News from the C4ID

After some months of silence, I received a message from Alastair Noble, Director of the UK’s very own Discotute wannabees, the Glasgow-based Centre for Intelligent Design. It’s the usual mish-mashed rehash of Discotute allegations of discrimination against Intelligent Design creationism with the usual claims that Intelligent Design isn’t creationism but really science.

Indeed, Alastair begins by decrying a statement made on BBC TV by the presenter Kirsty Wark (that teaching creationism is illegal) – by linking to this archived page dating from 2007 (under the previous Government). This is interesting, because one section at the document there contains this (my emphasis):

Creationism and intelligent design are not part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study and should not be taught as science.  However, there is a real difference between teaching ‘x’ and teaching about ‘x’.  Any questions about creationism and intelligent design which arise in science lessons, for example as a result of media coverage, could provide the opportunity to explain or explore why they are not considered to be scientific theories and, in the right context, why evolution is considered to be a scientific theory.

That isn’t really what Dr Noble seems to claim is the take-home message from that document. Indeed, current guidance dating from 2011 reinforces this (in the context of Free Schools):

Are Free Schools permitted to teach creationism/intelligent design and obliged to teach evolution?

We would expect to see evolution and its foundation topics fully included in any science curriculum.
We do not expect creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas to be taught as valid scientific theories in any state funded school.

Of course, Dr Noble cannot write about these matters without banging on about his claim that Intelligent Design creationism is really science (which is in contrast to, for example, the outcome of the Kitzmiller vs Dover trial in the USA). He writes:

However, ‘Intelligent design’ (ID) brings a very different perspective. It argues that certain features of the natural and living worlds show clear evidence of design and are not the result of a blind and purposeless process like natural selection acting on random mutations. ID does not draw on religious authority or presuppositions but argues from empirical data like the ‘fine-tuning’ of the universe, the specified complexity of biological ‘machines’ and the massive sophistication of the digital genetic code carried in DNA – which, interestingly, former US president Bill Clinton once described as ‘the language in which God created life’ [2]. ID implies, clearly, an intelligent cause for the universe and is therefore supportive of theism. It should not, however, be equated with ‘creationism’ as popularly understood. In our view, ID is a legitimate scientific inference from the available data and is consistent with our everyday experience of the cause and effect structure of the world.

He’s always keen to distance Intelligent Design creationism from other types of creationism, such as Young Earth Creationism (the sort of nonsense that is presently keeping observers of Bryan College amused). Trouble is, Intelligent Design is just creationism dressed up as science with the aim of creeping into American schools by pretending not to be religion.

Sadly for Alastair Noble, the history of Intelligent Design creationism makes it clear what it is – one just has to read the founding document, The Wedge Strategy. Here’s the text, conveniently hosted at the NCSE website. It includes this priceless gem:

Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.

Oh, and this:

Governing Goals

To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.

To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.

Dr Noble carries on:

The greatest affront to scientific method in the matter of origins is the refusal even to consider an intelligent cause for the universe when the evidence in that direction is compelling.  And just consider the questions science cannot credibly answer: where did anything come from; how did life arise; what is the origin of genetic information; and how does mind and consciousness arise? To dismiss out-of-hand the possibility of an intelligent cause when confronted with these realities is not science but dogma.

The problem for Dr Noble (aside from the fact that the evidence for design in the natural world is far from compelling) is the failure to identify the creator designer, or his/her/its methods. As far as I know, physicists and cosmologists have satisfactory answers for the origins of the universe (though I, personally don’t); I know biologists and chemists have a variety of hypotheses for the origin of life; I personally have experience of seeing genetic information appear in the lab; and finally, why should mind and consciousness be anything other that a product of natural processes?

It still remains for ID creationists to identify their creator designer, and how exactly he/she/it managed all that design. That would, I imagine, be rather more satisfying for Dr Noble and colleagues than their incessant failed attempts to find things they claim can’t have an rational explanation in evolutionary biology. And, yes, there are undoubtedly things which scientists still strive to understand and to explain, but this doesn’t mean we should rush into the arms of a creator designer. What predictions does Intelligent Design creationism make? What programme of research do the Discotute droids actually pursue? RationalWiki has a rather good page on Intelligent Design creationism, and the section on Scientific Evaluation of Intelligent Design creationism is very good.

The icing on the cake is the inclusion of that most discredited example of ‘irreducible complexity’, the bacterial flagellum, though figure is just window dressing as there’s no reference to it in the email. Here’s a paper proposing how the scientific investigation of the evolution of the bacterial flagellum (subscription required) might be conducted. Here’s an accessible article from Kenneth Miller’s web page, and an article at New Scientist. A truly scientific approach is so much more satisfying that just surrendering and saying the creator designer must have done it.

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