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The Pseudoscience of Intelligent Design 3315

Mime Narrator writes "An article over at Kuro5hin discusses the controvery over the Intelligent Design movement. The Dover, Pennsylvania school board recently adopted a policy requiring that high school science teachers teaching evolution tell their students that evolutionary theory, a theory that has been shown to explain the origins of life time and time again, is flawed, and that intelligent design is a valid alternative. The ACLU, along with the AUSCS (Americans United for the Separation of Church and State), and 11 parents, are suing the school board, accusing the board of violating the separation of church and state. "
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The Pseudoscience of Intelligent Design

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  • by Kim0 ( 106623 ) * on Monday May 02, 2005 @09:10AM (#12406076)
    By this, I mean that the process of evolution is a thinking intelligent process. Or to state it another way: Evolution is intelligent.

    This means that all signs of evolution also will be signs of intelligent design, simply because evolution is a form of intelligence.

    So, instead of the intelligence reciding in the metaphysical head of a super
    natural being called God, it resides in DNA and their interactions with the
    world through life and death.

    All this according to the Kolmogorov Complexity definition of intelligence.

    Intelligence is the process of rationally building and testing theories about
    the world, and then using those theories for useful stuff. DNA is mutated,
    recombined, merged through sex, and otherwise changed. These changes are
    hypotheses about the world, in the form of new life forms trying to survive
    there. Thus life forms which do not reproduce are falsified hypotheses. The
    useful stuff is survival.

    As for those people preaching intelligent design:

    They are all religious, and do not know what theories or evolution are. They
    just pretend and believe they know. Remembering this, they are easily exposed,
    as long as you yourself really know what theories and evoution are.

  • by archeopterix ( 594938 ) * on Monday May 02, 2005 @09:11AM (#12406087) Journal
    C'mon, first "Load List Values for Improved Efficiency", now "Pseudoscience of Intelligent Design" (strikes again, yawn)?

    What next? "Serious Doubts About Pyramid Schemes"? "Scientist Uses Paper to Wipe Ass"?

  • Intelligent design essentially reduces to this:

    Fact 1. The universe is extremely intricate and complicated

    Fact 2. We design things such as automobiles or aircraft that are intricate and complicated.

    Which leads to the conclusion:

    Conclusion 1: Everything that is intricate and complicated must have a designer.

    Conclusion 2: Conclusion 1 indicates that the universe requires a designer.

    Conclusion 3: God is that designer.

    (Western) Conclusion 4: This designer is the God as described in the Holy Bible.

    The real failure of the argument is in Conclusion 1. It amounts to saying "I have absolutely no idea why the universe is complicated, therefore God did it." When a person studies physics, Conclusion 1 becomes even more untenable. There are many very simple systems that give rise to very complex behaviour. Consider the Newton-raphson method for finding roots of a polynomial. The method goes "pick somewhere close to the root and then start iterating and the iteration will take you to a root". If you're brighter than I was at school, you might have asked: "Okay, but how can I guess where the root is mathematically so I can start the process." The answer is far more / [] ">complex than you think.

    And besides, if Conclusion 1 is true then surely God is intricate and complicated and thus needed a designer. To which the theist replies: "God doesn't need a designer, It's God". To which I respond: "If God doesn't need a designer, why does the universe? Why not just cut out God and proclaim that the universe is undesigned? And there in is the true failing of intelligent design.

    Another argument comes from the fact that the universe seems fine tuned to life. This a bit premature. First of all, we can't even show life is possible in our universe from first principles; that is, taking the complete set of the laws of physics and using it to simulate life at the atomic level on a super-computer. How can we be so sure life couldn't exist in some form with different laws of physics? My second objection is that we should expect life to depend heavily on physics. As an example, the proteins that deal with the replication of DNA are quantum optimised, the speed at which they move down the DNA is the minimum allowed by quantum mechanics. There is also evidence that the machinary uses quantum mechanical tunnelling to halve the error rate during copying. I'd argue that the fact that life depends so heavily the laws of physics being exactly right is a product of selection - there is a distinct advantage in exploiting the physics of the universe. In the begining of life, the instruments of life were probably a lot cruder.

    As an atheist, I am alarmed when people try to mark religious belief as science. I don't mind you having religious belief, but if the US wants to remain a technological super-power you've got to make sure your children are taught cold, hard science. By letting the cherrished beliefs of a few cloud the judgement of the youth on an entire nation, everbody loses out. As a scientist, I enjoy having the key theories questioned but it becomes annoying when such a throughly discredited theory as Intelligent Design is peddled again and again without the proponents bringing any new ideas to the table.


    • by rknop ( 240417 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @09:19AM (#12406173) Homepage

      "I have absolutely no idea why the universe is complicated, therefore God did it."

      Exactly. It's an argument through ignorance. It's just like many other things in the past which weren't explained by science, and have since been been explained by science. Well, not really, becasue we already do understand how complexity can arise from evolution, so it's even worse than that.

      As an atheist, I am alarmed when people try to mark religious belief as science.

      As a Christian, I am too.


  • Proof (Score:5, Funny)

    by Apreche ( 239272 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @09:14AM (#12406120) Homepage Journal
    No intelligent designer or engineer would put a waste pipe across a recreation area.
  • That's just silly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by October_30th ( 531777 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @09:15AM (#12406124) Homepage Journal
    requiring that high school science teachers teaching evolution tell their students that evolutionary theory, a theory that has been shown to explain the origins of life time and time again, is flawed

    I teach physics. Every theory in physics is most likely flawed. In fact, every theory in natural science is flawed. Should I have to point it out again and again?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 02, 2005 @09:15AM (#12406126)
    We'll say that in our classrooms when your ministers say "God is a theory, not a fact" on their pulpits.

    And fundies, just to pre-emptively shoot down your argument that taxes pays for these schoolbooks and so you shouldn't be forced to read that stuff, consider it a fair exchange for all of the tax exemptions that the church gets. Dollar for dollar, you guys are getting off EASY.
    • by caitsith01 ( 606117 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @10:08AM (#12406795) Journal
      Excuse the capitalisation, but there are two parts of the world that have these sorts of problems.

      1. Nutbag developing world theocracies: Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia
      2. The United States of America

      I would say on recent form I would rather have my education system run by the average developing nation than the USA. At least the China-Japan textbook dispute, for example, is easily understood in terms of racial and historical tensions. They're not, for example, trying outlaw logic and reason.

      Seriously guys. The joke's over. OVER. We're all getting very, very afraid of you. I'm starting to be a lot more comfortable with the notion that China and India may soon be superpowers. I'm actually *glad* Russia still has a massive arsenal of nukes: Putin may be a dictator-by-proxy, but AT LEAST HE'S NOT INSANE.

      Since the end of the Clinton era:
      - fundamentalists have begun winding back your education system to around the 700-800AD mark
      - 'faith based' programs have become legitimate government policy
      - it has become abundantly clear that the Whitehouse is controlled by a man who does not understand science but does fervently believe in a very particular type of capital-G God
      - you have waged war on two moslem nations
      - religious voters have become the dominant force in national US politics
      - Americans have apparently accepted on faith the ridiculous argument that there is 'no evidence' of global warming
      - America has closer ties to other religious-fundamentalist states (e.g. Israel, Saudi Arabia) than it's secular, liberal-democratic former allies in 'old europe'

      Now all this would be fine, except that the religious nutcases that seem to have taken over your country are made incredibly powerful by... why yes, by SCIENCE. That logical, agnostic, provable, testable system we all know and love. Well, those of us outside the US know and love, anyway. SCIENCE has made you rich. SCIENCE has made you powerful. SCIENCE has, unfortunately, given you the weapons to destroy the entire world or precisely targetted bits thereof at the press of a button. Could stealth bombers fly from Missouri to any point on the globe and deliver laser guided bombs based on the teachings of Christ? Why, no - that would be SCIENCE we have to thank for that.

      Let us take, as a comparison, Italy. A very religious country, by all accounts, rabid devotion to the Vatican, everyone in sight attending church regularly. Yet the Pope effectively outlaws contraception, but Italy's birth rate is startlingly low. Why? Perhaps Italians are so religious that they really do what they're told? Or perhaps Italians are religious but they understand the difference between faith and allegory on the one hand, and logic and reason on the other. They're not noted for their chaste ways, in any event, and I'm sure Durex and Ansell make hefty sales over there.

      So how about we cut a deal? I'll even give you two choices.

      1. You let your country go back to theocratic-totalitarianism, by all means. Hound down anyone who uses logic and reason to explain the world. Only, hand over everything that's been developed with science before you do so. Give up all those wonder drugs, all your DVD players that allow you to watch 'The Passion of the Christ', all your giant auditoriums with 100 metre high video screens where you go along to sing your Christian songs. We'll look after them in 'old europe' and the antipodes if you like, and you can burn each other at the stake until the cows come home (only the cows will probably be dead because you rely on science for farming these days).

      2. You forget the dogmatic crap and listen to the parts of the bible that actually matter, such as *turn the other fucking cheek, *do unto others, *beams and motes, *the good samaritan, *the FUCKING MONEYLENDERS IN THE TEMPLE YOU STUPID FUCKS. FUUUUUUUUUUCKKK!!!!!!!!!

      And if you're not a religious nutcase but you are in the U.S., don't fucking apologise. DO SOMETHING. You are to blame for letting these rabid fundamentalists take over. YOU have to stop them.

      Ok, I'll now be modded into oblivion, but I feel slightly better.

      • by sbenj ( 843008 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @10:34AM (#12407093)
        Well, as an American, I'm not terribly happy about the America-bashing. Let's just say that statistically the people who have the beliefs you're describing are about 1/3 of the country, maximally, they've pretty much taken over our gov't, along with a fair number of sociopaths who are willing to use these people for their own aims (cough, cough, ...Delay... Frist... cough).
        Current issue of Harpers (not in the online vers, unfortunately, but one of the best things I've ever read on the subject, highly, highly recommended) provides a very good description of this, BTW.

        Bush was apparently right about one thing. He said at some point that fundamentalist regimes were going to be the new problem for the 21st century (or did one of his familiars say it? Hard to remember).

        Guess we just didn't think it would be us.

      • yee-frickity-haw! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by subtropolis ( 748348 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @10:35AM (#12407101)

        A cogent argument sir (or madam). Now where are those mod points i threw away yesterday.

        And if you're not a religious nutcase but you are in the U.S., don't fucking apologise. DO SOMETHING. You are to blame for letting these rabid fundamentalists take over. YOU have to stop them.

        I agree absolutely with this. Hey intelligent Americans - TAKE BACK YOUR FUCKING COUNTRY! We are sick of this shit and many of us are tiring of NOT lumping you all in the same bunch. You are burning serious karma.

        • by sbenj ( 843008 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @10:40AM (#12407162)
          I agree absolutely with this. Hey intelligent Americans - TAKE BACK YOUR FUCKING COUNTRY! We are sick of this shit and many of us are tiring of NOT lumping you all in the same bunch. You are burning serious karma.

          Sorry, I was watching "Desperate Housewives". What was that again?

      • by ewe2 ( 47163 ) <> on Monday May 02, 2005 @10:49AM (#12407286) Homepage Journal
        To comment on your Italian example, they go further than that. In rural Italy, it's not uncommon to have the local Communist/Socialist/Unionist posters on the church wall. They do go to church, it's true, but on the understanding that the men can smoke. The religious calendar is adhered to, not least because there are fireworks.

        In other words, the Italians are sensible people who prefer to enjoy their life rather than muck about with all that argument you Americans seem to prefer.
  • by FhnuZoag ( 875558 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @09:15AM (#12406132)
    Seriously, that's what the problem is. With most schools teaching science only as 'a body of facts', why should we be surprised how faith-based things like ID gain ground?

    We need to be teaching kids about the scientific method, the scientific process. Popper etc. The importance of skepticism and falsifiability.

    If they still have the impression that the fact that Evolution is a theory represent a weakness, not a decisive strength, then how can we win?
  • Give it a rest (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Potor ( 658520 ) <farker1@gmai l . c om> on Monday May 02, 2005 @09:16AM (#12406135) Journal
    As retarded as ID is, I see no point in discussing it here on /.

    ID has nothing to do with science, and /. is obsessed with science.

    The extent of any intelligent conversation with ID must be limited to the above. Anything else is not only superfluous, but also in danger of ennobling those quacks.

  • European school (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Councilor Hart ( 673770 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @09:18AM (#12406156)
    I spend my high school time (12-18) at a catholic school in Europe.
    In biology we spent a lot of time learning about evolution. When those classes where over, the teacher said he was obligated (well, don't know by who actually. School or govn.) to mention intelligent design. It took him no more than two minutes, and the entire class had a good laugh.
    At the time I was surprised that he had to mention it, though.
    • Re:European school (Score:5, Informative)

      by papik ( 677463 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @09:44AM (#12406492)
      Actually the Vatican is starting to acknowledge Evolution. "La civiltà cattolica" [], a jesuitic journal, "censored"/"approved" by the Vatican, recently (april 2nd) issued an article pro evolution. Here is the summary:

      L'ORIGINE DELL'UOMO. Evoluzione e creazione - Giuseppe De Rosa S.I.

      L'articolo rileva che l'apparizione dell'uomo sulla Terra è avvenuta lentamente e per successive modificazioni. Quindi l'ominizzazione è avvenuta per evoluzione, che può considerarsi oggi non più una semplice ipotesi, ma una vera e propria teoria, anche se taluni aspetti di essa restano ancora oscuri. Di questo processo evolutivo, l'articolo presenta le linee essenziali, mostrando che con l'Homo sapiens sapiens si è certamente raggiunta la soglia umana: egli, infatti, pensa, progetta il futuro, parla, ha senso artistico e religioso. Ma il raggiungimento della soglia umana è stato reso possibile dall'infusione, da parte di Dio creatore, dell'anima umana in una materia disposta a riceverla. L'azione di Dio però non sopprime la contingenza, il fortuito e il caso, ma nella sua provvidenza li dirige al fine.

      It is more or less saying that evolution is a fact, but it's God that drove evolution to man and gave him the soul.
  • by amorico ( 40859 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @09:24AM (#12406223)
    It seems that school boards often do this to reach some sort of compromise due to political pressure from religious groups.

    The idea that there can be some sort of fair time given in science classes to religious theories is flawed.

    If a religion posits that "number theory is only a theory", and comes up with some religious alternative, then should math classes give them equal time?

    What determines the validity of an alternative viewpoint? Popularity?

    Though it may seem otherwise, anti-intellectualism and the desire to subvert bodies of knowledge to preconceived notions is really no more prevalent than it ever was. That is the problem. Aren't we supposed to be advancing?

    I wish there were Secular Humanist [] organizations exerting more influence on our school boards.
  • The K5 article (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ajs ( 35943 ) <> on Monday May 02, 2005 @09:32AM (#12406328) Homepage Journal
    The article is actually pretty bad. I read it last week, and it makes some sweeping assumptions that it never proves. Most of it is just a rather ugly rant about I.D. until it gets into one software simulation topic, at which point the article switches gears and becomes far more technical (not more methodical, mind you, just more technical).

    It seems that the author knew about one specific area of research and set out to write an article that was beyond their capbilities.

    Too bad, as I.D. is a deeply flawed effort, but every attack against it that I've seen outside of the highly technical have been arm-waving affairs that can be easily shot down.

    Real problems with I.D.:
    • It applies Occam's Razor in reverse. That is, it starts with a conclusion, and for every complex question resolves that the simplest explanation is not to deviate from the conclusion.
    • Evolution is not linear. One thing that many people looking at existing species forget is that many of their traits are the result of FAILURES as much as success. An example of this would be marine mammals, which have many structures that are so different from other sea creatures that you could conclude that they could not have evolved naturally. And yet, when you factor in land-mammals the features of sea mammals are easily explained: they are the vesiges of a (as far as marine mammal evolution is concerned) failed attempt to adapt to land.
    • Evolution and design are seen as radically seperate topics because of the nature of the initial assumptions, and yet the idea that evolution could progress from some initially designed state is equally (im)plausible.
    • Evolution and natural selection are often conflated incorrectly
    These are just thoughts off the top of my head, and I'm sure that there are many other excellent examples.
  • by applemasker ( 694059 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @09:51AM (#12406574)
    John Calvert, one of the most popular proponents of ID describes the "methods" by which scientists can "detect" design in nature as:

    In summary, if a highly improbable pattern of events or object exhibits purpose, structure or function and can not be reasonably and rationally explained by the operation of the laws of physics and chemistry or some other regularity or law, then it is reasonable to infer that the pattern was designed. - the product of a mind. Based on the above it is reasonable to conclude that design is the best explanation for the complexity of the postulated ancestral cell.
    (see for yourself) []

    As William Saletan over at has observed, [] this argument is absolutely idiotic - "It offers no predictions, scope modifiers, or experimental methods of its own. It's a default answer, a shrug, consisting entirely of problems in Darwinism. Those problems should be taught in school, but there's no reason to call them intelligent design. Intelligent design, as defined by its advocates, means nothing. "

    Also, ID fails to account that human knowledge is constantly expanding. It may be true that we cannot presently describe some things by "the operation of the laws of physics or chemistry or some other regularity or law," but that does not mean that someday we will not be able to do so... but until then (and perhaps for some time thereafter) people will insist on calling it "intelligent design."

    Of course, appealing to the public's ability to engage in rational thought is another issue altogether.

  • by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @09:57AM (#12406659) Homepage Journal
    More disturbing than discussions of Evolution vs Intelligent Design is the fact that, as a society we seem to have lost track of what science really is. Calling Intelligent design "an alternative theory" displays a clear lack of understanding of what a theory is, and behind that, what science is.

    Quite simply, and I know I'll get flamed for some simple mistake in this explanation, science is:
    Studying the universe around us, trying to learn about it and how it works. One aspect of this i a theory. If you have an idea about what something is and how it works, that's a hypothesis. You take your hypothesis, and figure out further implications of it, and propose tests and experiments that can test it. You hypothesis needs to make predictions that were previously unknown, and can be verified by tests and experimentation. If a hypothesis survives some amount of this process, it "graduates" to be a theory.

    But the most important ingredient is an open mind. A hypothesis or theory may be rejected or modified based on experiments and/or facts, and a scientist should always be prepared to do that.

    The early Muslim empire was one of the most enlightened the world has ever seen. Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived together prosperously and happily in the Holy Lands. Science was advanced as, "understanding God's works," and for Pete's sake, we still use Arabic numbers. Eventually religious conservatism took over. The US seems bent on following that path, today.
  • by rdmiller3 ( 29465 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @10:42AM (#12407185) Journal
    Here's a bit of Creationist cosmology that gets skipped over a lot by the fundamentalists...

    The "Young Earth" (more accurately, "young universe") viewpoint supposes that the universe was created about 6000 years ago. Okay, okay, quit laughing. That viewpoint HAS managed to turn up some interesting cases of rapid rock formation and "instant fossilization" which should really be examined with a more open mind. ANYway, they say that nothing is more than 6000 years old.

    Then these same people go on and on about how huge the universe is, with all those stars so far away... star clusters, nebulae, galaxies, galactic clusters, etc. The problem is, most astronomically observed objects are more than 6000 light-years away. So if the universe is only 6000 years old, how did the light from those objects get here?

    I've seen a couple ways to talk around this problem. The least idiotic one is, "God created everything in its finished form". They say that animals and people were created as adult creatures, and so the universe was created all-grown-up. Quit giggling and wait for the real obvious problem that they skip.

    Okay, so even if you buy into all that about creation, you still have a really, really big problem with measuring distances to the stars. The whole idea is based on the assumption that the light which we see actually came all the way from the star in a more-or-less straight line at the speed of light. We measure angles and we measure parallax to get even more accuracy but it's still based on the assumption that the light actually came from the distant object in the normal way. The problem is, according to the creation doctrine, no light could have been going anywhere for more than 6000 years because that would have been before the pronouncement of "Let ther be light."

    What that means is that according to creationist doctrine anything which appears to be more than 6000 light-years away is actually "faked" by God to look that way.

    So make a dot on a chalkboard. That's us. Now draw a circle around it. That's the 6k light-year limit of what we can really see and measure by what we know about light. Everything outside of that may or may not really exist because it had to be "faked" by God at creation for us to see it at all. Now for the real fun... Stellar events. Every supernova that we see, since it's more than 6k light-years away, never really happened! It's just a light show that God puts on just to make the universe look old. All those most-distant quasars and pulsars, high-energy signals from the beginning of the universe... none of it is real. It's a gazillion-year-long history falsified, for what purpose?

    The heavens declare that the god of these "Creationists" is a liar.

  • Richard Dawkins (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tarindel ( 107177 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @10:56AM (#12407375)
    was just featured in an article on [], and had an interesting reductionist argument to make:

    For a long time it seemed clear to just about everybody that the beauty and elegance of the world seemed to be prima facie evidence for a divine creator. But the philosopher David Hume already realized three centuries ago that this was a bad argument. It leads to an infinite regression. You can't statistically explain improbable things like living creatures by saying that they must have been designed because you're still left to explain the designer, who must be, if anything, an even more statistically improbable and elegant thing. Design can never be an ultimate explanation for anything. It can only be a proximate explanation. A plane or a car is explained by a designer but that's because the designer himself, the engineer, is explained by natural selection.
  • Meta Analysis (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 4of12 ( 97621 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @12:31PM (#12408691) Homepage Journal

    Looks to me like a long-time successful meme (Christianity, 2k years old) competing with a new competitor (scientific method, 400 years old, but not recognized as a competitor until more recently.

    Basically, these systems are competing for core memory in the individuals and in societies.

    Both of them create a way of interpreting reality that provides different costs and different benefits to their adherents.

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out. It will become very intense in the next few decades, I think, as the progress of science enables knowledge and technology to do things that were unimaginable even a hundred years ago.

  • by phlegmofdiscontent ( 459470 ) on Monday May 02, 2005 @01:04PM (#12409118)
    The other day, I was watching some news program (they all begin to blur after a while) where they were debating Creationism vs. Evolution. The man arguing in favor of Creationism said quite specifically that he believed "every word in the Bible". When anyone says something like that, they're immediately disqualified from any rational discussion, in my book. Maybe I'm a product of my upbringing. I went to a Catholic high school where we learned about the Bible and one thing I learned is that in the first chapter, there are TWO creation stories. If you take one to be literally true, then you cannot take the other one to be true since they're mutually contradictory. Logically then, they CANNOT both be true. This is in the first chapter, for Christ's sake, the contradictions continue throughout the entire book. Since a RATIONAL being cannot take the entire book to be literally true, then the conclusion must be that the Bible is merely an interpretation, opening up the possiblity that science may in fact be correct. After all, science does not disprove the existence of God, nor does it prove the existence of God. The two are mutually exclusive and therefore can coexist. I guess my point is that there is no point in arguing with a Creationist, since s/he is not rational.

Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. - Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan