Unnatural Vice

Red State Rabble (via Pharyngula) brings to attention certain changes to the definition of science proposed by an eight-member pro-Intelligent Design grouping within the Kansas State Board of Education. Blog author and concered parent Pat Hayes notes:

Here are excerpts from their proposed revisions:

“Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation, that uses observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building, to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena. Science is the human activity of seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us. Science does so through the use of observation, experimentation, and logical argument while maintaining strict empirical standards and healthy skepticism.” (Words highlighted in blue are maked for deletion in the revised draft submitted by minority — all supporters of Intelligent Design Theory)

The second bit in blue is just a redundancy (those processes still appear at the start of the passage), but the first blue section is rather alarming. The ID-ers argue that methodological naturalism is itself a form of religion, and so their criticisms of the dogma should be given equal time with proper science. Unfortunately, they give no systematic description of how non-naturalistic methodologies in science should be applied more generally. Hayes notes:

If you read their revisions carefully, you’ll see that they don’t just want an alternative (teleological) explanation for evolution taught in biology. They now challenge the naturalistic explanation for what happens when students add aqueous ammonia to a beaker containing a few drops of aqueous copper sulfate in chemistry class. Maybe, it wasn’t the chemical properties that turned the solution blue, maybe it was God or some unknown designer.

Ahh, but Hayes has not considered the Unwritten Rule of Non-Naturalistic Scientific Method (here revealed for the first time ever):

When observing any phenomenon, the scientist should first of all consider how it could be explained as evidence for an action by God, angels, or demons. However, a supernatural interpretation should not be given when even a poorly-informed lay-person could reasonably say that such an explanation is “silly”.

The ID-ers also argue that evolutionary biology

presents a purely naturalistic perspective on a question (“Where did we come from?”), the answer to which has profound implications for ethics, religion and government.

That’s beating around the bush a bit – why not just say: “evolutionists are bad people who want to undermine American government”, since that’s obviously what they’re getting at? Or would that appear a bit crude and unconvincing?

The full documents that Hayes has quoted from are available here. Leading the group is William S Harris, a Catholic medical specialist who has previously written a study that purported to show that effects from prayer could be discerned on the recovery rates of heart patients (by an underwhelming 10%). Profiles of Harris (a nutritional biochemist with a specialism in fish oil) and of other Kansas School Board ID-ers have been compiled by University of Nebraska plant virologist Les Lane.

A public hearing on the proposed changes is due to take place on Saturday. Back in 1999, it should be recalled, Kansas shocked the world by removing evolution from its science curriculum (proponents claimed they were just “de-emphasising” evolutionary theory, as if that made it OK – full documentation is available here). That decision was reversed in 2001. But in the past four years religious conservatives across the USA have learnt a lot about how to present their case: methodological naturalism is just “bias”; this is a battle of democracy against “elitism”. With ID Creationists making headway in several states, Hayes has a tough battle ahead.

4 Responses

  1. It’s difficult to understand how one can “maintain[s] strict empirical standards” while simultaneously offering teleological explanations. At the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna, this is precisely the earlier Creationist legal tacking: lose the face to face battle over evolution, then try to redefine science such that it includes, or is itself, a religious belief. I think it’s likewise doomed to failure, but then these are not ordinary times. And of course it’s the children, and society at large, which suffer (and foot the bills) in the interim while these bozos declare their endless do-overs.

  2. I’m not a philosopher, but I fail to see how science can be divided into metaphysical and naturalistic realms. After all, science is about the observable. When and if God is actually observed, he’ll be added to the body of scientific knowledge. Until then, he won’t be.

  3. […] definition, the Unwritten Rule of Non-Naturalistic Scientific Method (which I first posted back in January): When observing any phenomenon, the scientist should first of all consider how it could be […]

  4. […] introduce a new definition of science which would include supernatural causation (I blogged on this here). Martin was quite open about the religious basis for her campaign: Well, you know, our national […]

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