In the beginning…
This micro-essay was started after President George spoke of his support for Intelligent Design in schools. I had decided to just let it sit because so many others had weighed in with very valid arguments. And what else can you do after saying: “it’s shit science”? But now it’s personal as the debate has come to
Here are two quotes from the article:
principal Bali Haque knew nothing of the kit, and said it would be kept in the library if it had arrived. "It has no place in the classroom." Pakuranga College
Science Educators association president Bev Cooper said the intent of science and biology curricula was to present information supported by science. "[Intelligent design] is not science and therefore has no place in the compulsory school curriculum."
Way to go Bev Cooper! But Bali Haque what are you saying? If I send you a DVD and workbook about how the government is controlling our thoughts with mind-ray technology would you put it in your library? Which section would you put it under: fiction or non-fiction? Where in your library would you put Focus for the Family’s DVD? Hopefully you would put it in the 213 section of the Dewey Decimal system (or maybe 215 as a negative example).
Let’s get into it then and put some of my Honours degree in science to good use. There is a LARGE body of evidence on the internet just go out and find it (or read all the way to the bottom where I have put some links). I can hopefully ad some of my own perspective to the argument (if you can even call it that). Before I start, let’s hear what, issue-focussed newspaper, the Onion has to say: Scientist Refute Theory of Gravity.
Hee hee hee, but seriously here we go.
“Intelligent Design versus Evolution” implies that Evolution is unintelligent randomness. Which evolution actually is, in a way, but the THEORY of evolution isn’t.
And that’s the other thing about the semantics; Intelligent Design is not a theory. Intelligent Design is a guess. What’s the difference?
- A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.
- To predict (a result or an event) without sufficient information.
- To assume, presume, or assert (a fact) without sufficient information.
Both of these are taken from yourdictionary.com. I have been quite generous with the meanings, especially “guess”. But it basically comes down to this. Theory is based on repeatedly tested facts; Guess is based on insufficient information.
Here is a little something else. Some have attacked the Theory of Evolution as not being a “fact” but “just a theory”. As seen above, theories are not facts; theories are based on facts. Moreover, theories destroy facts, to take the view of Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart in The Collapse of Chaos (1994). See, you could have a book filled with millions of entries about exact planetary positions in our solar systems or you could have a nifty little theory of gravitation.
Oh, and one more thing. I refuse to give Intelligent Design the abbreviated name: ID. “ID” was dreamt up by some PR firm someplace (possibly the same people who called public relations: “PR”). Instead, and to save me typing, I will call it UD: Un-telligent Design [sic]. “UD” (said as a word) also sounds nicer to the ear than “ID”, it sounds slow and ponderous and dull.
There is actually a small irony in the abbreviation of Intelligent Design to ID. Again from yourdictionary.com:
- In Freudian theory, the division of the psyche that is totally unconscious and serves as the source of instinctual impulses and demands for immediate satisfaction of primitive needs.
Yeah, I thought that was funny too.
So at the end of this short section on semantics we have come up with a new phrase: “The theory based on repeatedly tested facts versus the guess about why things are doing what they are doing”.
Everyone from stoned university students to (DNA discoverer) Professor Francis Crick has thought that maybe life on earth is some big cosmic science experiment. It’s right up there with “maybe the universe is just an atom” [in some larger being].
My degree is in mathematics, pure mathematics. As such I understand the lust for finding simple (what are now called beautiful) answers to complex questions. As a species we find simplicity fascinating. This is what I have heard UD described as: “a beautiful theory to answer the fundamental question of life”. As we mentioned previously UD is a guess, but what actually is the guess?
The basics of UD seems to be that stuff (and I am talking broadly here) is way too complicated to be the result of randomness over millennia.
Now, as I said, I’m a pure mathematician. What do we pure maths geeks love? Complexity, Good God do we love complexity. Why? Because complexity just keeps popping up. We maths geeks call that emerging. Emergent complexity from seemingly simple systems is the basis of most of Chaos Theory. Then we had the “recent” phenomenon of emergent simplicity that tends to follow emergent complexity.
Most cases of this complexity, that followers of UD believe denotes design, occur when you look closer at something. Let’s take the example of a rock. It’s just a rock and is fairly simple, look closer and you’ll see an infinitely complex structure. That must have been designed…right?
The only thing that designed the rock was the rock, so to speak. From the rocks frame of reference (or universal context) the rocks had forces acting on it and became the rock we all see today. It’s just plain old laws of physics working on atoms and geology until we get…a rock. The rock understands this, are we dumber than a rock? Quick answer: yes.
I look at π (pi=3.14159265358979323846264338327950288) and I say “wow that is one crazy, complex mother f****r”. An infinite number of decimal places, no repeating pattern and yet it is the ratio of every circles circumference to its diameter. Some would say “look that is so complex it must have been designed”*. But it’s not designed; it is conforming to the rules of this universe. In some other universe the ratio of circumference to diameter might be 3.1415986535828932384864 (trust me, it’s a different number) or 3 or -95.73 or hydrogen (which, I admit, would be a pretty whacked out universe).
*if this was any other argument I would reply “Who, the f**k, would design something to be that difficult?”
The [ahem] beauty of π (or indeed any of the irrational numbers, of which there are an infinite number) does not imply design. It implies an adherence to the rules of physics and space-time relativity. A change in those rules would mean an alteration of all other constants. Basically I believe that complexity suggest no design rather than the other way around.
The Big Guns
Most people when arguing about UD like to bring out the best weapons and wave them around. Like Occum’s Razor, the guy who wrote the Wikipedia entry sure liked this one. Logical arguments and the like rip up UD pretty quickly. Where’s the fun in that?
The idea behind science is you look at what is happening and try to figure out how or why that is happening. UD looks at everything and says: god.
But that is no better than cave men. How does fire work? God. How does the sky stay up? God. Why are we here? God.
Oh I’m sorry, instead of God please read “higher intelligence”. Indeed any higher intelligence; like the Flying Spaghetti Monster (hallowed be his name, arrrrr).
Those who believe in UD must surely, by the same “scientific process”, believe in Yeti, Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster. In fact there is probably more evidence (and less hoaxes) to support these beasts than UD. [Dom has pointed out that there are no bombings by extremist Yeti-believers either].
Akk! I have run out of time! Oh, well I was drifting slowly off topic anyway. Please read some of the links below. Try and guess which ones are pro and which are anti-UD.
References and other places
- Talk Origins Archive
- Talk Reason.org
- Resolution from the American Association for the Advancement of Science
- Entry about Intelligent Design in "The Skeptic's Dictionary" by Robert Todd Carroll
- The "New" Creationism Robert Wright. Slate. 2001
- Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism: Clarifying the Connection Barbara Forrest. 2000. Originally published in Philo, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Fall-Winter 2000), pp. 7-29.
- National Center for Science Education articles and other resources about ID
- Analysis of William A. Dembski's Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology, and Phillip Johnson's The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism Jason Rosenhouse. Assistant Professor, Mathematics.
James Madison University
- The Wedge at Work: How Intelligent Design Creationism Is Wedging Its Way into the Cultural and Academic Mainstream Chapter 1 of the book Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics by Barbara Forrest, Ph.D. MIT Press, 2001
- The Flying Spaghetti Monster. No seriously.
- Kung Fu Monkey’s rant.
- Physics Today.org
- Intelligent Design FAQs
- The Discovery Institute