Education Intelligent Design

Cornell State of the University Address — 90% devoted to ID

Spread the love

This academic year may be pivotal for Cornell University (a school at which I spent half a year doing research on probability theory back in 1986) as its president just spent nearly the whole of his State of the University Address speaking about intelligent design:

Now, with the well-organized, resolute intelligent design movement, the issue is back again. What adds urgency to this iteration of the dispute is the fact that this country is so polarized, both culturally and politically. When we divide ourselves into “Red States” and “Blue States”; into the people who watch Fox News and those who watch PBS; into “people of faith” and “secular humanists,” when ciphers substitute for nuanced ideas, is it any wonder that this debate now concerns matters as fundamental as what we teach in our primary and secondary schools, what academic standards universities require, and what rhetoric candidates adopt in political races? When ideological division replaces informed exchange, dogma is the result and education suffers.

And if we are honest, we have to admit that many of us in universities have contributed to the polarization that afflicts the country as a whole. President Emeritus Frank Rhodes, writing in 1982 at the height of the “creationism” debates, noted that “both fundamentalist advocates and some popular scientists claim an extension of their area of authority which is logically illegitimate. The fundamentalists offer an old doctrine of scriptural infallibility, improperly disguised as science; the scientists offer an old doctrine of materialism, equally improperly disguised as science…. Each, in its increasingly intemperate pronouncements, is guilty of intellectual imperialism.” 9

Today, as Glenn Altschuler, Cornell’s Litwin Professor of American Studies, has noted, we continue to have scientific imperialists who believe that only science can be looked to for answers to all answerable questions and that those areas where science cannot provide answers are unimportant. And we have religious imperialists who assert that all questions are appropriately directed to faith-based sources for answers.

I want to suggest that universities like Cornell can make a valuable contribution to the nation’s cultural and intellectual discourse. With a breadth of expertise that embraces the humanities and the social sciences as well as science and technology, we need to be engaging issues like evolution and intelligent design both internally, in the classroom, in the residential houses, and in campus-wide debates, and also externally by making our voices heard in the spheres of public policy and politics.

[For the whole speech, go here.]

19 Replies to “Cornell State of the University Address — 90% devoted to ID

  1. 1
    Fer says:

    I liked the next statement:

    “we need to be engaging issues like evolution and intelligent design both internally, in the classroom, in the residential houses, and in campus-wide debates, and also externally by making our voices heard in the spheres of public policy and politics”

  2. 2
    neurode says:

    Maybe you should read a bit more. The thrust becomes clear with:

    “I.D. is a subjective concept. It is, at its core, a religious belief.”

    This is merely the pompous rambling of another academic prig with absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.

  3. 3
    ajl says:

    also, the following comment:

    “The answer is that intelligent design is not valid as science, that is, it has no ability to develop new knowledge through hypothesis testing, modification of the original theory based on experimental results, and renewed testing through more refined experiments that yield still more refinements and insights. ”

    or this one:

    Orr notes that in the 10 years since one of the I.D. movement’s chief theorists, biochemist Michael Behe (pronounced Bee-Hee), offered arguments about the irreducible complexity of cells as evidence for “intelligent design,” “I.D. has inspired no nontrivial experiments and has provided no surprising insights into biology.” And he adds, “As the years pass, intelligent design looks less and less like the science it claimed to be and more and more like an extended exercise in polemics….Biologists aren’t alarmed by intelligent design’s arrival in Dover [PA] and elsewhere because they have all sworn allegiance to atheistic materialism; they’re alarmed because intelligent design is junk science.”

    any thoughts?

  4. 4
    neurode says:

    Just that this ivory-tower housefly is omitting a crucial syllogism:

    1. Unfalsifiable hypotheses are junk science.

    2. Neo-Darwinism is as unfalsifiable as ID (at the current stage of theorization).

    3. Therefore, neo-Darwinism is also junk science.

    In other words, he fails to understand not only science, but simple logic as well. The fact that many other professional academics display similar incomprehension is a sad comment on academia in general. Clearly, these
    are not the kind of people to whom developing minds should be entrusted.

  5. 5
    neurode says:

    (I should, of course, add that much of what currently passes for “junk science” due to unfalsifiability is actually indispensable to sound scientific reasoning. The falsifiability criterion is shallowly formulated and deserves only an historical place in the modern philosophy of science.)

  6. 6
    dougmoran says:

    Mr Rawlings (the third) gets an “F-” for managing to author such a painfully mundane essay made up entirely of irrelevent quotations and unoriginal thoughts. But he does get an “A” for ensuring Cornell isn’t left silently out of the ID debate. Long live Cornell. Hooray.

  7. 7
    Benjii says:

    I’m sure Bill Provine is well pleased with this declaration.

  8. 8
    Ilib says:

    “This is above all a cultural issue, not a scientific one. The controversy is about the tensions between science and belief, reason and faith, public policy and private religiosity.”

    “If I give you a million dollars to set up a scientific research program, what sort of experiments would you pursue with the grant?” MP

    Mauy want to know more about where the ID theory is leading. Any Answers?

  9. 9
    Benjii says:

    Evolution is not falsifiable because no matter what, it will always be defended by it’s staunch believers, who continually try to come up with loopholes in order to save the desperate theory. For example, gradualism is dead, however, evolutionists now believe that it happens in huge spurts. Moreover, it doesn’t happen over a long time, instead, it occurs over 5-10 million years. If good ol’ charlie saw his theory in the 21st century, he might think that he was wrong all along. The origin of life is a failure as well, many evolutionists now believe that it no longer belongs as a part of evolutionary theory. The list goes on and on, irreducible complexity is another objection.

    In the end, if scientists want to save this wretched theory, they’re going to have to do a lot of work. A lot of work that might just produce disappointing results.

  10. 10
    ajl says:

    “Just that this ivory-tower housefly is omitting a crucial syllogism:

    1. Unfalsifiable hypotheses are junk science…..”

    Actually, to give Hunter credit, he didn’t use the unfalsifiable argument – perhaps he read Mike Behe’s excellent testimony in the Dover case using the example of 10,000 generations of germs in a flast.

    But, what he did question is the “modification of the original theory…” and “has provided no surprising insights into biology.”

    A friend just commented to me:

    “As far as I know, there has been no modification to the theory of that the chemical elements are fixed since the introduction of the periodic table, and by its nature, it could admit no modifications. Nevertheless, it is a very useful tool for predicting the types of reactions that will occur and for predicting that all attempts at turning lead into gold via alchemy are doomed to failure.”

    “it does make predictions that can be tested. These are
    that certain functions are irreducibly complex; i.e., that it will be
    impossible to develop a valid evolutionary narrative for how certain
    complex biological mechanisms came into existence via the accrual of small
    changes. ”

    “If it is true that the predictions have not been tested, perhaps this is more a function of prejudice against intelligent design on the part of the funding agencies. Hunter Rawlings’ speech will only serve to further that prejudice.”

  11. 11
    neurode says:

    Of course, when one talks about “testable predictions”, one is talking about “testing” their truth values, and this means verification or falsification (i.e., given certain unavoidable ambiguities associated with the interpretation of empirical data, confirmation and disconfirmation). Thus, the obsolete falsifiability criterion is ultimately what it all comes down to.

    However, in avoiding explicit mention of the falsifiability criterion, Rawlings is verging on an implicit generalization of “science” which includes ideas that might eventually lead to something amenable to empirical confirmation…that is, ideas useful in the cognitive processes of scientists. By denying that ID meets even this relaxed theoretical utility criterion, he is simply prevaricating.

    Rawlings may be aware of this, or he may not. But in either case, he shouldn’t be doing his prevaricating from a position of influence.

  12. 12
    jimbo says:

    ID says that certain features of the natural world cannot be assembled by chance processes. A detailed demonstration if such an assembly – even in a properly configured computer simulation (i.e., one that does not have the results cooked in from the beginning a la Dawkin’s “weasel”) – would be enough to falsify it. Neo Darwinism states that such things are possible, but that we cannot see them because they take too long. In order to positively disprove it, you would have to prove that it couldn’t happen: in other words, you’d have to prove a negative, which is not possible using inductive reasoning.

    Am I missing something? What’s the real unfalsifiable claim, here?

  13. 13
    neurode says:

    “ID says that certain features of the natural world cannot be assembled by chance processes.”

    Actually, that’s a bit of an oversimplification. ID says that certain features of the natural world cannot be assembled by chance processes within certain bounds, but nevertheless have nonzero probabilities of occurring by chance. Thus, while IDT subsequently employs the design inference to arrive at the existence of a hypothetical “ID mechanism”, it is essentially probabilistic rather than mechanistic in nature. No matter what, chance remains firmly lodged in the inferential guts of the theory, and by itself, the theory can never squeeze all of the aleatory wriggle-room out of its subject matter. (Then again, much the same is true of quantum mechanics.)

    So again, both claims – “certain features of the natural world cannot be assembled by chance processes” (ID) and “every feature of the natural world can be assembled by chance processes” (RM&NS) – are unfalsifiable. Each relies on its own probabilistic model, and there is no agreement on what this model should be.

  14. 14
    DaveScot says:

    What really has the NeoDarwinian apologist’s undies in a bunch is that science has confirmed that evolution via intelligent design is possible. It’s called genetic engineering and the fruits of it (literally) are as close as your nearest grocery store.

    It then follows that intelligent design must be considered a live possibility in the past evolution of life unless one can demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that no intelligence was involved. Since life at the molecular level has proven so incredibly complex and ochestrated that it almost defies description undirected evolution has a huge and growing obstacle in convincing anyone that this complexity and ochestration was a result of random interactions of matter. Absent any experimental confirmation that it did or ever could happen via undirected means any unbiased observer is going to presume the process was directed until proven otherwise.

  15. 15
    DaveScot says:

    So in order to save the exclusivity of the NeoDarwinian narrative its apologists must continue to insure that there are as few unbiased, educated observers as possible. To accomplish this they must have exclusivity for their theory in education beginning at the high school level and they cannot allow any criticism to creep in. NeoDarwinian theory must be taught dogmatically and uncritically to impressionable young minds by science authority figures. Critics must be branded as religious morons who aren’t worth arguing with lest they acquire a veneer of credibility – a tactic tested in Kansas recently which fell flat on its face.

    Evolution (the NeoDarwinian narrative at any rate) is indeed a theory in crisis. The only leg it has left to stand on is a tortured interpretation of the 2nd amendment establishment clause to keep it out of public education. That leg will be knocked out from under it as soon as it makes its way to the USSC. At that point it will be taught by any school district that wants to teach it and when the President of the United States recommends teaching it so people know what the controversy is about then one can rest assured it will be taught far and wide. Then the NeoDarwinian narrative of chance and necessity must stand on its own merits, merits that all objective observers know are quite lacking.

  16. 16
    ajl says:

    “I’m sure Bill Provine is well pleased with this declaration. ”

    Actually, Benji, I don’t think so. I don’t want to misquote Will, so I’ll try to include a few things he said. On the one hand, he is opposed to ID in schools, but on the other hand, he recognizes the shortcomings in the current models:

    “To me, the teaching of I.D. in the public school system is flatly illegal, and no I’m not particularly worried about it,” he said. A bigger problem, he said, was teaching outdated evolutionary theories that had not been updated in decades.”

    He later said:

    Provine also took issue with Rawlings’ implication that intelligent design does not have any place in a science classroom.

    “I don’t have to teach creationism,” he said, “but the students raise the issue, then we’ll discuss them. I’m 100 percent in favor of that, discussing that in a science class. It’s my class.”

    So, while Will is a staunch humanist, arguing that criminals should be let out of jail since they don’t have free will in their decisions, he does in fact allow students to discuss the issues. That is better than most.

    One issue that Provine raised that I don’t agree with was:

    “He said that, when Rawlings discussed the poll of Provine’s class, the president used only last year’s figures. Rather than being typical, Provine said that in prior years 70 percent of his students believed in a “purpose-driven,” rather than mechanistic, evolution — 20 points higher than the number Rawlings cited, suggesting that the number of students who believe in one form or another of intelligent design taking the course has recently dropped sharply.”

    While some of this might be attributed to a change in student thinking, I think it may more be reflected by students just not bothering to take the class since they feel their beliefs are just going to be insulted.

  17. 17
    anteater says:

    Maybe the president was alarmed at the growing activity of the IDEA club at the campus.

  18. 18
    ajl says:

    He probably doesn’t even know they exist. I think DougMoran had it right on the money:

    “But he does get an “A” for ensuring Cornell isn’t left silently out of the ID debate.”

  19. 19
    scordova says:

    The IDEA chapter at Cornell expresses it’s view:
    http://www.arn.org/blogs/index.....of_cornell

    Also of note, one faculty member, a tenured biologist, John Sanford, at Cornell testified at the Kansas hearings. It’s distressing that a University President is publicly taking a stand against the views of his own faculty members and students.

    http://www.nysaes.cornell.edu/.....y/sanford/

    Salvador

Leave a Reply