In this blog entry for the pro-ID blog IDtheFuture, Paul Nelson tries desperately to find anything in Judge Jones' opinion to be not depressed about:
In surveying the ecstatic reactions yesterday around the blogosphere to Jones' opinion, I didn't see any mention of problems with the reasoning. Endorphin rushes do that to one: oh we wow we won won WON.
And then one reads the opinion carefully, the next day, in a more sober frame of mind. Propositions such as the following (p. 66) jump up, looking not so felicitous as the day before:
This rigorous attachment to 'natural' explanations is an essential attribute to science by definition and by convention.
By definition and by convention. Let the words settle into your field of conscious attention. Did the convention of naturalism come first, as an historically contingent shift in practice...and then the definition followed? So science wasn't always defined as applied naturalism? If so, could practice shift again, in the light of new evidence, bringing a new convention, and hence a new definition? Then how can science be “rigorously attached” to any definition, given its history? (Emphasis in original).
I can't imagine what point Nelson thinks he's making here. How else could you define science but by examining its practical conventions? People have to be doing science for a while before you can give a definition of what it is, exactly, they are doing.
Of course scientific practice could shift in the light of new evidence. So what? The fact remains that the current conventions of science, in which people try to understand the natural world via experimentation and inductive reasoning (among other methods) have been in place for centuries. Surely that simple fact justifies the Judge's remark quoted above.
It's a bad sign that Nelson chose to quote only a single sentence from the decision. If we scamper back a bit to page 64 we find the Judge explaining some of the points I just made (citations omitted):
Expert testimony reveals that since the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena. This revolution entailed the rejection of the appeal to authority, and by extension, revelation, in favor of empirical evidence. Since that time period, science has been a discipline in which testability, rather than any ecclesiastical authority or philosophical coherence, has been the measure of a scientific idea's worth. In deliberately omitting theological or “ultimate” explanations for the existence or characteristics of the natural world, science does not consider issues of “meaning” and “purpose” in the world. While supernatural explanations may be important and have merit, they are not part of science. This self-imposed convention of science, which limits inquiry to testable, natural explanations about the natural world, is referred to by philosophers as “methodological naturalism&rduqo; and is sometimes known as the scientific method. Methodological naturalism is a “ground rule” of science today which requires scientists to seek explanations in the world around us based upon what we can observe, test, replicate, and verify.
As the National Academy of Sciences (hereinafter NAS) was recognized by experts for both parties as the “most prestigious” scientific association in this country, we will accordingly cite to its opinion where appropriate. NAS is in agreement that science is limited to empirical, observable and ultimately testable data: “Science is a particular way of knowing about the world. In science, explanations are restricted to those that can be inferred from the confirmable data - the results obtained through observations and experiments that can be substantiated by other scientists. Anything that can be observed or measured is amenable to scientific investigation. Explanations that cannot be based upon empirical evidence are not part of science.”
In light of this, I'm afraid Nelson will have to explain in more detail precisely what error he thinks the Judge has made. The only way Nelson's point makes any sense is if you think “rigorously attached” means that notions of what is considered scientific are eternal and unchanging. It is clear, however, that that is not what the Judge has in mind.
Of course, in a better world none of this would matter. What really ought to happen is that everyone examines the specific arguments ID folks are making, comes to the obvious conclusion that they are complete worthless nonsense, and then moves on with their lives.
Unfortunatly, in a legal context that is not adequate. The Judge's finding that ID is not science comes in a section of the opinion devoted to assessing whether the Dover ID policy constitutes an endorsement of religion. If ID could plausibly be called science (notwithstanding the religious motivations of the Board members or the theological implications of ID arguments) then it is possible the policy would pass constitutional muster. So one essential plank in the argument that the ID policy is an endorsement of religion is the fact that it is not science, as that term is currently understood.
But determining whether something is science requires an understanding of what science means. The Judge heard expert testimony on that question and came to the only reasonable conclusion.
Nelson will have to better if he wants to discredit the decision in this case.