Thursday, December 01, 2011

One Problem with Intelligent Design Creationism

 
There are many different ideas about creators but they all share one common feature; namely, they postulate the existence of a supernatural creator who is directly responsible for creating some parts of the universe (usually the whole thing!).

Intelligent Design Creationism is a version of creationism that focuses on the creation of life. Proponents of this version claim that god played a direct role in creating some parts of living organisms. They concentrate on biochemical structures like bacterial flagella and folded proteins but they're also interested in things like speciation and the Cambrian explosion.

Evolution can explain most of the things that the Intelligent Design Creationists worry about so their main overt activities are concentrated on discrediting evolution and discrediting those scientists who support scientific explanations of biology. Given this necessity, you'd think that the leading proponents of IDC would be quite knowledgeable about biology and evolution.

Not true. It's quite easy to show that Intelligent Design Creationists do not understand evolution (or biochemistry, for that matter). The most obvious example is their continued use of the word "Darwinist" to describe their opponents. Even the ones that have considerable training in biochemistry, (e.g. Behe, Axe) demonstrate a remarkable ignorance of modern ideas about molecular evolution.

Here's the problem: this doesn't seem to be an issue with most Intelligent Design Creationists. They think that being an expert in biochemistry, biology, and evolution is NOT a requirement in the fight against evolution. They seem to honestly believe that experts from outside these fields—experts such as engineers, computer scientists, philosophers, lawyers, and theologians—are quite capable of refuting evolution and showing that intelligent design is the only reasonable scientific conclusion.

That's why many of the leading lights in the movement—such as William Dembski, Casey Luskin, Stephen Meyer, and David Berlinski have no expertise in biology/evolution. Like I said earlier, it's trivial to show that these creationists don't know what they're talking about when they discuss evolution but that doesn't seem to matter to anyone at the Discovery Institute. It's almost as if they treat that ignorance as a badge of honor—something to be proud of.

I was reminded of this today when I read Denyse O'Leary's latest post on Uncommon Descent. She's promoting the views of Evgeny Selensky, a Russian scholar who supports the intelligent design version of creationism. You can read his original essay here: Intelligent Design: pro et contra. Denyse's promo is at UD Commenter ES’s pro-con worldview and scientific issues summary on ID. Denyse is impressed by anyone who claims to be a scientist and opposes evolution.
This is a very useful summary from one who is not a part of the North American debate, so it is good to be able to see what he state of the debate looks like through fresh eyes.

In this case, one whose eyes are shaped by having grown up during the Soviet and post Soviet era in Russia, who is a qualified physicist, a theologian, and a practising computer programmer.

So, let us take due note.
If you think about it for a minute, you'll realize that this is truly bizarre. Here's a man, Evgeny Selensky, who knows almost nothing about biology or evolution but feels qualified to talk about it. Why? Because there's something bigger than biology that trumps all the inconvenient biological facts that argue against creationism. This is how Selensky puts it ...
Classical Darwinism also maintains descent of all known life forms from one or several common ancestors. This is also in contradiction with the traditional ecclesiastical perspective, in particular with the teaching about the Person of Christ. Revelation has it that God put on human flesh and does not say anything positive on whether it follows that God through his incarnation in the Person of Jesus Christ has also put on animal flesh. On the contrary, even though the building blocks of human and animal flesh are the same, human and animal natures are different. In Judeo-Christian revelation there are pointers to a striking difference between the creation of man and the creation of other life. Of course, we do not know how exactly it was done, but while man came into being by some kind of direct mysterious act of creation the other forms of life that preceded him were created indirectly (cf. "Let Us make man in Our image" (Gen. 1:26), and "let the land produce leaving creatures" (Gen.1:24)).

If we look further, not only Christianity but all known religions have it in common that man bears in himself something divine. I think this commonality alone deserves serious consideration.

Finally, ID posits that biological systems bear a signature of intelligent agency and consequently they are not a result of some spontaneous undirected processes. For this reason, in contrast to evolutionism, ID is not in conflict with Orthodox Christian theology.
Most of us aren't particularly shocked when we read this because we've known all along that Intelligent Design Creationism isn't about biology or evolution (or law, or computer science). It's about god.

It looks like Denyse O'Leary is finally coming right out and saying that it's all about religion. I wonder if she's going to get in trouble with the Discovery Institute for blowing their cover?

If I'm right about this, then Intelligent Design Creationism isn't going to be killed off by showing that their science is wrong.1 It certainly isn't going to be killed by any court cases in the United States of America, otherwise it would have disappeared after McLean v. Arkansas in 1981.

Jason Rosenhouse [Twenty Years After Darwin on Trial, ID is Dead] and Jerry Coyne [Jason Rosenhouse pronounces intelligent design dead] disagree. They think that Intelligent Design Creationism is dead. Here's how Jerry puts it ...
. . . and he’s [Rosenhouse] absolutely right. All the bluster of intelligent design (ID), once so visible in books like Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box and Phillip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial, has been reduced to pathetic sniping at evolutionary biologists on a few ID websites. The arguments of IDers have been countered, the ID “science” that, we were told, was “right around the corner” hasn’t made an appearance, and their same refuted arguments keep cropping up.
New arguments like those in The Myth of Junk DNA, The Edge of Evolution and Signature in the Cell keep cropping up like the moles in the famous game. Make no mistake, some of those arguments aren't easy to refute. I dare say most evolutionists can't do it.

However, Jason and Jerry are wrong for another reason. Intelligent Design Creationism is not about science. It's about creationism.

Here's the comment I posted on Why Evolution Is True
I was watching television the other day and I saw a debate involving candidates for the Republican nomination for President of the United States.

Most of them were creationists and most of them mouthed the standard slogans of Intelligent Design Creationism.

If that’s what a dead horse looks like, I urge you all to keep beating it before it gets up and bites you in places you won’t like.

Jerry, you and Jason are being very naive. Intelligent Design Creationism is a “movement” not a scientific hypothesis. It’s about as dead as homeopathy and astrology.


1. Although it's still important to show that their science is wrong.

13 comments :

  1. Agreed, mostly. But I like Rob Pennock's characterization, he says that ID has been "spinning its wheels" since Dover. If you think back to 1996-2004, ID was getting some serious attention in politics (e.g. Kansas), and Phillip Johnson, Behe, and Wells were getting positive attention or a place at the table in some annoying places (all the other IDists were probably 10% or less of those three). There is a lot less of that now -- they are mostly talking to themselves.

    Creationism always burbles along at the grass-roots level -- e.g. trouble with policies in Texas, Louisiana, etc. And eventually some new strategy/personality gets them excited and gives them hope, leading to another court case. The cycle seems to be about 15-20 years, so give it another few...

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  2. Heh, a computer programmer, eh? IOW: another candidate for the Salem Hypothesis.

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  3. Ooo, it chills me that she called it a "North American" debate. I'd strongly like to think it's mostly "debatable" south of the Great Lakes... or, better still, south of the Ohio River.

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  4. 'North american debate'?

    Hmm, is that why they are sending their appalling literature to schools in the UK?

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  5. Of course it's about religion. This has led "conservative" Republicans in particular to become the party of "Who you gonna believe, me or your lyin' eyes/scientific data?", where complete belief in the utter denial of reality in both the "hard" (biology, climatology) and "soft" (economics - the recession was caused by the US government forcing banks to lend money to people in African-American neighborhoods to buy homes; the way out of it is to eliminate taxes on multibillionaires) sciences is a prerequisite for membership and thus election.

    So the question is, when the 15-20 year cycle Nick spoke of comes 'round again, what will the demographics of religion be in the US as a whole and in politically important regions?

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  6. NickM, when so many US presidential candidates argue publicly and loudly in favor of ID, how can you say "If you think back to 1996-2004, ID was getting some serious attention in politics (e.g. Kansas), and Phillip Johnson, Behe, and Wells were getting positive attention or a place at the table in some annoying places (all the other IDists were probably 10% or less of those three). There is a lot less of that now -- they are mostly talking to themselves."

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  7. I was reminded of this today when I read Denyse O'Leary's latest post on Uncommon Descent. She's promoting the views of Evgeny Selensky, a Russian scholar who supports the intelligent design version of creationism. You can read his original essay here: Intelligent Design: pro et contra. Denyse's promo is at UD Commenter ES’s pro-con worldview and scientific issues summary on ID. Denyse is impressed by anyone who claims to be a scientist and opposes evolution.


    In the interest of accuracy I believe the posting was by Kairosfocus (Mr. Prolix...)

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  8. I posted under anon because your comment section is a pain in the a** though my name is David Leech.

    Couldn't agree more with this, I have a Christian friend who has a biochemistry degree from Manchester university no less and still will not accept evolution is true simply because of his beliefs . It really is bewildering as I'm good friends with his brother who is an atheist with a computer studies degree so it is not indoctrination that is to blame here. Some people just want to believe so bad that reality itself has to be compromised for it. Apologetics, theology and even ID are the things they will cling to rather than let go of god.

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  9. Larry is, if course, right about this. ID is the mutated offspring of "creation science" which, in turn, was the offspring of the same reaction to "modernism" in Biblical studies and "naturalism" (we can quibble whether it is methodological or philosophical) in science that also lead to the rise of Fundamentalism. It's not going away anytime soon because it is an adaptation that well fits the environment of those who have their fingers buried knuckle deep in their ears, their eyes screwed tight shut and are humming as loud as they can "Nearer My God to Thee." It may (indeed, has) evolved before and will do so again but it is unlikely to go extinct.

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  10. NickM, when so many US presidential candidates argue publicly and loudly in favor of ID, how can you say...

    The USA is a funny place; I think both what NickM said and what Larry said are true.

    I don't think as large a proportion of the population is interested in ID as was the case when Dover happened. Not a statistically valid survey on my part, just an impression of how often I hear about the subject or see ID books prominently displayed in bookstores. (Wonder how Wells' book is doing on Amazon?)

    I think at the same time, that of the minority of the population (around low 20% range in polls IIRC) who are bedrock Republicans, a very large proportion *are* supporters of ID, climate change deniers, etc. Thus the Republican Presidential candidates all have to kowtow.

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  11. To echo what "anonymous" said, I have a colleague with a PhD in Biochemistry and an academic appointment to to teach the subject whose Roman Catholicism leads him to, not only reject evolution particularly human evolution, but to give serious consideration to the blatherings of Bill Dembski. I have no doubt that he would fail any student attempting such third-rate scholarship in theologically-unthreatening biochemistry. It is frightening that he can turn on and off the spigot of his intelligence, leaving his mind empty when directed at facts that challenge the Judeo-Christian mythos.

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  12. OT but on the subject of junk DNA, there was a talk at the recent Skepticon conference on it by PZ Myers which may be of interest to some of the readers of this blog as Prof. Moran has posted many threads on the subject.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=DRsN7w7iW08

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  13. I think that as long as they can convince the public that evolution is spontaneous and undirected then they will be able to remain in the public discourse.

    No, there is no teleogical goal in evolution, but it is directed towards survival and it obeys the laws of physics and chemistry.

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