Thursday, November 03, 2005

Evolution of intelligent design, etc

Here are news items with my comments in square brackets.

Evolution of intelligent design: From prime-time television to courthouses, group gains ground in anti-Darwin effort, Chicago Tribune, Lisa Anderson, October 30, 2005 ... HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Fictional presidential candidate Matt Santos on NBC's "The West Wing" recently discussed it, as did real-life President George Bush in the White House, not to mention "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart, more than three dozen Nobel laureates and numerous school boards across the country. A decade ago most Americans had never heard of intelligent design, or ID. But, in the last year, the term has surfaced repeatedly in politics, media and education as the rallying point for religious conservatives in the culture war over the teaching of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Although polls show about half of Americans still don't recognize the expression, the background and meaning of ID are focal points of a landmark 1st Amendment case unfolding here in Pennsylvania's capital. A very old phrase that gained new currency about a decade ago, ID presents itself as an alternative scientific theory to evolution. It posits that some aspects of the natural world that are not yet explained by Darwin suggest design by an unnamed intelligent agent. The prime engine propelling the dissemination of ID is the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank whose $4 million budget is heavily funded by conservative Christian donors. Discovery's Center for Science & Culture, which used to be the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, laid out its goals in a 1999 fundraising document called "The Wedge Strategy." Determined to drive a "wedge" into the tree trunk of "scientific materialism," it said, "Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialistic worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions." John West, associate director of the Center for Science & Culture, pointed out that the wedge proposal was a plan, not a scholarly document. "That document was about more than intelligent design. It was about the larger cultural context and the anti-religious agenda of some people in the name of science," he said. ... The Center for Science & Culture's five-year plan, much of which already has been achieved, called for funding research fellows at major universities, publishing numerous articles and books on ID, generating significant media coverage and getting 10 states to include ID in science curricula. Discovery says it doesn't want schools to mandate the teaching of ID, but to "teach the controversy." Most scientists say there is no controversy. Pennsylvania is the first state to see ID included in a school district's curriculum, but Ohio and Minnesota and at least one district in New Mexico include critical analysis of evolution in their science standards. Kansas is expected to do so this fall. More than 24 state and local authorities have considered similar changes to their science curricula over the last year, according to the National Center for Science Education, a California-based non-profit group dedicated to defending the teaching of evolution in public schools. A week ago, intelligent design made its European debut in Prague, Czech Republic, at an international scientific conference drawing some 700 people from Europe, Africa and the U.S. .... Many who spoke at "Darwin and Design: A Challenge for 21st Century Science" were from the Discovery Institute, including Stephen Meyer, the Cambridge University-educated director of the Center for Science & Culture. Of the Discovery Institute's strategy, Jerry Coyne, a professor in the ecology and evolution department at the University of Chicago, said, "They're smart people, in general, with respectable academic positions and degrees. ... It's their media savvy, combined with their money. And they have learned a lot of lessons from the old creationists, that is to be much less evangelical." ... Because ID makes no mention of the Bible or the divine, some critics call it "Neo-Creo," that is, a new version of creationism's adherence to the Genesis account of creation. They view its secular language as a tactic to skirt the Supreme Court's 1987 decision finding creationism a religious belief and banning it from public school classrooms as a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state. Proponents of ID particularly criticize the mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection, by which all life, including humans, evolved from a common ancestor over some 4 billion years, according to Darwin's theory, which most scientists laud as the cornerstone of modern biology. Every major U.S. scientific organization and the aforementioned group of Nobelists dismiss ID and say there is no credible controversy over evolution. They consider ID a new bottle with a high-tech label for the old wine of natural theology, creationism and scientific creationism, serial concepts based to some degree on the biblical account of creation. ID is "creationism in a cheap tuxedo," according to Leonard Krishtalka, director of the Kansas Museum and Biodiversity Research Center at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. Not so, said William Dembski, a Discovery fellow and leading ID proponent, who directs the Center for Science and Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. "Creationism was consciously trying to model the science on a certain interpretation of Genesis. You don't have anything like that in intelligent design," said Dembski, who holds doctorates in mathematics from the University of Chicago and in philosophy from the University of Illinois and a master of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. ... Long before evolution, creationism or ID, there was natural theology, a popular concept based on reason and observation rather than Scripture. In his 1802 book "Natural Theology," British theologian and philosopher William Paley made his famous "watchmaker" argument. Paley said that if one stumbled across a watch, one rationally would conclude it was designed. So, too, he said, one can look at aspects of nature and infer that they had a designer and that the designer is God. But after Darwin's 1859 publication of "On the Origin of Species," Dembski said, "The sense that you needed a watchmaker disappeared. The watch could put itself together." More than a century later, Richard Dawkins, Oxford University's Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, played on Paley's analogy to champion evolution in his 1986 book, "The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design." After Darwin's publication, the term "creationism" arose in opposition to the popularity of so-called Darwinism. It asserted the biblical account of creation. But creationism suffered damaging ridicule after Tennessee's Scopes "Monkey Trial" in 1925. Eventually, it morphed into "scientific creationism." Henry Morris, founder of the Institute for Creation Research in San Diego, advanced the concept. It makes scientific claims for the six-day creation account in Genesis, an Earth age of less than 10,000 years, the simultaneous creation of all things, Noah's global flood and the non-evolutionary creation of humans. Scientific creationism points to gaps in the fossil record, geological evidence of the effects of global flood and examples in nature that give the appearance of design, such as the human eye, as refutation of evolution. It has many supporters: In a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 53 percent of adults surveyed said "God created humans in their present form exactly the way the Bible describes it." And polls consistently show a majority of Americans favor teaching both evolution and creationism. But after the Supreme Court ruling in 1987, creationism couldn't be taught in public schools. And it was around that time that the current ID movement began to emerge. It uses a term attributed to British philosopher Ferdinand C.S. Schiller. In his 1903 book "Humanism," he wrote, "It will not be possible to rule out the supposition that the process of evolution may be guided by an intelligent design." Whether ID is a scientific theory or a religious belief is at the heart of the 1st Amendment case Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District in central Pennsylvania, the apparent inspiration for "The West Wing" script earlier this month. Parents of Dover students sued the district and school board over a requirement that 9th-grade biology students be informed of ID as a scientific alternative to evolution. The parents, who claim that ID is creationism in disguise, contend that such a requirement is religiously motivated, thus violating the constitutional separation of church and state and the Supreme Court's ban on creationism in public schools. Attorneys for the school district argue ID is not a religious belief but a valid scientific theory and that the school district intended only to expose students to views critical of and differing from evolution. The case, in its sixth week, may influence how biology is taught in public schools around the country. ... [A good summary of the ID/Darwinism controversy. Again, the claim that "ID is creationism in disguise" is false, because (for starters) ID is based on the evidence for design in nature, not the Bible. It is also false to say that ID is "a tactic to skirt the Supreme Court's 1987 decision finding creationism a religious belief." If that was the case, then one would find in the ID movement's leadership some of the same individuals who had advocated "balanced treatment" of "creation science", but in fact there are (and were) none of them. The fact is that ID "predates Edwards vs. Aguillard by many years":

"Opponents of the theory often insist that intelligent design emerged as a conspiracy to circumvent the 1987 Supreme Court decision, Edwards vs. Aguillard. There the Court struck down a Louisiana law promoting the teaching of creation science in public school science classes. The theory of intelligent design, critics insist, is merely a clever end-run around this ruling, biblical creationism in disguise. The problem with this claim is the intelligent design predates Edwards vs. Aguillard by many years. ... In By Design, a history of the current design controversy, journalist Larry Witham traces the immediate roots of the intelligent design movement in biology to the 1950s and '60s, and the movement itself to the 1970s. Biochemists were unraveling the secret of DNA and discovering that it was part of an elaborate information processing system that included nanotechnology of unparalleled sophistication. One of the first intellectuals to describe the significance of these discoveries was chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi, who in 1967 argued that "machines are irreducible to physics and chemistry" and that "mechanistic structures of living beings appear to be likewise irreducible." Biochemist Michael Behe would later develop Polanyi's insights with his concept of irreducible complexity. ... Polanyi's work also influenced the seminal 1984 book The Mystery of Life's Origin ... Thaxton and his co-authors argued that matter and energy can accomplish only so much by themselves, and that some things can only "be accomplished through what Michael Polanyi has called `a profoundly informative intervention.'" ... We find more of the same in molecular biologist Michael Denton's 1985 book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis: "The inference to design is a purely a posteriori induction based on a ruthlessly consistent application of the logic of analogy. The conclusion may have religious implications, but it does not depend on religious presuppositions." ... The essential difference isn't whether the writer speaks of the "creation of DNA" versus the "intelligent design of DNA." The difference is more substantive than stylistic. Creationism or Creation Science is focused on defending a particular reading of the Genesis account, usually including the creation of the earth by the Biblical God a few thousand years ago. The theory of intelligent design isn't based on religious presuppositions but simply argues that an intelligent cause is the best explanation for certain features of the natural world. Unlike the creationism on trial in Edwards vs. Aguillard, the theory of intelligent design does not consider the identity of the designer nor does it defend the Genesis account (or that of any other sacred text for that matter). This is why a former atheist like British philosopher Antony Flew, who rejects the Judeo-Christian God, can nevertheless embrace the intelligent design argument for the origin of life. The fact that intelligent design doesn't identify the source of design is not political calculation but precise thinking, refusing to go beyond what the scientific evidence tells us. Consider intelligent design's most famous design inference, the bacterial flagellum. Michael Behe shows that this microscopic rotary engine, like an automobile engine, needs all of its machinery in place to function at all. The best explanation for this irreducibly complex machine is intelligent design, but there's no inscription on the bushing of this little motor that identifies its maker. To discover the identity of its designer(s), one has to look beyond science." (Witt J., "Origin of Intelligent Design: A brief history of the scientific theory of intelligent design," Discovery Institute: Seattle WA, October 1, 2005).]

Science groups fight Kansas over standards: Two organizations won't let their material be used by evolution skeptics, MSNBC, Oct. 27, 2005 TOPEKA, Kan. - Two national groups say Kansas can't use their copyright material in proposed science standards that critics contend promote creationism. The National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association notified the Department of Education in writing. ... The State Board of Education expects to vote next month on the proposed standards, which incorporate language sought by intelligent-design advocates expressing skepticism about evolution. The board's conservative majority contends it wants only to give students a balanced view of evolution, but critics say they're promoting intelligent design, which detractors describe as a repackaged form of creationism. "Evolution is singled out as an area of science where there is major scientific controversy because of alleged weakness in the theory," academy President Ralph Cicerone wrote. "In fact, the vast majority of scientists accept evolution as the most compelling explanation for how the diversity of life arose on this planet."... The two groups' positions mean department attorneys must scrutinize any standards the board approves to make sure they do not lift language from the national groups' material. The standards, which must be updated periodically under Kansas law, are used to develop student achievement tests for measuring how well schools are performing. However, they don't mandate how science is taught in the 300 school districts. Kansas officials had expected the groups to deny permission because the proposed standards represent a shift from treating evolution as a well-established theory crucial for students in understanding science. "They are such adamant evolutionists," said board Chairman Steve Abrams, who favors the proposed standards. "I'm surprised they haven't done it already. Everybody knew it was coming. That's just the way they are." The groups also withheld their permission in 1999, when the board removed most references to evolution from the standards. Two years later, after elections changed the makeup of the board, the standards became evolution-friendly again. As for this year's proposal, teachers' association President Michael Padilla wrote, "Although the majority of the draft Kansas standards could proudly serve as a model for other states to emulate, there are significant errors regarding the theory of evolution." ... Evolution is an issue in other states, too. In Pennsylvania, a federal trial is under way after parents sued the Dover school district over a policy requiring teachers to make a statement about intelligent design before teaching evolution. President Bush has endorsed teaching intelligent design alongside evolution, and a recent poll suggested a majority of Americans favor allowing creationism in classrooms, something the U.S. Supreme Court has banned. In Kansas, intelligent-design advocates have attacked evolutionary theory, which proposes that mutation and natural selection are behind the development of species from common ancestors. Intelligent design says some natural features are best explained by an intelligent cause. While the proposed standards incorporate ideas from intelligent design, there's also a disclaimer saying the goal isn't to promote that idea as an alternative to evolution. Abrams didn't know whether the groups' stance would delay adoption of the standards. Bruce Chapman, president of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which supports intelligent-design research, said the denials probably won't have any lasting effect apart from "expressions of opinion." "I think these groups have become lobbying organizations," Chapman said. "They've set themselves up to be the arbiter when in fact they're partisan. That's obvious now, or it should be." ... [See also MSNBC, New York Times & Washington Post. This is petty and the many (if not most) members of the public will see it that way. The claim that "the vast majority of scientists accept evolution as the most compelling explanation for how the diversity of life arose on this planet":

"However, our review of the KSES [Kansas Science Education Standards] ... finds that evolution is singled out as an area of science where there is major scientific controversy because of alleged weaknesses in the theory. In fact, the vast majority of scientists accept evolution as the most compelling explanation for how the diversity of life arose on this planet. Data collected from scientists in many disciplines and published in tens of thousands of peer-reviewed papers both support and continue to strengthen evolution as the underlying basis for understanding biology. The only controversies lie in understanding the possible mechanisms by which evolution operates, but these kinds of disagreements are found in all areas of science. Indeed, they are essential to scientific progress. The revised KSES attempts to portray evolution as a theory in crisis and raises "controversies" (e.g., the Cambrian explosion) that evolutionary scientists have refuted many times using the available evidence." (Cicerone R.J., President, National Academy of Sciences, Letter to Dr. Alexa Posny, Assistant Commissioner of Education, Kansas State Department of Education, Topeka, Kansas, October 26, 2005)

is just an argument from authority (I have added it as another example of how evolutionists use fallacious arguments in support of evolution to my "Problems of Evolution" book outline, PE 2.4.11 "Fallacies used to support evolution ...Argument from authority..."). It is also meaningless when only "evolution" is allowed by defining "science" question-beggingly as "a strict adherence to seeking natural mechanisms and explanations for natural phenomena", thus ruling out in advance, irrespective of the evidence "supernatural explanations of the natural world":

"Perhaps most troubling, however, is the attempt by those who prepared the revisions to redefine what constitutes science, from a search for natural explanations of observable phenomena, to one that does not require natural explanations (page xi). The power of science results from a strict adherence to seeking natural mechanisms and explanations for natural phenomena. By removing this critically important caveat from the KSES, the line between science and other ways of knowing becomes blurred. Kansas students will be both confused and ill-served by an explanation of science that allows for supernatural explanations of the natural world." (Cicerone R.J., President, National Academy of Sciences, Letter to Dr. Alexa Posny, Assistant Commissioner of Education, Kansas State Department of Education, Topeka, Kansas, October 26, 2005. )

As so defined, of course "Data collected from scientists in many disciplines and published in tens of thousands of peer-reviewed papers both support and continue to strengthen evolution" and "The only controversies lie in understanding the possible mechanisms by which evolution operates"! I have added the last quote above to a new section of my "Problems of Evolution" book outline, PE 3.2 "Religion ..."Evolution is anti-supernatural".]

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

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