Desperate times ask for desperate arguments

The Discovery Institute has submitted an incredibly poorly argued Amicus Brief in the Kitzmiller case. But let’s first try an interesting experiment.

Let’s try the ‘reverse Pandas experiment’, replace intelligent design with creationism and see where the evidence leads us (to use a common creationist ‘argument’)…

Valid secular purposes for teaching students about the theory of intelligent designcreationism include:

  • informing students about competing theories of biological origins as they exist within the scientific community,6
  • helping students to better understand neo-Darwinism by understanding a theory with which it competes,7
  • enhancing critical thinking skills by exposing students to alternative explanations for the origin of life,8
  • helping students to understand the value of dissenting viewpoints in the advancement of scientific knowledge,9
  • increasing student interest in science by exposing them to current debates within the scientific community,10
  • advancing cultural literacy by helping students understand a current controversy about science and science education policy.11

The problem is that these ‘arguments’ apply equally well to the term intelligent design as it does to the term creationism. Not surprisingly, since they seem be used fully interchangably.

The real problem is that it is based on the flawed premise that there is a scientific theory of Intelligent Design.

Even ID proponents agree that such a theory is lacking and some excellent papers have explored the scientific vacuity of Intelligent Design.

Paul Nelson wrote:

Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don’t have such a theory now, and that’s a real problem. Without a theory it’s very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now we’ve got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as “irreducible complexity” and “specified complexity” - but as yet no general theory of biological design.

William 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

Ryan Nichols wrote:

Nichols wrote:

Proponents of Intelligent Design theory seek to ground a scientific research program that appeals to teleology within the context of biological explanation. As such, Intelligent Design theory must contain principles to guide researchers. I argue for a disjunction: either Dembski’s ID theory lacks content, or it succumbs to the methodological problems associated with creation science-problems that Dembski explicitly attempts to avoid. The only concept of a designer permitted by Dembski’s Explanatory Filter is too weak to give the sorts of explanations which we are entitled to expect from those sciences, such as archeology, that use effect-to-cause reasoning. The new spin put upon ID theory-that it is best construed as a ‘metascientific hypothesis’-fails for roughly the same reason.

R. Nichols, Scientific content, testability, and the vacuity of Intelligent Design theory The American Catholic philosophical quarterly , 2003 , vol. 77 , no 4 , pp. 591 - 611

Patrick Frank wrote:

Abstract: The assumption of design of the universe is examined from a scientific perspective. The claims of William Dembski and of Michael Behe are unscientific because they are a-theoretic. The argument from order or from utility are shown to be indeterminate, circular, to rest on psychological as opposed to factual certainty, or to be insupportable as regards humans but possibly not bacteria, respectively. The argument from the special intelligibility of the universe specifically to human science does not survive comparison with the capacities of other organisms. Finally, the argument from the unlikelihood of physical constants is vitiated by modern cosmogonic theory and recrudesces the God-of-the-gaps.

Patrick Frank On the Assumption of Design, Theology and Science, Volume 2, Number 1 / April 2004, pp. 109 - 130.

To establish a secular purpose, Intelligent Design has to be shown to be scientifically relevant. And while the Amicus Brief tries to argue that Intelligent Design has contributed to science through for instance the work of Meyer on DNA and the Cambrian, it is self evident, and even admitted to in court by Behe, that Intelligent Design is not about detailed pathways or mechanisms.

Until Intelligent Design can be shown to be a valid scientific theory, and given the strong evidence against such a notion, the basis of the Amicus Brief to show that there is a valid secular purpose to teaching intelligent design needs to be rejected.

The brief continues to outline the case against ID and tries to argue why the case is weak.

(a) The theory of intelligent design lacks any empirical support and is by definition inherently unscientific; (b) Because intelligent design is not scientific, it must therefore be religious such that teaching about it would have the effect of advancing religion; (c) The theory of intelligent design postulates a “supernatural creator” and is indistinguishable from creationism for legal purposes; (d) In light of (c), the theory of intelligent design is not testable, reinforcing the claim that it is not scientific; and (e) DASB’s disclaimer disparages the theory of evolution and relies upon a “theory/fact” distinction, both of which strategies have already been disapproved in other court cases.

Propositions (a) through (d) are clearly false.

Clearly false… Hmmm, I’d say that they are self evident. All the brief can do is appeal to some vague articles by Meyer and the work by Behe to rebut claim a). However, anyone familiar with these works knows that the authors present no positive case of design beyond a gap argument which now seems to have become fully tautological. It is designed because it looks designed.

The brief also misrepresents Darwinian theory

By the same logic, however, neo-Darwinism has equivalent atheistic or materialistic implications (since the neo-Darwinian theory that life arose by a purely undirected process is consistent with a materialistic or atheistic worldview).

Darwinian theory says nothing about being ‘purely undirected’. This is a common misunderstanding amongst creationists.

However, even ID proponents have argued that fully natural processes can still be ‘directed’ in the sense of being front loaded. In other words, Darwinian theory is fully compatible with Intelligent Design. Thus the argument that Intelligent Design promotes religious neutrality is flawed. Of course from a legal perspective the ‘tu quoque’ argument seems to be weak at most. Especially when Intelligent Design can be shown to be theistic in nature, as it insists on placing its designer outside the laws of nature.

Footnotes: 6 “Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist…” Conference report to the No Child Left Behind Act, Congress; House Committee of Conference, Report to Accompany H.R. 1, 107th Cong. 1st sess., 78 (2001) H. Rept. 334, 78. 7 John Angus Campbell, “Intelligent Design, Darwinism, and Public Education Philosophy,” in Darwin, Design, and Public Education (Michigan State University Press 2003). 8 Students should engage in “identification of assumptions, use of critical and logical thinking, and consideration of alternative explanations.” National Research Council, National Science Education Standards (National Academy Press, 1996), 23. 9 Exhibit A, page 48. 10 Exhibit A, at 48. 11 Campbell, supra note 7.

Note the (ab)use of the ‘Santorum amendment’ (item 6).

Let me add my own footnotes

McLean v Arkansas found that the balanced treatment approach was unconstitutional:

The approach to teaching “creation science” and “evolution- science” found in Act 590 is identical to the two-model approach espoused by the Institute for Creation Research and is taken almost verbatim from ICR writings. It is an extension of Fundamentalists’ view that one must either accept the literal interpretation of Genesis or else believe in the godless system of evolution.

Although the pre-trial brief argued (not unlike the present Amicus Brief) that:

The entity which caused the creation hypothesized in creation-science is far, far away from any conception of a god or deity. All that creation-science requires is that the entity which caused creation have power, intelligence, and a sense of design. There are no attributes of the personality generally associated with a deity, nor is there necessarily present in the creator any love, compassion, sense of justice, or concern for any individuals. Indeed, under creation-science as defined in Act 590, there is no requirement that the entity which caused the universe still be in existence.

In Edwards v Aquillard discusses the balanced treatment approach and rejects the arguments raised. Perhaps Scalia’s dissent comments confused the lawyers of the Amicus Brief?

The Balanced Treatment act read

“Public schools within [the] state shall give balanced treatment to creation-science and to evolution-science. Balanced treatment of these two models shall be given in classroom lectures taken as a whole for each course, in textbook materials taken as a whole for each course, in library materials taken as a whole for the sciences and taken as a whole for the humanities, and in other educational programs in public schools, to the extent that such lectures, textbooks, library materials, or educational programs deal in any way with the subject of the origin of man, life, the earth, or the universe. When creation or evolution is taught, each shall be taught as a theory, rather than as proven scientific fact.”

The two main arguments raised by the brief, namely that intelligent design serves a variety of important secular purposes and the claimed primary effect of improving science education and promoting religious neutrality should be rejected based on the available evidence and rules of logic.

As an interesting side effect, the Amicus Brief does seem to support the claim that Intelligent Design has broad theistic implications. Combined with the lack of scientific relevance, the court should find not problems in ruling accordingly.