A political movement attempted to subvert the teaching of evolutionary science by miming the forms of science, and calling themsleves, first "Creation Science" and then "Intelligent Design", in order to smuggle religious teachings into science textbooks.

In response to this attack, science organizations denounced both Creationism and ID as pseudoscience, and rallied their communities to resist this effort to propagandize students: https://www.nature.com/articles/nmeth1207-983; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1451210/. The primary battleground of both the religious campaign, and the scientific pushback was explicitly in education ABOUT science, not the conduct of science.

However, the arguments that ID was not appropriately taught as science included the point that ID theory had not been published in peer reviewed science journals. This is not itself a relevant point -- all sorts of ideas are proposed in peer reviewed journals that are debunked in other peer reviewed journals, and should never be in a high school science class. Nevertheless, this was a POLITICALLY useful point used in the defense of science. Additionally, assertions were made that design hypotheses -- teleology -- are not appropriate subjects for science. This despite teleology being CENTRAL to both anthropology and the SETI program.

The political importance of the first point above, no peer reviewed journal articles, became an issue when a science journal actually DID publish a peer reviewed article. The journal editor was immediately fired, the publishing organization declared the article should not have been published (NOT because it was an ID article, but -- supposedly - because its subject was outside the Journal's normal content -- this despite most journals being fairly flexible on content. Additionally, the editor was subject to a widely publicized smear campaign (see http://www.talkreason.org/articles/martyr.cfm for an example). Note, academic institutions grant far more biology PhDs than there are paid positions, and like most post-Docs, this editor was struggling to boost his resume to find long-term employment (he was doing the editing for free, and was unpaid in his Smithsonian fellowship, and only given a stipend at his NIH fellowship). the not unexpected outcome of being fired as editor, and smeared over his other positions, is that the offending editor became unemployable in serious science. This lesson, if it was intended as such, was highly effective in dissuading other editors from making the same mistake, and no other ID paper has been published since in science journals.

The negatives from the atmosphere of the defensive political response by science to an anti-science attack is the subject of this question.

Consider the alien source of life hypothesis or ASL:

Life evolved on another planet and developed an intelligent space-faring race. This race travelled around the galaxy seeding life on various planets, including Earth. Suppose that the aliens have visited Earth every few million years and added new organisms, and that all diversity above the level of genera was created by this alien species. That is, evolution has led to the diversity of genera and species, but that to some degree, some of the levels above that may have been created by the alien race.

Postulate that the ASL might be true. This is an examinable hypothesis. One can look for evidence for or against it in the following three areas:

  1. Evidence based on genetics and chemistry that diversification above the level of genus or some higher level may require so many simultaneous mutations that it is astronomically unlikely to have occurred even once in the history of life.

  2. Evidence in the fossil record whether many higher level categories arise spontaneously, without precursors, and whether it is common for many of these new categories to arise at about the same time.

  3. Engineering analysis of organisms and genetics that may indicate whether or not life was assembled from a toolkit with certain standard tools, materials, and techniques, or instead evolved lineally.

Would today's atmosphere of defensive resistance towards design make it impossible for science to consider evidence for or against in the areas of 1, 2, and 3, and therefore make it impossible for science to ever discover the truth of ASL?

The career ending example of the sole editor who tried to publish such topics suggests that publications in science journals might not be viable today. Under such conditions, how can the evidence ever be seriously evaluated? And does the impossibility of having a serious discussion about these issues represent a failure of science?

The Wikipedia article on the journal editor, which while it is not fully balanced, does provide an in depth summary of the case: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sternberg_peer_review_controversy

Related considerations: teleological framing reportedly seems ineliminable from biology in general. As Kant argues:

The highest formal unity, which is based upon ideas alone, is the unity of all things—a unity in accordance with an aim or purpose; and the speculative interest of reason renders it necessary to regard all order in the world as if it originated from the intention and design of a supreme reason. This principle unfolds to the view of reason in the sphere of experience new and enlarged prospects, and invites it to connect the phenomena of the world according to teleological laws, and in this way to attain to the highest possible degree of systematic unity. The hypothesis of a supreme intelligence, as the sole cause of the universe—an intelligence which has for us no more than an ideal existence—is accordingly always of the greatest service to reason. Thus, if we presuppose, in relation to the figure of the earth (which is round, but somewhat flattened at the poles),[30] or that of mountains or seas, wise designs on the part of an author of the universe, we cannot fail to make, by the light of this supposition, a great number of interesting discoveries [emphasis added]. If we keep to this hypothesis, as a principle which is purely regulative, even error cannot be very detrimental. For, in this case, error can have no more serious consequences than that, where we expected to discover a teleological connection (nexus finalis), only a mechanical or physical connection appears. In such a case, we merely fail to find the additional form of unity we expected, but we do not lose the rational unity which the mind requires in its procedure in experience. But even a miscarriage of this sort cannot affect the law in its general and teleological relations. For although we may convict an anatomist of an error, when he connects the limb of some animal with a certain purpose, it is quite impossible to prove in a single case that any arrangement of nature, be it what it may, is entirely without aim or design.

With respect to the issue of anti-creationist bias: although the SEP article on creationism itself is openly hostile to intelligent-design theory (calling it scientifically worthless, philosophically confused, and theologically "blinkered beyond repair"), a generally related SEP article on fine-tuning questions in cosmology is more sympathetic (or at least nonconfrontational). Moreover, the article on teleological arguments for the existence of God says:

We will not pursue that dispute here except to note that even if the case is made that ID could not count as proper science, which is controversial,[12] that would not in itself demonstrate a defect in design arguments as such. Science need not be seen as exhausting the space of legitimate conclusions from empirical data. In any case, the floods of vitriol flowing from both sides in the current ID discussion suggest that much more than the propriety of selected inferences from particular empirical evidences is at issue.


I'll point to the three downvotes on this question in about an hour as evidence of the extraordinary hostility expressed towards anything that might in any way lend any oblique support for creationism. Even a discussion about whether this reflexive anti-creationism might have harmful side effects on science is met with hostility.

  • 4
    Can you name scientists who had their careeer ended because they published about ID?
    – Frank
    May 26 at 13:28
  • 2
    @Frank There was a journal editor who published an article by an ID leading light about the peculiarities of the Cambrian Explosion for evolutionary thinking, and he was almost immediately expelled from editorship and lost his post doc stipend. This was in the 00s. The editor had peer reviewed it and was not an ID advocate himself. I do not know his name nor if there have been others since. Many of the attacks on ID at the time had been citing “and none of these claims can pass the rigor to get published in a peer reviewed science journal” by way of dismissal, and the editor spoiled that line
    – Dcleve
    May 26 at 14:25
  • 3
    @Dcleve Do you have the article? It would be interesting to form an opinion on what it looked like.
    – Frank
    May 26 at 14:44
  • 3
    Voted to close because this question is very obviously asked in bad faith.
    – Ian Kemp
    May 26 at 16:12
  • 4
    This question pushes no point of view and seems to have no significant bias. This is a great question; it investigates how bias against bad theories affects bias against good theories. I consider ID vapid, but overly enthusiastic bias against it seems to affect the credibility of other viable theories. There is a similar effect for climate change alarmism, where zeal inhibits valid study. This is not good for science but is great for political partisans. May 26 at 16:39

9 Answers 9


There is enough substance to this question that it deserves serious discussion and response. I am not seeing the level of awareness of the actual science discussion on ID that I have dug into in these answers, so I will try to provide a further reply.

First, both creationism and ID CAN be science hypotheses. Creationism with ID was initially held by scientists because the optimization of design that life exhibits was not explainable in any other way than design intention prior to the theory of evolution. AND the biggest science tests that creationism fails are not in biology, but in astronomy and geology, both of which show an old earth that does not follow the creation details or sequence in the Bible, Koran, or Bhagavad Gita. Creationism was already refuted in its religious form prior to Darwin.

There is some additional substance to the complaint here. In the 1980s the Creation Science and ID movements set out to directly challenge the science of evolution. The Creation Scientists quickly ran off the rails, as there is so much evidence in astronomy, physics, and geology that refutes the Genesis story that their writing clearly rationalized falsehoods about tired light and red shifting, the creation of 2 mile depths of rock with hundreds of mixed sequence igneous and sedimentary rock thru a single flood event, etc could only be described scientifically as dishonest propagandizing.

The “official” science response was not to dignify these propagandists with any debate.

The ID movement which arose later was different. It accepted an Old Earth, the Big Bang, and the reality of evolution. All of these are not credibly disputable scientifically. ID instead focussed on the immense complexity of biochemistry, and the need for all incremental evolutionary steps to have competitive advantage, to argue only that SOME aspects of life exhibit plausible design intervention. This is a credible science argument, and the ID movement leaders were actual credible scientists who understood what was shown and not shown in serious science. The question has this right.

The question also has right that ID is banned and ignored by official biology journals, and journal editors risk their careers by breaking this ban. I know of one journal editor who was fired, and lost his stipend, for publishing an ID article pointing out the difficulty of explaining the Cambrian Explosion evolutionarily. This ban by official science does not reflect well on the science community.

BUT, by way of defense of science as a communal activity, Creation Science and ID were not actually ignored. Scientists engaged both movements, and their claims, in the TalkOrigins forum. This is where the nature of Creation Science as dishonest propagandizing was revealed and documented. And the much less severe, but ultimately similar failings of ID pointed out and detailed in failed test cases vs. evolution.

I will take Michael Behe’s popular science book Darwin’s Black Box as an example. Behe correctly pointed out that biological systems are immensely complex, and evolutionary thinking has to explain each step of that complexity as an advantage. Then he argues based on the complexity of protein structure needed to effectuate such changes, and the amount of variance needed to create alternate useful proteins, that these complex structures could not have evolved. This is a credible science argument and it deserved scientific rebuttal.

Which it got on talk origins and in the popular press. Each of Behe’s dozen plus examples were shown to be accomplishable by one or two step increments, where our 13 paired clotting plus inhibiting catalysts could each be beneficial as an added pair, developed in 13 paired steps. And things like the fibers of a flagellum are also used as structural elements within some cells, and the housing is very similar to the passages that allow expulsion of waste thru the cell wall, etc, so the “molecular machines” of cell structures could all have been developed by one or two step adaptions by using pieces already useful independently elsewhere. Behe’s valid science argument was refuted with valid scientific rebuttal in these less formal settings.

What also became clear is that the ID advocates were not doing science of their own. They only critiqued evolution, and did not detail an alternative. Design hypotheses are not blank slates. The nature and intentions of a designer are key assumptions that drive what a design hypothesis predicts. And ID advocates, at least thru the late 00s when I last dug into their work, were refusing to make such predictions or undergo testing.

But again the scientists contributing to talk origins DID spell these out and did the consequences of test cases vs evolution. An Omni-deity designer should, based on design intention, optimize a design. And life is not optimized. It is CLOSE. But most of life has architectural flaws such as our nerves coming out of the wrong sign of our retina, leading to our blind spot. And our loss of the ability to make our own vitamin C. Life exhibits structural flaws that are left over from ancestor species where that structure wasn’t a flaw, but redoing the structure WAS too big a step for evolution to accomplish, so life instead settled for a local optima that was globally not optimized. Life therefore was not designed by an Omni deity.

Note the response to Behe addresses point 1 of the OP.

Design by aliens with limited intelligence and power should lead to the “toolkit” feature that the OP outlines in point 3 above. This is actually making science predictions from ID, and is praiseworthy. But this too was addressed in TalkOrigins and the popular press. There are too many design flaws in living things that COULD have been easily solved by limited designers importing tools from the toolkit, but if they exist they did not. Octopi eyes are structurally similar to ours but have nerves out of the correct side. Many creatures make their own vitamin C. Human organs are hung off our spine not our ribs, leading to organ slumping with age All a toolkit designer needed to do was use the same structural supports as four legged creatures use, but relocate the mounting point. But in case after case evolutionary history plus small steps predicts the local optima life lives with, but a toolkit designer could have corrected.

Also, a toolkit design approach should have been apparent with wholesale import of genetic sequences from one species to another. This concept predicted that there should have been major breaks and discrepancies from the evolutionary model of decendance that we built off structure, when we compared that model to genetic sequencing. But the two evolutionary tree models were 99% in agreement. We DID see some genetic sequencing imported cross species as part of the 1% discrepancy, showing that sequence importing was easily discoverable thru this matching test. But these sections did not correspond to any imported design features for a toolkit, and wee far less extensive than such a toolkit hypothesis predicted. They appear to be byproducts of cross species viral infections.

Points 1 and 3 are valid science points, but they have been discussed and refuted.

Point 2 is an ongoing issue for evolutionary theory. The rate of evolutionary innovation in the fossil record appears to be highly variable. There would have to have been massive innovation rate to achieve abiogenesis in the short time the record allows, then more massive innovation in the Cambrian, and low rates of innovation in the rest of history. This is peculiar, currently inexplicable, and the failures to date of abiogenesis research are an embarrassment to a top to bottom non design worldview.

Note however the thesis of aliens helping evolution to overcome genus borders is not credible. There really isn’t a “genus border” it is basically a just a judgement call about shared evolutionary history of related species. And the chemical evolution to break the real borders of species is sufficiently complex that the ID calculations on chemical change probabilities are wrong. (Why they are wrong is a complex question, tied to the degree to which statistical independence is a legitimate assumption). And the accumulation of these changes over time is sufficient to explain the gradual emergence and diversification of vertebrae, which unlike most other groups, WAS gradual. Vertebrae show the pattern that a relatively gradualist evolutionary model predicts, it is all the other types of animal whose history look inexplicable evolutionarily.

So while point 2 is valid, the aliens hypothesis is not needed to break “genus limits”, and has been refuted by the genetic mapping project.

  • 1
    Very nice treatment of all the issues. I just wonder why we have to spend so much time and effort to refute implausible things, when we could be using that effort to make people's lives better? Some folks seem incredibly selfish with their views.
    – Scott Rowe
    May 26 at 17:15
  • 2
    @DavidGudeman my answer addresses the questions you asked in your concluding paragraph. Yes the prohibition and persecution exists. But science has managed to discuss these questions none the less in the informal setting of TalkOrigins and popular science books like Dawkins Climbing Mount Improbable.
    – Dcleve
    May 26 at 18:27
  • 1
    OK, I've marked it as an accepted answer, but I don't know if it means anything since the question was closed. May 26 at 18:31
  • 1
    This is a fantastic answer and it fascinated me. Thank you for writing it. I am disappointed by the knowledge it will not receive the attention it deserves. May 26 at 20:47
  • 1
    @ScottRowe -- The presence of implausible belief is sign of inner conflict. To recognise this sign is to open the doors of opportunity. Become not engulfed in the trees of conceptual distraction, but see the forest of transcendental potential. When someone is taken by distractive mechanisms of defence, lend them a mirror to witness their unnecessary fear. The issue of import is not the matter at which they fixate, but the shadow and unresolved conflict from which they flee. Therein lies worthy opportunity for alleviating suffering. Focus on not the question, but its asking.
    – Michael
    May 30 at 18:46

Everything up to the last paragraph seems to be:

"Suppose that evidence exists and is being ignored. Does this mean that evidence exists and is being ignored?"

Yes, tautologies are tautologies.

The last paragraph points to something interesting when generalized. How can the barriers that protect against the proliferation of bad ideas be bypassed by unpopular good ideas?

Good ideas bypass barriers against bad ideas by making replicable predictions that confirm that they are good ideas. Good ideas are usually small ideas. By the time a big good idea starts to take shape, it is built on top of a strong foundation of small good ideas.

If we grant your sci-fi scenario, the seminal paper that historians will mark as the great beginning of the ASL theory of life will be something like "Computer simulation of application of technique A to genome B duplicates the previously unexplained discovery C", not "C discovery can only be explained by alien intervention."

  • 3
    This is not a good faith answer to the question. May 25 at 17:07
  • 9
    @DavidGudeman, TBH, I don’t think the original question is in good faith! The ‘extraordinary hostility’ to Intelligent Design is because a) it’s a bad theory and b) it’s mostly used as a stalking-horse to sneak God back into respectable science. Alien genetic engineering… is an extraordinary theory, so it would (just) require extraordinary evidence. ("Designed in Alpha Centauri" discovered in everyone’s DNA?)
    – andrewf
    May 26 at 15:48
  • 2
    @DavidGudeman "I don't like this answer because it derails the bad faith argument I was trying to make." Honesty is paramount in science, perhaps that's why you have such a problem with it?
    – Ian Kemp
    May 26 at 16:13
  • 1
    Aliens-of-the-gaps is very like god-of-the-gaps
    – CriglCragl
    May 30 at 21:57

You are right in one sense- the scientific community is riddled with all sorts of prejudices, so it is possible, generally, that there may be tendencies to prefer certain classes of ideas over others. There is a well-known saying in physics that advances are made funeral by funeral, which means that as older physicists die, younger physicists are freed from the conservative constraints their elders had imposed. There are fads and fashions too. At one time an interest in researching the true meaning of quantum theory would have been frowned upon, but now the subject is much better received. String theory became very fashionable and attracted much funding, but has yet to deliver on its initial promise. So yes, science is subject to a herd mentality in many ways.

However, you cannot cite that failing of science to justify any old crank theory. Physics SE is littered with posts from people who claim to have refuted relativity, for example, and who clearly have no idea what they are talking about, and they all leave the site with acrimonious comments about physicists being too blind or prejudiced to appreciate their ideas. In a sense, you can view the conservatism of mainstream science as a presenting a threshold of credibility that competing ideas need to cross in order to be considered. There is a possibility, therefore, that beyond the defensive barriers of mainstream science there are valuable new ideas waiting to be discovered. However, without such a barrier, there would be no end of mad ideas to deal with.

  • 1
    The question was not intended to justify any theories, crank or otherwise, but to question the way that science suppresses certain theories from even being discussed, even by scientists who want to discuss them, by threatening their careers. Relativity is another good example, although not quite as stark. May 26 at 6:19
  • 3
    @DavidGudeman I understand and agree. My point was that some form of filtering is required to prevent investment in science from being squandered on no-hope ideas, and the filtering is imperfect and faddish. ASL is either a nutty idea or the victim of the imperfections in the filtering process. If the latter, it will eventually penetrate the barrier. May 26 at 7:37
  • Death: the ultimate career limitation. I wonder if funerals will lead to advances in politics and religion also? Probably not.
    – Scott Rowe
    May 26 at 10:16

Any scientist who successfully demonstrates ASL in some way has a Nobel prize waiting for them. The chance at winning that prize is attractive enough to negate the hostility argument.

  • 2
    Science doesn't work that way. One person doesn't publish a theory and then everyone suddenly sees that it's correct and accepts it. It's an iterative process with multiple people participating over several years. In modern science, no iterative process is possible on this topic because anyone who approaches it in any positive way would be drummed out of the profession for supporting creationism. May 25 at 16:43
  • 4
    @DavidGudeman Counter examples to your claims include: Einstein and relativity, Wegener and plate tectonics, Marshall and Robin Warren and ulcers, Zwicky and dark matter, Wilson and Arno and the 3 degree background, even back to Newton and gravitation. The Pareto principle is alive and well.
    – Boba Fit
    May 25 at 17:51
  • 4
    @DavidGudeman Yes, when you dig into it, you realize that history of science is replete with failures, "big names" making errors, mis-attributions, precursors and even a good amount of theft of ideas... it's definitely not the neat picture you get in "popular science", that's for sure... It's very messy, highly "non-linear" and marred by human foibles at every turn...
    – Frank
    May 25 at 19:17
  • 3
    It's almost like science is constantly changing as new ideas are introduced and verified. Now, I wonder why creationism/ID hasn't caught on... hmmm...
    – Ian Kemp
    May 26 at 16:15
  • 2
    @DavidGudeman: You're not seeing the big picture here. The answer to your original question is no, anti-creationist scientists do not consider ancient aliens impossible. However, there isn't any evidence in the common record in favor of ancient aliens over other hypotheses. Scientists operate based on evidence, hypotheses, and experiments, and are generally hostile towards flimsy epistemologies which can't substantiate their claims.
    – Corbin
    May 26 at 17:03

Since the field of biology in general covers questions of molecular biology, evolutionary history, and so on, we would have to show that there was a subfield in which the indicated conjectures might occur as relevant answers:

  1. "Did sentient life from planet A intentionally engineer life on planet B?" is a question about the interplanetary history of biotechnology. Related questions would be, "Did sentient life-on-A unintentionally cause life on B?" as well as, "Did nonsentient life-on-A unintentionally cause life on B?" Furthermore, "Does all life on B come from A or does only some of it come from A?" And so on and on.

  2. "Do sufficiently complex organic composites require intent or will to arise?" is, at best, a question of conceptual physics. Appealing to "astronomical unlikelihood" is a weasel wording of the issue; if there is some meaningful sense to the phrase and its application, here, the conclusion would be, "Most life is the result of prior sentient life bringing it about (on the species level) but some life was brought about by accident." As it were, positives answers to questions of type (1) would outline an interplanetary history of lifeforms developing from world to world, but none of this would license the inference to a primordial intentionality that established the initial lifeforms in any given historical sequence.

Believing that life must be intentionally sourced would not help us "discover" aliens. The necessity would predict that all initial lifeforms in some sequence themselves were caused through some nonliving intention, so if we accepted the existence of such a necessity, this would not really motivate us to look for aliens specifically as the intentional source of any known life. We could just immediately jump to God as the explanation.

There's hardly any empirical, scientific reason to think that the concept of intentionality is substantial enough, especially in the given context, to even be that relevant, though: again, aliens might develop the technology to generate new species, but they might have discovered this technological option by accident (as so many such discoveries are made, indeed, in part by accident), and they can also use it without full deliberation (suppose an alien ship carried a microbe from a bioweapons facility, to another planet, where the microbe settled and blossomed into a new phylum for that planet, but not on account of any shipmates deciding to bring the microbe aboard, much less deposit it at their destination: instead, one member of the crew was exposed to the microbe by accident while on the planet of origin, their exposure went undetected, etc.).

Clarification: a common refrain at the intersection of cosmology and biology is that it's likely, given the number of galaxies, stars, and planets in the observable universe, that life exists on not just one, but many, other planets. How does this likelihood reflect the kind of probability-talk that ID theorists engage in? The concept of irreducible complexity is more like the concept of strings in string theory, a mathematical construct with peripheral applicability to experimentally approachable objects. If abiogenetically emergent irreducible complexity would require a smorgasbord of variables to line up right at basically the same time, this doesn't mean that the existence, in itself, of such an abiogenetic complex is unlikely. Likelihood has to be relativized more to be workable in empirical theorizing (recall that Kelvin disputed Darwin on the ground that Darwin's theory required the history of the universe to go back much further than Kelvin thought was supported by stellar dynamics theory then).

  • "Astronomically unlikely" is a reference to probability. Biologists have probabilistic models of mutation. One argument of ID is that according to these very models, a high-level mutation such as a change in body plan requires so many simultaneous changes that the probability of it happening can be discounted. May 25 at 16:47
  • 1
    @DavidGudeman but the ID theory of probability, or the kind of probability they are talking about, isn't the same as the kind that evolutionary biologists are using. "Agent A intends that x will happen," is not an inherently good predictor that x will happen, since if A simply doesn't have the ability to act on their intention, the existence of the intention doesn't convert into a likelihood that x will happen. May 25 at 16:52
  • On the contrary, ID proponents use the very same probability theories developed by biologists. There is nothing I've ever seen in ID corresponding to "Agent A intends that x will happen". I'm sorry, but you are clearly just making stuff up without having read any of the arguments you are discussing. The first step in countering an argument is to read and understand the argument. May 25 at 17:05
  • 3
    @DavidGudeman I have read some ID material. Not all of it, probably not most of it, but enough of it, incl. enough of it under review by non-ID theorists, to see that ID theorists are using concepts differently than they say they are using them. To be precise, since ID theorists are objectively real, specific people with specific ideological backgrounds/commitments, the kind of duplicity of those commitments bleeds into their presentation of ID, which fact is noticeable upon fairly cursory reflection. May 25 at 17:23
  • 2
    @DavidGudeman this isn't really the place or time to be disputing common knowledge (the common knowledge that ID theorists aren't talking about the same things as evolutionary biologists). The purpose of comments is mainly to clarify the related post. Saying that ID theory would, in the hypothetical situation where Earth life was created by aliens, be more helpful in leading us to discover this, is an interesting proposal but it also seems like evaluating the question objectively leads us to a negative answer. May 25 at 17:49

Creationism, as I understand it, is not a hypothesis, because nothing can refute it. It seems more reasonable to classify it as a "hinge" proposition which guides the interpretation of evidence. In a sense, anti-creationism is also a hinge proposition. Any evidence can be interpreted in both ways. The disagreement, therefore, is not about the evidence. For me, creationism is no more helpful than "Let there be light". I prefer the more plodding approach of scientific investigation, piece-meal, small steps and willing to be wrong. I'm sorry if that upsets you.

I'm afraid I'm not impressed by your thought-experiment. The first point amounts to the idea that the improbability of some phenomena is an argument.

On the face of it, your second point would amount to a phenomenon that needed explanation, but not evidence of any particular explanation. Your third point is not a supposition, but true; but the question is what the process of assembly was and there's nothing to suggest any particular explanation.

So no anti-creationist would be impressed by anything except specific evidence of the aliens, where they came from, how they did it etc.


An analogy. There are many abandoned cities around the world. Why do we accept that they were created by humans? There are all sorts of clues that suggest that - evidence from history, the nature of the remains, etc. etc. Your thought-experiment offers nothing. It wouldn't be rational to think of alien intervention without specific evidence.

I classify your argument as creationist (small "c") because it posits that certain phenomena are the result of action by agents of some unknown kind rather than standard phenomena or agents of a kind we know about.

  • 2
    The question is not about creationism; it is about whether the hysterical overreaction of the scientific community to anything that is remotely related to creationism could be harmful to the scientific enterprise. Nothing the question suggests that creationism is true. May 26 at 2:48
  • 1
    I accept that I misunderstood the reference to creationism in your question. The general principle at stake, if I understand it, is whether serious possibilities in science can be rejected and hinder scientific progress. There are plenty of cases that suggest this can be the case. However, I don't know how to tell when reaction to a specific idea is hysterical and excessive, except possibly by being wise after the event.
    – Ludwig V
    May 26 at 9:34
  • 1
    @DavidGudeman perhaps the reaction is hysterical and excessive when in the past, lots of actions by the other side were hysterical and excessive. What goes around comes around. If people are really sure about what they believe, they don't need to oppress others.
    – Scott Rowe
    May 26 at 10:12
  • 1
    But science isn't supposed to be a tit-for-tat enterprise; it's supposed to be a rational search for knowledge. May 26 at 10:35
  • 1
    You are right. But given that there have been hysterical over-reactions from religious people about various issues, it is understandable, though still wrong, if philosophers find it hard to remain reasonable.
    – Ludwig V
    May 26 at 16:00

Suppose that the ASL were true. Suppose further that strong evidence of the ASL were available to modern science in the form of.. ..

What do you mean by this statement. Are you admitting ASL is false and now asking the reader to speculate on the consequences if the statement is true?

You can prove anything based on a false premise.

Engineering analysis that suggests life was assembled from a toolkit with certain standard tools, materials, and techniques.

Darwin proposed evolution as a mechanism because he couldn't find any evidence of "assembled" life. And no evidence (out of millions of cataloged species) has ever been seen.

Life evolved on another planet and developed an intelligent space-faring race. This race travelled around the galaxy seeding life on various planets, including Earth.

All scientific evidence points to a universal speed limit (the speed of light in a vacuum). So this idea of a race traveling millions of light years to spread DNA is preposterous given our current knowledge.

If ID is true, then I don't need science or engineering. All I need to do is pray for all the answers (if I'm worthy enough to receive this information) and that's not Free Will so I choose to believe in a life without a God and without ID. The joy of discovering the nature of the universe through experiment and theory is my reward.


Q. [Can] science ever discover the truth of ASL?

A verifiable encounter with an alien actively engaged in seeding a new life-form would settle the matter, but this would not be a matter for scientific theorisation; let's remember the theory of evolution is still a theory. The possibility of evolution plus alien seeding would make discovery of the truth even more intractable, not to mention cosmopsychic agency and simulation theories.

What science actually is is addressed by Heidegger in Contributions to Philosophy (GA65, 1936-38):

Propositions about "science"

  1. "Science" must always be understood in the modern sense. The medieval doctrina and the Greek ἐπιστήμη are radically different from it, even if, in a mediated and altered way, they co-determine what we recognize as "science" today and also what we can alone pursue as "science" in conformity with our historical situation.

  2. Accordingly, "science" itself is not knowledge (Proposition 23) [cf. Popper, 1959] in the sense of a grounding and preserving of an essential truth. Science is a derived instituting of knowledge, i.e., a machinational showcasing of a domain of correct findings within an otherwise concealed region of truth (about "nature," "history," "law," etc.), a region which for science is by no means worthy of question.

  1. Every science, even a "descriptive" one, is explanatory: what is unknown in the region [of specialisation] is connected, by being led back in various modes and over various distances, to something known and already understood. The provision of the explanatory conditions constitutes the investigation.

In an open-ended matter such as the origin of life there are myriad possibilities which cannot be proved so the truth is simply inaccessible. It is a mystery. Nevertheless, life indeed is here!

  • 1
    Yes. Perhaps we could spend more effort dealing with what is here and less on wondering how it got here.
    – Scott Rowe
    May 26 at 18:05

Science and Sociology

As Thomas Kuhn revolutionized the philosophy of science in extending an interpretation of science as sociological, and as Kristian's invocation of Sayre's law goads us into observing, there is indeed a hostility towards creationism in the modern scientific endeavor. If one attempts to publish a paper that Jesus is the cause of the Higgs field, one is rightfully stifled. But science is no one person and is no one principle. 'Science' is a linguistic fiction to represent a broad array of actual sciences which are language communities of belief systems, and certainly as each human has fallible epistemological resources (IEP), so too are there shortcomings in the organization of those belief systems, particularly among political means. I always invoke Ignaz Semmelweis and his ostracization among medical doctors for his advocacy of germ theory and handwashing as a cautionary tale. Max Planck recognized this 100 years ago when he talked about the old scientists having to die.

Epistemological Hostility as an Engine of Progress

Justification is philosophically controversial (PhilSE). But you are wrong to take such internecine struggles and such institutionalized skepticism as a permanent determinant of the limits of knowledge. To do so makes personal an impersonal process of epistemological practice. Scientific communities chief strength is the incessant impact and evaluation of epistemology itself (SEP). Semmelweis was right and rebuked, but his views prevailed, and most of us washed our hands during the Covid pandemic that killed more than 12 times the US citizens that a bad year of influenza does, and most people dutifully went and added another vaccination to the list affirming Jenner's work.

Instrumental Rationality and Skepticism of Faith

There is no doubt there is scientific dogma, but unlike religious dogma, one of the central pillars is the openness, at an institutional level, to the rejection of current dogma for better dogma. The same is often not true in religious and political arenas (though there are obviously progressive political and religious communities who put the principle of the welfare of their fellow human above tribal squabbling). Many scientists simply treat creationism as outside of the domain of science, such as Gould and his NOMA, and do so rightfully. One's creed, "race", or political allegiances shouldn't affect one's measurement. The problem with non-progressive political and religious sorts is that it is obvious they are reasoning to a conclusion, rather than following reason to a conclusion. Instrumental rationality (SEP) is an inescapable facet of epistemological being. From the time we can make sentences, we cook up language to get what we want, as any parent knows.

Scientists Are Often Hostile to Philosophy

It is a recurring motif since at least the logical positivists, that scientists are not only hostile towards religious folks (particularly of the fundamentalist variety), but of philosophical folks too (a view many scientifically trained people even evince arriving here finally curious enough to learn what philosophy is). The American science popularizer and mechanical engineer Bill Nye famously declared philosophy irrelevant, and later recanted in Quartz among other places. It is a struggle to demonstrate to those who are scientifically dogmatic that there's value in metaphysical speculation, a point that the logical positivists themselves helped endorse by their failure to show knowledge is ultimately positive. But there are grades of philosophers and grades of scientists, and even grades of true believers. From a philosophical perspective, it is about becoming more rational in one's views that should count, at least in the broad, ecumenical spirit of philosophy that the Ancient Greeks passed down to us. This is the notion that one who loves wisdom should move from doxa towards episteme.

Science and Aliens

At this point, I know of few people who are well educated in STEM that don't essentially concede the conclusion of alien life existing from probability. There is, of course, scientific dogma that says the speed of light makes it impossible for travel here to there. Sabine Hossenfelder attempts to make the argument that such a position is dogma, and the mathematical physics does admit FTL travel. And of course, science is littered with confident predictions of impossibility. So yes, there is scientific dogma, but there are two types of complaints about it: pseudoscientific objections and metaphysically speculative objections.

  1. Pseudoscience objections consist of claims by those who fundamentally misunderstand the demarcation of scientific enterprise and persist by refusing to educate themselves on demarcation or do so in the face of overwhelming evidence which is disconfirmatory. The former group is naive or incapable, and the latter group are true believers and crackpots. But astrology does work! But vaccines are a plot by Bill Gates to put microchips in us! My pastor proved evolution wrong!
  2. Metaphysically speculative objections consist of scientifically admissible, but underwhelmingly evidenced claims. But aliens are here! Panspermia is true! We originated from Atlantis as a species! Octopuses have alien DNA!

Scientific communities reject these sorts of objections not because they are not metaphysically possible, but because scientific theories either overwhelmingly reject claims (the stars determine my personal decisions) or the scientifically admissible hypotheses are underwhelmingly supported by evidence ("Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." - Sagan). Accordingly, if the FBI raides Bill Gates home and produces volumes of criminologically acceptable evidence that he is indeed the head of a secretive cabal, he will be adjudged by history to be a criminal and his conspiracy determined to be real. If aliens land a craft on the lawn of the White House and POTUS comes out of the craft with mathematical equations that give us free energy, history will have judged those who claim alien life impossible wrong. If a superpowerful being manifests himself and we are indeed swarmed with legions of angel-like beings, most scientists will simply adjust theories to accommodate the new evidence. Indeed, supernaturalism has long been posited to be nothing more than advanced scientific knowledge, a la Asimov's famous quotation.

Creationism and Conclusion

It is a fact that there are David Koreshes in the world, that is, a particularly virulent type of creationist who are obviously predatory. To take children, and brainwash them into believing in God and infallibility, and then conferring prophet status oneself thereby enabling the abuse of the elderly, financial subterfuge or outright slavery, the burning of political opposition and their books, and practicing sexual assault for personal gratification and then justifying with fundamentalism is anathema to all decency in the modern age. The litany of litanies used to justify inquisitions, executions and torture for "heresies", and violent reprisals fills the historical annals. The hostility of science towards creationism is severely muted compared to the hostility of the average creationist towards scientific skepticism. So, boohoo. Scientists are skeptical that supernatural beings created the earth. Cry me a river. Because most people in the world don't cherish others' myths they were inculcated with before critical thinking was possible is a fact of life. Almost everyone on the earth disbelieves in someone one else's creation myth and gods. Claims of persecution are generally rhetorical, not literal.

Scientific beliefs are institutionalized skepticism, and it may take a generation or two to get to a more adequate description and convention of the state of affairs, but unlike fideism and personal faith, it will eventually make epistemological progress because ultimately the individual isn't important, and all of the petty academic bickering will exhaust itself as the scientific societies turn-over. The hostility towards creationism is misplaced, indeed. It's more a personal hostility to fundamentalists than anything, and there's no need to be hostile towards religious sentiment anymore than an adult should hold contempt for a child in believing in supernatural beings. Heck, there's some measure of good in religion, because without religion, man is nasty and brutish even more so. But the notion that the heavy suspicion of religions and politics somehow prevents rational discourse from achieving epistemological process is silly.

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