Defining Away Science
It’s been almost 10 years since the Kitzmiller vs. Dover trial. This was the trial that killed Intelligent Design. Oh, there have some shoddy books, but the website stats for pro-ID sites have been going down and the people who still cling to ID are becoming more and more unhinged.
Why do I bring this up? Because, even today, years after the Kitzmiller trial, ID Proponents are still trying to redefine science so that they can say that Intelligent Design really is science. This PDF shows how Michael Behe tried (and failed) to redefine science.
What is a scientific theory? According to the National Academy of Science
The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence.
According to American Association for the Advancement of Science
A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not “guesses” but reliable accounts of the real world.
I could go on, but they are all the same. A scientific theory (not a CSI theory) is (1) well substantiated and (2) an explanation of some phenomenon. This difference is why evolution is a scientific theory and Intelligent Design is not. ID has zero supporting evidence and doesn’t actually explain anything.
In most cases, the mere act of being a declared theory shows that a concept has so much support that there is no way for it to be fundamentally altered by new information. If, for example, we saw a rock falling upward, we might be very curious about what was going on, but we wouldn’t trash gravitational theory because of it. Think about it this way, we have used gravitational theory for decades. Using the formulas, we have sent men (multiple times) 240,000 miles to land on the moon. We know gravitational theory works. A rock falling upward can’t erase that.
It would remiss if I did not mention scientific laws here. A law and a theory are not interchangeable. A scientific law is a statement about some aspect of the universe based on repeated observations. Unlike a theory, a law doesn’t posit a mechanism for that statement. Laws also tend to be much more limited in scope. Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation only applies in weak gravity fields, for example. Ohm’s Law only applies in linear networks. We don’t know why Ohm’s law applies, but we know that it does.
Now, Behe (above) and other ID proponents have tried, time and again, to change the meaning of the word “theory” to make it applicable to Intelligent Design. What results, is that the word ‘theory’ becomes little more than a hypothesis or guess. As Behe was forced to admit
Q Under that same definition astrology is a scientific theory under your definition, correct?
A Under my definition, a scientific theory is a proposed explanation which focuses or points to physical, observable data and logical inferences. There are many things throughout the history of science which we now think to be incorrect which nonetheless would fit that — which would fit that definition. Yes, astrology is in fact one, and so is the ether theory of the propagation of light, and many other — many other theories as well.
Q The ether theory of light has been discarded, correct?
A That is correct.
Q But you are clear, under your definition, the definition that sweeps in intelligent design, astrology is also a scientific theory, correct?
A Yes, that’s correct. And let me explain under my definition of the word “theory,” it is — a sense of the word “theory” does not include the theory being true, it means a proposition based on physical evidence to explain some facts by logical inferences. There have been many theories throughout the history of science which looked good at the time which further progress has shown to be incorrect. Nonetheless, we can’t go back and say that because they were incorrect they were not theories. So many many things that we now realized to be incorrect, incorrect theories, are nonetheless theories.
Which is not true. If it’s not true, it’s not a theory. The ether theory of the propagation of light, for example was never actually a theory. It didn’t have supporting evidence. String Theory is the modern equivalent. It’s not a theory either as it has almost no supporting evidence (and, as it turns out, may have several piece of refuting evidence). In reality, it should be called the “String Hypothesis”.
Which brings up an important issue. If scientists don’t use the terminology correctly, then how can we expect lay-people to understand the difference.
Yes, science is full of technical terms and it’s annoying that way. But this is not an argument about semantics. It’s an argument about real theories that really explain and have tons of supporting evidence and false theories that do nothing and have no supporting evidence.
Whenever someone talks about a new theory that they have, we need to push the discussion onto what does it explain, how does it explain the phenomenon better than current theories, and what is the extensive supporting evidence.
One of the things I’ve learned about arguing with creationists and other anti-science proponents is not to play their game. Force them to follow the rules. Every question should be “where’s the evidence” until they slink off because they know there is none.
“Evolution is established. It works. Thousands of companies and individuals use it every day. Evolutionary theory is responsible for thousands of products and services that people use daily. And that’s all that needs to be said. Do we know everything, of course not. Now, where’s the evidence for your claims?”
 Behe was the pro-ID star witness. An actual scientist (sort of) who supports ID. But only kinda, because Behe also supports common descent and natural selection.