Wednesday, 1 December 2010

C4ID’s Introduction to Intelligent Design: Part 11

The Centre for Intelligent Design website features a set of brief (sometimes very brief) pdf documents which collectively form an Introduction to Intelligent Design, credited as written by Dr Alastair Noble, C4ID Director. This pamphlet sets out C4ID’s manifesto for ID. Often these documents are written in a way that could be seen as persuasive to the uninformed. On closer inspection, there is nothing new – the arguments are the same as those demolished in Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District.
The teaser for this part of the Introduction to Intelligent Design is a quotation from Scott C. Todd; “Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such a hypothesis is excluded because it is not naturalistic.” This quotation is taken from a correspondence to the journal Nature (not a research paper) in September 1999 (Todd (1999) A view from Kansas on that evolution debate Nature 401, 423 (30 September 1999) | doi:10.1038/46661). Elsewhere in Todd’s letter, he says:
The lesson to be learned from the events in Kansas is that science educators everywhere must do a better job of teaching evolution. It must be made clear that the evidence supporting the mechanism of evolution is empirical and proven, but that speciation and natural history are derived from the admittedly weaker evidence of observation. The fact that one cannot reproduce the experiment does not diminish the validity of macro-evolution, but the observed phenomena supporting the theory must be presented more clearly.
I’d argue that actually the evidence for speciation is strong: it has in fact been observed to happen.
After quoting Todd, the text moves on to claim that Intelligent Design is science, because it is falsifiable:
It is also claimed that ID is not science because it cannot make predictions that can be tested and that it cannot be falsified by experiment. Assuming that these are criteria for good science – and that is by no means certain – ID is capable of responding positively. As we have seen, there are theoretical criteria for detecting design such as probability and specificity. ID predicts that if you apply these principles to natural and living systems, you will get the answer that design is present. That exercise certainly involves making and testing predictions.
The criteria of prediction and falsifiability are good criteria. Unfortunately ID fails on both counts. The grounds Noble cites (probability and specificity) are merely red herrings, and appealing to the appearance of design is inappropriate.
And on the second point of ID being capable of being falsified, all that is necessary is that someone demonstrates that functional information on the scale of DNA can arise without prior intelligence or that there is a clear step-by-step evolutionary pathway with all the intermediary stages to a bacterial flagellum or similar irreducibly complex structures. In either case, ID would fail. The fact that no such falsifications are forthcoming, or are likely to be, is testimony to the strength of the design hypothesis.
This paragraph restated Behe’s claim that by removing (presumably by deleting the relevant genes) from a flagellated bacterial species and attempting to derive strains with a restored flagellum after a period of laboratory culture. Ed Brayton deals with this spurious claim of falsifiability in a posting (Behe and Falsification) at his blogDispatches from the Culture Wars:
[..] some of the variables included in those calculations are variables that simply cannot be replicated in a lab. Bacteria have been evolving for around 3.8 billion years on the Earth, and they exist on earth in numbers that can barely be expressed even mathematically.
Ed Brayton’s blog post is really worth reading in its entirety: it’s clear that Behe’s proposition by which ID could be falsified is actually unreasonable.
Noble claims papers by Meyer (on the Cambrian fossil record)and Dembski (on the design hypothesis) are in the current scientific literature. He fails to provide any citation information. However, the Meyer paper may be this one (hosted at the Discovery Institute). Unfortunately for Meyer, the publication was not peer reviewed, and was withdrawn after a major scandal erupted (Intelligent Design and Peer Review):
scientific critique of the paper concludes that the paper is “a rhetorical edifice [constructed] out of omission of relevant facts, selective quoting, bad analogies, knocking down strawmen, and tendentious interpretations.”
Not much of a recommendation. I have no idea what publication from Dembski is being referred to, though I know Dembski has published four peer reviewed papers in information theory associated with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (an unlikely destination for papers focussing on biological processes).
Finally, Noble pulls the victim card: he claims:
[...] when assessing the claim that ID does not publish enough research, it is important to recognise that the peer review process is biased in the direction of the reigning Darwinian paradigm. Papers which argue the ID case are often rejected because they are not judged to be consistent with the accepted naturalistic position on origins.
I suspect that the real issue preventing the publication of peer-reviewed ID papers lies in the fact that members of the Discovery Institute do little or no research, and that Intelligent Design falls very far short of the scientific method.
Robert Saunders, BSc (Hons), PhD

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