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"Intelligent Design"  Preview
11 November 05 from 2fs 13
As I understand it, ID rests on the notion that the universe is too complex and orderly to have arisen without "intelligent design." Aside from the utterly speculative stipulation of when complex and orderly becomestoo complex and orderly, this "explanation" merely relies on semantics, positing "an intelligence" as the answer...when the obvious next question - where did that "intelligence" come from? - is left unanswered. Perhaps there's a meta-intelligent meta-designer - and a meta-meta-intelligent meta-meta-designer... The only way out of this mise en abyme is, of course, to name that IDer "God" and posit that "God" is that which is self-creating or ever-created. (Another semantic boondoggle, of course, that confuses naming something with knowing something. And as someone comments below, who says that large-scale emergent systems might not themselves exhibit "intelligence" - in some definitions anyway...) So notions that ID could possibly be based in anything other than religion collapse into the same hole named "we don't know" that ID proponents claim is the trap for proponents of scientific theories about the universe.
9 November 05 from mlmitton 12
Well, the Kansas Board of Education at least got one thing right: To teach more ID and much less evolution, they had to redefine what science is. So thanks to them for at least recognizing that ID isn't science.  

Of course, in this world where we do not use the simplest natural explanations for observable phenomena, Kansas has failed to give us any method for choosing between these supernatural explanations. Personally, I hope Kansas, in the spirit of exposing students to all sides of a discussion, teaches them about the Flying Spaghetti Monster. With the FSM, in the wake of such terrible hurricanes and earthquakes, we can at least have hope in more pirates trying to take over cruise ships.  

To Bertson's point, I hope to God the people protecting us from a flu pandemic were not educated in Kansas.
6 November 05 from whalemusic 11
Some interesting insights into this topic here.  

More insights perhaps in this survey. Certainly room for debate in its conclusions regarding creationism (see section 17) as, for example, just the other day there was a news story about the Vatican instructing its flock to listen to the teachings of modern science but provocative nonetheless.
6 November 05 from chris 10
hmmm. the one thing i hope to see from this debate is a reevaluation of what "intelligent" actually means. complexity studies and notions of "downward causation" could allow us to rethink both sides of the argument, which are hopelessly anthropomorphic at the moment. we haven't got a clue what intelligence is, at the moment its the thing humans have and gods have. why can't an ecosystem exhibit intelligence? because it doesn't have thumbs perhaps? we're addicted to dichotomy, heaven and hell.
5 November 05 from Bertson 1
Also, virologists have been able to observe viruses "picking up" DNA from other cells, and the emergence of antibiotic-resistant diseases provides a pretty striking example of evolution in action.
3 November 05 from glenn mcdonald 5
Oh, yeah, thanks Steve, I meant to look up the source of those stock examples. Here's the creationist article about "adding information to DNA" from that site. As usual, it offers no science of its own, and its critique of actual science is based on illogic (if something happens one way a bunch of times, that doesn't mean it always does...) and misdirection (a qualitative "loss" of a phenotype characteristic is not the same thing as a quantitative reduction in genotype complexity...).  

And here's the bit about abiogenesis being based on "faith", which mostly points out (as I believe science readily acknowledges) that none of the mechanisms so-far imagined for it have yet been demonstrated by experiment. The meta-contention is that if people keep trying to explain something nobody has explained yet, it can only be because some "faith" underlies their conviction that it must be explainable. This might be true in terms of any given individual's personal motivation (although it also might be true that they've just picked the topic they think most likely to win them a Nobel Prize), but personal motivations have nothing to do with the evaluation of the work itself.
3 November 05 from glenn mcdonald 5
Also:  

1. The fact that we haven't yet been able to reproduce a natural phenomenon artificially doesn't necessarily mean we don't understand it pretty well. We haven't been able to generate artificial gravity yet, either. Jonathan Weiner's The Beak of the Finch is one particularly enlightening book about evolution in action in present-day nature. No miracles are required for "adding new information into the DNA of animals", although that's a pretty poor way to describe the ongoing and entirely observable process of differences in DNA being propogated through reproductive advantage.  

2. zbnet, you seem to be under the impression that scientists use "faith" to cover over holes for which there are currently no adequate explanations. But that's what religion does with holes, not what science does with them. Science says "we don't know that yet" and then either tries to, or works on something else that doesn't depending on knowing the thing we don't know, or both. It is not necessary to know how the apple got above your head to calculate how fast it will hit you, for example. Science doesn't invoke faith to plug up the holes because there's no need to plug them at all. The things we don't know yet wait patiently until we have a new idea to try.
3 November 05 from Steve G 9
It is possible that zbnet is spending too much time at answersingenesis.org. A quick Google brings up (on Don Lindsay's website) an example of a simple experiment which shows that bacteria can mutate to learn how to eat a new kind of food. If I could eat paper in place of lettuce, woud that count as having new information?  

Spontaneous generation, by the way, seems to be a favorite on answersingenesis.org. In the midst of an onerous attempt to refute Scientific American and Richard Dawkins, they suggest that the reason "common genes make perfect sense" is because of the "existence of a single Creator". This seems to be another example of confusing spontaneous generation with evolution. Be that as it may, common ancestors (at any branch up or down the tree of life, back to and including a single first living organism) would equally well explain the existence of common genes.  

Thanks to glenn especially, and the others who have been calmly replying to zbnet's pontifications.  

The wonderful thing you miss, perhaps, zbnet, is the amazement of learning about "new information" which comes out of the minds of scientists as they come up with theories that never existed before to try and explain what we see around us (including current theories on multiple universes with, dare I say it, multiple "creations"), rather than fall back yet again on the "old information" of the Bible. "Plus ca change...", eh?
3 November 05 from Aaron 8
Faith is exercised when a conclusion is reached, based on a model that can't be tested empirically.  

Seems like a poor choice of words on your part, then. "Faith" also has the connotation of religious belief, and in ordinary usage it doesn't include all forms of reaching an conclusion without evidence. Either you're trying to make evolutionary science and creationism sound more parallel than they are for rhetorical purposes, or you've picked up the speech habits of people who are.  

By your definition of 'faith', there's faith involved in evolution, but there's also faith involved in every conclusion that anyone has ever come to about anything. Welcome to Humean radical skepticism.
3 November 05 from zbnet 4
Faith is exercised when a conclusion is reached, based on a model that can't be tested empirically.  

Observation is all very well, but it doesn't take the place of experimentation - creationists see the same things you see, both fit the evidence into a model of origins, neither of which can be empirically tested. And glenn, on the contrary, I have cited the spontaneous generation of life theory that is necessary to start the evolution of living beings. There is no way to explain how this happened, only a number of theories of how it happened. And to date, no one has managed to repeat the event, despite trying.  

To give you another example, as you mention evolutionary biology, evolution needs a mechanism for adding new information into the DNA of animals. The theory that mutations add this information is always given, presuming that a small percentage of mutations cause beneficial change. That's the model, but no-one can show this in reality: all scientists have succeeded in doing is producing harmful mutations, damaging mutations, or mutations that 'help' by reducing the gene pool (as in bacteria that become resistant to antibiotics) - when the whole point of the exercise is to demonstrate the addition of genetic information. So it demands 'faith' to believe this model is true, in the face of the empirical testing.  

That's all I was meaning when I said faith was necessary for both evolutionist and creationist alike.
3 November 05 from petrarch 7
I'm near glenn on this but I have a few additional comments.  

Scope and scale (and the availability of appropriate materials, etc.) are all impediments to "repeating the experiment." When experiments cannot be repeated, observation of the natural world is a perfectly valid method of scientific exploration. There is evidence all around us that "the experiment" has repeated itself continuously throughout history: the fossil record. It is difficult to observe the "experiment" as it happens because it occurs so slowly. But the evidence is compelling enough to convince most, and those who are not convinced have yet to posit an alternative theory that is supported by even the smallest amount of evidence, observed or experimental.
2 November 05 from glenn mcdonald 5
So what "faith" is involved in the study of evolution, specifically? Or the scientific study of anything else, for that matter? You haven't cited anything yet. And it's not enough to point out holes in science, you have to make some kind of case that the holes have to be filled with something, and that that something can't be anything but faith.
2 November 05 from zbnet 4
I'm not doing either. You mentioned history and evidence and experimentation earlier; I was pointing out the difference between predictions of scientific theory that can be repeatedly experimentally verified, and ones that are based on 'faith'.
2 November 05 from glenn mcdonald 5
Are you sincerely confusing biogenesis and the Divine Spark with evolution and ID, or are you just being annoying? Or, as you put it, "gracious"?
2 November 05 from zbnet 4
Then I graciously stand aside and clear the stage for you, whilst you dramatically recreate the birth of the universe for us.  

Or if that is too difficult, at least for the demonstrable 'spontaneous combustion' of life from non-organic compounds.
2 November 05 from glenn mcdonald 5
"Once-only" events (of which the formation of our universe may or may not be one) aren't even vaguely immune to the scientific process. Nor are events for which there is (or we know of) no historical precedent. Deterministic prediction, repeatable experiment, falsifiable results; that's all science needs, history is optional.  

Universe-creation experiments are trickier than dropping apples on each other's heads, but that's due to their scale and scope, relative to our reference points, not their historicality.  

And this has little to do with evolutionary biology, which is the study of how life changes, not how it, or its universe, arose.
2 November 05 from zbnet 6
You keep mentioning scientific study. The whole premise of scientific study is proposing a model that describes the universe, designing a test that has a predicted outcome according to the model, then doing the test to see if the results agree with the model. If the results part company with the prediction, then the model needs tweaking or rethinking until it can predict the actual results. Good models can (and should) be retested with repeatable, observable results that match the model's predictions. This is the process of good scientific study.  

All this breaks down, though, when instead of a model for say gravity ('hold the apple above your friend's head, drop the apple, it should hit his head') which we can test repeatedly, we are developing a model for a once-only, historical event. How are we ever going to be able to recreate the initial formation of the universe like this?  

Once-only, historical events (however they happen) are by definition not up for the same level of 'scientific study'. We can never test the model on the same way, so all demand some level of 'faith'.
1 November 05 from glenn mcdonald 5
There may be numerology, paganism and acupuncture involved in any given person's believing evolution. Same with gravity. But none of them are involved in the scientific study of either.  

Gravity is just a theory, too, of course, and not even state-of-the-art. Maybe a statement about "Intelligent Sucking" would be in order at the beginning of physics class...
1 November 05 from zbnet 4
You're telling me there's no faith involved in believing in evolution?
26 October 05 from glenn mcdonald 2
Well, I think most scientists would be happy to give up classroom discussion of their faith in evolution and stick to studying its scientific parameters, like history and evidence and experimentation and so forth.  

But ultimately this whole argument is just yet another demonstration that the noble idea of religious freedom is basically only tenable as long as nobody really exercises it. But don't tell creationists I said that.
25 October 05 from Michael Boydston 3
I liked the Dawkins piece too. Another good one, a little shorter and more focused on the tactics of ID advocates, is Daniel Dennett's from the 8/28/05 New York Times.  

glenn is of course right about the problem inherent in almost any response to ID. Unfortunately, though, his nifty metaphor would invite this common accusation from creationists: "see? Your devotion to evolution is religious -- who are you to look down your nose at us." Whereupon the science-based discussion begins, but then we're back to the original problem . . .
24 October 05 from glenn mcdonald 2
"Stork theory" in sex-education is another great analogy, although probably a lot of those people are opposed to sex-education in schools, too, so maybe that's yet another self-congratulatory one for other scientists.  

Incisive piece, as you'd expect from Dawkins on this subject, but I suspect that anybody willing to read more than two paragraphs of it already understands and agrees.  

(Oh, and I fixed the comma-handling in the link-recognition routine. I erred deliberately on the side of caution, to begin with, and have been adding back valid variations as we collectively encounter them in real use...)
24 October 05 from Bertson 1
In the spirit of your ID post on furialog, here's the best refutation of the claims of the ID crowd, by Richard Dawkins.  

www.guardian.co.uk/life/feature/story/0,13026,1559743,00.html  

Apparently the hotlinking can't handle commas in the URL. Just copy & paste.
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