Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Dr Noble Strikes yet again-More on the Attenborough letter


I’m beginning to wonder if the good Dr Noble of C4ID is attempting to set some kind of record for coming out with the greatest number of inanely stupid statements about ID in the shortest space of time.

On the BCSE blog for this month alone we have record of his spat with Whitmore and then there was my earlier dissection of his attempts at a press release in response to the Dawkins/Attenborough letter.

This was quickly followed by the brilliant Grumpy Bobs Wonderful Life blog on Nobles academic freedom topic.

However, not satisfied with mere stupidity, Noble strives for greater inanity with his new
‘additional article’ -“Why Legislating for Evolution is Deeply Unscientific” (full text here ) to accompany his press release. As Noble brings in some lovely new paranoid arguments to join the usual old guff-including some Nazism ones-I just couldn’t help but respond.

Parts of this ‘additional article’ are simply a rehash of his earlier press release which has already been dealt with, so plenty of rhetoric along the lines of
“Why is there such a flap about the teaching of evolution? My hunch is that it has nothing to do with science at all, but with the promotion
of a materialistic and secular worldview"
For which I can only repeat what has been said in earlier blogs-it isn’t-and wonder at his continued use of the word secular. After all doesn’t secular mean religiously neutral? Isn’t science (and indeed much of education, for example algebra or English literature), religiously neutral? Hence if ID were science rather than religion wouldn’t it be just as secular as evolution? Or is the good Dr intending to use it to prove the existence of his God?

So Dr Noble, to repeat yet again, evolution is religiously neutral. There is a flap about teaching it because despite the fact it is strongly supported evidence based science, it contradicts a literal reading of
the first few pages of the Bible. And because that upsets a very vocal few whose faith is so tenuous that it hinges solely on those few pages being literal, they are demanding we pretend there are problems with evolution. The flap is to ensure that they are not allowed to distort the truth and deny children
their right to an education just to ensure their eccentric beliefs remain unchallenged. That is the first step on a very slippery slope indeed.

There are also lots of repetitions of the usual tired old claims that ID is science without actually mentioning how or why it is science; the regular impenetrable DNA and information waffling, yet more irreducible complexity claims and the usual references to some hard sums done by a preacher man who
used to do maths. These have already been debunked by Grumpy Bob here on 17th October blog. Or for more scientists explaining why ID isn’t science, but this time in a courtroom try here.

And whilst in the interests of balance I should provide a link to something supporting Noble’s ‘ID is science’ stance I can’t. Despite searching the plethora of ID sites like the good Dr Nobles own C4ID or Uncommon Descent I can find nothing beyond scientific articles filched from genuine scientists followed by a ‘wow that looks complicated’. No evidence FOR design, no testing FOR design, no explanations of how one would test FOR design nothing beyond incredulity. And like Behe at Dover, they all completely ignore any science that illustrates the evolution of many of these complex things.

However it’s when Noble really goes into high dudgeon mode that things get amusing. For example:
“If a scientific theory cannot be sustained on the basis of the available evidence, what message does
it send to students when the force of law is required? Presumably then, if in a biology class, a pupil asks a question about ID, the teacher would have to say that it is illegal to proceed with the question. And at what point does the teacher call the police to deal with any persistent enquirers? Some science
that!”
No Dr Noble! ID is not science; the aim of the campaign is to prevent folk like Dr Noble pushing it as science rather than religion to further their religious aims. So Dr Noble, if in a biology class a pupil asks a question about ID, the teacher does not have to hush them up, call the police or put the fear of a designer into them. All the teacher has to do is to do is point them to the RE department, point out that ID does not satisfy the requirements of science, that it is purely a religious notion and therefore part of the remit of the RE teacher. If however a teacher decides to abuse their position for the purposes of proselytising and claims ID is scientific something can be done about it. No more, no less.

It also ensures that RE teachers, who do not have scientific backgrounds, are cognisant of the fact that ID is not science which should help them teach it more effectively and prevent them from inadvertently misleading children.
“If evolution requires the weight of the law, what about atomic theory? Does it need legal protection
against, say, quantum theory undermining the particulate nature of matter? Or the Big Bang?"
Not really Dr Noble, for the simple reason that you don’t have any religious objections to those parts of science, therefore don’t want to single them out for the special disparagement you reserve for evolution. So they do not need protection from religious interference.
“Do we need laws to ensure that the steady state theory does not make a comeback? And global
warming? Do we need the law to ensure that climate sceptics don’t produce any embarrassing evidence?"
If the evidence swings back to steady state it will come back and nobody will be able to prevent it. However it disappeared because the evidence for it was outweighed by the evidence for Big Bang. In the unlikely event that Dr Noble is reading this, the pertinent point is evidence. ID has none. And another point he may wish to consider is that Big Bang was also considered by many to have theological and philosophical implications. That has not stopped it being taught.

And it is very interesting that Dr Noble has mentioned global warming as, along with creationism, the other cause celebre of the fundamentalist fringe of religion seems to be climate change denial. I
sincerely wonder how so called good Christians like Dr Noble reconcile this denial with the fact it will be the poorest on this Earth that will be hit hardest and soonest if their denials prevent timely action. And may I just add that if the climate sceptics could produce embarrassing evidence to prove the growing consensus wrong, nobody would be more thrilled than that consensus.

Does Noble actually think they’ve chosen to be the harbingers of doom solely to thwart the devout oil producers of the Bible belt?
“The whole proposition of legal enforcement is based on a failure to recognise that all scientific theories are ultimately tentative and may be updated or amended in the light of fresh evidence. The very recent doubts of the CERN scientists about the limiting position of the speed of light is a case in point”
This is an interesting point, given Nobles repeated assertions about allowing ID into the classroom because ultimately the scientific consensus can be overturned. And yes, those faster than light
neutrinos, if genuine rather than error, have possibly illustrated the tentative nature of science. Now speedy neutrinos may not yet have found their way onto the A level physics syllabus-education tends to deal with the well established or well established disagreements and there is a time lag, but there can be no doubt that excitable physics teachers and a lot of A level students have discussed it, without fear of the law or petitions by mean atheists. Such discussion is not frowned upon but encouraged as the cutting edge is always interesting. And if the finding is genuine, I suspect it will warrant inclusion
in subsequent curriculum rewrites. So why not ID?

Well Dr Noble seems to have missed several very important points. The first being the neutrino discovery was made by cutting edge scientists from the relevant discipline-physics. Moreover these leading scientists were working at CERN, one of the best research centres in the world
in that area of science. ID on the other hand boasts Behe, Dembski and a few others who are not only very much NOT at the cutting edges of their disciplines, but in many cases are either in disciplines totally unrelated to the claims made for ID or are no longer working in science (Noble is a chemist who has worked in education for years). In addition, whilst Behe is employed by a university in the relevant science, it has publicly distanced itself from his ID stance, suggesting he is not using their laboratory facilities for his ID research. Nor has he published anything that POSITIVELY supports his notion of a designer.

As for the places where ID is discussed? In the UK it would appear to be the Elim Pentecostal Conference Centre in Malvern. Now the Vatican may boast some world class observatories and scientists, but the Elim Pentecostal Conference Centre does not. The Elim Pentacostals are a
fundamentalist Christian Sect. They are largely creationist. Their Conference Centre is an unlikely venue for world class scientists to gather to discuss cutting edge science on the brink of overturning the consensus.

Secondly, though the speeding neutrinos made it into popular media, the people to whom the findings were initially presented were the scientific peers of those who originally found them. The people who will dissect and examine their work will be their equals in expertise and education. They did not rush straight to the Dept of Education and demand Einstein be debated and their findings reviewed by 14 year olds who had made a few circuits and slid a few toy cars past a light gate or two! The results of that expert debate may eventually be presented to schoolchildren, but that will be because it has been done by scientists for scientists and judged on its scientific merits first! ID ‘scientists’ on the other hand seem far keener on their work being judged by pre GCSE students than by the scientific community. They are not operating to the protocols required by science, ID is not science!

“I cannot believe that British science is so unsure of itself that it has come to this.”
Neither can I Dr Noble. I cannot believe that in the 21st century we’d have to protect the cumulated knowledge from thousands of years of scientific endeavour from an ancient, scientifically illiterate piece of writing!

Of course it wouldn’t be an ID article without recourse to abiogenesis.
“Prof Richard Dawkins himself insists that living systems “give the appearance of having been
designed for a purpose”. But he also admits that he does not know how life originated. How can he possibly know, therefore, that the apparent design in nature is not real?”
Yes we do not know YET how life originated. However it is an area of intense and fruitful research encompassing many scientific disciplines bar one-ID. Oops that isn’t a scientific discipline.

If the good Dr Noble wishes to examine whether the apparent design in nature is real the answer is
simple. Get ID ‘scientists’ to engage in some research. Yes that’s right. If you want to be taken seriously in science-do some serious science. Come up with some serious hypotheses; come up with some serious evidence. Go show how the apparent design in nature can be tested and proved. Because at the moment there is NO ID science, there is NO ID research and one day the origin of life gap in
our knowledge will be filled just like the other gaps such as the evolution of the Bacterial Flagellum.

The onus is on ID to prove design not on real science to just stop searching because they say it’s so.
But it is Nobles concluding paragraph that really nails the ID argument.

The Nazism card.
“I have often wondered how a sophisticated country like 20th-century Germany fell prey to Nazi
domination of its national life. I think I can see that once you start legislating for the promotion of one particular theory over another, you suppress debate and start purveying propaganda. Surely not in 21st century Britain which so values free speech and open enquiry? I sincerely hope not.”
I believe there is theory called Godwin’s law that says you bring up the Nazis when you've lost the argument? So I’m not sure how to respond to this. However seeing as it is Noble who has rather unwisely brought it up where shall I start!

Could Germany have fallen prey to Nazi domination because there was a proliferation of unsubstantiated propaganda infiltrating all areas of public life-including and especially schools? Was it because they allowed unsubstantiated, simplistic, irrational and emotional arguments to be targeted at those who hadn't the expertise to see through them before they’d been reviewed and validated by those that did? Propaganda that allowed ridiculous ideas for which there was neither evidence nor credibility to be debated as equals alongside valid, evidence based ones?

The call to prevent ID being taught as science is not stifling any debate-merely pointing out that it is grossly unfair to present something as valid science to schoolchildren when it is anything but. Dr Noble and his ID pals are free to come up with some science to prove, support or even test for design. They are free to present it to their scientific peers for approval. And if it ever reaches the level of science then
education will have no choice but to include it on the science curriculum. How often does it have to be said, science education is for the teaching of science! ID has yet to prove itself scientific.

Compare Dr Noble’s emotional appeals about the persecution of ID and his incorrect accusations
that it is all an atheist plot with your average text on evolution with its scientific language and inconvenient heaps of real evidence and draw your own conclusions about who is purveying propaganda.

I would never dream of likening Noble or the proponents of ID to the Nazis, but seeing as Noble himself has brought them up perhaps he could ignore for a moment the political evil of their propaganda and just consider the fact that its purveyors shared a narrow political agenda, an arrogant assumption they were right whatever the costs to humanity and a deep need to indoctrinate others.

Perhaps he could then take on board two very simple facts that he refuses to acknowledge. Those who accept evolution and oppose ID come from every area of religious and political belief and opinion because their objections are based on the fact it is not what it claims to be-science. Those who support ID/creationism and reject evolution are drawn almost exclusively from the narrowest, most bigoted and intolerant fringes of Christianity. All of whom share an unshakeable belief in a literal reading of
the book of Genesis, who are arrogant enough to think they alone are right whatever the subsequent cost to humanity of teaching folk to reject science and who need to indoctrinate others as that is what their narrow sub sect of Christianity dictates. Then I would ask him to consider who is purveying propaganda. And I would remind him, lest he use it as an argument against me, that I am not likening him to the Nazis, nor saying his propaganda is like Nazi propaganda-merely that he is the one with the agenda pushing an ideology with no supporting evidence to schoolchildren and church congregations rather than to scientists and real scientific journals.

Then there is the simple fact that he is mixing up theory, which Evolution is and ID isn't, with ideology, which Nazism is. There is no attempt to suppress ID as a theory, because it isn’t a theory it is an ideology and a religious position. The last item in my litany of criticisms of Nobles hypocrisy in playing the Nazi card is hidden deep within the roots of ID. Nazism was an attempt to impose a new world order. It wished to overthrow society and replace it with its own politics and beliefs. There would be no room for dissent and no freedom of thought and no real tolerance of difference and no real rights for certain groups.

The roots of intelligent design, it would appear, lie within in the murky depths of an organisation called the Discovery Institute and its ‘wedge strategy’. And the Discovery Institute it would appear is also quite keen on new world orders and imposing their particular narrow brand of morality and beliefs upon society. Using ID theory as the wedge to first crack the notion of science as it is and "replace it with science consonant with Christian and theistic conviction"..

It is difficult to read the wedge strategy document as anything other than an attempt to impose upon society the conservative Christian values of the fundamentalist religious right. And for anyone who doesn’t know what conservative Christian fundamentalist values are, think religious control of education and religious control of laws such as those on sexuality, abortion or divorce. Think discrimination against women, gays, atheists and non Christian religions. In short think intolerance, bigotry and removal of hard won rights and freedoms-things that really only exist when the state is free from religious control. It isn’t Nazism; unlike Dr Noble I’m not likening it to Nazism. But it would appear to be using ID propaganda as a means to a new world order.

Consider some of the aspirations this wedge strategy has for the ‘ID is just science-nothing else, it definitely isn’t religion’ theory: “Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies”, “..we also seek to build up a popular base of support among our natural constituency, namely, Chnstians. We will do this primarily through apologetics seminars. We intend these to encourage and equip believers with new scientific evidence's that support the faith, as well as to "popularize" our ideas in the broader culture”.
Consider its long term goals:

"Long Term Goals
  • To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.

  • To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and hurnan beings are created by God.
Spiritual & cultural renewal:
  • Major Christian denomination(s) defend(s) traditional doctrine of creation & repudiate(s)

  • Positive uptake in public opinion polls on issues such as sexuality, abortion and belief in God"
I live in a secular state. That is not, as creationist and ID proponents so often like to suggest, an atheist state. It is one where the individual is free to believe or not believe whatever they wish-privately. It is a state that does NOT promote one persons beliefs over another and everyone has the equal protection of the law. It is not perfect, nothing is, but it is a hell of a lot better than living under any political or religious dictatorship.

ID is not science, it is a religious position. As such state education should not favour it with inclusion in science lessons unless it is also going to give equal time to other religiously or supernaturally motivated pseudoscientific claims. My children can make free and informed choices about what to believe, because the state will not indoctrinate them. Though I would hope atheism, if they choose any moderate version of religion I will be perfectly happy. And if they do choose to embrace ID/creationism at least I will know it is an informed decision to reject science. I will know that at least they had the opportunity to learn objective science free from the confusion of religious interference. What Dr Noble proposes removes that opportunity.

The role of education is to enable children to grow up with the skills and knowledge to make informed decisions and form informed opinions. Allowing a narrowly focused group with a specific agenda to interfere with that process would be my definition of propaganda. And ID proponents are drawn from a very narrow focus with a very specific agenda!

I would not have raised the Wedge Strategy’s use of ID as a means to a possible theocratic end had Noble not played the Nazi card. I would have felt it unfair to tar C4ID and other ID proponents with such a distasteful brush. However if Noble is going to play the Nazi card then he cannot complain when it invites very unfavourable comparisons indeed! And for most thinking people the horrors of Discovery Institute’s theocratic ambition is very unfavourable.

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