professorsmith that IC was, after all, NOT falsified in the general sense, if the flagellum were falsified.

So that raises the question of what she means by “IC is falsifiable”. Does that mean IC is only put to rest if every single biological structure any ID proponent can imagine as IC is furnished with a documented fully detailed step-wise pathway? That’s an absurd and cynical use of the term “falsifiable”, if so, simply because ID proponents can keep scientists running in the hamster cage ad infinitum that way.

So, I’m still unclear what the falisification regime for IC is generally. Even if we were to agree on the specific tests for the flagellum, and it was falsified, IC would remain intact, from what professorsmith says. So what does “falsifiable” mean in that case?

If you want to show me where the straw man is in that, I’d be obliged. It may be useful point out that I have been responding to professorsmith’s post, and subsequent comments, as opposed to a post belonging to Gene, Behe, or Dembski. I’m happy to be directed to statements from them or others that professorsmith subscribes to as answers, but as it is, I don’t see what “falisifiable” means for IC as a general proposition.
I’m glad you mentioned DNA. DNA is an information rich molecule whose function is dependent on the sequential order of its nucleotides and an encoding convention by which sequences acquire biological significance. There is no atelic chemical process which generates systems like this.
That’s just a naked beg to the question, isn’t it? I might as well just say there is no telic process which generates system like this, so long as that kind of begging works.


As you can see, a torrent of vicious epithets there.