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The End of Intelligent Design

February 9, 2010

Fantastic Article by Stephen Barr, professor of Physics over at First Things about the need to end the Intelligent Design discussion.

Some Highlights:

 “The ID movement has also rubbed a very raw wound in the relation between science and religion. For decades scientists have had to fend off the attempts by Young Earth creationists to promote their ideas as a valid alternative science. The scientific world’s exasperation with creationists is understandable. Imagine yourself a serious historian in a country where half the population believed in Afrocentric history, say, or a serious political scientist in a country where half the people believed that the world is run by the Bilderberg Group or the Rockefellers. It would get to you after a while, especially if there were constant attempts to insert these alternative theories into textbooks. So, when the ID movement came along and suggested that its ideas be taught in science classrooms, it touched a nerve. This is one reason that the New Atheists attracted such a huge audience.

None of this is to say that the conclusions the ID movement draws about how life came to be and how it evolves are intrinsically unreasonable or necessarily wrong. Nor is it to deny that the ID movement has been treated atrociously and that it has been lied about by many scientists. The question I am raising is whether this quixotic attempt by a small and lightly armed band to overthrow “Darwinism” and bring about a new scientific revolution has accomplished anything good. It has had no effect on scientific thought. Its main consequence has been to strengthen the general perception that science and religion are at war.”

And then this:

“I suspect that some religious people have embraced the ID movement’s arguments because they want “scientific” answers to the scientific atheists, and they know of no others. But there are plenty of ways to make a case for the reasonableness of religious belief that can be persuasive to many in the scientific world. Such a case has been made by a growing number of research scientists who are Christian believers, such as John Polkinghorne, Owen Gingerich, Francis Collins, Peter E. Hodgson, Michal Heller, Kenneth R. Miller, and Marco Bersanelli. I have addressed many audiences myself using arguments similar to theirs and have had scientists whom I know to be of firm atheist convictions tell me that they came away with more respect for the religious position. Religion has a significant number of friends (and potential friends) in the scientific world. The ID movement is not creating new ones.”

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. February 9, 2010 12:40 pm

    Loved this article. I would like to see someone really take the old design argument seriously and revived.

  2. February 9, 2010 1:17 pm

    When I look around the world, I see, clearly, design everywhere. I’m a Christian. It’s what I believe.

    But that doesn’t mean my feeling, even if it’s right, that things are too complex to come about on their own is necessarily real science.

    A good book that deals with the boundaries between awe and empirical science is Mark Perakh’s Uninteligent Design.

  3. Johann permalink
    February 9, 2010 5:50 pm

    None of this is to say that the conclusions the ID movement draws about how life came to be and how it evolves are intrinsically unreasonable or necessarily wrong. Nor is it to deny that the ID movement has been treated atrociously and that it has been lied about by many scientists.

    It’s interesting, in light of this quote, that Barr makes no mention of lies large and small used by the ID movement to further its goals. I wonder which lies he is referring to.

  4. February 10, 2010 2:28 am

    Johann,

    I think he may be referring to ID being conflation with young earth creationism and things a long those lines.

  5. February 10, 2010 2:58 am

    ID being conflation with young earth creationism

    I’m not exactly sure what you mean by those words. Are you saying that ID is nothing but repackaged young-earth creationism?

  6. Johann permalink
    February 10, 2010 3:41 am

    Nah, we all know that ID is being pushed not by creationists but by cdesign proponentsists. 😉

  7. Richard Eis permalink
    February 10, 2010 5:29 am

    -I’m not exactly sure what you mean by those words. Are you saying that ID is nothing but repackaged young-earth creationism?-

    If by repackaged you mean bleached of all style and substance so christians can run around in lab coats and write their own papers…in their own journals.

  8. February 10, 2010 2:09 pm

    I was not claiming anything about ID’s value or merit (I personally don’t understand how it thinks it’s doing what it’s supposed to do), but saying that ID and young earth creationism are the same is wrong. Calling ID’ers creationists in this sense would be to misunderstand the position that ID’ers have. Usually when they are called creationists (from what I have gathered) ‘creationist’ is used in a pejorative sense.

    There is an interesting article by Thomas Nagel (a highly eminent and well respected philosopher who teaches at NYU [and a staunch atheist mind you]) on ID and natural selection, where he explains how some of the accusations against ID’ers just really are plain false. I haven’t looked at it thoroughly but it may be something worth looking into.

    Here’s the link to Nagel’s for those who are interested in his thoughts on the topic:

    http://philosophy.fas.nyu.edu/object/thomasnagel

  9. February 10, 2010 2:34 pm

    Sorry, this was stated in a confusing sense

    ‘but saying that ID and young earth creationism are the same is wrong. ‘

    It’s better read as:

    but I was saying that claiming that ID and young earth creationism are the same is wrong.

    From what I understand the central claim that ID’ers are making is the ‘evidence’ that they have found for irreduceable complexity shows us that natural selection isn’t sufficient to bring about the life that you see in this world, so they think we need to posit something else to make sense of what can’t be explained by natural selection.

    Even if the Christian doesn’t want to take a stance on whether or not she thinks the reasoning is good, she has plenty of reason to reject this type of a picture. God did not create some incompetent natural causal order but a competent causal one. Also tranditionally God causal activity in nature is taken to not be limited to just filling this one small place in a causally gappy natural world, but instead acting intimately alongside every single causal action that occurs in nature.

  10. Knockgoats permalink
    February 10, 2010 4:20 pm

    Imagine yourself… a serious political scientist in a country where half the people believed that the world is run by the Bilderberg Group or the Rockefellers.

    Ha! How ridiculous! Surely everyone knows by now they’re just a front for the Freemasons, who are being manipulated by the Illuminati? What almost no-one yet realises is that the Illuminati are in fact unwittingly doing the bidding of alien shape-shifting lizards led by Kylie Minogue!

  11. Knockgoats permalink
    February 10, 2010 4:45 pm

    None of this is to say that the conclusions the ID movement draws about how life came to be and how it evolves are intrinsically unreasonable or necessarily wrong. Nor is it to deny that the ID movement has been treated atrociously and that it has been lied about by many scientists.

    This is utter bilge. ID is just repackaged creationism (not necessarily YEC – there have always been OECs as long as there have been YECs) – with a few pomo hangers-on like Steve Fuller. Anyone who doubts it should google “cdesign proponentsists” [sic] and “Wedge document”. The ID “method” involves quote-mining; distortion of new discoveries, and arguments among evolutionary biologists, to suggest they cast doubt on the reality of evolution; bait-and-switch arguments about “transitional fossils”; repeated lies that evolutionary theory is “in crisis” etc. I notice that Barr does not identify any actual lies that have been told about the IDiots.

    From Nagel:
    ID (as I shall call it, in conformity to
    current usage) is best interpreted not as an argument for the existence of
    God, but as a claim about what it is reasonable to believe about biological
    evolution if one independently holds a belief in God that is consistent
    both with the empirical facts about nature that have been established by
    observation, and with the acceptance of general standards of scientific
    evidence. For legal reasons it is not presented that way by its defenders,
    but I think that is a mistake.

    So Nagel admits, right at the start of his article, that what he’s talking about is not ID as the IDiots themselves present it. According to him, they lie for legal reasons. With friends like Nagel, who needs enemies?

    From the beginning it has been commonplace to present the theory
    of evolution by random mutation and natural selection as an alternative
    to intentional design as an explanation of the functional organization
    of living organisms. The evidence for the theory is supposed to be
    evidence for the absence of purpose in the causation of the development
    of life-forms on this planet.

    Garbage. The evidence is the observation of natural selection in the present day in both experimental and field studies, the hierarchical pattern of similarities among organisms, and the abundant imperfections which make sense in historical terms, and only in those terms. Nagel may be a respected philosopher (though from what I remember from my undergraduate and graduate philosophy courses, I can’t see why), but he is clearly unforgiveably ignorant about evolutionary theory – unforgiveably, that is, if he wants to bloviate about it.

    I saw no point in reading any further. BTW, the reason for calling ID “unscientific” is the methods it uses, and the complete lack of any worthwhile research to emerge from it.

  12. Knockgoats permalink
    February 10, 2010 4:47 pm

    God did not create some incompetent natural causal order but a competent causal one. – Cruz

    ORLY?
    1) What about all those miracles?
    2) So he intended the guinea-worm, the schistosome, the rabies virus and Huntingdon’s disease to evolve?

  13. February 10, 2010 8:35 pm

    I’m sorry Knockgoats, but you said:

    ‘Nagel may be a respected philosopher (though from what I remember from my undergraduate and graduate philosophy courses, I can’t see why), but he is clearly unforgiveably ignorant about evolutionary theory – unforgiveably, that is, if he wants to bloviate about it.’

    I’m curious as to how you have any sort of credentials in evolutionary biology beyond Nagel, and further a better understanding of science as a whole and the history and philosophy of science. If you do, I will go on and concede that point to you, otherwise, it is hard not to find you as someone angered charlatan, with a degree of arrogance that would make Bill O’reilly feel meek.

  14. Johann permalink
    February 10, 2010 8:52 pm

    I’m curious as to how you have any sort of credentials in evolutionary biology beyond Nagel

    What credentials? As far as I’m aware, Nagel doesn’t have a background in biology; he specializes in philosophy, ethics and political theory. That doesn’t make him an expert on biology, just as Einstein’s expertise in physics wouldn’t make him one.

    Besides, Knockgoats is criticizing fairly specific aspects of Nagel’s position, and ones that are pretty easy to engage. (Did you follow the link in my last post?) Responding by measuring credentials doesn’t do your argument any favors.

  15. Knockgoats permalink
    February 11, 2010 11:50 am

    I’m curious as to how you have any sort of credentials in evolutionary biology beyond Nagel, and further a better understanding of science as a whole and the history and philosophy of science – Cruz

    I prefer that you address my arguments rather than my credentials; and as an alleged philosopher you should know that the argument from authority is fallacious.

    Neither of my degrees is in evolutionary biology, or HPS. However, I have been reading in those areas for around 35 years, did a two-year postdoc in the department of zoology at Oxford, and have published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology, and on the issue of the evolution of cooperative and altruistic behaviour elsewhere.

    Now, I couldn’t care less whether you find me arrogant: answer my arguments or concede that you can’t.

  16. Knockgoats permalink
    February 11, 2010 12:27 pm

    I’ve now read the rest of Nagel’s article. It reveals a truly astonishing ignorance about why ID is rightly called unscientific. It is not because the possibility of divine intervention in the world is ruled out a priori, as is obvious from the number of doctrinally orthodox Christians (Miller, Collins, Ayala to mention just three) who agree with the scientific consensus that it is unscientific. It is, as I said, because it produces no worthwhile research, and its proponents lie about the state of scientific debate (and repeatedly use the “argument from personal incredulity: “I can’t see how this could have evolved, therefore it didn’t”). Specific claims of “irreducible complexity” such as the bacterial flagellum and the vertebrate blood-clotting and immune systems, have been shown to be rubbish. Behe, whom Nagel cites with entirely undeserved respect, claimed in Dover vs Kitzmiller that evolutionary biology has nothing to say about the evolution of the immune system. He was then presented with a number of textbooks and numerous papers on the subject, which he admitted he had not read but still dismissed as “insufficient”. This was one of the key moments of the trial. Behe is one of the more intelligent and educated of the IDiots. Arguments relating to the alleged impossibility of functional proteins evolving typically assume that point mutations are the only kind that need be considered, ignoring the copious evidence that gene duplication and subsequent divergence, and the movement of transposons, are of fundamental importance. Nagel also grossly misunderstands Kauffman, whose work on aspects of biological structure and function that emerge out of fundamental mathematical and physical constraints means, if accepted, that for those aspects, neither natural selection nor design is required as an explanation.

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