Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Intelligent Design - part I

Does Intelligent Design prove Darwin wrong?

Is intelligent design theory the same as creationism?

No. Intelligent design takes no stance on religious texts and makes its arguments using purely scientific and empirical data.
” - Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness website.

The Designer of intelligent design is, ultimately, the Christian God.” - William Dembski (leading Intelligent Design advocate),, December 2007.

'Intelligent Design' is not so much a scientific theory as it is a cultural and political crusade to challenge the fundamental methodology of modern science. The basic premise of Intelligent Design (ID) is that the complexity of life on earth cannot be explained solely by natural causes and that life must have been designed by an intelligent entity. The Discovery Institute – a conservative think-tank whose 'Center For Science and Culture' is the ideological head-quarters of ID – describes ID as a theory that “holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.” The potential identity of this designer is generally side-stepped by the high-profile ID advocates, but a quick appraisal of their literature makes it clear that the intelligent designer is always assumed to be the God of Christianity. Indeed ID can be viewed as just the latest attempt of fundamentalist Christians to get religious beliefs taught as fact in public school rooms. It has received considerable support in the U.S. via aggressive promotion of its ideas through books, conferences and websites. President George W. Bush offered support for ID to be taught in schools “so people can understand what the debate is about” (Washington Post, 3 August 2005). A number of Supreme Court cases have been fought over the teaching of ‘Creation Science’/ID in public schools (i.e. Edwards vs. Aguillard, Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District et al.) and in all cases so far the presiding judge has ruled it a violation of the United States' constitutional separation of church and state.
Although the spiritual home of the ID movement is the United States, it is spreading throughout the western world and is developing a presence in Australia. The Age (11 August 2005) reported that former Federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson gave support to the theory being taught alongside evolution in schools pending parents’ approval. Some Christian schools such as Pacific Hills Christian School in NSW have already started teaching ID alongside evolution in science classes (Sydney Morning Herald, 21 October 2005) and it is likely to be discussed in the science classrooms of many more. Clearly this is a movement that needs to be understood by anyone with a stake in the integrity of scientific education.

What is ID and where did it originate?
In responding to the statement 'Intelligent Design proves Darwin wrong' it is necessary to establish the origin of the ID movement and the methods they have chosen to use in order to further their cause. It is my contention that ID cannot be appraised as an ordinary scientific theory and further that it is not a scientific theory at all but rather a cultural and political movement aimed at getting religious ideas into public institutions.
The roots of the ID movement can be traced to former lawyer and born-again evangelical Christian Phillip E. Johnson and the publication in 1991 of his book Darwin On Trial. In it, Johnson asserts that Darwinian evolution is based on false assumptions and is supported by inadequate evidence. Foreshadowing many future ID publications, Johnson’s main criticism is of the methodological naturalism of science precluding supernatural explanations for natural phenomena. Through a number of conferences and meetings Johnson became the nucleus of what is now known as the Intelligent Design movement. Two of the most prominent members who joined Johnson in the nascent movement were William Dembski and Michael Behe.
Dembski is a mathematician whose main contention is that through his work in information theory he has shown that the complexity found within nature could not have originated without an intelligent agent. He has elaborated this concept over several books but has so far been unable to get them accepted into peer reviewed scientific journals. Dembski, one of the most vocal and well recognised proponents of ID, was described as 'God's mathematician' by George Gilder, co-founder of the Discovery Institute (Vincent, 2000).
Behe is a professor of biochemistry at Leighigh University in Pennsylvania. His book Darwin's Black Box (1996) has been commercially successful but was universally panned by the scientific community upon its release. It was Behe who coined the term 'irreducible complexity' to refer to biological structures composed of several specific, interacting parts which wouldn't function in the absence of any constituent part. Behe, like Dembski (and all other ID proponents), has been unable to get these ideas legitimised within the scientific community, though he has had other technical papers unrelated to ID published within peer reviewed scientific journals (e.g. Jayasena & Behe, 1991).
All of these men and almost every other ID proponent operate under the auspices of The Centre for Science and Culture (CSC). The motivations and goals of the ID movement were outlined in an extraordinary document leaked onto the internet that was produced by the CSC (1999). The document titled ‘The Wedge Strategy’ has been established as authentic by the research of Barbara Forrest (2004) and has subsequently been acknowledged as such by the CSC (e.g. Crowther, 2005). Largely written by Phillip Johnston, the document describes the short-term and long-term goals of the ID movement – the end result intended to ‘overthrow materialism and its cultural legacies’. The Wedge was divided into three separate phases: ‘Phase I. Scientific Research, Writing and Publicity. Phase II. Publicity & Opinion Making and Phase III. Cultural Confrontation and Renewal.’ Despite ‘Scientific Research’ being included in Phase I of The Wedge, it has been largely neglected in favour of publicity and opinion making. It is within Phase II that the ID movement has engaged in the most activity such as book publicity, conferences, apologetics seminars, newspaper and magazine articles – all bypassing the scientific community and appealing to the general public. Within the ’20 Year Goals’ of The Wedge document the authors hope ‘to see intelligent design theory become the dominant perspective in science’. Although it seems impossible for this goal to be realized, the movement has made a lot of progress in swaying the general population towards their world view.
ID proponents are not merely opposed to the theory of evolution via natural selection; rather they simply don't accept that science should exclude supernatural causes within its explanations. It is materialism that they are really opposed to, and evolutionary thinking is seen as a major symptom of this moribund philosophy (CSC, 1999). There is nothing inherently wrong with this idea in itself if it were carried out in a spirit of intellectual honesty. In practice however the output of the ID movement is typified by omissions, refuted assumptions, misrepresentation and plain bad science. ID starts with the conclusion of design and then attempts to force the evidence to conform to this while ignoring evidence to the contrary.
Advocates of ID have generally shied away from standard peer review processes for scientific publications. Critics of the movement have naturally pointed to this as an indication of a lack of scientific credibility but this argument is regularly met with conspiratorial claims of bias towards members of the ID movement due to the naturalistic orthodoxy of the scientific community (e.g. Behe, 2000). Getting material into the public sphere has been achieved with an enthusiastic book publishing program aimed at a popular rather than scientific level. Leading ID advocate William Dembski has stated that he has little interest in getting his ideas published in peer reviewed scientific journals preferring instead to publish popular books due to the material receiving wider exposure and the generation of royalties (McMurtrie, 2001).
There has been much controversy surrounding ID due to a number of recent attempts to get it taught in science classes in public schools. The first court case relating to this was in Dover, Pennsylvania in 2005 when a group of eleven parents of high school students sued the Dover Area School District for teaching ID alongside evolution in biology classes. The plaintiffs won the case, successfully arguing that ID was indistinguishable from Creationism and was therefore unconstitutional to teach in a public school. Given this significant loss and the likelihood of further court cases being similarly ruled, the ID movement has largely abandoned the idea of getting their ideas directly promoted in classrooms. They have instead adopted a policy they call 'teach the controversy', in which the supposed controversy over the legitimacy of evolution should be discussed within biology curricula. This cultivation of doubt about evolution is intended to make it easier for promotion of ID in public institutions in the future (Dennet, 2005).

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