Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Vatican Astronomer: Intelligent Design is Not Science

My comments, bolded and in square brackets, on an article about Vatican astronomer George Coyne's recent attack on ID:

Vatican Astronomer: Intelligent Design is Not Science, Livescience/AP, Nicole Winfield, 18 November 2005 ... VATICAN CITY (AP) -- The Vatican's chief astronomer said Friday that "intelligent design'' isn't science and doesn't belong in science classrooms, the latest high-ranking Roman Catholic official to enter the evolution debate raging in the United States. [Also at CBS, MSNBC & Washington Times . The claim that "`intelligent design' isn't science" presupposes that there is some principled set of demarcation criteria of what is, and is not "science", such that an objective application of those criteria would rule out everything that is not "science" and rule in everything that is "science". But in fact this has proved to be impossible. Some things that are thought not to be science (e.g. astrology) meet all the usual demarcation criteria, e.g. testable, falsifiable, in that they have been tested and found to be false, and so they qualifiy as "science" but are wrong. OTOH, some things that are thought to be science, e.g. Darwinian evolution, are difficult, if not impossible to test and falsify:

"Our theory of evolution has become, as Popper described, one which cannot be refuted by any possible observations. Every conceivable observation can be fitted into it. It is thus `outside of empirical science' but not necessarily false. No one can think of ways in which to test it. Ideas, either without basis or based on a few laboratory experiments carried out in extremely simplified systems, have attained currency far beyond their validity. They have become part of an evolutionary dogma accepted by most of us as part of our training." (Birch L.C. & Ehrlich P.R., "Evolutionary History and Population Biology", Nature, Vol. 214, 22 April 1967, p.352).
Therefore, as leading philosopher of science Larry Laudan (in the context of the question of whether young-Earth creationism was "science"), pointed out that the question, "what makes a belief scientific? ... is both uninteresting and ... intractable":
"Through certain vagaries of history, some of which I have alluded to here, we have managed to conflate two quite distinct questions: What makes a belief well founded (or heuristically fertile)? And what makes a belief scientific? The first set of questions is philosophically interesting and possibly even tractable, the second question is both uninteresting and, judging by its checkered past, intractable. If we would stand up and be counted on the side of reason, we ought to drop terms like `pseudoscience' and `unscientific' from our vocabulary; they are just hollow phrases which do only emotive work for us. As such, they are more suited to the rhetoric of politicians and Scottish sociologists of knowledge than to that of empirical researchers. Insofar as our concern is to protect ourselves and our fellows from the cardinal sin of believing what we wish were so rather than what there is substantial evidence for (and surely that is what most forms of `quackery' come down to), then our focus should be squarely on the empirical and conceptual credentials for claims about the world. The `scientific' status of those claims is altogether irrelevant." (Laudan L., "The Demise of the Demarcation Problem," in Ruse M., ed., "But is it Science?: The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy," Prometheus Books: Amherst NY, 1996, p.349).
The right question therefore is not, "is intelligent design science"? but rather "is intelligent design true"? Opponents of ID seem to desperately want to avoid having to answer that question, which itself is an example on their part of "the cardinal sin of believing what [they] wish were so rather than what there is substantial evidence for"!] The Rev. George Coyne, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, said placing intelligent design ideas alongside the theory of evolution in school programs was "wrong'' and was akin to mixing apples with oranges. [It needs to be made clear that "intelligent design" is not necessarily opposed to everything in "the theory of evolution." For example, leading ID theorist Bill Dembski has stated that, "intelligent design is compatible with ... the most far-ranging evolution (e.g., God seamlessly melding all organisms together into one great tree of life)":
"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)
and another leading ID theorist, Mike Behe, (as well as yours truly) accepts "common descent (that all organisms share a common ancestor)":
"Evolution is a controversial topic, so it is necessary to address a few basic questions at the beginning of the book. Many people think that questioning Darwinian evolution must be equivalent to espousing creationism. As commonly understood, creationism involves belief in an earth formed only about ten thousand years ago, an interpretation of the Bible that is still very popular. For the record, I have no reason to doubt that the universe is the billions of years old that physicists say it is. Further, I find the idea of common descent (that all organisms share a common ancestor) fairly convincing, and have no particular reason to doubt it. I greatly respect the work of my colleagues who study the development and behavior of organisms within an evolutionary framework, and I think that evolutionary biologists have contributed enormously to our understanding of the world. Although Darwin's mechanism-natural selection working on variation-might explain many things, however, I do not believe it explains molecular life. I also do not think it surprising that the new science of the very small might change the way we view the less small." (Behe M.J., "Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution," Free Press: New York NY, 1996, pp.5-6)
ID is only necessarily opposed to the Darwinian "theory of evolution" in its claim that there is no design in nature:
"Paley's argument is made with passionate sincerity and is informed by the best biological scholarship of his day, but it is wrong, gloriously and utterly wrong. The analogy between telescope and eye, between watch and living organism, is false. All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way. A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs and springs, and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind's eye. Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind's eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker." (Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design," W.W Norton & Co: New York NY, 1986, p.5. Emphasis original)
If the claim of Darwinian theory of evolution that there is no design in nature is science, then the counter claim of the theory of intelligent design that there is design in nature is also science:
"Clearly if you have a question, the answer yes and the answer no to the question are still in the same subject area. So if the affirmation `Yes, natural selection can create as much as is needed,' is science, then the no answer -- `No, the evidence does not support that' -- is science, too. I vigorously assert that this is not two subjects but one subject: what does the evidence show and not show about natural processes? .... It can't be that the yes answer is science and the no answer is religion.'" (Johnson P.E., "Evolution and the Curriculum: A Conversation with Phillip Johnson and Gregg Easterbrook," Center Conversations No. 4, September 1999, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington DC)
That this is so is seen in my biology textbook, where there is a two-page interview with Dawkins, in which he discussed Paley's argument from design, and admitted that, "Paley ... at least put the question right. ... the only thing Paley got wrong ... was the answer to the question":
"One of your books, The Blind Watchmaker, argues the case for the cumulative power of natural selection in the adaptation of organisms. Tell us about the metaphorical title of that book. The `watchmaker' comes from William Paley, the eighteenth-and early nineteenth-century theologian who was one of the most famous exponents of the argument of design. Paley famously said that if you are wandering along and stumble upon a watch and you pick it up and open it, you realize that the internal mechanism-the way in which it's all meshed together-is detailed perfection. Add this to the fact that the watch mechanism has a purpose-namely, telling the time-then this compels you to conclude that the watch had to have a designer. Paley then went on throughout his book giving example after example of detailed structure of living organisms-eyes, heart, bowels, joints, and everything about animals-showing how beautifully designed they apparently are, how well they work, how intricately the parts mesh together, just like the cog wheels of a watch. And if the watch had to have a watchmaker, then of course these biological structures also had to have a designer. My reason for beginning The Blind Watchmaker was Paley. He really saw the magnitude of the problem of adaptation when most people just didn't see how elegant, how beautiful, apparent design in life is. Paley saw that, and Darwin saw that. And Darwin was introduced to it at least partly by Paley. All undergraduates at Cambridge had to read William Paley. He at least put the question right. So the only thing Paley got wrong, which is quite a big thing, was the answer to the question. And nobody got the right answer until Charles Darwin in the nineteenth century." (Dawkins R., "Mechanisms of Evolution," in Campbell N.A., Reece J.B. & Mitchell L.G., "Biology," [1987], Benjamin/Cummings: Menlo Park CA, Fifth Edition, 1999, p.412).
So comparing the Darwinian "theory of evolution" and the theory of "intelligent design," on the question of whether or not there is design in nature, is comparing apples with apples.] "Intelligent design isn't science even though it pretends to be," the ANSA news agency quoted Coyne as saying on the sidelines of a conference in Florence. "If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science.'' [Like most ID critics, Coyne is ignorant of what ID's position on its teaching in schools actually is. The fact is that the ID movement is not at this stage wanting ID to be taught in schools, as Discovery Institute Vice President Mark Ryland made clear, "we always tell people: don't teach intelligent design" (my emphasis):
"MARK RYLAND (DI): .... Let me back up first and say: The Discovery Institute never set out to have a school board, schools, get into this issue. We've never encouraged people to do it, we've never promoted it. We have, unfortunately, gotten sucked into it, because we have a lot of expertise in the issue, that people are interested in. When asked for our opinion, we always tell people: don't teach intelligent design. There's no curriculum developed for it, you're teachers are likely to be hostile towards it, I mean there's just all these good reasons why you should not to go down that path. If you want to do anything, you should teach the evidence for and against Darwin's theory. Teach it dialectically. And despite all the hoopla you've heard today, there is a great deal of -- many, many problems with Darwin's theory, in particular the power of NS and RV to do the astounding things that are attributed to them. .... So that's the background. And what's happened in the foreground was, when it came to the Dover school district, we advised them not to institute the policy they advised. In fact, I personally went and met with them, and actually Richard [Thompson] was there the same day, and they didn't listen to me, that's fine, they can do what they want, I have no power and control over them. But from the start we just disagreed that this was a good place, a good time and place to have this battle -- which is risky, in the sense that there's a potential for rulings that this is somehow unconstitutional." (Ryland M., "Discovery Institute and Thomas More Law Center Squabble in AEI Forum," National Center for Science Education, October 23, 2005. My emphasis).
The ID movement's position is not "teach ID" but "teach the controversy" (my emphasis), i.e. "teach students about the main scientific arguments for and against Darwinian theory":
"When two groups of experts disagree about a controversial subject that intersects the public school curriculum students should learn about both perspectives. In such cases teachers should not teach as true only one competing view, just the Republican or Democratic view of the New Deal in a history class, for example. Instead, teachers should describe competing views to students and explain the arguments for and against these views as made by their chief proponents. Educators call this `teaching the controversy.' Recently, while speaking to the Ohio State Board of Education, I suggested this approach as a way forward for Ohio in its increasingly contentious dispute about how to teach theories of biological origin, and about whether or not to introduce the theory of intelligent design alongside Darwinism in the Ohio biology curriculum. I also proposed a compromise involving three main provisions: (1) First, I suggested--speaking as an advocate of the theory of intelligent design--that Ohio not require students to know the scientific evidence and arguments for the theory of intelligent design, at least not yet. (2) Instead, I proposed that Ohio teachers teach the scientific controversy about Darwinian evolution. Teachers should teach students about the main scientific arguments for and against Darwinian theory. And Ohio should test students for their understanding of those arguments, not for their assent to a point of view. (3) Finally, I argued that the state board should permit, but not require, teachers to tell students about the arguments of scientists, like Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe, who advocate the competing theory of intelligent design." (Meyer S.C., "Teach the Controversy," Cincinnati Enquirer, March 30, 2002. Discovery Institute - Center for Science and Culture : Seattle WA).
This approach is in fact embodied in the Santorum amendment to the "No Child Left Behind [Education] Act" which was passed overwhelmingly by the US Senate, that "Where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy":
"In 2001, I offered an amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act concerning science education. The amendment expressed the sense of the Senate `'that good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science. Where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy, and prepare them to be informed participants in public discussions.' My amendment serves as a guide for those implementing education policy. It does not force schools to teach a certain curriculum. In the science classroom, public schools should not teach intelligent design and they should certainly not teach biblical creationism. Rather, my amendment encourages educators to help students distinguish theory from fact. On June 13, 2001, the Senate approved my amendment by an overwhelming, bipartisan vote of 91-8 and the amendment was included in the conference report accompanying the No Child Left Behind Act." (Santorum R., "A Balanced Approach to Teach Evolution," The Morning Call, January 23, 2005. Discovery Institute News).]
His comments were in line with his previous statements on "intelligent design'' -- whose supporters hold that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher power. Critics say intelligent design is merely creationism -- a literal reading of the Bible's story of creation -- camouflaged in scientific language and say it does not belong in science curriculum. [Those "Critics [who] say intelligent design is merely ... a literal reading of the Bible's story of creation -- camouflaged in scientific language" are wrong. ID is based solely on the evidence of design in nature and says nothing about "the Bible's story of creation."] In a June article in the British Catholic magazine The Tablet, Coyne reaffirmed God's role in creation, but said science explains the history of the universe. "If they respect the results of modern science, and indeed the best of modern biblical research, religious believers must move away from the notion of a dictator God or a designer God, a Newtonian God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly,'' he wrote. [Coyne's "dictator God" that he says "religious believers must move away from" is evidently the omnipotent, sovereign God of the Bible:
"The sovereignty of God is strongly emphasized in Scripture. He is represented as the Creator, and His will as the cause of all things. In virtue of His creative work heaven and earth and all that they contain belong to Him. He is clothed with absolute authority over the hosts of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. He upholds all things with His almighty power, and determines the ends which they are destined to serve. He rules as King in the most absolute sense of the word, and all things are dependent on Him and subservient to Him. There is a wealth of Scripture evidence for the sovereignty of God, but we limit our references here to a few of the most significant passages: Gen. 14:19; Ex. 18:11; Deut. 10:14,17; I Chron. 29:11,12; II Chron. 20:6; Neh. 9:6; Ps. 22:28; 47:2,3,7,8; Ps. 50:10- 12; 95:3-5; 115:3; 135:5,6; 145:11-13; Jer. 27:5; Luke 1:53; Acts 17:24-26; Rev. 19:6. Two attributes call for discussion under this head, namely (1) the sovereign will of God, and (2) the sovereign power of God." (Berkhof L., "Systematic Theology," [1932], Banner of Truth: London, British Edition, 1958, Third printing, 1966, p.76)
"The Scriptures abundantly teach that God is sovereign in the universe: `Indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Thine is the dominion, O Lord' (1 Chron. 29:11); `But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases' (Ps. 115:3); `Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker-an earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, 'What are you doing?' Or the things you are making say, 'He has no hands'?' (Isa. 45:9); `Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die' (Ezek. 18:4) ; `All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, "What hast Thou done?"' (Dan. 4:35); and `Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own?' (Matt. 20:15; cf. Rom. 9:14-21; 11:36; Eph. 1:11; 1 Tim. 6:15f.; Rev. 4:11). God's sovereignty involves preservation and providence." (Thiessen H.C. & Doerksen V.D., "Lectures in Systematic Theology," [1949], Eerdmans: Grand Rapids MI, Revised, 1977, p.119).
If so, Coyne is just another in a long line of apostate "wolves ... in sheep's clothing" (Mat. 7:15), who Jesus warned His flock about. If Coyne denies "a designer God" then that is, as Harvard botanist and Christian evolutionist, Asa Gray conceded, "tantamount to atheism":
"Dr. Gray goes further. He says, `The proposition that the things and events in nature were not designed to be so, if logically carried out, is doubtless tantamount to atheism.' Again, `To us, a fortuitous Cosmos is simply inconceivable. The alternative is a designed Cosmos... If Mr. Darwin believes that the events which he supposes to have occurred and the results we behold around us were undirected and undesigned; or if the physicist believes that the natural forces to which he refers phenomena are uncaused and undirected, no argument is needed to show that such belief is atheistic.' We have thus arrived at the answer to our question, `What is Darwinism'? It is Atheism. This does not mean, as before said, that Mr. Darwin himself and all who adopt his views are atheists; but it means that his theory is atheistic, that the exclusion of design from nature is, as Dr. Gray says, tantamount to atheism." (Hodge C., in Noll M.A. & Livingstone D.N., eds., "What Is Darwinism?," [1874], Baker: Grand Rapids MI, 1994, reprint, p.156).
It sounds to me that Coyne is yet another `theistic naturalistic' Gnostic. If so, and if Pope Benedict XVI implements his vision (as Cardinal Ratzinger) for "a leaner, smaller, purer church", then the days of Coyne and his ilk to speak as Roman Catholics may be numbered?] Rather, he argued, God should be seen more as an encouraging parent. "God in his infinite freedom continuously creates a world that reflects that freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process to greater and greater complexity,'' he wrote. "He is not continually intervening, but rather allows, participates, loves.'' [ID does not claim that "God ... is ... continually intervening" and in fact ID does not claim anything about God at all. But presumably what Coyne means by this is the Gnostic view that God has never intervened in the world?] The Vatican Observatory, which Coyne heads, is one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world. It is based in the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome. Last week, Pope Benedict XVI waded indirectly into the evolution debate by saying the universe was made by an "intelligent project'' and criticizing those who in the name of science say its creation was without direction or order. Questions about the Vatican's position on evolution were raised in July by Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn. In a New York Times op-ed piece, Schoenborn seemed to back intelligent design and dismissed a 1996 statement by Pope John Paul II that evolution was "more than just a hypothesis.'' Schoenborn said the late pope's statement was "rather vague and unimportant.''... [Significantly, Coyne himself points out in his "The Tablet" article that, "Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna [was] a one-time student of Benedict XVI and [is] a high-profile and influential figure in the Church..." (my emphasis). So there can be little doubt that Schönborn is reflecting Pope Benedict's views on both ID and evolution.]

PS: See tagline quote that is my next installment of Paley's design argument.

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

"Nor, fourthly, would any man in his senses think the existence of the watch, with its various machinery, accounted for, by being told that it was one out of possible combinations of material forms; that whatever he had found in the place where he found the watch, must have contained some internal configuration or other; and that this configuration might be the structure now exhibited, viz. of the works of a watch, as well as a different structure." (Paley W., "Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature," [1802], St. Thomas Press: Houston, TX, 1972, reprint, p.4)

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