Thursday, March 24, 2005

The man behind the curtain - 'Call to arms' on evolution

Says Stephen Meyer of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which promotes intelligent design: "My first reaction is we're seeing evidence of some panic among the official spokesmen for science." He says Alberts is wrong — that intelligent design is not creationism but a scientific approach more open-minded than Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Biologists retort that any reproducible data validating intelligent design would be welcome in science journals. "If there were indeed deep flaws in parts of evolutionary biology, then scientists would be the first to charge in there," says Jeffrey Palmer of Indiana University in Bloomington.

Meyer counters that scientific leaders such as Alberts block a fair hearing of evolution alternatives. "There are powerful institutional and systematic conventions in science that keep (intelligent) design from being considered a scientific process," he says.

This article is further illustration of the unlevel playing field in the teaching of science. ID is to be excluded because there isn't reproducible data. OK, fine. But where is the reproducible data showing that bacteria evolved in to humans? There isn't any.

When it comes to evolution, there is an equivocation that goes on with the result that an empirically untestable philosophical position is promoted as science. It goes like this:

Evolution is speciation (as in the USA Today article). Speciation has been observed, so evolution is a fact. Evolution of phyla is the result of changes at the species level, and since evolution is fact phyla must have evolved.

The part that is passed over quickly is the idea that genetic mutation plus natural selection, which can produce species, can also produce phyla. The latter idea has no reproducible data to back it up, but Alberts neglected to mention that.

The goalposts keep getting moved. First the knock against Intelligent Design was that it was a creationism redux. Philosophical materialists are still saying this, but since they don't have a monopoly on the conversation ID proponents are addressing this misrepresentation, and the claim is shown to be false. So then the knock against ID is that it hasn't had any papers published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Well, now it has, although the decision to include a paper on ID cost the editor his career: Darwinist fair and open minds on display. I used to snicker at creationists' claims of censorship in the journals. I don't snicker any more. But now that a paper has been published, the demand is that others do so as well for ID to be taken seriously. Sure, editors and referees of journals will be just lining up to include ID papers so that they can get fired and prevented from doing research like Richard Sternberg was. No pressure there.

Why a call to arms on evolution? Because science teachers are being pressured to include unscientific ideas like creationism? That's a half-truth at best. School teachers are always getting complaints about what is or isn't taught. If creationism were included, it would be the atheists harrassing the science teachers. Teachers in other subjects get the same thing; it's nothing new. I rather think that Stephen Meyer is right: the materialist fundamentalists are feeling the heat because they're not monopolizing the debate anymore. Darwinism has had a monopoly on the classrooms for a generation or two now. If its committed adherents are feeling some pressure, maybe it's because the idea that all life is the result of undirected chemical reactions strikes many as hard to believe or even --well-- unscientific.

Scientists don't issue calls to arms. Zealots do that.