Monday, November 16, 2009

Darwinism vs. Intelligent Design: The Third Shot

As I noted last week, Luke "The Common Sense Atheist" reviewed a debate between Christian philosopher William Lane Craig and biologist Francisco Ayala about the viability of Intelligent Design. According to Luke, who won? Believe it or not, Craig!

This led me to write...

This is very interesting, and thanks for recommending it, Luke. I will watch the video soon. In the meantime, I’m glad you picked up on something I’ve noticed: In the debates I’ve seen on the issue of the Intelligent Design issue, I.D. opponents rarely address the subject head-on. They use semantic games, evasions, and sometimes blatant misinformation. Even though I support I.D., I can think of a way for an anti-I.D. person to score well in a debate, but the only way to do it is to acknowledge that the I.D. supporters have a point, and since only 5% of the evolutionists can acknowledge that, they always come across as the weaker debater.

This led to an exchange with "Tony" and a few other Darwinists.

When I stated, "I.D. is just as scientific as Darwinism," Tony challenged me: "This would depend on how you define science. Do you have a definition that you can provide?"

TW: I’ll take a stab at a definition: “Increasing our knowledge and understanding of the Universe by using the Scientific Method to collect evidence, and then drawing objective conclusions from that evidence.”

Tony: The TOE does make predictions (we should look for transitional fossils in these rock formations, for instance), explains much through common descent (why dolphins and whales don’t swim like fish, e.g.), and offers its explanatory hypotheses for all these.

TW: The fossil record has consistently failed to comply with the prediction of Darwin and modern-day TOE advocates. That’s why Stephen Jay Gould said, “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology.”

Tony: I should ask if you think the TOE and ID are equally scientific because TOE does not do as I stated above, or if you agree with my statements about the TOE how it is that you think ID conforms equally to the scientific method.

TW: I guess both. TOE often fails to conform to the “scientific expectations” it holds for ID. But, in my opinion, TOE IS still scientific in important ways, and ways that can be duplicated by ID.

Tony: If the first, could you please provide where you think the TOE is insufficiently scientific (according to your definition), and if the second, what the hypothesis of ID is?

TW: I think TOE IS scientific, just flawed, and worthy of skepticism. If you’re looking for ID’s hypothesis on the Fossil Record, I guess that would depend on how who you ask. I would say it would be something like this: We can (and should) continue to look for fossils in order to increase our understanding of Earth’s history, but since the real mystery is Life itself, a more worthy project is figuring out how Life works among the species living today. That would mean focusing on DNA, which Bill Gates described as “being like a software program, except much more complex than any program ever devised.” The ID folks are very interested in DNA. Indeed, they were the ones pushing for research into “junk DNA” when the TOE consensus was that “junk DNA was…well junk.” Now we know that junk DNA is nothing of the sort.

Tony: Evolution predicts a hierarchy of lineages separated by time as revealed in the rock strata. This has yet to be falsified (the rabbit in the pre-Cambrian).

TW: What “hierarchy” can there be when we observe the Cambrian Explosion – the transition from simple organisms composed of a few cells to a rapid explosion of fully-formed complex animals over a 5-20 million period of time (or it could have happened immediately; we just don’t know).

Tony: Punctuated equilibrium explains this.

TW: I’m not sure how Punctuated Equilibrium explains anything. First of all, there is a great deal of debate over whether or not Punctuated Equlibrium actually happened (Dawkins, for instance, thinks it did NOT happen), and even if it DID happen, no one (not even Gould) has proposed HOW it happened.

Tony: This is too vague too respond to. Can you provide an example?

TW: TOE claims that the ability to be falsified is a prerequisite for a scientific theory (and thus, they throw out ID for being unfalsifiable) but both ID and TOE occupy the same ground in the falsifiable/unfalsifiable spectrum. Depending on how people interpret TOE or ID, there is the danger of making it unfalsifiable (and indeed, TOE advocates do that all the time). See how the Evo Psyche people explain every human emotion – from altruism to selfishness, from intelligence to consciousness itself – as an “evolutionary adaptation.”

DRJ: While those ID’ists are busy being ‘interested’ in DNA (while maintaining a healthy distance) people in the feilds of genomics, bioinformatics, microbiology, evo-devo etc are happily getting their hands dirty with it – all without ID.

TW: And how - pray tell - did TOE help them in their work? And keep in mind, I’m talking about the theory itself, not the principle “change over time;” every ID proponent acknowledges that organisms “change over time.” The question is “How?” And here it would be interesting to know how TOE helped them.

DRJ: Junk was simply the nickname given to large sequences of non-coding DNA for which no function was yet known.

TW: It was unknown and ignored for a long time because the TOE consenus was that DNA SHOULD have a lot of junk, just like the human body SHOULD have vestigial organs (another TOE prediction that’s been falsified).

Tony: Evolutionary biologists have conducted the only research on DNA (and discovered it because of Darwin’s theory, and incidences of atavism that result from junk DNA are another example of evidence for common descent).

TW: Darwin’s theory led to the discovery of DNA? What TOE principles did Crick and Watson use in their discovery? I’d be very curious to know. Also, see my earlier post to DRJ above.

Plus, keep in mind that Common descent is an issue that’s controversial in the ID community; some proponents, like Behe, support it. Also, it should be noted that while Darwin advocated Common Descent, the idea itself predates Darwin.

I personally don’t think Common Descent has been proven, but I think it’s the most substantiated (actually, the only substantiated) piece of the TOE paradigm.

Everything else – how life began, how consciousness developed, how species were formed – is still in the theory stage; actually, maybe “theory” is too nice. It’s really more of a “hope.”

Tony: A hypothesis which cannot be tested is inherently unscientific.

TW: The junk DNA hypothesis was tested and verified.

Tony: ID folks have conducted no scientific research.

TW: The Biologic Institute and Evolutionary Informatics are 2 prominent ID research labs.

Rhys: If you are an ID proponent, how do you justify the resultant double standard in regards to your vehement assertion that the scientific community is guilty of intellectual discrimination and complete disregard of the academic process, yet you want to cut right past peer review and put ID straight into the classrooms?

TW: For the record, the Discovery Institute’s policy is NOT to advocate teaching ID in the classroom (in fact, they opposed the Dover School Board for precisely that reason). I’m essentially on board with Discovery’s policy, especially if – from a legal perspective – it makes it more likely that school teachers will simply have the academic freedom to show the flaws with TOE (without necessarily going into the details of ID). That strikes me as a common sense compromise.

Tony: ID proponents have tried to skip doing science (the part where they actually test a hypothesis) to publish their pet ideologies and have been caught doing so red-handed. So far, none of them has been caught doing science.

TW: I really do have to challenge you on this assertion, and since I’ve already given you the links to 2 research labs, I don’t think it’s unfair of me to suggest that the burden of proof rests on you to demonstrate otherwise.

Tony: Do you have any idea a) what the hypothesis is that they’re testing, and b) a single result or new piece of data they’ve brought to light? If not, why would you offer them as evidence for scientific research (into ID)?

TW: This webpage explains the biologic institute’s “core ideas” and lists its publications…

Tony: “That there is an explosion of life in the Cambrian does not mean that it happened all at once, only that it happened relatively quickly. Are you saying that there is no hierarchy?”

TW: I’m saying that the Cambrian Explosion is counter to what we would expect under TOE. TOE would predict a gradual, progressive development in body forms over literally hundreds of millions of years. Instead, the Cambrian Era shows an explosion of body forms in a blink of an eye (historically speaking) and then a general stasis running up until the recent past.

Tony: “No one has been able to provide a hypothesis for ID. Without a hypothesis, there is nothing to falsify.”

TW: I’ll paraphrase a hypothesis: “Living things show the handiwork of design, as we see, for instance in the functionality of body parts. Thus, in the case of DNA, we expect to find things like ‘junk DNA’ to have functions useful to the organism.”

Tony: I didn’t ask you to provide me with links to websites that promote ID. I asked you what is the science being done on ID. Providing the websites you did is not good faith.
TW: Tony, I don’t know what you’re so upset about. First, you say ID isn’t science because it doesn’t have “hypotheses,” so I give you a “hypothesis.” Then you say there’s no research labs doing ID research; so I give you the names of 2 labs which are doing ID research. Then you say those labs aren’t publishing articles; then I give you the names of published articles. Now you’re saying…what? You cut and paste the article abstract, but don’t criticize it in any way. Then you call me a troll (again).

Note: This is not a full transcript.

Note: "TOE" stands for "Theory of Evolution."

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