Intelligent Design is Scientific Fraud AND It's Bad Religion

I'm posting this just to make sure the record is clear: I don't like Intelligent Design. The people who push it are culture warriors with a religious agenda that involves the denial of science. People who believe it are either confused and have been sucked in by those with an agenda, are cynical culture warriors who want to see science attacked, or are legitimate honest backers who really don't realize that by backing Intelligent Design, they're rejecting the fundamental basis of science.

I hope that's clear.

The reason I say this is that there is a post on the Intelligent Design blog "Uncommon Descent" that includes a quote from an earlier post of mine that appears to be supporting their argument. I reject their argument, and I reject the Intelligent Design behind them. The basis of their argument is that the "Darwinists" (a bad term, as it conflates science and religion) themselves can't agree about whether relgion is consistent with science, and so therefore you can't trust that it is. This, of course, has no logical basis. Hell, look at me and look at Uncommon Descent: thesists also disagree! What does that tell you about the issues behind them? Not very much. Trying to figure out what is true based on finding subsets of those who argue about it who have one thing in common but disagree on something else doesn't tell you a whole hell of a lot.

Looking at the post my quote is from, in retrospect, worrying that the ranting frothing of New Atheists is going to hurt free software is silly (Oracle, the closed gardens being built by the likes Apple and Facebook, the patent lawyers at Google, Samsung, Apple and others in the smartphone business, the MPAA and RIAA, and rhetoric over cyberterrorism don't need help from any form of atheists). However, I do stand by my rejection of the position on science and religion held by the New Atheists— those atheists who insist that modern acceptance of science requires atheism, and that having any form of religion is inconsistent with it. Not all atheists think that.

Any more than all Christians think that the Bible must be read literally, or any more than all Christians think that you must reject biological evolution.

So do NOT take my quote in the "Uncommon Descent" blog in support of what they're saying as any kind of support whatsover for the position taken by that blog.

Evolution is extremely well-established science. It is one of the cornerstones of biology. You can reject it, but in so doing you're rejecting the basic methodogy and mode of sciecne. And, I think that the evidence around us, the many huge successes science has had in describing our world and allowing us to manipulate it, makes rejecting science as a way of constructing reliable knowled rather absurd. New Atheists are sometimes befuddled by theists like myself who believe that there is wisdom in the Bible but reject things like the creation story as literal truth; how can you "pick and choose" is usually the sophomoric comment made in blog comment threads. Part of the reason of that is that in the intellectual mode of thought represented by science, you can't pick and choose. You can, and all of us are, be more convinced by some lines of evidence than others. Dark Matter is assuredly real, for instance, but Dark Energy, while I think it is probably real, may instead be a pointer to cracks in our theories. But you can't reject some lines of science because you don't like the results philosophically, if the scientific evidence is there. And the evidence for evolution is there, completely and overwhelmingly. Reject evolution, be it by being a classical creationist or by being an Intelligent Design supporter, and whether you know it or not you are rejecting science itself.

As for why I say it is fraud, that is well documented. While there are trained scientists out there who believe in Intelligent Design, honest ones who've managed to confuse and convince themselves that there's something to it, that's not where Intelligent Design came from. This has been well documented, in the case of the Dover trial and elsewhere. The lobbying organizations who push Intelligent Design and those behind the movement aren't scientists who beleive that they have a better theory, or even highly confused pseudoscientists like the backers of Plasma Cosmology, but they are (at least in the USA) Christians who think that science is a threat to their form of their religion. Intelligent Design was cleverly designed as a strategy to package creationism in such a way that it might be able to slip into school science curriculums where raw creationism was not able to. This is the way in which it is scientific fraud.

As for why it's Bad Religion— I covered that five years ago in my post Intelligent Design: a trap for Christians. Precisely because it's designed to sound scientistic, it allows Christians who think that accepting Christianity means that you can't accept modern science, including Evolution, to think that they're accepting science without having to reject their Christianity. But it's a trap, because as I've already said, it's not only bad science, it's fradulent science.

The real truth is that you can do what I have done, what Guy Consalmango (the Vatican Astronomer) does, what Ken Miller does, and what all the signers of the Clergy Letter Project do: accept modern science for what it is! Yes, some put an interpretational spin on it— evolution, you might say, may be part of God's engine of creation or some such. The difference, though, is that you don't have to deny the utterly rock-solid scientific truth of biological evolution, of mutations mediated by natural selection leading to change in species and the development of new species over time. Yes, you will find lots of Christains out there who say that you're fooling yourself by thinking you're still Christian (or a follower of whatever other religion— again, I talk from my point of view). Yes, you will find New Atheists out there who will hurl all sorts of insults at you about being intellectually dishonest because you haven't accepted the one true religion of atheism in your heart. (And you will be a bit struck by how the similar the fundamentalist atheists and fundamentalist Christians sound. Indeed, look at that Uncommon Descent post I linked to— they're agreeing with the more annoying and frothy New Atheists such as the Jerry Coyne that things like Evolution Sunday and the Clergy Letter Project are no good. There's more common ground between the New Atheists and Uncommon Descent than there is between me and Uncommon Descent!) But there are lots of us out there— probably not a majority, given how sadly strong the right-wing religion movement in the USA is today, but probably a plurality!— who are in the same position, the position of fully accepting modern science while recognizing that one may be an atheist or one may be a theist at the same time.

If you're Christian, do not fall for the trap of Intelligent Design.

And if you're atheist, don't fall for the trap of New Atheism.

And, in any event, don't take my arguing against Intelligent Design as evidence that I'm a New Atheist or that I hate religion, and don't take my arguing against New Atheism as evidence that I'm in any way, shape, or form accepting of Intelligent Design.

10 responses so far

  • Dev says:

    What are the strongest points in favor of evolution? and, against it?

    Likewise, in favor or against intelligent design?

    Or, can you please provide a link or reference where this is clearly, succinct, and, indeed, scientifically presented.

    I ask because what is generally found is a bunch of propaganda for something, so see that that environment is polluted to the point of not yielding any resolution in the ideas.

    Is there any solid argument against evolution in reverse?

  • rknop says:

    Dev -- Evolution is a scientific theory. It's extremely well established, and there are no good arguments or strong *scientific* arguments against it. You will find those who say otherwise, but they are wrong. Ultimately, the arguments against Evolution are cultural arguments, and by arguing against Evolution they are effectively arguing against science as a valid mode of constructing reliable knowledge. As I say above, the track record of the scientific mode of inquiry makes arguing against science as a valid mode of constructing reliable argument a very dubious position to take.

    As such, the only good arguments *for* Intelligent Design are motivated by what I see as a misguided attempt to find a compromise between a scientific, materialist position and a creationist position. If that is your goal, then Intelligent Design actually statisfies it pretty well. However, by necessity, it requires rejecting evolution, and thus rejecting science as a reliable way of constructing knowledge-- and, hence, I think that the goal that Intelligent Design satisfies is not a good goal.

    As for good places to read about the scientific evidence for evolution, I would recommend the NCSE's page: http://ncse.com/evolution, as well as the archive at Talk Origins, http://talkorigins.org/. Search around at both of those places. Both of those places have very reliable information that is presented well and is not dissembling or misleading.

  • rknop says:

    Part of the problem with the whole evolution "debate" is that the debate itself is all smoke and mirrors. Evolution is a scientific theory that's predates, and is as well established as, nuclear fusion. Debating whether or not evolution is, overall, a valid picture of how today's species developed from earlier Earth species is, scientifically, about as grounded as debating whether or not nuclear fusion happens. Yes, there are things we don't know about how the strong force works inside nucleons, and that's why we still build accelerators to work on it. And there is still active work about how evolution functions in detail. But the fact of the basic idea of both theories have **long** been established by the scientific literature.

    So, even starting by demanding a summary of the "debate" is a specious position. There IS no debate, scientifically, about the existence of fusion, or of evolution. There is cultural debate about it, and that cultural debate has muddied the waters so that some poeple THINK there's a scientific controversy, but there is none. As such, you're not going to find any current valid scientifc argument against evolution, any more than you're going to find any current valid scientific argument against nuclear fusion. What you're asking for can't be provided.

  • Dev says:

    Mr rknop, thanks for contributing those two links.

    No, I don't hold a demanding position on the subject, but, on the contrary, I'm rather concerned with the implication of excessive and pretentious time invested in debating on different issues, be it for lack of clarity or 'calculated'. With the ensuing confusion resulting in dubious advantages, and no real benefits to society or any 'cultural' group. Or science. Or the economy.

    Rejection of either evolution -or intelligent design or creationism- may be culture-based, but not necessarily of science (definite evidence). Also, culture tends to be a loosely imprinted form of adaptation, not fixed.

  • SLC says:

    Actually, there are creationists who reject nuclear fusion and claim that the Sun generates its energy by either gravitational collapse or chemical processes or both. The purpose of this rejection is to support young earth creationism.

    Unfortunately, I have yet to hear these folks explain how come the Sun is a copious source of neutrinos or how come thermonuclear hydrogen bombs work if nuclear fusion is false.

    As for the shot at Un. of Chicago biology professor Jerry Coyne, under the tutelage of a former Anglican priest, Eric MacDonald, Prof. Coyne has been reading the tomes of "sophisticated" theologians like John Haught and has started reading the KJV bible, and thus far has found it repulsive.

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/06/22/the-bible-is-boring-and-insipid/

  • rknop says:

    Nice troll, but I'm not going to bother reading the Coyne link. Life is too short to let folks like him get me angry. I know his type -- I've seen it amply with physicists. There is a common attitude amongst physicists that because they know physics, they know everything. Physics is, after all, the study of the most fundamental laws of the Unvierse, and therefore everything else is just derivative of physics. The thing is, MOST people have this idea that because they know their own field, they know everything. When sociologists talk about our laws of physics being "shared social constructions", they're doing the same thing. Coyne knows his biology, but he's extremely facile when talking about other things; he's allowed the typical arrogance either gained by getting a PhD, or needed to get a PhD, to make him think that he knows everything about everything, and to believe that his sophomoric ideas are in fact deep. It's sad that other people listen to him and think he's right. (I guess it's no surprise; people always laud as deep thinkers those who say simplistic things they agree with in confrontational ways. Look at Rush Limbaugh, for instance.)

    Of COURSE he is finding KJV repulsive. He went into it intending to hate it. If that's how you go in, there's an awful lot in there not to like. The same will be true of just about any culturally significant work of literature.

  • To reject something because it doesn't seem to fit the physical evidence is the most scientific thing anyone can do. And that's what creation scientists and many creation believers are doing. To make the record clear, evolution is not an undeniable fact of science. It has numerous flaws and still has yet to be proven, meaning, the supposedly existant missing link still hasn't been found, the problem with the DNA/RNA coding system and many many other things (that's why there's whole ministries and organizations on this kind of thing). It makes no sense that the Big Bang and natural selection are taught as absolute truth in public school textbooks because no one was there. There are no eyewitness accounts of either of those, and in fact, of the seven different kinds of evolution, only microevolution has been observed. It is the only one that meets the criteria for observational science. Most of evolution is historical science, which can't be proven. To help us find the answer, all we have is the world around us. Lots of stuff, but nobody to explain it. It is impossible to believe with all your heart in evolution or any theory for the origin of the world without excersizing some faith. Every person has faith in something; it's not just limited to religion.

  • rknop says:

    Marley, I'm sorry, but that's simply wrong. The physical evidence for the truth of biological evolution is absolutely overwhelming. That today's life forms evolved from earlier life forms through the process of biological evolution is as close to as proven a scientific fact as there can be. To say anything else is to misrepresent the present day state of the scientific enterprise.

    The whole "no one was there" statement is one of the very common statements made in an attempt to disprove evolution, and it represents a very simplistic misrepresentation of the way observational science works. To say that "historical science" can't be proven any more than laboratory science is also simply false, and a misrepresentation of the nature of science. (Specifically with regard to evolution, see this FAQ from the talkorigins.org archive.) As such, if public school textbooks want to teach our best understanding of the world as science has today, evolution certainly belongs. And, given how fundamental evolution is to all of biology, it'd be a glaring omission to leave out.

    Evolution is on a more solid scientific footing than, say, the fact that stars like the Sun are powered by nuclear fusion. In both cases, all we have to look at are comparisons of the record that's there in nature with what models predict. In neither case can we do an actual laboratory experiment. But neither scientific result is in doubt, unless you doubt the process of science altogether... and as I've argued elsewhere, the track record for science is rather impressive.

    As for the whole (false) notion of "missing links", I point you here: http://talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-transitional.html

    As for evidence for so-called Macroevolution, see here: http://talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/

    And, in general, talkorigins.org is a great site that has responses to a lot of the typical false or misleading statements you hear about evolution from creationists.

  • Gregory says:

    Hello Dr. Rob Knop,

    Glad to come across your blog. We are pretty much agreed re: Intelligent Design and its political movement. I'd just like to add a slightly different approach to the topics of 'evolution' and 'evolutionism.'

    You wrote: "the arguments against Evolution are cultural arguments."

    Yes, to a large degree that is true. One of the main features of the term 'evolution,' much like 'development' or 'power' or 'design' or 'flow,' etc., is its interdisciplinarity. It is not just biology, botany, geology, and even cosmology that use it as a disciplinary concept.

    I would suggest there are 'scientific' arguments against evolution if one counts human-social sciences as 'sciences' that contain or represent 'scientific' arguments against evolutionary political economics, evolutionary psychology, etc. One might call this anti-evolutionism, rather than anti-evolutionary biology or anti-evolution in natural sciences.

    To me the scientificity is less important than that people work rigorously in various fields outside of the natural-physical sciences and use the language of evolution, which can be quite damaging (or disenchanting) to the theistic worldview that you and I and others believe in.

    A link to this paper shows more about my position:
    http://vpu.academia.edu/GregorySandstrom/Papers/217823/The_Problem_of_Evolution_Natural-Physical_or_Human-Social

    In any case, keep up the good work in Squamish!
    Gregory

  • Bill Maz says:

    The important lesson to be learned, in my opinion, from recent studies published in Nature and other journals comprising the ENCODE studies, is a broader appreciation of how complex the genome is. The more we peel away the layers the more functionally interactive it all becomes. It is no longer meaningful to ask how many genes we have because we can no longer define a gene by the geographic location of bases, and we can no longer define how evolutionarily advanced an organism is by how many genes it has. It is becoming evident that the order in which genes are expressed, their post transcription modifications, etc. are vastly more important in determining the final outcome. This level of mind-boggling series of controls and counter-controls leads me and, increasingly, eminent scientists from around the world, to begin to re-examine the basic tenets of evolution. It is becoming clearer with each discovery that the sheer complexity of the genome and its regulatory mechanisms needs a more robust theory than the simplistic model of spontaneous mutations and natural selection, even though, on a local level, these mechanisms have a very important role. People like Simon Conway Morris, Cambridge Professor of evolutionary biology, and John Kearns, Harvard geneticist, have each expressed doubt about the standard evolutionary model for different reasons and join hundreds of other eminent scientists who are calling for a more robust model. Evan Olsen has even proposed a model based on chaos theory by which DNA is a fractal attractor which guides the evolutionary process toward a defined goal. If all this sounds like blasphemy, let us not be tempted to give Michael Behe's infantile Intelligent Design model any more due than to admit that his concerns over the ever-increasing complexity of the genome are seeping into the mainstream scientific community.