Sunday, January 22, 2006

 

Orson Scott Card

I have been a fan of Orson Scott Card's sci fi books for quite a while. Ender's Game is one of my favorite books (I enjoyed reading some of the other books in that series too, but some of them were a little flaky). I came across Card's political writing a couple of years ago. He writes a column titled "World Watch" that also published online. I read it from time to time, and I often enjoy his columns. I didn't enjoy his latest, which I found out about when I read this article by PZ Myers at The Panda's Thumb.It was about this article: Creation and evolution in schools by Orson Scott Card

" A few years ago it was "Creation Science" they were trying to teach in the schools.

Creation Science was an attempt by fundamentalist Christians to give the Genesis account, as interpreted by them, a scientific veneer.

But it was only that -- a thin surface -- and any student who actually believed that Creation Science had anything to do with science would have been educationally crippled.

Now the controversy is between advocates of the theory of Intelligent Design vs. strict Darwinists. And some people want you to think it's the same argument.

It isn't."


Card talks about intelligent design here, but after reading through his essay it looks to me like he's just talking about Behe (there's no mention of Dembski, Johnson, Wells, etc.). For example:

" Behe's conclusion is that since complex biochemical systems in advanced organisms could not have evolved through strict Darwinian evolution, the only possible explanation is that the system was designed and put into place deliberately."


Now, I must admit that I have kind of a soft spot for Behe (although much less of one after his testimony in the Dover trial). He actually proposed testable ideas, which isn't very common among the ID crowd. It turns out that he wasn't very careful about researching his ideas, and that his ideas have been falsified, but still I admired him. I am frustrated that he doesn't really seem to be willing to modify and/or discard his ideas once they're falsified (which is a trait he has in common with many members of the ID crowd). More below.


" The Darwinist answer was immediate. Unfortunately, it was also illogical, personal, and unscientific. The main points are:

1. Intelligent Design is just Creation Science in a new suit (name-calling).

2. Don't listen to these guys, they're not real scientists (credentialism).

3. If you actually understood science as we do, you'd realize that these guys are wrong and we're right; but you don't, so you have to trust us (expertism).

4. They got some details of those complex systems wrong, so they must be wrong about everything (sniping).

5. The first amendment requires the separation of church and state (politics).

6. We can't possibly find a fossil record of every step along the way in evolution, but evolution has already been so well-demonstrated it is absurd to challenge it in the details (prestidigitation).

7. Even if there are problems with the Darwinian model, there's no justification for postulating an "intelligent designer" (true)."


Myers' entry Orson Scott Card, Intelligent Design advocate at Pharyngula examines these claims in detail.

" 1. You have to be ignorant of either Creation Science or Intelligent Design -- or both -- to think that they're the same thing. Creation Science is embarrassing and laughable -- its authors either don't understand science or are deliberately deceiving readers who don't understand it. Frankly, Creation Science is, in my opinion, a pack of pious lies."


Card really needs to read the testimony from the Dover trial. The ID textbook, Of Pandas and People, that was being used in Dover, was clearly a creationist book. The most telling piece of evidence that this is true is that after the 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard decision the words "creation", "creationism", "creationists", were replaced by "intelligent design" and "design proponents" (read Barbara Forrest's testimony in the Dover trial, or this article by Nick Matzke. In one instance, the copy and paste job was imperfect, and the word "creationist" was only changed to "cdesign proponentsists."

Behe and his group don't think we're stupid. They actually make the effort to explain the science accurately and clearly in terms that the lay audience can understand. So who is going to win this argument? Some people bow down before experts; most of us resent the experts who expect us to bow.

The irony is that there are plenty of Darwinists who are perfectly good writers, capable of explaining the science to us well enough to show us the flaws in the Designists' arguments. The fact that they refuse even to try to explain is, again, a confession that they don't have an answer."


I can't add much to Ed Brayton's response to this:

" I could sit here and link to hundreds of critiques of every single claim made by ID advocates. I've written many of them myself, as have dozens of actual scientists. I highly doubt that Card is completely unaware of them, or unaware of the fact that several scientists testified at the Dover trial and delivered detailed critiques of the ID arguments under oath as well. I don't know, or care, what universe Card inhabits, but it sure as hell isn't this one. In this universe, it is preposterous and utterly ridiculous to claim that scientists have not published volume after volume examining the flaws in ID arguments. If Card claims that the world he lives in is one in which scientists "refuse" to explain the flaws in those arguments, he is either lying through his teeth or he is completely delusional."


I don't think Card is lying (I hope that's not wishful thinking on my part), but his research was incredibly sloppy. It really seems to me like Card read "Darwin's Black Box", got all fired up, and wrote an article without bothering to read anything else from either the ID proponents or their opponents.

"Darwin's Black Box", and Behe's response to criticisms of it, are the reason I don't respect him anymore.

1) Behe made a point about how rigorous the peer review of "Darwin's Black Box" was. It wasn't. See here and here.

2) Behe's claims about bacterial flagella, the immune system, and the blood clotting cascade aren't supported. Once again referring to the verdict in the Dover trial:

From page 76:
"As irreducible complexity is only a negative argument against evolution, it is refutable and accordingly testable, unlike ID, by showing that there are intermediate structures with selectable functions that could have evolved into the allegedly irreducibly complex systems. (2:15-16 (Miller)). Importantly, however, the fact that the negative argument of irreducible complexity is testable does not make testable the argument for ID. (2:15 (Miller); 5:39 (Pennock)). Professor Behe has applied the concept of irreducible complexity to only a few select systems: (1) the bacterial flagellum; (2) the blood-clotting cascade; and (3) the immune system. Contrary to Professor Behe’s assertions with respect to these few biochemical systems among the myriad existing in nature, however, Dr. Miller presented evidence, based upon peer-reviewed studies, that they are not in fact irreducibly complex."


From pages 76-77:
"First, with regard to the bacterial flagellum, Dr. Miller pointed to peer- reviewed studies that identified a possible precursor to the bacterial flagellum, a subsystem that was fully functional, namely the Type-III Secretory System. (2:8- 20 (Miller); P-854.23-854.32). Moreover, defense expert Professor Minnich admited that there is serious scientific research on the question of whether the bacterial flagellum evolved into the Type-III Secretary System, the Type-III
Secretory System into the bacterial flagellum, or whether they both evolved from a common ancestor. (38:12-16 (Minnich)). None of this research or thinking involves ID. (38:12-16 (Minnich)). In fact, Professor Minnich testified about his research as follows: “we’re looking at the function of these systems and how they could have been derived one from the other. And it’s a legitimate scientific inquiry.” (38:16 (Minnich))."


I've read Minnich's response before. Quite honestly I don't see how whether or not the flagellum evolved from the Type-III secretory system matters when it comes to irreducible complexity. For IC to matter when one or more parts were removed from the flagellum the result would have to be something useless, and it's not. Sure, if you remove parts from the flagellum, you may wind up with something that's no good as a "motor", but that doesn't mean it's not good for anything else. See The Flagellum Unspun by Ken Miller.

Continuing with the verdict:

From page 77:
"Second, with regard to the blood-clotting cascade, Dr. Miller demonstrated that the alleged irreducible complexity of the blood-clotting cascade has been disproven by peer-reviewed studies dating back to 1969, which show that dolphins’ and whales’ blood clots despite missing a part of the cascade, a study that was confirmed by molecular testing in 1998. (1:122-29 (Miller); P-854.17- 854.22). Additionally and more recently, scientists published studies showing that
in puffer fish, blood clots despite the cascade missing not only one, but three parts. (1:128-29 (Miller)). Accordingly, scientists in peer-reviewed publications have refuted Professor Behe’s predication about the alleged irreducible complexity of the blood-clotting cascade. Moreover, cross-examination revealed that Professor Behe’s redefinition of the blood-clotting system was likely designed to avoid peer- reviewed scientific evidence that falsifies his argument, as it was not a scientifically warranted redefinition. (20:26-28, 22:112-25 (Behe))."


From pages 77-78
"The immune system is the third system to which Professor Behe has applied the definition of irreducible complexity. Although in Darwin’s Black Box, Professor Behe wrote that not only were there no natural explanations for the immune system at the time, but that natural explanations were impossible regarding its origin. (P-647 at 139; 2:26-27 (Miller)). However, Dr. Miller presented peer-reviewed studies refuting Professor Behe’s claim that the immune system was irreducibly complex. Between 1996 and 2002, various studies confirmed each element of the evolutionary hypothesis explaining the origin of the immune system. (2:31 (Miller)). In fact, on cross-examination, Professor Behe was questioned concerning his 1996 claim that science would never find an evolutionary explanation for the immune system. He waspresented with fifty- eight peer-reviewed publications, nine books, and several immunology textbook chapters about the evolution of the immune system; however, he simply insisted that this was still not sufficient evidence of evolution, and that it was not "good enough." (23:19 (Behe))."


Compare this with Behe's description:

" The cross examination was fun too, and showed that the other side really does have only rhetoric and bluster. At one point the lawyer for the other side who was cross examining me ostentatiously piled a bunch of papers on the witness stand that putatively had to do with the evolution of the immune system. But it was obvious from a cursory examination that they were more examples of hand waving speculations, which I had earlier discussed in my direct testimony. So I was able to smile and say that they had nothing more to say than the other papers. I then thought to myself, that here the NCSE, ACLU, and everyone in the world who is against ID had their shot to show where we were wrong, and just trotted out more speculation. It actually made me feel real good about things."


This article at Pharyngula goes into more detail about Behe's testimony.


" 5. The church and state argument is deliberately misleading. First, the Designists are not, in fact, advocating "God." They are very careful not to specify who or what the Intelligent Designer might be. So they are not advocating for any particular religion, or any religion at all. For all anyone knows, the supposed Intelligent Designers might be an alien species of mortal, ungodlike beings."


and:

" Make no mistake: Not just the fossil record, but virtually every close examination of biology at every level reveals utterly convincing evidence that evolution takes place, has always taken place, and continues to take place. There is also plenty of evidence that natural selection takes place.

The Designists challenge only the sufficiency of Darwin's model. The claim only that it does not seem adequate to explain systems that were completely unknown at the time he created his theory."


This is just not true. Behe may accept common descent, but that's not the official ID position. The Intelligent Design camp includes Young Earth Creationists, who not only don't accept common ancestry, they don't accept the 4.6 Ga age of the earth. ID-founder Phillip Johnson won't even take a position on the age of the earth and doesn't accept common ancestry. This account of an ID proponent who was forced out due to his acceptance of common ancestry is particularly telling. In addition, ID proponents argue against "materialism" and "naturalism." The opposite of naturalism is supernaturalism. ID proponents are arguing for a supernatural creator, and argument that the designer may have been aliens is just a distraction.

Again it looks to me like Card read "Darwin's Black Box" and nothing else. Behe might not be explicitly referring to God as the designer, but that's not the case with the ID movement as a whole.

The ID camp doesn't have a coherent "theory" of ID, and proponents of ID hold directly conflicting views (YEC vs. non YEC for example). If the evidence for ID is so clear and compelling, they really ought to come up with a well-defined internally consistent ID hypothesis. Instead it seems like ID is a group of people who have a gut feeling that evolution just can't be right, and if they can only start teaching that to school kids, school boards, and members of congress they'll worry about sorting all the details of their ideas out later. It's obvious ID is nothing but a political movement, the practitioners don't care a whit about backing up their claims with hard science.

" To the Darwinists, of course, this is hypocrisy and deception -- of course the Designists are religious. They must be. Because only religious people would ever question the Darwinist model.

It comes to this: If you question the Darwinist model, you must be religious; therefore your side of the argument is not admissible in the public arena, and certainly not in the public schools.


This is an attempt to shut down discussion by hiding behind the Constitution. It's what you do when you're pretty sure you can't win on the merits."


This seems awfully like an attempt to class all opponents of ID as atheists (as Chris Buttars has done, and as was done in Dover, for example). If so, it's disgusting, plain and simple. Opponents of ID, who include many religious people as well as atheists, aren't opposed to religion. They're opposed to attempts to force religion on others.

Card's essay isn't all bad.

" Here's the thing: If you say that things are as they are because God made them that way, then they are off limits to science. Science is simply unsuited to studying God. Science requires impersonal, repeatable testing. Its business is discovering causal relationships, and it can only work with mechanical cause.

So when the answer to the question "why does this natural phenomenon occur?" is "because God wants it that way," then science simply has nothing to add to the conversation. Any more than when the question is "why are you wearing that combination of colors?" If some person -- divine or otherwise -- chose to make things as they are, then we're talking about purpose and motive; science can only work with mechanical causation.

In other words, until Darwin showed us evolution as a machine that did not require divine meddling to be explained, scientists were blocked from answering what seemed to be (and, in some ways, is) a mere historical, not scientific, question: How did this vast variety of life forms come to be?"


and:

" Real science does not in any way impinge on a belief that God (or some other Intelligent Designer) created the world and everything that dwells in it. At the same time, real science does not -- and never can -- prove or even support the hypothesis."


and:

"Intelligent design uses the evil "must" word: Well, if random mutation plus natural selection can't account for the existence of this complex system, then it must have been brought into existence by some intelligent designer
Why? Why must that be the only alternative?
Just because the Darwinian model seems to be inadequate at the molecular level does not imply in any way that the only other explanation is purposive causation.
There might be several or even many other hypotheses. To believe in Intelligent Design is still a leap of faith.
But the normal answer of the Darwinists is also a leap of faith. In effect, their arguments boil down to this: We have no idea right now how these complex systems came to be, but we have fervent, absolute faith that when we do figure it out, it will be found to have a completely mechanical, natural cause that requires no "intelligent designer" at all."


Well, the last couple of sentences of that last quote are pretty bad. I really hope that this is just a case of Card being really sloppy. It is glaringly obvious that he hasn't really looked into ID or the arguments of its opponents. If it turns out that he has, and he stands behind this article, it'll be hard for me to still respect him.

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