Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Edinburgh Science Festival, Creationism and the Centre for Intelligent Design

The 21st Floor has a review by Keir Liddle of a debate on the creeping of creationism into schools, held as part of the Edinburgh Science Festival (EdSciFest: Creeping Creationism) - unfortunately I no longer reside there and couldn't come along, but one of my BCSE colleagues Paul Braterman was there to take part in the event.  Keir's take was that the evidence that creationism was encroaching into Scottish schools remains unproven.  This may be so, but there are indeed worrying developments nationally (see for example Creationism in the Deep South (of England)).

It turns out that Dr Alastair Noble of the Centre for Intelligent Design was in the audience, and has penned a response to the debate, which can be read at the C4ID website (Creeping Creationism or Galloping Intolerance at the Edinburgh Science Festival?).  Noble complains that:
One speaker – a member of the Glasgow "Brights" compared "creationists" and "intelligent design proponents" to "Holocaust deniers" – a claim as silly as it is scandalous.
Actually, in my view it's not scandalous.  It would have been had the accusation been that believers in ID creationism were anti-semites or Nazis, but really the statement isn't that unreasonable.  The existence of the attempted genocide of the Jews by the Nazi German state is pretty incontrovertible (and generally uncontroversial).  There is plenty of documentary and physical evidence to support the existence not only of the "Final Solution", but of the means by which it was to be achieved.

What I imagine was being said here (and I'd like to hear from those who were there) was that creationists (and I lump those who believe in the hopelessly unscientific ID version of creationism in that term) are essentially in denial of an enormous body of evidence that has been accumulated since "On the Origin of Species" was published over a century and a half ago.  To deny this body of evidence is akin to saying that because there aren't any ancient Romans in Britain we were never conquered by the Romans.  Or, indeed, like those holocaust deniers who argue that the attempted genocide of the Jews never happened, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

I must call Noble on this statement:
Firstly, no matter how often it is asserted, intelligent design is not creationism.  The latter is a religious position; the former a minimal commitment to intelligent causation based on empirical evidence.  I know this is uncomfortable to the humanists, but if they wish to enter this debate they need to know what they are talking about.
Intelligent Design isn't even Bad's not science.  Intelligent Design is a parody of science devised by American creationists to circumvent constitutional prohibition of religious teaching in American schools. Given that the three main figures in C4ID (Noble, Nevin and Galloway) appear to have a particular evangelical religious viewpoint, it would be attractive to know exactly who or what they believe to be the "Designer".

Alastair Noble may continue to proclaim that C4ID is not going to target schools, but given his roles in Scottish education, is this a stance that is likely to be maintained?  As Keir Liddle points out:
I’m not sure what Nobles definition of “targeting” is but I would include sending resources to schools perhaps falls under it… More research is needed to find out where these materials are being sent and where they are being used – only then will we know the true extent of the problem (or not) of creeping creationism in Scottish Schools.
Noble goes on to write:
If a scientific finding, like the vast banks of functional information in DNA ("the genetic code"), lacks a credible evolutionary explanation, as it does, the alternative of a source in intelligent mind must, at least, be worthy of consideration.  That’s the wholly scientific approach of making an inference to the best explanation – and one that is known to have similar explanatory power elsewhere, as, for example, in the generation of computer software or print media.  Now that’s getting to the heart of intelligent design, without invoking any faith position.
I think Alastair Noble (who has a doctorate in Chemistry) really needs to bone up on his biology if he takes seriously the view that the functional "information" in DNA lacks a credible evolutionary explanation.  he goes on:
If the science of origins cannot be debated freely in schools or anywhere else, then it’s not creeping creationism we should be concerned about, but galloping intolerance.
The science of the origins and evolution of life on Earth should be debated freely.  Unfortunately for Noble and C4ID, the crucial word there is science.  Given the origins of Intelligent Design creationism, its failure to make testable predictions, and its complete inadequacy as an means for explaining the diversity of life, it has no place in science education, or in any educational venue that seeks to propose it as science.

Originally posted at Wonderful Life.

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