Intelligent Design And
Problems With Separationism
Dan Watson

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Dan Watson"
Subject: Re: Evolution and ID
Date: February 19, 2002 12:53 PM

The recent problem in Washington was a crackpot who thought that because the Declaration of Independence says "All men are created...," thus we ought to teach Christian creationism in the schools! Never mind that it says, in context, "All men are created equal!" If they stuck to this kind of thinking, our job would be easy, because even the Creationists tend to find such logic as embarrassing as we do, albeit for slightly different reasons! Our connection to this fool is our mutual humanity; they, in addition to a basic genetic structure, also share an ideology with this fellow!

But the "Intelligent Design" model's problem is worse than you think. In his recent article for Slate, "Unintelligible Redesign: This is the way creationism ends: Not with a bang, but with a whimper" (February 13, 2002), author William Saletan suggests that the reason to keep so-called Intelligent Design model out of the schools has nothing to do with the separation of religion from government. In other words, we can (and should) spend our separationism resources elsewhere.

Critics think ID is a way for Christian Creationism to get its foot in the door. Perhaps they're right about the ID proponents' motives, as reader Marty Rudin and I discussed in my November, 1998, column "Where's the Watchmaker?" (which appeared in my first issue as an independent publisher). But that in now way means that they'll succeed in their schemes of using ID to sneak the Christian religion in the schools. Besides, they don't need to sneak the Christian religion into the public schools, as is shown by the proliferation of "In God We Trust" signs, not "being printed as I write this" but rather "having been printed for some time and already gathering dust," this stunt having been such a sure thing in the minds of its proponents.

First, though, "Intelligent Design" is not Christianity. It is not identifiable as uniquely Christian (it's not even close). To use ID to bolster one's apologetic of the Christian faith is such a leap as to be the ID movement's biggest embarrassment, even amongst creationists! At most, it is a feel-good maneuver among educated Christians who wish to cling to their faith and among scientists who tend toward Deism, pantheism, and the Deistic and pantheistic expressions of Progressive Christianity movement, of which PAM is a nonmember supporting organization, very much an ally.

But here's the big problem with Intelligent Design, and why it ought never see the light of day in the school science class. According to critics, "This is just a new paint job on the same old Edsel" But Saletan replies (and we see his point quite clearly):

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The analogy is inside out. Creationists haven't repainted their Edsel. They've taken out the engine and the transmission. Without distinctive, measurable claims such as the six-day creation, the 6,000-year-old Earth, and other literal interpretations of the Bible, creationism no longer materially contradicts evolution. The reason not to teach intelligent design isn't that it's full of lies or dogma. The reason is that it's empty.

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This sounds almost empty itself, almost apologizing for ID, almost giving its advocates ammunition to argue for its inclusion in a grand "equal time" move -- until we see where Saletan is going with all this:

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Advocates of ID do offer interesting criticisms of Darwin's theory of evolution.... My colleague Bob Wright answered these criticisms in Slate last year. I don't know whether they stand up to his rebuttal or not. But I do know this: They don't add up to a theory.

A theory isn't just a bunch of criticisms, even if they're valid. A theory ties things together. It explains and predicts. Intelligent design does neither. It doesn't explain why part of our history seems intelligently designed and part of it doesn't. Why are our feet and our back muscles poorly designed for walking? Why are we afflicted by lethal viruses? Why have so many females died in childbirth? ID doesn't explain these things. It just shrugs at them. "Design theory seeks to show, based on scientific evidence, that some features of living things may be designed by a mind or some form of intelligence," says one ID proponent. Some? May? Some? What kind of theory is that?

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The entire reason why Darwinism belongs in school science curricula is the same reason why ID does not belong there: Darwinism is pure science, whereas ID is not science at all.

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Darwinian theory makes predictions that can be tested. It predicts that the average difference in size between males and females will correspond to the degree of polygamy in a species, and that in species in which females can reproduce more often than males, females will be more sexually assertive and less discriminating about their sex partners than males will be. These predictions turn out to be true. Darwin claimed that humans had descended from apes. If fossils unearthed since his death had exhibited no such connection, his theory would have been discredited.

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But fossils unearthed between then and now continue to exhibit this connection quite handily. Other data even corroborates with this, as suggested by mitochondria evidence.

But can Intelligent Design make any empirical predictions? In the classic test for a scientific claim, does ID make any predictions that, if disproved, would discredit the theory?

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John Calvert, the country's principal exponent of ID, answered that question in a treatise he presented to the Ohio board. Calvert described the "methods" by which scientists can "detect" design in nature.

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In summary, if a highly improbable pattern of events or object exhibits purpose, structure or function and can not be reasonably and rationally explained by the operation of the laws of physics and chemistry or some other regularity or law, then it is reasonable to infer that the pattern was designed. -- the product of a mind.

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This is what Calvert presented as his argument to the educators that his model belongs in their schools' science curriculum! One suggested possibility is shown not to explain a given phenomenon; therefore, something else which has been suggested defaults to become our explanation! We don't keep looking until we find a possibility which does adequately explain the phenomenon, we simply default to the nearest "Plan B"!!

This is a textbook example of the fallacy known as the False Dichotomy, and is a classic example of why science is so necessarily rigid in its standards of determining truth from falsehood. Are we out of step in requiring, of science, that it meet such rigid demands in order to be called a science?

Is not this rigidity what makes science such an effective tool for determining precisely how our environment functions and for making predictions which we can find useful? Is not this admittedly extreme sense of rigidity what makes science what it is!?

Should we then jettison this identifying trait of science and thus loosen these standards in the science classroom?

I don't think so! and Neither does Saletan:

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That, in a nutshell, is ID. It offers no predictions, scope modifiers, or experimental methods of its own. It's a default answer [is] a shrug, consisting entirely of problems in Darwinism. Those problems should be taught in school, but there's no reason to call them intelligent design. Intelligent design, as defined by its advocates, means nothing.

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One thing we must never forget when discussing either science or Separationism, but science most of all: what happens if someone comes up with that compelling evidence which forces all honest observers to conclude that a Creator exists? Hmmm!

In science, if that should happen, it becomes the latest understanding of reality, subject, of course, to being overthrown by newer and better evidence.

With Separationism, however, I don't know how we'd handle that. For now, since it's the law, we'd still need to keep State and Church separate. Like the lawyer who handled an Oregon Twelve Step case, he didn't care if the Twelve Step Program worked 100 percent of the time, was absolutely free for the asking, and was found by all to be accessible, that is, within the bounds or realms of possibility (it doesn't, it isn't, and far from it), it would still be against the law for the courts to force people to attend Twelve Step meetings, simply because they feature religious instruction. Only by changing the law can we start practicing what is currently contrary to Law, but I think our country's commitment to Liberty of Conscience would still morally demand separation of religion from government.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six-and-a-half years of service
    to people with no reason to believe

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