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Sleeping With The Fishes. Or, You Know, Not.

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So John posted a comment on Intelligent Design, after he’d sent it to me, and I promised to yell at it.  Except,  I’m not going to, exactly.  The issue is a lot more complicated than that.  For one thing, John isn’t actually talking about Intelligent Design, which he admits to knowing nothing about.   He’s talking about certain of the “defenders” of evolution, which evolution would be better off without.

But the question matters, and it’s a kind of metaphor for everything else that is happening intellectually in the United States today.  It’s starting to happen in England, Canada, and Australia, too, and the elements are largely the same.  

And I  happen to have written a book, called Living Witness, due out this coming spring (hint, hint…) that deals with just such an argument in a small Pennsylvania town.

But let’s start from the beginning.

First, I agree with Cheryl and John–I think it would be a good idea to examine the claims of Intelligent Design in high school biology classrooms.

I think this would be good idea because it would address issues students hear outside the classroom and that are not usually addressed otherwise.

I think this would be a good idea because it would help illustrate the difference between science and scientific-sounding nonscience.  (And ID is nonscience–none of its adherents has produced any original research whatsoever to validate the ID point of view, for one thing).

And I think it would be a good idea because it would help illustrate the workings of a logical fallacy called the “argument from ignorance,” which students tend to love.  Essentially, ID is nothing but an extended argument from ignorance–you don’t know why that happens?  It must be an Intelligent  Designer that did it!

Actually, if we don’t know why something happens , all we know is that we don’t know.

Now, it would  NOT be a violation of the separation of church and state for  ID to be taught this way in high school biology classes.

Nothing in the US Constitution, or the concept of separation of church and state, forbids us from doing this.

The problem is–this is not what ID proponents want.

What they want is for ID to be presented as an alternative scientific theory to evolution with NO exacmination of the evidence that does or does not exist for its claims and NO comparison of its methods with those of the scientific community.

It would be like coming into a history classroom and saying, “Some people believe that George Washington was the first president of the United States, but other people believe it was Abraham Lincoln.  Views on this subject differ.”

And then NOT allowing any examination of the evidence unpinning (or not) the two claims.

Proponents of  ID refuse to allow examination of the evidence of their claims because most of them are aware that there is no evidence for their claims.   Their central premise–that some systems are so interdependent that they could not have arisen gradually by evolution since you need all the parts for the whole to work and if you lose one of the parts you have nothing (called “irreducible complexisty”)–was refuted 150 years ago.

In its present incarnation, that of Michael Behe’s complex molecular systems–workers in the field have actually sat down and worked out possible evolutionary paths for the very systems Behe claims it would be impossible to find evolutionary paths for.

If this was about science, Behe would respond to these critics or admit he was wrong–instead, he simply pretends they don’t exist, or, when he can’t, misstates their work.   There’s quite a lot about Behe here

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/behe.html

which is the TalkOrigins website, a good place to start if you know nothing about evolution.

But it’s worse than that.  Virtually every single claim made by proponent of ID is not only demonstrably false, but known to be so to such a wide range of people, it’s difficult not to assume that the people making the claims are simply lying, and not just confused.

For instance–there are no transitional forms!  Actually, there are, tens of thousand of them, and between species as well as within species.

The peppered  moth experiments were faked!  No, they weren’t.  All that was faked was a photographic illustration of  how the process worked, used in many textbooks for a while.  You may like this idea or not, but most textbooks engage in this practice, and in fields far removed from biology.

The National Center for Science  Education has a whole raft of resources on the ID movement, including the claims it makes.  You can start here

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/behe.html

where there are a lot of links.

But I want to address one thing that keeps coming up–the claim that ID is “another scientific explanation for the origins of life.”

First, nobody is talking about the “origins of life.”  Evolution does not deal with the “origins of life,” which could be anything, even God.  Evolution only deals with the origins of what we now call biodiversity.  ONCE life started, how did it develop so many different forms.”

At least two people have complained here that it is very wrong for opponents of ID to say that it is n ot science–but on this, even the idiots who think they’re defending evolution are quite right.  ID is no more science than Terry Pratchett is, and Pratchett’s ideas about the origins of the world are a hell of a lot more interesting.

I agree that there’s something wrong in restricting the definition of the scientific enterprise until it gets so rigid it can no longe produce new insights and innovations, but not to restrict it at all is to say that astrongomy and astrology are both ‘science.”

ID makes no testable claims.  That is, there is no way to test ID’s central premise, that life exhibits signs of having been “intelligently designed.”  Its central premise is essentially the old Argument from Design, and the Argument from Design does not hold up even as a construct in logic.

ID is not falsifiable.  That is, it allows no circumstances under which it can be proved to be wrong.   ID proponents know the importance of the requirement for falsifiability in science, which is why they are always accusing evolution of being non-falsifiable.  But evolution is falsifiable on many different points–find a single complex organism not based on DNA, for instance, and the whole edifice falls to the ground–and ID is falsifiable on none.

But the biggest problem with the ID movement is this–it does NOT want to get “intelligent design” into the schools.

It only wants to change the teaching of evolution so that children are taught that evolution is a “weak” scientific theory that “many” scientists don’t accept and is therefore a “theory in crisis” which is likely to be abandoned soon. 

That’s what they want.  That last paragraph is what they’re after.  It’s not science, and none if it is true.

That’s why ID proponents will NOT accept teaching ID in science classes and examining its claims–that’s the last thing they want.

I agree that some of the people who are supposedly defending evolution are arrogrant, hysterical and downright idiotic.  Several of the people who post to this blog were witness to a Usenet discussion in which an adamant supporter of evolution whose take on religious people was that they were all idiots willing to take anything on authority if it came from their church suddenly admitted that he didn’t actually understand evolution, but it was science, and that was enough for him.

Yes, people like that are annoying, even appalling, and it’s difficult to stand the idea of being on the same side of any issue.

But the fact is that ID was cooked up by non-scientists, and its purpose is not to present an alternative scientific view of anything.  It doesn’t even want to present a view.  It only wants to install a policy in public schools of teaching evolution as probably wrong, not supported by evidence, not accepted by the scientific community, etc, etc.  

And, like I  said, all those things are lies.

Towards the beginning of his career,  Philip Johnson, the grandfather of the new creationists, was quite outfront about why he was doing what he was doing–he was furious that scientists were respected and people who supported the literal interpretation of the Bible were laughed at.  If he’d been just another creationist, nobody would have paid any attention.  But he was not only a lawyer, but a professor of law at Boalt at Berkeley. 

ID is not about science.  It never was.  You can go here

http://www.creationismstrojanhorse.com/

and check out its history.   Barbara Forrest has made a career of keeping tabs on it.

But there’s one more thing–intellectual rigor has to be applied evenhandedly across the board.   We can’t jettison it because we just don’t want to be on the side of the guy who thinks there’s a difference between taking “science” on faith and the Pope on faith. 

I think the reality of real intellectualism is that it won’t give much confort to  liberals or conservatives.

Written by janeh

November 29th, 2008 at 10:21 am

Posted in Uncategorized

8 Responses to 'Sleeping With The Fishes. Or, You Know, Not.'

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  1. Indeed, ID is not testable, and therefor does not rate the respect given to that which can be and is tested. However when (ahem) certain of us suggested that English Lit claims to know that certain books were “better” or “worse” tended to founder on precisely this point–which was why humanities didn’t get the respect given chemistry or engineering–we were given rather short shrift.

    Indeed “intellectual rigor has to be applied evenhandedly across the board.” And that makes “better” or “worse”–unless defined in a way which can be tested–useless in a discussion of literature. Claim “earlier” “more influential” “more complex” or “containing more allusions” and you have made a claim that can be tested and potentially refuted–though which of these ought to get the book short-listed might be another question.

    Sadly, “good” and “bad” as applied by English teachers usually means “My peer group loves X and hates Y” a statement which I find unhelpful and of marginal interest.

    robert_piepenbrink

    29 Nov 08 at 11:03 am

  2. Jane wrote “For one thing, John isn’t actually talking about Intelligent Design, which he admits to knowing nothing about. He’s talking about certain of the “defenders” of evolution, which evolution would be better off without.”

    Congratulations Jane! You have a real talent for hitting the nail on the head. I don’t care in the slightest about ID but I did find the Dover trial to be an insult to my intelligence and an insult to all dedicated biologists who teach and study evolution.

    I’m going to go off at a tangent and come back to evolution later. When I was studying Physics, I took a course in Electricity and Magnetism (EM) in my 2nd year. Then I took another EM course in my 3rd year. And yet another EM course in grad school. My father was terribly confused. Why 3 courses in the same subject?

    Well EM is a very mathematical subject and it takes time to learn the math. But let me put it another way. In the first course, we were taught Rule 2 and told this is how to use Rule 2 to solve problems.

    In the second course, we were taught Rule 1 and told this is how to use Rule 1 to prove Rule 2. And in the third course we were taught Rule 0 and told no one knows why rule 0 works but it does work and is taken as an unproven axiom of EM. This is how to use Rule 0 to prove Rule 1.

    No one tries to teach EM in high school.

    You can teach enough to train electricians or electonic technicians They are not taught EM, they are taught very elementary rules that allow them to do their jobs without killing themselves. An absolutely essential skill if we want to keep a high technology civilization working but but repairing equipment is not the same as designing equipment.

    I have not had formal training in biology or evolution. I have read some books by T. H. Morgan and Ernst Myer in which they try to explain genetics and evolution at the level of Scientific American. My conclusion is that evolution is not a simple theory, its not just mutation and natural selection. Understanding the evidence requires some knowledge of geology, comparative anatomy, genetics, biochemisty and development of fetuses. Its a very sophisticated theory which uses parts of a large range of science. I do not understand why anyone wants to “teach” it at the high school level.

    Now another tangent. I studied Physics, I did not study Science. My teachers referred to themselves as theoretical physicists or experimental particle physcists or solid state physicists or low temperature physicists. They never referred to themselves as scientists.

    And I’ve never heard a working chemist or biologist say he or she was doing science.

    Nor have I heard them speak of falsification or argue about whether something is a scientific theory. They ask “Does it work?”, “Does it give useful ideas?”, “Does it suggest lines of research?”

    The early theories of heat treated heat as a fluid. We now think that is wrong but the theories suggested research which ended up disproving the original theory. A wrong theory can be useful if it stimulates research.

    Michael Behe’s suggestion of “Irreducible complexity” turned out to be wrong but as Jane said “workers in the field have actually sat down and worked out possible evolutionary paths for the very systems Behe claims it would be impossible to find evolutionary paths for.” That’s good – he stimulated useful work!

    jd

    29 Nov 08 at 2:54 pm

  3. It was careless of me to say ‘origin of life’ – I know the difference. The debate between ID & evolution slides over into that pretty quickly, though.

    I also know that at least some of the ID supporters – the most politically active ones – really want their conclusions (or a statement implying theirs are equivalent to those of the supporters of the theory of evolution) in the school curriculum. They don’t appear to want it examined in science class. I think that’s all the more reason it should be. If the ID opponents welcomed ID into the science classes and dealt with it like they do Larmarck, for example, the debate would be far more sensible (from the opponents’ point of view) than the current one. And it would remove from the ID supporter’s claims the one about how unfair and narrow-minded the scientists are.

    I don’t agree with John that the Theory of Evolution shouldn’t be taught in high school. Like the Theory of Relativity, it should be there, but in a highly simplified form. There isn’t time in the curriculum to get into them in detail, and the students at that level don’t have enough other related knowledge to understand them entirely. But it’s too important to leave out entirely.

    I remember when I was in high school and learned the structure of the atom. At that time, our program was pretty basic, and all I was taught was stuff about little particles; some in a lump in the middle and the electrons whizzing around the outside. Then I learned a slightly more advanced version, with what I think were called ‘electron levels’. By the time they tried to teach me about orbitals, shells and such, I got rather resentful. I’d learned about the structure of the atom! Why were the teachers always changing the rules just when I figured I understood things? Didn’t they know the right way to describe an atom? Eventually, I found out about models, and how although different models represented different levels of understanding of what went on in an atom, they also represented different tools. The older, simpler ideas were perfectly adequate for beginners, and were used by anyone doing basic stoichiometric calculations. They weren’t ‘wrong’ in the way we usually think of the term; just less complete and useful for limited purposes. Someone trying to predict the outcome of the reaction of a complicated molecule or why some elements are radioactive would naturally use a different model.

    Similarly, with evolution, a basic version of the theory is all that is needed in high school, but that one is needed.

    cperkins

    30 Nov 08 at 8:48 am

  4. Essentially, ID is nothing but an extended argument from ignorance–you don’t know why that happens? It must be an Intelligent Designer that did it!

    Ironically it seems that you’re ignorant of the argument. It is not an appeal to an absence of knowledge but what is known of intelligence and technology. This is not new, even Paley was merely reformulating arguments that go all the way back to Cicero and before. If you’re going to criticize an argument then at least know what it is instead of relying on a mix of purely political talking points and conspiracy theories.

    It would be like coming into a history classroom and saying, “Some people believe that George Washington was the first president of the United States, but other people believe it was Abraham Lincoln. Views on this subject differ.”

    That’s propaganda. You seem to be projecting your own faults onto proponents of ID. You argue that their goals are only political and only about getting ID taught to school children but actually that’s your own main focus and many proponents don’t have that focus at all. You argue that they’re arguing from ignorance but you’re apparently essentially ignorant of ID. You argue that proponents of ID care little about empirical evidence but your own focus has little to do with it and instead your position is apparently rooted in arguments of association or “just like” arguments.

    Evolution does not deal with the “origins of life,” which could be anything, even God. Evolution only deals with the origins of what we now call biodiversity. ONCE life started, how did it develop so many different forms.”

    Historically this is not what was said at all. The hypothetical goo known as “evolution” which seems to explain everything (and ironically therefore explains nothing) has not had enough consistency over time to specify any claim about the empirical evidence, therefore it is consistent with all observations. Any “verification” which finds its origins in a lack of specification is actually just a mental illusion but many seem to be quite overwhelmed by it. But take your supposed claim as it recedes back into hypothetical goo, if evolution says nothing about the origin of life then there could be more than one origin of life. And if that’s the case then evolution is not “verified” by evidence for common descent because it was never specified in the first place. Mental illusions rooted in a lack of specification are typical to Darwinian theory, that’s why many people tend to be “overwhelmed” by it. Here’s a simple test for this “overwhelming” effect, what biological observation would falsify the theory of evolution?

    mynym

    30 Nov 08 at 11:39 pm

  5. Its a very sophisticated theory which uses parts of a large range of science. I do not understand why anyone wants to “teach” it at the high school level.

    Many of the original proponents of Darwinism wanted to teach it at the high school level in order to promote eugenics. That was part of the reason that William Jennings Bryan took a stand against it. All the thanks he got for his stand was a campaign of propaganda against him similar to what some proponents of ID get for pointing out that many highschool textbooks still use images of Haeckel’s forged embryos. Supposedly everyone who disagrees with the “theory of evolution” is an ignorant fool, a fundamentalist, or both. And there are some arguments of association or propaganda which can be made there given that many who disagree with the theory are ignorant fools or fundamentalists. But one could just as easily turn the argument around because on the other side many Darwinists have been charlatans, eugenicists and proto-Nazis. The link between eugenic thinking and Nazism is well known and Haeckel is also linked to the same pattern, it is almost fitting that those who take on the task of removing proto-Nazi ideas or the work of proto-Nazi biologists from textbooks are answered with nothing but a campaign of propaganda essentially devoid of facts, logic, evidence or the search for knowledge/scientia.

    mynym

    30 Nov 08 at 11:53 pm

  6. mynym:

    I’m not sure I follow much of your thinking –
    ‘“evolution” which seems to explain everything’ – it does? not in any explanation of the theory I’ve come across.

    There are claims that eventually it may explain speciation, of course. Such claims or implications are commonplace, right up to the longed-for ultimate unified field theory.

    I doubt any single biological observation would either verify or falsify such complex theories – evolution at least has many different kinds of supporting evidence. One example of one of them being proven false would merely weaken the theory a bit.

    I don’t think anyone in this forum besides you have made the arguments that ‘Supposedly everyone who disagrees with the “theory of evolution” is an ignorant fool, a fundamentalist, or both.’ or didn’t know that the some of the same people believed in evolution, eugenics and Nazi political philosophies.

    But none of that is convincing. I think the Theory of Evolutions provides a very strong, although not yet complete, explanation of how species arise and develop. I haven’t seen much in what I’ve read about ID to convince me that it’s a serious rival, although I don’t oppose teaching about it in the schools, even in the science classes. Going on about the *other* things some supporters of evolution also supported, or the nasty names supporters of evolution call supporters of ID isn’t really convincing argument about or explanation of ID.

    cperkins

    1 Dec 08 at 10:21 am

  7. I’m not sure I follow much of your thinking –
    ‘“evolution” which seems to explain everything’ – it does?

    Of course it does, some even go further than biology and claim that “evolution” is defined by or explains all change that ever has or will happen in the Cosmos. In this view there’s nothing different about biology and physics and biological theories are similar to physical theories. Some of the charlatans who write at talk.origins have even gone so far as to claim that the Darwinian theory of evolution is the epistemic equivalent of the theory of gravity. But if that’s the case then where has the theory of natural selection been specified in the language of mathematics and verified empirically in trajectories of adaptation in groups of organisms? It seems that little has been predicted and it may be that the theory of natural selection is a rather trivial summary of knowledge which can only be known after the process takes place. It may have little to do with a fundamental “force” or law of nature.

    I doubt any single biological observation would either verify or falsify such complex theories…

    That’s alright, just name a single biological observation which could be counted as a falsification and in that way show that something was actually specified in the first place.

    I don’t know that anyone can falsify arguments rooted in imaginary evidence. Behe gave it a shot by searching for an “edge” or definition and specification to evolutionary theory. It’s pretty humorous actually, it’s up to critics to specify the theory. Here’s a short summary of Darwinian arguments when it comes to actual empirical evidence or biological observations: “If I could be shown an organism which I could not imagine coming about in a gradual sequence of progression then my theory would absolutely break down. I can always imagine things, therefore my theory is verified. In fact, it seems a little overwhelming to me!” Sometimes people taken in by the mental illusions at the root of much of Darwinian reasoning will even claim that the failure of their opponents to imagine things the way that they do is some sort of intellectual failure. It’s not. The fact that someone can imagine something about the past that seems natural to them or gradual or progressive has nothing to do with the empirical evidence or what actually happens in the real world. Again, given that the original poster cited the charlatans of talk.origins approvingly (Who claim in their propagandistic arguments of association that the theory of evolution is “just like” the theory of gravity.) what trajectories of adaptation have been predicted and verified empirically in the real world?

    …evolution at least has many different kinds of supporting evidence.

    Much of it is imaginary because Darwinian reasoning allows for citing your own imagination as the epistemic equivalent of empirical evidence based on whatever seems “natural” or “gradual” enough to you at the time. In disputes among themselves even biologists occasionally have enough intelligence to point out that a person’s capacity to imagining things about the past may have nothing to the way that things actually are. In other words, the specification of a theory in language and its verification by empirical observations is more important than imagery which may have nothing to do with anything.

    E.g.

    The viewpoint of Coyne et al. (1988) is one in which past events are argued to explain, in a causal sense, the world around us. Such explanations cannot be verified or tested, and the only biological observations they require are that variation and differential reproduction occur. This is not a caricature, as a reading of Coyne et al. will verify. In keeping with this general viewpoint, proponents claim that species are explained with reference to history. Important characters are hence “mechanisms” that have established and maintained the separation between diverged lineages of an ancestral population. According to Coyne et al., even the adaptive purpose of the changes that resulted in these mechanisms is irrelevant.
    We would ask where biology enters into this schema. The answer is that it does not. Rather, biology is interpreted in terms of a range of historical processes, including selection of variation over time. This could, with equal relevance, be used to understand any nonbiological phenomenon such as the development of the automobile, agricultural methods, culture, or men’s suits (Lewontin, 1976).
    (Points of View Species and Neo-Darwinism
    by C. S. White; B. Michaux; D. M. Lambert
    Systematic Zoology, Vol. 39, No. 4. (Dec., 1990), :400-401)

    They have to point out that it’s not caricature because when you’re the one imagining things about the past in a way that seems natural to you it seems totally right and correct. In fact, the word “overwhelming” typically comes up because what people are actually doing is overwhelming their intellects with their own imaginations.

    mynym

    1 Dec 08 at 12:13 pm

  8. I don’t think anyone in this forum besides you have made the arguments that ‘Supposedly everyone who disagrees with the “theory of evolution” is an ignorant fool, a fundamentalist, or both.’

    The original poster said: “…the TalkOrigins website, a good place to start if you know nothing about evolution.

    But the talk.origins website is written by a moral degenerate like PZ Myers, someone who can hardly admit that Haeckel’s embryos were faked and so on. At any rate, he has often made the case that anyone who disagrees with Darwinian evolution is an ignorant fool. The original poster goes on to argue that ID is the equivalent of creationism, i.e. fundamentalism. So it’s far to say that the position being advanced here is that anyone who disagrees with the “theory of evolution” is either ignorant or a fundamentalist.

    Repeating the claims of those who defend the Darwinian creation myth often reads like a caricature or a satire but it is typically nothing more than what they’ve actually said.

    E.g.:
    “Intelligent design is creationism.”

    Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Thomas Jefferson and so on all just became the equivalent of creationist rubes. Defenders of Darwinism could argue that creationists are abusing teleological thinking and ID in order to advance their agenda but they typically assert that intelligent design is creationism instead in order to advance their own agenda. In this way Darwinists don’t have to deal with teleological thinking and can make arguments of association and imagery in that propagandistic way they have on creationism instead. At any rate, the simple fact is that Aristotle was right and that’s why they don’t want to deal openly and honestly with the design argument or the history of teleological thought. Instead things always take a political shift with them and there’s some conspiracy theory they want to talk about and so on.

    But think about it this way, if your biological brain events have more to do with natural selection operating on the excretory and reproductive organs of ancient ape like creatures* than teleological thinking which comes about by purpose and design then it would seem that you only think that you’re thinking anyway. After all, intelligent design is necessary for symbols and signs to have any meaning as far as we know based on our own experience. And putting aside imagining things, our experience is all we have to go by.

    *A necessary chain of events for the existence of such brain events, if one is given to imagining that past events explain the entire Cosmos at present and so on.

    mynym

    1 Dec 08 at 12:33 pm

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