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Intelligent Design

Brief Political Interlude

Razib over at Gene Expression dropped me a note about a petition titled “Conservatives Against Intelligent Design”. I know that many of my readers don’t necessarily share my political views (and this blog isn’t explicitly political in nature, anyway). But anyone who’d like to help point out that many people who lean right actually think Intelligent Design is untestable and untenable can sign here.
We now return to the ASCO-centric world the blog will inhabit for the next few days (see the post below, and to come).

28 comments on “Brief Political Interlude”

  1. Buddha says:

    Have you seen the tongue-in-cheek response to the Intelligent Design school of thought-The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The members-or Pastafarians-use the same logic as the ID people to support the teaching in public schools that the Spaghetti Monster created the universe. Pretty amusing….

  2. tom bartlett says:

    “The members-or Pastafarians-use the same logic as the ID people to support the teaching in public schools that the Spaghetti Monster created the universe. ” Except the FSM afterlife is better than what Christian Fundies get. There is, for example, a beer volcano.
    Derek: I think you are all wet on subjects like the role of Govt. in stimulating jobs and such, but I appreciate that you are a reality-based conservative instead of one of the Fundie Ideologues that are running the show these days.

  3. IndianCowboy says:

    Dr. Lowe, thanks for helping to publicize this. I’d expected a much more modest start than we’ve gotten thanks to you, derbyshire, and razib. I’m very optimistic that this will have some effect at the very least on getting the ‘neutral’ republican politicians to come out for (or against) this movement.

  4. SyntheticturnedMedChemist says:

    Derek, I was surprised at your almost fanatical leftist anti-Christianity zeal. You seem not to miss any opportunity to pan things of this nature (ID, etc). IMHO this detracts your credibility as a fairminded scientist. I’d welcome intellectual dissecting of the arguments on both sides, but not the immediate hatred and marginalization of anyone who doesn’t share your views on evolution etc.

  5. Chrispy says:

    Scientists get caught in this messy kind of pseudo debate because their arguments are inherently rooted in evidence. The Intelligent Design crowd does not reach their conclusions through evidence but through faith, and the occasional shabby “logical arguments” to support their faith-based opinions lack the empiricism which science demands. Those who reach faith-based conclusions should not present them as having any more credibility than the weight of the evidence allows: in the case of ID, the evidence is scant and perhaps even unobtainable. The attacks by the Christian right on the teaching of evolution has done their movement a disservice. People can believe whatever they want, but to be taken seriously in a scientific debate one must have evidence.

  6. Timothy says:

    Well the view that evolution is guided by some sort of inebriated sky-friend isn’t exactly, you know, testable it therefore is entirely an opinion and deserves no more attention than “theories” like phrenology, phlogiston, or free energy.

  7. SyntheticturnedMedChemist says:

    Are you suggesting it doesn’t require faith to believe in naturalism/evolution? Please don’t take offense. I couldn’t help chuckling when I read that. In my opinion it requires more faith not less. It comes down to a personal choice really, after all is said and done.

  8. Katherine says:

    Believing that evolution is how we came to be is a lot like believing in relativity. They’re both scientific theories with huge bodies of evidence behind them. They both have some minor holes, but they both do a great job of explaining the observable world. And they’re both a little hard to take at first, until you’ve put in the time to study them.
    I assume from your handle that you’ve put in the time to understand evolution, so I’m left to conclude that your faith conflicts with your scientific understanding, and you’ve chosen to go with your faith. I can sympathize with that. My faith doesn’t conflict in the slightest with evolution, but if it did, I’d have a tough choice to make. If I did choose my faith, though, I hope I would have the intellectual honesty to keep out of the debate entirely, instead of making claims like “it requires faith to believe in evolution.” Serious scientists know better than that.

  9. razib says:

    It comes down to a personal choice really, after all is said and done.
    yeah, spoken like a post modern liberal 🙂

  10. razib says:

    I assume from your handle that you’ve put in the time to understand evolution
    why? most scientists don’t know jack about evolution as a systematic theory as opposed to the general fact. e.g., could most scientists respond to a sophisticated creationist who asks, “if fisher’s fundamental theorem holds, doesn’t that imply that evolution exhibits within it the seeds of its own doom?” i had a creationist ask me that, do you think most scientists could respond cogently to this?
    1) we don’t know that the fundamental theorem is that important
    2) we know empirical that greater than 10 standard deviations from generation 1 median can be generated by selection, so underlying genetic variation is very hard to exhaust (e.g., oil seed)
    3) mutation can replenish variation on a selected polygene on an order of 10^-3 per generation per polygene
    they didn’t follow up after that response, but i am assuming they “stumped” many people with their quasi-sophisticated quackery.

  11. Derek Lowe says:

    Synth, I’m pretty far from being a leftist, I can assure you. And don’t assume that I have some sort of reflexive anti-Christian bias – that would only stand a chance of being true if Christianity were congruent with belief in intelligent design, which I certainly don’t think is the case.
    We have had many, many extended comment-fests here on the subject of ID. I would welcome a thoughtful advocate of it for a debate, but I can only count one or two people who’ve argued for the position here that I would put in that category. Most of the intelligent design boosters that show up, sad to say, seem to engage mainly in tactics designed to irritate everyone else into finally giving up and walking away (whereupon they claim victory and/or unjust persecution). It’s not a good advertisement for the field, I can tell you.
    But you’re correct in that I lose few opportunities to say bad things about ID. I don’t have a high opinion of it as a scientific theory, which is (last I heard) what it claims to be. There are many other weak, poorly-thought-out or poorly-supported theories that I have similarly low opinions of, but no one is trying to get them taught in the schools. Yet. So I do single ID out for special treatment.

  12. SyntheticturnedMedChemist says:

    “yeah, spoken like a post modern liberal :)”
    In reality I couldn’t be further away from that 🙂

  13. yntheticturnedMedChemist says:

    The question is not whether my faith conflicts with my scientific understanding or evolution. My faith is in whatever that’s more consistent with facts. Don’t laugh out loud yet. As is often the case in life things aren’t always what they first appear to be. I suggest you entertain some good literature from good sources like anwersingenesis for starters.
    Is evolution the more coherent model to explain the existence of our world? There’re many angles from which one can approach this subject, e.g. philosophical, empirical/experimental (scientific) etc. Obviously my conclusion is evolution is not the answer.
    I also challenge you statement “instead of making claims like “it requires faith to believe in evolution.” Serious scientists know better than that.” You’d be surprised at the number of secular/evolutionist scientists who feel the same way.

  14. DLIB says:

    I’ve entered this conversation with some friends who believe. The thing I found the most interesting is that they really feel that there is an assault by scientists and the left against there belief system and that they feel persecuted. I find this odd since our president believes in ID and many of the other people that run our country are proponents. The strategy of the Design Institute to teach the controversy has done a great job in creating this friction. I recently read Hank Hannegraf’s (sp?) book and sadly it was just a set of points to arm ID proponents in the debate against scientists. I found his treatment of thermodynamics uhhh well let’s just say he shouldn’t really talk about thermodynamics anymore.
    There is no debate when the chasm is so wide, so I think its pointless and a different tack is required. We have 2 parrallel non-intersecting views of the universe. We just need to get rid of the testable stuff from one viewpoint ( like the age of things )so that the paths can be decoupled. I also think the process of how something becomes a theory versus an idea is a long process that needs to be explained better to lay people. As an example, I think String Theory is a misnomer it’s more a philosophy then a testable theory ( gravity-wave frequency… requires LIGO to actually detect one 😉

  15. SyntheticturnedMedChemist says:

    I guess folks can be extreme at both ends of the spectrum. As far as persecution, how widely occuring I don’t know, but try revealing yourself as a non-believer in evolution to your fellow scientist colleagues and see how quickly you’ll lose their respect. Speaking from personal experience, I was really surprised at how hostile some people can be. In an academic setting, you can just about forget about tenure if your dept head is an evolutionist (which is 95% of the time).

  16. Katherine says:

    Try revealing yourself as a non-believer in relativity to your fellow scientist colleagues and see how quickly you’ll lose their respect. In an academic setting, you can just about forget about tenure if your dept head believes in relativity (which is 95% of the time).
    Frankly, the scary part of your statement is the 95% part. If it’s not 100%, somebody’s wasting their time.
    Mind you, I say all this as a right-leaning practicing Christian. Derek’s right: ID and Christianity are not congruent. Thank goodness.

  17. qetzal says:

    SyntheticturnedMedChemist wrote:
    “I’d welcome intellectual dissecting of the arguments on both sides….”
    TalkOrigins provides a very thorough dissecting of probably every pro-ID argument you’ve ever seen, and plenty more.
    “Are you suggesting it doesn’t require faith to believe in naturalism/evolution?”
    If you’re a scientist, then you know that it’s not a matter of believing in evolution. It’s whether the evidence supports accepting evolution as the best available explanation for the diversity of life on earth. And it does.
    If you wish to disbelieve evolution in spite of the evidence, that’s perfectly fine, AFAIC. However, if you claim that there is significant scientific evidence supporting ID or special creation, you are simply wrong.
    “I suggest you entertain some good literature from good sources like anwersingenesis for starters.”
    Do you truly maintain that answersingenesis makes a strong scientific case in support of ID?

  18. Derek Lowe says:

    Synth, if you’re going to use as a source, we’re not going to be able to get much said to each other. The problem I have with them is summed up in this quote from one of their articles:
    “The hypothesis of evolution changes every year; if one theory is said to be fact, but then a year later is shown to be wrong, then how can it be fact in the first place? It is illogical to think that something is a fact and then not a fact. The reason the Bible never changes is because it is God’s Word and is absolute truth. A true fact is something that never changes.”
    I don’t know how I can state this without sounding offensive: I don’t see how it’s possible to have an argument about science and evidence with a person or group who are convinced that they are in possession of The Final Absolute Truth.
    I know, I know, ID’ers and Creationists believe that evolution proponents come on like that themselves, but note that quote. One of the things they’re complaining about is how evolutionists are always changing their minds. Why would we do that if we had Absolute Truth? Wouldn’t we just walk around saying “Darwin said it, I believe it, and that settles it”?
    But we don’t. Things are only settled in science for as long as it takes for better data and better theories to come in. So you can see why it’s hard for someone used to that way of thinking to deal with people who hold up a book and say “Here. Truth. Word of God. Case closed.” That’s the “Answers in Genesis” worldview, as far as I can see.
    Oh, and as Qetzal is alluding to, they have uncounted numbers of scientific points mangled and misrepresented, too.
    (Note: edited comment to attach my name to it – the first posting somehow lost its attribution).

  19. DLIB says:

    I’ve actually known several phycists including theoretical, condensed matter, and nuclear who believe in god. They have a belief system that is completely compatible with both world views. They believe that god created the laws of nature. Everything they do in physics does not compete with that view of the universe. They seem to know, I don’t think it’s knowable but there you have it. Harmony. They also believe in evolution. Although, it’s my understanding that for catholics evolution of humans from apes is also not a problem ( I think the last pope wrote something about this– I remember from an NPR report ) so long as it’s understood that the differentiation comes with who has a soul. Again, unknowable to me.
    As for the bias, it’s true ( I wrote something pretty sarcastic in the forward of my thesis to the effect that thermodynamics governs everywhere but Kansas )

  20. Hap says:

    ID doesn’t make sense as science – as has probably been discussed ad infinitum. It is falsifiable, because it depends on the improbability of evolutionary events as a proof of external (extrauniversal) intervention, although improbable events occur regularly in other contexts (sequences of OH lottery winners over 1a comparable to estimated probs. for complex organs) – distinguishing intervention based on probabilities doesn’t work if improbable events happen with any frequency. ID advocates also exclude the possibility that natural explanations outside evolution that explain the same events might exist, in which case flaws in evolution don’t shed light on the validity of ID.
    ID gets worse, though, when the religious aspects are observed. Creationism and ID rely on literal interpretation of the Bible – that the plain text meaning is true and the spiritual reality is invariant (I don’t have the exact quote, but an African bishop of the Anglican Church is quoted in a recent New Yorker article on the Episcopal Church expressing this in concord with the American conservative segment of his church.) Problem is, the text has issues with literal interpretation – for example, the presence of two Eve creation stories (Gen 1:27 and 2:18-24). In addition, the practiced Christianity drops some inconvenient mandates clearly stated as such in the text – Leviticus for example (also Paul’s idea that women should be silent in church). If the text of the Bible is absolutely correct, it has to be held in practice consistently with the text, and it is not. Since the literal interpretation is the basis for the opposition of some Christians for evolution, inconsistent interpretations undermine the religious logic for the existence of ID and creationism – why is Genesis off limits to interpretation but not Leviticus or Romans? The moral credence claimed for literal interpretation (and hence for the religious basis of ID and creationism) derives from a consistent plain interpretation of the Bible – if interpreters claim legitimacy from their adherence to texual meaning but ignore it when inconvenient, their interpretation can’t be said to have much legitimacy unless the legitimacy comes from elsewhere.
    Finally, ID and creationism seem to deny the faith that Christianity relies on – their advocates want to force the world to acknowledge the reality of what they believe, as if everyone believing could make it so. God’s existence doesn’t depend on our belief – our belief is acknowledgement or denial of a reality already present and outside our power. For a bonus, ID wants to use the societal legitimacy of science to validate the beliefs of its holders, though they hold no value in its processes and the interpretation ID relies on for religious force contradicts the conclusions science has obtained – it wants validation from a system which is invalidated by its precepts, kind of like believing that the approval of someone you don’t respect or care about will validate your own self-worth. It doesn’t really make sense.
    ID has a lot of problems – it doesn’t hold water as science, it mandates an interpretation of the Bible (and assumes its absolute correctness) that is not held consistently and is hence suspect, and it seems to deny the faith which is its claim to existence. While science derives rules from the order of the world (or tries to), ID attempts to make the observed world fit into its order. It seems to imply we already know everything about God and the world work. This seems inimical to faith – if we know everything, where is God, exactly? We are supposed to be asking God questions and listening to the answers, not telling Him what is and doing what we wish. If that isn’t a negation of Christianity, it certainly doesn’t seem like good practice – it sounds a lot like the way the religious elite behaved about 2 millenia ago in a certain portion of the Middle East, who wouldn’t exactly be the people I wish to emulate.
    Sorry – I wanted to get this off my chest.

  21. markm says:

    The problem with ID isn’t that it is unfalsifiable. It is that ID proponents ignore the most obvious evidence against it – the human appendix, foot, and spinal column.

  22. Jim Hu says:

    There is no evidence against ID. That would suggest that it is falsifiable.

  23. Jim Hu says:

    Oops, clicked too soon. markm is actually arguing that the appendix, the foot and spinal column falsify ID. I don’t think so. Operationally, these certainly haven’t falsified it in the minds of ID supporters…
    ID supporters can also argue that failure to understand the principles behind a design does not preclude that something was designed. Which is what we often say about the path of evolution by variation+selection. We may not yet understand or agree on what selection pressures + historical constraints led to extant features, but failure of imagination is not the same as evidence.

  24. Hap says:

    There could be a lack of contrary evidence either if ID were true or if ID were falsifiable (if it contradicted obvious data that existed it wouldn’t have lasted very long, though considering the motivations behind it, that might be optimistic). If probability doesn’t work, how do you distinguished designed sequences from evolved ones? When I asked an ID advocate in OH (when ID advocates wanted it taught as part of the curriculum in OH schools) how to disprove ID, I was told that if an event sequence with high enough probability is found (my remembrance) would disprove ID. This has the problem of what probability is high enough – there doesn’t seem to be any obvious derivation of it from ID.
    “Failure of imagination is not the same as evidence” is a really good quote and response to their position. I think the flaws in ID run deeper than just its scientific flaws.

  25. GATC says:

    Hey guys, talk about faith. How about those nanosecounds just before the Big Bang where we are to believe that the entire mass of the KNOWN universe was to have occupied a slim cubic centimeter or so of celestial real estate………………which way is that beer volcano???

  26. daen says:

    GATC, perhaps an example might help to bring your credulity back to manageable proportions. Lead is about 11 times denser than water. Plutonium is about 20 times denser than water. Neutron stars are 100,000,000,000,000 (10E+14) to 1,000,000,000,000,000 (10E+15) times denser than water. Black hole singularity densities, as far as can be known, are infinite. If you’re prepared to accept these notions, is it so strange to speculate that the known universe could have once been compressed into a vanishingly small point of spacetime?

  27. GATC says:

    I’ll take that volcano Daen. Good beer and the simple linearity of DNA I can grasp…….still trying to get through that last Kip Thorne book anyway.

  28. MTK says:

    For anyone interested, I recommend the book “Why Intelligent Design Fails”. From the title it’s obvious where it stands on the issue.
    The book does a good job in first describing the arguments put forth by the leading ID proponents then scientifically countering them. For example, the bacterium flagellum, the poster child for irreducible complexity, a cornerstone of ID is ripped in a scientific manner.

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