Wednesday, February 27, 2008

creationism, evolution, and intelligent design

Rod Rose, a columnist from Lebanon, IN with some oh-so-common confusion and conflation on evolution, creationism and ID (hat tip: Jeff/NA News-Tribune)...

Florida’s state school board Tuesday decided to require that the word “evolution” appear in science textbooks.

This is news for several reasons; the most important is that it is the first time Florida is requiring students in public schools be taught the “scientific theory of evolution.”

Florida’s students will now be taught that “evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence.”

Objections are imminent....

So far, so good, but it's downhill from here...

Creationists argue that “God alone suffices” is all they need to support their concept of intelligent design. Creationists do not question God. Science by its nature questions everything.

--> Not really...If he means young-earth (YE) creationists, then they don't support ID. If he means old-earth (OE) creationists, they may or may not support ID as science, but see some role for evolution vs. "God alone" (whatever that would mean theologically).
--> Indeed, Science (with a Capital S) questions all, but scientists and science do not; the latter have their biases and blindspots.

The intelligent design argument is not new; it is more than 200 years old, going back to the “blind watchmaker” analogy proposed by William Paley. Call it “creationism” or call it “intelligent design,” but do not call it scientific theory.

--> Philosophically, ID has been around for much longer. With a scientific veneer, it has been around most notably since Paley. But creationism is not equivalent to ID-- and again, the YE variety is opposed to ID. YE creationism has some scientific evidences, although they are far-from-compelling. OE creationism is not science per se. ID is a scientific pursuit.

In June 2008, Scientific American magazine published “15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense.” The word “nonsense” is perhaps a bit harsh — certainly not all devout Christians disbelieve the theory of evolution...

Scientific American’s editors lamented, “Embarrasingly (sic), in the 21st century, in the most scientifically advanced nation the world has ever known, creationists can still persuade politicians, judges and ordinary citizens that evolution is a flawed, poorly supported fantasy.”

It is none of those. The reality of evolution has been proven, repeatedly.

Evolution is a fact.

--> Again, we have a conflation between OE and YE creationism. We also have conflation between so-called micro-evolution (indisputable) and so-called macro-evolution which purports to provide a comprehensive scientific "explanation" for the development of life (and falls well short by any objective measure).
--> I'm willing to cut slack to newspaper writers. But what's far more embarrassing is that educated scientists are unable or unwilling to make such vital distinctions.


At February 28, 2008 at 8:56 AM , Blogger Bryce Raley said...

I like Dexter Yeagers quote. Facts don't count. Because what we believe to be fact isn't actually fact at all. The world was flat then round and now maybe its not exactly round.
The sun was the center of the universe, then the earth and now theres great debate.

In about a month people will consider it a fact that we are in a recession even though we can't be by definition. They heard it enough from the media and they will have believed it.

To say adamantly that evolution is fact takes a very unreasonable person. However, liberals scholars and journalists tend to be very unreasonable people.

At February 28, 2008 at 2:22 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

Evolution is most certainly a fact. Or at least, the two central claims of evolution are facts: (1) deep geological time, and (2) descent with modification of all life from a single, common (single-celled) ancestor. The ID people accept these two facts. (Well, some of the ID people do; others believe there were separate creation events that gave rise to the various Biblical "kinds." Those folks would be more properly be called OE creationists.) Anyway, the debate is not on these two facts of evolution (Ken Ham and his Creation Museum notwithstanding), but rather on mechanisms. But mainstream biologists (including certain prominent biologists who are devout Christians) say there isn't even any debate on mechanisms: the mechanism that drives evolution is chance plus necessity (genetic mutations and natural selection). They look at life and see more contingency than design, and they make no distinction between 'micro' and 'macro' evolution. The mainstream scientists who say these things are not unreasonable, since the evidence for natural selection is so strong, and the theory is so successful at explaining things in biology. What's unreasonable is to argue against such a well-established theory without really good evidence against it, evidence that the ID people and the creationists (OE or YE) lack. (The best evidence against evolution might be Michael Behe's examples of "irreducible complexity," but these have been pulled apart by mainstream biologists.) What's especially unreasonable is to argue against evolution when your motivation isn't scientific but is instead religious or political.

At February 28, 2008 at 8:52 PM , Blogger Bryce Raley said...

William what is your religious belief system?

Are you an atheist, an agnostic, a secular humanist, a bible believing Christian, a proponent of the new age?

Does believing evolution to be most certainly a fact shape your worldview of God or a lack of a God?

What do you think about global warming? An odd question but your answer will tell me a lot about you.

You see if you believe man-made global warming to be a fact, then you will believe it even though 400 experts just refuted it a few months back.

That's not a few outliers. Thats 400! You can't sweep 400 hundred expert opinions under the rug and continue with the propaganda that the media puts out daily. Guess what though- they're still doing it.

I happen to believe that God created the heavens and the earth and I believe the bible to be literal. It's just as hard for you to convince me that we stand here today as human beings with souls as a by product of apes and amoeba.
(do you believe we have souls and if so when did we go about getting them?)

I've heard prominent opthamologists say that evolutionists cannot explain the complexity of the human eye.

Human DNA is very complex, how do we account for the evolution from such simple forms to such complexity.

By the way have we stopped evolving yet? Why are there still monkeys today, matter of fact why does any organism that has evolved keep its present state.

Evolution is very confusing for a simpleton like myself- I'm sure these are very dumb questions. Something a elementary schooler would ask. I've never heard the simple questions answered much, just the jargon and complex theory stuff.

Archeology has yet to discredit the bible. Historic written records have yet to discredit the bible and science will never discredit the bible. If you know someone who can discredit the bible by all means help them publish and the work will become the all time bestseller.

I don't have all the answers but I wouldn't be dogmatic if I did.

It wouldn't be much fun to have perfect knowledge would it?

At February 28, 2008 at 10:18 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Beliefs about evolution can be connected to worldview, but are not necessarily (at least in a primary sense).

As an extreme case, if evolution could somehow "explain" everything (including the origins of life), then there would be no need for a God.

But beyond that extreme, a variety of combinations are possible-- and we observe that variety among scientists and non-scientists (a point that William made earlier).

That said, I don't know why one would label "descent with modification of all life..." as a (single) fact. I can see (and of course agree) that examples of so-called micro-evolution are fact. But there far too many holes for me to believe that evolution provides a compelling story, let alone a comprehensive "explanation" for the development of all life.

When we get to some "unexplained" thing-- for example, our recent discussion of the human male's lack of a baculum-- we see hand-waving (oh, evolution could do that) and stories (well, it might have worked like this), not explanations and fact.

At February 29, 2008 at 4:06 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

Bryce, neither my religious beliefs nor yours should affect whether a scientific theory such as evolution is true; such a theory should be considered only against scientific evidence (fossils or genetics, say). But I don't at all mind answering your question: I am on the agnostic side of Episcopalian. I'm afraid I gave up Biblical literalism (inerrancy) many years ago; there are too many holes in the Bible for me to believe it in that way (if I may echo Eric's comment about evolution). I suppose it is true that my belief in evolution has affected my religious and political outlook; but it's worth pointing out that there are prominent biologists who are orthodox Christians. One well-known example is Dr. Francis Collins, who directed the Human Genome Project. Collins shares credit for the discovery of the genetic defect that causes cystic fibrosis. He is an evangelical Christian and he believes in evolution.

Concerning global warming, my advice would be to take the consensus of the climate researchers very seriously: the most recent IPCC report indicates that it is "very likely" that the current warming is human-caused. This phrase means the probability that it is human-caused is at least 90%. But this indicates there is some remaining uncertainty. Indeed, I recall reading a year or two ago that based on the available statistical data (and its uncertainty), there's a one in three chance that the Medieval Warm Period was actually as warm as the present period. So it wouldn't entirely surprise me if global warming turned out not to be human-caused, and temperatures dropped back to historical norms.

This state of uncertainty constrasts sharply with the theory of evolution, which is among the strongest, best-supported theories in science. As I said before, the evidence for those two facts I mentioned is overwhelming. A very good summary of this evidence is found at 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution (on the Talk Origins website).


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