Falsification, Likelihood, and Intelligent Design Creationism

Steven Novella at NeuroLogica Blog has a great post explaining why ID can’t meet the criterion of falsification. How does one conclusively disprove the existence of the Great Vorlon?

I would add two points. First, a good trick that intelligent design creationists play is that they subtly make their ‘hypothesis’ (such as it is) the null hypothesis. That means evolution by natural processes must always make the affirmative case, or overturn intelligent design creationism. Because ID creationism is so well established. Or something. I call bullshit.
Second, it always interests me how, when engaging in ‘formal’ discussions of hypothesis testing, we always use the Popperian framework of falsification, when, in fact, many times scientists use an approach that is essentially a likelihood approach: judging which hypothesis best fits the data, as opposed to falsifying a null hypothesis.
Of course, from a likelihood perspective, intelligent design creationism is bullshit too.
More about likelihood and evolution here.

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7 Responses to Falsification, Likelihood, and Intelligent Design Creationism

  1. rpenner says:

    Missing link
    On the reposted page, http://scienceblogs.com/mikethemadbiologist/2006/06/krauthammer_we_are_all_popperi.php , you have a link to your Blogger blog which seems to have gone defunct.

  2. Sam C says:

    ID can’t meet the criterion of falsification?
    I’d say it has met the criterion of falsification – it has been falsified fairly comprehensively as a theory! As for falsifiability, that’s a different issue.
    But it’s a nasty word soup to get into if you try to put yourself into the mindset of somebody with no scientific insight. “So, you say evolution by NS makes falsifiable claims… so it makes claims that could be proved wrong, so you’re admitting it could be wrong? And ID doesn’t make falsifiable claims, so its claims cannot be anything other than true!”
    I understand the point, but it’s a red herring. ID is creationism by another name, which is in itself a political movement, not one about knowledge. Getting into arguments about these details outside a law court serves no useful purpose. It’s an argument that can’t be won, not because the argument is wrong, but because the other party is not playing the same game.

  3. I don’t think it’s sensible to view the falsification criterion as the best way to actually conduct scientific inquiry. I think it’s best viewed as the simplest way to distinguish science from non-science. The falsification criterion proposes only that in principle there is some way to detect the falsity of the hypothesis.
    I think there are a lot of fields of scientific inquiry where the falsifiability of the hypotheses are blatantly obvious; Popper is easily appeased without further effort.
    In much the same sense, mathematical properties of algorithms are usually defined in terms of Turing Machines, because Turing Machines are easy to treat formally, but no working computer programmer actually writes code in Turing Machine language.

  4. I’d say [ID] has met the criterion of falsification
    We have to distinguish between ID the paradigm and various theories within the ID paradigm. Paradigms are too vague to be falsifiable; they are rhetorical, metaphorical devices, not scientific theories.
    It’s definitely the case that one can construct any number of falsifiable theories within the ID paradigm that are falsifiable, and these theories are definitely false.
    In a sense, naturalistic evolution as a paradigm is not itself falsifiable.
    Asking, “Is it falsifiable?” is not a good question to ask of a paradigm. The better question to ask is, “Okay, that’s an interesting paradigm, where’s your falsifiable theory under the paradigm (that’s not actually false)?”
    Naturalistic evolution obviously delivers the goods under this sort of inquiry, but we have yet to see a single falsifiable theory under Intelligent Design that has not been almost immediately been proven false.

  5. turkeyfish says:

    Pec asked,
    “I asked what scientific reasons we have for denying the possibility. I am not proposing any mechanisms.”
    There are questions too irrelevant for scientists to entertain, even though they might be potentially scientific questions.
    For example, do metalic apples go bad on the tree? Metalic apples have yet to be seen growing on any tree, so scientists generally do not spend a lot of time constructing arugements to refute hypotheses about metalic apples. While one could formulate scientific questions about metalic apples, it makes more sense to have some credible reason to do so (since there are so many far more important and interesting questions to spend one’s time pursuing).
    The question you posed falls into this category. Before scientists decide to establish say, “how many nymphs can dance on the head of a pin”, scientists usually like to have some concrete evidence that 1) there are nymphs who can dance and 2) they are small enough relative to the a relevant-sized pin for the question to be meaningful. Yes we can logically construct any question, but that in and of itself does not make the question meaningful.
    For it to be meaningful it has to be shown that it relates to some observable phenomenon. Intelligent design fails to be sufficiently interesting to scientists because its proponents are unable to formulate ANY scientific hypotheses worth considering. By this I mean establishing a prediction which would be violated if their hypothesis were necessarily true.
    Evolutionary theory has stood this test, so many times without failing once to not pass this test in the past 150+ years that it is now taken by most scientists as established fact. Indeed, when a hypothesis has been so thorougly tested it advances in stature to a special kind of hypothesis call a “theory” by scientists. This theory is then used to make predictions about outcomes in circumstances that were not considered when Darwin and Russel first proposed their hypothesis (although if you carefully read Darwin’s work, you would be amazed about how much Darwin himself predicted using his theory. No doubt, much of the incessant “debate” about evolution would have been largely settled, had Darwin had a better idea about inheritance. He didn’t know anything about DNA, although he did surmise that some “information bearing” aspect of an organism’s “design” was passed on from parents to offspring.
    ID by contrast hasn’t even been shown to exist, much less require an explanation.
    Yes, I can ALWAYS posit that there is life on other worlds and that they were all desinged by a cookie monster and if “given enough time” I can give you the galactic address of a great Italian restuarant in another universe where the “designer” spent most of his time while doing it (or was it a flying pasta monster in a Chinese soup kitchen?). However, those interested in such an answer might loose their interest, if too much time passes while they wait for an answer.
    Scientists lost interest in the ID crowd in about the 1850’s to 1860’s because they couldn’t even formulate a single interesting question that could convincingly demonstrate it predicted anything about the biological world that could in some way be tested scientifically. By the 1870’s chromosome and shortly thereafter DNA and proteins were discovered and the ID crowd became even more irrelevant to the advance of science. At this point, ID is more of a cult religion propagated in the political arena through kickbacks than anything of interest to scientists. Are cults dangerous? Yes certainly, because they advance the causes of ignorance and keep people from learning about science, but they have very little to do with science.
    I suggest you come back later, when you have something to really talk about. If such questions provoke your curiostity to such an extent, you may find meditation in a temple somewhere, where such philosophies of irrelevance are practiced far more satisfying. Given the world’s pressing scientific problems, many of which relate to the your and your families survival, you might want to consider stop wasting scientist’s time, so that they can devote more attention to these issues. After all its in your own interest. Come back when you have a testable hypothesis about ID. If it truly is testable, I’m sure a great many scientists, including me, will be more than happy to discuss it with you.

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