e-petition: Teach evolution, not creationism

Having mentioned in my last post the BHA reporting on the progress of a “Creationist” Free School, I thought I’d hop over to the Evolution not Creationism website, which links to the government e-petition: Teach evolution, not creationism.

The petition states:

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. At the same time, an understanding of evolution is central to understanding all aspects of biology. Currently, the study of evolution does not feature explicitly in the National Curriculum until year 10 (ages 14-15). Free Schools and Academies are not obliged to teach the National Curriculum and so are under no obligation to teach about evolution at all.

We petition the Government to make clear that creationism and ‘intelligent design’ are not scientific theories and to prevent them from being taught as such in publicly-funded schools, including in ‘faith’ schools, religious Academies and religious Free Schools. At the same time, we want the Government to make the teaching of evolution in mandatory in all publicly-funded schools, at both primary and secondary level.

In principle I agree with this.

I might well sign it.

Do you think I’m right to do so, or would you yourself, or do you have objections?

I’d love to know what you think.

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29 Responses to “e-petition: Teach evolution, not creationism”

  1. @sitsio Says:

    I think it has important philosophical ramifications. There’s a clear dichotomy between the liberalism wrought by the English revolution & the French one. The former being based on proper ideas of freedom, the latter a form of dictated liberalism which decides what ‘freedom’ is, then enforces it on the majority. We are heading from the former to the latter and it concerns me greatly. Freedom of religion & conscience should mean that people are allowed to believe whatever they want to—even if it may be something we disagree with. I think that’s an important freedom, not least because, tomorrow, there could be a similar petition aimed at enforcing a position against my own beliefs.

  2. Lisa Graas Says:

    Don’t sign it. Watch the documentary “Expelled” with Ben Stein to understand why. “Intelligent design” has nothing to do with theology.

  3. Lisa Graas Says:

    If you believe it’s possible that earth was “designed” by aliens, then you would be okay with “intelligent design.” It does not require belief in a deity to believe that intelligent design is a plausible theory.

  4. Jean Says:

    State-imposed syllabuses are a usurpation of the rights of parents and local communities. Evolutionary theory is frequently taught as part of a naturalistic package, with students encouraged to read wannabe philosophers like Richard Dawkins. Let schools – and the parents who fund them through their taxes and provide them with their pupils – decide.

  5. Tim Says:

    I’d stay as far away from that petition as possible.

  6. Gillan Scott Says:

    Evolution is a scientific theory, but creationism is not because it is not evidence based. It is a theological theory as is intelligent design. I really don’t see why both cannot be taught in schools but not both in science lessons.

    One is trying to understand how things have come into being based on analysing what we see around us. The other is trying to fit what we see around us to an interpretation of the Bible. You’ll never sell that to any serious scientist because that’s not how scientific investigation is carried out.

    What scientists do need to be honest about is that evolution along with all other theories is that they are a best guess in that they are only valid until conflicting evidence comes along that forces them to be re-evaluated. As it stands evolution is science’s current best guess, but that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to be 100% correct or even 1%.

  7. Caral Says:

    I think that the Creationism debate maybe an interesting area to cover in the religion studies at secondary education. However, science is science and only science should be taught in science classes.

  8. Simon Says:

    sitsio – I don’t think that there are philosophical ramifications. There is a formal definition of what constitutes a scientific hypothesis. To claim that Intelligent Design matches that definition would be an outright lie. I don’t think it’s illiberal to support the idea that schools should not lie to their students.

    The petition is not asking for a ban on teaching Creationism or Intelligent Design, merely that they not be taught as if they were something that they are not. The former would be illiberal. The latter is just intellectual honesty.

    For the record, I have not signed the petition but do intend to do so. I’ll hold off a few days on the outside chance that someone might convince me I’m wrong to do so.

  9. Lisa Graas Says:

    Watch ‘Expelled’ with Ben Stein, and don’t sign the petition. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001BYLFFS?ie=UTF8&tag=thelighthou09-20&linkCode=shr&camp=213733&creative=393177&creativeASIN=B001BYLFFS&qid=1338328853&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1

  10. Simon Says:

    Lisa – I read the blurb. If you think, as the film apparently claims, that scientists aren’t open to new ideas, then I suspect you don’t know many. It’s just that science comes with a built-in test for whether a new idea is worth pursuing: it must generate falsifiable predictions. Intelligent Design does not make any such predictions, which makes it useless – so scientists ignore the idea (at least until some journalist comes whipping up controversy).

    As to a vast conspiracy of scientists firing any dangerous dissidents, the Wikipedia article paints a rather different story:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expelled:_No_Intelligence_Allowed
    Short version: Stein misrepresents a lot. For example, the journal editor “fired for publishing an article that mentions Intelligent Design” handed in his notice six months before the publication date and continued to work for the Smithsonian for some time after the film (which claims he was fired from the Smithsonian) came out. I notice that some of the article appears very similar to here:
    http://www.expelledexposed.com/index.php/the-truth/sternberg
    but which copies which I do not know. Stein’s work definitely isn’t the last word, however.

    And even if you do accept the thesis that people are being hounded out of academia for supporting Intelligent Design, the fact remains: Intelligent Design does not meet the definition of a scientific theory. Teaching it in a science class as if it did is dishonest.

    If anyone is interested, a demolition job of William Dembski’s Intelligent Design ideas is available at: http://bostonreview.net/BR27.3/orr.html

  11. Watchman Says:

    I am saddened that attempts to quantify and define proof of action from intelligence has been so vilified by its opponents out of fear for how it may be applied.

  12. Tim Says:

    If anyone is interested a demolition job of Expelled Exposed is available at:

    http://atheismisdead.blogspot.co.uk/2009/03/expelled-exposed-exposed.html

    http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Science

  13. @sitsio Says:

    http://www.thecatholicthing.org/columns/2012/recovering-faith-a-reason.html

  14. Stacy Trasancos Says:

    I wouldn’t sign it. Frankly, I don’t want my kids exposed to either side of this debate because both sides have distorted the meaning of education and use exaggerated arguments.

    For instance: “At the same time, an understanding of evolution is central to understanding all aspects of biology.” <—They say things like that.

    Tell kids God created the world, then when you teach them about physical things in the natural world, call it science class. Science is part of the whole truth, and God is the Author of all Truth. At some point I think it's even more important to teach kids what "Science" first meant and why we even developed the discipline. I'm in favor of teaching them a sound Scholastic philosophy and helping them learn to search for truth systematically and intelligently.

  15. Lisa Graas Says:

    Simon, you’ve made a judgment of a film without watching it. How scientific of you.

  16. Lisa Graas Says:

    Re: “philosophical ramifications” — That’s not science, that’s philosophy. Philosophical ramifications should be avoided in science class.

    Certainly, people break rules, but that’s why we need rules. If a science teacher ventures into philosophical ramifications, there’s room for complaint from students and parents.

  17. Simon Says:

    Stacy: If you are in favour of helping your children “learn to search for truth” then you should sign this petition. Lying to children – and claiming Intelligent Design is a scientific hypothesis is a lie – is hardly a good foundation for teaching critical thought.

    Tim: Wikipedia provides references supporting its article; your link does so too. Who knows? I will take up one comment from your first link however: In essence, “Expelled Exposed” effectively says, ‘There’s no persecution of ID-proponents in the academy. But even if there was, so what? They deserve it.’ Do you think that teachers who lie to their students should be applauded? I would think a historian teaching that Germany won the Second World War, or a geographer teaching that England is larger than America, would be similarly ridiculed and, probably, ultimately end up in a disciplinary process if they didn’t come back to reality. In other words, the argument is not that they “deserve it” for teaching Intelligent Design as science per se, but that they “deserve it” for falling spectacularly short of professional standards.

    Lisa – I admit that I have taken the film to say (laughably incorrectly) that scientists are not open to new ideas – am I wrong that it claims that? Otherwise, I merely summarised (with links) comments made by others who have seen the film, which suggest that simply watching the film is not the end of the matter – which is what I understood you to be claiming. I do admit that I do not intend to watch it because, whether or not people have lost jobs over Intelligent Design, my issue is that Intelligent Design is not science. I do not believe from the summary that the film will address that point – perhaps I am wrong?

  18. Tim Says:

    My points were Simon that:

    A) Be open to other views where there is evidence to corroborate it, and there most certainly is where macroevolution is concerned.

    B) You write about high standards in science and then proceed to link to Wikipedia. It’s very sad.

  19. Lisa Graas Says:

    Simon, you’re wrong about the film. There are plenty of scientists who believe intelligent design is plausible and have lost their jobs as a result. The film shows that. “Scientists” includes those who believe intelligent design is plausible. Watch the film before you judge.

  20. Simon Says:

    Tim – I’m not sure what you mean by your point A. Do you mean that I should be open to non-scientific possibilities? Maybe, maybe not. But either way, non-scientific theories have no place in a science class. Or do you mean that there are alternative scientific theories that can compete with evolution to explain the diversity and adaptiveness of life? If so, I await some links and evidence. Or do you mean something else?

    Regarding your point B, you’ll note that I only used Wikipedia to suggest that Lisa’s film seems to be a point of debate rather than a final answer. I cited another (admittedly probably overlapping) source. I did not use Wikipedia for the important Intelligent Design de-bunking stuff.

    Lisa – The more I read about the film the more convinced I am that it doesn’t even try to justify Intelligent Design as science, so I am a little confused why you are recommending it. That there are people claiming to be scientists who believe that Intelligent Design is science, I do not doubt. But they are wrong. For example, Tim’s atheismisdead link above links to this page:
    http://www.ideacenter.org/contentmgr/showdetails.php/id/1154
    which claims to prove that Intelligent Design is science. Its basic argument is:
    (1) things that are designed exhibit high “complex and specified information” (CSI).
    (2) biological organisms exhibit high CSI
    (3) therefore biological organisms are designed.
    The argument’s logic is the same as:
    (1) dogs exhibit fur
    (2) cats exhibit fur
    (3) therefore cats are dogs.
    The flaw is obvious there: at no point did I prove that only dogs exhibit fur. Similarly, at no point do Intelligent Designers prove that only intelligent design can produce high CSI. Their arguments aren’t even logical. Is it any wonder scientists reject them, and even get irritated at people claiming to be scientists who are happy to ignore such basic flaws?

    I’ll try to track down a copy of the film anyway (not willing to pay the £10 it seems to be here, but I’ll look around), but I very much doubt it is going to be able to paper over such spectacular cracks.

  21. Tim Says:

    Science refers to the system of acquiring knowledge, through study or practice. One of my favourite scientists, Richard Feynman, had this to say:

    “We have many studies in teaching, for example, in which people
    make observations, make lists, do statistics, and so on, but
    these do not thereby become established science, established
    knowledge. They are merely an imitative form of science–
    analogous to the South Sea island airfields, radio towers, etc.,
    made out of wood. The islanders expect a great airplane to
    arrive. They even build wooden airplanes of the same shape as
    they see in foreigners’ airfields around them, but strangely
    enough, their wood planes do not fly. The results of this
    pseudoscientific imitation is to produce experts, which many of
    you are. You teachers who are really teaching children at the
    bottom of the heap can maybe doubt the experts once in a while.
    Learn from science that you must doubt the experts. As a matter
    of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the
    belief in the ignorance of experts.” (The Physics Teacher, 7
    September, 1969, 313-320)

    He also said:

    “When someone says, ‘Science teaches such and such,’ he is using the word incorrectly. Science doesn’t teach anything; experience teaches it. If they say to you, ‘Science has shown such and such,’ you should ask, ‘How does science show it? How did the scientists find out? How? What? Where?’ It should not be ‘science has shown.’ And you have as much right as anyone else, upon hearing about the experiments (but be patient and listen to all the evidence) to judge whether a sensible conclusion has been arrived at.”

    You don’t doubt, nor do you question. You just believe whatever you are told provided it fits in with your own preconceptions. That is neither open-minded nor a demonstration of a learning attitude.

  22. Simon Says:

    Tim – Gosh. Feynman quoted in defence of pseudoscience. I really have seen it all now. You do realise that the “cargo cult science” he’s talking about is exactly what Intelligent Designers do, don’t you? It looks like science from a distance, but look close and it’s a poor imitation.

    You provided a link to Atheism Is Dead earlier, which has a handy index of links to Intelligent Designer rebuttals of issues raised with their work. Search for Other articles that refute many of the false claims about ID in “Expelled Exposed” are found at some of the following links in that page; it’s the block of links below. You think I can’t question what I’m told? Let’s question.

    The first three links all say “we don’t do X because to do X would be unscientific”, where “X” happens to be tactically useful to people holding the postion that Intelligent-Design-isn’t-creationism-no-sir-not-one-bit. This is a defence if they are engaged in science, but fails if they are not since the question becomes: if everything else you do is unscientific, why does it matter to you that doing X is unscientific?

    The fourth link is titled Any larger philosophical implications of intelligent design, or any religious motives, beliefs, and affiliations of ID proponents, do not disqualify ID from having scientific merit. Generally, I’d agree. But if we can show that Intelligent Design has no scientific merit then we are forced to conclude that its proponents are either hoodwinked or cynical manipulators. In the latter case, motives beliefs and affiliations would be highly relevant.

    The fifth link I covered in my previous post. It claims that Intelligent Design is science, but uses logic equivalent to all dogs have fur; cats have fur; therefore cats are dogs to do so. A poor imitation of science indeed.

    The sixth link is just a link to this pdf which purports to show that Intelligent Design can make predictions. It actually makes the key point about a designer, that they make choices, but fails to spot the consequences. They say (in their table 2) that “[f]orms containing large amounts of novel information will appear in the fossil record suddenly and without similar precursors” because “[i]ntelligent agents can rapidly infuse large amounts of information into systems” (their table 1). But they miss the point of a designer having a choice to do this or not. A cautious designer might well satisfy himself with only minor modifications to every hundredth generation with thorough testing on the remaining ninety-nine. An agressive designer might make big changes to every generation and hang the consequences. Since either is possible, the prediction does not follow from the existence of a designer. And this is the whole problem with their approach – they assume that they know how all designers work because they’ve studied how some (perhaps the majority) of human designers work (or like to claim they work). Big assumptions not stated out front – again, a poor imitation of how scientists work.

    I’m going to skip over the next few because they start to repeat themselves (eight is a rehash of five, for example) and go on to A Response to Dr. Dawkins’ ‘The Information Challenge. Also, it’s getting late and I did this one earlier. The authors are attempting to argue that gene duplication doesn’t affect the information content of a genetic sequence, and they do it like so:

    I now have 2 questions to ask of Darwinists who claim that the mechanism of gene duplication explains how Darwinian evolutionary processes can increase the information content in the genome:
    (1) Does gene duplication increase the information content?

    (2) Does gene duplication increase the information content?

    [...]the mere duplication of a sentence does NOT increase the complex and specified information content in any meaningful way.

    Well, let’s see. If duplication doesn’t affect information content, let’s remove the duplication in the above passage:

    I now have 2 questions to ask of Darwinists who claim that the mechanism of gene duplication explains how Darwinian evolutionary processes can increase the information content in the genome:
    (1) Does gene duplication increase the information content?

    [...]the mere duplication of a sentence does NOT increase the complex and specified information content in any meaningful way.

    Now the passage makes no sense. There’s only one question – what’s the other one? You wouldn’t know if I hadn’t told you above. In fact, duplication of information is critical to changing my confused and mangled version into a reasonably clever (but wrong) rhetorical device. That is why scientists use Shannon information as the measure of information content in something; it is an objective measure of information content and is not affected by your assumptions about what that information might mean. More poor imitation.

    This is also the problem with their first “Inconvenient Truth for Dawkins”. They say that ten Royal Flushes in a row is evidence of design but ten losing hands in a row (presumably they mean ten identical losing hands, since the “truth” is false as written) is not. But they are assuming that the game is poker – perhaps I am James Bond and the dealer is a contact. A series of identical losing hands means assasinate the target; a series of winning hands means come home; a less patterned sequence means stay there but don’t do anything yet. The villain had better hope his goons are using Shannon information because if they’ve bought into “specified complexity” they won’t spot the “kill” order because it doesn’t fit their prejudices.

    OK – I’m going to bed. There’s loads more. If you want to note the contradiction between the application of “complex and specified information” to the poker example and the “everything in DNA has a meaning even if we don’t recognise it” back in the sixth link, go ahead. Inconsistency is the watch-word in Intelligent Design, not science. With which thought in your head, I shall ask you to re-read my third and fourth paragraphs.

    Tim – it’s your turn to demonstrate your ability to question what you are told. I challenge you to point out one single basic flaw in the arguments for Darwinian evolution. I decided not to attempt this because there aren’t any. You apparently believe there are – so let’s see you do it.

  23. Tim Says:

    You don’t understand at all, and that is obvious. I did not quote Feynman in defence of pseudoscience. And for the record I am neither a creationist nor an evolutionist. I sit on the fence and look at both arguments, because I know that neither is definitive. As a christian I know that God created everything, but how he did this is another question and I do not, unlike you, pretend to know and understand all things.

    If you had bothered to actually pay attention to Feynman’s talk you would have realised that he was just as disparaging of regular scientists adopting particular methods that bear no relation to integrity. I will quote:

    “…if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about it”

    He emphasised the word ‘everything’.

    “Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can–if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong–to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it.”

    Something that you could start to learn doing Simon.

    “But this long history of learning how not to fool ourselves–of having utter scientific integrity–is, I’m sorry to say, something that we haven’t specifically included in any particular course that I know of. We just hope you’ve caught on by osmosis.

    The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way afterthat.”

    “I was a little surprised when I was talking to a friend who was going to go on the radio. He does work on cosmology and astronomy, and he wondered how he would explain what the applications of this work were. “Well,” I said, “there aren’t any.” He said, “Yes, but then we won’t get support for more research of this kind.” I think that’s kind of dishonest. “

    “If you’ve made up your mind to test a theory, or you want to explain some idea, you should always decide to publish it whichever way it comes out. If we only publish results of a certain kind, we can make the argument look good. We must publish both kinds of results.”

    “I was shocked to hear of an experiment done at the big accelerator at the National Accelerator Laboratory, where a person used deuterium. In order to compare his heavy hydrogen results to what might happen with light hydrogen” he had to use data from someone else’s experiment on light hydrogen, which was done on different apparatus. When asked why, he said it was because he couldn’t get time on the program (because there’s so little time and it’s such expensive apparatus) to do the experiment with light hydrogen on this apparatus because there wouldn’t be any new result. And so the men in charge of programs at NAL are so anxious for new results, in order to get more money to keep the thing going for public relations purposes, they are destroying–possibly–the value of the experiments themselves, which is the whole purpose of the thing. It is often hard for the experimenters there to complete their work as their scientific integrity demands.”

    …and so on and so on.

    You said:

    “I challenge you to point out one single basic flaw in the arguments for Darwinian evolution. I decided not to attempt this because there aren’t any.”

    Really? Let me quote from someone (I quote from them as it is quite obvious you are not prepared to listen to anything I say) who, I would have thought, knows a little more about this subject than you do:

    Stephen Gould

    “…one outstanding fact of the fossil record that many of you may not be aware of; that since the so called Cambrian explosion…during which essentially all the anatomical designs of modern multicellular life made their first appearance in the fossil record, no new Phyla of animals have entered the fossil record.” SMU, Oct.2, 1990

    “We talk about the ‘march from monad to man’ (old-style language again) as though evolution followed continuous pathways to progress along unbroken lineages. Nothing could be further from reality. I do not deny that, through time, the most ‘advanced’ organism has tended to increase in complexity. But the sequence [allocated in most texts] from jellyfish to trilobite to nautiloid to armored fish to dinosaur to monkey to human is no lineage at all, but a chronological set of termini on unrelated evolutionary trunks. Moreover life shows no trend to complexity in the usual sense — only an asymmetrical expansion of diversity around a starting point constrained to be simple.”
    — Eight Little Piggies: Reflections in Natural History, New York: W. W. Norton, 1993, p. 322.

    “I want to argue that the ‘sudden’ appearance of species in the fossil record and our failure to note subsequent evolutionary change within them is the proper prediction of evolutionary theory as we understand it. – “Bushes and Ladders,” Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1977, pp. 61-62.

    You’ll notice, or you should anyway, that that is completely at odds with what Darwin himself had predicted. A Darwinian flaw. There are plenty more for those with the willingness to challenge themselves. But I would suggest you don’t want to do that do you Simon? You want everyone to say that you are right. The only thing free about the self-styled and arrogantly named ‘freethinkers’ is their detachment from reason which flutters forlornly in the breeze, and their inability to recognise how hugely biased they are. Critical analysis of everything is the key here, and is something I have spent my life doing.

    “Traditional explanations for stasis and abrupt appearance had paid an awful price in sacrificing the possibility of empirics for the satisfaction of harmony. Eventually we (primarily Niles) recognized that the standard theory of speciation—Ernst Mayr’s allopatric or peripatric scheme—would not, in fact, yield insensibly graded fossil sequences when extrapolated into geological time, but would produce just what we see: geologically unresolvable appearance followed by stasis. – “Punctuated Equilibrium in Fact and Theory,” Skeptic, 1 (3): 49.

    In other words, although the evidence did not fit the theory, they decided to keep the theory and revise what the evidence pointed to.

    In referring to evolutionary theory he said:

    “… it is, in its current state of development, sufficiently firm to provide satisfaction and confidence, yet fruitfully undeveloped enough to provide a treasure trove of mysteries.”

    Did you get that? Fruitfully undeveloped enough to provide a treasure trove of mysteries. i.e. There is a huge amount that we don’t understand. To decide that the only way to interpret it is through evolutionary theory is closed-minded at best, and a serious departure from integrity. You don’t make the evidence fit the theory, you follow the white rabbit and go wherever it takes you, regardless of personal affiliations.

  24. Simon Says:

    Tim – you quote Feynman (at somewhat greater length) saying you should report everything that you think might make [whatever it is you are reporting on] invalid-not only what you think is right about it and add your own comment Something that you could start to learn doing Simon. I refer you to my second post on this thread where I cite two articles in support of my suspiscions about Expelled (much broader support than one), but note that I suspect that one copies the other (rather weakening the point of two references). I think that that more or less matches details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, which is what you are implying that I don’t do. Best I can do by way of evidence on the record before your accusation.

    You then quote Gould at length arguing for his “punctuated equilibria”. I suppose I asked for that since I asked for a criticism of Darwinian evolution; I should have asked for a criticism of the modern synthesis. No matter, because Gould did not overturn the theory of evolution – he merely improved our understanding of it. You even quote him describing his ideas as the proper prediction of evolutionary theory as we understand it. So no fundamental flaw here.

    It’s also worth noting that, although it is true that steady divergence was the prevailing view point at the time he wrote, it’s arguable that Darwin didn’t intend that interpretation at all. I think I read this in Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, but I don’t have my copy to hand so will have to settle for the horse’s mouth:

    But I must here remark that I do not suppose that the process ever goes on so regularly as is represented in the diagram, though in itself made somewhat irregular [...] a medium form may often long endure [...] In our diagram the line of succession is broken at regular intervals [...b]ut these breaks are imaginary, and might have been inserted anywhere, after intervals long enough to have allowed the accumulation of a considerable amount of divergent variation.
    (Hyperlink added – obviously, I would hope)

    Whether or not you think that means Darwin believed in punctuated equilibria, steady change, or took no position depends entirely on how you read the bit after the last comma. Particularly in light of “a medium form may often long endure”, I suspect Darwin was rather closer to Gould’s view than you seem to imply. To my mind, to interpret the above passage as explicitly supporting steady change, you need to add the word “steady” before “accumulation”. Without that additional word I think Darwin was sitting on the fence, but with his feet on Gould’s side.

    As a side note, Gould argued against Intelligent Design: Man’s presence on earth, in Gould’s view, is an incredibly improbable event, not the realized vision of an intelligent designer (from http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/gouldsj.html). So when he said of evolutionary theory (as you quote) it is, in its current state of development, sufficiently firm to provide satisfaction and confidence, yet fruitfully undeveloped enough to provide a treasure trove of mysteries, I very much doubt that he thought Intelligent Design to be anywhere in those mysteries.

    I have to pick up, out of order, on two comments you made. The first is: Critical analysis of everything is the key here, and is something I have spent my life doing. In that case, I’m going to reverse my previous request. Will you please apply your critical faculties to the purported evidence that Intelligent Design follows the scientific method and my commentary in my last-but-one post. Can you find a reading of the IDEA Center document that does not contain the basic logical flaw that I pointed out?

    The second is To decide that the only way to interpret it is through evolutionary theory is closed-minded at best, and a serious departure from integrity. I would just observe that I have never made this claim. I am merely presenting the position that Intelligent Design, as currently structured, is a daft way to try to interpret anything since it’s illogical. The day another theory with the explanatory power of evolution comes along (and it may – Newton stood unchallenged from about 1670 to about 1850 before Maxwell started causing problems) I will pay attention. You present me as closed-minded. I am not. It is just that my analysis of Intelligent Design is that it’s garbage and I don’t see the point of giving it headspace except to refute it.

  25. Simian Says:

    I’ve been off studying, and neglected this excellent blog, but during a pause I popped back for a look. Good to see the same constructive debate still prevails. I can’t help admiring your stamina and perseverance Simon… Now I have to see this thread through to the end… Supposed to be revising. Oh well, there’s time for both! ;-)

  26. Tim Says:

    “The day another theory with the explanatory power of evolution comes along (and it may – Newton stood unchallenged from about 1670 to about 1850 before Maxwell started causing problems) I will pay attention. “

    OK point taken Simon and I quite appreciate the response of yours. My accusations at you were also on your claim that Darwinian Theory was flawless, which annoyed me because it isn’t. But if you have a problem with Intelligent Design I am not going to argue with that. That is your prerogative and my aim here is not to try and convert you to one side or the other, even if I could. My belief is that we have an intelligent Creator, but how He did it I don’t know. Personally, to tell the truth, I think it was somewhat of both methods. But that is just my view.

    I like the fact that there are also problems with Evolutionary Theory. For example:

    Predicted models fail to show, as shown by the example with Gould, and instead a result that was unexpected is revealed. If I was in his place my question would not be “How does this better help us understand evolutionary theory?” but rather, “Is this theory correct in the first place? Are there possible alternatives?”

    If we look back only forty years ago the study of dinosaurs and palaeontology was so radically different to the view taught today, and I mean radically, and yet back then anyone disputing the findings would have been laughed at as an idiot. Today you’d be laughed at if you did believe them.

    The study of human evolution expected a nice line of orderly linear progression from one type to another. We now know that this is not the case, and these days in fact human evolution raises far more questions than it can answer.

    Darwin stated that the Cambrian explosion was the biggest problem with his theory. It still is.

    And if we go back even further, to DNA, we can see that in fact the time it would have taken DNA to evolve naturally upon the Earth is actually longer than the Earth has existed. This inevitably leads to the conclusion that the Earth was somehow seeded, as both Watson and Crick acknowledge.

    I am going to sign off from this discussion now, you have your view and I have mine. Thanks for your time.

  27. Simon Says:

    If Tim’s signing off, I shall just take issue with his penultimate paragraph and then sum up (good luck with revision, Simian).

    Tim says in his last post that in fact the time it would have taken DNA to evolve naturally upon the Earth is actually longer than the Earth has existed. I interpret that as referring to the fact that even the simplest DNA molecule that can code for the simplest organism is still absolutely vast. The probability of it arising by chance is infinitesimal. Given enough time it would arise by the million-monkeys-writing-Shakespeare trick, but “enough time” is a lot longer than the Earth has been around. A lot. This is true enough. But then he says that [t]his inevitably leads to the conclusion that the Earth was somehow seeded. This is poor thinking, as there are at least two other options:

    (1) There are between ten million and a hundred trillion stars in each of a hundred and twenty-odd-thousand million galaxies. That’s a lot of stars – and that’s only the bit of the universe we can see. How many have planets capable of supporting DNA-based life? Maybe there are an awful lot of monkeys out there typing away awful quick, and Earth happened to be where the monkey got lucky.

    (2) Perhaps DNA wasn’t the first molecule capable of imperfect self-replication (which is all you need for evolution). Perhaps it’s a product of a simpler replicator that could plausibly have arisen by chance, or from another yet simpler replicator that could have arisen by chance, or from another yet simpler still replicator that could have arisen by chance, or… However high that tower needs to be. Look up the RNA World Hypothesis if you want to know more.

    I’m not saying either of these is true, but “seeding” is far from the only possible explanation, and my two don’t require a creator.

    To sum up, then. Intelligent Design is not science. It is not logical and can make no predictions (and I’ve presented evidence for those statements). To present it as science in a science class would be dishonest. That is why you should sign this petition. Whether or not you believe evolution is correct, whether or not you believe in God, whether or not you believe that scientific method is the best method of examining the world around us, I hope you believe in honesty.

    The only reasons that I can think of for not signing the petition are that you believe that lying to students is a good idea, or that you doubt me when I say that Intelligent Design is not science. If the former, I don’t think there’s anything I can say. If the latter, I extend to you the challenge I put to Tim: look at the link in my fourth post and find a reading of the document that is logically coherent.

    PS: I am still looking for a copy of Expelled at an acceptable-to-me price. Therefore, I have not signed the petition yet – it closes a bit before 4pm on August 12th, so plenty of time.

  28. Simon Says:

    Ack. Formatting failure. The first bit of italics in my previous post should only go as far as the full stop, because the next sentence (“I interpret that as…”) is my commentary on the quote from Tim.

  29. Simon Says:

    I found a copy of Ben Stein’s Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed at an acceptable price so, as promised, I bought and watched it. Stein spends the first fifteen minutes interviewing people whose careers have suffered because of their support for Intelligent Design (or so they say – opinions differ). He then asks if Intelligent Design should be suppressed, asking if we want our children taught that the Earth is flat or that the Holocaust didn’t happen. A fair enough question that he then spends forty five minutes failing to answer.

    He interviews a long list of Intelligent Designers who all claim that there is loads of evidence that evolution is wrong, but fails to ask for even one example. He does get Walter Bradley to produce the old saw (see my last post but one) about the minimum complexity of protein structures needed for life. This would have been more impressive had Michael Ruse not tried to explain Cairns-Smith’s clay hypothesis in the previous clip, which addresses that exact issue. I say “tried to explain” because Stein interrupts Ruse and openly scoffs at him, cutting off the explanation. Maybe if he’d listened he’d have learned something instead of looking like an ill-mannered idiot.

    The next twenty minutes of the movie attempts to blame evolution for the Holocaust. This is impressively emotional and totally irrelevant. Even if you accept Stein’s hypothesis that the Nazis could never have justified the Holocaust to themselves without a pseudo-scientific explanation (I’d suggest visiting the Jewish museum in Berlin if you do), that doesn’t affect whether or not it is true. The Nazi’s “we mustn’t interfere with NATURAL LAW!” argument makes little sense anyway. It’s a natural law that a ball will fall to the floor if dropped – should a good Nazi never catch a ball? Stein – by analogy – seems to argue that we shouldn’t study what happens to a ball when we let go just in case choosing not to catch it has a moral implication. Note choosing. The Nazis chose to do what they did; they could have chosen otherwise, as we do.

    There is one interesting part in this section, where you can catch Stein in a bare-faced lie. He closes with a quotation from Darwin’s book The Descent of Man, beginning on page 168 at “With savages” until the end of the paragraph. The following preserves the gist. With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated… [T]he weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man…hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed. This is an unpleasant echo of the Nazi propaganda film that Stein shows at the beginning of the section. But read Darwin’s next paragraph, which Stein does not quote: …Nor could we check our sympathy, if so urged by hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature… Hence we must bear without complaining the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind… The last sentence in that paragraph does betray a degree of classism on Darwin’s part, but the whole thing is the writing of an intellectual gentleman who would have been as horrified at the Nazis’ Final Solution as we are.

    Stein is using selective quotation to misrepresent Darwin. More succinctly, he is lying. And if he’s demonstrably lying about one thing, what else is he lying about? Does the editing of the interviews fairly represent what the interviewees were saying? Is his failure to ask for evidence from Intelligent Designers because he can’t tell the difference between an evidence-based theory and empty rhetoric, or because he knows what happens when Intelligent Designers do present “evidence”? For an example of that, see Michael Behe’s underperformance at the Kitzmiller vs Dover trial.

    The last ten minutes of the film are a summary and call for academic freedom to investigate wherever the evidence leads. But since Stein has failed to show any evidence for Intelligent Design and seems happy to lie for his own ends, it’s an empty call. We already go where the evidence leads; it’s just that Stein doesn’t like the destination.

    In short, the film merely adds to my impression of the leading lights of Intelligent Design as cynical manipulators. It in no way addresses the central issue, that Intelligent Design is not science, and therefore teaching it as such is lying. Its claims to support academic freedom ring rather hollow in light of its disregard for basic honesty.

    So far, the arguments against signing the petition are Gould’s punctuated equilibrium theory (part of the modern synthesis of evolution, so not an argument against), that Crick and Watson say that the Earth must have been seeded (don’t know about Watson either way, but Crick published a paper in 1993 listing the many alternatives that he admits he did not anticipate in 1968 – so this argument is nearly twenty years out of date) and Stein’s Expelled (empty rhetoric).

    Does anyone have any further suggestions for reasons why I should not sign the petition?

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