Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Daily: Designing the Future

Alright, some of you readers, including the regular ones might be wondering why I am reading, much less referencing a Student's Newspaper. Well, apart from the fact that I'm very impressed they put it out daily (in contrast to the monthly magazine format adopted by the Universities here), it's also the University I'll be attending on exchange a couple of months down the road.

Anyway, this appears to be the second in a series written by the same lady whose article I commented on yesterday. Unfortunately, today's isn't much better. Now I am not just wondering whether she even read Judge Jones' decision, but also why she doesn't approach the BIOLOGY faculty and get the information from a real expert. Yes people, every time we cite a source or reference, it IS an appeal to (rightful) authority.

Personal comments in regular script, actual article in blockquotes.

This past fall, intelligent design stormed the media with a controversial court case in Dover, Penn.

Eleven parents of students in Dover sued the Dover-area school district over its proposal to change the ninth-grade biology curriculum to teach an alternative intelligent design theory in conjunction with Charles Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection.

I can't stress it enough how the word theory has a very different meaning in our regular usage (guess or hypothesis) as opposed to the scientific one (something that explains a set of disparate facts, hypotheses and which has strong explanatory and predictive powers). So the question then becomes, is ID a theory in the scientific sense of the word? And there really is nothing better than to quote what the Dr. Behe, proponent of ID had to say on the stands. When pressed in cross-examination he conceded he rejected the scientific definition and that under his definition of theory (and for ID to fit under it), astrology would be considered a 'theory' as well.

Intelligent design is a theory that states the universe is so complex an "intelligent designer" must have created it.

The plaintiffs successfully argued that intelligent design is a form of creationism, and the judge ruled intelligent design as unconstitutional -- baring it from public school science classrooms.

This case is important to the intelligent design world, most prominently because the judge deemed intelligent design as an academic study in a public classroom a violation of the separation between church and state.

Now it is technically true that the judge did and could have made his ruling on this very narrow ground i.e. whether ID violated the separation of Church and State via way of the "Lemon" Test.

But he did go further to examine if ID was even science. And just a quick glance over at his judgment would reveal a very resounding no.

While proponents of intelligent design want to tag the theory as 'Christian,' they are having a difficult time proving to the mass population what they believe as true: That intelligent design is a form of science, not religion.

Believe? By definition, ID is not scientific. The difficulty in persuading the 'masses' has more to do with how much more publicity (rather than research) the IDers are pumping out (something like 100 times as much PR as they are research per day).


The biggest criticism to the intelligent design theory may be the lack of substantial evidence and proof. Senior Tara Smiley, a biology and earth and space sciences major, says she can't consider intelligent design a scientific theory because it can't be tested using scientific method -- or any other.

"There's just no experiment that's relevant to determining if God exists or if a designer exists -- there's just no way to prove it, it's not scientific by scientific standards," Smiley says.

Intelligent design has been tagged a veiled version of creationism- -- the belief in the literal interpretation of the account of the creation of the universe and of all living things related in the Bible.

If the shoe fits. There are a couple of posts over at Panda's Thumb that detail every single line ever uttered by the major proponents about how ID must necessarily mean 'God'. Oddly enough, they only say this in front of Christian crowds and promptly talk about 'naturalistic explanations' like aliens and time travellers in a less biased public forum. Draw your own conclusions.

Still, many scientists involved with intelligent design hold that the debate is about two distinct scientific theories: Darwinism and intelligent design. Mark Bergin, an intelligent design beat writer for World Magazine, a weekly news magazine written from a Christian perspective, explains he doesn't think it's likely we've mutated into the complex organisms we are today. Take the human eyeball for instance. Intelligent design proponents would say the eye is so complex to have been created by thousands of random mutations. There had to be someone behind it.

"There are a thousand things that have to happen for the human eyeball to see," says Bergin. "If you take one of those things away, the human eyeball is completely worthless. So for those thousand mutations that happened over time, there's no way an eyeball would have survived unless all thousand things happened instantaneously."

*Wince* okay to be fair, I don't think the IDers (Dembski and Co) ever used the eye as a form of IC. That's a creationist canard and um was even addressed by Charles Darwin in his original book (and that was before he knew of genetic inheritance). Anyway, we have a very good idea of how the eye developed because it has independently evolved 40 times over in various organisms. So no, not really a problem for Evolution.

Bergin points out that evolution has holes as a theory. But its supporters say that evolution has the most scientific evidence to support it -- even with its holes.

"Yes, there are still holes in the evolution theory," agrees Smiley. "But ... despite these holes [which] lot of intelligent design people use as evidence for intelligent design ... they don't have any positive evidence for their theory."

Let's do a quick thought experiment here. We all know what gravity is. We all have observed it. But what causes the attraction between masses? What is the current scientific theorem and how old is it? Yes people, there are holes in the theory of gravity.

Bergin says researchers are currently looking at complex systems in life and trying to reduce them one mutation at a time, but trying to find proof that organisms are not mutated together one part at a time, but instead created simultaneously.

"[Researchers are studying the question of] if we take out one mutation can the cell function and live, or will it just die?" Bergin says. "What they're finding is -- you can't even take one thing away. Every single part has to be there for it to live. That leads them to believe all these things had to happen at once."

Now, I still like to believe in the goodness of People so I'm going to put this down to ignorance or editing.

Firstly, he who asserts must prove. Provide an example of this happening.

Secondly, we know of 'complex systems' which can survive without one or even 40 'mutations'. Let's take two standard examples of ID. One, the blood clotting mechanism; we know that Dolphins lack Factor 12 and yet still is capable of having a system that works and confers upon it evolutionary advantages. Two, the bacteria flagellum, when 40 proteins are removed, it becomes a Type II Secretor i.e. a form of bacterial syringe.

Or better still, we had the opportunity to see how nylon-'eating' and TNT-'eating' bacteria have evolved. The amazing thing is that the nylon one uses junk (repetitive) DNA to form the necessary enzyme while the TNT one evolved through a 7 stage mechanism.

And we know these because Scientist are doing research. And the more we know, the less gaps there will be in our knowledge and ID becomes ever more hollow.


Perhaps the hottest issue surrounding intelligent design right now is about what is appropriate to teach in public science classrooms.

"The debate in public schools [is centered on people who are committed to Darwinism evolution and want to lump intelligent design and creationism together," Bergin says.

Because it is? Again, until they come up with a new textbook, the one that is pushed by the DI is called Of Pandas and Men. What is very significant about the book is that it has undergone numerous revisions and editions. So if one plots a graph of year versus mention of ID or Creationism you see that for the first few years, creationism dominates the book with a few mentions of ID.

But something happened in 1988 when SUDDENLY, the word creationism disappear and in their place the word Intelligent Design appeared. It's was a simple use of the ctrl-F and replace function. The reason for this abrupt change is because of the US Supreme Court ruling the teaching of Creationism unconstitutional.

Even though proponents of intelligent design insist on it being a scientific theory, it is still widely being seen as a violation of church and state by courtrooms. Bergin says at least evolution should be presented in science classrooms as an incomplete theory -- not indisputable fact. Bergin says once theories are discussed as fact, they are established into some sort of religion.

"Can't we at least teach the problems in the theory? And if we can't teach the problems we're not teaching a theory anymore," says Bergin. "We're teaching a dogma."

Sure, one could teach the problems in the theory. But the thing is they want to teach the problems OF the theory on the basis of their religious inclinations. The controversy about Evolution is primarily a political and PR one NOT a scientific one.

How is it dogma? That's akin to saying that gravity is dogma because we don't teach the problems with the theory. It's like saying fine, things 'fall' down but you know gravity doesn't explain how big masses revolve around one another. It can't be gravity because there's no 'down'. Anyway, again, the problems with the theory have more to do with the exact mechanisms rather than the theory itself.

Many opponents of intelligent design do not want it being taught in science classrooms because of the lack of scientific evidence.

"I have no problems with it being taught in theology or in any other realm, but it's not science," says Smiley. "It really frustrates me that people want this to be included in a scientific curriculum at the high school level without first convincing the scientific community of its truthfulness."

That's right! I mean, consider EVERY SINGLE theory that overthrew the consensus. It was by dint of research and persuasion. Not going to court and fighting it out in the realm of public opinion. That isn't Science!

For the most part, people who support intelligent design are not looking to stop evolution from being taught in schools, but they do want alternative theories being offered to students.

"So much of the [teaching in schools] is just spoon feeding kids information as opposed to teaching them to critically think for themselves," says Blythe McLoughlin, a senior majoring in microbiology. "I'm scared of spoon feeding people information that [they might] take as truth."

Fair enough, then teach them ALL the controversies. Teach them that germs don't cause diseases but diseases cause germs. Teach them that the link between HIV and AIDS is not true. What about anti-vaccination? Anti-fluoride? Not to mention the flat earth society still exists. Why simply single out Evolution?

What you are telling them is that ONLY Evolution is 'worthy' of being critically evaluated and not all of science. But even so, one still has to draw a distinction between science and pseudo-science.

Junior microbiology major Leah Hampson says she is frustrated that she has not gotten a more balanced view at the UW. Evolution is still a theory she says, yet in her biology classes it was taught as gospel.

"Even if I would have believed in evolution more, I still would have wanted a balanced perspective on intelligent design," says Hampson, adding she's read entire books about evolution in her UW classes--and she's only been assigned a paragraph about intelligent design.

As I said before balance DOES NOT EQUAL objective. It's like calling for a balanced view on Holocaust Denialist (which is rather fascinating I must say)

"I don't think as students, we were given a fair perspective at all," she says.

I think, giving them a balanced approach would be giving WAY TOO MUCH WEIGHT to ID. Read the freaking case already!


The future of the intelligent design movement lies largely within a building in Seattle's own backyard.

Located inside the non-profit Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank, the Center for Science and Culture helps to fund research, polls, advertising and education for and about intelligent design. It also acts as a consulting group for school boards nationwide interested in trying to challenge the dogma of evolution. Bergin says while the Discovery Institute is the intellectual force behind intelligent design, its destiny as a teachable theory lies in popular opinion.

"I do think that intelligent design will make it in public schools because one, we live in a democracy and two, a vast majority of people in this country want intelligent design to be taught alongside evolution in the schools," Bergin says.

This argument has never made sense to me. You don't teach lies/untruths in school simply because people believe it to be true. If anyone wants a reminder of how terrible that can be, see the Soviet Union or apartheid South Africa.

Just because a larger majority of people holds it to be true does not make it true. The entire history of civil rights is a story of minority oppression by majority opinion.

Science is different. It is not based on rhetoric, opinion or guess. It is empirical and objective (or at least a lot more objective than other studies). Until we get prove positive of the supernatural, Evolution is here to stay.



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