David, one of my blogging patrons, has a graduation gift of sorts for me – notes from last night’s debate between the Cornell IDEA and ACLU clubs on “Should intelligent design be allowed in the public school science curriculum?”
My thoughts first:
Firstly, I thought the IDEA Center and Discovery Institute’s official policy wasn’t to teach their pet theory, but to teach “critical evaluation of evolution.” Apparently, IDEA members are no longer continuing that little charade.
Second, it’s a shame that the ACLU side didn’t appear to represent well. Even more of a shame, however, is how Hannah et al. continue to plod along, thinking that criticisms of evolution (well-founded or not) translate into evidence for alternatives. As I’ve said before, science is a meritocracy – if you find that a theory is contradicted by evidence, you revise or replace it with a theory that does fit the evidence. The ACLU apparently did not emphasize this enough – so-called anti-evolutionists have not actually experimentally identified anything outside of the realm of descent with modification or universal common descent; nor have they experimentally identified anything that ID explains non-trivially. Thus, ID fails to pass this basic standard of the scientific method.
And third, it’s a joke that Hannah and Sean tried to deny ID is steeped not in science, but in theistic philosophy. That’s blatantly clear to anyone who has even a rudimentary knowledge of what Billy Dembski’s, Phillip Johnson’s, and this guy’s motivations are. Hannah continues to deny the obvious here.
And fourth, why should Hannah et al. bother to argue whether ID was science, when they could be in the lab doing experiments to test their theory? Well-designed experimental methodologies solve all in science – words and rhetoric certainly will not get their pet theory into science classes.
Anyway, David’s notes and comments from the debate, below the fold:
An account of the Intelligent Design debate at Cornell on November 29, 2006
6:30 PM, 165 McGraw Hall
David J. Schuller
Question: “Should intelligent design be allowed in the public school science curriculum?”
(I didn’t take written notes, the wording may not be exact.)
In favor, the IDEA Club at Cornell: Hannah Maxson and Sean Francis-Lyon.
Opposed, Cornell ACLU: Everet Yi and Barbie Hsu.
I didn’t catch the affiliation or names of the moderators.
This event was very poorly attended in comparison to last year’s debate. I would guess less than 30 people in the room, including participants. No faculty were in attendance, I believe I was the senior person in the room. There was one post-doc, a few grad students, and the rest undergrads, most of whom seemed to be friends of the participants.
I was not impressed with the debating prowess of either side. The key issue is whether Intelligent Design (ID) is science, and most of the participants apparently had very little understanding of science. The one exception is Ms. Hannah Maxson, whom I have read is a triple major in Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics. I was especially disappointed with the ACLU representatives, since I know how weak the ID case is, and the ACLU side did not do a good job of capitalizing on the weaknesses. Mr. Yi participated in last year’s debate, it is unfortunate that he has not done his homework in the interim.
There were the usual opening statements and rebuttals, with not a lot of action until the eventual audience participation portion of the program. Once audience participation was allowed, the moderators loosened control considerably. Closing statements followed.
The ACLU claimed that ID is religion, and that most proponents believe the “designer” to be God. That if ID is science, then so is astrology. That ID could be taught in a social studies or comparative religion class, but not in science class, due to laws on separation of church and state. They mentioned the Wedge Strategy, which spells out the religious motivations and goals of the ID movement. With the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision already on the books, the ACLU did not do a good job of making use of readily available material. Since the ACLU did not do a good job of rebutting ID claims, I will do so in the following account. I will even include a few links in case they wish to study up before the next debate. I will group comments topically rather than chronologically.
The IDEA Club started with definitions of science and religion, and claimed that ID is science, not religion. The definition of science was given by Mr. Francis-Lyon from dictionary.com, and was something like this (the #1 definition at that site): “a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences.” Oddly enough, later in the evening Mr. Francis-Lyon would claim that mathematics was not science. Mr. Francis-Lyon did not give a thorough definition of religion, just saying that it involves “faith.”
During the audience participation session, the post-doc present criticized Mr. Francis-Lyon for obtaining his definitions of science and religion from different sources. Apparently this is a violation of good debate protocol, a topic of which I do not know a great deal. I object to the definition of science for a different reason, which several questioners approached indirectly. Most scientists would not define science as a body of knowledge. Most scientists would define science as a method. The Scientific Method is “a method of research in which a problem is identified, relevant data are gathered, a hypothesis is formulated from these data, and the hypothesis is empirically tested.” This is very important because ID does not meet standards of scientific testability. If Mr. Francis-Lyon’s definition were used, then perhaps ID might qualify as a science, but so would astrology. Michael Behe, a biochemist who is the scientific darling of the ID movement, acknowledged under oath during the Kitzmiller trial that if his own expanded definitions for science and for theory were adopted, then ID would qualify as a scientific theory, and so would astrology.
The IDEA Club allowed that ID might not be good science (although they played both sides of that net on that issue), but that quality is not the issue, only the nature of ID. They stated that even if proponents have religious motivations, these do not matter. I agree with them on this; if ID had one ounce of validity as science, the religious motivations would not matter. But it doesn’t. For comparison, Mr. Francis-Lyon used the Big Bang theory. He stated that acceptance of the theory was resisted because the theory has religious implications. Fair enough. However, the Big Bang theory is now widely accepted in science, and is backed up by considerable evidence (e.g. The cosmic microwave background). ID cannot point to such acceptance or such evidence. Unless or until it can, ID is more comparable to the Flat Earth theory.
The ID side noted that some theories that are not accepted as good theories are taught in science classes. For example, a geology instructor might note the Flat Earth theory in class in order to dismiss it and state the evidence against. However, this has no bearing on any situation in which ID has been promoted. In Dover, PA, in Ohio, in Kansas, and everywhere else it has arisen, proponents have wished ID to be taught as a legitimate scientific theory and as a viable alternative to evolution. At this point an IDEA Club member in the audience mentioned that various Cornell biology instructors have discussed ID in class. I insisted that she make it clear that these instructors (MacNeill, Provine and others) do not support ID and do not consider it to be science. I will add here that “Free” Will Provine has taught a summer course on Creationism (the old-fashioned Creation Science version, not the watered-down ID) for years, and that Creationism is not considered to be science, a judgment to which the ID side has assented.
The ID side stated that ID is not a faith-based presupposition but rather a conclusion based on analysis of the evidence. Since ID has no evidence this claim has no foundation. Ms. Maxson claimed that ID is based on positive evidence, but she did not provide any. She is also at odds with leaders of the ID movement in that claim. George Gilder, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute (The leading proponent and funder of Intelligent Design) stated in an interview in the Boston Globe (July 27, 2005, Joseph P. Kahn):
“I’m not pushing to have [ID] taught as an ‘alternative’ to Darwin, and neither are [the Discovery Institute], What’s being pushed is to have Darwinism critiqued, to teach there’s a controversy. Intelligent design itself does not have any content.”
Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don’t have such a theory right now, and that’s a problem. Without a theory, it’s very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now, we’ve got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as “irreducible complexity” and “specified complexity” – but, as yet, no general theory of biological design.
Since no ID research is being carried out, proponents have no hope of accumulating any evidence. Here’s a clip from an article by Laurie Goodstein, NY Times, December 4, 2005: Intelligent Design Might Be Meeting Its Maker:
The Templeton Foundation, a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research.
“They never came in,” said Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president at the Templeton Foundation, who said that while he was skeptical from the beginning, other foundation officials were initially intrigued and later grew disillusioned.
“From the point of view of rigor and intellectual seriousness, the intelligent design people don’t come out very well in our world of scientific review,” he said.
In an odd recent development, ID proponent such as Paul Nelson have claimed that the Discovery Institute is funding a secret research program.
Now, Discovery actually funds a great deal of primary research — go ahead, snicker — but those receiving the support and their specific projects have become a very quiet business indeed, and that need for secrecy may continue for a long time. So I’m not griping about DI’s failure to support scientific research. I know what’s happening safely away from the relentless gaze of the Panda’s Thumb.
(The Panda’s Thumb is a pro-science blog, and a good source of anti-ID information.)
Both presenters for the ID side used an analogy of a car as a designed object, which could be compared to complicated biological systems. I pointed out rather forcefully that the “argument from design” has been used for thousands of years, most famously by Rev. William Paley in the early 1800s, and that it has always been used as a religious argument for the existence of God. Now it is being passed off as as nonreligious scientific argument. The ID side acknowledged that Paley’s watch argument had been shot down (by Darwin’s theory of natural selection), but insisted that their use of the car analogy differed in some important respect from Paley’s watch, although they could not specify any difference that I could discern. Michael Behe has acknowledged under oath that his “purposeful arrangement of parts (a relatively recent term to replace his “irreducible complexity”, which has held up poorly under examination) is identical to Paley’s watch argument. This was an easy point against ID, and one the ACLU presenters should have made. At other times in the evening, the ID folks seemed to acknowledge that Behe’s irreducible complexity is not holding up well, and Ms. Maxson acknowledged at one point that randomness can generate complexity.
Ms. Maxson at one point raised an argument for “specified complexity”, a term fabricated by William Dembksi, (Who elsewhere has remarked, “ID is the logos theology of John’s Gospel in the idiom of information theory”) to support ID. She claimed there are actual equations! A questioner said that he had corresponded with Jeffrey Shallit, a widely acknowledged expert in information theory, who had dismissed the idea of specified complexity. (As have other experts in information theory.) Rather inconveniently, Ms Maxson stated that she had not read much of Shallit’s work.
Ms. Maxson stated that ID has a collection of 30 or so peer-reviewed publications. She did not provide a list, nor cite any publications from it, but from the number I gather she was talking about the Discovery Institute’s list of Peer-Reviewed & Peer-Edited Scientific Publications Supporting the Theory of Intelligent Design. The total number of publications in that list is not impressive. It would be easy to find more publications than that on cold fusion (920 in a recent search of the Science Citation Index), which I hope everyone would acknowledge is not ready for inclusion in the K-12 science curriculum. Also, many of the publications listed are books or book chapters. In fact, one book and many of its chapters are listed as separate entries. In scientific peer-review, publications are reviewed by acknowledged experts in the relevant field, not by your pals at a political think tank. Michael Behe has boasted, even under oath, that his book Darwin’s Black Box was peer-reviewed, and that the peer-review was even stronger than for typical journal publications (translation for the uninitiated: the first reviewers advised against publication, so the publisher sought additional reviewers). Michael Atchison of the University of Pennsylvania has commented publicly that he cast the deciding vote to publish Darwin’s black Box in a brief phone call with the publisher, and that at the time he had not read a manuscript of it. Book publishers are more concerned with marketability than scientific rigor and thus I discount the listed books and book chapters.
What of the actual publications in peer-reviewed science journals? The Discovery Institute list contains only about seven. Let’s look at a couple of them:
1) S.C. Meyer, “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories,” Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 117(2) (2004): 213-239.
This is a review article and contains no new data. It is published in an inappropriate journal through the actions of a rogue editor, Richard Sternberg. The scientific quality of this article is so low that the publisher has issued a statement disowning it. Thorough dissections of Meyer’s paper can be found online.
2) M.J. Behe and D.W. Snoke, “Simulating Evolution by Gene Duplication of Protein Features That Require Multiple Amino Acid Residues,” Protein Science, 13 (2004): 2651-2664.
Behe & Snoke contains no experimental data, only the results of a computer model. Michael Lynch, an acknowledged expert in population genetics published a response in the same journal:
3) Simple evolutionary pathways to complex proteins
Michael Lynch, Protein Science (2005), 14:2217-2225
Here are a couple of quotes from Lynch’s paper:
A recent paper in this journal has challenged the idea that complex adaptive features of proteins can be explained by known molecular, genetic, and evolutionary mechanisms. It is shown here that the conclusions of this prior work are an artifact of unwarranted biological assumptions, inappropriate mathematical modeling, and faulty logic.
Before proceeding, a fundamental flaw in the argument of Behe and Snoke needs to be pointed out. Although the authors claim to be evaluating whether Darwinian processes are capable of yielding new multi-residue functions, the model that they present is non- Darwinian.
So it seems that the authors literally did not know what they were writing about. (“Darwinian” refers to evolution through natural selection. Since the Behe & Snoke model removed did not include selection after a single mutation, it was technically about neutral drift, a non-Darwinian process.)
To sum up, very few peer-review publications support ID, and those that do are of extremely low quality.
At another point, Ms. Maxson attempted to claim that even if ID was a “science-stopper”, an idea that would stifle further inquiry, this was no reason to exclude it from science. As an example, she chose Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. This is a startlingly bad choice. The uncertainty principle is not in any way a science stopper. It gives a relationship between conjugate properties of a particle, such as position and momentum. It has not stopped the progress of quantum mechanics, which has been fabulously successful over the last century. The uncertainty principle can also be measured, and it can be used as a basis for further research. It is in no way comparable to ID.
The ID proponents also stated that a judge has no business deciding what is science and what is not. Judge Jones has explained in interviews since his decision in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial that both sides had asked him to rule on that very issue. The Discovery Institute submitted an amicus curiae brief and expert reports in an attempt to establish that ID was science. The judge ruled, as they had asked him to do; just not in their favor. They lost the case. Judge Jones found that 1) ID is essentially Creationism, which is subject to previous rulings in the separation of church and state. 2) ID is at its core religion. 3) ID is not science.
One of the ACLU’s combatants in the debate, Everet Yi, emailed me this morning (12/9), with a long post, including the following:
Additionally, I feel compelled to defend my honor. I read the post and it criticized me for my weak arguments in tying ID to a religious view. First of all, my debater and I had an agreement that she would show that ID is a religious ideology, while I would talk about the legal and constitutional aspect of teaching ID in Science classrooms. After all the debate’s title
was “Should Intelligent Design be Taught in Public Schools (Science Curriculum)” and not “Is Intelligent Design a Science?”
This followed a reminder that the ACLU is not a single-issue advocacy group like IDEA, nor were they experts on biology. And I do admit to a bit of chagrin, because he’s right, I’m sure that he and his partner on the ACLU side did an admirable job. That David (who was there) or I (who relied on David’s version of events, and am even less reliable on what happened) would be able to criticize them on nothing more than “not having emphasized [specific points] strongly enough” just goes to show that Everet and his partner put in an admirable effort. We, as biologists, will always chafe when creationism’s trojan horse gets any amount of fair time in a debate, while equally silly theories (e.g. “intelligent falling,” or “FSMism”) are not – but we should cut the ACLU team some slack for their stalwart attempt.
Anyway, I’m just about to reply with an apology, and ask to post his email here in full, to give his side of the debate.