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Saturday, November 12, 2005

An Evolutionary Challenge

Arguably, good science requires the willingness to subject discoveries and theories to critical review. That is, to challenge others to disprove the theory and/or dispute the analysis. Sound theories will stand up to this scrutiny.

In the debate over the origin of the species, there are only two logical explanations – either complex life evolved from simple life, or an external force guided the creation of the species.

How will future scientists be adequately prepared to test the Theory of Evolution if we shelter them from the science and the logic behind Intelligent Design?

An argument supporting one theory carries far greater weight when delivered from someone knowledgeable about the science behind the other. Teaching Intelligent Design in the classroom isn’t about endorsement. It isn’t about proving either theory in the classroom. It is about producing high school graduates with a working knowledge of both theories – and an open mind.


After reading some of the comments on the I.D. posts, it occurred to me that many are unaware of the science supporting the theory. (Which is why I hope to see I.D. offered in the classroom.) I.D. is a theory in, and of, itself. It offers an alternative to Evolution and seeks to explain some of its gaps in the evidence and the logic. Intelligent Design is more than just “not Evolution.” If you are interested in a primer on the subject, I suggest reading "The Case Against Darwin" by James Perloff.

Also, I regret that Blogger does not support categories that would make it easier to check out the history of a given discussion for a given subject. So here are links to past posts:

Teach Evolution in Social Studies?

Creating the Intelligence of Origin

Teaching Intelligent Design Opens Minds


Blogger cosmosis said...

I've read this and your other post on this subject. My first observation is that these posts and comments from others are wonderful discussions. Today, you have simplified the issue. You have set up the existence of man as the result of either evolution or "not evolution." Evolution is a scientific theory, not because it can explain why things are the way they are, but because it attempts to explain how things came to be the way they are. It is not enough to claim that man exists in his/her present form as the result of something other than evolution. That begs the question, how did it happen then? If you pull out the bible and point to Genesis, God bless you. I respect that, and would work hard to preserve your religious rights and freedoms. That kind of explanation, though, is not science. You point out problems, issues, and gaps in the scientific theory of evolution. Scientists THRIVE on such problems. They go back to the labs and dig sites and search for the answers. If anything is discovered, it is presented to the world to be scrutinized and judged. Intelligent Design seeks to fill the gaps in science by proclaiming that a "designer" must have done it. What is scientific about that? Again, please note that I do not criticize those who vigorously point out the gaps and problems with evolution. I do claim that an explanation that is essentially "not evolution" doesn't add anything.

11/12/2005 9:02 AM  
Blogger Right Hook said...

One of the most difficult things in science is to first design an experiment or come up with a model of the situation to be studied. After the experiment has been completed or modeled the difficulty often is interpreting the results if they are not a indicate a black or white conclusion.

Einstein often did "thought experiments" where he started with a known conclusion and attempted to apply logic and inductive reasoning to work backward toward a premise. In this manner he came to the conclusion that the notion of intelligent design had some merit from a scientific point of view.

I think all can agree that life exists. Taking this as a starting point we can work backwards and start making some observations. Science has proven that human physiology, genetics, and natural occurences in the physical world in most cases can be modeled mathematically or physically, i.e. there is a rhyme and/or reason for things. We have identified why certain chemical reactions behave as they do, the physics behind why water freezes and boils, etc. Is this not on its surface at least some evidence of a "design"?

To look at it another way, there is a branch of science that looks for evidence of intelligent life based on the analysis of electromagnetic signals coming from space. It is well known that there are lots of "unintelligent" ways electromagnetic signals can come to be, but these scientists are looking for organized, mathematical patterns in the signals as evidence that they originated from an intelligent source. Applying this reasoning to life and nature that can be observed it appears to me that we see evidence of a coherent, intelligent design all around us.

As a thought experiment, consider the idea of loading up all the building materials it would take to build a house into a large dump truck and dumping the load onto the proposed home site. How many times would you have do dump the materials and/or wait for the winds and elements to mix the materials together before you would have a house? However, give a skilled architect or builder the same load of materials and a house could be constructed.

There are some things in this world that probably can't ever be conclusively proven or disproven one way the other, but often a lot of useful knowledge does come about from the pursuit of different theories. Intelligent Design and Darwinism are both theories--depending on how deeply one digs into to them it may be found that they converge and diverge on several levels. Teaching that only one of these theories is the only plausible line of thinking to investigate (as is done in many schools)is a grave disservice to the future scientists and thinkers.

11/12/2005 10:15 AM  
Blogger G-man said...

What I love about blogging is that it forces one to practice the art of articulation. It has been apparent in the comments on this subject that I need to keep practicing. Thanks to feedback from Cosmosis, I might finally be getting there.

My position is really pretty simple. As Right Hook put it, teaching only one of these theories (Evolution or Intelligent Design) is a disservice to future scientists and thinkers.

Those who oppose I.D. often get hung up on “the who” and forget about “the what”. They get hung up with the connection between God and I.D. Some argue that there is no God or that God cannot be proven to exist, therefore I.D. is not legitimate science. Others simply dismiss the concept as a plot from right-wingers to introduce religion into the classroom.

But I.D. is not about exploring who might be behind the intelligence. It is merely about accepting the possibility that some intelligence beyond our comprehension had a hand in creating life.

So how can I articulate that an intelligent study of this subject can be advanced without focusing on who might be behind the intelligence

It is my contention that there are sufficient holes in the theory of evolution, that honest exploration requires that one must be open to the alternative possibility – open to the possibility that nature had intelligent help. All I seek in the classroom is to open this discussion up such that students can engage in an intelligent discussion on this subject as we are attempting to do here.

For those who contribute to this thread, I appreciate your feedback and your contributions.

(For what it’s worth, I do NOT advocate focusing on “the who” in the classroom. As a Christian, I do believe that focusing on “the who” is best done within an environment of those who share the faith.)

11/12/2005 12:50 PM  
Blogger cosmosis said...

I also appreciate the opportunity to engage others in this discussion. Thank you both g-man and right hook. I personally believe that God created man. But I believe, as g-man predicted, that He used evolution to do it. But with all due respect, I am still wondering what the intelligent design science is? If it is merely pointing out the problems with evolution science, then I'm not only okay with teaching it in the science classroom, but see it as required to help understand where the next opportunities are to advance the theory. But if ID would replace further scientific inquiry with an explanation that cannot be observed, tested, measured, or questioned, then I would oppose it. We should not encourage our children to give up when things get tough. Could someone please give me an example of how a high school biology teacher would present ID? I'm hoping to see an example of something more than a refutation of evolution. Something more than, "...it couldn't have been evolution." I am mindful of g-man's desire to focus on "the what" and not get caught up with "the who" (although I do enjoy "Live at Leeds"). I agree also with right hook who points out the value in these discussions. But I have gotten about halfway through James Perloff's book (second printing was in March 2003) and I'm still wondering what the "what" is. Perloff and g-man both point to "...the failure of mutations to add new genetic information..." p. 74). I think g-man goes further to claim that "...scientists have been unable to prove that a simple organism can mutate into a complex one." Assuming that statement to be true (for the moment) what does it do for the argument of ID? I claim nothing. Unfortunately, complexity in genetics is not as simple as counting genes or proteins or DNA base pairs. Is a cow (3.6 billion DNA base pairs) more complex than a human (3.0 billion)? But just accepting that false premise for the moment, a quick "Googling" yields tons of contrary authority. It seems that the claim propounded by Perloff and g-man is also made by prominent creationist authors like Phillip E. Johnson. But the scientific process kicked in, and the claim was scrutinized, as it should be. I'm not a scientist, but a quick scan of my search results took me to something called Apolipoprotein. It seems that some scientists have observed this protein to have mutated to a form that has improved biological function in combatting arteriosclerosis, and is more complex in structure (hmmm a little loose end, I acknowledge). I leave it to the scientific community to either substantiate those claims through repeatable observation, or not. I'm envisioning a teacher standing up in science class and saying, "An intelligence beyond our understanding could account for all things on the earth, and indeed the entire universe. Here's what we know about that intelligent designer (the who), and the process that was used (the what)...(silence)." I don't mean to caricature anyone's beliefs, but I hope to see a posting that contains a "positive theory" of ID so I, and indeed the scientific community, can examine it.

11/12/2005 8:31 PM  
Blogger G-man said...

Cosmosis, I think we are in agreement.

In its simplest form, Intelligent Design IS the study of evidence and logic that refutes Evolution. To explore evidence that suggests nature needed help, is to accept the possibility that intelligence of some form may have played a role in the origin of species.

Intelligent Design is also the “science of design detection -- how to recognize patterns arranged by an intelligent cause for a purpose”. See www.intelligentdesignnetwork.org for more info. Although, I suspect this might be a level of study beyond high school (It’s been too long since I graduated).

For what it’s worth, I clearly fall into the Creation camp. It is easier for me to believe that the species were created in their present form than to believe that one evolved from another. However, my faith would not be threatened if evolution could be proven true – in whole, or in part. While I think it unlikely, God could certainly have gotten the ball rolling (evolution does not explain where those Big Bang gasses came from). He could have also provided a guiding hand throughout the process.

But, this is not the debate that I propose in government run schools. To be candid, I don’t trust such a theological discussion to a government mandated curriculum.

As a taxpayer and one interested in the sciences, I find it irresponsible for the government to teach Evolution as fact and as the only logical explanation for the origin of the species. I.D. in the classroom is essentially the introduction of objectivity to the study of origins.

It is unfortunate that this has become such a divisive issue. If science class had treated Evolution as a theory and been open to exploring evidence and logic refuting it, none of this current debate would be necessary. While I am not threatened by the potential outcome (should it ever be proven), there are those whose belief system would be threatened if it could ever be proven that Intelligent Design was behind the creation of life. I suspect that fear of offending this crowd and violated the mythical “Separation of Church and State” Amendment is the reason that science class became the exclusive study of Darwin.

I’ve been struggling with a way to articulate this, but I do not see Evolution and I.D. as completely separate fields of study, or separate classes in school. I think the study of the origin of life has evolved into the exclusive study of Evolution. My preference is to see high school science class returned to the study of what has been discovered and what is theorized. Surely, Darwin’s theory would be explored. But, it would be objectively explored with evidence that refutes it and evidence that might suggest a helping hand.

I honestly don’t know if the “design detection” aspect of I.D. need be explored in high school. I don’t know how detailed the study of Evolution is explored. But, should an advanced science class be offered to this level, I do not see a reason that “design detection” should be excluded. Certainly, it should be offered in colleges that explore biological science.

For an example of what Kansas did, check out www.kansasscience2005.com and the one page summary (PDF doc) at www.kansasscience2005.com/Short_summary_of_changes.pdf

11/13/2005 1:57 AM  
Blogger G-man said...

Added thought:. I oppose a high school science class dedicated to proving Darwin (or, I.D.). Instead, I prefer a science class dedicated to exploring the science behind the origin of the species (of which, Evolution and I.D. are elements).

11/13/2005 2:03 AM  
Blogger John said...

G-Man, I think we are in agreement. I too think that, "In its simplest form, Intelligent Design IS the study of evidence and logic that refutes Evolution."-as you say. I'm just not sure about the evidence and logic part. Still, I was surprised at your candor.
I also appreciated the line where you said, "It is easier for me to believe that the species were created in their present form than to believe that one evolved from another."
Which reminds me; I've run into a few people in life (and I'm not saying this is you. just...some other people) who in some cases (other cases than these) believe whatever is easiest to believe, especially in cases where they don't understand what's going on. So, their eyes and ears are always more receptive to whatever helps them believe these things. Because they want to believe them. Because it's much easier to believe them. And they don't have to look far to find some hacks who write books and give speeches using elaborate, smart-sounding arguments for their case. Because if there's something a group of people want to believe, then there's a buck in helping them believe it. And many people, even some pretty intelligent ones, will tell you that Keanu Reeves is the greatest actor in the world if they think there's a buck in it.
For instance: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0859653137/qid=1132184408/sr=2-2/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_2/104-6327118-9016745?v=glance&s=books

11/16/2005 5:43 PM  
Blogger Jambo said...

It is easier for me to believe that the species were created in their present form

So many questions.
Do you believe great danes and poodles were created in their present form?
Do you believe that lions and tigers were?
Do you believe that drug resistant bacteria were created in their present form?

And my unanswered questions from a previous thread:
What does ID predict?
How would one test ID "theory"?
How could it be falsified?

And while we're asking:
Why do ID proponents NEVER publish their work in peer reviewed science journals?

11/17/2005 11:37 AM  
Blogger G-man said...

Jambo, for the sake of brevity, I over-simplified with the use of the word "species". I suspected that the question of cross-breeding in domesticated animals would arise, but chose not to lengthen the post with more detail.

At best, cross-breeding is an example of micro-evolution, not macro-evolution. The cross-breeding of dogs has led to many variants. While I claim no expertise in this field, I do not believe that cross-breeding has resulted in adding anything that the parents didn’t already have. Arguably, the cross breeding does more to remove unwanted traits, by breeding those with desired traits. This, again, supports the hypothesis that the complex cannot be derived from the simple. (Keep in mind that a parent can pass on repressed genetic information that may not be revealed in their direct offspring.)

Can you point to a documented case where cross-breeding has resulted in one species evolving into another?

Regarding the drug resistant bacteria, see my mosquito example in my first post.

Has bacteria really "developed" a resistance to drugs, or are we simply seeing an emergence of drug resistant bacteria that has always existed? It is only natural to develop drugs for the most prominent threat first. If our drugs were only 99.9% successful in killing the targeted bacteria, then it is to be expected for the 0.1% to eventually grow in numbers when the rest are killed off.

Regarding your unanswered questions, your premise "good scientific theory is that it is predictive and testable" would suggest that Evolution is not a good scientific theory. How does one test it? How does one predict the evolution of a species? Is it possible to look at a set of fossils and predict the "next" set without first seeing it?

One can falsify Evolution with evidence and research that demonstrates its core process is flawed – as Dr. Lee Spetner did in his book Not by Chance: Shattering the Modern Theory of Evolution.

As I previously posted, I.D. is essentially the evidence that disputes Evolution. Evolution supports the notion that the complex MUST somehow be derived by something simpler. To suggest that this cannot be, is to suggest that nature had help – presumably from something intelligent.

But, there is more behind I.D. which does demonstrate a potential for testability:

"In a broader sense, Intelligent Design is simply the science of design detection -- how to recognize patterns arranged by an intelligent cause for a purpose. Design detection is used in a number of scientific fields, including anthropology, forensic sciences that seek to explain the cause of events such as a death or fire, cryptanalysis and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). An inference that certain biological information may be the product of an intelligent cause can be tested or evaluated in the same manner as scientists daily test for design in other sciences."

More info here.

Want to see a few scientists who are skeptical of Evolution?

Exactly how are you able to assert that I.D. proponents have "NEVER" published their work in peer reviewed science journals? It doesn’t take much effort to discover that the number of scientists who either question Evolution or outright support I.D. is large and growing. But, many have indeed encountered obstacles from a scientific community unwilling to question itself. The bigger question is "how many scientific journals have REFUSED to publish peer reviewed work from I.D. proponents?"

I don’t know the answer, but the story of Richard Sternberg, who did publish a peer reviewed article supporting I.D. by Stephen Meyer, is quite telling. Sternberg supports evolution and was the editor of an "obscure" science journal related to the Smithsonian. For demonstrating an open mind, he received the wrath of those who do not want I.D. discussed – not unlike those who want to keep our high school students ignorant to anything that refutes Darwin.

My original post was to endorse the idea of exposing our students to a wider body of evidence surrounding Evolution – both in favor and opposed. The evidence supporting I.D. is out there. Refusing to look is a poor way to defend Evolution.

So why do so many want to keep our high school students ignorant to anything opposing Evolution?

11/17/2005 8:02 PM  
Blogger Jambo said...

Evolution doesn't proceed via 'cross-breeding', it occurs thru the gradual accumulation of minor variations over the course of thousands/millions of years. That's kind of what I was getting at with the dogs/lions/tigers bit. Over just a few thousand years there has been a huge variation in dogs, in many ways far greater variation than between different species like lions and tigers. (And you never did answer if you thought those two had a common ancestor or not.) No one denies that the change has occurred in dogs, why is it so hard to accept that the same process has happened with lions, tiger, and every other living thing out there?

A friend of mine likes to use the following example: Suppose every week you changed a couple letters in the bible. Keep if up for thousands of years, using the same 26 building blocks, and you would end up with gibberish. Put in some basic rules about what changes survive (i.e. are "fit") and you end up with a different book. Actually thousands of different books, all with a common ancestor.

I've always liked the example of language since it too evolves bit by bit. The language of our founding documents of 200+ years ago is entirely readable if a bit odd sounding. Elizabethan English is odder still and a bit of a struggle for modern readers. Old English (or is it Olde?) is barely recognizable. Like all languages it has evolved to where it is today, just like all the Romance languages. We know they all came from a common ancestor and nobody denies it just because they never saw Spanish mutate into Portuguese.

And the whole distinction between "micro" and "macro" evolution is a false one. It's not even a concept that comes up when real scientists discuss evolution. The distinction essentially says you can walk across the street but not across town. It's either silly or an indication that the writer does not really understand how evolution works.

ID's prediction is that you will see patterns? That's hardly a scientific theory. Kind of reminds me of Ann Elk's theory (from Monty Python) that dinosaurs are small at one end, big in the middle, and then small at the other end again.

"Is it possible to look at a set of fossils and predict the "next" set without first seeing it?" YES! It happens all the time.

"One can falsify Evolution with evidence and research that demonstrates its core process is flawed" No, you disprove it with data that contraindicates the predictions. Find some for me and we'll talk.

" – as Dr. Lee Spetner did in his book /Not by Chance: Shattering the Modern Theory of Evolution." Spetner is a Rabbi mathematician, not a biologist. As far as I can tell his main point is that the whole thing is just too improbable to work and he seems to have a misunderstanding of just what the process of evolution really is.

And the papers aren't in peer reviewed journals because there is a conspiracy to keep them out? Come on, anytime that is given as a reason you are starting to tread in "Area 51" territory and people will be justified in thinking you are not to be taken seriously.

Remember cold fusion? That was the scientific process at work. A couple scientists thought they had it figured out and no one really believed them. They published their work , it turned out they were indeed wrong, and everyone went back to work. The ID folks know the same thing will happen to them so they fight in the political rather than the scientific arena.

"Want to see a few scientists who are skeptical of Evolution? " I love this argument--100 scientists say they have doubts--as if the theory with the most votes wins! But ID is so dismissed by the scientific community that you can get a list of 200 scientists who think ID is crap made up only of scientists named Steve: http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/4023_the_press_release_2_16_2003.asp

11/21/2005 1:07 PM  
Blogger G-man said...

Jambo, yes I believe that lions and tigers and bears – oh my – were created, essentially, in their present form.

Dr. Lee Spetner holds a Ph.D. in physics from MIT and was (or still is) a professor of Biophysics at John Hopkins. So, has attacking I.D. really come down to attempts to dismiss those who support it by downgrading their credentials?

I do like your language theory. If you randomly changed a few letters in the Bible every week, in time “you would end up with gibberish.” But, when intelligence adds “rules about what changes survive” and then enforces them, you would indeed “end up with a different book”. I’ll have to use this example of Intelligent Design.

If you’ve followed my posts, I, too, hold little distinction between the process of “micro” and “macro” evolution – or lack thereof.

I.D. proponents have certainly faced obstacles in scientific circles that are firmly footed in evolutionary fossils. But, this is not a conspiracy, simply the result of a common mindset. ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN are firmly grounded in their liberal bias, but this isn’t a conspiracy either. It is simply a reflection that their news staffs share a common political belief system. Numerous studies show 80+% of them voted Democrat in each of the past Presidential elections since 1972. (Please try to refute this – PLEASE!) There is no dispute that Evolution is popular among many, but clearly not all, scientists.

As I have previously posted, my intent behind these posts and comments was not to debate Evolution vs. Intelligent Design. I fully expect this debate to occupy scientific circles – and journals – for years to come.

My intent is simply to point out there is science behind I.D. and our students should be educated in both theories such that they, too, could contribute to discussions like this.

Still, you have not answered my question: “So why do so many want to keep our high school students ignorant to anything opposing Evolution?”

11/21/2005 8:08 PM  
Anonymous wild_strawberry said...

I am a natural resource manager; my graduate and undergraduate education focused on plant/microbe evolutionary ecology. I've been involved with the construction of phylogenies (family trees) of fungi based on DNA of modern fungi and looking at how different environments affect the genetic makeup of the same starter population. I have never doubted the existence of God one day in my life, and the theory of evolution is the best explanation of the natural world.

My familiarity with the inner workings of the evolutionary process has only strengthened my wonder and love of God. Evolution is such a fantastic process... no different in its glory than weather patterns or the formations of mountains and valleys. God is mysterious, but I know God does not do things with "magic"...suddenly creating species, mountains, or river valleys.

I do not agree that intellent design should be taught in science class becuase it is not science...its logic vs. magic, yet I do think that some forum for students to explore their questions about evolution needs to exist... Whether as a three-day discussion in science class or in social studies class.

By the way, I read the Bible to my young son nightly. The creation of everything is our favorite passage.

11/26/2005 7:11 AM  
Blogger G-man said...

A three day class to explore their questions? With all due respect, would they know what questions to ask?

Does this mean that you support keeping our high school students ignorant to anything opposing Evolution?

There is a revealing trend in the comments that have been posted on this subject. Those who appear to be familiar only with Evolution oppose teaching anything else. Those who appear to be familiar with both Evolution and Intelligent Design support teaching both. At least one has expressed familiarity with Evolution, but was exploring I.D. and leaning toward teaching it – at least to the extent of teaching that which opposes Evolution.

With all the politically correct stuff now taught in high school, why is it such an issue to expand the horizons of our students with knowledge of other scientific exploration?

It occurs to me that there is a fundamental flaw in asking one who is convinced that Evolution is fact to consider teaching alternatives. To grant such a request can be construed as admitting that Evolution is not fact. To teach I.D. is therefore not considered a request to be more inclusive of existing scientific study, but a request to reject one’s current faith in Evolution.

I’m boggled that so many in the Evolution camp are unwilling to accept the fact that alternative views exist in the scientifict community – not to accept an alternative view itself – but, simply that such views exist with credible scientists. Or, do they accept this fact, yet still prefer to keep our students ignorant to it?

(I can hear it now. Some of you think that only those scientists who agree with you are “credible”. I guess that rules out Albert Einstein!)

11/26/2005 11:30 PM  

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