Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Sign of the Fraud

[W]hen you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth...

The Sign of the Four, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

It doesn't matter that they're calling it "Intelligent Design" now. Creationism is the same thing it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: a hollow hypothesis striving frantically to stave off its own extinction. Although creationism responds to environmental pressures by adapting in hopes of survival -- adding "science" in its guise as "creation science" or "scientific creationism", or even dropping "creation" entirely along with the identity of the creator in "intelligent design" -- the evolution of creationism cannot disguise that it is a wholly negative enterprise.

The idea is simple enough. First, establish creationism (in whatever form) as the only alternative to evolution. Second, destroy evolution. Third, proclaim the sole survivor as victor. Unfortunately for the creationists, proving a negative is as difficult as they have always said it is (as when they criticize those who believe God does not exist). William Dembski has his explanatory filter, which purports to detect the presence of purposeful design. The only problem with Dembski's EF is that it doesn't work, since he can't give any examples of its use (although it does seem to suggest that God was intelligently designed). Not to worry, Dembski's still working on it. At least he's a trained mathematician, which means he can throw in fancy symbols whenever he needs to distract the unwary.

Michael Behe has his irreducible complexity, which means that some biological mechanisms cannot be functional if even a single component is missing. This is difficult to prove, as you might imagine, but assume Behe is correct for a second. What he misses, however, is that while the reduced mechanism might no longer be able to perform the task it was executing, it might be perfectly capable of performing some other useful task. Behe has failed to come to grips with natural selection's unapologetic opportunism, taking whatever is close at hand and shaping it in response to environmental influences. Remember that this was a gambit, by the way. We assumed Behe had demonstrated an irreducibly complex biological mechanism, but he really hasn't. His showcase arguments about bacterial flagella and the blood-clotting sequence have been picked apart by biologists with more imagination that he has.

While nature supposedly abhors a vacuum, creationism is desperate to create one that will suck it into the mainstream. Since creationism has no explanatory power ("God did it" is not an explanation), its proponents must carry the battle to the enemy in a war against science and the scientific method. While scientific controversies are settled in a contest of facts and observations, the "controversy" over evolution versus creation is a political dispute between creationist propaganda and scientific research. In the long term, science has a good record of ousting superstition. I just wish I were more confident about the near term.

10 comments:

Lynx said...

This whole creationism movement scares me. I shuddered when I read of the senator in Florida who was trying to make it so you could sue professors (seeing as I'm becoming one myself) for saying anything that would offend a student.

Your essay is wonderful!

Zeno said...

Thanks for the nice words, lynx.

Math professors may have a little easier than biology and anthropology professors. So far no one has tried to sue anyone in my department for denying the biblical value of pi = 3 (as implied in 1 Kings 7:23).

Lynx said...

You mean there aren't any Fundamentalist Ancient Pythagoreans getting upset about imperfect numbers and killing off members who keep finding odd results? You lucky professor you.

Kevin Wirth said...

YOU SAID:

"Since creationism has no explanatory power ("God did it" is not an explanation), its proponents must carry the battle to the enemy in a war against science and the scientific method. While scientific controversies are settled in a contest of facts and observations, the "controversy" over evolution versus creation is a political dispute between creationist propaganda and scientific research. In the long term, science has a good record of ousting superstition."


Hmmmm. I don't think you've looked very far into this...why not try getting past your comfort zone?

Many experts agree that ID presents falsifiable arguments, which are really all that is needed to qualify this concept as 'science'. You may not agree with those arguments, and others may in fact falsify them, but that happens all the time with MANY ideas submitted to science.

The notion that "God did it" is a simplistic characterization that unfairly smears ID efforts. Hey - evolutionists do it all the time when they say "natural selection did it", but there is no proof, only inference.

So why is one inference "better" than another? There is nothing 'scientific' about an inference that cannot be falsified. In fact, plenty of things offered as evidence for evolution can NEVER be falsified, and yet we continue to cavilierly call it "science".

Baloneeeey.

As for 'facts and observations'... As it turns out, the majority of ID theorists respect the scientific enterprise, and are happy to abide by the rules of scientific investigation. But if Darwinians can concoct oodles of speculations, extrapolations, conjecures, and guesses coupled with the facts, then why can't IDers?

The rules need to be the same for everyone who plays in this sandbox, but they're not, unfortunately.

Kevin Wirth

Ed Darrell said...

Hmmmm.

I've always thought Holmes' rule to well describe what Darwin did -- eliminate everything that is impossible (giraffe ancestors wishing longer necks, a benevolent creator making parasites to eat out the brains of living bugs), and whatever remains (common ancestry), no matter how improbable, is the truth.

Although, now that you mention it, yes, the creationists (including IDists) do want the thing that remains to be ID.

Kevin, there are two key difficulties with your characterization of the ID fight.

First, evolution is not loaded with "oodles" of speculation. There is no mechanism for Darwinian evolution that has not been observed in action in real time, there is no process that is not confirmed. As for "intelligent design," there is no speculation at all as to an alternative theory; there is nothing ID posits other than 'this stuff is so complex I just cannot believe someone didn't design it.' ID has real science behind it. Dembski's work is summarized neatly in that Sidney Harris cartoon where the board is filled with equations on one side, and on the other, but in the middle is a little note: "And then a miracle occurs." One scientist points to it and says to the other, "I think you need to be a little more specific here."

One of my great pleasures at gatherings of IDists is to ask them to see photos of their ID labs. They get flustered. They come up with reasons why they don't have lab work. They suggest maybe someone else at some other place may actually have such a lab. But there are no photos. There are no labs. There are no ID field observations. There is no science in ID.

Kevin Wirth said...

You said:

"First, evolution is not loaded with "oodles" of speculation."

Then may I suggest you do some further reading? Because actually, speculation is the glue that holds Darwinism together.

[In a letter to Asa Gray, a Harvard professor of biology, Darwin wrote:] "I am quite conscious that my speculations run quite beyond the bounds of true science."≈*Charles Darwin, quoted in *N.C. Gillespie, Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation (1979), p. 2 [University of Chicago book].

"The fact is that the evidence was so patchy one hundred years ago that even Darwin himself had increasing doubts as to the validity of his views, and the only aspect of his theory which has received any support over the past century is where it applies to microevolutionary phenomena. His general theory, that all life on earth had originated and evolved by a gradual successive accumulation of fortuitous mutations, is still, as it was in Darwin's time, a highly speculative hypothesis entirely without direct factual support and very far from that self-evident axiom some of its more aggressive advocates would have us believe."≈*Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (1986), p. 77.

"It has been estimated that no fewer than 800 phrases in the subjunctive mood (such as `Let us assume,' or `We may well suppose,' etc.) are to be found between the covers of Darwin's Origin of Species alone."≈L. Merson Davies [British scientist], Modern Science (1953), p. 7.

Finally, no less than Richard Lewontin once famously said that...

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promise of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are foced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

Richard Lewontin, Billions and Billions of Demons, The New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997, p. 31.


As for your contention that there is no science in ID, I would suggest that you have failed to notice that speculation is as essential to Darwinism as water is to a goldfish.

Zeno said...

Thanks for comment, Kevin. While I would say that Ed overstates his case by diminishing the role of speculation in the science of evolution (speculation is, after all, one of the motive forces behind the construction of useful hypotheses), you are doing a marvelous job of missing the point. Of course Darwin acknowledged that his theory was highly speculative at the time of its formulation: It was a profound synthesis of much observation—both personal and historical—and he was eager to point out where new information was needed to establish its viability. Darwin's great hopes for the validation of his theory have since been realized, which is why there is essentially no controversy in the science community about the basic truth of evolution. Thus you contribute nothing to the argument by citing Denton and Davies to the effect that Darwin was tentative and used the subjunctive in Origins: Point stipulated.

As you noted, evolutionist Lewontin "famously" engaged in hyperbole by writing statements now used by creationists such as yourself to make the point that all evolutionists must be materialists as doctrinaire as Lewontin. That ignores the essential truth that Lewontin's use of "we" and "us" in no way binds the larger scientific community, which is obvious when we see that many scientists are religious people, but do not resort to their faith when describing and explaining observed phenomena. Divine intervention has no explanatory power.

Your final paragraph is particularly weak. Ed's failure to notice the role of speculation in evolutionary science neither affirms nor refutes his statement that ID is science-free. Answer Ed's challenge to find an "ID lab" somewhere and then you'll have something.

Kevin Wirth said...

Actually, I haven’t missed this point at all. But you have missed my point. I agree that speculation is a necessary part of science, however, when it fails to become recognized as such, we have a problem (and this is most true of Darwinism).

You said:
Darwin's great hopes for the validation of his theory have since been realized, which is why there is essentially no controversy in the science community about the basic truth of evolution.

Please…

This is most untrue. The validation of his theory has only been realized in the minds of those who agree with him. And as for the lack of “controversy” within the scientific community, I have 2 things to say:

1) there are many who WOULD enter this controversy except if they did, they would get fired or denied an earned degree.

2) And, of COURSE you can say they all agree (and therefore there is no controversy) – because they kick out anyone who disagrees with the idea! Stacking the deck is hardly a justifiable rationale to accept Darwinism.

SO, I don’t put much stock in your implication that all scientists agree for the right reasons. Not at all.


You said:
many scientists are religious people, but do not resort to their faith when describing and explaining observed phenomena.

Actually, most scientists polled turn out to be atheists or agnostic, by a vast majority.

http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/news/file002.html

As for an ID lab, yep – I predict you’ll find one coming soon to a neighborhood near you. It’s just going to take a little while to get going because after all, we don’t have all the perks the Darwinists have (NSF grants, etc.)

Zeno said...

Thanks for your comment, Kevin. I am glad to have your prediction about the imminence of an ID-based research laboratory. Could you clarify what you mean when you say one will be coming to my neighborhood "soon"?

As for the rest of your observations, geez, you are such a typical creationist. You have two things to say and you state them both as unsupported assertions. What evidence do you have that many scientists are champing at the bit to head in the direction of ID but are cowed by the Darwin gestapo? Any? You offer none.

You also offer a statement relative to my claim about religious belief among scientists as if you are contradicting me, when you are doing nothing of the kind. I said "many" scientists are religious people and that is true. I did not say "most", because "most" would not be true. If you want to quibble, go ahead, but even one-fifth of a large number is "many", and that's sufficient to show that religious faith and evolution are not incompatible. QED.

Kevin said...

OK Zeno, let's pick this up once again.

You said: "Thanks for your comment, Kevin. I am glad to have your prediction about the imminence of an ID-based research laboratory. Could you clarify what you mean when you say one will be coming to my neighborhood "soon"?"

Well, I think we're almost to the point where Biologic is going to roll out some sort of public announcement in the Spring of 2008, so stay tuned. Don't know what all they will have to say, but, we shall see.

You said: "As for the rest of your observations, geez, you are such a typical creationist. You have two things to say and you state them both as unsupported assertions. What evidence do you have that many scientists are champing at the bit to head in the direction of ID but are cowed by the Darwin gestapo? Any? You offer none."

OK, I can understand your reluctance to accept my comments based on face value, so, just for you, I went to work and am going to be publishing a book early in 2008 called "Slaughter of the Dissidents", where you will find a bunch of case studies of scientists and educators who have make the MISTAKE of letting it be known that they favor some ID arguments - and paid for it dearly. The rest of the scientific and academic community it taking note of this and many simply won't take that risk. Oh, and there's even a movie coming out in (April, as it stands at the moment...) 2008 called "Expelled" starring Ben Stein, of all people. It picks up this issue as well, so, be on the lookout for it.

Should be PLENTY of reasons you can mine from these sources to support my "unspoorted assertions". And, by making this comment, you put me in the same category as Duane Gish and his Bullfrog episode (just goodgle on that). Unlike Duane, I don't like or stand for unsupported assertions from any quarter - even if it's from a friend (which Duane is). I like hard evidence to support an idea, not speculation and extrapolation.

Finally, regarding your comments about the religious beliefs of scientists, you said: "many scientists are religious people, but do not resort to their faith when describing and explaining observed phenomena. Divine intervention has no explanatory power."

Divine Intervention (?? I prefer to call it "Intelligent Agency" to keep the discussion 'scientific') may be detected if there is evidence of design that cannot be explained by known natural processes - which is exactly one of the talking points for ID.

My comment on your remark is this: I agree. AND, there are at least some aspects of the Design argument that have merit and do not rely on "faith" based assumptions.