Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Intelligent Design: Part 2 of a Trilogy in Four Parts

Sorry, this is rather a long post, but I feel very strongly about the subject matter. I have tried to be succinct and digressions have been kept to a minimum. 

Ahhhhh, to hear the term: ‘Intelligent Design’ (ID) is enough to send me into a mouth frothing, eye-popping, rage with a penchant for laying waste to vast swathes of good arable land with copious amounts of DDT and napalm.
The voices in my head state thusly: “But surely Flaxen, ID is nothing more than a last-ditch attempt by religious fundamentalists to introduce religious doctrine into the science curricula. There to stand erect and proud, and as equal status as a scientifically respectable alternative to evolutionary theory.  Arse bucket”.
Now, I’m a reasonable man. Some folk would describe me as ‘respectable’ (they don’t really know me) and I’m always ready to listen to rational, internally consistent arguments on an array of topics, various. I will, and have, changed my intellectual stance on a topic if persuaded by logical discourse or evidential data. Normally, ridiculous grandiose religious assertions, doctrine and dogma merely raise a lip-curling sneer of disdain from the flaxen-haired one. So why the extreme reaction to ID? What is it about this particular religious attestation that evokes such ardour/ordure? Surely, ID deserves a mere cursory and dismissive glance?  Read on gentle reader and I’ll explain why I’m moved/motivated to display uncharacteristic emotion, in this instance.
ID would be of no consequence, as a doctrine, if it remained in the rarefied world of religious dogma. However, religion in the West has lost so much intellectual respectability and is viewed as irrelevant to an increasingly secular public that religious fundamentalists are becoming increasingly desperate to force a toehold in the real world of education. And herein lies the problem. Advocates of ID promulgate their ideas as ‘scientific’ to be on par with other scientific discoveries. And let me be frank, this is mainly an issue in the USA. Europe and Australasia are not afflicted with this issue, period.
Over the years, Religious fundamentalists have become more devious and adept at insinuating their irrational views on the American public. To a certain extent, they have been successful. Only 49% of Americans believe in natural selection as an evolutionary process in spite of the overwhelming evidence, from multiple sources, of evolution as a natural force inducing biological change over aeons. I find this statistic shocking for a modern, civilised, Western country. What is particularly disturbing and repellent is that the Vice President of the USA, Mike Pence, is a prime mover for the inclusion of ID in the American State Education System. Let us hope, for the American public’s sake that the present president, elect, Donald Trump is not impeached or dies in office. For the saving grace of the American people, we can take heart in the ‘First Amendment’ which guarantees the separation of the Church and State. In response, the ID advocates have tried to inculcate the notion that intelligent design is ‘Real Science’. But this is a gross misinterpretation of what Science actually is and particularly the scientific method.  I’ve stated this before in my blog, but this so important that it is worthy of reiteration, unto a thousand times, if necessary. So here into the breach, I venture, once again.
Science starts with an empirical observation of a natural phenomenon. A hypothesis is made as a way of explanation of said phenomenon. This is where science exhibits its rational strength. A series of challenges are formulated (experiments) to test the veracity of the original postulation. If the data is not in accord with the hypothesis, the hypothesis undergoes modification or is discarded. Importantly, the hypothesis and subsequent test data are published for independent review. Even if the original researchers are adamant as to their original proposal but independent evidence, from multiple sources, is not forthcoming, then the hypothesis is not worthy of incorporation into the canon of ‘knowledge’.  If the hypothesis is found scientifically worthy it will merit the accolade of a ‘theory’. This is not the end of the scientific process. New and ingenious challenges will emerge to challenge the theory…. And so, the process continues anew. According to the esteemed philosopher of science, Karl Popper, all good science should be falsifiable. Here is my response to Popper in a previous post.   
Let us now examine the proposal set forth by the proponents of ID. They start off by stating that the world/universe/life is incredibly, mind bogglingly, complex. I have no problem with this assertion. The next bit is crucial: err, God did it. This is not SCIENCE. No hypothesis, no experimentation and no way of peer review and independent affirmation. No mechanism is forthcoming apart from accepting that an invisible, unknowable supernatural entity caused it to happen by means unknown. This is tantamount to magic and should be dismissed accordingly. Perhaps it has a place in religious classes but it has no right of inclusion in biology curricula as a scientific alternative to evolutionary theory. When asked to supply a ‘mechanism’ for ID, its adherents undertake an indirect tack/attack and try to undermine the mechanistic nature of the scientific system as a mean for formulating knowledge. Considering the success (a veritable understatement) of Science with regard to our understanding of the ‘real world’ and the development of technology, ID’s stance is clearly ridiculous. The hypocrisy is there for everyone to see: Proponents of ID try to undermine the scientific method while advocating ID as a form of ‘science’. O da irony! 
Because the ‘ID lobby’ is aggressively pursuing their agenda in an increasingly hysterical manner warrants enough cause for rational folk to view ID as a threat to American Public Education System, especially as ID supporters have allies in high administrative places. Luckily, prominent luminary scientists are well aware of the impending danger and are throwing their substantial influence and intellectual weight into thwarting ID’s nefarious and lubricious tactics.   
I’m optimistic as to the ultimate outcome. Science will triumph again as it always has, eventually, against primitive and soundly illogical concepts. And yea, for this we should be eminently thankful and grateful to the majestic power of Science.       


  1. A little over-assertive, I feel.

    (1) Science is undoubtedly powerful but much of its power is founded on philosophical liberalism, that is, accepting that knowledge is provisional. In keeping with this approach, Bertrand Russell said he could not assert the non-existence of God but that he thought the probability of the existence of a divine being was very small.

    (2) Science does not explain everything, and as far as existence is concerned cannot (I think) do so, even in theory. Leibniz' question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" cannot be answered by reference to the matter, energy and space-time of the Universe without circular reasoning (even explaining it in terms of some unobservable multiverse does not get around it.)

    Perhaps adherents of both sides of this argument should be less shrill.

    Btw scientists themselves can have irrational loyalty to particular theories - as Thomas Kuhn showed in his paper "The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions." Or indeed in the Global Cooling / Global Warming / Climate Change debate.

    1. First of all, MrS, I would like to thank you for your thought-provoking reply. I’ve had to couch my reply in several portions due to the inability of the comment system to cope with lengthy replies.
      PART 1.To tackle your points in some sort of order, possibly:
      Knowledge through induction is indeed provisional. I did not assert that science can formulate absolute knowledge, only logic and mathematics can do this. Theists often make a grave error when it comes to the ‘Atheistic Stance’. They ascribe it as a ‘belief system’ when it is not; it is a negation of belief. The onus of proof is not with the atheist, the burden is always with the individual who proposes a positive belief. Thus, in the same way I would describe myself as an ‘afairyist’ or ‘aunicornist’. Generally, there is little debate with regard to these mythic entities, a few nutters aside. The importance of the debate with reference to deities is that a substantial proportion of the world population belief in god(s). As an aside, theists often ascribe attributes to atheists which are unwarranted. Thus, they will assert that atheists are communists and immoral/amoral. Then as a way of indirectly attacking atheism they will attack these attributes. While it is true that some atheists are amoral and some are communists, these characteristics are not immutably shackled to atheism. The only thing to be inferred when someone says they are atheistic is that they have no belief in supernatural deities; that’s it. Whatever, I might have in common with other atheists awaits further information.
      Russell asserted the classic agnostic position that if we are to be intellectually consistent then nothing can be completely ruled out. Therefore, just because a blue fine bone teapot orbiting the earth has never been observed doesn’t mean there isn’t one out there. A prudent individual would say that the odds are almost vanishingly small and speak of it no more. This is the essence of induction and part of the scientific method and a characteristic extensively covered by David Hume. But I would argue that a belief in god(s) does not belong to the same category. By definition, gods are supernatural entities. They lie outside our natural order of things. Again, by definition, supernatural realms, if they exist, are unknowable to natural entities within the natural world- this is the very essence of difference between the natural and supernatural. Science concerns itself with the study of the natural world. We can’t study something that cannot be interacted with. My point in essence: even if god existed, we can never have any knowledge of this existence. Therefore, for all intents and purposes this is tantamount to non-existence and not subject to probability or the method of science.

    2. PART 2,
      With regard to your statement: “Science does not explain everything, and as far as existence is concerned”. You are correct. You need to factor in the power of deduction. However, science continues to add to its discoveries. Perhaps, science will never uncover everything, but it is the only viable method we have for uncovering new empirical knowledge. This is all we have for understanding our natural world. There is no third epistemological way. We have deduction and empirical induction as the only tools for understanding our world. If you have found a new epistemological method- I’m all agog.
      Theology, is not science. Just because a theologist states that theology can perform ‘science’ does not make it so. The basis of theology is to support a belief in god regardless of lack of evidence or evidence to the contrary. This is in no way science.
      Indeed, scientists can have an irrational attachment to scientific theories especially if they devised them. This an expression of human psychology and is very understandable. The great thing about science is that it is self-correcting; bad theories wither, good theories remain. And this will apply to theories of dark matter and energy- let’s wait and see.
      If I appear shrill it is because I’m passionate about knowledge and the means to it. I’m also passionate about dispelling irrational bollocks whenever encountered. Oops, sorry if my reply is overlong but I thought your pertinent contribution required a thorough response.

    3. Glad you took my comments in the right spirit. Logic and science leaves us a range of degrees of agnosticism and as I said there is at least one question (Leibniz's) that appears to admit of no scientific answer. As Wittgenstein said, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

      I think your second cartoon needs to be re-drawn: a State that has all the power of Science in its service needs something to stop becoming a nightmare. People beavering away across the world, refining viruses, microbes, gases, nuclear weapons... we're just not wise enough to handle all that.

      Trouble is, what ethical foundations can we have? If Hume is right and we cannot derive an "ought" from an "is", then right and wrong are merely expressions of feeling and a powerful State will manipulate and ignore them to its heart's content.

    4. Please forgive the late reply, I've only just noted your intriguing comment.
      First off, whilst a form of doubt (?agnostism) could legitimately be applied to science, this cannot apply to mathematics and logic. Logic and maths give absolute knowledge and if the analysis is correct, cannot be refuted, ever.
      Genuine science is not self policing. Scientists will do science for good or ill. Science does not recognise moral judgement. And to be honest, scientists should not be burdened with this stricture. Therefore, it is important/incumbant that there are independent agencies to monitor scientific progress. Scientists may resent interference in their work, but on balance, there has to be 'balance'. If we want to continue to live in a 'civilised' society there has to be independent checks and limits. As you are aware, government desires to control and will not give ground unless forced to relent. History is replete with actions by the people to force redress and undue government excess. Restrictive government only retreats when challenged, often by blood. Sadly, this is a universal truism.

  2. P.S. It is also an error to think that religion is solely or even mainly concerned with scientific questions. Even had he known about them, I don't think Jesus would have concerned himself about dinosaurs.

  3. P.P.S. What's the odds of the theories around "dark matter" and "dark energy" being chucked overboard sometime, rather like the old concept of "ether"? There's quite an academic industry being built around them at the moment, e.g.:


    - I can't wait for the equivalent of a new Mitchelson-Morley experiment.

  4. Perhaps the American Public Education System (APES) needs an upgrade to Maths And Natural Science(MANS)?

  5. Fascinating. Eloquent. I was about to go to bed but decided on a glass of wine and a reread (or two). Thank you for this and the subsequent discussion.

    1. I always enjoy engaging readers with well thought out comments.

  6. Whoever designed my body was not intelligent.
    Or maybe the intelligent designers are like those I have worked with.
    "That is the budget gone. Just go with what we have got. We can fix it on the next contract."
    I am the beta model.

    1. This is a good argument for not accepting 'Intelligent Design'. Consider how flawed the positioning of the optic nerve and prostate gland are. My gland waxes and wanes with the seasons......

  7. Robert the Biker11 January 2019 at 02:04

    I think a lot of the problem is the inability of people nowadays to accept a differing viewpoint. It's as though you must be either a full blown Godbotherer with a frothing swivel eyed manner and a frequently expressed desire to burn heretics (everyone who doesn't think like me) at the stake OR you are a full blown science Nazi who is a frothing swivel eyed lunatic who wants to burn heretics (global warming deniers) at the stake. There is no agree to disagree anymore. While I would agree about scientific method, more than a few scientists will cling on to a pet theory at all costs, even, or particularly when, it has been shown up - cold fusion anyone? I think, with you, that Intelligent Design as currently expressed is a load of cockwaffle, but that is mostly because its protagonists are loons. There is also a theory called 'irreducible complexity' which is far more fascinating, Fred Reed (Fred on Everything) did an article a while back about the chemical reactions necessary to turn a photons impact on the eye into a signal to the brain, vastly complex and not easily reduced.

    1. Good morning Robert from sunny New Zealand. The following points are espoused in the spirit of robust debate.
      People are passionate, the scientific method is dispassionate. The objectivity of science is its saving grace in a world full of flawed, psychologically complex humans. The cold fusion case is a very good example. As I recall, the announcement that Fleischmann and Pons had discovered ‘cold fusion’ took the world by storm. Scientists then scrabbled back to their labs and tried to repeat the published protocol. Multiple attempts could not replicate the original findings thus the production of cold fusion, by this methodology, was considered false. Regardless of how passionate the original researchers were, their work simply could not satisfy the basic tenets of the scientific method. There is a common misconception that scientists are soulless calculating machines, devoid of emotion. Clearly, this is not the case, scientists are subject to all human foibles. Undoubtedly, the image of the ‘scientist’ as being odd/eccentric/socially inept /mad has an element of truth, leastways with a significant minority of scientists.
      With regard to accepting differing viewpoints. When it comes to concepts aspiring to be accepted as real knowledge, I would say this- not all viewpoints are equal. I agree we should listen to other views but then judge the content according to the following: is what is said internally consistent (without contradiction) and consistent with what is known as established knowledge. Thereafter, we make our judgement. Any concept advanced without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. Likewise, any claims which appeal to the supernatural can be summarily discarded. Do humans actually act like this? I agree, probably not many. We are a bag of prejudices, natural inclinations and a whole gamut of psychological baggage not easily disassembled. Not a problem when we are listening to someone hold forth over a BBQ about why they believe in ghosts. It becomes important when a ‘practitioner’ is trying to persuade a cancer patient that eschewing conventional medical treatment and relying on spiritual healing is going to effect a cure. We need to activate ‘critical faculty’ when we are dealing with important decision which affect our lives in a significant manner.

    2. Robert the Biker18 January 2019 at 06:15

      There is a joke
      “If the data contradict your hypothesis, discard the data! Your grant may depend on it.”
      Global Warming!
      All the Polar Bears are gonna die - was 12 thousand, now 25 thousand, but we'll ignore that because it doesn't fit our narrative
      Oh, look at our graph, well, yes, we had to alter some of the input values because the answer was coming out WRONG!
      Oh yes, we can say exactly what the climate will be in 100 tears time, no idea if it will rain on Tuesday!
      Science, in some fields at least, has become politicised and monetised, keep to the narrative and you get the grant and the approval, say anything off message and you're a denier and a hater.
      You seen that shit with the Nobel Laureate (Wilson?) who came out with the perfectly true and demonstrable fact that black Africans suffered from a lower IQ and this caused many of the issues on that continent, instant pearl clutching and stripping of honours. I'll believe in the integrity of some, not all, of these people when I see some.

    3. Good morning Robert and greetings from the Antipodes. Interestingly I was discussing the very topics you raised with an old friend just the other day. Do you have a listening device rigged in my place of abode? The climate change phenomenon and receiving funding is real. My friend was bemoaning the fact that his three previous applications for funding research had been rejected. In the fourth instance he managed to insert the magic words, ‘climate change’ and as if by magic he received funding. Tis enough to make you cynical.
      The race and IQ issue are highly politically charged and some feel that we should not be doing research into this area. However, science should be impartial and no area of endeavour open to the scientific method should be taboo. There does appear to be differences in IQ between races and consistently African blacks score the worst together with Australian Aborigines. South-East Asians and Ashkenazi Jews perform the best. From a genetic perspective this difference is to be expected in the same way other inheritable features vary between the races. Take height for example. People expressing these views are attacked by folk with an agenda which overtakes and tries to drown out the scientifically valid results. A simple Gogle search will unearth the venom involved in the debate.

  8. Robert the Biker21 January 2019 at 10:22

    Pay no attention to the strange hum from your toaster, it's a figment of your imagination ....: )
    I see what you mean about the race and IQ issue, but what bugs me is that the same people who have the vapours and attacks of virtue signalling and pearl clutching are the same ones who expect us to send ever larger sums to the basket case that is Africa. Now I have worked with more than a few Africans, mostly Nigerian as I'm in Oil and Gas, they were splendid people, occasionally splendidly lazy or splendidly corrupt, but generally ok after you had explained that as it was their oil, it was themselves they were ripping off, not me or the company. Thing was, if you took them out of their tribal society and put them in, say, London, they were all at sea. I think this is a lot to do with this question of IQ, IQ is not intelligence as such, it is more the power to reason out a problem; Whites have it, Jews have it, Asians have it, Blacks not so much! Whites, Jews and Asians have all done well in and out of Africa; despite much bollocks about Colonialism, Rhodesia under White rule fed Southern Africa, under Black rule, Zimbabwe is a basket case. I think it's a different kind of reasoning, give an Abo a sharp stick, put him in the middle of a desert and an hour later he's sitting down to roast kangaroo. Stick him in a city, he's a hopeless drunk in an hour.