Washington Post on ID

The Washington Post has a pretty good article on ID this morning, one that will no doubt bring howls of outrage from the Discovery Institute's Media Complaints Division (aka their blog). A couple interesting bits from it:

Some evolution opponents are trying to use Bush's No Child Left Behind law, saying it creates an opening for states to set new teaching standards. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), a Christian who draws on Discovery Institute material, drafted language accompanying the law that said students should be exposed to "the full range of scientific views that exist."

"Anyone who expresses anything other than the dominant worldview is shunned and booted from the academy," Santorum said in an interview. "My reading of the science is there's a legitimate debate. My feeling is let the debate be had."

This is a major part of the ID strategy and it's a bit of bait and switch. Having failed to convince the scientific community of the validity of ID, and most importantly having refused to do any of the difficult and time-consuming theoretical and expiremental work necessary to establish that validity, they instead want to portray scientists as dogmatic inquisitioners throwing them out of the temple for heresy. But the fact is that scientists at this point don't take ID seriously because there isn't anything to it - no general ID theory, no testable hypotheses and hence no actual research performed that could confirm or disconfirm the idea, no novel predictions or even positive statements about how ID might be tested and confirmed. It is greeted with the same sort of shrug with which one would greet the notion that gravity isn't the real explanation for planetary orbits, but rather is the result of the willful actions of an unnamed, undefined supernatural designer. The difference, of course, is that biological ID is very well funded and pushed by a very sophisticated public relations effort.

If there is a legitimate debate to be had, there must be two competing explanations on the table to examine. Currently, there is only one. Even staunch ID advocates like Paul Nelson admit that at this point, ID is a purely negative argument, there is no ID theory to be tested and no novel predictions on the table to use as the basis of positive research:

Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don't have such a theory right now, and that's a problem. Without a theory, it's very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now, we've got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as 'irreducible complexity' and 'specified complexity'-but, as yet, no general theory of biological design.

All they have now is a classic god of the gaps argument - "evolution can't explain phenomenon X, therefore God must have done it." But this is no more compelling than the example above. One can easily point to areas where we do not have a full understanding of gravitational theory and posit an unnamed supernatural force as an alternative "theory" just as legitimately, which is to say just as absurdly.

Amusingly, the article notes that the DI's "newest project is to establish a science laboratory." That speaks volumes, I think, about the nature of the ID movement. The public relations came before the science, long before, and this is itself by design - when you don't have any way to actually test your idea, the last thing you want to do is talk about science. So instead, you pose as a brave defender of Truth and Justice battling heroically against the oppressive "Darwinian Priesthood". Also fascinating is this little tidbit about the underlying motivations of the ID movement:

Meyer said the institute accepts money from such wealthy conservatives as Howard Ahmanson Jr., who once said his goal is "the total integration of biblical law into our lives," and the Maclellan Foundation, which commits itself to "the infallibility of the Scripture."

"We'll take money from anyone who wants to give it to us," Meyer said. "Everyone has motives. Let's acknowledge that and get on with the interesting part."

Well there are a couple of problems with this. First, the IDers have been frantically denying that they had any motivation other than just being objective scientists standing up for Truth for many years. Thus, you get the profoundly silly claim that they're just talking about a generic "intelligent designer" that could be anything, not necessarily God (while simultaneously telling their supporters, of course, that they are standing up for God's holy word in spiritual battle with the forces of atheism and the devil). And thus you get DI fellow Jonathan Wells telling audiences that he was purely an objective scientist who was convinced by the evidence that evolution was false, while simultaneously telling his fellow Unification Church members that he was sent to grad school at the expense of Rev. Moon for the specific purpose of "destroying Darwinism".

Having spent so much time and effort denying that they have any religious motivations at all, now Meyer brushes it off by saying, "Hey, everyone has motivations." But when one side has been diligently covering up their motivations, red flags are rightly raised. Bruce Gordon, former Discovery Institue fellow and William Dembski's assistant director at the Polanyi Institute at Baylor, perfectly summed up both of these issues - the underlying motivations and the placing of public relations ahead of real scientific work, when he said:

Design theory has had considerable difficulty gaining a hearing in academic contexts, as evidenced most recently by the the Polanyi Center affair at Baylor University. One of the principle reasons for this resistance and controversy is not far to seek: design-theoretic research has been hijacked as part of a larger cultural and political movement. In particular, the theory has been prematurely drawn into discussions of public science education where it has no business making an appearance without broad recognition from the scientific community that it is making a worthwhile contribution to our understanding of the natural world.

Scientists are not afraid of debate on this issue, and they're not just a bunch of reactionary atheists who reflexively reject anything that smacks of religion, despite the constant efforts of the DI crowd to portray them as such. But you have to actually have a model in order to test it, and you have to do the hard scientific work to establish your idea as valid before you try and get it into science classrooms. And if you are constantly prevaricating about your real motivations, and constantly distorting the scientific evidence the way Wells does in Icons of Evolution, you are rightly going to be viewed with skepticism. The way to avoid that is to drop the PR campaign and start doing real science.


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Dean Esmay, a blogger I respect, has a post about ID that might surprise some folks. Dean is an atheist, you see, but he doesn't think it's a bad idea to teach ID in schools, or at least to bring it up in biology classes and mention that there are some smart people who advocate it. The question he…
How bad have things gotten for the ID folks? They're pathetically excited about the publication of Jonathan Wells' new book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Drwainism and Intelligent Design. It used to be that the ID folks were keen to persuade us that they were going to revolutionize science.…

"We'll take money from anyone who wants to give it to us," Meyer said. "Everyone has motives. Let's acknowledge that and get on with the interesting part."

Does anyone besides me live close to the Thomas More Law Center? I'm a few miles from there, and I could swear I just heard Richard Thompson scream at a staff member to get him some clean underwear.

Does anyone besides me live close to the Thomas More Law Center? I'm a few miles from there, and I could swear I just heard Richard Thompson scream at a staff member to get him some clean underwear.
LOL. Hilarious.

According to the story,

In Seattle, the nonprofit Discovery Institute spends more than $1 million a year for research, polls and media pieces supporting intelligent design.

There's a word missing: that should be "market research."

The biggest problem with ID is that its proponents try to pass it off as a legitimate science, but it is not by any standards exploratory. For example, an evolutionary scientist tries to build a theoretical model of how the eye evolved. The ID "scientist" simply points and says, "We don't know how this happened, so god did it."
ID is not just the god of the gaps; it is something older than the evolution debate itself. It is using the supernatural to explain what we do not understand. Religion began because of human need to explain our surroundings. Intelligent Design is no different, it was dreamed up out of the fear of the unknown and the fear of being alone.

Hey Ed, the two week ban passed by a couple weeks ago. What's up?

By Great White Wonder (not verified) on 15 Mar 2005 #permalink

Hey Ed, the two week ban passed by a couple weeks ago. What's up?
And you were posting comments as of a couple weeks ago, or at least someone else was posting using your name. I assumed someone else had lifted it, but apparently not because the IP address was still on the ban list. I just removed the ban now, sorry for the delay.

Thanks Ed.

I posted a couple times from Computer II after the two weeks was up.

I'll do my utmost to keep my posts tight and tidy.

By Great White Wonder (not verified) on 16 Mar 2005 #permalink