Home » Intelligent Design » Teaching the Non-Controversy — An Immodest Proposal

Teaching the Non-Controversy — An Immodest Proposal

There’s an interesting story in today’s Washington Times (go here) on Louisiana’s new science policy (shortly to be signed into law by Governor Jindal) advocating that both strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory be taught in the public school science curriculum.

The other side (ACLU, NCSE, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, etc.) are claiming that such a “strengths and weaknesses” or “teach the controversy” approach to teaching evolution is a thinly veiled attempt to bring religion into the classroom. After all, so they claim, there is no legitimate controversy over evolutionary theory (it’s as well established as gravity!), so those who would question it can only do so because they are creationists wanting to inject religion into the public schools. I expect we will soon see a court case in which “teaching the controversy” over evolution will be charged with violating the First Amendment.

What are the practical outworkings of such “teach the controversy” legislation? Eugenie Scott is worried, for instance, that Texas (which looks soon to be following suit with Louisiana) will require science standards (which are just one-sentence statements of desired learning outcomes) such as the following: “a student will be expected to explain why the Cambrian explosion is a serious problem for evolution” (this is a direct quote from Eugenie).

Let me suggest a different approach to such science standards: since there is no controversy over evolution (so we are told), let students explain why evolutionary theory is one of the few areas in science where no such controversy exists. Thus we might have science standards such as the following:

  • Students can explain in detail how evolutionary theory explains the Cambrian Explosion.
  • Students can describe the changes in genes and embryological development by which complex biological structures such as the human eye evolved.
  • Students can delineate the lines of evidence by which evolutionary theory has decisively refuted intelligent design. etc.

Frankly, I’d be delighted with such science standards. If students actually met them, they would know that evolutionary theory is bankrupt and that ID is a live scientific option. But of course, don’t expect the other side to adopt such standards. To maintain their monopoly over science education, they need to suppress anything that might suggest there’s another game in town.

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28 Responses to Teaching the Non-Controversy — An Immodest Proposal

  1. Bill,

    I really like your idea, and we could compile a long list. How about:

    Students can explain how inanimate matter spontaneously self-organized into the first living cell with its complex machinery and information-rich DNA molecule, without the need for design.

    Students can explain how evolutionary theory solves the problem that DNA cannot exist without protein and protein cannot exist without DNA.

    Students can describe how co-option explains the evolution of the bacterial flagellum. They will identify the naturally selectable functions of all the independent parts prior to co-option, show that they were capable of interfacing with each other, and identify the specific mutations or other random genetic changes that produced the assembly machinery and assembly instructions necessary for the co-option process.

    Students can explain how a land-dwelling mammal such as a cow or hippopotamus evolved by random genetic errors and natural selection into a whale. Students will show how the breathing, digestive, vision, hearing, lactation and other critical systems evolved in a step-by-step fashion such that each generation was viable during the transition from a land-dwelling mammal into a mammal that spends its entire life in the open ocean.

  2. LOL, If any student could understand and clearly explain everything you guys just said, He or she should get a university degree right on the spot! LOL

  3. A whole lot more than a Ph.D.!

    Of course, evolutionary theory doesn’t even begin to explain any of this. It is completely incoherent in the face biological reality, which is the point.

    If students were asked these questions they would immediately recognize that the theory is almost all smoke, mirrors, and storytelling.

  4. . . .so those who would question it can only do so because they are creationists wanting to inject religion into the public schools.”

    Another important Non-Controversy standard:

    Students can explain how “random mutation” is essential to science, necessarily excludes all non-random teleological events, and does not constitute an establishment of religion.

  5. Students can explain how there is no controversy even though Darwin’s theory is inconsistent with reality.

    Darwin’s theory argiues that nature will weed out the bad from a population and leave only the good.

    Cleary this is not the case since Dennett predicts the creationists (the bad) will overtake the human race and eliminate the the Darwinists (the good). Dennett justifies his argument by citing evidence the creationists are reproductively more successful than the Darwinists.

  6. Pardon me while I cut and paste unconnected sentences from your post, but I don’t think I’m misrepresenting anything here:

    Students can explain in detail how evolutionary theory explains the Cambrian Explosion.

    * * *

    If students actually met them, they would know that evolutionary theory is bankrupt and that ID is a live scientific option.

    I’d like to hear someone explain in detail (or even roughly) how ID explains the Cambrian Explosion.

  7. pubdef:

    I’d like to hear someone explain in detail (or even roughly) how ID explains the Cambrian Explosion.

    What does that have to do with the topic of the post?

    In any case, how does the periodic table of chemistry explain the cambrian explosion?

    The way you framed your question is wrong-headed. ID does not explain why or how….

    You asked how, ID does not answer how….

    So now I’ll ask you, how come there is no controversy over evolutionary theory when the fundamental theorem of natural selection argues that decreases diversity are needed in order to increase fitness….but there is so much biodiversity. How can you create more diversity by a process which relies on the removal of diversity?

    Explain why there is no controversy over natural selection being the major cause of molecular evolution even though Kimura demonstrated that the majority cause of molecular evolution could not be from natural selection….

    Explain why survival of the fittest is without controversy when in radiation labs or numerous other contexts in the wild this is demonstratably not true. For example, if we have a population of 10 individual and the next generation on average has 1000 more mutations than their parents, did the fittest really survive? No. And if lightning or cataclysms kill the most genetically superior individuals, did the fittest survive? No. So why is there no controversy again over Darwinian selection?

  8. ID is a theory of design detection, and is unlike Darwinian evolutionary theory, which is a theory of mechanism. It is possible to determine that something was designed without knowing the mechanism whereby the design was implemented. It is also possible to determine whether or not a proposed mechanism is capable of producing the results attributed to it.

  9. The way you framed your question is wrong-headed. ID does not explain why or how….

    For me this does raise an obvious question, Sal. What does ID explain (or attempt to explain)?

    It’s clearly not “who” either. :-)

  10. Bill,

    How about adding:

    Students should be able to explain how random mutation created the symbols used in the universal genetic code.

  11. Bob O’H

    For one thing ID explains how symbolic information came to be used in the machinery of life.

  12. 12

    The way you framed your question is wrong-headed. ID does not explain why or how….

    Okay, now I am throughly confused. Please forgive me if this question has been answered in the past. I am relatively new around here. If the evolutionary explanation is wrong and ID doesn’t offer any explanation for the Cambrian Explosion, then am I to believe that ID scientists believe there is no explanation for the Cambrian Explosion?

    That would seem to be a fruitful area of new research where ID advocates could really strut their stuff. I hope someone is working on that.

  13. Dave – you’re trying to confusing me, aren’t you? Sal wrote that ID doesn’t answer “how” questions.

    *whimper*

  14. For me this does raise an obvious question, Sal. What does ID explain (or attempt to explain)?

    ID does not answer why something came to exist.

    ID explains why a set of criteria (like the Explantory Filter) are sufficient (but not necessary) conditions for identifying designs. That is a formal way of saying, “ID is the study of patterns that signify intelligence”…

    If some object is said to meet criteria of being designed, a large amount of ID literature is devoted to explaining why Darwinian mechanisms cannot be the mechanism of creating those designs.

    Even granting that God made natural selection, ID attempts to show why God doen’t use natural selection to create the overwhelming majority of the designs found in nature. This may sound surprising, but we can show, that even if God is the ultimate cause for retrograde motion, he doesn’t use epicycles to create retrograde motion.

    It’s clearly not “who” either :-)

    Oops, I slipped. I mentioned God.
    You’re right, ID is not supposed to mention “who”. :-)

  15. 15

    pubdef asks:

    “I’d like to hear someone explain in detail (or even roughly) how ID explains the Cambrian Explosion.”

    Though ID itself is limited to making a design inference, there is a mo^del that incorporates ID that seems to satisfactorily explain the fossil record, especially the Cambrian Explosion.

    It is the Theistic ID (Conservation of Information)/GE (Genetic Entropy)

    a.
    Special creation of a optimal genome for a undetermined parent species (Kind) (This satisfies Conservation of Information requirement)

    b.
    A fairly rapid unfolding of “front-loaded” diversity and variability that would stay within the overriding principle of Genetic Entropy by decreasing “meaningful” genetic diversity (information) of parent species genome. i.e. (any decrease from a less than optimal genome, from any method, is still within the overriding principle of Genetic Entropy)

    c.
    a long slow decline in within species, and within kind, variability and diversity. (This also stays within the overriding principle of Genetic Entropy, but the main mechanism for this is the actual decay of the genome from deterioration of its integrity.

    Pubdef, Before you say we have no defined mechanism for information implementation, I would like to point this out,

    In mulling over the law of “Conservation of Information”

    I believe the final “Conservation of Information” law may look something like this,

    All information that can exist does exist completely separate of the physical realm in the transcendent realm and cannot be created or destroyed in the physical realm, but can only be “borrowed” and/or imprinted from the transcendent realm.

    The key for me in this deduction, to the law, is “transcendent information’s domin^ation of energy” (telling energy exactly what to be/do) in Zeilinger’s teleportation experiments.

    Since the first law states energy can be neither created nor destroyed, anything having dominion over energy must, of necessity, possess even greater qualities than energy. Therefore information, in the least, cannot be created or destroyed either.

    This inference to the “Conservation of Information” warrants even further reference to the “Mind of God” when the foundation of the created universe, we are living in, is shown not to be the “dead” chaotic foundation of “chance” and variance, but is shown, and now known, to be a exceedingly stable transcendent foundation that exhibits intent, purpose and foresight in the anthropic principle.

    Thus since we can deduce intent, purpose and foresight in the foundation of the universe, It seems beyond fair and logical to say the transcendent information is “alive”, even though the transcendent information, that has ultimate control of this universe, has not implemented (created) CSI right before our eyes. The Cambrian itself could be used as evidence for this matter, indeed a court of law never has to actually see someone commit a crime to convict do they?


    But this takes away from the main point, which is that “transcendent information” is now established by empirics to have do^min^ion of the energy/matter realm, and indeed displays foresight in its control,
    Thus,

    Now it is fair to say this:

    Since transcendent information can not be created nor destroyed, and since “information” exhibits dominion and purposeful control of the “material realm”, then we may now say that all “information” that can possibly be “known” is already “known” by the “infinite mind of God”.

    Quantum Teleportation and the Nature of Reality; Anton Zeilinger

    http://www.btgjapan.org/catalysts/anton.html

    Excerpt:

    The quantum teleportation experiment raises very deep questions about the nature of reality at the quantum level. It shows that information, or knowledge, in some instances can have a more fundamental meaning than an objective reality. To be more specific, what can be said, i.e. information, can define what can be reality.

    Pubdef, I also point out that this mo^del is logically more coherent that Koonin’s mo^del

    The Biological Big Bang model for the major transitions in evolution; Eugene V Koonin

    http://www.biology-direct.com/content/2/1/21
    Koonin proposes all sorts of mechanisms to explain the sudden appearance of lifeforms, none of which has been demonstrated in the lab to produce evolutionary novelty (To violate Genetic Entropy).

    To give an example of evolutionists poverty of evidence (and thus Genetic Entropy’s validity) here are a few quotes and studies.

    It is entirely in line with the accidental nature of naturally occurring mutations that extensive tests have agreed in showing the vast majority of them to be detrimental to the organisms in its job of surviving and reproducing, just as changes accidentally introduced into any artificial mechanism are predominantly harmful to its useful operation” H.J. Muller (Received a Nobel Prize for his work on mutations to DNA)

    “Mutations, in summary, tend to induce sickness, death, or deficiencies. No evidence in the vast literature of heredity change shows unambiguous evidence that random mutation itself, even with geographical isolation of populations leads to speciation.” (Lynn Margulis – Acquiring Genomes [2003], p. 29).

    “But there is no evidence that DNA mutations can provide the sorts of variation needed for evolution… There is no evidence for beneficial mutations at the level of macroevolution, but there is also no evidence at the level of what is commonly regarded as microevolution.” Jonathan Wells (PhD. Molecular Biology)

    “The neo-Darwinians would like us to believe that large evolutionary changes can result from a series of small events if there are enough of them. But if these events all lose information they can’t be the steps in the kind of evolution the neo-Darwin theory is supposed to explain, no matter how many mutations there are. Whoever thinks macroevolution can be made by mutations that lose information is like the merchant who lost a little money on every sale but thought he could make it up on volume.” Dr. Lee Spetner (Ph.D. Physics – MIT)

    Pubdef, I could list studies and so forth, but the main point I am trying to make is that there is a valid mo^del that shows integrity in every parameter of its construction.

  16. The problem with the “Teach the Controversy” or “Strengths and Weaknesses” legislation is that it singles out evolutionary biology for scrutiny rather than science in general. This is why Judge Jones sided with the plaintiffs in the Dover case and this will be why “Strengths and Weaknesses” legislation will also not pass muster when tested in the courts.

  17. The problem with the “Teach the Controversy” or “Strengths and Weaknesses” legislation is that it singles out evolutionary biology for scrutiny…

    Wrong. From the Louisiana legislation:

    The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, upon request of a city, parish, or other local public school board, shall allow and assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.

  18. Sal – your explanation still conflicts with Dave’s.

    I’m also intrigued – what are the criteria for being designed?

  19. I hope they take Louisiana to court and make a big deal out of this. This time our side needs to be prepared and force the issue that matters: teaching evolution in public schools is a thinly disguised attempt to teach atheism and that the attempts to silence critique of evolution is proof of an atheist conspiracy to teach a government sanctioned specific religious viewpoint as the only scientific and therefore authentic ontological explanation of our existence and is therefore unconstitutional…as it is nothing more then state sponsorship of a specific religious viewpoint.

  20. Sal – your explanation still conflicts with Dave’s.

    If so, then you got two answer for the price of one question…

    I’m also intrigued – what are the criteria for being designed?

    Informally speaking, the same subjective criteria which induce Darwninian biologists to call something designed.

    So to add to Bill’s list of non-controversial topics:

    Students can explain in detail how evolutionary theory explains the fact that in scientifically peer-reviewed literature it is acceptable to use subjective human projections to describe biology using teleological terms borrwoed from engineering:

    machine
    encode
    decode
    regulate
    promote
    amplify
    control
    computer
    digital to analog
    analog to digital
    compile
    assemble
    filter
    error correction
    monitor
    sense
    waste

    The student can explain why the use of such subjective teleological metaphors is being a good objective scientist.

    Do you think it is legitimate to label a biological feature with a such a teleoogically subjective metaphor like “machine”? Is there no controversy over that?

  21. If the evolutionary explanation is wrong and ID doesn’t offer any explanation for the Cambrian Explosion, then am I to believe that ID scientists believe there is no explanation for the Cambrian Explosion?

    The Cambrian Explosion contradicts the Darwinian model but ID isn’t really the tool that would be used to explain it.

  22. 22
    Bettawrekonize2

    Intelligent design advocates argue that life contains IC and SC structures and characteristics (ie: the flagellum) and that whenever such characteristics emerge and the origins are known (ie: a car or a mousetrap), they are always a product of design. Based on this, they infer that life is designed. They argue that ID is falsifiable and that if one observes an IC or SC characteristic emerge independently of design, it would falsify ID. Students should be able to defend evolution against such criticisms and opposing views (ie: ID and creationism) (ie: by showing examples of IC and SC structures emerging independent of design).

    If evolution really is scientific then students in relevant fields should be familiar enough with it to defend it against the strongest non-strawman criticisms and opposing views. If evolution is scientific and students can’t defend it against the strongest non – strawman criticisms and opposing views then that suggests that they aren’t really that familiar with evolution and so they should not be allowed to pass. Of course, in order to defend against the strongest non – strawman criticisms and opposing views, students should be familiar with those criticisms and opposing views (ie: ID and creationism).

  23. Do you think it is legitimate to label a biological feature with a such a teleoogically subjective metaphor like “machine”? Is there no controversy over that?

    Of course not, if it helps with explanation. And it is reasonable to say that parts of the cell function like a machine.

    But it is still a metaphor, and all metaphors must break down. If the metaphor is abut the functioning of a machine, does it say anything about how the machine came to be?

    Will ID be able to put formal limits on the applicability of metaphors? Now, that’s something that would be useful.

  24. Bob,

    This topic has been discussed before in How does the actor act?

    In short, core ID theory (design detection) should be made distinct from ID-compatible hypotheses and/or models.

    I’ll just repeat myself:

    You are asking for a mechanism for design. Let me be clear that the core of ID theory is not mechanical in nature. There are ID-compatible hypotheses that offer mechanisms for design in biology. Two examples are front-loading and punctuated intervention, which are both compatible with universal common descent. Of course, even in a YEC scenario there can still be partial front-loading and other intelligent mechanisms which can account for rapid evolution. While front-loading has predictions unfortunately the results of punctuated intervention and unintelligent mechanisms might look much the same. The difference is that intelligent mechanisms need not be gradualistic, which of course is more compatible with the fossil record.

    Cambrian explosion…

    But while we know that intelligence is quite capable of producing specified complexity we are still trying to determine the exact limitations of unguided Darwinian mechanisms. We do have experimental evidence (see Behe’s Edge of Evolution) but most Darwinian mechanisms are untested…they’re just assumed to work as advertised.

    Now an intelligent mechanism can self-terminate aka “stop”. Darwinian mechanisms on the other hand have no reason to do so. So, unless unguided, unintelligent Darwinian mechanisms happen to be on vacation they are either not active today at the same level or they were never capable in the first place. It’s always possible we are misunderstanding something about unintelligent mechanisms but so far the outlook is grim for Darwinism. I for one am open to the possibility that intelligence was only involved during OOL and the system was configured in such a fashion to allow unintelligent mechanisms to unfold the rest (like a culmination of lego block pieces). But I do not see any evidence or experiments to validate that scenario.
    ….
    Behe believes that God “used the mechanism of evolution”…the difference is that it is intelligent evolution and not unintelligent, unguided evolution.

    Now there are many ID-compatible hypotheses, which are supported by various groups in the “big tent”. For example, there are multiple variants of “front loading”:

    1. Design was implemented in the universe itself. Everything is deterministic, and a plan rolled out from the initial implementation.

    2. Design is not only in the universe and its laws but in the Origin Of Life (OOL). Darwinian mechanisms are taken into account by the Designer(s) and the architecture of life itself is configured to be modular, so that multi-functionality, gene duplication, cooption, and preadaptation, etc. are able to unmask secondary information. Of course, this presumes that Darwinian mechanisms are capable of this task, for which we have no positive evidence.

    3. Same as 2 except there is a specific plan encoded into the original life and Darwinian mechanisms play less of a role, only being capable of producing minor variation.

    4. Same as 2 or 3 except that there are multiple instances of Design (multiple Origins Of Life) occurring at the level of kingdom or phylum.

    5. Essentially 2 – 4 except with the addition of Designer Intervention for certain information that is/was not modular but specific to a particular organism.

    Am I missing any?

    Some people might want ID to “officially” incorporate a particular ID-compatible hypothesis in order to be considered “science”. Personally I think that research into all the hypotheses should be encouraged and it’s way too early to be declaring one to BE ID.

    Then there’s the confirmed predictions related to junk DNA, the predictions about designer drugs, the predictions specific to ID-compatible hypotheses such as front-loading, etc. People who don’t understand ID also fail to comprehend that the core of ID is limited in scope. The majority of predictions would be made by ID-compatible hypotheses, and they may conflict, although there are some predictions that will be the same with the core of ID and all ID-compatible hypotheses. As evidence is gathered some of these ID-compatible hypotheses will be falsified. But so far there is no positive evidence that falsifies the core of ID.

    If you object to this distinction consider that “Darwinism” (and I use that term instead of “evolutionary biology” since aspects of the scientific field may be correct, and are often regarded as correct by ID proponents) at its core is about unguided, unintelligent mechanisms being capable of producing life as we know it. There are multiple hypotheses compatible with this core. The originals hypothesized by Lamarck, Darwin, and others have been falsified. And many would agree that the modern synthesis of the 1930s has been falsified as well. The question is, will there be a replacement hypothesis that explains and fits with reality or will the core be demolished.

    And speaking of predictions:

    But let’s say we did find such foresighted mechanisms. Darwinists might argue that such mechanisms would be selected for without intelligence being involved. After all, being foresighted would allow proactive responses to a changing environment and thus increase survivability. It’s kind of like how they create a story for modularity.

    My prediction has come to pass. Such foresighted mechanisms that modify genes have been empirically identified. And the reaction from Darwinists has been as expected.

    Hmmm…instead of diluting this topic I think I’ll post a new story.

  25. Will ID be able to put formal limits on the applicability of metaphors? Now, that’s something that would be useful.

    That was the implicity point of the book No Free Lunch and explicitly the point of this paper:
    Specification: The Pattern that Signifies Intelligence.

  26. Bob OH,

    To elaborate a bit further and to spare you having to slog through every last line of the provided link, the basic idea is that we are all inclined to make post-dicitive projections (like seeing faces in clouds).

    What good specifications provide is the ability to measure how much of a postdictive projection we are using and also (to some degree) the applicability of one metaphor over another. When we create models of systems, we are constructing analogies.

    When we invite engineers to analyze biological systems, they are coming to the table with lots of metaphors and analogies already pre-packaged ready to project onto biological systems. We might call something a logic gate, but how can we have confidence this is a good metaphor? Usually, it would be overkill to use the formalisms of ID, but the formalisms are there nonetheless. What happens in practices is we keep using the metaphor till it fails to be accurate…

    However, the successful use of the metaphor could have statistics associated with it to give a quantitative idea of the applicability. I would presume the metaphor of the 64 codons in the DNA code is so overwhelmingly confirmed, we hardly give it a second thought. In fact, to the degree that a biological system does not concur with our metaphor, we consider the biological system to be dysfunctional, not our metaphor!!!!

  27. —–Bob OH: “But it is still a metaphor, and all metaphors must break down. If the metaphor is abut the functioning of a machine, does it say anything about how the machine came to be?”

    The metaphor is meant to be descriptive not definitive. It serves to dramatize an empirical fact, namely that design can be observed in the way the patterns form and the constituent parts operate in concert. For most people, that is a powerful indication of the presence of design. In the case of a DNA molecule, the word “factory” would seem to dramatize the point even better.

    The explanation of how it came to be is precisely what all the fuss is about. Intelligent agency is a different kind of cause than is mechanical law. For materialists, only the latter is believable or even conceivable since they assume a mechanistic universe apriori. Whether ID will ever be able to discern “how the actor acts” is an open question. Indeed, there is no reason to believe that the actor can act in only one way, a consideration which would seem to rule out any final explanation.

    (How did Mozart conceive and compose?… is a different kind of question than how did he execute and perform?) That we can infer design from the delicate construction involved in the choice of notes and the way they are organized into an unified musical theme is obvious to any rational person.

  28. The metaphor is meant to be descriptive not definitive.

    True. Which is why there is no problem over having a metaphor break down – we are aware that it is imperfect.

    It serves to dramatize an empirical fact, namely that design can be observed in the way the patterns form and the constituent parts operate in concert.

    But the metaphor is used to describe the action of the parts of the cell, not their origination.

    I think the same objection can go to Sal’s comments – engineers will analyse biological systems in terms of their function. But you have to establish that the metaphor based on function is appropriate for origination.

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