Apr 22 2008

More Witless Self-Contradiction from the Discovery Institute

The two most recent blog entries on Evolution News & Views (the primary function of which is to spread pro-Intelligent Design propaganda) are both by Robert Crowther. I could not help but notice that these sequential blog entries by the same author directly contradict each other – and I suspect that Crowther is ignorant of the contradiction.

This happens frequently over at the Discovery Institute. I recently pointed out that ID proponents, on the same DI blog, reject the evidence from breeding for the power of selection as relevant to evolution through natural selection (because breeding is artificial), but then use the Nazi holocaust – which was a program of artificial selection – as evidence that evolution is evil. The ID propagandists are susceptible to tripping over themselves like this because they are engaged in deception in defending an a-priori belief, not an honest and sincere quest for scientific knowledge. Valid science must agree with itself – lies are not so constrained.

I just happened to remember the prior blog entry on breeding and made the connection to the recent defense of the “Nazi Gambit” made in the new propaganda film; Expelled. This time, however, Crowther made it easy by contradicting himself in sequential blog entries.

For background, Richard Dawkins tells the tale of how he was tricked by Ben Stein into answering questions about evolution and ID that Dawkins thought were going to be used to explain these concepts to a lay audience. Instead, Stein was trolling for excerpts he could take out of context to ridicule Dawkins. At one point he was asked if he could think of any scenario under which life on earth could have been designed, and Dawkins gave the highly speculative scenario that life on earth could have been seeded by an advanced alien race. Dawkins writes:

This ‘Ultimate 747’ argument, as I called it in The God Delusion, may or may not persuade you. That is not my concern here. My concern here is that my science fiction thought experiment — however implausible — was designed to illustrate intelligent design’s closest approach to being plausible. I was most emphaticaly NOT saying that I believed the thought experiment. Quite the contrary. I do not believe it (and I don’t think Francis Crick believed it either). I was bending over backwards to make the best case I could for a form of intelligent design. And my clear implication was that the best case I could make was a very implausible case indeed. In other words, I was using the thought experiment as a way of demonstrating strong opposition to all theories of intelligent design.

But – Stein got his quote, and he made fun of it in the movie, implying that Dawkins believes in space aliens. The Discovery Institute is now picking up that ball and running with it as far as they can. In yesterday’s post Crowther writes:

Richard Dawkins’ concession that the design we see in nature could be the result of alien activity continues to be a hot topic. CSC senior fellow David DeWolf e-mailed me with some interesting insights.

“The point of Dawkins’ concession in the movie [Expelled] is not that panspermia is a preferable alternative to evolutionary theory, but rather THAT IT CAN BE STUDIED SCIENTIFICALLY. (Sorry for shouting, but I get excited about these things.)

“Dawkins concedes that you could scientifically investigate whether or not the origin of life reflected natural processes or whether it was likely the result of intervention from an external, intelligent source.”

So they are saying that Dawkins is admitting that ID can be studied scientifically, based upon Dawkin’s thought experiment (taken out of context) about an advanced alien race seeding life on earth.

Two days ago, however, Crowther quotes Jonathan Wells in his post as saying:

According to intelligent design, however, it is possible to infer from evidence in nature that some features of the world and of living things are better explained by an intelligent cause than by undirected natural processes. Although ID says nothing about the nature of the designer (other than calling it intelligent), it leaves open the possibility that the designer is God.

And here we have the contradiction. Admittedly, you have to understand a little something about how science operates in order to see the contradiction, and Crowther gives no evidence that he does. The reason that ID is not testable scientifically, and therefore is not a scientific theory, is precisely because “ID says nothing about the nature of the designer.” That is it. If the designer is not constrained in any way – by the methods that they can employ, the power and resources at their disposal, by the laws of nature, or by any knowledge of their intent or purpose – then there is no way to test or falsify the notion that the designer is responsible for what we see in nature.

For example, an ID proponent can look at any structure in nature and no matter what they see they can confidently state – that is the way the designer must have intended for it to look and function. What about the copious genetic evidence for branching descent? Well, the designer chose to make it that way. If there is nothing the designer cannot or would not do, then there is no way to falsify the designer – and therefore such a version of ID is not a scientific theory.

So while Crowther is crowing that Dawkins apparently admits that ID is testable, he quotes Wells who is blatantly admitting that ID is not testable – and Crowther is blind to the whole thing. This ignorance is not excusable. The Discovery Institute is the most visible institution of ID. This is the primary point of contention over ID with respect to its admissibility in the classroom. That Crowther does not know this issue inside and out is inexcusable. So either he is grossly incompetent as a representative of ID, or he is being intellectually dishonest – or some combination of the two.

What about the design of alien biologists? This is a completely different notion. An alien race, even one vastly more advanced scientifically than current human technology, would still be constrained by the laws of nature. We can make inferences about what they could or could not do – very much unlike ID’s mysterious and unconstrained designer.

The point that Crowther and his ID cronies miss entirely (whether deliberately or out of ignorance is hard to tell) is that it is not the notion of design that is outside the bounds of science – it is the notion of a designer about which we are not permitted to speculate at all or constrain in any way. But of course this is the bit that ID proponents cannot surrender. Because as Wells writes (in uncharacteristic candor):

…it leaves open the possibility that the designer is God.

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