Here is an amazing op-ed column in the Los Angeles Times by "a human evolution writer for Science" journal no less, who is advocating that there be "A national debate over how best to explain the complexity of living organisms" between "leading proponents of intelligent design and our sharpest evolutionary biologists on a national television panel" and "If biblical literalists want to join in, let them." Also, "teachers to stage debates in their classrooms or in assemblies." My comments are in square brackets.
MICHAEL BALTER is a human evolution writer for Science. The views expressed above are his own.
October 2, 2005
Should "Intelligent DESIGN" be taught in school alongside the theory of evolution?
That's the question being tried in a federal court in Pennsylvania, where 11 parents have sued to block the teaching of intelligent design in Dover's high school. But it's the wrong question. A national debate over how best to explain the complexity of living organisms would better serve our children, and adults too.
[Actually, there never was any "teaching of intelligent design in Dover's high school." What the "11 parents have sued" the Dover board of education over is a 1-minute statement that made two main points: 1) Darwin's theory of evolution is not a fact; and 2) there is ID material in the school library:
The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part. Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations. Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves. With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards- based assessments." (Dover Area School District, "Biology Curriculum Press Release," Dover Area Board of Directors, December 12, 2004)
However, what Balter is proposing here (although he is a bit confusing about it) is not "the teaching of intelligent design in ... school" but a "A national debate" on TV "over how best to explain the complexity of living organisms.]
Most scientists don't want any debate. Many view intelligent design as simply a new and more sophisticated attempt - "the thinking man's creationism," as Science magazine put it - to slip old-time religion into the classroom. They maintain that the theory of evolution, in particular natural selection, is so well supported by the evidence that it is the consensus scientific view. As such, it deserves a monopoly in school curricula.
[Again, it is simply false that "intelligent design" is "creationism", for starters ID is based on the evidence of nature, and "creationism" is based on the Bible. Some IDists are not even theists and many creationists are opposed to ID.]
Using complex statistics, intelligent-design theorists contend that natural selection fails to fully explain life's complexity, thus alternative explanations to evolution should be considered. As a rule, they don't speculate over who or what did the designing.
[Which contradicts the claim that "intelligent design" is "creationism"!]
Intelligent-design proponents also argue that the scientific consensus on evolution is not rock solid. The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, whose Center for Science and Culture spearheads the intelligent-design campaign, has recruited more than 400 scientists to sign its "Scientific Dissent From Darwinism," which states in part: "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life."
[And I strongly suspect that those "400 scientists" would be just the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, I would not be surprised if there were not less than "400 scientists" in the whole world who would claim that "random mutation and natural selection" does "account for the complexity of life"!]
Opinion polls consistently show that a majority of Americans don't believe that the theory of evolution is the best explanation for our own origins. A November 2004 Gallup poll, for example, found that only 13% of respondents said they believed that God had no part in the evolution or creation of human beings, and 38% said they thought humans evolved from less-advanced forms but that God guided the process. About 45% said they believed that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 or so years. These results echoed similar Gallup polls dating to 1982.
[And it is only the view of the 13% that is "the standard scientific theory [of evolution] that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process'" (my emphasis):
"In one of the most existentially penetrating statements ever made by a scientist, Richard Dawkins concluded that `the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.' Facing such a reality, perhaps we should not be surprised at the results of a 2001 Gallup poll confirming that 45 percent of Americans believe `God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so'; 37 percent prefer a blended belief that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process'; and a paltry 12 percent accept the standard scientific theory that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process.'" (Shermer M.B., "The Gradual Illumination of the Mind," Scientific American, February 2002. My emphasis.)
The view of the 38% + 45% = 83% rejects "the standard scientific theory [of evolution]", despite decades of it having "a monopoly in school curricula."]
This suggests that scientists have won few converts during at least the last two decades - despite a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision banning the teaching of creationism in the classroom.
[Indeed, it is the stability of those poll results over more than "two decades" that is the most surprising, given evolution's State-sanctioned "monopoly in school curricula" in all that time.]
In large part, Americans' skepticism toward evolutionary theory reflects the continuing influence of religion. Yet it also implies that scientists have not been persuasive enough, even when buttressed by strong scientific evidence that natural selection alone can account for life's complexity.
[By "the continuing influence of religion" Balter tacitly admits that "the standard scientific theory that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process'" can only be accepted by philosophical naturalists (i.e. who either deny that there is a God or deny that God intervened supernaturally in life's history), who, if history is any guide, will always only be a minority. Agreed that "scientists have not been persuasive enough", but it is hard to see how they could do any better given their "monopoly in school curricula". The real reason that "the standard scientific theory" of evolution has made little (if any) headway in nearly a quarter of a century (1982-2004) is that they don't actually have "strong scientific evidence that natural selection alone can" (and what's more does) "account for life's complexity"!]
Could it be that the theory of evolution's judicially sanctioned monopoly in the classroom has backfired?
[Although I like the way he puts it: "judicially sanctioned monopoly in the classroom", this is where Balter gets confusing. It is unclear what he wants: "teaching of intelligent design in ... school" or "A national debate over how best to explain the complexity of living organisms"? But of course there is no reason why there could not be both, given that a TV debate is unlikely to do more that scratch the surface. Also, I don't agree that the problem is that it "backfired". The real problem is what made evolutionists seek a "judicially sanctioned monopoly in the classroom" in the first place, i.e. they know in their heart of hearts that the "scientific evidence that natural selection alone can account for life's complexity" just isn't there. And "two decades" of "evolution's judicially sanctioned monopoly in the classroom" has inadvertently taught that to the general public!]
For one thing, the monopoly strengthens claims by intelligent-design proponents that scientists don't want to be challenged.
[By George he's got it! The whole point of a "monopoly" is that it "doesn't want to be challenged". In the case of Darwinism, the public interpret that "doesn't want to be challenged" as `is afraid to be challenged" and therefore "they have chosen to rely on the dishonorable methods of power politics", including "employ[ing] propaganda and legal barriers to prevent relevant questions from being asked," and "rely[ing] on enforcing rules of reasoning that allow no alternative to the official story":
"In the final analysis, it is not any specific scientific evidence that convinces me that Darwinism is a pseudoscience that will collapse once it becomes possible for critics to get a fair hearing. It is the way the Darwinists argue their case that makes it apparent that they are afraid to encounter the best arguments against their theory. A real science does not employ propaganda and legal barriers to prevent relevant questions from being asked, nor does it rely on enforcing rules of reasoning that allow no alternative to the official story. If the Darwinists had a good case to make, they would welcome the critics to an academic forum for open debate, and they would want to confront the best critical arguments rather than to caricature them as straw men. Instead they have chosen to rely on the dishonorable methods of power politics." (Johnson P.E., "The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism," Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 2000, p.141)]
More important, it shields Darwinian theory from challenges that, when properly refuted, might win over adherents to evolutionary views.
[Agreed. But that is assuming that "Darwinian theory" both can and will be able to refute all such challenges.]
Pro-evolution scientists have little to lose and everything to gain from a nationwide debate. Let's put the leading proponents of intelligent design and our sharpest evolutionary biologists on a national television panel and let them take their best shots. If biblical literalists want to join in, let them. Let's encourage teachers to stage debates in their classrooms or in assemblies. [This has already been done in the 1997 Firing Line debate but it was inconclusive. I think such debates have a place but they are not a substitute for teaching the controversy in schools.]
Students can be assigned to one or the other side, and guest speakers can be invited. Among other things, students would learn that science, when properly done, reaches conclusions via experimentation, evidence and argument, not through majority view.
[Sounds great! But I wonder how many on Balter's side would agree? Their usual mantra is that "ID is not even science"!]
Would this bring religion into the classroom? Religious faith and thinking are already in the classroom, as the opinion polls strongly suggest. And the courts should stay out of it because educators would not be required nor allowed to advocate a religious point of view.
[But "the standard scientific theory that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process'" is "a religious point of view." Specifically, the theory of evolution's foundational assumption that all mutations in the history of life have been random in the sense of unguided, because there is "no mechanism ... that could guide mutation in directions that are non-random":
"There is a fifth respect in which mutation might have been nonrandom. We can imagine (just) a form of mutation that was systematically biased in the direction of improving the animal's adaptedness to its life. But although we can imagine it, nobody has ever come close to suggesting any means by which this bias could come about. It is only in this fifth respect, the 'mutationist' respect, that the true, real-life Darwinian insists that mutation is random. Mutation is not systematically biased in the direction of adaptive improvement, and no mechanism is known (to put the point mildly) that could guide mutation in directions that are non-random in this fifth sense. Mutation is random with respect to adaptive advantage, although it is non- random in all sorts of other respects. It is selection, and only selection, that directs evolution in directions that are nonrandom with respect to advantage." (Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker," , Penguin: London, 1991, reprint, p.312. Emphasis in original)
is inherently "a religious point of view", since God "could guide mutation in directions that are non-random" and to deny that is effectively atheism!]
The history of the theory of evolution is one of bitter debates between religion and science, and the debates continue today. In "On the Origin of Species," Charles Darwin refuted the arguments for intelligent design put forward by the 18th century English philosopher William Paley, who greatly influenced the evolutionary theorist until Darwin witnessed natural selection at work on the Galapagos Islands. Over the ensuing decades, Darwin's theories were rigorously tested and criticized before they won over the majority of scientists.
[This also is false. Darwin only mentioned "Paley" once in his On the Origin of Species and that was to agree with him:
"Natural selection will never produce in a being any structure more injurious than beneficial to that being, for natural selection acts solely by and for the good of each. No organ will be formed, as Paley has remarked, for the purpose of causing pain or for doing an injury to its possessor. If a fair balance be struck between the good and evil caused by each part, each will be found on the whole advantageous. After the lapse of time, under changing conditions of life, if any part comes to be injurious, it will be modified; or if it be not so, the being will become extinct as myriads have become extinct." (Darwin C.R., "The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection," , Everyman's Library, J.M. Dent & Sons: London, 6th Edition, 1928, reprint, p.187)
It was only in 1876, towards the end of his life, in his autobiography which was published posthumously, that Darwin claimed (and then only as a "vague conclusion") that "The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered":
"Although I did not think much about the existence of a personal God until a considerably later period of my life, I will here give the vague conclusions to which I have been driven. The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man. There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws." (Darwin C.R., in Barlow N., ed., "The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809-1882: With Original Omissions Restored," , W.W. Norton & Co: New York NY, 1969, reprint, pp.87)
But this is false, because as Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne pointed out, even if Darwin's theory was 100% true, Paley's design argument (which Swinburne calls "the argument from spatial order") could then be reconstructed from the eighteenth century analogy of "machines of the kind which men make " (e.g. a watch made by a watchmaker) to the "twentieth century" analogy of "men [who] make not only machines, but machine making machines" (e.g. an automated mass-production line):
"We can reconstruct the argument from spatial order as follows. We see around us animals and plants, intricate examples of spatial order in the ways which Paley set out, similar to machines of the kind which men make. We know that these animals and plants have evolved by natural processes from inorganic matter. But clearly this evolution can only have taken place, given certain special natural laws. These are first, the chemical laws stating how under certain circumstances inorganic molecules combine to make organic ones and organic ones combine to make organisms. And secondly, there are the biological laws of evolution stating how organisms have very many offspring, some of which vary in one or more characteristics from their parents, and how some of these characteristics are passed on to most offspring, from which it follows that, given shortage of food and other environmental needs, there will be competition for survival, in which the fittest will survive. Among organisms very well fitted for survival will be organisms of such complex and subtle construction as to allow easy adaptation to a changing environment. These organisms will evince great spatial order. So the laws of nature are such as, under certain circumstances, to give rise to striking examples of spatial order similar to the machines which men make. Nature, that is, is a machine-making machine. In the twentieth century men make not only machines, but machine making machines. They may therefore naturally infer from nature which produces animals and plants, to a creator of nature similar to men who make machine-making machines." (Swinburne R.G., "The Existence of God," Clarendon Press: Oxford UK, Revised Edition, 1991, pp.135-136)
This BTW is one good reason why evolution should not have "a monopoly in school curricula": evolutionists make a lot of false statements not only about creation and intelligent design, but also about evolution, that they are never able to be challenged on.]
The best way to teach the theory of evolution is to teach this contentious history. The most effective way to convince students that the theory is correct is to confront, not avoid, continuing challenges to it.
[Balter is to be commended for advocating what is the ID movement's "teach the controversy" position. It will be interesting to see how many on his side agree with him!]
Given the opportunity to debate, scientists should say: "Bring it on."
[Agreed that "Given the opportunity to debate, scientists should say: "Bring it on." So why then don't evolutionary "scientists"? Anyway, "debate" is not the only, or even the best, means of resolving (or at least clarifying) the evolution/intelligent design controversy. But it is a start. What really should happen is that ID scientists should have unfettered access to scientific journals to publish their ID theories on their merits, without them being rejected out of hand or later withdrawn, as not even being "science" on question- begging naturalistic (and therefore false) philosophical grounds.]