The Tentative Apologist
7/7/11 at 10:22 AM 0 Comments

Intelligent Design, explanation, and the laws of physics

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The debate on intelligent design continues with the latest proposal coming from Mike who writes:

Intelligent Design could only be a valid scientific explanation if you were proposing an intelligent entity that is bound by the laws of physics.

If God is any part of the proposal, it is by definition unscientific, since no science can claim to explain or measure God.

So unless we're talking about intelligent aliens, mysterious super-humans, or some other amazing and yet-unseen creature, this can only be properly discussed as religion, not science.

Mike's central claim comes at the beginning of that passage so let's quote it again for safe keeping:

Mike's ID Principle: "Intelligent Design could only be a valid scientific explanation if you were proposing an intelligent entity that is bound by the laws of physics."

This claim seems to draw on a more general principle:

Mike's General Principle: "Explanations of phenomena are only scientifically valid if those explanations conform to the laws of physics."

But there is a problem. Which laws of physics are we talking about? The laws of physics as understood by Isaac Newton in 1695? Or by Einstein in 1915? Or by Steve Weinberg in 2011? I assume Mike would say the "Weinberg 2011″ understanding. In other words we can restate the principle as follows:

Mike's Revised General Principle: "Explanations of phenomena are only scientifically valid if those explanations conform to the laws of physics as presently understood."

But Mike's Revised General Principle (MRGP) creates a rather glaring problem. Let's put on our favorite powdered wig and go back to 1695. If MRGP was operative in 1695 then physics would forever remain locked in the 1695 understanding because no emendations to that understanding could ever be made given that they would be outside of the laws of physics as presently understood. That means we'd never get to Einstein's or Weinberg's understanding. Accept the MGRP and we prevent science from ever progressing. So MRGP must be rejected.

Let's try again with another revision:

Mike's Doubly Revised General Principle: "Explanations of phenomena are only scientifically valid if those explanations conform to the laws of physics as they ultimately are."

Ahh, now we're dealing with reality as it is and not just our understanding of it. Does this work?

Unfortunately no. The problem is that we don't understand the laws of physics as they ultimately are. The evidence for that includes the rather glaring fact that the kingdoms of quantum physics and general relativity are not, as yet, on speaking terms. So if we invoke MDRGP then we cut off the branch we're sitting on, for if we don't know the laws then we don't know whether an explanation conforms to it in which case we cannot explain anything!

So it seems that all of these general principles must be rejected. We do not screen possible explanations as being legitimate or illegitimate based on our perception that they conform to the laws of physics as presently understood or as they ultimately are. But then neither do we screen a specific subset of those explanations — namely the intelligent ones — for their conformity to this standard.

www.randalrauser.com

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