Parsing the Expelled Leader’s Guide, part 7

After summarising the last section, Why Does It Matter?, the Guide finishes its informational portion with a two-column comparison of evolution and intelligent design.


Under the heading, “What Is Evolution?”, the Guide offers three variants of the meaning of the word, “evolution.”

1. Evolution is “change over time,” meaning that present-day life forms are different from earlier ones, or that minor changes within species can occur over a short time.
2. Evolution is associated with the theory of common descent, meaning that all organisms existing today have a single common ancestor.
3. Evolution is the “unguided process of DNA randomly mutating with ‘natural selection,’ blindly acting on those changes to gradually produce the variety of all life.”

The Guide then cautions its readers that this multiplicity of definitions can confuse discussions when someone takes evidence for Evolution #1 and tries to make it look like it supports Evolution #2 or Evolution #3. Conversely, someone may discuss issues with Evolution #2 or Evolution #3 but is then falsely accused of also rejecting definition of Evolution #1. This is simply not the case, for most scientists who dissent from Darwinism accept Evolution #1.


This bit of sophistry obfuscates the real issue here. There is one theory of evolution, just as there is one atomic theory or one Big Bang theory. The theory of evolution comprises all three “definitions.” You logically cannot accept some parts of the theory and reject other parts, if those parts offend your religious beliefs.

It would be more helpful, and honest, to offer the widely accepted definition of evolutionary theory, which derives from Darwin’s (and Wallace’s — how come no one dumps on Henry Wallace?) initial exposition of the theory 150 years ago. Originators of theories seldom have the final word on their theories; other scientists develop and enrichen the theories, as well as find evident to support them — or ultimately disprove them. Einstein’s theory of general relativity, as originally published in 1916, says nothing directly about the Big Bang or about black holes or the cosmic background radiation, yet we understand all three as predictions of general theory of relativity. In a similar fashion, Darwin and Wallace knew nothing of DNA and the complex biocehmistry of the cell or of the many fossil finds made in the last century. Yet we understand the role and importance of DNA replication and biochemistry, and the meaning of the fossils in the light of evolution. Scientists still test, explore and discuss relativity and evolution — they are living theories. Science is an ongoing process. Biology did not end with Darwin’s death.

Furthermore, evolution DOES NOT presume that DNA randomly mutates with natural selection weeding out the “unfit.” That definition is simplistic and deliberately misleading. Randomness requires a complete absence of bias; like a honest pair of dice or a fresh pack of playing cards. Nature does not act randomly in that sense. Only certain chemical reactions are possible at certain temperatures. Environmental factors bias the outcomes of those reactions. Once life began — and evolution says nothing about how that happened — it was the non-random pressures of the environment that helped determine which characteristics survived in future generations.


What Is Intelligent Design?

The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection acting on random mutations.


Fair enough, but what is that intelligent cause? If ID is a theory, can it explain why some characteristics of modern life forms are so illogical, such as junk DNA? Can it explain why transitional fossils do exist, or is it willing to accept that the intelligence cause made mistakes?


Is intelligent design science?
Yes. All scientific reasoning is based on uniform and repeated experience, and everything we know from that experience tells us that information always comes from an intelligent source. So when we find information in the cell in the form of the digital code in DNA, the most probable scientific explanation is that DNA also had an intelligent source.


Wrong! Not all scientific reasoning is based on uniform and repeated experience. Aristotle was an excellent observer of nature, but his theory of moving bodies was patently wrong. Einstein’s relativity and modern quantum mechanics are far removed from everyday experience, yet both are products of sound reasoning AND they are supported by EVIDENCE. Experience is not the same as evidence. Ask any high school physics teacher trying to convince students that centrifugal force is not a real force.

Information DOES NOT always come an intelligent source. As I have already mentioned, the sedimentary layers of the ocean floors provide information about the changing magnetic field of the Earth. Fossils provide information about the evolution of life on Earth. DNA contains the information accumulated over billions of years of evolution. If an intelligence created that information, why is much of it garbled, useless or redundant?


Is intelligent design the same as creationism?
No. Creationism typically relies on a religious text or religious faith as its basis, and attempts to reconcile science with it. The theory of intelligent design (ID) relies on scientific data to show that design in nature is the product of an intelligent cause or designer.


Time was, ID proponents cringed whenever any of their number suggested that the Intelligent Designer or Cause was God. Not so much any more. Officially, the Discovery Institute denies any religious connotations in ID. Unofficially, well, it’s a different story. The support base for ID comes overwhelmingly from conservative Christian communities, and under oath, even the presumably dispassionate ID scientists admit to believing in a Divine Creation. In the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover court case, the conservative judge hearing the case ruled that he saw no clear distinctions between creationism and ID, despite efforts by witnesses in favor of ID to convince him otherwise.

Scientific data? If someone could find within the “digital code” of DNA a manufacturer’s label, or “inspected by #4,” that would be data. Suggesting that the information in DNA is so amazingly complex that you cannot imagine it happening without an intelligence designing it is not scientific data. It is an assumption, or dare we say it, a matter of religious faith.


Does intelligent design conflict with evolution?
It depends on what one means by the word “evolution.” If one simply means “change over time,” or even that living things are related by common ancestry, then there is no inherent conflict between evolutionary theory and the theory of intelligent design. However, the dominant theory of evolution today is Neo-Darwinism, which contends that evolution is driven by natural selection acting on random mutations, a blind and purposeless process that “has no discernable direction or goal, including survival of a species.” (NABT Statement on Teaching Evolution). It is this specific claim made by Neo-Darwinism that intelligent design directly challenges.


Again with the hairsplitting! Yes, of course ID conflicts with the scientific theory of evolution. IDists may be willing to pay lip service to “change over time” or common descent, but ultimately ID contradicts the foundation of any scientific theory: that all we see in nature results from nature, not from “super-nature,” and that the only way to test our theories is with evidence, not conjecture or insinuation. Evolution is as blind and uncaring as the weather. Natural causes create tornadoes and floods. Those natural forces can kill living organisms. Yet we do not typically accuse meteorologists with murder or even genocide because they can explain how tornadoes and floods occur.

The Guide misquotes the NABT (National Association of Biology Teachers) statement. The pertinent quotation should read: “[The NABT endorses the following tenets, including] Natural selection-a differential, greater survival and reproduction of some genetic variants within a population under an existing environmental state-has no specific direction or goal, including survival of a species.” The full statement is here.

Face it, folks. The universe is not here for our specific benefit. We are here in spite of the universe. We’re not especially appointed to lord over our little part of the universe. Ultimately, we are just guests of the universe, and not pampered ones at that. We have evolved genetically and culturally to survive within the parameters that exist. If that process had failed, well, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

If you want to challenge the validity of “neo-Darwinism,” fine. Develop a robust, explanatory, predictive theory that does a better job of making sense out of biology than evolution does. Publish scholarly works of original research — not reinterpretations of existing evidence or critiques of present-day theories — and wage the battle in the pages of scientific journals. That’s how science is done. Don’t waste the time of judges and juries, school boards and teachers, trying to foist a dogmatic religious belief on unsuspecting schoolchildren and their parents by saying it’s “science.” Science is not decided in the courts, or in the media, or in high school classrooms. It’s not a political debate, with multiple versions of the “truth.” Only nature provides the evidence. Follow the evidence. It never lies.

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