by Barry Newton
Is Intelligent Design science? Is evolutionary biology science? This depends upon how science is defined. Expect wide disagreement.
Whenever definitions become fuzzy, bloated, or philosophically inconsistent, hidden agendas are likely driving partisan thinking. Like political parties trying to gain advantage by reassigning voting precinct boundaries, special interest groups over the past 100 years have tried to redefine science’s boundaries.
Should science be limited to describing naturalistic causes? Then only evolutionary biology could be science and at best it would yield probabilistic conclusions. Yet if God has created or acted within the physical universe, then some of science’s conclusions must be wrong.
Should science be the pursuit of wherever the evidence points? If so, then if the evidence were to warrant it, either Intelligent Design or evolutionary biology could be science. Science would then yield what was most likely true.
Should science be restricted to describing a methodological tool utilizing repeatable experiments to seek verification of functional knowledge? Then neither evolutionary biology nor Intelligent Design would be science. Furthermore, science would provide functional truth. However, such an empirically verifiable science would produce the smallest field of what constitutes science.
Would not the audaciousness of defining science in this latter manner, only upset the most people, but also promote the clearest critical thinking?
There is a huge barrier, however. The label of science wields prestige. Many academic disciplines, even those that deal with questions of history, desire the credibility of the scientific label that is associated with functional technology. After all, the profound insights and advances made possible through repeatable experimentation testifies to the power of functional verification.
Nevertheless, such a science remains mute when addressing questions of purpose, beauty, ethics, morality, history, origins or the possibility of miracles. Disciplines delving into such areas cannot put their actual questions of history or morality into a test tube to derive experimental verification. While fields of study such as forensics, paleontology, evolutionary biology, intelligent design, and various forms of forecasting might employ scientific tools to discover probabilistic answers, their conclusions exceed verification by a truly empirical science.
In the interest of clear thinking, I would prefer to designate these latter fields as Probabilistic Studies. Probabilistic Studies would employ the tools of math, science and logic to interpret and extrapolate conclusions from data. But since we cannot return to the past nor teleport to the future, their conclusions would possess a degree of uncertainty – a probabilistic character not exhibited by functional technology.
At the same time, it would remain clear to all that in spite of whatever consensus building or explanatory power these probabilistic fields might possess or regardless of how philosophically impacting their conclusions might be, their knowledge would nonetheless remain what it actually is – probabilistic. Would not such clear thinking benefit everyone? But special interest groups want their probabilistic conclusions to be regarded as fact.
If we continue to insist on lumping together everything currently termed science, than since a chain can be no stronger than its weakest link, it would appear that the prestige of the sciences cannot rise above a diluted “maybe that’s true.”