06 August 2007

Why Intelligent Design is Creationism

There's been a lot of buzz lately over the distinction (or lack thereof) between creationism and intelligent design.

Casey Luskin at the Discovery Institute wrote last week that ID wasn't just a protestant Christian movement: an orthodox Jew was in on it, too! (I'll give you a second to get over the shock that Xians and Jews could agree on the origins of life.)

Denyse O'Leary once again mumbles praise of the Creation Museum under her breath. Notice how she praises the museum for not aligning itself with ID, rather than condemning it for using false science. That's because O'Leary doesn't give a damn about real science. As long as the CM helps her undermine evolutionary biology, it's okay in her book. She just doesn't want her version of creationism to be

Mike Dunford at the Panda's Thumb agrees (reluctantly) with O'Leary that Creationists and IDiots are different; the difference being, Creationists aren't afraid to admit that their ideas come from their faith, whereas IDiots like O'Leary are afraid to admit to the metaphysical beliefs at the foundation of ID.

Larry Moran doesn't want to let O'Leary off the hook so easily. Creationism, he says, encompasses Young Earthers, Old Earthers, IDiots, and even Theistic Evolutionists (to varying degrees). I agree. If you think God created us, whether you think you can prove it or not, then you're a Creationist.

Meanwhile, Michael Egnor took offense to Dunford's post. Mark Hoofnagle gave Egnor a thorough thrashing.

For my part, I'm convinced that Intelligent Design is a subspecies of Creationism. The only way you can make a reasonable design inference is if you have reason to believe there could have been a designer present. I don't care how unlikely you think a pattern is. If I pour a bowl of alphabet soup and find the phrase "You're a douchebag, and by the way we're almost out of milk," I'm still going to have to chalk it up to coincidence unless you can give me some other evidence that I have pantry gremlins. Suppose we find artifacts such as stone tools and crockery at a new site in Wisconsin, dated confidently to 7000 years old. We could make the reasonable inference that people had left them behind, because we have other evidence that tool-making people existed on Earth 7000 years ago.

Even if you don't have evidence for a designer apart from whatever it is you think has been designed, you sure as hell would normally look for more evidence of the designer to back up your design inference. Imagine if we found what we thought were stone tools dated with all confidence to 125 million years old. We'd variously be questioning our dating techniques, looking for toolmaking dinosaurs, looking for evidence of time travelers, or coming up with natural explanations for the stones' appearance. If we found "tools" on Mars, we wouldn't sit back in our recliners and take that as unequivocal proof of Martians, we'd keep on looking.

The Intelligent Designers time and again deny being interested in who their designer is, how he did it, or why he did it the way he did. Every single thing that humans identify as "designed" has been accompanied by at least a vague guess based on our best evidence as to who the designer was. After all, how can you have design without a designer? No, the truth is, IDiots already have an idea who the intelligent designer is, and they don't want to admit it because that intelligent designer is God (or Rael, or whatever your faith of choice dictates). They have no evidence of the designer, nor will the seek it, because they have their faith. That's why ID is Creationism, and decisively not science.


Ben said...

Suppose we find artifacts such as stone tools and crockery at a new site in Wisconsin, dated confidently to 7000 years old.

Ah yes - well, then I'd ask you how you're so sure that those tools weren't planted there last Tuesday by His noodly appendage? Or, more seriously, put there by Satan in a conspicuously 'old' way to test your faith?

You know what we really need? A bridge between our theoretical scientific concepts and things on an observable scale. People still aren't accepting, say, geological evidence that the world is more than 6000 years old because they don't see how silly patterns in rock can be linked to time. Maybe if we can get people to date the dirty laundry on their floor by stratificaion layers, or show how a big rock along the riverbank has already been buried an inch or so this year - if we can get them to agree that small changes like that can give us valuable information on a proximate timescale, then maybe they'll all be more willing/able to accept that the same methods work on a much, much longer timescale as well.

Which all comes back to the basic problem of modern science education: too much emphasis on what we've discovered, and not enough on how we find out. This should be High School Freshman epistemology - it's not hard, but it's crucial.

Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD said...

A couple notes:

Luskin, O'Leary, et al. try to define "Creationism" as Biblical literalism. It reminds me of Richard douchebag von Sternberg, who swears he isn't a YEC, but somehow never gets around to divulging what he is.

I consider ID to be more of a political strategy than a belief. It is a campaign to circumvent Edwards v. Aguillard and similar rulings. Note that the ID movement includes YECs such as Paul Nelson and other pre-Edwards proponents of "Creation Science." Note also that IDists prefer not to discuss such issues as the age of Earth, which might tear the fabric of the ID 'big tent.'