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Letters
January 14, 2006

 
 
 

Dear Editor:

I'd like to reply to the considered comments by Rev. Ford and Dr. Volkers regarding my Viewpoint article on Intelligent Design. I concur with many of their perceptions. However, they still miss what seems to me (and many scientists that I know across a number of disciplines) as the one simple, fundamental point. Rather than simply restate it again, I'll directly respond to their concerns.

Rev. Ford states, "There is currently no widely accepted definition of science itself ­ every one that is suggested leaves someone or something out that serious scientists believe should be included." I'm not sure where this perception comes from - even an online dictionary seems unambiguous to me! The problem with the statement is that is sounds like science is a shopping list, rather than a formal, well-defined process embodied in the scientific method. Unfortunately, many American citizens share his confusion.

Dr. Volkers hit on a key point: Parsimony. Parsimony requires that a scientist must always choose the simplest explanation available, the one that requires the fewest logical leaps. I'd recommend that my critics (indeed anyone with an opinion on ID) merely "google" the term at legitimate sites to understand what it's all about. Parsimony is also known as Occam's razor; in Psychology, it's called Morgan's canon.

As a physicist, Dr. Volkers apparently never heard of the term. I'm not really that surprised. Having started in a hard science/engineering curriculum myself, I recognize that hard science textbooks spend all of their time explaining "facts" derived from their long scientific histories. From a different direction, medical schools also spend a lot of time dealing with scientific "facts." To many highly educated people, this makes science look like a mere collection of "facts," rather than the method that produced it.

For younger and less defined fields, such as many biological or hybrid specialties, this is not the case. To the contrary, it is only with great effort that many disciplines remain science at all (whence my "repentance" lecture to wayward neuroscientists).

Here's a concrete example: If you are starting from scratch in relatively new field, and you're trying to understand your data, you begin with a simple linear model before you add extra complexities. If a straight line fits as well as a power function, the additional levels are useless, and probably misleading for future work. However, if the more complicated model can be shown to reliably add something from replication to replication, THEN you have a reason to modify the model.

I have a reason to be more hopeful than my critics seem to be. A half a century ago, the behaviorist revolution hit the fledgling science of psychology. To the dismay of many clinicians, the approach asserted that the very notion of "mind" must be banished, to be replaced by "operational definitions" of behavior that could be objectively measured. Consciousness, emotion, spirituality... all gone, replaced by paradigm-specific behaviors. Is the concept of MIND now missing in science?? Quite the contrary, the same "behaviorist revolution" that declared the mind irrelevant has spawned new fields that rely on these tools to study them scientifically!

Dr. Volkers states, "As much as I agree that faith, religion. God, etc., should not be injected into the science; it is not because of "parsimony," it is simply that presuppositions of any kind are anathema to real science."

So where is the disagreement???

Then again, as far as I'm concerned, the Law of gravity and the biology of the Krebs cycle are ALL manifestations of God's Law - as a person of faith, there is no alternative perception for me. Yet I know a number of atheists who have a very similar view of the universe as my own, right down to the awe that people of faith would call worship; however, they CAN'T perceive it (express it?) that way. I'm afraid that part of the reason for this is that the protests of "religious" voices don't speak to them. They don't sound to them like credible witnesses to an order or purpose higher than themselves. Instead, they hear regressive anarchists demanding the elimination of a well-established, though admittedly imperfect, model without any tangible replacement. Evangelists - take note!

Science itself is just a pragmatic tool, incapable of a war with the faithful. However, I agree with Rev. Ford when he notes that Dawkins is not alone. "Similar statements are being made all over, and worse is being done." The problem is that the NONprofessional statements of an ANTItheist (Dawson) would have absolutely nothing to do with the Sternberg controversy if we could just stop fighting ignorance with ignorance. The political climate on ID isn't set by Dawkins, but the well-founded fears that scientists may be facing a new "American Inquisition."

I concur with Dr. Volker's statement that presupposing the absence of God may also be viewed as foolish, considering its irrelevance to science. Yet how do you quantify God? How do you measure purpose? In fact, doesn't God look poorly on our testing Him? Should Moses again strike a rock to bring us water? Must Jesus throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple for our entertainment and knowledge? Should science wait until then?

Dr. Volker notes that "the research that gets done follows the money and the interpretations of the data reflect the expectations of the money."

Yes and no. In the short run, politics guides areas of study, and guides the interpretation of data. New methods attract interest, while discredited ones are hard to restart. However, fudged data or bad science cannot survive long, and will disappear over time. The egos that championed them may very well be influential, but failed replications or poor predictability will eliminate them by-and-by. Doctrine protects no one from the scientific method.

With "Darwin," we get into politics. The only people who have more than a passing interest in the fact that Darwin's assertion was atheistic are religious zealots. One group insists, against all reason, that God can be disproven, while the other group insists against all reason that God can be proven. Again I agree that "This is bad science." But how many of us "need" to view the Bible as a definitive science or history text? Isn't it more of a "users manual" that skips details the user doesn't need?

Dr. Volker's final sticking point is my assertion that "alternatives to evolution" shouldn't be taught in public schools. In a sense, we agree again when he accuses me of asking the wrong questions. The problem is the colloquial notion of "proof" in science. Science is more about method than "proof" per se. Moreover, how many physics text books talk about purpose or God? How many chemistry books? Biochemistry book? Taxonomy or botany?

He proceeds, "Intelligent Design is not being postulated to answer ‘unanswered scientific questions,' it is a simple admission that the facts as they are known violate the science we have developed." Again, go ahead and teach how models and theories develop in ALL fields of science. ALL theories have gaps, ALL are in transition, and ALL may be improved. But what has this to do with either intelligence or design?

Let's not further confuse our students by presenting weak, new hypothese alongside time-refined theories out of their context (i.e., apart from their technical literatures). Let's focus on what we REALLY need to teach. Of what use are citizens who believe that all choices are equal, that the only difference between the physics of wave propagation and "psychic energy" is the close-mindedness of scientists?

It seems to me that there IS a viable alternative: Leave the science classes alone, but ADD mandatory courses on the philosophy and politics of science! Wouldn't this address most of Dr. Volker's issues???

Craig E. Tenke, Ph.D.
elder, Center Moriches, NY

P.S. I appreciate the way Dr. Volker invoked the 2nd Law of thermodynamics. I've also found it to be a useful sermon topic. However, I use it to keep science focused on "what's in the box," and keep our theology focused on the purposiveness of the interactions.



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