Sunday, July 12, 2009
Of Methods and Madness
Here is a bit more on the "incompatiblist" position on religion and science. An "Anonymous" commenter [Konrad Scheffler] on my last post stated this:
As often with this sort of debate, it seems to come down to quibbling about definitions. The word "science" is commonly used to denote at least four distinct concepts:
1. A body of knowledge
2. An "establishment" consisting of people and organizations, and an associated set of rough consensus views
3. A methodology for producing knowledge
4. A philosophical system of thought.
John (as well as, I assume, most religious scientists) is using definition 3; Larry et al (along with, I hope, a majority of scientists) are using definition 4.
The point is somewhat moot because most non-scientists use other definitions such as 1 or 2 (in which case "science" is obviously compatible with all but the most fundamentalist religions - no debate required).
However, the commenter expresses a preference for the process of science being viewed as "a philosophical system of thought." I disagree strongly for at least two reasons.
First of all, I do not think that is an accurate description of how the scientific process works. Let's start with a thought experiment: suppose Michael Behe were, tomorrow, to come out with some original and important work in biochemistry that happened to be valuable to Larry Moran's area of research (I know you said you are a teacher now, rather than a researcher, Larry, but it is a thought experiment). Would Larry ignore Behe's work because he has the "wrong" philosophy? Certainly, because Behe has trashed his own reputation within the scientific community over the past decade by doing pseudoscience, Larry would likely want to check the work very carefully, perhaps going to the trouble of recreating the work in its entirely, since merely citing to Behe's work might not be enough to convince other scientists in the field. But, assuming that Larry was convinced that Behe's work was accurate and useful to Larry's scientific work, would Larry refuse to use it? In short, what is more important, the science or the scientist? I think it is obvious that it is the scientific results that are more important to the process of science and to Larry's work within that process.
This shows, I believe, that the process of science is a methodology, where it is the results that count, not the "right-thinking" of the researcher. Nor is my belief founded only on thought experiments. Theodosius Dobzhansky is generally regarded as one of the giants of evolutionary biology of the 20th Century and rightly so. He is, of course, well known for his phrase: "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution," from a speech by that title. Less well known is that, in the same speech, he said: "I am a creationist and an evolutionist," by which he meant he was what we now call a "theistic evolutionist." Do contemporary biologists, such as Jerry Coyne, ignore Dobzhansky's work because he did not share Coyne's "approach to the world" or his "worldview" or his "scientific attitude" or whatever else Coyne is calling his personal philosophy today? Other important scientists did not or do not share Coyne's personal philosophy, such as R.A. Fisher and, contemporarily, Francisco Ayala.
As I said before, these examples are not given to show that their philosophies/theologies are compatible with Jerry Coyne's philosophy; they are given to show that even Jerry Coyne treats science as a methodology instead of a philosophy, where good scientific work is an equalizer that makes personal opinions unimportant.
The other reason not to conceive of science as a philosophy is that there is no way to objectively determine which is the "proper" philosophy and, therefore, no way insure that the philosophy in any one community of scientists or in the scientific community as a whole is actually conducive to good science. The result can be Lysenkoism or Nazi "racial science" or "Republican science" or less obvious, but no less damaging, distortions of the process of science. Jerry Coyne's philosophy might not damage the scientific process but, once science is just another philosophy, there is no guarantee that such will always be the case. On the other hand, if science is judged only on the empiric results at hand, there is an objective test of good science that does not depend on the vagaries of the currently popular philosophy.
Labels: Accommodationism Incompatiblism
"what we are discussing is the proper nature of the process of science" - I think inserting the word "process" here
amounts to hijacking the discussion by defining "science" as concept #3. I very much doubt that proponents of the incompatibilist position will accept this phrasing of the question under discussion. My response to this is that the _process_ (and methodology) of science is clearly compatible with many religions, but that science in its entirety (i.e. the union of concepts 1-4) is not. If you want to make a case that concept 4 should be excluded from the discussion, you need to do more than just state that the discussion is about the "process": the discussion is about "science", which is interpreted by some people in the debate to include #4.
Along the same lines, I expressed a preference not for the "process of science" but for "science" to be viewed (in the context of this debate) as a philosophical system of thought (which then implies the process/methodology).
"The other reason not to conceive of science as a philosophy is that there is no way to objectively determine which is the "proper" philosophy" - surely you're not implying that science is objective? (We _try_ to be objective as far as possible, but that's the best we have to offer.)
Of course there is room for debate on exactly what philosophy we are talking about - see this post by Larry Moran for one exposition. By the way, I disagree with Larry on the incompatibility of methodological naturalism and religion: for a methodological naturalist to insert God in natural phenomena is perfectly ok, as long as they are not the natural phenomena being studied. I know plenty of engineers who, if pressed, might come up with "God doesn't break the laws of dynamics, but he might break the laws of biology" or something to that effect. Declining to accept all of science does not preclude them from being good scientists in their own field. But the fact that they can do good science while maintaining (perhaps rationally) a religious philosophy does not make science as a whole compatible with religion.
... surely you're not implying that science is objective?
Read the incompatibilists. To a person they invoke the objectivity of science as the reason why it is better than and incompatible with religion. While, of course, there are nuances to a sophisticated view of science (read Chris Schoen's point about that) objectivity is what they aspire to and they can hardly object to objectivity as an important goal of science and remain consistent.
I, too, disagree with Larry on the incompatibility of methodological naturalism and religion, which is the point I am discussing here. I think that "science," in the sense that the incompatibilists themselves are discussing, is best described as the process of science used to apply methodological naturalism to discovering the workings of the natural world. What I'm ultimately saying is that, if they want to add to that definition, then they need to make a better case that there is something essential to "science" that is not covered by these basic concepts. Merely airily waving at an "approach to the world" or a "worldview" or a "scientific attitude" doesn't cut the mustard by the very sort of metric that they want to apply to religion.
If the incompatibilists want to grant that their "approach to the world" or "worldview" or "scientific attitude" are not an essential part of "science," then, of course, they are admitting that it is their personal philosophy and the question becomes why we should deem "science" and religion as incompatible with religion instead of just their personal philosophies.
Also, since I invoked the philosophy of science, I should explain that science has a philosophy (an attempt to understand the nature and workings of what we call "science") without it being a philosophy, simply a metaphysical system. In other words, we use "philosphy" in different senses too.
Marcus Ross has published some decent papers on paleontology.
Marcus Ross is a Young Earth Creationist.
Does this mean that science and Young Earth Creationism are compatible?
John, I sincerely hope that your answer is no. If it isn't, then I don't think there's any point in continuing this discussion.
If it is, then please take a minute to explain why.
P.S. I don't have any trouble with Michael Behe's scientific papers, or those of Francis Collins and Scott Minich. Why in the world would you ever think otherwise?
I didn't. That was my point. What is important is the process of science, which is methodoligical, not a philosophy.
As to Ross' papers, are they good scientific work that fairly represent the empiric facts (I take it they are and do, since you call them "decent papers")? Sure his theology is incompatible with science (as I said in my last post) but his theology is not science and neither is your opinion of his theology, as long as it is kept separate from the methodology of his science. You're free to speculate how he can manage that without his head exploding but that's not science either (unless and until you have some empiric evidence on the subject). If he manages to ignore his theology when he is doing science, instead of working to reconcile them as Miller does, that is still a matter of indifference to the process of science.
Of course, if he goes into a religious setting and tells his co-religionists that it is okay to ignore science or to think of it as just "atheists" presuppositions, then he is misrepresenting science itself (which Miller and Collins, for example, do not do, even if they disagrees with you on some specifics of the results of science) and is a whole different kettle of fish. In other words, if he uses his status as a scientist to deny how science works and its value, then he is doing something incompatible with the very status of "scientist" that he claims.
"If they cannot agree that such basic activities are 'science,'" - I think it is uncontroversial that it is part of science. Note the usage of the word: "experiment x is science" does not imply that experiment x is all of science.
"objectivity is what they aspire to" - of course science aspires to objectivity (I even said as much above). I would even add the claim that science succeeds in being more objective than competing systems of thought (although this is a perception which I cannot back up with hard evidence). There's a world of difference between claiming this and claiming that science achieves the goal of being perfectly objective.
"Of course, if he goes into a religious setting and tells his co-religionists that it is okay to ignore science or to think of it as just "atheists" presuppositions, then he is misrepresenting science itself" - whoa there! It _is_ okay to ignore science, for many interpretations of "okay" that will typically apply in these settings.
"Science and religion do not glower at each other from separate frames on opposite walls of the Museum of Mental Arts. Science and religion interdigitate in patterns of complex fingering, and at every fractal scale of self-similarity.... Any interesting problem, at any scale (hence the fractal claim above, meant more than metaphoically), must call upon the separate contributions of both magisteria for any adequate illumination."
The idea that this dialogue is necessary is one of SJG's most important point, in my mind, and it transcends some of the ontological arguments (or turf wars) which make for great conflict (and a great read). Gould was quick to point out (Rocks of Ages, p. 58):
"The magisteria will not fuse; so each of us must integrate these distinct components into a coherent view of life. If we succeed, we gain something truly 'more precious than rubies,' and dignified by one of the most beautiful words in any language: wisdom."
The compatibilists vs incompatibilists debate seems to be the antithesis of this statement: a way to create a conflict where there really isn't one and a way to avoid doing the work that scientific, religious, and philosophical leaders should really be doing. I agree that it is the results of science that count, when informed by the moral and ethical discourses of philosophy and religion.
What we should be debating is whether religion is compatible with all of science all of the time.
Not, if as you have now said in the other thread, it is all usage as to what "science" is. We just have to count noses to see which usage is more prevalent. ;-)
Note the usage of the word: "experiment x is science" does not imply that experiment x is all of science.
Since I'm sticking with the notion that there is a logical essence to "science," I'll point out that what I've described as the process of science is sufficient to produce everything that we call "science" ... all the results, hypotheses, theories, etc. In short, I believe my definition "accounts" for what we call "science" without need for anything additional.
There's a world of difference between claiming this and claiming that science achieves the goal of being perfectly objective.
I must be missing your point or something. I never claimed that science is "perfectly objective," even in my original post, where I was speaking broadly.
It _is_ okay to ignore science, for many interpretations of "okay" that will typically apply in these settings.
Again I must be missing something. That's an accommodationist stance that goes far beyond what I'd take. I'd say that, if someone trades on his/her status as a "scientist" to (in essence) deny that there is any such thing as "science," that person has a conflict.
I agree that Gould's NOMA is much-misunderstood, not least in that I think Gould intended it to be more prescriptive than descriptive and objections that the relationship between science and religion have never historically been non-overlapping are besides the point.
I also suspect Gould knew it wouldn't be as easy as he painted it but hoped it would form a basis for a less acrimonious interaction. Whether it could have may be a moot point now that it has been so roundly rejected by the extremes on both sides.
The "scientist-atheists," as Coyne calls them are ignoring the lessons of their own dicipines, I believe, if they think that a few societies reducing "formal" religion in their populace signals a wholesale dying-off of religion. There is a lot of "squeezing-the-baloon" going on, with people moving from traditional religion to New Age spirituality and other woo; some frequency-dependent selection; some local and quite possibly temporary conditions that may be overwhelmed by migration; and other factors that makes it seem to me to be very unlikely that religion is going away in anything like what we'd call the short term. The scientific community and those of us who think its existence is a good thing have to reach a truce, if not a peace, with the religious in one way or the other that probably does not involve an outright "victory" for science.
On objectivity: you claimed that the philosophical issues should not be regarded as part of science because they are not objective. My response was that science is not objective either. I don't see how the fact that science _aspires_ to objectivity affects this argument. (One question is: if, assuming for the sake of argument it is possible, one were to purge philosophical issues from science, would that include the notion that science aspires to objectivity? Or do you classify this as part of science-as-process rather than science-as-system-of-thought?)
"It _is_ okay to ignore science, for many interpretations of 'okay' " as an accommodationist stance - actually I see this more as an extreme incompatibilist stance. The whole point of accommodationism is that religious people should not be ignoring science. The incompatibilist stance does not preclude relativism.
"if someone trades on his/her status as a "scientist" to (in essence) deny that there is any such thing as "science," that person has a conflict" - only if you want to include moral conflict in the debate.
On NOMA: it sounds like you are agreeing with the incompatibilist position that NOMA is not accurate in a descriptive sense. Does this not conflict with your overall point of view?
One more thing - would this be a fair way to paraphrase your position:
"if applying scientific methodology to a specific question leads to a conclusion which is in conflict with religion, the conflict is between religion and the decision to apply scientific methodology, not between religion and science".
... one has to argue consistency with all of them, not some of them.
So I have to include AiG's "definition" of science too, since it is (unfortunately) a quite widespread usage? No, I disagree. When we are discussing the philosophical underpinnings of science, which is what is involved in whether or not it "incompatible" with something else, we not only can but must discuss the essence of science. You can take the usage of scientists like Coyne into account by saying that some or many (if you can show that is the case) scientists think it is incompatible, but that is logically and factually distinct from "science."
... you claimed that the philosophical issues should not be regarded as part of science because they are not objective. My response was that science is not objective either.
Are you really claiming that metaphysics is equally objective as science? If so, then religion is as objective as science; the whole incompatibilist argument collapses and there is nothing that sets science apart from any old thing anyone wants to believe. At most, you have a complaint that I didn't say "more objective. " In fact, I think it is an objective test but simply having an objective standard doesn't mean you automatically get an objective result because reality has this nasty habit of not neatly fitting into our categories. In any case, my point remains: judging science by the empiric results at hand is, compared to testing it by some metaphysical test, an objective standard.
... would that include the notion that science aspires to objectivity?
That is part of methodological naturalism, which is, in a sense "philosophy" but is not metaphysics or a "personal philosophy." I mentioned the distinctions above.
The whole point of accommodationism is that religious people should not be ignoring science. The incompatibilist stance does not preclude relativism.
Could you give some references to incompatibilism advocates who have said that? I cannot remember a single one who has advocated that it is okay for people -- which would include democratic governments -- to ignore science.
... only if you want to include moral conflict in the debate.
Well, Coyne was just accusing Mooney and Kirshenbaum of "dissembling," so I think a certain amount of that is inevitable. Coyne's article that started this latest round off speaks of accommodationism as requiring "intellectual contortions," which I think is a fair description of someone claiming to be a scientist who denies science.
... it sounds like you are agreeing with the incompatibilist position that NOMA is not accurate in a descriptive sense. Does this not conflict with your overall point of view?
No. Gould wanted religion at large to accept a particular magisterium, which it clearly has never done. Accommodationism as described by, say, the NAS booklet says that only some people and sects accept science (and, perhaps, only imperfectly) and encourages more people to do so.
... would this be a fair way to paraphrase your position: "if applying scientific methodology to a specific question leads to a conclusion which is in conflict with religion, the conflict is between religion and the decision to apply scientific methodology, not between religion and science".
An interesting question that I don't have time tonight to consider fully but my preliminary answer would be no. Science has, under methodological naturalism, no option but to apply the scientific methodology to all questions that it can answer. There are clearly questions it can't answer, such as who was the greater composer, Mozart or Beethoven. But anything it can and does answer is "science" and a scientific conclusion which is in conflict with religion is a conflict between religion and science.
By "science is used to refer to many different things" I meant complementary meanings, not competing ones. The point is that the word encapsulates multiple distinct concepts, all of which should be taken into account.
saying that some or many scientists think it is incompatible, but that is logically and factually distinct from "science."
I don't understand this sentence. Some scientists think what is incompatible (if not science)?
Are you really claiming that metaphysics is equally objective as science?
No. I was saying that, assuming there is no objective way to choose a metaphysical interpretation, the situation is regrettable but unavoidable. Choosing not to attach an interpretation, as you seem to be advocating, would be just another subjective choice.
In fact, I think it is an objective test
I've lost you here. What is an objective test of what?
judging science by the empiric results at hand is
Actually, science (when judged by scientists in the context of peer review) is emphatically _not_ judged by empirical results. That would open the door for bias towards results that confirm our preconceived notions (insert usual caveat re ideal world vs reality). Criteria for judging science include whether analyses are performed to a high technical standard and whether conclusions are supported by the data, both of which are pretty subjective.
As a thought experiment, suppose a typical article from a creationist website gets submitted to a scientific journal. We can easily imagine it getting rejected because "the conclusions are not supported by the data". But the author of the article may well argue that the conclusions _are_ supported by the data. How are we to resolve the dispute empirically? It sounds like a metaphysical disagreement to me.
Could you give some references to incompatibilism advocates who have said that?
Perhaps I've got the wrong end of the stick here, but I thought incompatibilism refers to a point of view also held by religious fundamentalists? As it happens I don't spend my time keeping up with their writing, but I'm sure you could find appropriate references in the creationist literature. :-)
I cannot remember a single one who has advocated that it is okay for people -- which would include democratic governments -- to ignore science.
Well of course it's not okay from the point of view of the incompatibilist (except perhaps a religious fundamentalist incompatibilist). But this is irrelevant - the point is that individuals get to set their own standards for what is okay. For religious fundamentalists it is mandatory (not just okay) to ignore science in many contexts. And for Ross (or any creationist scientist) to tell them otherwise would be a betrayal of his religion - which he presumably ranks higher than your claim that he is misrepresenting science, which he would almost certainly dispute.
Accommodationism as described by, say, the NAS booklet says that only some people and sects accept science (and, perhaps, only imperfectly) and encourages more people to do so.
Hmmm, does it encourage people to accept science, or accept science imperfectly? :-) Seriously, this is a key distinction - religious people accepting science imperfectly is totally compatible with incompatibilism.
This is also the reason why the "existence of religious scientists refutes incompatibilism" argument fails - it's patently obvious that many scientists do not accept all of science, otherwise there could be no such thing as a creationist scientist.
So is your point of view "even though science and religion do conflict as a matter of historical fact, this is unnecessary and can be fixed if only religion would get its act together and retreat from the magisterium of science"? Is this an accommodationist point of view? It sounds like an incompatibilist point of view to me - provided we insist that religion retreats all the way to deism.
Science has, under methodological naturalism, no option but to apply the scientific methodology to all questions that it can answer.
But this opens a whole can of worms for accommodationism. Science can, for instance, answer questions about the efficacy of prayer (given data which could be collected in principle).
There are clearly questions it can't answer, such as who was the greater composer, Mozart or Beethoven.
Actually, we answer questions like this all the time, using the following simple recipe:
1) Precisiate the question by specifying a quantitative definition for "greater composer".
2) Answer the question using that definition.
If someone else doesn't like the definition we have chosen, they are free to specify a different definition and come up with their own answer. This is where the interesting part of science begins - debating which of the proposed solutions is the more informative or appropriate. Often, some solutions are clearly better than others. Often, not.
Perhaps this doesn't fit your picture of scientific methodology, but it's one of the things scientists do when engaging in the activity called "science". Coming up with good problem formulations is the most important part of science.
No, I don't think we have to deal with "usages" when the issue is a supposed to incompatibility of one thing and another. Speaking of incompatibility between a one person's or group's usage and some other thing is incoherent. That is a simple matter of definition. If Coyne's definition of science excludes religion, it excludes religion, no incompatibility involved and no need to go on at length about it. To speak of incompatibility is to imply there is some "thing," not just a word, that cannot be included within some other "thing."
I, and I'm sure the scientist incompatiblists, maintain that there is a "thing" called "science" that has a nature that is not just an arbitrarily assigned definition. The issue is and has always been what the nature of the thing called science is (the title of another well-known book on the philosophy of science by A.F. Chalmers is What Is This Thing Called Science) and does that nature inherently conflict with the thing called religion. If you want to maintain that there is no "thing" called science then AiG has as much right to assert their own definition and no one can say they're wrong.
I maintain that there is a (more or less) objective description of the thing called science that is much better that any completely unobjective metaphysical description of the thing called science. Claiming that "high technical standards" are, in fact, subjective, is missing the point. No matter how they are arrived at, they are shared standards and, in that sense, an empiric fact of the world and objective, as well as being part of the "empiric results at hand."
Seriously, this is a key distinction - religious people accepting science imperfectly is totally compatible with incompatibilism.
Why, if there is no thing called science? Who could even say they are accepting it "imperfectly" since there is nothing to judge it against? If you are going the relativist route, you have to go all the way.
Is this an accommodationist point of view? It sounds like an incompatibilist point of view to me - provided we insist that religion retreats all the way to deism.
I didn't say they had to retreat to deism, though that is an option for them. They need to accept science, in the areas that it is competent in, in order for their religion to be compatible with the thing called science.
Science can, for instance, answer questions about the efficacy of prayer (given data which could be collected in principle).
Check out the Wikipedia article on it and you'll see that the issue is not as clear as Coyne likes to make out. More importantly, science can only judge a certain type of "efficacy." Few theists claim that there is a simple "prayer = physical healing" relationship involved.
Perhaps this doesn't fit your picture of scientific methodology, but it's one of the things scientists do when engaging in the activity called "science".
Frankly, claiming that science answers questions such as who is the greater composer is so stunningly outside any account of science I've ever seen (and I've read fairly widely in the field) that I do not think we have any frame of reference to continue any discussion. You truly do have your own private definition of science.
2) Answer the question using that definition.
I'd like to see a concrete example of this that you would actually adhere to, Konrad. What are the units of Greatness?
You seem to have the idea that I said there is no thing called science - I did not.
I did say that we cannot expect other people to necessarily agree with any definition we come up with - to that extent I take a relativist stance (but I do not see why I should take it further to extreme relativism - extreme relativist positions tend to be very unproductive debate-wise).
I also tried to make the point that the boundaries of what does and does not constitute science are extremely fuzzy, to the extent that any attempt to come up with a clear-cut definition is pointless. I agree with you that science is a "thing", but I have not come across a satisfactory description thereof, whether objective or not. (I do not by any means regard myself as an expert in this field so it is entirely possible that I have missed some important work, but yes I have read the book by Chalmers.)
Frankly, claiming that science answers questions such as who is the greater composer is so stunningly outside any account of science I've ever seen (and I've read fairly widely in the field) that I do not think we have any frame of reference to continue any discussion.
Wow, I was trying to bait, but you're swimming away with the entire fishing rod :-)
I think you are overinterpreting what it means to answer a question - I didn't promise that anyone would by happy with the answers, in fact I was explicit that people would probably not be. I was also careful not to call this process "science" (since we have still not reached agreement on how to use that word in this discussion), so I went to the trouble of spelling out that it's one of the things scientists do when engaging in the activity called "science". For completeness, I suppose I should add that by "the activity called science" I mean "that which (at least a subset of) people employed under the job title "scientist" do to earn their salary. Whether it qualifies as science under your definition is for you to decide.
Glad someone took the bait more politely; glad to oblige - I could go on at length about the toy example, in order to demonstrate that:
1) there are better and worse (objective) methods to go about answering the question, each corresponding to replacing the question with a specific objectively-answerable one (e.g. who produced more compositions during their lifetime?) or combinations of such questions.
2) science can help us separate the better methods from the worse ones, can help us refine bad methods to become less bad, and can help us construct new methods out of old ones such that the new method is better than any of the old ones.
3) it is trivially easy to come up with a method for answering questions of the form "Is/was x a better composer than y" that is not entirely worthless in that it produces answers that people will overwhelmingly agree with for a large subset of these questions - e.g. the subset where x is Beethoven and y is pretty much anyone I can name (myself, say).
But of course if science could (at present) come up with a generally liked solution to this particular over-used example, people would have switched to a different one to make the point of science being no good for tackling subjective questions (why does that remind me of irreducible complexity somehow?).
So how about a successful real world example instead: would you agree that "which is the best website for informing us about the theory of evolution?" is exactly the same sort of question? It's highly subjective, opinion is extremely polarized on the issue, there is no agreement on how to judge the value of a proposed answer, any proposed answer is certain to generate controversy.
Yet, every day millions of people vote with their feet (mouse?) - choosing, astonishingly, the exact same methodology (the PageRank algorithm) to answer this and millions of similar questions. A methodology that was created using science. (They may not agree that the answers they get are the best possible answers, but they nevertheless consider the answers of sufficient value to continue choosing this method.)
So when it comes to which webpages have Greatness at explaining evolution, the primary Units of Greatness are 1) how many times do you contain the words "theory of evolution" and 2) how many authoritative sites link to you? Which is not an answer we could have found without science.
But we can certainly discuss it rationally and give our reasons for a particular definition and why we don't agree with any particular usage, which is all I've done. I don't remember holding a gun to anyone's head.
I do not see why I should take it further to extreme relativism ...
The point is that there should be, if the definition is to be rational, a rational point at which you draw some sort of line between "okay" relativism and "extreme" relativism. I am well aware of the "demarcation problem" and that there will always be cases that fall in a gray zone. But that is no reason not to try to make as clear boundaries as possible between science and other things, particularly when what I am advancing as a definition is a set of attributes that all scientists and philosophers pretty much agree are part of science. Nor do I see how clearly metaphysical assertions come close to residing in any gray zone.
Yet, every day millions of people vote with their feet (mouse?) - choosing, astonishingly, the exact same methodology (the PageRank algorithm) to answer this and millions of similar questions.
You are focusing on the "consensus" part of science and, yes, that is a part of the scientific process I described. But where is the empiric testing part? If "science" is just the personal opinion of people, in what way is it different from any popularity poll? The reason Chris (underverse) asked what units of Greatness you proposed is how else can it be anything but an opinion poll?
Need I point out that AiG's site might score quite high in PageRank among "websites for informing us about the theory of evolution"?