Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin!

  • "Having so concluded, we find it incumbent upon the Court to further address an additional issue raised by Plaintiffs, which is whether ID is science. To be sure, our answer to this question can likely be predicted based upon the foregoing analysis. While answering this question compels us to revisit evidence that is entirely complex, if not obtuse, after a six week trial that spanned twenty-one days and included countless hours of detailed expert witness presentations, the Court is confident that no other tribunal in the United States is in a better position than are we to traipse into this controversial area. Finally, we will offer our conclusion on whether ID is science not just because it is essential to our holding that an Establishment Clause violation has occurred in this case, but also in the hope that it may prevent the obvious waste of judicial and other resources which would be occasioned by a subsequent trial involving the precise question which is before us."

In other words, Judge Jones had already seen enough irreducible complexity, bacterial flagella, fossil record interpretations and panda’s thumbs to last a lifetime (maybe two), and didn’t want any of his colleagues to have to go through the same business all over again.

For the most part, the good judge takes a positivist approach to the definition of science, following Karl Popper. This approach emphasizes that a scientific theory should be falsifiable. The centrality of this notion has been challenged by Thomas Kuhn and a few other philosophers of science , but as a description of the way most of us in the trenches actually see our enterprise, Popper does pretty well, as long as we allow a little flexibility in the matter of what counts as falsifiability. The important thing is that a scientific theory should be productive. It should make predictions that can be tested against observation and experiment, the more the better. Thus, Ptolemy’s epicycle theory of planetary motion is not bad as a scientific theory: it does make predictions about where planets will be, that can be tested against data. Newton’s theory is far better, though, because it makes far more predictions over a vastly wider range of circumstances, while requiring far fewer assumptions. It’s not just that it’s more economical than epicycles. It’s far more productive of testable predictions — all of which prove true, so long as one steers clear of speeds close to that of light and very strong gravitational fields. Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity is even more productive, covering the extreme cases while reducing to Newton’s theory in the low speed and weak gravity limit.

Further, the notion of prediction has to be broadly construed. The fact that we can’t predict the exact weather a year out is no refutation of the basic theory of climate, any more than the fact that we can’t predict the position of Pluto in its chaotic orbit is a refutation of Newtonian mechanics. In the context of testing scientific theories, a prediction need not refer to something that happens in the future; this is important in observational sciences such as Earth science or cosmology, where one’s "predictions" often deal with things that happen in the past. A prediction in this context is any inference drawn on the basis of a theory, that can be objectively tested against observations. For that matter, a prediction need not even come in advance of an observation. Obviously, it is a more convincing test of a theory if the inference is made before the observation, since this provides some protection against the accusation of tuning unknown parameters; however, there are other ways to check whether a match succeeds only because of unwarranted tuning.

Judge Jones’ considers three basic arguments in his consideration of whether ID is science. The detailed application of each argument to ID is buttressed by numerous citations to theological, scientific and ID-advocacy writings, which are not reproduced in detail below.

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