Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Intelligent Design vs. Evolution – Get ready to laugh

I originally posted this at my other blog but, since it deals with biology and school, I thought I’d republish it here.

I’ve tried to avoid blogging about this, but I just can’t bite my tongue any more. It’s too sore as it is. This whole “intelligent design” thing is just too funny. The Dover PA school district doesn’t think so, but maybe they’ve just lost their sense of humor.

Let me start out my saying that I am a person of faith. I believe in God, and most people would consider me a Christian. I’m also studying biology in college. While I don’t think that evolutionary theory is complete and correct, I’m not above talking about in a science class because it’s one of the core themes of biology. It’s only uniformed religious bigots that like to try and use it to prove that God doesn’t exist. In fact, there are a lot of biologists who don’t see a conflict between evolution and their faith in God.

I also don’t support the idea of teaching intelligent design in schools. It’s not science; it’s metaphysics. Save that for the philosophy and religion classes, please.

These quote from the Dover PA trial just made me shake my head, though. The star witness for the defense is Kenneth Miller, a Brown University biologist. Get a load of this:
The statement read to Dover students states in part, "Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered." Miller said the words are "tremendously damaging," falsely undermining the scientific status of evolution.
"What that tells students is that science can't be relied upon and certainly is not the kind of profession you want to go into," he said.
"There is no controversy within science over the core proposition of evolutionary theory," he added.

Cough . . . choke . . . sputter. What? Since when? First off, it may be damaging to Darwin’s theory, but it’s not damaging to kids thinking about biological sciences as a career choice. And since when is there no controversy in biology over evolution? Saying there’s no controversy is like saying Swiss cheese doesn’t have holes.
The double talk gets thicker, though.
During his cross-examination of Miller, Robert Muise, another attorney for the law center, repeatedly asked whether he questioned the completeness of Darwin's theory.
"Would you agree that Darwin's theory is not the absolute truth?" Muise said.
"We don't regard any scientific theory as the absolute truth," Miller responded.

Okay. Let me get this straight. We want to teach science, but we don’t regard science as truth? We don’t want to question the validity of evolutionary theory, even though science is all about questioning what we know, and don’t know? That sounds like religious dogma to me. Don’t question Darwin, but go ahead and question God? Isn’t that a double standard? I think Mr. Miller is just having a tough time explaining it because for him, and may others proponents of evolutionary theory (whether they wants to admit it or not), evolution is a matter of faith.
Go put that in your pipe and smoke it for a while.

4 comments:

Gordon said...

Back up the boat a second, Intellegent Design DOES NOT mention the word God, otherwise it would be easily shot down by the courts. It profess that some intellegent being directs life on Earth. That smacks of agnogotism, not Christianity. Christians like myself should be screamming bloody murder over ID. God is not something to "research." It something to accept on faith, thats it.

And yes I do believe evolution as fact, I see everytime I deworm a horse. Evolution is documenting God's work. What else is "just a theory"? Gravity?

plunge said...

I think you may have misread Miller quite egregiously.

First of all, Miller is a Catholic who has written quite extensively about how he feels public intellectuals misuse evolution to promote atheism. He's critized ID on precisely these grounds: that it plays right into the hands of atheists to present every further confirmation of evolution as a blow to religious belief.

"First off, it may be damaging to Darwin’s theory, but it’s not damaging to kids thinking about biological sciences as a career choice."

I disagree. The statement that Dover wants to force teachers to read is both false and even misuses basic scientific terminology. It's politics masquerading as science, and that IS damaging.

"And since when is there no controversy in biology over evolution? Saying there’s no controversy is like saying Swiss cheese doesn’t have holes."

Again, you misread him: he said "within science" and he said "core proposition." And that is perfectly true. Evolution is regarded as one of the most well confirmed ideas about physical reality. The controversy over this proposition that you are familiar with is not one occuring within science, but one occuring in the wider culture and politics. And on the other hand, while biology is chock full of controversy over all sorts of key details, these are _not_ disagreements over the basic facts of things like common descent or the reality of morphological change.

"We want to teach science, but we don’t regard science as truth?"

Again, leaving out a key word mangles the meaning: not as absolute truth. Scientific truths are defined as evidential truths: they are what our best testing of the evidence can show us. Scientists like Miller are always careful to avoid claiming that science is some sort of revealed, holy writ: some absolute truth. That just not how it works: everything must constantly be tested and retested and open to disconfirmation should the evidence lead somewhere new.

"We don’t want to question the validity of evolutionary theory, even though science is all about questioning what we know, and don’t know?"

Now you're changing the goalposts. The Dover statement isn't about sincere questions about the validity of evolutionary theory. It's about trying to entirely bypass what the current scientific consensus is to insert someone's beliefs into schools without having to bother with formailities like evidence, argument, or anything else.

If you think that's such a great idea, then okay: but why then shouldn't Satanists get equal time for their take on the history of Christianity regardless of whether historians agree that it has much validity or truth to it? Why shouldn't Deepak Chopra get to introduce his theories about "magical water" into science classes?

cmcdonough said...

This is really the smartest stuff I've read about this 'controversy'. All three of you make valid points. The concept of ID is philosophy and not science. It's not even in philosophy of science! ID is a logically discredited notion from the history of philosophy (roughly the 18th century) called the teleological argument, or the argument from design.
The fallacy of the teleological argument is 'anthropomorphic'-it assumes that reality reflects how our minds work rather than that our minds (hopefully) reflect reality. The teleological argument is not a scientific theory; rather, it is a putative syllogism demonstrating (and deifying)INTELLIGENCE.

Well...intelligence isn't all that compelling - from either a metaphysical or biological viewpoint. I've known quite a few very smart people capable of making effective designs. Some of these people are not very nice. Intelligence allows our species to manipulate reality and, perhaps, is indicative of the nature of that reality - if you're lucky: You can handle many things and produce results without really knowing what what you've handled and the ramifications of those 'results'.
Thus, the teleological argument (ID)states that reality is ABSOLUTELY (maybe, so it should be given the status of evolution!)a result of something we morally frail, forever fallible, and hopefully forgiven mortals call intelligence; and, that this somehow invalidates any non-theistic interpretation of reality that the 'THEORY' of evolution may imply.

Scientists, especially SERIOUS ONES, should have several problems with this:
1) ID assumes that the universe is motivated in just the way that humans think when thay are crafty. This destroys scientific objectivity.
2) It is logical fallacy in that it relies on circular reasoning (rather than on demonstrable observable premises) to support it's conclusions.

Serious religious (and metaphysical) thinkers (i.e., intelligent people)should have problems for a few reasons too:
1)While GOD may have given humans intelligence in order to decipher reality, the use of human intelligence may or may not reflect anything about GOD. (INTELLIGENCE is used by all sorts of people).
2)Human understanding of the reduction of suffering and misery is greatly reduced by the principles of evolution, viz. more food, less disease, and more awareness of the potential results of the immoral implementation of intelligence.
3)Faith in the belief that 'GOD thinks like I do' is very ...well...maybe.. arrogant blasphemy?
BUT, since ID does not mention GOD, since it is not an exclusive tenet of any documented religion and since it does directly promulgate a particular religious viewpoint it is perefectly legal for the elected morons in your school district to mandate that this foolishness be presented to our children. Vote Better in the future and use ridicule to embarrass the brain surgeons.
And teach your kids to think free.

"It is amazing, proof of a plan, that my nose fits my eyeglasses!" - VOLTAIRE

John Newman said...

Thanks to everyone for posting on this topic! I'’s fun to find people reading what you've written. I like, and respect, people who disagree with me. It helps keep me honest with myself.

plunge,

>I think you may have misread Miller quite egregiously. First of all, Miller is a Catholic who has written quite extensively about how he feels public intellectuals misuse evolution to promote atheism. He's critized ID on precisely these grounds: that it plays right into the hands of atheists to present every further confirmation of evolution as a blow to religious belief.<

It wouldn’t be the first time. ; ) Thanks for setting me straight on Miller. Not being familiar with Mr. Miller's background, I had only the article to go on, so I apologize for any misrepresentation I may have made of him, or his position.

>>The controversy over this proposition that you are familiar with is not one occuring within science, but one occuring in the wider culture and politics.<<

I'm not sure about that. I agree with you that the vast majority of the controversy is occurring within the wider cultural picture, but I have met biologists (or at least university biology professors) who are rabid atheists that believe evolution is absolute truth. I've also met biologists who believe evolution is the mechanism that was used by God, and still other biologists who just plain think evolution is silly (not as many, to be sure) but don’t mention it openly for fear of repercussions.

>>Again, leaving out a key word mangles the meaning: not as absolute truth. Scientific truths are defined as evidential truths: they are what our best testing of the evidence can show us. Scientists like Miller are always careful to avoid claiming that science is some sort of revealed, holy writ: some absolute truth. That just not how it works: everything must constantly be tested and retested and open to disconfirmation should the evidence lead somewhere new.<<

And I agree with you, and I do think I screwed up in the way I wrote this. As a society we are expected to live, think and act according to a model proposed by scientific thought, and yet that model is inherently flawed. Scientific knowledge is highly malleable. It cannot, by its very nature, be considered absolute truth. And yet there are many scientists, even today, who think it is and teachers who present it as such.

To this day I hear, and read, people say things like "evolution is a proven fact" and yet the evidence to support it is not without flaw. It's at those times that I am reminded of the reception that Galileo got when he proposed that the Earth was not the center of the solar system. The "facts" that were known had flaws, and those "little details" (like the way the planets didn't move across the sky in perfect paths) brought the Earth-centric theory into question. How is ignoring evidence that brings evolution into question any different?

>>Now you're changing the goalposts. The Dover statement isn't about sincere questions about the validity of evolutionary theory. It's about trying to entirely bypass what the current scientific consensus is to insert someone's beliefs into schools without having to bother with formailities like evidence, argument, or anything else.<<

Not quite. Well, I'm not trying to change the goalposts, anyway. : ) I do think we need to bother with formalities like evidence and argument. That's why I'm against teaching ID in schools. What I see is a lack of that when teaching evolution.

>>Why shouldn't Deepak Chopra get to introduce his theories about "magical water" into science classes?<<

That's being taught in a science class? Oh, man. I hope not.

gordon,

>>And yes I do believe evolution as fact, I see everytime I deworm a horse. Evolution is documenting God's work. What else is "just a theory"? Gravity?<<

My brother would agree with you about evolution being a documentation of God's work, and I have a tough time arguing against it. By bringing God into it brings evolution into the realm of metaphysics, and out of the realm of science.

When you de-worm a horse, I think you are witnessing (and participating in) natural selection, not evolution. I don't think they're the same thing. I believe that using natural selection as evidence for evolution commits a logical fallacy known as ignoratio elenchi<= or "irrelevant conclusion." Simply put, natural selection doesn't actually prove evolution.

When it comes to the Dover case, I suspect that we are ultimately on the same side: no ID in the classroom, keep teaching evolution. I just hope that we will see less and less of teachers presenting evolution as absolute truth.