Extraordinary Absurdity

Dean Esmay has some Thoughts On Intelligent Design that engendered the following comment from one Scott Kirwin:

ID is an extraordinary claim. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof.

This is a huge fallacy and not science. This is the most kicked around crackpot psuedo-scientific claim I have ever heard.

There is no such thing as an extraordinary claim.

There is no such thing as extraordinary proof.

Proof is. Something in science is either proven or not proven. It doesn’t matter whether or not you think the hypothesis is “extraordinary”. People thought that the idea of the Earth revolving around the Sun was extraordinary at the time, but no “special” proof was required to make it science. All it required was proof, just like everything else.

Whenever someone uses the phrase “extraordinary proof”, that person is no longer thinking scientifically.


  1. Scott Kirwin says:

    Thanks for the trackback. I like to know when I’m referred to as “one Scott Kirwin”. It proves that I haven’t been cloned yet.

    The quote is from Carl Sagan.

    By your definition, Evolution, natural selection and genetic drift are proven.
    So your point is…

  2. Phelp says:

    Natural selection is proven. Evolution is not in that no falsifiable hypothesis has been presented and tested to support the theory. Genetic drift is an observation, not a theory.

  3. Scott Kirwin says:

    Link: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/default.html#evidence

    Money quote:
    “In the following list of evidences, 30 major predictions of the hypothesis of common descent are enumerated and discussed. Under each point is a demonstration of how the prediction fairs against actual biological testing. Each point lists a few examples of evolutionary confirmations followed by potential falsifications.”

    Now if you support Intelligent Design, show me how you propose to falsify it.

  4. Phelps says:

    Sorry. I’ve been reading through, and I see several falsifiable hypothesis that are tautological. In addition, I can think of one particular instance — under 1.4, that has been falsified under their example, but was ignored:

    Any finding of a striking half-mammal, half-bird intermediate would be highly inconsistent with common descent.

    Here’s the problem with that — prior to the detailed study of Archaeopteryx, it was the prediction of common origin that there would be a half-mammal, half-bird intermediate and that a half-bird, half-reptile intermediate would be a falsification of common decent. The “falsifiable” goalposts were set — and when Evolution came up short, the goalposts were moved.

    Is Evolution DOA? Certainly not — but neither is ID. The verdict is still out, and the more people press Evolution in spite of its shortcomings, there more I see it taking on a religious significance to its supporters — and when that happens, science leaves the debate.

  5. Scott Kirwin says:

    Evolution came up short and the goal posts were moved?

    Couldn’t the “goal post moving” be chucking one hypothesis (birds descended from mammals) to another (birds descended from reptiles)? That’s not coming up short: that’s the scientific method in action.

    You say evolution is “DOA” and (unusual for an ID’er ) even seem to accept natural selection, yet you state that ID isn’t dead either?

    You are therefore suggesting that it is scientifically possible to prove the existence of God? Wouldn’t that go against the fundamental belief that we can only know Him through faith alone?

  6. Scott says:

    Not DOA… Evolution is NOT DOA. Didn’t proofread. Sorry! SK

  7. Phelps says:

    ID doesn’t require God. It requires a (presently unknown) intelligence (the I part) but that does not equal God. I’ll leave God to the theologists. There can be other Prime Movers than God.

    That is the main problem that I see with Evolution. It has for the most part stopped being a framework to measure observations against and become dogma, with one simply goal — explaining away God. I give less than a shit about whether or not the idea of God existing gives someone goosebumps and makes them feel bad. I do care about scientists putting thier own superstitions aside (whether they are pro or anti God) and getting down to science.

    Evolution is getting tossed onto the junk science with global warming, nuclear winter, second hand smoke and all the other political frauds of 20th century science. When I see the same people following the same patterns and practices to support it, I get justifiably suspicious. After all, when did “science” decide that it was great to be skeptical of anything the religious people believed (regardless of the evidence) but not OK to be skeptical about scientific theories that are still being developed?

    The scientific method should accept no influence one way or the other from what the clerics say — but the scientific community has decided that Evolution is the place to circle the wagons against the theological bandits. When biology circled the wagons, they stopped proceeding on the path to the truth.

  8. Scott Kirwin says:

    I’m not sure what you describe as “circling the wagons” is a bad thing. Science should be conservative and demanding. It took roughly 50 years before Evolution was generally accepted in the science community – almost as long as plate tectonics. This skepticism is what makes science rigorous and less prone to fads than, say, politics.

    Theories which challenge existing knowledge should bear the burden of proof as to why the existing order should be thrown out and replaced by them. Evolution and the mechanisms that drive it (genetic drift and natural selection) have survived numerous challenges over the past 150 years. No alternate theory – including ID – has been able to throw it on the junk heap yet.

    You are suggesting that scientists are dogmatic, and no doubt some are. However this dogma has resisted acceptance of ESP, ghosts, astrology, and UFOs – all of which are believed by substantial numbers of people and backed up by evidence of various quality.

    Nevertheless the truth does eventually overcome skepticism. Evolution is accepted in the scientific community as is the theory of plate tectonics. Other theories may eventually be proven (string theory comes fastest to mind) but others may be disproved (I agree that global warming IS on its way to the dust heap).

    IF ID is the truth, it will eventually come out – but it will do so by offering extraordinary proof and hypotheses that support the theory. It cannot trash Evolution without giving scientists – including those trained in various scientific disciplines like me (biology, zoology, software design) the proof and alternate hypotheses that overcome our skepticism.

  9. Phelps says:

    When I say circling the wagons, I am making the physical metaphor — they have stopped proceeding (on the trail) and instead decided to bunker down and stop progressing. Contemporary Science doesn’t simply dismiss radical ideas. That would be a marked improvement (and enough to satisfy me.) Instead, it attacks and sets the ideological auto de fe on the Heretic. Lomberg and Dempski may be wrong; they may be right. Regardless of that, Contemporary science didn’t respond to either with reason — they responded with vitrol and ad hominem attacks, and that bodes ill for science.

  10. Phelps says:

    And as far as the “extraordinary claim” language, I know that it came from Sagan, and that makes it even more contemptable. Sagan was instrumental in the degradation of late 20th century science, by promoting junk science like the Drake Equation, Nuclear Winter and Global Warming (when he wasn’t claiming the ideas of others as his own.)

  11. Scott Kirwin says:

    I understand that Sagan remains a controversial in science, and while I never believed in his “nuclear winter” obsession (dunno about the Drake equation), I was one of those young minds who was inspired by his ability to show the natural wonder and beauty of science.

    I still do not agree with you that science has hunkered down. First off, we have been speaking in generalities. There is no cabal or priesthood of Science although by some appearances there may be in some academic circles. Science is being carried out in too many places by too many individuals, each with his own agenda and or specialty.

    Second, you state that they have stopped progressing. Biologists are putting the puzzle of Life together. When a new piece is found, they try to fit it into the existing puzzle. If it doesn’t fit, they set it aside. When too many puzzle pieces are on the side, scientists begin to wonder if the puzzle they are working on is wrong, and a new puzzle could be hypothesized that would fit more of the pieces that the old one leaves out.

    Not the ablest metaphor, but I suspect you get the gist.

    Take for example, Linnean classification. Current classification is based on physical similarities between species. However, a new type of classification has been hypothesized that is based on genetics. Many of the species that have been grouped as similar based on morphology turn out to be very different on a genetic basis.

    This new system makes sense, but remains controversial as scientists debate its merits. My guess is that it will eventually replace the Linnean system, but not anytime soon.

    As for the vitriol and ad hominem attacks, there are always a vocal few who are quoted again and again. Science has its equivalent of blowhards like Michael Moore and sanctimonious asses like Jimmy Carter. Nevertheless I believe that you are missing alot of the discussion that occurs below the radar.

    As for Lomberg, science is proving him right. His research is being borne out by the facts- and my guess is that the Global Warming fantasy will disappear just as the Coming Ice Age phantom did in the 1970s.

    But the same hasn’t happened with UFOs and other paranormal “pseudoscience” out there. Unfortunately I have to lump Intelligent Design in this category as well.

    Perhaps ID will someday explain the pieces of the puzzle better than evolution has, but evolution has 150 years of modern science to back it up so the odds are stacked against it. Nevertheless I would be a fool (and a poor scientist myself) if I closed my mind completely to the possiblity of a better theory out there.

    Until that theory comes, I will remain skeptical of ID.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours,
    Scott Kirwin

  12. Phelps says:

    Don’t mistake me on this, because it cuts to the heart of my argument — please remain skeptical of ID because I want you to remain skeptical of anything that is lacking. For me, evolution is also lacking, and I will remain skeptical.