Faith-Based Spiffle

Ken AshfordGodstuffLeave a Comment

Silver20darwin20large_1 Dr. Roy Spencer.  He’s a doctor, so you have to put the "Dr." in front of his name.  Makes his opinion on matters sound weighty and important.  I guess that’s why the folks at Tech Central Station gave him the chance to write an article entitled "Faith-Based Evolution", in which Dr. Spencer defends intelligent design.  Let’s take a closer look.

Twenty years ago, as a PhD scientist, I intensely studied the evolution versus intelligent design controversy for about two years.

What the good "doctor" doesn’t mention is that he received in PhD in meteorology, which has about as much to do with evolutionary studies as, oh, vulcanology.  It’s also interesting that he was studying intelligent design twenty years ago, since the term itself is only fourteen years old, roughly.  But no matter, right?

And finally, despite my previous acceptance of evolutionary theory as "fact," I came to the realization that intelligent design, as a theory of origins, is no more religious, and no less scientific, than evolutionism.

In the scientific community, I am not alone. There are many fine books out there on the subject. Curiously, most of the books are written by scientists who lost faith in evolution as adults, after they learned how to apply the analytical tools they were taught in college.

"Scientists" who are glorified weathermen climatologists like Dr. Spencer?  I don’t know.  He doesn’t give examples.  I guess we’ll just have to take him at his word.

UPDATE:  I found a list of scientists who (supposedly) "doubt Darwinism".  Like Spencer, most of them are not even in the field.  I mean, "Benjamin Vowels, M.D. Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania"?  "John W. Oller, Jr., Ph.D. General Linguistics, University of Rochester, New York"? In fact, many of the listed "scientists" are admittedly NOT scientists at all!

You might wonder how scientists who are taught to apply disciplined observation and experimentation and to search for natural explanations for what is observed in nature can come to such a conclusion?

Ummmm . . . because they didn’t search for natural explanations in that field?

For those of you who consider themselves open-minded, I will try to explain.

Open-minded?  Hey, he’s talking about me!  Now, I have to agree with him, lest I be considered "close-minded"!

True evolution, in the macro-sense, has never been observed, only inferred.

I’ll defer to Jesse at Pandagon.  He writes "Shorter Dumbass: It’s not evolution if they evolve, only if they evolve."

A population of moths that changes from light to dark based upon environmental pressures is not evolution — they are still moths. A population of bacteria that become resistant to antibiotics does not illustrate evolution — they are still bacteria.

And the good doctor’s seeming ability to write sentences does not illustrate that he actually has a brain.  It’s merely an inference that he has one, folks.

I’m not name-calling here and/or suggesting that Dr. Spencer is brainless.  I’m suggesting that Dr. Spencer’s logic — roughly, "you must observe it in order to have absolute proof of its certainty" — is fundamentally flawed.

In the biological realm, natural selection (which is operating in these examples) is supposedly the mechanism by which evolution advances, and intelligent design theory certainly does not deny its existence. While natural selection can indeed preserve the stronger and more resilient members of a gene pool, intelligent design maintains that it cannot explain entirely new kinds of life — and that is what evolution is.

Well, no it’s not what evolution is, Doctor.  Let’s go to Douglas Futuyma, from his book Evolutionary Biology:

"In the broadest sense, evolution is merely change, and so is all-pervasive; galaxies, languages, and political systems all evolve. Biological evolution … is change in the properties of populations of organisms that transcend the lifetime of a single individual. The ontogeny of an individual is not considered evolution; individual organisms do not evolve. The changes in populations that are considered evolutionary are those that are inheritable via the genetic material from one generation to the next. Biological evolution may be slight or substantial; it embraces everything from slight changes in the proportion of different alleles within a population (such as those determining blood types) to the successive alterations that led from the earliest protoorganism to snails, bees, giraffes, and dandelions."

So already, the good doctor has admitted the truth of natural selection, and that evolution (as properly defined) has been observed.  Keep this in mind, because I have a funny feeling he’s going to position himself in the gaps of what we don’t know about evolution, and try to tell you that there are nothing but gaps….

Possibly the most critical distinction between the two theories (or better, "models") of origins is this: While similarities between different but "related" species have been attributed by evolutionism to common ancestry, intelligent design explains the similarities based upon common design. An Audi and a Ford each have four wheels, a transmission, an engine, a gas tank, fuel injection systems … but no one would claim that they both naturally evolved from a common ancestor.

What happens if an Audi and Ford mate and share their genetic . . . oh, forget it.  File this one in the "stupid analogy" cabinet.

Common ancestry requires transitional forms of life to have existed through the millions of Platypusausepa2 years of supposed biological evolution. Yet the fossil record, our only source of the history of life on Earth, is almost (if not totally) devoid of transitional forms of life that would connect the supposed evolution of amphibians to reptiles, reptiles to birds, etc.

Umm, well, yes, the fossil record is incomplete in places, but . . . here’s a reptile-bird.  Here’s some interesting reptile-mammals (not to mention the duck-billed platypus, pictured at the right).  And here’s an example of a fish-amphibian.  For more on transitional species, see here.

This is why Stephen Jay Gould, possibly the leading evolutionist of our time, advanced his "punctuated equilibria" theory. In this theory, evolution leading to new kinds of organisms occurs over such brief periods of time that it was not captured in the fossil record. Upon reflection, one cannot help but notice that this is not arguing based upon the evidence — but instead from the lack of evidence.

Sadly, Stephen Jay Gould was not an "evolutionist".  And Spencer here is invoking a tried-and-disproved myth — denied by Gould himself — that punctuated equilibria is based on "lack of evidence".  Gould and his partner, Niles Eldgridge, based their sub-theory after excruciating examination of two separate lines of, you know, existing evidence (one involving pulmonate gastropods, the other one involving Phacopsid trilobites).  Read more here.

One finally comes to the conclusion that, despite vigorous protests, belief in evolution and intelligent design are matters of faith.

To Spencer, EVERYTHING scientific that he disagrees with is a "matter of faith".  In the linked article, Spencer argues that scientists who believe in global warming are simply acting on faith.  That’s Spencer’s M.O. — if scientists can’t demonstrate 100% verifiable proof of some phenomenon, Spencer spotlights the hole, announces that the entire theory is a matter of "faith", and then fills the gap with his own "faith" — i.e., intelligent design, global cooling, etc.

Even some evolutionists have admitted as much in their writings.

But Spencer won’t name them.

Modern biology does not "fall apart" without evolution, as some will claim. Maybe the theories of the origins of forms of life fall apart, or theories of the origin of capabilities that those life forms exhibit, or the supposed ancestral relationships between them fall apart. But these are merely intellectual curiosities, serving only to stimulate discussion and teach the next generation of students the same beliefs. From a practical point of view, the intelligent design paradigm is just as useful to biology, and I believe, more satisfying from an intellectual point of view.

In what way is the intelligent design paradigm "useful to biology"?  He doesn’t say.

Intelligent design can be studied and taught without resorting to human creation traditions and beliefs, which in the West are usually traceable to the first book of the Bible, Genesis. Just as someone can recognize and study some machine of unknown purpose built by another company, country (or alien intelligence?), one can also examine the natural world and ask the question: did this machine arise by semi-random natural physical processes, or could it have been designed by a higher power? Indeed, I was convinced of the intelligent design arguments based upon the science alone.

What IS the science of ID?  Talk about theories formed under the lack of evidence!

Of course, ultimately, one must confront the origin of that higher power, which will logically lead to the possibility of an original, uncaused, First Cause.

So, contrary to what he said a moment ago, intelligent design can’t be studied and taught without resorting to human creation traditions and beliefs.  Make up your mind, doctor.

But then we would be firmly in the religious realm.

You think?

All naturalistic cosmological theories of origins must invent physics that have never been observed by science — because the "Big Bang" can’t be explained based upon current physics. A naturalistic origin of the universe violates either the First or Second Laws of thermodynamics — or both. So, is this science? Or faith?

Science.  Just a new kind of science.  It’s like when we discovered atoms — it opened up a whole range of scientific endeavors, and even new language.  However, if we couldn’t explain everything about atomic properties, did we deny the existance of atoms?  Hell, no.

It is already legal to teach intelligent design in public schools.

Ah.  The law.  Now we are in my area of expertise, doctor.

What is not currently legal is to mandate its teaching.

What a shame.

The Supreme Court has ruled that this would violate the First Amendment’s establishment of religion clause.

And what you have written is a flat-out lie.  Back in 1987 (before the advent of the phrase "intelligent design"), the Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard ruled that a Louisana law, which required "creation science" to be taught alongside evolution, was unconstitutional . . . because the purpose of the law was to further a religious point of view.

If intelligent design was truly a scientific theory, then nothing about the Edwards case bars its use in the public education system.  But the problem is this: ID is not science.  It is (as Spencer tacitly admits) itself a matter of faith.

But I have some questions relating to this: Does not classical evolutionism, based almost entirely upon faith, violate the same clause?

No.  Because classical evolutionism is not "based almost entirely on faith".  Even Dr. Spencer admits that evolution is observable on the micro-level (moths, bacteria, etc.).  And, but for some small gaps in the fossil record (much of which is attributable to the fact that it gets harder to find fossils from the earliest periods of the earth’s formation), there is overwhelming evidence of evolution.  "Based on faith"?  Is he kidding?

See what I meant before about how Spencer would position himself to "live in the gap"?

More importantly, what about the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which states that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion?

So let me get this straight.  Evolution is a matter of faith; therefore, it is a religion; and therefore, teaching evolution violates the Establishment Clause.

Is that what you’ve wasted my time for?

If the public school system insists on teaching evolution as a theory of origins, in the view of many a religious activity, why is it discriminating against the only other theory of origins, intelligent design? (There is, by the way, no third theory of origins that anyone has ever been able to determine.) At the very least, school textbooks should acknowledge that evolution is a theory of origins, it has not been proved, and that many scientists do not accept it.

I have no problem with the teaching of intelligent design in public schools.  It can be taught in a religion/philosophy survey class, right along with the Indo-Aryan texts that repeatedly affirm that the Earth is supported by a serpent.  Or the Hindu belief that the Earth is held by 4 pillars, held by an elephant seated on a big tortoise.  But not in a science class.

Whether intelligent design is ever taught in school is probably not as important as the freedom that we have in a free society to discuss, and study, such issues. And for that, I am thankful.

For once, I agree.  And I’ve enjoyed discussing this with you, Dr. Spencer.

BONUS DUMB COMMENTARY:  Utah State Sen. D. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan — also not a scientist — writes an op-ed in USA Today:

The trouble with the "missing link" is that it is still missing! In fact, the whole fossil chain that could link apes to man is also missing! The theory of evolution, which states that man evolved from some other species, has more holes in it than a crocheted bathtub.

I realize that is a dramatic statement, so to be clear, let me restate: There is zero scientific fossil evidence that demonstrates organic evolutionary linkage between primates and man.

Uh, Senator?  Pick from any of these hominid fossils:

Sahelanthropus tchadensis
Ardipithecus ramidus
Australopithecus anamensis
Australopithecus afarensis
Kenyanthropus platyops
Australopithecus africanus
Australopithecus garhi
Australopithecus aethiopicus
Australopithecus robustus
Australopithecus boisei
Homo habilis
Homo georgicus
Homo erectus
Homo ergaster
Homo antecessor
Homo heidelbergensis
Homo neanderthalensis
Homo floresiensis
Homo sapiens

Or, if the Latin freaks you out, maybe you should just watch more educational television.