Abednego: September 2005 Archives

There is an anti-intelligent design petition going wild in academic science circles -- I got e-mailed two copies of links to it within a couple of minutes. The text of the statement is actually fairly interesting:

We, as scientists trained in fields that utilize evolutionary theory, do not consider Intelligent Design to be a fact-based science appropriate for teaching in public schools because it is theistic in nature, not empirical, and therefore does not pass the rigors of scientific hypothesis testing and theory development. As such, we petition that Intelligent Design not be presented in public schools as a viable science within the scientific curriculum.

There are three things I think are interesting about this. First, it refers to intelligent design as being "theistic in nature, not empirical," as if the two must necessarily be mutually exclusive. Now, granted, many people believe that empirical science can have nothing to say about God, but it seems rather difficult to empirically prove that statement, so such a statement is going beyond "empirical" science.

Second, it makes an interesting thought experiment to ask, "What if there were a great deal of empirical evidence that intelligent design might be right?" According to this statement, it looks as if it should necessarily still be excluded from being taught in schools, since, according to the statement, it is theistic in nature, not empirical. I guess this also means any empirical evidence that might ever exist in favor of intelligent design actually isn't empirical. Let me put that another way: Whoever wrote the statement has defined "theistic" and "empirical" as two mutually exclusive categories. Anything that concerns God isn't empirical, and anything empirical must not have anything to do with God. Note that this statement is unproven.

Finally, I find it interesting that the statement is designed (see the site above) as a response to the Discovery Institute's collection of signatures on a statement reading the following:

Hector Avalos, a professor of religious studies at Iowa State, has a "review" of the book The Privileged Planet, by Iowa State astronomy professor Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards, a philosopher, up at Talk Reason. Talk Reason is a site that argues against creationism, intelligent design, and religious apologetics, and The Privileged Planet is a book presenting an astronomical argument that the universe may be designed.

I put the word "review" in quotes deliberately, because it's more of an attack on intelligent design generally than a review of the book; in fact, it says very little about the book itself. It begins by summarizing the book this way:

TPP discusses an array of data to buttress its argument that Earth was intentionally positioned where it is. For example, if our planet were much farther from, or much closer to, the Sun, then life might not exist. Also, "the mere presence of other planets in the inner Solar System reduces the number of asteroids and comets hitting Earth" (p. 115), and so helped ensure that such perils to life would be minimized. Earth is much better than Mercury for "measurability" of the universe because the latter planet "completes three rotations every two orbits" and so "would offer more confusing vistas" (p. 106).

From these and other data, TPP infers that our planet must have been intelligently placed in just this location in order for intelligent life to emerge that could then produce astronomers to observe the universe and discover the Designer's intentions.

Google blog search; hiatus

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I just wanted to point out that Google just released a blog search tool (in beta); presumably this will compete somewhat with Technorati. I haven't tried it yet and will be interested in people's impressions.

And on an unrelated note, in case you haven't noticed, I've been on somewhat of a blog hiatus recently. This is likely to continue for a while longer as my research projects are requiring a lot of time lately. It's nice in this respect being just a sub-blogger here: I don't have to worry that everyone will quit reading the blog just because I'm not writing anything.

[UPDATE: Part of this post (the first paragraph) was missing before and has been added; we just switched to a new version of Movable Type and I had some trouble getting it to take my post the first time and lost a paragraph somehow.]

Instapundit has an interview which has some interesting plots at the end, showing the number of engineering bachelor's degrees granted in the U.S. versus China and other Asian countries. Check it out. China passed us sometime in the mid-1980's and the growth rate in number of degrees granted is much higher. The trend is similar for graduate school, and also for the natural sciences generally, not just engineering.

I found myself driving for quite a while yesterday so I ended up listing to NPR a bit, and caught this commentary on Katrina by Daniel Schorr. I don't have time to transcribe it [Update: Transcript in the comments], but you can listen to it if you like. The synopsis is actually a fairly good summary:

NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr asks where the scourges of hurricanes, drought, and famine fit into the debate over "intelligent design."

Schorr began by saying that Intelligent Design is a new form of creationism, and went on to ask, essentially, what kind of a designer would design natural disasters like these? He concluded by quoting someone who referred to hurricanes as natural events, and then asked, (paraphrasing loosely), "If nature is designed, can we really call them natural? Or are they designed? And that brings us back to the debate about nature versus intelligence."

Now, this whole argument about "bad design" is a relatively common argument against intelligent design. People point to various organisms (i.e. parasites) which appear only to exist to harm other organisms, or particularly nasty diseases, or (in this case) natural disasters, and essentially argue, "No good designer would do such a thing!"

I really have a problem with this sort of argument -- and even more so with Schorr's form. Intelligent Design doesn't claim anything particular about the designer, other than that the evidence indicates that the designer is intelligent. So to even argue such a thing, you're assuming that you know what the designer would do. And that's rather silly, since you're arguing that the designer must not exist (or must not have designed life) because you know what he would have done if he did exist. So at the same time you're arguing (if this is your view) that (a) it's impossible to see from nature that such a designer exists, yet (b) it's possible to determine somehow what the attributes of such a designer would be if he did exist. It doesn't seem like you can have it both ways -- if it's impossible to determine from nature that a designer exists (or possible to prove he doesn't) then you also shouldn't be able to determine anything about said designer. On the other hand, if you can determine the designer exists, then you can start asking what you can tell about his/her/its attributes.

I found Schorr's argument particularly bugged me because he begins by equating Intelligent Design with (Christian) creationism. Now, if that's his view, then the Bible does offer some reason why there is great suffering in the world, including things like natural disasters. The Bible explains that the world is not in its ideal (designed) state any longer, as a result of the sin of Man and the subsequent fall. That is, things are not all as they should be, so people die, diseases happen, and people have to toil greatly to accomplish much of anything on earth. This wasn't how God originally designed things, according to the Bible, but man sinned, and so bad things happened. [We could go into this a lot more, but the purpose of this post isn't to address the whole problem of evil and pain.]



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