Thursday, November 5, 2009

Darwinism vs. Intelligent Design: An Opening Shot

For the past 3 days, I’ve been commenting on a new essay by Luke “the Common Sense Atheist:” How to Make Creationists Believe in Evolution.

Actually, it’s not really an essay. It’s a cartoon. And a dumb one.

I wrote…

Luke: Don’t you get bored bashing Creationists? I know I would. If you want a real challenge, use your rational tools to analyze the Intelligent Design debate. That’s much more interesting, wouldn’t you say? A person who calls himself a “Common Sense Atheist” should stretch his intellectual horizons in that direction, rather than constantly pick the spoiled and low-hanging fruit of Creationism.

Eventually, I got dragged into a discussion with a few arch-Darwinists, and we covered some of the main issues in the Darwinism/ID debate…

On theOf Pandas and People controversy”...

ID: The whole movement was also shown to be a creationist movement through ‘of pandas and people’s early drafts.

TW: The ID movement began after that book was published. Furthermore, you have to separate facts from the intentions of those who disseminate those facts. For example, should we disallow Richard Dawkins’ evidence FOR Darwinism because he’s a vocal atheist? Also, keep in mind that not all ID supporters are Bible thumpers. The modern ID movement includes Jews and agnostics and non-Christian theists. They find the evidence from ID (as opposed to Creationism) compelling enough to believe that it deserves a fair hearing from the public.

On pro-I.D. literature…

Luke: Anybody got any heavy-hitting pro-intelligent-design literature outside Behe-Dembski-Meyer?

TW: I think it depends on what aspect of the I.D./Darwin debate you’re researching. The debate has a lot of dimensions (which is one of the main reasons it’s so fascinating).

Here’s a few links that may be helpful.

1) William Provine/Phillip Johnson Debate

2) Speech delivered by Stephen Meyer, pro-ID author

3) George Gilder on the link between life and Information Theory

4) Barry Arrington explains “My Views in a Nutshell”

5) “Frequently Raised but Weak Arguments Against Intelligent Design”

In terms of books, I think the most comprehensive (yet reader-friendly) account is Denyse O’Leary’s By Design or By Chance?

Of course, the most famous book of all (which I confess I haven’t read) is Philip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial.

On the Bloggingheads TV controversy...

TW: If Darwinists shouldn’t feel threatened by Behe – as you claim – then they should allow his ideas to be freely discussed, instead of engaging in Stalinist tactics to silence him. One recent example... [the Blogginheads TV incident]

Mark H: “The BloggingHeads video was reposted once Robert Wright, the site owner, returned from a retreat.

TW: Robert Wright re-posted the video after complaints from free speech advocates, but not before apologizing for having the discussion in the first place. Even Wright’s apology wasn’t enough for 2 pro-Darwin Blogginghead contributors who resigned in protest.

Also, it’s not unreasonable to call the head of a private organization “Stalinist.” Stalin was famous for doctoring photos and re-writing records to pretend that some events “never happened.” That’s exactly what the folks at Bloggingheads were trying to do before they were called out on it.

Mark H: John McWhorter requested that the video be removed. It wasn’t censorship.

TW: It seems to me that there are 2 possibilities (neither of which make Wright and his pals look good).

1) Once the Darwinists started screaming, the Blogginghead folks quietly asked McWhorter to make that request. This would be the equivalent of a high-profile boss (say, President Obama) asking his subordinate to publicly “resign” rather than be tainted with the knowledge that he was fired. In light of the Darwinists behavior, such a “request” by McWhorter would work in the interests of both parties.

2) McWorter really did make that request.

Let’s say Number 2 happened (as you suggest), which is certainly possible, although I’m skeptical. Even so, don’t you think that’s very, very strange?

Re-read the McWhorter statement. Why would a man “apologize” for an open, informative exchange of ideas? Why would he say that the interview “doesn’t represent himself?” Doesn’t that strike you as bizarre? How often does this happen in other fields: Does Jim Lehrer apologize for interviewing Joe Biden about a mainstream issue (say, health care) and then say the interview “doesn’t represent himself?” What would compel him to say something like that?

To your credit, you say, “Unfortunately, nobody knows what McWhorter means by this message, or what prompted it.”

That’s true enough, but I’ll speculate: McWorther got an earful from the Darwinists (including those on the Bloggingheads staff) and told McWorter: “Apologize, or we have the ability to make you regret it later.”
And if THAT is the case, that is certainly a sad indictment of people who claim to be pro-reason, courageously following the facts wherever they lead.

On the Richard Sternberg/Smithsonian Incident...

Josh: It’s in a biologist’s self interest to overthrow “Darwinism.”

TW: I honestly don’t see how it would be in a biologist’s self-interest to overthrow Darwinism, given the harassment and firings of people who dare to even the broach the subject of Darwin’s truth (see for example, the Richard Sternberg/Smithsonian incident).

Luke: I, for one, have no problem believing that some who advance intelligent design in the academy have been persecuted and lost jobs because of it.

Josh: Consider if a geologist were positing flat earth theory. That is what intelligent design is akin to. Of course people would get pissed off at him.

TW: [using a Reagan voice] “There you go again.”

The flat earth theory was disproven when Magellan sailed around the world. What aspect of ID has been disproven in such a bone-crushing way? If you dropped a cow into the ocean and it became a whale, that would be enough evidence for Darwinism to kill I.D once and for all. But obviously we haven’t observed anything close to that to make your analogy valid.

Rebutting some of Josh’s main arguments for Darwinism…

TW: 1) The fossil record contradicts Darwinism. Fossil species are remarkably stable over long periods of time and the appearance of new species is typically abrupt. Evidence for transitional forms is rare – and even those may be open to misinterpretation.

2) Molecular evidence contradicts Darwinism. DNA sequences do NOT look like they descended with modification from ancestral sequences.

3) Morphological evidence contradicts Darwinism. The so-called “Tree of Life” is a mess. In fact, you rarely hear about the “Tree of Life” anymore because it’s become an embarassment. The human body doesn’t contain a single vestigial organ – even through Darwinists insisted it did.

4) I don’t understand your 4th point.

5) The conditions for macroevolution do not exist in the Real World because macroevolution itself is a conjecture of microevolution. There is no convincing evidence for macroevolution.

6) Observed “evolution” evidence contradicts Darwinism. Thousands of generations of bacteria have been grown in the lab to test the “edge of evolution.” And what did we find? Random mutations are rare and those that do occur are far more likely to be regressive than beneficial.

Oh, and no matter what, a bacteria ALWAYS stays a bacteria. It never “evolves” into anything else.

On the Devastating William Provine Video…

TW: In my opinion, the highlight of the Provine-Johnson debate is this 37-second clip in which Provine explains the philosophical implications of Darwinism.

If Provine is correct in his judgment (and I think he’s mostly correct), then we – the general public – should be pretty darn sure that Darwinism is correct.

Luke: I have no idea how Provine thinks that biology entails all that! Provine is clearly not a philosopher.

TW: I mostly agree with Provine on this matter. I don’t think Darwinism REQUIRES all of the philosophical implications that Provine suggests, but they certainly make those implications a heck of a lot more likely. What DOES make those implications a requirement? An ideological commitment to materialism. And since most Darwinists are materialists (and in a fun twist, it was – in many cases – Darwinism itself that converted them to the “truth” of materialism), then you can make a solid (but not insurmountable) claim that yes, Darwinism does lead to Provine’s philosophy.

On How Science Works...

Lee: You are saying that they are lying about the fossil record, the genome evience — the whole nine yards.

TW: No, I’m saying that most of them are misinterpreting the data. It happens a lot in life. For example, everyone works in politics is very knowledgeable about politics but they break down into Republicans and Democrats because they interpret the data from political science differently.

For the full discussion (which is still ongoing) click here.

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