Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Last Post (for now, I hope) on my Problems with the ID Movement

In the comments, Salvador wrote:
I see them on the campuses: pro-ID post docs, PhD candidates, young professors. They are quitely interested. That is where the movement's action really is. The work of the Discovery Institute and current leadership is for a decades long vision of training and schooling these individuals in ID theory

They were always there. Believing scientists who see design behind the discoveries of science are as old as science. This is not a new breed of individual. What's new is that the ID political gamesmanship has turned such people into pariahs. Before politicized ID, believers did not have to hide their beliefs behind pseudonyms, as many non-tenured faculty now feel they must do.

As for the DI, obviously I don't object to their creating materials or presenting negative arguments about evolution. Thought provoking negative arguments against evolution (or any science) are entirely proper, and while negative arguments are not science-proper, if they are compelling enough the science they are questioning will be forced to respond.

I do have a big problem if they (the DI or the ID movement) label such efforts as science (when it isn't) and a bigger problem when they engage in politics to achieve their goals. I feel the same way about the Christian Right. I want to slap them on the side of the head and say: go do what you're supposed to do (preach the gospel) and stay away from that for which there is no biblical mandate (political activism.)

I would say to the ID movement:
  1. If you're about science, then do science.
  2. If you're about politics, then do politics.
  3. If you're about promoting theism, then promote theism.
But if you are really about (3), then don't deny it and say you are about (1) but for some reason you are compelled to hire multitudes of lawyers and use the methods of (2). It's just too much of a FrankenApproach to enjoy any credibility.

As I said, I am reading (and will review) the Wiker and Witt book. I could have imagined myself using this book in a "Physics for Poets" class I taught back when I was a prof. (Back then I used some of the early Anthropic Principle publications). No more (could I use A Meaningful World)--although technically it would still be legal, it would generate more grief than it would be worth. And it's a shame because this book takes the proper approach to ID: here is what science demonstrates--it's amazing indeed--you can take it to mean life (and the universe) is meaningful or you can take it to support a nihilistic view. Your choice, but in any case you are without excuse, in the event that an excuse should someday prove valuable.

That's all ID has to do to be as effective as it can be. It needs to make the philosophical case that science points to a creator, and in a way that is compatible with scripture. Shoe-horning your way into science class curricula, by any method--no matter how distasteful, or how deceptive, or how awful it makes Christians look--will only serve to diminish rather than enhance the design message. If the ID movement stuck to that approach (and it would have gotten more powerful with recent discoveries) nobody, except for bigots like Dawkins and Sam Harris (and they'd have little market for and even less tolerance of their inanities if not for the ID-wars) would have objected.

ID must stop stating it can prove design, especially since people like Mr. Dembski have never proved anything. You are confident, you write, that those in information science and engineering find his critique scientifically sound. I will wait for any published demonstration of a proof that a biological component was designed. And keep in mind, this challenge is from someone who believes that life was designed. ID can convince, but it never proves. You’ve been sold, in my opinion, a bill of goods.

The bottom line is, that from a pure science perspective, the modern biological ID movement has not advanced the cause as much as you seem to think. Behe's Irreducible Complexity is compelling in that it has placed the "what good is half an eye" canard on a firmer, more serious foundation--and it has forced the evolution community to react with additional research, so in that limited sense it was even good science. The awakening realization that, microscopically, biological components are incredibly complex is a powerful and important development that without question strengthens the design argument as it stresses the evolutionary argument, but it is not a proof of anything. Still, apart from being oversold (when it didn't need to be in order to be effective) I applaud his work. He just should have said: this is amazing and, given that evolution has no explanation and, as far as I can see will never have a credible one, it only serves to strengthen my faith rather than evolution can't explain this, therefore design is demonstrated, a position that cannot be supported scientifically. On the other hand, Dembski's work falls far short of the standard set by Behe, and, unlike Behe's work, has not caused much of a response in the scientific community beyond derision. Far from advancing the cause, it was instrumental in sending the cause into retreat. If you are going to claim that your mathematics proves design, then go out and do it--living off the movement rather than doing some real science will only satisfy the choir.

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