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What is “Admissible Evidence” for a Hypothesis?

We noticed last time that “science” is unwilling to allow for an intelligent designer, no matter where the facts are leading. I say “unwilling” rather than “unable” because I think the rules that govern the permissibility of evidence in science are questionable or unintentionally biased.

But let’s be fair. Scientists are proud of science being a testable, provable, repeatable process of learning; as we all should be. And evolutionists would say that it is necessary to exclude anything other than natural explanations precisely because they are not provable and testable. But the question then arises, what exactly does it mean to be provable or testable?

Take gravity  something we can’t see. I can drop a set of keys and it will always go down. Is that what makes it provable? Or is it because I can quantify its speed as it falls? Is that what makes it testable? Why can’t things we can see, such as the widespread existence of symmetry and function as evidence? Do I have to measure the frequency of it to legitimize it? What governs the admissibility of it as evidence? Why should it be denied as evidence when it never used to be?

If I wanted to determine if a ship, car or plane (something we’ll pretend none of us has ever seen) was designed or had evolved, it would seem reasonable to include the following observations or facts:

  • It has a complex system to convert fuel to energy.
  • It needs functioning almost frictionless, symmetrical propeller, wheel or wing assemblies.
  • They are aerodynamically fit for the environment they use.
  • Perfectly fitting seats (seemingly designed for a human) in a beautiful, red Lamborghini or the luxurious housing area of sleek yacht.

So let’s compare that with what we see in the animal kingdom; perhaps a fish, cheetah or a parrot. We very quickly see that the same facts that convince us that the mechanical object was designed are seen in the animals.

  • It has a complex system to convert fuel to energy.
  • It needs functioning almost frictionless, symmetrical fins, leg or wing assemblies.
  • They are aerodynamically fit for the environment they use.
  • Peacocks, swans, leopards, polar bears, colorful fish on a stunning reef.

From one type of animal to another, we see beauty, grace, strength, and suitability to their environment, designs, symmetry and patterns. Now tell me again why these facts are not admissible as evidence that these living objects were designed? Why can’t science let facts lead us to whatever hypothesis seems the most logical? Why is it logical to deduce that a complex, aerodynamically perfect jet fighter was designed by an intelligent being and the living version of a hawk, is not?

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John Adolfi


  1. TwoD on January 1, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    I frequented this site a while ago, before I got busy with other things and then stumbled upon it again. At first it just to see why a poor (dead!) one-eyed kitten caused so much fuzz, and how anyone could draw the most peculiar conclusion which I’ve ever stumbled upon from that…

    I decided to find out more about this kind of “thinking” (in lack of a better word, English is not my native tounge). I read more of the articles here, watched tv-shows, read books, questioned and confronted people who wrote comments here and on other places. All to find out if there was any solid foundation for these assumptions about creationism and intelligent design.

    So far, I’ve found nothing other than that: assumptions. Creationists and believers in intelligent design are more than ever so often asked to provide proof, or even a logical chain of reasoning behind their conclusions. The “evidence” I’ve seen presented to those who ask so far have only been valid if you at first assume they are so.

    The fundamentals of science and include resisting the urge to “prove” something by simply using logical reasoning. Why? Because almost anything can be “proven” by logic reasoning alone, as long as you use facts to your advantage and avoid mentioning a few things here and there…

    To get a bit more on topic, let’s discuss the comparison of man-made “technological wonders” and a beautiful fish in the oceans, and them both being intelligently designed rather than evolved.

    You have to abstract things very far out to be able to even compare two objects this way. This abstraction might seem easy to do when reading the bulletpoints, but the abstraction is fundamentally flawed because you aim to make the creation of a plane and a fish the same.

    If you instead had been trying to falsify a theory about them being the same and nobody had been able to prove it false, you might actually have stumbled upon something new. But the way you are trying to compare evidences of a theory, it’s all based on reasoning and simple observations of abstractions, something the old Greeks tried (and failed miserably at).

    If you want a straight forward answer as to why the evidence of an airplane being intelligently designed are assumed correct, but not those of an animal being so, let’s look at that.

    What is required for something NOT to have been intelligently designed? To me, the first obvious answer is that it must have been able to become the way it is on itself, since nothing else made it that way. We could discuss the validity of that too, but I don’t think that’s what you’re looking for so let’s skip that.

    Does the airplane fulfill this? Well, if you’ve ever seen an airplane do something on its own other than rust? (Which is a good indication of physics balancing everything out to the lowest possible and stable energy levels, leaving no opportunity for things to end up in complex assemblies on its own, if you want to go that way ;)) Could the airplane have evolved from something else to this stage, and then been unable to evolve further (being a dead end of sorts). That seems extremely unlikely, there’s no trace of an airplane ever being something other than the actual bits and pieces it is composed of. (Well, the pieces were actually once ore etc, but I doubt I need to go there…)

    Could an animal have NOT been intelligently designed? The possibility does seem to exist, given that it can take care of itself, and have offspring which is different than itself, even if very little. That means, when going back far enough in time, the animal in question might not have looked or behaved like that at all. We could test that by searching for remains of these animal-ancestors. If none are found, the hypothesis is falsified and we can drop it. But if we do find something which resembles the animal in question, but isn’t quite like it, we need to find ways to either prove they are linked or that they are unrelated. DNA comparison sounds like a very good method for this. It has been found to be very closely linked both with distinguished features in animals and how they are transferred from parent to child. Walking backwards (which would be a lot easier if we find as many links in the chain as possible of course) from the animal we’re looking at today to the ancestor we found should be possible by measuring the differences in their DNA. If very little differs from one type of animal to another, it’s perfectly valid to assume they are closely related. That relationship being proportional to the amount of difference in the genome.

    Does this alone (dis)prove evolution? No, that’s not what we set out to do, we asked another question. Does it falsify intelligent design in the matter of this animal?

    Not if you make another assumption and say “Well, that just means the designer wanted the animal to change with time, so it was given DNA”. That’s just being naive and rephrasing the theory to fit the results, something which is very dangerous. But then again, we did not really ask if the animal was intelligently designed or not. We merely asked is it possible that it was NOT intelligently designed?

    Given the “investigation” we did above, I’d have to answer yes to that question. That, simply put, means intelligent design isn’t the only solution, which automatically makes any assumptions about it being true void.
    Whether I like it or not, that’s what the results were. Since we confirmed that there’s a possibility intelligent design wasn’t involved in the creation of the animal, we made a falsification of intelligent design being the one and only solution to this “problem”.

    I call it a “problem” (emphasis on the quotes) because I think that when people try to find something they can’t understand, they tend to make it a pretty big thing and almost turn the world upside down to come up with suitable answers for it. Even if doing so means talking yourself into “if I can’t understand it right now, it means somebody/something else which is [intellectually] superior to me does, and it is not for me to fully understand because it’s part of some greater plan”, which I’m sure gives one comfort in the big world out there. But that’s actually not a very simple conclusion to make, it takes a whole lot of effort to adapt that assumption of “something more intelligent than me” to be able to explain everything we see or are affected by every day.

    I, without a doubt, believe that one can be “blindfolded” by wild assumptions (which can be “logically proven” since they are perfected in being vague enough by repeated falsifications and abstractions) to begin discovering the beauty of how many small simple things can coincide and create enormously complex designs in the end.

    To me, it’s just sad that people still spend more time trying to “explain” the creation of these beautiful objects than actually trying to discover what they really are by looking at them piece by piece. How they actually came to be will maybe be explained some day, but before that we need to figure out what they actually are so we know both the whole picture and the details of what we’re trying to explain.

    Actually, explanations are not really what science is about, it’s evolved beyond that into descriptions/models of how things are. Before we know what something is, there’s no point in trying to explain it. So before science is “done”, there’s not really much to explain, unless you’re out to strengthen a religion which doesn’t require knowledge, only acceptance of explanations.

    Hmm, this became more text than I intended, as usual… I really should have written it in a text-editor and pasted it in later instead of typing directly in this small box. I’m sorry if some parts seem inconsistent because of that, but I’d be happy to elaborate when I’ve got more time (5am here now).

  2. latsot on January 2, 2008 at 7:57 am

    > Take gravity – something we can’t see. I can drop
    > a set of keys and it will always go down. Is that
    > what makes it provable? Or is it because I can
    > quantify its speed as it falls? Is that what makes
    > it testable?

    No. Remember that The Theory of Gravity is about more than things falling to the ground. It makes *predictions*, which have been observed to be true. For example, the theory predicted the existence of Neptune, because it couldn’t otherwise explain Uranus’ orbit. Einstein’s refinements made further predictions, many of which have also been observed, some very famously.

    But the details aren’t important. The important thing is that we start by observing how gravity seems to work, we build theories that explain this behaviour and we use that theory to generate predictions, which we subsequently test. If these tests are successful, they constitute evidence that the theory is correct. The more evidence, the more likely it is to be right. In the case of gravity, lots and lots of predictions have been made and subsequently verified, so we are justified in acting as though we have it right – or at least, more or less right.

    But the point is that the evidence only makes sense in the context of the theory: specifically, predictions made by the theory. That keys always fall does constitute evidence that the theory is correct, but it is not in itself very strong evidence and is by no means the *only* evidence. All the evidence together suggests that the theory of gravity we have is more or less correct.

    > Why can’t things we can see, such as the
    > widespread existence of symmetry, function as
    > evidence?

    Certainly it can count as evidence….but evidence of what? That is my whole point. As I’ve said, it is only evidence in the context of a theory. The theory of evolution makes certain predictions about some kinds of symmetry, for example, and the existence of symmetry does constitute evidence for evolution. It isn’t very strong evidence by itself and nobody would say that the existence of – say – bilateral symmetry ‘proves’ evolution, but neither does it refute evolution and should be expected in an evolved system with gravity, predators and so on, especially if that system is based on genetics or something similar.

    > What governs the admissibility of it as
    > evidence?

    This is the point I am trying to make. It is only evidence if it is within the context of a theory. If a theory predicts something, which is then observed, then it counts as evidence. The definition isn’t quite as hard and fast as this, of course, because it is always possible to play word games, but this is the spirit of evidence.

    With regards to your example, I think you might be asking the wrong question. You are asking us to consider two objects entirely out of context and asking us to draw conclusions from them, based on some similarities of pre-chosen traits.

    Individuals may draw whatever conclusions they like, but it wouldn’t be science and the traits you mention wouldn’t constitute evidence (of either creationsim or evolution).

    Why? Because there is no theoretical context. This means we’d all just be *claiming* that x is evidence for y: there would be no objective way to determine that. We’d be back to your question on admissibility of evidence. What science tries to do is create a framework within which to determine objectively what constitutes evidence in its favour. It isn’t unreasonable to say that this is what a scientific theory *is*.

    So what would be a scientific approach to this question? Let’s say we develop a theory that cars evolved. It is not an unreasonable hypothesis, since we can see that cars have changed over time, becoming more efficient, more streamlined, more complex and so on. But we need to start by developing a theory as to how such a thing might have happened, use it to generate some predictions, then take some observations to see whether the predictions are correct.

    For example, we would presumably look for decent with modification, since that is something we’d expect if cars had evolved: that is, we would require evidence that cars not only reproduce, but do so inexactly. We wouldn’t find any such evidence, of course because – as we outside the hypothetical know – cars are built and designed by people. If we already knew that cars were designed and built by people, we’d have to come up with another theory. Perhaps we could hypothesise that cars somehow influence humans in building them. Well, OK, now we need to think about what would constitute evidence for that, make some predictions, do some observations and so on…

    And on: I don’t think there is any need to go into more detail here. It’s an exercise everyone can do themselves and that isn’t my point anyway.

    My point is simply that evidence has to be considered within the context of a theory that explains the behaviour of some system. Otherwise we are just *deciding* that something constitutes evidence, which is not a scientific approach and doesn’t seem to have much point.

    Evolution is a theory and the evidence for it is a huge set of predictions that have been verified by observation. From what I’ve seen so far, creationism – even under it’s politically expedient pseudonym of intelligent design – is not a theory at all. It is a statement or assumption. To be a theory, it would have to generate predictions, which could then be observed. Only then would there be evidence. If a creator was responsible, we would need to know what some of its traits ought to be and then observe them. If something is claimed to be irreducibly complex, then likewise: what would an IC organism look like? How can we tell, objectively, that it is IC? What would we expect to see in IC/non-IC organisms? And so on. These are all predictions, which in principle – if they are true – ought to be observable. If all this is done, we can talk about evidence. Until then, they are just claims and assumptions.

    Apologies for the length of this post and I hope I’ve made myself clear. I’d be quite happy to answer any questions on what I’ve written or clear up any ambiguities.