28 August 2005

historiographia scientifica...

An Op-Ed in today's New York Times, Show Me the Science, by Daniel C. Dennett, asks the most important question about the evolution vs intelligent design controversy. If Bush, Frist, McCain [a BIG surprise] along with the myriad of fundamentalists that want ID taught in science class as an alternative theory "Where IS the science?" to back it up. If it is science in the theory, the scientific process has to be behind it.

The question/problem is there.

The hypothesis is there.

The research/experimentation is not there.

The conclusion is serendipitous.

Is "intelligent design" a legitimate school of scientific thought? Is there something to it, or have these people been taken in by one of the most ingenious hoaxes in the history of science? Wouldn't such a hoax be impossible? No.

The "No" comes from the use of the scientific process itself. It muddles process with product. You can't get from a to z without steps b through y. The product doesn't answer how the "designer" came up with the product or what steps the "designer" took. My car had a designer but had to employ scientific processes that involved the technique of smelting iron to mold steel, chemical formulas to create the compounds in the tires, physics to determine the coefficient of drag, etc., etc., etc. I didn't just hand over $40,000 for someone's idea, otherwise I'd be driving a Bentley Continental. [I like this "idea" better than the car [idea] I have. I just don't have $175,000!]

Intelligent design advocates, however, exploit the ambiguity between process and product that is built into the word "design." For them, the presence of a finished product (a fully evolved eye, for instance) is evidence of an intelligent design process. But this tempting conclusion is just what evolutionary biology has shown to be mistaken.

Proponents of ID do have a process, but it is not in how the design is developed. It is how they "sell" their "ideas." They are experts at intentionial, excuse me, intelligent design in promotion and propaganda!

The focus on intelligent design has, paradoxically, obscured something else: genuine scientific controversies about evolution that abound. In just about every field there are challenges to one established theory or another. The legitimate way to stir up such a storm is to come up with an alternative theory that makes a prediction that is crisply denied by the reigning theory - but that turns out to be true, or that explains something that has been baffling defenders of the status quo, or that unifies two distant theories at the cost of some element of the currently accepted view.

To date, the proponents of intelligent design have not produced anything like that. No experiments with results that challenge any mainstream biological understanding. No observations from the fossil record or genomics or biogeography or comparative anatomy that undermine standard evolutionary thinking.

Instead, the proponents of intelligent design use a ploy that works something like this. First you misuse or misdescribe some scientist's work. Then you get an angry rebuttal. Then, instead of dealing forthrightly with the charges leveled, you cite the rebuttal as evidence that there is a "controversy" to teach.

Does Jerry Falwell's Liberty University or Pat Robertson's Regent University offer Intelligent Design 101 in their science curricula?

...just asking?

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