Saturday, August 04, 2007

Intelligent Thought by John Brockman

"It will not be possible to rule out the supposition that the process of evolution may be guided by an intelligent design." - Oxford scholar, F.C.S. Schiller, 1897

“Today, the theory of evolution is an accepted fact for everyone but a fundamentalist minority, whose objections are based not on reasoning but on doctrinaire adherence to religious principles."
- James D. Watson.

Intelligent Design
advances the idea that our world was created by a supernatural being. ID proponents believe that this concept is a scientifically valid alternative to Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

In his book Intelligent Thought - Science Versus the Intelligent Design Movement, author John Brockman presents essays on ID by some of the world's top scientists. Contributors include:

Leonard Susskind - the Felix Bloch Professor of theoretical physics at Stanford. He is the author of The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and The Illusion of Intelligent Design.

Richard Dawkins - an evolutionary biologist, is Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. His book The Selfish Gene has generated much discussion among scientists and lay people.

Lisa Randall - is Professor of Physics at Harvard University. She is the author of Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions.

The overwhelming conclusion of the book's contributors is that ID is not science - for three fundamental reasons:

  • A primary rule of science is that natural causes must be attributed to natural phenomena. ID relies on supernatural causality, (i.e. God) which violates this rule. Once you abandon natural causation, you enter into the area of magic or metaphysics - neither of which is science.
  • Intelligent Design has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community. As a result, it has not been presented in peer-review journals. Such publication is de rigueur for any new theory to be validated.
  • ID is not subject to scientific methodology, so the accuracy of ID's claims cannot be independently authenticated.

The same conclusion was reached in 2005 by the United States District Court, for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in the famous case of Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District. The court determined that ID was not science, and that teaching it (as science) in the classroom violated The Establishment Clause of The First Amendment. This clause states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion".

In his Introduction, Brockman notes an irony about presiding Judge John E. Jones III: "Readers can rely on the writings of the scientists in this volume (Brockman's book). They can also rely on the words of this lifelong Republican jurist, who was appointed to the court by the current President of the United States (himself a born-again Christian fundamentalist)."

A primary difference between Intelligent Design and the Theory of Evolution is in answering the question - "How did today's life forms get here?" ID advocates state that all life was created abruptly - by a supernatural designer. As as a result, today's flora and fauna have the same form as when they first appeared on Earth. In other words, evolution of species never occurred.

However an overwhelming majority of scientists support an opposing view - the Theory of Evolution, with natural selection and gradual adaptation as its driving forces.

Another tenet of ID is that - Where Evolution is discredited, Intelligent Design is confirmed. This logic is fundamentally flawed, as indicated below:

Item A is red

Item B is blue

If Item C is not red, then it must be blue.

Item C does not have to be blue. It could be yellow, black, white, green, or any other color of the light spectrum. Item C could also be a color that hasn't been discovered yet.

The Wedge Document is an internal memorandum of the Discovery Institute - one of the primary supporters of ID. The Wedge Document was leaked to the Internet in 1999, and was later authenticated by the Institute. Many scientists believe that this document spells out ID advocates' real agenda - to introduce religious doctrine into schools and science. The Wedge Document states "The social consequences of materialism have been devastating. As symptoms, these consequences are certainly worth treating. However, we are convinced that in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source. That source is scientific materialism. This is precisely our strategy. If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree, out strategy is intended to function as a "wedge" that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points. . . Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialistic worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

Well known proponents of ID include:

Michael J. Behe - author of Darwin's Black Box (1996). One of the arguments of this book is that many biological systems are irreducibly complex at the molecular level. Therefore, they could not have gradually evolved to their current state.

Pervical Davis and Dean H. Kenyon - who authored Of Pandas and People. ID advocates are promoting this as a (required) high school biology text.

Former Pennsylvania Republican Senator Rick Santorum - Wikipedia states "In 2001, Santorum tried unsuccessfully to insert language which came to be known as the Santorum Amendment into the No Child Left Behind bill that sought to promote the teaching of intelligent design while questioning the academic standing of evolution in public schools."

Scott Minnich - whose slogan Teach the Controversy has been praised and condemned by opposing sides. The scientific community's view is that unless intelligent design can be proven to be a valid scientific discipline, then it is inappropriate to compare intelligent design to evolution in a science class. This discussion is better suited for a course in philosophy or religion.

Phillip E. Johnson - a retired UC Berkley Law Professor, is considered by many to be The Father of Intelligent Design. He is the author of Darwin on Trial which argues that science should allow for supernatural explanations.

Intelligent Thought, gives the following bio for author John Brockman - "John Brockman, editor of many books including The Next Fifty Years, Curious Minds, What We Believe But Cannot Prove, and My Einstein, is also the author of By the Late John Brockman and The Third Culture. He is the founder and CEO of Brockman, Inc., a literary and software agency, and the publisher of the website Edge, the forum for leading scientists and thinkers to share their research with the general public."

Brockman's editorial skills contributed greatly to the success of this book. The essays that he presents are written in uncomplicated and focused prose. This makes them easy to understand -even for non-technical readers. The physicist Ernest Rutherford once said "If you can't explain a result in simple, nontechnical terms, then you really don't understand it."

In this post, I have tried to provide the basic elements of this controversy, and also to provide resources - so that readers can make an informed decision about what to believe. I invite your comments.

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