Monday, December 26, 2005

"Intelligent Design" or What You Call the Game Determines How the Ball Moves

There are a lot of games that involve moving a ball across a rectangle of ground. One group of players tries to move it to the short end opposite them, while the other group of players tries to move it in the other direction. In the different games there are distinct but relatively inconsequential differences in the number of players, the size and shape of the ball, and the size of the rectangle of ground. The big difference is in how the players move the ball.

If the ball is kicked but never touched by the hands, it's soccer.

If the ball is bounced off the hands but never kicked or carried, it's basketball.

If the ball is kicked and carried, it's football.

If the ball is batted about in nets on sticks, it's lacrosse.

If the ball is scooted around the ground with sticks, it's field hockey.

Any group of people with a convenient ball and ground can decide to play any of those games. It doesn't really matter if they have the "right" number of players, or the "right" ground, or even the "right" ball. The important thing is that once they decide on the game they're playing, everyone moves the ball in the "right" way for that game.

That means that if you're playing soccer you don't pick the ball up and run with it. That move is acceptable in football, but in soccer it's cheating.

It means if you're playing basketball you don't kick the ball. That's acceptable in soccer, but in basketball it's cheating.

Other activities have other sets of rules they must be played by. If you're playing chess, you don't use the rules for dominoes. If you're writing a sonnet, you don't use the rules for writing a haiku. If you're doing traditional Irish step dancing, you don't shimmy your hips. If you're hammering something into two pieces of wood, you don't use a screw. If you're making chocolate fudge, you don't throw in a head of garlic.

And if you're teaching the scientific method, you don't throw in an untestable hypothesis and call it a "theory".

By themselves, there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these actions. But put into the wrong context, they become cheating.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the idea that an "Intelligent Designer" created the universe. Personally I believe it myself. But that idea can never be a scientific theory. An idea becomes a scientific theory by being tested using the scientific method to prove or disprove it. There is no way to scientifically prove or disprove the existence or nonexistence of an "Intelligent Designer", and without that there is no way "Intelligent Design" can ever be a scientific theory.

At this moment there are various attempts being made to inject "Intelligent Design" into science while bypassing the scientific method. Instead, legal and political methods that are used in civil rights cases are being used. There's nothing wrong with using these tactics in civil rights cases. But science isn't a civil rights issue. Science is a different game played by different rules. If you try to inject an idea that hasn't been tested scientifically into science, that's cheating. And if you succeed, the result you get will no longer be science at all. It'll be a whole other ball game.


JC from NC said...

I may have pointed you to this site in the past, I can't remember now off-hand... But anyway, P. Z. Myers has a blog entry here where he despairs over how biological science has social overtones, whereas math is just, well, math...

blogfan said...

I agree! Intelligent Design is an interesting topic, and it would be appropriate in a philosophy class, or a comparitive religions course - not in the science classroom. Teaching spiritual views as science in a public school setting is just wrong.

Stephanie in TX said...

Nicely put :)

Anonymous said...

Please don't throw any tomatoes. Isn't part of the definition of "theory" is that it has not been proven beyond a shadow of doubt. (Drat wanted to give official def. of theory but homeschooled kiddos have taken the dictionary) Isn't evolution a theory? So maybe they both only belong in a philosophy class. I just don't have a problem with a science book stating both theory. I agree that individual religious practices should not be taught in public school. But the statement of Intelligent Design is not teaching religion.

Lioness said...

No need to throw tomatoes. Dictionary make much better projectiles. :) You made me think up a longish post to demonstrate the answer, but I don't have time to write it out today so here's the short answer.

The short answer is that the scientific definition of a theory is different from the general definition of a theory. In science you have four levels of ideas:

1) a belief, a hunch, a wild guess -- something that you don't know how to prove. If you can think of a way to prove it, it becomes:

2) a hypothesis -- something you think you know how to prove but you haven't tested it yet. If your test works it becomes:

3) a theory -- something that has been proven in at least one test, but needs to be tested more to make sure the first test wasn't just a special case. If the theory survives lots of tests it becomes:

4) a law -- something people are so sure of they no longer bother to test it anymore.

Yes, evolution is a theory. It has got to #3 in the scientific method. That's pretty good work in science. It's almost across the finish line! BUT intelligent design is still on #1. It isn't even in the race yet, and it won't be until it can be tested. It can't compete with anything that has survived even a single test. Until someone can come up with a test for it and test it out, it doesn't belong in the science lab.

Does that answer your question?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I can understand what many mean about the difficulty in concrete proof. (For me, personnally, this is where faith steps in. Ducking :) No, I don't think a thing about faith belongs in a science book.) But, I am very sceptic of scientist proof. Some (notice I said some) cling to the theory of evotion with their teeth and both hands. Wasn't it on no. 3 when I was in school. I still fail to see what would be so horrendous about one line, in all the vast info. on evolution included in science books, that there is another theory out there. That simple statement is all.
By the way, I am a conservative Christain (Church of Christ) from the south, who enjoys reading your blog from time to time. Go figure right. Ah, the world is made up of many interesting and brillant people.

Lioness said...

If ID ever makes it to #3 in the scientific process list and becomes a scientific theory, it will certainly deserve inclusion in science books. It'll have to offer up a lot of conrete proof first. But no idea that's just on #1 passes muster.

An idea gets to #4, scientific law, when the body of evidence for it is so great that evidence against it can't disprove it, but only modify it or point to a special case. Most scientists believe evolution has reached this point in recent years, especially after the de-coding of the human genome. It will certainly be called a law within a generation; but generally scientists are inherently conservative about adopting sweeping statements, as countless inter-science squabbles point out.

I'm a Southerner reared by and around Conservative Christians. It just didn't take with me. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I've read some of your posts about your childhood and religious experiences. No offense, but it made me feel privileged that the church encourages us to search the scriptures daily and that it is ok to question things. From southern gal to another, great disscusion. I like that you always keep your cool.

Ravin said...

I'm an anthropology and biology student at Arizona State University. The impression I've gotten from professors is that evolution is considered basically law (it's at number 4). Natural selection, the mechanism for evolution, is at 3.

CARLJER said...

I'm not trying to change anyone's mind here, but you might want to read through "The Case For A Creator, Lee Strobel. While ID is, for some, only a theory and for others, not even that, this book presents, from a scientific standpoint, that many well resepected members of the sciences are turning the other way. In fact, many of them have entirely discounted the "theory" or "fact" of evolution that thay've previously supported. Unfortunately, this isn't the stuff that makes news, since too many in our day and age don't want to be held accountable to a higher authority (and I ain't talkin' Nathan's Hotdog's here - LOL).
We live in an age of "if it feels good do it" and too many things feel good and hey, who wants to stop and get off that ride?

Anonymous said...

Carljer, what exactly does Paragraph 1 of your comment have to do with Paragraph 2? Paragraph 1 is talking about science. Paragraph 2 is talking about somehting else.