What Is Science?
Part II: Pennsylvania 's Intelligent Design case
By Lloyd Eby
World Peace Herald Contributor
Published January 5, 2006
If we make, for example, the scientific law-like statement "Pure silver melts at 961.78 degrees Celsius," we are necessarily going beyond our experience and observation because we have not tested every sample of silver in the universe to see whether that statement is true, nor could we do so.
So that statement, and every scientific statement like it, should be regarded as being metaphysical. Metaphysical claims go beyond scientific data itself into an extra-observable domain where statements or claims go beyond the evidence for them.
This is a beautiful example of the sheer obfuscation that creationists do so love to engage in, in their desperate attempt to either (1) pretend that ID is scientific, or (2) pretend that evolution is as unscientific as ID.
Any chemist or physicist or engineer today who made the statement "Pure silver melts at 961.78 degrees Celsius" should be placed in the stocks in the public square for ridicule. But again what we're seeing is a simplistic caricature of science, and of the philosophy of science, as given by creationism supporter Lloyd Eby, and right now it is ID advocates in the stocks in the public square being ridiculed and quite rightly too!
In reality, we might have something like "Pure silver melts at 961.78 at sea-level pressure in a normal atmosphere of nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon-dioxide, but in our experiments we have found that in an atmosphere containing at least 1.3% xenon at at least 10 atmospheres of pressure..." (this is a totally made up example).
In other words Eby pretends that scientists have a certain lack of conceptual sophistication. Of course, in the real world of science, it is ID advocates who have no sophistication at all since they don't even try to show up, since it is ID advocates themselves who refuse to participate in the world of professional science (or in the world of professional philosophy either, for that matter; e.g., ID advocate William Dembski does not even try to submit any articles to professional philosophy or philosophy of science journals).
But let me address, too, the claim by Eby regarding scientists making "metaphysical" rather than "scientific" claims. What we're observing is the typical creationist love of word games. "It's not really science, it's metaphysics, and ID is metaphysics so it's okay to say it's science too" is the form of Eby's argument. Well, no, it's not really "metaphysics," it's science, and, no, ID advocates are never as detailed and precise as that, and they don't engage in the scientific process which is a whole cycle of question-hypothesis-data gathering-analysis-conclusion-question-hypothesis-data gathering-analysis-conclusion that professional scientists engage in, along with the critical wrangling that scientists engage in all the time probing each others' data, probing their analyses, probing their conclusions, even probing their questions, and digging into more and more details ever more.
The statement "Pure silver melts at 961.78 at sea-level pressure in a normal atmosphere of nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon-dioxide, but in our experiments we have found that in an atmosphere containing at least 1.3% xenon at at least 10 atmospheres of pressure..." goes beyond direct experience precisely because that is what science is for, to understand what is beyond our direct experience. We learned about and knew a lot about the atomic structure of matter and about atoms themselves many, many decades before we ever directly observed a single atom. The claims made about atoms were scientific claims precisely because they were and are always subject to the evidence, the relevant data. As scientists gather more data (dig into and gather more details), empirical claims always have the potential for revision. Any empirical claim may even be totally correct as far as it goes at a certain level of detail, and still be subject to revision - i.e., having further level of conceptual detail added to it - upon the acquisition of more relevant data by which we learn more about the empirical concept in question.
For example, 20 years ago (in the early 1980s) a few astronomers built up a general concept about the Kuiper Belt (also see Wikipedia entry Kuiper Belt) that was correct, but this concept was general and had little detail, whereas now after astronomical technology reached the point where astronomers could directly observe the relatively larger objects in the Kuiper Belt, on the basis of this newly acquired data they could add considerable detail to the general concept of the Kuiper Belt.
This is exactly how scientists work on various concepts about evolution in science as well. Which is why evolution is not somehow, magically, for-the-good-of-ID-rhetoric, any different philosophically from other areas of science, whether physics, or astronomy, or chemistry, or geology, and so on.
The task at hand for ID advocates is that they seriously need to stop jabbering with their word games, and just roll up their sleeves and get to work doing some real science work. And if they're not doing that, then they really just need to shut up and stop trying to deceive everyone.