Friday, August 19, 2005

ID: Strawmen and Silliness

In today's Gainesville Sun, a letter to the editor by someone named Robert Ausband attempts to claim intelligent design as a legitimate scientific endeavor rather than crank science. I wrote a response to the letter, leaning heavily on the website PandasThumb for my information. The man's letter really bothered me, because while I do not teach biology, I do teach history, and I have struggled at times these past two weeks to get some of my students to understand or accept the fact that man has changed since he first appeared, and that the evidence indicates an Earth millions of years old. It is crap like intelligent design that makes my life difficult and closes the minds of students to what science has made obvious. I have no problem with religion, and while I am Catholic, these days I tend toward deism. But even the Catholic Church has accepted the idea of evolution in some form. Anyway, here is my response to the straw arguments and silly claims of Mr. Ausband. Whether it is published by the Sun, I don't know.
Robert Ausband, in his letter to the editor of August 19, comes across as rather misinformed concerning the concept of so-called 'intelligent design.' He argues that there is no relation to religion; in fact, a "broadly theistic understanding of nature" is one of the main goals of the whole ID movement, as evidenced in the Discovery Institute's own 'Wedge Document.' That document lays out a broad strategy for recreating science with an increased emphasis on religion "to replace it [materialistic science] with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions." Please keep in mind that those are the words of the leading ID organization, the Discovery Institute, and not those of critics of the idea. The whole 'Wedge Document' and the strategy behind it can be found at
Mr. Ausband also claims that ID theory is simply an effort to 'fill in the blanks' of evolution theory, and provides examples without bothering to explain them. It must be noted, then, that his example of evoloution theory being unable to 'reconcile the mathematics of information theory with the nearly infinite complexity of the DNA molecule' demonstrates a clear misunderstanding of both. I assume here he is referring to the creation of 'new information' in the form of new genes; the work of Manyuan Long at the University of Chicago, as well as other researchers, has shown that the development of 'new information' is not that difficult and quite common. As for the concept of 'irreducible complexity,' recent research continues to break down the myth. For example, the March 18, 2005 issue of Science has an article discussing the evolution of the swim bladder of a fish, something with according to the theory of irreducible complexity could not have evolved because it would supposedly be useless unless it was in it's present form.
Where Mr. Ausband really misleads readers is when he implies that Stephen Jay Gould, one of the leading advocates of evolutionary theory, rejected evolution prior to his death. In fact, Gould, like most proponents of evolution, had long since argued that the theory of evolution had moved beyond the ideas of Darwin and the 'survival of the fittest.' He was in no way giving credence to the idea an 'intelligent designer.' Truthfully, if science were to accept the idea of intelligent design, it would be the end of science as we know it. After all, if we can not yet explain something, then we can just say, "oh, it was created by an intelligent designer, so let's just forget trying to understand it or explain it."
Finally, let me pose this question: if there is no relationship between religion and intelligent design, then just who does Mr. Ausband believe was the creator, and just what are we supposed to teach students about that creator? If Mr. Ausband believes what he has written, then it would be perfectly acceptable to teach students that the designer was simply an advanced alien architect, not evolution or the Big Bang or a deity. Somehow, I doubt that Mr. Ausband would support that sort of teaching in a science classroom.
(For a detailed discussion of the flaws of intelligent design theory, I suggest checking out the website, which is run by actual scientists in an effort to rebut the claims of both intelligent design and creationism.)
God, I hope one of these days some ID'er comes back from Heaven and reports that in fact, God was an Australopithicene. That would be justice.
(Crossposted by Bostondreamer at Floridablues)
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