Wednesday, September 06, 2006

8/21/2006 - "Putting the DUH in Canada"

From the Scientific American podcast:

    A professor in Canada applied for funding to study whether the U.S.'s Intelligent Design movement had had any impact on Canadians' beliefs about evolution.  The request was denied on the grounds that the professor had given insufficient evidence for Evolution.  Although he was not able to complete his research, the professor concluded that I.D. had had some impact.

As I've mentioned before, I'm slowly working my way through "Of People and Pandas," the dominant I.D. textbook out there today.  I've also started listening to Dr. Zachary Moore's Evolution Podcast (Evolution 101) dedicated to laying out evolutionary concept in relatively simple language.  The combination is jarring.

I am finding some positive things in "Of People and Pandas," and I'll try to say something less negative in a future post, but as Moore points out, the book engages in some deceptive language.  I'm aware of some of it, like saying 'Evolution is a theory and Intelligent Design is a theory.  These facts fit both theories, so we can't use these facts to determine which is right.'  Some is less obvious, like saying 'micro-evolution happens because of a, b and c, but no mechanism can explain how macro-evolution would happen.'

The first statement is "true," but only if you use "theory" in a loose, ambiguous sense.  In the scientific world, "theory" has a more tightly specified meaning, a model that explains all relevant observations and makes predictions.  I.D. does not meet that criteria, so it's technically more correct to say that "Evolution is a theory and Intelligent Design isn't a theory."

The second statement is true, I guess.  But it's even more sneaky than the first.  The point here is that I.D. has created an ambiguous distinction between two kinds of evolutions (technically, within kind and from kind to kind, although the definition of kind is hard to pin down).  Scientists don't make that distinction.  The reason that I.D. does is that evolution within "kind" is easy to demonstrate in an experiment -- it just takes a few generations of fruit flies, which is pretty quick.

From what I can tell, it's much harder to demonstrate evolution from kind to kind (e.g. Monkey to Man), so this distinction allows I.D. to accept what is clearly true while continuing to argue against the more important point.  My studies haven't led me far enough to defend the scientific view that the same mechanism which drives evolution within kind can drive evolution from kind to kind, so I'd better leave it at that.  It's just that one can see how carefully I.D. is defining the argument.  I am reminded of Bill Cosby's routine in which he imagines that George Washington wins the coin toss, and thus is able to specify that his troops will hide behind rocks while the British are required to remain in formation.

11,000 ornery steps today.  Grump,


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