Friday, December 17, 2004

The Blogosphere has a raging discussion on Intelligent Design

I noticed a raging discussion in the blogosphere regarding Intelligent Design in the classroom and I felt like I had to offer my 2 cents to the conversation. I came across the discussion at Deans World. The topic starts with ACLU Sues Over Intelligent Design, continues with FAQ on Intelligent Design, and as of now has settled with Further Thoughts On Intelligent Design. My gut instinct tells me that Intelligent Design has no place in the classroom. To be certain, I followed a link Dean provides to Questions About Intelligent Design. I feel compelled to annotate their answers to what are legitimate questions. 1. What is the theory of intelligent design? The 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. In other words: The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by belief in a higher power, a God, and its design, not an undirected process such as natural selection. This is really more of an opinion than a theory. 2. Is intelligent design theory incompatible with evolution? It depends on what one means by the word "evolution.” If one simply means "change over time," or even that living things are related by common ancestry, then there is no inherent conflict between evolutionary theory and intelligent design theory. However, the dominant theory of evolution today is neo-Darwinism, which contends that evolution is driven by natural selection acting on random mutations, a purposeless process that "has no specific direction or goal, including survival of a species.” (NABT Statement on Teaching Evolution). It is this specific claim made by neo-Darwinism that intelligent design theory directly challenges Intelligent design is an opinion and as such is inherently compatible. However, that does not make it scientific in any way. Where intelligent design breaks down is in its semantic replacement of random mutations with ‘intelligently designed’ mutations. Mutations occur because of observed alterations to DNA caused an outside force or agent such as a virus or radiation exposure. For this argument, let’s say it’s by exposure to radiation.

  • The cell is struck by the particle/wave that is radiation. If the particle/wave collides with the nucleus of the cell, and if it collides with the DNA within the nucleus this can cause a change in the DNA called a mutation.
  • Once the mutation has occurred, it will either be repaired or not repaired depending on many different factors such as the extent of the damage (how many base pairs were altered).
  • If it is not repaired, it will either be expressed, or not (this depends on where mutation is located on the DNA strand).
  • If a mutation is expressed, will it be expressed in such a way that alters the organism? (Did the mutation occur in a reproductive cell or a stem cell at a time when its expression could alter the organism?)

Now for arguments sake let’s say our organism is a Finch, and that it is altered in such a way that it expresses a shorter beak than other Finches. Over successive generations, this will be either a benefit (better for eating small seeds) or a detriment (harder to eat large seeds). Under conditions that favor a short beak, evolution would favor the ancestors of this mutated bird. There would still be Finches in the population with larger beaks and smaller beaks. Shorter beaked Finches have better odds of survival and procreation in this environment. Darwinism states that all of these things have to happen by chance. Intelligent Design dictates that there has to be a helping hand in this process. The only helping hand available is God. To have Intelligent Design in the classroom requires having God in the classroom and therefore religion. It’s just semantics. It’s also irrelevant, the argument for natural selection stands based on our understanding of facts involved in how the change occurs. Adding our belief in the guiding hand of God or randomness does not add to the argument, it only introduces opinion into the argument where it doesn’t belong. 3. Is intelligent design based on the Bible? No. The intellectual roots of intelligent design theory are varied. Plato and Aristotle both articulated early versions of design theory, as did virtually all of the founders of modern science. Indeed, most scientists until the latter part of the nineteenth century accepted some form of intelligent design. The scientific community largely rejected design in the early twentieth century after neo-Darwinism claimed to be able to explain the emergence of biological complexity through the unintelligent process of natural selection acting on random mutations. During the past decade, however, new research and discoveries in such fields as physics, cosmology, biochemistry, genetics, and paleontology have caused a growing number of scientists and science theorists to question neo-Darwinism and propose design as the best explanation for the existence of specified complexity in the natural world. Where the opinion comes from is not relevant. I’ve never seen a Science curriculum that included Plato and Aristotle for anything other than logical argument. Their beliefs are irrelevant. An argument based on a false premise is still false even if the logic used is correct. It is the logic that they gave science not their beliefs. Plato believed all substances to be composed of air, earth, fire, and water. How many people believe that to be the case today? 4. Is intelligent design theory the same as creationism? No. Intelligent design theory is simply an effort to empirically detect whether the "apparent design" in nature acknowledged by virtually all biologists is genuine design (the product of an intelligent cause) or is simply the product of an undirected process such as natural selection acting on random variations. Creationism is focused on defending a literal reading of the Genesis account, usually including the creation of the earth by the Biblical God a few thousand years ago. Unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design is agnostic regarding the source of design and has no commitment to defending Genesis, the Bible or any other sacred text. Honest critics of intelligent design acknowledge the difference between intelligent design and creationism. University of Wisconsin historian of science Ronald Numbers is critical of intelligent design, yet according to the Associated Press, he "agrees the creationist label is inaccurate when it comes to the ID [intelligent design] movement.” Why, then, do some Darwinists keep trying to conflate intelligent design with creationism? According to Dr. Numbers, it is because they think such claims are "the easiest way to discredit intelligent design.” In other words, the charge that intelligent design is "creationism" is a rhetorical strategy on the part of Darwinists who wish to delegitimize design theory without actually addressing the merits of its case. Semantics, while not focusing on the literal reading of the Genesis account, Intelligent Design still requires an element of religion. The difference is a focus on the figurative reading of the Genesis account. 5. Are there established scholars in the scientific community who support intelligent design theory? Yes. Intelligent design theory is supported by doctoral scientists, researchers and theorists at a number of universities, colleges, and research institutes around the world. These scholars include biochemist Michael Behe at Lehigh University, microbiologist Scott Minnich at the University of Idaho, biologist Paul Chien at the University of San Francisco, emeritus biologist Dean Kenyon at San Francisco State University, mathematician William Dembski at Baylor University, and quantum chemist Henry Schaefer at the University of Georgia. Support is based on belief; it makes no difference to the actual science until it is placed in the argument as a premise. They do not have to include their beliefs about a helping hand of God guiding the universe to do their work. They would not be reputable if they included such arguments in their work. 6. Is research about intelligent design published in peer-reviewed journals and monographs? Yes. Although open hostility from those who hold to neo-Darwinism sometimes makes it difficult for design scholars to gain a fair hearing for their ideas, research and articles supporting intelligent design are being published in peer-reviewed publications. Examples of peer-reviewed books supporting design include The Design Inference (Cambridge University Press) by William Dembski and Darwin's Black Box (The Free Press) by Michael Behe. Additional peer-reviewed books about design theory are scheduled to be published in 2003 and 2004 by Michigan State University Press and Cambridge University Press. In the area of journals, Michael Behe has defended his concept of "irreducible complexity" in the peer-reviewed journal Philosophy of Science published by the University of Chicago. There is also now a peer-reviewed journal that focuses on design theory, Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design, which has an editorial advisory board of more than 50 scholars from relevant scientific disciplines, most of whom have university affiliations. Finally, the works of design theorists are starting to be cited by other scholars in peer-reviewed journals such as the Annual Review of Genetics. Can these peer reviewed works be cross-referenced against the use of belief in their arguments premise? Other wise the previous statement is meaningless. 7. What about the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and its resolution against intelligent design? In 2002 the board of the AAAS issued a resolution attacking intelligent design theory as unscientific. Unfortunately, the process by which this resolution was adopted was itself anything but scientific. In fact, the resolution was more a product of prejudice than impartial investigation. After the resolution was issued, members of the AAAS Board were surveyed about what books and articles by scientists favoring intelligent design they had actually read before adopting their resolution. Alan Leshner, the Chief Executive Officer of the AAAS, declined to specify any and replied instead that the issue had been analyzed by his group's policy staff. Two other AAAS board members similarly declined to identify anything they had read by design proponents, while yet another board member volunteered that she had perused unspecified sources on the Internet. In other words, AAAS board members apparently voted to brand intelligent design as unscientific without studying for themselves the academic books and articles by scientists proposing the theory. It should be noted that a number of the scientists supportive of intelligent design theory are members of the AAAS, so the AAAS board clearly does not speak for all members of that organization. Once again, can these peer reviewed works be cross-referenced against the use of belief in their arguments premise? Without proponents of Intelligent Design, doing so there will most likely never be widespread acceptance nor should there be. Essentially, there is no way to include intelligent design in science without including elements of belief and opinion into the premise of scientific argument. Once that is done, the argument is no longer valid. There is nothing wrong with having the opinion that there is a higher power, it just doesn’t belong in the classroom and it certainly doesn’t belong in the premise of your argument.

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