Monday, August 08, 2005

"The Evolution Wars" (TIME, August 15, 2005) #1

This is part #1 of a planned multi-part critique of the articles under the cover story, "The Evolution Wars," in TIME magazine, August 15, 2005, pages 52-59. Over the coming weeks, I will work my way through the entire series of articles (interspersed with posts on other topics), and in so doing should cover many of the issues in the modern evolution vs intelligent design (ID) controversy.

But before considering the first article, the cover poses the following question:
The push to teach "intelligent design" raises a question: Does God have a place
in science class?
This is an example of how evolutionists often resort to logical fallacies, in this case a form of the fallacy of false alternative (or false dilemma), that "intelligent design" is necessarily equivalent to "God". But clearly the question, "is there empirically detectable evidence of intelligent design in nature?", is a separate question from "who (or what) is the designer(s)?"

For example, if it is shown that the origin of the minimal self-replicating cell far exceeds the unintelligent natural process resources of the universe, which former atheist philosopher Antony Flew in fact now does accept:
"First, a substantial case of agreement. Richard Dawkins has famously asserted that `Natural selection the blind automatic process which Darwin has discovered we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life.' Against that claim I pointed out, after quoting a significant sentence from the fourteenth and final chapter of The Origin of Species, that one place where, until a satisfactory naturalistic explanation has been developed, there would appear to be room for an Argument to Design is at the first emergence of living from non-living matter. And, unless that first living matter already possessed the capacity to reproduce itself genetically, there will still be room for a second argument to Design until a satisfactory explanation is found for its acquisition of that capacity. You have in your book deployed abundant evidence indicating that it is likely to be a very long time before such naturalistic explanations are developed, if indeed there ever could be." (Flew A.G.N., "Full Review by Anthony Flew." Review of "The Wonder of the World : A Journey from Modern Science to the Mind of God," by Roy Abraham Varghese, Tyr Publishing: Fountain Hills AZ, 2004. Tyr Publishing, News Release, December 10, 2004)
then that does not of itself prove who the designer was. In Flew's case, he regards the designer as the deistic god of Thomas Jefferson:
"A British philosophy professor who has been a leading champion of atheism for more than a half-century has changed his mind. He now believes in God -- more or less -- based on scientific evidence, and says so on a video released Thursday. At age 81, after decades of insisting belief is a mistake, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe. A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature, Flew said in a telephone interview from England. Flew said he's best labeled a deist like Thomas Jefferson, whose God was not actively involved in people's lives. "I'm thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins," he said. "It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose." ... Over the years, Flew proclaimed the lack of evidence for God while teaching at Oxford, Aberdeen, Keele, and Reading universities in Britain ... There was no one moment of change but a gradual conclusion over recent months for Flew, a spry man who still does not believe in an afterlife. Yet biologists' investigation of DNA "has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved," Flew says in the new video, "Has Science Discovered God?" ... The first hint of Flew's turn was a letter to the August- September issue of Britain's Philosophy Now magazine. "It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism," he wrote. ... Flew told The Associated Press his current ideas have some similarity with American "intelligent design" theorists, who see evidence for a guiding force in the construction of the universe." (Ostling R.N., "One of the world's leading atheists now believes in God, more or less," San Francisco Chronicle, December 9, 2004)
whereas a Christian IDist like me would assume (but could not prove) that the designer was "the God of the Christian" and a Muslim IDist would likewise assume the designer was "the God of Islam."

Indeed, an agnostic IDist like Michael Denton rejects an actual personal designer and instead he regards design as being an inherent property of the laws of nature, stating that his "teleological argument ... and the special creationist worldview are mutually exclusive accounts of the world":
"Because this book presents a teleological interpretation of the cosmos which has obvious theological implications, it is important to emphasize at the outset that the argument presented here is entirely consistent with the basic naturalistic assumption of modern science-that the cosmos is a seamless unity which can be comprehended ultimately in its entirety by human reason and in which all phenomena, including life and evolution and the origin of man, are ultimately explicable in terms of natural processes. is an assumption which is entirely opposed to that of the so-called `special creationist school.' According to special creationism, living organisms are not natural forms, whose origin and design were built into the laws of nature from the beginning, but rather contingent forms analogous in essence to human artifacts, the result of a series of supernatural acts, involving God's direct intervention in the course of nature, each of which involved the suspension of natural law. Contrary to the creationist position, the whole argument presented here is critically dependent on the presumption of the unbroken continuity of the organic world-that is, on the reality of organic evolution and on the presumption that all living organisms on earth are natural forms in the profoundest sense of the word, no less natural than salt crystals, atoms, waterfalls, or galaxies. In large measure, therefore, the teleological argument presented here and the special creationist worldview are mutually exclusive accounts of the world. In the last analysis, evidence for one is evidence against the other. Put simply, the more convincing is the evidence for believing that the world is prefabricated to the end of life, that the design is built into the laws of nature, the less credible becomes the special creationist worldview." (Denton M.J., "Nature's Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe," Free Press: New York NY, 1998, pp.xvii-xviii. Emphasis in original)
So the charitable assumption is that those journalists and/or editors who claim that "to teach `intelligent design'" is to give "God ... a place in science class" are simply ignorant of the subject that they are writing about and need to do their homework. The other alternative is that they know all the above but are being less than honest with their readers. But in the case of ID, it is hard to believe that the presumably top-flight journalists and editors of TIME are ignorant of that subject (especially since the articles in this very issue shows they are not)!

[To be continued in part #2]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol)
Problems of Evolution"

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