Drawing a Line in the Academic Sand

| 33 Comments

Two recent articles in Inside Higher Ed News are presenting a good overview as to how academics view Intelligent Design.

Drawing a Line in the Academic Sand and Common Ground on Intelligent Design

The first article discusses the statement by the President of the University of Idaho.

President White Wrote:

“Because of the recent national media attention on the issue,” reads President Timothy P. White’s letter, “I write to articulate the University of Idaho’s position with respect to evolution: this is the only curriculum that is appropriate to be taught in our bio-physical sciences.” The short letter goes on to allow for the teaching of “views that differ from evolution” in other courses, like religion and philosophy, but not as a scientific principle, which is “testable and anchored in evidence.”

They quote Harold Gibson, a University of Idaho spokesperson

Gibson said that if he were a faculty member interested in “intelligent design,” he would actually feel better because of the letter. “It clearly states there is a place for teaching of views that differ from evolution, as long as they’re in faculty approved curricula,” he said

Predictably, the Discovery Institute (DI) was not amused and through senior fellow DeWolf, they argued “viewpoint discrimination”. DeWolf hoped that the “American Association of University Professors (AAUP)” would recognize this. However, the AAUP responded that

Jonathan Knight, director of the Office of Academic Freedom and Tenure at AAUP, isn’t worried. “Academic freedom is not a license to teach anything you like,” Knight said, noting that the letter says “views that differ from evolution may occur in faculty-approved curricula” outside the physical sciences. Knight said that the way to determine if something is scientifically grounded is “by what the community of scholars determines by decades of testing.” He added that if a professor “wants to teach that the Holocaust did not occur following writing of David Irving folks in the history community would say that’s not well grounded in historic facts.”

Scott Minnich, a well known Intelligent Design (ID) supporter and a tenured professor at the University of Idaho, accepts that the University has certain responsibilities but wants to clarify with White that addressing questions about intelligent design raised in class is not prohibited.

Minnich Wrote:

Minnich said he thinks the university has “a right to oversight,” and that “the president has a right to show the public that we haven’t gone off the reservation here,” he said.

Seems that the ‘complaints’ by the Discovery Institute are falling mostly on ‘deaf ears’ even among its own supporters.

In a latest development, University of Idaho president White was admitted to hospital after complaining of chest pains and underwent emergency heart catherization. He is in serious but stable condition

The second article titled Common Ground on Intelligent Design describes how more and more faculties around the country are expressing their opinions on Intelligent Design.

The heads of the Universities of Kansas and Idaho recently declared in open letters that “intelligent design” is not appropriate material in science classrooms.

While scientists agree, many faculty members in natural science departments around the country see little need for an administrative decree, because, as Neal Simon, chair of biological sciences at Lehigh University, put it: “The scientific community has recognized that this is a social and political issue … and that this is not science.”

The article interviews various academics. It makes for an interesting read. Especially the comment section which contains a statement by Earle Holland, Senior Director Research and Communications of Ohio State University

As we have pointed out repeatedly, your statement in this story and in one previously that “Ohio State called off a dissertation defense by a graduate student whose work sought to legitimize intelligent design, and whose committee had the only two faculty members who have spoken in defense of intelligent design,” is factually incorrect!

The student’s dissertation defense was postponed by the student’s advisor with the student’s agreement. The university took no action delaying that process. The dissertation defense has so far not been re-scheduled.

Disilvestro is one of three faculty on the student’s dissertation committee. None of the three faculty have positions in the science education program. Program requirements mandate that two members of the committee must be on the science education faculty.

The faculty’s opinion on intelligent design have little to do with this situation.

Lastly, your characterization of the student’s research that “sought to legitimize intelligent design,” is invalid since the dissertation is still a confidential student record until it is approved by the dissertation committee. Only the student and his committee are aware of what the dissertation actually entails.

And a new word for the day, thanks to jmg

ID = Infallible Drogulus?

The Oxford University Press offers a daily “weird word of the day” by e-mail. Today’s happened to be this, which was a happy coincidence given the ongoing discussion of the “intelligent designer” who has no detectable physical effects:

drogulus [DRAH-gyuh-lus]

Something the presence of which cannot be verified, usually a disembodied being, because it has no physical effects. Coined by the philosopher A. J. Ayer, possibly by association with dragon.

For more information about drogulus:

drogulus (‘[Enable javascript to see this email address.]). [Coined ‘on the spur of the moment’ by A. J. Ayer perh. by subconscious association with dragon + L. -ulus as in dracunculus.] An entity whose presence is unverifiable, because it has no physical effects. Also transf.

1957 A. J. Ayer in Edwards & Pap Mod. Introd. Philos. 608 Suppose I say ‘There’s a “drogulus” over there,’ and you say ‘What?’ and I say ‘Drogulus,’ and you say ‘What’s a drogulus?’ Well I say ‘I can’t describe what a drogulus is, because it’s not the sort of thing you can see or touch, it has no physical effects of any kind, but it’s a disembodied being.’ 1959 L. S. Penrose in New Biol. XXVIII. 98, I had difficulty in finding a suitable name for the activated complexes produced in these experiments. On showing one of them to Professor A. J. Ayer, I inquired whether it perhaps might be a ‘drogulus’… He replied that it was undoubtedly a ‘drogulus’.

33 Comments

Predictably, the Discovery Institute (DI) was not amused and through senior fellow DeWolf, they argued “viewpoint discrimination”.

Well, yes, I would hope that the University of Idaho actually has some standards regarding what it teaches science. Absence of “viewpoint discrimination” would be to teach every notion that came along.

Do you think the DI might be fishing for an emotional reaction from the public by using the politically charged word ‘discrimination?’

Interesting viewpoint Walter :-)

With the way things are going in Dover, I am not surprised that any opportunity to distract is grabbed with much fervor, relevant or not.

From the Common Ground article

Robert Disilvestro, a professor of human nutrition at Ohio State University, has a chance to express his support of intelligent design when he talks about electrolyte balance. Some textbooks note that electrolytes are balanced in humans the way they are because we evolved from the sea. “I pretty much just leave it out,” Disilvestro said of a discussion on alternative theories of evolution.

Can someone point me to an explanation of how the electrolyte balance is related to ocean concentrations?

thanks Snax-a-lot

Steve S:

PZ Myers has a great related article here

Also see PvM’s post here on Panda’s Thumb.

(BTW, I’m not a biologist, so if I’ve misunderstood the relevance of these articles to Steve’s request, please feel free to correct me, anyone!)

That’s a great Pharyngula post.

I’d like to take a moment to thank ID. The vacant ramblings of ID proponents serve to make real Evo/Devo just look even cooler and more insightful by comparison. The color-coded diagram of the branchial arches especially.

As with many lines in the sand, this one’s completely artifical.

So, Hiya’all, what do _you_ think about the links between the parathyroid glands and gills? What light can ID thinking shed on this evidence?

R

I am glad that a clear statement on ID’s lack of scientific merit was taken. However, as a philosopher, I somewhat resent the semi-suggestion that my field be treated as a rubbish bin for ideas that have found no home elsewhere because of their demerits. I am perfectly willing to, nay encourage, philosophy to be an intellectual incubator for new ideas (as it has for thousands of years). Unfortunately, we should have some standards on what to incubate. I have long claimed that “sawdust philosophy” has this danger, and only by working consciously on intellectual systems beyond (at most) tiny theories can we overcome this problem. Philosophy without contact with the other engines of culture, especially science, is useless at best. I fear that proposals to shove ID into there will be unfortunate.

I might add that if someone wants to draw a distinction between teaching students about the notion vs. endorsing it (as one might do in a comparitive religion class), the same applies in certain contexts in the science classroom too: we teach about failed ideas or even outright pseudosciences if their mention is didactically important. For example, a physics class might discuss how a given purported perpetual motion machine is supposed to work, and then analyze it, showing its impossibility by the appropriate argument grounded in what we know about physics.

Frankly, I would have been offended if my Dean had come out with a statement like that. You have to have some faith in the competency of your faculty. There are some incompetents, but those should be dealt with through normal channels. The fact is that there can’t be any suppression when there isn’t anything to suppress at this time. When you talk in terms of ID and science there is no credible science to ID so why should it be taught as science? They have to put forward some testable hypotheses and some type of real scientific theory before they can say that anything is being suppressed. They are unable or unwilling to do that at this time, so the IDiots can’t complain. They are stuck with what they have, and all they have is junk that doesn’t cut the mustard. If they really had anything to suppress they wouldn’t be backing down in Dover. They would have taught the “scientific” theory of ID that the Ohio State board rubes claimed that they were going to teach. The plain and simple fact is that there is nothing to suppress at this time. The only thing that this Dean is doing is making that as plain and simple as he can to anybody incompetent enough not to know that by now. That is a sad commentary on the Idaho faculty, and it is probably unwarrented.

Ron Okimoto

That quote from the Common Ground article about DiSilvestro is truly puzzling. Assuming the journalist did not completely blow it, it would seem to suggest that DiSilvestro either a) completely misunderstands the comparative physiology of electrolyte balance to imply that evolutionary interpretations are wrong, thinks that talking about it in class would be a chance to express support for ID, but feels he has to leave it out of his lectures not to create “controversy” by teaching evidence against evolution; or b) understands perfectly well that the comparative physiology of electrolyte balance is a great example of evolutionary theory’s explanatory powers and runs against a panglossian ID view of biology, and therefore purposefully leaves it out of his lectures to express his support for ID.

Either way, his students are being deprived, by ignorance or design, of interesting and important information. I guess that’s what ID advocates mean by “academic freedom”.

Do you think the DI might be fishing for an emotional reaction from the public by using the politically charged word ‘discrimination?’

You see, it’s totally creationism but, like, way postmodern.

Shall we start a betting pool on how long until some superchristian declares that Pres. White’s hospitalization is due to being smitten for his blasphemy?

Steve S (comment #51607) asked: “Can someone point me to an explanation of how the electrolyte balance is related to ocean concentrations?”

There’s a nice explanation of the evolution of bodily salintiy controls in a Talk.Origins “Post of the Month” for May 2005 at: http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/[…]h/may05.html.

Kinda off topic, but what does he mean by “(OK, I know there is no such thing as “reptile”, but no matter, the argument still holds)” in that post? No such thing as reptile?

What the vernacular considers “repltiles” do not form a clade.

An evolutionary group that includes all living reptiles would also have to include birds and dinosaurs.

Diapsida (Lizards, Sphenodon, crocodylians, birds, and their extinct relatives)

(Btw, Lenny (I think?) let me know that turtles and their relatives should also be put in the Diapsida branch rather than the Anapsida.)

Henry

(Btw, Lenny (I think?) let me know that turtles and their relatives should also be put in the Diapsida branch rather than the Anapsida.)

That’s right. There are indications that they are only secondarily anapsid.

An evolutionary group that includes all living reptiles would also have to include birds and dinosaurs.

Would it contain mammals as well? Were cynodonts reptiles?

I think this is where I fist came in to this website trying to figure out what turtles actually represent evolutionarily. When I was a little child just after the glaciers receded and we came out of the trees I remember in my first dinosaur book by a man named Colbert there were diagrams of four skulls. They were called Anapsid,Synapsid, Euryapsid, and Diapsid and they were all Reptile skulls. Anapsid were the most primitive and essentially the same as fossil amphibian skulls with no foramena to facilitate jaw muscle attatchments. They included the small crocodile like mesosaurus of 310 mya or so that is found in fossil beds in western Africa and eastern So. America as well. Later I learned that mesosaurus (not mosasaurus) was critical to the theory of continental drift long before A. Wegener. Turtles were considered to be living anapsids although there was a significant temporal gap between the last anapsid reptile fossil and the first turtle fossil. Synapsids were pelycosaurs (i.e. dimetrodon) cynodonts, dicynodonts and all living and extinct mammals (a true clade), euryapsids were plesiosaurs and icthyosaurs (now all extinct) and diapsids all other amniotes. Their skulls had 2 foramena one above the other.Many years later euryapsids had vanished into the lepidosaurs (sphenodon, snakes and lizards-all diapsids) as a secondary change, and then there was the term “sauropsid” which I saw for the 1st time at AMNH which gathered together all non synapsids and non turtles. This separation of turtles from diapsids which could also be found at a PT education link and a Nat. Geographic cladogram of dinosaurs to birds within the last 18 months led me to ask what turtles actually were. This is where Lenny caustically suggested that I was a YEC for not knowing that turtles had been reclassified as diapsids with a secondarily anapsid appearing skull (I hope that embryologically turtle skulls start off as diapsid and then change but I dont really know). Birds are also clearly diapsids and if every living amniote that isnt a mammal is a diapsid then birds are diapsid reptiles too. This is why reptiles are not a clade. If so then birds cant be a separate vertebrate class. Later I found out that Lenny wasn’t at his best because he still hadn’t found out how to apply the Ellerbee test to determine exactly what his pizza delivery boy (whose religious beliefs are as important as the pope’s) was bringing to his house. I hope this makes it a little clearer than mud. TPFD.

Re “Would it contain mammals as well?” Nope. The lineages leading to Mammals and Reptiles separated from each other first.

Re “Were cynodonts reptiles?” Nope. That’s one of the clades leading to Mammals, after the separation from Reptilia.

From the “containing group” link on the Diapsida page: Amniota

Upper branch: Amniota -> Synapsida -> Therapsida -> Cynodontia -> Mammalia.

Lower branch: Amniota -> Reptilia -> Diapsida

Henry

cynodonts are called “mammal like reptiles” because they have synapsid skull structure but still have a reptile mandible and a middle ear containing a stapes only. A true fossil mammal should have malleus, incus and stapes in the middle ear and a single bone that forms the lower jaw. TPFD.

cynodonts are called “mammal like reptiles” because they still have the reptile mandible formed from 5 bones and a middle ear containing a stapes only. To qualify as a real fossil mammal the jaw is formed from mandible only and the other 4 bones have become the malleus and incus of the middle ear.

Fernmonkey Wrote:

You see, it’s totally creationism but, like, way postmodern.

Exactly. The problem is that ID critics say “ID is creationism,” or “ID sneaks in God” 1000x for each time they call it the “postmodern” nonsense that it its. And because of that, political extremists like Doug Kern:

http://thequestionableauthority.blo[…]s-right.html

can get away pretending that they represent the “silent majority” with statements like:

ID will win because the pro-Darwin crowd is acting like a bunch of losers.

Mark Isaak said recently on Talk.Origins something I have been saying for years:

…IDers have gone so far to the right that they have wrapped around to the left and have adopted postmodernism lock, stock and barrel.

We need much more of that kind of criticism, and we need it fast. Or we will lose as Kern predicts.

Off-topic sort of. (plugs Bathroom wall again) Is the following paper worth reading? It’s listed on DI as peer reviewed support for ID. Perhaps it has it been discussed on PT or talk origins.

D.K.Y. Chiu & T.H. Lui, “Integrated Use of Multiple Interdependent Patterns for Biomolecular Sequence Analysis,” International Journal of Fuzzy Systems, 4(3) (September 2002): 766-775.

(holds breath for slap-down)

Alan,

The peer-reviewed papers on the DI’s list that I have read neither support ID nor challenge evolution (descent with modification). At best they seem to suggest “non-Darwinian evolution.” One, Meyer’s infamous 2004 paper, is a masterpiece of misrepresentation (and AIUI, not truly peer-reviewed), but the rest are just ordinary scientific publications that the DI presumably uses as a source of quotes to take out of context to support their arguments. I’m not sure for all papers, but for some (e.g Behe & Snoke), the authors welcome the quote mining.

Re “The peer-reviewed papers on the DI’s list that I have read neither support ID nor challenge evolution (descent with modification).”

Yeah, they do have the problem that their premise (that life was deliberately engineered in some way) doesn’t logically contradict the theory that they profess to be trying to replace. At least, not unless they add some detail to it, but as I understand it when they do that it winds up being contradicted by evidence. :lol:

Henry

Frank & Henry

So Chiu is a “red herring” I guess. I did find some earlier comments on PT about the DI’s “peer-reviewed” papers being unavailable on-line to discourage anyone checking primary sources. Thanks guys.

Henry, IDist’s like Behe and MikeGene explictly claim that ID does not contradict descent with modification, rather they claim it contradicts the Darwinian/ selectionist view of descent with modification.

“ We need much more of that kind of criticism, and we need it fast. Or we will lose as Kern predicts.”

Frank J, that sort of critcism won’t change the outcome of the ID dispute, science is eventually decided by evidence, though the process may be messy, politics can delay the outcome, but not change it. The fate of the Darwinian theory of evolution was decided before the first animals left the sea, decided insomuch as by that stage one or another theory was correct.

politics can delay the outcome, but not change it.

Lysenkoism failed ultimately and inevitably, but at some considerable cost to Soviet science.

Hiya’ll wrote: “Henry, IDist’s like Behe and MikeGene explictly claim that ID does not contradict descent with modification, rather they claim it contradicts the Darwinian/ selectionist view of descent with modification.”

I think Henry’s criticism still stands. They have come up with a “theory” that they say competes with evolution, but that conveniently doesn’t seem to predict any observable differences. If they graciously concede that common descent is real, is the idea that an unknown designer acting in an unknown way at an unknown time caused modification supposed to be more plausible than natural selection, which we can actually observe taking place in real time and extrapolate over the course of history?

“science is eventually decided by evidence, though the process may be messy, politics can delay the outcome, but not change it. The fate of the Darwinian theory of evolution was decided before the first animals left the sea, decided insomuch as by that stage one or another theory was correct.”

In a few billion years the sun will supernova and the earth will be uninhabitable, and this outcome is also probably inevitable. But I think we would all like to make and keep the earth a hospitable place for research and truth in the meantime, and in our lifetimes. The sooner the better.

Re “rather they claim it contradicts the Darwinian/ selectionist view of descent with modification.”

But do they say where their hypothesis contradicts current theory?

Do they specify any particular set of observations that would likely differ if their idea is correct vs. if current theory is correct?

Do they show how this difference can be deduced from their clearly stated hypothesis? (Of which last I heard they don’t have one.)

Btw, what exactly is a “selectionist”? This blog’s spell checker doesn’t like that word (if it is one).

Henry

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on October 8, 2005 5:12 PM.

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