If intelligent design is science then so is astrology
I have posted before on End of the Enlightenment, and I can't resist returning to the theme. In this week's New Scientist editorial the focus is on the court case on whether Intelligent Design pseudo-science should be taught alongside evolution science in the classroom. The leading article God goes to court in all but name contains a gem on how science is defined, which I quote (who is on which side is clear from the context):
The packed courtroom came alive for Behe's cross-examination. Eric Rothschild, an attorney for the plaintiffs, sparked a heated debate about the definition of a scientific theory. The National Academy of Sciences says it is, "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses".
In court Behe accepted that ID fails to pass muster, but argued that in practice scientists use the word more broadly. He offered an alternative: "A scientific theory is a proposed explanation which points to physical data and logical inferences. "
Rothschild saw his opportunity to move in for the kill. "But you are clear, under your definition, the definition that sweeps in intelligent design, astrology is also a scientific theory, correct?"
"Yes, that's correct," Behe said, as the court erupted in laughter.
"You've got to admire the guy," comments Robert Slade, a local retiree and science enthusiast. "It's Daniel in the lions' den."
As I read it, the distinction that is being drawn here is between the following two different definitions of "science":
- NAS definition: "well-substantiated explanation".
- ID definition: "proposed explanation".
The key point about the NAS definition is that your explanation must be backed up by experimental observations, whereas this is isn't the case with the ID definition.
This distinction was discussed at length in the excellent book The Fellowship by John Gribbin, where he describes the dawn of western science, where "natural philosophy" (i.e. explanations unsupported by experiments) was replaced by "natural science" (i.e. explanations supported by experiments).