This week has seen the launch of a new website, with the title: "Teach evolution, not creationism!" registered by the British Humanist Association. The issue relates to education and the way the subject of origins is handled. The organisations in the campaign are the British Humanist Association, the Association for Science Education, the British Science Association, the Campaign for Science & Engineering and Ekklesia. There are 30 individual signatories and most publicity has been given to Sir David Attenborough. The Daily Telegraph's report said that "The naturalist joined three Nobel laureates, the atheist Richard Dawkins and other leading scientists in calling on the government to tackle the "threat" of creationism." What they want is "enforceable statutory guidance" that will allow legal sanctions to be taken if any publicly-funded school allows creationism or intelligent design to be presented as science. The only point science teachers would be allowed to make would be to declare these topics out-of-bounds for science students. The joint statement reads:
Creationism and 'intelligent design' are not scientific theories, but they are portrayed as scientific theories by some religious fundamentalists who attempt to have their views promoted in publicly-funded schools. There should be enforceable statutory guidance that they may not be presented as scientific theories in any publicly-funded school of whatever type.
But this is not enough. An understanding of evolution is central to understanding all aspects of biology. The teaching of evolution should be included at both primary and secondary levels in the National Curriculum and in all schools.
Should students be taken for a ride in a school bus by Dawkins? (source here)
The key features of the statement will be familiar to ARN readers. The statement takes a demarcationist view of science: they hold the view that science can be clearly distinguished from non-science and that creationism and ID are definitely outside science. Furthermore, they consider that the state has the responsibility to preserve the purity of science education by providing enforceable statutory guidance. In particular, the campaign is concerned that the teaching of evolution is not getting the emphasis it deserves: they view evolution as central to all aspects of biology and they want all schools to be teaching it at primary and secondary level.
The UK media coverage explained the campaign in some depth. The Daily Telegraph quoted Andrew Copson, chief executive of the BHA, who said: "the threat of creationism and 'intelligent design' being taught as science is real and ongoing, particularly as more and more schools are opened up to be run by religious fundamentalists". The Daily Mail said: "Those behind the call for 'evolution not creationism' say teaching that God created the world is dangerous and must be prevented by law." The Guardian reported: "The Department for Education says all schools must teach a broad and balanced curriculum, and creationism should not be taught as scientific fact. But a spokesman for the British Humanist Association (BHA) said: "That's precisely what we want to be monitored.""
Two organisations were highlighted in the Campaign's Position Statement as examples of what they are complaining about:
"Organisations like 'Truth in Science' are encouraging teachers to incorporate 'intelligent design' into their science teaching. 'Truth in Science' has sent free resources to all Secondary Heads of Science and to school librarians around the country that seek to undermine the theory of evolution and have 'intelligent design' ideas portrayed as credible scientific viewpoints. Speakers from Creation Ministries International are touring the UK, presenting themselves as scientists and their creationist views as science at a number of schools."
These two examples illustrate the paranoia that is afflicting the BHA and its collaborators. Neither of these offending organisations are departing from the Government guidelines about how creationism and intelligent design should be treated in schools. Truth in Science put a statement to this effect on its website here: "Truth in Science [. . .] has never advocated the teaching of creationism in science lessons in schools. It has consistently advocated, promoted and distributed materials that encourage a more critical approach to the teaching of Evolution as an important component of science education, allowing individuals to follow the evidence wherever it leads." The guidelines do not prohibit the development of critical thinking skills when evolutionary concepts are taught, and there is no shortage of evidence suggesting the textbooks are imposing theory based on ideology rather than grounding theory upon evidence. The CMI response is found here. The trigger for this complaint goes back to May 2011, when a CMI speaker was invited to speak to students at a Religious Education study day at a Church of England school in the city of Exeter. The students also heard a different view from another visiting speaker, designed to stimulate debate. This is also perfectly compatible with the government RE guidelines which encourage teachers to give students opportunities to explore the issues. However, of all the media reports, only the Guardian was prepared to represent the views of these two organisation:
"Truth in Science denied advocating the teaching of creationism in schools. "We wish to highlight the scientific weaknesses of neo-Darwinism and to encourage a more critical approach to the teaching of evolution in schools and universities," it said in a statement.
Creation Ministries International was unavailable for comment."
At this point, most normal people will wonder what all this fuss is about. Why this campaign - when the two prime examples are compatible with government guidelines? Why the apoplectic comments about "threats" and why are they insisting that teaching "that God created the world is dangerous and must be prevented by law"? To explain this, it is necessary to see the relevance of their demarcation arguments. They deem it vital to show that creationism and ID are delusions that belong outside science. They are not prepared to contemplate a situation where scientific arguments are used to falsify the evolution of molecules to man. Yet this is what they are faced with: arguments about information that allow design inferences to be made (as here and here); arguments about the fossil record that falsify gradualism (as here and here); arguments based on exquisite design rather than 'tinkering' design (as here and here), and so on.
The only way such discussions can be excluded from science is to redefine science. This is exactly what the humanists/atheists are seeking to do. This means that they are re-framing science so it fits their philosophical preconceptions. This results in them wanting to trample all over the academic freedom of people (teachers, parents, students, scientists) who do not share their philosophical stance. The ID community has drawn attention to these issues repeatedly, as in this past ARN blog. Here is a recent example from Dr Alastair Noble, Director of the Centre for Intelligent Design, UK.
"You might rule out an explanation which invokes intelligent mind because it does not fit within the ideological naturalism which is invading science. In that case you're no longer doing science, but have adopted an overarching philosophy of nature into which you then try to fit the data - a faith position in effect. [. . .] 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."
There's much more that needs to be said. What is needed though is a wider debate. Until parents, educators and scientists generally see the practical importance of these issues, we face the prospect of a small elite group imposing its will on the majority by influencing policy-makers, journal editors and science organisations. We need academic freedom in schools, colleges and universities, but unless we stand against the thought-police, we have only ourselves to blame when we lose it.
More blogs on academic freedom:
Tyler, D. An appeal for authentic science studies, ARN Literature blog (5 February 2010)
Tyler, D. "Darwin's golden retriever" portrays ID as an assault on science, ARN Literature blog (5 June 2009)
Tyler, D. How to move beyond damaging pestilential wars, ARN Literature blog (15 February 2009)
by Dr Caroline Crocker
I recently attended a lecture by Michael Shermer at the UCSD Biological Science Symposium (4/2/09). His title was, "Why Darwin Matters", but his topic was mostly religion. He started by defining science as looking for natural explanations for natural phenomena and said that his purpose was to "debunk the junk and expose sloppy thinking." So, I must go on to the content of the lecture - or lack of it. What a disappointment! I was hoping to hear some reasoned thoughts, maybe even something to challenge my way of thinking. Instead we were subjected to an evening of slapstick comedy, cheap laughs and the demolition of strawmen. Lots of cartoons, a film of the evolution of Homer Simpson, photos of the Creation Science Museum with lots of ridicule. I wondered if the 1500 people listening registered how their intelligence was being insulted since Shermer obviously did not consider them capable of logical thinking - only bully-like laughter.
Michael Shermer entertains (Source here)
Or, is it possible that Shermer actually is incapable of understanding what intelligent design (ID) theorists have been trying to explain for so long? His characterization of ID was that the theory says,
1) It looks designed,
2) We can't think how it was designed naturally,
3) Therefore it was designed supernaturally. (God of the gaps.)
Okay everyone, laugh at the stupid ID theorists. Shermer then went on to give the example of Sir Isaac Newton who assumed that the planets line up in a plane because God made things this way. Shermer told his audience that ID theorists do not talk about this because science has now discovered a natural explanation for this phenomenon.
But, is that what ID says? Not at all. Rather, ID says that it is possible to detect the action of intelligence in the world by the presence of two features: complexity and specificity. Our experience with the world shows that if something that is highly complex and ALSO conforms to a pre-existing pattern or contains information, then it designed by an intelligent being. Therefore, when we see these features in naturally-occurring objects, we posit that an intelligent being may have played a part in designing them. Science of course cannot speculate about the identity of this being. So, what about Newton's planets? Well, they do not exhibit much complexity and lining up is not exactly spectacular specificity. Perhaps this is why ID theorists do not talk about Newton's ideas?
Shermer then made a very quick foray into explaining away some of the concerns that ID theorists have with regard to evolution. The Cambrian explosion and lack of transitional forms in the fossil record were addressed by saying that the Cambrian period was actually quite long. Also many of the transitional forms had soft bodies - and anyway, we do have some transitional forms, like Ambulocetus. Irreducible complexity was quickly dismissed by a slide showing a bird with wings that are not used for flying and pictures of a mousetrap with fewer than all of its parts. He did not attempt an explanation of how it would work. Shermer did not explain specified complexity, possibly because he did understand the concept.
After this, Shermer began to air his philosophical and theological ignorance (yes, in a science lecture). I was astonished at how a Darwinist who complains about mixing science and religion spent most of his time at the Biological Science Symposium talking about religion. Especially when he made a point that he is not opposed to discussing religion, just not in science class. One is forced to wonder at the duplicity of his actions. Shermer repeatedly complained that his evaluation of the design seen in nature is that it is not intelligent. For example, why would a designer cause the eye to see upside down and backwards? Obviously, Shermer could have done it better. So, his argument, if I am understanding him, is that if something is designed badly, it was not designed. Hmm, does that apply to faulty appliances, automobiles, and even rockets? Those that malfunction were not designed but evolved?
Then Dr. Shermer came to the question that children always ask, "Well, if God made everything, who made God?" The answer they were hoping for was, "Oh, yeah, you're the first one to think of that. Hmm, guess He doesn't exist." But this is an age-old question, almost the pons asinorum of philosophy and theology. An immense sophisticated literature has been developed around the First Case question, and Shermer acted like he'd never heard of it. Some of my more astute readers may have noticed that this is definitely not science, as Shermer defined it, but he did not seem to realize. He said that all good scientists would ask who made the designer, and who made him and so on, seemingly forgetting the first few sentences of his lecture where he said that science looks only for natural explanations for natural phenomena.
And the lecture went on - from bad to worse. Now, Shermer began to throw in a few mistakes. For example, he claimed that all ID advocates believe in the God of Abraham and are motivated by wanting to share Jesus. His evidence? Shermer claims that after two beers all ID advocates admit that they are Christians (the closet variety I presume). Is it possible that he has never heard of Sir Anthony Flew who is no longer an atheist, but is certainly not a Christian? Or, what about Dr. David Berlinski, Ben Stein or Dr. Steve Fuller, none of whom would claim to be Christians, not all of whom are even theists. Of more concern is that it would appear that Shermer is saying that having a religious belief makes one unable to think scientifically. This is dangerous ground, Dr. Shermer, since atheism has also been defined as a religion (7th Circuit Court of Appeals)! My assessment of last night's talk is that Shermer's atheism (he calls it skepticism) is even evangelistic.
The talk was concluded with a consideration of the Anthropic Principle or the fact that the universe is fine-tuned for life. Shermer admitted that he has been given cause for thought by six key physical constants and the narrow range of values that enable our existence, but then went on to dismiss their significance by suggesting the possibility of parallel universes, which also "evolve". He admitted that there is no evidence for a multiverse, but claimed that since religion is "anthropocentrically absurd" we need to "climb to a higher plane of humanity and humility" and embrace "sciensuality" and buy his book. Are you convinced? I am not.
The Executive Committee of the International Society for Science and Religion has issued a statement about Intelligent Design which makes it clear that they do not accept the term 'secularised science' but rather see science as operating "with a common set of methodological approaches that gives freedom to scientists from a range of religious backgrounds to unite in a common endeavor." Here is the key paragraph:
"We believe that intelligent design is neither sound science nor good theology. Although the boundaries of science are open to change, allowing supernatural explanations to count as science undercuts the very purpose of science, which is to explain the workings of nature without recourse to religious language. Attributing complexity to the interruption of natural law by a divine designer is, as some critics have claimed, a science stopper. Besides, ID has not yet opened up a new research program. In the opinion of the overwhelming majority of research biologists, it has not provided examples of "irreducible complexity" in biological evolution that could not be explained as well by normal scientifically understood processes. Students of nature once considered the vertebrate eye to be too complex to explain naturally, but subsequent research has led to the conclusion that this remarkable structure can be readily understood as a product of natural selection. This shows that what may appear to be "irreducibly complex" today may be explained naturalistically tomorrow."
Source: ISSR Statement on the Concept of 'Intelligent Design'
Most of the committee members have contributed articles or books on the subject which elaborate the above text. Their names are Denis Alexander, Munawar Anees, Martinez Hewlett, Ronald L. Numbers (chair), Holmes Rolston III, Michael Ruse and Jeffrey Schloss.
There are many issues raised by the Statement. One biologist has commented: "I have never seen a refutation of Mike Behe's argument made in DBB that a single photosensitive cell is irreducibly complex." Also: "And what does it mean that something "can be readily understood as a product of natural selection"? As long as you can "understand" something that way you're okay, even if it hasn't been demonstrated? They concede as much in the subsequent sentence."
Philosopher Angus Menuge has provided all the following comments about the science-stopper charge:
And the sad thing is that this is all based on a simple mistake. Inferring design from irreducible complexity does not at all "stop science," but invites investigation into the control program that assembles the IC system, as Behe's latest book details. The problem is a persistent false picture of designer as fairy godmother, rather than designer as computer engineer who works through means. If I infer design from a print-out of the Mona Lisa, I am not at all discouraged from investigating the mechanisms (photography, scanners, computer software and hardware) used to bring that designed product to us. Design isn't committed to the idea that every time a phenomenon is identified as designed, the designer must have immediately brought into existence. This is as silly as thinking that because ID sees design in human beings, it is claiming they were brought into the world by supernatural storks, and not through the means of reproduction.
In truth, it is Darwinism that is a science stopper and/or retarder, because it allows people to accept non-functionality too easily and to accept non-testable just-so stories because they are the sort of thing that "just has to be true," regardless of the evidence. As with scholastic science, why bother to look if "the philosopher" (then, Aristotle; now, Darwin) has proclaimed it must be thus and so?
What's more, design is already promoting research because methodological design is more useful than methodological materialism. This is the point of Michael Ruse:
"We treat organisms-the parts at least-as if they were manufactured, as if they were designed, and then try to work out their functions. End-directed thinking-teleological thinking-is appropriate in biology because, and only because, organisms seem as if they were manufactured, as if they had been created by an intelligence and put to work." (Michael Ruse, Darwin and Design, 268.)
It is also reinforced by Bruce Alberts' claim that 21st century biologists will need to learn the principles of engineering and computer science (design principles):
"Why do we call the large protein assemblies...machines? Precisely because, like the machines invented by humans...these protein assemblies contain highly coordinated moving parts."
Bruce Alberts, "The Cell as a Collection of Protein Machines: Preparing the Next Generation of Molecular Biologists," Cell, Vol. 92, 1998, p. 291.
The fact that these scientists all claim that nature does it all, doesn't show a thing: it is a statement of faith that plays no substantive role in the actual experimental analysis given. Design does all the heavy lifting; then the attributes of the designer are transferred mythologically to natural selection, without evidence. As A. S. Wilkins wrote:
"The subject of evolution occupies a special, and paradoxical, place within biology as a whole. While the great majority of biologists would probably agree with Theodosius Dobzhansky's dictum that nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution, most can conduct their work quite happily without particular reference to evolutionary ideas. Evolution would appear to be the indispensable unifying idea and, at the same time, a highly superfluous one."
A.S. Wilkins, Evolutionary processes: a special issue, BioEssays, December(2000), 22, 1051-2.
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Evolution has become a favorite topic of the news media recently, but for some reason, they never seem to get the story straight. The staff at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture started this Blog to set the record straight and make sure you knew "the rest of the story".
A blogger from New England offers his intelligent reasoning.
We are a group of individuals, coming from diverse backgrounds and not speaking for any organization, who have found common ground around teleological concepts, including intelligent design. We think these concepts have real potential to generate insights about our reality that are being drowned out by political advocacy from both sides. We hope this blog will provide a small voice that helps rectify this situation.
Website dedicated to comparing scenes from the "Inherit the Wind" movie with factual information from actual Scopes Trial. View 37 clips from the movie and decide for yourself if this movie is more fact or fiction.
Don Cicchetti blogs on: Culture, Music, Faith, Intelligent Design, Guitar, Audio
Australian biologist Stephen E. Jones maintains one of the best origins "quote" databases around. He is meticulous about accuracy and working from original sources.
Most guys going through midlife crisis buy a convertible. Austrialian Stephen E. Jones went back to college to get a biology degree and is now a proponent of ID and common ancestry.
Complete zipped downloadable pdf copy of David Stove's devastating, and yet hard-to-find, critique of neo-Darwinism entitled "Darwinian Fairytales"
Intelligent Design The Future is a multiple contributor weblog whose participants include the nation's leading design scientists and theorists: biochemist Michael Behe, mathematician William Dembski, astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, philosophers of science Stephen Meyer, and Jay Richards, philosopher of biology Paul Nelson, molecular biologist Jonathan Wells, and science writer Jonathan Witt. Posts will focus primarily on the intellectual issues at stake in the debate over intelligent design, rather than its implications for education or public policy.
A Philosopher's Journey: Political and cultural reflections of John Mark N. Reynolds. Dr. Reynolds is Director of the Torrey Honors Institute at