Confusion on Falsifiability Still Prevalent at Discovery Institute

Yes, this is another “dog bites man” story, but it is probably worth memorializing that various and sundry “intelligent design” creationism (IDC) advocates still are clueless as to what “falsifiability” means. In a brief article put out by the Discovery Institute, David Klinghoffer convincingly demonstrates his ignorance of even simple-to-understand philosophical principles.

Want to falsify the theory of intelligent design? Here’s one way.

Show with a convincing computer simulation – no cheating allowed — that the infusion of biological information in the Cambrian explosion could occur absent the intervention of a guiding intelligence: artificial life in a variety as we see in the Cambrian event, but without design.

Falsification, a concept specified by philosopher Sir Karl Popper, is modus tollens applied to concepts. It is really quite simple: if your conjecture entails a consequence, and one discovers that the expected consequence is not true, then one can confidently say that the conjecture itself is also not true. That’s it.

There is nothing in falsification about how validating some other concept makes a concept false. This is a popular misconception in antievolution circles, though, as one finds this particular mistake in the output of various high-profile “intelligent design” creationists. It is a long-running misconception, a zombie pseudoscience if you will, as I was pointing this out directly to William Dembski and Michael Behe at a conference in 2001, and it continued to put in appearances from them later.

One might wonder why IDC advocates have such trouble with this. I think that it follows from confusing and conflating their “two-model” worldview with an actual concept in philosophy. The “two-model” view was a component of “scientific creationism” that has propagated through the various renamings that have followed it. The “two-model” view states that there are only two possible models, creationism or evolution, and evidence against one is evidence for the other. In other words, that one’s likelihood of belief in one can be bolstered by reducing one’s likelihood of belief in the other. Or, putting it in the terms that likely led to the confusion, the falsity of one model attests to the truth of the other. This whole notion is rank nonsense, and has been exposed as rank nonsense for decades. For example, Francisco Ayala, as a witness in the McLean v. Arkansas case in 1981 was questioned about the soundness of the “two-model” view by an unfortunate lawyer named Williams. Ayala said, “Surely you realize that not being Mr. Williams in no way entails being Mr. Ayala!” Judge Overton in his decision also noted the inherent problems with what he termed “a contrived dualism”. This was referenced in the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision as well, where it was noted that the same erroneous argumentation had been carried forward to that case.

Paragraph three of the disclaimer proceeds to present this alternative and reads as follows:

Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.

P-124. Students are therefore provided information that contrasts ID with “Darwin’s view” and are directed to consult Pandas as though it were a scientific text that provided a scientific account of, and empirical scientific evidence for, ID. The theory or “view” of evolution, which has been discredited by the District in the student’s eyes, is contrasted with an alternative “explanation,” as opposed to a “theory,” that can be offered without qualification or cautionary note. The alternative “explanation” thus receives markedly different treatment from evolutionary “theory.” In other words, the disclaimer relies upon the very same “contrived dualism” that the court in McLean recognized to be a creationist tactic that has “no scientific factual basis or legitimate educational purpose.” McLean, 529 F. Supp. at 1266.6

Another item from the Kitzmiller decision makes more sense in the light of IDC advocates adopting contrived dualism:

Consider, to illustrate, that Professor Behe remarkably and unmistakably claims that the plausibility of the argument for ID depends upon the extent to which one believes in the existence of God. (P-718 at 705) (emphasis added). As no evidence in the record indicates that any other scientific proposition’s validity rests on belief in God, nor is the Court aware of any such scientific propositions, Professor Behe’s assertion constitutes substantial evidence that in his view, as is commensurate with other prominent ID leaders, ID is a religious and not a scientific proposition.

It is not so remarkable when one understands that all of antievolution comes down to uncritical adoption of the rank nonsense of contrived dualism.

So, no, contrived dualism is not the same thing as “falsifiability”, and it is long past time that even IDC advocates took a hint on this. For falsifiability, one has to state what must be true if one’s claim is true, not the “contrived dualism” approach of what must be false if one’s claim is true. It really isn’t that difficult to get it right.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

One thought on “Confusion on Falsifiability Still Prevalent at Discovery Institute

  • 2017/06/10 at 7:50 pm

    I have saved off a digital document of the original Discovery Institute blurb. You never know when such documentation will come in handy or be needed.

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