Monday, September 26, 2005

The trouble with Darwin, etc

Two different articles on ID with my comments in square brackets:

The trouble with Darwin, Sydney Morning Herald, September 24, 2005, Damien Murphy. As in the US, intelligent design is challenging evolution in Christian schools here. The brawl between evolutionists and religious neo-conservatives over how life began is coming down to the survival of the slickest. For about 150 years Charles Darwin's evolution theory has held sway. But a new American theory, intelligent design, is getting a lot of press as scientists and intellectuals rush to the barricades to dismiss intelligent design as little else than "creationism" rebadged. Already a DVD featuring American scientists claiming intelligent causes are responsible for the origin of the universe and life has become Australia's biggest-selling religious video and intelligent design is starting to permeate school courses. Next year, hundreds of Catholic schools ... will use new religious education textbooks that discuss intelligent design. ... year 9 and 10 students at Pacific Hills Christian School have begun learning about intelligent design in science classes. The chief executive of Christian Schools Australia, Stephen O'Doherty, says it is inevitable other schools will follow suit. Until last month, few Australians had heard of it. But debate broke out internationally on August 1 when the US President, George Bush, told reporters he supported combining lessons on evolution with discussion of intelligent design. "Both sides ought to be properly taught," Bush said. Last month, the federal Minister for Education, Science and Training, Dr Brendan Nelson, gave intelligent design ministerial imprimatur, telling the National Press Club he thought parents and schools ought to have the opportunity - if they wished - for students to be exposed to intelligent design and taught about it. Nelson's office said his comments were unplanned. But his interest had been pricked by a parliamentary visit on June 20 by Bill Hodgson, head of the Sydney-based campus Crusade for Christ, who left a copy of a DVD Unlocking the Mystery of Life with Nelson. The DVD featured a US mathematician, William Dembski, and other leading American intelligent design proponents claiming the complexity of biological systems is proof of an organising intelligence. "ID is the study of patterns in nature that are best explained as the result of intelligence," Dembski said. The DVD is distributed in Australia by a Melbourne-based Christian group, Focus on the Family. Its executive director, Colin Bunnett, says until Nelson's comments only 1000 copies had been sold over four years. "But it's taken off. We've sold thousands in the last few weeks," he says. The intelligent design debate has more resonance in the US, partly because teaching about the beginning of life is problematic. A Harris poll in June found that 55 per cent of American adults support teaching evolution, creationism, and intelligent design in public schools ... In Australia, the issue has been less hard-edged. ... Of late, leading scientists have rebuffed intelligent design. The Nobel Prize-winning scientist Peter Doherty says it has no place in a science curriculum and the physicist Paul Davies rejects it as creationism in disguise. Dembski ... said it should be taught with evolution in schools but not be mandated. "Evolutionary theory and intelligent design both have a scientific core: the question whether certain material mechanisms are able to propel an evolutionary process and the question whether certain patterns in nature signify intelligence are both squarely scientific questions," Dembski says. "Nevertheless, they have profound philosophical and religious implications." ... [On balance a good summary of where ID is at the moment in Australia. The scientific naturalists still have nothing new to say except their false mantra that `ID is creationism and therefore not science.' This will backfire on them as the public (and indeed other open-minded scientists) realize that for starters, ID is based on the evidence of nature, not the Bible. BTW, I have ordered "Unlocking the Mystery of Life" today.]

`Intelligent design' faces first big court test, MSNBC, September 23, 2005. A federal judge in Pennsylvania will hear arguments Monday in a lawsuit that both sides say could set the fundamental ground rules for how American students are taught the origins of life for years to come. At issue is an alternative to the standard theory of evolution called "intelligent design." Proponents argue that the structure of life on Earth is too complex to have evolved through natural selection ... Instead, contend adherents of intelligent design, life is probably the result of intervention by an intelligent agent. Intelligent design has been bubbling up since 1987, when the Supreme Court ruled that public schools could not teach the biblical account of creation instead of evolution, because doing so would violate the constitutional ban on establishment of an official religion. Critics deride intelligent design as creationism gussied up for the courts; advocates say it is an explicitly scientific construct that makes no supposition about the identity or nature of the designer. .... the trial that opens Monday is believed to be the first time a federal court has been asked to decide the fundamental question: Is intelligent design religion or science? Finally, a chance for a definitive ruling The Pennsylvania case "is probably the most important legal situation of creation and evolution in the last 18 years," said Eugenie Scott.... "This will be the first legal challenge to intelligent design, and we'll see whether they have been able to mask the creationist underpinnings and basic orientation of intelligent design," she said. Regardless who wins, "it will have quite a significant impact on what happens in American public school education." The suit, brought by 11 parents, challenges the Dover Area School District's adoption last year of an addition to the science curriculum directing teachers - in addition to teaching evolution - to tell students about intelligent design and refer them to an alternative textbook that champions it. ... Their case was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation for Church and State, with support from Scott's organization. The school board is being defended pro bono by the Thomas More Law Center ... The case is being heard without a jury in Harrisburg by U.S. District Judge John Jones III, whom President Bush appointed to the bench in 2002. Science organizations have generally turned their backs on forums in which they have been challenged to defend Darwinian evolution, on the theory that engaging the intelligent design school in any way is to take its ideas too seriously. ... The Pennsylvania case, however, gives scientists the chance to go on the attack, forcing intelligent-design advocates to defend their beliefs. But because local school boards have almost complete latitude to set the content of the curriculum, the plaintiffs must navigate a narrow path. It isn't enough for them to discredit intelligent design - indeed, that is almost irrelevant to the legal question. Instead, what they must do is show that the school board's decision would have an unconstitutionally religious purpose and effect, Scott said. Even so, Scott and others make no bones about their principal motivation: Intelligent design as science is bogus, they insist, and teaching it is a grave disservice to students. "Intelligent design is simply the most recent version of creationism, which is admittedly a religious concept," said Alan Leshner ... of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science ... "There is no scientific basis to intelligent design." ... This is where things get sticky, because it all boils down to a basic argument over just what is evolution and what is religion. Advocates have labored for years to have intelligent design be taken seriously as science. Although many of the leading thinkers in the movement openly acknowledge their Christian faith, they also sport Ph.D.s in hard science and maintain that their suppositions are rooted in principled observance of the scientific method. And they generally have no problem with much of evolutionary theory, which can - in part -be stated as the change of species over time. Evidence, they agree, amply bears out this observation, which is known as micro-evolution. Where they dissent is in what's known as macro- evolution - the transformation over time of a species into another species. The distinction is drawn in "Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins," the alternative text endorsed by the Dover school board: "Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact - fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks and wings. Some scientists have arrived at this view since fossil forms first appear in the rock record with their primitive features intact, rather than gradually developing." In other words, their argument is not so much with evolution per se as it is with what they see as the failure of evolution to account for how it all started. It is perfectly reasonable as science, they believe, to explore whether an outside agent triggered diversity of complex biological structures seemingly engineered to sustain life on Earth. Intelligent-design supporters are careful to say they don't know who or what that outside agent was, but to the large majority of biologists, that's beside the point: Science is concerned with the natural world, while intelligent design supposes an agent independent of the natural world. You can teach such concepts, Leshner and Scott say; indeed, you should - just do it in philosophy and religion and literature classes. Don't do it in science classes, because, by definition, that's religion. It isn't science. "If we human beings evolved as a result of natural cause, are we special to God? Does life then have some sort of purpose?" Scott asked. They're legitimate questions, but "these are issues that are outside of science," she said. "These are not issues that should be part of the science curriculum." ... The Dover case raises difficult issues for many advocates of intelligent design, who sometimes feel as if they're dismissed as rubes or Bible thumpers trying to wiggle God back into the classroom in a white lab coat. Indeed, the Discovery Institute - the Seattle-based think tank that is the intellectual engine of the movement - finds itself opposing both sides. While it criticized the ACLU for pursuing an "Orwellian" stifling of scientific debate, it also disagreed with the Dover school board's vote last year. "Discovery Institute strongly opposes the ACLU's effort to make discussions of intelligent design illegal. At the same time, we disagree with efforts to get the government to require the teaching of intelligent design," the institute said in a statement this week. "Misguided policies like the one adopted by the Dover School District are likely to be politically divisive and hinder a fair and open discussion of the merits of intelligent design among scholars and within the scientific community, points we have made repeatedly since we first learned about the Dover policy in 2004." Regardless, the end result could be some judicial proclamation of that kind. Because the losing side is likely to appeal every step of the way, the case may well end up at the Supreme Court, leading to a ruling that could set a national precedent. That is "a disturbing prospect," the Discovery Institute said - judges should not be telling scientists "what is legitimate scientific inquiry and what is not." ... [See previous post on this. A good summary of the issues in this case. I agree with Scott that this "is probably the most important legal [case] of creation and evolution in the last 18 years" (even though ID is not "creation"). But I strongly disagree with "Of Pandas and People", that ID "means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact - fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks and wings." That is confusing separate creations with ID, and contradicts what other IDists have said, e.g.:

"Where does intelligent design fit within the creation-evolution debate? Logically, intelligent design is compatible with everything from utterly discontinuous creation (e.g., God intervening at every conceivable point to create new species) to the most far-ranging evolution (e.g., God seamlessly melding all organisms together into one great tree of life). For intelligent design the primary question is not how organisms came to be (though, as we've just seen, this is a vital question for intelligent design) but whether organisms demonstrate clear, empirically detectable marks of being intelligently caused. In principle an evolutionary process can exhibit such `marks of intelligence' as much as any act of special creation." (Dembski W.A., "Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology," InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 1999, pp.109-110)

However, I agree that sudden appearance and stasis is a problem for Darwinism, and therefore indirectly evidence for ID. Leshner and Scott are irrational when they say that it is OK to teach ID "in philosophy and religion and literature classes" but not "in science classes." If teaching ID really is a violation of the First Amendment then it would be just as unconstitutional to teach it in non-science classes as in science classes. Anyway, as Scott points out, the anti-ID side " must ... show that the school board's decision would have an unconstitutionally religious purpose and effect", and this is where IMHO they are going to come unstuck. In 1987 the issue was teaching "creation science", which was Bible-based. But in 2005 the issue is teaching (in fact just reading out a 1-minute statement!) "intelligent design" which is based on the evidence of nature, not the Bible. Also, in 1987 one of the world's leading atheists, Antony Flew had not yet concluded that the scientific evidence for intelligent design in the origin of life and complexity of DNA was so strong that God must have created the first living cell, as he did in 2004! So hopefully Justice Scalia's dissenting opinion, that:

"The people of Louisiana, including those who are Christian fundamentalists, are quite entitled, as a secular matter, to have whatever scientific evidence there may be against evolution presented in their schools" (Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 594, 1987)
will prevail. That the judge is a Bush appointee makes that seem more likely. It will be interesting to see if they lose this case, the Darwinists decide not to appeal to the Supreme Court because of the risk of losing there also, which would be catastrophic for them. OTOH, if the ID side loses here, they would have little to lose and much to gain by appealing to the Supreme Court.]

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

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