Intelligent design news from the 14th of April to the 20th of April, 2011.
Another week, another lot of ID blog posts to wade through. Not a lot I want to mention in this intro, particularly, except for perhaps this recent post of mine responding to an Uncommon Descent post about ID’s supposed scientific predictions. It was going to be included in this post, but it needed a larger amount of specific attention, given how important the topic is.
Other than that, this week wasn’t particularly noteworthy. Nothing that changed the ID/evolution game too much, just some ideas to consider. Robert Crowther wrote about the difference between promoting ID and teaching criticisms of evolution, Casey Luskin attacked the NCSE’s Steve Newton for over/misusing the word “creationist”, and Jonathan Wells’ new book on junk DNA got a flattering plug, possibly foreshadowing another book-promoting frenzy…
The first post this week is by Robert Crowther, and it raises some good points – but also some very bad points that completely outweigh the good ones. Of course, this means that he’s talking about evolution education:
A favorite Darwinist conspiracy theory is to claim that education policies requiring critical analysis of evolution are simply a guise for teaching intelligent design (ID). The Knoxville News Sentinel went off the rails on exactly such a conspiracy rant, misrepresenting Discovery Institute’s positionon science education, and misrepresenting the current academic freedom legislation being debated in the Tennessee legislature.
Like most conspiracy theorists, the editors at the News Sentinel missed the facts in scrambling for what they want to be the case. Specifically, they missed the fact that there are big differences between teaching evolution critically and teaching alternatives to evolution, such as ID.
One can critically examine current ideas about evolution without discussing replacement theories such as ID. Indeed, one can fully embrace the theory of evolution and still be open to scrutinizing various claims made about its mechanisms, especially the Neo-Darwinian mechanism of natural selection acting on random mutations. The scientific literature is chock full of disagreements by evolutionists themselves about key aspects of evolutionary theory — and, not surprisingly, without any appeals to ID.
I actually agree with the bulk of what he’s saying here, minus some semantic quibbles. Teaching evidence against evolutionary theory is not the same as teaching ID as an alternative to evolution, this is correct.
Of course, an Evolution News & Views blog post rarely stays correct for long, a statement Robert quickly sought to fulfil.
Just this past week, National Academy of Sciences biologist Lynn Margulis was quite outspoken about her doubts about the Darwinian mechanism of selection and mutation. Margulis explicitly opposes intelligent design. Would discussing her views in a science class be tantamount to pushing intelligent design? Last year two other noted evolutionists, Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, published a highly controversial book titled What Darwin Got Wrong, in which they challenge much of the evidence typically offered for Darwinian evolution. Again, would discussing the views of these two evolution proponents somehow be the same as promoting intelligent design?
What is wrong with giving teachers (and students) the right to explore the views of these disagreements among evolutionists themselves?
Yes, what is wrong with that? On the surface it sounds fine – give teachers and students the freedom to explore the wide diversity of opinions out there in academia – but it’s truly a terribly flawed educational strategy. Teachers (and perhaps more dramatically, the curriculum) should act like a filter, only giving students relevant information they need to move on in the academic world. To give them the entirety (or at least a segment) of the academic debate on any issue in science would be both unmanageable and pedagogically irresponsible – how is a student supposed to parse the relevant data and arguments in order to make up their own mind about a complex scientific issue? Does any high school student, let alone the vast majority of them, truly understand the implications of genetic drift and horizontal gene transfer (to use them as examples) in evolutionary theory? Should they be expected to?
Dumping a purely academic debate into the classroom doesn’t do anything productive. Teachers are usually not qualified to be able to teach highly complicated biological ideas to students, placing an unwelcome burden on them, and students are not going to grasp the majority of what is being taught to them. Also, giving teachers the freedom to teach what they like in this area opens up a giant can of worms in terms of teachers who are sympathetic to either ID or traditional creationism possibly overemphasising or distorting particular views of certain scientists to make the case that evolution is bad or failed science. The opportunity for abuse would be enormous.
It’s very possible (some might even say extremely probable) that the reason ID organisations such as the Discovery Institute promote “teach the controversy” bills and amendments is precisely that they know the confusion they would set up in the educational system, paving the way for extracurricular forces such as churches to come in and solidify the new evolution-doubt of the students, while adding their own alternative viewpoints: ID and creationism. Personally, I’m undecided, but I lean towards this being likely, given the history of the ID movement and its past actions and intentions. Of course, they’ll vehemently deny it, but they would, wouldn’t they?
Academic freedom is not the most important factor in education: it’s academic responsibility.
Casey Luskin‘s post is similar Robert’s, but it contains a distinct lesson for ID critics, revolving around how to discuss ID in order to minimise rhetorical backlash:
Last December, I wrote an op-ed in Christian Science Monitor arguing that Darwin lobbyists abuse the First Amendment by relabeling scientific critique of evolution as “creationism”.
One Darwin lobbyist who (especially of late) makes strong use of this tactic is Steve Newton of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). Newton isn’t shy about tossing out the “creationist” label over and over and over again in hopes it will stick. He consistently uses what Paul Nelson calls “the creationism gambit.”
In January, 2011, Newton wrote a response to my 2010 Christian Science Monitor op-ed which, not counting the title, used the word “creationist” no fewer than 16 times. (For a more-detailed response to Newton’s op-ed, see here.)
Similarly, in a recent article in the Oklahoma Gazette, Newton holds nothing back and puts all his money on the creationism gambit, claiming: “Discovery Institute is trying to get creationism into public schools.”
Despite the utter falsity of his claim, I will show civility in response to Mr. Newton. Discovery Institute does not support teaching creationism in public schools. In fact, we don’t even support pushing intelligent design into public schools, which is different than creationism. Rather, we think public schools should simply teach the scientific evidence for and against neo-Darwinian evolution.
My response to Robert’s post still stands, obviously, so I won’t go into that. But the point I want to make is that Steve Newton’s allegation of “creationism” against the Discovery Institute is relatively easy to be made to seem like rhetorical, not accurate, language. While it is true that a majority of ID proponents are probably creationists, the movement acts in such a way as to mask that fact, at least to a largely uncritical public. To them, the charge of creationism looks like an underhanded tactic on the part of the ID critic, even if it is largely true and a relevant criticism of the ID movement.
As such, the choice of path to tread here is a tricky one. Should ID critics keep up their use of the word “creationism” and make an important statement (which does, to be honest, reach a significant number of people in the general population who aren’t creationists), or stop using it and take the air out of the sails of these rebuttals, which simply make the anti-ID community look bad? I think there’s a better third alternative.
ID critics shouldn’t refer to ID explicitly as creationism, but they should constantly acknowledge and expose its creationist roots. Academic freedom bills being endorsed by organisations such as the DI should be criticised mainly on their detrimental educational effects, not on potential links with extracurricular creationism – this is especially important if the bills themselves contain language prohibiting ID or creationism in the classroom. ID proponents should be called just that – ID proponents – not creationists, and this label can be made into a negative one fairly quickly by exposing the pseudoscientific nature of ID at every opportunity. Creationism does not need to be the go-to label for denigration: make ID the bad word nobody wants to be associated with. Once that happens, they’ll have nowhere to retreat to: you can’t easily stop using your own language once it becomes toxic.
Lastly this week, Robert Crowther lets us know that Jonathan Wells has a new book out via Discovery Institute Press – The Myth of Junk DNA:
Forty years ago scientists discovered that more than 95% of our DNA does not encode proteins. Since then the non-protein-coding portion was labeled “junk” and attributed to molecular accidents that have accumulated in the course of evolution.
Now, biologist Jonathan Wells exposes The Myth of Junk DNA (Discovery Institute Press 2011) and shows that contrary to being just evolutionary flotsam and jetsam, much of our non-protein-coding DNA performs essential biological functions. Wells, author of the acclaimed Icons of Evolution, wrote The Myth of Junk DNA in order to highlight the increasingly abundant evidence from scientific literature and recent genome projects showing that “junk DNA” is but a myth.
It’s possible, very possible, that we’re going to see another Signature in the Cell-esque media rampage for this book through the ID blogosphere, considering the “importance” junk DNA has to the ID movement at the moment – it seems like every third blog post is about how it doesn’t exist.
As such, the book already has its credible scientific endorsements:
“Wells has clearly done his homework,” says Dr. Ralph Seelke, Professor of Microbial Genetics and Cell Biology at University of Wisconsin-Superior. “He cites hundreds of research articles as he describes the expanding story of non-coding DNA–the supposed ‘junk DNA.’ It is quite possibly the most thorough review of the subject available.”
“Wells’s book not only informs its readers of very recent research results, but also encourages them to think objectively and clearly about a key discovery in biology and to approach biological research with more creativity,” adds Dr. Russell W. Carlson, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Georgia.
What a surprise: both Seelke and Carlson are ID proponents. Never would have guessed it. I wonder – will this book receive any legitimate scientific praise? Or will it be lauded only by those that already agree with its conclusions?
Either way, expect a number of scientific critiques of the book to come out of the anti-ID community when some copies of the book become available. Sandwalk is one to watch particularly closely: Laurence Moran knows what he’s talking about.
Rapid fire ID news!
- Michael Behe talks about Richard Lenski’s research, cites some papers, fails to convince scientific community.
- Careful, Discovery Institute, your anti-science conservatism is showing.
- You can’t go wrong with a free excerpt of The Myth of Junk DNA!
- I suppose “Christian Newtonian Mechanics” is an oxymoron too?