Riding the Evolution-Design Roller Coaster

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Seems ID activists do not shy away from inflation after all… In this case inflation of claims about a course taught by Allen MacNeill at Cornell.

The Cornell IDEA Club then posted a notice on their blog about the course, pointing out that it would be a seminar in which intelligent design theory would be discussed in the larger framework of its relationship to evolutionary theory. However (perhaps because of the source), this was immediately picked up by several websites supporting ID (most notably World Net Daily) and spun as “Cornell to Offer Course in Intelligent Design.”

Link

Of course our friends at Uncommon Descent decided to join the fray with Cordova’s posting ID Course at Cornell.

Seems ID is desperate for attention but why not spend all this effort and energy on making ID scientifically relevant? Or is that too hard? Let’s read on:

MacNeill sends a strong message to science supporters as well

MacNeill Wrote:

Despite the fact that the topic is ostensibly the philosophy of science, the debate over the validity of ID versus evolutionary theory is fundamentally a scientific debate. If scientists refuse to debate the subject, we will leave the floor open for not-quite-science, pseudoscience, and (worst of all) anti-science to claim victory, and believe me that will be what the general public perceives the ID community has achieved.

And while it is true that ID activists are quick to turn any mention, positive or negative, of Intelligent Design into PR, it is far more important to show how ID is scientifically vacuous. This means that scientists cannot and should not ignore the often overhyped claims of ID activists and should point out how ID has remained scientifically vacuous.

Only by reducing ignorance can we best combat the philosophy of ID which is founded fundamentally in our ignorance of sciences.

221 Comments

David Brin wrote:

“IDers produce little or no evidence to support their own position. ID promoters barely try to undermine evolution as a vast and sophisticated model of the world, supported by millions of tested and interlocking facts and by nearly a century and a half of rigorous review. At the level that they are fighting, none of that matters. Their target is the millions of American voters, for whom the battle is as emotional and symbolic as it ever was.”

I realize that confronting distortions, misrepresentations, and lies is necessary and even cathartic. I get a little worried, however, about those “millions of…voters” who see such confrontations as further proof of an atheistic science run amok. I guess we must keep plugging along each in our own small or large-scale way. But they’re still searching for Noah’s Ark for Darwin’s sake!

I wonder if there might be additional strategies to share our view of life with those millions. Maybe it will take younger minds and bolder ideas.

Thanks for PT.

I would like to expand on the last comment by posting the entire paragraph in which it appeared:

In answer to some of my critics from evolutionary biology, therefore, I feel that it is very appropriate for this kind of discussion to take place in a science course, rather than just a history or philosophy of biology course. Students, including science majors, are far too often not given enough credit for their ability to both formulate and judge rational arguments in a free and open forum of ideas. Despite the fact that the topic is ostensibly the philosophy of science, the debate over the validity of ID versus evolutionary theory is fundamentally a scientific debate. If scientists refuse to debate the subject, we will leave the floor open for not-quite-science, pseudoscience, and (worst of all) anti-science to claim victory, and believe me that will be what the general public perceives the ID community has achieved.

Far too many scientists take the position that debates and public discussions of controversial topics (like evolution and ID) are outside the domain of what they feel is their responsibility (i.e. doing field and lab research). Admittedly, some scientists do a less than optimal job of defending their own disciplines when the do enter the fray, but I view this as an opportunity to learn as well as to teach. I have found that, by preparing to mount a comprehensive and forceful defense of my own position vis-a-vis science, I have come to a much better understanding, not only of my particular discipline, but also of the basic principles of scientific reasoning and logical argument.

And if I may compliment my loyal adversaries in the Cornell IDEA Club, by presenting a forceful and well-thought-out explanation and defense of their position they have made it easier for me to see how and why we differ on these issues. Contrary to what some people on both sides of this debate have been asserting, Cornell students are not weak-kneed, muddle-headed sheep who blindly follow the dictates of either their teachers or some distant institute. As just one example, Hannah Maxson (the founder and president of the Cornell IDEA Club) is a junior triple major in chemistry, mathematics, and physics. If you know anything about the rigor of those majors at Cornell, you know that this is a person of impressive intellectual credentials. I may have started off on the wrong foot with the Club, but have come to realize that there are logical reasons for their positions, reasons that I don’t necessarily agree with, but which do not reduce simply to ignorance nor religious fundamentalism. Indeed, if I may be so presumptuous as to characterize their disagreements with evolutionary biology, I believe they stem from what many philosophers of science (including Karl Popper) have pointed out as among the major differences between the physical and biological sciences. While it is true that some ID supporters exploit these differences for other ends, I believe that there are significant differences between the “historical sciences” (such as biology, geology, and cosmology) and the “ahistorical sciences” (such as chemistry, physics, and astrophysics). I have discussed some of these differences in my blog, at: http://evolutionlist.blogspot.com/2[…]ldviews.html

Admittedly, some people on both sides of these issues have ulterior political and religious motives, but my experience with at least some of the members of the Cornell IDEA Club has taught me differently about them. I therefore look forward to a vigorous and productive debate, online and, if all goes well, in our courses here at Cornell.

“Intelligent Design” is over, although it is critical to make sure that the stake is firmly driven through its heart.

It was always just a sleazy political movement with a deceptive name.

Hard core fanatic fundamentalists like Howard Ahmandson and others, whose views are shared by only a tiny fraction of Americans, wanted taxpayer-funded public schools to teach a simplistic, cultish “literal reading of Genesis” (which theologically contradicts the religions of most Americans) as “science”. This was the original “creationism” movement. This fanatic madness was an egregious violation of American law, an affront to common decency, and a threat to the economy and national security of the United States, both of which depend heavily on science. Afghanistan under the Taliban is the only nation I can think of that ever adopted this type of educational standard. Even Iran and Saudi Arabia provide mainstream science education.

When creationism proper was angrily dismissed by every court, “intelligent design” was invented as a way to get money from fanatic, gullible, right wing fundamentalists with deep pockets. Its sole function was to invent slick arguments that would undermine, weaken, and distort science education and hint at creationism, while being nebulous enough to be “court proof”. The name was chosen, cleverly, to trick people. Many people at first assume that it refers to an attitude like the one endorsed by the Vatican; acceptance of science but belief in a higher power who invests the universe with meaning. Once regular people are made aware of such gems as the claim that bacterial flagella could not have evolved, but were magically created, they tend to reject “intelligent design”, to put it mildly.

A small subset of ID supporters are fanatic but wavering religious types who crave relief from the doubts that science provokes - for them. Most of its supporters, however, are actually disingenuous followers of right wing politics - they claim to support it because they think it’s the “conservatively correct” thing to do; they really don’t give a damn whether it makes sense or not. The overwhelming majority of ID supporters, as in probably over 95%, are right wing conservatives. (However, I hasten to add that many less misguided and more independent-thinking right wing conservatives support science and didain “ID”! It is not that all right wing conservatives support ID, but that virtually all ID supporters are right wing conservatives, which I emphasize.)

This is NOT intended as a generalized swipe at any particular political philosophy; this is not at all the venue for such. It is a statement of the facts.

As long as ID did not test itself in the courts - as the Discovery Institute clearly never intended it to - it was an excellent source of lucre. Gullible fundamentalists would support the DI, and massage their own egos by buying, and possibly reading, verbose books full of big words which purported to make intellectual “proof” of ID. Even figures as eccentric and non-telegenic as Behe and Dembski could rake in big incomes by prolifically cranking out such books and manning the lecture circuit. Many “loyal conservatives” would feel obliged to “support” ID.

However, the Thomas Moore Legal Center, an independent right wing lawsuit factory founded with Dominoes Pizza money, jumped the gun. Acting independently of the DI, they shopped “intelligent design” around to school boards, disingenuously minimizing the likely financial and social costs of an attempt to jam it into a public school curriculum. They probably hoped to land a board in a wealthy conservative suburb, but no such community was fool enough to bite. Eventually, in rural Dover PA, they found their unfortuate but willing guinea pigs.

As the resulting lawsuit progressed, ID supporters such as DaveScot gloated that Judge Jones, the presiding judge, was a Republican appointed by GWB, and would therefore decide in favor of ID, whatever the merits of the case (and once the case had been lost, other fundamentalists, for example Phyllis Schafly, railed against Judge Jones for not doing exactly that). The fact that a Bush-appointed Republican would preside may have been part of the rationale for using Dover.

However, in open court, the scientific and logical vacuity of ID, and the nefarious intentions of its supporters, quickly came to light. Judge Jones ruled strongly against the school board, and the residents of Dover ousted them from office (technically, they were ousted even before the ruling was officially known).

It is still important to highlight the failings of ID, first of all to make sure that it becomes universally regarded as fraudulent claptrap, and second of all, as an example of how not to do science, philosophy, or theology.

Dr MacNiel

Could you post some of those ID models you refer to on your blog?

Allan MacNeil -

Our comments seem to have gone up more or less simultaneously.

The sharply critical tone of mine was in no way intended to contrast with your own highly reasonable comment, which, in fact, I did not see until my own was already posted.

I stand by every word in my comment.

Obviously, some people who support ID have very impressive intellectual achievements, and obviously, students at Cornell are likely to fall into this category.

I wonder if it would ever be appropriate to ascertain the political affiliation of the students in IDEA. I’d bet a rather large sum that they would differ, in a statistically significant way, from those of the average Cornell student. And that I could predict how they would differ.

COURSE DESCRIPTION: This seminar addresses, in historical perspective, controversies about the cultural, philosophical, and scientific implications of evolutionary biology.

No science.

PREREQUISITES: None, although a knowledge of evolutionary theory and philosophy of biology would be helpful.

No scientific background required.

Yes, it is an intelligent design course. Although a summer course I’m sure it will be well attended by idea club members that are around for the summer as well some locals. How many students from the Department Ecology and Evolutionary Biology find the course of interest is anybodies guess. Since the course is limited to 18 students it will be interesting to see who gets there first. I suspect the vast majority of students will be non science majors with no background in evolution. If the majority of students have no background in the sciences how do you demonstrate the scientific vacuity of ID?

COURSE DESCRIPTION: This seminar addresses, in historical perspective, controversies about the cultural, philosophical, and scientific implications of evolutionary biology. Discussions focus upon questions about gods, free will, foundations for ethics, meaning in life, and life after death.

I suspect the majority of ID students will want to discuss evidence supporting ID and not the listed topics. It will be interesting to see how the course evolves.

Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

Dr MacNeill, You seem to some what laud Hannah Maxson academic abilities,in a attempt to lend her position a semblance of credibility.Yet in examining her recent IDEA outburst against Hunter Rawlings,(President)one would have to question her misplaced logic. I quote “ Intelligent Design (ID) is a scientific theory which holds that certain features of the universe and living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, and are not the result of an undirected, chance-based process such as Darwinian evolution. It follows the principles of the scientific method, scorns the biases of either religion or naturalism, and attempts to follow all the available evidence to a valid conclusion. ID is testable and falsifiable, and so far its predictions have repeatedly been shown accurate. I would like to see the empirical evidence for any of these assertion, could she post them ?

“While it is true that some ID supporters exploit these differences for other ends, I believe that there are Its not that some supporters exploit “differences” for other ends; its that ID was started solely for the purpose of exploiting those other “ends”

You can’t discuss ID and removed from its historical context. That only makes it looks like a scientific debate.

And while Cornell is impressive, being a triple major indicates you’re intelligent, but not necessarily wise. This student would not be the first intelligent person suckered by the ID movement.

For a course of this type would it be of interest to present alternatives theories of evolution other than the one presented by Darwin and Wallace and how it came to be the later the one who prevailed. For example the instructor can use the ideas by Lamarck and how this was shown not valid. After all at first glance Lamarckism is very logical and potentially can be demonstrated through the scientific method but was wrong. With using “models” such as the one presented above the students will be more open to really analyze more pedestrian and puerile arguments such as ID. Sorry, no spell check today!!!!

Welcome Allen,

Far too many scientists take the position that debates and public discussions of controversial topics (like evolution and ID) are outside the domain of what they feel is their responsibility (i.e. doing field and lab research). Admittedly, some scientists do a less than optimal job of defending their own disciplines when the do enter the fray, but I view this as an opportunity to learn as well as to teach.

I understand your position, I personally have contacted many scientists to help rebut issues related to their research, especially when it was abused by ID activists and found that many of them have bigger worries to deal with such as getting funding or doing research. And I appreciate their position that arguing with creationists may have limited effects.

And I also disagree with them that the present form of creationism which presents itself as both compatible and at odds with Methological Naturalism needs to comments. Especially in the areas where ID activists make positive comments about the ability of evolutionary or more limited, Darwinian, mechanisms to explain the biological world, rebuttal of their position is essential.

I have found the ID activists’ arguments that neutrality and convergence are somehow better explained by Intelligent Design to be mostly vacuous. Not only do ID activists have a very limited understanding and appreciation of science in this area, they also rely strongly on old research (and quote mining).

Thus it is essential that their claims are rebutted. Look for instance at the recent claims by Behe et al, moving the goal posts after science has once again rebutted irreducible complexity… The problem is that the ID activists often ignore the science and focus on propaganda and PR to further their goals. It’s frustrating to me as a scientist that ID has such little to offer in the realm of science where it remains mostly scientifically vacuous. I also believe that by continuously exposing not only the poor foundation of their negative claims against evolution but also by pointing out the scientifically vacuity of ID that we can help people understand that ID is flawed. As a Christian, I also believe that from a religious perspective ID is theologically flawed and I encourage fellow Christians to explain why not only science and theology are not contradictory but also that ID is theologically risky.

Bruce Thompson GQ Wrote:

COURSE DESCRIPTION: This seminar addresses, in historical perspective, controversies about the cultural, philosophical, and scientific implications of evolutionary biology. Discussions focus upon questions about gods, free will, foundations for ethics, meaning in life, and life after death.

Cornell isn’t good updating its website, and it looks as if you’ve got the description of last year’s course, which focused on free will. This year’s course information is posted here. An explanation here.

Some allegedly “intelligent” chick at Cornell says

[Intelligent design] follows the principles of the scientific method, scorns the biases of either religion or naturalism, and attempts to follow all the available evidence to a valid conclusion. ID is testable and falsifiable, and so far its predictions have repeatedly been shown accurate.

Okay, so this poor little girl is either a willful liar or too stupid to understand that she’s full of crap.

I wonder which it is?

Maybe she’d like to come here and explain herself.

Oh wait – I forgot. Casey Luskin doesn’t allow IDEA Club members to defend their scripts here.

Allen MacNeill notes: Hannah Maxson (the founder and president of the Cornell IDEA Club) is a junior triple major in chemistry, mathematics, and physics.

Then I look forward to Hannah’s alternative to evolution to explain biological diversity. The force of logical arguments may be very persuasive but how will philosophical discussions about ID clarify the issues? Pim is correct, the core scientific issues need to be addressed. Evolution should be a required course not an elective (radical rant from the Darwinian pressure group delta pi gamma, now back to playing in the mud).

Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

As a side note, I can empathize with Cornell’s ID Blog comment in recognition of the UD post concerning the upcoming Evolution/ID course

“Uncommon Descent (well.….)” —– To the Passerby

SEMESTER: Cornell Six-Week Summer Session, 06/27/06 to 08/03/06

COURSE TITLE: Evolution and Design: Is There Purpose in Nature?COURSE INSTRUCTOR: Allen MacNeill, Senior Lecturer in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University

COURSE DESCRIPTION: This seminar addresses, in historical perspective, controversies about the cultural, philosophical, and scientific implications of evolutionary biology. Discussions focus upon questions about gods, free will, foundations for ethics, meaning in life, and life after death. Readings range from Charles Darwin to the present (see reading list, below)

Yes, I shamelessly quote mined for my own diabolical purposes and I should be horse whipped with a stout horse.

Okay, so this poor little girl is either a willful liar or too stupid to understand that she’s full of crap.

I wonder which it is?

A bit more respect towards others would be far better than your response. What if people truly believe that ID has scientific potentials? They may be very wrong as both evidence and logic show but to call them either a liar or stupid is not going to impress anyone.

A small subset of ID supporters are fanatic but wavering religious types who crave relief from the doubts that science provokes - for them. Most of its supporters, however, are actually disingenuous followers of right wing politics - they claim to support it because they think it’s the “conservatively correct” thing to do; they really don’t give a damn whether it makes sense or not.

Thank you for pointing this out so clearly. I’ve thought this for years, but it seems not to be articulated often, this fact of people supporting ID purely for political reasons.

I think this is precisely where the legendary DaveScot is, which sometimes causes tensions with the nut fundy types who constitute most of the non-banned visitors at his blog.

Allen MacNeill

Contrary to what some people on both sides of this debate have been asserting, Cornell students are not weak-kneed, muddle-headed sheep who blindly follow the dictates of either their teachers or some distant institute.

Some “distant institute”? Like the Discovery Institute? They publish their propaganda on the web, Allen. They aren’t a “distant institute.”

I don’t know all the details about these “IDEA Clubs,” how they are funded, and where they get their scripts. I do know that Hannah’s garbage sound exactly like Casey Luskin’s garbage. It’s the same lies, Allen.

I’m curious: which of the scientific arguments in defense of “intelligent design” do you find “forceful” and “well thought out”? From where I’m standing, once you clear away the lies and semantic games from the ID script, your average high schooler can see that it’s pure crap.

The only aspect of ID that is “well thought out” is the bait-n-switch manner in which ID is peddled to the rubes.

Here’s a question for Hannah, Allen: does she know who the “designers” are? Assuming she does know (Michael Behe knows, after all, and he wrote Hannah’s script), how does she know?

You see, with one question you will learn all you need to know about the “science” behind “ID theory.”

Admittedly, some people on both sides of these issues have ulterior political and religious motives, but my experience with at least some of the members of the Cornell IDEA Club has taught me differently about them.

What experience was that, Allen? Either they are reciting the scripts because they are confused or they are reciting the scripts because they recognize that the scripts are tools for promoting their religion. So you’re saying the IDEA Club students are confused?

They don’t come across as confused exactly. They seem to me to be “on message.”

Bottom line, Allen: don’t be naive. Of course, it’s entirely possible that you know what you are doing when you recite pleasing tales about the “well thought out” arguments that creationists have been peddling forever.

What if people truly believe that ID has scientific potentials? They may be very wrong as both evidence and logic show but to call them either a liar or stupid is not going to impress anyone.

Huh? I’m not trying to impress anyone.

Someone who believes that “cynanide is a tasty treat for dogs” and tells others is either stupid or a liar. It doesn’t matter how deeply held their belief is.

I’m not interested in playing games with ID promoters and pretending that their arguments are clever and challenging when they simply are not. If you want to do that, eat your heart out. I think it’s a very bad idea.

Remember: “ID theory” is not about science. It’s about politics and evangelizing.

Here is the full course description, available at http://evolutionlist.blogspot.com/2[…]purpose.html

COURSE LISTING: BioEE 467/B&Soc 447/Hist 415/S&TS 447 Seminar in History of Biology

SEMESTER: Cornell Six-Week Summer Session, 06/27/06 to 08/03/06

COURSE TITLE: Evolution and Design: Is There Purpose in Nature?

COURSE INSTRUCTOR: Allen MacNeill, Senior Lecturer in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University

COURSE DESCRIPTION: This seminar addresses, in historical perspective, controversies about the cultural, philosophical, and scientific implications of evolutionary biology. Discussions focus upon questions about gods, free will, foundations for ethics, meaning in life, and life after death. Readings range from Charles Darwin to the present (see reading list, below).

The current debate over “intelligent design theory” is only the latest phase in the perennial debate over the question of design in nature. Beginning with Aristotle’s “final cause,” this idea was the dominant explanation for biological adaptation in nature until the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Darwin’s work united the biological sciences with the other natural sciences by providing a non-teleological explanation for the origin of adaptation. However, Darwin’s theory has been repeatedly challenged by theories invoking design in nature.

The latest challenge to the neo-darwinian theory of evolution has come from the “intelligent design movement,” spearheaded by the Discovery Institute in Seattle, WA. In this course, we will read extensively from authors on both sides of this debate, including Francisco Ayala, Michael Behe, Richard Dawkins, William Dembski, Phillip Johnson, Ernst Mayr, and Michael Ruse. Our intent will be to sort out the various issues at play, and to come to clarity on how those issues can be integrated into the perspective of the natural sciences as a whole.

In addition to in-class discussions, course participants will have the opportunity to participate in online debates and discussions via the instructor’s weblog. Students registered for the course will also have an opportunity to present their original research paper(s) to the class and to the general public via publication on the course weblog and via THE EVOLUTION LIST.

INTENDED AUDIENCE: This course is intended primarily for students in biology, history, philosophy, and science & technology studies. The approach will be interdisciplinary, and the format will consist of in-depth readings across the disciplines and discussion of the issues raised by such readings.

PREREQUISITES: None, although a knowledge of evolutionary theory and philosophy of biology would be helpful.

DAYS, TIMES, & PLACES: The course will meet on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6:00 to 9:00 PM in Mudd Hall Room 409 (The Whittaker Seminar Room), beginning on Tuesday 27 June 2006 and ending on Thursday 3 August 2006. We will also have an end-of-course picnic at a location TBA.

CREDIT & GRADES: The course will be offered for 4 hours of credit, regardless of which course listing students choose to register for. Unless otherwise noted, course credit in BioEE 467/B&Soc 447 can be used to fulfill biology/science distribution requirements and Hist 415/S&TS 447 can be used to fulfill humanities distribution requirements (check with your college registrar’s office for more information). Letter grades for this course will be based on the quality of written work on original research papers written by students, plus participation in class discussion.

COURSE ENROLLMENT & REGISTRATION: All participants must be registered in the Cornell Six-Week Summer Session to attend class meetings and receive credit for the course (click here for for more information and to enroll for this course). Registration will be limited to the first 18 students who enroll for credit. Auditors may also be allowed, space permitting (please contact the Summer Session office for permission to audit this course).

REQUIRED TEXTS (all texts will be available at The Cornell Store):

Behe, Michael (2006) Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution Paperback: 352 pages Publisher: Free Press ISBN: 0743290313

Dawkins, Richard (1996) The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design Paperback: 400 pages Publisher: W. W. Norton (reissue edition) ISBN: 0393315703

Dembski, William (2006) The Design Inference : Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities Paperback: 272 pages Publisher: Cambridge University Press ISBN: 0521678676

Johnson, Phillip E. (2002) The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism Paperback: 192 pages Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 0830823956

Ruse, Michael (2006) Darwin and Design: Does Evolution Have a Purpose? Paperback: 384 pages Publisher: Harvard University Press ISBN: 0674016319

OPTIONAL TEXTS (all texts will be available at The Cornell Store):

Darwin, Charles (E. O. Wilson, ed.) (2006) From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin’s Four Great Books Hardcover: 1,706 pages Publisher: W. W. Norton ISBN: 0393061345

Dembski, William & Ruse, Michael (2004) Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA Hardcover: 422 pages Publisher: Cambridge University Press (July 12, ISBN: 0521829496

Forrest, Barbara & Gross, Paul R. (2004) Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design Hardcover: 416 pages Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA ISBN: 0195157427

Graffin, Gregory W. (2004) Evolution, Monism, Atheism, and the Naturalist World-View Paperback: 252 pages Publisher: Polypterus Press (P.O. Box 4416, Ithaca, NY, 14852; can be purchased online at: http://www.cornellevolutionproject.[…]/obtain.html) ISBN: 0830823956

Perakh, Mark (2003) Unintelligent Design Hardcover: 459 pages Publisher: Prometheus Books ISBN: 1591020840

For the record, I also teach evolution for non-majors (BioEE 207) in the summer session and (with Will Provine) during the regular fall semester at Cornell. We require students in that course to read the first edition of the Origin of Species (cover to cover), along with several other full length books (this summer I’m using Sean Carroll’s new book on evo-devo, Endless Forms Most Beautiful). I have toyed with the idea of requiring that students have taken this course before they take the seminar course (either that or evolution for majors, BioEE 278, which is required of all biology majors at Cornell), but have not made it a prerequisite since about half of the course is history, philosophy, or science and technology studies majors.

As to the question of what I’m planning for the seminar course this summer, you can find a more detailed description here: http://evolutionlist.blogspot.com/2[…]-course.html

And as to my attitude toward my adversaries, I adhere to Kurt Vonnegut’s dictum: “After all else is gone, what remains is courtesy.”

Arden Chatfield -

Thank you. Lenny Flank has also made this point numerous times.

My summary of the history of ID (highly relevant in this thread) is, I admit, full of words like “disingenuously”, “cleverly”, “sleazy”, “gullible”, “fanatic”, etc. It is openly critical; I made no attempt at diplomacy, for better or for worse. I stand by it, however.

All -

I have never met Hannah Maxson, but here’s my guess about her.

No doubt we all remember that one of the old-time creationists, being a firm believer in the literal interpretation of the Noah’s Ark story a priori, literally forced himself, long after his beliefs were thoroughly petrified, through a degree in Hydrological Engineering! His goal was not to explore ideas, but to be able to say “I believe that the Noah story is meant to be interpreted in a rigid, literal way (presumably in the King James translation), and I am a hydrological engineer!.

But this is dishonest. It implies that the degree taught him something that made him believe in the story, when in fact, he would have and did rigidly stick to his fanatic belief no matter what his studies said on the matter. He took the degree, after the fact, to give a false impression that his belief was based on scientific scholarship. It’s also an especially egregious version of argument from authority - “argument from auto-authority”, with himself as the authority. I’m sure the man was highly intelligent, but that’s irrelevant.

I apologise in advance for the seemingly critical tone here, but…

My money says Hannah Maxson is a young woman with a political bone to pick, probably disguised as a religious bone, probably a bone of a right wing and authoritarian nature. She has identified support for ID as something that fits with her particular ideology. She has already made up her mind, and she doesn’t give a rat’s patootey what she learns in any science class. She may also perceive that articulate people with science degrees who claim to support ID can pull in mucho dinero, as a secondary motivation.

But she’s decided to slog through a triple major, not so much to learn anything, at least not about the merits of evolutionary biology, but to be able to say “I have a triple-barrel science degree from a fancy-schmancy Ivy League university, and I believe in ID, so therefor ID must be correct”.

Of course, I’m just guessing. Or rather, I’m expressing a hypothesis, which can to a large degree be verified or falsified by observation.

Again, I don’t mean to be excessively critical of a young person I have never known, and who may, in fact, learn the error of her ID ways. But today, I feel the need to call ‘em as I see ‘em.

Dr MacNeil -

I applaud your efforts, and despite my relatively strong language today, I am a big believer in treating others with courtesy and respect. As a relative veteran of the pro-science side (amateur but involved), I have learned a few things about ID which, when expressed plainly, may seem, to the uninitiated, to be excessively critical. No denigration of any individual is intended.

Both of your courses look extremely challenging.

There seems to be a fair amount of ID reading required, as well as Dawkins’ Blind Watchmaker. As much as I admire Dawkins intellect, scientific work, writing style, and tirelessness, I’ve always found that he distracts readers by indulging in a “science versus religion” false dichotomy, and tends to oversimplify a bit too much even for a lay audience*. However, it would probably be outrageous to have a course on ID without including these materials, and presumably classroom discussion will illuminate their many shortcomings.

*I realize that many posters here are members of Dawkins’ large fan base.

This course at Cornell is raising such a fuss, I am led to wonder:

Does anyone here know of any other university-level courses at other schools that actually present the whole set of intelligent design arguments? I suppose there are some strictly religious institutions that do so, but how about secular schools?

I teach a philosophy of science course at CU Boulder in which we go through the ID arguments as framed in Ken Miller’s book “Finding Darwin’s God.” As most people here may know, Miller is a very competent and eloquent defender of mainstream science.

To site administration of PT and Allen MacNeill:

RE: Course description BioEE 467. Students registered for the course will also have an opportunity to present their original research paper(s) to the class and to the general public via publication on the course weblog and via THE EVOLUTION LIST.

Would it be possible to have a formal discussion of individual papers presented in BioEE 467 here at PT? Is it appropriate? I don’t know how Dr. MacNeill plans on handling comments at his site, but student papers will probably bring up interesting topics worthy of discussion. Dr. MacNeill may we inundate your site with comments? Can we have raging arguments at your place, or would they be better held in virtual pub of the University of Ediacara?

Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

Well, I want to organize a Cornell summer school ‘class’ to teach the controversy regarding the shape of the earth. The students will read books on each of the following, write research papers, and public ally defend their results.

(1) Flat earth;

(2) Orange-shaped earth, including the great depression in the north;

(3) Apple-shaped earth, included the lobes;

(4) Pear-shaped earth.

No bananas or kiwi fruit will be allowed unless by special permission. In no circumstances will rotten tomatoes be allowed during lectures.

Very cute. Have you read the course description, the reading list, and the explanation of why I’m teaching it, or is reading not one of your skills? Here, let me help (from http://evolutionlist.blogspot.com/2[…]-course.html ):

“Let me assure my faithful readers that I am not “teaching intelligent design” at Cornell Univesity this summer. Rather, I am offering a seminar course in which the participants (including me) will attempt to come to some understanding vis-a-vis the following:

As Ernst Mayr pointed out in his 1974 paper (“Teleological and Teleonomic: A New Analysis.” In Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Volume XIV, pages 91 -117), it may be legitimate for evolutionary biologists to refer to adaptations as teleological. However, such adaptations have evolved by natural selection, which itself is NOT a purposeful process. Therefore, we have a fascinating paradox: purposefulness can evolve (as an emergent property) from non-purposeful matter (and energy, of course) via a process that is itself purposeless (as far as we can tell). This immediately suggests the following questions:

* Is there design or purpose anywhere in nature? * If so, are there objective empirical means by which it can be detected and its existence explained? * Can the foregoing questions be answered using methodological naturalism as an a priori assumption? * What implications do the answers to these questions have for science in general and evolutionary biology in particular?

To answer these questions, we will read several books and a selection of articles on the subject of design and purpose in nature (the course description is available here). As you can see from the reading list, we will be looking at all sides of this very challenging issue. My own position is very strongly on the side of evolutionary biology (i.e. in the tradition of “methodological naturalism”). Consequently, I disagree very strongly with the positions of Michael Behe, William Dembski, Phillip Johnson, and other representatives of the Discovery Institute. I will therefore be attacking both their positions and the metaphysical assumptions upon which they are based with as much logic and vigor as I can muster. At the same time, I have invited members of the Cornell IDEA Club to participate in the course and to explain and defend their beliefs and positions. From my previous interactions with them, I expect that they will make an equally forceful and well-argued case for their position. The students taking the course will be expected to follow the arguments, participate in them, and come to their own conclusions, which they will then be required to defend to the rest of us. Regardless of whether they agree with me or with my opponents, their work will be judged on the basis of logical coherence and marshalling of references in support of their arguments.

As to the question of whether “intelligent design theory” is worthy of study (and is especially appropriate for a science-oriented seminar course), I have several reasons to believe that it is:

First, by clearly drawing a distinction between the traditional scientific approach (i.e. “methodological naturalism”) and the “supernaturalist” approach, we can clarify just what science is capable of (and what it isn’t). Like Ernst Mayr, I believe that the question of the existence of design or purpose in nature can ultimately be answered without resort to supernatural explanations. Indeed, as an evolutionary psychologist, I believe that we do have the ability to recognize design and purpose in nature (and to act purposefully ourselves), and that this ability is the result of natural selection. That is, both of these abilities have adaptive value in a world in which some phenomena are not designed and/or purposeful and others are (the latter having potentially fatal consequences if unrecognized).

Secondly, by studying what I believe to be a flawed attempt at identifying and quantifying design or purpose in nature, we may be able to do a better job of it. Clearly, there are purposeful entities capable of “intelligent design” in the universe: I am one and I infer that you are another. There are also objects and processes that clearly are not: the air we are both currently breathing clearly fall into this class. As a scientist committed to naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena, it is clear to me that there must be some way of discerning between these two classes of objects and processes, as both of them are clearly “natural.” Therefore, we will use several approaches to the identification and explanation of design and purpose to do so.

Thirdly, the recent resurrection of “intelligent design theory” has historical and political, as well as scientific roots. By studying these, we can learn better how science proceeds, how scientific hypotheses are tested, and how scientific theories are validated (and invalidated). In my opinion, “intelligent design theory” as it is currently promulgated falls far short of the criteria for natural science, but is very useful at demonstrating how to distinguish between science and pseudoscience.

Finally, the question of design and purpose in nature is one that goes back to the foundation of western philosophy. The Ionian philosophers - Thales, Anaximander, Democritus, Epicurus, and their Roman descendant Lucretius - were the first people in recorded history to assert that nature can be explained without reference to supernatural causes. Their ideas were overshadowed by the academy of Plato and his student, Aristotle, who proposed that supernatural and teleological causes were primary. Darwin revolutionized western science because he completed the subversion of the Platonic/Aristotelian world view, replacing it with a naturalistic one much more like that of the Ionians. It is this tradition we will investigate, and which I hope we can in some way emulate this summer.”

Unfortunately, it seems that demagoguery is not the exclusive purview of the ID side.

Bruce Thompson asked:

Would it be possible to have a formal discussion of individual papers presented in BioEE 467 here at PT? Is it appropriate? I don’t know how Dr. MacNeill plans on handling comments at his site, but student papers will probably bring up interesting topics worthy of discussion.

As I have noted elsewhere, I am investigating the possibility of podcasting some of the discussions we will be having this summer on my blog. In addition, I will also be posting summaries of the arguments on my blog at http://evolutionlist.blogspot.com/ . In the past, the course has focussed on such topics as the implications of evolutionary theory for human free will, ethics, and the concept of purpose (a la Ernst Mayr and Colin Pittendrigh’s “teleonomy.”) Some of the research papers the students have written have been quite extraordinary, and if this summer’s crop of papers includes a paper or two of such calibre, I will try to post them at my blog (with the student’s permission, of course).

That is, assuming anybody signs up for the course ;-)

P.S. I think of my blog as more like a seminar course in which I get to do most of the talking. Therefore, I would prefer that any “rowdy” discussions take place here. Just give me a corner stool at the bar (and I like my ale nut-brown and cellar cool, please…)

PvM (whom I hold in a high esteem) wrote (comment 96686) about ID supporters:

They may be very wrong as both evidence and logic show but to call them either a liar or stupid is not going to impress anyone.

I wonder, if they are “very wrong,” denying both evidence and logic, what is the third option besides being either stupid or liars?

The quotation from the “triple major” at Cornell seems to strongly imply that she belongs in the first category, however impolite such a statement sounds. Should we disregard facts for the sake of making an impression?

While Allen MacNeill seems to be a good guy, I am afraid he did not think through all the consequences of his endeavor - the planned course which would give equal time to science and pseudo-science.

They may be very wrong as both evidence and logic show but to call them either a liar or stupid is not going to impress anyone.

I wonder, if they are “very wrong,” denying both evidence and logic, what is the third option besides being either stupid or liars?

This presumes that all ID activists are aware of the major arguments against ID or even the evidence in support of Darwinian theory or evolutionary theory. Furthermore, by calling someone a liar, hope of any discussion will be quickly dissipate. I agree that some ID activists could be argued to have built up a good enough track record to allow one to come to specific conclusions. Even in those cases, rather than call them upon it, the best response is either to ignore them or to continue to show how their ideas are wrong.

Bilbo writes: “Hi all you PTers. I wandered over here from TelicThoughts to ask y’all a hypothetical question: If the instructor of the proposed course were Behe instead of MacNeill, and he used the same reading list, how many of you would still be in favor of the course being taught? How many of you would want it banned?

(My guess is that 100% of you would oppose the course being taught by Behe. But I hope I’m wrong).”

You’re right.

Somebody who thinks astrology should be considered a science shouldn’t be allowed within a country mile of undergraduates.

Stuart

The people involved in producing and promoting the ID textbook, Of Pandas and People, are, in my opinion, guilty of scientific misconduct comparable to recent cases involving data falsification and improprieties in stem cell research. Why are we still treating the very same people as if this prior misconduct had nothing to do with them? For any other person claiming to be doing science, that would be it. A big “Game Over”. Do NOT pass “Go”, do not collect $200, etc…

But it seems like people aren’t even considering the essential breach of trust that occurred in passing off “intelligent design” as if it represented a valid scientific perspective when it was, in fact, exactly the same “creation science” content that was current at the time OPAP was written. This sort of breach of trust is exactly why Hendrik Schon will not be expecting to get an offer of a tenure track position anywhere, and why Woo Suk Hwang will expect that any paper he submits anywhere in the future will, if not immediately rejected, be subject to especial scrutiny.

Why should ID advocates who helped with this bit of subterfuge walk away scot free?

If ID advocates want to claim that they have been doing science, then they should take their lumps as befits folks who do the sort of things they did in promoting their conjectures. If they don’t want to take those lumps, they need to step away from any claim that what they are talking about has anything to do with science. I don’t see any other options here.

Apparently I missed the portions of Kitzmiller that showed that Behe was incompetent. And I didn’t know he thought astrology was verified. So far, that’s two of you.

BTW, I found Lenny’s last name, “Flank”, to be curiously interesting, so I looked it up in the dictionary: “…to place on each side of.…” Let’s see now…Dr. MacNeill comes here and is heckled and attacked by Lenny. Most of you defend MacNeill (Kudos to all of you). But apparently MacNeill leaves PT with a bad taste in his mouth, and he may think less of ID critics than he did before he was here. Are you sure you know which side Lenny is on?

Are you sure you know which side Lenny is on?

Howie Ahmanson paid me to do it.

Biblo writes:”Apparently I missed the portions of Kitzmiller that showed that Behe was incompetent.”

Translation: “I didn’t read it”

Behe claimed almost no research was done on the evolution of the immune system.

He was wrong. A competent scientist wouldn’t make such a statment before checking the facts.

“And I didn’t know he thought astrology was verified. So far, that’s two of you.”

You don’t know jack.

He was asked during x-examination whether the definition of science should be expanded to include Astrology.

He said “yes”.

Your statement that Behe didn’t say Astrology was verified is simply, a pitiful, lame attempt by you to obscure the truth.

Here, you can’t get away with that.

He was asked during x-examination whether the definition of science should be expanded to include Astrology. He said “yes”.

No, he didn’t say that. He said that his expanded definition of a theory, one that would allow ID, would also allow astrology. He didn’t say that he thought astrology was a science, just that his definition of a theory would allow it. (KvD Transcript, Day 11, Afternoon, pg 39, lines 6-12)

Behe makes a big enough fool of himself without PTers having to put inaccurate words in his mouth.

Guy, How is that paraphrasing any different in meaning than what he did say? The two phrasings look to me like they say the same thing.

Henry

Henry,

They may look like they say the same thing, but they don’t.

The first comment (Stuart Weinstein’s) stated that: He (Behe) was asked during x-examination whether the definition of science should be expanded to include Astrology.

The problem with the comment is that Behe was not asked that at all. He was asked if his definition of a scientific theory would, as a result of his redefinition, include astrology, not whether he thought astrology was a science. It is a small difference but a vital one. Behe went on under x-examination to compare astrology to the ether theory of the propagation of light and say that “There are many things throughout the history of science which we now think to be incorrect which nonetheless would fit that – which would fit that definition.” (KvD Transcript, Day 11, Afternoon, pg 38, lines 22-25) Remember, he is talking about his expanded definition of a scientific theory, NOT the definition of science. Nowhere in the transcript does he say that he thinks astrology is correct or verified.

I am not trying to defend Behe at all. He is a moron who, just all the other IDiots when they can’t explain something, says “Goddidit” and ignores any evidence to the contrary. However, if we start quote mining and taking what the IDiots say out of context, then we become no better than them.

Seems to be some dispute as to the orientation of MacNeill’s students. Some posters here envision people who are able to think, aren’t fully conversant with the issues but are curious, and are willing to read all the material and make reasonably informed decisions.

Others picture the class being packed with creationists, all armed with the usual creationist “debating guides” filled with quotes out of context, misleading statements, and the usual litany of doublespeak. Their goal is to redirect the class into useless arguments, change the subject if it threatens to become relevant, and sow the sort of confusion for which God’s Absolute Truth is the only cure. In other words, dedicated, output-only heckler-preachers.

I’ll be curious how many of which group shows up, but I’m also not totally optimistic. The Law of Entropy Of Discussion dictates that it only takes one or two dedicated bozos to wreck a class otherwise consisting of serious students, beyond all recognition. I’d recommend that rules of classroom decorum be laid down the first day and strictly enforced. Then, the class might be quite interesting.

I’ll offer the opinion that the future will be like the past: None of the IDiots will show up, just like last summer’s course…

You can’t be 56087 serious?!?

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on April 15, 2006 12:41 PM.

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