Moving the goalposts: Or a ‘puff of smoke’

| 196 Comments

It seems that Dembski has decided to ‘decisively’ move the goalposts of ID further out and although in earlier writings he did mention the possibility of ‘front loading’, he also considered such possibilities to be unlikely and ‘deistic’ in nature.

Now he may have clarified his position:

Dembski Wrote:

Let’s cut to the chase: Is the designer responsible for biological complexity God? Even as a very traditional Christian and an ardent proponent of ID, I would say NOT NECESSARILY. To ask who or what is the designer of a particular object is to ask for the immediate intelligent agent responsible for its design. The point is that God is able to work through derived or surrogate intelligences, which can be anything from angels to organizing principles embedded in nature.

For instance, just because I hold to both Christian theism and ID doesn’t mean that God directly designed and implemented the bacterial flagellum by specifically toggling its components. It could well have happened by a process of natural genetic engineering of the sort envisioned by James Shapiro. The design would be no less real, but God’s role in the design would be distant, not proximal.

Philosophers have long distinguished between primary and secondary causes. The problem is that under the pall of methodological naturalism, secondary causes have been identified with purely materialistic processes. But it’s perfectly legitimate for secondary causes to include teleological processes. I develop all this at length in THE DESIGN REVOLUTION.

Anything from angels to organizing principles, I clearly see the scientific value of ID here. And the logical conclusion from Dembski’s admissions about front-loading is that natural explanations would be able to explain the origin of such features as the bacterial flagellum. Thus, lacking any further evidence, science would be unable to reach a conclusion of ‘intelligent design’ as the evidence would be hidden beyond our observations. In other words, Intelligent Design has moved itself further into the realm of scientific vacuity.

Not bad for a days work though. Boy do I wish Dembski had testified at the Dover trial.

I find it fascinating that Dembski on the one hand seems to be arguing that complex specified information requires a supernatural origin while on the other hand arguing that CSI can in fact be explained by natural law alone. Whether or not a supernatural designer was responsible for the front loading is a question science cannot answer. Which is exactly why Intelligent Design makes for poor science and good apologetics. As such, I start to understand more and more why Dembski has returned to apologetics.

Given the recent scientific progress, it may not come as a surprise to see ID proponents retreat to front-loading.

It’s however quite educational to see what Dembski has written on this topic in the past and how various ID critics have pointed out the problems involved with such arguments:

In earlier writings, Dembski wrote:

When humans, for instance, act as [embodied] intelligent agents, there is no reason to think that any natural law is broken. Likewise, should an unembodied designer act to bring about a bacterial flagellum, there is no reason prima facie to suppose that this designer did not act consistently with natural laws. It is, for instance, a logical possibility that the design in the bacterial flagellum was front-loaded into the universe at the Big Bang and subsequently expressed itself in the course of natural history as a miniature outboard motor on the back of E. coli.

Thus returning to the distinction between apparant and actual CSI, an issue raised by Wesley Elsberry and which Dembski has yet to fully address.

Howard van Till exposes the flaws in Dembski’s stance

Elsewhere in No Free Lunch, however, Dembski makes it abundantly clear that he is no friend of this “front-loading” hypothesis. Dembski’s Intelligent Designer is one who interacts with the universe in the course of time. The design action posited to actualize the bacterial flagellum, as we shall see, is an action that occurs long after the Big Bang. Furthermore, since Dembski argues vigorously that the assembling of E. coli’s flagellum could not have come about naturally, the question is, How could the Intelligent Designer bring about a naturally impossible outcome by interacting with a bacterium in the course of time without either a suspension or overriding of natural laws?Dembski could argue here that the natural assembling of the first flagellum is not absolutely impossible, only highly improbable. While that might be technically true, the whole of Dembski’s argumentation…Natural laws (which entail the probabilities for various outcomes) would have led to the outcome, no flagellum. Instead, a flagellum appeared as the outcome of the Intelligent Designer’s action. Is that is not a miracle, what is? How can this be anything other than a supernatural intervention?

Source: Link

And Jack Krebs points out that:

Krebs Wrote:

Dembski also dismisses “front-loading,” - the idea that somehow all the information necessary for life was pre-existent at the Big Bang and then mechanically worked itself out at the proper time. He considers this a “logical possibility”, but later dismisses it as deistic.

Source: Link

See also Dembski: The displacement problem and the law of conservation of CSI

And although Dembski allows for the possibility of front-loading he also seems to reject it based on various reasons.

But simply to allow that a designer has imparted information into the natural world is not enough. There are many thinkers who are sympathetic to design but who prefer that all the design in the world be front-loaded. The advantage of putting all the design in the world at, say, the initial moment of the Big Bang is that it minimizes the conflict between design and science as currently practiced. A designer who front-loads the design of the world imparts all the world’s information before natural causes become operational and express that information in the course of natural history. In effect, there’s no need to think of the world as an informationally open system. Rather, we can still think of it mechanistically–like the outworking of a complicated differential equation, albeit with the initial and boundary conditions designed. The impulse to front-load design is deistic, and I expect any theories about front-loaded design to be just as successful as deism was historically, which always served as an unsatisfactory halfway house between theism (with its informationally open universe) and naturalism (which insists the universe remain informationally closed).

Source: Link

And of course an ironic comment:

Take the Cambrian explosion in biology, for instance. David Jablonsky, James Valentine, and even Stephen Jay Gould (when he’s not fending off the charge of aiding creationists) admit that the basic metazoan body-plans arose in a remarkably short span of geological time (5 to 10 million years) and for the most part without any evident precursors (there are some annelid tracks as well as evidence of sponges leading up to the Cambrian, but that’s about it with regard to metazoans; single-celled organisms abound in the Precambrian). Assuming that the animals fossilized in the Cambrian exhibit design, where did that design come from? To be committed to front-loaded design means that all these body-plans that first appeared in the Cambrian were in fact already built in at the Big Bang (or whenever that information was front-loaded), that the information for these body-plans was expressed in the subsequent history of the universe, and that if we could but uncover enough about the history of life, we would see how the information expressed in the Cambrian fossils merely exploits information that was already in the world prior to the Cambrian period. Now that may be, but there is no evidence for it. All we know is that information needed to build the animals of the Cambrian period was suddenly expressed at that time and with no evident informational precursors.

While at the time Dembski wrote this, there was not much evidence that there were informational precursors, science has since then shown in exquisite detail how evolution ties together the Cambrian explosion. In other words, recent research on the Cambrian may help explain why Dembski may be abandoning his earlier stance on front loading but such a move also serves to further undermine the scientific relevance of ID. Valentine, who is quoted by Dembski, now admits that natural selection very well may explain the Cambrian explosion.

Valentine Wrote:

The title of this book, modeled on that of the greatest biological work ever written, is in homage to the greatest biologist who has ever lived. Darwin himself puzzled over but could not cover the ground that is reviewed here, simply because the relevant fossils, genes, and their molecules, end even the body plans of many of the phyla, were quite unknown in his day. Nevertheless, the evidence from these many additional souces of data simply confirm that Darwin was correct in his conclusions that all living things have descended from a commmon anscestor and can be placed within a tree of life, and that the principle process guiding their descent has been natural selection.

The data on which this book is based have accumulated over the nearly century and a half since Darwin published On the Origin of Species, some gradually, but much in a rush in the last several decades. I have been working on this book for well over a decade, and much of that time has been spent in trying to keep up with the flood of incredibly interesting findings reported from outcrops and laboratories. I am stopping now not because there is a lull in the pace of new discoveries (which if anything is still picking up), but because there never will be a natural stopping place anyway, and because the outlines of early metazoan history have gradually emerged from mysteries to testable hypotheses.

(Valentine On the origin of phyla 2004, preface)

Of course Dembski’s solution to God imparting information into His Creation? Using an infinite wavelength (can anyone tell us what’s so obviously wrong with this?)

How much energy is required to impart information? We have sensors that can detect quantum events and amplify them to the macroscopic level. What’s more, the energy in quantum events is proportional to frequency or inversely proportional to wavelength. And since there is no upper limit to the wavelength of, for instance, electromagnetic radiation, there is no lower limit to the energy required to impart information. In the limit, a designer could therefore impart information into the universe without inputting any energy at all.

Or as RBH observes

That is, Dembski invokes a zero-energy (and therefore zero channel capacity) infinite wavelength (and therefore unfocusable) communication channel. One also wonders what sort of modulation of a zero-energy infinite-wavelength signal would encode the ‘information’.

His colleague Behe is far more forthcoming as to the nature of the “ID hypothesis”

On November 11, 2002, Larry Arnhart reported on a lecture by Behe at Hillsdale:

At Hillsdale, after his public lecture, I challenged Behe in a small-group discussion to give us a positive statement of exactly how the “Intelligent Designer” creates bacterial flagella. As usual, he was evasive. But I didn’t let him get away. And finally, he answered: “In a puff of smoke!” A physicist in our group asked, “Do you mean that the Intelligent Designer suspends the laws of physics through working a miracle?” And Behe answered: “Yes.”.

Original source. The date on this quote has since been confirmed by Larry Arnhart. It occurred in discussion after Behe’s talk at Hillsdale College, which was having a series of talks on the “Intelligent Design Debate” [1]

Source: Link

It should be clear by now that the ID argument that God could have front-loaded His Creation saves ID from the embarassment of flawed predictions but also renders it scientifically useless.

196 Comments

Wow.…from my previous experience with Dembski and his followers…I was under the impression that they had “disproven” Deism. I cannot believe that he is now supporting front-loading.

What is wrong with this picture? The evolution of a scientific principle should not directly parallel the evolution of theological principles. Maybe next Dembski will suggest that the design itself is “God”. (Pantheism)

Dembski is not just ‘moving the goalposts’, he’s dragging them down into a hole after himself, and burying them in manure.

Wait, hasn’t he backed the goal posts right into the area now claimed by the “anthropic principle”?

The only question I have about Dembski is whether he has always been dishonest or whether he only started backpedaling when it became clear to him that his mathematical arguments were not going to give him the result he wanted.

If you believe that front-loading is sufficient to result in the ultimate development of sentient humans following natural laws (I believe it is sufficient but not necessary) then you’re left with the possibility that the right information was front-loaded due to chance.

At this point, even a very small probability won’t give you a reasonable conclusion of implausibility unless you also make assumptions about the number of statistical trials involved. Now, the best cosmology may tell us that the universe is a certain size and that the big bang happened exactly once and will be followed by continued expansion. In this case, you might conclude that the probability of a certain event happening anywhere is vanishingly small. Still, this conclusion is made based on what we can observe. Add one very simple (unfalsifiable) hypothesis, such as the existence of other universes with their own big bangs and random initial conditions, or universes that bifurcate as in the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum events, and now the statistical arguments have no power at all: if only one out of a zillion to the zillion universes produce sentient life, these are still the only ones that intelligent life will exist to observe. Thus, there is no great surprise that we live in one.

It’s dangerous to bring up the above point, since it distracts from the sound evidence showing that evolution works nothing like a “tornado in a junkyard producing a 747” and in fact proceeds through a series of reasonably probable beneficial mutations. My guess is that a wide class of complex dynamic systems allowed to run long enough would exhibit something like evolution and produce sentient life with probability close to 1. Our universe just happens to be one from this class. So-called “fine-tuning” may be needed to support human-like beings, but other systems could support other forms of sentience. But even if I’m wrong, and what you need to get intelligent life is for reality to be much larger in scale than what we are able to observe, this seems more parsimonious than the idea that it is fundamentally different in kind from what we observe, containing beings of great mysterious power who capriciously violate uniformity.

My conclusion is that Dembski understands the vacuity of his life’s work (or of the past decade anyway) and its inability to disprove much of anything despite his most strenuous use of probabilistic formalism.

Hey, if Dembski is gonna go with the “frontloading” thingie, then I wanna ask HIM to show me a frontloaded gene for cobra toxin in a garter snake.

Or a frontloaded gene for chlorophyll in any animal.

Blast made an awful mess of it. Let’s see if Isaac can do any better…

Hey, if Dembski is gonna go with the “frontloading” thingie, then I wanna ask HIM to show me a frontloaded gene for cobra toxin in a garter snake.

I don’t think it yields a falsifiable proposition like that.

I think all you’d need to get any kind of frontloading is the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings a certain way at the time of the big bang. The effects could propagate subtly through the universe giving you “tornadoes in a junkyard” at just the right moments. The resulting genes might be indistinguishable from those produced by regular evolutionary processes.

Hmm… I guess quantum effects would cause a problem here, since the frontloading is likely to be overwhelmed by true randomness. A slightly more sensible alternative to front-loading would be the notion that God occasionally steps in and fixes the outcome of quantum events.

NEWS FLASH Dembski’s new book “THE CONFUSED DESIGNER” -life described as a confusion of ideas… designer seen running around without clothes…does not know he is _alive_. Broken eggs trying to be remade into the Holy Trinity, not sure if he will ever wake up …boo hoo hoo.

I don’t think it yields a falsifiable proposition like that.

Oh, I’m quite sure it won’t yeild any falsifiable proposition AT ALL. Dembski learned his lesson. The hard way.

Maybe IDers *are* as bright as earthworms, after all.

The point is that God is able to work through derived or surrogate intelligences, which can be anything from angels to organizing principles embedded in nature… It could well have happened by a process of natural genetic engineering…

That natural genetic engineering and these organizing principles of which Dembski speaks - they couldn’t be mutation and natural selection with common descent, could they? And the front loading just the initial state of the universe?

In which case, er, we’re done here. (Ah, if only…)

R

Setting aside the issue of Dembski’s and/or Behe’s vascillations and evasions, which in the larger scheme of things is really unimportant, the bottom line is that the designer could have performed the design with no suspension of the laws of nature in one of two ways: Either pushed the design back in time to, say, before the big bang (so called “front loading”) or intervened later in a manner that did not require the suspension of the natural order of things. This latter scenario could occur in one of two ways - the designer’s making choices where quantum mechanics provides for multiple outcomes with various probabilities or by acting as an agent of nature much as would a person who puts together a car without suspending the laws of nature.

In any event, nothing in this conflicts with science, and is admittedly scientifically useless. But two points need to be emphasized. One, these ideas are NOT based on religion. One could argue that if no religion had ever appeared on earth, and if the notion of God or gods were entirely unheard of, the ID arguments leading to a designer could still be made persuasively. True, the product of these ideas is coicident with a key religious idea, the existence of the designer, but so what? The process of arriving at the designer is different, so ID is NOT religion. Two, the fact that these ideas are not useful to science does not at all imply that they are not useful to humanity in other ways. They may even be powerfully helpful. The mere notion that there may be a purpose, a plan, a goal to our misreable existance may provide much comfort to some. Even that minimal contribution to humanity is valueable.

So here is a platform upon which all folks of good will can agree. So why not cease this mutual ridiculing and nit-picking and instead get together and clear the air.

So here is a platform upon which all folks of good will can agree

Carol, scientists didn’t start this fight, and if you take a look at what Richard Land had to say, I doubt there is much good will to be had.

you are being simplistic. stop it.

Carol

One could argue that if no religion had ever appeared on earth, and if the notion of God or gods were entirely unheard of, the ID arguments leading to a designer could still be made persuasively.

One could argue that the answer is an orange because a vest has no sleeves. It’s just as persuasive as your argument, Carol.

You keep mentioning “design” as if a lot of thought went into making 16S rRNA.

Why do deities need to think to create anything, including universes? I didn’t know deities were limited that way. Where do you get your information?

I was reading that thread over at Al Altschuler’s blog and this woman Deborah Spaeth was talking about “enterocraftic theory” which is an alternate theory to “ID” theory but without all the baggage associated with “purposes” and “plans.”

I don’t remember if your name came up or not, Carol. You might want to check it out.

Spreading ID all over existence (the Big Bang, quantum mechanical probabilities, and the creation of composite existents) doesn’t change a thing. Whether one thinks that god(s) messed around in the Big Bang or is keeping my computer going at this very instant, it’s still religion and it’s worse that useless to science; it’s dangerous to science.

As for religion itself, I think it’s basically preposterous and dangerous junk. Faith is not a virtue; it’s a vice! So, this person of good will isn’t going to buy into any platform to push religion into the public schools.

What? I don’t care to look for myself. but is that pompous blowhard Carol at the bottle again! Why does anyone bother to respond to her, since she is not equipped with the facility to understand, well, anything?

is that pompous blowhard Carol at the bottle again

You should party with her sometime. When she gets a little buzzed, she starts imitating her favorite sound: the cash register. A real hoot.

Setting aside the issue of Dembski’s and/or Behe’s vascillations and evasions, which in the larger scheme of things is really unimportant

BWA HA HA HA HA HA !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So lying is unimportant? Well, Carol, there are a boatload of fundies out there who would agree entirely with you. (snicker) (giggle)

Carol, your apologetics are on about a par with your science.

I suggest you give up on both of them, and just go back to shilling Landa’s book.

By the way, is it your opinion, or is it not, that your religious opinions ought to be accepted as “scientific evidence”?

One could argue that if no religion had ever appeared on earth, and if the notion of God or gods were entirely unheard of, the ID arguments leading to a designer could still be made persuasively.

(yawn) Tell it to the judge.

Oh wait, IDers already DID. He thought it was a big steaming pile of stinking cow cakes. (snicker) (giggle) (howls of laughter)

ID shot its load, Carol. ID lost. Get used to it.

If you buy that God used evolution as a secondary cause, i.e., theistic evolution, it may indeed mean you have abandoned hope to find any proof of ID in the diversity of life question. (I don’t that that is Dembski’s position–or if it is even close.) However, it does not, I suspect, mean that biological ID is dead. It may be more fruitful for IDers to concentrate on the origins of life question. In seems to me that IF the following turn out to be true:

1) Complex, intelligent life is carbon based and requires liquid water—because of the exceptional advantages of carbon chemistry with water as a solvent

2) Earthlike planets are exceedingly rare

3) The origin of life is rare, even for favorable conditions such as we have on earth

Then, again IF these all are true, there is a fascinating “improbability” problem, worthy of scientific research, very similar to the fine-tuning issue in physics.

It also seems to me that point one is on reasonably solid ground. Point 2 also has some evidentiary support—but is nowhere near a closed question, and Point 3 is completely up in the air.

I think it is great that Harvard is funding origins research.

Dembski is not and never has been a serious person- isn’t it time for serious people to start paying a lot less attention to him?

“Setting aside the issue of Dembski’s and/or Behe’s vascillations and evasions, which in the larger scheme of things is really unimportant,”

These are NOT unimportant. In the realm of scientific discourse, honesty is EVERYTHING. IF these guys are the “representatives of this idea, they are obligated to be transparent. In the realm of religion, it is also important. Either way, these folks should be dismissed until they OWN up to their deception, and even then, should not be taken seriously until they earn the trust back.

Mr. Heddle, do you understand the difference between improbable and impossible? Do you understand that the probability of any specific bridge hand is vanishingly low? Do you understand that, post occurence, the probability of any occurence is 1? Arguments from improbability are indistinguishable from arguments from incredulity, and thus may be ruled out on purely logical grounds.

hugs, Shirley Knott

No Shirley, you are wrong. When, in certain circumstances, scientists encounter something that is strangely improbable, they do not dismiss it as nothing more than an equally unlikely draw. It should be so painfully obvious that I don’t know how a rational person could make the claim you are making. Virtually all of cosmology and a lot of high energy physics is presently motivated by a scientific search to explain the anthropic coincidences. According to your logic, they should all move on to something else since, after all, the post-probability that we are here is 1, ergo the problem, according to Shirley Knott, has been forever declared uninteresting and solved. You should inform them that they are wasting their time. Start with Lenny Susskind.

All I stated in my post, is that it is possible biology could find itself in the same situation. But maybe not–maybe the origins research will demonstrate how, given the conditions of the early earth, life was not at all improbable. We will just have to wait and see how the science plays out.

Heddle is right: the argument from incredulity is probably just as applicable to biology as it is to cosmology.

Carol Clouser Wrote:

One could argue that if no religion had ever appeared on earth, and if the notion of God or gods were entirely unheard of, the ID arguments leading to a designer could still be made persuasively.

Heh.

If the theory of evolution was NOT in conflict with the literal interperation(s) of the creation myth(s) laid out in Genesis, noone would have bothered to manufacture the notion of ID.

Shirely Knott,

Taking your bridge hand analogy to its logical conclusion, if you were playing with someone who repeatedly keeps getting a highly improbably but very winning hand (I don’t know bridge, so whatever that hand is), would you not seriously consider that he/she was cheating and that you ought to take your playing elsewhere? In other words, would you not suspect DESIGN?

If an individual would win the lottery again and again and again, say 100 times in a row, would the authorities not launch a truly serious investigation? Better yet, would that not constitute a prima facia case for criminal charges? Would any sane person doubt DESIGN in this case?

You know, Dembski hasn’t really changed anything. There is the one ringing consistency through all his rants: “To figure out what is going on, you must buy one of my books,” he says.

Do you think the seminary is paying him on a commission basis?

David Heddle Wrote:

1) Complex, intelligent life is carbon based and requires liquid water—because of the exceptional advantages of carbon chemistry with water as a solvent

David Heddle Wrote:

It also seems to me that point one is on reasonably solid ground.

Rubbish. I wish people wouldn’t extrapolate from a sample size of 1. We simply have no idea that this is true unless we either disprove it (by finding or creating life from something else), or if we observe several independent origins of life. Points 2 and 3 are also questionable at the moment, for similar reasons (i.e. lack of data).

In fairness, a lot of proper scientists make the same mistake, but that doesn’t make it right.

Bob

Heddle said: “In seems to me that IF the following turn out to be true: 1) Complex, intelligent life is carbon based and requires liquid water—because of the exceptional advantages of carbon chemistry with water as a solvent 2) Earthlike planets are exceedingly rare 3) The origin of life is rare, even for favorable conditions such as we have on earth Then, again IF these all are true, there is a fascinating “improbability” problem, worthy of scientific research, very similar to the fine-tuning issue in physics.”

We can’t tell yet about #s 1 and 3 but all the evidence we do have on #2 is that Earthlike planets are quite probably common. And soon we will be able to tell if #3 is true by checking for the spectrum of free oxygen in the atmosphere of those planets once found. So what you should be asking yourself is: IF #2 is false, and IF #3 is false, will it change your mind one iota? If not you have what is known as an unfalsifiable hypothesis.

David Heddle said:

If you buy that God used evolution as a secondary cause, i.e., theistic evolution, it may indeed mean you have abandoned hope to find any proof of ID in the diversity of life question.

Or it may mean that we’ve adopted a more wait-and-see view, an “agnostic” view of what is going on. It may mean that we’re content to contemplate awesome mysteries and see what we can learn.

Such a view appears incompatible with the God-surely-didit-myway crowd’s views. Too bad. Tough luck. There are more mysteries in nature than your philosophy can imagine, Heddle. The universe is not only queerer than you imagine, it is queerer than you can imagine. Letting God be God is far from “abandoning hope,” but is instead the beginning of learning, especially in science. Regret you disagree.

noturus,

but all the evidence we do have on #2 is that Earthlike planets are quite probably common

Really? I’m not aware of any such evidence. Yet you say “all” the evidence? Where is this evidence? Do you have any references? (peer-reviewed, not popular science)

Bob O’H,

About the carbon based requirement, just because you declare it as rubbish, it doesn’t make it so. It is not just IDers who have concluded that complex, intelligent life requires complex chemistry that can support large molecules as building blocks and for information storage. It is not just IDers who then say that the best possible candidate for that role is carbon based chemistry and liquid water. Your cavalier dismissal carries no weight–unless you have a theory of complex life without complex chemistry. Otherwise, your are just preaching a sermon that contains no science.

Flint,

I was advocating something along the lines of your first option. But I would not dignify the diversion from strict science as a lesson in “comparative religion”. I would describe it as a lesson in “let us face the big elephant in the room” for two or three days.

I assume you are aware of the latest buzzword in education in the USA, namely “interdisciplinary”. The latest fad, one encouraged by various scholars in the field, brings history into English class, art into Physical Education, Mathermatics into Foreign Language (whatever it is) and so on. This is viewed as a way of integrating the areas of study and build well rounded individuals who can discern connections between seemingly disparate areas, thereby mutually re-inforcing each other. So my proposed program in not so out of line with what is going on today out there “in the field”.

You say we will never agree. Perhaps. But I disagree with you respectfully (unusual here). On your side are all the folks who fashioned the status quo in education, which in my opinion has turned out to be a disaster for science. Perhaps you disagree with that too.

Carol:

I would not dignify the diversion from strict science as a lesson in “comparative religion”. I would describe it as a lesson in “let us face the big elephant in the room” for two or three days.

Come on now. ID is religion, all religion, nothing but religion. Discussing ID is discussing religion. Period. The “big elephant” is religious doctrine that conflicts with scientific evidence and theory. Facing the big elephant means facing religious doctrine. It means nothing else. Do you think, like the creationists, that if you change the name from creationism to “big elephant” it stops being religion? Do you think we can’t see through this by now?

I agree that the status quo in science education is very lousy. I just think bringing in religion would make it worse. Interdisciplinary studies are intended, at least in principle, for knowledge in tangentially related fields to add depth to a given field. For example, in English much of the literature is historical, and of course a great deal more depth can be extracted from the literature of a period, from knowing the history of a period. I find reading a well-annotated Gulliver’s Travels (detailing all the little political issues and personalities of the day that are actually being satirized) adds a lot.

Perhaps along these lines, it might conceivably be possible to bring ID into a science class to demonstrate everything that science is not, and cannot be. As Judge Jones said, the religion cannot possibly be uncoupled from ID, because there is no science of any sort in ID. But if this were your actual goal (as opposed to the obvious creationist goal of preaching their religious doctrine by pretending it’s science when it is not), then I submit that ID is probably the worst pedagogical vehicle you could possibly select. It’s a hot button, Carol. Some of the parents out there are actually rabid creationists, some of their children pound bibles for lack of any genuine education, and for many people, evolution is the devil’s own propaganda.

So perhaps some ancient, currently powerless religious “way to knowledge” could be used, like the Greek, Roman, or Norse pantheons, to show the important distinction between basing conclusions on evidence, and basing evidence on conclusions. And this might indeed serve to add insight into the scientific method, illustrating it by contrast with what it is not.

But creationism remains too virulent for such an approach to have the slightest scientific pedagogical value. It’s qualitatively different to say “Most Greeks believed that the head god Zeus mated with a mortal to produce the demigod Prometheus” and to say “Most Americans believe that their head god mated with a mortal to produce the demigod Jesus.” The qualitative difference is, today some people actually believe the latter myth, while nobody believes the former anymore (unless the names are changed, of course).

So back to the subject at hand: The purpose of science class is to teach science, so that the students understand how science works, what its strengths and limitations are, what the process is, and what knowledge that process has produced. I still don’t understand how you would organize your lesson plan to address your big elephant. Yes, creationists reject evolution. Most of them, by ample demonstration, really have no clue what evolution even IS, they only know it’s wrong. And we should waste time in science class discussing religious doctrine rather than teach them what evolution actually is? The Discovery Institute must just love you.

Carol, do you, or do you not, want your religious opinions to be accepted as scientific evidence.

Flint,

You have some good suggestions there for possible links between the science and the diversion. I would frame the diversion in terms of “opinion formation”. How do people form opinions? What assumptions go into the process? What methods are used in going from assumptions to conclusions? Can we compare and contrast the various approaches people have taken? How is the scientific method different from each of the others?

I would broaden the subject to include not only ID and creationism but also such things as astrology, telekinesis, diet fads and such. But I would not get into Greek gods, as you propose, since that is not current, is not of interest and would necessitate too much of a diversion. A few days out of 180 is all I am willing to set aside for this important diversion.

Because the issue is, as you say, “hot button”, teachers will need to be held harmless except for blatant and willful disregard of the guidelines (as in my post #65542). Those guidelines will be carefully drawn up by a team of science and social studies edicators. I think it best to make it voluntary on the part of the teacher, at least in the beginning.

And you know what, if this were implemented as I envision it, it would not at all be to the liking of ID folks, creationists and religionists of all stripes, especially after its effects are discerned over the course of time. I think it would tend to encourage students to be more questioning and skeptical. And that is good for science in the long run.

Then the program will be attacked by these folks and scientists will be fighting to maintain it.

What a fantasy! But somebody needs to think out of the box!

Flint,

You have some good suggestions there for possible links between the science and the diversion. I would frame the diversion in terms of “opinion formation”. How do people form opinions? What assumptions go into the process? What methods are used in going from assumptions to conclusions? Can we compare and contrast the various approaches people have taken? How is the scientific method different from each of the others?

I would broaden the subject to include not only ID and creationism but also such things as astrology, telekinesis, diet fads and such. But I would not get into Greek gods, as you propose, since that is not current, is not of interest and would necessitate too much of a diversion. A few days out of 180 is all I am willing to set aside for this important diversion.

Because the issue is, as you say, “hot button”, teachers will need to be held harmless except for blatant and willful disregard of the guidelines (as in my post #65542). Those guidelines will be carefully drawn up by a team of science and social studies edicators. I think it best to make it voluntary on the part of the teacher, at least in the beginning.

And you know what, if this were implemented as I envision it, it would not at all be to the liking of ID folks, creationists and religionists of all stripes, especially after its effects are discerned over the course of time. I think it would tend to encourage students to be more questioning and skeptical. And that is good for science in the long run.

Then the program will be attacked by these folks and scientists will be fighting to maintain it.

What a fantasy! But somebody needs to think out of the box!

Flint,

You have some good suggestions there for possible links between the science and the diversion. I would frame the diversion in terms of “opinion formation”. How do people form opinions? What assumptions go into the process? What methods are used in going from assumptions to conclusions? Can we compare and contrast the various approaches people have taken? How is the scientific method different from each of the others?

I would broaden the subject to include not only ID and creationism but also such things as astrology, telekinesis, diet fads and such. But I would not get into Greek gods, as you propose, since that is not current, is not of interest and would necessitate too much of a diversion. A few days out of 180 is all I am willing to set aside for this important diversion.

Because the issue is, as you say, “hot button”, teachers will need to be held harmless except for blatant and willful disregard of the guidelines (as in my post #65542). Those guidelines will be carefully drawn up by a team of science and social studies edicators. I think it best to make it voluntary on the part of the teacher, at least in the beginning.

And you know what, if this were implemented as I envision it, it would not at all be to the liking of ID folks, creationists and religionists of all stripes, especially after its effects are discerned over the course of time. I think it would tend to encourage students to be more questioning and skeptical. And that is good for science in the long run.

Then the program will be attacked by these folks and scientists will be fighting to maintain it.

What a fantasy! But somebody needs to think out of the box!

Sorry about the multiple entries.

Carol:

I would say you have touched on a few of the topics that might be covered in an undergraduate (but not introductory) course that might be called “philosophy and practice of science.” I think that would be the very earliest that the students could be expected to understand and thoughtfully consider questions about the underlying socialization of opinion formation that goes into establishing biases and preferences, and how science recognizes and attempts to neutralize those inevitable but not insuperable obstacles. Certainly 9th grade biology isn’t the place!

And I suppose somewhere in that (I’d say junior-in-college level) course might be considered some of the pseudo-science mumbo jumbo that superstitious minds concoct - things like ID, UFOs, astrology, paranormal abilities, faith in “stuff” (like homeopathic medicine, acupuncture, dowsing, opposition to vaccines, or whatever). Any of these might be a springboard to a useful discussion contrasting the scientific method with the “fiat because I WANT it to be so” method.

At least in private colleges, it should be possible to actually use for pedagogical purposes, examples of idiotic or mendacious beliefs that some people actually hold. I would think that where the instructors/professors are NOT acting as agents of the State, it would be most illustrative (even galvanizing) for students to see that some among them actually believe that crap; that what’s being discussed isn’t some sort of rare pathology occasionally reported from Darkest Slobovia, but rather real live virulent nonsense right there in the classroom.

In fact, as I understand it, college-level courses in comparative religion already regularly rely on that sort of experience as a teaching tool – that SOME of the students in the class can be relied on to object that THEIR faith isn’t myth and cant, but Real Truth. And that’s where the class gets interesting; where (as I alluded to above) a Believer is challenged to explain how HIS god mating with a mortal to produce a demigod is Truth, whereas the ancient Greek gods doing something indistinguishable is mere myth and stories.

However, back to the reality of 9th grade, we’re talking here about 14-year-olds, who lack anywhere NEAR the background, knowledge, or maturity to handle the sort of material you seem to want them to cover. In terms of relative sophistication, this is much like having a couple of classes discussing matrix operations on non-Abelian groups in 9th grade algebra classes. In other words, your recommmendation isn’t a bad idea in the right time and place. But for kids 14 years old, what they learn in school is taken as rote fact, and is going to be taken that way for another several years at least. They lack the neurological organization necessary to USE the material you are suggesting be dumped on them at that age.

At 14, you don’t ask for the history of a controversy so that you can weigh the various views and factors, you ask who’s telling the truth. The DI knows this, I know this, and I’m quite sure YOU know this. My estimate is that you are approximately six years premature in presenting this material.

Flint,

Waiting to age 20 is a losing proposition. You would lose the millions who do not attend four year universities and the many more millions who will not elect to take such an elective course. Biology courses in high school are practically required of all teenagers passing through public (and private) schooling. It is truly a course for the masses, taken by 14, 15, 16 and 17 yeard olds. My experience in public education tells me they are a resilient bunch, capable of far more than adults usually give them credit for. And the material can be condensed to their level and yet convey the key ideas. This is where the action is.

Carol,

My point, which apparently requires endless repitition, is that religion is not biology. Biology class is not an appropriate forum to discuss religious doctrines. So once again: the problem here is that evolution is not being properly taught, NOT that the classes are failing to address creationism, but that they are not even happening in much of the country. Teachers are reluctant to cover the topic because of the hassles this entails. The “big elephant”, at least as I understand it, is that this essential scientific discipline is getting intimidated right out of the curriculum. And the solution is to bring it back, not to associate it with religious beliefs. Any competent teacher should be able to deflect religious objections because they ARE religious, and emphasize that this is a *biology* class, where all focus is on the facts and the science.

Bringing creationism into science class, on ANY pretext, effectively undermines what the class is all about.

repitition?

Carol seems quite oblivious to the simple fact that her approach is, now, illegal.

Alan:

Oops, sorry about that. I wonder what there is about a system that doesn’t let you edit posts but only preview before posting, that no amount of proofreading can catch errors which are immediately howlingly obvious as soon as there’s nothing you can do about them anymore. My mistake.

Lenny:

Carol’s goal is to find some excuse, ANY excuse, to get religion into science class. It’s a relative of the P.T. Barnum maxim that any publicity is good publicity. Even getting ID into science classes as the perfect example of what science is NOT and how to get it totally wrong, gets it into the classroom. Once the foot is in the door, we’ll take it from there…

Carol’s goal is to find some excuse, ANY excuse, to get religion into science class.

Worse than that – she wants science to accept her religious opinions as “evidence”.

How do people form opinions?

this is an advanced science topic usually reserved for freshman psych classes or sociology classes, not 9th grade biology classes.

the only thing i could possibly think ID would have any value in is in a critical thinking class as a great counter example.

however, I can’t think of any high schools that even have a critical thinking class.

perhaps you should focus your efforts there, Carol?

Being an Atheist I will therefore provide the oportunity of finding an Answer in inanimate objects. Matter being all related, it would effectively mean that any Grand Design would not manifest itself in just “intelligent life” as we call ourselves, even though there is plenty more intelligent life in plants, insects, mamals, fish and so on. Instead it would manifest in everything, all matter.

To achieve even in a godless universe, a complete plan of the randomization of particles, the movements of planets, the itrocacies (sorry if I spelt that wrong, I am only 17. Really, I am. I just have a bit of common sense) of evolution at every level. There are just too many chances that all this didn’t happen, or did in a completely different way.

The variety of life on this planet is vast enough, just think about all the possible life that virtually has to be there in the rest of the Universe. It’s just conceited of us humans to think otherwise. If we take the idea that all this happened randomly, as just a series of coincidences, Life evolving becomes quite possible, along with the whole Universe. Formulating through Chance.

Thank you for allowing me to view my idiotic thoughts and hope you all enjoy continuing this debate. It certainly has kept me harmlessly entertained for a half hour.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by PvM published on December 22, 2005 9:14 PM.

Another example of “scholarship” was the previous entry in this blog.

Cooper, Nelson, Saletan 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 4.361

Site Meter