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January 04, 2006


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Maybe I was missing something, but I thought that was the point of science. To test the falsifiability of theories. So called "supernatural" phenomenon have been relegated to the realm of pseudo-science because they cannot be tested. The extension of this is that when something is found to be testable and repeatable it ceases to be considered "supernatural". Thus, by convention, only those things that cannot be tested or falsified fit into the category "supernatural" and since they cannot be tested they are not science.

If something can be observed and measured, it can be tested scientifically. The only known thing that can not be observed or measured is nothing.

If they bring up the old "science can't observe/measure thing X", just ask their better method. Surely they have one or they would not hold belief in thing X...or would they?

I piss a lot of xians off like that because they can't answer it.

Suppose we had a method to explain the existence of a supernatural being which could be tested and is falsifiable? Would we allow this to be called science? Or, because of certain presuppositions, would we not allow this to be the case? (I think this was Scott's point?)

Consider what Bill Dembske (see "The Design Revolution" et al.) argues.

Let's suppose that intelligent design is possible? How wold we know if something were designed? Dembske gives three criterion which are testable, repeatable, and falsifiable. The three criterion are 1)Contigency 2)Complexity 3)Specification.

Contigency is something which is wholly consistent within natural laws but is not determined by them. Complexity is something, based upon the probability of something existing naturally, which cannot simply be explained by chance. Specification is something which shows a pattern characteristic of intelligence. (DNA is something which indeed can be explained in these terms)

Dembski says that when an intelligent agent acts these three criterion are what they leave behind as a their trademark. We can test, repeatedly, based upon these criterion, whether or not there is an intelligent agent acting. Thus, if any of these three criterion are not met then we know that an intelligent agent is not acting. Hence, we have something which is testable and is falsifiable. Dembski follows this line of reasoning to argue that we can test for an intellgent being who has designed the universe.

It seems to me that ID falls within our original definition of what science is (something which can be tested, repeated, falsified). Thus, Scott's question remains "Does it bother anyone else that a judge has decreed ID as non-scientific?"

I think we should at least give them a chance.


If you can observe it, you can test it. If you can observe or measure

Chi or Qi

you can test it.

"Presuppostitions" is a word I hear Creationists use when they accuse me of not accepting their "evidence". The problem is, they have none.

See Aaron, science works whether you or I want it to. It doesn't matter if I won't accept the evidence for the invisible gnomes flying around the room. If there is evidence, my whining matters not.

It seems to me that ID falls within our original definition of what science is (something which can be tested, repeated, falsified)

Please, please do so. Please provide testable evidence and replicate said experimentation. Then submit for peer review. Problem is, IDiots can't do it.

If you can observe it, it's natural. Period.

If you can observe it, it's scientific. Period.

"Supernatural" is a nonsense word. Unless you're playing D&D. In that case, watch out for antimagic fields.

Ouch...I wasn't expecting an ad hominem and a staw man all in one shot!

1)I wasn't arguing that we can observe or measure God. I was arguing that some argue that we can oberve and measure contingency, complexity, and specification; which points to an intellgent source (I guess you can call it God if you want Ryan)

2)I wasn't arguing for creationism. In fact, I have no problem believing in evolution.

3)For testable evidence see argument above.

Let me clarify. My point was that based upon the definition of science we've agreed to (testing, repeating, falsifying), why is ID automatically ruled out of the picture when they provide us with a method that can be tested, repeated, and falsified? Don't attack me, attack the argument.


The trouble is, Dembsky’s criteria make no sense. Complexity – “the probability of something existing naturally, which cannot simply be explained by chance” – evolution is not random chance, it is guided by natural selection. His “specificity” is meaningless too. So his criteria are just made-up, they are not ways to falsify design.


You are right: testing the falsifiability of theories is the point of science. My question was, when explaining science to people like Scott, should we say “science must be testable”, rather than saying “science must look only for natural explanations”?

I agree this is saying the same thing, but perhaps saying science must be testable would be more understandable to someone like Scott who seems to be a genuine guy, but whose Christian beliefs mean he is convinced by the ID arguments.

I am just reading Karl Popper, heavy read.. :-). You also need to realize that some well accepted theories, e.g. Freud's psychoanalytic theory, are not 100% falsifiable either. It doesn't mean they are all wrong though.


You use the terms "ad hominem" and "strawman", but I don't think you know what they mean. When we point out why your argument is flawed and then call Dembski, Behe, Hovind and all the rest of the ID/Creationists IDiots or Cretinists, it's not an ad hominem. If you believe ID is a viable scientific alternative to evolution, put yourself in the IDiot category too.

I didn't attack you. I pointed out that your insinuation that ID can be tested as science is flawed. And because you believe that, I can then call you whatever mean name I want - that would just be rude, not a logical fallacy. I didn't though.

But if you ignore the facts presented, I will say "ni" and call you a Creduloid.

An insult + an argument != ad homenim.

An ad homenim requires the attack to be based on attacking the person.

You can ignore the insult. You can't ignore the argument: You haven't shown us how ID is testable.

Oh, and how do you measure "contingency, complexity, and specification"? I have a hard enough time getting intelligible definitions of those things, much less units thereof.

Freud's psychoanalytic theory, are not 100% falsifiable either.

And many fields of psychology think it's nonsense too.

I don't believe Freud's theory is as widely accepted as you note. I've always found it to be similar in respects to cold reading; psychoanalysts can never be wrong.

Thanks Skeptico. You seem to be honest and fair in your responses to me. I appreciate your response to the argument, and I would like to examine further your assertion that complexity and specificity are meaningless. Could you direct me to some more pertinent sources? I am simply an inquiring mind trying to remain objective as I examine the arguments.

It's up to the IDers to give meaning to their vocabulary, not the skeptics.

I'd try to connect you a good source of ID definitions, but I don't know any. My experience suggests they want to keep their uses of the words vague and untestable.

Sorry for the length, this is my first post, and I am ready to be ripped asunder:

First of all, using words like "supernatural" is just a cop-out. Anything that has or ever will happen in this incredible universe, is a natural occurence. To specify something "super-natural" is just saying it doesn't exist. It doesn't explain a damn thing. "God" as a concept does nothing to explain one iota of our reality. Paraphrasing Timothy Ferris, "It explains everything, therefore it explains nothing".

Lets say something "supernatural", like ghosts, was found one day to be real, say with some kind of irrefutable evidence, an un-doctored video, a remnant of some new substance (ectoplasm) that can be studied and compared with other known substances, whatever the evidence is. Suddenly, something "supernatural" becomes just "natural". So if there is some designer out there, or in the past, that created life, why is it suddenly "super-natural"? If God were real, God would be as natural as the Universe. Its just wordplay. And just because we are not aware of something doesn't make it super-natural or paranormal or any of those fuzzy definitions. Dark Matter is an accepted fact, but its invisible and undetectable by current means. Does this make it "magic" or "supernatural"? No, its just nature. The Universe offers its own explanation to me, I don't need a creator or a God to define my existence, and neither should anyone. The mind has a propensity to decieve itself, to create its own view of reality and to project our deepest fears onto the physical world around us.

I'm not great at dictating this argument, but I was having this discussion last night about the word "supernatural", so this peaked my interest. Go ahead and tear me apart, people, I'm just telling you that we don't need an invisible benefactor to explain creation. If there IS a God (there isn't) controlling our destinies, then why did the big guy give us the ability to reason, and observe the wonderful creation around us? "To tempt us to use it" some religious person could say. "To test your faith", whatever. At least science isn't afraid to chart the depths of the unknown, to ask questions, and to discard notions that no longer make sense. No matter what question about God I hear, the answer I have is "Because God does not exist". "Why would God let innocents and good people suffer and evil people get away with murder, or live long wealthy lives?" You all know that classic question. "Because God does not exist" seems to be the most logical explanation, which leads to the conclusion that good sometimes suffer and bad sometimes win because we all follow the same physical laws.

No science class should be without honest discussion of alternative theories, I agree with IDiots on that point. I took science courses, I questioned everything. We had great discussions and I found out answers by questioning even the most basic of facts. Thats what science offers, a discussion. There are always some people in science that could be just as dogmatic about scientific theories as religious people are about their beliefs, but even the most stubborn scientist's view will give way in light of competing evidence. Despite Einstein going to the grave believing quantum mechanics to be false, it turns out to be the most precise model science has yet devised. Einstein was wrong about something. Science worked. Science does not provide all the answers, it actually creates more questions. Thats a good thing! More to discover? Sounds great! I love how fundamentalists say science takes the mystery out of the world. Are you serious? Have you read about black holes? They are real! Not angels, not devils, but real physical structures, connected directly to us through gravity. These are real things, much more interesting than anything made up or "supernatural". Science is a tool for all of humanity, everyone is welcome in the conversation, and no one person's beliefs will overpower the truth that comes from collective discovery.

If someone wants to discuss their mythology for what it is, a metaphor, then by all means I'm open to it. Just understand your motivations for supporting woo-woo ideas such as ID. Don't project your own insecurities on reasoning people who wish to delve deeper into our experience than some book that proclaims itself the sole truth. Open your eyes, look at the stars, and think for yourself. The truth is right in front of you.

"I ... am an evolved being, who deals directly with the source of light that exists in all of us, in our own minds. No middle man required..." - Bill Hicks

I love how fundamentalists say science takes the mystery out of the world.

I'm reminded of a intro to an episode of Outlaw Star. It goes something like this:

"Thoughout history, mankind has encountered mysteries. Through the use of science, many of these mysteries were solved. Mankind journeyed to the stars to seek out still more mysteries. Mankind will always be searching for new mysteries to solve, because they like to say, 'Oh, so that's what that was.'"

Lots of good comments and discussion, but let me take possibly a different perspective:

IDC (intelligent design creationism) is not science because nothing about it has passed even a basic attempt at the scientific method. There is no scientific evidence supporting idc. There aren't even any definitions of what idc is that stand up to even the basic standards of science.

Instead, idc is a scam that takes advantage of people's ignorance of science, thier religious beliefs, and their gullibility.

For idc to be an alternative to evolution (modern evolutionary biology), idc would have to be able to explain every bit of evidence that evolution does, better than evolution does. It's pretty obvious that idc doesn't make any attempt to do so, but the people promoting idc as an alternative don't even know enough science to know what it means to be a scientific alternative.

Some of the less-incompetent idc proponents suggest idc is a mechanism of evolution. For idc to be such a mechanism, idc would have to include detailed descriptions of the this mechanism, its results, and how these results are different from results of other evolutionary mechanisms. Again, idc doesn't do this. Again, the idc proponents don't know better.

As far as I can see, the scientific method has no explicit ban on "supernatural" explanation. In fact some would say it is not concerned with explanation at all.

It is only this: make a hypothesis; from the hypothesis, deduce tests which would falsify the hypothesis; perform tests; repeat.

Its better if the results of the tests agree with all the other results and if they don't then there is something wrong with the tests or the underlying assumptions.

It just seems so incredible that something so simple is the source of so much angst and anger and ink /electron / bandwidth wastage.

If you want to see if something is the way you think it is: check it.

No-one can disagree with that, surely?

I'm often astounded how people can misunderstand things so simple. If it works, science can show that it works.

It's exactly as simple as you say it is, Sigh9, and yet they do not understand.


Dembski gives three criteria: 1)Contingency 2)Complexity 3)Specification, that he says mean design is present. You say these are testable, repeatable and falsifiable. I would ask you – how? Exactly how would you test in such a way that, if it design were false although those three criteria were present, it would fail the test?

Dembski’s “complexity is no more than Behe’s irreducible complexity argument. But we know irreducibly complex systems can evolve. Dembski just applies complex statistics to prove it’s unlikely, but he just doesn’t have enough information about the probabilities to draw the conclusions he does. He’s assuming evolution is random, which it isn’t. I think he’s also assuming a fixed end-point – current life on Earth. But the current position was not preordained. It’s like saying that a given series of heads or tails coin tosses is improbable. It is, but any specific series of heads and tails is improbable before it happened.

By specified I think he just means it is analogous to a human-designed machine. It’s just Behe’s Mt. Rushmore analogy again. I debunked all that here. It’s just reasoning by analogy.

A review of Dembski’s recent book, covering these points, was published in the Vol 11 No.2 2004 issue of Skeptic magazine. It is online here. (Scroll down to the second item entitled “Dembski, Darwin & Devils”.)

Just to chip in; Thomas Kuhn does some excellent work on revolutions in science.

He proposed that the change between paradigms isn’t as smooth as Popper proposed. He argues that a lot of the more entrenched advocates for a paradigm don’t accept the shift and the only way the theory really dies out, is when the faculty who hold such positions retire.

Case in point: Psychoanalysis, which began to go out of fashion in the 1930s and in 2005, is still kicking (if feebly), especially in English departments.


That site is actually:



Still not right.... Sorry..

Any phenomenon that exhibits the constraint of logical consistency--i.e. under identical conditions it behaves in a manner that is at least statistically consistent--should be regarded as natural. All such phenomena are potentially subject to scientific investigation. What makes something "supernatural" is that it has no constraints--or to put another way, it has an infinite number of degrees of freedom. Since such a phenomenon is by definition entirely unpredictable, it is not subject to experimental tests, which are inherently dependent upon prediction. Thus, supernatural and untestable are essentially synonymous. Naturalism is merely the assumption that the universe is defined by a consistent set of natural laws. According to this assumption, there is no such thing as the supernatural--all apparently supernatural phenomena are imperfectly understood natural phenomena.

As I see it, Dembski's "complexity" argument is flawed on its face because it arbitrarily sets a threshold of complexity beyond which "design" is presumed. This arbitrary threshold is not validated in any way. It is certainly not set by anything that we know about the physical world and it has not been validated by testing.

Once you dissect away the jargon, technical double-speak and assumptions, Dembski's "theory" makes as much sense as late-night pub ramblings. Which may have been its source.


I've got a freaky brother. Apparently he gets more coherent the more he drinks. And he's a (real) philosophy graduate. He loves getting into anti-ID rants.

Of course evolution is wrong. If we came from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys?

Ryan Moyst's post is sarcasm...right?


My sarcasmometer breaks whenever I deal with ID/Creationism.

Of course, in the off chance he's not being sarcastic: (All together now!) I'm descended from (insert nationality), so why are there still (insert nationality)?

Branze Dog,

That analogy is OK, but the fact is that the last common ancestor that we share with, for example, chimpanzees, has been extinct for millions of years. Both we and the chimpanzees are very different from our distant ancestor.

Although we don't have a positive identification of which primate from 7 - 8 million years ago was that last common ancestor, we assume that it probably had many of the features that we share with the chimpanzees.

Likewise, the last common ancestor that we share with dogs, cats, cows and other mammals was a small, shrew-like insectivore that became extinct before the first primate ever existed.

We no more "descended from apes" than we descended from cows. Or sea squirts. We simply share a common ancestor that has since gone extinct.

I suppose a better analogy would be that my cousin and I share a common set of grandparents. I didn't "descend" from her any more than she "descended" from me, but I am more related to her than I am to a random stranger (in all liklihood) because our last common ancestor was only two generations removed from us.

In that same way, I am more "related" to a chimpanzee than I am to a fish, because the last common ancestor I share with a chimpanzee lived only about 7 - 8 million years ago. That's a lot fewer generations than the distance between me and the last common ancestor with a fish.

Not to "dis" your response - it's spot on - but I think that the idea that we have "descended" from any species currently in existence (except, of course, for Homo sapiens) tends to confuse a lot of people.


Yeah, I realize all the quirks of that analogy, but it's still snippy. ;)

Hey, Prometheus! I always thought we could take that for granted. Everybody who would discuss evolution, or, in the broader sense, the origin of mankind, should surely be aware of that context.

Daniel FR,

Excuse me, but take what for granted? I'm not sure which "that" you mean.

Also, when debating with ID supporters or, even worse, bald-faced creationists, it doesn't pay to assume that the other side "understands" anything. I have run across the "If we descended from apes, why are there still apes?" question from college sophomores, so I take no degree of understanding for granted.


Prometheus, of course I meant your explanation of the obvious sequence of who descents from whom and the difference between having a common origin and descending one from the other. BTW, please excuse my hardly sufficient english, I am no native speaker.

I just remembered an episode of "Creature Comforts" I recently saw on BBC America: It had a hamster badmouthing the idea of evolution because people jumping off buildings aren't going to sprout wings.

Never underestimate the idiotry of Creationists: If someone jumped off a building and abruptly sprouted a fully formed, emergency pair of wings, I'd give Creationism a bit more consideration, since evolution doesn't predict such absurd scenarios.

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