Monday, August 22, 2005

Intelligent design gets even more coverage in the NYT

Fads come and go, but does any one have any doubt that ID proponents are gathering steam? A new article in the NYT by Kenneth Chang lends credence to the movement by giving it yet another pointless, but fair, hearing.

Chang covers four elements of ID's arguments against the biology we've known for over 100 years:

  • Irreducible complexity: everything is like a complicated mousetrap; remove a part and nothing works. Therefore, how could there have been functional intermediates prior to something like the eye, or blood-clotting? Answer: lots of organs and enzyme systems have been shown to have loopy, non-intuitive evolutionary origins. Most biological systems are nothing more than elaborate, and very, very small, Rube Goldberg machines -- although in this case, Rube Goldberg machines that actually work -- with oddball collections of parts borrowed from systems with entirely different purposes. One blood clotting enzyme has a close relative in the digestive tract, for instance.
  • Science purposefully eliminates the non-material, and could therefore miss the true cause of biological origins. But science is perfectly suficient at delivering explanations of the natural world with no recourse to an "in-your-face" designer.
  • A set of large evolutionary "leaps" in the fossil record (such as the Cambrian Explosion) could not have occurred over the short period of time that they are said to have occurred. Nonsense. 30 million years (the duration of the Cambrian Explosion) is still a very, very long time. Besides, there's no reason to assume that evolutionary change need have occurred at exactly the same rate throughout Earth's history. A big unanswered question is why we have no evidence of multicellular life between the appearance of the first eukaryotes (2 billion years ago) and that of the first multicellular animal life (600 million years ago). The same objection could be raised by IDers to this little factoid, but it wouldn't carry the same urguency, would it?
  • Some patterns are visible in the natural world that could only have been established by a designer. Mathematical algorithms are being developed to detect these. Why is it mostly mathematicians, engineers, and biochemists who become creationists?
The article also discusses the idea that some IDers (here, Behe) have that the "design" inherent to the biological world could have been established at the Big Bang -- in other words, nothing IDers say can ever be proven wrong.


Daniel said...

I know this comment is a little late for this post, but I just came across your blog.

I see ID as a political agenda, rather than just a belief. I do not necessarily support the agenda, although I do believe in the belief behind it.

As a Christian, I do believe in God, and my faith tells me that there is a design to everything, that God’s hand shapes our world today and has guided it’s evolution in the past. I don't think it's contradictory to believe in science and believe in God. I don't see how anyone who does believe in God can believe He didn’t play some part in creation and evolution.

To maintain that God created all that exists about 6000 years ago just as it is today discounts all archeological and anthropological evidence to the contrary. The rationalizations I have seen to explain this include; Satan manufactured such evidence to sow doubt in the hearts of Christians, and that God created this evidence to test the faith of Christians. No explanation of the available archeological and anthropological evidence seems as plausible as evolution.

However, is it more plausible that life somehow began spontaneously, despite science’s lack of success in recreating this event, or that some higher power created the spark of life on earth? I believe the latter and that the higher power was God. Why is it so inconceivable to some people that God created life, millions of years ago, and has guided the evolution of his creations ever since? I have heard the argument that since God is omniscient he would have known how everything would eventually turn out so why not create it that way in the first place? I’ve always thought that just because God could know everything doesn’t mean he would choose to know everything in advance. God gave mankind self-awareness and free will, why would he do that if he was going to control every choice we would make? Why would God give us the ability to choose unless he wanted to see what choices we would make? This implies to me that even though God can know, in advance, everything that may occur, he’s content to let us develop on our own, individually and as a species, with just the occasional nudge in the right direction.

Should Intelligent Design be taught alongside evolution in public school science classes? Absolutely not, one is based on science, and one is based on faith. Intelligent design, or whatever you want to call it, is a religious belief and should be taught in church and by parents.

I do, however, believe schools should teach both "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. Discuss the controversy and engage the students’ minds in exploring the various arguments for themselves. Teachers should be able to compare and contrast the competing views with the students and explain the arguments for and against these views.

As Darwin wrote in "The Origin of Species," "a fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question."

Basically, I don’t see why some Christians feel the need to disprove or discredit evolution, or why some scientists seem so hostile to Christianity and the idea that everything did not necessarily happen randomly, or without any influence other than natural selection?

Isn’t there enough tolerance and aren’t there enough open minds to allow for engagement and discussion?

Matt said...

Daniel, again thanks for your comment. You've brought up a broad range of metaphysical issues that I don't feel competent to discuss, but I think I can generate a response to what you've said that might help you deal with the odd conflicts that have arisen over this issue ever since Darwin.

In the classroom, if a question about the potential problems of the origin of life or other criticisms of pure evolutionary theory come up, I simply state that while not all natural occurrences have been observed, this does not mean they outside the realm of our imagination, as bounded by physical law. In the case of the origin of life, we must face the fact that the evidence for how life originated was itself destroyed by the continuing evolution of that life -- in other words, we will never be able to directly observe it. Sometimes processes destroy their origins. As to repeating an origin-of-life experiment in the laboratory -- well, that would be very difficult. We'd have to utterly void of oxygen whatever cuvette or chamber we were using for the experiment and then provide all the little contingencies that may or may not have been involved, as well as guess the order in which events occurred.

Lot's of people are working on the origins problem and are making good theoretical progress, but it is unlikely that they will ever be able to provide hard, synthetic evidence of how life actually originated.

I want to say to you, as a former believer, that I completely respect your beliefs and that I want to provide room within the natural world for the supernatural. God may have had a hand at any point in our evolution. I don't know. But I also know that nothing so far has suggested that His hand was explicitly necessary. Evolution appears to be able to do the whole thing "on it's own".

Now, writing "on it's own" alerts me to the fact that even if God had no direct hand in any of it, a believer may still rest on the fact that God, as a sustainer of all things, is at all times involved. Let evolution be His hand, and all is well.

I wish scientists were not openly hostile to religion. Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins are the worst offenders. On the other hand, they are among the few scientists that have turned a dispassioned, scientific eye to the origins of religion and consciousness, and that can be valuable, as well.