Intelligent Design: snake-oil science cries ‘whaa whaa whaa’

It always seems surprising when I hear LDS people arguing for the Discovery Institute’s fundamentalist evangelical campaign of Intelligent Design as if there were some science behind the idea. ID was exposed long ago as a backdoor attempt to get creationism taught in the schools. This was made abundantly clear in the Dover Trial, in which ID was put under the microscope and found to be a fuzz ball rather than a living organism—by a conservative Christian judge nonetheless. It’s an idea without a modicum of scientific merit. There are no scientific institutes, programs or organizations that recognize it as a science. Still, myths persist. Here are a few.

Science has not seriously considered IDs claims that it is a science.

This is wrong. Behe (Chemist not Biologist) proposed the idea of irreducible complexity as the centerpiece of ID theory. He gave a few examples of what he thought it might look like. The bacterial flagellum. The eye. But Behe’s claim proved to be more a lack of awareness to evolutionary mechanisms than an idea. The eye was easy. Evolutionary pathways for the eye are well-understood. His others fail too. For example, his claim that the bacterial flagellum demonstrated irreducible complexity was given a nice scientific hearing, and was taken seriously enough to put it to the test . . . and then gunned down in a series of papers (see the Reading list at the end of this wiki article on the evolution of the flagellum). So it has been with everything thing ID has proposed as an example of irreducible complexity.

If ID were a science it would have responded to these slams to its sacred irreducible cow. But did it? No. Behe still disingenuously gives the example of the bacterial flagellum in his talks. Has any IDer responded to the numerous science critiques? No. Not any.

See, this is how science is played. Someone attacks your idea, and you respond, with data, analyses, the usual scientific ways of carrying-on. But they don’t respond. Then they have the audacity to say science is not responding. No the truth is they have no response. So they retreat to the Internet and complain they aren’t taken seriously.

In addition, philosophers of science have created a number of detailed responses. Indeed, the philosophy of science journal Synthese has devoted their entire last issue to responses. Biology and Philosophy has had numerous articles. Nature and Science magazines have published many articles on it. Many, many books by scientists and philosophers of science have responded. Their conclusion, universally reached, is that this is not a science. Even the Dover Judge could see it. It’s a load of manure being sold as gold. I can’t imagine why people continue to hoard it.

Yet the whining continues. The ‘whaaa, whaa, whaa we aren’t being taken seriously whines on. The flagellum keeps being held up as if no one has answered. Nonsense. Their PR machine grinds on in websites, but that, and their book industry, is all they have. And science keeps having to waste its time responding to the snake oil salesman.

How about Something is a valid science if it criticizes science.

Well if it had. There has been no substantial critique of evolutionary biology published. (Whaa, Whaa, Whaa what about the bacterial flagellum?)

Science, as I’ve written, is a blood-thirsty free-for-all and arguments about evolution are many and involved (take a look at the recent issue of the journal Evolution to see real ones. This is the game in action. Look at it. Really, look at Evolutionary biology as it is practiced. This is science doing science). Science is nothing but a constant critique of itself, its methods, and its findings. The fact that ID has manifestly not joined the conversation is evidence that it is more akin to astrology than astronomy.

Yet, what puzzles me most is why LDS people would jump on this bandwagon. It is being driven by and for fundamentalist creationisms. Nearly, everyone involved is part of the Discovery Institute (Ironic name for an organization devoted to nondiscovery). It suggests God is a tinkerer, a Harry Potter God who can’t get right and has to dip his wand into the potion to keep it going. This is a much smaller God than Mormonism knows. Small in knowledge and in capacity. This is not the God Joseph Smith revealed, who used and understood natural law.

Let me say it more simply. ID is not a science. It never was. Those who take it seriously as something LDS people should be involved in do damage to both science and its theology. It is a little idea, soundly refuted, that continues to sell its wares from the back of a wagon marked “Miracle Max Cures all Aliments.”

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20 comments to Intelligent Design: snake-oil science cries ‘whaa whaa whaa’

  • jsf

    It seems to that the ID crowd is bent on making believe that God thinks as they do, that they comprehend God’s mind. For me, Darwinian evolution and natural selection have been faith-affirming, even carrying through a period of my life when my faith was weak. As a scientist, I know that the most difficult thing to admit is that “I don’t know.” ID leads it’s proponents to exactly where they claim they don’t want to be, to a place where they have created God in their image. They cheapen the gospel, the church, and the God claim to worship by by casting him as a man behind the curtain who can’t get anything quite right. I don’t claim to always know the mind of the God I worship. I often have to say “I don’t know.” ID’ers want to have everything wrapped up in a nice little box and bow. I, for one, am thankful that God lets us struggle to find the answers, line upon line. It makes the life of the mind a worthwhile, worshipful vocation.

  • SteveP

    Jsf, very nicely said. A very important observation, because questions matter, and ID ignores great swaths of data, to package a God in a very limited way. Thanks for that.

  • rdh

    i wonder why mormons jump on a lot of the band wagons that they do.
    (4th paragraph typo: “carrying-on”)

  • Stan

    Steve, I made a new years resolution to refrain from flinging feces at these ID, creationist cranks… er, uh… misguided brothers and sisters, in online forums. I’m so glad you can refute them so sharply and eloquently. If only they would get a clue, we could have more meaningful discussions.

  • Heather P.

    When I first met my brother in-law, he asked, “What do you think about Intelligent Design?” I justed groaned, and said it wasn’t worthy of comment. He totally seemed compelled by it, and even liked that horrible documentary about it (No Intelligence Allowed). I’ve since learned that the more he learns about science, the more he seems to think that evolution is a fallacy. It doesn’t make sense to me at all. It’s pretty irritating.

  • As near as I can tell, all ID reasoning is based squarely in the false premise that something is a science unless proven otherwise. All appeals to “equal time” or “teach the controversy” depend on this. This is why all IDers primarily, if not exclusively busy themselves refuting reasons scientists have given for why ID isn’t a science, as if their imagined success in this regard would somehow demonstrate that ID a science. It doesn’t and it wouldn’t.

    The real reason ID isn’t a science? It hasn’t proven itself. At all. If IDers would have spent half as much time the past 30 years trying to research ID rather than simply trying to refute opponents then maybe there would be something to say. But until they have actually done some kind of research, there’s really nothing to say on the matter. Stop talking until you can show us something worth talking about.

  • It’s worth noting that even if it could be demonstrated that there is no possible evolutionary pathway by which “irreducibly complex” biological systems could evolve, that does not offer one iota of support for ID. ID “theory” is that an unspecified but possibly supernatural entity has interfered in an unspecified but possibly supernatural way to create some biological systems.
    In science, an hypothesis needs to set constraints on possible outcomes. There have to be potential observations or measurements which could not be “explained” by the hypothesis. ID “theory” sets no such constraints: it could explain a dog giving birth to a cat, to pink unicorns appearing in the air above Times Square dancing a quadrille, or a sperm whale spontaneously turning into a bowl of petunias. That’s why ID fails as science.
    Of course, it fails even in demonstrating that irreducible complexity cannot be created by evolutionary processes. Hermann Muller predicted the existence of irreducible complexity (he called it “interlocking complexity”) in 1918 on the basis of evolutionary theory.
    The Dover v. Kitzmiller trial showed just the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the ID movement. Behe’s testimony revealed that he felt able to dismiss as “unconvincing” dozens of scientific paper describing possible evolutionary pathways for the bacterial flagellum without bothering to read them. It’s easy to claim that there is no evolutionary explanation for a system if you reject a priori any evolutionary explanation. That doesn’t make it honest.
    Behe and some of the other ID proponents are scientists with a perfectly respectable track record of research and publication (though none of them are as highly regarded, or have such stellar career histories as ID creationists would have us believe). They must know that their “theory” has no validity as science, they must know that their supposed “proofs” have been demolished, they must know that their supposed evidence is a prediction of evolutionary theory, yet they persist in peddling their falsehoods.
    Quite simply, they are lying.
    The reason to oppose creationism is not just because it is bad science and bad religion. It’s because it’s deeply and systematically dishonest. Coming as it does from those claiming the moral high ground, it’s utter hypocrisy.

  • I just finished reading Ken Miller’s book: “Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul.” I recommend it to all who are interested in evolutionary controversies, but be forewarned. The book completely trashes I.D., a notion that is little more than a house of toothpicks. Funny thing is that the house of I.D. has been easily knocked over, but its residents are in denial.

    I would argue that the Bible is extremely valuable, but its value is in establishing moral principles, NOT naturalistic ones. The Bible is NOT biological science, but it is STILL a very essential book. Why do religious people have trouble with that claim? I don’t, but I grew up with visions of ancient dinosaurs running through my dreams. At some point, we need to be 21st century Mormons who realize that the many ancient dinosaurs of Utah should not scare us away from Church.

  • Cap

    “This is not the God Joseph Smith revealed, who used and understood natural law.”

    We’ve been discussing this type of thinking in my Adam & Eve & America class. (Taught by Boyd Peterson). The church that Joseph Smith set up often times gets lost in our modern day interpretations. Things like Evolution get dropped or misunderstood because we think our gospel is in compatible with a belief in this sort of progression. I think one of the fundamental causes to this is literalism. Somewhere along the line the Bible started to become an accurate historical document to many people. Never mind the contradictions this brings. This way of thinking had been deeply embedded in Mormon culture.

    However, I think that things are getting better. I am meeting more and more college students (as I am a student) that are believing in Evolution, among other things. It’ll probably just take some time for things to change more permanently. That’s my hope anyway.

  • It’s really important to know how deeply dishonest ID has been. Their actions have been riddled with outright lies and disinformation. The Dover judge yelled at them for their fabrications. And they continue. Let’s see, what do we know about building something on a foundation of lies? Something about the kinds of fruits those sorts of roots produce?

    And I second S.Faux suggestion for Miller’s book, “Only a Theory.” He is a wonderful, religiously believing scientist.

    Yes! Reading literally things that were symbolically meant and structured, has caused all kinds of problems. There really is no reason that both science and religion can be fully and unabashedly embraced.

  • John Mansfield

    I started reading the recent Paul Dirac biography, and it reminds me again how silly this stance is about science being a “blood-thirsty free-for-all.” I wish you would knock it off, Steve, but it seems to be the way you like to imagine the world.

  • It’s a blood thirsty free for all. Dirac is not representative.

  • Skeptic

    @ John Mansfield,

    “I started reading the recent Paul Dirac biography, and it reminds me again how silly this stance is about science being a “blood-thirsty free-for-all.” I wish you would knock it off, Steve.”

    Ditto

  • CK Rock

    This is what I think the core of the issue is: Intelligent Design is a GREAT name. I think that science-accepting theists hear the name and support it just based on that. I’ve heard people say, “I think that maybe God used evolution to guide the creation–you know, Intelligent Design!” I’ve tried a number of times to explain to these people that ID isn’t the same as saying “God had a hand in evolution.”

  • Jack

    “This is not the God Joseph Smith revealed, who used and understood natural law.”

    Are you implying that God used his understanding of natural law to create a fallen world?

  • SteveP

    Or the capacity to become such.

  • Jack–more than that, I think. Our agency relies on this being a fallen world subject to natural, probabilistic laws.

  • Great post!

    I have seen Michael Behe speak in person. This was in 2009. It was at the Response to the New Atheim Conference held at BYU. see here http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705336578/Response-to-New-Atheism-at-BYU.html (And I thought he has always tried to claim that his hypothesis is a purely scientific one??)

    Anyway, I do not believe Behe has an understanding of what science is, much less evolution. Anyone who can include astrology as a legit science under his own definition of what science is…ummm… just doesn’t get it. And like most of the ID movement’s “Top Dogs”, a PhD in Chemistry or Psychology or Basket Weaving makes you an expert in all fields, including quantum physics and evolution.

    Even Darwin’s theory built on other people’s work, he methodically cited Malthus, Lyell, and others whose work laid a foundation for the theory of speciation via natural selection. At Behe’s talk, get this, he only cited himself!!! He used …”in my book you’ll find…” ad nauseum to the exclusion of citing anything else. That’s not science. Like SteveP mentioned, you don’t just ignore all of the incredible opposition you have had in response to your hypothesis. Peer review is a constant back-and-forth process. And Behe and all ID “leaders” try to skip this crucial component of the scientific method.

    By the way, that’s all he had was his irreducible complexity hypothesis. He had nothing else. I really wonder why he just doesn’t get a clue and give up? (Hmmmm….Maybe because of all the monetary kickback he gets from the Discovery Institute?)

    In my opinion, natural history isn’t even really science, BUT natural history is the raw material from which science is derived. It makes no predictions, but it is VERY useful. At best, ID/Creationism is a misguided religious man’s romantic version of natural history. And at best, it lacks both usefulness and predictability.

    BOTH, of which, are prerequisites for any true scientific theory, IMO.

  • Brad

    In The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin acknowledged that the fossil record presented difficulties for his theory. “By the theory of natural selection,” he wrote, “all living species have been connected with the parent-species of each genus, by differences not greater than we see between the natural and domestic varieties of the same species at the present day.” Thus in the past “the number of intermediate and transitional links, between all living and extinct species, must have been inconceivably great.” But Darwin knew that the major animal groups–which modern biologists call “phyla”–appeared fully formed in what were at the time the earliest known fossil-bearing rocks, deposited during a geological period known as the Cambrian. He considered this a “serious” difficulty for his theory, since “if the theory be true, it is indisputable that before the lowest Cambrian stratum was deposited long periods elapsed… and that during these vast periods the world swarmed with living creatures.” And “to the question why we do not find rich fossiliferous deposits belonging to these assumed earliest periods prior to the Cambrian system, I can give no satisfactory answer.” So “the case at present must remain inexplicable; and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained.”

  • [...] But that just isn’t the case.  In fact it is the exact opposite of the case, as a scientist from BYU explains: [...]

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