October 2010

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2010.

Over at the excellent BCSE Blog, there’s a link to a 2006 BBC Horizon about Intelligent Design (BBC Horizon – A War on Science).  It’s a good overview of the intellectual vacuum at the heart of the ID movement.

Tags: ,

Professor Norman Nevin, the President of the Centre for Intelligent Design, is a 6 day creationist.

The British Centre for Science Education blog features a report on a sermon delivered by Professor Norman Nevin OBE (Creation Watch – Norman Nevin – God and the Cosmos).  Professor Nevin is of interest to this blog because he is the President of the UK Centre for Intelligent Design.  I presented a brief bio of Prof Nevin in an earlier blog article on the Centre for Science Education (Intelligent Design centre launched in the UK), but to summarise:

Prof Norman Nevin OBE, Emeritus Professor of Medical Genetics, Queens University, Belfast
A quick Google search reveals Nevin has been very active in human genetic research. The British Centre for Science Education lists Nevin in an article about the DUP’s promotion of creationism in schools (Northern Ireland’s Leading Political Party is Creationist). Nevin apparently defends Truth in Science (Norman Nevin defends Truth in Science). I blogged about (the ridiculously-named) Truth in Science (Discovery Institute takes the wedge strategy to UK schools) – note that Alastair Noble favourably reviewed the key text in TiS’s wedge strategy for UK schools.

So in common with the other two members of the C4ID ruling triumvirate, Prof Nevin would seem to be an evangelical christian, with links to a political party with a policy of promotion of biblical creationism.  It should not, therefore, come as any surprise that Prof Nevin espouses six day creationist beliefs in this sermon.

I won’t repeat the scientific inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and misquotations which are so frequent within Prof Nevin’s sermon: I recommend the interested reader visit the BSCE blog.  But I would make one particular observation.

The sermon is, if nothing else, such a clear declaration of belief in biblical six day creationism that the Centre for Intelligent Design can really be nothing else than a UK implementation of the Wedge Strategy, a morally dubious and dishonest strategy to insert creationism in US state schools despite legal (and constitutional) prohibition.  I suggest that statements from Alastair Noble (who can be heard here expounding his literal belief in the resurrection myth) to the effect that the Centre for Intelligent Design will not target schools will turn out to be disingenuous. In this context, the FakeID campaign launch is worth reading.  In particular:

Unfortunately, Scotland is the only constituent nation in the UK whose official guidance for teachers does not explicitly rule out teaching creationism and ID as science. In England and Wales, Ofsted have stated:

Intelligent Design is a creationist belief that suggests that the biological complexity of human beings is evidence for presence of a God or an ‘intelligent designer’. It is sometimes erroneously advanced as scientific theory but has no underpinning scientific principles or explanations supporting it and it is not accepted by the international scientific community.

No such statement exists in the literature produced by Learning and Teaching Scotland, the body which produces the Curriculum for Excellence – the backbone of Scottish education. This makes Scotland a soft target for the plans of the Discovery Institute and associated organisations, such as C4ID.

The Centre for Intelligent Design has all the hallmarks of the wedge strategy.

Tags: ,

The Centre for Intelligent Design claim “empirical evidence for design”

Alastair Noble and David Galloway (two of the governing triumvirate of the Centre for Intelligent Design) have penned a rather indignant response to the recent article in The Herald (Would you Adam and Eve it). This rather odd riposte makes a few claims.

They are upset that many equate Intelligent Design with Creationism. Well, I’m afraid I do just that. Noble and Galloway claim that the distinction between ID and Creationism is that the former is “an inference drawn from evidence in nature” as opposed to creationism, which is based on interpretation of religious texts. I would argue that ID may well be inferred from natural evidence (or rather a misinterpretation of natural evidence), but is shares with creationism the requirement for a supernatural entity (a god in the case of creationism, a “designer” in the case of ID).  Essentially, Intelligent Design is an argument from incredulity – in the absence of an understanding of the natural processes that give rise to the diversity and complexity of life, ID proponents fall back on superstition as an “explanation”.  It’s also worth noting the religious background of C4ID triumvirate.

Noble and Galloway then repeat a series mis-statements often used as the support for ID.

Fine tuning of natural laws – a hoary old claim much-abused by ID proponents and creationists alike. Unfortunately this assertion fails at the mere observation that we’re only here to make an observation of the universe because the natural laws are what they are.

Noble and Galloway assert that cells are so complex that design must be inferred. Cells and organisms are indeed complex. But those of us acquainted with modern evolutionary biology can see the combination of variation and natural selection coupled with long time periods as a perfectly acceptable and natural (rather than supernatural) solution. This leads on to another old chestnut; the claim that biological information is an enduring problem of modern biology.

The trouble for Noble and Galloway is that the scientific consensus disagrees with them that there is something particular about the information held in DNA that needs a supernatural designer as explanation. To say that “all human experience suggests that information arises only from intelligent mind” is to ignore decades of research in genetics and molecular biology, coupled with advances in evolutionary biology which clearly show how genetic information accumulates and changes through evolutionary history.

To suggest that the existence of a designer is in some way the most parsimonious explanation of biological facts, and one that merits equal treatment, is plainly ridiculous.

Noble and Galloway are disingenuous when they say “C4ID is not specifically targeting schools”, particularly when they go on to say “However, it is unlikely that school students will fail to notice the debate and it is bound to be raised in schools. That teachers should simply ignore it or ban its discussion hardly reflects the best traditions of education”.

Those affiliated to C4ID are of course entitled to their views, no matter how misguided they may be on scientific grounds. What must not be allowed to happen is that the vacuous and superstitious proposal represented by Intelligent Design be permitted in Science classes. Instead, this should be dealt with in the appropriate place: the same classes which deal with other supernatural entities – religious education classes.

As a final note, the backers of C4ID should note the existence of the Wedge Strategy as promoted by their colleagues in the Discovery Institute.

Tags: ,

The recently launched Centre for Intelligent Design (C4ID) has as its guiding lights three evangelical christians, and is notionally based in Glasgow.  It does however have a base in Guernsey.  I note an article in The Guernsey Press entitled “No Place for ID in Today’s Thinking“, which reveals a little more about the Guernsey connection.  This opinion piece begins:

AS A practising lawyer and former conseiller, Advocate John Langlois is no stranger to controversy or to putting his head above the parapet. Yet his trusteeship and support for the Guernsey-based Centre of Intelligent Design will have raised many eyebrows.

For while today’s ID may be a reworked and rebranded offering, it is still creationism at heart and has no place in today’s understanding of the universe or – as Advocate Langlois is demanding – the education of local children.

So we have a name associated with the Guernsey connection: presumably a way for C4ID to funnel funds from somewhere in  tax-effective manner (and possibly conceal those transactions – at least that is suggested in the comments following the article).  One wonders what controversies the author of the opinion piece alleges Langlois has been associated with in the past, and what role he’s playing in C4ID.

Tags: ,

I stumbled across the 21st Floor website today – they have started the FakeID campaign against the introduction of creationism, Intelligent Design and other forms of pseudoscience in schools.  This has a Scottish focus, as there isn’t apparently a legal prohibition against teaching creationism in sciences classes in Scotland.  Yet.

FakeID seems to have been prompted by the arrival of the Centre for Intelligent Design (based in Glasgow, but financially sourced in Guernsey, I believe).

The website’s worth a visit.

Tags: ,

The Centre for Intelligent Design is certainly making the news.  The latest to come to my attention is an article in The Herald (Would you Adam and Eve it? Top scientists tell Scottish pupils: the Bible is true).  The article begins

They are among Scotland’s most eminent scientists, they believe the world was created in six days and women were made from Adam’s rib …and they’re coming to a school near you.

A new creationist group that preaches the “scientific” theory of intelligent design has set up in Glasgow with the stated aim of promoting its beliefs to schools and colleges.

but fails to point out that of the three backers, only two could remotely be considered “eminent”, and that their unifying characteristic is their religious belief and background as lay preachers.  What’s most worrying is the clear agenda to get their religious Intelligent Design pseudoscience into schools.

The group’s director, Dr Alastair Noble, told the Sunday Herald it was “inevitable” the debate would make its way into schools – even though the Scottish Government says teachers should not regard intelligent design as science.

“We are definitely not targeting schools, but that doesn’t mean to say we may not produce resources that go to schools,” Dr Noble said, adding that he had already been asked to speak in Scottish schools, and agreed to do so.

The Herald points out that the three main figures at the helm hold fundamentalist religious views which explain their desire to promote the existence of a “Designer” (we might as well refer to this supernatural entity as the christian god).  It’s interesting to note that the Herald observes that C4ID President Professor Norman Nevin OBE truly believes in the literal truth of Genesis, a belief rather at odds with C4ID’s claim to take a scientific approach to ID.

Tags: ,

The Centre for Intelligent Design has a rather amusing page in which they somewhat hopefully set out their stall for Intelligent Design to be classified as a scientific endeavour.  They make use of historical figures such as Galileo, Wegener and Semmelweis to illustrate a claim that those who threaten the Scientific Consensus are given short shrift.

It’s rather amusing to hear from a group of Christians that Galileo’s problems lay with threatening the scientific consensus.  There’s a rather concise overview of Galileo’s problems over heliocentrism at Wikipedia.  Essentially the Catholic Church didn’t much care for scientists such as Galileo and Copernicus making observations that contradicted the beliefs of Bronze Age goat herders that were recorded in the Bible.  It’s hard to see this as being at odds with the “scientific consensus”, particularly as science itself as a profession was very much in its infancy – a more appropriate message is that those with a belief in ancient superstition don’t like to see those beliefs challenged.  A bit like those professing a belief in a supernatural designer objecting to experimental observations demonstrating a natural explanation for the diversity of life, I’d suggest.

Moving on to the case of Semmelweis, who advocated in 1847 that washing hands would help prevent spread of puerperal fever in maternity wards, I would suggest that his failure to succeed in promoting the practice may well have been due to (a) social mores of the times and (b) the lack of any real explanation of why this practice should work.  Recall that the germ theory of infection was still some way in the future.

Wegener is much lauded as a transformative and visionary scientist who came up with the theory of continental drift.  This was unfortunately not taken terribly seriously until the 1950s, when a clearer understanding of how the Earth’s crust behaved could explain drift.  Remember that Wegener could only point to observations that continents could loosely be lined up like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

Now, let’s turn to evolution by natural selection.  We have observations of deep historical time, of fossil records clearly showing morphological change with time, of molecular data clearly showing the relationships between taxa, we have genetic mechanisms of inheritance, all coupled with copious evidence of natural selection (and of course genetic drift).  Where, then is the problem?  Theory, mechanism, observation – all present and correct.

So, what’s the basis that ID should be considered science?  ID proponents seem to make arguments from disbelief.  They cannot comprehend (or do not wish to comprehend) how the diversity of life can have appeared through natural means, and feel the need to invoke a supernatural entity to explain it.

I ask the ID proponents: what is the evidence for a designer?  And personal disbelief in evolutionary biology’s explanations does not count as evidence.  How would I design an experiment to demonstrate the existence of a designer?  What predictions does ID make that may be tested?

The Centre for Intelligent Design concludes its article with this statement:

The Centre for Intelligent Design seeks to promote the scientific data with inference to the best explanation but recognises that there will be those who seek to avoid interacting with the actual arguments while hiding became claims of consensus.

I say, show me experimental evidence that supports the existence of a designer.

Incidentally, I note the lack of a comment facility at the CfID page – this does seem to be frequently the case for religiously motivated sites.

Tags:

In a new post on their website Darwin or Design?, Britain’s own newly established Centre for Intelligent Design is pushing a speaking tour by intelligent design proponent Michael Behe.  This may well be the first action taken by Alastair Noble’s new venture.  According to Inspire Magazine, Michael Behe will be giving a series of lectures:

Behe’s Darwin or Design? What Does the Science Really Say? tour runs from 20-27 November and will comprise evening lectures at the Babbage Lecture Theatre in Cambridge and the Caledonian University in Glasgow, plus events in London, Belfast and Leamington/Warwick. He will also be the main speaker at a day conference (27 November) at Oxford Brookes University.

The tour is organised by the UK-based Centre for Intelligent Design, which exists to promote the public understanding of ID.

Behe’s testimony in the famous Dover v Kitzmiller case in the USA was equally famously shredded.  At the time I blooged about the establishment of the UK Centre for Intelligent Design, I wondered what they had the (then unused) http://www.darwinordesign.org.uk URL for – now we know.  The Oxford date is a day conference:

The day conference in Oxford on Saturday November 27th will deal with the range of scientific evidences for design in genetics and cellular biology and with some of the philosophical issues associated with intelligent design.  Other contributors to the conference will include Dr Geoff Barnard, formerly of Cambridge University’s School of Veterinary Science, and Steve Fuller, Professor of Sociology at Warwick University and an expert in the history and philosophy of science.

The lucky participants will receive a DVD. The British Centre for Science Education has a brief outlines of Geoff Barnard (an academic in the field of veterinary medicine) and Steve Fuller (a sociologist), both of whom appear to be Intelligent Design proponents. Interestingly, Fuller gave evidence at the Dover v Kitzmiller case.  The DVD that participants in the Oxford day conference receive is entitle “Unlocking the Mystery of Life“, and is made by Illustra Media, who describe themselves thus:

llustra Media produces video documentaries that examine the scientific case for intelligent design. Working with Discovery Institute and an international team of scientists and scholars (including Michael Behe, Guillermo Gonzalez, Stephen Meyer, and Lee Strobel), Illustra has helped define both the scientific case for design and the limitations of materialistic processes like Darwinian evolution. These documentaries include Unlocking the Mystery of Life, The Privileged Planet and Darwin’s Dilemma.

Clearly this enterprise represents an escalation in the UK of the wedge strategy so beloved of the Discovery Institute.

Tags: ,