“The Latest Face of Creationism in the Classroom”

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This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series Is ID Creationism?


Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott write in a Scientific American article dated today,

Creationists who want religious ideas taught as scientific fact in public schools continue to adapt to courtroom defeats by hiding their true aims under ever changing guises

Such is the expected stance from leaders of the National Center for Science Education, which would be more aptly named the National Center for Serving up Evolution. The burden of their message is this: Creationism hasn’t changed in any way since the 1920s. It has only “thinly disguised” itself “with a fake mustache.” Intelligent Design is creationism; creationism (today) is Intelligent Design.

Conspiracies can be so scintillating, and a conspiracy is what Branch and Scott see here. They see conspiracy behind the recent Louisiana legislation on science education, which was designed to

“create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied,” which includes providing “support and guidance for teachers regarding effective ways to help students understand, analyze, critique, and objectively review scientific theories being studied.”

First asking “what’s not to like” about that, Branch and Scott go on to see dark things in it indeed:

[L]urking in the background of the law is creationism, the rejection of a scientific explanation of the history of life in favor of a supernatural account involving a personal creator. Indeed, to mutate Dobzhansky’s dictum, nothing about the Louisiana law makes sense except in the light of creationism.

Most of the rest of the article is about creationism lurking everywhere.

Rhetoric is a blunt weapon, and in many cases, the blunter the better. A clear, sharp definition of the terms used here would not have served Branch and Scott’s purpose at all. What is creationism? They don’t say (but it’s lurking everywhere!). What is it about creationism that’s so awful? They’re more clear on that: it disputes evolution, and it proposes the possibility of a Creator. (Watch out! It’s after you!) In the end it’s going to get you:

Moreover, it is a dangerous lie…. Students who are not given the chance to acquire a proper understanding of evolution will not achieve a basic level of scientific literacy. And scientific literacy will be indispensable for workers, consumers and policymakers in a future dominated by medical, biotechnological and environmental concerns. (Emphasis added.)

Let me note in passing the lie (shall I call it a dangerous lie?) contained there. There are no responsible spokespersons or leaders in the Intelligent Design movement who want to deny anyone a chance to acquire a proper understanding of evolution. I’ve been urging my own son and daughter to learn it better than their classmates. But oh! there’s an awful risk–the risk that some might not believe! It cannot be worth taking, can it? There may be advantages, yes, in students learning “critical thinking skills” and “logical analysis,” and the ability to “understand, analyze, critique, and objectively review scientific theories.” But stand that up against the possibility that they might not believe everything about evolution, and those advantages begin to look pretty small. Critical thinking and analytical understanding are okay in their own way, but belief in evolution (not just knowledge, but unquestioning, unblinking, unchallenged belief) is more important by far. Yes, sir, that’s how we keep science advancing! Make sure everybody believes everything the prior generation believed, and make sure they never hear about any dissent!

After all, as Branch and Scott assure us, “Allowing teachers to instill scientifically unwarranted doubts about evolution is clearly beyond the pale.” Really, now. It’s bad, sick, immoral, and unconscionable! Well, my, my! It certainly wouldn’t do to reveal that where textbooks say such-and-such “could have” or “might have” happened to bring about the first life, what they really mean is “nobody in the whole world has the vaguest trace of an idea how the first life originated, or could even possibly have done so just by natural means.” That would be instilling “unwarranted doubts,” wouldn’t it?

But I’m letting myself get sidetracked here. What I really want to know is how Branch and Scott define “creationism.” If we’re going to drive a whole world’s education policy by reference to such a dangerous concept, we ought to know what the concept is and what’s dangerous about it. Creationism was once a pretty useful word, a word that actually had a reliable and useful definition. It stood for a full constellation of ideas, including:

  1. Adherence to the Judeo-Christian scriptures, especially Genesis
  2. A relatively young earth (thousands or at most tens of thousands of years old)
  3. Catastrophism (the Noahic flood) as an explanation for fossils
  4. Reliance on a certain literal reading of Genesis as source and guide for research and conclusions about the natural world
  5. Rejection of common ancestry of species; all species were created separately

Now if Intelligent Design is creationism in disguise, it is quite an effective disguise indeed. But then a good conspiracy theorist can always see through these things. See how perceptive they are: they’re wise enough to see that Intelligent Design is really creationism, even though ID specifically rejects or at least sets to the side every one of these five creationist tenets.

I’m a Christian; I believe in the truth of Genesis. I hold to Item 1 on the above list, yet I know that some ID proponents do not. I do not hold to a young-earth interpretation of Genesis or of nature, however. I think the fossils are best explained by gradual processes. My interpretation of Genesis, tentatively and non-dogmatically, is more along the lines of the Framework theory, which takes some of Genesis 1 and 2 to have a figurative rather than a plain literal intent. And with regard to #5, my mind is open; I don’t claim to know. I believe in Creation: does that make me a creationist? Not by its usual definition.

>Could creationism’s definition be broadened to include people like me? Certainly! You could say a creationist is any person who believes that God created, without respect to the methods, timelines, or processes involved. But then, if we’re going to be honest with it, we also need to be honest with how we employ the term rhetorically. You see, there’s a reason, other than conspiracy theorizing, that Branch and Scott (and Pennock and Gross and others) keep harping on that “creationism” term. It’s because the scientific evidence lines up so strongly against young earth theories, catastrophism, and so on. Creationism (as in the 5-point definition above) has been discredited; its reputation is poor.

ID and creationism have two things in common, conceptually: they both challenge evolutionism, and they both challenge scientific materialism. In both senses they challenge the reigning dogma. How convenient it is for these defenders of dogma to attach ID to an old, discredited idea; even though the new idea shares little if anything in common with the specific areas in which the old one has been found wanting.

Never mind that a few facts get distorted along the way; never mind that the whole of Intelligent Design is being misrepresented and distorted in the process.

Conspiracy hunters who distort reality to that extent usually get labeled as kooks. They’re in the majority this time, so that protects them from disreputable branding. Being in the majority doesn’t make them right, though. Creationism in its rhetorically useful (for evolutionists) form, the form in which they want you to think of it, is not Intelligent Design; and ID is not creationism of that sort.

A final note as I close. I’ve said this often, and I’ll repeat it yet one more time. I’m probably undercutting ID’s own best strategy by pointing any of this out. As long as ID opponents fight a form of ID that doesn’t exist in reality, they’re not even in touch with the real battle. Branch and Scott are off fighting a war of their own imagining. Maybe I shouldn’t point that out to them; but then, if they ever did come over and address what ID really is, things might actually get a lot more interesting, and a lot more productive besides.

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31 Responses to “ “The Latest Face of Creationism in the Classroom” ”

  1. ID and creationism have two things in common, conceptually: they both challenge evolutionism, and they both challenge scientific materialism. In both senses they challenge the reigning dogma. How convenient it is for these defenders of dogma to attach ID to an old, discredited idea; even though the new idea shares little if anything in common with the specific areas in which the old one has been found wanting.

    Here’s some facts about intelligent design creationism. In 1987 the Supreme Court ruled that “creation science” is a religious belief, not science, and it can’t be taught in a public school biology class. After 1987, “creation science” was renamed to “intelligent design”. In 2005 a federal court ruled that “intelligent design” is a religious belief, not science, and it can’t be taught in a public school biology class.

    I suggest, instead of trying to defend intelligent design creationism, or whatever other magical creation myth you prefer, and instead of complaining about evolutionary biology, why not study the discoveries of 21st century biologists? Why not find out why virtually every biologist in the world agrees with this famous quote: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”

    When you complain about modern science you disgrace your religion and you scare educated young people away from your religion. Any religion that requires the rejection of modern science has to go extinct eventually.

    I doubt you are interested in molecular biology, but if you want you can click my name to see a short video about it.

  2. It certainly wouldn’t do to reveal that where textbooks say such-and-such “could have” or “might have” happened to bring about the first life, what they really mean is “nobody in the whole world has the vaguest trace of an idea how the first life originated, or could even possibly have done so just by natural means.”

    The evidence for biological evolution, which began after the first simple living cells developed almost four billion years ago, is massive and powerful. Evolution is a scientific fact.

    There’s still no scientific consensus on how the first simple life appeared. I would bet there’s still a lot of unanswered questions, also known as research opportunities.

    Fortunately scientists are not giving up working on this interesting branch of science. They are not saying “This is too hard. Let’s just invoke God to explain it and find something else to do.”

    Instead they are working on it, and they have made a lot of progress.

    For more information please click my name again to see another video.

  3. Thank you for your comments, Bobxxxx. I have to note, however, that they fit an all-too-common pattern. I write a post about a specific issue within the evolution/ID debate, and I get a generic “ID people are idiots” answer, paying little attention to the actual content of the post.

    “Intelligent Design Creationism:” thank you for demonstrating once again how these terms get rhetorically twisted together. Are you able to distinguish the two at all? That was, after all—did you notice?—the main question raised in this post.

    I’m familiar with the court rulings of which you speak. I think Judge Jones in 2005 was wrong in that aspect of his decision. I do not look to the courts as ultimate arbiters of what counts as science or as religion. It’s not their place, and really, they can’t settle questions like these. Judge Jones was foolish to think how could make a pronouncement on that issue that would stand the test of time. If this question is ever settled, it will be in journals, debates, conferences, and discussions over the course of years.

    You err when you assume I have not studied biology. You misread what I wrote, even. You err when you assume I have not learned why biologists line up behind Darwin. I have studied that–and I have drawn my conclusions. I think they’re wrong, for deep philosophical reasons. The scientific evidence continues to come in, but the framework in which the evidence is generally interpreted is rigid, dogmatic, and philosophically flawed in its insistence on philosophical naturalism.

    If I’m scaring people away from religion by standing for the possibility that God had a hand in natural history, then that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

    I’ll look at your video. Thanks for the link.

  4. There’s still no scientific consensus on how the first simple life appeared. I would bet there’s still a lot of unanswered questions, also known as research opportunities.

    Fortunately scientists are not giving up working on this interesting branch of science. They are not saying “This is too hard. Let’s just invoke God to explain it and find something else to do.”

    If you’re only going to “bet” that “there’s still a lot of unanswered questions,” then you know less about the field than you portray yourself as knowing.

    And do you have any actual evidence that people who believe in God give up on science because of that belief? That’s a theory with no backing; rather an unscientific one in that respect, I should say.

  5. And the first video has an almost comical stage in it beginning at about 4 1/2 minutes. The slide says “evolution is testable,” and supports that by showing that humans and chimps have corresponding ERV genes in corresponding locations on our chromosomes. That’s a fair observation, and undoubtedly we must take it into account in the conclusions we draw about common ancestry.

    The funny part is on the next slide. It says, “could this be a coincidence?” Of course not, it says. For it to be a coincidence, the ancestors of humans and chimpanzees would have had to have the same ERV inserted separately in the same chromosomal locations. It goes on to say the odds against this happening by chance are truly astronomical.

    So evolution is testable, in that it’s the only interpretation that makes sense, as long as you assume humans and chimps had ancestors of other species, and (far worse, as far as the ID debate is concerned) as long as you’re comparing it to pure chance interpretations.

    Note, however, that common descent may be compatible with ID, so although I find this episode to be a terrific display of flawed logic, the conclusion of common descent may still be correct under better reasoning than this.

  6. Intelligent Design Creationism:” thank you for demonstrating once again how these terms get rhetorically twisted together. Are you able to distinguish the two at all?

    There is Bible creationism and there’s intelligent design creationism, and there’s countless other creation myths. They have differences but those differences are not as important as the one thing they all have in common. All these myths, whatever scientific sounding names they have, invoke supernatural magic.

    For example everyone knows the designer of intelligent design is a supernatural god fairy. Everyone knows there’s nothing scientific about invoking supernatural magic. What bugs me is the non-scientists of the Discovery Institute, who have never discovered anything, don’t want to talk about who the designer is. They don’t want to admit the designer is a magic god fairy because they are dishonestly trying to pretend their intelligent design magic is scientific.

    The funny part is on the next slide. It says, “could this be a coincidence?” Of course not, it says. For it to be a coincidence, the ancestors of humans and chimpanzees would have had to have the same ERV inserted separately in the same chromosomal locations. It goes on to say the odds against this happening by chance are truly astronomical.

    I think maybe you misunderstand what the video is saying.

    Fact: there are at least 16 ERVs located in the exact same locations in the genome of people and chimps.

    Fact: ERVs are inherited.

    Fact: Those 16 ERVs found in both people and chimps, and that appear in the exact same location of both species, were inherited from the same ancestors.

    It would be impossible for both humans and chimps to have 16 ERVs in the exact same locations unless a common ancestor had these same ERVs in the same locations. By impossible I mean it would be so unlikely it would be like winning the highest prize of a lottery every week for 16 weeks in a row. Virtually all people who buy lottery tickets every week never win the highest prize in their entire lives. Probably no person in the world has been so lucky twice. And of course nobody has or ever will win millions of dollars in a lottery 16 times in their life.

    I’m wondering, do you deny we are distant cousins of the other ape species? If yes, are you sure you want to continue denying that after watching this video?

    And do you have any actual evidence that people who believe in God give up on science because of that belief?

    I noticed religious biologists are rare. However there are religious biologists. Virtually all of these religious biologists accept evolution as fact, and virtually all of them do not invoke God to invent, create, guide, or use evolution. They know evolution is a natural process and they know there’s nothing theistic about it.

    Religion and science are two completely different subjects and they must never be mixed together. Science has only natural explanations. Religions deal with supernatural ideas. Religious scientists know they have to leave their Bible bias at the door when they are in the lab. A scientist can’t say “Here a miracle occurred” or “Here I’m invoking an intelligent designer’s magic tricks”. That’s not science and every competent scientist know that, whether they are religious or not.

    Judge Jones was foolish to think how could make a pronouncement on that issue that would stand the test of time. If this question is ever settled, it will be in journals, debates, conferences, and discussions over the course of years.

    There is no debate in the scientific community about the basic facts of evolutionary biology. It is settled. All life evolved and branched out from common ancestors. No competent biologist denies this fact. The video I provided explains evidence that’s extremely powerful and impossible to deny, but this evidence is only a tiny fraction of the massive evidence for evolution that continues to grow every day.

  7. They have differences but those differences are not as important as the one thing they all have in common.

    I don’t think you’re paying the slightest attention to the differences; you’re falling for your own rhetorical trick! It’s not smart to use a trap on someone else when you haven’t even acknowledged to yourself what it is.

    For example everyone knows the designer of intelligent design is a supernatural god fairy.

    Rhetoric, intended to disturb. Not intended to communicate logic, but to disturb. Not helpful, my friend. Not helpful to you, for that matter: read the last paragraph of my original post here. You’re not engaging the genuine discussion.

    Everyone knows there’s nothing scientific about invoking supernatural magic.

    But not everyone “knows” that unscientific means necessarily false. (I’ll pass by your next attempt at a rhetorical trap here: “magic.”)

    They don’t want to admit the designer is a magic god fairy because they are dishonestly trying to pretend their intelligent design magic is scientific.

    Well, I think the DI is ahead of you on this one. They can tell when they’re doing science and when they are not, they know the difference between science and other modes of inquiry, and they know when each is valid to employ. I’ve outlined it myself here.

    I think maybe you misunderstand what the video is saying.

    The logical flaw I pointed it was a logical flaw, and fairly comical in context of the larger debate over the truth of naturalistic evolution vs. other opinions about origins. You make the same mistake:

    It would be impossible for both humans and chimps to have 16 ERVs in the exact same locations unless a common ancestor had these same ERVs in the same locations. By impossible I mean it would be so unlikely it would be like winning the highest prize of a lottery every week for 16 weeks in a row.

    It’s an impossibility under assumptions of chance, as you put it here (again). So that leaves us with at least two viable options: evolution or intention (i.e., design). This argument has absolutely no force against the design argument whatever!

    As to common descent, I’ve already written about my views on that. I think common descent might very likely be the explanation for the ERV patterns noted in the video. The evolution/ID debate is not over common descent, though; it’s about whether design was involved.

    I noticed religious biologists are rare.

    I have a post on that ready to go up on the blog tomorrow morning. Here’s a short answer in the meantime: correlation does not equal causation: is it religion that keeps biology at arm’s length, or is it the biological community that keeps religious believers at arm’s length? I have several very religious physicist and chemist friends. I have several Christian friends who work for NASA as literal rocket scientists. I don’t know why they didn’t choose biology as a profession, but they stand as strong evidence that believing in God does not limit natural curiosity.

    There is no debate in the scientific community about the basic facts of evolutionary biology.

    Really? Well, if you’ll note what I said (a request I’ll repeat here once again), I said this would be a matter of several years’ work, not to be accomplished by judges behind benches. It is my prediction that 10 to 20 years from now, the debate will still be roiling and will have moved to the center of academia. There will be tenured professors publishing on ID, and the matter will most obviously not be settled.

    I recognize that for what it is: a prediction, not able to be shown true or false right now. But give it some time…

  8. You’re welcome. I gladly admit any comment here that meets the discussion policies, and I’m willing to take the risk involved in letting comments show up immediately, and make determinations after the fact regarding ones that cross the line. Violations have been rare, thankfully. I appreciate the tone with which you are approaching this discussion of ours.

    Although I think your use of rhetorical traps like “magic god fairy” is rather iffy, I also rather think it hurts you more than it does someone like me on the other side of the debate, so I’m just pointing it out and otherwise not giving it much thought or worry.

  9. It is my prediction that 10 to 20 years from now, the debate will still be roiling and will have moved to the center of academia.

    What debate? I visit science blogs and I have never once seen two biologists debating the basic facts of evolution. There might be a debate among non-scientists about evolution, but who cares about them?

    The Discovery Institute published a list of more than 700 scientist who don’t love evolution. There are almost zero biologists on that list. The handful of biologists on that list have never contributed anything important to biology. When people on that list die, they are not removed from the list. When people on that list ask to be removed, they are not removed. Many of these scientists are not scientists at all. Instead they are engineers or medical doctors. Even if all 700 were real living scientists they would only represent a tiny fraction of the world’s scientists, much closer than 0% of scientists than 1% of scientists.

    The reason virtually every single biologist in the world accepts evolution (without intelligent design intervention) is because the evidence for it is massive.

    The evolution/ID debate is not over common descent, though; it’s about whether design was involved.

    Again, there is no debate, unless you want to count the small handful of fake scientists who prefer intelligent design magic instead of scientific explanations.

    You keep calling your supernatural magic “design”. Do you seriously think you are fooling anyone? Even creationists know what design is. Even creationists know who the designer is. Design is a just a fancy word for God’s magic tricks and the designer is God. Even the lawyers of the Discovery Institute know the designer is God, but they say “It doesn’t matter who the designer is, it could even be an alien” and then they wonder why biologists laugh at them.

    I think common descent might very likely be the explanation for the ERV patterns noted in the video.

    Not bad, but it would be more accurate to say “common descent is the only possible explanation for ERVs in identical locations in more than one species.”

    I would like to talk about the real reason intelligent design was invented after the 1987 Supreme Court decision against creation science. The Discovery Institute will deny this, but they are a Christian creationist organization. They are mostly interested in what they want to do to America’s science education. They want to destroy it. They want to make students think there’s some controversy in the scientific community about the basic facts of evolution, even though that’s not true. They get their income from Christian creationists who don’t want some biology teacher telling their students that they’re cousins of chimps. The Christians know evolution threatens their religious beliefs and that’s why they want to suppress or dumb down the teaching of evolution. They don’t care that they are trying to destroy everyone’s education, including students who would rather understand science than cling to an ancient magical creation myth.

    I suggest Christians who would become mentally disturbed if their God didn’t create life should keep their religious ideas in their churches and out of our schools. Disguising magical creation by calling it intelligent design and then trying to sneak their disguised religious belief into biology classes is disgusting and these theocrats should be ashamed of themselves.

  10. They are mostly interested in what they want to do to America’s science education. They want to destroy it.

    Ahh, the conspiracy theory again.

    I suggest Christians who would become mentally disturbed if their God didn’t create life should keep their religious ideas in their churches and out of our schools. Disguising magical creation by calling it intelligent design and then trying to sneak their disguised religious belief into biology classes is disgusting and these theocrats should be ashamed of themselves.

    And the rhetoric! Amazing.

    What debate, you ask? As I said, time will tell. You’re absolutely right in this much: the debate right now is being held (note the intentional ambiguity there) outside the centers of science. I think it will find its way in, not too long from now. Maybe 5 years, maybe 20. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. If I’m right, you’ll find you’ve been waving your rhetorical swords at the wrong dragon. As I have said often, those who want to contest Intelligent Design would be well advised to contest the real thing, and not the rhetorical version of their own imagining.

    I know I’ll never convince you that ID is true; I’m not one who could possibly do that. I would be content just to persuade you to deal with it for what it is, not what others suppose it to be. But if I don’t succeed in that, that’s okay too: you can keep waving your sword wherever you like. If it’s not swinging at the genuine version of Intelligent Design, then we ID proponents have that much less to worry about, don’t we?

  11. Two things:

    1) I’ve got a degree in physics and work in healthcare. I can’t fathom how knowledge of, much less belief in, macroevolution would change either field of study for me.

    2) As you demonstrate above, old earth ID-ers and young earth creationists have almost nothing in common on this issue. What they have in common is a belief in the supernatural that creates purpose and responsibility. That’s what Scott et al dislike.

    Given that we now have atheist “churches,” I wonder if we can get naturalism declared a religious tenet that cannot be taught in schools 🙂

  12. Bobxxxx,

    I don’t know what you do for a living, or how much you actually know about biology, but I think you’re doing the ID movement a great service by engaging this discussion in the way you have. ID proponents note how their detractors use bad logic, inflammatory rhetoric, and circular reasoning. You’re proving it here.

    For instance:

    No competent biologist denies this fact.

    Again, there is no debate, unless you want to count the small handful of fake scientists who prefer intelligent design magic instead of scientific explanations.

    Ahh, how convenient for you. Anyone who doesn’t reject ID outright is a “fake scientist”. That’s a great tactic, one that’s sure to do two things: 1) keep you from ever having to weigh a contradictory opinion and 2) take away every ounce of force behind any argument you try to make about the science behind ID. Why should I listen to your opinion on ID when you’re ready to brush off everyone who disagrees with you out of hand?

    As Tom noted, even your own examples show that you’re not willing to consider the impact of your own assumptions. Logically, there is another possibility to consider in the DNA similarities you noted. Yes, they’d be fantastically improbable if the organisms weren’t related by a common ancestor. Then again, that might just as well be evidence of deliberate design as common descent.

    You probably haven’t given this much thought, but consider this as well: part of ID’s strength is in the problem of abiogenesis. You’re ready to declare the DNA similarities as impossibly improbable, so are you going to do the same with naturalistic origins for life? If not, then that’s just one more great talking point you’re handing to ID.

    All in all, I think you need to take those who disagree with you more seriously before you start mouthing off about how belief in “…a supernatural god fairy…” has blinded people to reality. You did exactly what Tom said ID critics do – you closed your mind and your eyes before you opened your mouth.

    If you’re going to reject everyone who take ID seriously as non-scientific, then you’re not doing it on the basis of empirical data or research, you’re doing it on the basis of personal distaste. Call that what you want, it’s not science. I guess, using your own words, that’s why you’ve given no reason why anyone here should take your opinion on science seriously. After all, prejudice isn’t science, and

    There might be a debate among non-scientists about evolution, but who cares about them?

  13. Hi Tom,

    I’m a bit late to this discussion, but I thought I would jump in and try to temper your response to the article by Branch and Scott. It’s often tempting to try and frame this issue in terms of religious freedom, philosophical claims, and the like. But Branch and Scott, like myself, are more concerned with things at the nuts-and-bolts level.

    Fact is, there are no (none whatsoever) positive experimental results that call into question that all life shares a common ancestry, and that the diversity of life on earth is a result of descent with modification, of natural selection (and random drift) acting on naturally-occurring genetic and phenotypic variability. This is what is true, and this is what students should learn. (I know that some may disagree with what I say; however, I know for a fact that my claim can be backed up, and any critic who tries to argue with me on this point will lose. Take that as a challenge!)

    A teacher who claims otherwise is incompetent, or dishonest, or both. Branch and Scott are of the opinion that incompetence and dishonesty do not belong in the science class (and I agree with them); this is quite apart from the supposed intrusion of religion. Moreover, they are asserting that the new wave of antievolutionism, ID, is nothing more than the old wave, YECism. And when it comes to what the ID camp claims is the “science”, they are correct – you cannot find a single, solitary thought in the ID camp that was not a staple of YEC antievolutionism in the past. And every single anti-evolution claim is wrong, either in its representation of the facts or in the constriction of the logical argument.

    So, in a nutshell, the bottom line is not really about religion or philosophy (although it is often portrayed this way). It’s more basic, about correct vs. incorrect.

  14. I am the creator of the video you are discussing, and I must admit that I’m a little puzzled by your assertion that I have committed a logical error.

    In my video, I pointed out that retroviruses are known to insert randomly into the available integration sites within a genome. Based on this empirical observation, I provided some rough calculations that show the statistical improbability that a particular ERV would be inserted in exactly the same chromosomal locations of two separate species.

    It seems to me that you are suggesting that “intention (i.e., design)” should also be considered as an explanation for the observation of shared ERVs in humans and chimps.

    As I noted above, the explanation I discussed in the video was based on the empirical observation of random insertion of retroviruses. What empirical observation(s) form the basis for the “intention (i.e., design)” explanation? What predictions can be made concerning the patterns we should observe if this explanation is correct?

  15. Thank you for your comment, Mr. Mohn.

    The error, as I see it, is in your assuming that a highly improbable event can differentiate between evolution and design. It can certainly differentiate between X and chance, where X can be any of a number of possible ways of ordering a system, but evolution and design are both purported ways of ordering a system; thus your finding at that point of the video does not provide evidence showing the superiority of either evolution or design above the other.

    We could summarize the error formally as:

    1. E predicts y
    2. F predicts y
    3. y
    4. E rather than F is thus supported by y

    Obviously that does not follow.

    Please note that I did concur with you that these findings provide positive support for common descent; but common descent is not a question of design vs. evolution. Design does not predict the lack of commond descent.

    Your other questions about what design does predict are good ones in different contexts, but they do not speak to the one specific logical error I have addressed here. If other evidences are brought into question, then we would be asking whether E and F predict z.
    One might very likely come up with a conclusion something like,

    1. E predicts z
    2. F does not predict z
    3. z
    4. E rather than F is supported by z

    That’s a different issue from the one I brought up. Whether z is differentially predicted by unguided evolution vs. design is important and interesting, but it does not bear on whether y can be.

  16. Art,

    I would like you to clarify something for me, please.

    When you say “This is what is true, and this is what student should learn,” what precisely does “this” refer to? Is it your assertion that no experiment has called into question common ancestry etc., as stated in the first sentence of that paragraph? If so I have no quibble with you; except that I would hope the teacher would also point out the limits of experimentation in determining what actually happened in pre-history. Experimentation is useful in showing what could possibly have happened, but not in showing what actually did happen.

    If you intended “this” to refer to naturalistic (unguided, ateleological) evolution, then you go beyond what experimental method can do. In fact, you do seem to say that when you refer to “naturally-occurring genetic and phenotypic variability,” so I certainly must dispute you to that extent (if I have read you right). No experiment could show that all that variability actually was naturally occurring. It could only show, in the best possible case, that it was possible that it was all naturally occurring. Experimentation today could never rule out the other possibility, i.e., that at least some of that variability was the result of some teleological or design intervention.

    So I would be interested to know what your intent was there, please.

  17. Your assertion that I made a logical error seems to rest on the assumption that my video is an argument against “design.” That is not the intent of my video, as I’m sure you will notice if you watch it again.

    My videos are specifically intended to demonstrate that the theory of evolution allows us to make testable predictions. The ERV data is just one example of a case where specific predictions generated by evolutionary theory have been consistently confirmed.

    My questions about the alternative explanation that you offered seem quite relevant in this case, especially since you seem to indicating that “intention (i.e., design)” would lead you to expect the same patterns that are predicted by common descent. How do you know that? Upon what empirical observations do you base this prediction?

    Essentially, I am asking you to explain point #2 in your first syllogism. I’m not arguing against it, I just want to know how you arrived there. How does “intention (i.e., design)” lead you to predict that humans and chimps should share ERV sequences in the same locations in their genomes?

  18. Art,

    (Tom got in ahead of me, so some of this echoes him in generality, if not in specifics.)

    I think you’re making a representational error in your reply; in several places, in fact. I’ll refrain from echoing the conspiracy theory paranoia and assume that it’s not deliberate dishonesty on your part. Though I must say, I have to wonder why those so opposed to ID always jump to poisoning the well: “anyone who disagrees is either a liar or an ignoramus, therefore, no one who really knows or is honest disagrees, therefore, there is no real disagreement.”

    If we’re going to be honest, we have to note that “experiments”, in paleontology, are not controlled in the sense that one gets clear “positive” and “negative” results. They’re really ‘natural’ experiments, where interpretation of the influence of variables is much more influential. So, making any sort of implication that the specifics of ancient biological development have been “experimentally” proven, to the extent that you’re implying, is not warranted.

    Also, I think your rhetoric is a little different than your implication. Again, in all honesty, one would have to admit that many of the details of evolution are strongly subject to interpretation. With that in mind, I think it’s overreaching by a lot to say that all of the nuances of your “challenge” are experimentally verifiable (common ancestry, descent with modification, natural, random drift, naturally-occuring). Are every single one of those “positively” proven by experimentation?

    There is a difference, of course, between something “not being positively disproved” and “positively proved”. So, not only is your “challenge” not particularly meaningful, but the terms are so subject to interpretation that one could make anything they wanted out of it anyway.

    So, I’m not sure what you’re actually claiming, but I think your implication is a lot closer to “dishonesty”, at least in its appearance, than you might have intended. The issue really is about philosophy, in a lot of ways. Bobxxxx is a perfect example: he’s totally rejecting certain possibilities on the basis of personal distaste. That’s not scientific. Too much of what I hear coming from the anti-ID crowd totally ignores the fact that some of the “certainties” about the development of life are strongly dependent on your preconceptions about naturalism.

    I think you also need to acknowledge that, strictly speaking, not every ID argument is “anti-evolution”. Again, there is a difference between observing that biological life changed in certain ways over certain time periods, and opining that it was natural. That’s where things get slippery, and as Tom has noted before, there begins an attitude where (commonly supported) evolution becomes un-falsifiable, purely due to philosophical approaches.

    So, your challenge might be invincible, depending on how you want to couch your terms, but it’s as certainly pointless as it may be true. I can’t think of anything more contrary to the truth than claiming that philosophical approaches have no impact on the interpretation of data; and I’m assuming that such an assertion on your part is unintentional.

  19. Tom, thanks for the questions.

    As a matter of fact, when I said “This is what is true, and this is what student should learn,”, “This” meant my entire statement (“there are no (none whatsoever) positive experimental results that call into question that all life shares a common ancestry, and that the diversity of life on earth is a result of descent with modification, of natural selection (and random drift) acting on naturally-occurring genetic and phenotypic variability.”)

    In addition, you said “No experiment could show that all that variability actually was naturally occurring. It could only show, in the best possible case, that it was possible that it was all naturally occurring. Experimentation today could never rule out the other possibility, i.e., that at least some of that variability was the result of some teleological or design intervention.”

    This is where the “nuts-and-bolts” deviates from the more imaginative theological/philosophical musings. The fact of the matter is, we know quite a bit about the mechanisms by which genetic and phenotypic variation arises, and we have seen how new discoveries along these lines flow from, and are connected to, the body of knowledge already in place. In short, “natural mechanisms” (chemistry and physics) are the only means that may be reasonably and logically invoked. NOT because they are politically or theologically acceptable, but because this is what the scientific evidence demands. “Teleological or design intervention” are matters that do not follow from empirical examination. In the science classroom, there is no reason to ask about such things, let alone promote them ahead of other equally-“valid” matters (such as “will Santa fall through my roof?” or “Should the Federal government regulate flying pigs?”).

    But more to the point, I don’t think that this particular issue is what Branch and Scott are talking about. They, and I, are criticizing the new face of creationism, the insertion into the class of incorrect and dishonest (supposedly “scientific”) arguments regarding the veracity of evolution.

  20. Hi Medicine Man,

    As I say in my preceding comment for Tom, my claim is with respect to the idea that there is positive experimental evidence that argues against the theory that all life shares a common ancestry, and that the diversity of life on earth is a result of descent with modification, of natural selection (and random drift) acting on naturally-occurring genetic and phenotypic variability.

    As far as the support (positive experimental support) for this theory, yes, there is excellent positive support for every aspect of my statement – they are all experimentally verifiable. The body of work extends far, far beyond the field of paleontology. There is no way to pack it into a comment here. But I would ask you to read some of the essays I point to below to get a glimpse into the many ways that evolution may be studied in the here-and-now, how mechanisms may be firmly delineated, how information about events that are seen in the fossil record may be obtained (not “reasoned” though some evidence-free process, or by deferring to theologically- or politically- correct interpretation).

    Links to the essays (with many apologies to Tom for linking instead of reproducing the essays here):

    One essay.

    Another one.

    And a third. (The companion essay on my blog.)

  21. In short, “natural mechanisms” (chemistry and physics) are the only means that may be reasonably and logically invoked. NOT because they are politically or theologically acceptable, but because this is what the scientific evidence demands.

    Art, I’m not sure where to begin with this, now that you have answered my question (thanks for that, by the way).

    The scientific evidence on its own is incapable of demanding just natural mechanisms. The only way it could do that would be through an a priori decision that includes at least these things:

    A. Only scientific evidence may be admitted.
    B. Scientific inquiry must be limited to the natural world.
    C. Inferences and conclusions extending beyond the natural world are prohibited.

    I have seen arguments for and against these things, but they are all philosophical arguments. You cannot come to the conclusions you have without philosophy.

    I am not stating a Christian, creationist, or Intelligent Design position in saying that, by the way. It’s pretty basic philosophy of science kind of stuff, regardless of your position. I have a philosophically based position that I take on A, B, and C, which may be different from yours; but in order to draw your conclusions you have to take at least some stand on questions like these.

  22. As for this,

    They are all experimentally verifiable.

    you have either completely ignored or otherwise failed to catch what MM and I wrote about experimental method. I’ll repeat for you what I said: the best it can do is show that something could have happened. Experimental method (as opposed to historical science methods, correlational methods, etc.) is limited to what one can manipulate and observe in the present. It cannot show what happened in the past.

    Again, this is not creationist, Christian, or Intelligent Design prejudice. This is a thoroughly non-sectarian, secular fact regarding experimental science.

    May I suggest you pick up a basic philosophy of science text at the local library and get a good start on that there?

  23. “…you have either completely ignored or otherwise failed to catch what MM and I wrote about experimental method. I’ll repeat for you what I said: the best it can do is show that something could have happened. Experimental method (as opposed to historical science methods, correlational methods, etc.) is limited to what one can manipulate and observe in the present. It cannot show what happened in the past.”

    I disagree with this statement. Recall that the scientific method (which may be what is meant by “experimental method”, maybe not) is about hypothesize, test using controlled and repeatable experiment, and revise.** To the extent that a hypothesis can ask questions about what happened (not what could have occurred, mind you), past events can be teased apart. What is required that the hypothesis be up to the question.

    For example, one may ask about the origins of Hawaiian silverswords and related island species and genera. Through judicious, careful, and exacting experimental study (that I am glad to discuss, but not in this already lengthy comment), one can and will realize that these various genera:

    1. share a common ancestry;

    2. are descended from an ancient Californian tarweed;

    3. diverged genetically through a series of polyploidization and mutation;

    and 4. took on various morphological forms at least in part through changes in genes that are involved in fundamental aspects of plant growth and development.

    We don’t know that these things could have happened. Rather, the data, borne of carefully-crafted and testable hypotheses, show us that these things did happen many millions of years ago.

    Other past events may be understood to various, greater or lesser, extents.

    “Again, this is not creationist, Christian, or Intelligent Design prejudice. This is a thoroughly non-sectarian, secular fact regarding experimental science.

    May I suggest you pick up a basic philosophy of science text at the local library and get a good start on that there?”

    With all due respect, Tom, I would suggest that ’tis you who haven’t a very good grasp or appreciation of “experimental science”. Think about the specific examples I have provided, in this comment and in the links I provided earlier.

    Said another way, “… were you there …” is a pretty poor excuse for inquiry, and for avoiding the great deal that we know about life, the universe, and everything.

    ** – note that this working definition does not in and of itself rule in or out other than natural mechanisms.

  24. Jeremy, I was wrong in my last comment, and I hope you’ll let me chalk it up to the effects of driving a few hours through snow. I was careless and I apologize. The mistake I made was that I forgot the specific problem I had written about earlier.

    You are right in pointing out that your video was not an argument against design. Nevertheless, if I recall correctly (and since it’s late here after a long day I’m not taking the time to re-view it) you suggested that only evolution could account for the ERV patterns you describe. That (if I recall correctly) is an implicit argument against design, even if not an explicit one.

    You pointed out that these patterns could not have happened just by chance, because the probabilities of such a thing are beyond what’s reasonable to imagine. The fact is that’s at least as good an argument for design as it is for chance.

    My statement of the faulty premises I saw should have been on this order, instead of what I wrote:

    1. X could not have (reasonably) happened by chance
    2. Evolution explains X
    3. Therefore evolution.

    This of course does not follow because it does not address possible alternatives to evolution as explanations for X. That’s what I should have written earlier today. When I first wrote about a logical error in your video, that was what I had in mind.

    Because my 2nd premise in the earlier post was off track to start with, I’m not going to have much helpful to say about how design could have predicted the observed ERV patterns. Design does not predict those phenomena, to my knowledge.

    Now, if I misread your argument and you had nothing whatever to say in it about design, even by implication, then I’ll have to go the rest of the way and say that I was completely wrong, right from the beginning, and request you accept even deeper apologies than I have already expressed.

  25. Art,

    You wrote,

    We don’t know that these things could have happened. Rather, the data, borne of carefully-crafted and testable hypotheses, show us that these things did happen many millions of years ago.

    I think you are confusing one part of scientific methodology with the whole of scientific methododology. Experimentation is not all of the methodology of science. Data from experiments might (conceivably) show that all of that could have happened; but it’s just not in the nature of experiments to show exactly what did happen. Experimentation by definition involves the actual manipulation of variables. Much origins research is about observation and inference; and it’s just not possible to manipulate the conditions that obtained millions of years ago. Manipulating a present-day simulation of presumed former conditions is not even the same thing. Experimentation is about present realities. Historical sciences depend on non-manipulable observations, and inferences based upon both those observations and knowledge gained through methods like experimentation.

    Said another way, “… were you there …” is a pretty poor excuse for inquiry, and for avoiding the great deal that we know about life, the universe, and everything.

    On the contrary, I am just making a distinction between experimental approaches to science on the one hand, and observational/inferential approaches on the other. I have not said the latter is not science. It’s just not (as you had said it was) experimental science.

    And of course it is well beyond the capacity of observational/inferential science, with no philosophical input, to state, “This happened by only natural processes, with no design involved.” That’s just not something within the reach of science alone. I think you believe science can do this withough reference to any philosophical position, so if you can show this works, I would be interested to see how. Since you don’t want to deviate into philosophical musings, it will be especially interesting to see how you can do this without even employing any philosophy in the process. But maybe that wasn’t what you meant?

  26. Tom-

    In my video, I do refer to inheritance from common ancestors as “the only reasonable explanation” for the pattern of shared ERV insertions in humans and chimpanzees. Perhaps this is what you heard that triggered your initial response?

    As I wrote earlier, my videos are not intended to be arguments against design. However, I can see how this particular choice of words could be interpreted as an implicit argument against all potential alternative explanations, including “design.”

    Maybe “the best testable explanation” would have been a better phrase to express the point I was trying to make. I’ll try to be more precise with my word choice in the future.

    Merry Christmas!

  27. Hi Tom,

    I trust your Christmas Eve is relaxing and exciting all at the same time.

    You said:

    I think you are confusing one part of scientific methodology with the whole of scientific methododology.

    I don’t think so.

    Experimentation is not all of the methodology of science.

    Hypothesize, test using controlled and repeatable experiment, revise is all the methodology of science.

    Data from experiments might (conceivably) show that all of that could have happened; but it’s just not in the nature of experiments to show exactly what did happen.

    Tom, I’ve provided a specific example that refutes this claim of yours, in no uncertain terms. So I am a bit confused as to why you continue to push this point. Perhaps you can tell us how the specific experiments that support the conclusions I listed above fall short of the mark. Please be specific, as this is really the only way your remarks will make sense to me.

    Experimentation by definition involves the actual manipulation of variables. Much origins research is about observation and inference; and it’s just not possible to manipulate the conditions that obtained millions of years ago. Manipulating a present-day simulation of presumed former conditions is not even the same thing.

    Again, you fail to grasp the importance, and beauty, of a well-crafted hypothesis.

    Another example: We may ask why some accessions of plants have evolved to be early-flowering in the unrecorded past. It is possible to study the process and identify the players involved. It is then possible to formulate specific and testable hypotheses about extant populations and the way they came to be early-flowering. Doing this for Arabidopsis ecotypes, for example, reveals that a specific sort of mutation has occurred in some ecotypes, and that this mutation in and of itself is responsible for the phenotype. This body of work is experimental to its core, NOT merely observational/inferential. And it leaves no doubt as to the nature of this one specific historical occurrence.

    Experimentation is about present realities. Historical sciences depend on non-manipulable observations, and inferences based upon both those observations and knowledge gained through methods like experimentation.

    Obviously, this claim is in error. I’ve provided two examples to show the error, and can easily discuss numerous others.

  28. As I said previously, I suggest you pick up a good introduction to the philosophy of science. You won’t accept it from me, obviously; so maybe another source that you would trust more would be more helpful. I’m confident it will not contradict what I’ve written on experimental method and etc. here. But that’s up to you; I’m not going to try any further myself.