OK, IDNet-NM ... Where's the Beef?
Updated Oct. 16th, 2003
by Dave Thomas : nmsrdaveATswcp.com (Help fight SPAM! Please replace the AT with an @ )
The Intelligent Design organization IDNet-NM has been busy bombarding the State Department of Education (SDE) and the State Board of Education (SBE) with demands to make new state science standards "ID-Friendly."
I wrote the SDE with concerns over IDNet-NM's proposed changes to the standards, and IDNet-NM's own Michael Kent has responded with a letter of his own. Both letters are now on-line at IDNet-NM's "Kent vs. Thomas" page, at http://www.nmidnet.org/kent_vs__thomas.htm. (If you get a 'Username/password' screen, just hit 'Cancel,' and you'll get right to the letters.)
One of the points I criticized was IDNet-NM's suggestion to modify the new standards to say "3. Describe the basic concepts of evolution by natural selection and how the evolutionary model is used to explain the diversity of species." In my letter to the SDE, I said "Models are often used in science; for example, a basketball can serve as a model for the round earth. However, evolution is much more than just a 'model' - it is a very detailed theoretical explanation of life's diversity (with many specific mechanisms involved), and is backed up by reams of evidence and data (facts). 'Theory' is the highest level of science - there is a theory of electromagnetism, a theory of relativity, and a theory of evolution. Theories transcend mere 'models.' "
In the IDNet-NM response, Kent says simply "We do not believe that there is a substantive difference between the terms 'model' and 'theory'. We support the use of either term."
It's blatantly incorrect re-definitions of science itself like this that call all of IDNet-NM's "suggestions" into question.
What I've found interesting, though, is that Mike Kent has time to critique my personal letters sent to the SDE, but he has YET to answer a letter I wrote more than a year ago, asking him to explain why ID should be considered "science." Here follows the relevant letter exchange; my April 23, 2002 letter to Mike Kent; Kent's May 13th, 2002 response; and my second letter of May 16th, 2002, still unanswered as of August 5th, 2003.
Date: Mon, 23 April 2002
From: Dave Thomas <nmsrdaveATswcp.com>
To: Michael and Merry Kent <mmkentATflash.net>
Subject: Re: on falsification
Hi Mike. I didn't get to say this last night as you left a little early, but here 'tis.
The difference between ID and/or evolution being able to explain different types of data (different outcomes) is a matter of degree.
In the molecular comparisons example I mentioned, it's pretty clear that the "ID Hypothesis" could be supported by evidence that similar biomolecules are all identical between species ("Efficient Designer"), or that they are all unique ("Meticulous Designer"), or that they come in hierarchical arrangements (vertebrates, mammals, bears, etc.). Also, clearly, it's evident that evolution demands hierarchical nesting of features ONLY, and would be falsified by either the Efficient or the Meticulous scenario.
I see where you're coming from re evolution also explaining "any" outcomes, though, such as convergent evolution. But that really goes toward the sheer capability of evolution to explain things about life. It appears that some lifestyles (say, marine vertebrate predator) demand certain features or body plans, and that's why icthysaurs, sharks and dolphins all look sort of similar in overall shape. Because evolution can explain this does not count as a "strike" against evolution, any more than should evolution's ability to explain how similar environments can end up hosting quite different creatures.
Another example is evolution's ability to explain stasis (slow or no evolution in large, successful populations), and simultaneously explain speciation (often the result of rapid evolution in small, isolated sub-populations). This is, again, exemplary of evolution's raw explanatory power, and should not count against evolution any more than the fact that Maxwell's equations explain what happens to an electron in a static electric field, versus a dynamic electric field, or a magnetic field, or what have you.
The difference here is one of Limitations.
If evolution was UNLIMITED in its capability to explain diverse observations -- if, in fact, there were no imaginable outcomes that could possibly falsify evolution -- then you might have a point. But such is not the case. The theory of evolution can NOT be twisted in such a way as to "explain", say, human remains fossilized unambiguously in Jurassic-era strata. Nor could evolution hope to explain, say, an odd bio-molecule used by several different species, but one for which the human and jackrabbit versions are almost identical, but the human and gorilla versions are very, very different. Either of these examples would be BIG trouble for evolution. But, nothing like them has ever turned up.
So it's really a matter of degree. Sure, evolution can explain quite different outcomes, but only within certain limits. It's certainly possible to imagine outcomes outside these limits, and these could potentially falsify the theory. But for ID, there are no limits. Any possible outcome can be explained as "Designer's Will." And thus there is no way to reject the ID hypothesis.
And that's why ID isn't scientific.
Date: Mon, 13 May 2002
From: Michael and Merry Kent <mmkentATflash.net>
To: Dave Thomas <nmsrdaveATswcp.com>
Subject: Re: on falsification
Below is the note I sent to your previous e-mail address. [earlier, in April of 2002] - Mike Kent
I enjoyed the discussion last Monday evening. Feel free to join us on Monday's at 6:30 if you wish. Thanks for the note of clarification. Below are my thoughts on that subject.
I do not agree with the way you reason about this. The issue of plausibility/mechanism is completely absent. Your argument seems to be that both the naturalistic paradigm and design can "explain" (I would say "can rationalize") a broad range of observations, but naturalism has a more restricted space. Certain observations like polar bears in the Devonion would be difficult to rationalize within this view, whereas everything can be rationalized within the design paradigm. Thus the naturalisic paradigm is to be preferred on the basis of being more "scientific" since some observations could count against it.
In my view, this reduces science to not much more than story telling, and science as I practice it is much more than that. In my view the essence of science is the study of natural causation. That means mechanism and plausibility have to take center stage. We certainly do a lot with inferential evidences in science, but this type of evidence has to be considered very cautiously because it is very easy to see what you want to see in the data. In my experience, inferential evidences are worthless if plausibility is in doubt. Plausibility must be established first. If plausibility is established, then inferential evidences can play an important role but only when two important questions are carefully and thoroughly addressed. The first is this: are the data being presented selectively, i.e. is the author only citing the data that fit the proposed view and ignoring data that does not support his view. Second, are the data truly distinctive to one interpretation or may the observations be consistent with a variety of scenarios? The latter gets to the question of how risky/distinctive the predictions of a theory are. If all Neodarwinism demands is no polar bears in the Devonian, than it says very little. It is very difficult to do a thorough job of addressing these two questions, and examples abound of errors that were made because one or both questions were ignored or only marginally addressed.
The issue of plausibility/mechanism has to be addressed, it can't simply be assumed on the basis of naturalism if science is to be a truth-seeking enterprise. In my view there are many colossal challenges in biology (not to mention ultimate origins) that cast doubt on the plausibility of current naturalistic scenarios. The Neadarwinian mechanism can only solve certain classes of problems. There are experimentally determined fitness landscapes that are not in the class of problems that ND can solve. Irreducible complexity is all over the place in biology, (biochemistry, organs, origins of life, development). Specified complexity is an immense challenge that has not been addressed at all, as evidenced by the counter examples cited by Prof. Melott (pulsars and snowflakes). If the question of plausibility/mechanism is sidestepped, then the door is wide open to violate the integrity of science.
Some examples are: gas + energy = DNA from our museum's origin of life exhibit, the famous statement by George Wald "time itself performs the miracles", Carl Sagan's "the time available for the origin of life seems to have been short ... . Since life originated on the earth, we have additional evidence that the origin of life has a high probability", etc. I hope you see my point.
So in the absence of direct evidence or a plausible mechanism, very little confidence can be placed in any particular scenario pieced together from inferential evidences. The question of plausibility and mechanism have to be addressed. Furthermore I suspect that the inferential data are presented selectively and/or are not distinctive to the naturalistic view. However, it takes a lot of work to defend that. I'm planning to spend time on this during the summer. I'll consider the example you mentioned, the odd-biomolecule", among others. However, many observations are already very well known which are difficult to rationalize within the framework of the any naturalistic mechanism, such as the abrupt appearance of all the phyla in the Cambrian with no ancestors.
Defining a possible causal explanation as out of bounds is not intellectually defensible if science is to be a truth-seeking enterprise. It may temporarily be an effective tactic, but it is not the way to discover truth.
Postulating what a designer would or would not do is theology. I prefer to stick to science. In my mind the scientific question is whether natural causation, as currently understood, is a complete (or entirely adequate) description. To me, current scientific knowledge indicates that it is not.
Ultimately, the naturalistic claim is immense (and getting bigger). I think the public is not convinced by inferential evidences. Nothing even remotely close to directly addressing the claim in biology has been presented. The essence of the claim is simply assumed, and I think the public is smart enough to see that.
I certainly think that the inferential evidences have to be considered. But it is nearly impossible to do the job right - to address the two questions above thoroughly, allowing the design paradigm to be given consideration. Both views are nearly infinitely elastic, that's why the question has to be decided on mechanism and plausibility, not inferential evidences.
I certainly think it is appropriate to say that various data are consistent with or support a naturalistic scenario. But this by itself is a very weak claim, and scientific integrity demands that evidence counter to the claim be cited as well. One should say: here is the data that support it, here are the problems, evidence against it, challenges. That is how I operate.
I certainly believe that we should study natural causation to the nth degree.
However, I demand the right to be honest and say when natural causation, as currently understood, is insufficient. It is also essential to recognize the role of philosphical presuppositions. Clearly scientific integrity shouldn't be violated trying to defind naturalism, as in the above examples.
Date: Thursday, 16 May 2002
To: Michael and Merry Kent <mmkentATflash.net>
From: nmsrdaveATswcp.com (Dave Thomas)
Subject: Re: on falsification
Hi Mike. Thanks for the comments.
It seems to me that your lengthy comments on "plausibility" and "mechanism" are an elaborate attempt to re-define the way science works so as to allow "design" into consideration.
Re "mechanism," many have been proposed. Genetic mutation is a mechanism. Genetic drift is a mechanism. Allopatric speciation is a mechanism. Natural selection is a mechanism. Chromosome doubling is a mechanism. And so on. And yes, these mechanisms have been shown to be eminently plausible. Evolution does have detailed mechanisms, and they are described in much more detail than the design "mechanism" ("God did it").
BTW, the Cambrian "Explosion" lasted millions of years - hardly what I'd call "abrupt."
I don't think that science is about story telling. But it IS about story TESTING. The stories (hypotheses) are tested against data (observations/evidence). If a story can make bold predictions about things as yet unobserved, and these predictions are continually verified, it becomes a good story. (Example: Darwin had no idea about the structure of DNA, yet the prediction, based on morphology, that the DNA of humans and apes will be similar, was verified in no uncertain terms). However, any good story must be capable of being falsified - that is, there must be conditions under which the story doesn't work. If you don't have that, then you don't have anything, because a story which can explain ANY set of outcomes reduces to something that really explains nothing.
I gave you several examples of observations which would immediately bring the "story" of evolution into crisis: for example, humans fossilized with dinosaurs, odd chimeras (like the lion/snake/goat of mythology), or proteins that are more similar between, say, humans and turtles than between, say, humans and chimps. Of course, millions of other conceptual examples are possible. It's not just about "polar bears in the Devonion." Evolution also prohibits polar bears in the Ordovician, Silurian, and Permian. It prohibits Possums in the Pennsylvanian, and Cows in the Cambrian. Unlike Design, which prohibits nothing (unless, that is, you can describe the "mechanism" which prevents the Designer from creating, say, polar bears in the Devonion).
Can you provide three examples of observations which, *in and of themselves*, would falsify the Design hypothesis?
If you can't, why should I be convinced that Design should be a viable approach, when it can't even be tested?
Regards, Dave Thomas
Michael Kent's Response
May 16, 2002
We're Still Waiting, IDNet-NM ... Where's the Beef?
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