ID on Tech Central Station

By | October 7, 2005

In his update to my Meet the Designer entry, Stephen provides links to two pieces currently running on TCS that have some interesting things to say about the Intelligent Design debate. I have some thoughts on both of these pieces. Let’s begin with…

An Open e-mail to Sallie Baliunas

Hi Sallie –

Very much enjoyed your piece on Tech Central Station re: Intelligent Design. Regarding this provocative passage:

There is one logical exception to this. It would be a hypothetical, advanced alien who designed life on earth and left it here to incubate, perhaps meddling with it now and then, with methods not yet known to the human state of scientific knowledge. That alien intelligence would hold an incredible technological control over matter, far beyond sci-fi imaginings like the Technomages in the television novel Babylon 5 . However, the hypothetical, intelligent alien would be a material creature and would work in advanced ways with matter and energy; ergo such scientific concepts would ultimately be knowable. We close this unlikely option for lack of any scientific evidence.

As you may know, there are (serious) variations on this idea that have more to do with the origin of the universe than they do with the origin of life on Earth, offered up by scientists who have no interest in religion. The amazing set of “coincidences” that account for the existence of our universe in just the right configuration to allow for the time spans, the chemistry, and physics to support life are handled tautologically via the weak anthropic principle — the universe had to be this way or we wouldn’t be here to discuss it, end of disucssion — but some theorists don’t see this as a particularly satisfying answer to the puzzle. Another possible answer is that our universe is the end product of a process — either a completely naturalistic one in which our universe evolved from previous, less life-friendly universes, or an “artificial” process in which highly involved intelligences from a previous version of the universe planned and designed this universe to support life.

Obviously, such views are seen as highly speculative by the scientific community and are subject to appropriate criticism. But the fact that teaching ID in biology classrooms has become a contentious political issue, and that many of those promoting ID really are creationists in disguise, does not mean that all ID thinking is religious in nature.

A good summary of this argument can be found here. I’ve recently done some writing on this subject myself on my blog, where I also intend to publish this message.

Cheers,

Phil Bowermaster

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I’ll provide updates if I get any kind of response. Next let’s take a look at…

Why Intelligent Design Is Going to Win

Doug Kern writes an accessible and thought-provoking essay on why ID is destined to win out as the origin of life theory taught in schools. It’s a fun read, and contains one passage that I thought was especially insightful:

Vitriol, condescension, and endless accusations of bad faith all characterize far too much of the standard pro-Darwinian response to criticism. A reasonable observer might note that many ID advocates appear exceptionally well-educated, reasonable, and articulate; they might also note that ID advocates have pointed out many problems with the Darwinist catechism that even pro-Darwin scientists have been known to concede, when they think the Jesus-kissing crowd isn’t listening. And yet, even in the face of a sober, thoughtful ID position, the pro-Darwin crowd insists on the same phooey-to-the-boobgeois shtick that was tiresome in Mencken’s day.

Nicely put. I think the Darwinian argument would be much better made without the sneer. But then, I’m old fashioned. I think arguments in general should be heavy on substance and light on sneering at the other side.

However, being old fashioned, I really can’t buy into the thrust of Kern’s argument. It’s that opening paragraph. He loses me at hello:

It doesn’t matter if you like it or not. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s true or not. Intelligent Design theory is destined to supplant Darwinism as the primary scientific explanation for the origin of human life. ID will be taught in public schools as a matter of course.

Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But it most certainly matters whether you think it’s true or not, because it matters whether it is true or not. If ID is wrong and it “wins,” that’s, um…what’s the word I’m looking for?

Bad.

Likewise, if it has some merit — or some variations of it do — and it’s fully excluded both from the schools and from serious public discourse, that’s bad, too. I think the whole “win-lose” paradigm has really got to go.

  • Rik

    I read the article too and I couldn’t believe the argument Kern was making. So demographics is more important than culture or memes? Then why isn’t he writing in Chinese (they were always more numerous than the Americas or Europe)? He really should answer the question (David Landes and Jared Diamond were there before him): why Western Europe? Or for that matter, why a small agrarian nation in 1776? I think the ID debate is poisoning culture, because it wants to win (it seems to me that id’ers want to save objective monotheism (traditional culture personified), but it’s been a goner since mid 19th century) and if it were to win… like you said, that would be bad. For the culture as a whole would lose: Can Do & Can Know.

  • Engineer-Poet

    Intelligent Design Creationism may get shoved into school biology texts by people who demand that their religion get equal billing, but it will never be equal as a science for the simple reason that there is nothing to do science on.  All ID “science” consists of negative (and often falsified) arguments against evolution.

    The Panda’s Thumb is a blog devoted to dissection of creationism and the tactics of its proponents.  If you want to understand what’s really at stake here (and just how often and unapologetically the IDC proponents lie to promote their agenda – very un-Christian of them) you really need to be reading that site.

  • https://www.blog.speculist.com Phil Bowermaster

    EP –

    Intelligent Design Creationism may get shoved into school biology texts by people who demand that their religion get equal billing…All ID “science” consists of negative (and often falsified) arguments against evolution.

    I respectfully disagree. I don’t doubt that many if not most of those pushing ID into biology classrooms have a religious and anti-evolution agenda, but that isn’t the whole story. To quote from the John Smart piece I linked above:

    …Darwinism is an incomplete model of biological change. The new theory of evo-devo, or evolutionary developmental biology, as explained by such scientists as Simon Conway Morris, Rudolf Raff, F. John Odling-Smee and Brian K. Hall, helps us understand that long-range processes of both evolution and development are always at work in living systems. Darwinists understand long-range evolutionary processes, but too many still assume that evolution is the only long-range process of change working in any complex system. Curiously, it is developmental cosmologists such as Lee Smolin, Max Tegmark, and Martin Rees, who are making the most progress in this area, at present. They note that the “genes” of our universe (its special constants, laws, and initial conditions) appear finely tuned for the production of life, and perhaps even for accelerating intelligence (Carl Sagan’s “Cosmic Calendar”).

    One may very well disagree with any of these ideas, but they are not offered up as a refutation of evolution and they are most certainly not religiously motivated.

  • http://ergosphere.blogspot.com Engineer-Poet

    Of course “Darwinism” (if you mean “The Origin of Species”) is incomplete.  Darwin didn’t even know about Mendelian inheritance, and the structure of DNA wouldn’t be discovered for most of a century.  And of course mechanisms continue to be discovered and details filled in; that’s what a flourishing science does.

    But everything that is truly known is known by virtue of naturalistic inquiry.  When you start getting into cosmological “fine tuning” you’re flirting with theology.  Unless and until we’ve got evidence regarding the mechanisms which determine the physical constants and conditions which brought forth the universe we see (and cosmological inflation appears to have made a universe which is vastly larger than what we can see, or will ever be able to see) all arguments regarding design are the argument from ignorance.

    I’m forced to agree with Baliunas:  “By invoking a supernatural process, intelligent design foregoes and all but forbids scientific questioning, and is thus antithetical to science.”

  • http://ergosphere.blogspot.com Engineer-Poet

    Lots of commentary on the Kern piece at The Thumb.  From Fernmonkey:

    ID will win because it can be reconciled with any advance that takes place in biology, whereas Darwinism cannot yield even an inch of ground to ID.

    Yep, it’s that same thing again – if you can make ID neatly retrofit anything new you discover rather than using it to make testable predictions, what’s the point? From a purely science perspective, what do you do with it? Where’s the content?

    And from Adam Ierymenko:

    I always wonder if Dembski is the reincarnation of Lysenko.

    While Lysenko’s “theories” led in part to the utter failure of Soviet agriculture, I can see how Dembski’s “theories” might lead to America missing out on one of the next major revolutions in science and technology: complexity, synthetic biology, and evolving technology. His bogus ideas seem almost deliberately crafted to blind us to any real understanding of, for example, how information theory really does intersect with biology.

    The problem with Intelligent Design Creationism “theory” is that it says that it’s right to wave your hand at some point and say “God did it, it’s pointless to ask further” and just stop.  A nation of people who wave their hands in the air and go on without trying to understand things is going to go the way of the Middle East under the stultifying grip of Islamic orthodoxy.  People cannot simultaneously call for religion in biology classes and American greatness; they are inexorably opposed.

  • https://www.blog.speculist.com Phil Bowermaster

    EP–

    Well, there’s no question that you and Baliunas are reading from the same songbook. :-)

    But, please:

    “By invoking a supernatural process…”

    I don’t.

    When you start getting into cosmological “fine tuning” you’re flirting with theology.

    Well thanks very much for your concern, but this blog is pretty much dedicated to free speculation. I’ll “flirt with” whatever I damn well please. If that bothers you, and you feel you must report me to the Naturalistic Thought Police, go for it.

    People cannot simultaneously call for religion in biology classes and American greatness; they are inexorably opposed.

    Who here is “calling for religion in biology classes?” No one. You seem to be arguing over my shoulder with some creationist you imagine standing behind me. He ain’t there.

  • http://ergosphere.blogspot.com Engineer-Poet

    “Intelligent design” is crypto-creationism.  It’s undeniable; any physical designer which could make life starts infinite regress, and one which could tune the physics of the universe is supernatural by definition.  To promote ID in biology books is to put religion into science class, no more and no less.

    Speculation is all well and good, but when it goes into things like the enumeration of angels dancing on pinheads its connection to reality (and anything else I care about) has disappeared.

  • https://www.blog.speculist.com Phil Bowermaster

    Okay, EP.

    First:

    It’s undeniable; any physical designer which could make life starts infinite regress, and one which could tune the physics of the universe is supernatural by definition.

    Hey, wait a second: a “physical” designer couldn’t possibly be supernatural…by definition! :-)

    One of the ideas discussed in the John Smart piece that I won’t bother linking to again was this:

    In the simplest and most biological of these cosmological models, our universe’s genes self-organized, through many successive cycles in the multiverse, to produce the life-friendly and intelligence-friendly universe we live in today.

    One might well argue that little can currently be done in the way of naturalistic investigation into this idea, but it is not crypto-creationism. And it is not in any sense religious.

    …but when it goes into things like the enumeration of angels dancing on pinheads its connection to reality (and anything else I care about) has disappeared.

    Evo-devo is not angels dancing on the head of a pin. It’s a tremendously important concept–one that may have a thing or two to tell us about reality. Don’t worry, though. No one is asking you to spend any time on it. You can always catch up later.

  • http://ergosphere.blogspot.com Engineer-Poet

    I wasn’t talking about evo-devo.  I was talking about ID.

  • Phil Bowermaster

    Well, my whole point has been that I don’t want to see the evo-devo baby thrown out with the ID bath water.