Posts tagged Intelligent Design
21 Sep 2011
After re-loading your website home page a few times, I found on it the following quote by Ariane Sherine: "All children should be free to grow up in a world where they are allowed to question, doubt, think freely, and reach their own conclusions about what they believe." As an evangelical Christian, I wholeheartedly agree.
However, you recently acted as signatories to a statement about creationism and 'intelligent design' that asserted that
There should be enforceable statutory guidance that [creationism and 'intelligent design'] may not be presented as scientific theories in any publicly-funded school of whatever type.
This strikes me as contradictory. Many people believe that creationism or intelligent design are scientific theories. (Moreover, some people also believe them to be true!) Will you encourage children to reach their own conclusions on the matter?
Update 22 Sep 2011: Todd Wood has written a Letter to Great Britain in response to the campaign. It's a good read!
25 Nov 2010
This post concludes my recent splurge on Intelligent Design (ID).
I have been trying to argue:
- That ID is basically anti-evolutionism
- That, as anti-evolutionism, ID is half an argument for creationism
- That the question of whether ID is science is actually quite dull
- That ID proponents are right to point out the speculative nature of most Darwinian explanations
- That science can, in principle, point towards an Intelligent Designer
- That arguments about complexity are perhaps quite complex, and
- That educating people about all of this might not be a bad idea.
Now, in conclusion, I want to use Bayes' theorem to settle this once and for all.
We're going to look at the plausibility (probability) of Darwinism, given the data, and the plausibility of ID, given the data, and see which is more plausible.
To cut a long story short, we are interested in the
bits in the Bayes factor. This is the probability that the data would be observed under the model in question.
Now, for a Darwinian model, assuming everything the ID proponents say is true, the probability of observing the data that we do observe is extremely small, because of irreducible complexity and the like.
But what is the probability of observing the data under the ID model? Here it gets interesting. The ID model is that some Intelligent Designer(s) has/have done some stuff to our genomes between the origin of life and the present day. The model therefore has a rather large number of free parameters, at least one parameter for each opportunity the Intelligent Designer(s) had to make one change to a creature's genome. Okay, the model has an infinite number of free parameters. Now, the probability that we observe the data that we do observe, with some specific values for these free parameters, is, of course, 1.0. The Intelligent Designer(s) just made it like that. But we don't know in advance what the values of those free parameters are. So we have to take an average. And the average probability of the data being observed, considering all the possible values for this infinite number of free parameters, is, of course, zero (or infinitesimally close to zero, if you want to be pedantic).
Now, to find out which model is favoured by the data, whether Darwinism or ID, we simply divide the first number by the second. So we have the odds in favour of Darwinism over ID being: (an extremely small number) / 0 = infinity. That is, given the choice between Darwinism or ID, the data suggest overwhelmingly that we should root for Darwinism.
All of the above is just a very long way of saying that ID, being utterly vague about the nature of the Intelligent Designer(s), has essentially no explanatory power, and therefore offers no reason for anyone to believe it.
So, in summary, the anti-evolution arguments employed by ID proponents are helpful, and suggest that we should explore other possibilities. But ID proponents should turn their attention to constructing models: who/what is/are the Intelligent Designer(s)? When did they alter the genomes of living creatures, to what end, and in what way? It is only when we move from vague ethereal ideas to specific models that it is possible to make specific predictions, and it is only when we have specific predictions that there is any hope of coming up with something more compelling than Darwinism.
24 Nov 2010
I don't see why not.
Many people in the UK believe in Intelligent Design (that is, they don't believe in modern evolutionary theory), 51% according to one report. This in itself is a good reason to expect children at least to be familiar with the term and what it means.
They should learn about some of the arguments for ID (i.e., the arguments against modern evolutionary theory), and why most scientists reject those arguments.
They should use it to learn something about the sociology of science, and how ideas gain acceptance by the scientific community (or not, in this case).
They should use it to learn something about the philosophy of science, relating the pursuit of knowledge through the sciences to the pursuit of knowledge by other means, and applying that to ID.
And since the language in which the discussion about ID is conducted is the language of science, it should be the science teachers primarily who teach about ID.
Now have I said something controversial…?
(Of course, this wouldn't work in the USA, since they have a strange principle called the "separation of church and state", or something like that. Whatever it's called, this is what it seems to mean: public resources shall not be used to expose anyone to any argument that might be expected to lead to the adoption of any belief generally rejected by secular humanists. Now, secular humanists generally don't believe in an Intelligent Designer, so this means public schools cannot criticise modern evolutionary theory, because rejecting modern evolutionary theory generally leads to belief in an Intelligent Designer.)
24 Nov 2010
The basic argument of anti-evolutionism (Intelligent Design, ID) is that chance processes cannot account for the complexity that we see in living things. The probabilities are simply vanishingly small.
That may be true, but I'm nervous about that kind of argument. The reason is that I'm not sure we properly understand complexity. There are examples of complex systems that behave in apparently extremely improbable ways, if we calculate the probabilities in a straightforward manner. Complex systems are well-nigh impossible to model, so I'm very uneasy about saying, "The probability that a complex system will do X is 0.0000000000000001."
24 Nov 2010
I find myself in full agreement with the basic presupposition of Intelligent Design (ID): that a world in which an intelligent agent has acted might be expected to be different to a world in which no such intelligent agent has acted, and that the methods of science (i.e., empirical enquiry) might be a useful tool in investigating this. Most obviously, a world according to the Bible's history (understood fairly literally) would have many differences to a world in which God doesn't exist, and by looking at the world in which we live we might be able to tell which world it is.
This is all plainly obvious. A consequence of this is that science shouldn't claim to be restricted by definition to natural things. That's a stupid definition of science, and one that hinders empirical enquiry.
But what frustrates me about the ID movement is that its proponents seem determined not to say this. Yes, they say, science can be used to point to a designer in some vague sense, but no, science cannot tell us anything about the identity and nature of that designer. I can't make any sense of that.
The only reason I can think of to take that sort of position is in the context of bizarre political restrictions about what can or cannot be discussed in certain specific contexts. But more about that later…
24 Nov 2010
One of the quotes Michael Behe showed at Monday's Darwin or Design? evening was the following:
"We should reject, as a matter of principle, the substitution of intelligent design for the dialogue of chance and necessity, but we must concede that there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical system, only a variety of wishful speculations" (Franklin Harold, The Way of the Cell, 2001, p. 205).
That's not to say Darwinism is necessarily complete nonsense; clearly it isn't. But it does mean you don't have to be completely barmy to consider the possibility that it might not be the whole story.
And it's worth pondering what this "principle" is that rejects ID "as a matter of principle".
23 Nov 2010
Countless hours have been wasted poring over this most uninteresting, pedantic and pointless of questions. Rather than seeking to answer the questions raised by Intelligent Design (ID), certain people seem to think it is much more pressing to determine once and for all in which drawer of the filing cabinet the question should reside.
Enough! I don't care whether or not ID is science; I want to know whether it is true!
23 Nov 2010
But there is a connection.
Intelligent Design (ID), being essentially anti-evolutionism, is half of an argument for creationism.
Basic scientific arguments go something like this:
- You are wrong.
- I am right.
Or, in more detail:
- Your model does a poor job at explaining the data.
- My model does a better job at explaining the data.
So one might argue for creationism as follows:
- Your model of evolution (by random mutation and natural selection) does a poor job at explaining the data (life in all its complexity).
- My model of creationism (old-earth, young-earth, whatever) does a better job at explaining the data.
Anti-evolutionism is the first half of that argument.
So ID is not creationism. But it is half an argument for creationism, which is why creationists tend to like ID.
Incidentally, as long as ID remains as just half an argument, I don't think it will get very far. People will always believe something rather than nothing. If you tell people that the thing they believe is wrong, they will continue to believe it regardless, until you provide a solid alternative. If you decide you want to leave your current town, you don't just pack up and get in the car, but you find somewhere else to live and then you pack up and leave. ID says you should leave your current town, but it doesn't show you somewhere better to live, so I don't think many people will listen.
23 Nov 2010
Last night I called in at Westminster Chapel for Darwin or Design? An Evening with Michael Behe, hosted by Justin Brierley, presenter of Premier Christian Radio's Unbelievable? programme, with support from the new Centre for Intelligent Design.
I thought I'd use that as an excuse for a series of blog posts about "Intelligent Design" (ID), as Michael Behe is one of the biggest names in that movement. It's not something I know much about, but this is my blog, and what is the purpose of a blog if not to give me an outlet for my ignorant waffle? I'm just thinking aloud; don't take this too seriously.
So let's begin: what is ID?
Here's what Behe said:
Design is the purposeful arrangement of parts.
We infer design whenever parts appear arranged to accomplish a function.
The strength of the inference is quantitative.
I don't think this is any different to the "explanatory filter" of ID proponent William Dembski, which goes something like this. Can it be explained by physical laws and necessity? (No.) Can it be explained by a combination of law and chance processes? (No.) Then the reasonable inference is that an intelligent agent has been involved.
I've chewed over this a bit, and in an attempt to capture the thrust of ID, I offer the following as a summary:
The theory of evolution by random mutation and natural selection does a pretty bad job at explaining the complexity we see in living things. So, hey guys, maybe we should try thinking up some other ideas one of these days?
And since these "other ideas" would all involve the purposeful activity of an external agent, we can lump them together under the name "Intelligent Design".
In other words, it seems to me that ID is essentially anti-evolutionism with the addition of the (trivial) statement, that if, whenever we attempt to explain life (in all its complexity) without the intervention of an external intelligent agent, our attempts fail, then that suggests that an external intelligent agent might well have been involved.
That's not to say ID is not without value. But basically ID is anti-evolutionism.