Sunday, August 06, 2006

Metatheories

Suppose we have a theory, T, that predicts our current observations. T has some property, P, that might also be possessed by alternative theories. Can we say that P is inferred by our observations?

Not necessarily. For P to be scientifically inferred from observation, we would have to be assured that P is scientifically testable. That is, we should be able to design an experiment that tests P independent of theoretic context because P itself predicts the experiment's result. If we cannot do this, then P may simply be a notational artifact. Rather than being a property of the observed world, P would be nothing but an artifact of how we describe it.

This is a problem that applies to both evolution and intelligent design (ID). Evolution is a category of theories that explains the evolution of living systems from physical principles. There are many theories, some of them mutually exclusive and competitive. What we can say is that predictive evolutionary theories have been confirmed by experiment.

ID is also a metatheory. Any scientific theory that accounts for features of living systems as the results of design and manufacturing by an intelligent agent would belong to the ID metatheory. To date, no scientific theories of ID have even been proposed, let alone confirmed by experiment.

The subject of metatheories will be relevant to my next post.

2 comments:

Ken Brown said...

This is good. Some time back I wrote an article arguing that ID wasn't a scientific theory at all but more like a philosophy of science -- in opposition to methodological naturalism rather than evolution. It was (correctly) pointed out to me that I was using an idiosyncratic definition of "philosophy of science," and I didn't publish the paper, but I still think ID is more of a broad (though very immature) class of theories than anything else (and that their arguments against evolution are counter-productive). ID truly is not itself testable or falsifiable, though it may be that some theories of ID are or will be. Likewise, "evolution" is not testable or falsifiable, though many evolutionary theories are.

I was wondering what you've been up to lately; I look forward to your big post.

Doctor Logic said...

Hi Ken,

Thanks for the feedback.

My post is up. I started writing it before I knew where it was going to go. I was hoping to show that acausality and inconsistency predict quantum mechanics. Turns out I was unable to do that, but I found it interesting to explore anyway.