Pesky realities and caricatures of ID


Rob Crowther, at the Discovery Institute’s blogsite, reports that

Cornell University, home of anti-IDer Hunter Rawlings III, has announced it will offer a course on ID, and in a science class no less. The class, Evolution and Design: Is There Purpose in Nature? is a breakthrough in my mind, simply because it IS in the science curriculum. It remains to be seen if the class will be presented fairly and if ID will be treated respectuflly, or if this is just an attempt to knock it down by attacking some ridiculous caricature of the theory. Regardless, the djnni is out of the bottle, ID is now being offered in university science classes.

Now back to reality, in fact the link Crowther provided gives us the ‘rest of the story’

The course description reads

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 catalogue lists it as “Seminar in the history of science of Biology”.

This surely gives a different meaning to ID being offered in university science classes… Is it just me or are ID activists somewhat ‘sloppy’ in their references?

What I find surprising is how defensive ID activists are about science actually addressing the vacuous claims of ID. Perhaps not surprisingly because of the scientific vacuity of ID.

So what could count as a ‘ridiculous caricature of the “theory”’? I have some ideas:

For instance the claim that there is a theory of ID? Blasphemy… Such a caricature of ID is just meant to place it into a bad light. Don’t these people know that ID is merely the ‘set theoretic complement of regularity or chance’? In other words, ID i s merely an argument from ignorance, also known as a ‘gap argument’?

What about the claim that “ID provides positive evidence for its claims”? Blasphemy again, don’t these people know that ID does not make any statements about the Designer, His capabilities, His goals etc? In other words, anytime someone claims that ID makes positive claims, it should be clear that this is merely a caricature.

So what about the caricature that ID can infer the agency of a designer? Few may be familiar with Dembski’s statement that:

“even though in practice inferring design is the first step in identifying an intelligent agent, taken by itself design does not require that such an agent be posited. The notion of design that emerges from the design inference must not be confused with intelligent agency” (TDI, 227, my emphasis).

In other words, even when “design” is inferred, there may not really be an intelligent designer involved.

Or what about the caricature that the explanatory filter is useful since it exhibits no ‘false positives’?.

Few may be familiar with Dembski’s observation that

“On the other hand, if things end up in the net that are not designed, the criterion will be useless.”

And while initially Dembski insisted that the explanatory filter was reliable, he eventually realized that

I argue that we are justified asserting specified complexity (and therefore design) once we have eliminated all known material mechanisms. It means that some unknown mechanism might eventually pop up and overturn a given design inference. But it also means that we have prima facie evidence of design and that we are justified in holding to this claim in the absence of such mechanisms being found. I also note that there can be cases where all material mechanisms (known and unknown) can be precluded decisively.


Now it can happen that we may not know enough to determine all the relevant chance hypotheses. Alternatively, we might think we know the relevant chance hypotheses, but later discover that we missed a crucial one. In the one case a design inference could not even get going; in the other, it would be mistaken. But these are the risks of empirical inquiry, which of its nature is fallible. Worse by far is to impose as an a priori requirement that all gaps in our knowledge must ultimately be filled by non-intelligent causes.

Allen MacNeill, who will be teaching the Cornell class, relentlessly exposes these caricatures of ID. Such as the claim that Genetic Fingerprinting is somehow a valid example of Dembski’s ‘Explanatory Filter’ as proposed by ID activist and young earth creationist Salvador Cordova,

And of course there is the caricature of all caricatures namely that ID provides competing scientific explanations for systems which are considered to be ‘designed’. When a leading ID activists was asked to provide a detailed scenario as to how ID explains a particular system, he was quick to respond

Dembski Wrote:

As for your example, I’m not going to take the bait. You’re asking me to play a game: “Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.” ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering.

William A. Dembski Organisms using GAs vs. Organisms being built by GAs thread at ISCID 18. September 2002

This was in response to a question by Rafe Gutman who outlined how science explains an IC system, in particular the complement system

Rafe Gutman Wrote:

admittedly, i left out a lot of details, but if you want more, you’ll first have to propose a model for the origin of an IC system through intelligent design in at least as much detail as i presented. that shouldn’t be too hard, it’s only 8 sentences.

Note also how Crowther takes John West’s hypothetical scenario about Beckwith

If it turns out that Beckwith’s views on intelligent design played a role in his rejection at Baylor, then he will have become the latest victim of a campaign by Darwinists to deny academic freedom to any scholar or grad student who disagrees with them.

and turns it into

Heck, even if you’re not a proponent, but have simply written about ID in a way that is supportive it can get you in trouble, much as it did for legal scholar Francis Beckwith. Baylor University recently deined tenure to Beckwith, in part because he’s written that in his opinion as a scholar of the law intelligent design is permissable in public school science classes.

I have to admit that I have not followed the Beckwith tenure discussion in too much detail and so far I have found the following reference to an email

When tenure time approached, the anti-Sloan interim president, William Underwood, appointed psychology professor Jim Patton, the chair of the anti-Sloan faculty senate, to Mr. Beckwith’s tenure committee. In an e-mail message about another faculty member shown to WORLD, Mr. Patton wrote, “I clearly do not think highly of anyone who claims ID theory is science.

Source: New tenor on tenure: Baylor can’t shake faculty flirtations with secularism Free Republic April 15, 2006

In the mean time

Baylor’s provost, J. Randall O’Brien, would not comment on the particulars of the tenure review, but said Mr. Beckwith’s “writings on intelligent design has absolutely nothing to do with the decision.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Perhaps Crowther has additional information about the Beckwith tenure decision that shows support for his claims?


What else could’ve been expected from the likes of Crowter? If in some respectful publications a phrase like “ID is utter bunkum” appeared in passing, crowters and cordovas would immediately comment: “A growing number of respected scientists admit the appearance of a new fruitful theory (ID) deserving a serious consideration.” In some comments on PT, Dr. MacNeill was warned that his initiative of offering his course would have some consequences he did not have in mind, misrepresenting his intentions and the course’s contents. Crowter’s comment is just one such predictable consequence. His characterization of ID as a Jinny (sans Jinni’s power)in a certain sense sounds reasonable, though.

PvM Wrote:

Is it just me or are ID activists somewhat ‘sloppy’ in their references?

I say it’s just you. Case in point: I doubt that “sloppiness” alone will make them cite Michael Denton’s 1985 “Evolution: A Theory In Crisis” at every opportunity, yet hardly ever acknowledge that Denton changed his mind (to an position inconvenient to ID) in his 1998 “Nature’s Destiny.”

The ID folkses may want to brag about ID being taught at a real university. Hmm…if so, do you reckon they will advise their acolytes to enroll, so as to learn more about ID?

Well, the Dawson family who endowed the chair, objected to Beckwith’s original appointment to Baylor onthe basis that he suppoirted ID. He just didnt take the hint.[…]&print=1

Rob Crowther Wrote:

It remains to be seen if the class will be presented fairly and if ID will be treated respectuflly…

Interesting word choice. What’s that other scientifically useless thing that its adherents/supporters demand be treated with respect? The one that has nothing at all to do with ID?

…or if this is just an attempt to knock it down by attacking some ridiculous caricature of the theory.

Now Rob, it wouldn’t be fair for us to steal the antievolutionist MO.

Accepting Dembski’s assertion that arguments against evolution are arguments for design it is possible to plot designer intervention versus time. Ordered along a timescale we have Gonzalez and Richards arguing for design in the origin of the universe at 14 BYA, and all ID theorists agree that the origin of life is designed at 4000 MYA. This includes things like Meyers “machines for copying, reading and editing digital information”. Behe’s eubacteral flagella which would have coincided with the origin of prokaryotes at no earlier than 3900 MYA. Wells argues that centrioles appear to be functioning turbines. Their appearance would have, at the earliest, coincided with the appearance of eukaryotes 2100 MYA. The origin of multicellularity as discussed here at PT occurred at about 1000 MYA. The Cambrian explosion represents a design intervention at about 525 MYA. Tiktaalik and the transition to land as recently discussed by the DI and dismissed and therefore designed occurred at 375 MYA. Birds at about 150 MYA. The mammalian radiation 65 MYA. Human cognition also represents a designer intervention somewhere after 5 MYA.

A log linear plot of the data shows an increasing frequency in designer intervention in the biosphere over time. If the increasing frequency of interventions continues, the biosphere can expect another intervention at any time. Based on the past interventions, new and novel biological forms can be expected with this next intervention. Perhaps we will see some predictions from ID theorists as to the next biological forms to be introduced. Secondly, based on the fossil record and the proposed designer interventions there are large intervals where the designer was quiescent. Between the origin of life and the arrival of eukaryotes and between eukaryotes and the origin of multicellularity, periods of approximately 1000 MYA no designer activity has been proposed. These quiescent periods can be reduced by including other known events such as the development of photosynthesis, but this has not been formally articulated by the ID community. These attention deficit designer gaps are a potentially fruitful area of research that should be addressed by the research community.

Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

I say it’s just you. Case in point: I doubt that “sloppiness” alone will make them cite Michael Denton’s 1985 “Evolution: A Theory In Crisis” at every opportunity, yet hardly ever acknowledge that Denton changed his mind (to an position inconvenient to ID) in his 1998 “Nature’s Destiny.”

Or that Denton asked to be removed form the list of ID Fellows.

ID is now being offered in university science classes.

Hang on a second here … I thought that ID was dead, and “teach the controversy” was now all the rage?

Can’t the damn IDers TRY to be consistent?

But now I am curious — if ID is being taught in science classrooms, just what the heck IS the ID theory that is being taught, or that DI wants to have taught?

Haven’t we already seen this movie in Ohio . … ?

Baylor University recently deined tenure to Beckwith

(sniffle) (sob) Boo hoo hoo.

First they kicked Dembski and his, uh, “scientific research center” out on his ass, now they smack Beckwith in the face.

, in part because he’s written that in his opinion as a scholar of the law intelligent design is permissable in public school science classes.

I wonder why DI doesn’t tell everyone what the result was when Beckwith’s, uh, legal opinions got tested in court . … ?

(snicker) (giggle)


yes and indubebedbely

'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank Wrote:

Or that Denton asked to be removed form the list of ID Fellows.

IIRC that was after 1998. But even if not, what would be so bad about adding a note to every reference of the 1985 work by sayng “Denton has since changed his mind, but we do not agree with his current position.”?

But Behe pretty much does agree with Denton’s later position, if not the less than PC wording, and none of the other DI fellows challenged him directly. So the reason they generally avoid such a disclaimer is not to avoid dishonesty, but to avoid disturbing the big tent.

Occasionally I speculate on what would happen if ID really *did* get taught on “equal footing” with evolution in the classrooms of real scientists.

Something tells me the result wouldn’t be precisely what people like Dempsky and Phillip Johnson fantasize about.

Imagine the pleasure of being able to subject this silliness to the rigors of scientific examination, without the overhanging threat of being accused of “disrespecting” someone’s delicate religious sensibilities.

**sigh** Somthing tells me this isn’t exactly what the IDiots really have in mind.


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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on May 16, 2006 2:53 AM.

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