Thursday, May 8, 2008

Why We Must Oppose the Intelligent Design Movement

We Must Oppose the Intelligent Design Movement

Due to the unwillingness of the propagators of Intelligent Design to conform to the scientific process, as well as their history of intentional dishonesty in attempting to propagandize their movement, not only should Intelligent Design not be taught as science, but it should also be actively opposed by the scientific community. In this essay I will establish how the Intelligent Design Movement is not a scientific, but rather a religious idea that cannot legally be taught in a public school without violating our Constitution, and how its success is predicated on lies. I will also argue that the Intelligent Design Movement is dangerous due to its ability to keep people ignorant of science (moreover, its dependence on doing so).

The truth of the matter behind Intelligent Design is that it truly “cannot uncouple itself from its Creationist roots” (04cv2688) and that teaching Creationism as science is a violation of the Establishment Clause in the United States Constitution. Several court cases have ruled that Creationism cannot be taught in science classes in public schools, the most famous of which being the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board in Dover, PA. Other landmark rulings on the subject include Epperson v. Arkansas, Daniel v Waters, and McLean v Arkansas. These rulings draw heavily from the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution which prohibits a mixture of religion and state. That is why this new permutation, Intelligent Design, attempts to paint themselves as entirely scientific, with as much claim to being a legitimate scientific theory as the theory of Evolution.

In order to determine whether an idea is a scientific theory, we must first know what makes an idea scientific and how scientists utilize the term “theory”. While I may have a theory regarding what two cards my opponent is holding at the poker table, this is not the way scientists use the word. A scientific theory “summarizes a hypothesis or group of hypotheses that have been supported with repeated testing” and is “valid as long as there is no evidence to dispute it” (Helmenstine). This is a far cry from the anthems that Evolution is “just a theory” we hear from a nation of non-biologists wishing to have a deciding hand in an issue they admit their ignorance of by invoking that phrase.

“For a theory to be "scientific," it must provide the basis for testable hypotheses” (Olmstead). When scientists like Eugenie Scott say “you can't build a science on a negative argument” (Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial), they are referring to science’s power to explain things. Scientific theories should be able to make verifiable predictions, much like germ theory makes predictions which allow a person to get a flu shot every year. According to Scott, Intelligent Design fails at this in the most complete fashion:
“The fundamental problem with intelligent design is that you can't use it to explain the natural world. It's essentially a negative argument. It says, "Evolution doesn't work, therefore the designer did it. Evolution doesn't work, therefore we win by default." (Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial)
When discussing what should be taught in a science class, it seems that the basic requirement of an idea should be that it aligns with what constitutes science. It is abundantly clear that Intelligent Design does not do this.

However, the critique of Evolution offered by Intelligent Design proponents may even be fitting (though not enough to establish Intelligent Design as a legitimate scientific theory) if it were not entrenched in the lies of those spreading it. Virtually every credible scientific body in the civilized world, as well as a myriad of federal judges, recognizes the dishonesty of the propagators of Intelligent Design. In his conclusion of the 2005 trial Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board, judge John E. Jones said of those attempting to sneak Intelligent Design into the classroom that it was “ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy” (137).

This illustrates another failure on the part of Intelligent Design to conform to what is science. Scientific theory is determined by the long process of peer-review, in which scientists from the relevant field critique a tested hypothesis at length. Only by surviving the brutal scrutiny of peer-review does a hypothesis transition to being an accepted theory. This is why, in science, if you lie or pretend to know things you do not, you will be caught, the news of it will spread rapidly, and you will pay the price for the transgression with your credibility.

Even though the results of scientific experiments, as well as the peer-review work done on them, are readily available to everybody, science is a very complex discipline. For this reason, it makes perfect sense that scientific experts are the ones who get to decide what is science and what isn’t, much the same way that historians are shouldered with deciding the historical consensus. Science is not a matter of democracy, where whichever idea gets the most votes becomes truth. Indeed, it is only when “Intelligent Design has been rejected by virtually every scientist and science organization, and has never once passed the muster of a peer-reviewed journal paper” (Biever) that those behind the Intelligent Design Movement began to propagandize their ideas to a population of non-experts.

The fact that Intelligent Design proponents are actively disseminating these ideas, which have been eviscerated by the scientific community, as though they were science, is where the real harm comes in. The self-correcting process of science, governed by the scientific method, has given us the very means by which we understand reality and thus advance ourselves as a race. Iterations of the scientific method are all around you. The computer I typed this essay on is the product of hundreds of years dedicated to ascertaining the nature of electricity. It could not function if not for an understanding of how certain particles operate on a macroscopic level. This knowledge has been revealed only through observation and the predictability of living in a universe bound by rules, and by applying the scientific method to reveal those rules.

Just take a moment, walk outside (actually, just stay in whatever room you're in) and look around you. Cars, planes, and the mouse on your computer; they are all testimonies to our willingness to defer to experts on what is science, and the wealth that is our reward for doing so. Look some more, consider your cell phone, your mp3 player, plumbing, light bulbs; the list goes on and on. To treat science as a propaganda game promulgates scientific ignorance. The best that this could accomplish is to hamstring the progress of scientists who must take time away from their work to fight battles that need not be waged in the first place.

However, I would argue that the consequences are far more worrisome. We live in a universe that is almost entirely antithetical to fostering life. Almost every region of our galaxy consists of conditions that would kill any living thing almost immediately. Even our own planet is not that safe – roughly every one-hundred million years, a mere moment by astronomical standards, a meteor the size of a mountain crashes into the Earth (Arnett), which is sufficient to eliminate almost every living thing. It’s estimated that “more than 99 per cent of all species that have ever lived on Earth are now extinct” (Taylor). Clearly, our race, and even life itself, has survived despite nature’s indifference. This is unlikely to change any time soon, and we cannot lose time from figuring out how we will continue to thrive in a universe that shows no interest in helping us.

Intelligent Design is clearly a religious idea, rather than a scientific one. This new brand of Creationism also has also been wholly decimated by the scientific community and summarily rejected. As such, it is not only unreasonable to teach this non-scientific idea in a science class, but it is patently illegal to do so. While these reasons alone are more than sufficient to preclude us from introducing Intelligent Design to our children, there is a far more harrowing reason that should encourage those with the relevant knowledge to oppose this movement wherever they can.

Ideas, and the ability to map out reality, have been the tools by which we have endured as one of the millions of competing races to ever grace the Earth. Even today we are ill-equipped to battle certain diseases and other natural phenomenon like hurricane Katrina. We have so much work left to do, and we cannot afford to be poisoning the minds that will be faced with the challenge of securing our continued survival in the future. For this reason, more than any other, it is vital that the scientific community begin partitioning an appreciable fraction of its time to combating Creationism in its current configuration in order to prevent them from gaining any ground in this battle for our most precious resource: humanity’s ability to comprehend the world.

Works Cited

Arnett, Bill. "Meteors, Meteorites, and Impacts." Nineplanets.Org. 3 Apr. 2005. 5 May 2008 .

Biever, Celeste. "Astrology is Scientific Theory, Courtroom Told." New Scientist 19 Oct. 2005. 5 May 2008.

Helmenstine, Anne Marie. "Scientific Hypothesis, Theory, Law Definitions." About.Com. 5 May 2008.

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial. Dir. Gary Johnstone. Perf. Eugenie Scott, Ken Miller. PBS, 2007.

Kitzmiller V. Dover Area School Board. No. 04cv2688. The United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. 20 Dec. 2005. 5 Mar. 2008.

Olmstead, Richard. "Intelligent Design Not Science." SeattlePI 17 Aug. 2005. 5 May 2008.
Taylor, Paul D. Extinctions in the History of Life. Cambridge: The Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 2004. 5 May 2008.

2 comments:

nightcr4wler2 said...

"Ideas, and the ability to map out reality, have been the tools by which we have endured as one of the millions of competing races to ever grace the Earth. Even today we are ill-equipped to battle certain diseases and other natural phenomenon like hurricane Katrina. We have so much work left to do, and we cannot afford to be poisoning the minds that will be faced with the challenge of securing our continued survival in the future. For this reason, more than any other, it is vital that the scientific community begin partitioning an appreciable fraction of its time to combating Creationism in its current configuration in order to prevent them from gaining any ground in this battle for our most precious resource: humanity’s ability to comprehend the world."

This end to your blog is very telling--it demonstrates my primary issue with darwinian evolution: that is, the propensity for the scientific theory to become a dogmatic paradigm.

I'm no scientist, so you'll most likely be able to slam me on that front, but what I've noticed is that the difference between evolution and any other facet of science is its sway into philosophy and ultimately faith. No other scientific field of study that I know of can be extrapolated into conjecture about the origin and purpose of humanity--which isn't really the purpose of science as I understand it. What you, like so many others, have blown macro-evolutionary theory into is a kind of materialism that tells us that if we, as humans, don't fight tooth and nail to survive--which is Darwinism's ultimate goal--then natural selection is going to mercilessly push us to extinction. What that sounds like to me is the fear of a cruel deity--albeit one that's given the name of "natural process" but is still a force that we pay a fearful homage to and abide by the kill-or-be-killed rules of if we hope to not be destroyed.

I'm probably mincing my words here and I'm sorry if everything is coming out jumbled, but what I read in your final paragraph--and particularly the lines that I've boldened--is that your worry over Intelligent Design is rooted less in ID's unscientific-ness and more in Darwinism's religious-ness. It sounds like your paradigm for reality, for human purpose and existence, is founded firmly in a materialistic survival of the fittest. Darwinism has exceeded the confines of scientific exploration of the natural world and has become your explanation for the whole world, your worldview--your faith, if you will.

Just my two-cents--or maybe only one-cent depending on how clearly I conveyed my thoughts.

JT said...

Nightcrawler,

Thanks for contributing.

I feel as though you are putting words into my mouth. It's not a matter of kill or be killed, and I never suggested it was. What I did say is that nature is indifferent to life, and it is therefore in our interest to advance as fast as we are able to ensure our survival. I was endorsing cooperation, not competition. I do not view the harmful occurrences in nature as a deity, because they very clearly follow a set of rules, which require no appeal to a god.

You refer to the religiousness of Evolution - are you insinuating that there is no evidence for Evolution, making it similar to faith? I'm unsure how you've arrived at the conclusion that science plays by anything but what we can deduce rationally.

You then speak about our purpose, but I'm not sure how you can ascertain that we have an overarching purpose. It's very possible that we do not (though this should not stop us from finding individual purposes in our own lives). At no point did I say that continuing our existence or making it more bearable was our primary and only purpose. I did imply that it is an interest we all share, but that is not the same thing.

You also speak about Darwinism's (as though this were a faith with a doctrine) "goal." Is there a goal to Heliocentricity? These are merely observations, which hold no doctrinal propositions whatsoever. Many Creationists (as we saw in the movie Expelled) believe that culling the weak represents the end game for those accepting the fact that Evolution has diversified life on this planet. I'm not quite certain how they arrive at this conclusion. Noting that those with an inferior genetic make up fail to survive at the same rate as those with advantages coded into their DNA by no means obligates us to emulate nature. We also see tornadoes almost weekly during this time of year - accepting their presence does not mean we must kill people in a similar fashion. In fact, anybody who attempts to do so is engaging in artificial selection, not natural selection.

You then attempt to paint the science of Evolution (and perhaps science itself) as a type of faith. I actually have an entry on my personal blog as to why it's not. You can find it here. At no point does my acceptance of where the evidence points require me to claim to know things that I manifestly do not, as a faith would.

I believe that tackles every point you brought up. If I missed something, feel free to point it out.

Best,

JT