Posted by: Dan | August 16, 2006

Reactions to Evolution and Design

Allen MacNeill’s summer session seminar on Evolution and Design: Is there a purpose in nature? has concluded, and the student papers have been submitted. They’re quite impressive indeed, and at least a couple of the papers reflect essays found in John Brockman’s Intelligent Thought.

They appear to follow several themes:

  • E. Broaddus and J. Schaub echo a popular contemporary theory of cognitive science and the social evolution of man – that we are cognitively predisposed to view the world teleologically, and that religion overall might have its roots in altruism.
  • E. Mathisen and J. Schlachet look at teleological predisposition across cultures, focusing on aspects of Judeo-Christian motivations and more easily-reconciled views from Eastern religions.
  • G. Huang examines the quality of arguments from both sides, a la Robert Shapiro and Michael Behe, and makes the case for robust field conclusions as opposed to speculation. Perhaps Behe should read this one.
  • And J. Bruno attempts to reconcile evolution and design by suggesting that Natural Selection is a tool of Intelligent Design, and that Creation can be seen still at work through Natural Selection today.

Furthermore, Ms. Broaddus and Mr. Schlachet had both offered excellent blog posts for those outside of the classroom discussions.

And it certainly appears that Allen met his goals of inspiring respectful but critical and well-thought analyses into questions pertaining to teleology and intelligent design, as well as cultural and religious conflicts with science. Kudos to that.

Equally important, I am glad to see that the vacuity and speculative nature of ID met with reasonable resistence in the class. That also should send a strong message to Cornell’s IDEA club, that their efforts will really never get anywhere without an actual ID research program (at least somewhere in the world) to base their claims that ID is science on. Whether that is even possible is a major question, of course, but one they must answer, or throw in the towel.


  1. The Bruno paper, p. 8:

    As a Christian, I do believe that natural selection is the driving force for mimicry and camouflage. I do agree with Darwin’s first law of natural Selection. However, just like Ronald Fisher, I believe that natural selection is a tool of intelligent design. I also agree that creation is still in progress through natural selection.

    1) He acknowledges that it is part of his Christian religion.
    2) He says “intelligent design”, but it sounds more like directed evolution. I wonder if MacNeill covered the multitude of options.

    Lastly, I feel that there are certin indicators that may give credibility to intelligent design. The point is highlighted if we return to the walking leaf insect (Phyllium) from before. There are fossil records that indicate that these insects existed back in the early Jurassic Period – long before the emergence of deciduous trees. (Wickler, 109) If this is true, then how can mimicry via natural selection be attributed to the Phyllium? How can the mimic come before the model>

    Behe and bugs: Genesis of a Creationist canard? on Panda’s Thumb

    I haven’t read them all. I started with this one because it sounded like the one most supportive of ID.

  2. Mostly out of goodwill for how Allen has handled the class, I did choose to give Mr. Bruno the benefit of the doubt, but yes, I thought his paper left something to be desired: his coverage of natural selection was fine, but his conclusion that selection is a “tool” of ID does not logically follow anything he said about selection, nor does he provide anything but the briefest of superficial “well maybe” justifications for his position.

    And looking back over the papers, I think I under-emphasized G. Huang’s paper – his is a noteworthy and detailed look at a couple examples of empirical evidence for selection in nature, and weighs the quality of claims made by Behe and Shapiro that evidence is lacking and wishfully speculative regarding Darwinian selection in nature. (i.e. Huang examines the robustness of claims in certain scientific studies that are central to validating claims that might be speculative otherwise).

    Huang warns against speculation that can occur when rigorous methodologies are relaxed, but affirms the inferrential nature of many field studies, thus discrediting Behe’s and Shapiro’s arguments. This is the natural progression of science – that any single study can easily reach incorrectly inferred conclusions, but that any well-conducted research study will lead to further testable hypotheses, a la the scientific method, such that the endless literature database collected over the past 150+ years in evolutionary biology make Darwin’s notion of natural selection as the agent of speciation and phylogenetic change rather undeniable, and Behe’s claims of speculation rather absurd.

  3. For those that stumble across this post and haven’t seen it already, Allen has a detailed perspective on Broaddus’s report that is well-worth the time to read. He closes with:

    Broaddus not only presents a cogent hypothesis concerning the existence of such an agency/intentionality detector/module in humans, she proposes several possible ways of testing whether or not such a detector actually exists, and to “map” its dimensions, capabilities, biases, and limitations. I believe that this opens up a very fruitful area of empirical research into such detectors, and can ultimately lead to much more clarity about an issue that so far has generated much more heat than light. I hope that her ideas and suggestions will be followed up by others (I certainly intend to do so), and that further empirical research into this fascinating and little-known capability will add to our understanding of what makes us the peculiar creatures we are.

    …I don’t think the religious community will like that very much, but then again, they don’t like much of anything that scientists or intellectuals do nowadays, do they?

  4. Also related to Dr. MacNeill’s seminar, it would appear that John Lynch is continuing the trend of open discussion in the college classroom, regarding discussions of evolution and teleology.

    May this trend towards addressing the ID movement’s propaganda via critical analysis in the classroom continue.

  5. […] This strikes a tone very similar to this past Summer’s Evolution and Design course by Allen MacNeill. In particular, it’s similar to the conclusion of one of the course’s students, Elena Brouddus, that humans are predisposed to perceptions of purpose and teleology in a way that easily generates false positives: A tendency toward teleology: Why we see purpose in the natural world. (.pdf version) […]


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