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Science stopper

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A "science stopper" is a view about why things are the way they are that means that scientific research is not done. Both creationism and Intelligent Design are accused by their critics of being science stoppers, on the grounds that if we conclude that God did it, there is no longer any need for research.[1] For example, Eugenie Scott said in an interview:

Intelligent design is a science stopper. It stops science in its tracks because you stop looking.[2]

In fact, any time scientists think they have found "the answer", they potentially have a science stopper, whether that answer is a creationary, evolutionary, ID, or other answer. However, in practice, science doesn't usually stop as a result of having found "the answer". Evolution, however, has demonstrated some science-stopping abilities in that some avenues of research have not been pursued, or have been delayed, because they didn't make sense within an evolutionary paradigm.

Contents

Creationism as a science stopper

Kenneth Miller, a Catholic scientist known for opposing creationism and Intelligent Design, said:

Saying that something has a supernatural cause is always possible, but saying that the supernatural can be investigated by science, which always has to work with natural tools and mechanisms, is simply incorrect. So by placing the supernatural as a cause in science, you effectively have what you might call a science-stopper. If you attribute an event to the supernatural, you can by definition investigate it no further.

If you close off investigation, you don't look for natural causes. If we had done that 100 years ago in biology, think of what we wouldn't have discovered because we would have said, "Well, the designer did it. End of story. Let's go do something else." It would have been a terrible day for science.[3]

However, Miller provided no examples, and his claim is contradicted by history, which shows that creationism was instead a science starter, as it was a creationary worldview that gave rise to modern science. One of the reasons for this is that a biblical worldview provides a basis for thinking that the world is an orderly place that is capable of being investigated, and that we are capable of performing that investigation.

Similarly, Richard Dawkins gives a long explanation of how he imagines creationism and Intelligent Design (which he conflates) stop science.

Admissions of ignorance and temporary mystification are vital to good science. It is therefore unfortunate, to say the least, that the main strategy of creation propagandists is the negative one of seeking out gaps in scientific knowledge and claiming to fill them with 'intelligent design' by default. The following is hypothetical but entirely typical. A creationist speaking: 'The elbow joint of the lesser spotted weasel frog is irreducibly complex. No part of it would do any good at all until the whole was assembled. Bet you can't think of a way in which the weasel frog's elbow could have evolved by slow gradual degrees.' If the scientist fails to give an immediate and comprehensive answer, the creationist draws a default conclusion: 'Right then, the alternative theory, "intelligent design", wins by default.' Notice the biased logic: if theory A fails in some particular, theory B must be right. Needless to say, the argument is not applied the other way around. We are encouraged to leap to the default theory without even looking to see whether it fails in the very same particular as the theory it is alleged to replace. Intelligent design - ID - is granted a Get Out Of Jail Free card, charmed immunity to the rigorous demands made of evolution.

...

Gaps, by default in the mind of the creationist, are filled by God. The same applies to all apparent precipices on the massif of Mount Improbable, where the graded slope is not immediately obvious or is otherwise overlooked. Areas where there is a lack of data, or a lack of understanding, are automatically assumed to belong, by default, to God. The speedy resort to a dramatic proclamation of 'irreducible complexity' represents a failure of the imagination. Some biological organ, if not an eye then a bacterial flagellar motor or a biochemical pathway, is decreed without further argument to be irreducibly complex. No attempt is made to demonstrate irreducible complexity. Notwithstanding the cautionary tales of eyes, wings and many other things, each new candidate for the dubious accolade is assumed to be transparently, self-evidently irreducibly complex, its status asserted by fiat. But think about it. Since irreducible complexity is being deployed as an argument for design, it should no more be asserted by fiat than design itself. You might as well simply assert that the weasel frog (bombardier beetle, etc.) demonstrates design, without further argument or justification. That is no way to do science.[4]

Like Miller, Dawkins provides no examples of this actually happening, and his explanation is a straw-man in any case, as creationists and ID proponents argue from the evidence, not from the gaps. Further, Dawkins criticises creationists for doing what evolutionists from Darwin to Dawkins also do, and that is use arguments against the opposing hypothesis as evidence that their own hypothesis is true. For example, Dawkins, like Liddle below, uses the larygeal nerve as evidence of poor design, therefore arguing that because the design argument fails, the evolutionary argument must be right.[5]

Prominent baraminologist Todd C. Wood admits:

That's why I don't care about the origin of life (and why I'll probably never finish reading Meyer's book). I already know where life came from. I open the book of Genesis, and the Bible tells me exactly where life came from. Speculating on how it might have happened in a naturalistic scenario seems like a waste of time to me.[6]

However, he goes on to make the point that this is no different to atheists:

Just like it would seem like a waste of time to an atheist to study the logistics of Noah's Ark.

Believing that God created does not prevent scientists from studying how God created (God often uses natural processes, such as using a flood to destroy the world), nor how things work.

A large part of science is involved in studying how things work, and essentially the only area in which creationists believe that God acted without using natural processes is in creation.

Intelligent design as a science stopper

During the Kitzmiller trial, Michael Behe was asked about the 57 papers on the evolution of the immune system. He responded,

I am not confident that the immune system arose through Darwinian processes, and so I do not think that such a study would be fruitful.[7]

Atheism as a science stopper

Atheists have generally adopted a Christian worldview in their philosophy of science.

The philosophy of experimental science … began its discoveries and made use of its methods in the faith, not the knowledge, that it was dealing with a rational universe controlled by a creator who did not act upon whim nor interfere with the forces He had set in operation … . It is surely one of the curious paradoxes of history that science, which professionally has little to do with faith, owes its origins to an act of faith that the universe can be rationally interpreted, and that science today is sustained by that assumption. Loren Eiseley[8]

If this changed, however, atheism itself would become a major science stopper, stopping all science.

John Lennox similarly argues that atheism "undermines science very seriously". He agrees that scientists must believe in the rational intelligibility of the universe before you can do science.

If in the end my beliefs, my theories, my scientific theories, are the results ultimately of the motions of atoms in my brain produced by an unguided random mindless process, why should I believe them? … An argument that purports to derive rationality from irrationality doesn't even rise in my opinion to the dignity of being an intelligent delusion. It is logically incoherent.[9]

Evolution as a science stopper

A large majority of scientists are convinced that evolution is the correct explanation for the variety of life, and this has led to research being neglected or delayed in a number of areas.

Many believe that Genetic research as a discipline was neglected for decades because of evolution. Just six years after Darwin published On the Origin of Species, a creationist monk in Austria published his research on how peas pass on their genetic information. The monk was Gregor Mendel, and his work eventually became the foundation of the science of genetics, but because of the acceptance of evolutionary thinking, interest in genetics died and Mendel's work lay unnoticed for over three decades. This was because Darwin believed that acquired characteristics could be inherited, while Mendel rejected this idea, as well as evolution itself. So genetics was seen to be in conflict with evolution, and therefore largely ignored.[10] (Gasking disagrees with this opinion.)[note 1]

Vestigial organs were supposed evolutionary left-overs with no function, so for a long time were not scientifically investigated to see what their purpose actually is. In fact science has discovered that every claimed vestigial organ (there were over 180 of them) in fact has a purpose, but discovery of this purpose was often delayed because for a long time they were not considered worth investigating.[12] This even resulted in the unnecessary removal of some important organs.[13]

Junk DNA is the genetic equivalent of a vestigial organ. Large parts of the genome do not code for proteins, so used to be considered evolutionary left-over "junk". However, much of that supposed "junk" DNA has since been found to be functional.

Dinosaur remains, among others, are not carbon dated (where organic remains are found) because, according to evolution, they are too old to be carbon dated.

A case study

Dr. Elizabeth Liddle explains why she thinks invoking God is a science stopper:

If you postulate an invisible intelligent power who can do anything, without leaving any trace of the tools of his/her trade, nor presence, apart from the artefacts s/he leaves behind, there is nothing you can’t explain. Giraffe recurrent laryngeal nerve? No problem, designer wanted it that way. Human female pelvis? Who are we to judge the designer? Hyena reproduction? Well perhaps the designer hated hyenas. Parasites that kill children? Well, perhaps the designer likes parasites more than children. Nested hierarchies? Well, s/he just liked designing that way. No bird lungs for mammals? Well, why shouldn’t s/he try something different, and why shouldn’t s/he keep those bird lungs strictly for the animals that look as though they descended in a particular lineage. In fact, why shouldn’t the designer make the world look as though it evolved?

That’s why a non-material, uncharacterised designer is not an explanation. An explanation that explains everything explains nothing.[14]

However, the biblical creation model does not have a creator who might do just anything. Rather, it has the God of the Bible that has certain characteristics and Who has revealed particular things that He did. This is not the same as Liddle's hypothetical invisible intelligent power. Furthermore, proposing that a non-capricious God created means wondering why God created in a particular way. For example, Liddle mentioned the recurrent laryngeal nerves, which in mammals supposedly travel from the brain down to below the aorta near the heart, then return back up to the larynx (in fact the left laryngeal nerve branches off the vagus nerve near the aorta). In the giraffe, this means that the nerves take a "detour" of up to 15 feet4.572 metres
5 yards
10 cubits
0.227 chains
. (Many evolutionists have cited this as an example of "bad design", and therefore an argument against design.)

Rather than simply say "No problem, designer wanted it that way", as Liddle claims, a creationist could notice this fact and research why God might have chosen that design. Indeed, it turns out that the arrangement is a necessary consequence of the nerve being required for continuous use from the time of foetal development, and other nerves branch off the nerve along its "detour". In any case, the arrangement does not appear to cause any problems.[15]

An evolutionist, on the other hand, can conclude that the arrangement of the nerve is merely an evolutionary left-over from fish, and assume that there is not a good purpose to the arrangement. With this thought in mind, he has no need to further study the arrangement to see what purpose it has, and indeed Jerry Bergman has said that this view had discouraged research into the arrangement of the nerve.[16]

Note

  1. Gasking wrote:

    Bateson implies that Mendel's paper was overlooked because it had the bad luck to appear just when everyone was distracted by the controversy over Darwin’s Origin of Species.2 But this explanation, too, is insufficient: had Mendel's work appeared before Darwin’s, its fate would have been no different. Darwin in fact paved the way for Mendel's subsequent recognition, and this came about largely as a consequence of later development, by Galton and others, of Darwin's ideas. One is forced to conclude that Mendel was ignored because his whole way of looking at the phenomena of inheritance was foreign to the scientific thought of his time. Like Darwin, Mendel was a conceptual innovator, with a quite novel way of thinking about species; and until 1900 there was no place in the general framework of biological theory into which his work could have fitted.[11]

References

  1. Richard B. Hoppe, Creationism Really Is A Science Stopper, Panda's Thumb, 26 February 2010.
  2. Bob Abernethy, Evolution and Intelligent Design, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly Episode No. 504, 28 September 28 2001.
  3. Miller, Kenneth, In Defense of Evolution, Nova Online, 19 April 2007.
  4. Richard Dawkins,The God Delusion, p.126,128.
  5. Sarfati, Jonathan, Recurrent laryngeal nerve, Thu. 5th August, 2010Thu. August 5th, 2010.
  6. Tood Wood, Is design an inference?, Todd's Blog, Thu. 25th February, 2010Thu. February 25th, 2010
  7. http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/day12pm.html
  8. L. Eiseley: Darwin’s Century: Evolution and the Men who Discovered It (Anchor, NY: Doubleday, 1961), quoted in Sarfati, Jonathan, Refuting Evolution, Chapter 1.
  9. John Lennox, Atheism Undermines Science, from a debate with Richard Dawkins .
  10. Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, Johann Gregor Mendel: Why His Discoveries Were Ignored For 35 (72) Years, 2001.
  11. Gasking, Elizabeth B., "Why was Mendel's Work Ignored?"Journal of the History of Ideas Vol. 20, No. 1 (Jan., 1959), pp. 60-84
  12. Sarfati, Jonathan, Who’s Really Pushing ‘bad Science’?.
  13. Wieland, Carl, Is Evolution Really Necessary for Medical Advances?, 28 October 2002.
  14. Elizabeth Liddle in a comment to “Is James Shapiro a Design Theorist?”: James Shapiro Replies to Bill Dembski, Uncommon Descent (blog) Tue. 17th January, 2012Tue. January 17th, 2012.
  15. Bergman, Jerry, The left recurrent laryngeal nerve design in mammals is not poor design, Journal of Creation 25(1):64-68, 2011.
  16. Bergman, Jerry, Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve Is Not Evidence of Poor Design, Acts & Facts 39 (8): 12-14, Institute for Creation Research, August 2010.
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