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Onward Christian Soldiers:
The Holy War on Science

by

Robert Todd Carroll

(A shorter version of this paper was presented on February 1, 2003 at the Amazing Meeting sponsored by the James Randi Educational Foundation. There are two addenda as well, one with definitions of key terms, the other with a list of reasons why “creation science” and “intelligent design” hinder critical thinking. Thanks to Tim Boettcher for reading an early draft of this paper and for his critical comments. And thanks to John Renish for his critical comments and for editing the final copy.)

 

There is an ongoing attempt by various religiously motivated people to replace 21st-century natural science with a kind of science that existed hundreds of years ago, before there was much separation between science, philosophy, and theology. Many Christian creationists would like to replace natural science as it has developed since the 17th century--with its focus on understanding the natural world in naturalistic, mechanistic terms--with something much broader that would include supernatural, teleological explanations. I call these folks “Christian soldiers” because they seem to be on a holy crusade to retake Jerusalem, where Jerusalem represents not just science but other important aspects of our heathen culture, in particular our heathen ethics.

While some crusaders are attacking what they take to be representative of all that is wrong with natural science, namely, natural selection, others who may have little or no interest in science have concurrently been very active in promoting such things as requiring prayer in public schools and posting The Ten Commandments in public buildings. Some crusaders, like those at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, attack both science and heathen ethics, but unlike the other crusaders, these folks do not wear their Bible or their Christianity on their sleeves. I’ll have more to say about them below.

During the last quarter of the 20th century, the creationists who sought to turn back the clock on the history of science did not produce scientific discoveries nor did they publish scientific papers or books that would shatter the foundations of natural science and force a paradigm retrofit. Instead they pushed something they called “creation science” and tried to get it admitted into the public school science classroom as a competitor to the theory of evolution. They attacked the theory of evolution in every way imaginable and they argued that “creation science” should be taught in the science classroom along with evolution as a matter of fairness, so that students could decide for themselves which theory best explains all the facts. Our courts recognized this for what it was--an attempt to introduce a particular group’s religious notions into the secular science classroom--and ruled that “creation science” was not science at all but religion.

But the courts did not put a stop to the movement. If anything, the movement is larger today than it was 25 years ago, partly because of the Internet. It is now international and Web sites attacking evolution and promoting the Bible as the true foundation for science and culture have proliferated. The current wave of crusaders who are trying to accomplish the same goals as the “creation scientists” have a new tactic. They have replaced “creation science” with “intelligent design” (ID). ID is not a religious theory, so it won’t be subject to the same criticisms that “creation science” was subject to. However, it is clear that even though the defenders of ID claim that it is a scientific theory and a serious alternative to natural selection or other naturalistic theories of evolution, it isn’t. ID is an attempt to bring philosophy into the science classroom. As such, it has the potential to do much more damage than “creation science” to the integrity of science education.

If the “creation science” movement was the First Crusade, then the “intelligent design” movement is the Second Crusade. Both crusades have been led by Christians, but some of the generals leading the Second Crusade have tried to disguise their religious views as being secular views. Yet, they use many of the same tactics as their “creation science” brethren.

For example, the creation science folks claimed that they were trying to promote critical thinking by encouraging “creation science” as an alternative to natural selection in the science classroom. In 1994, in the Louisiana school district of Tangipahoa Parish, a law was passed requiring teachers to read aloud a disclaimer before they taught evolution. This was to be done, said the law, to promote “critical thinking.” In 1999, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that this disclaimer was promoting religion, not critical thinking. The tactic resurfaced last October in Cobb County, Georgia, when the school board claimed they wanted ID taught along with evolution “to foster critical thinking among students, to allow academic freedom consistent with legal requirements, to promote tolerance and acceptance of diversity of opinion, and to ensure a posture of neutrality toward religion.” Shortly afterward, a similar policy was put forth by the state board of education in Ohio (See Addendum 2 below). You and I know that these folks will never sit still for allowing Scientologists in the science classroom to promote their religious views about space wars and alien colonization. We know they will not want their children exposed to the ideas of Zecharia Sitchin (that aliens came to earth half a billion years ago and that humans are the result of genetic engineering with female apes). And they certainly will object to the atheistic Raëlians, the UFO cult founded by a former race car driver and sports journalist who says he met Jesus on another planet and that all life forms on earth were created in an alien laboratory. These are certainly disputed views about the origin of life on earth, but they have no more business in the science classroom than do the views of the “intelligent design” folks. Unless your goal is to exterminate sound science education.

Another similar tactic of the new crusaders is to promote the idea that evolution is a theory in crisis.1 Evolution isn’t a theory in crisis, but like most areas of science, there have been errors, lively disagreements and arguments, and revisions and reexaminations of data. These facts are used to convey the notion that evolution is a collapsing paradigm and that science can only benefit from the introduction of a vital new theory that can resolve the issues that evolution can’t. However, the only “scientists” who claim evolution is a theory in crisis are “creation scientists” and ID promoters.

At the forefront of the Second Crusade are the folks at the Discovery Institute in Seattle. Their Web site says that “The Institute discovers and promotes ideas in the common sense tradition of representative government, the free market and individual liberty.” The Institute has established a Center for Science and Culture whose sole purpose seems to be to attack natural selection and promote ID. The first thing one sees on the Web site for this center is a banner ad for a Discovery Institute book called Are We Spiritual Machines? I clicked on the ad to find out more about this book, but the link took me to an ad for William Dembski’s book No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence. Intelligent Design is Here! says the ad. We’re told that Dembski “shows that blind natural processes, such as the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection and random variation, are incapable of generating biological structures like the bacterial flagellum.” The ad also states that “Dembski’s research shows that nature is not ruled by unbroken natural laws, but rather that intelligence is a fundamental creative force in nature.”

Is it coincidence that the narrow interest of this Institute, in great part, coincides with that of “creation science”? For example, the Web site for the center lists its “Top Questions” as: What is intelligent design? Is there evidence for design? Is ID Creationism? What are key problems with Darwinism? (The ID folks like to use the term "Darwinism" in their polemic against evolution, even though the term has no scientific meaning.) The answer to the first question is revealing: “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as Darwinism [natural selection].” [Note: Intelligent design is not a theory in the sense that natural selection is a theory. ID is not a predictive system that has been tested against experiment or observation. ID doesn't make falsifiable predictions about observable phenomena. And ID doesn't present a unified set of principles, knowledge, and methods for explaining observable phenomena. It would be more accurate to refer to the claim of intelligent design.]

The only resources listed on the center’s Web page are either attacks on evolution or in support of ID.

The center also lists several ”Favorite Items,” all of which are critical of natural selection, including a list of 100 scientists who are skeptical of natural selection. There are also links to nine articles of which six are either attacks on evolution or support for ID. One of the other issues taken up is animal rights by Wesley Smith, who is adamant that animals are not persons and hence don’t have the rights that persons do. He doesn’t define ‘person’ but I think he means that animals don’t have souls and humans do. One common reason Christian anti-evolutionists oppose natural selection is that it implies that humans do not differ essentially from other animals. In their view, natural selection implies that there is no soul. In fact,  natural selection is compatible with the view that no animal has a soul, with the view that all animals have souls, and with the view that only one type of animal has souls. natural selection itself is neutral on the issue of souls. Theology, on the other hand, gives an all-powerful deity nearly unlimited possibilities with regard to souls.

It seems that the only science the Discovery Institute is interested in is the same science the First Crusaders were interested in: evolution. Why? They provide an answer on their Science and Culture Web site:

Materialistic thinking dominated Western culture during the 20th century in large part because of the authority of science. The Center for Science and Culture seeks, therefore, to challenge materialism on specifically scientific grounds.

The Discovery Institute folks seem to believe that science has led to an onslaught of atheistic materialism, which in turn has led to massive immorality and a world of sinners and criminals that can be purified only by a return to some imagined prior state when people used the Bible as their guide to morality and science. The fact that there is no evidence that there has ever been such a prior state does not seem to concern them. Contrary to the Discovery Institute view, the evidence indicates that the vast majority of sinners and criminals are not atheistic materialists. Most people are theists and there is no evidence that a disproportionate number of atheists are committing the world’s sins and crimes. In fact, one of Christianity’s own, George Barna, fell from grace with many fundamentalists when he published the results of a poll that found that in terms of standards many Christians think distinguish them from evildoers, there is no difference between themselves and non-religious people. There is no difference in the divorce rate, in the belief in absolute moral truth, in how they rank economic self-interest in relation to spiritual or moral values, or “living a comfortable lifestyle” in relation to having a close, personal relationship with God. Barna is a longtime Christian pollster who has authored over 30 books on the state of Christianity.

Materialism is the philosophical theory that denies there are non-material entities such as souls or spirits. The Discovery Institute folks are careful, however, not to use words like ‘God,’ ‘spirit,’ or ‘soul’ on their Web site, and they avoid making reference to Genesis or other parts of the Bible to defend their position. Nevertheless, the institute’s apparent secularism is belied by the people who run it, who they support, and by its narrow interest in opposing the theory of evolution with a philosophical theory it insists is scientific. ID would be scientific if it stipulated a naturalistic intelligent designer, as the Raëlians do, or if it were granted that natural science is not restricted to naturalistic explanations but includes non-naturalistic explanations as well.

Before natural science emerged, philosophers commonly appealed to mind or intelligence to explain the origin and nature of things. About twenty-five hundred years ago, Anaxagoras postulated Nous or Mind as a basic explanatory principle. The ancient Stoics postulated a Logos or Rational Principle governing the universe. Spinoza identified God with Nature and thought that Mind was one of its essential attributes. Many philosophers have claimed that mind or intelligence is behind the phenomena of the natural world. However, the proper place for the study of such notions is not the science classroom, but the philosophy classroom.

Not according to the Discovery Institute folks, however. One of their leaders is Stephen Meyer, who is the director of the Center for Science and Culture. Last November, Dr. Meyer had an article published in the Columbia (Ohio) Dispatch entitled “Intelligent Design vs. [my emphasis] Darwinism: Theories in Collision.” I sent a rebuttal to the Dispatch in which I argued that “intelligent design” is a philosophical argument, not a scientific  theory, and can’t collide with natural selection in any meaningful sense because natural selection is a scientific theory, not a philosophical argument. In fact, unlike “creation science” and natural selection, which truly are incompatible, “intelligent design” and natural selection are not. They are consistent with each other. There are millions of people who believe that God designed the universe, that there are signs of divine intelligence in everything from pigeon feathers to the full moon on a clear night and that part of the design includes evolution of species.2

Another of the Discovery Institute folks is Jed C. Macosko, a scientist I heard speak on “intelligent design” at the University of California at  Davis last year. Dr. Macosko’s talk was given in the chemistry lecture hall at this secular university and was co-sponsored by an on-campus Christian Bible-study group called Grace Alive and by an off-campus evangelical church called the Grace Valley Christian Center. There were about 200 people at the talk, most of them young, and it sounded like most of them said “Amen” at the end of the prayer that opened the session. Dr. Macosko was upfront about not meaning by the word ‘science’ what 99.99% of the rest of the world means by that word. He defined science as “looking for evidence” and following that evidence wherever it leads, including into non-naturalistic explanations.

If he’s right, then we should allow ID into the science classroom along with the theories of Anaxagoras, Spinoza, Hegel, L. Ron Hubbard, Zechariah Sitchin, Raël, Immanuel Velikovsky, Erich von Däniken, and, I suppose, even Sylvia Browne.

Macosko spent most of his time narrating slides and a film on two favorite topics of the ID folks: the flagellum of bacteria and the complexity of cells. The colors were great and the animation was awesome. These demos were very complicated and unfortunately were probably deemed very scientific because they were full of jargon and technical facts. But they lacked any sense of the history of discovery and argument that takes place in real science.

The conclusion of the talk was a rehash of Michael Behe’s argument about irreducible complexity and William Dembski’s argument regarding probability and specificity. Behe is an associate professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University and author of Darwin's Black Box (1996). Dembski has Ph.D.s in both mathematics (U of Chicago) and philosophy (U of Illinois at Chicago) and in addition to No Free Lunch (2001) is the author of Intelligent Design: The Bridge between Science and Theology (1998). Behe claims that things like the bacterium’s flagellum and human cells are like mousetraps: they consist of parts that have no function alone. William Paley noted long before Behe that some things are so complex that they must have been designed. Paley used a watch as his example. Both the watch and the mousetrap are said to have numerous parts that would be useless by themselves, an indication that they were designed to be used with other parts to fulfill some overall design plan. But Paley went right for the jugular and compared the watch to the universe, declaring that its parts were obviously fitted to each other according to the plan of some grand intelligence he declared to be God. Behe claims that the human cell is analogous to the mousetrap and has parts that would be useless by themselves, indicating that it was designed. But he stops short of naming the designer. Theoretically, it could be aliens. Maybe the race car driver is right. It could be Nous or the Logos. It could be Sylvia Browne’s spiritual double. By not naming God as the designer, Behe and the folks at the Discovery Institute claim that they are not bringing religion into the classroom. They claim their argument is purely a secular, scientific one. Macosco was not so coy. He admitted throughout his talk that the designer is God, the God of the Bible.

In any case, Behe’s and Paley’s arguments both beg the question: they assume design by assuming that the parts of the universe or the cell would be useless by themselves and must have been introduced to work with the other parts. Behe is assuming either that the Bible implies that natural selection is incompatible with designed creation or that naturalistic theories such as natural selection will never be able to explain some things in Nature. Nevertheless, this poor argument has been sufficient to sway state and local school boards that this reasoning is good enough to warrant doubting natural selection and challenging it with ID.

Dembski’s argument, on the other hand, diverges from Behe’s in that he thinks he has shown that these things Behe calls irreducibly complex can be shown to be mathematically so improbable as to imply “intelligent design.” Laws explain things with high probability, he notes, but chance explains things with low specificity. And when you get low probability and high specificity together, he says, you need design. To illustrate Dembski’s point, Macosko had us imagine we found some message spelled out with potato chips on the couch. What are the odds that something so specific but so improbable could have happened by chance?

But Dembski’s argument also begs the question because it assumes that the probability of the cell evolving by chance is of extremely low probability. This point is never proven. It can’t be proven. We don’t know exactly how the cell evolved, how the many different machines in the cell came together. We also can’t know a priori whether we will someday be able to explain how they came together. But if we do, I guarantee you that the ID people will just find something else that hasn’t been explained by natural selection or some other naturalistic mechanism, and they will then pursue the same entangled argument with their new red herring backed by imponderable probabilities.

Anyway, even if something is very specific yet extremely improbable, it could still be due to chance. As John Allen Paulos says:

When one is dealt a bridge hand of thirteen cards, the probability of being dealt that particular hand is less than one in 600 billion. Still, it would be absurd for someone to be dealt a hand, examine it carefully, calculate that the probability of getting it is less than one in 600 billion, and then conclude that he must not have been dealt that very hand because it is so very improbable.

It has been said that analogies prove nothing but they are often seductive. The young people at Macosco’s talk seemed entranced by his analogies. For example, they seemed to quite enjoy his potato chips story. Did the message get there by chance or by design? By design, of course. Well, there you go. The same thing applies to cells. Macosko seemed to impress many in the audience when he claimed that the odds of these molecular machines coming together by chance is equivalent to the odds of hitting a particle in the galaxy with a bullet smaller than the smallest known particle. During the question and answer period, I said we had to agree with his conclusions that these machines are complex and that they perform very specific functions. But, his claim that they are improbable begs the question. Isn’t that the issue here, I asked? How do you determine they are improbable? Well, we couldn’t resolve this tonight, he said,  but he assured the audience that the calculations had been done and if we’d only think about the potato chips on the couch that spell out messages and of the probability of hitting a particle in the galaxy with a bullet smaller than the smallest particle, we’d see what he meant. But I knew what he meant. I just wanted to know why this assumption wasn’t being recognized as an assumption.

These “intelligent design” arguments are essentially of the same kind that William Paley made. However, Paley knew that what he was doing was not science. He called it natural theology. Behe and Dembski don’t want to be thought of as theologians. They want to be thought of as scientists and they want “intelligent design” to be thought of as a scientific theory, but the only way they can do that is to redefine science to include philosophy. They may not call the designer ‘God’ but they are trying to divine the nature of the creator from their observations about the bacterium flagellum and the human cell. Paley would have recognized what they were doing and he wouldn’t have called it biology.

I don’t blame the ID folks for not wanting to be seen as theologians or philosophers. Paley could do natural theology in a way that even Darwin could find interesting. But the advances of science have made natural theology a very risky enterprise. Consider the work of the 19th century dilettante with the unfortunate name of Thomas Dick (The Sidereal Heavens, 1840; Celestial Scenery, 1838). Dick dabbled in philosophy and astronomy, and took “intelligent design” to the extreme. He argued that every celestial body must be inhabited by some intelligence; otherwise, he said, there would be no point in the celestial body having existence. “Let us suppose for a moment that the vast regions on the surfaces of the planets are only immense and frightful deserts, devoid of inhabitants--wherein does the wisdom of the Creator appear in the supposition?--Would this be an end worthy of INFINITE WISDOM?” (Collins, Banvard’s Folly, 257).

If one wants to believe in God, that God designed and created the universe, and that God creates souls in humans, that is their right, but such beliefs do not become scientific by issuing a fiat claiming you hereby redefine science to include such beliefs. Your philosophical beliefs do not become scientific simply because you have couched them in convoluted and obscure mathematical jargon and formulas that would make any scholastic philosopher proud. These are matters that transcend the boundaries of empirical knowledge. They are about beings and processes that transcend the boundaries of space and time, and hence, they transcend the boundaries of science.

Modern natural science became what it is today by developing its insights independently of philosophy. God truly is an unnecessary hypothesis--in science. But that only means that our understanding of the laws of nature and the causal mechanisms we are capable of discovering must be couched in naturalistic terms. It does not mean that the supernatural does not exist. Both materialistic atheism and dualistic theism are coherent metaphysical positions. Science as science must exist without reference to either. Scientists may be materialistic atheists, dualistic theists, or idealistic polytheists for that matter.

Now, what can we do to stop the new crusaders  from marching into our science classrooms and taking our science programs back hundreds of years? I’ve already suggested a couple of things we can do. We can respond to their articles in newspapers and magazines with articles of our own. We can go on the offensive and try to publish articles and books that clarify the issues and explain that ID and natural selection can’t be competitors since they are compatible with each other. We can create Web sites and post articles explaining that ID doesn’t belong in the science classroom because it is a philosophical claim that bears little in common with scientific theories. We can attend lectures by ID advocates and ask pointed questions and make pointed comments that are not disruptive but which reveal the philosophical assumptions being made.

Others have suggested we have scientists debate the ID folks. But putting an ID arguer on the same platform with a scientist gives the impression that the ID arguer is not just philosophizing but is doing science. The fact that a scientist is trying to refute ID gives the ID folks more ammunition: They can now claim that they must be doing science, since scientists are trying to falsify their theory.

            I heard Dembski make this claim when he appeared with Paul Nelson, another Discovery Institute fellow, at the 4th World Skeptics Conference in Burbank last June, where they debated Ken Miller, a Catholic evolutionist. The title of the session was Evolution and Intelligent Design (ID), but the first thing the audience saw was a very large overhead screen with the words Evolution vs. Intelligent Design (ID). Was this going to be a contest with a winner and a loser? If so, then we can skip the debate and declare ID the winner because 'vs.' implies they are competitors and one goal of the ID movement is to get people to believe that ID is a competitor with natural selection. ID bears almost nothing in common with any scientific theory except that it is explanatory, but so are the lies people tell their children about how the presents got under the Christmas tree during the night.3

I am not opposed to debating “creation scientists” or ID theorists in general. Much good can come from such debates, but such debates should be framed so as not to pose a false dilemma to the listeners. I think there should have been at least one other person in the debate between Dembski and Miller, someone who represented the history and philosophy of science and whose job would have been to make it clear that ID and evolution are not competitors since those views are not contradictory but compatible with each other. More important, the third debater would have pointed out that the “creation scientists” and ID theorists want to take science backward in time and redefine science to include supernatural philosophical theories and arguments. The third debater would have made it clear that the notion that modern science is unfair because it limits itself to naturalistic explanations of phenomena could only be made by someone ignorant of the history of science. To complain about modern science being biased in favor of naturalism is like complaining that Christianity is biased in favor of supernaturalism.

Another tactical mistake was made, I think, by the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which put out a manifesto last November on “intelligent design theory.” The AAAS Board unanimously agreed that it would be “improper to include [ID] as part of science education” and that “citizens across the nation…oppose the establishment of policies that would permit the teaching of “intelligent design theory” as a part of the science curricula of the public schools.” Of course I agree with this goal. But, I don’t agree with the reasons given for taking this position, namely,  1. ID folks criticize “contemporary evolutionary theory” as being inadequate; 2. the ID folks “have failed to offer credible scientific evidence to support their claim that ID undermines the current scientifically accepted theory of evolution” and 3. “the ID movement has not proposed a scientific means of testing its claims.” None of these strike me as very good reasons for taking the proposed actions. First, ID folks should be allowed to criticize anything they want. Second, I think it was a mistake to suggest that the problem is one of the ID folk’s current lack of scientific evidence to support their claim or current lack of a means to test their claims. It should have been strongly argued that it is logically impossible for ID to ever provide scientific evidence without redefining science to include philosophy and theology.  AAAS’s manifesto gives the impression that ID may one day blow natural selection out of the water.

We need to educate citizens about the history and nature of science in our efforts to get them to oppose policies that aim at including ID in the science curriculum. We need to make it clear that there is a lot at stake here, namely, the quality of science instruction in our public schools, which, I believe, is already at risk. We need to explain why allowing ID in the science classroom will cause even further degradation of our science education.

There are many obstacles to getting this message across. We can blame the politicians and the media, but ultimately the blame has to rest upon the overall poor quality of education in this country from grade school through high school. We don’t teach children or young people how to think critically. And we don’t teach them science in a way that informs them of the history of ideas, methods, processes, and arguments. Why? Partly because we can’t. Most of our teachers are not taught to teach critical thinking and, according to several surveys I have seen, about 75% of our science teachers below the college level do not have degrees in the science they teach. Many don’t have a degree in any science. Furthermore, we don’t require either critical thinking or science courses of many of our students. We require that they pass standardized tests that, for the most part, measure low-order cognitive skills. Also, the textbooks we provide our students, selected by local school boards, are often woefully inadequate with respect to science. It is no wonder that there is vast scientific illiteracy in this country. What is a wonder is that despite this system of education, we continue to produce some of the best scientists in the world. There are good teachers out there, and good schools, and they do make a difference. There are also good skeptics out there who are making a difference. In addition to the James Randi Educational Foundation, Michael Shermer’s Skeptic Society and Skeptic magazine, and CSICOP and the Skeptical Inquirer, there are many, many individual skeptics who are educating the public and advancing the cause of reason and critical thinking.

I must also mention Amanda Chesworth, the founder of the Young Skeptic’s Web site and the Darwin Day celebration, who tried to get a grant from the National Science Foundation to create what she called an “X-lab” for eighth graders nationwide. The idea is to create an inquiry-based curriculum that would focus on scientific methods as applied to specific scientific concepts while investigating paranormal and fringe-science claims. Unfortunately, her proposal was rejected. But it seems to me that this is exactly the kind of education a national science organization would want to support.

Finally, I suggest that the only hope for success in motivating large numbers of citizens to oppose letting ID into the science class is to enlist the help of those creationists4 who do not agree with Ken Ham, the executive director of Answers in Genesis, who said: “I don’t use science to prove my ‘religion’ - I use the Bible to build my science.” We need to enlist the help of creationists who do not think of the Bible as a physics or geology text. They need to be reminded that if ID is allowed in the science classroom, then the Raëlians, Scientologists, and Sitchinites must also be allowed in so that their alternative views can also be heard. And we need to be reminded that atheists and agnostics make up from 5 to 8 percent of the population. The chances of our defeating the ID army on our own are slim and none. The chances of our convincing those who believe in both creation and evolution to assist us in keeping ID out of the classroom diminish in proportion to our insinuations that anyone who is religious is irrational and incapable of critical thinking about anything.

We need to knock off the gratuitous insults that some atheistic skeptics feel compelled to hurl at anyone who has any religious convictions. There are creationists who recognize that the stories the Jews told their children thousands of years ago, like the stories the Greeks and every other ancient tribe told their people, should not be taken as science lessons for the 21st century. Our ancient ancestors may have a lot to teach us about many important things, but biology isn’t one of them.


1 This notion seems to have taken wing with the publication of Michael Denton’s 1986 book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, which Michael Behe cites as an inspiration. Denton is a Discovery Institute Senior Fellow and Senior Research Fellow in Human Molecular Genetics at the University of Otago in New Zealand. Denton’s work is very popular with ID believers, but is not highly regarded by evolutionists. (For a contrasting view to Denton’s see Richard Dawkin’s The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design (New York: Norton, 1986.) There are several skeptical critiques of Denton’s work on the Internet. For example, <http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/denton.html> has posted Mark I. Vuletic’s review in which he argues, among other things, that “The ‘problems’ he [Denton] points out with the evolutionary interpretation of the data have turned out to not be problems at all.” See also Wesley Elsberry’s critique in “Sequences and Common Descent - How We Can Trace Ancestry Through Genetics,” posted at <http://www.antievolution.org/people/wre/evc/argresp/sequence.html>. There is also a critical review of Denton’s book at <http://www.2think.org/eatic.shtml>.

 2 Technically, “creation science” and “intelligent design” are not identical. “Creation science” is based on a young-Earth belief and holds to a more-or-less literal interpretation of the Bible as a basis for belief about the origin of species. “Intelligent design,” on the other hand, makes no reference to the Bible, nor does it require a belief in a young-Earth. However, the vast majority of those pushing for ID as an alternative to natural selection are young-Earth fundamentalists posing as neutralists on who or what the designer might be. In short, the ID movement is a hypocritical movement designed to destroy evolution and replace it with Biblical creationism. Nevertheless, it is still logically coherent to believe in both evolution and a designer of the universe.

 3 There is some confusion about the claim that scientific theories are explanations. One scientist at the Amazing Meeting stated that science doesn’t give explanations. He seemed to mean that science doesn’t answer such questions as why is there a universe? Such questions are metaphysical, not scientific, and I agree that it is not the business of science to answer such questions. However, science does answer another kind of why question, e.g., why is the sky blue? (Or, more accurately, why does the sky appear blue to us?) Scientific theories are explanations: They are explanations of how things work. Natural selection offers an explanation of how, in part, evolution works. It does not try to explain why there is evolution in any ultimate or metaphysical sense. “Intelligent design,” on the other hand, doesn’t explain how anything works. It explains why some things are as they are in an ultimate or metaphysical sense. Whether natural selection is a good explanation or not depends on many things, but they are not the same things that determine whether ID is a good explanation or not.

            This same scientist asserted that some claims in physics aren’t testable. I took him to be implying that being testable is not essential for a scientific theory. I think he’s wrong. If no part of a theory were empirically testable, as is the case with metaphysical theories such as ID, I don’t see how we could call such theories scientific, unless we are ready to call metaphysics a science. I am willing to do that as long as the ID folks are agreeable to teaching ID in the metaphysics classroom, not in the biology classroom.

            I don’t think every part of a theory must be empirically testable, even theoretically, for the theory to be scientific. But if there is nothing empirically testable in a theory, I fail to see how that theory could be scientific in any ordinary sense of the word.

            Finally, this same scientist noted that some scientists are working on theories of everything, which he seemed to think implies that there really is no hard line between philosophy and science. Again, I think he’s wrong. If one’s theory of everything is a search for a single explanatory mechanism for all the forces of nature, the search is for a scientific theory. If, on the other hand, one is searching for the ultimate ground that explains why there is something rather than nothing and why everything is as it is rather than otherwise, then the search is for a metaphysical theory.

 4 There is some confusion over the term “creationist.” A creationist is simply someone who believes that the universe was created by God or some supernatural power or force. Not all creationists are “creation scientists.” Nor are all creationists fundamentalists.

 I know that some skeptics might consider it bizarre to call for atheists and theists to work together to stop the crusaders, but it is no more bizarre than the call of some conservatives to join in left-wing demonstrations opposing the Bush administration plan to invade Iraq and overthrow its government. Atheists and theists who believe in evolution may not have many common interests, but they should have this common objective nonetheless.

ADDENDUM 1

 terms

   dualism -  the belief that there are two kinds of reality, usually designated mind (or spirit) and body

  heathen - an unconverted member of a people or nation that does not acknowledge the God of the Bible [from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary]

  materialism - the belief that all reality is material or physical, or reducible to what is material (materialism denies the existence of spirits but not of minds)

  mechanistic materialism - the belief that all natural phenomena are governed by causal interactions among material particles, without reference to intelligent agency or purpose

  naturalism  - the belief that all objects, events, and values in the world can be explained without reference to supernatural powers or authority

  naturalistic explanation - an explanation of some phenomenon without reference to any supernatural agency

  teleological - exhibiting or relating to design or purpose, especially in nature  [from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary]

 Web sites 

Answers in Genesis - (Ken Ham)

Discovery Institute

Center for Science and Culture

 People 

Michael Behe - Darwin's Black Box (1996)

William Dembski - Intelligent Design: The Bridge between Science and Theology (1998) and No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence (2001)

Thomas Dick - Celestial Scenery (1838); The Sidereal Heavens (1840)

Jeb C. Macosko - Discovery Institute foot soldier

Stephen Meyer - director, Discovery Institute Center for Science & Culture

William Paley (1743-1805) Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature (1802)

 ADDENDUM 2 

How “Creation Science” and “Intelligent Design” Hinder Critical Thinking 

Critical thinking requires open-mindedness. “Creation science” requires closed-mindedness: The Bible must be accepted as the infallible word of God and all beliefs, including those contrary to fact, must be accepted as true if deemed by the “creation scientists” to be what the Bible says. At the very least, a critical thinker must not begin an inquiry by declaring its beliefs are infallible.

Critical thinking requires skepticism. “Creation science” requires that one accept without question what “creation scientists” think the Bible says. A critical thinker must be willing to question and examine any claim and not just accept things because they are set down by an authority or have been part of a long tradition.

Critical thinking requires intellectual humility. “Creation science” requires that one arrogantly and dogmatically maintain that one knows the truth even before doing any investigation. A critical thinker must be willing to admit that it is possible that his or her currently held beliefs are wrong and must be willing to give them up if the evidence requires it.

Critical thinking requires fairness. “Creation science” and “intelligent design” require their adherents to be dishonest, to pretend that they are interested in fairness, that they are open-minded and skeptical, and that they are only asking that science give them a fair hearing. They also falsely characterize science as not being fair for not allowing them in the science classroom.

Critical thinking requires that one’s assumptions be warranted. “Creation science” begins with questionable claims that originated in the mythology of the ancient Jews and Sumerians.

Critical thinking requires that one recognize and follow basic logical principles, such as the principle of contradiction. “Creation science” does not recognize that creation of the universe by God according to a design is not a contradictory hypothesis to either the big bang theory or the theory of natural selection. “Intelligent design” does not recognize that ID and natural selection are not contradictory hypotheses.

Critical thinking requires that one recognize the difference between scientific and non-scientific theories and that one not try to control an argument by controlling the definition of key terms. Both “creation science” and “intelligent design” attempt to define science to include philosophy or theology.


Last updated 12/09/10

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