Friday, May 11, 2007

Intelligent design is a science, not a faith

If Darwinists distinguished between science and their religious beliefs, we'd all be wiser, says Richard Buggs

Tuesday January 9, 2007
The Guardian

'It is true that complex things in nature look as if they have been designed. Darwin knew this. But the sublime truth about his theory is that it explains how complex things can come about without design." That was James Randerson arguing that Darwin refuted intelligent design - which, he says, has no place in school science (Here endeth the lesson, December 13).

Darwin made a massive contribution to science, and his ideas still suggest hypotheses today. These provide the starting point for my own research, published in journals of evolution. But despite the brilliance of Darwin's work, it is overoptimistic to claim that his theory explains the origin of all living things.

If Darwin had known what we now know about molecular biology - gigabytes of coded information in DNA, cells rife with tiny machines, the highly specific structures of certain proteins - would he have found his own theory convincing? Randerson thinks that natural selection works fine to explain the origin of molecular machines. But the fact is that we are still unable even to guess Darwinian pathways for the origin of most complex biological structures.

Science has turned lots of corners since Darwin, and many of them have thrown up data quite unpredicted by his theory. Who, on Darwinian premises, would have expected that the patterns of distribution and abundance of species in tropical rainforests could be modelled without taking local adaptation into account? Or that whenever we sequence a new genome we find unique genes, unlike any found in other species? Or that bacteria gain pathogenicity (the ability to cause disease) by losing genes?

But, whatever the limitations of Darwinism, isn't the intelligent design alternative an "intellectual dead end"? No. If true, ID is a profound insight into the natural world and a motivator to scientific inquiry. The pioneers of modern science, who were convinced that nature is designed, consequently held that it could be understood by human intellects. This confidence helped to drive the scientific revolution. More recently, proponents of ID predicted that some "junk" DNA must have a function well before this view became mainstream among Darwinists.

But, according to Randerson, ID is not a science because "there is no evidence that could in principle disprove ID". Remind me, what is claimed of Darwinism? If, as an explanation for organised complexity, Darwinism had a more convincing evidential basis, then many of us would give up on ID.

Finally, Randerson claims that ID is "pure religion". In fact, ID is a logical inference, based on data gathered from the natural world, and hence it is firmly in the realm of science. It does not rely upon the Bible, the Qur'an, or any religious authority or tradition - only on scientific evidence. When a religious person advocates teaching ID in science without identification of the designer, there is no dishonesty or "Trojan horse", just realism about the limitations of the scientific method. If certain Darwinists also had the intellectual honesty to distinguish between science and their religious beliefs, the public understanding of science would be much enhanced.

· Richard Buggs sits on the scientific panel of Truth in Science

January 9, 2007 1:15 AM

Mr Buggs each of your conclusions is based on a simple error of reason.

Your final point [ID is not pure religion, but a logical inference] fails to complete the necessary causative chain. Assume you are right that ID is a more logical explanation of, say, mammalian or reptilian remains we have found. You still have to go the next step and explain why design by an inanimate deity is the most likely or even a remotely conceivable logical likelihood. The rest of your theory is of no value unless you can bridge this yawning chasm too. It is your own ‘missing link’.

Your penultimate point [“if true, ID is a profound insight into the natural world”] only has to be stated for its logical error to be clear. You are presupposing something to be true, as evidence (or a logical reason) for its existence. Back to the drawing-board with that.

Your main opening point appears to be that because parts of the natural world cannot yet be proven to comply with Darwinian principles (often of course simply for lack of evidence) therefore we should dismiss those ancestral lines for which such evidence does exist, and which plausibly demonstrate the broad truth of Darwin’s propositions. Logically wrong. You need to show that those for which there is evidence disprove or cannot be logically consistent with broad Darwinian principles. You don’t even attempt this.

Your best point seems to be that you have been able to get some of this stuff published in journals of evolution. Now that is a miracle. It is certainly the best evidence for a deity to be found in your article.

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January 9, 2007 1:37 AM

Richard Buggs, you say this has nothing to do with the bible, but I'd put money on you being a good god fearing Christian. Why do you think there is so often a connection if this is a purely scientific matter as you claim?

I think your role is similar to those tiny amount of climate change deniers that oil companies fund.

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January 9, 2007 1:49 AM

Mr Buggs, to scientifically prove that ID is a science, you have to make a prediction about the natural world which will only work if ID is correct and evolution is not correct. It shouldn't be too hard, you have had 6000 years and an omnipotent designer to help you figure one out.

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January 9, 2007 2:06 AM

Exactly, Hydro. Going on the logic contained within this piece, the fat controller responsible for designing Buggs either lacks intelligence or has a wicked sense of humour.

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January 9, 2007 2:49 AM

What a load of cobblers. Every one of these arguments against Darwinism have been refuted by Richard Dawkins in Climbing Mount Improbable. Buggs is merely arguing from personal incredulity, which is incredibly arrogant. Because HE can't fathom an explanation, then there CAN'T BE ONE! What tosh.
Further, even if Darwinism were false, it would certainly not lead to the conclusion that ID is true. And ID is definitely not science, because it lacks the defining element of science: falsifiability. C'mon, Buggs, design an experimental protocol to test the primary tenet of ID: "God did it". You can't, because ID is religion, not science, as Michael Shermer pointed out in Why Darwin Matters. I guess real science must really... (wait for it!) BUGG you. (Ha! Ha!)
Oh, and shame on the scientifically illiterate editors ofthe Guardian for printing Buggs's drivel.

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January 9, 2007 3:03 AM

What a boring subject. When will we be free of dogmatic theology?

What happened to the old pagan world? What happened to natural theology?

Emerson wrote - "The Religion that is afraid of science dishonors God and commits suicide."

Science will lead us, has indeed already, to the author of the universe. Einstein believed, or rather felt, that in his work he was tracking an intelligence far superior to his own.

Who can explain the existence of mathematics? Or the discovery of it?

Pythagoras pulled geometry out of his own mind. And yet it is the measure of planetary motion! A pure abstraction of the human mind, and yet it rules the universe.... "God", if you want to call it that, is a mathematician. Or rather is mathematics, and more.

William Burroughs' portrait of a society obsessed with addiction and consumerism, whipped up by advertising, the politics of addiction, mass madness, and virus panic, was all too prophetic.

"The fate of the poor shepherd, who, blinded and lost in the snow-storm, perishes in a drift within a few feet of his cottage door, is an emblem of the state of man. On the brink of the waters of life and truth, we are miserably dying."

Richard Dawkins wants to remove religion from the planet. He is going to be disappointed. Superstition alone is embedded in the human mind. Who would swap their wedding ring for an exact replica for $100? Why do we think such things contain with a certain spiritual significance? That is superstition is it not?

"The universal impulse to believe, that is the material circumstance, and is the principal fact in the history of the globe."

Still, the moral force comes through history, an iron thread, just like maths. It comes through history as a little dream of spiritual elegance and economic simplicity, and collaboration and cooperating communally-all of those things together. It may be that it was the early Christian vision. Certainly it was one part of the early Buddhist vision.

There is a whole new generation in search of a new religion.

"The true doctrine of omnipresence is, that God reappears with all his parts in every moss and cobweb. The value of the universe contrives to throw itself into every point. If the good is there, so is the evil; if the affinity, so the repulsion; if the force, so the limitation. Thus is the universe alive. All things are moral."

We distrust our sympathy with nature. A man is a god in ruins. But a new religion beckons, and it is of the oldest kind, without name, or titular pedestal.

The increasing sense of dependence of the earth, the interconnection of life, this can help us develop a ecosophy; a true environmental sense. For we didn't come into the world when we were born, we came out of it, like an apple from a tree. This will be emancipation from the idea that we are allowed to eat up the planet. Instead we are stewards; an ecological stewardship, a noblesse oblige. Just as in the old Jewish history of the Revelation at Mt. Sinai, we need a covenant with those not yet born to be stewards of the earth, to pass it on.

And so the ancient precept, "Know thyself," and the modern precept, "Study nature," become at last one maxim.

It is not man who pursues truth, but truth man.

A thought too bold, — a dream too wild?

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January 9, 2007 5:03 AM

The comments here so far are more interesting than the article. Great points by downsman and aleph (love the Burroughs reference!).

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January 9, 2007 5:19 AM

To be fair on him, he never claims we were designed by an omnipotent deity. Maybe he thinks we were designed by superintelligent aliens. There's much more of evidence for that than God - just look at all the people who've been abducted.

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January 9, 2007 5:24 AM

"If Darwinists distinguished between science and their religious beliefs,"

The thing is, we do, that's why those of us who are both Christians and scientists acknowledge that the theory of evolution is based on scientific observation, while our belief that God is responsible for creation and evolution is solely within the realm of faith. It is you, Mr Buggs, who seems unable to separate the two.

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January 9, 2007 5:49 AM

Buggs, bunny, you hoist yourself on your own petard.

"If Darwin had known what we now know about molecular biology - gigabytes of coded information in DNA, cells rife with tiny machines, the highly specific structures of certain proteins - would he have found his own theory convincing?"

The reductive explanation of the mechanism of evolution which is provided by molecular biology is the clinching argument in it's favour. Indeed if we knew what we know about molecular biology and hadn't yet thought of the possibility of evolution we would be compelled to invent it.

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January 9, 2007 6:33 AM

I wonder whether Richard Buggs is funded by some US evangelical foundation. It has all the signs of being such because, outside this lot, not many believe in ID (and I don’t mean cards!). Bush and his [fake] religious cronies (who regularly speak to god) rear their ugly heads up again! Before these latter day spinners got involved, this concept was not even called 'Intelligent Design'. Next thing, you know, Bush will be called an 'intelligent president' and, before long, Buggs will be defending this myth as well! Pity they do not have the intellect of 'downsman' and 'kimpatsu'.

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January 9, 2007 7:19 AM

Someone here reprimands the Guardian for printing this silly article. I protest. These weirdo religious nutters with their insane fairytales bring out some wonderfully robust, expert arguers, for which I am deeply grateful. Thank you for your vigilance, otherwise these stupid empty, childlike ideas would stand uncontested in the Guardian archives - and they mustn't be allowed so to do.

Also, at 7.12am, after a night spent working right through, I particularly wish to tweak the sleeve of both Downsman & AdvocatusDiaboli for some fabulously clever and funny gags. (Buggs Bunny... just great!)

I am always so relieved to find that when the one-eyed crazy monsters emerge there are a pack of you standing by waiting calmly to take the crazies straight off to the mental assylum, using pure, cold reason - and satire. PLEASE don't ever go away... Someone above writes of climate change deniers. Exactly. If only these nutcases could turn their passions towards the need to reaxmine our actual - as in real, as opposed to imaginary - lives and stop farting about thinking about fairies, then maybe, maybe, we could save the human race.

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January 9, 2007 7:28 AM

time to give ID a good scientific work-over. As several other posters pointed out, fine to have intelligent design as a theory - but the key thing is to test it. That is what makes it science.

Difficult to get to grips with this as Buggs does not state what his theory is. The name gives no clues - "intelligent" is notoriously difficult to define, so much so that the education system gave up trying to test for intelligence years ago, as it could never define exactly what intelligence was. As for design - what is meant there? I assume something similar to designing furniture perhaps - ie assess a need - come up with something on paper - construct, install.

So if this is ID theory, what might the theory predict? About say taking bacteria and throwing them into a new culture containing, say, an antibiotic which usually kills them? Or putting them into a new culture, where the only possible source of food is cellulose? Something bacteria usually can't eat? I could in theory design experiments on plants - of the genus Senecio for instance, or Mercurialis - but bugs are usually faster to study.

First, with the bacteria and antibiotic - the intelligent designer presumably wants some bugs to live, since bugs on antibiotics do usually become resistant - so the designer has endowed - or endows - them with a way to do so.

Since this is design, there is presumably one mechanism only provided for. If you have come up with a way to make bugs resistant - then why re-invent it for every new bug that wants to do the trick? So we can take say three dozen cultures of bugs - put them in the same antibiotic - and we predict, the ones that resist it, will all show the same changes. So we could test it, by looking at different bacteria which have all become resistant. We would expect to see the same changes in them each time. Exactly the same. My own penchant is for DNA sequencing, so we might look for changes in that. But I'm open to suggestions.

Also cellulose. Cellulose (straw, cotton, paper, wheat stems) is notoriously difficult to digest, but if you can digest it, it breaks down into glucose, which is a great food. The designer has already come up with a design, that allows some organisms to live on cellulose - one thinks of termites, fungi, and shipworms. Those designs are successful - the organisms thrive. The mechanism for living on cellulose, must be a fairly robust design, as it works in different types of organisms.

The designer presumably intends bugs to survive if they face hardship - when you throw them into antibiotic, some usually become resistant. So again you can predict that you could take some bacteria - ones that cannot usually live on cellulose - and put them in a medium where cellulose is the only possible food source - the designer will have endowed them with a means to survive. ID theory leads to the following predictions.

-there should be no problem in bugs becoming able to eat cellulose. A design for organisms eating cellulose, already exists and works in various organisms.

-the mechanism seen in the bugs, will be exactly the same as that seen in the other organisms. As every designer knows, if you come up with one good design, use the same thing again and again.

-if you do the experiment with lots of differnet batches of bugs, the changes seen in each batch will be the same.

So those would be two or three clear predictions from intelligent design that allow the theory to be tested a little.

The ID people can modify these suggestions if they like, as long as they work on the same basic ideas. Bacteria put into antibiotics that usually kill them. Bacteria put onto cellulose, something they can't usually eat.

The other thing the ID people really need to spell out is what they mean by the intelligent part of the theory. Intelligence is notoriouslyu difficult to define, so they'd better tell us wha they mean by it here, and what the defining charactersistics are of this type of intelligence. Once we know those, we can start to make preedictions about how the intelligent being or whatever might behave. And make some predictons on the direction of change. And design experiments to bring about that change, and then see if its direction, is the same as the one we predicted, or different from the one we predicted.

I suspect the above have already been tried, and that there is already information on what types of things happen, when you throw bacteria into antibiotic, or force them to eat cellulose. So much the better, as the results are already known. Up to other posters to fill in the details....

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