Egnor gets it right

Michael Egnor seems to have a hard time getting the Discovery Institute’s message that Intelligent Design is not about religion.

In an attempt to show a contradiction in Larry Moran’s position on censorship and educational responsibilities, Michael Egnor makes his usual set of flawed arguments. It does not take a brain surgeon to see the obvious flaws in Egnor’s logic.

First of all, somewhat ironically but refreshingly honest, Michael Egnor explains how Intelligent Design is all about religion.

Dr. Moran believes that students and untenured scientists who accept the possibility of intelligent design in nature and who don’t share his atheist metaphysical beliefs should be investigated regarding their beliefs, should be flunked regardless of their grades if their beliefs are found wanting, and should be denied tenure if they get past the materialist filter and make it through graduate school. Is Dr. Moran genuinely “opposed to censorship of any kind”?

We can all agree here with Egnor that Intelligent Design is a religious concept. However, he is still conflating two very different issues. One is the issue of censorship and one is the issue of providing a responsible education to students, and graduate students. If such students’ metaphysical believes cause a conflict with their ability to do science, then there may indeed be a sufficient reason to ‘flunk them’. And this has nothing to do with atheism but all with sound education. While it is true that atheists are more likely to accept sound science, this should not be confused with science being materialistic or atheistic.

Now about Egnor’s complaints about Moran supporting ‘censorship’. Larry agrees to the following extent that

Larry Moran wrote:

He get it mostly right. If they are undergraduates who don’t understand that evolution is a scientific fact, the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, and humans share a common ancestor with chimpanzees, then they flunk the course. If they are graduate students in a science department, then they don’t get a Ph.D. If they are untenured faculty members in a science department, then they don’t get tenure.

For instance, Egnor paints the following, somewhat biased picture, of what happened to Guillermo Gonzalez, who failed to meet the department’s requirements for tenure

Egnor wrote:

He applauded the denial of tenure to Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez, the highly qualified Iowa State University astronomy professor who supports intelligent design

Highly qualified is a loaded term which on closer scrutiny seems to be based on a very narrow foundation of the meaning of the word ‘qualified’. By all reports, Gonzalez’s publication records showed a marked decline, he failed in acquiring significant grant moneys, and instead spent much of his pre-tenure time writing a book arguing for the Intelligent Design of our Universe, a theme found in many of his creationist writings as well. As Gregory Geoffroy, President of Iowa State University, observed:

Gonzalez “simply did not show the trajectory of excellence that we expect in a candidate seeking tenure in physics and astronomy – one of our strongest academic programs

While the book itself is flawed in its main premise, it seems that it was submitted to the tenure committee to be considered as part of the record. As such the support for Intelligent Design, a scientifically vacuous concept, can logically be considered as part of the tenure decision. While it seems unlikely that Gonzalez’s support for a scientifically vacuous concept was the only reason for the denial of tenure, it added to the list of problems identified by the tenure committee.

Mike Gene attempts to diffuse the situation by suggesting that Gonzalez had no choice but to mention the grant money and the book

Mike Gene wrote:

But if you’ll remember, I asked you a question about this. If you wrote a book that was endorsed by someone like Owen Gingerich and Simon Conway Morris, would you really want to hide it?


Mike Gene wrote:

If Gonzalez got the grant to write PP, and ISU used the grant to pay part of his salary for three years, would it be ethical to keep the PP off his CV?

In other words, accepting for the moment Mike Gene’s ‘arguments’, it merely helps understand why Gonzalez submitted the book as part of his tenure request, but by doing so Gonzalez also made ‘Intelligent Design’, a scientifically vacuous concept, part of the tenure decision.

Ed Darell explains the relevance

CEDAR FALLS - Iowa State University Assistant Professor Guillermo Gonzalez was welcomed by a standing room-only crowd in Cedar Falls Wednesday, but his lecture on intelligent design in science was delivered to many already devoutly critical of the theory. Gonzalez used the first 45 minutes of the Sigma Xi lecture to explain the theory of intelligent design, as well as his own theory that says the link between the conditions required for life and the conditions required for doing science on earth are inference for design. While the crowd of students, faculty and local residents had differing views on intelligent design, Gonzalez spent much of the 45 minute-question-and-answer session defending the use of intelligent design in science and arguing for the validity of the theory. “If you eliminate intelligent design as a possibility, if you claim that the universe does not contain objective evidence of design because that is your prior commitment, then you are never going to discover some things,” he said. “Some discoveries may be made more quickly when the scientist is open to the universe being designed for scientific discovery.” While many believe the intelligent designer to be God, Gonzalez argued that studying the intelligent designer itself goes beyond the purview of intelligent design as science.

What I can’t figure is this: Why can’t Gonzalez turn that into real research? What is it about intelligent design that defies hypothesis formation and experimentation to confirm or deny?

Ironically, or perhaps predictably, Egnor gets it ‘right’ again when he observes

Egnor wrote:

Why should Mr. Durston’s willingness to present his scientific evidence for intelligent design to other scientists require courage? Isn’t the presentation of evidence a routine part of science? Why should presenting evidence for intelligent design put Mr. Durston’s “scientific reputation on the line”?

THe story about Kirk Durston is another fascinating example of the scientific vacuity of Intelligent Design, something Egnor seems to understand but perhaps not fully comprehend.

Consider Dr. Moran’s chilling comment about Kirk Durston, a Ph.D. candidate in biophysics at the University of Guelph. Mr. Durston has pointed out that intelligent design theory may be applied to an understanding of the enormous complexities of protein folding, which remains one of the deepest problems in molecular biology. Mr. Durston offered to visit and present his evidence at the University of Toronto. Dr. Moran replied:

I admire Kirk for his willingness to subject his scientific evidence for intelligent design to a group of experts on protein folding. It’s very courageous of him since he’s putting his scientific reputation on the line.

The reason is simple: Intelligent Design by its very nature is unable to present any scientifically relevant hypotheses relevant to the concept of ID other than claiming that science does not yet understand the complexities of a particular system. While scientists are very willing to accept this state of ignorance, realizing that it is likely to be a temporary situation, ID proponents see any state of ignorance as an opportunity to claim ‘design’ where design is merely that which remains when science has attempted so far to explain a particular phenomenon or system. In other words, an argument from ignorance which is then used to equivocate with the more generally accepted meaning of the concept of design. It’s this bait and switch, this equivocation, which makes Intelligent Design a very deceitful approach and since it is so closely tied to Christianity, it tends to drag down not only scientific understanding but also the Christian message.

I can accept that Intelligent Design is doomed to be scientifically vacuous, what is harder for me to accept and comprehend is why ID proponents are so intent on making Christianity look foolish by insisting on an obviously flawed theology which limits the ‘designer (wink wink)’ to live in the shadows of our ignorance.