Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Here Be God

This week's New Scientist has a feature piece on the so-called 'ID' (Intelligent Design) conjecture. If you haven't encountered this ingenious little argument before, well, it proposes that natural selection gets by with a bit of help from 'a friend'.

It beats Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection hands down by neatly avoiding (well.. ignoring, actually) all those annoying inconsistencies one might encounter in the real world by suggesting that some bits of the evolutionary jigsaw were placed by a watchmaker who could 'peek' under his blindfold.

Having difficulty explaining how the 44 proteins in a bacterium's flagellum got it together simultaneously? Easy, just invoke ID.

Can't figure out how the blood clotting mechanism could develop? Why, that is clearly the work of a Superior Being (and, by inference, a mystery to which mere mortals are not privy!)

In other words, ID stands for 'Intervention: Divine'

We don't use the G word in any of this. Why? Because it is expressly forbidden to invoke the name when trying to ratify educational curriculum in the US. So, those who regard evolution as a dangerous theory have been promoting ID as a much more palatable alternative.

... and thereby demonstrate their abysmal ignorance as to what scientific theory is about.

Yes: evolution through natural selection is a theory, not a fact.
No: not all things in nature have been adequately explained by it.

So what?

In science, nothing is a fact! Scientific Theories are models built on observations of how the world operates. And, if the model doesn't fit the observations, it is the model that is wrong: reality is never at fault (although our interpretation of it may be). What happens then? The model is either refined to fit, or discarded in favour of something better.

In deciding what theory provides the best explanation, a principle known as 'Occam's Razor' is employed. It's application is simple: choose the theory with the least embellishment.

Which leads us back to Natural Selection and ID.

On the face of it ID isn't necessarily wrong. It is entirely possible that some pan-dimensional super being is indeed tinkering with reality in the manner described. However, to accept this as the best explanation is to invoke a host of unnecessary complexities that are far in excess of the problems that apparently assail NS (eg: where did that PDSB come from? Who made him?)

No! Occam's Razor suggests that it is best to stick with NS. That is, unless some compelling piece of evidence arises for which NS simply cannot be made to cover. This has yet to happen. (issues like flagellum proteins are just examples of a knotty problem which has yet to be answered: a few years ago it was the structure of the eye, whose development can now be modelled using simple rules that do not require clauses like 'and lo: there was an eyeball!')

In fact, there is no compelling need to invoke ID, other than that it is a more comforting and appealing worldview (hey! Did I say it was flat out wrong?).

So, why the persistent push to not only have ID introduced into mainstream education, but to give it equal standing with a theory that has withstood 150 years of 'tyre kicking'?

The underlying reasons have little to do with 'good science' and more to do with the 'hearts and mind' struggle that the Culture of Lief seem intent on waging with the rest of humanity.

There was a chilling prequel to all this: a couple of weeks ago, New Scientist wrote a piece on Iranian science. Yes, it does exist! (in fact, Islam has a long tradition of scientific inquiry). However, it seems there are some questions which it is not considered appropriate for man to ask.

ID in action: Leave God in the bits of the map that haven't been filled in yet.
Update: one additional thought on this issue. If, by Occam's razor, divine intervention is not needed to explain how things arose, then does ID break the second commandment?:

'Thou shalt not take the name of God in vain.'


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