Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Well, That About Wraps It Up for Intelligent Design (Maybe)

I’m starting to feel a little sorry for the Discovery Institute and its Center for Science and Culture. They’ve undertaken the unenviable task of promoting “the scientific theory known as intelligent design”, while vigorously maintaining that “intelligent design”, properly understood, is not a sneaky way of promoting Biblical creationism.

Now, I’m no great fan of “Intelligent Design”; I’ve even seen fit to repeat myself on the subject – something I normally never do. (Well, hardly ever.) But I imagine that the Discovery Institute’s real problem isn’t pedantic Darwinists like me; what really must annoy them is some of their “friends”.

The El Tajon, California school district yesterday agreed to scrap an elective philosophy course in “Philosophy of Design”, avoiding a costly court battle that it would almost certainly have lost. The Discovery Institute advised the school district to cave in, since what was being taught was in fact mostly Biblical (or “young earth”) creationism rather than intelligent design as properly understood.

This raises a rather interesting question, and poses a sticky little dilemma for intelligent-design proponents: Besides the Discovery Institute and a few offbeat scientific types, does anyone have any interest in “official” (or, if you like, “scientific”) intelligent design theory? If intelligent design is in fact a back-door way of promoting Biblical creationism, then it loses whatever claim it may have to scientific legitimacy; but if intelligent design in fact contradicts the Biblical account of creation, then it’s difficult for me to imagine that a lot of school boards will be in any great hurry to add it to the curriculum. After all, intelligent design (as described by the Discovery Institute, who should know what they’re talking about) would work together with Darwinism as a sort of anti-fundamentalist tag team: Darwinists say you don’t need God to create the diversity of species; and intelligent design says that even if God did create species (or helped things along by creating some of the sub-cellular “machinery” that makes life possible) it didn’t happen the way the Bible tells it.

My prediction: Intelligent design theory may survive for a while as a scientific backwater (or, to be less polite, a pseudo-scientific waste of time); but its popularity among the general public will soon fade. If intelligent design amounts to just another way of saying that the Bible is untrue, who needs it?

Oh yes, before I forget: The teacher who taught the “Philosophy of Design” course defended it as follows: “I believe this is the class that the Lord wanted me to teach.” So much for “the scientific theory known as intelligent design”!

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8 Comments:

At Thu Jan 19, 12:32:00 AM GMT+2, Blogger Savtadotty said...

The whole debate about Intelligent Design is a problem between concrete thinking and abstract thinking. People who read any book, but especially a book that is considered God-given (or God-authored) by lots of people, have a choice to read it literally or metaphorically or as cultural history or many other ways. Any book may contain "facts" or "truths" as we understand them, or "facts" or "truths" as they were understood at the time the book was written.

An interesting thing about science is that it has a specific, measurable and repeatable method of determining "facts" within the context of experimentation. And until that context changes, as it did with Einstein's Theory of Relativity, the Fact has validity. Truth. Science uses a different "language" that is pretty new compared to the "language" of human legends.

As for me, it all boils down to algebra. If you can understand the relationship between "x" and the numbers 1, 2, 3,...etc., etc., you have an advantage in understanding the Game of Life. And the people who can't will surely resent you.

 
At Thu Jan 19, 07:04:00 AM GMT+2, Blogger James J. Na said...

Don:

intelligent design says that even if God did create species (or helped things along by creating some of the sub-cellular “machinery” that makes life possible)

Intelligent design says no such thing. Intelligent design doesn't mention "God" in any way, shape or form.

In fact, your continual ascribing of "God did this..." to the ID movement betrays that you didn't seem to have read anything scientists like Behe, Gonzalez and Richards have written about ID, but instead rely largely on media clippings of what ID is about.

Their approach is rather simple to understand.

You walk onto a field. There you find an object. Some argue that it randomly evolved from other, less complex objects through the process of natural selection.

The IDers argue that, yes, there seems to have been micro-adaptation, but that certain elements of the object shows patterns of design rather than selection from random mutation.

At that point, they infer (and this is a crucial point) neither the identity nor the intent of the designer (and, yes, many suppositions of the ID ARE falsifiable, for example, their position on the role of the Cambrian Explosion would be demolished if fossil evidence show intervening stages of evolution prior to that time, which hiethero the neo-Darwinsts have been unable to supply).

The ID scientsts are merely interested in confirming (or falsifying) their hypothesis that these elements of the object were, in fact, designed.

As to its "social" appeal, I think you under-estimate the American public. You seem to be suggesting that the public is squarely divided between materialists and those who believe the Bible literally (it's that clear-headed scientist-types vs. Bible-thumping bubba monkey dichotomy that the media love to push).

I happen to be a Deist in the Jeffersonian mold. I don't believe in received truth. I don't subscribe to the Bible, TNK or Quran, as the word of God or to an organized religion for that matter.

I and many other "non-religious" people find ID intriguing and perhaps even appealing, because it (along with the likes of the Big Bang Theory; more on this later) offers a possibility that scientific explanations and order/purpose in universe are compatible, without having to subscribe to literal reading of ancient texts.

Indeed, there are many parallels between the ID movement and the early advocates of the Big Bang Theory (who were initially disparaged as closet theists, because Big Bang sounded suspiciously like "God created the Universe" to those hyper-materialists who think there is Bible-thumping conspiracy everywhere).

I think even Discovery Institute's few position summaries are inadequate in this context. I suggest you read the likes of Behe or Gonzalez if you are going to authoritatively ascribe positions or arguments to them that they do not share.

And that's all I gotta say about that.

 
At Thu Jan 19, 07:05:00 AM GMT+2, Blogger Chasidot said...

See Intelligent Falling:

http://tinyurl.com/aeh9w

 
At Thu Jan 19, 07:18:00 AM GMT+2, Blogger James J. Na said...

Okay, so I guess I'm not done yet.

As for me, it all boils down to algebra. If you can understand the relationship between "x" and the numbers 1, 2, 3,...etc., etc., you have an advantage in understanding the Game of Life. And the people who can't will surely resent you.

I'm sorry, Savtadotty, but that sounds extremely smug and snotty.

If you mean to impugn that people who subscribe to ID are stupid and the neo-Darwinists are smart, I suggest you try reading what Behe or Gonzalez writes and see how much math they know.

They know more math (Gonzalez is an astro-physicist, you know, as in stars) than the vast majority of human beings in the world, including the ones who think they know a bit of algebra.

Although I do not necessarily subscribe to ID, I find some of the popular sentiment among the self-appointed cognoscenti against ID at best "smug self-satisfaction of those who are convinced of their intellectual superiority over those whose views they reject."

It's real funny to knock "these Bible-thumping Kansas idiots" from their snotty view... until they run into a Behe or Gonzalez and find out that they know but a microscopic fraction of what these scientists know about mathematics (or the universe for that matter).

 
At Thu Jan 19, 12:45:00 PM GMT+2, Blogger Don Radlauer said...

I wrote:

intelligent design says that even if God did create species (or helped things along by creating some of the sub-cellular “machinery” that makes life possible)...

James responded:

Intelligent design says no such thing. Intelligent design doesn't mention "God" in any way, shape or form.


Ahh, but the key phrase was "even if"; the point I was making was not that ID necessitates a belief in the Divine origin of life, but rather that ID, whoever/whatever the designer is, does not support Biblical (or "young earth") creationism.

I am, in fact, pretty well acquainted with the arguments of ID advocates; my scientific background in relevant subjects is also pretty solid. On a strict logical basis, though, there is a problem with your claim that ID doesn't require there to be a God. It may be literally true that ID "doesn't mention 'God' in any way, shape or form." But if someone performed intelligent design (and "intelligent" perforce implies a "someone") then either we must believe that the "someone" was in fact supernatural, or else that some other "natural" species intervened in the history of life on Earth.

But if the intelligent designer was natural and not supernatural, who designed the designer? In other words, ID without divinity is an infinite regress of species designing species. The only logical "out" is the possibility that some original species managed to evolve without a designer, achieved intelligence and a sophisticated knowledge of biochemistry, and proceeded to design life-forms elsewhere using designs more elegant and complex than its own "natural" design.

In short, ID on Earth implies either God as designer, or else Darwinian random evolution elsewhere. Now it may be that the latter prospect - Darwinism elsewhere leading eventually to ID on Earth - is a valid hypothetical answer to the problems in Darwinism that ID advocates claim to find; but I've yet to hear any of them postulate such a hypothesis. (Behe, for one, seems quite definitely to support supernatural design.)

* * *

Do I underestimate the American public? Well, it's been said that nobody ever went broke doing so. I'm fairly broke, so therefore I must not be underestimating the American public. Quod erat demonstrandum. (grin)

You are certainly correct to the extent that there is philosophical room for people to believe in some form of divinity - even a divinity that gets involved in designing life forms or parts thereof - without being Bible-thumping fundamentalists. I would even include myself in that category! But from what I've seen of the specific cases being brought to court, the school boards that have pushed for teaching of ID are doing so not because they are Jeffersonian deists, but because they want to promote belief in the Biblical account of creation.

Even the Discovery Institute isn't pushing for ID to be included in curricula at this point, because (as I understand it) they feel that the science isn't ready yet. My impression is that people interested in "real" ID (that is, "old earth", non-Biblical ID) are not the ones getting involved in high-school biology curricula; after all, if they aren't interested in making a specifically religious point, what's the hurry? If ID is good science, it will ultimately prevail without anyone's having to lobby school boards!

And this comes back to the point I was really trying to make: Whatever "real" ID theory is, it's being used by creationists as a tool to promote their own agenda and not the agenda of "real" ID.

 
At Thu Jan 19, 07:55:00 PM GMT+2, Blogger James J. Na said...

Don:

ID, whoever/whatever the designer is, does not support Biblical (or "young earth") creationism.

You are absolutely right there.

But if the intelligent designer was natural and not supernatural, who designed the designer?

That's a fair question. But ID does NOT purport to answer the intent or identity of the designer. Think of it this way. It's really a study of patterns. Is it random or is it designed? That's ALL they're asking.

ID's scope is quite limited, if you read the actual scientists working in it (yes, there COULD be theological implications for sure, but that is NOT the point).

The ID scientists I met are genuinely intrigued by attempting to answer the sole issue of that -- random or designed pattern in biological life?

By the way, there is a third answer to 1) God, 2) Aliens (or product of Darwinism elsewhere).

3) Self-designing universe (or life matter).

That really, really, super, duper intrigues me. But that's not what ID really addresses.

But from what I've seen of the specific cases being brought to court, the school boards that have pushed for teaching of ID are doing so not because they are Jeffersonian deists, but because they want to promote belief in the Biblical account of creation.

Yes, some school boards seem to. And what's Discovery's position on that? "Please don't hijack our cause for your cause."

what's the hurry? If ID is good science, it will ultimately prevail without anyone's having to lobby school boards!

Disagree there. Have you read about the whole Smithsonian controversy? Not only are legitimate and highly-qualifed scientists working on ID being shut out of peer-reviewed journals, when they somehow get through, the editors (who are not ID-supporters) are punished severely and their careers destroyed by the established orthodoxy.

Many scientists have expressed their support for ID theories, but have asked to withold their names in public due to career concerns.

The fundamental problem with high school biology is that neo-Darwinism is taught uncritically as if God-given truth (esp. origin of life -- the idea that inorganic went organic through some sort of an electrical discharge).

That's ultimately what DI wants:

Neo-Darwinism taught at schools as the dominant, established paradigm it is, but also have the pupils exposed to various science-based criticisms of that paradigm.

But, as you know, DI is pretty strenuously opposed to ID being mandated as some sort of an equal alternative of neo-Darwinism.

As far as ID being hijacked by creationists. They are not the only ones. Darwinism has been hijacked by other far more repulsive forces including Nazis and, today, hyper materialists bent on destroying faith:

Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, the most distinguished of modern Darwin advocates, writes that "faith is one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate."...

At the University of Minnesota, biologist P.Z. Myers, a bulldog for Darwin, writes about how he wishes he could use a time machine to go back and eliminate the biblical patriarch Abraham: "I wouldn't do anything as trivial as using it to take out Hitler."

 
At Fri Jan 20, 11:09:00 PM GMT+2, Blogger Savtadotty said...

I confess I mistakenly conflated Intelligent Design theory with Creationism, a misconception that explains my allusion to algebra to illustrate my point (comparing rhetoric to science). I was actually referring to Don's phrase "it didn’t happen the way the Bible tells it."

James wrote: "The fundamental problem with high school biology is that neo-Darwinism is taught uncritically as if God-given truth (esp. origin of life -- the idea that inorganic went organic through some sort of an electrical discharge)."

How about teaching modern science itself as a branch of religious philosophy? I seem to remember that's how it started anyhow (or "evolved"). Secularists can worship at the altar of The Scientific Method, and Deists can still learn and use science without believing in it. In a democracy, belief shouldn't be taught using taxpayers' money.

 
At Tue Jan 24, 06:10:00 AM GMT+2, Blogger James J. Na said...

Savtadotty:

I think I came off aggrssive in my other message. I apologize wholeheartedly.

If I may offer up some mitigating circumstances, it is that:

1) Opponents of ID often tar scientists working on ID as "closet creationist."

2) Opponents of ID try to portray the same highly intelligent scientists as some sort of stereotypical Bible-thumping fundamentalist hafwits (not that people who thump the Bible are halfwits -- merely that is the streotype a lof of these critics have).

3) I am sensitive to both of these false charges as I know some of the ID scientists personally AND because, while I remain intrigued by their work and am supportive of their academic freedom, it is not my program, not my work, not my anything. But I get tarred just the same.

How about teaching modern science itself as a branch of religious philosophy? I seem to remember that's how it started anyhow (or "evolved").

Indeed, that IS how it all started. I just wish the radical secularists would be more honest to admit as such.

Secularists can worship at the altar of The Scientific Method, and Deists can still learn and use science without believing in it.

I consider myself a Deist, but I believe in "The Scientific Method." I am pretty sure the scientists working on ID issues do also.

The more interesting question for me is... what if The Scientific Method leads one inexorably to the conclusion that there are designed patterns in the universe and lifeforms that could not have simply randomly evolved through natural selection? What then? What if those who authored "received truth" (religious texts) somehow had a glimpse, an inkling of the kernel of truth about the construction of life and the universe?

In a democracy, belief shouldn't be taught using taxpayers' money.

Remember that the so-called separation of church and state in the U.S. Constitution is about not establishing a state church/denomination (a state-mandated orthodoxy in religion) rather than establishing radical secularism ("no God") as the state-mandated religion. It really was designed to prevent state takeover of religion, not vice versa.

This is why I subscribe to no organized religion, but also have no problem with words like Creator and God in the Declaration of Independence and the Oath of Allegiance.

My God is not some old white guy in a flowing robe sitting in heaven directing day-to-day traffic.

I believe in a moral Pupose in life (indeed, in the universe), in Order triumphing over Chaos, in Goodness over Evil, in Truth, not different versions of truth as people, including many materialists, (would like to) perceive it. I call these absolutes God.

Remember, I don't subscribe to moral equivalence (or moral relativism). That's one of the reasons why you don't see me equating Israel with the Palestinian terrorists.

Anyway, I hope you'll forgive me for the rash charges of smugness I unleashed on you in the earlier comment. Mea culpa.

 

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