Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Blood Letting

So, Intelligent Design (ID) is in the news. In the trial, ID is the defendant. The idea is to call ID science, and get it taught in schools. My knee jerk reaction is that ID isn't science - it's warmed over Creationism. My second take is that ID isn't even very good religion. But there's a new way to look at it. First things first.

ID isn't [very good] science. When one looks at the tenants of Intelligent Design, it says that Evolution doesn't explain every detail of how biology works. It complains that the theory of evolution can't explain everything. It suggests that current organisms are so complex that an Intelligent Designer is required to make it work. Unfortunately, it doesn't shed much light on the process that the Designer used, so it doesn't give us any insight into the way the Universe works. Scientists say that ID doesn't make any testable predictions, that it lacks independent verifiability. This is true enough. Another way to look at it is that, as science, ID isn't very good science. So, instead of saying that ID isn't science, perhaps a better attack is to demand some science content from ID.

ID isn't very good religion. ID attacks Evolution for what it does not currently address. For example, an old version of it said that eyes are so complex that they couldn't not have evolved by chance. Too much of the eye has to work for it to be any good. However, since then, the evolution of the eye has been worked out pretty well. One starts by evolving light sensitivity. This is valuable in its own right. There are bacteria that can sense light, where its coming from, and can swim to where it gets the amount of light it needs. For multiple celled creatures, this becomes a light patch. More sensitivity is achieved by having more area be sensitive. A communications network adds the results together to some advantage, and slightly more complex actions can be taken. Adding a lens over the patch increases sensitivity further. Additional neural networking allows better use of the information. And so on. So, ID claims that God, the Intelligent Designer, works in the gaps in Science. But, over the last hundred years or so, this particular gap has been closed. Further, there is evidence to suggest that other gaps may be closed as well. There is no evidence that suggests that any gaps will remain, in principal. So, eventually, ID, as a religion, is closed out completely. Its obsolete. Its also not very good religion for another reason. It doesn't have much to say. It doesn't inspire awe for the Designer, who has less and less to do as time moves on. It doesn't have much to say about ethics, our place in the Universe, etc. ID was built from the start as an attempt to get religion taught in public schools, but in science class.

A new way to look at Intelligent Design is this. Having teachers teach it in school will reduce the amount of time that teachers teach real science in school. Science is already taught at a minimal level or less here in the US. A few years ago, I got to tour a drug store in Philadelphia that had been closed in the 1950's. There was a 50's soda fountain, 50's furniture, and (empty) 50's drug bottles. There were all sorts of poisons - arsenic, hemlock, etc., and they weren't there as rat poison. Patients were expected to consume these things. It was shocking. Modern medicine isn't just a collection of toxins (though there are a few left). Modern medicine isn't perfect - its improving all the time. Its improving because there are people trained as scientists and engineers, using the scientific method to discover better processes. Clearly, if we train our next generation with ID, we'll end up going back to blood letting. Pretty scary.

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