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C4ID and Scientific Consensus

January 18, 2011

I feels like flogging a dead horse sometimes, but I actually enjoy reading the Centre for Intelligent Design website. It makes me realise that the religious people I deal with regularly are generally sensible people who’d rather have a reasoned conversation than talk crap.

So, lets look at How the Scientific Consensus can hinder Science.

Intelligent Design is repeatedly dismissed by its critics as being unscientific.

Yep.

This is because of a narrow definition of science that has been developed. What is scientific, according to this definition, is a matter of ongoing debate.

Errr…. That doesn’t sound narrow. Actually it doesn’t sound like a definition either. Come to think of it, what the hell does this mean? Googling “problem of demarcation” as suggested doesn’t help – I rule out ID on every criteria for “science” I can find.

The Centre for Intelligent Design is well aware that the scientific consensus does not accept ID as science. That is the reason for our existence.

You exist because people disagree with you? Would have thought you’d at least say you exist because you;re right. [Ok, I know I’m reading an alternative meaning into this passage…]

A more serious note now. The meat of the passage is headed “Galileo and scientific consensus”. That’s a sure fire sign that we’re about to see the Galileo Gambit – “people abuse me because of my ideas, therefore I’m right”. A paragraph worth quoting in full:

Scientific consensus sometimes get so entrenched that it becomes a hindrance rather than a help to the advancement of science. Galileo Galilei had a bit of a run in with the consensus and concluded, “In questions of science the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual”. His scepticism of consensus is understandable when you consider the way in which he was treated.

Now nothing in this is false. But we have to bear two things in mind. Firstly, where is this paragraph? In an article about ID. It’s being used to bolster the “credentials” of the people making the argument; people disagree with them and vilify them, therefore they’re right. Secondly, the Galileo quote. What is the authority to which he refers? It’s religious authority. Not scientific authority. The scientific community at the time loved his ideas. His book spread quickly amongst the right people. It did, after all, take 6 years (I think) for it to be placed on the list of Catholic banned books. That’s a long time for people to read his ideas, and they were accepted. It was the authority of the church that we now associate with the rejection of Galileo’s ideas.

The next paragraph is too long to quote in full… Here’s the opener.

Sadly, Galileo is not the only one to have had his ideas dismissed by the scientific consensus. In 1847Ignaz Semmelweis discovered that disinfection of the hands significantly reduced the incidence of puerperal fever in obstetric clinics.

Needless to say, we have actually agreed with the fact that hand washing helps. Semmelweis is a figure often quoted in the alternative medicine world as a reason that we should ignore scientific consensus. Go to Science Based Medicine and search for his name. Actually, search this article for him. Well worth a read.

Wegener is presented as yet another example of “scientific consensus gone bad”. Not worth spending time on, unless anyone onjects ot me passing by?

Obviously any scientific theory has got to be robust enough to withstand the most detailed scrutiny and inquisition. However, the examples cited demonstrate that time and again the problem was not with the empirical evidence. Closed minds, personal offence, political and social constraints have all played their part in preventing proper consideration of the data.

This misses the point. In the examples given there was not sufficient evidence to belief the theory. However, as time went by evidence was discovered, the theories were thought through, and it was realised that they were the best description of the world as it is. This is not the case with ID. It was bad science to begin with, and has been attacked again and again with increasing success. It hasn’t started bad and gotten better; it started bad and gotten worse. At least the watch analogy was good for a while.

The last paragraph leaves semi-decent argument behind.

The US Supreme Court in Daubert v. Merrell Dow determined that the peer review process could be flawed in certain circumstances.

I wasn’t aware that scientific or philosophical arguments were decided in the legal system. How interesting. I also think it’s a pity that the studies mentioned at the end weren’t linked to. It’s no mystery that the peer review system is flawed, but follow any science blog, and you’ll realise that this is an issue that’s also being pursued and fought (try SBM, linked to above).

So what do we get from reading the article? A bunch of logical fallacies, bad arguments and space filler. Sounds like ID to me.

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