December 21, 2005
Unintelligent Redesign of Creationism
I have the queasy feeling I'm about to be pilloried... but I just can't keep my big, fat mouth shut. Fat fingers, whatever. The fact of the matter is that, needlessly insulting as it was, the ruling by Federal Judge E. Jones III that "intelligent design" (ID) is not science was exactly correct: it is not.
A point to note: I am not saying ID is false; in fact, I find it very persuasive. Not in its strong sense, that an amoeba or a flatworm or an angry clam could not evolve entirely naturally; I find variation plus natural selection a very satisfying and compelling theory to explain the evolution of life from its very beginnings in the primordial ooze right up through the evolution of primates.
Where I think it falls flat is only in the development of the massive cerebral cortex found only in genus Homo, and especially in the fairly sudden appearance of self-awareness, time-binding, and foreknowledge:
I know that I am me, a separate entity from you, and I am aware of myself, my thoughts, my thoughts about being aware of my thoughts.
I understand that I used to be a child, but now I'm a man, and that the events of my life happened in a particular order in time. And I know that I will age, and unless there are some tremendous breakthroughs in medicine and gerontology, I will eventually die. Despite many desperate attempts by PETA-people to convince me otherwise, I know that no other animal has these elements of intelligence or even a rudimentary version of them. So I am very open to the ideas of ID.
Nevertheless, E pur si muove: I cannot hold my tongue and pretend that ID is science by any rational definition of that word.
It makes no difference that some people with scientific degrees claim it's science; nor does it matter that some of them even hold positions that ordinarily would only be held by scientists. Any one who says that ID is science is either ignorant of science or is telling you a tale.
Twenty-three years ago, Judge William R. Overton decided the case McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, the first federal case to examine the curious hippogriff of "creation science" -- an attempt to resurrect pure creationism as some sort of "science," so it could be taught in the public schools. Note that this was not the case that was appealed up to the Supreme Court in 1987; that was Edwards v. Aguillard (482 U.S. 578; 107 S. Ct. 2573; 1987 U.S. LEXIS 2729; 96 L. Ed. 2d 510; 55 U.S.L.W. 4860), decided in 1987. Though McLean went against the creationists, they decided not to appeal, waiting an additional five years for a case they thought was stronger.
McLean never made it past the district court phase; but unlike Edwards, McLean was a knock-down, drag-out fight between various religious and scientific expert witnesses... and Judge Overton's decision was probably the best informed of any of the creationism cases. He did something no other judge had ever done: he constructed a legal definition of science against which competing doctrines could be measured.
William Buckingham, one of the Dover school-board members in the current case, said:
I'm still waiting for a judge or anyone to show me anywhere in the Constitution where there's a separation of church and state.
I completely agree, as does anybody who can read. But that isn't the point, is it? Judge Jones didn't rule that we had to rub "In God We Trust" off the money and erase "under God" from the Pledge; he only ruled that ID was no more a science than was creation science, which itself was no more scientific than pure creationism, for all that its inventors tarted it up to look techno-cool.
In the McLean decision, Judge Overton addressed the real issue head on:
In addition to the fallacious pedagogy of the two model approach, Section 4(a) lacks legitimate educational value because "creation-science" as defined in that section is simply not science. Several witnesses suggested definitions of science. A descriptive definition was said to be that science is what is "accepted by the scientific community" and is "what scientists do." The obvious implication of this description is that, in a free society, knowledge does not require the imprimatur of legislation in order to become science.
More precisely, the essential characteristics of science are:
(1) It is guided by natural law;
(2) It has to be explanatory by reference to nature law;
(3) It is testable against the empirical world;
(4) Its conclusions are tentative, i.e. are not necessarily the final word; and
(5) Its is falsifiable. (Ruse and other science witnesses).
I would collapse these into just four tests; but a candidate for consideration as science must pass all four tests. ID, like its forebear creation science, in fact fails all four:
- The theory must arise from and refer only to natural, ongoing processes.
- It must arise in a logical, compelling way from previous scientific theory and take into account (explain) all previous measurements.
- It must be tentative: that is, it must be able to change as the observed evidence changes, rather than being immutable and invulnerable to future evidence.
- It must be falsifiable, which means it must be possible to devise an experiment one of whose possible results, at least theoretically, contradicts the theory, resulting in the theory's rejection.
Intelligent design flunks all four tests: rather than arising from natural, ongoing processes, it assumes "creatio ex nihilio," creation out of the void by a supernatural entity. Even if you call this entity Gid or Gad, everyone knows (wink, nudge) it's really God.
The central tenet of ID, direct supernatural intervention in species development, makes no reference whatsoever to previous scientific findings supporting this proposition... because of course there aren't any.
It is not tentative: it is fixed and inviolate, and it is never taught (that I've seen) as a possible explanation for the origin of the various species but rather as the only possible explanation -- regardless of the disingenuous claims of its boosters, such as Michael Medved.
And it is surely not falsifiable, as it is impossible even in theory to devise an experiment that could possibly disprove ID... because any unpredicted result can be explained as being willed by the very same supernatural entity that caused all the evolution. The perfect alibi!
All the school board's horses and all of its men cannot put the "science" into ID. The only difference between ID and the earlier, discredited creation science is that the latter rejected all forms of evolution of one "kind" (species) into another, while the former accepts the idea of evolution in theory -- but argues that it can only occur with God's personal intervention. Whether this is true or false is a fascinating discussion... but it's a debate, not about science, but about religion and sociology.
Which, oddly enough, is exactly where the new Dover school board has decided to offer a class in intelligent design: as a sociology elective. That would be the school board members elected in place of the previous, ID-requiring board members in an startling election result for a conservative city:
The new school board president, Bernadette Reinking, said the board intends to remove intelligent design from the science curriculum and place it in an elective social studies class. "As far as I can tell you, there is no intent to appeal," she said.
The bashing of this judge and this decision by some cultural conservatives is unfair, uninformed, and unbecoming: while some of the dicta in the decision is intemperate, I have argued with creationists all my adult life -- and I find it very plausible indeed that they lied about the God factor... which completely justifies the judge's ire. Indeed, I have never had a debate or discussion with a proponent of ID (or creation science) who would ever admit that Genesis was the true origin of his thesis... even though he introduced both creation out of nothingness and also the Noahide flood to explain marine fossils in arid deserts!
Intelligent design is not science, and it should not be taught in the public schools as such. Put it where it belongs: the home, the house of worship, or even a public-school class on comparative religions.
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 21, 2005, at the time of 5:11 AM
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» Evolution, ID, and Science - most recent UPDATE Dec 23rd 2005 from Big Lizards
A powerful lot of arguments were advanced against my position in an earlier post, Unintelligent Redesign of Creationism; I'll essay to answer as many as I can in this one. Note that I will probably return to this post and... [Read More]
Tracked on December 23, 2005 12:30 AM
» The Delirious Democratic Dichotomy from Big Lizards
In debate, there is a fallacy called the false dichotomy. This is best exemplified by the structure of the argument made by creationists (or followers of "intelligent design," which amounts to the same thing as creationism): creationists cannot prove t... [Read More]
Tracked on January 28, 2006 5:31 PM
The following hissed in response by: Mark J
Agreement, all around. As a religious person, it irks me when religious groups pull these stunts. Even the Catholic Church says that evolution is not contrary to the Biblical scriptures. John Paul II spoke out in praise of Darwin's theory.
The above hissed in response by: Mark J at December 21, 2005 5:31 AM
The following hissed in response by: FredTownWard
The problem is that it is none of the court's damn business what is science and what is not even if they were competent to judge the issue, which they clearly are not! As the judge's insulting remarks made rather clear, he was making a RELIGIOUS decision not a LEGAL one, though given the embarrassing idiocy of SCOTUS rulings in this area he is probably correct on what currently passes for "the law" in this area.
Creationism certainly CAN be argued scientifically (or at least as scientifically as Evolution can be). For examples see http://www.icr.org/.
It helps to remember that Atheism is just another religion, a little less tolerant and a little more arrogant than most, and that since the SCOTUS "established" it (by default) as our official religion, its adherents have disgraced themselves just like adherents of every other official state religion have done throughout history.
Frankly, I'd like to know what the opponents of Intelligent Design are so damn afraid of. That some children might end up thinking outside the evolutionary box?
The following hissed in response by: Tommy V
Totally agree. I happen to think that some form of ID is correct, but that feeling is not science. Evolution has huge gaps that I think keep it from being a universal, all-encompassing theory , and i think it's completely appropriate that those gaps be mentioned. I also have no problem with ID being mentioned in class, and such mention should not be banned.
But to add ID into the curriculum as an equal theory to evolution is not science. At the very least, high school science class should be about what is science and what is not science. I would think that would be the very minnimum piece of knowledge we want them walking out of that classroom with.
You are not alone in this and I think most Americans, while not hostile to ID at all, just don't think it should be a part of a scientific curriculum either.
The following hissed in response by: GranitRoc
I agree, the judge made the right decision but his needless dicta distracts (and inflames passions) from his conclusion. I have no problem with Intelligent Design or even teaching it. But let's be clear, it isn't science. I understand the problems with evolution. It IS a theory that cannot be proven. But there is mighty strong evidence for its occurrence.
The principal problem with Creationism and Intelligent Design is that it answers nothing in scientific terms. One can by a Christian (as I am) and a scientist (as I am) just as one can be a believer in the faith and a scientific investigator.
In a nut shell, science deals with the natural world and how to explain it. Religion deals with the supernatural world and how we believe in it and provides a path to it.
Before anyone goes bombastic, I use the term supernatural world not as a perjuritive but as a description to differentiate one study, science, from another, religion. We human beings live in the natural world. Our souls, the Deity, and all who reside in His Space occupy the supernatural world.
We study science to understand this world. We use this knowledge to improve our way of living it it. Creationism does not help explain the natural world - rather it attributes Authorship of it, which is fine as far as it goes.
While religion does improve our way of life spirtually, it does not do so materially. To make material improvements, it is necessary to understand the material world. Science helps us do this with theoretical constructs. These constructs sometimes fail and need to be replaced with better ones. An example of this is Newtonian physics. It worked fine until mankind progressed beyond its ability to describe the natural world - enter Einstein.
The difference between religion and science is that religion deals with absolute truths which cannot be tested, but only believed in. Science deals with theories that are always being challenged.
Science strives for the "truth" of the natural world, but probably will never achieve it. Religion IS the truth, with believers striving to live it.
The following hissed in response by: FredTownWard
GranitRoc is displaying his ignorance when he states "The principal problem with Creationism and Intelligent Design is that it answers nothing in scientific terms."
That is simply not true. While by no means all (or even most) advocates of Creationism or Intelligent Design do so scientifically, some do, and the SCIENTIFIC arguments just for a "young Earth", which would totally preclude Evolution, are apparently so unanswerable by advocates of Evolution that most don't even TRY to argue the science.
This is not to say that the Theory of Creationism is any more scientifically provable than the Theory of Evolution; since we cannot possibly observe our origins we cannot SCIENTIFICALLY prove ANYTHING.
All we can do is examine the data we have and see which theory fits the facts better. Creation scientists believe (and can argue quite convincingly and at considerable length) that the evidence fits their theory best. Evolution scientists for the most part would prefer to not to have the debate at all.
This latter fact of course does NOT disprove the Theory of Evolution; it merely disproves the claims of most advocates of Evolution to be scientists.
The following hissed in response by: ruthg
I agree with you that Intelligent Design is not science. Where I differ is that I believe evolution is also not science. How is it falsifiable? What kind of experiment can be devised to show that evolution won't occur? No experiment has been devised which proves the theory and, since we can't go back in time, no experiment can be devised which will contradict it either.
Evolutionary theory is being taught as fact. The gaps in the theory are not being taught. The circular reasoning that underlies many of its proofs are also not being taught. Whether or not intelligent design should be taught as an option, the students should be aware that there are many unresolved problems with the theory of evolution. In fact, they are being taught religion and blind faith but, in this case, the object is not God but the evolutionary theory.
The following hissed in response by: GranitRoc
I know its worthless to try and persuade you, so my comment is for others. Creation scientist is an oxymoron. As a geologist, I have read on the young earth theory and it just doesn't hold water.
I don't disagree evolution is unprovable. I am saying there is STRONG evidence for this theory. Support for this theory is the fossil record which shows progressive changes to various flora and fauna. The dating of rocks is based on natural and measureable radioactive decay of elements. These measurements can be challenged, but the premise for these challenges is not based on observable or discovered data.
I completely agree with you, evolution should not be taught as a fact. It is a theory (a scientific construct subject to change). It happens to be the best theory and is supportable on the basis described above.
There are gaps in the fossil record. Over time, these gaps are being filled in. Realisticly speaking, however, there will always be gaps as the fossil record is destroyed over the aeons of geologic time (I could go into the reasons further if needed).
I think the problem many non scientists are having are terms. Theory does not equal fact (within science) unlike dogma which is fact (within a belief system).
I'm not trying to be disrespectful of Fred, as I have a fundamentalist father in law with like beliefs as Fred. There is little point in arguing however.
The following hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi
Dafydd, this is a silly argument. ID is not a science.....yet.
You could say it is where quantum physics was 50 or 75 years ago.
The reason the scientific establishment is fiercely anti-pathic to ID, is that ID seems to want to skip the heavy lifting that science requires, and go right to hi-school classrooms.
IDists and the odious Discovery Institute should fund research foundations and technical journals, instead of lawyers (*spit*!) and propaganda for silly school boards.
I have no objection to ID becoming a science.
If it can.
But it has to make some scientific bones first.
Thass why attacks on evolution get so little traction.
Evolution has "street cred", ID has none.
BTW, all evolution detractors, punching holes in someone else's theory is not at all the same as proving yours.
The above hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi at December 21, 2005 2:22 PM
The following hissed in response by: senorlechero
Can you point me to any scientific evidence that any specie ever evolved into another specie? Seems to me that the "Science" of Genetics sort of rules that out.
It seems to me that it takes an incredible amount of faith to believe that, as you say, "variation plus natural selection a very satisfying and compelling theory to explain the evolution of life from its very beginnings in the primordial ooze right up through the evolution of primates."
Where did the "ooze" come from? How did it become a living thing?
Your faith in the "Theory" of Darwinian evolution is a much bigger leap than my faith in a Creator God.
Your argument that ID is not science could be used to argue that Darwinian Evolution is not science. It fails on points 1, 2 and 3.......as it goes against Natural Law (Genetics and the laws of Entropy) and it cannot be tested empirically (nothing has ever been made alive that was not alive to begin with), it definately claims to be the "last word" and is not falsifyable (how can one falsify something completely taken by faith?)
The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh
I'll be writing another post responding to some of the arguments raised here; at the moment, we're still dealing with the serious connectivity problems that have plagued us for more than a week now.
Hang loose, don't shed your skin!
The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh at December 21, 2005 4:29 PM
The following hissed in response by: nasarene
“A Darwinian wants to persuade his audience that evolution isn’t all that difficult, its doable, and so [he] will not always attend to all the complexity of a system, whereas in order to show the difficulties for undirected unitelligent processes, and intelligent design proponent has to show all of the very severe complexity of systems, and that’s often times hard to do because people often times don’t have the patience to attend to it…” (Michael Behe’s testimony 10/17/05, afternoon, on page 74, line 9)
1 The theory must arise from and refer only to natural, ongoing processes.
Well – of course it does… ID looks at the organisms around us and says, “there’s no way these happened by chance. Just as a wristwatch or other highly complex (or irreducibly complex) mechanisms bely chance; therefore, this implies design.” As noted on Michael Behe’s testimony (10/17/05, afternoon, on page 19, line 19) “Intelligent design looks to see if aspects of life exhibit a purposeful arrangement of parts as evidenced by their physical structure. It does not say how such a thing might have happened.” -- Note also that Darwin’s theory doesn’t address the origin of life.
2 It must arise in a logical, compelling way from previous scientific theory and take into account (explain) all previous measurements. 3 It must be tentative: that is, it must be able to change as the observed evidence changes, rather than being immutable and invulnerable to future evidence.
I’ll have to leave this to another time - - or to someone else.
4 It must be falsifiable, which means it must be possible to devise an experiment one of whose possible results, at least theoretically, contradicts the theory, resulting in the theory's rejection.
(Is the theory of evolution every falsifyable? One example of where Darwin’s theory can live with one result, yet when those are found to be significantly wrong and still live with the opposite, then how can it ever be falsifiable? (Testimony Page 33, line 8 through page 37 line 12)”
Darwin stated, “if it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous successive slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”
ID embraces ‘irreducible complexity” also as being something that can falsify their theory in reverse.
“In fact, intelligent design is open to direct experimental rebuttal. Here is a thought experiment that makes the point clear. In ‘Darwin’s Black Box,’ I claimed that the bacterial flagellum was irreducibly complex and so required deliberate intelligent design. The flip side of this claim is that the flagellum can’t be produced by naterual selection actin on random mutation, or an other unintelligent process.
To falsify such a claim, a scientist could go into the laboratory, place a bacterial species lacking a flagellum under some selective pressure, for mobility, say, grow it for 10,000 generations [which would take just a few years], and see if a flagellum, or any equally complex system, was produced. If that happened, my claims would be neatly disproven.” (Behe’s Morning Testimony on 10-17 beginning on page 124 line 14)
The following hissed in response by: GranitRoc
You said, "Can you point me to any scientific evidence that any specie ever evolved into another specie? Seems to me that the "Science" of Genetics sort of rules that out."
Sorry to disabuse you of your scientific knowledge. To answer your question, I went back to my "Geology 101" book from college. Here is the info you requested:
The following is one example of Ammonoid evolution
Prolecanites discoides changed to
Epicanites sandbergi changed to
Predaraelites culmiensis changed to
Boseites scotti changed to
Boseites texanus changed to
Daraelites leonardensis changed to
Oh, I'm sorry, you asked for only one example. I got carried away. The series above represents about 25 million years of evolution.
You'r concern about, "Where did the (primordial) ooze come from misses the point of science. Science is not about attribution to God, it is about an explanation of the physical world. How God did it ultimately is a Divine Mystery not explainable by science. I have no problem saying God did it. But as a scientist puzzled by his mysteries, it is satisfying seeing and understanding his work, in an all too limited way.
It is clear to me there is a Divine Hand guiding nature, but why shouldn't I, as a scientist be allowed to understand and give glory to this all powerful omnipotent God through my scientific studies? Why shouldn't I be allowed to share these with others?
If it is satisfying for you to belive God is merely a large scale parlor magician fine. It works for me that his power and creativity is far greater than any human can achieve and this is demonstrated to me daily in my scientific work.
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