Sunday, June 19, 2011

On Intelligent Design in our Public Schools

So, my friend. How are we - you and I - here together on this particular planet in this particular eon of time in the history of our universe?

Are we the product of the will and purpose of a sentient transcendent being of whatever nature? The product of design? Design being the "purposeful arrangement of parts" as micro-biologist Michael Behe has noted? Are we an outcome of Intelligent Design (ID) by a creator that is necessarily separate from the creation? Was the magical spark of life imparted? Can we detect the existence of design, and from there infer a designer?

Or, are we the product of the unguided processes of nature and nature's laws? Of matter evolving since the earliest moments of the Big Bang in a symphony of chance and necessity. Of chemicals and electricity and mutations and competition and survival and selection - leading upwards and onwards in increasily complex biodiversity? Does Darwin's Theory of Evolution through Natural Selection (TOETNS) have it essentially right?

I read and think about these things, and have for 30-plus years now, since I first walked onto a college campus in the late 70's where the Creation vs. Evolution debate was a hot topic. I think about them as a Christian man. I think about them as an educated man and a lover of science. Both.

Every now and then I will jump into an internet discussion of this, my favorite hobby. Reluctantly, though, because there are few topics that ignite passions and hostilities quicker than an Creation / Evolution debate online. It doesn't take many comments before the insults about ignorance and bias fly, rarely in a civil manner. The exception has been the Darwin threads on the best blog on the internet: Roger Ebert's Journal. I started in with the "Win Ben Stein's Mind" thread, which went on for 9 months and 2600 comments - until we broke the comment entry mechanism! Now that was fun. I enjoyed the conversation with the scientific minded from around the world, and I hung in there as the "stalwart defender of Intelligent Design" as Roger dubbed me. Big fun.

I generally enjoy the discussions with Darwinists, if you indulge me that shorthand name, though they don't seem to return the relish for discussion with ID'ers - resorting quickly as they do to taunts of ignorance and "lack of critical thinking". I find them a stubborn and intractable lot, eager to limit the discussion and parameters. They, the methodological naturalists, have after all succeeded in defining "science" (the study of the natural world) in a manner to exclude any consideration of the transcendent as out-of-bounds. A nice trick, and they've accomplished it. I have a little broader worldview, one that allows for the possibility of the transcendent.

What does it matter what I think about our origins? What does it matter what you think? We - you and I - have gone down different roads to get to our current opinions on the topic. You read Darwin and Dawkins et al and think you have it all figured out. I read those, plus Behe and Dembski and Stephen C. Meyer's excellent "Signature in the Cell" and have a different understanding of the historical sciences like evolution. So what, really?

Well, because all of the arguing comes down to this:

What shall be taught as orthodoxy on our origins in "science class"  to the young skulls full of mush in our Government schools? Secondarily, is this an issue as we choose our governing class? These are the stuff of intellectual war.

I got two bits of news in the last week that impact on that discussion:

1. From Roger Ebert's Facebook postings, a news story about GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann's statement that we should teach ID in public schools:

"I support intelligent design," Bachmann told reporters in New Orleans...I would prefer that students have the ability to learn all aspects of an issue," Bachmann said. "And that's why I believe the federal government should not be involved in local education to the most minimal possible process."

My friend Mr. Ebert judged that Bachmann's statement established her "as a person who is ignorant of science."

2. Second, my son's high school counselor called to tell me that his Senior year class in BASIC programming had been cancelled because not enough kids had signed up. Tragic.

You might not understand how the second story relates to ToETNS vs. ID, so let me take that one first.

Regarding what can be taught in a public school classroom, the Darwinists are dug in. Only science, as they have defined science. The study of the natural physical world. Any discussion of the transcendent is religious in nature and is prohibited in a public school. (Except that they don't live up to that as they follow esoteric cults of mathmeticians into fantasies about infinite parallel universes that they will never know, see, touch, or measure)

Leaving aside that I see this as an effective argument against public schools, as this prohibition results in the dumbing down to the least common denominator inoffensive to the Darwinists, I think that it misses the point about a broader education.

I get that ToETNS is the current state of the art in the natural sciences. It is the best understanding of modern science as to the explosion of increasingly complex biodiversity on the planet. I have never argued on the blogs that "it is just a theory". I get that this is what they want taught in Biology classes. And Anthropolgy. And Chemistry. Fine.

As I said, Darwinists are a stubborn lot. That typically manifests in a stubborn refusal to lump all teleological arguments as "Creationism". They make no distinction between the Young Earth Creationists that I encountered back in the 70s - that believe in a 10,000 year old earth, Special Creationists who believe man was created essentially as we are now, Old Earth Creationists who make accomodations with evolution over time though guided, and finally ID theorists.

ID is a new approach, still relatively young at less than 30 years. It attempts to strip the discussion of transcendent origins down to the base question of this: if you can detect design, you can infer a designer. If a biological system can't be explained by chance or necessity, then design is an option. That's it. No denominational discussion of who the designer is. No defense of Genesis or any other religious text. Just design. I argued ID on Ebert's thread for 9 months and never quoted a scripture and never invoked Genesis. Just science, in the broader context / worldview that allows for transcendence. ID can be discussed, in my opinion, in public schools without being religious indoctrination.

What Darwinists are missing, in their stubbornness, is that their traditional disciplines of biology / chemistry / physics / anthropology are not the only disciplines that give a perspective on our origins. Really.

Oh, they are essential absolutely. And I have taken all of those courses at the university level as components of an engineering study program. I even took an advanced biology course in "Evolution" with a focus on sociobiology.

But that's not necessarily true the other way around. Have you taken all of the courses that you need to evaluate the Intelligent Design arguments? No, you haven't.

Not just courses to understand a teleological argument. Practical courses in and in informations sytems. Engineering. Computer Programming. Digital electronics. And more.

Which takes me back to my son's programming course being cancelled. I had my first programming course in BASIC at this high school in 1977. Back then we used a PDP 8E mainframe computer which had a staggering 64K of memory! We wrote programs in BASIC that were then printed out on a punched paper tape device. To run them each time we had to feed the punched paper tape back in to the teletype machine to be read and executed. You know what that taught me? When I read about the double-helix of DNA being stripped in half and read by RNA in protein production, it reminded me of that. And when I read that "biology is the study of information" and I see that the coded information in DNA that functions like a computer program and is independent of the chemistry involved - I see design. If you didn't have my experiences in programming in BASIC and Assembly level you would have a different ability to evaluate ID arguments. You'll see the ink and the paper and the glue and the bindings, but you'll never understand the purposeful intent of the words.

Which reminds me of a my favorite tweeted link from Roger Ebert to an article called "Why Johnny Can't Code". And neither will my son if I can't find alternate ways to teach him BASIC programming. And they will be less able to evaluate arguments for Intelligent Design.

Same with studying digital electronics, which I did in college and in two United States Air Force technical schools. When I read about nucleotide codons in threes being decoded and producing any of 20-plus amino acids, I think about the multiplexer circuits that I used in designing flight simulator computers during my stint as an engineering co-op student at McDonnell Douglas during some heady days in the late 70's. Do you see MUX circuits when you read about that, or just chemistry and biology?

Same when I pay attention to the CNC machine tools every day in the factory that I work in and the ladder logic programming that cuts intricate parts from lumps of metal. I see the intricate micro-machines of the human body, well described by an emerging crop of micro-biologists like Behe, and the programming that dictates their work. Do you see that design, or again do you only see undguided chemistry and biology?

I could go on, but you get my point. ToETNS vs. ID is a battleground in our public schools and our elections - and really has been since I was a student 30 years ago and before.

Michele Bachmann is right. If Darwinists succeed at controlling the curriculum, and in limiting any discussion on origins to the traditional science disciplines, and to only methodological naturalism definitions and boundaries -  then our children will be ill-served and a public-school education will be a less well-rounded education than it could be.


  1. Ok. I think you're making this much more complicated than it needs to be. If scientists had ever found any evidence or proof of a possible designer then they would be finding ways to investigate it further. So why aren't they considering it a valid scientific theory? Because ID is not science. It implies supernatural causation. Which is again, not science. Evolution is something that has been observed time and time again in all earth's creatures. It is simply observable fact. Just because we don't have all the pieces to it yet doesn't make it invalid. And it certainly doesn't automatically imply that a designer must have done it. I like that we still don't know everything there is to know about our place in this universe. It gives us more to learn and explore. And theres a beauty in it as well. We are beings that can ponder and question the very thing we're a part of. The universe is literally becoming self aware through our developing intelligence. And that is amazing.

  2. Randy, as usual you are a most graceful and persuasive writer. But as before you stumble over the same problem.

    You write: "If a biological system can't be explained by chance or necessity, then design is an option. That's it."

    There is no biological system that cannot be explained by chance or necessity. The efforts by the ID "scientists" to find one have resulted in one after another being accounted for in Darwinian terms. Think how long ago the eye was considered evidence of ID.

    Behe's writings have been demolished by scientists.

  3. Hi Roger. Thank you for reading, for commenting, and for the compliment.

    I was, of course, paraphrasing Dembski's Explanatory Filter. Lots of things can be explained by chance/probability or by chemical or physical necessity, and we do not need to invoke design for those things.

    However, I think that Meyer makes a compelling argument in Signature in the Cell that the information coded in DNA is neither. He has fascinating chapters on Information Theory to eliminate chance. He is compelling that the order of the nucleotides in DNA (C-A-G) is independent of chemical or physical necessity - just as the prose of Roger Ebert's books are independent of the printing technologies. It's information, best described by design.

    Behe stands in my book. The mousetrap analogy makes perfect sense to me. I debunked a mousetrap-debunker on your threads, and I'm just a random guy. Behe "demolished" is just an assertion. Behe is an innovator, the debunkers not.

  4. Hi folks. I'm looking forward to a good discussion.

    Hopefully you can sign in with a Google ID.

    If you have to post as anonymous, please put your name in the body of the comment.

  5. Hi Anonymous. Oh, but it is that complicated. I've thought so for 30 years now.

    "If scientists had ever found any evidence or proof of a possible designer then they would be finding ways to investigate it further."

    Oh, but "scientists", as you've defined them can't find evidence of a designer. You're employing that neat little trick of eliminating design through your definition of science.

    A designer of nature would necessarily be outside of nature. Transcendent. Super-nature, if you will. But, you've defined super-nature out of bounds of science. So, how would a scientist using your definition ever recognize a designer.

    It's the definitional equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling na-na-na-na.

    An worldview that limits itself to that definition, and a school that does, is a limited education indeed.

  6. So if there's no evidence for any kind of designer, then why assume there is one? The lack of an explanation is not proof for anything. Evolution was discovered because of the great amount of evidence supporting it. It wasn't just something pulled out of thin air. Everything we have discovered thus far has been explained through amazing natural processes. And I am not simply making up a definition for science. That's what science is. It consists of a body of knowledge that is being constantly fine tuned and expanded through observations and tests. If it's something that scientists cannot test and observe, then what purpose does it have in our science classrooms? I'm also interested to know some specific instances where you think ID is needed to explain how things are the way they are. From what I've seen so far, there's no purpose for ID to even be a part of the discussion. I'll start putting my name after my responses as well.



  7. Well, more power to ya, Ran. Roger's a lovable fellow, tho' he's got a couple perturbances in his intellectual orbits. Rather than reasoning -- they won't be reasoned -- they require some analysis.

    He wouldn't be a popular guy if those eccentricities weren't also popular, and their total irrationality completely invisible to the armchair scientists who think that science is a democracy where the loudest howls are awarded the Office of Capital Truth.

    These might make the same charge against you, as you subscribe to "Intelligent Design," which in democratic fairness you must admit has equal tonnage of brickbats lying at its citadel walls.

    I've got an ID client, by the way. He's a super-duper PhD with high accomplishments to show he knows how to put a PhD to use. Come to think of it, I doubt he'd mind if you had a peek at his ms, if you'd care to.

    But I can't buy ID from his reasoning either. There's the little old problem of "random." It isn't solved by second-guessing a God that's very badly defined in the first place, and in the second place, if we're "made in his image," I s'pect our own resentment at being defined by others is a little bit of the Big Guy's too.

    "Evolution" as it stands is a materially closed system, it is worse than "limited" as you kindly put it, it is stultifying when one reaches various questions that are officially "out of the scope of inquiry." What Roger has told you is apparently false, according to another junior-scientist I bickered with the other day -- evolution is just hardly random at all, according to what he's learnin' in day school. It's now only a wee bit random.

  8. They are both dealing with Chimeras. Evolution and the "evolvements" of recent theological thinking both deal with irrealities. Neither are real.

    Church thinking used to allow what we call mysticism and "the supernatural," as that idiot kid failed to properly describe, above. They served legitimate and vital psychological purposes in their day. Even the Catholic idea of "transubstantiation" had its practical value. It wasn't simply some cynical trick.

    In the 19th C. "Science," and by that I mean practical tinkering, not theory, appeared to have begun to outstrip whatever value the churches had. Now come on, Randy: in this day and age do we really need Jesus around, when we've got refrigerators? Light bulbs? Automobiles? Airplanes? Whimsically put, but I do mean that the deeper intuitive values that were kept alive by religions, however faulty, became increasingly obscured by the fascination with gizmoes that made practical living so much easier. It seemed the practical tinkering of science would create a heaven on earth.

    Evolution appeared as a convenient excuse to do away with all that tangle of needless religious doodling after all. God was simply x'd out of the equation. There remains no other reason for the popularity of evolution. You can't actually DO anything with it, or about it. And it brings along an inadvertent philosophy that life is completely meaningless. Few are connecting the dots. It does have its serious effects, highly negative ones.

    The churches, in an attempt to compete, went "social." Socialism as you know it is a church invention from the United States. We no longer stress life after death or whether there's any relation ship between the two: we take buckets full of slop to the poor, we beg for donations and hand out clothing, and this is what the main focus of Christianity became. It led to as many weird mutants as evolutionary scientists have been monkeying with. Christianity splintered further, as its theology shattered and proved as useless as evolutionary science really is -- that is, of no use outside of a university paycheck.

    Back at that World Affairs Conference Roger got me to, I coined a term I'd like people to use.

    We think we are all "scientific" and don't believe in the "supernatural." That's how level-headed we are, with our firm faith in the randomness of All Creation.

    What has happened is that we have become subnatural. We have deliberately clipped our own wings and natural abilities. We have become afraid of much that is completely, totally natural, that without which we will simply crumble, and call it "supernatural."

    We are trying to kill our own intuitive abilities with "rational science." Once upon a time, those abilities were treasured. They're listed in your New Testament, for one thing.

    Our greatest and most practical achievements have come through these intuitive hunches, if not bouts of glossolalia (which do indeed have very valuable use). Almost nothing but churned-out details comes from our universities, whereas even the electric light bulb came from a nap.

    Evolution was never "discovered"! Why don't people READ Darwin's work? It came from nowhere. As I said, it's on the way out. I wish it would hurry up. These kids are a crashing bore to argue with.

  9. Hi Dave and Tom. Hey the gang's all here. Thanks for commenting.

  10. Thanks for the super friendly response to my comments giant mustache guy. But I think you have me pegged for something I am not. I certainly am not the best writer in the world but I'm confident in the fact that my ideas are sound. Let me attempt to clear the air here.

    Religion, the supernatural, mysticism, etc. are vital parts of human history. Without religious thinking, we wouldn't be where we are today. It was a huge factor in our transition to become civilized. I also hold human intuition at very high value as well. In order to make important scientific discoveries, our imaginations must be a big part of the equation. Because after all, without the questions, there's no way to find any answers. But at the same time, human reasoning alone is very flawed. Everything we experience is filtered through the subjective self and thats not very helpful when searching for solid answers about how our world functions. We bring all our emotions, past experiences, and personal interpretations to the table.

    You also make the misstep that many others do in saying that evolution "brings along an inadvertent philosophy that life is completely meaningless." Evolution does no such thing. Evolution is completely objective. It is simply a natural process that happens whether we accept it or not. You, as an individual, slap on the philosophy of your choosing. There is no philosophy within evolution. It is neutral. I accept evolution as fact but it certainly doesn't define who I am as a human being. If anything, it has only made me appreciate the world around me even more.

    Excuse me when I said that Evolution was "discovered". The word I should have used is "observed". Your idea that "it came from nowhere" is absolutely ridiculous. If you would simply look at the world around you and everything within it, there's no way you wouldn't be able to see how interconnected everything is. There are so many countless nature documentaries I could tell you to watch but I'll just put a link to one of my favorite clips from a Richard Dawkins National Geographic special.

    I find it entertaining that humans hold themselves up on this pedestal. Collectively, as a species, we are in denial of how unimportant we really are. We occupy a minuscule part of the universe in no really privileged position within it. In it's eyes, you and I will have only existed for a fraction of a second. And if you think that this fact makes me view life as meaningless, you are dead wrong. If anything, it makes me appreciate how precious and special all this really is.

    Now I know I'm probably not going to get you to change your mind about Evolution. I know you will probably continue to think of it as an apparent conspiracy that came from nowhere to make us seem more "scientific". But, if anything, I would like you to at least attempt to understand where I'm coming from and maybe even attempt to understand evolution. Because in all of your response, you did not demonstrate any real knowledge of it at all.


  11. Hi Dave,

    Regarding "So if there's no evidence for any kind of designer..."

    But there is evidence. That was a key point of my post. It's what the ID scientists like Stephen C. Meyer are arguing. The information code in DNA is evidence for design.

    Regarding the definition of science: I didn't mean to imply that you personally were making up a definition for science. I'm saying that scientists as a whole - methodological naturalists in particular - have defined "science" in a manner that excludes any possibility of a designer. Not by evidence, but by definition.

    If there is a designer, and the definition of "science" rules it out by fiat definition, then how will scientists recognize the designer? It's a serious question.

    What did you think of my unique point that there are more study disciplines required to understand the ID argument than just biology? Programming. Digital electronics. etc.