Intelligent Design or Creationism?

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The Kansas Department of Education is holding hearings to consider proposed changes to the biology curriculum to discuss "challenges" to evolution. Following typical creationist tactics, the anti-evolutionists don't really specify what their alternative is. The Times hints that it's Intelligent Design but the witnesses appear to be creationists:
But the debate was as much about religion and politics as science and education, with Mr. Irigonegaray pressing witnesses to find mentions of the theories they were denouncing, like humanism and naturalism, in the standards, and asking whether they believed all scientists were atheists. He largely ignored their detailed briefings to ask each man if he believed Homo sapiens descended from pre-hominids (most said no) and how old he thought earth was (most agreed on 4.5 billion years.)

So, as I'd always understood things, the whole value proposition of Intelligent Design--the way in which it's not supposed to be simple creationism--is that it accepts evolution but denies natural selection (or at least says it's not enough) and therefore posits a creator guiding the process. The reason that this is an attractive position is that it doesn't require denying the fairly extensive fossil and biochemical evidence. The position that these witnesses appear to be arguing, that the earth is really old but that humans don't descend from pre-hominids is pretty weird.

This implies that they believe a third, intermediate, position:

  1. The earth is really old.
  2. The fossil record indicates that there are lots of species which appear to have common inheritance.
  3. The lines of apparent descent are arranged in a fairly clear chronological order (determined via radioactive and geological dating).
  4. These species aren't actually related but rather were individually created and then destroyed.

I would call this "old earth" creationism rather than "young earth" creationism, but it's still creationism--it denies evolution in favor of separate creation. It's not quite as silly as "young earth" creationism because it doesn't require disbelieving the physics, but you really have to ask yourself why the hypothetical creator would do such a thing. Was the problem that it couldn't figure out how to make a human so it had to experiment with homo habilis first?

Anyway, it seems like this is what at least some of the Intelligent Design people really believe, as shown by their proposed changes to the Kansas curriculum, endorsed by William Harris from the Intelligent Design Network.

TOPIC 1: Darwin's Tree of Life
CURRENT STANDARDS: The "descent with modification of different lineages of organisms from common ancestors... [is] documented in the fossil record."

ADDED IN PROPOSED STANDARDS: 'The view that living things... are modified descendants of a common ancestor (described in the pattern of a branching tree) has been challenged in recent years by .. (a) discrepancies in the molecular evidence previously thought to support that view; (b) a fossil record that shows sudden bursts of increased complexity (the Cambrian Explosion), long periods of stasis and the absence of transitional forms rather than steady gradual increases in complexity, and (c) studies that show animals follow different rather than identical early stages of embryological development."

TOPIC 2: Microevolution and Macroevolution
CURRENT STANDARDS: "Biologists use evolutionary theory to explain Earth's present day biodiversity... [and] recognize that the primary mechanisms of evolution are natural selection and genetic drift."

ADDED IN PROPOSED STANDARDS: "Natural selection and other processes can cause populations to change from one generation to the next, a process called 'microevolution'... Whether microevolution can be extrapolated to explain macroevolutionary changes (such as new complex organs or body plans...) is not clear. These kinds of macroevolutionary explanations generally are not based on direct observations and are historical narratives based on inferences from indirect or circumstantial evidence."

Sounds like creationism to me, with the same disadvantage that it requires denying the fossil and biochemical evidence and without the virtue that it closely follows Genesis.

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11 Comments

Those damn people of faith. Don't they know that secularists have all the answers?


btw... there was a recent National Geographic article titled "Was Darwin Wrong?" which does a good job explaining the scientific evidence and why it seems so compelling.

I never said that secularists have the answers, but if it's not science (and creationism isn't) then it has no place being taught in science classes. The value proposition of ID was that it was supposed to be an alternative theory that didn't require denying the scientific evidence. My point is that it's no such thing.

Actually, you just stumbled on an interesting point. What if religion classes were required to provide alternative viewpoints as well?

Actually, the first of the proposed changes you list looks to me to be consistent with the late Stephen Jay Gould's theory of "punctuated equilibrium", in which unknown causes (presumably random genetic events) set of periodic storms of genetic change, in between which very little evolution happens.

Overall, both of these changes seem to me to be more a matter of raising skepticism about evolution than promoting "intelligent design". I'm not entirely sure that's such a bad thing. What makes ID so objectionable--what makes it pure creationism, rather than a scientific theory--is not that it casts doubts on Darwinian evolution, but rather that it proposes an intelligent designer who is him/her/itself beyond scientific study. A "scientific theory" that says, in effect, "there are no scientific answers to the question of how this natural phenomenon works" is a bit like a "Christian" denomination that says that God doesn't exist and the bible is one big long fairy tale. Once you disconnect scientific investigation from natural phenomena, there's not much science left.

Both sides appear wrong, and the arguments are a bit weak anyway. Specie is not well defined. That is a fact. SO we argue that a vague something does or does not evolve?

Neither side is talking science. Science is verifiable and repeatable. Verify or repeat either of intelligent design or evolution. This also brings a paradox to light. Suppose a scientist produces a single celled creature in her lab by mixing various gasses and processing them just so. Has she demonstrated evolution or intelligent design?

On the fact that specie is ill defined

1) It changes. In my youth there were three species of Canada Goose. Now there is just one. What happened?

2) What are we really measuring? A pit bull terrier and a chihuahua are the same species, but a zebra and a horse are different species?

3) A big deal is made of interbreeding. I found out last year however, that many hybrid birds are seen, and some appear to breed successfully. There was an item on the net not long ago about a hybrid porpoise giving birth to a healthy baby ???

It would seem that my first comment is not worthy of the same space as those given by Jim and Dan.


Dan brings to the surface what really bothers me about all of this. I'm not in favor of having creationism taught in schools as "the one true way." If it is presented, it should always be presented as a religous belief. And that's part of the problem I have with ID.


But I also don't like how the teaching of evolutionary theory is presented as the "one true way". After all, at one time the best scholarly minds of the world believed it to be flat.

Jim,

The fact that species is a somewhat fuzzy notion doesn't have any impact at all on the truth of evolution. It's simply not an essential notion to the modern neo-Darwinian synthesis, which is based on population gene frequencies, not inviolate species.

As for the canard that evolution isn't science because it's not repeatable... we observe evolution all the time, primarily under artificial selection such as in selective breeding, but occasionally under natural selection as in bacterial or viral resistance. You might as well argue that astrophysics isn't science because we can't ever repeat the sequence of events which lead to the creation of *our* solar system. Evolution makes predictions (this is what we expect to see in the fossil record, genetic history etc.) and we can test those predictions via further observations. That's all that's required. Only if you subscribe to some sort of naive Popperism is there is a philosophical problem here.

Grumpy,

We've been over this territory before. What I'm arguing isn't that evolution be taught as the One True Way. I'm arguing that it should be given the same status as gravity or the 2nd law of thermodynamics, rather than the status of string theory (uncertain) or the Bohr atom (wrong).

Just for the record, I agree with Eric's assessment of the status of the theory of evolution, and would be happiest to see it taught alongside universal gravitation and other theories so well established as to be considered "laws". I'm just not convinced that teaching a certain amount of skepticism towards it would be disastrous for science education.

FWIW, I would ordinarily agree with you about skepticism. For instance, I would be happy to see some skepticism about general relativity taught in science classrooms. It's purely because I think that skepticism about evolution would be used as an entry point for teaching creationism that I object to it.

EKR,


Its hard to see how evolution will not be taught as The One True Way if it is given the same status as gravity and nobody is allowed to question it, even vaguely.


In fact, what is wrong with telling school children that todays best science tells us evolution via natural selection did/does occur, but that it contradicts many religous beliefs and that science cannot answer the questions about the meaning of life? What is wrong with telling them, that to best of our scientific knowledge, evolution is how we got here, but that science has made mistakes in the past?

What is wrong with telling children that to the best of our scientific knowledge, gravity affects all objects in the universe, but that science has made mistakes in the past?

What is wrong with telling children that to the best of our scientific knowledge, the amount of energy/mass in a closed system is constant, but that science has made mistakes in the past?

What is wrong with telling children that, to the best of our knowldege, illumination diminishes as the reciprocal of the square of the distance from its source, but that science has made mistakes in the past?

Well, what's wrong with those is that doing so is patently silly.

When it comes to couching evolution in such terms, the problem is that it is not only silly, but it also opens the door to teachers inserting their own persional religious beliefs about divine intervention that don't really have a place in science classes. I'm not necessarily saying they're wrong, merely that they're not science.

The danger is purely contextual. For example, if people today were to suggest that the "theory" that the earth goes around the sun should be approached with skepticism in science classes, it wouldn't really be that problematic. Silly, but not really problematic. However, imagine a world 400 years ago, in which public education were mandatory, like it is today in the US. If such a push were made at that time, when many teachers would take such an opening as an opportunity to insert their own beleifs that the earth is obviously unmoving and unmovable (I mean, God told them as much in 1 Chronicles 16:30, among others, and who are they to take scientific evidence in favor of the Word of God?) -- then you'd have a problem. You end up retarding the scientific education of an entire generation by mixing religion in with science.

Fundamentally, it comes down to this: if parents are worried about their kids not receiving a healthy dose of skepticism about certain scientific principles that they hold to be highly dubious (despite the sentiments of the scientific community), then they should do a better job of teaching their kids about their own faith.

After all, once you open the door to discussing intelligent design in science classes, what's to prevent the imposition of requirements that such classes also need to mention that the various species didn't change at all over time, but were created separately out of clarified butter?

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