I was rereading your article on the ID debate after reading through an
interesting article found at the link below It made me reconsider
your statement: “There is no experiment one can even conceive of which can
test the design hypothesis. What could one do in a laboratory to test
whether a system was designed? Intelligent design “researchers” do not do
experiments. The question one must ask is not whether the universe shows
evidence of design, but whether it can be positively proved by experiment.
;The intelligent design idea fails the second test of a scientific theory
as well. Not only is there no experiment which can be done to test the
theory, there is no conceivable way to disprove design. Design is a
paradigm, but it is not a scientific paradigm.” I began to wonder if there
aren’t other scientific “theories” that are taught in schools that are
also not falsifiable or testable. The author mentions string theory and
Newtonian physics. He mentions that one is not testable and the other has
been proven false. Yet, they are both taught as theories. He also speaks
to the matter of science vs. truth. His conclusions seems to say that if,
in fact, science is bound to methodological naturalism no amount of
evidence in the world in favor of the supernatural would ever be
considered valid since it is presupposed that it cannot be counted. This
calls seems a bit odd if we are looking for the best explanation of the
evidence. So, is it that *evidence* is not the issue for those who read
science as simply “natural” explanations of whatever is being examined?
If, as you say, “the goal of science is to find an explanation which is
consistent with the experimental evidence”, and “[an] acceptable theory is
one which is at least as consistent with the evidence as rival theories”,
on what basis is ID disqualified? Has a strict Darwinian Evolutionary
theory ever been tested and proved?


Yes, of course I remember your past questions. I went to the web site you
mention and read the article you mentioned. I appreciated the perspective
of this person and find myself in the same camp. However, I have major
problems with several of the points he makes. Perhaps my difference with
what he says has more to do with my being a scientist and his being a
philosopher than with a fundamental disagreement over what is true.
Obviously, we both believe that there is an intelligent designer and that
it is extremely obvious from observation of nature that there is a God.
We differ significantly, however, over what is the nature of science and
the scientific method of discovery. To some extent, this is an argument
over definition. I believe scientists are probably in a better position
to define science than philosophers!

Basically, what this person says is that there are many ways of knowing
something, and that experimentally determined truth is not the only way to
discover knowledge. Of course, I agree with this. However, he seems to
want to broaden the definition of science to include any conceivable way
to infer information about nature, including use of logic or speculation
or other lines of reasoning. As a scientist, I know that the scientific
“method” is limited. The scientific method and the scientific approach to
knowledge, by definition, does not allow one to consider supernatural
causes. This does not mean that supernatural events cannot happen. It
just means that science must remain silent on this subject. The author
uses what I believe to be a pretty silly example in an attempt to prove
that it is possible for science to be able to do an experiment to prove
that supernatural events are possible. Bottom line, science is limited to
creating models which are testable by experiment and which can be refuted
by some conceivable experiment.

I will come back to that, but let me get to your question. Do scientists
ever break their own rules? Have scientists, historically, passed off as
science theories which, perhaps not unlike Intelligent design, does not
meet the criteria described above? The answer is yes, but we need to be
careful to analyze examples to discern what is going on. Let me
consider an example–string theory. I will be honest with you and admit
that I do not have a thorough grasp of this theory. However, from what I
can see about the string model, it is quite speculative. It is somewhat
on the edge of even being a scientific theory. There is no scientific
experiment which can directly observe these “strings.” Arguably, this
theory may remain impossible to prove by direct experiment indefinitely.
This might appear to put it in a league with Intelligent Design.
However, I would argue that there are major distinctions between ID and
string theory. First of all, string theory is a model which can be used
to make specific, testable predictions. Even if the existence of strings
cannot be demonstrated directly, the implications of the model can be
shown to be either consistent or not consistent, at least indirectly, with
experiment. The same could have been said about the atomic theory of John
Dalton. This theory was proposed in 1804 to explain a number of empirical
laws in chemistry. Yet, the existence of atoms was not considered proven
until the explanation by Einstein of brownian motion in 1905. For about
one hundred years, atomic theory could not be demonstrated directly by any
experiment. Yet, its power to explain well-known experimental phenomenon
was so great that it was a very successful theory.

I believe it would be fair to say that string theory is significantly more
speculative than atomic theory ever was, and that it is a bit out there as
science, but it is not in the same category as ID. Intelligent design is
a very powerful model which can explain the reason for many observable
phenomenon, such as the size of the electrical force, the gravity force
and so forth. However, it cannot be used to predict physical laws. It
cannot be used to explain any experiments. It cannot be disproven by
experiment. In the end, string theory will stand or fall according to how
well it can explain experimental evidence. Intelligent Design will not be
able to explain experimental evidence. What it will be able to explain is
the question of ultimate causes. It is very useful to ask the big
questions of why the universe is the way it is. Arguably, this is a far
more important question than any answered by science. However, ID cannot
be confirmed by experiment or disproven by experiment. It is not

Let us consider another example–evolution. I would say that when Darwin
proposed the theory in 1859, there were a few aspects of the theory which
put it somewhat on the fringe. In 1859 it was debatable whether the
theory was refutable by any experiment. It dealt with things which
happened in the distant past. It is not clear that this theory could be
tested directly by any experiment in the laboratory back in the nineteenth
century. I do not believe that it was an unscientific theory, even in
1859, but it was somewhat unique in that it did have broad predictive
powers about the past, but not about experiments which could be performed
in the lab at the time. Having said that, the situation with the theory
of evolution has changed dramatically in the past almost one hundred and
fifty years. Since the time of Charles Darwin, as I am sure you know, the
discovery of DNA has changed the situation a lot. Evolution as a theory
of origins of species is now easily refutable. Genetic similarities
between related species can be looked at. These experi
ments do not prove
evolution of all life from a single initial life form, of course, but they
do broadly support the theory of evolution. In addition, in recent
decades, a number of experiments have been done showing evolution
occurring in the laboratory. Of course, these experiments only show
relatively minor changes in the genomes of rather simple species.
Nevertheless, although evolution is far from “proven” as some might claim.
it has certainly moved into the category of a solid scientific theory in
that its claims can be tested by experiment and it can be refuted by
scientific discovery.

You ask whether a strict Darwinian evolutionary theory has ever been
tested and proved. First of all, I am not sure what a strict Darwinian
theory would be, exactly. Let me assume that what you are asking is
whether it has been tested and proven that all species of life evolved
from some sort of original species by a process of mutation, natural
selection and so forth. The answer to this question is that in this sense
evolution is definitely not proven. Not even close. There remain many
very significant problems with the theory. In fact, because it is largely
a theory about things which happened long before human beings were around
to do experiments, it will remain forever unproven. I would argue that
not scientific theory can be absolutely proven anyway.

Getting back to two examples you raise. First, the author you mention is
absolutely right that string theory is not proven. I believe no theory
can be “proven,” as science does not lend itself to final proof. Having
said that, string theory is about as far from proven as any theory which
is out there. It is highly speculative, barely warranting being described
as a scientific theory. Remember, though, that it is still in a different
category from ID. As for the author’s comment about Newtonian physics, I
do not agree with his assesment of this theory at all. Newtonian theory
has not been disproven. It was also never “proven” in the past. Like any
scientific theory, it is only as good as its ability to explain phenomenon
and to predict experiments. The reason scientists still teach Newton’s
classical mechanics is that it is still able to explain a wide variety of
phenomenon extremely well. Newtonian mechanics breaks down for extremely
small objects, such as atoms and electrons. It also breaks down for
objects moving very fast. For very small objects, quantum mechanics is
far better at explaining the data. For very fast objects, relativity
works much better than Newtonian mechanics. Newtonian mechanics is
neither right or wrong; proven or disproven. The same can be said for
quantum mechanics. There are phenomena which are not fully described by
quantum mechanics. These are models and theories whose quality is
determined by their ability to be tested and confirmed (or denied) by

None of this is true with Intelligent Design. Please remember that I am
absolutely convinced that there is an intelligent designer, and that his
fingerprint is all over creation. It is just that supernatural design
does not lend itself to confirmation or denial by experiment. It never
will. The author you mention wants to redefine science. He wants to
broaden the definition of science so that it can include a theory like
intelligent design. As they say, it is a free world, and he is certainly
allowed to use any definition he likes. I predict, however, that he will
not be able to change how scientists define what they do. It is my
opinion that it is not helpful to redefine science in a convenient way to
shoe horn questions about deity and supernatural events into the realm of
science. That is my opinion.

John Oakes

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