More PA scientists speak out against ID

| 55 Comments | 3 TrackBacks

According to this blog post by Michael Weisberg, “Penn Faculty Responds to Dover School Board,” about 30 members of the Biology and Philosophy Departments at the University of Pennsylvania (an Official Ivy League School, it is worth mentioning) have signed on to an open letter opposing the “intelligent design” policy of the Dover Area School Board.

This follows a similar letter last month by the Biology Department of York College (see the PT post Doverian doings and the news story “College biologists blast Dover”).

3 TrackBacks

Intelligent Design from The All Spin Zone on January 6, 2005 7:51 PM

The upshot of the ruling was: if a parent wanted their child to learn about creationism, well and good, send the kid to a Sunday School class at a church near you. Sounds reasonable to me. As a taxpaying parent, I want my kid to learn about scientifi... Read More

We saw an article this morning posted on the evangelical christian site WorldNetDaily News with the title ACLU backs off challenge to intelligent design. Disturbed, we read the article, and the press release at the Thomas More Law Center, the... Read More

Linkage from The Electric Smack Shack on January 11, 2005 10:27 PM

I found some interesting stuff in my long-neglected RSS feeds this evening. The eagles are coming! Oops, there they went.... Medpacks aren't just for first-person shooters anymore. Some helpful research on preventing or alleviating carpal-tunnel syndro... Read More

55 Comments

On the legal front it’s not a good sign that the ACLU decided it would not seek an injunction to stop the curriculum change in Dover from proceeding as planned next week.

My guess is the ACLU decided their hand was too weak to risk an adverse decision this early in the game. They need time to build their case (if they have one at all) and a long drawn-out trial process to present it to have a chance at a decision in their favor. I’m virtually certain their strategy is to outspend the people of Dover and win by attrition. That’s really despicable but that’s how the ACLU operates.

I just don’t see how a federal judge can possibly decide in the ACLU’s favor unless of course it’s the 9th Circuit Court whose ultra-liberal bias is quite often overturned by the Supreme Court. Prima facie ID is not religion. It can’t be any clearer.

ID might be bullshit to the majority in the science establishment but it isn’t religion and there’s no constitional demand to separate bullshit and state. It’s only church and state where there’s an issue. I say ACLU as the plaintiff because the 11 parents they represent are no more than legal necessities for the ACLU to bring the case before a court. This is really the ACLU vs. People of Dover.

DaveScot wrote

My guess is the ACLU decided their hand was too weak to risk an adverse decision this early in the game. They need time to build their case (if they have one at all) and a long drawn-out trial process to present it to have a chance at a decision in their favor. I’m virtually certain their strategy is to outspend the people of Dover and win by attrition. That’s really despicable but that’s how the ACLU operates.

Wrong. The Dover school district is being represented by Thomas More Law Center for free. Try again, Dave.

RBH

By the way this part of the letter

“For example, evolution is fundamental to genomics and bioinformatics, new fields which hold the promise of great medical discoveries.”

is alarmist crap. Suggesting there might be intelligence at work in evolution will not effect any field of inquiry one iota.

Newtonian physics isn’t a complete explanation of matter and energy but it’s quite sufficient to build rockets and launch spacecraft. You don’t need to get into Einstein’s General and Special Theories of Relativity for those fields of endeavour just like you don’t have to think about a possible designer in evolution for bioinformatics and genomics.

I’ve yet to hear a valid reason why suggestiong the possibility of design in a biology class is harmful except perhaps that it wastes a few seconds to make the suggestion.

RBH - I thought that too but I’ve now read various reports that say TMLC was “retained” and “hired”. It’s bad either way. TMLC is a nobody compared to the ACLU.

Here’s what I really hate though. Another veiled threat to any primary public school district that dares to question the party line - your kids will be discriminated against in college admissions and employment. The follwing is despicable:

“Instead, empower students with real, dependable scientific knowledge. They need this knowledge to understand the world around them, to compete for admission to colleges and universities, and to compete for good jobs. They deserve nothing less.”

Pure scare tactics. Dover isn’t stopping the teaching of evolution. They’re not presenting it as unquestionable dogma is the only change.

Suggesting there might be intelligence at work in evolution will not effect any field of inquiry one iota.

So why do you insist on bringing up such baloney?

I’ve yet to hear a valid reason why suggestiong the possibility of design in a biology class is harmful except perhaps that it wastes a few seconds to make the suggestion.

Go to TalkOrigins and read about the Wedge strategy. Man, you really are out of the loop, aren’t you? I hope I have more time to keep up with the facts when I’m retired.

Newtonian physics isn’t a complete explanation of matter and energy…

So it’s plausible that alien beings are using mysterious rays to direct falling objects towards objects of greater mass. Teach the controversy!!! Rubes of the world unite!

I know all about the Wedge strategy. That isn’t MY strategy. I don’t give a flying fig about any agenda but my own. Here is my agenda, if you can call it one:

As a parent of three children and one grandchild I don’t want them indoctrinated into simplistic dogmatic neo-Darwinism. Just the facts please, and plenty of them, INCLUDING the facts that don’t add up, the gaps, and an assortment of hypothetical explanations of the gaps. I want them taught about the current thinking of the origins of life including the hypothetical RNA World first suggested by Francis Crick and being explored through ribozyme engineering today. I want them to know that DNA/ribosomes act like a computer controlled milling machine and the chicken/egg paradox therein. I want them to know about the fragility of the RNA molecule and the problem with its chemistry in a primordial soup. AND I want them aware that intelligent design remains a possible explanation to these problems.

“Instead, empower students with real, dependable scientific knowledge. They need this knowledge to understand the world around them, to compete for admission to colleges and universities, and to compete for good jobs. They deserve nothing less.”

Pure scare tactics.

Sorry, but no. Everything else being equal, if I have to choose between someone who between someone who sincerely believes that “ID theory” is a valid “alternative” to evolution and someone with a quality education, I’ll take the latter. Of course, that’s hardly an issue now because so few students have been exposed to one-sided “ID theory” apologetics in public school science classrooms.

Instead, they get to read Huckleberry Finn in English class, a text which is in many ways a much better argument against the “purposeful” design of humans by all powerful aliens than anything Darwin wrote.

I just moved the quotes from Michael Weisberg to the title of his post, where they were supposed to go.

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 11, column 12, byte 753 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.16/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187.

especially if he gets a PhD from University of Pennsylvania in biochemistry, like Michael Behe

What ever happened to the plans to have that Ph.D. rescinded?

DaveScot,

You wrote, “ID might be bullshit to the majority in the science establishment but it isn’t religion and there’s no constitional demand to separate bullshit and state. It’s only church and state where there’s an issue.”

ID may not be a religious doctrine in its purest form, but it is being promoted for religious reasons. In any case, ID is definitely not science and should not be taught as such in biology class. Organic evolution is the scientific conclusion of a near consensus of professional biologists and the unifying phenomenon of biology and so should be rigorously taught. Fundamentalists and others who object to their children being taught evolution do not have the right to dictate what is taught in public school biology classes and thereby adversely affect the education of all students. That said, no student who learns about a concept has to believe it. Education is a process of learning about many ideas and developing the intellectual skills to decide for oneself what is true. Students who think the evolution is erroneous should learn all they can about it so that they can argue against it effectively. The first rule of debating is to know the other side’s arguments.

DaveScot,

Have you ever read Of Pandas and People? Are you saying you have no problems with the school district endorsing a 15-year old book, out of date and full of straight-out errors when it was published in 1989, and even worse in 2005?

How do you feel about school districts teaching the idea that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, or teaching the Christian Science doctrine of disease in addition to the mainstream dogma of the Germ Theory of Disease?

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 7, column 52, byte 297 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.16/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187.

And another content free post brought to you by Sal Cordova.

Ernst Haekel went to trial and was found guilty of fraud for his “Embryological Forms” some 150 years ago.

Ah, no trial there. Just a prevarication on the part of the writer.

Horse evolution was demonstrated false more than 20 years ago.

Nope. More prevarication.

Why then does York College prominently display these misgivings as primary evidence of evolution?

Outright lie; they don’t.

York College professors made front-page headlines Dec. 8 for protesting Dover schools’ decision to teach intelligent design. These York College professors should deeply consider what they teach prior to casting stones.

They did.

The York College displays exampled here hardly witness to scientific method; with regard to false evolutionary doctrine that is readily taught or accepted — they are merely the tip of the iceberg.

Doesn’t it bother you to quote factually incorrect statements in support of your position?

DaveScot doesn’t think it’s accurate to note that kids who study ID won’t do as well getting into college.

But have you bothered to try to get into a biology program lately? More specifically, have you bothered to see what the Advanced Placement Biology examination tests for?

29% of the questions require a good understanding of evolution. 9% is on pure evolution.

The AP folks try to use only the best science.

Do you wonder why there is no ID on the AP exam? Then you’re not paying attention.

RGD, it seems that there are few if any factually correct statements in favor of Cordova’s position. That rather limits his repertoire, and that of his fellow travelers.

So Sal is now resorting to unknown creationist writing letters to the editor to support his view? What makes D. Pilarcik letter factual? Please show us where “Horse evolution was demonstrated false more than 20 years ago” PLEASE!

Sal.…would you take any letter I wrote to an editor of a local paper as true?

DaveScot - while in the purest sense I agree with you but do you think the average high school student would be able to take what you are say in. Note they still have to do all their other work. To this add the fact if you open Biology to this method of “teach the gaps” then you need to do that to all courses! We better up our children’s school time from ~160 days a year and 5 hours and 15 minutes a day to 260 days and 8 hours a day. They’ll need to give up all those holidays and summer break to learn all the extra stuff they’ll need to. Then we shouldn’t be surprised when 90-95% of our students don’t graduate.

DaveScot can we also teach how the current ID arguments are lies and or don’t provide any positive learning. Pointing out “Gaps” is fine. I have had teachers say “We don’t know about x” before but I seriously would have a problem with a teacher saying “We don’t know about x thus x must be done by an intelligent designer”

I’m about to make an analogy mixed with, sadly a true story (name changed to protect the stupid).

I’ve got this friend of a friend named Michelle. Michelle is pregnant. She expressed real surprise that she was pregnant I said “This child wasn’t planned?” she responded “No” I asked “What type of birth control where you using?” thinking its interesting to see when birth control fails. to which she responded “Well after we did it I went to the bathroom and jumped up and down really hard to shake it all out” I had a hard time keeping a straight face. Others around me just gasped. She was serious too. (note this is in Australia not Texas)

Now if you had a situation where someone didn’t know how you get pregnant at all do you think it would be ok for someone to say “Oh we don’t know how you get pregnant thus it must be magic”

Surely Michelle’s birth control must be ok thus her getting pregnant must be the result of magic.

You can see that just because Michelle is a uneducated woman doesn’t mean we should she should believe her pregnancy was magic.

Tell us one thing that ID proposed that lets us understand the world better? Some intelligent force created life. What does this tell us? Nothing. Please show us something about ID that isn’t a gap of our knowledge of evolution. ID should stand on its own foundation not try to knock down evolutions. You don’t build your house by going over to your neighbors house and trying to destroy it. That doesn’t do anything for your house.

I hate to say it, but colleges in Pennsylvania are going to have to make it known that the students from Dover, or whatever other school in the state, that teaches this ID garbage are going to suffer as a result - and be required to take some kind of remedial course before being admitted. Thats the kind of thing that happened in Kansas, and when the parents understood that, the problem was solved - ID was thrown out of science class real quick and the nutty school board members were too.

But have you bothered to try to get into a biology program lately? More specifically, have you bothered to see what the Advanced Placement Biology examination tests for?

This made me wonder, in the 10 mos or so that Panda’s Thumb has been up, have any of the creationists here been biologists? I’ve seen lawyers, philosophers, theologians, and mostly high-school grads, but has a single one been a biologist? There must have been at least one or two. But I can’t recall any.

Re: comment 12859 by Salvador. The example of Behe does not mean anything because Salvador’s premise is false. If an insitution is good it not necessarily translates into all of its graduates being good. Perhaps a good example is Gerald Schroeder. He got his PhD degree in physics from MIT. Surely MIT is considered one of the best schools in the world, and deservedly so. However, physicist Schroeder wrote in his books that masers emit atoms, that kinetic energy is proportional to velocity, that a frame of reference can be attached to photons, that constant rest energy of a particle equals variable de-Broglie energy, and many other absurd things. MIT can hardly be held responsible for all that nonsense except for having a grid with big holes for a degree-awarding system. Likewise, Behe does not know a rap about probabilities (but teaches his readers about them), is in dark regarding the distinction between specified and non-specified strings of characters, was illogical in giving a definition of irreducible complexity (so Dembski rushed to save that definition, adding his own confusion to it), ignored the vast literature relevant to his thesis, etc, although otherwise he may be a decent biochemist - I can’t be a judge for it. Even the best schools sometimes award degrees to nincompoops. However, such defective graduates are rare in good schools, and when 30 faculty members sign a letter, usually there is little doubt they know what they are talking about. Salvador has written some kind words about my work, which I appreciate. I have no intention to cast doubt on his character, but his comment about Behe does not sound like offered by somebody who is just seeking the truth.

Syntax Error: mismatched tag at line 43, column 4, byte 5027 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.16/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187.

Davescot you are not saying that some crap stuff should be taken out to teach more good stuff. You want unsupported negative information to be put in so less knowledge can be taught. Should we teach unsolveable formulas in math and say “Don’t know how to do this.…but God does” that doesn’t do any good.

It amazes me how much Creationist lie and twist words and meanings.

Oh about Ivy league schools.… yea graduating from one just basically means you have the money. Now getting honors from one.…thats a bit different

* replace spam with waynefrancis in email address

The whole ‘teach the controversy’ crap is predicated on the false premise that the history of how evolution came to be formulated is not taught, or that unknowns within are not taught. That’s a load of malarky. I don’t remember learning any evolution in high school, but in college they reviewed catastrophism vs uniformatism time tables, Lamarkism, Paley, etc, just as in any intro solar astronomy course they go through Ptolemaic cosmologies and the formulation of heliocentrism as a result of Copernicas and Kepler. In intro anthropology courses for example they do review early attempts at explaining biodiveristy, including mythological ones, and they get into disagreements over the prevalence of various modes of speciation and they review gaps in human and primate phylogeny extensively.

What they do not do is say that evo violates the SloT or that abiogenesis must be understood and explained to 100% metaphysical certainty to the likes of Mr Scott’s personal satisfaction before evolution can be considered a ‘possibility’. They don’t do that, because it would be false to say that crap. What Mr Scot is asking for is that such biological ‘crap’ be taught, and that it be mandated to be taught as fact by legal decree, regardless if it has any merit. We tried that during the times when the RCC had overwhelmingly powerful control over education, and it’s still SOP in Islamic Theocracies today; the consequences on the edcuation of students from those techniques speak for themselves.

DaveScot, there’s a couple of reasonable points in amongst that last post; you’ll have to excuse me for focusing on the problematical points, which are in the majority.

Firstly, your “reasons for promoting” claim is too simplistic. The Lemon test requires that to avoid an Establishment violation, the legislature must adopt a law for a clear secular purpose.

No scientific discipline can ever be considered beyond question, and singling out evolutionary biology in this manner for special pejorative treatment serves no clear secular purpose, though a very clear sectarian one - to weaken a secular explanation in order to make room for a relgious idealogy which could not otherwise compete in this domain - just as in the Edwards v Aguillard case.

Second, it seems rather ironic that that you so strongly advocate that looking at purposes is off limits, given that you repeatedly to refer to evolution as ‘dogma’. It seems odd that you and the IDC movement are free to complain repeatedly at dogmatic motives behind the current system, while no-one may mention the motives of your self or the IDC movement.

Finally, on your “Can’t we all just get along?” rhetoric: just who exactly is this “they” that you suggest have compromised? US legal history seems to be filled with examples of the Creationist movement refusing to compromise, and having their actions ruled unconstitutional by the the courts. In what way is this a compromise? And what about the current Dover situation, where some board members report being intimidated into voting in favour of teaching IDC with threats that they were un-Christian? In what sense is the level of intimidation ‘just getting along’? You may wish to wander along to somewhere like alt.talk.creationism and see just how willing to get along the average creationist is before laying such veiled charges against some of the posters on this forum.

It is somewhat ironic that DaveScot should mention Ockham’s Razor. As I’m sure we all know, Ockham’s razor states that when multiple explanations are available for a phenomenon, the simplest explanation (i.e. the one with the least assumptions) is preferable. So, for example, if we have the Theory of Relativity and the Theory of Relativity Plus the Assumption that Fairies Exist, we should prefer the former to the latter.

This is one of the inherent problems with ID, however. We essentially have Evolutionary Theory and Evolutionary Theory Plus A Designer (ID). Ockham’s razor allows us to remove the Designer as irrelevant and focus on the important points at hand, i.e. actual, empirical science.

I would also point out that just because something appears to complex to be anything other than designed, like DaveScot’s DNA example, does not necessitate design. How many times have we heard about the impossible complexity of the human eye? It certainly *seems* designed on first inspection, but biologists have a fairly complete grasp of the evolution of this complicated organ.

If DaveScot really believes that design is implied by certain structures, he should try to explain how exactly this designer could exist, how he/she could *build* these devices, his nature, etc, i.e. offer some *positive* evidence to show how this could have come about under his own assumptions, instead of just saying “it looks like things that have been designed, hence it must have been designed, therefore I don’t need to worry any more about it”. How would DaveScot feel if evolutionary biologists claimed evolution as a fact without presenting natural selection as a mechanism?

It’s an interesting side issue that Davescot claims to be led to ID creationism because of his engineering career. In this I bow to his superior erudition, being a mere biochemist. Yet, engineering uses randomization and testing in many ways, and I seem to recall the existence of something called genetic algorithms as a programming method, and that looks to my untrained eye as pretty Darwinian. Not to mention the utility of Avida as a model for evolution.

Likewise, closer to my own area, I note that the “scientists who question evolution” movement includes a fair number of chemists. Yet combinatorial chemistry is a thriving area of chemistry, applied to drug design and semiconducter engineering, among others.

These examples show ways to achieve objects that appear to be designed through a Darwinian process, without immediate purpose. In many ways the final products are much better than those that the engineers and chemists would design de novo.

Salvador quotes from the usual creationist strawmen

Ernst Haekel went to trial and was found guilty of fraud for his “Embryological Forms” some 150 years ago. Horse evolution was demonstrated false more than 20 years ago. Why then does York College prominently display these misgivings as primary evidence of evolution? York College professors made front-page headlines Dec. 8 for protesting Dover schools’ decision to teach intelligent design. These York College professors should deeply consider what they teach prior to casting stones.

None of these are presented as primary evidence of evolution. Furthermore, as seems to be common, the author has fallen for the ‘criticisms’ of Wells whose intentions to destroy Darwinism seems to be ‘at all cost’. If people are interested in a more balanced view of horse evolution and understand the history of the arguments involved then please check out Fossil horse FAQ at talkorigins. As a scientist and a Christian it pains me to see fellow Christians being misled. Such dishonesty eventually will backfire. I hope that Salvador will be leading the movement to change…

According to DaveScot, biologists aren’t fit to think about evolution, mechanical engineers like him are. Problem is, a few months ago, we were told by that statistics-student creationist that biologists aren’t fit to think about evolution, statisticians are. And of course, creationist Jan recently said that kids are much more likely to see and speak the truth than adults, in these matters. And we haven’t seen people like DaveScot criticise IDiots like Casey Luskin, who are ministers masquerading as science enthusiasts, for being ouf of their league.

This is one bizarre field of science. Anyone is fit to think about biology–statisticians, engineers, ministers, children–as long as they don’t have a biology degree.

.… DNA/ribosome is a computer controlled milling machine. Plain and simple. I recognize it because I’ve spent my whole life designing computer controlled machines. It is simply ludicrous to work on the assumption that these machines came into existence without being designed. The sane thing is to assume they’re designed, just like every other computer controlled milling machine, until a path through random happenstance can be shown as a possibility. ….

Of course, something as complex as a computer controlled milling machine will be designed by a team of engineers. And, of course, many of the individual *components* of the milling machine (purchased from outsourced suppliers) will each in turn have been designed by a *team* of engineers. So it’s very likely that your typical computer controlled milling machine is the final product of *hundreds* of designers. Thus, the only ID-based theory that is consistent with what we know about complex designed systems, and that one could realistically teach in a science class would be MDT (Multiple Designers Theory). The Multiple Designers Theory was first proposed by “RBH” over at http://www.iscid.org/boards/ubb-get[…]172-dot-html (the “.” was replaced with “-dot-“ to get past the spam filter).

Of course, MDT has some uncomfortable theological implications in that it is much more consistent with Roman or Greek paganism than with Judeo-Christian monothesim. But then, since we are dealing strictly with science here, that shouldn’t be a problem, right?

DaveScot

I don’t need to know who or what the designer was to recognize a design.

“Intelligent” design, Dave … remember? All of earth’s life forms and its components were intelligently (or “purposefully”) designed and created by “mysterious” intelligent aliens with awesome unprecedented powers. This is your “plausible” theory that you want taught in science classrooms.

News flash, Dave: all of us here can recognize design, too. Some of us also recognize crank pseudoscientific baloney when we see it. But not you.

I’ve noticed this about some engineers – they are not able to articulate themselves very well.

I hope you hired a decent lawyer for your alleged patents.

Referring to those Christians who advocate ID, DaveScott says:

They dropped the 6,000 year old earth. They dropped references to a bearded thunderer named Yahweh that created everything in 6 days. They dropped the claim that none of evolution is mutation/selection. You need to compromise a little too. Can’t we all just get along?

The statement illustrates why, in addition to being bad science, ID can be bad for religion. I think that Dave has it right in that, for many of its current proponents, ID represents just that- a compromise. But surely something as important as Truth is to a believer cannot be arrived at by human compromise. Articles of faith either do or do not represent eternal truths, not something that can be compromised.

One of the great strengths of the scientific approach is that it represents the ultimate meritocracy. Hypotheses either are or are not supported by evidence. Where not supported by evidence, they are either modified or rejected- but they are emphatically not advanced or rejected out of a spirit of compromise.

Long time listener, first time caller. Just wanted to say that, any way you slice it, the teaching of ID in schools is unconstitutional and, well, illegal.

I dare say that all those who want to teach ID in public schools would flip their freaking lids if a teacher hinted that it was Allah that was the intelligent designer, and not the ‘alien’ Jesus, so let’s not pretend that we’re dealing with anything shy of a brand of Christian dogma that certain people think they can ‘get away with’ by muddying the language.

If you want your kids to learn about creationist theory so badly (and it doesn’t cease to be creationist just because you don’t name the creator), then send them to a nunnery. But don’t be filling MY kid’s head with this unsubstantiated, unprovable, unbelievable garbage, when he’s doing his best to learn *actual* science so he can do some good in the world.

Mark Perakh wrote:

However, physicist Schroeder wrote in his books that masers emit atoms, that kinetic energy is proportional to velocity, that a frame of reference can be attached to photons, that constant rest energy of a particle equals variable de-Broglie energy, and many other absurd things.

Dr. Perakh,

I appreciate your respectable treament of me. We have irreconcilable viewpoints, and if I’m biased I’m biased, but I tell it the way I see it. I have been critical of some points with what Behe has written. Even Dembski offered some criticism of Behe (No Free Lunch, page 280). I have been critical of some minor points with Dembski, and even sided with his critics on occasion. So I am not blind to the concerns that float around. I make no attempt to hide my biases either.

With regard to Dr. Schroeder, I have been in contact with him. I will pass on your comment to find out if this is so. I have his books, so if you have the page numbers, I’d be willing to see for myself. I don’t recall seeing those claims.

Salvador PS I bought your book, and I recommend it to my comrades in ID even though I may disagree. I believe you a fair minded person.

I bought your book, and I recommend it to my comrades in ID even though I may disagree. I believe you a fair minded person.

***Slurp!***

I’m just a retired pastor who was once a short term biology teacher. I happen to believe in evolution and in “intelligent design” but with a specific name, God. However,to claim that all complexities in life as they exist today are the result of intelligent design simply leaves me to believe that such an intelligent designer was either a terrible tyrant - or someone or some being with a terrible sense of humor. Why all the pestilence and disease, for one.

You don’t need to get into Einstein’s General and Special Theories of Relativity for those fields of endeavour just like you don’t have to think about a possible designer in evolution for bioinformatics and genomics.

In other words, the concept of a “designer” adds no value in terms of utility or explanatory function, which begs the question as to why it’s being advocated for inclusion in the first place.

I’ve yet to hear a valid reason why suggestiong the possibility of design in a biology class is harmful except perhaps that it wastes a few seconds to make the suggestion.

It also may not hurt to make the suggestion that aliens from an alternate universe may be responsible for the “apparent” intelligence of certain biological structures. The point is that if it adds nothing to the body of scientific knowledge, why include it at all. Children should be reminded that science is agnostic as to supernatural forces at work. If a child wishes to believe that their God is behind the mechanisms of evolution, they should be free to do so as a matter of personal faith. But, it’s just that. It’s not science and should not be included in the science classroom.

I’m just a retired pastor who was once a short term biology teacher. I happen to believe in evolution and in “intelligent design” but with a specific name, God. However,to claim that all complexities in life as they exist today are the result of intelligent design simply leaves me to believe that such an intelligent designer was either a terrible tyrant - or someone or some being with a terrible sense of humor. Why all the pestilence and disease, for one.

I’ve brought up a similar point to IDers before and the response has basically been: “Who the hell are you to define what God can or cannot do with his creation? He may have a purpose for things that look like bad designs to mere mortals/ And, since you’re not omniopotent, you can’t know if something might not have a more profound design purpose than what is readily apparent.” Etc. In other words, nothing can be discovered in nature that cannot be explained away as “God can do it however he wants and it’s still design.” Heads I win. Tails you lose.

Of course, if there were actually a Theory of Intelligent Design, we would have a working model to test the theory, which would include a definition of design. But, alas, there is no such definition because ID is not science. Instead, it’s like any other religious assertion – untestable and non-falsifiable. It has no place in the science classroom.

This threat/plea could not pass without comment:

DaveScot Wrote:

There are people that believe in creation as strongly as any scientist believes in the primacy of natural law and the plain fact of the matter is creationists vastly outnumber the scientists at the ballot box and if you don’t give in a little bit to them now the backlash is going to be worse. Don’t turn them into a vengeful mob. Please. They dropped the 6,000 year old earth. They dropped references to a bearded thunderer named Yahweh that created everything in 6 days. They dropped the claim that none of evolution is mutation/selection. You need to compromise a little too. Can’t we all just get along?

The nature of reality is not determined by popular vote.  As an engineer, I do not ask people to vote about the buckling characteristics of beams, the compressibility and viscosity of hydraulic fluid, the properties of electronic devices or the semiconductors of which they are made, or the execution timing of microcontrollers.  Further even when there is “scripture” on these, it is sometimes wrong in important respects.  All disputes are resolved in the favor of reality.  (I also have patents to my name.  They do not impress me, as I know how easy they are to get for trivial “inventions” and even prior art.)

You’re saying that science should be reduced to muttering “Eppur si muove” under its collective breath to placate the mob.  I say that science owes the mob nothing, and any mob which insists upon conformance to an ignorant orthodoxy does so at the extreme peril of its society.  To do what you ask is to surrender our place in the world to the engineers who use genetic algorithms to design better devices, agronomists who anticipate the evolution of pests and blights and breed resistant strains before damage becomes a problem, therapeutic designers who understand the evolutionary response of pathogens to pressures and try to design therapies which reduce both pathogenicity and resistance, et cetera.  Those who follow your prescription will wind up in the position of today’s witch doctors and cargo cultists.

“If a million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.” – Anatole France.

The UPenn letter has hit the news: Penn profs join fray, in the York Daily Record

As reported in the Dover thread on the science teachers’ letter, Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center wrote an open letter in reply to the UPenn professors (PDF of the letter at the Christian Communication Network.

Since it is a pain to download pdfs, here is the extracted plain text:

Thomas More Law Center

Richard Thompson Chief Counsel Admitted in Michigan

January 7,2005

Paul Sniegowski University of Pennsylvania Department of Biology 415 S. University Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19104-6018

Michael Weisberg University of Pennsylvania Department of Philosophy 415 S. University Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19104-6018

Response to open letter dated January 6,2005:

If the level of inquiry supporting your letter is an example of the type of inquiry you make before arriving at scientific conclusions, I suggest that at the very least, your students should get their tuition money back, and more appropriately, the University should fire you as a scientist. It is clear that you do not have the slightest idea of the actual Dover school policy that you so vehemently condemn, and so let me educate you.

You write that the Dover school Board made a decision to “mandate the teaching of ‘intelligent design’ along with evolution.” That statement is untrue; in fact the opposite is the case. The school board policy specifically states: “No teacher will teach Intelligent Design, Creationism, or present his or her, or the Board’s, religious beliefs.”

Moreover, the school board adopted and purchased the biology textbooks for its students that were recommended by the school science teachers and the administration.

Regarding your dispute with the definition of theory, you fail to include the actual definition used in the policy, “A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.” That definition was recommended by the science teachers and adopted by the school board.

Finally, you are under the impression that Dover students will not be taught evolution, Let me disabuse you of that concern. The policy specifically acknowledges that the students must learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and take a standardized test in which evolution is a part. Accordingly, the only theory taught in class is Darwin’s theory of evolution, and the only textbook used in class is the standard text positing this theory.

I notice that your open letter was signed by a member of the Department of Philosophy. What does philosophy have to do with this issue? This issue is not about science versus philosophy; it is about two different interpretations of the same scientific data by scientists. I assume you would agree that the metaphysical implication of Darwin’s theory of evolution has no place in the science classroom. Or perhaps it is for this very reason that you so staunchly and dogmatically defend Darwin and place his theory above all criticism.

In conclusion, the Dover policy merely makes students aware of a growing controversy in the scientific community over the extent to which the theory of evolution can explain complex biological systems. This policy promotes critical thinking, which is important not only for the science profession, but for education in general. Moreover, this policy is in keeping with the Congressional intent behind the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and complements an honest science education.

Various minor facts that Thompson leaves out:

  • The Dover School District ID policy is a hodge-podge of ID-speak and attempts to avoid getting sued over ID by disclaiming religious intent. The courts have been only too happy to declare such cover language as “a sham” in previous creationism cases.
  • Evolution is described as a “Theory…not a fact”, a classic creationist shibboleth. The fact that the teachers attempted to repair the damage (funny that Thompson cites the teachers for support, considering that they just declared an open revolt against the policy) doesn’t change anything. An analogy for how the policy is currently written would be something like this: “Canada is a state, not a real country. A state is a self-governing region with an organized government.”
  • The teachers did recommend, and the school board did purchase, textbooks – Kenneth Miller and Joe Levine’s mainstream biology textbook, Biology. The teachers and many community members opposed Pandas, it was adopted administratively without a board vote after 60 copies were anonymously donated, on the understanding that they would just be reference material, and after the teachers made it clear they wouldn’t use the book except as a doorstop, the school board passed the policy requiring the disclaimer mentioning ID and directing students to Pandas.
  • Thompson tells the philosophers (it wasn’t just one, it was the philosophy department), “I assume you would agree that the metaphysical implication of Darwin’s theory of evolution has no place in the science classroom.” Hmm, I wonder what “the metaphysical implication” of Darwin’s theory is supposed to be? Thompson sure seems certain there is one…perhaps he shares the common creationist/ID misconception that evolution entails atheism?
  • “Growing controversy”…yawn. How many Steves has ID got?
  • And the old Santorum amendment canard – it was removed from the No Child Left Behind Act in the conference committee, and so is not in the bill as passed, conference report language is not definitive, the language is very vague and certainly doesn’t recommend ID like the Dover School District is doing – and the federal government doesn’t legislate curriculum anyway.
  • Speaking of Santorum, it was really subtle of Richard Thompson to say to the UPenn professors, “the University should fire you as a scientist,” considering that Senator Santorum of Pennsylvania is on the board of the Thomas More Law Center. We’ll keep this in mind the next time the Thomas More Law Center raises the banner of censorship, free speech, or academic freedom in defense of ID.

The York Daily Record story on the Thompson reply: Dover’s lawyer responds to Penn letter.

Responding to Nick’s comment # 13121

The Frighteningly Defensive Pseudoscience Activist Lawyer Wrote:

You write that the Dover school Board made a decision to “mandate the teaching of ‘intelligent design’ along with evolution.” That statement is untrue; in fact the opposite is the case. The school board policy specifically states: “No teacher will teach Intelligent Design, Creationism, or present his or her, or the Board’s, religious beliefs.”

Didn’t the original wording, which was disapproved of by the Discovery Institute, mandate the teaching of ID? IIRC, the wording was curiously ambiguous, suggesting that evolution would be “critically analyzed” but not necessarily so for ID. Incidentally, my email request last month to Dover to clarify this remains unanswered.

Either way, the “critical analysis” approach that avoids specific mention of ID is fully framed along the pseudoscientific misrepresentations of the ID strategy. So even if the professors were aware of the updated Dover strategy, and that “mandate” is no longer technically correct, it is quite reasonable to say that it students will be led to conclude ID. And I am sure the lawyer knows that that’s what they meant, and is just looking for semantic loopholes, because that’s all he has.

Frank J.,

This is the policy as passed:

Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, Intelligent Design. The Origins of Life is not taught.

…sounds like required to me. Thompson seems to be claiming that there is a distinction between “be[ing] made aware of” and “teaching.”

Thanks, Nick. That is exactly the “original wording” to which I referred, and thought that, per DI advice, they had abandoned.

Either way, it still does not seem like they want students to be aware of the fatal gaps/problems in ID “theory”.

I’m tardy to this discussion, but thought I’d chime in since there seems to be a certain amount a misinformation, all too often typical in these discussions. Thus, let me quote from the Dover School system’s official statements as to it’s policy, along with a few comments of my own. The district issued a press release in November and then reissued much the same one in mid-December. The full release can be seen at http://www.dover.k12.pa.us/doversd/[…]amp;Q=261852 But here are the extracts that I think are relevant to this discussion:

The district also received as a donation 60 copies of Of Pandas and People and the book is now listed as a reference book in the curriculum.

Originally the donors were said to be anonymous, but they turned out to be a current school board member and his father.

The Biology curriculum was also updated to include the following statement:

“Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to Intelligent Design. The Origins of Life is not taught.”

This is the official position of the Dover Area School Board and how they amended the official curriculum. The faculty had no input, as is obvious, and it does indeed require the teaching of ID, in addition to evolution.

The press release then states that …

The Assistant Superintendent in charge of curriculum development, Mr. Baksa, in coordination with the Science department teachers, the district solicitor, and the School Board has developed the following procedural statement to use in implementing the new Biology curriculum language. The following will be read to all students:

In fact the faculty opted out of contributing to the statement, rightfully believing that to do so would compromise their professional responsibilities.

Here is that statement (the one the faculty refused to read) to be read to all students starting this week …

“The state standards require students to learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and to eventually take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

“Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

“Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students to see if they would like to explore this view in an effort to gain an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves. As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind.

“The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life up to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses on the standards and preparing students to be successful on standards-based assessments.”

The press release then goes on to note that …

The statements were developed to provide a balanced view, not teach or present religious beliefs. “The Superintendent, Dr. Richard Nilsen, is on record stating that no teacher will teach Intelligent Design, Creationism, or present his/her or the board’s religious beliefs.” The Dover Area School District wants to support and not discriminate against students and parents that do have competing beliefs, especially in the area of the origin of life debate. Therefore, the School Board has noted that there are other opinions besides Darwin’s on the origin of life. “School districts are places for inquiry and critical discussions.” The above statement and the Dover Area School District’s Biology Curriculum is only providing that opportunity for open critical discussions – the real heart of the scientific practice.

Having worked much of my life in corporations, I smell a classic CYA memo. The writers (probably the superintendent and his assistant) understand precious little of biology, but are politically savvy (which is why they’re administrators) about maintaining relations with a naïve and ignorant board and a principled faculty. I sort of envision them like two men straddling the gap between two rocking boats that are slowly moving away from each other and desperately trying to maintain their footing. In studying for their EdD’s (I assume that’s what they have but don’t know for a fact) they probably never faced any case studies quite like this. So principles be damned—they’re just trying to survive. At least the faculty is protected by tenure and can afford a principled stand.

Just to drive a dead horse into the ground here:

The Dover Area School District wants to support and not discriminate against students and parents that do have competing beliefs, especially in the area of the origin of life debate. Therefore, the School Board has noted that there are other opinions besides Darwin’s on the origin of life.

Note that this debate is always described as dealing with the “origin of life.” It is not described as a debate over evolution, because evolution never happened!. The origin of life and the origin of species is viewed by creationist theology as being the same event, and the two cannot possibly be separated.

This turns out to be a fairly reliable litmus test of the beliefs of whoever makes such statements. If they speak of evolution and origin of species, they are from the science side. If they always refer to origin of life, they are from the creationist side. The complaint that Darwin never wrote about the origin of life, and indeed explicitly excluded it from his theory, cannot register on the creationist, no matter how many times Darwin is quoted. Of course Darwin’s theory is of the origin of life! What else is there?

The Dover Area School District wants to support and not discriminate against students and parents that do have competing beliefs, especially in the area of the origin of life debate.

If a desperate need to be coddled and protected is any indication, there can be no better evidence that fundamentalist Christianity is a religion in the midst of a severe crisis.

Just parse the above statement as follows to understand what is happening: “The Dover Area School District wants to support … students and parents that do have competing beliefs in the area of the origin of life debate.”

Who are these “students and parents”? They are fundamentalist Christians, obviously.

And what are they asking for? They are asking for their religious beliefs to be recognized as scientific facts whose validity will “soon” be universally acknowledged.

Never mind that fundamentalists comprise a fraction of the students and parents and Dover. And never mind that explicitly “supporting” the creation mythology of one religious sect over another in a science class is obviously unconstitutional.

The greater story is that nothing is more pathetic than watching fundamentalists explain how their feelings are hurt when their religious beliefs are described as “mere” religious beliefs. Is there a weaker and more desperate group of people on the planet than fundamentalist Christians? Only Al Qaeda comes to mind. And everybody hates those guys.

DaveScot:

Newtonian physics isn’t a complete explanation of matter and energy but it’s quite sufficient to build rockets and launch spacecraft. You don’t need to get into Einstein’s General and Special Theories of Relativity for those fields of endeavour just like you don’t have to think about a possible designer in evolution for bioinformatics and genomics.

I sure hope you don’t work in the aerospace industry. Here’s an article on relativity and GPS satellites, which for unknown reasons I am unable to post as an intact link: http:// www-astronomy .mps. ohio-state .edu /~pogge/Ast162/Unit5/gps.html

To achieve this level of precision, the clock ticks from the GPS satellites must be known to an accuracy of 20-30 nanoseconds. However, because the satellites are constantly moving relative to observers on the Earth, effects predicted by the Special and General theories of Relativity must be taken into account to achieve the desired 20-30 nanosecond accuracy.

How many falsehoods can we attribute to DaveScot (aka Dave Springer, proud “waterfront property” owner) to date? Are we up to ten yet?

Say, Dave, do your kids know that you play a crank on the internet? Are they script-reciting rubes, too?

Bayesian Bouffant:

DaveScot merely claimed that you did not need relativity to “build rockets and launch spacecraft”. And he’s right in that… note that he did not say anything about having the spacecraft accurately reach a destination or precisely complete a task.

Now, most people would be a bit perturbed to launch a costly spacecraft and have it be useless because some lazy engineer couldn’t be bothered to work through the relativistic forms of the relevant equations. DaveScot doesn’t appear to be one to be so easily perturbed.

That’s gotta be another of Reed’s anti-spam hacks kicking in. Look at it as the price of not reading porn and offshore gambling spam in the Comments. :)

Bayesian Bouffant writes: “Here’s an article on relativity and GPS satellites, which for unknown reasons I am unable to post as an intact link:…”

I think it’s the hyphens causing the problem with the URL. There’s some overprotective code being use to validate entries on this board.

Richard Thompson:

I notice that your open letter was signed by a member of the Department of Philosophy. What does philosophy have to do with this issue?

Methinks Mr. lawyer didn’t think this through very carefully. If only biologists should be allowed to weigh in on what gets taught in biology class, there goes most of the DI board. Other than Behe, how many of the DI board and ID proponents have biology degrees? Even Dembski’s degrees are in other areas.

So I looked up: Michael Weisberg University of Pennsylvania Department of Philosophy Here’s his web page.

I am an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania.

My research is on the philosophy of science. The project which occupies much of my time focuses on the role that idealization plays in the construction of mathematical models in biology and chemistry. Although I tend to write about population biology and structural chemisty, I am also interested in theory construction in cognitive science, molecular biology, condensed matter physics, and history.

In addition to my primary research areas, I maintain an active interest in the history of philosophy of science (especially Darwin’s methodology and peripatetic debates about mixture), cognitive science, political and ethical dimensions of scientific inquiry, and epistemology.

Besides my primary affiliation in philosophy, I am also a faculty associate of Spruce College House and a faculty affiliate of IRCS, the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science and CCN, the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. …

To claim that a philosopher of science who works in areas related to biology should not be a party to the discussion is bizarre indeed.

DaveScot

DNA/ribosome is a computer controlled milling machine. Plain and simple.

It’s not that plain and it’s not that simple. A milling machine can only remove material. The ribosome, by contrast, fabricates something from raw materials. In that respect it is more like recent technology in “digital fabrication” or “3D printing”

Both a milling machine and a 3D printer work in three dimensions. The ribosome fabricates a one-dimensional strand which subsequently folds into its three-dimensional shape. I cannot just now come up with a “plain and simple” analog from the world of hardware.

There are other differences, of course. A ribosome is constructed of RNA and protein, and is thus subject to evolution through mutation and natural selection. I don’t know any milling machines with that property. As always, an analogy can be stretched too far, and in this case the direction of stretching is directly relevant to the suitability of the analogy.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on January 6, 2005 4:52 PM.

Natural Reading was the previous entry in this blog.

Another twist on the Dover story is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.381

Site Meter