Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Color Me ID Cynical

I am reading Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt's new ID book: A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature, (Intervarsity Press, 2006) More on this when I give a complete review later. But I will say that in an overcrowded genre full of ponderous gobbledygook, this book is a breath of fresh air.

Which is just what I need, being so deeply soured on the ID "movement." (Though not on the idea that God has left evidence of His design.) The movement, as a political enterprise, has made so many mistakes you wonder its proponents don't just disband and go home. A quick review of a very unsuccessful campaign:
  1. "Evolution is just a theory" stickers in the text books. The purpose of which was--I don't even know. I'll speculate on their effectiveness: as for changing anyone's opinion one way or another on evolution: infinitesimal. As for pissing off the opposition, giving them something to rally around, and making Christians look like fools: very. This is independent of whether or not there is merit in the "evolution is just a theory" criticism. The tactic, in any case, was boneheaded.

  2. The "ID is science" mantra. Except that by ordinary standards of science it isn't. The Irreducible Complexity "experiments" are really challenges: We dare evolution to explain the flagellum. This is reminiscent of a "refutation" of the four-color theorem I once saw in (I think) Scientific American for one of their famous April Fool's spoofs. A hugely complicated map was printed, and readers were challenged to try filling in the myriad of tiny, twisted shapes using only four colors. Can't do it? Q.E.D. Even the falsification experiments in the The Privileged Planet, which in my opinion is the ID book on the most solid scientific ground, don't smell like real experiments: Search for intelligent life on a planet without a large moon. This is not to say that experiments cannot be ID inspired, I believe they can be and are--in fact all experiments are ID inspired in the sense that they presuppose two facts in evidence: i) nature is orderly, i.e., governed by laws and ii) although we have no reason to expect it, it would appear that humans are able to uncover and understand these laws.

  3. "Design can be mathematically demonstrated" except that nobody has ever actually done it, although there are plenty of excuses as to why it hasn't happened "yet." The irony here is multifaceted. Dembski's mathematics, which is touted as putting ID on solid mathematical footing, actually does nothing of the sort. His work says some interesting things applicable to genetic algorithms, but genetic algorithms resemble actual evolution (the way it is supposed to work) in only a superficial way. However, in a move analogous to leaning into rather than away from a left hook, evolutionists often proclaim genetic algorithms as a sort of proof of evolution. This lunacy then plays into Dembski's hands by extending the shelf life of his arguments which should, by now, be dead. It's all kind of crazy, when you think about it.

  4. "ID has nothing to do with God." Yeah, right. Perhaps one place where Dembski's filter might actually work is that, just maybe, it could detect design in the composition of the ID movement. This shouldn't be all that difficult, given that the overwhelming majority of IDers are theists. Oh, the argument has a milli-ounce of merit: it's just about the design, not about the designer (and in truth is not much different from evolution saying: we don't care about abiogenesis) but this clumsy posturing loses out to the "looks, walks, and quacks like a duck" test.

  5. "Let's get school boards to put ID in the curriculum, then fight the battle in the courts, and argue that ID is not religious (nod, nod, wink, wink) but, even if it is, then atheism is a religion too." Brilliant! That's worked real well. Not only are many scientists antagonized, but now many nonscientists are too. Perhaps the only saving grace is that these efforts have pushed enough loudmouths to Dawkinsian extremism and fundamentalism that the opposition is wasting its time fighting internal skirmishes.
The whole state of ID is in such utter disrepair the leaders of the movement should fall on their swords. (But that would necessitate abandoning a cottage industry, so that's not going to happen.)

The only thing, in my opinion, that can save ID is to acknowledge that it is not science but a science-based apologetic. Its purpose is to demonstrate that science is not incompatible with the bible and that Christians have nothing to fear: science is not the enemy anymore than archeology. Neither physics experiments nor Holy Land excavations are going to disprove God or the bible. ID, like all apologetics, should have as its primary audience believers, not unbelievers.

I have said this many times, but here is the truth, and it's worth pondering. Before the ID movement, ID ideas were discussed in classrooms. I hardly remember a physics class in college where a rabbit trail discussion about how the beauty of nature might point to a creator did not come up. The typical attitude of the professor was such that even if he wasn't a believer, he could understand how science, given that what it revealed was so amazing, might cause someone to consider that God was behind it all. Since that time, only additional marvels (such as the ever-more-rapidly-expanding universe) have been discovered. But the failed ID political movement, with its built in hero worship of rather unaccomplished non-scientists, has totally poisoned the well. I may be a minority of one, but I have to say that, as an IDer, I am embarrassed by the ID movement: its tactics as well as the lack of intellectualism of many (though not all) of its leaders.

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