A while back I wrote an opinion piece (PDF Format) for BioScience magazine entitled “Leaders and Followers in the Intelligent Design Movement.” The intent of the essay was to draw a distinction between the rampant dishonesty among the leaders of the ID movement, with their blatantly out of context quotations and cartoon versions of modern science, with the somewhat better behavior I have sometimes encountered from the rank and file ID folks listening to the leaders

The existence of Tom Woodward has shown me that there is at least one further category of ID person. He is certainly not a leader. But he is not a follower either, since he insists on writing books about the subject despite knowing very little about it. His first book, Doubts About Darwin was a history of the ID movement. I haven’t read it. But I have read his newer book Darwin Strikes Back, and I can say with some confidence that he knows next to nothing about evolution. Perhaps I should talk about “Leaders, Followers and Cheerleaders in The ID Movement.”

Woodward is a professor at Trinity College in Florida. He was recently profiled in The St. Petersburg Times. Let’s have a look:

He focuses so much on science that his students call him Dr. DNA.

His topic during the lunchtime lecture is on the multiverse hypothesis, an idea that the universe is surrounded by parallel counterparts. His PowerPoint slide show includes galaxies in all their splendor. He cites Albert Einstein and quotes Stephen Hawking as saying that somewhere along the line the universe had to be “fine-tuned” to allow for the development of life.

Yet the setting for this discussion is Trinity College, and the class is not science, but a meeting of the Apologetics Club.

Professor Tom Woodward critiques the multiverse idea, saying it still doesn’t answer the fundamental question of what made the universe.

“What evidence do we have of other universes? No evidence whatsoever. Science is supposed to be based on evidence.” He says the multiverse idea is “birthed by a strong negative reaction to fine-tuning” and therefore a fine tuner. “It’s simpler to say it’s one creator than other universes.”

That, of course, is deeply silly. Astronomers have been seriously speculating about multiple universes going back to the fifties, long before any ID proponent thought of turning “fine-tuning” to rhetorical advantage.

And while multiple universes should be regarded as speculative, they do have a few things going for them. Specifically, they appear to be entailed by both string theory and the theory of cosmic inflation, which both have quite a lot of support among physicisrs. Conclusive proof? Certainly not. But it’s a considerable improvement over the nothing at all Woodward can provide in favor of his preferred explanation. He has the nerve to chide scientists for adhering to a low standard of evidence in talking about multiple universes, but seems oblivious to the far shakier evidential foundations of his religious beliefs.

The claim that the hypothesis of one creator is simpler than the hypothesis of multiple universes is likewise ridiculous. The creator being hypothesized by Woodward, the Christian God, is such a seething, roiling ball of complexity that any naturalistic hypothesis just has to be simpler. To accept the idea of multiplie universes, you need only think that the sort of Big Bang that created our universe also created other universes. Put that way, what, exactly, is the reason for thinking there is only one universe? Why should we think the Big Bang only happened once? But the Christian God is not only capable of conceptualizing and creating universes complete with all the complexity that so excites people like Woodward, but is also said to be aware of what everyone is thinking at every moment of every day, and can do anything else He sets his mind to besides. You can say what you want about such a God, but He is not simple in any meaningful sense.

The article goes on to relate Woodward’s tale of growing up an evolutionist, only to change sides later in life after a more sober consideration of the evidence. This is standard fare among creationists. It is rare that you meet someone who started out a creationist. Instead, at least two thirds of the creationist presentations I have attended (and I have attended a lot of creationist presentations) begin with a conversion story.

Things go on in this vein until an exceptionally handsome and eloquent critic is given a chance to speak in the final pargaraph:

A critic recently reviewed one of Woodward’s books and called him “just the latest in a long line of misinformed creationist cheerleaders.”

“The scientific arguments in his books are entirely incorrect and amateurish,” wrote Jason Rosenhouse, an assistant professor of mathematics at James Madison University. Rosenhouse reviewed Darwin Strikes Back for the National Center for Science Education, a pro-evolution group. “His work has far more to do with evangelical Christian apologetics than it does with the advancement of science.”

Zing!

The online version of the article also contains a sidebar by me presented as a review of Darwin Strikes Back. Just to provide a bit of context for this, the article’s author, Lisa Buie, after getting my name from the NCSE (I am reviewing Woodward’s book for them) , asked me for a comment about Woodward’s work. I got back to Ms. Buie a few days later, after finishing the book, and provided her with the quotation used in the main article. She subsequently asked me to provide some further details to back up my statement. The sidebar article was the e-mail I wrote her in reply to that request. She used it here with my permission.

At any rate, go have a look. As much as I dislike the fact that ID hacks are sometimes given their own profiles in local newspapers, I think the article came out pretty well.

Comments

  1. #1 chris
    October 22, 2007

    Things go on in this vain

    Given the rest of the sentence, can we assume this was intentional?

  2. #2 Beth
    October 22, 2007

    This is important work–your response was very well thought-out, and it’s great that moderate, reasonable non-scientists will have your response to the article about Woodward.

  3. #3 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 22, 2007

    Chris-

    Nope, I was just sleeping the day they taught about homonyms in elementary school. I’ve corrected the error, thanks for pointing it out.

    Beth-

    Thanks for the kind words, glad you liked the response.

  4. #4 Kevin
    October 22, 2007

    very nice response…readable, leading to a point.

    nice ending…

    good work!

  5. #5 Jonathan Lubin
    October 23, 2007

    When I was in grad school, long before Jason was born, a friend of mine who was a medievalist said that in the Middle Ages, the standard way of getting unpopular ideas out was this: First, you make a long, tedious summary of the prevailing opinion, full of logical errors and bad arguments. Then you append a short couple of paragraphs beginning, “But some say…” and then very deftly demolish the prevailing opinion with clear logic and indisputable facts.

  6. #6 itchy
    October 23, 2007

    Love the sidebar, Jason. Did they actually print the entire thing? If so, I’m pleasantly surprised.

    Regarding the “suspension bridge” argument, I think it’s often forgotten that when we’re talking about evolution, we’re also speaking in the context of an environment that is in constant flux.

    What irks me most about Behe’s irreducible complexity is that he assumes, when stepping backward, that the system must perform properly in the current environment, not a prior one: “We couldn’t possibly have walked through that door to get into this elevator, because, look, if I were to walk back through that door, I’d plunge to my death.”

  7. #7 Jim Ramsey
    October 24, 2007

    I just came up with a “brilliant” idea (well sort of).

    We need something like an “organ donor card” or “do not resuscitate” card for creationists. It would make clear that no technology beyond the 11th century should be used to sustain life.

    They could even have their own medical insurance.

  8. #8 mersin
    January 21, 2008

    mersin

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