November 2010

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Is C4ID run by Creationists?

Since the launch of the Centre for Intelligent Design, it has been interesting to look at the religious beliefs of its President, Vice-President and Director, in the context of C4ID’s assertion that Intelligent Design is science and not creationism.  This is a position somewhat negated by the Wedge Strategy document, which clearly reveals that ID is essentially a subterfuge by the Discovery Institute specifically intended to insert creationist teaching into US schools.

Dr Alastair Noble, C4ID’s Director, has a number of past and present interests in both religious and educational groups (and indeed, these often intersect).  For example in his work with CARE for Scotland (CARE is Christian Action Research and Education – Dr Noble is the Education Officer), he produced a briefing document ahead of the May 2007 Scottish and local elections explaining the relationship between the Bible and a christian’s political activity.

Christians and Politics
Alistair Noble, CARE for Scotland Education Officer, has compiled a list of material exploring the Biblical basis for Christians and their involvement in the political system. Suitable for small group study or for sermons – five units and discussion questions.  Download it here (PDF).

The document, entitled ‘Bible study / sermon material on the theme of ‘Christians and politics’, and compiled by Dr Noble*, we read:

The opening chapters of Genesis set out God’s purpose for His creation and for those who inhabit it. God’s ‘creation mandate’ clearly demands that we get involved with the world around us.
Human beings, male and female, are created ‘in the image of God’ (chap 1 vs26—27). We represent the pinnacle of God’s creation. It is not our size that determines our status – actually we are quite insignificant – but our relationship with God. As humans, we are all significant to God, no matter what value society places on us. Human dignity is given to us by God – regardless of age, health or aptitude.

Dr Noble is clearly happy to push Biblical creationism, and given his colleagues in C4ID, Professor Nevin and Dr David Galloway seem to have literalist Biblical views, one wonders what motivation they may have in leading C4ID’s promotion of Intelligent Design.  Or is C4ID wrong to claim that Intelligent Design is not Creationism?

*Interestingly, though the pdf credits Dr Noble as ‘compiler’, the pdf appears to have been generated from a Word document entitled ‘BibleStudy Notes.doc’ authored by Bill Baird.  Bill Baird is the Manager of CARE for Scotland.  Or perhaps Dr Noble and Mr Baird merely shared a PC.

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The Centre for Intelligent Design has organised a tour by Professor Michael Behe.  The British Centre for Science Education prepared a set of questions which could be put to Behe, and a flier for distribution.

Report on the Bournemouth gig, on 26th November: Michael Behe: Back in Time at Bournemouth

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Michael Behe’s Belfast gig was 24th November.

Answers in Genes (Michael Behe in Belfast) finds it

[...] interesting to note that a Catholic who accepts the Earth is 4.67 billion years old and that humans and chimps do in fact have a common ancestor has been invited to preach at the Crescent Church in Belfast. Time was when such a phenomenon would have been regarded as impossible. Maybe miracles do happen.

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The Sensuous Curmudgeon, which usually confines itself to US matters, picked up on Michael Behe’s UK tour (via the risible Discovery Institute blog): Mystery Vomit Flood Paralyzes Glasgow.  Not quite so Ghostbusters as it first seems.

The 21st Floor has another fine report (Irrelevant Design) – the conclusion is particularly fine:

Interestingly, my fellow skeptics and I weren’t the only ones disappointed by the talk. Afterwards, as I was trying to get Behe to answer a straight question, a wide-eyed woman with a Virgin Mary necklace pounced on the good professor, and brashly asked him: ‘WHO IS THE DESIGNER?!’. A clearly discomfited Behe responsed with ‘um… well… it’d have to be someone very intelligent, who’s been around for a long time…’. The woman nodded her head, staring at Behe, and said ‘yes, eternal and all knowing – like GOD. I was disappointed you didn’t mention GOD in the talk’.

Utterly irrelevant to working scientists, too pussy-footed to please creationists and the religious, the lonely and pathetic professor from LeHigh University will return home to continue to be alienated in his own biology department.

In opening his NY Times review of Behe’s The Edge of Evolution, Richard Dawkins states: ‘I had expected to be as irritated by Michael Behe’s second book as by his first. I had not expected to feel sorry for him’. Professor Dawkins, you are not alone.

Anyway, it’s a really rather good writeup, which is illuminating on Behe’s modus operandi, including his question-avoidance technique.  Of particular note are some nice references, particularly Irreducible Incoherence – a look into the conceptual toolbox of a pseudoscience, which is to be published in the December 2010 issue of the Quarterly Review of Biology.

Over at the BCSE forum, there’s another, albeit brief, report – Behe in Glasgow.  The event was apparently introduced by Alastair Noble, C4ID’s Director.

Update: The Not-Quite-So-Friendly Humanist also attended  – Michael Behe and the Centre for Intelligent Design

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The Centre for Intelligent Design has organised a tour by Professor Michael Behe.  The British Centre for Science Education prepared a set of questions which could be put to Behe, and a flier for distribution.  First reports from events so far:

20th November – C4ID & Behe’s first talk, Leamington Nov 20th

22nd November – Behe debates Reiss (Intelligent Design: pseudoscience or a challenge to evolution? | New Humanist Blog).

Debate between Michael Behe and Keith Fox on the christian radio station Premier - (Creation Watch – Michael Behe & Keith Fox – Premier Christian Radio)

One interesting observation is the style of debate, particularly regarding questions.

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An Introduction to Intelligent Design – a critique

The Centre for Intelligent Design website features a set of brief (sometimes very brief) pdf documents which collectively form an Introduction to Intelligent Design, credited as written by Dr Alastair Noble, C4ID Director. This pamphlet sets out C4ID’s manifesto for ID. Often these documents are written in a way that could be seen as persuasive to the uninformed. On closer inspection, there is nothing new – the arguments are the same as those demolished in Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District. It’s all the more remarkable that this nonsense can still be pushed out to the public five years after that milestone judgement.

Part 15 What Next?

This one of the briefest sections of the pamphlet. But at least it includes a list of further reading, albeit one resting heavily on the work of Meyer, Behe, Dembski and Fuller.

It [Intelligent Design] is variously described as the end of reason, the corruption of science and the refuge of idiots. Some critics say it takes us back to the dark ages. Others claim that it is religion disguised as science or politics dressed up as philosophy. How come, you might wonder, that an idea can generate such passionate and at times intemperate criticism? Is it in the same league as racism, fascism or terrorism?

I find Intelligent Design objectionable because it is a deceitful concept intended to push a religious view into science education. I cannot speak for the motives of the Centre for Intelligent Design, but given that the President of C4ID is on record as a believer in the literal truth of Genesis, one does have to question C4ID’s agenda.

The strength of Intelligent Design is that it is, strictly, a position which argues solely from scientific evidence. Although ID has philosophical and religious implications, it is not based on any such presupposition.

Does Noble think that making this statement so often will make it true?

This is the final part of my critique of the Centre for Intelligent Design’s introduction to Intelligent Design.  C4ID have sponsored a UK tour by Michael Behe, one of the chief architects of Intelligent Design Creationism.  Read more about the Centre for Intelligent Design, and how it’s seeking to get religious creation beliefs into UK schools in the disguise of Intelligent Design.

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An Introduction to Intelligent Design – a critique

The Centre for Intelligent Design website features a set of brief (sometimes very brief) pdf documents which collectively form an Introduction to Intelligent Design, credited as written by Dr Alastair Noble, C4ID Director. This pamphlet sets out C4ID’s manifesto for ID. Often these documents are written in a way that could be seen as persuasive to the uninformed. On closer inspection, there is nothing new – the arguments are the same as those demolished in Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District.

Part 14 ID and Creationism

Part 14 is once again very brief, and aims to reinforce the rather peculiar claim that ID is not a form of creationism. Peculiar because of the correlation between ID proponents and religious and, frequently, creation belief. Professor Emeritus Norman Nevin, President of the Centre for Intelligent Design, is on record as a believer in the literal truth of the Genesis creation myth (audio recording and transcript). Intelligent Design itself was devised by the Discovery Institute with the specific aim of getting creationist views into American schools, and was demolished in what has proved to be a significant test case un the USA.

It may well be that there are, as the author points out, many different forms of creationism. Unfortunately they all fail at the hurdle of evidence. Noble claims respectability for creationism:

[...] creationism, in its central assertion that the universe has a Creator, is a perfectly respectable and reasonable position. Indeed, it is by far the view that has dominated human thought since the beginning of time. It is, to most people who have ever lived, the most credible explanation of why anything is here.

Quite an extraordinary statement. Most humans who have ever lived probably believed that the Earth was flat and that the sun revolved round the Earth. This does not make those views true. I also suggest that “most people who have ever lived” had no concept of the universe, and a wild diversity of religious beliefs: which of those creation myths would be acceptable to the churches that Nevin, Noble and Galloway attend?

Creationism is based, not primarily on scientific observation, though that is part of it, but on religious authority.

Hang on a moment – creationism is entirely based upon religious authority. On what scientific observation does creationism rest?

However, ID is not creationism. ID is derived purely from scientific observations, not from religious authority. Clearly, ID provides support for religious belief, but it does not propose it or depend on it. The criticism that ID is simply another form of Creationism is just simply wrong and arises from a confusion of religious and scientific ideas.

ID is creationism, just one part of the spectrum of creationist belief outlined in the first paragraph of this section. In the conclusion of the Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District, Judge John Jones (incidentally, Judge Jones was, and presumably remains, a Republican, and a Lutheran) concluded (text from Wikipedia, each citation links to the full decision):

  • For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the religious nature of ID [intelligent design] would be readily apparent to an objective observer, adult or child. (page 24)

  • A significant aspect of the IDM [intelligent design movement] is that despite Defendants’ protestations to the contrary, it describes ID as a religious argument. In that vein, the writings of leading ID proponents reveal that the designer postulated by their argument is the God of Christianity. (page 26)

  • The evidence at trial demonstrates that ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism. (page 31)

  • The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory. (page 43)

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  • After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. (page 64)

[...]

  • ID’s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID. (page 89)

This is a pretty definitive conclusion that Intelligent Design is not only a rehashed derivative of creationism, but also that it is not science. It’s also the product of a deceitful and cynical strategy devised by the Discovery Institute with the aim of insinuating creationism into American schools, despite the constitutional separation of church and state.

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Letter from C4ID Director and Vice President ‘economical with the truth’

I notice that Newton Mearns Baptist Church has a note about Michael Behe’s upcoming gig in Glasgow on 23rd November (Darwin or Design).  They’ve featured a letter from two of the prime movers in the Centre for Intelligent Design, Director Alastair Noble and Vice President David Galloway (link – pdf).  As one might expect from the organisers of this tour, it’s a little economical with the truth.  Unfortunately the reader is not permitted to leave comments at the website.

Much of the discussion is centred on what the scientific message is perceived to be. The notion that a purposeless and essentially chance based explanation might be the best fit explanation for the origin and diversity of life on earth is widespread. However the fact that the living world bears the evident hallmarks of design has been given global impetus by the work of several influential scientists and academics. One of these, Prof Michael Behe (biochemist and author of the bestselling books “Darwin’s Black Box and “The Edge of Evolution”) has often been attacked for his views that an intelligent source is the most plausible explanation for the empirical science. His arguments have however, never been refuted.

Actually, every one of his arguments has been refuted, Intelligent Design has been shown to be creationism in disguise and in no way science.

The portrayal of Intelligent Design as a scientific alternative to evolutionary biology not only flies in the face of over 150 years of scientific investigation  but is merely a cynical strategy on the part of creationists to infiltrate American public schools, and one which looks as though it may be inflicted on the Scottish school system.

Fortunately the British Centre for Science Education has prepared a handy list of ten (plus one) questions to ask Professor Behe during his tour of the UK.  It’s a huge shame that the members of Newton Mearns Baptist Church may not be exposed to the reality of Behe’s distortion of science.

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An Introduction to Intelligent Design – a critique

The Centre for Intelligent Design website features a set of brief (sometimes very brief) pdf documents which collectively form an Introduction to Intelligent Design, credited as written by Dr Alastair Noble, C4ID Director. This pamphlet sets out C4ID’s manifesto for ID. Often these documents are written in a way that could be seen as persuasive to the uninformed. On closer inspection, there is nothing new – the arguments are the same as those demolished in Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District.

Part 13 ID and Evolution

Alastair Noble here tales the opportunity to give his version of evolutionary biology, making the artificial distinction between ‘microevolution’ and ‘macroevolution’. It is in this part of the document that Noble’s biological ignorance comes to the fore.

It is the second use of the term ‘evolution’ which is much more contentious. In this case it is argued that by a process of random mutation of the information in DNA and natural selection of any beneficial result produced in the form of the living organism, it is possible to increase the complexity of living things. And this is not just a modest claim. The contemporary neo-Darwinian view is that random mutation and natural selection can take us, in an unplanned and undirected process, from a single cell to a human being, via all the other living things in between. This is often referred to as ‘macroevolution’.

Creationists (and I include Intelligent Design advocates) often use an artificially wide distinction between microevolution and macroevolution. Biologists would generally make little distinction between the two: indeed the same biological processes power both.

Strictly speaking, evolution by natural selection may depend on heritable variation due to essentially random mutation, but it’s really not an undirected process. It is of course directed by natural selection. It’s just not directed by an intelligent agency.

Noble claims that evolutionary biology is “widely and uncritically accepted in Western culture”. It is not. Aspects of evolutionary biology are continually studied, evaluated refined – why else would there be journals filled with evolution research? (It’s also regularly challenged by under-informed individuals, generally from a religious point of view!).

We now know that the genetic information carried in the DNA of every living cell is hugely complex. To suggest that such complexity can be generated by random and undirected processes is a bit like saying that computer software can be generated by letting the wind and rain blow through the laboratories where it is produced. We know that software programmes depend on computer engineers for their design, not on the vagaries of the weather!

This is essentially a rehashing of the monkeys writing Shakespeare. It’s also a particularly lousy analogy, based on breathtaking ignorance of biology. I recently blogged on the sources and variation of genetic ‘information’ (Biological information does not require a ‘designer’). We can see in the laboratory the processes by which genomes can acquired additional sequence and how these sequences subsequently acquire changes; we can see in genome sequences of related species the evidence of novel genes, and the mechanisms by which they arrive. And all this by natural processes. Noble revels in his ignorance in this part of the Introduction to Intelligent Design.

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An Introduction to Intelligent Design – a critique

The Centre for Intelligent Design website features a set of brief (sometimes very brief) pdf documents which collectively form an Introduction to Intelligent Design, credited as written by Dr Alastair Noble, C4ID Director. This pamphlet sets out C4ID’s manifesto for ID. Often these documents are written in a way that could be seen as persuasive to the uninformed. On closer inspection, there is nothing new – the arguments are the same as those demolished in Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District.

Part 12 Implications

This part of ‘An Introduction to Intelligent Design’ is brief and rests on the claims that Intelligent Design is truly a scientific approach, claims made in earlier parts. Unfortunately for the author this is not a position taken by the American judiciary, science as a whole, ad event prominent Intelligent Design proponents.

Although ID does not draw on any religious authority, it clearly has philosophical and religious implications. While it does not specify who the Designer is, it provides support for a theistic view of the universe. And it certainly confronts the neo- Darwinian world view that we live in a bleak, purposeless and undirected universe.

Here we come to the crux of the matter. For me, at least, it’s rather difficult not to equate a ‘designer’ with apparently omnipotent power to create or direct aspects of life with a deity of the type invoked by religions. Clearly, the ‘designer’ as conceived by intelligent design proponents must be supernatural: not only is there no direct physical evidence for its presence or existence, but the claims made for its actions require powers that are beyond universal physical limits. A bit like creating life out of mud, I guess. It’s notable that the principal (if not all) advocates of Intelligent Design are Christian.

The rest of this section merely makes more hollow claims for Intelligent Design importance, finishing with a completely absurd paragraph:

Intelligent Design is not just good science. It also raises philosophical questions which go to the heart of Western civilisation. It has the potential to make people reflect on the most fundamental questions about their existence. It is, perhaps, because the implications of ID challenges deeply-held beliefs about fundamental questions of life that it is so vehemently opposed without good scientific reasons.

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