ID in Schools, Redux

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Everyone’s probably seen it already, but Jay Mathews has written an Op-Ed in today’s Washington Post about teaching ID in schools titled Who’s Afraid of Intelligent Design?.

Mathews, who is not an ID advocate, argues that we should teach ID and have public school children debate the issue in order to liven-up biology class. I made a good sized post last week about why this is not a good idea in response to a similar argument put forth by Brad Plumer on Political Animal.

Since my last post was generic enough to cover most of Mathews’ claims as well, I won’t go into detail and repeat everything I wrote previously. But there are a few things I would like to address, just to make things clear.

First of all, Mathews writes:

Drop in on an average biology class and you will find the same slow, deadening march of memorization that I endured at 15. Why not enliven this with a student debate on contrasting theories?

Putting aside the issue of why biology class needs to be livened-up (I found biology class quite interesting without being taught pseudoscience, but I guess that’s why Mathews and I have chosen different career paths), the problem is that there is no theory of ID. ID polemics consist almost exclusively of criticisms against evolution. So instead of teaching contrasting theories, we’ll be teaching one theory, and then we’ll be teaching the arguments from people who hate that theory. If these arguments were sound, then I’d have no problem with that. Unfortunately, most of these arguments are not sound, and I for one will never concede that we should teach false or invalid claims as if they were legitimate.

So what exactly does Mathews think should be taught? He gives us an idea with a couple of examples from those other science classes down the hall:

And why stop with biology? Physics teachers could ask students to explain why a perpetual-motion machine won’t work. Earth science teachers could show why the steady-state theory of the universe lost out to the Big Bang…

This sort of naiveté is breathtaking. Physics students should already be able to explain to their teachers why perpetual motion machines won’t work, otherwise the teacher has done a lousy job. But what Mathews is proposing is the equivalent of teaching students that perpetual motion machines actually do work, that there is some major disagreement within the scientific community in this regard, and that the students should have a debate about the validity of perpetual motion. By the time the class is over, a large fraction of students won’t know what to think.

As for the Big Bang vs. steady-state theory, again, the proper analogy would be to teach steady-state as if it were legitimate, not simply to show why it’s wrong. That’s probably not what Mathews has in mind. What he seems to have in mind is already being done – students are routinely taught why older theories have been displaced by newer ones. In my high school biology class, I was taught that scientists once assumed that individual species were created separately, and that this view was later overtaken by an evolutionary point of view. And we were, of course, taught about the evidence that led scientists to accept the new theory.

That would seem to satisfy Mathews’ criterion, so what’s the problem? Unfortunately, I think he’s pretty much clueless about what the ID people actually want taught, to say nothing of their broader agenda. The following paragraph is strongly indicative of this:

The intelligent-design folks say theirs is not a religious doctrine. They may be lying, and are just softening up the teaching of evolution for an eventual pro-Genesis assault. But they passed one of my tests. They answered Gould’s favorite question: If you are real scientists, then what evidence would disprove your hypothesis? [John] West indicated that any discovery of precursors of the animal body plans that appeared in the Cambrian period 500 million years ago would cast doubt on the thesis that those plans, in defiance of Darwin, evolved without a universal common ancestor.

Mathews swallowed that one hook, line, and sinker, and probably ate the fishing pole for good measure. There is no way that finding precursors of animal body plans could falsify the idea that some Intelligent Designer designed some feature of living things at some unspecified point in time. Once again, this is an argument against evolution, not evidence for ID. The argument could be wrong, but it wouldn’t mean that ID was wrong. In fact, at least one leading ID advocate, Michael Behe, believes that the evidence supports universal common ancestry. For some strange reason, the evidence for common ancestry hasn’t falsified ID according to Michael Behe, even though it would according to John West. Start to see the problem?

Creationists have come up with lots of arguments in the past that later research showed were dead wrong. I would include the Cambrian explosion arguments among them, as new finds keep making the original argument from ignorance less and less tenable. But none of this falsifies ID, nor could it ever make the ID advocates give up their crusade. If you follow them enough, it’s obvious that nothing will make them give up, at least not until culture has been thoroughly renewed. Unfortunately, Mathews is advocating that we teach something about which he apparently knows little, cooked-up by an extremist movement about which he apparently knows even less.

3 TrackBacks

In contrast to an adequate Washington Post article written by Steve Olson (An Argument’s Mutating Terms) on the meanings of the word ‘theory’ a recent article by colleague Jay Mathews (Who’s Afraid of Intelligent Design?) demonstrates the range... Read More

Jay Mathews thinks we ought to include Intelligent Design creationism in the classroom. Why? Because biology classes are boring, and a little controversy would spice them up and get the students involved. Let's not stop there. Physics is incredibl... Read More

In contrast to an adequate Washington Post article written by Steve Olson (An Argument's Mutating Terms) a recent article by colleague Jay Mathews (Who's Afraid of Intelligent Design?) demonstrates the range of investigative competence present among Wa... Read More

48 Comments

A quick lesson on the unfalsifiability of ID. Imagine a series of numbers, letters, and symbols on a piece of paper. Is there any combination of characters that would be inconsistent with intelligent design? No. No matter what you see on that piece of paper, an intelligent agent could have put it there. We may not understand why the IDer put whatever combination down, but that doesn’t mean that an IDer didn’t put it down. It’s the same thing in nature. There is no possible discovery out there that would be inconsistent with Intelligent Design. No fossil, no molecular sequence, nothing. In contrast, there are tons of things that would falsify evolution. If there was a single gene that was completely identical between mice and rats, evolution would not be able to explain it. If a griffon, pegasus, or any chimeric animal was discovered, with half its genetic sequence from birds and the other half from mammals, evolution would be dumbstruck.

I didn’t bother to write to the letters to the editor column, but I did write to Mathews pointing out that we have already discovered the precursors to the Cambrian critters – and West clearly hasn’t changed his mind.

I also invited Mathews to come down to Dallas to see the full Discovery Institute Dog and Pony Show this weekend. It’s being held at the University of Texas at Dallas – sponsored by a local Christian group.

Mr. Inlay’s concise criticism of ID is spot on.

Thanks Ed; you or someone else should feel free to post information about the precursors to Cambrian critters. I knew they were out there, but it occurred to me that I didn’t know enough to talk about them without some thorough background research, which I didn’t have the time for.

http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/97/13/6947 is one such site, from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

You know, the other thing that I would have thought a smart and experienced guy like Mathews would be up-to-date on is how science is introduced into the classrooms.

Judge William Overton spelled it out for creationists and ID advocates back in the Arkansas decision in 1982. If there is real science there, no school board action is necessary, no legislature need rule on it – the textbook publishers fall all over each other trying to get it into the books. So the gauntlet that is thrown down to the ID advocates is, do some real science and write it up; get it published and show how it advances knowledge.

Kenneth Miller was absolutely correct earlier this year when he noted that ID ‘has failed to win any adherents in the marketplace of ideas,’ and now turns to the political process to get a government handout to do what it cannot do on its own, scientifically.

The classroom is exactly the wrong place for such a debate to take place. It would be tantamount to saying we’ll let 9th grade kids in health class determine exactly what sort of sex education they should get, and whether kids need to worry about sexually-transmitted diseases – and we’ll let that decision stand for U.S. policy.

In each example of a classroom debate that Mathews offers, the real-world policy issues have already been determined – except in intelligent design. Kids using the arguments of the scholars and policy-makers who made the decisions is one thing. Kids taking the place of those scholars and policy-makers is something else.

Matt Inlay Wrote:

If there was a single gene that was completely identical between mice and rats, evolution would not be able to explain it.

Whu?? I don’t get this one Matt. Maybe I’m missing something.

Yikes, I just realized that I misspelled Mathews’ name in about ten different places. Problem fixed.

If biologly classes were to spend time on alternates to evolution, then how about having Bible classes spending time on alternates to Christianity. There are hundreds of millions of belivers in Islam, so that seems like a legitimate subject. It might at the least liven things up.

A fossil homo sapien skeleton encrusted with fossil trilobites would be a nifty falsification. Especially if one trilobite were, say, stuck up inside the skull where it looked as if it were eating the brains.

Look, if God wanted to call evolution into question, all he had to do was leave real gaps. Nothing between lemurs and modern humans, for example. As things stand, I give you the chimp–dead giveaway that either there is no god, or that God is quite comfortable with us inferring that he created via evolution. And by creating in such a way as to make his existence appear unnecessary, perhaps God was just trying to protect his privacy. I can respect that.

Ed Darrell Wrote:

I also invited Mathews to come down to Dallas to see the full Discovery Institute Dog and Pony Show this weekend. It’s being held at the University of Texas at Dallas — sponsored by a local Christian group.

I live in the Dallas area and would be interested to see the “full DI Dog and Pony Show.” I couldn’t find any information on UTD’s website. Do you know dates, times and location?

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A fossil homo sapien skeleton encrusted with fossil trilobites would be a nifty falsification. Especially if one trilobite were, say, stuck up inside the skull where it looked as if it were eating the brains.

Look, if God wanted to call evolution into question, all he had to do was leave real gaps. Nothing between lemurs and modern humans, for example. As things stand, I give you the chimp–dead giveaway that either there is no god, or that God is quite comfortable with us inferring that he created via evolution. And by creating in such a way as to make his existence appear unnecessary, perhaps God was just trying to protect his privacy. I can respect that.

I was not impressed with Matthews’ article at all. It’s great that he had a good history teacher, but 1) comparing the Articles of the Confederation with the Constitution, or even having students take different sides in historical debates, or whatever, is a bit different from, say, having administrators read a short statement about how all the Founding Fathers were driven by Judeo-Christian values and devout faith to found a Christian nation, and look at all these faked or out of context quotes to prove it! 2) Ladendorff obviously didn’t spend as much time on critical thinking as he should have … and 3) when he says “Many students, like me, find it hard to understand evolutionary theory,” it’s clear he isn’t doing it for effect.

Why are these people so frickin’naive?? Is it that all their friends think like them, so they don’t realize what a can of worms they’d be opening? Do they really not understand that this is different from, say, teaching about perpetual motion in that (besides the reasons listed above) only a few crackpots care all that much about perpetual motion, while lots of folks have a little more invested in this issue?

I think we need little fact sheets of some sort explaining what ID is and what its proponents want. I mean, we know the movement as a whole doesn’t give a rat’s posterior about anything except hammering the wedge in a little harder, but most people don’t …

The sad thing is that good science teaching nowadays can be very cool. Not to say that lots of kids aren’t sitting through droning memorization, but it can be much better without this sort of nonsense?

“Like me, Campbell reveres the 19th-century philosopher John Stuart Mill, who said good ideas should be questioned lest they degenerate into dogma. “

Ok, we can start questioning history. Oh, not the cool get engaged with history progressive teaching thing, but questioning the idea, the practice of history. It’s just bunk, after all. Henry Ford said so. I’ll trade you two Holocaust deniers for a neoConfederate revisionist - sound good?

Whu?? I don’t get this one Matt. Maybe I’m missing something.

If there was a single gene that was completely identical between mice and rats, evolution would not be able to explain it.

Or at least have trouble explaining it anyway. Under an evolutionary scenario we’d expect to see a few changes, even if only a few amino acids changed in the final protein. Even with heavily constrained regions there are still neutral mutations that can occur, which can then been used to construct evolutionary lineages identifying historical relationships between species. Whereas I’m not sure how finding gene sized regions of DNA that were completely identical between different species could be interpreted, without stretching probability theory somewhat.

Scott Davidson Wrote:

If there was a single gene that was completely identical between mice and rats, evolution would not be able to explain it.

Or at least have trouble explaining it anyway.

Gleefully returning to my favourite hobby-horse in the ID arena, viz. Design Intent… Were I on a team professionally engaged in reverse-engineering biological systems (which with gratitude I report that I am not – I have found that doing it on many classes of human-designed systems can be challenging enough), early on our attention would be attracted to the serious matter of data integrity in the storage/retrieval/duplication system.

In looking over the design, its capabilities, limitations and failue modes, we see that there are a number of sophisticated error-detection and error-correction systems, together with some subsystems for declaring a fatal error and performing the equivalent of a Kernel Panic and total shutdown.

We note, however, that the error detection/correction systems are far from perfect – not just far from theoretically perfect, but far from what is practically obtainable in other information storage systems with current human technology. In situations of this sort, the analyst generally considers two major categories of possible explanations: (1) this is a serious blunder; or (2) this is necessary to accomplish the Design Intent.

Watching the behavior of biological systems in the field, we find that the “blunder” probability appears to be much lower than the “it is actually supposed to do this, really” probability.

In other words, we would come to a high-confidence working assumption that the Designers intend[ed] that a certain (low) level of errors occur during data retrieval and replication, and our analysis report would perforce include a section with a title along the lines of “4.1.1 This Stuff Is Evidently Supposed To Evolve”.

If I were a teacher forced by political processes to include ID in my classroom work, I think I’d try to find ways to talk about deconstructing design…

Scott Davidson Wrote:

If there was a single gene that was completely identical between mice and rats, evolution would not be able to explain it.

Or at least have trouble explaining it anyway.

Gleefully returning to my favourite hobby-horse in the ID arena, viz. Design Intent… Were I on a team professionally engaged in reverse-engineering biological systems (which with gratitude I report that I am not – I have found that doing it on many classes of human-designed systems can be challenging enough), early on our attention would be attracted to the serious matter of data integrity in the storage/retrieval/duplication system.

In looking over the design, its capabilities, limitations and failue modes, we see that there are a number of sophisticated error-detection and error-correction systems, together with some subsystems for declaring a fatal error and performing the equivalent of a Kernel Panic and total shutdown.

We note, however, that the error detection/correction systems are far from perfect – not just far from theoretically perfect, but far from what is practically obtainable in other information storage systems with current human technology. In situations of this sort, the analyst generally considers two major categories of possible explanations: (1) this is a serious blunder; or (2) this is necessary to accomplish the Design Intent.

Watching the behavior of biological systems in the field, we find that the “blunder” probability appears to be much lower than the “it is actually supposed to do this, really” probability.

In other words, we would come to a high-confidence working assumption that the Designers intend[ed] that a certain (low) level of errors occur during data retrieval and replication, and our analysis report would perforce include a section with a title along the lines of “4.1.1 This Stuff Is Evidently Supposed To Evolve”.

If I were a teacher forced by political processes to include ID in my classroom work, I think I’d try to find ways to talk about deconstructing design…

OK, multiple posting is apparently a server load problem. Post submitted, long delay, connection times out, multiple page refreshes show post not showing up, so author resubmits. Live & learn.

Whu?? I don’t get this one Matt. Maybe I’m missing something.

Sorry, I don’t mean to distract from Steve’s excellent post, but I guess I should explain this. I’m not an expert on this topic, but mice and rats are estimated to have diverged around 33 million years ago. According to PZ Myer’s blog, their DNA is 93.4% identical. So the odds of a 1 kilobase region of the mouse genome being identical to the homologous 1 kb region of the rat genome is 0.934^1000 = 2.2 x 10^-30 (correct me if my math is wrong). Most genes are much larger than 1 kb (remember, genes are not just exons!). The odds of a 10 kb locus being identical is 3 x 10^-297.

Apologies for the multiple trackbacks. My software indicated that they never got through. Also, there appears to be a very long lag between pings and appearance (at least 45 minutes).

It’s still possible that selection could keep two genes perfectly conserved, even at the redunant third base sites if there were some reason why certain codons were better than others. It’s extremely unlikely given what we know, but not totally impossible. I agree it would not be easy to explain though.

Hmmm… Design intent

What about warranties? Or are we no longer covered? What about legal fall back for bad design? :)

What about legal fall back for bad design?

Indeed. Taking all of this into account, I conclude that the probability that anybody involved in concocting the entire ID cuckoo’s egg has any practical experience in designing complex systems that do something practical approaches the cube root of zero.

A fossil homo sapien skeleton encrusted with fossil trilobites would be a nifty falsification. Especially if one trilobite were, say, stuck up inside the skull where it looked as if it were eating the brains.

That’s awesome. Of course, that skeleton might belong to an evolutionary biologist from the not-so-distant future travelling back in time to sequence some trilobite DNA as additional proof that evolution occurred. Oh, the irony!!!!

Bill Schwennicke wrote: “If biologly classes were to spend time on alternates to evolution, then how about having Bible classes spending time on alternates to Christianity. There are hundreds of millions of belivers in Islam, so that seems like a legitimate subject. It might at the least liven things up.”

Ooooo, I like that suggestion! We could (if it wasn’t so potentially offensive to religion) start some type of “Teach the Controversy” parody based on that idea. In the same vein as Project Steve it would help to raise awareness of IDists methods.

“Morning Kids, welcome to religious education class 101. The Bible says God created the world in seven days, but did you know there are many top scholars from other religions that disagree. The Bible has trouble explaining some thing that other religions don’t. You need to critically analyze Christianity . …”

Victor Zammit is far more interesting than ID. Not only that, he’s far more intuitive to teenagers. Comparing him to Victor Dammit would really get teenagers going. If you’re tempted to use a pseudoscience foil in class why go with anything so dreary as ID?

Re “precursors of the animal body plans that appeared in the Cambrian period 500 million years ago”

Even if there weren’t as yet pre-Cambrian fossils, why should anybody assume that developments in that time period would be qualitatively any different than developments in the 500 million years following that period?

Henry

Mike wrote:

I live in the Dallas area and would be interested to see the “full DI Dog and Pony Show.” I couldn’t find any information on UTD’s website. Do you know dates, times and location?

Try

http://www.utdallas.edu/orgs/idea/s[…]stration.htm

Salvador

Bill and Nic,

the funny thing is, in some countries having RE as a subject in state schools, the basics on a wide range of religions are taught and discussed there as a matter of course and proselyzing in class is a big no-no (can get a teacher suspended) - and mind you, this is explicitely christian RE, not some comparative course. The big difference to ‘balanced’ biology courses of course is, that RE or a philosophy course obviously are the subjects where one discusses different belief systems. So, if somebody wanted to move ID into the curriculum, RE/philosophy could be be the place to teach about its anti-naturalist foundation, sociology/politics the place to analyze its popular appeal and political strategies, but it would still have to stay out of science classes, as long as it does not demonstrate considerable scientific merit in its own right. Not surprisingly, I am not holding my breath for this to happen.

Matt Inlay Wrote:

Sorry, I don’t mean to distract from Steve’s excellent post, but I guess I should explain this. I’m not an expert on this topic, but mice and rats are estimated to have diverged around 33 million years ago. According to PZ Myer’s blog, their DNA is 93.4% identical. So the odds of a 1 kilobase region of the mouse genome being identical to the homologous 1 kb region of the rat genome is 0.934^1000 = 2.2 x 10^-30 (correct me if my math is wrong). Most genes are much larger than 1 kb (remember, genes are not just exons!). The odds of a 10 kb locus being identical is 3 x 10^-297.

Ahhh, I see where you’re going now.

Thanks for the clarification.

Alas, people, we are making an elementary mistake here. Individual protein sequences will be identical between rat and mouse if the proteins are under strong selection. A prime example is given by the histones, where, for example, there are identical H2A sequences among rat, mouse, and human, and, for good measure, chickens.

The reason for this is obvious: histones are under strong selection, and the probablility of even a neutral mutation is low. Just as evolutionary theory would predict.

This particular bad idea has shown up in a number of places. It has the appeal of being a moderate, between the two positions stance (even though it isn’t) as well as sounding like an edgy, exciting, brave proposal (again, even though it isn’t). How do we best reveal it for the really bad idea that it is?

In an email to Mathews which will doubtless be deservedly ignored, I characterized this particular and common brand of naivete as being like a person who is happily opening up a can of yummy peanuts despite the fact that everyone’s yelling that it’s really one of those joke snakes-in-a-can, about to pop up into his face.

There really should be a convenient fact sheet about this mess.

http://www.cnn.com/2005/LAW/03/24/s[…]o/index.html

Judge Moore and other fundamentalist types should take a deep sniff of the air around the Terry Schiavo case. The evidence that Michael Schiavo is a murderous cretin – as many evangelicals would have you believe – is nearly non-existent, but is still much better than the evidence that evolutionary biologists are deluded frauds trying to foist a “secular humanist” agenda on impressionable children.

I found it very interesting to watch commentators on Faux News shill their tiny brains out for fake self-promoting “Nobel Prize nominees” who claim to have the ability to “heal” Terry Schiavo. Yes, they shilled their worthless guts out but at the end of the day very few Americans were persuaded.

You see, Americans are not as dumb as many fundamentalists, conservative evangelical types, appeasement-promoting “liberals”, and the ultra-weird charlatans at the Discovery Institute would like us to believe.

Alas, people, we are making an elementary mistake here.

Not really, though. Because while

Individual protein sequences will be identical between rat and mouse if the proteins are under strong selection…

the redundancy in the codon table still allows for changes in the DNA sequence, while preserving the amino acid sequence.

A prime example is given by the histones, where, for example, there are identical H2A sequences among rat, mouse, and human, and, for good measure, chickens.

But I count 22 nucleotide changes between rat and mouse histone 2a genes.

jonas Wrote:

… but it would still have to stay out of science classes, as long as it does not demonstrate considerable scientific merit in its own right.

Even in the event that some scientific merit could be adduced, ID still cannot escape from being essentially religious in nature, and hence excluded from the science curriculum, at least in the USA for as long as the current Constitution remains in effect.

ID advocates focus intensely on small subsystems that “must have been designed”. They rely on the analysis stopping there, to avoid the teleological questions that inevitably arise when the notion of “designedness” propagates, as it logically must, from small subystems to the entire system of life on Earth as a whole. One simply cannot put up a fence with a sign that says “No Consideration Of Intended Purpose Allowed Beyond This Point”. At least not whilst attempting to be honest and analytically rigourous.

If somebody did find evidence that pointed to some form of ID, would that make the ID advocates happy? I doubt it. I predict that if that were to happen, it would more than likely point to a model they wouldn’t like any more than the evolution they argue against now.

Henry

I’m trying to figure out how ID couldn’t accommodate this:

Gould’s favorite question: If you are real scientists, then what evidence would disprove your hypothesis? West indicated that any discovery of precursors of the animal body plans that appeared in the Cambrian period 500 million years ago would cast doubt on the thesis that those plans, in defiance of Darwin, evolved without a universal common ancestor.

These dolts aren’t able to follow a coherent line of reasoning from the hominid fossil evidence, or the genetic evidence showing the expected random divergences in “neutral” nucleotide substitutions, so why does West turn specifically to a “test” involving Precambrian to Cambrian evolution? Horse evolution, archaeopteryx, whale evolution, angiosperm diversification, all are ample tests of the “thesis that those plans, in defiance of Darwin, evolved without a universal common ancestor”. And ID fails as miserably as usual.

West only turns to the Cambrian issue because the “Cambrian explosion” is a genuine question mark in evolution, and because there are so very many other areas where there is no legitimate question of whether or not evolution via mutation plus natural selection occurred. Disputes exist as to whether or not Ediacaran fauna are ancestors of Cambrian fauna, and the evolution at the Cambrian boundary does seem unusually rapid either way.

But in areas where the resolution is good, evolution has been shown to leave the sorts of evidence that is expected. Furthermore, it appears that evolution occurs during the Cambrian, with chordates appearing well after the initial “explosion”. Furthermore, West shows himself to be a true IDist not only in cherry-picking the “Cambrian explosion” for his “test”, but also in insisting on fossil evidence instead of asking for the abundant genetic evidences that every line coming out of the Cambrian does indeed have a common ancestor, one predating the Cambrian explosion by several hundred million years.

Matthews just swallows West’s “test” gullibly and without the slightest notion of what a scientific test is. If ID were actual science it would make predictions throughout time, and across the various lines of evidence. But the moment it makes any kind of legitimate test, it fails immediately in the vertebrate fossil record, and in the genetic record. Thus it has to pick a time where questions remain, and triumphantly declare a “gap”. But there is no gap genetically, and only the fossil evidence remains disputed.

This is exactly why we don’t want these egregiously anti-scientific people teaching their nonsense, for they don’t follow scientific methods at all. A specific “prediction” for one place where a question mark remains is West’s “test”, and not a test of general prediction that fits all (nearly all) of evolutionary history, as current evolutionary theory supplies. These people don’t even know how bad their thinking is.

Russell nails me on sequence conservation in the histones:

But I count 22 nucleotide changes between rat and mouse histone 2a genes.

OK, how about tRNAs, where the tRNA-lys(2) sequences of rat and mouse are identical(except for variable amounts of modification):Nucleic Acids Res. 1984 March 12; 12(5): 2535–2541. Lysine tRNAs from rat liver: lysine tRNA sequences are highly conserved. C Hedgcoth, K Hayenga, M Harrison, and B J Ortwerth

My point still stands: genes under strong selection will not necessarily change at the sequence level.

I wasn’t really trying to be nitpicky. Your point is a good one. It’s good to bear that in mind when devious creationists use data like cytochrome C sequences to “prove” molecular phylogenies disagree with morphologically based taxonomies.

Even in the event that some scientific merit could be adduced, ID still cannot escape from being essentially religious in nature, and hence excluded from the science curriculum, at least in the USA for as long as the current Constitution remains in effect.

No, if ID had any scientific content, it could be included in science curricula. If there were any science content, ID could be said to have a bona fide secular importance. The problem is in your wording. If there were scientific content, it would not be ‘essentially religious’.

Here’s an example. Let’s say some people who took the bible very seriously wanted to modify the health curricula to say, “As long as you believe in the christian god, you can drink poisons and live, just like it says in Mark 16”. This has no scientific content and would be impermissible. But say that some toxicologists at Harvard started studying this and they found that it actually works, and their findings were replicated elsewhere, and after a while it became well known among toxicologists. Then a school board decides that they want to update the health textbooks to say, “If you drink a bunch of poison, you should seek medical attention immediately, with the exception of christians, who can still look forward to a fine afternoon.” This would be essentially scientific even if it had an incidental effect of advancing religion. This would be constitutional.

steve Wrote:

But say that some toxicologists at Harvard started studying this and they found that it actually works…

In such a case, all of our lives would suddenly be profoundly different. But this is a different issue.

Even if ID managed somehow to produce testable hypotheses at some low level, its own inbuilt teleological chain eventually and inescapable leads to a supernatural final cause not susceptible to scientific enquiry but wholly religious in nature. Personally, I think that this aspect needs to be presented along with the “ID Is Not Science” argument.

This is a “carry the struggle to the adversary’s home turf” tactic. And we get able assistance from unexpected quarters, what with folks like the Raelians lining up and cheering ID on. And for some in the audience, it may be more intelligible than a lucid exposition of the characteristics of science and ID that make ID not science.

its own inbuilt teleological chain eventually and inescapable leads to a supernatural final cause not susceptible to scientific enquiry but wholly religious in nature. Personally, I think that this aspect needs to be presented along with the “ID Is Not Science” argument.

You seem to have accepted the pervasive dogma that mysterious meddling alien beings with indescribable creative powers don’t exist. ;)

That is the scripted response to your proposal, Michael, which I think is a sound proposal.

Fortunately, there are so many awesome rejoinders to my scripted response that no need ever fear driving their agnostic truck through the gaping hole in Dembski’s non-theory.

GWW Wrote:

You seem to have accepted the pervasive dogma…

Heh. In looking over my earlier remarks I see that I’ve also committed some classic errors of speaking the language of one’s own speciality in the company of those who have different passions (and different languages).

I have prepared a somewhat lengthy disquisition on the hazards of words such as “purpose”, “function” and “role” when discussing evolved systems as opposed to designed systems, but this is not the thread to drop it into. (ObAvidaPlug: spending too much time in the analysis of evolved genomes can really modify your way of looking at complex systems.)

So, you’re all safe from that until somebody happens accidentally to create a thread for which such maunderings are appropriate.

I found it very interesting to watch commentators on Faux News shill their tiny brains out for fake self-promoting “Nobel Prize nominees” who claim to have the ability to “heal” Terry Schiavo. Yes, they shilled their worthless guts out but at the end of the day very few Americans were persuaded.

Whenever anyone is billed as a “Noble nominee,” if one’s Hemingway excrement detector is working, it should have its needles pinned and claxons wailing.

Who is nominated for a Noble Prize is a secret. In physiology or medicine, the category mentioned, the Noble Committee may reveal nominees 50 years or so after the nomination.

So there is no honest way to know whether one has been nominated for the prize. Were a journalist to call the Noble Committee in question, the journalist would get a stonewall.

All of which adds up to this: When a physician is billed as a “Nobel nominee,” it almost always means the fellow is a charlatan.

You see, Americans are not as dumb as many fundamentalists, conservative evangelical types, appeasement-promoting “liberals”, and the ultra-weird charlatans at the Discovery Institute would like us to believe.

The strange thing is, they’re driving a wedge through the middle of their own wedge and hence undermining a large portion of their base. I was under the impression that, apart from the theocrats, most conservative Republicans were diametrically opposed to such Big Government legislation. Hopefully this will spell an end to the illusion that Bush is on their side (and indeed on the side of a hefty slice of the Constitution, for that matter).

Part of what I wrote in an e-mail to Mathews (including an encouragement to read this entry and respond to it):

Yes, teachers should teach controversies. But they need to teach plausible controversies in context. In history, we have the advantage of setting the debate either in the past (role-playing) or in the present (historiography), plus the fact that many of the current debates are both lively questions and ones of deep political import. I strongly suspect that there are similar controversies in biology, though I am not competent to identify ones that are both salient and instructionally useful. Evolution-ID is not a scientific debate at the moment. A good European historian will allow plenty of discussion on the factors that shaped the rise of the Nazis and the Holocaust, but she or he doesn’t have to let students debate whether the Holocaust really happened.

Sherman Dorn Wrote:

Evolution-ID is not a scientific debate at the moment.

Certainly not. But your qualification “at the moment” is misplaced. It cannot be a scientific debate because ID is not and never will be science. This isn’t just a matter of stubborn refusal to consider the merits of another (“alternative”) idea. The substantive components of ID are by definition non-scientific.

We don’t consider poetry as a viable basis (“alternative”) for structural engineering for good reason. Poetry can wax eloquently on the beauty of a bridge but it contributes absolutely nothing to the principles and means that brought about its construction. It’s no different for ID. It doesn’t fall within the paradigmatic assumptions under which science operates.

Your historical analogy doesn’t work either. The Holocaust falls within the category of historical event, and as such can be debated - in principle - with regard to its historicity. ID does not fall within the category of science and thus cannot be debated with regard to its scientific merits.

Buridan wrote:

Sherman Dorn wrote: “Evolution-ID is not a scientific debate at the moment.” Certainly not. But your qualification “at the moment” is misplaced.… Your historical analogy doesn’t work either.

And some will tell me that I’m ugly, too, but I’m not sure how any of that affects my larger point that, whatever the merits of having classroom debate, there’s a difference between debates on plausibly open topics and those topics that really aren’t active controversies in the field.

I particularly liked this remark from Matthews..

“And why stop with biology? Physics teachers could ask students to explain why a perpetual-motion machine won’t work. Earth science teachers could show why the steady-state theory of the universe lost out to the Big Bang … “

Funny, but as a geophysicist I never considered cosmology a part of the geosciences. Not that it isn’t a fascinating subject..

What is it with journalists?

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This page contains a single entry by Steve Reuland published on March 23, 2005 3:20 PM.

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