Skepticism

ID Again

My last entry here on Skepchick was indirectly (perhaps directly) related to the evolution/creation debate, and I don’t want to be a one-trick pony. But often one must dance to the music being played. So, I suppose I could say, “Strap in, because here we go again”.

You see, Bruce Chapman, President of the Discovery institute, wrote a guest column in today’s Seattle Times. Like most of you, I’ve grown somewhat weary of the same, tired arguments coming from IDers and creationists, but with Ben Stein’s movie coming to a theater near you, I thought I’d respond to the major points of the column one more time for your reading pleasure (or displeasure if you’re as weary as I am).

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Says Chapman: 

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” is a trenchant new film by actor/economist Ben Stein, the man first made famous in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” He’s now tackling with humorous dudgeon the classic example of ideological science, Darwinian evolution. Stein shows Darwinists insistently misrepresenting the scientific case against their theory. Where facts and reason might fail to persuade, personal attacks are employed, sometimes even by organizations supposedly committed to civil discourse.

Notice how he uses the term “ideological science”?

By definition, the word “science” can never, under any circumstances, have the word “ideological” as a modifier and have the usage be correct. Science is a tool devoid of ideologies. That is precisely why it works so well. Scientists may be ideological, but if they bring those ideologies into their work, they are not doing good science.

Notice also how he accuses Darwinists of misrepresenting ID, claiming that when facts and reason fail to persuade, Darwinists use personal attacks and insults?

He’s accusing proponents of evolution of doing exactly what the desperate, intellectually bankrupt IDers do. Later in the piece, he accuses science of being dogmatic. It’s like he’s looked at the arena in which this issue is being contested, but mixed up the players somehow.

This seems to be a go-to tactic used by people or groups desperately hanging on to ideas that have absolutely zero substance. The ID community cannot even begin to scratch the rock solid facts of evolution with their “theory”, so they try to play the victim to an unseen audience they think they can somehow appeal to.

The only problem is, heaps of sympathy don’t add merit to ideas masquerading as scientific. And even if the entire world feels sorry for you because the bad old evolutionists are meanies, your ideas of a grand designer still cannot pass scientific muster, because science is not contingent upon emotions. It works only to discover the truth, in whatever cold, unfavorable form it comes.

When I was taught Darwin’s theory in college more than four decades ago, it was represented as unassailable. But I also was taught in those days to respect academic freedom, which is a good standard to apply in any field.

Yes, but here’s what IDers and creationists don’t seem to understand about academic freedom: It’s a notion that says no subject matter should be unavailable for consumption in an institution of learning. As such, every single scientific principle should be made available to students. Each should be scrutinized and reviewed and discussed and scrutinized again. That’s exactly how they came to be scientific principles in the first place. And good science requires that process to continue as a means to further strengthen established principles and to discover new ones. No one in his right mind would argue with that.

However, academic freedom does notallow for any random, unsupported idea pulled from some knuckle-dragging idiot’s ass to be taught as a science course. At best, ID/creationism is a long-discarded hypothesis from the infant stages of cosmology or abiogenesis, along with the ideas of father sky coupling with mother earth and the universe being an atom in the smoke of some stoner’s hookah, and at worst, it’s a colossal waste of any academician’s time.

There have to be some guidelines, even within the framework of academic freedom. Otherwise I could claim academic freedom and teach that my strawberry Pop Tart discovered the Grand Canyon as legitimate history. 

In the 1990s, before intelligent design was added to the ideas studied at Discovery Institute, I learned about an assault on the academic freedom of Dean Kenyon, a biologist and author at San Francisco State University who had come to view Darwin’s theory as flawed. At first, the effort to restrain him from teaching seemed like just another skirmish over political correctness.

Just about every theory starts out flawed; it’s the degree of uncertainty that requires further investigation. The further examination then fills in the gaps, it adds to the strength of the idea, it moves the idea closer to certainty, it adjusts for the flaws. Again, that’s how science works. A flawed theory does not necessarily equate to an incorrect theory.

All the obstacles facing evolution have been systematically overcome by independent examiners, and any further flaws or missing pieces will likewise be addressed. It’s this process that makes evolution the single most powerful principle for explaining how species develop.

Then, following the Kenyon case, I began to examine the account of life’s development that I once had been taught so dogmatically.

Dogmatically??

I don’t think so. Chapman is again trying to project unsubstantiated characteristics onto science, and that’s simply dishonest.

Either that, or he needs to buy himself a good dictionary, and learn the meaning of “dogma”.

I suspect most of these fools know by now that science has no attendant dogma. Spouting this canard is simply one of the few tactics they have left. I mean, consider this: New evidence can come to light tomorrow, showing the entire field of biological evolution to be incorrect, and Richard Dawkins would still be a biologist. But if evidence came to light proving that Jesus never existed, the Pope would no longer be a Christian.

Which do you think is more dependent on dogma?

One after another of the demonstrations of the theory that supposedly were “certain” and “conclusive” when I was a student — such as Ernst Haeckel’s embryo drawings that showed various animals looking almost identical in the earliest stages of life — have been abandoned or replaced. What has not changed is the dogmatism.

Yes. As I’ve mentioned, science is self-correcting. That’s why it works so well.

And as I’ve also mentioned, there is no dogmatism. Chapman is simply incorrect.

I soon came to realize that differences over the development of life, unlike other disputes, spark so much controversy because the collateral stakes are higher than they seem.

No, if you conduct your life according to contrived mythologies, the collateral stakes seem higher than they are.

Where you stand on the origins question often influences your worldview on issues of human life, ranging from cloning to euthanasia.

No argument there.

Are we ultimately the product of purpose and design?

No. Not in regard to our origins.

If so, we would seem to be heirs to a more-or-less settled moral reality.

Perhaps it is settle, but our moral reality has nothing to do with purpose and design in regards to our origins. It has very much to do with the purpose we ourselves bring to our existence.

Or, is man the unguided “result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind,” as Harvard paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson wrote? In that case, perhaps we can conceive our own values.

Well, I try to increase my value as a productive human every single day. And I’m guessing to do that I must be able to conceive of it.

Our value as a collective, on the other hand, is what we make of it as a collective. Sometimes we do a good job. Sometimes we stink it up.

Public discussion on evolution is complicated further by confusion over words that lack any constant and agreed meaning. Terms like “evolve” and “theory” have different definitions in science than they do in everyday speech.

Yes, but it’s odd that creationists seem to be the only ones who confuse the words.

People frequently use the word “evolve” as a genteel way of saying “change,” as in, “The Toyota Camry has not evolved much this year.”

Uhh . . . No.

I’ve never heard anyone ever use the word “evolve” in that context. If I did, I would point out that species evolve, societies evolve, ideas evolve. Automobiles change.

My own ideas on evolution didn’t evolve; I changed my mind.

Chapman demonstrates further ignorance of evolution with this remark. If the overall idea in this case is evolution, at one point he had a working idea about the topic. Some parts of it seemed to work just fine, but others did not. He kept those that worked and discarded those that didn’t. Even if he continued this process until there was nothing left about the idea of evolution that worked for him, even if he allowed that process to continue until the idea of evolution was extinct in his mind, the idea EVOLVED.

Yet, he cannot see that.

Unfortunately, people sometimes are told that Darwinian evolution simply demonstrates “changes over time.” If that were so, how could any sensible person object to it? Even ardent critics of Darwinism accept “microevolution” — change over time within species. Animal and plant breeding, after all, are kinds of human-guided microevolution. Nature, too, plainly conducts microevolution.

But classical Darwinists such as Francisco Ayala and Richard Dawkins assert much more. Dawkins, for example, acknowledges that living organisms “give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” But, he argues that this appearance of design is completely misleading because undirected Darwinian processes — random mutations and natural selection — can produce the features of living systems that look designed. In Ayala’s words, natural selection produces “design without a designer.”

Advocates of the theory of intelligent design see things differently. They think there are discernible features of living systems and the universe that are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process like natural selection. They don’t dispute that life changes over time; they dispute that undirected processes produced all of that change. They see evidence of actual, not just illusory, design.

We know what they believe, but they have yet to show a single shred of evidence to support it. One cannot support a hypothesis or further it as a theory if there is no evidence.

That’s why I said earlier, “At best, ID/creationism is a long-discarded hypothesis from the infant stages of cosmology or abiogenesis, . . ., and at worst, it’s a colossal waste of any academician’s time”. 

For example, my colleague, philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, argues that digital code stored in the DNA molecule points to intelligent design. He notes that DNA stores information using sequences of chemicals that “function just like alphabetic characters in a written text or binary digits in a software code.” This discovery has profound implications.

As he explains, “Whenever we trace information back to its source — whether we are looking at an ancient hieroglyphic, a headline in a newspaper or software code in a computer program, we always come to an intelligent agent — to a mind, not a material process. So when we find information in life in the form of the digital code in DNA, the most likely explanation is that DNA also had an intelligent source.”

Umm . . . Yeah, but ancient hieroglyphics, newspaper headlines, and software code do not reproduce. That’s why he found an intelligent agent.

In a forthcoming book Meyer shows that the theory is scientifically testable.

Well, this will be interesting. Let’s hope it’s better than the other hypotheses IDers have backed as scientifically testable.

Still, many Darwinists charge that intelligent design, or ID, is “creationism in disguise.” But the case for ID is based on scientific evidence, not Scripture.

When when when when when when when when WHEN will we get to see some of this scientific evidence?????

None of this is to say that intelligent design doesn’t have larger implications. Arguably, ID is friendly to theism, just as Darwinism is friendly to atheism. That is what upsets the fervent atheist Richard Dawkins, who in “Expelled” says he can consider intelligent design as an explanation for the origin of life if it means space aliens brought life to Earth, but could not allow any possibility that God might have had a role in design.

Okay, I knew the real Bruce Chapman would rear his head eventually. These IDers can never keep the charade up for very long.

If ID is really science, why would it matter if it’s friendly to theism, or any philosophy for that matter?

It wouldn’t.

If it were science, it would explain the universe the way it does, completely independent of any proponents, any biases, or any diametrically opposed philosophies. Just like Darwinian evolution does. Darwinian evolution explains the development of species, and it would do so even if there was no such things as atheism, theism, deism, or any other -ism.

Creationism cannot boast such strength.

Of course, you don’t have to be religious to support ID. The British philosopher and longtime atheist, Antony Flew, for example, has embraced intelligent design. On the other hand, you don’t have to be an atheist to accept Darwinism; a few churches even celebrate “Darwin Day.” Most ID scientists (but not all) do believe in God and most Darwinists (but not all) do not. A 2003 Cornell University survey of leading evolutionary biologists showed that 87 percent rejected the existence of God.

So what? The personal bents of scientists and church-goers has absolutely no impact on the efficacy of evolution. Nor does it bolster the standing of ID.

The public hasn’t been told most of what I have just described. Many in the media typically define ID as a proposition that “life is so complex it must have been the product of a supernatural power.” But that mixes a scientific proposition with its philosophical implications. ID scientists don’t do that.

Huh??? . . . . What??? . . . . What’s an ID scientist? . . . And isn’t that exactly what ID proponents do?

Media also typically greet reports of evolutionary success with uncritical acclaim, while growing scientific dissent from Darwinism (more than 700 scientists have signed a “Dissent from Darwin” statement) and production of peer-reviewed science publications by pro-ID scientists are ignored.

Where are these peer-reviewed publications, and who are the peers reviewing the work? Have any independent lines of examination found with creationist ideas? Where is the science in “ID science”?

With all this in mind, you would think that people could agree that differences over matters of evidence on issue of life’s origins can best be resolved if different sides are asked to face off with their best spokesmen and their best arguments.

Been done, and ID failed miserably.

But instead of following such a policy, most Darwinists have avoided debates, and in universities have stooped to denial of academic tenure, promotions and even graduate-student status to dissenters. They either ignore the case against Darwin’stheory or debunk a straw-man version of it.

No, they debunk the shallow, mostly empty pile of nothing that it is. ID has lost.

 

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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14 Comments

  1. I keep my debunking of ID simple:

    If living things have “irreducible complexity” and therefore must have been designed, it follows that the designer is of equal or greater complexity. If so, what designed the designer? And what designed that designer?

  2. ID could be debunked in so many ways that I wouldn’t know where to start.

    First, just the ‘higher complexity’ argument: the ‘designer’ is clearly content with keeping the bulk of life in a primitive state. Add up all algae, fungi, bacteria and microbes and you get what, 95% of the biomass? 99%?

    ID is also a poor designer. Most species disappear after a couple million years. Even the ID top success, us, are hell-bent on destroying ourselves. What is killing us is uncontrolled growth, which we call ‘greed’ and is just a perversion of our very natural survival instinct. For that reason alone, I confess I don’t have much faith in our species future (and as an atheist, that’s something you must come to grips with, just as you come up to grips with the fact our lives end with our physical bodies). Why hasn’ t the Intelligent Designer come up with something smarter?

  3. Only problem is, this seems to happen every time I convince myself that most people are sufficiently reasonable to get along with each other, make progress, head towards a smarter, more just society-only to be surrounded by 1,000 screen filled with Ben Stein prattling his favorite brand of wackoism has been picked on.

    And then I get wound up, and, faced with the futility of sensible arguments in dealing with such people, I am equally frustrated by their unwillingness to meet me in single combat.

  4. Some cold mornings I awake to find that out of nowhere ice has appeared on my windows. When examined closely the ice has intricately designed little shapes. Definitive proof that Jack Frost exists and that evolution of ice formations is BS.

  5. Thanks for the kind words folks. I was very rushed last week when the article came out. I even asked the other contributors if they could address Chapman’s piece because I was busy with day job stuff, but at the end of the day, I went for it anyway.

    On a related note, according to IMDB (http://www.imdb.com/chart/), Expelled pulled in 3.5 million and was the #9 movie over the weekend.

    I wonder what the majority of those movie goers thought of it.

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