“Belief” In Evolution

Apart from the political implications of “Intelligent” Design, and the movement’s obviously subversive intentions for school science curricula, consider what is wrong with the following video:

The fallacy is that evolution is a belief. It is not a belief. Belief is what you do when you are seeking to align your views with the most compelling explanation for a set of facts. Now, scientifically, evolution is a theory that seeks to do this, but at the same time, it is an observation, not an inference to an explanation. The inference happens later during the formulation of testable hypotheses on the back of the observation that evolution happens. Evolution is a fact. Not divinely revealed but observed by mankind. In The Devil’s Chaplain Richard Dawkins has written about his very clearly.

Even if they are nominally hypotheses on probation, these statements are true in exactly the same sense as the ordinary truths of everyday life; true in the same sense as it is true that you have a head, and that my desk is wooden. If scientific truth is open to philosophic doubt, it is no more so than common sense truth. Let’s at least be even-handed in our philosophical heckling.

On another level, evolution (and in the video the questioner implies biological evolution) is a process. For example, John McCain’s bald patch has evolved. The English language has evolved. It is a descriptor term for a series of events leading up the present state of affairs. In the scientific context specifically this can be traced back for living organisms and their speciation using a range of techniques from carbon dating, paleontology and genetics. That’s just observation. Trumping that with the dim declaration (one with no explanatory power whatsoever, incidentally) that “God” made things a particular way is a belief. And it’s one that demands a lot of work to maintain against the tide of evidence pointing to the better conclusion.

What to show someone who believes in “Intelligent” Design.

So, the redundancy of the appendix, the fact that men get swollen prostates in old age, the existence of bacteria, viruses (including the worst and deadly kinds), earthquakes, volcanoes and the biological pathology of cancer don’t persuade the “Intelligent” Design crowd that the world was not created by anyone who knew what the hell they were doing. And even less so by anyone with humankind’s best interest at heart. So what do you tell these people?

Well, there are two alternatives. One is that the person you’re dealing with, this ID-er, is interested in evidence but temporarily misguided – perhaps the unwitting dupe of creationist propaganda. For such a one there is hope since appeals to his intelligence are not altogether ruled out. People of religious faith, including ID, who are recalcitrant to such inconveniences as reality and fact, are, I fear, most likely to be stuck permanently in the no-hope zone. The following video is unlikely to move them. In either case, I challenge any “Intelligent” Design advocate to refute this:

The evidence presented above was published in Nature in 2004. The man speaking is Professor Kenneth Miller – a determined opponent of “Intelligent” Design idiocy and the author of the highly recommended book Finding Darwin’s God. The trial he was talking about was Kitzmiller vs The Dover Area School District (2005). The lecture in its entirety is available here.

UKID: “Intelligent” Design in the UK

In the 1990s, Philip E. Johnson, William Dembski and Micheael Behe moved to re-market creationism in the US under the new moniker of “intelligent design”. The movement, profiting from institutionalisation through the Discovery Institute, points backwards through history to the dim inferences of the medieval period (and, in fact, back to the Ancient Greeks), as well as to the early 20th century’s infamous Scopes Trial. Indeed, the “intelligent” designers succeeded to resuscitate the issue sufficiently that the sinister maneuver to bring ID into the classroom as an alternative to the theory of evolution has as recently as 2005 had to be struck down in American law courts (Kitzmiller vs The Dover School Board) for violating the separation of Church and State.

The UK has, at least in the recent past, been far more readily predisposed towards suspicion of religious dogmatisms, including creationism or Bible literalism. Perhaps this is a function of the great heritage of sceptical thinkers it has produced – David Hume, Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins, to sketch a very rough lineage. In general, creationists have failed to penetrate European intellectual culture. So it is with deep sadness that I learned of their attempts to undermine all that is still scientific in the curriculum of our poor, decrepid school system with their lamentable, bovinally-excremental babble.

The BBC’s Newsnight programme, armed with Paxman’s inimitable dry cynicism, broadcast an interview with an Intelligent Designer trying to sell his cheap and flimsy wares to the UK public. Gratifyingly, Professor Lewis Wolpert was on hand to make mincemeat of the quack.

I propose all right-thinking people make reference to this new form of virulent creationism by strategically placing inverted commas around “intelligent”; the doctrine is anything but that.