Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Intelligent Design Might Be Meeting Its Maker? #1

The New York Times' religion correspondent Laurie Goodstein's `obituary' on ID, with my comments, bold and in square brackets. Because of its length, I have split this into three parts.

Intelligent Design Might Be Meeting Its Maker
The New York Times
Published: December 4, 2005

TO read the headlines, intelligent design as a challenge to evolution seems to be building momentum. [There is no "seems" about it - by any reasonable standard, intelligent design as a challenge to Darwinian evolution is building momentum!]

In Kansas last month, the board of education voted that students should be exposed to critiques of evolution like intelligent design. At a trial of the Dover, Pa., school board that ended last month, two of the movement's leading academics presented their ideas to a courtroom filled with spectators and reporters from around the world. President Bush endorsed teaching "both sides" of the debate - a position that polls show is popular. And Pope Benedict XVI weighed in recently, declaring the universe an "intelligent project." [Indeed! That is "building momentum", for a movement that few would have even heard of, only ten years ago.]

Intelligent design posits that the complexity of biological life is itself evidence of a higher being at work. As a political cause, the idea has gained currency, and for good reason. The movement was intended to be a "big tent" that would attract everyone from biblical creationists who regard the Book of Genesis as literal truth to academics who believe that secular universities are hostile to faith. The slogan, "Teach the controversy," has simple appeal in a democracy. [Again, this is simply false that ID "posits that the complexity of biological life is itself evidence of a higher being at work." Unless she has not done her homework (which should be inexcusable in a New York Times journalist), Goodstein must know that the ID movement has specifically stated that "Intelligent design theory does NOT ... claim that the intelligent cause must be ... a `higher power' (emphasis original):

"1. What is the theory of intelligent design? The scientific theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. Note: Intelligent design theory does NOT claim that science can determine the identity of the intelligent cause. Nor does it claim that the intelligent cause must be a `divine being' or a `higher power' or an `all-powerful force.' All it proposes is that science can identify whether certain features of the natural world are the products of intelligence." ("Top Questions and Answers About Intelligent Design Theory," Discovery Institute, September 8, 2005. Emphasis original).
So either Goldstein is incompetent in not having done her homework, or else she is deliberately setting up a straw man caricature of ID in order to knock it down. There in fact evidence for the former, in part 2. But if the latter is the case, then when a position's opponents can only attack a straw man caricature of it, instead of the real thing, then that shows that the true position is too strong to be attacked. So, far from "Intelligent Design ... Meeting Its Maker," the reports of ID's impending death are greatly exaggerated!]

Behind the headlines, however, intelligent design as a field of inquiry is failing to gain the traction its supporters had hoped for. [Far from "failing to gain the traction its supporters had hoped for," ID is having to restrain its supporters:

"MARK RYLAND (DI): Sure, I'd be happy to respond. 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).]
It has gained little support among the academics who should have been its natural allies. [ID has long since realized that most "academics" (even those in Christian colleges) have so internalized naturalistic ways of thinking, that they are more likely than not to be opposed to ID:
"Ironically, while my critique of Darwinism and scientific naturalism has gained a hearing in secular academic debates, it has met with surprising resistance from theistic evolutionists in the Christian academic world. That many Christian college and seminary professors are ardent defenders of Darwinism may seem astonishing, but it is true. There are many reasons for this, including the powerful indoctrination aspiring professors receive in graduate schools. Perhaps the most important factor is that the reigning assumption among Christian intellectuals in recent years has been that, given the futility of fighting a war with science, the best hope for saving Christianity in modern culture is to show that Christian theism can coexist with scientific knowledge, including the theory of evolution. This assumption gave theistic evolutionists an enormous stake in believing that what the rulers of science tell us about evolution is true (and hence unbeatable), and that it is religiously neutral (and hence acceptable). Neither of those beliefs is correct. What theistic evolutionists have failed above all to comprehend is that the conflict is not over `facts' but over ways of thinking. The problem is not just with any specific doctrine of Darwinian science, but with the naturalistic rules of thought that Darwinian scientists employ to derive those doctrines. If scientists had actually observed natural selection creating new organs, or had seen a step-by-step process of fundamental change consistently recorded in the fossil record, such observations could readily be interpreted as evidence of God's use of secondary causes to create. But Darwinian scientists have not observed anything like that. What they have done is to assume as a matter of first principle that purposeless material processes can do all the work of biological creation because, according to their philosophy, nothing else was available. They have defined their task as finding the most plausible-or least implausible-description of how biological creation could occur in the absence of a creator. The specific answers they derive may or may not be reconcilable with theism, but the manner of thinking is profoundly atheistic. To accept the answers as indubitably true is inevitably to accept the thinking that generated those answers. That is why I think the appropriate term for the accommodationist position is not `theistic evolution,' but rather theistic naturalism. Under either name, it is a disastrous error." (Johnson P.E., "Shouting `Heresy' in the Temple of Darwin", Christianity Today, Vol. 38, No. 12, October 24, 1994, pp.22-26).
Like other scientific revolutions (including Darwin's), ID mainly looks to the next generation of scientists to be more open to its evidence and arguments:
"Equally, it is why, before they can hope to communicate fully, one group or the other must experience the conversion that we have been calling a paradigm shift. Just because it is a transition between incommensurables, the transition between competing paradigms cannot be made a step at a time, forced by logic and neutral experience. Like the gestalt switch, it must occur all at once (though not necessarily in an instant) or not at all. How, then, are scientists brought to make this transposition? Part of the answer is that they are very often not. Copernicanism made few converts for almost a century after Copernicus' death. Newton's work was not generally accepted, particularly on the Continent, for more than half a century after the Principia appeared. Priestley never accepted the oxygen theory, nor Lord Kelvin the electromagnetic theory, and so on. The difficulties of conversion have often been noted by scientists themselves. Darwin, in a particularly perceptive passage at the end of his Origin of Species, wrote.. `Although I am fully convinced of the truth of the views given in this volume .... I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are stocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during a long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine. ... [B]ut I look with confidence to the future,-to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality.' And Max Planck, surveying his own career in his Scientific Autobiography, sadly remarked that `a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.'" (Kuhn T.S., "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," [1962], University of Chicago Press: Chicago IL, Third edition, 1996, pp.150-151).]
And if the intelligent design proponents lose the case in Dover, there could be serious consequences for the movement's credibility. [Not really. As Goodstein must know, the Discovery Institute (representing the ID movement) made it clear well before the Dover trial that it regarded the Dover board's policy as "misguided" and called for its withdrawal:
"SEATTLE, DEC. 14 - The policy on teaching evolution recently adopted by the Dover, PA School Board was called `misguided' today by Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, which advised that the policy should be withdrawn and rewritten. `While the Dover board is to be commended for trying to teach Darwinian theory in a more open-minded manner, this is the wrong way to go about it,' said Dr. John G. West, associate director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture (CSC). `Dover's current policy has a number of problems, not the least of which is its lack of clarity. At one point, it appears to prohibit Dover schools from teaching anything about 'the origins of life.' At another point, it appears to both mandate as well as prohibit the teaching of the scientific theory of intelligent design. The policy's incoherence raises serious problems from the standpoint of constitutional law. Thus, the policy should be withdrawn and rewritten.' Apart from questions about its constitutionality, West expressed reservations about the Dover School Board's directive on public policy grounds. `When we first read about the Dover policy, we publicly criticized it because according to published reports the intent was to mandate the teaching of intelligent design,' explained West. `Although we think discussion of intelligent design should not be prohibited, we don't think intelligent design should be required in public schools. `What should be required is full disclosure of the scientific evidence for and against Darwin's theory,' added West, `which is the approach supported by the overwhelming majority of the public." ("Discovery Calls Dover Evolution Policy Misguided, Calls For its Withdrawal," Discovery Institute, December 14, 2004).
So even if the Dover board does lose the case, it would not be a major setback for ID, unless the judge made a very wide ruling that ID is not science and/or should not be taught in science classes. But I think there is little likelihood of that. If the Dover board does lose the case, it will most likely be because of their being motivated by Christianity/creationism. Indeed, given the strong testimony for ID by the defence witnesses: Mike Behe, Stephen Fuller and Scott Minnich, I think that if the judge does rule on ID, it will be that it has a clear secular purpose and so there is no constitutional reason why it could not be taught in schools as science.]

On college campuses, the movement's theorists are academic pariahs, publicly denounced by their own colleagues. [Being "publicly denounced by their own colleagues" is hardly scientific (indeed it sounds like what used to happen in the Soviet Union or China in the 1950s!), and in fact it is a version of the argumentum ad baculum (appeal to fear) fallacy, e.g., "You don't want to be a social outcast, do you?", or "faculty members who [come out in support of ID] ... will discover their error at the next tenure review":

"The fallacy of appeal to fear [As the Latin word for stick or staff is baculum, this argument is known in Latin as argumentum ad baculum] is an argument that uses the threat of harm to advance one's conclusion. It is an argument that people and nations fall back on when they are not interested in advancing relevant reasons for their positions. Also known as swinging the big stick, this argument seldom resolves a dispute. This argument should be distinguished from an all-out threat. If someone should hold a gun to your back and say, `Your money or your life,' it would not do to reply, `Ah ha! That's a fallacy!' It is not a fallacy because it is not an argument. Although the gunman is appealing to your sense of fear, and even offering a reason why you should do what he tells you, he is not offering evidence in support of the truth of some statement. He is not arguing with you; he is simply ordering you. ... An appeal to fear therefore offers fallacious evidence. In some cases the evidence will be brief and implicit ... in other cases it may run to pages or even volumes. ... We may encounter the appeal to fear in language like the following: ... Don't argue with me. Remember who pays your salary. ... You don't want to be a social outcast, do you? Then you'd better join us tomorrow. ... This university does not need a teacher's union, and faculty members who think it does will discover their error at the next tenure review. These arguments are crude forms of the fallacy. They are explicit about the threats being issued. The fallacy also lends itself to veiled threats. ... Appeals to fear tend to multiply during periods of stress or conflict, both among nations and among individuals. ... As in all fallacies of irrelevance, the object of the argument is an appeal to emotion rather than to reason." (Engel S.M., "With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies," St. Martin's Press: New York NY, Fourth edition, 1990, pp.216-220. Emphasis original).
Indeed it shows that these anti-ID "colleagues" don't have any adequate scientific evidence and/or arguments against ID, otherwise they would use them!]

Design proponents have published few papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals. [The anti-ID/Darwinist argument used to be that "Design proponents have published" no "papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals", so a "few" is progress! But this is a disingenuous argument anyway because it implies that the editors of peer-reviewed scientific journals invite design proponents to publish papers in their journals but the design proponents decline to do so. But this is the exact opposite of the truth. The fact is, as surely Goldstein must know, that the editors of peer-reviewed scientific journals refuse to publish papers from ID proponents in their journals. See Mike Behe's experience in his "Correspondence with Science Journals: Response to Critics Concerning Peer-Review." Editors of peer-reviewed scientific journals are now even less likely to publish articles on ID, after Dr Richard Sternberg, editor of the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, was hounded from his job at the Smithsonian Institution by Darwinists, because he published in it an ID-based article on the Cambrian explosion by geophysicist- philosopher Stephen Meyer, which was then deleted from the webbed archives, even though it is in the paper journal. Significantly even NPR has sympathized with Sternberg in an article and audio report, "Intelligent Design and Academic Freedom."]

The Templeton Foundation, a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research. "They never came in," said Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president at the Templeton Foundation, who said that while he was skeptical from the beginning, other foundation officials were initially intrigued and later grew disillusioned. "From the point of view of rigor and intellectual seriousness, the intelligent design people don't come out very well in our world of scientific review," he said. [I will simply quote Bill Dembski's response to this:

ID Meeting Its Maker? ... The Templeton Foundation promotes, as Stephen Jay Gould used to criticize (see here), a form of syncretism between science and religion. I frankly doubt that there is one research paper published in the natural sciences (I'm not talking about medical journals that discuss the efficacy of prayer in healing) that acknowledges the Templeton Foundation as having provided essential research support (e.g., in the form of salaries for lab techs, lab equipment costs, etc.) for that project to be completed. Templeton supports research in that fuzzy new discipline that it has largely invented, known as science-religion, and not in science per se. I know for a fact that Discovery Institute tried to interest the Templeton Foundation in funding fundamental research on ID that would be publishable in places like PNAS and Journal of Molecular Biology (research that got funded without Templeton support and now has been published in these journals), and the Templeton Foundation cut off discussion before a proposal was even on the table. What has disillusioned Templeton about ID is not that it failed to prove its mettle as science but that it didn't fit with Templeton's accommodation of religion to the science of the day and Templeton's incessant need to curry favor with an academic establishment that by and large thinks religion is passé.
So the very reason that what the Templeton Foundation's idea of "proposals for actual research ... never came in" from the ID movement is precisely because ID is science and therefore is not interested in "projects seeking to reconcile science and religion"! Indeed, ID's refusal to be seduced by the Templeton Foundation's millions, should be commended by Goodstein!]

[Continued in part 2]

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


david.g said...

Here is a Theory of Intelligent Design which is supported by evidence and can be found at Intelligent Design Theory. It is interesting that such a theory has been ignored in the recent debate and the court case. Then again many of the proponents of intelligent design may be unaware of it and think that it is just creationism!

Stephen E. Jones said...


>david.g said...
Here is a Theory of Intelligent Design which is supported by evidence and can be found at Intelligent Design Theory. It is interesting that such a theory has been ignored in the recent debate and the court case. Then again many of the proponents of intelligent design may be unaware of it and think that it is just creationism!

Thanks. Anyone can call their theory "Intelligent Design" but that does not necessarily make it what the ID movement means by "Intelligent Design."

Having been a member of the ID movement since 1995, I see nothing in your theory that I recognise as being in common with ID theory, except the words "intelligent design."

I used to say on my Yahoo list CED when anti-IDists proposed what ID theory should include, that they are free to start their own ID movement. I see that you have effectively done that. Congratulations!

As you say, your "theory has been ignored in the recent debate and the court case" and I propose to do the same.

Stephen E. Jones