Unintelligently Attacking Intelligent Design
25 October 2006
This is the edited text of a letter to a University magazine in Australia responding to a 2006 essay—by a non-scientist—attacking ‘Intelligent Design’. We felt it was such an excellent summary of these topical issues that we wanted to share it with CMI’s supporters worldwide. Naturally the editors rejected any challenge to their materialistic religion (cf. More nonsense from Professor Plimer). For readers new to the concepts, we suggest first studying:
- CMI’s views on the Intelligent Design Movement to find out what it is, and its strengths and weaknesses
- A brief history of design for its long and venerable history, its power but insufficiency
- Is the design explanation legitimate?
This essay is chock full of loaded words, contains multiple fallacies, and fails to address the core philosophical and scientific questions underpinning the ID/Creationism vs Evolution/Naturalism debate. What a shame, since its author is supposedly qualified to do just that.
Intelligent Design is described as a ‘doctrine’, ‘pushed by Christian fundamentalists’, ‘creationism dressed up in scientific rhetoric and reasoning’, with ‘so-called research’ funded by creationists, ‘it is pseudoscience or junk science’. Nice work at poisoning the waters. Remember the Schopenhauer path: ‘All truth passes through three stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.’
Let’s address some ‘statements of fact’ in this essay.
1. Christian fundamentalists had begun to push for the doctrine of intelligent design to be included in the school science curriculum as an alternative to evolutionary theory.
This is a sweeping statement; so let’s right the record and note that this has not been the thrust of Christian/ID argument at all (though one can’t speak for all Christians). Ironically, what they have been advocating is to ‘teach the controversy’ within evolutionary theory – that is, to teach evolution more thoroughly – warts and all. Let’s hear how evolution addresses the complexity of DNA and molecular machines, the Cambrian explosion, the origin of life, the paucity of transitional forms in the fossil record (‘the trade secret of paleontology’ according to the late Marxist evolutionist S.J. Gould), the contradictory statements, arguments and falsification of the other guys’ ideas in different evolutionary camps (neo-Darwinism vs Punctuated Equilibrium, etc). That is the thrust of the public education argument of those embroiled in the ID/creation controversy.
For example, the Discovery Institute is probably the best known proponent of ID.
In a letter to Rep. Jess M. Stairs, Chair of Pennsylvania’s House
Education Committee, Discovery Institute officials stated that they ‘strongly
oppose any effort by the government to mandate the teaching of intelligent design.’
Instead, they urged the legislature to follow the example of states such as Ohio and Minnesota and encourage schools to teach students about scientific criticisms of Darwin’s theory as well as the evidence favoring the theory. They also said legislators should protect the academic freedom of teachers and students to study all of the scientific evidence relating to Darwin’s theory.
One of the better-known organizations supporting biblical creation is Creation Ministries International (CMI). On its website it states: ‘CMI is not a lobby group, and it opposes legislation for compulsion of creation teaching. But there is nothing wrong with giving legal protection to teachers who want to present scientific arguments against the sacred cow of evolution.’
One of CMI’s scientists, Dr Jonathan Sarfati, in a response to a similar accusation that they want to censor evolution, replied:
‘In fact, we would like to see students taught more about evolution than the evolutionists want them to know. Conversely, many evolutionists don’t want students to learn the problems with evolution in case they end up disbelieving it, as Eugenie Scott admitted.’
Indeed, creationists in general want students to have a better appreciation of the philosophy of science, for example:
‘…before swallowing a simplistic statement in a popular-level book or TV program about how we ‘know’ something about prehistory, remember that even the best estimates are subject to drastic revision by subsequent findings. Even if scientists could garner accurate measurements of every ‘known’ parameter in the present, they cannot, in principle, know the unknowns.’ (Creation/Evolution Headlines, 19 Jan 2006 entry)
The writer of your article would probably concur with this. So why not research the attitudes of well-known organizations that oppose evolution, and be honest and fair in the assessment of them?
2. Usually random mutations are bad, even lethal for organisms; more rarely, a random mutation to the genome can result in a trivial positive change to an organism’s functioning and hence its survival.
Let’s be clear about this – with one possible and disputable exception (see CMI’s article, The adaptation of bacteria to feeding on nylon waste), there has never been documented, in the history of science, even one mutation that has added new functional information to the genome. Your writer’s statement is playing with words at best. Some mutations have resulted in a positive change only in the sense that a loss of functionality has actually helped the organism – e.g. beetles born without wings on a windswept island, or cave-dwelling fish born blind. This is not documented evidence of evolution, it is the opposite: devolution.
‘All point mutations studied on a molecular level turn out to reduce the genetic information and not increase it.’ Dr Lee Spetner, Not by Chance (1997).
3. If you imagine this process repeated incrementally over billions of years …
Indeed—imagination is required, because there is no observed biological evidence for it. And your writer claims ID is ‘pseudoscience’! The only extrapolation that can legitimately be made is to ponder the effect of this ‘genetic load’ upon life on earth since its inception. [Ed: For a quantitative explanation on the limits of how much mutation/selection can achieve under realistic biological conditions, see Weasel, a flexible program for investigating deterministic computer ‘demonstrations’ of evolution.]
4. They (ID) rely on a series of examples, such as the human eye…
This makes it sound like only a few examples of biological complexity are at stake. No, virtually all biology is held up as too complex for evolution to have taken place, starting with single-cell organisms. Evolutionists are yet to show how even a ‘simple’ self-reproducing organism could arise from lifeless molecules (see Origin of Life Q&A), let alone an eye (see Could the eye have evolved?). And then they need to explain how common organs such as eyes emerged independently of each other in multiple organisms (so-called convergent or parallel evolution). The idea that such life and function did emerge by accident is believed by faith, and not observed (or observable) evidence. Anything that cannot be observed is not true science… it is philosophy. And of course this applies to ID as well. Let’s be clear that both camps are on equal footing in this matter.
5. To explain irreducibility, Behe typically provides the simple example of a mouse-trap… As logical as this argument seems, it fails to consider that perhaps indirect paths to outcomes could explain them… A mouse-trap missing some parts might be useful as a tie clip, and the base of a mouse-trap on its own could be useful as a doorstop.
There are a couple of issues here. One is that the mouse-trap is a vastly simplified
analogy to the real deal. So do the reader a favour and address the biological
issue, not the analogy. Again, explain how the first self-replicating cell arose
(of course any answer is pure speculation until scientists actually observe
molecules arranging themselves into ‘life’ in the present day). Secondly,
even the attack on the analogy is poor. Who or what co-opted the tie clip and the
doorstop to be used as a mouse-trap? An intelligent designer, that’s
who. How otherwise would such objects be combined into a completely new functional
object used for a completely different purpose? In any case, Behe has answered other critics of his analogy in detail
at A mousetrap defended: Response to critics.
6. If intelligent design relies on weak arguments and analogies, why has it been relatively successful in the past few years at getting a serious airing…?
Your writer starts this thought with an unsubstantiated claim, and so it is not surprising that her conclusions are plain wrong. ID does not rely on weak arguments, and so it gets a serious airing because (i) molecules to man evolution is extremely problematic as shown, and (ii) biology does display evidence of design (evolutionists like ‘appearance of design’ – but we’re not talking about, say, rock-carvings here, we’re talking about the most complex structures in the known universe.) And by the way, if an evolutionist’s brain is the final product of billions of years of random mutations, how do they know they can logically follow any train of thought and come to a logical conclusion? The fact that we think we are rational presumes our brains work as designed [Ed: see also C.S. Lewis on materialistic thoughts and point 4 in /article/2208].
ID’s ‘relative success’ is despite the fact that evolution is the only story of origins and diversity of life presented to students in schools and universities. So while all dissent is shut down through State-sponsored channels, students remain dissatisfied with the junk food they’re being force-fed. They’re looking for nutrition elsewhere and finding it.
7. Scientific theories must be capable of being checked against positive evidence through having testable consequences and hence can be proved wrong… In contrast, critical problems arise when one attempts to assess the theory of intelligent design using these principles.
No indication is given by your writer how evolution might ever be proved wrong. All new evidence is gathered into the evolutionary stronghold—e.g. even the (alleged) ‘conservation’ of living fossils through supposed tens and hundreds of millions of years (coelacanth, crocodiles, bees, ants, termites, butterflies, bats, Wollemi Pine, etc). This is just one example—so let’s hear it—what possible evidence could ever falsify evolution?
[Ed: Evolutionists are remarkably quiet about the falsification criterion of the famous evolutionist J.B.S. Haldane, who predicted that magnets and wheels could not be used by living organisms because they would be useless until fully formed. Yet we now know that there are organisms that contain both.]
This only goes to show that it is outside of the realms of observational science just as much as ID is. And yet…
8. Even if the theory of evolution by natural selection were shown to be false, the next best contender would not be intelligent design.
Oh really? What would the next contender be? And again, how could evolution ever be proven false in the first place?
Has it occurred to the author that by ruling out ID a priori, the scientific community could be completely missing the truth regarding the biological (etc.) history of this planet and directing research down rat-holes that lead nowhere? And all because ‘science’ has been redefined in the modern age as being the pursuit of naturalistic explanations for everything:
‘We take the side of science… in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment… to materialism… We are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.’ Prof. Richard Lewontin, Harvard Geneticist (1997)
Sure, for understanding cause and effect in the present, e.g., ‘How is oxygen processed by human lungs?’ this makes perfect sense, because experimentation and reproducibility give the explanation credibility (this assumes order in the universe, of course a quintessentially creationist assumption—see The basis of modern science; The Christian origin of modern science; and ‘Christians and the foundation of science’ in: Countering Christophobia). But operational science has no ability to answer a question such as, ‘When did the first humans breathe?’ Such a question can be approached by forensic (or historical) science, but any conclusions cannot be given the same level of authority as operational science (in fact, the question would best be answered by an eyewitness). [Ed: See also Naturalism, Origin and Operation Science.]
It’s so obvious as to be almost unspeakable: if you assume materialistic (naturalistic) causes before starting the investigation, you can come to no other conclusion—even if the explanation is completely wrong. So it’s time to come clean that evolution is generally accepted to be true based on the presupposition that it is true, not because of real scientific investigation.
Note also, ‘The theory of evolution by natural selection’ is somewhat of a misleading term, since natural selection is not in question; mutations leading to an increase in information is the sticking point. You can’t ‘naturally select’ from what is not already present in the genome.
9. It is true intelligent design does not have an empirical research program, that its scientific supporters have not published data in peer-reviewed journals…
This is nothing more than mud-slinging. The ID movement may or may not have a research program – one can only wonder which State-sponsored organization would be willing to go out on a limb to fund it; meanwhile thousands of evolutionary researchers/story-tellers make nice livings (thank you very much) from State grants. Nevertheless, research is being performed, even if by donor-funded organizations such as ICR, e.g. their RATE Project (Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth)—an eight-year project with initial findings recently made available to the public in a book called Thousands not Billions (also the title of the corresponding DVD) or the technical Radioactive Isotopes and the Age of the Earth, vols 1 and 2.
As for ID supporters getting published in ‘mainstream’ peer-reviewed journals, take a look at what happened two years ago when a paper by Dr. Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute was published in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington:
‘The dispute deepened when the journal, bowing to pressure from Darwinists, declared it would no longer publish papers with an intelligent design perspective, reports Discovery Institute, even if an article passes peer review. The NCSE (National Center for Science Education, led by Eugenie Scott) has argued that Meyer’s paper should not have been printed.’ http://www.creationsafaris.com/crev0904.htm#intdes145
Even if it passes peer review… what a dead giveaway. [Ed: So evolutionists like the antitheist Scott say that a scientific movement must publish a peer-reviewed article in order to be considered legitimate, and then turn around and complain that it wasn’t legitimate for a journal to publish any peer-reviewed article from that movement!]
Anyhow, peer review isn’t the arbiter of accuracy—indeed it has come in for some scathing criticism even in the secular world, e.g. David Horrobin argues in Something Rotten at the Core of Science?:
‘Far from filtering out junk science, peer review may be blocking the flow of innovation and corrupting public support of science.’
Dr David Kaplan argued in How to Fix Peer Review:
‘Despite its importance as the ultimate gatekeeper of scientific publication and funding, peer review is known to engender bias, incompetence, excessive expense, ineffectiveness, and corruption. A surfeit of publications has documented the deficiencies of this system.’Rather, all peer review generally guarantees is that the Darwin Party line is adhered to and opposition is censored (and this applies to paradigms in general, as a science historian admits). Give opponents of evolution a fair hearing and get ready for the public reaction.
10. There is an old (and mistaken) association frequently made between Darwinism and atheism… But as philosopher Michael Ruse has observed, ‘It is simply not the case that people take up evolution in the morning, and become atheists as an encore in the afternoon.’
One can understand why your writer would like to downplay the link between evolutionary beliefs and atheism, but it is just wrong to dismiss the link. Just because some Christians manage to somehow reconcile their Biblical faith and their faith in evolution, does not detract from the obvious detrimental impact evolution and naturalism has had on Western Christianity in the last 150 years.
As Michael Ruse also observed:
‘Evolution is promoted by its practitioners as more than mere science. Evolution is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religion—a full-fledged alternative to Christianity, with meaning and morality. … Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and it is true of evolution still today.… Evolution therefore came into being as a kind of secular ideology, an explicit substitute for Christianity.’
Christian teacher John MacArthur wrote:
‘Naturalism has now replaced Christianity as the main religion of the Western world, and evolution has become naturalism’s principal dogma.’ The Battle for the Beginning (2001)
Atheist Biology History Professor Will Provine of Cornell Uni argues:
‘Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent.’
From Evolution: Free will and punishment and meaning in life (Darwin Day Address, Knoxville, Tennessee, 1998)
It is thus no accident that most leading evolutionists are atheists (see A Who’s Who of evolutionists). There are also documented links between evolutionary thought and the beliefs and actions of many very infamous and influential people in recent history, e.g. Marx, Trotsky, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao Tse-Tung. See these revealing articles by Dr Jerry Bergman: The Darwinian foundation of communism and Darwinism and the Nazi race Holocaust.
Throughout the essay being critiqued here, not even a vaguely compelling positive case has been made for evolution. It’s time evolutionists were brought to account and forced to substantiate their just-so ‘fairy tales for adults’ stories, especially since many of them are so quick to shut down the debate and denigrate those who dare to raise objections to their philosophy.
And finally, after dumping on ID but failing to fairly critique it or address the real substance of the debate, it is claimed instead that ID’s ‘advocates have been politically and culturally savvy enough to make certain it is compelling to the average listener’, and thus the essay finishes with the most lacklustre conclusion, i.e. ‘successful science must engage the public’. Great, so that is the big takeaway from the debate. Don’t bother engaging with the detail of the ID/creationist scientists’ legitimate objections; just improve the marketing of science—noting the lame assumption that ‘science’ means ‘not their science, but ours’.
This essay was disappointing for its inaccuracies and misportrayal of the Intelligent Design position. Coming from your eminent University, this is even more regrettable. The essay deserves a comprehensive right of reply. I’m betting you won’t publish such a critique, however, to preserve the perceived credibility of the party line.