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Why the predictions of ID’s demise are false

Recently, a friend wanted some help in explaining to a hostile audience (1) why there is an ID controversy, (2) why it gets bigger, and (3) why it is not going away.

He was facing an audience, I expect, who would rather believe conspiracy theories than evaluate evidence.

His audience is probably a lost cause, but it may be worth a try if lunch is served.

Conspiracy theorists usually believe themselves more virtuous than their mythical conspirators, so their theories provide both pretended knowledge and pretended virtue at once. As a result, the theories are pretty hard to disconfirm by evidence.

However, there are always a few people who would prefer to orient themselves to reality. I address a number of relevant issues in detail here, here, and here, but here is q quick summary:

I suggested to my friend that a useful place to begin is to point out the following: The many predictions of ID’s demise, based on current theories, have been so completely and systematically falsified that it is time to look for explanations with better predictive value. Not only did ID not die out after various court cases in the United States, but it is now pretty much an international thing – contrary to many predictions.

ID is not happening because the folks at Discovery Institute are clever and nefarious or because American fundies run the planet. Four factors mainly account for its continued growth:

1. The general acceptance of Big Bang cosmology focused attention on the mathematical probabilities of Darwinism. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the world inside the cell turned out to be much more awesomely complex than anyone had realized. So, just when it should have triumphed, Darwinism received a one-two punch from reality. It is no accident that so many of the ID guys are in math, information sciences, and biochemistry, bioinformatics, etc.

2. Not surprisingly, the current generation of Darwinists operates on faith, mostly. The recent involvement of key ultra-Darwinists in the activities of the Church of Atheism is, under the circumstances, a normal and foreseeable development. You see, once you commit to materialist atheism, something like Darwinism must be true. That lifts a crushing burden from the shoulders of the Darwinist.

3. And the Darwinists themselves are largely responsible for the success of ID. The ID guys are smart enough to serve their turn, to be sure, but they have also been lucky in finding so many meatheads among their opponents. The persecutions of Rick Sternberg and Guillermo Gonzalez, to name two, left little doubt that Darwinists did not expect to succeed by convincing anyone of the sweet reasonableness of their cause or their methods.

But there is another factor that many observers miss:

4. The fact that Darwinism is the creation story of materialism says nothing, one way or the other, about whether it is an accurate account of origins – but an important consequence follows. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that it was an accurate creation story. The fact that it is any kind of a creation story at all means that it tends to be treated as both science AND religion. Those who affirm Darwinism often have a heavy emotional investment in it, in a way that they do not have in, say, continental drift. People notice this fact (it’s hard not to). That raises the justifiable suspicion that many arguments for Darwinism are put forward to boost faith, far beyond the argument’s actual strength.

One can easily demonstrate this process from popular science magazines. Minor demonstrations of Darwinism are enthusiastically announced; major problems are downplayed or ignored. Wild extrapolations (evolutionary psychology, for example) and concepts far too vague to be science (e.g., the meme) are treated with a respect that would never be accorded to other sources.

The public is quite smart enough to see what is happening here.

The Darwinists’ behaviour is easily explained psychologically as the behaviour of a religious sect unsettled by unwelcome new evidence about its account of history.

Now it becomes clear why predictions of ID’s demise are consistently falsified. The question we should ask is, who is treated as an expert, when it comes to making predictions?

Ah yes! members and sympathizers of the Darwinist sect are treated as the experts on the challenges to their beliefs or on the people who present the challenges. In that case, we do not have a very reliable source of information. Thus, it is not surprising, let alone a mystery or a conspiracy, that predictions from that quarter would be wrong. Accurate predictions will not be possible until those who seek information cease to privilege the Darwinist sect as the preferred source.

Anyhow, I hope my friend will find at least one or two people in the room who would value the ability to make accurate predictions. Little by little, knowledge advances.

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22 Responses to Why the predictions of ID’s demise are false

  1. While I do agree that DI will not face demise, I think that Darwinism wouldn’t either. There is one important implication behind a true materialistic creation story that many want to believe as true: (even if it isn’t)

    That is that we are not morally obligated to obey our creator, and no one has the right to tell us what we should do. Many people wishing to escape the moral ‘clutches’ of Christianity, for example, are more inclined to support a materialistic creation story.

  2. This was a wonderful essay. I especially like this:

    The Darwinists’ behaviour is easily explained psychologically as the behaviour of a religious sect unsettled by unwelcome new evidence about its account of history.

  3. 3

    Denyse O’Leary wrote,
    . . . the Darwinists themselves are largely responsible for the success of ID.

    I think that there is a lot of truth in that statement. Before the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, I took no interest in the evolution controversy and took evolution for granted. Then I wanted to see why such a big fuss was being made over a little one-minute statement that was read in public-school science classes. Ever since, opposing Darwinism and the censorship that goes with it has been an obsession with me. However, I have focused mainly on non-ID criticisms of Darwinism, e.g., criticisms concerning co-evolution and the propagation of beneficial mutations in sexual reproduction.

  4. 4

    Hi, it’s me again. I just want to add that I didn’t even know that there was a controversy. For example, I didn’t know about Edwards v. Aguillard, McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, Selman v. Cobb County, etc..

  5. ID is not going anywhere anytime soon if ever. I say this very confidently because the argument has been going on for thousands of years and short of a very public revelation on the designer’s part it will probably be going on thousands of years from now.

    The metaphysical argument over design has little to do with science. That is why Dawkins et all irritate me so much. They try to make science answer a question that is simply outside of its purview.

  6. jmcd,
    I think science does have a lot to say about it though. If design can be empirically proven then we can infer a designer can’t we? Have you read Darwin’s Black Box?

  7. [...] ID’s demise may be exaggerated, but its future succes is equally problematical. The problem is that ID scores one early victory on the limits of Darwinism (based on the exposes of others) and then dawdles short of being a new paradigm because of its essentially metaphysical character. I look at my own case: I am not prejudiced in advance against ID, and find it of curious interests, but I cannot be satisfied to close the case and adopt a design ‘inference’ as a design QED. Uncertainty lurks like a fog around the whole case. [...]

  8. collin

    If design could be empirically proven then we would not need to infer design. I still think that proving design is problematic. With so little knowledge of of how life might have formed, attaching probabilities to nature’s ability to create it is a highly subjective exercise.

    I do infer design on at least the level that the universe appears to have been designed with a definite trend toward complexity if not designed specifically to support life. It appears to generate complexity within the bounds of natural laws. Whether or not these laws are capable of taking the admittedly staggering leap in complexity towards life cannot yet be answered with surety in my opinion. To say that these laws are not capable with our present dearth of knowledge also seems a bit presumptuous.

  9. Collin, “If design can be empirically proven then we can infer a designer can’t we?”

    If design can be empirically proven then we can infer that there is a designer(s), but we may have very little information about the character and nature of that designer(s). The latter is the point. If the designer(s) could realistically be, in him/her/it/theirself, well “natural”, then there is nothing supernatural about their design product. There is nothing inherently either religious, nor supportive of a particular religious perspective in the design hypothesis.

  10. That said, even if the evidence of science were to provide direct confirmation for one particular religous perspective, well, so what? If the science is evidence driven, then the results, even if they prove a religious perspective, are scientific and not ipso facto religous.

  11. jmcd,

    What do you mean exactly by “empirically proven?” That phrase can be interpreted narrowly or broadly to fit different purposes. Can the big bang be empirically proven? I’d say yes but surely there’s an argument that the big bang is a mere theory of “inference” based on lots of assumptions. For example the assumption of symmetry: physical laws are the same in all time and in all space. Is that inference empirically proven? Or is it taken on faith?

  12. I would say that ID will stand firm just due to the limited number of options as to the reality behind our existence. And that is how ID should be presented- here is the data and here are the options that can explain it-

    1) Intelligent Design
    2) Special Creation
    3) Sheer dumb luck

    Any questions?

  13. The article does not explain how the statement “Why the predictions of ID’s demise are false” is justified? Does that statement refer to the ‘legal’ standing of ID or to it’s fans perception of it’s popularity? Two different answers would be forthcoming one would think?

  14. Denyse,

    This is one of your best essays ever, and you have provided inspiration for some more writing on my part.

    Denyse comment #1:

    …the mathematical probabilities of Darwinism…

    They are nonexistent. I’ve blogged about this at UD, and this should be a complete no-brainer for anyone with a basic understanding of mathematical combinatorics. The improbabilities of the creative powers of Darwinian mechanisms are not just exponential in nature; the orders of magnitude compound exponentially.

    Denyse comment #2:

    …the current generation of Darwinists operates on faith, mostly……

    When it comes to cosmological fine-tuning, one has two alternatives: 1) fine-tuning is the product of design, and a straightforward evaluation of the evidence would suggest such a conclusion, or 2) fine-tuning is an illusion created by the fact that there is an infinitude of random universes (for which there is no evidence, that are in-principle undetectable, and that must be assumed because of a philosophical commitment to the notion that design cannot possibly exist).

    Which conclusion is the product of reasoning based on evidence, and which conclusion is the product of blind faith?

    Much more to come…

  15. Chance:
    The article does not explain how the statement “Why the predictions of ID’s demise are false” is justified?

    Read comment #12. Once people realize what the options are the materialistic anti-ID position will lose ground and continue to do so.

  16. as long as there is a belief in some higher power, he/she/it will get credit for the things that are most mysterious to us. ID will always live on in this manner. In terms of a political force, I think ID has seen much better days. However, I’m not sure where this real controversy is at. I’m assuming it’s the materialistic/nonmaterialistic cultural thing as listed on the front page of UD but that’s not a scientific controversy but a religious one.

  17. Fross:
    “However, I’m not sure where this real controversy is at. I’m assuming it’s the materialistic/nonmaterialistic cultural thing as listed on the front page of UD but that’s not a scientific controversy but a religious one.”

    Fross, I definitely do not agree with you.

    Could you please define “religious” vs. “scientific” and “material” vs. “nonmaterial” for me please.

    I personally define “religion” as the beliefs and the lifestyle, including moral codes, which arises from those beliefs that one abides by. (according to this definition, atheism is NOT a religion, for it has no moral code or lifestyle which arises from the core tenets of atheism [since atheism has no core tenets or doctrine]).

    And, I personally define “science” as “the discipline which attempts to define phenomenon in terms of laws.”

    As to the material vs. non-material idea, this is a much harder topic to demarcate. What exactly is material? What is matter? Is “quantum foam” non-material, if it existed before our “material” universe which is governed by natural laws which seem to arise from quantum occurrences? If quantum events give rise to “material” or matter, are these quantum events super-material? If consciousness arises from quantum events as Paul Davies (as far as I understand) seems to hypothesize, is consciousness non-material or super-material? Are super-material and non-material one and the same? Or are you coincidentally defining non-material as “that which does not exist,” in order to “prove” that the non-material does not exist and is therefore religious. I sure hope not, for that would be quite the skewered “argument.”

    However, to give you the benefit of the doubt, I’m sure you are defining non-material as “that which exists outside of our universe.” In this case, though, non-material entities would include possible multiple universes, any consciousness that resides outside of our universe, quantum occurences themselves (since they preclude our universe), and then consciousness itself (if indeed it arises from any type of quantum events).

    But,the main problem I have here is the connection you seem to imply between “non-material” and “religion.” Of course, I will need to see your definition of “religion” in order to understand how, exactly, you make the connection. Is consciousness possibly “religious,” are multiple universes “religious,” and is whatever caused our universe “religious?” Are you mistaking metaphysics with religion?

    BTW: ID (in my eyes) definitely deals with scientific phenomenon in a scientific way.

    First, it notices that conscious intelligence, if it can affect a system, will impart information into that system. I personally think that this can be stated as a law or at the very least a theory. In order to falsify it, one would just have to show one example of a conscious, intelligent being that had the capability of imparting information into a system yet had never done so.

    Second, ID notices that information is not defined by any natural laws. Instead, it is defined by an information processor (more on my own blog under information vs. natural laws). Of course, the information processor does operate according to natural laws, once it is set up. But, that’s the key — “once it is set up.” Since the set up of the processor and the information within the set up is NOT defined by any law, it takes more than just law and chance (see the lattest on my blog) to create an information processing system. Well, the rest only takes a scientific inference …

    What this has to do with religion, I do not know. I would say, if anything, ID attempts to deal with a metaphysical property (information) as scientifically as possible. Of course the same can be said of whatever caused the big bang, and consciousness. Information, the cause of the big bang, and (most likely) consciousness are metaphysical however that does not mean that we can not attempt to examine them as scientifically as possible.

  18. Fross:
    I’m assuming it’s the materialistic/nonmaterialistic cultural thing as listed on the front page of UD but that’s not a scientific controversy but a religious one.

    IF science is interested in finding the reality behind our existence the materialistic/ non-materialistic “thing” is very relevant to science.

    If science is NOT interested in the reality behind our existence then it is worthless and should be abandoned.

    One thing experience has demonstrated- It matters whether or not that which is being investigated arose via some intelligent source or via nature, operating freely.

  19. well they used the term cultural project and that’s what led me to the conclusion that it’s a religious controversy, and if you’re using that def. of religion above, then I’d rather call it a philisophical controversy. What I can say with 100% certainty is that it’s not a scientific controversy.

  20. Fross, is your comment aimed at mine or Joseph’s post?

    What I can say, although without 100% certainty (since that sounds a little unscientific itself) is that we are dealing with a phenomenon (replicating information processing systems) with a metaphysical foundation (information) and two sides are attempting to explain its origin with scientific theories … well, actually, since random, accidental, chance occurrences with extreme improbabilities do not a scientific theory create, then only the other side (ID)has the actual scientific theory — the theory [or even law] that only intelligent, conscious beings can account for the origins of information processing systems.

  21. the controversy is simply not scientific. It’s about the definition of “scientific” itself, and that is a philisophical/cultural controversy as outlined by this site.

    So is ID dead as a scientific theory? Not really because it hasn’t really been born yet. (correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve yet to see an official theory of ID and I believe I’ve seen that admitted time and time again here.)

    Like I said above, as a political controversy it got slapped down several levels, but I do think on a cultural level it will be around as long as the sky god religions are around. (I don’t mean this with disrespect, but as a way to encompass the religions that typically believe in God(s) that oversee day to day things and take an active role in them. By the very nature of believing in a deity that takes active roles in the natural world, you will want to try to figure out where those events happened. So far humanity has usually believed those events happened in the most mysterious aspects of the world around us.

  22. Fross:
    “the controversy is simply not scientific. It’s about the definition of “scientific” itself, and that is a philisophical/cultural controversy as outlined by this site.”

    … you forgot the “scientific” part of the controversy as outlined by this site. The inclusion, by this site, of the cultural controversy is due to the fact that there are some scientific theories which do have a cultural impact and the authors of this site realize that and are interested in addressing those issues. Do you think that scientific theories necessarily do not have cultural impact or that philisophical views will not have scientific repercussions?

    I think I see where you are coming from, however, I still SLIGHTLY disagree. First, I do agree that the definition of science is at stake, yet I don’t see how the definition of science as “the discipline which attempts to explain phenomenon in terms of laws” hinders ID in the least. Furthermore, as I understand it, that IS the definition of science. Science is testable, repeatable, and can generate predictions only because it deals with laws. According to this reasoning, ID is on the side of the present understanding and definition of science, and abiogenesis via random, accidental, chance and highly improbable occurences is not in the least bit scientific (where are the laws?). Of course, as I have stated before, the problem with finding a law of “super- quantum” physics to account for the origin of information processors is in the fact that information is not defined by laws of attraction. However, information IS defined by its compatible processor and conscious intelligence (which may result form quantum occurences) as the generator of information IS basically a law.

    Now, the next step is to discover how the subprogram of life (replicating information processors) was programmed to begin within the larger program of the universe.

    Fross:
    “So is ID dead as a scientific theory? Not really because it hasn’t really been born yet. (correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve yet to see an official theory of ID and I believe I’ve seen that admitted time and time again here.)”

    Do you believe that there are any other scientific theories for the origination of information processors?

    How do you define an “official” scientific theory? I think the official scientific theory of ID is summarized as “information processors can only be generated by conscious intelligence.”

    This is similar to the scientific theory of evolution which states that “life can and has changed over time by the addition of and mutation of genetic information.” Now, just because there are many different viewpoints as to how this has occurred (the discovery of the scientific laws which are created by life) does not mean that there is no “official theory” of evolution.

    Fross:
    “Like I said above, as a political controversy it got slapped down several levels, but I do think on a cultural level it will be around as long as the sky god religions are around.”

    If conscious intelligence is NECESSARILY equal to the “sky God” you refer to, then you have a point. However, I personally think that even if the “sky God” (and I’m not sure how literally you are using that term) were to vanish from culture, ID would still be around. In fact, I’m sure what you said about the “sky God” could be restated more accurately as: “but I do think on a [scientific] level [ID] will be around as long as [consciousness is viewed as a result of quantum occurences and/or some other level which precedes or is not necessarily contained within our universe].”

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