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Friday, August 5, 2005
The ID Brouhaha
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 10:13 pm

Megan McArdle says some reasonable things about the ID debate, including something that echoes my own feeling on the general evolution busines quite nicely:

one of the things that irks me is that most of the people I know who believe in evolution believe in it on the same basis that most creationists I know (yes, I do know some) believe that the world was created in six days: because their friends and family, and a couple of authority figures they respect, believe it is so. The contempt those self-identified illuminati display for those with a more traditional brand of religious belief is cruel self-parody.

Indeed.

Setting the debate about science and religion, epistemologically there really is little difference between your lay person who adheres to an evolutionist position and a lay person who adheres to a religious/ID version of origins.

I would also note that both sides tend to argue from the position that they hold “truth” in their very hands, and therefore don’t want to listen, at all, to the other side-which is a shame and is counter-productive.

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Pros and Cons » Intelligent Design witchhunt at the Smithsonian: linked with [...] Details here. So, Dr. Steven “Why Can’t We All be Friends” Taylor (here) and Graham “There’s really no controvery here” Whatever-your-last-name-is (a previous [...]
PoliBlog: Politics is the Master Science » More on ID, Evolution and Epistemology linked with [...] ate. Of course, I like it because it harmonized well with what I was trying to get across the other day-i.e., that at the root of the entire debate is how we know what we know and the fact that [...]

20 Comments »

  1. I don’t see how you and McCardle could be more wrong. Lay people may not understand all the intricacies of frontier evolutionary theory (I sure don’t), but they can see fossil records, comparative skeletal structures and basic taxonomy, not to mention the primates at the local zoo, and figure it out on their own. That is not faith in authority figures; that is faith in one’s own eyes and mind.

    Also, those who accept (not “those who believe”) evolution are, unlike ID types, not arguing from in-quotation-marks “truth” as you frame it, but from every single piece of empirical evidence ever found and from consistent use of deductive reasoning. The ID crowd has absolutely no comparable credentials.

    Comment by KipEsquire — Friday, August 5, 2005 @ 10:40 pm

  2. I wrote about this yesterday. Please include me in your list of “friends, yes I have some” who believe in a six day creation.

    Here’s what I wrote on the ID debate. Kip, I totally disagree that one side argues only from evidence and the other side from faith. I think both side have some evidence and some degree of faith to believe in what they believe.

    Personally, I think Darwinian evolution has become the Emperor’s clothes of the 20th-21st Century. You can’t question it’s obvious short-coming without being deemed a knucke-dragging, flat-earth society member. I think it will eventually be discredited by science.

    Anyway, until then, what the heck is wrong with the teacher saying, “this is the theory of evolution, here is the evidence, here is the counter-evidence. . . some people believe that certain evidence supports the theory of intelligent design, here is the evidence and here is the counterevidence. Let’s debate.�?

    What’s so wrong with that?

    P.S. A biochemist named Michael Behe makes a lot of sense to me. He challenges Darwinistic evolution on the basis of “irreducibly complex�? biological systems:

    By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly (that is, by continuously improving the initial function, which continues to work by the same mechanism) by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional. An irreducibly complex biological system, if there is such a thing, would be a powerful challenge to Darwinian evolution. (p. 39)

    One example I remember him explaining is that there have to be 21 (or some number like that) different biological factors present at the same time for blood to clot. Darwinistic evolution cannot explain how this developed in a step by step evolution of systems. Because until the 21 (or whatever) factors were present, the organism ALWAYS died–bled to death. Of course, he can better explain his arguments here.

    Comment by Bart Harmon — Saturday, August 6, 2005 @ 8:32 am

  3. Kip,

    My point, which is not about the creation v. evolution issue, is one simply of epistemology-how we know what we know. And the bottom line is that most people cling to their position out of belief-whether it is belief in Genesis or belief in evolution.

    I was not making any particular claim about who is right.

    I am something of a moderate, I suppose, on this topic. I do believe that God created the universe, but also will state that I don’t know how it happened or what tools he used. I don’t subscribe to the literal 6 day interpretation, and I don’t find that theologically problematic (if anything because “days” are specific units of time linked to the Earth and the Genesis account uses “day” as the metric before the earth and sun as fully formed-making “day” in terms of 24 hours quite problematic (and, I am sure, Bart will wish to pound me on that issue).

    Quite frankly, we simply don’t know exactly how the universe was formed. I have never seen that as a challenge to my religious beliefs. Christianity flows from the Cross and the resurrection, not from Genesis.

    A problem with ID is that it rally doesn’t explain what happens next as much as it explains the beginning. As such, I do understand why it, in and of itself, doesn’t really serve an alternative to evolutionary biology.

    I have never fuly understood, to be honest, why Christians get so in a knot on this subject.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Saturday, August 6, 2005 @ 10:41 am

  4. No pounding. I don’t advocate ex-communicating someone over believing in a God-directed creation or even God-directed evolution-even over millions of years. I just don’t think it’s good science or good theology. I also cannot say without question that I know “day” in Genesis 1 and 2 could ONLY mean a 24 hour period (although I think that it most likely means that and the better interpretation is that it means 24 hour period).

    I don’t know why other Christians get “into a knot” over creation but I can tell you why I think the debate is worthwhile:
    1. I think Darwinian evolution is bad science and I don’t like the “emperor’s clothes” approach to it: “We will not hear the other side’s arguments or evidence-it’s just too ignorant to be stomached.” It sounds like Scopes in reverse: “Don’t confuse us with a challenge to what we already believe, don’t confuse us with evidence.” Steven, direct question: What is wrong with letting biology classes debate the issue of evolution vrs. ID? If the evidence is so stacked against ID, then the ID’ers would be humilated and evolution shown to unquestioned. Wouldn’t it?

    2. I think that Christians gave up WAY too much ground after the Scopes fiasco (which, BTW, was nothing like the one-sided movie production protrayed it to be). I agree that the Bible is PRIMARILY a book of faith and that is how it should be PRIMARILY interpreted. But when it also mades side-points about history, science, health, military tactics I take those points seriously. Why? Because if there is a God (I believe there is) and He is truly God (by definiton and by Biblical declaration omnipotent and omniscient), then why would his word contain scientific and historical errors? Bottom line, I trust God (who was there and who has no agenda) much more than scientists (who were not and who often have a there-couldn’t-be-a-God preconception). Don’t forget, a hundred years ago these guys were treating disease with leaches.

    3. Darwinian evolution is such a lynchpin for the liberal agenda. If we are just animals, then we can’t expect people to make moral decisions. They are pre-programmed to steal, kill, make babies out of wedlock, etc. You can’t punish, fire, imprison them for merely being true to their DNA can you? When you abort a baby (in their thinking), clearly you are not destroying a being made in the image of God, just a lump of tissue. Surival of the fittest you know.

    Comment by Bart Harmon — Saturday, August 6, 2005 @ 12:17 pm

  5. I takes the point on Darwin. However, part of the problem is that there is substantial evidence to suggest that, at a minimum, microevolution takes place and has taken place.

    And yes, there are implications for a whole host of issues depending on one’s view of these matters. On the other hand, it is hardly determinative. I know of people who believe in Darwinian evolution who are also pro-life. For that matter, one can find people who believe in a literal six days and are pro-choice. I think that card (i.e., evolution = lots of bad stuff) is overplayed.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Saturday, August 6, 2005 @ 2:16 pm

  6. I will say this-I am of the opinion, which I think is easily confirmed empirically, that the selfishness of man is sufficient to explain abortion. If Darwin had never sailed the Beagle and had never written Origin of Species, I think we would still have the abortion problem we have now.

    It isn’t as if disrepect of human life (and the lives of children in particular) is a new thing. Just go back to the Moloch worshipers in the Old Testament.

    Indeed, a lengthy list of example could be readily compiled.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Saturday, August 6, 2005 @ 2:22 pm

  7. One last thing. It has been my experience that the faith community has been altogether too ready to dismiss science in a way that I deem to be unproductive.

    I have had a great deal of education in my life, yet I know that I am not in a position to adequately evaluate some of these issues on my own-however I have seen people write books and make authoritative statements who know less about it than I do. I find that reckless, irresponsible and ultimately of potential damage to cause of Christ. If a pastor, an evangelist or simply a witness for Chirst looks foolish on an area that ultimately isn’t even the core issue, then why will they be believed on the Gospel?

    In other words: they should stick to what they know.

    There is a reason, for example, that I don’t give commentary on automobile repair or mathematics here at PoliBlog.

    As such, theologians really aren’t in a position to comment on biology.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Saturday, August 6, 2005 @ 2:28 pm

  8. I find that reckless, irresponsible and ultimately of potential damage to cause of Christ. If a pastor, an evangelist or simply a witness for Chirst looks foolish on an area that ultimately isn’t even the core issue, then why will they be believed on the Gospel?

    Unfortunately, there’s a lot more of this going on than either you or I are prepared to believe. The problem is that every speaker appears as an “expert” compared to someone who has a high school education. Maybe the evangelist has read behe’s book, or one of the Creation Science Institute books, and he has a master of divinity degree, which makes him an expert in the eyes of some.

    Comment by Bryan S. — Saturday, August 6, 2005 @ 3:28 pm

  9. I have no problem with microevolution (species of dogs raised in cold climates over time will develop thicker coats). It’s the links between fish and mammal that seem the weakest and most lacking in evidnence.

    I agree, to some extent, with what you said about sticking to what you know. But, of course, well-read people (like you and what I aspire to be) are capable of reasoning through issues in many fields and shouldn’t be excluded from the debate because they are not “experts.” And, BTW, I think the source I cited in my first post was a biochemist.

    Of course you are right ON THE MARGINS that abortion, etc. would be present anyway and that some Darwinians are pro-life. But, that does not mean we should not challenge wrong conclusions (if Darwin had them) and wrong applications (which we certainly have often with Darwinian applications, i.e., survival of the fittest and “the final solution”-am I right, did Hitler look to Darwin for support?).

    And, Steven, you still haven’t answered my question: “Anyway, what the heck is wrong with the teacher saying, “this is the theory of evolution, here is the evidence, here is the counter-evidence. . . some people believe that certain evidence supports the theory of intelligent design, here is the evidence and here is the counterevidence. Let’s debate.”

    I that Scopes was all about academic freedom and against “this is the party-line, dissent will not be tolerated.” Who is being the “know-nothing” today-I think it’s the Darwinists.

    Comment by Bart Harmon — Saturday, August 6, 2005 @ 3:30 pm

  10. Bart,

    Wasn’t trying to dodge. I have no problem with the teacher discussung multiple theories. However, it is unclear to me, becyond the issue of first causes, I am not certain what one does with ID in the classroom.

    Aside from positing that a complex system could not have come from nothing, which is fair assumption in my mind, then I am not sure what the fight is really over.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Saturday, August 6, 2005 @ 7:38 pm

  11. The fight is over academic freedom. Is a particular teacher in a public school allowed to discuss alternative theories-their strengths and weaknesses-or must he always toe the party line: “Of course, everyone who is modern and intelligent sees the emperor’s clothes. End of discussion.”

    I would propose that evolution be thoroughly taught and understood and tested. However, I would say that numerous so-called proofs of transitional links (i.e., “Piltdown Man” if I recall correctly) were proven to be hoaxes. I would hope the teacher could say that fossil record is remarkably thin in terms of transitional links BETWEEN species (as opposed to intra-species, which is microevolution, which as I said earlier, I have no problem with).

    I would spend some time (not inordinate) in making sure the students knew what creationists believed as well as ID’ers. I would discuss the evidence that supports creationism and ID as well as what evidence would be used to refute those theories. I would probably assign students to various sides of the question (not necessarily their favorite side) and make them debate it in class.

    I think what you are implying is that there is a lot of evidence for evolution and none for ID-just, “Hey, it looks like this was planned.” I disagree. Evolutionary theory is pretty simple-given enough time, chance will try every conceivable adaptation and eventually get it right and produce a superior species (or subspecies). The rest is just going through the fossil and/or biological record and looking for proof of that. How is that, in nature, different from explaining that ID theory says that the biological record contains a lot of evidence that there is design or purpose in the development of species. The rest is looking at evidence to see if it supports this theory. How is that unscientific bible-thumping?

    This, to me, is what academic inquiry is all about. At one time such inquiry was limited to exclude any discussion of evolution because was labeled “dangerous.” Now discussion of alternatives to evolution is limited because they too are now deemed “dangerous.”

    Whatever happened to debate?

    Comment by Bart Harmon — Saturday, August 6, 2005 @ 9:55 pm

  12. Bart,

    I have no problem with debate, or with academic freedom. Understand: my point in the original post was about epistemology, not about cosmology (or even theology).

    Fundamentally, you and I have no disagreement. I simply remain unsure as to really how the curriculum would change beyond simply stating that the system could have it origins by the hands of maker. And really, that seems to me to go to basic cosmology, rather than biology itself. In other words, even if every science teacher in the country today agreed to include the basics of ID of in their lesson plans, I am not sure what would change beyond an acceptance of the idea that their might be an intelligence behind creation.

    I do confess as to wondering, really, whether there is as much to fight about here as some make it out to be, however. It isn’t as if High School students are getting whole semesters on evolution. Thinking back to my own HS biology class, I don’t even recall anything specific about origins or the development of species. There was likely some small section in the text book on it and that was it. My guess is that it is hardly unusual for a teacher to mention the possibility of creation or for a student to raise it.

    In terms of studying biology proper, I still am not sure how an ID perspective alters the basic science beyond a discussion of why as opposed to how things developed. Now, a discussion of the shortcomings of evolutionary theory and the various problems with the evidence ought to be entered into, to be sure.

    As I have noted, I am not especially passionate about this topic on either end. It does seem to me that the whole point of ID is to get a Theistic view of the universe into the classroom, more than it is about scientific theory, per se. Given that I accept such a view, I can’t argue-but it does remain unclear to me as to what ID then does for science education itself.

    Indeed, you ask where debate has gone-depending on the class, I don’t recall there being much time or opportunity for debate on a wide range of subjects in HS. That has more to do with general pedagogy, I should think, rather than a question of academic freedom.

    And, it occurs to me, public school teachers don’t actually have full academic freedom, as the curriculum is set by entities outside of the classroom. It is a different debate in that context than it would be at the university level.

    I will take the debate issue a step further-as an educator, I have found that it takes a certain amount of education and knowledge before debate can actually take place. As such, most high school students aren’t equipped for debate. For example, I have taught intro to American Government as several different institutions for something like 12 years now. One would think that would be a class ripe for debate. However, usually there is very little. Why? because most of the students don’t know enough about US government and politics to debate the topics at hand. The only time I get interesting discussions is when I teach the Honors version of the course and have really bright, motivated students.

    In short: you aren’t going to get the vigorous debate you are craving in our high schools regardless of what the curriculum is in most classes. You will get interesting discussion when you have a sufficient number of very bright students, but you will get that debate regardless of what the curriculum is. (i.e., even if you leave ID out of the texts, if you have a bright Christian student, the topic will almost certainly be raised).

    Again: I am not arguing for or against a specific curriculum. Indeed, my initial point was simply that most evolution-minded individuals tend to look at the concept with “faith” in much the same way Christians view Genesis-as received knowledge.

    Although ultimately I think that the debate isn’t about science as much as it is about theism v. atheism. One group wants at least generic acknowledgement of God in the schools and the other doesn’t.

    And really, you have no specific fight with me-many of your questions ought be directed elsewhere. The onyl place we really differ, I suppose, is the degree to which we view the overall situation as a serious problem.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Sunday, August 7, 2005 @ 7:37 am

  13. I agree with a lot of what you said in this lat post, but it is a very poor reflection on the state of public education system. If, by high school, the students don’t already have a grasp on the facts and aren’t thinking and reasoning on a higher level-able to debate complex thoughta and abstract ideas-then we are in trouble. Oh yea, that’s why we left the public school system (and I want to help others leave it, too.) (And, yes, I know there some GREAT public schools and public schools teachers. Please no cards and letters.) Our classical school is modeled on the Latin trivium: grammar (the basic facts), logic (understanding the principles) and rhetoric (the ability to articulate and debate abstract ideas). I forget how blessed we are (even though it kills us to pay for four tuitions each month.) I assume you share my lament about the state of public school education (if you are at liberty to say so). Please don’t tell me the answer is just a lot more tax support.

    P.S. I do think the framework for scientific inquiry can actually be ENCHANCED by a ID perspective. Guys like Newton certainly did say, “Well, who cares why objects fall to the earth, God knows-good enough for me.” Instead, he thought that scientfic discovery was a process which revealed God’s complexity-the uniqueness and beauty of his design-and it brought Him Glory. Juxtapose this with what some Darwinists might conclude: “Heck, there’s not much to discover, it’s all random anyway, no rhyme or reason to it. Might as well just go out and follow my animalistic instincts.” (I know this is unfair, I’m just on a roll.)

    I do think there is a way you look at the sanctity of life in a Darwinstic world as opposed to a Theistic world. If it is true that the fittest survive, that means might makes right, why not develop and use weapons of mass destruction. When you see all life as “fearfuly and wonderfully made” I would hope a conscience comes into the equation.

    I’ll leave you with the last word. Enjoyed this tremendously Steven. We’ll have to have coffee sometime. I feel like I know you.

    Comment by Bart Harmon — Sunday, August 7, 2005 @ 1:57 pm

  14. Correction: left out “not” in the first sentence of my p.s. (That tends to somewhat occlude one’s meaning.) It should read: “Guys like Newton certainly DIDN’T say, “Well, who cares why objects fall to the earth, God knows–good enough for me.�?

    Comment by Bart Harmon — Sunday, August 7, 2005 @ 2:01 pm

  15. I am afraid that a lot of the problem is in the students themselves, and a variety of other issues. It is exremely impolitic to say, but not all students are similarily capable and/or prepared. The biggest variable that affects a classroom is the students. But again, that is a discussion for a differant day.

    And despite a lifetime of extreme conservatism on the matter of taxes, living in Alabama for 8 years-and especially in Montgomery, does convince me that it is possible for taxes to be too low (and yes, I know you asked me not to say that).

    And yes, we do need to meet and chat.

    And I, too, enjoy the interchange.

    Cheers.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Sunday, August 7, 2005 @ 2:30 pm

  16. O.k. I lied, have you seen this? Headline: One of World’s Leading Atheists Now Believes in God, More or Less, Based on Scientific Evidence
    http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory?id=315976.

    Bart

    Comment by Bart Harmon — Monday, August 8, 2005 @ 10:18 am

  17. Yup. Blogged on it, in fact: http://www.poliblogger.com/?p=5573 ;)

    We are not in fundamental disgree on the basics. Indeed, as noted, I didn’t start this thread to deabte ID per se. I do have concerns that many in the Christian community get overly caught up in these fights, which I sometimes think are more a distraction from, rather than a furtherance of, the gospel.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Monday, August 8, 2005 @ 10:28 am

  18. […] ate. Of course, I like it because it harmonized well with what I was trying to get across the other day-i.e., that at the root of the entire debate is how we know what we know and the fact that […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog: Politics is the Master Science » More on ID, Evolution and Epistemology — Friday, August 12, 2005 @ 9:26 am

  19. […] Details here. So, Dr. Steven “Why Can’t We All be Friends” Taylor (here) and Graham “There’s really no controvery here” Whatever-your-last-name-is (a previous […]

    Pingback by Pros and Cons » Intelligent Design witchhunt at the Smithsonian: — Friday, August 19, 2005 @ 9:42 am

  20. ID should not be taught in schools. It is a parent’s responsibility to force their beliefs on their poor kids, not the school system’s.

    Comment by mtg — Wednesday, November 9, 2005 @ 10:58 am

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