Thursday, November 10, 2005

Intelligent Design, Science, & Epistemology

Mankind has sought knowledge since the very beginning. Like never before in history, people seek to understand the world around them. Unlike ever before in history, many people simply seek to add to some segment of the 'body of knowledge' without seeking an overall understanding of it. To begin to understand, we must first ask: What is knowledge? What do we really know for sure? Can we ever know something to be absolutely true?

Knowledge based on reason, such as mathematical truths (e.g. 2+2=4) can be said to be absolutely true. They are true by definition or by epistemological necessity. Philosophers refer to these truths as rational or a priori truths, meaning that they are true prior to experience. These statements can take the form of two equal sides, like an equation, as in the statement "A bachelor is a male and unmarried". They may also take the form of describing properties of a definable or theoretic concept, such as 'all triangles have three sides'. The equation or logical construct itself is a form of knowledge which is necessary for the definition to make any sense at all.

Again, knowledge based upon correct reasoning is absolutely true and cannot be otherwise. It is significant that we could not say this of something we empirically observe in the world. We could not say 'All bachelors are bald' and know it to be true. Even if we could examine every living bachelor we could not say that the statement is true, because we cannot examine every bachelor that ever was or ever will be. Thus, because we can know rational truths without having to experience or empirically verify them in the world, then by definition, they give us a foundational structure to deal with the world as we experience it.

The source of rational knowledge is independent of experience and these truths remain equally true whether an individual is aware of them or not. However, we can learn by experience, and as such experience is another source of knowledge. However, experience is a less reliable teacher because there is always the possibility for statements from experience to be false. Philosophers call these statements empirical or a posteriori truths, meaning true after experience. Plato called them a "true belief" and did not even ascribe them the level of truth.

Rational knowledge provides the structure, empirical knowledge provides content. Knowing rational truths gives us reliability and certainty. We can expand rational truths and use them as tools, for example if we know A=B, and B=C, then we necessarily know that A=C. However, while these truths provide us with much general information, they provide very little precise information about the world in which we live. Because of this, the empiricist says that rational truths are of little relevance in day to day living. This ignores the fact that any empirical truth is foundationally based upon rational truths and how a person lives his life. If all a person wants to do is get through the day and does not care how he is blown about by the winds of every fad philosophy or manipulated by the authors of popular culture, then rational truth indeed matters little.

Experience allows us to survive, acquire skills and to hone those skills as we gain more and more experience in using them. However, whilst experience has great utility, it does not explain the scale of human knowledge compared to animals that experience the world.

Granted, there is relatively little that we can know based upon pure reason alone. As a source of knowledge the strength of rational statements lies in reliability and predictability, but not in breadth or applicability. However, when we look not just at single rational statements, but at rational arguments (premise + premise = conclusion) we can see that the logic/reason is immensely useful. For example, if the premises are not true then, even though the construct is rational and logical, the argument remains false. This methodology allows us to perform logical operations on our empirical knowledge and in doing so arrive at potentially new knowledge. Also, empirical experience allows us to test the truth of logical arguments.

Full knowledge comprises both rational and empirical knowledge and thus is not complete without both of its parts. While we can conclude that reason is the stronger/foundational source for knowledge, it must be stated that complete knowledge must come from both sources because they are inextricably linked in the acquisition, storing, manipulation, and use of additional knowledge. Therefore, by applying rational and logical methods to experience we can accelerate the acquisition of empirical knowledge.

This is the approach taken in science. The scientific method involves making a logical prediction based upon previous observations. We do not know that it is true, but we can test this hypothesis with further experience. In order to record and communicate this experience logical systems or mathematical models are used to describe the experience, for example by applying a mathematical formula to match the results of an experiment.

Intelligent design involves making a logical prediction for an intelligent designer of biological organisms based upon previous observations of manifestations of irreducible complexity and specified Shannon information (concept in information theory). The prediction that an intelligent designer is uniquely responsible for certain types of order found in complex systems can be and has been proven countless times with items all around us. Enough proofs that anyone should be able to legitimately call the hypothesis a "theory." Nonetheless, even a hypothesis is certainly a valid scientific concept that should be taught and scientifically considered. Clearly, the intelligent design approach is undeniably "science."

The honest scientist cannot dismiss ID by ridicule or the logical fallacy of authority. He must deal with the problem both rationally and empirically.

First, the methodological naturalist must deal with logical inconsistency of his own beliefs. He subscribes to a deterministic world-view in which the universe is nothing but a chain of meaningless events following one after another according to the law of cause and effect. This world-view gives rise to the logical inconsistency of the inability to posit a first cause. Furthermore, he rejects any form of metaphysical volition which undermines the ability to think or do anything other than that which physical and chemical processes determined anything he thinks or does. This logical inconsistency undermines rationality itself.

Second, Methodological naturalism lacks empirical foundations for an evolutionary progress emerging from undirected random events. Nowhere in nature can it be proven that specified and irreducible complexity has come about by anything other than direct influence by intelligence. In fact, the opposite is universally found. Without the influence of intelligent interaction, order naturally proceeds to disorder and a lower energy state. (I actually had a Ph.D. physicist say to me, the evolutionary process is directed by undirected random events.)

Third, the modern form of strictly empirical scientific investigation into nature is plagued by an inevitable confusion over a central philosophical issue, that of knowledge. By rejecting absolute truths derived from a priori rational knowledge, they necessarily reject the very foundations of the scientific method.

However, the Christian cannot be satisfied by simply demonstrating how "unscientific" that methodological naturalism is. We must test our hypothesis/theory. We must document, record, and communicate this experience with logical systems and mathematical models. We must demonstrate the validity and repeatability of our mathematical models by predicting the results of future experiments.

The price for our ignorance of these subjects will be more than cultural ridicule and irrelevance; it almost certainly means severe judgment from our Sovereign Lord, Himself. The Scriptures are very clear concerning the price of ignorance. The prophet Hosea said that God’s people perish for lack of knowledge.

Hosea 4:6

1 comment:

Sean said...

I LOVE it! Thankyou so much for this post, you articulate so well many things I have tried to express. You have quite a brain. If you have time, check out my recent post as well: The Problem With Science.