Squaring the Culture




"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

06/29/2008 (8:20 am)

Science, Religion, and Darwin

I’ve been avoiding the evolution/Intelligent Design debate since I started this blog, but I can’t avoid it today. Blame Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who signed into law on Friday a measure described by the Inquisitors General of Evolution as a “stealth Creationism bill.” The bill states simply that science teachers and local school boards have the right to add supplementary material to the prescribed science curricula, and specifically prohibits injections of religion into science classes, but the clear intent is to protect science teachers who want to present materials that explain the theory of Intelligent Design in the classroom. Significantly, though, the bill also specifically mentions the inclusion of supplementary materials regarding “the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning” as well as evolution. See the actual text of the bill here.

The Discovery Institute explains the need for the bill:

The law is needed for two reasons. First, around the country, science teachers are being harassed, intimidated, and sometimes fired for trying to present scientific evidence critical of Darwinian theory along with the evidence that supports it. Second, many school administrators and teachers are fearful or confused about what is legally allowed when teaching about controversial scientific issues like evolution. The Louisiana Science Education Act clarifies what teachers may be allowed to do.

I have some pretty strong opinions on the subject, and have had for some time. I’m also fairly well-read on the subject. Please bear with me while I air my complaint.

The attempt to conflate Intelligent Design with Creationism is intellectually dishonest and insupportable. I read a large volume of Creationist literature back in the 1970s and 1980s, and I’ve read a substantial volume of Intelligent Design literature in the last 10 years. They are not published by the same people. They are not similar in any regard worth mentioning. They are not saying the same thing, nor even anything terribly close to each other. They do not use the same methods. The only similarity that can possibly be educed from an honest reading of the two bodies of literature is that both recognize the possibility of intention in the universe.

Even that’s not all that similar between the two bodies of literature. The Creationists clearly began from a fundamentalist reading of the Bible, and just as clearly formed hypotheses to conform to their reading of the Bible. They would not be dissuaded from this approach regardless of the evidence; they were ideologically married to the Biblical account. The Creation Science Institute came from a theological tradition that was famous, even among the Christian community, for bringing the same attitude and the same methods to bible scholarship that they brought to biology and cosmology — “We interpret the clear teaching of the scripture to be X, and any claim to the contrary simply has to be wrong.”

By contrast, the Intelligent Design movement began from a reading of current microbiology, and from the recognition by bright observers outside the field of evolutionary biology that what was coming from within the field was barely disguised philosophy, not science. The published works of Intelligent Design theorists include complex discussions of microbiology, robust philosophical evaluations, and incisive analyses of modern culture. There’s very little biblical theology to be found among them; many are not theists. They’re simply legitimate scientists who stopped drinking the kool-aid, and summoned the courage to raise the unpopular point that the processes they’re studying look intentional, and that that just might mean that they were intentional.

There’s a revolution going on in microbiology, occasioned (as is usual for scientific progress) by improvements in technology, and the explosion of information there has not been friendly to neo-Darwinism’s model of descent with modification. That’s an understatement.

The gene theory of biology has taken a severe beating over the last 15 years or so. It’s perfectly clear that genes do not carry information to describe large segments of what we see in the biosphere (the shapes of living objects, for example, are not found in the genes at all.) If that information does not exist in genes, then it cannot possibly have evolved by way of genetic mutation or genetic drift. Prompted by this discovery, biologist Michael Denton and his co-workers in Australia developed a theory of natural laws in the biosphere, analogous to the laws that govern physics, and used their hypothesis to predict a series of laws governing the behavior of protein folds. Their hypothesis proved correct in the laboratory; they discovered something like 1,000 separate protein fold patterns, all behaving according to a definable set of rules that correspond to physical characteristics of the molecules themselves. Their findings were published by invitation in Nature(1) and in the Journal of Theoretical Biology(2).

One of the disturbing characteristics of the history of the science of evolution is how poorly the theory has performed in predicting what they’ll find. Darwin predicted simple early life forms; we now know the earliest life forms were insanely complex. Darwin predicted intermediate forms in the fossil record; literally millions of fossils have been gathered, and at best a tiny handful of them can even plausibly be described as intermediate forms; the clear pattern in the fossil record is species stasis — a species appears, goes along unchanged for millions of years, then simply disappears. More to the point, there are only perhaps a dozen instances in the last 150 years of paleontologists using the theory of evolution to predict a particular finding in nature, and then actually finding it, and there isn’t even the beginning of a model that can predict the evolutionary direction of a living population. For Denton and his cohort to produce a non-genetic hypothesis that successfully predicts a discovery on the first try, strikes me as proof that their hypothesis is orders of magnitude more robust than the neo-Darwinian model that they’re bucking. To suggest that what Denton is doing is “not science” deserves nothing more friendly than a horse laugh. Anybody who says such a ridiculous thing ought not to be taken seriously ever again.

I acknowledge that there are some who are simply taking the word of others and repeating a second-hand conclusion when they say that Intelligent Design is not science, and confuse it with Creationism; if that’s you, please try to understand that you’re being deliberately misled by religious partisans who are defending their pet philosophy, Scientific Materialism, against any and all legitimate debate. I further acknowledge that the Creationists have hopped on board the Intelligent Design train, and are touting their own theories as I.D. these days, so for an outside observer unfamiliar with the literature, I.D. might be confused with Creationism. You need to read the literature. Anybody telling you the evidence points to “the God of the Bible” is probably touting Christianity. By the same token, anybody telling you “descent with modification is beyond question” is selling you swampland in Florida (just as anybody who tells you “anthropogenic global warming is beyond question” is selling you swampland in Florida — the claim that something “is beyond question” should be your first clue, because if it were true they wouldn’t have to say it so loudly.)

But people saying “This process looks too complex to have been produced without intention,” are saying something no more controversial than this: “If I see a slip of paper with the words ‘Please pick up my suit from the cleaners’ on it, I infer that an intelligent being was sending a message.” The genetic detail in the simplest, earliest life form is a similar phrase, only instead of being 40 characters long, is millions of characters long; it’s every bit as much an encoded message, and to infer intent is not only plausible, it’s the only plausible inference possible. We’ve uncovered the earliest life form and found in it a huge computer program; come on, folks, draw the obvious conclusion. It can’t possibly hurt that much.

To those who want to pretend that I.D. cannot be science a priori because it allows the mere possibility of a designer, I say “Rubbish.” Such people are as biased, and as religiously motivated, as the Creationists they hate so much (which is why they hate them so much.) If science is a search for truth fact, then the scientist must accept whatever conclusion follows as a result of honest evaluation. One cannot allow oneself to be limited by a priori philosophical claims. If science does not allow the scientist to draw whatever conclusion properly fits the facts, then I’m not interested in science, and neither should any thinking adult be interested in it.

The notion that the definition of science demands a non-directed process in the biosphere, logically, arises from philosophy — obviously, you can’t prove such a claim in the laboratory, it’s a definition. That definition — that there can be no intelligence directing our biosphere — is imported from Materialism, a self-demolishing philosophical system that absurdly presupposes that nothing exists, or can exist, outside of our three-dimensions-plus-unidirectional-time universe. The very existence of an idea, or of consciousness, falsifies the presupposition: ideas have no dimension, cannot be examined by scientific inquiry under a microscope, are not affected by time, and clearly exist, therefore things do exist apart from dimensions plus time. But whether one accepts or rejects Materialism, its presuppositions are a foreign import into science (the earliest Western scientists were not Materialists), and the attempt to define “science” by excluding all that does not conform to Materialism’s presuppositions constitutes an anti-intellectual hijacking. Short version, the Materialists mugged the culture, and stole science.

The link at the top of this article under the words “stealth Creationism bill” points to a document by the National Center for Science Education. The NCSE represents the attempt by dogmatic Materialists to prevent consideration of non-Materialist scientific literature in public schools, by way of Inquisition. They actively search for instances of teachers attempting to discuss the ideas of current opponents of neo-Darwinian theory, and when they find one, they send a team to attempt to have that individual fired. It’s basically a goon squad; it’s not in any meaningful way different from the Spanish Inquisition I mentioned yesterday, except that instead of imaginary thumb screws, they use shame and the courts, and instead of burning at the stake, they get people fired.

If the ideas behind descent with modification were so clearly superior, they would not need goon squads to enforce them. The reason neo-Darwinism needs to take the Inquisition approach is something admitted on the first page of Richard Dawkins’ book, The Blind Watchmaker: the universe we live in looks designed. Any intellectually curious adult can see it, because it’s immediately obvious to the casual observer. It took Dawkins a book-length dissertation to explain why the design that’s obvious on the face of things is actually an illusion. Since it takes that much verbiage to dispute the obvious, the fact that so many in our culture feel as though only deluded dunces can infer design, is counter-intuitive; it could only be so if the intellectual life of the culture had been straight-jacketed against drawing the obvious conclusion from examining the universe.

Even the atheists recognize Occam’s Razor, and if they were being candid, they’d admit that the most likely explanation for the fact that our universe appears to have been designed, is that it was designed. Anybody taking the opposite position, has to believe that life appeared magically out of non-life, without the slightest hint of an explanation how that’s possible (no, evolution does not address the question), and that takes way more faith than any Christian doctrine requires. To quote Norm Geisler and Frank Turek, I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.

(1) M. J. Denton and J. C. Marshall, “The Laws of Form Revisited,” Nature 410 (2001): 411, General concepts discussed in Michael John Denton, “An Anti-Darwinian Intellectual Journey,” Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing,, W. A. Dembski, ed,, Wilmington, DE, ISI Books, 2004.
(2) M. J. Denton, J. C. Marshal, and M. Legge, “The Protein Folds as Platonic Forms: New Support for the Pre-Darwinian Conception of Evolution by Natural Law,” Journal of Theoretical Biology 218 (2002):325-42. General concepts discussed in Uncommon Dissent, Dembski, ed,, op. cit.


Update: a couple of commenters at Little Green Footballs created links from an article about Creationists in Texas to this blog. Thanks for the notice, folks, and welcome. The article there appears to illustrate my point here: at least one of the actions cited in the quoted New Scientist article is by real, old-fashioned Young Earth Creationists, but the article dishonestly and inaccurately names the Discovery Institute, the flagship of the Intelligent Design movement, as the force behind the actions of these Creationists. While there’s some reason for the uninformed to be confused, it’s simply dishonest for New Scientist to conflate them.