Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Debunking Corner - Intelligent Design - some background

Creationism in a cheap tuxedo
Invented as an attempt to avoid part of the US constitution
Here is a quote from Professor Norman Nevin OBE, the President of the Centre for Intelligent Design in Glasgow;
“You see the battle that is taking place at the moment is a battle between the veracity, the truthfulness of the word of god and that of science.”
This rather begs the question which side of the battle the C4ID is on.  The BCSE does not accept that there need to be a battle and indeed has members of several different faiths as well as those with none. 
The Wedge Strategy
The wedge strategy is a political and social action plan authored by the Discovery Institute, the hub of the intelligent design movement. The strategy was put forth in a Discovery Institute manifesto known as the Wedge Document, (pictured top left) which describes a broad social, political, and academic agenda whose ultimate goal is to "defeat scientific materialism" represented by evolution, "reverse the stifling materialist world view and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions".  The strategy also aims to "affirm the reality of God."  Its goal is to "renew" American culture by shaping public policy to reflect conservative Christian, namely evangelical Protestant, values.
How Intelligent Design evolved
As Darwin might have said, light will be shed on the origin of ID if you google the words "cdesign proponentsists".
The story of these words is very enlightening and they have been referred to as the "missing link" between creationism and ID.  Early drafts of the book eventually called "Of Panda's and People" included the word "creationists".  After a landmark US court case ruled creationism as religious and so banned it from state schools someone changed the book into an Intelligent Design text book by doing a "search and replace" exercise on a computer.  They were obviously trying to replace "creationists" with "design proponents" but didn't quite get it right and the result was "cdesign proponentsists".
Here are the classic before and after paragraphs;
"Creation means that the various forms of life began abruptly through the agency of an intelligent creator with their distinctive features already intact. Fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc"
"Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact. Fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, wings, etc"
The first one is an early draft and the latter from the final version. 
Dover Trial Testimony
Kitzmiller vs Dover was a court case in the US which revolved around whether or not ID was creationism.  Here are some revealing comments from the judge in his decision;
ID and Religion
"Consider, to illustrate, that Professor Behe remarkably and unmistakably claims that the plausibility of the argument for ID depends upon the extent to which one believes in the existence of God." 
"As no evidence in the record indicates that any other scientific proposition's validity rests on belief in God, nor is the Court aware of any such scientific propositions, Professor Behe's assertion constitutes substantial evidence that in his view, as is commensurate with other prominent ID leaders, ID is a religious and not a scientific proposition."
Is ID science?
"First, defense expert Professor Fuller agreed that ID aspires to 'change the ground rules' of science and lead defense expert Professor Behe admitted that his broadened definition of science, which encompasses ID, would also embrace astrology. Moreover, defense expert Professor Minnich acknowledged that for ID to be considered science, the ground rules of science have to be broadened to allow consideration of supernatural forces."
"What is more, defense experts concede that ID is not a theory as that term is defined by the NAS and admit that ID is at best 'fringe science' which has achieved no acceptance in the scientific community."
"We therefore find that Professor Behe's claim for irreducible complexity has been refuted in peer-reviewed research papers and has been rejected by the scientific community at large."
Professor Behe is perhaps the best known proponent of ID.  He writes books and articles and does tours, he doesn’t do any actual ID research - well none that he tells anyone about anyway.  He toured the UK in November 2010 in conjunction with the C4ID.  Behe has previously dismissed such findings from the judge with comments along the lines that courts should not decide science.
It is interesting to observe that the case provided a controlled environment with ample opportunity for both sides to present their case fully and where rules of logic and evidence were enforced.  In this setting ID lost every single battle. 
More about ID from Behe's Discovery Institute colleague and Senior Fellow Michael Medved;
"The important thing about Intelligent Design is that it is not a theory - which is something I think they need to make more clear. Nor is Intelligent Design an explanation. Intelligent Design is a challenge. It’s a challenge to evolution."
Or here are Behe’s own words in the trial;
“There are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred.” 
Perhaps you can ask for a list of the experimental work done by ID proponents in the four years since then?  We would be interested to see it.
Irreducible Complexity
Apart from the “information argument” that the C4ID is pushing and which we take apart above the other “sciency sounding bit” of ID is a claim that it is impossible for somethings to have evolved.  These things are are referred to as being irreducibly complex and this is one of Behe's favourite lines of attack on modern biology.
Here is the definition, from page 39 of his book "Darwin's Black Box":
"By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning."
The claim that irreducible complexity disproves evolution falls down on many levels;
First of all biology does explain how such things can evolve.  In fact they were predicted by Nobel-prize-winning geneticist Hermann Muller in 1939 when he referred to them as “interlocking complexity”.  
They are known to evolve in one of several ways;
  • by deletion of parts rather than addition
  • by addition of multiple parts e.g. duplication of much or all of the system
  • by change of function 
  • by the addition of a second function to a part
  • by the gradual modification of parts.
For more resources on this topic look here; http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/behe.html.  
Behe delights in giving his audiences and readers the impression that this science simply does not exist and when pressed by people who know it does he avoids answering questions.  To see a detailed analysis of this in action have a look here; http://bcseweb.blogspot.com/2010/11/creation-watch-michael-behe-keith-fox.html.  
Even if we wanted to ignore all this evidence and pretend that evolution can’t explain irreducible complexity then the argument still fails as it is a  logical fallacy to take this lack of evidence that something evolved and then to conclude that only design might produce it.  
This is an "argument from ignorance". (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance
Furthermore, all the examples of irreducible complexity so far given by Behe have in fact already been shown not to be irreducibly complex anyway.  These include the mousetrap, the bacterial flagellum, protein transport systems and immune systems.
We even have a peer reviewed example of an irreducibly complex system evolving during the past 70 years (http://www.talkdesign.org/faqs/icdmyst/ICDmyst.html#how2eatpcp).
The Argument from Personal Incredulity
This is another logical fallacy at the very heart of Intelligent Design.  If an ID proponent can't imagine how something might have evolved, then, there you are then, it can't have evolved can it? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance#Argument_from_incredulity_.2F_Lack_of_imagination)
Here is an example from Alistair Noble on the video on the C4ID web site introducing ID;
"Living things contain a vast web of tiny nanotechnological machines and systems that bear all the hallmarks of engineering design.  It flies in the face of all our experience that such marvels of precision would emerge randomly and evolve through the many required intermediate stages, all of which would have to function properly."

This article and others is available from BCSE Downloadable Resources in the leaflet entitled "Information Argument Exposed".

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