Evolution Intelligent Design

The Sky Is Falling

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Evolution: Debate it
By John Angus Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer

http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2005-08-14-evolution-debate_x.htm

Posted 8/14/2005 8:48 PM Updated 8/14/2005 9:17 PM

The sky is falling.

Or so you might think if you have been reading reports about the Kansas State Board of Education’s proposed policy on teaching evolution. Though many have portrayed the hearings that led to the Kansas policy as a re-run of the Scopes trial, the reality is much different. Rather than prohibiting teachers from teaching about evolution (as Tennessee law did for John Scopes in 1925), Kansas is poised to adopt a policy that would enable students to learn more about the topic. (Related:Just teach it)

Specifically, the Kansas policy would require students to learn not only the full scientific case for contemporary evolutionary theory, called “neo-Darwinism,” but also the current criticisms of the theory as they appear in scientific literature. The Kansas policy would not require, or prohibit, discussing the theory of “intelligent design,” which has been so much in the news since President Bush spoke about it earlier this month.

Though Zogby polls show that 71% of the public favors a policy like the Kansas one, defenders of teaching only the case for Darwinian orthodoxy regard it with suspicion. For them, the Kansas policy illustrates the folly of determining the science curriculum within the democratic process.

Moving forward

The two of us disagree about the status of Darwin’s theory. Even so, we think there is a way to teach evolution that advances science education, fosters civil discourse and also respects public opinion. We encourage teachers to present the case for Darwin’s theory of evolution as Darwin himself did: as a credible, but contestable, argument. Rather than teaching evolution as an incontrovertible “truth,” teachers should present the arguments for modern neo-Darwinism and encourage students to evaluate these arguments critically. In short, students should learn the scientific arguments for, and against, contemporary evolutionary theory.

There are good reasons for teaching science, and Darwinian evolution, this way. Teaching scientific controversies and arguments helps students understand the nature of science. Contrary to the “men in white coats” stereotype, with scientists as data-collecting automatons, scientists argue about how best to interpret evidence. Students who learn the arguments for and against a theory are learning how science works. Teaching current scientific arguments about a theory also gives students an understanding of the status of a theory. And, in the case of neo-Darwinism, there are significant scientific criticisms of the theory students should know about.

Some scientists think the fossil record challenges the Darwinian idea that all organisms share a common ancestor. Events such as the “Cambrian explosion” show that new forms of life appear suddenly in the fossil record without evidence of connection to earlier forms — contradicting Darwin’s picture of the history of life as a fully-connected branching tree. (Related: Curriculum battles across the USA)

Many scientists also doubt the ability of Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection to produce the major innovations — the new organs and body plans — that arise during life’s history.

Recently, 400 Ph.D.-level scientists, including a distinguished embryologist and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, signed a statement questioning the creative power of the natural selection/mutation mechanism.

In May, 15 such doubting scientists from universities such as Cornell, Wisconsin, Georgia and Italy’s Perugia came to encourage the Kansas board to let students learn about the evidence challenging (as well as supporting) evolutionary theory.

Some scientists also doubt the Darwinian idea that living things merely “appear” designed. Instead, they think living systems display indicators of actual or “intelligent” design. Prominent scientists such as biochemist Michael Behe and biophysicist Dean Kenyon have cited intriguing evidence to support this theory, such as the presence of digital code, complex circuits and miniature motors in living cells.

Additionally, mathematician William Dembski has developed a statistical method for identifying tell-tale signs of intelligence. Dembski’s method of design detection confirms our common sense intuition that digital information — including that found encoded within the DNA inside the cell — points to an intelligent source.

Because intelligent design is a new theory, we, like Kansas’ board, don’t think students should be required to learn it. But we do think teachers should be free to discuss such alternatives if they are based upon scientific evidence, not scriptural texts.

So what should the public do when competent experts disagree about whether evidence supports a theory, as they do in the case of Darwinian evolution? Our answer: Teach the competing arguments.

‘One long argument’

To his great credit, Darwin addressed every competing argument he could in The Origin of Species. When evolution is taught as Darwin presented it — as “one long argument” resting on a large and diverse body of facts, but nevertheless as an argument from which thoughtful people (and scientists) can dissent — fewer parents will object to their children learning about it.

As John Scopes said, “If you limit a teacher to only one side of anything, the whole country will eventually have only one thought. … I believe in teaching every aspect of every problem or theory.”

John Angus Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer are the editors of the book Darwinism, Design and Public Education. Campbell is an expert on the rhetorical structure of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Meyer, who supports intelligent design, received his Ph.D. in the philosophy of science from Cambridge University. He directs Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and testified in the Kansas hearings.

16 Replies to “The Sky Is Falling

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    Yes!

    My initial thought on reading this was, “Maybe so–and the increasing exposure of ID is bound to lead to somebody getting it right, finally–but I’d sure love to see more evidence it’s really happening.” But then I saw this. . .

  3. 3
    blockheadster says:

    And according to other Russian Scientists:

    http://www.possibilitiesdna.com/talks.html

    Maybe we should teach the controversy on this too !

    Anyway, forgive me for the sarcasm, but I don’t understand the argument “Some scientists say…”, therefore, we should teach that.

    Scientists say a lot of things, often times at bars on Friday. Just because a handful of them think something doesn’t justify it being taught, does it ? It seems really postmodern and relativistic to also assert that teaching about science should be influenced by public opinion. Since when does public opinion decide what is true or not ? Am I being an elitist by insisting that truth is reached not by debate, but rather by careful analysis ? As a layperson, does my opinion on
    how the sun is fueled (seems like a fire to me) have any bearing on what is actually going on inside the sun ?

  4. 4
    Mats says:

    “Scientists say a lot of things, often times at bars on Friday. Just because a handful of them think something doesn’t justify it being taught, does it ?”

    No one said it did. But when a theory is preached from the university pulpits and media offices as the absolute truth when the evidence just doesn’t add up, surelly people are allowed to say “Let’s talk about it”.

    “Am I being an elitist by insisting that truth is reached not by debate, but rather by careful analysis ?”

    And it is “careful analysis” that people want.

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    TomG says:

    Blockheadster,

    Just about everything else that’s taught, in the humanities, for example, allows presentation of conflicting views. I’ve been out of school too long to say for sure, but I’m willing to bet there are contrary views taught in many area of the “sciences” — especially in the crossover disciplines, like economics. This is what’s being proposed. I hope it’s clear here that few ID advocates say it’s time now actually to teach ID in the public schools. What’s on the table is the ability to discuss empirical findings that evolution has difficulty explaining. To refuse this option is to take an incredibly dogmatic position. As someone has said, we’re asking to teach more about evolution, not less.

    Oh, and one more thing: the hundreds of scientists who advocate ID are not what you call “Russian Scientists.” They’re the real thing.

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    blockheadster says:

    Mats and and TomG,

    Well, I do appreciate your view (since I am a big fan of Thomas Kuhn), that we can’t be sure that evolution is the absolute truth. But we also can’t be sure, with supreme confidence, that we even exist in the first place. Everything we know is not known absolutely, aside from things that we define axiomatically as true (like, there are four seasons, 24 hours in a day etc.)

    However, as far as evolution is concerned, it is about as absolute as everything else we know so it’s our best estimate for “The Absolute Truth”. But I guess that is where we disagree.

    I just don’t understand the argument that “since there is debate” or “since there is an open possibility”, then it should be taught. There is a possibility that the Loch ness monster exists. There is a possibility that the earth is covered with small invisible massless lizards. There are some crazies who argue that the Holocaust didn’t happen. I suppose there is some non-zero probability that all those things are true. But we don’t teach those things. I don’t think that is dogmatic. I think it’s pragmatic. Should we fill up the semester with “Well, this might be true, but we don’t have data to support it. And this might be true, but we don’t have data to support this either. And also consider this…” Where does one draw the line ? Seems to me that we should teach what we have evidence for. But I just don’t see the DATA supporting ID. I just see that it is really hard for the human brain to get around the idea of billion year time scales. Anyway, I guess we just disagree.

    All the best.

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    blockheadster says:

    Correction:

    TomG, since you are not advocating teaching ID in schools, that seems cool. But the editorial above suggests to teach “the scientific arguments for, and against, contemporary evolutionary theory”. No, I suppose that doesn’t specifically say that ID is taught. But, I am not sure of another alternative to contemporary evolutionary theory other than ID, so the above editorial does seem to be arguing for teaching ID implicitly.

    Isn’t the “evidence against evolution” equivalent to the core ID argument ? If they are not equivalent, please correct me.

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    DaveScot says:

    “Since when does public opinion decide what is true or not ?”

    It’s not about what is true and what isn’t. Besides that, there is no “truth” in science, there are only varying degrees of doubt and confidence. In the case of 9th grade biology in public schools it’s about who gets to decide what is taught. I believe that when the public is paying for something they are the ones that get to decide how the money is spent. If a majority wishes to defer the decision to an advisory body like the NAS that’s their right but if they choose to make their own decision or use a different advisory group that’s their right too.

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    blockheadster says:

    Well, since we live in a Democracy, parents do have the ultimate power over what we teach in schools. Excluding any argument about how teaching ID may or may not violate the First Amendment, that doesn’t mean teaching ID is a good idea. But then again, democracy isn’t about what is good for society. It’s about what most people favor. Just look at the recent pork fest Energy Bill !

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    jasonng says:

    “However, as far as evolution is concerned, it is about as absolute as everything else we know so it’s our best estimate for “The Absolute Truth”. But I guess that is where we disagree.”

    So what do you think of the many challenges to Darwinian evolution that ID theorists have raised? Are you saying that in spite of Darwinism’s incapability at explaining something as simple as how the Cambrian Explosion happened or how the bacterial flagellum was assembled by material mechanisms, “evolution” is about as sure as our own existance?

    It would be silly to debate whether evolution in the broadest sense of the word has occured in biology. But the debate over whether material mechanisms were responsible for all the biological complexity we see today is very real and can’t be ignored.

    “I just don’t understand the argument that “since there is debate” or “since there is an open possibility”, then it should be taught. There is a possibility that the Loch ness monster exists. There is a possibility that the earth is covered with small invisible massless lizards. There are some crazies who argue that the Holocaust didn’t happen. I suppose there is some non-zero probability that all those things are true. But we don’t teach those things. I don’t think that is dogmatic. I think it’s pragmatic. Should we fill up the semester with “Well, this might be true, but we don’t have data to support it. And this might be true, but we don’t have data to support this either. And also consider this…” Where does one draw the line ?”

    The existance of the Loch Ness monster, invisible lizards and the non-existance of the Holocaust are not taught because arguments in favour of them are not scientific (or based on credible evidence) in any sense.

    “Seems to me that we should teach what we have evidence for. But I just don’t see the DATA supporting ID. I just see that it is really hard for the human brain to get around the idea of billion year time scales.”

    First of all what do “billion year time scales” have to do with anything? The age of the earth is not the issue here. I agree with teaching “what we have evidence for” because ID has shown Darwinian evolution’s incapability to explain biological complexity. ID has also come up with criteria for detecting design in biology, making it an alternative to naturalism. ID is not “god of the gaps”, it’s an alternative theory of origins that actually looks at the evidence instead of ruling out design a priori as many Darwinists have done.

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    blockheadster says:

    Well, so far I still don’t see the DATA supporting how ID has “shown Darwinian evolution’s incapability to explain biological complexity” and don’t understand the logic of design detection – it seems incorrect. Right now I am trying to get around the whole idea of a “target in probability space”. It seems mistaken. I guess I’ll read one of the books.

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    jasonng says:

    Yes, you really should. Darwin himself said this: “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous successive slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” You like to stress the word “data” a lot, but ironically Darwinists are the ones who can’t explain the origin of specified complexity. They’re hoping that future discoveries will vindicate their assumptions that the bacterial flagellum, ribosome, cilia and other irreducibly complex structures in biology were created solely by natural processes.

    The criteria for detecting design is applicable in other disciplines (such as archaeology), and asks the question everyone wants to know, whether something was designed or not; this is following the data. Darwinists on the other hand, without any justification, declare immediately that all aspects of biology were not designed, despite have no data to back up their claims.

    Blockheadster, are you following the data or did you rule out design a priori like so many have conveniently done?

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    blockheadster says:

    OH ! Why does this debate suck me in so ! This has been one of the most substantial procrastination devices I have ever experienced – even more than DailyKos.

    OK, aside from that, now to your question jasonng.

    Darwin showed a certain humility that, perhaps some of us Evolutionary Biologists could use. And I certainly haven’t ruled out design as ever possibly being true. However, as Darwin stated (in a manner remarkably applicable to the current debate), his theory would break down if “…any complex organ existed which could not POSSIBLY have been formed by numerous sucessive slight modifications…”.

    ID hasn’t shown that. Hands down, no way. But if it did, I grant you, that would be truly ground breaking and certainly worthy of a Nobel Prize.

    Until then, Occam’s razor plus the Origin of Species is enough for me. But I will take a look at No Free Lunch.

    But, I don’t think that evolutionary biologists declare that they can prove that all aspects of biology were not designed. It’s just that to claim they were designed calls for an additional parameter that there is no evidence for. We go with the simplest model. That’s the way science works !

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    norm says:

    “We go with the simplest model. That’s the way science works!” I’m more inclined to think science [ideally] goes with the simplest model that (a) fits the data, (b) isn’t fraught with obvious incoherences, and (c) is falsifiable.

    Surely it’s critical here to distinguish between two proposals: First, teach evolution but also point out respects in which it doesn’t fit the data particularly well (Cambrian explosion, irreducible complexity, etc.) and respects in which it is incoherent or unfalsifiable (see Johnson’s Darwin on Trial for instances). Second, teach that some thinkers regard information and design as playing a demonstrable role in biological systems, cosmological fine-tuning, etc.

    I don’t know why anyone would call the first “teaching ID.” Seems a misnomer in that case (though not the other), not least because design has nothing to do with it, and also because quite a few doubters of evolution are not part of the “ID” movement (e.g. Denton). But opponents of the first proposal seem to like to argue against it by labeling it “teaching ID” and then complaining that the evidence for design is inadequate to justify its inclusion in curricula. Seems like a classic red herring fallacy to me.

    Some of the teach-evolution-only crowd try to get around the red herring problem (as blockheadster seems to do here at one point) by saying that teaching problems with evolution is tantamount to teaching this or that currently talked-about alternative to evolution, and thus unacceptable if this or that alternative isn’t ready for prime time, but that strikes me as an odd view. Would it have been wrong for a physics teacher in the late 1800s to mention the black-body radiation problem, or difficulties accounting for the photoelectric effect, just because an alternative to classical physics wasn’t ready to hand? Surely if people are taught about difficulties with the current dominant theory, one result may be that some of them will eventually improve upon it.

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    norm says:

    “However, as far as evolution is concerned, it is about as absolute as everything else we know so it’s our best estimate for “The Absolute Truth”. But I guess that is where we disagree.” Indeed. I wonder, blockheadster, if you would comment on another interesting question that has been raised by someone associated with the ID movement (though, again, it has nothing to do with design): If the evidence for evolution is so strong, why do its proponents persist in presenting evidence for their view that has been thoroughly debunked? I’m thinking here of peppered moths, Haenkel’s drawings, that sort of thing. As Jonathan Wells has documented, these icons (as he calls them) have stuck around in textbooks for many years after they had been discredited (by evolutionists), and after the textbook authors and publishers knew that they had been discredited.

    If I were updating a biology textbook that I had written, I would be inclined to excise arguments for my view that had been discredited, and replace them with other arguments that hadn’t been–especially if the latter kind of argument was abundant. But biology-text writers and publishers seem reluctant to do that. Why is that?

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    jasonng says:

    “Darwin showed a certain humility that, perhaps some of us Evolutionary Biologists could use. And I certainly haven’t ruled out design as ever possibly being true.”

    Just like how you haven’t ruled out the invisible lizards’ existance either?

    However, as Darwin stated (in a manner remarkably applicable to the current debate), his theory would break down if “…any complex organ existed which could not POSSIBLY have been formed by numerous sucessive slight modifications…”.

    ID hasn’t shown that. Hands down, no way. But if it did, I grant you, that would be truly ground breaking and certainly worthy of a Nobel Prize.”

    Your assertion certainly is bold when you say that ID hasn’t even come close to showing that Darwin has been challenged through his own criteria. Do you know something that the rest of the world doesn’t know? Can you explain step by step how the bacterial flagellum came into existance? I’m assuming you can because you seem to be suggesting that you know.

    “Until then, Occam’s razor plus the Origin of Species is enough for me. But I will take a look at No Free Lunch.”

    As for me, seeing the failure of natural processes to explain even things as simple as the Cambrian Explosion (the fossil record is supposedly strong evidence for Darwinism) and the recent shift of evidence against naturalism towards design, Origin of the Species is most certainly not enough for me.

    By the way, did you know that Darwin advocated Lamarckian “use and disuse” in Origin of the Species as a central part of his theory?

    “But, I don’t think that evolutionary biologists declare that they can prove that all aspects of biology were not designed. It’s just that to claim they were designed calls for an additional parameter that there is no evidence for. We go with the simplest model. That’s the way science works !”

    Science goes with the simplest model that can actually answer the question. Evolutionary biologists do in fact make grand statements about how design has no place in science and is therefore of no logical use. ID’s criteria for detecting design provides exactly the evidence we need. Rather than seeing it as an “additional parameter”, I see design as an alternative to natural processes.

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