Sunday, October 02, 2005

Intelligent Design: Strange Bedfellows

*cracks knuckles*

Ok, Intelligent Design. Known hereafter as ID.

There are two important aspects to ID. One, the actual idea. Strictly speaking, it is a seperate and distinct idea from SYEC. It makes specific claims about specific characteristics of specific species. All well and good. The problem with this idea is that it insistantly weds metaphysical ideas to the scientific aspect. Which is a no no.

The second important aspect is practical. Political and legal, even. I don't know if I'll get to it in this post, but here's the gist. IDers say they want to be considered apart from religious concerns. They say ID is a purely scientific theory. The problem is, IDers and SYECers are happily in bed together. Organizationally and financially, they have each others back. Both groups are brazenly dishonest about their relationship and mutual intent. So, while ID and SYEC might be different ideas, in practice, a vote for ID is just cracking the door open to SYEC.

Anyways, back to the theory. Here's an excerpt from my brilliant and groundbreaking essay on the subject:

"In 1992, a Berkeley law professor named Philip Johnson helped organize a conference at Southern Methodist University (SMU) that brought together a group of scientists and philosophers to discuss the seeds of what some have called neo-Creationism: Intelligent Design. At the SMU conference, an Associate Professor of Biology at Lehigh University named Michael Behe first presented his idea of irreducible complexity. Irreducible complexity would represent a major effort to divorce Intelligent Design (usually known as ID) from religious concerns, especially Scientific Creationism.

In 1996, Behe published his ideas in the book Darwin’s Black Box. Behe quickly distances his ideas from Creationism; on page five, he says that he finds “the idea of common descent. . . fairly convincing” and that he “has no reason to doubt that the universe is the billions of years old that physicists say it is.” His aversion to Darwin lies in his scientifically oriented objection to the idea that natural selection can account for the diversity of life. Behe argues that scientific study requires a close examination of details; the more detailed our knowledge of biology becomes, the less adequate current theories of Evolution are. The most detailed level of biological study - the molecular level - presents the most difficult problems for Evolution. Behe argues that at this molecular level, systems prove themselves to be irreducibly complex. Behe defines irreducibly complex as “a single system composed of several. . . parts. . . wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to cease functioning.” Irreducible systems could not have evolved piece by piece, since the absence of any one piece would have rendered the system useless and inert."

So there you have it, Michael Behe's ID in a nutshell. There may be other variations on the theory, but as I understand it, Behe is one of the big guns. There are some important points that need to be reiterated. First, ID does not make claims about astronomy. It does not say that "the universe is so complicated, it must have had a designer!" Secondly, Behe's ID accepts an ancient universe. In other words, he agrees with 99% of geologists from the 19th century onwards, both Christian and non-Christian. Behe also accepts common decent.

His claim is very specific. Some animals show signs of irreducible complexity (IC). Now, there have been many rebuttals to Behe's work. It's not my purpose to say who is right; I can't say. But I will say this. Behe's work, to my understanding, is scientific. He seems to follow MethN to his conclusions.

His error is identitical to that of Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins. He jumps from the seemingly scientific statement of "natural selection and genetic drift cannot account for characteristic X" to "so a Designer did it." Behe is a Catholic, by the way. It is not hard to surmise exactly what he means by a designer.

If Behe was rigorously scientific, he would stop with the simple statement "natural selection and genetic drift cannot account for characteristic X." It is Behe's confusion on the line between MethN and metaphysics that creates the current bureaucratic and legal conundrums before the courts in the United States.

As I said, IDers want to be considered seperately from SYEC. Hypothetically, this is possible. It is also possible that a non-metaphysical version of Behe's ideas can be taught in a science class.

In practice, such distinctions do not exist. I'm going to be making contentious claims here, and unfortunately my study notes and citations are 2000 miles away. So take me at my word, or don't, whatever.

In 2004, Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross wrote a scathing examination of the ID movement, entitled Creationism’s Trojan Horse in which they argued that IDers and SYECers are in bed together - politically, financially, organizationally, and scientifically. ID is just SYEC with a new coat of paint. I would dispute the latter claim, but the former seems very solid. Money and support changes hands between IDers and SYECers on a regular basis.

ID's biggest support comes not from the scientific community, but rather laymen - Christians. Christians that also tend to be SYECers, or just plain YECers. IDers like Behe say they want a distinction, but they are happy to cultivate this support.

Who cares if IDers and SYECers work together? It's a free world, right? Well, there are two problems. The first is what I've started to call the "Calculating God" syndrome. Oi, I wish I had that book on hand. Jamie or Joel, if you read this, feel free to quote the relevant portion in the comments section.

Anyways, Calculating God is a novel that discussions the origins debate. At one point, a character faced with overwhelming evidence of a higher power's intervention in Evolution, comments on the garrison mentality of scientists. He says that scientists fear unlocking the way to opponents of Evolution because once that pandora's box is opened, it will never be closed; not only will Johnny not know how to read, he won't know any real science either. So scientists have a knee jerk reaction against open assaults on Evolution - for valid reasons. That is the Calculating God syndrome.

And I think that is accurate. It is also good reason to keep ID far, far away from classrooms. If ID is allowed into science classrooms - especially elementary and high school classrooms - then the floodgates will open and they will never be closed. ID is simply too tied to SYEC to be trusted with the credibility it would recieve from a science classroom.

An excellent example of this comes out of the current Dover trial. The local schoolboard wants to use the textbook Of Pandas and People, a book that claims to be strictly ID. The problem is, it isn't. That's a giant load of horse shit. In the course of the trial, it was revealed that the current published edition is not the original text. The original text spoke of "creationism." When the publishers realized that they couldn't get a "creationist" text into high schools, they cut and paste the words "intelligent design" over every occurance of "creation."

IDers need to distance themselves from SYECers. No more joint conferences. No more testifying at trials. No more money changing hands, no more donations. They need to go cold turkey. And they need to drop the metaphysical claims. Stop saying "designer." Give the scientific community time to get over the Calculating God syndrome. Just say "here are instances where natural selection and genetic drift do not account for the facts."

Of course... there is yet another issue. Exactly who should decide what gets taught in classrooms? Parents? Local school boards? Publishers? Universities? The supreme court? That's a whole other topic... so that's next time.

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