Saturday, March 13, 2010

Steve Matheson Takes on Signature in the Cell

Steve Matheson, professor of biology at Calvin College in Michigan has been going through Stephen Meyer's The Signature in the Cell. He is now on chapter seven. He points out something that probably bears some thinking about:
The question, it seems to me, is not whether superintelligent beings could have done this or that. It's whether we expect that they could have done this or that. And specifically, whether and when we are warranted in seriously considering their action as we formulate explanations. That's more tricky than most people seem to understand. On the one hand, superalien (aka supernatural) activity has a poor reputation as a scientific explanation, for very good reasons. On the other hand, there are situations we can imagine wherein superalien activity really is the only reasonable explanation at hand.
This is sort of a variant of "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth." credited to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (one of the people suspected, by the way, of perpetrating the Piltdown forgery). The scientist in me just yelled

"yes, but it isn't testable."

This strikes at the nature of science. Is a scientific hypothesis testable or simply logical? As Steve notes, Meyer has to eliminate all possible causes for an explanation before the conclusion of Intelligent Design can be reached. As i wrote in his comments section: "Thus, while Meyer and other ID researchers can posit a supernatural design-by-fiat explanation for things like the flagellum or the blood clotting cascade, as long as there are reasonable evolutionary explanations, there is no compelling reason to consider Meyer's. Sure, you can't exclude ID from the realm of possibility but it provides no usefulness as an explanation. Such a dismissal is not necessarily simplistic. Given the current state of ID, we simply aren't warranted in considering the actions of a designer in formulating our explanations. Not yet."

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