Evolution and Fake Science

From Darwin to DSC and Intelligent Design

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Here we’ll discuss the science of Evolution, the religious views of Creationism and Intelligent design, and we’ll move briefly to Theology, Politics and Rhetoric, tracing the pattern set by the Discovery Institute, which follows a manifesto for the remaking of America … in its own image.

Ever since the naturalist Charles Darwin published his famous On the Origin of Species, the western world seems to have progressively divided into two camps: those who see the advances of scientific investigation in the past 150 years as overwhelming evidence we can no longer regard the “theory” of evolution as mere theory, and those who see Evolution as an unproven threat to Christian interpretations of Biblical Creation.

We all know that several school districts have, at various times, banned the teaching of Evolution and ordered the teaching of Creationism. Since the famed Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee (which Clarence Darrow lost), the courts have ruled with remarkable consistency that teaching Creationism in the classroom constitutes a violation of the constitutionally-mandated separation of church and state. Hoping to make an end run around the courts and public opinion, proponents of intelligent design seek to reformulate Creationism into an intellectually defensible scientific theory, complete with documentation, footnotes and the jargon of science. The new thrust: since they’re both theories, why, in “fairness”, should schoolchildren be denied a learning opportunity about the other theory?

The current controversy is no longer so much what people are free to believe, but what constitutes legitimate science, and whether we remain free to teach scientific inquiry.

Source Materials:

Google-local search link to all Discovery Institute articles on Darwinism (approximately 5 pages of results):             

Discovery Institute results
search phrase:      ‘splitting of one species into two’
article title:       Why Darwinism Is False
author:       Jonathan Wells
citation:               

‘So secondary speciation does not solve Darwin’s problem. Only primary speciation—the splitting of one species into two by natural selection—would be capable of producing the branching-tree pattern of Darwinian evolution. But no one has ever observed primary speciation. Evolution’s smoking gun has never been found.’
Comment: In this article Wells attacks University of Chicago evolutionary geneticist Jerry A. Coyne, author of Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design
search phrase: ‘diverge and split and diverge’
article title: Darwin’s Straw God Argument
author: Jonathan Wells
citation: ‘Darwinism depends on the splitting of one species into two, which then diverge and split and diverge and split, over and over again, to produce the branching-tree pattern required by Darwin’s theory. And this sort of speciation has never been observed.’
Comment: This is the article Mirsky cites.

Recent Diversification of the Species

In the June 2009 Scientific American, senior editor Steve Mirsky wrote an opinion column entitled “An Immodest Proposal”, in which he discusses, in part, the speciation of dogs. Happily, in an unrelated article in the same edition, “The Taming of the Cat“, the authors point out that the domestic cat has but one true ancestor, F. S. lybica, out of only six possible wildcat ancestors. To this day the house cat is biologically indistinguishable from the Middle Eastern wildcat F.S. lybica, and many would point out they’re hardly better tempered. In the 10,500 years that cats have interacted with people on the outskirts of human habitations, any cat lover can tell us there is utterly no point in breeding cats to better do our bidding.

To the cat world, humans exist only at the sufferance of the cat. A “work cat” is a contradiction in terms.

Dogs, on the other hand, adapt far better to the varying needs of we humans who breed and domesticate them. Paleontologists, in some remote future society trying to reconstruct the history of the species, would be astounded how, in the same time span that cats show little evidence of being different now than they were 10,500 years ago, a similar sampling of a few wild canine species managed to differentiate themselves into the hundreds of sizes and shapes of dog found at any AKC dog show. This is speciation.

This of course is thanks to humans breeding dogs (as well as other domestic animals). Speciation isn’t just some theory. Like Mendel with his famous cross-breeding of pea plants, genetic breeding of domestic plants and animals was one of the greatest “lab experiments” of the last 10,000 years – and the results are reproducible, repeatable, and incontrovertible. Ask any horticulturist who’s ever cross-pollinated a rose: we don’t have to be a scientist. Searching for a new variety just takes knowledge and patience. Kids can do this in the classroom. Has any Discovery Institute member ever been a farmer?

Mirsky got into all of this because of a citation from the Jonathan Wells article ‘Darwin’s Straw God Argument‘ [table at top of page] in which the paragraph concludes: “this sort of speciation has never been observed.” Mirsky’s point: wrong again. Wells, according to the Wikipedia entry, is a Unification Church member who decided, after studying the teachings of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, to devote his life to “destroying Darwinism.”

Mirsky also cites lab work with the common fruit fly drosophila, familiar to every high school student. He concludes, “And calling a Chihuahua a wolf is like calling someone at the Discovery Institute a scientist.”

These are just examples of speciation in the last 10,000 years or so. Mirsky did not need to belabor us with the archeological, geological, paleontological and genetic evidence trails going back:

  • in the case of the family of Man, over 1 to 3 million years,
  • in the evolution of mammals and birds, over 65 million years, and,
  • in the case of plants, amphibians, insects and single-celled organisms, up to 3.5 billion years ago.

Battling For Genesis

What is the Discovery Institute? Not to be confused with the science TV channel, it’s interchangeably called Center for Science and Culture, or just “CSC.

According to the CSC web site:

Started in 1996, the Center for Science and Culture is a Discovery Institute program which:

  • supports research by scientists and other scholars challenging various aspects of neo-Darwinian theory;
  • supports research by scientists and other scholars developing the scientific theory known as intelligent design;
  • supports research by scientists and scholars in the social sciences and humanities exploring the impact of scientific materialism on culture.
  • encourages schools to improve science education by teaching students more fully about the theory of evolution, including the theory’s scientific weaknesses as well is its strengths.

Discovery’s Center for Science and Culture has more than 40 Fellows, including biologists, biochemists, chemists, physicists, philosophers and historians of science, and public policy and legal experts, many of whom also have affiliations with colleges and universities.

According to Wikipedia:

The Discovery Institute is a conservative non-profit public policy U.S. think tank based in Seattle, Washington, best known for its advocacy of intelligent design and its Teach the Controversy campaign to teach creationist anti-evolution beliefs in United States public high school science courses. A federal court, along with the majority of scientific organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, say the Institute has manufactured the controversy they want to teach by promoting a false perception that evolution is “a theory in crisis”, through incorrectly claiming that it is the subject of wide controversy and debate within the scientific community … “

What is their beef with science?

Let’s let the CSC try to explain this themselves:

What is intelligent design?

“Intelligent design refers to a scientific research program as well as a community of scientists, philosophers and other scholars who seek evidence of design in nature. The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”

Their page goes on to explain that intelligent design is not the same as creationism, because the former starts with an honest inquiry into the designed or random origins of life, whereas the latter simply starts with religious texts. Intelligent design is a scientific theory, we’re told, because:

“intelligent design begins with the observation that intelligent agents produce complex and specified information (CSI). Design theorists hypothesize that if a natural object was designed, it will contain high levels of CSI.”

In other words, it’s scientific because only God could possibly have bundled complex and specific information into a living organism.

How exactly, then, did this scientific theory work? At some point, higher organisms suddenly flashed into CSI mode? God created the amoeba, and allowed that organism to evolve up the ladder into the plant and animal phyla we find on Earth today. Then, He created Intelligent Agent Adam from the dust of the ground, and then He created Intelligent Agent Eve, from the rib of that Adam.

Of course I am able to find sanctioned CSC resources on Science and Education, but none whatsoever on Religion. There’s an obvious legal and political reason why we have to read between the lines. This, we’re told, is science, having nothing to do with God … apart from the premise He guided the development of all living things.

The CSC world view also has nothing to do with Islam, Judaism, Bahá’í Faith, Rastafarianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Taoism, Confucianism, Shintoism, or other regional and folk religions. Intelligent design, like creationism, is most accurately described as a strictly fundamentalist Christian article of faith.

So what about evolution and other religions? A search for ‘Islam and Darwin’ shows Christianity does not have a monopoly on the doctrine of divine creation. Different Islamic opinion can be found on whether the Islam theory of creation is compatible with Darwinism. It seems probable that the extremist Taliban would ban the teaching of Darwinian evolution, if it has not actually done that, since it’s not contained within the teachings of the Qur’an, and would encourage the young, for guidance, to look for themselves at the scientific audit trail, rather than to religious leaders. In areas under Taliban military control, the prevailing view on education is that only religious instruction is tolerated, and this is not subject to the opinion of students and their parents.

But it is not just Afghanistan and Iraq where religious extremists would like to forcibly remake society in their own image, with themselves as supreme rulers.

The Wikipedia article continues on the CSC:

In 2005, a federal court ruled that the Discovery Institute pursues “demonstrably religious, cultural, and legal missions”, and the institute’s manifesto, the Wedge strategy , describes a religious goal: to “reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”

Former CSC members themselves are said to have regarded the CSC as “an explicitly conservative Christian organization”. Far from the image of a scientific think tank, as presented to the courts and the public, most references to the CSC paint a picture of a reactionary far-right Christian propaganda mill. While the CSC is often indeed the target of hot, hostile criticism from the scientific community, it does seem its reputation cannot be far off the mark as a political and educational action group, a religious propaganda factory with a hard-to-disguise agenda.

Their beef with science, so far, would not seem to be satisfactorily explained.

Waiting For God

Eagle Nebula, M-16 Pillars of CreationMany scientists describe themselves as deeply religious, and see no conflict at all between their religion and their quest for demonstrable knowledge about the great universe we live in. Einstein was one such scientist. There are and were thousands of others, working together toward common human goals of understanding and knowledge.

Who cannot gaze at the Pillars of Creation [Eagle Nebula, M-16; the image links to NASA’s famous original Hubble Telescope image] without a strong feeling, if not of actual divine creation, of the awe and wonder of this universe of ours?

To a scientist, the theological question – of whether there was a guiding hand, or simply a sequence of explainable events, accounting for the origins of the universe and the history of mankind – is wonderfully irrelevant. Personal training and significance have nothing to do with it: the universe is what it is, we are its children, and interpretation of the evidence simply follows the facts and principles as they are revealed to our understanding. Believing this was the hand of God, or believing this to be the natural result of all of the steps along the way, doesn’t alter the outcome. It still is what it is.

One thing in dispute is whether the universe is 13.7 billion years old, which is what all our combined sciences of measurement consistently tell us, or whether God created it in six days, resting on the seventh [Old Testament Book of Genesis] at some recent epochal date, accorded by calculation of many expert dead white men, fixed at around four to six thousand years ago, depending on which theologian you consult.

According to the strict literalist Christian interpretation, of course, this means any utterance or teaching of the 13.7 billion year age of the universe is heresy.

This is what provided the sense of urgency for William Jennings Bryan’s passionate defense of Genesis in Tennessee in 1926. This is what convicted John Scopes of violation of that state’s 1925 Butler Act: for teaching a theory that suggested man evolved from the lower animals, for example, the poor young Australopithecus afarensis nicknamed Lucy (discovered in 1974), who died in the lowlands in modern-day Ethiopia, some 3.2 million years ago.

As the academic judges of the 1999 ” Ig Nobel Prizes ” put it in their award:

Science Education: Jointly to the Kansas Board of Education and the Colorado State Board of Education “for mandating that children should not believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution any more than they believe in Newton’s theory of gravitation, Faraday’s and Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism and Pasteur’s theory that germs cause disease.”

A proponent of intelligent design might today be familiarly conversant on studies of the age of the universe, the evolution and tracing of DNA, the fossil record, and all of the paleontological track record of man’s journey. They will simply assert that all these understandings could have been masterminded by an intelligent design: they don’t in any way prove that nature blindly created this miraculous progression by random mutations and environmental adaptation.

Of course they don’t. This is a “straw man” argument, implying that scientists, with their Theory of Evolution, are bent on “putting God out of the picture” – on the basis of unproven conjecture.

Nothing could be further from the truth. There is nothing in the Theory of Evolution that attributes causality, one way or the other. Over a century of research since then has only shown: this is what the facts are telling us happened. These are the circumstances that made it advantageous for some species to change, adapt and survive.

  • If you were devoutly religious, and also strongly believed in the efficacy of science, you would go forth and learn about the world, and you would teach the young evolution: this is the path created for us, this is the way it happened, and praise be to the Lord.
  • If you were a skeptic, agnostic, secular humanist or just undecided, and also strongly believed in the efficacy of science, you would go forth and learn about the world, and you would teach the young evolution: this is the path created for us, this is the way it happened, and decide for yourself if you see an intelligent hand.
  • If you were of some other faith, or no preference at all, and also strongly believed in the efficacy of science, you might go forth and learn about the world, and you would teach the young evolution: this is the path created for us, this is the way it happened, and there is nothing in the scientific record that points to a divine guiding hand, but, to be honest, there’s nothing in the record that proves otherwise, either.

To a Christian, needing to believe in the wisdom of the Bible, and not needing to believe in the story of Genesis, there should be no contradiction. We all know the Bible was once used as justification for slavery, and denying women the right to vote. Whether by scripture or societal custom, slavery was the law of the land in Biblical times, and no one voted. The Bible also contains all other manner of historical oddity:

“Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more” (Prov. 31:6-7).

That shouldn’t stop reasonable people from believing in the Bible, or not, as they choose. In most countries, it is a choice.

The scientific record doesn’t prove or disprove ontology or ultimate origins. We may quest for the origin of the Big Bang, but, by definition, it’s unlikely we’ll ever find any proof, since that would require the ability to look outside the domain of all observable evidence. The strongest causal statement I believe we can make about “intelligent design”, based on the facts in the record, is that there’s no evidence that these chains of events didn’t happen by themselves.

In other words, the scientific community as a whole isn’t making an argument for or against God. The CSC is making war against science. The motivation may be anti-heretical; it may be a bold push for a revocation of the doctrine of separation of church and state. It may be a political power play. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t bode well for education. It doesn’t look pretty.

Dividing America

A closer look at the previously-cited Wedge Strategy should help us divine CSC motivation and goals. Wikipedia cites the following from the CSC manifesto of the same name, “Wedge Strategy”,

… which describes a broad social, political, and academic agenda whose ultimate goal is to “defeat [scientific] materialism” represented by evolution , “reverse the stifling materialist world view and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions” and to “affirm the reality of God.” Its goal is to “renew” American culture by shaping public policy to reflect conservative Christian, namely evangelical Protestant , values.

Elsewhere, we find this:

Phase III. Once our research and writing have had time to mature, and the public prepared for the reception of design theory, we will move toward direct confrontation with the advocates of materialist science through challenge conferences in significant academic settings. We will also pursue possible legal assistance in response to resistance to the integration of design theory into public school science curricula. The attention, publicity, and influence of design theory should draw scientific materialists into open debate with design theorists, and we will be ready. With an added emphasis to the social sciences and humanities, we will begin to address the specific social consequences of materialism and the Darwinist theory that supports it in the sciences.

This vision of our future world isn’t much different in substance from the Taliban or Al-Qaeda fatwa. No wonder it’s described as a manifesto.

Recently, I wrote a different article, on rhetoric and persuasive writing, in which I enumerated my “Hitler principle”: do not attack people unless you have a really compelling reason. So, we have to ask, is this commentary unfairly harsh treatment of the CSC people?

It now becomes clear that the strategic CSC direction goes far beyond civil bounds of discourse and honest differences of opinion. In fact, the CSC battle plan amounts to a grab at the very social and legal mechanisms that permit honest differences of opinion.

The grabbing hand needs to be slapped down. The CSC has since tried to minimize the damaging PR of their top-secret “manifesto”, but it outlines a plan that would necessarily mandate changes to the most fundamental principles of our free society.

For all we know, some individual CSC members may be extraordinarily likeable folk – until you press the wrong buttons.

In discussion of self-declared enemies, it is never charitable to the innocent to avoid stepping on the toes of the offender.

We’ll say it again. If actually successful, the CSC manifesto would spell disaster for science, education, civil liberties, and the advancement, productivity, housing, and feeding of almost seven billion souls aboard Planet Earth. The more you look, there’s nothing benign or divine about it. It’s not pretty at all.

The CSC, Taliban and Ted Kaczynski notwithstanding, the rest of us in this world need to move on with the business of life: raising and educating the children, acquiring and using knowledge and understanding, preserving basic human values like freedom and tolerance, and making the future a better, healthier, safer and happier place we call home.

 

copyright ©Alex Forbes June 9, 2009

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