May 2nd, 2005

Walter

Intelligent Design for Dummies

I've already blabbed about this to some extent, but I know there are a lot of Child Studies and Education people on my friends list, so I thought I'd reiterate.

There has been some to do lately in regards to adding a new "theory" to elementary and high school science classes, called "Intelligent Design", as an alternative to the Theory Of Evolution.

In short, the basic idea is as follows: "The universe is so unimaginably complex and perfect that it must have been created by an intelligent designer". Aside from some corroborating metaphors and examples, this is the "scientific theory" of Intelligent Design; Those of you who remember the scientific method might already have some issues with it.

There seems to be a lot of force behind making it a major part of the American curriculum, and while there has been some debate about it's origins, proponents of Intelligent Design insist that it is a scientific theory with no religious basis or backing. But something to keep in mind, and remind people of should it happen to come up in conversation, since a lot of people either don't remember much from science class, or are still sore about evolution and gleeful about seeing it beat down by a more "open minded" theory:

Intelligent Design is NOT a scientific theory.

ID is not based on scientific evidence, but rather, argued mainly by a lack of evidence for an established theory (evolution).

ID cannot be proven or disproven through experiments, studies, or scientific observation. (Much like Creationism itself...)

ID could be argued as a valid criticism of the theory of evolution and some of it's shortcomings, but the arguments made in favor of ID vs. Evolution are ambiguous, or unproven at best, and by no means "conclusive" as ID proponents like to claim. In fact, many of the points argument have been "proven" in favor of Evolution, in as much as an untestable argument can be proven, but I can understand the ID folks not wanting to publicize that.

ID was indeed originated by religious groups, and it is these same groups currently pushing to have it installed as a replacement for evolution in high school classes. Leaked documents from the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture suggest that it was specifically designed to "drive a wedge" into the weak points of scientific thought, and ultimately destroy it. (I'm not trying to make it sound more sinister than it is... Their literature is pretty disturbing).

The scientific community has largely refused to address ID. While ID proponents claim this as a sign of their legitimacy, it's largely because most scientists would rather not dignify ID with a direct response, for the above reasons (mainly, they refuse to address it is a scientific theory, because it is not, by any definition, a scientific theory.) But it is important that we speak out, because it is dangerously close to being approved by school boards in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

There's a very good kuro5hin.org article covering Intelligent Design in general, as well as some details on the leaked documents regarding the origin and purpose of the "theory" if you'd like to read more.

Also of interest is Carl Zimmer's article on Avida, a Michigan State University project to simulate the evolution of simple bacteria-esque data structures. The official website is a little dry (though the source code is available if you want to roll your own digital organisms), but Zimmer's article does a good job of summarizing what they've observed and learned from the Avidia experiments, and what implications they have for some of the less understood products of evolution (diversity of species, sexual reproduction, and complex mechanical organs (such as the human eye)).

I'm not going out of my way to bash religion here; Most scientists are religious, and many are Christians. However, the scientists in favor of Intelligent Design are the ones who are willing to abandon the intellectual discipline that makes science... well... science... in favor of religiously flavored ignorance. That's not cool, and attempting to push it into law is downright unamerican. (And trying to hide this fundamentalist naughtiness behind the word Science is both cowardly and insulting.)
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