Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Intelligent Design - part II

Is ID science?
Accusations that ID is bad science are superseded by a more fundamental question; is ID science at all? A common charge leveled at ID is that it is merely Creationism under another name and not scientifically motivated at all. For example the judge in the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District et al trial concluded that ID isn't science and could not “uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents” (Jones, 2005). Despite the ID movement's claims to the contrary there is a large body of evidence, most of it a matter of public record, suggesting that the movement is simply an extension of old-fashioned Creationism re-named in an attempt to infiltrate public education. A telling example to support this is found in the editing of the ID biology text book Of Pandas And People. The book was drafted in 1983 under the title Creation Biology and its authors identified themselves explicitly as 'Creationists'. In 1987 however the US Supreme Court judged in the Edwards vs. Aguillard case that teaching Creationism in public schools was a violation of the Establishment clause of the US constitution – the separation of church and state. A new draft of Of Pandas And People was written soon afterwards in which all uses of the word 'Creationist' or 'Creationism' (150 in all) were systematically changed to refer to 'Intelligent Design'. 'Creationists' for example was changed to 'Design proponents'. To illustrate beyond all reasonable doubt that this is what took place, in one passage an incomplete edit reveals the word 'cdesign proponentsists' (Davis & Kenyon, 1987). This surely represents a transitional form between Creationism and Intelligent Design.

To assess whether ID qualifies as a legitimate scientific theory, a number of basic criteria must be met:
Is ID falsifiable? Any good scientific theory must be able to be falsified. Karl Popper stated that the scientific status of a theory should rest on its capacity to be falsified. One might think that any suboptimal feature of an organism might constitute a falsification of ID but according to its proponents, this is not the case. According to ID advocates, because we don’t know the identity of the intelligent designer, we are therefore unable to ascribe motives or methods to him/her. So although some biological features may seem unusually ‘designed’ this could be due to “artistic reasons, to show off, for some as-yet-undetectable practical purpose, or for some unguessable reason” (Behe, 1996). On the basis of this sort of nebulous description, ID is not falsifiable. After all, even if close study shows that an organism or feature has almost certainly evolved by natural processes, it is possible that it was intelligently designed to look as if it were evolved by natural processes.
Is ID consistent? Intelligent Design is conspicuously inconsistent. This is often due to the ID movement modifying the content of their talks and publications to suit either a religious or a secular audience. When addressing a secular audience, ID advocates are conscious of distancing themselves from Creationists, instead demanding that they are a legitimate scientific movement interested only in dispassionately investigating the evidence. However when addressing Christian groups, from whom the Discovery Institute receives the bulk of their funding, the ID movement makes it crystal clear that they are sympathetic to their beliefs. The disparity between these two stances is quite extraordinary and examples appear with almost embarrassing regularity throughout ID material (e.g. the opening quotes of this essay). Media intended for the general public, such as websites and newspaper articles stress that ID is not Creationism and is not based on the Bible. However many (if not all) ID advocates have expressly stated their religious motivation behind ID during various speeches and interviews, such as this quote from Phillip Johnson (1996): “This isn’t really, and never has been, a debate about science…It’s about religion and philosophy.”
Although the most fundamental inconsistency of ID is its flip-flopping on religious affiliations there are other inconsistencies within its specific scientific claims. For example, Behe has never actually defined 'complexity' beyond the common usage of the term (Forrest & Gross, 2004).
Is ID useful? One of the most striking things to notice about ID as a purported scientific movement is a distinct lack of any practical applications of the theory. One would assume that if ID does a superior job of explaining natural phenomena then it should outperform evolutionary theory in the laboratory. So far, no ID advocate has demonstrated this. Although a scientific research program was planned as Phase I of The Wedge, research has been conspicuously absent from the ID agenda - instead being overtaken by the publication of popular books and other promotional activities. Despite occasional promises to back up their assertions with a research program (Dembski, 2001) ID is represented by a single peer reviewed paper (Behe & Snoke, 2004) which has subsequently been refuted (Lynch, 2005).
Indeed, even a description of what might constitute a potential research program has never been outlined by ID advocates. The attitude displayed towards this problem by the ID movement is encapsulated in the FAQ of the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Centre (IDEA) website (2008) which states that even if ID “has less practical use or produces fewer avenues of research, that point is moot if it better reflects the truth of what actually happened”. So far, no attempt has been made to explain why a theory that ‘better reflects the truth of what actually happened’ has no practical applications in the real world.

1 comment:

KittyKatja said...

" To illustrate beyond all reasonable doubt that this is what took place, in one passage an incomplete edit reveals the word 'cdesign proponentsists' (Davis & Kenyon, 1987). This surely represents a transitional form between Creationism and Intelligent Design."

I love the evolution biased phrasing used to describe the results of editing lapses- it tickles my insides and makes me laugh every time I reread it... but you're certainly showing your paleo background ;)