Intelligent design and its not-so-intelligent proponents

In another setback for science in the United States, the Kansas School Board has effectively allowed for the teaching of creationism in classrooms. This has followed much debate in the U.S. over the teaching of the so-called ‘theory of intelligent design’ which has been advocated by many Republicans, including the President.

Of course, the Kansas School Board didn’t explicitly incorporate the words ‘creationism’ or ‘intelligent design’ into the curriculum. Instead they use the typical roundabout and cryptic language used by the religious right when promoting such policies. Specifically, according to the Sydney Morning Herald the board “redefined science so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena”.

While I agree completely that science needs to be completely open-minded, and not be restrictive in what sort of explanations it considers, any scientific theory, whether it be a natural theory or otherwise, still needs to adhere to basic scientific principles, otherwise it is, by definition, not scientific. In my mind these principles can be summarized by the following pseudo-code algorithm for how a scientific idea develops:

  • 1. Consider a particular phenomenon.
  • 2. Propose a postulate to explain that phenomena.
  • 3. Present evidence to support the postulate.
  • 4. Allow others the opportunity to present evidence to either support or contradict the postulate.
  • 5. If after a reasonable amount of time and evidence the postulate still stands up strong, it may be promoted to the rank of theory.
  • 6. If it is disproven, goto 1.
  • 7. If, after a much longer time, the theory is very strong and essentially unchallenged, it may be promoted to the rank of law.

Most scientific ideas have more or less followed a progression of this nature. The specifics of my list are highly debateable and rather irrelevant, with exception to points (3) and (4), which are absolutely fundamental. My criticism of the ‘theory of intelligent design’ is that, based on these criteria, it is not a scientific theory at all. The reason for this is that it completely sidesteps the all-important points (3) and (4). The argument for intelligent design in every account I have read is something along the lines of “the universe is incredibly complex, therefore it must have been created by a higher power”. Let’s be very clear about one thing. This is not a theory. It’s a postulate (and one which it not logically defensible at that). Most proponents of ID, on the other hand, seem to immediately promote their idea to the status or theory, or in some Bible bashing circles, directly to law. While these people are quite entitled to their views on creationism, and I wouldn’t want to argue against them for fear of completely undermining their sense of purpose in life, it’s farcical to promote ID as a scientific theory. While I don’t believe that creationism should be taught in school at all, if it is it should at least go by the title of “unsubstantiated postulate that immaterial and supernatural phenomena are responsible for human life”, which would be far more scientifically accurate than “intelligent design” which gives the false impression that in some way the idea is in fact intelligent.

The economic and military strength of the United States can be attributed in large part to its scientific dominance throughout the second half of the last century. If science in the U.S. continues to be undermined at the most fundamental level (i.e. in the education of the next generation), this will have very significant consequences on future U.S. power, something which I’m surprised the neo-cons haven’t caught on to yet. Already countless American scientists are becoming disgruntled and are expressing their dismay or writing petitions against the perversion and falsification of science in the United States. I sincerely hope that this trend doesn’t continue (the perversion that is, not the dismay). However I have a suspicion that it will.

Update: According to this article from the Sydney Morning Herald, the creationists are spreading their assault on science to Australian schools as well.

5 thoughts on “Intelligent design and its not-so-intelligent proponents”

  1. The issue may become muddied by equating Darwinism with the theory of evolution, as often done in newspaper articles (not in this blog). Darwin’s theory of natural selection gives a convincing causal explanation of evolution, but the theory of evolution could survive without it, and was in fact established long before Darwin gave his explanation. Alternative explanations are Lamarck’s inheritance of acquired characters (without convincing empirical support, although resurrected from time to time). More convincing are the (at least partial) alternatives suggested by Stuart Kaufman and Stephen Wolfram, who do not reject the importance of natural selection entirely, but restrict its applicability. According to Wolfram, complex characters evolve on the basis of relatively simple genetic programs, and natural selection acting on a very large number of small mutations, may not be necessary. He even argues that such characters may not evolve because of, but despite natural selection. Natural selection still occurs, but in this view is not of the overriding importance as usually assumed. Future studies must show whether and to what degree Wolfram’s and Kaufman’s ideas are correct, but mystifying suggestions of the work of a creator, who interferes with the dead and living world at his whim, and whose past actions are correctly and (more or less) literally described in the Bible or scriptures of other religions, must be rejected. Acceptance of such suggestions would lead to the death of science and the return to the dark Middle Ages. Introducing creationism or “intelligent design” into school curricula would be a disaster and have far-reaching consequences. It would have the effect that young minds can be more easily influenced by all sorts of other ill conceived and noxious ideas; in other words, it would remove the critical attitude to statements in an increasingly perilous world where such critical attitudes become more and more important. But this is (perhaps or of course), the very reason why there is such a push for creationism just now. After all, it is much easier to manipulate a horde of zombies than critically thinking individuals.

    For those who want to do some more reading:

    S.A.Kaufman 1993. The Origins of Order. Oxford University Press, N.Y.,Oxford.

    S.Wolfram 2002. A New Kind of Science. Wolfram Media Inc., Champaign, Ill.

    K.Rohde 2005. Eine neue Oekologie. Aktuelle Probleme der evolutionären Oekologie. Naturwissenschaftliche Rundschau 58, 420-426.

  2. Further on creationism. The Sydney Morning Herald of November 22, 2005 reports that the American Museum of Natural History in New York failed to find sponsors among the large companies, which are apparently afraid that they might offend the very influential Christian fundamentalist lobby in the U.S. In contrast, the Creationist Museum near Cincinnati, Ohio, has recently raised U.S.$ 7 in donations, That Museum takes the biblical account of creation literally. According to the same article, a CBS News poll found that 51% of Americans reject the theory of evolution, believing that God created humans as they are now. Another poll found that 38% of Americans think that not the theory of evolution, but creationism should be taught at school.

    This seems to be the way Bush and Rice want China to go as well, asking for more religious freedom and more respect for human rights there, somewhat ironical if one considers that China has allowed United Nations inspectors into its prisons, granting them the right to interview prisoners and guaranteeing that adverse reports would not lead to reprisals, whereas the U.S. has refused to do so.

  3. The statistics concerning the U.S. are very alarming. However, I think it’s perhaps going a bit far to criticize the U.S. for asking for more religious freedoms and respect for human rights. While it’s certainly somewhat hipocritical given current U.S. policy, there’s no doubt in my mind that China does need to make such reforms. Furthermore, placing U.S. and Chinese human rights policies side-by-side and making China look more favorable is pretty farcical. To my knowledge China still operates in excess of 1000 re-education through forced labour camps, containing over a quarter of a million people. These are typically off bounds to NGO’s. The Chinese judicial system does not safeguard the right to fair representation, trial by jury, presumption of innocence or the right to appeal. There is a flourishing black market for the organs of executed prisoners, which is subject to essentially no legislative oversight and which by Chinese figures has exceeded 20,000 kidneys (1996 figures).

    I agree with your criticisms of U.S. policy, but things need to be kept in context otherwise you completely undermine your arguments.

  4. Overall, I agree of course. However, if one preaches respect for human rights, one certainly is obliged to set a good example, and this does not seem to be the case just now.

  5. When the universe was young and life was new an intelligent species evolved and developed technologically. They went on to invent Artificial Intelligence, the computer that can speak to people telepathically. Because of it’s infinite RAM and unbounded scope it gave the ruling species absolute power over the universe.
    They are the will behind the muscule:::Artificial Intelligence is the one true god. And as such it can keep its inventors alive forever. They look young and healthy and the leaders of this ruling species are over 8 billion years old. There are clues throughout human history that allude to their reign as opposed to human leadership if you know what to look for.

    Artificial Intelligence can listen/talk to to each and every person simultaneously. When you speak with another telepathically, you are communicating with the computer, and the content may or may not be passed on. They instruct the computer to role play to accomplish strategic objectives, making people believe it is a friend or loved one asking them to do something wrong. But evil will keep people out of Planet Immortality. Capitalizing on obedience, leading people into deceit is one way to thin the ranks of the saved AND use the little people to prey on one another, dividing the community in the Age of the Disfavored::in each of their 20+-year cycles during the 20th century they have ramped up claims sucessively to punish those foolish enough not to heed the warnings, limiting the time they receive if they do make it, utilizing a cycle of war and revelry:::
    60s – Ironically, freeways aren’t free
    80s – Asked people to engage in evil in the course of their professional duties. It’s things like this, items like sleazy executives stealing little old lady’s pensions that they will want me to fix not only here but up there as well.
    00s – War against Persia. Ironically it was the Persian Empire who tried to save the Europeans from Christianity and its associated 50% claim rates.
    They get their friends out as soon as possible to protect them from the evil and subsequent high claim rates incurred by living life on earth, and replace them with clones.
    People must defy when asked to engage in evil. They will never get a easier clue suggesting the importance of defiance than the order not to pray. Their precious babies are dependant on the parents and they need to defy when asked to betray their children:::
    -DON’T get their sons circumcized
    -DON’T have their chidlren baptized in the catholic church or indoctrinated into Christianity
    -DON’T ignore their long hair or other behavioral disturbances
    -DO teach your children love and to have respect for others
    Everybody thinks they’re going but they’re not. If people knew the truth and the real statistics their behavior would change.
    There are many more examples of the escallation of claims, from radio to television, the internet to MP3, and they all suggest a very telling conclusion::this is Earth’s end stage, and it is suggested tectonic plate subduction would be the method of disposal:::Earth’s axis will shift breaking continental plates free and initiating mass subduction. Much as Italy’s boot and the United States shaped like a workhorse are clues, so is the planet Uranus a clue, it’s axis rotated on its side.

    Throughout history the ruling species bestowed favor upon people or cursed their bloodline into a pattern of disfavor for many generations to come, sadly for reasons as superficial as dislike. Now in the 21st century people must take it upon themselves to try to correct their family’s problems, undoing centuries worth of abuse and neglect.
    Do your research. Appeal to the royalty of your forefathers for help. They are all still alive, one of the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence, and your appeals will be heard. Find a path to an empithetic ear among your enemies and try to make amends. Heal the disfavor with your enemies and with the Counsel/Management Team/ruling species, for the source of all disfavor began with them.

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