August 14, 2005

Survival of the Fittest / Intelligent Design

I've been holding back on writing about intelligent design for a few weeks. In part its because I'm not sure I can say anything about it better than Steven Shaviro did. But ultimately I'm just too in awe of the tactical brilliance of the "intelligent design" campaign, the latest attempt by religious conservatives to get creationism taught in schools. Intelligent design (in the origin of life sense, not the design as in a profession/process sense) is a beautifully crafted piece of intellectual judo, one that deftly uses the core tenets of science to unmask just how unscientific the defenders of science really are.

For the past century or so the creationism versus evolution debate has essentially been a binary one. The creationists want only creationism taught and as the tone setters for the debate they set up a battle that many darwinians where happy to follow along with. One or the other, not both, not in between. In many ways this is the 100 year setup, a long process to open up the ideological weakness of science's defenders. Intelligent design is the deft counter move. It grabs many of ideological tenets of science and whips them back. All the intelligent design proponents want is for it to be taught alongside Darwin's theory. Or so they claim.

The genius of the tactic is the response it provoked. Rather then thinking rationally, the defenders of evolution knee jerked out a response, they where opposed to teaching intelligent design, only evolution should be taught in schools. An argument fit for an ideology, not a for the defending the tenets of the enlightenment. And in many ways science has of course become an ideology. There are the fundamental faiths, in the scientific method, in the accuracy of math, in our ability to predict the past. Most importantly though there is a priesthood, a set of insiders who the general public is expected to trust. Scientists themselves can challenge the dogma of scientific theories, although it takes great political skill to do so successfully. Most everyone else is expected to accept the word of science the same way a priest wants you to accept the word of god.

This isn't an argument against science, its a highly functional system, it builds its satellites and vaccines just as the Egyptians built their pyramids and the Catholic church its paintings and cathedrals. But science still can't tolerate anything that falls outside its doctrine of thinking, it's strength is how open it is to change, evolution is built into the system. But its only open to change mediated on its own terms and through its own system. Science like any other religion wants to force you into its way of thinking.

The latest maneuvers by the creationists, the intelligent design tactic, lay it all out bare in the open. The defenders of science are defending their faith, they want only evolution taught in school. I like evolution, as theories go its a damn good one with loads of secondary evidence backing it up. Proving any sort of historical theory seems damn near impossible though, so what's wrong with allowing a few more to be taught? I have no problems with "intelligent design" being taught in schools, although I certainly prefer a different sort of intelligent design... But if creationism is going to be taught it should be taught alongside evolution, and perhaps more importantly along side the various theories that most religions have used to make peace with evolution. Let them all stand side by side, call it survival of the fittest, is that something evolution's defenders should be afraid of?

Posted by William Blaze at August 14, 2005 10:41 AM | TrackBack

No, it's not. But the problem with that is that the ID proponents would want those ideas in the school even less than the scientific community, as it would marginalize their religious belief. I believe those ideas SHOULD be there... but in religion class, for the same reason that in Physics class you should teach gravity (just another theory) and not flat-earth suppositions or about angels pushing apples down to the earth.

Posted by: nowak on August 14, 2005 02:18 PM

Science is "only open to change mediated on its own terms and through its own system." Well... yeah, no kidding. Why is this a problem? Science is a method, a process for determining the validity of theories based on observable and reproducible results. It makes perfect sense that changes would only be accepted if they were reproducible or observable. The priesthood is open to all, if they'd bother to think critically for once - or are all those cross-referenced journals of experimental results at the library just furniture store styro-books?

I haven't heard many coherent arguments for keeping ID out of schools, but I do think it should be kept out of the science curriculum, because its core punt ("this is too complicated, therefore the wizard made it") is inherently unquestioning and unscientific. This judo only works on the flabby and unfit.

Posted by: Michal Migurski on August 14, 2005 02:31 PM

Intellectual judo? Nah, intellectual junk. 'Intelligent design' is attractive because it appeals to the same latent demographic as the Fortean Times: people who want to believe in the gaps. It's also parasitic, because it depends entirely upon the scientific honesty of evolutionary biologists.

Oh, and on the necessity of teaching teenagers a certain amount of bullshit: something that applies in pretty much every subject.

I say, teach 'ID': with a copy of Hume's 'Dialogues concerning natural religion'.

Posted by: nick on August 15, 2005 06:44 AM

ID and creationism can be taught as a prelude to discussing the scientific dimensions of evolution and what's known so far and what's still in question--what's wonderful about the scientific method is that it's predicated on questions.

But Genesis should be set in context by adding Egyptian, Hindu, Greek, Yoruba, Hopi, Chinese, Mohawk, Congolese, Maya, Australian, Balinese, Aztec, Norse, etc., etc., etc. ideas of the creation of the universe. The children of people who think the Biblical idea of creation is the only possible one are exactly the ones who need to be reminded that people have come up with all sorts of beautiful and imaginative concepts of the origins of life and cosmos.

Posted by: Mom on August 16, 2005 12:22 PM

If the ideas that people believe were themselves "intelligently designed" so as to be purely beneficial to to those who believed in them, then sure, let them teach ID in science class and may the most intelligently designed ideas win.

But ideas, like genes, propogate based solely on how well they're able to be copied. And so even as we inherit bad genes that can copy themselves well, intelligent design is an idea that can spread regardless of scientific value (of which it has almost none). Teaching it in school will just further promote an otherwise useless idea.

Saying that someone designed something, out of lack of imagination (not that you need much imagination if you look at the evidence) that it can happen naturally is not a scietific theory, and saying it to students in a classroom won't contribute anything to their science education.

Posted by: Mark Cidade on August 18, 2005 09:10 PM

Margaret Thatcher started this, in the modern era. She invented the 'stupidity judo', by which dumb ideas will chase out clever ideas because they are easier to understand.

But its a very dangerous problem, no matter how lightly we put it.

Posted by: on August 20, 2005 10:22 AM

So-called intelligent design proponents are blinded by ideological zeal. They fail to see that their "logic" can lead to alternative explanations that don't involve their deity.

What would these proponents say if one day an extraterrestrial race of beings showed up in orbit and produced incontrovertable proof that they were the ones who designed and created life on Earth, including humans? Would these zealots abandon their deity worship and begin to worship these aliens as deities? Call me naive, but somehow I doubt they would.

"Intelligent Design" is not science. It does not conform to the methodology of science. As Michal said above, "...therefore the wizard made it" is not science.

Posted by: Letao on August 21, 2005 09:52 AM

Program on the emergence of civilization.

"14 species of large animals capable of domesitcation in the history of mankind.
None from the sub-Saharan African continent.
13 from Europe, Asia and northern Africa."
And disfavor.

They point out Africans’ attempts to domesticate the elephant and zebra, the latter being an animal they illustrate that had utmost importance for it's applicability in transformation from a hunting/gathering to agrarian-based civilization.

The roots of racism are not of this earth.

Austrailia, aboriginals:::No domesticable animals.

The North American continent had none. Now 99% of that population is gone.

Organizational Heirarchy
Heirarchical order, from top to bottom:

1. MUCK - perhaps have experienced multiple universal contractions (have seen multiple big bangs), creator of the artificial intelligence humans ignorantly refer to as "god"
2. Perhaps some mid-level alien management –
3. Mafia (evil) aliens - runs day-to-day operations here and perhaps elsewhere ("On planets where they approved evil.")

Then we come to terrestrial management:

4. Chinese/egyptians - this may be separated into the eastern and western worlds
5. Romans - they answer to the egyptians
6. Mafia - the real-world interface that constantly turns over generationally so as to reinforce the widely-held notion of mortality
7. Jews, corporation, women, politician - Evidence exisits to suggest mafia management over all these groups.

Survival of the favored.

Movies foreshadowing catastrophy
1986 James Bond View to a Kill – 1989 San Fransisco Loma Prieta earthquake.

Journal: 10 composition books + 39 megs of text files

Posted by: The roots of racism on August 30, 2005 06:49 PM
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