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Sunday, October 02, 2005

More on Hoaxes, e.g. intelligent design

Shamelessly borrowed from the newsletter of the Skeptic's Dictionary:

Earlier this month, Daniel Dennett wrote an op ed piece for the New York Times. Dennett wrote, among other things, that intelligent design (ID) may be "one of the most ingenious hoaxes in the history of science."

The proponents of intelligent design use a ploy that works something like this. First you misuse or misdescribe some scientist's work. Then you get an angry rebuttal. Then, instead of dealing forthrightly with the charges leveled, you cite the rebuttal as evidence that there is a "controversy" to teach.
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Note that the trick is content-free. You can use it on any topic.

It gets better. The anti-evolutionist folks at the Discovery Institute sent out a press release recently that says, among other things, that

While the Discovery Institute opposes efforts to mandate the teaching of intelligent design in public schools, it even more strongly objects to the ACLU's Orwellian efforts to shut down classroom discussions of intelligent design through government-imposed censorship....The courts should not be used to censor scientific ideas or instruct scientists and educators in what are legitimate avenues of scientific research....The debate over evolution should be decided through scientific discussion and debate, not by gag orders imposed by the courts.

So, after you have created a controversy where there is none, you can now claim that those who oppose teaching your side of the controversy are enemies of free speech and of science itself! Never mind that the idea you are advocating did not emerge in the free-for-all debates among evolutionary scientists but came from outside the mainstream of scientific investigation, publication, and argument. Never mind that the view you are advocating is the quintessential anti-scientific viewpoint: (1) You claim science cannot now and never will be able to explain how some part of the biological world evolved; (2) you claim to have an explanation for the item science cannot explain; and, (3) you claim that your pathetic, fallacy-ridden metaphysical explanation is actually scientific.

The main goal of the anti-evolutionists is to discredit evolution. They have waged a very sophisticated and clever war against evolution. Granted, their task was made easier by the fact that about 20% of adult Americans are so scientifically illiterate they think the sun revolves around the earth once a day. If anything is Orwellian, it is the way the anti-evolutionists have convinced many politicians, school board members, and a good percentage of the general public that anti-science is science and that the anti-science is "a legitimate avenue of scientific research" and should be taught in the science classroom. It is just this side of brilliant the way the leaders of the anti-evolution (AE) movement have hoodwinked millions of people. On the Orwellian scale, the AE terrorization of evolution ranks right up there with what Republicans did to the word 'liberal' over the past thirty years. That campaign was so successful that liberals have given up and are now calling themselves "progressives." (See George Lakoff's essay "Metaphor, Morality, and Politics, Or, Why Conservatives Have Left Liberals In the Dust." Better yet, read his book Don't Think of an Elephant.)

If anything is Orwellian, it is the notion that ID is a scientific theory that challenges natural selection. ID "researchers" have only two moves, both completely predictable and neither leading anywhere. One is to claim that something like the bacterium's flagellum can't be explained scientifically and that the best explanation is that an intelligent designer put the parts of the flagellum together. When scientists explain how the parts of the flagellum evolved and came together, the anti-evolutionists ignore the explanation and find some other scientific puzzle to declare scientifically insolvable except by appeal to an intelligent designer. This lateral process can go on for at least as long as there is life on earth. There is no light at the end of this tunnel; there is only more darkness. The other move is vertical. The anti-evolution "researcher," instead of finding more puzzles and declaring them insolvable until they're solved, can ask questions about the alleged intelligent designer. How intelligent must the designer be? Does its intelligence have to be infinite or would a finite amount of smarts be enough to pull off the task at hand? It would have to be very powerful, too. But how powerful would the designer have to be? Would it have to be omnipotent? Or, would a finite amount of power be sufficient to put the parts together? Could the designer have been designed? If so, who or what designed the designer? Will we ultimately be led by our intellectual musings to the undesigned designer? And, where did the designer get the parts? Could they have occurred naturally or would they need a creator? This vertical process is vaguely reminiscent of thousands of years of philosophical gibberish that has not led to a single item of scientific interest. Orwellian? If not, give me a synonym.

As most of you already know, there is a case in federal court involving a suit by several parents against the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board. Last October, the Dover Area School Board voted 6-3 to add “Intelligent Design Theory” to the district’s biology curriculum. A month later, the board changed its mind and instead said it would require teachers to read the following statement to all biology students:

The state standards require students to learn about Darwin's Theory of Evolution and to eventually take a standardized test of which evolution is a part. Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.
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Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book 'Of Pandas and People,' is available for students to see if they would like to explore this view in an effort to gain an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves. As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind.
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The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life up to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses on the standards and preparing students to be successful on standards-based assessments.

Eleven parents, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the school board for requiring biology teachers to present "intelligent design" as an alternative to the scientific theory of natural selection. The trial began September 26th in Harrisburg federal court.

Even if the ACLU wins in Dover (which they probably will), it will be a small and short-lived victory. The cry of persecution will be heard throughout the land. What are the evolutionists afraid of? Why won't let their view be challenged? No matter how anyone responds to the anti-evolutionists, their case is made: the controversy grows. If the anti-evolutionists win the case, they win and if they lose the case they win.

A few years ago I reported on a session that took place at the World Skeptic's Conference in Los Angeles. The session featured Ken Miller, evolutionist and scientist for the plaintiffs in Dover, and William Dembski, Christian apologist for ID. I noted that the session was billed as Evolution vs. Intelligent Design and commented "Was this going to be a contest with a winner and a loser? If so, then we need no debate and should declare ID the winner. Why? Because 'vs.' implies they are competitors and the main point of the ID movement right now is to get people to believe that ID is a scientific theory that is in competition with natural selection." I stand corrected: the main point is to conjure up negative thoughts and feelings whenever the word 'evolution' is used. I now doubt that the ID folks really care whether ID is taught anywhere. (What is there to teach, anyway?) The main goal is, and always has been, to discredit evolution.

Our illustrious governor hasn't weighed in on the anti-evolution issue, but California's Superintendent of Public Education, Jack O'Connell, has: "Our state has been recognized across the country and around the world for the quality and rigor of our academic standards. Just like I will fight tooth and nail to protect California's high academic standards, I will fight to ensure that good science is protected in California classrooms." Translated: no anti-evolution here!
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