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August 29th, 2005

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07:26 am - for surlyben and anyone else irked by the ID "debate"
Daniel C. Dennett: Show Me the Science.

Where he makes an important point: it's not enough to say "your theory hasn't explained everything!" - you actually have to present evidence that contravenes the prevailing theory. The "Intelligent Design" camp has presented no evidence whatsoever, no competing, disprovable theory of their own, nothing but playground shouts of "Is not! Is not! Is not!"

This administration sure loves to pull the legs of its constituency... those rascally hoaxers in D.C. are just non-stop pranks and tall tales.

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Date:August 29th, 2005 12:12 pm (UTC)


I, too, am irked by "Intelligent Design." Way irked. The whole thing is driven by the very worst in both science and religion. As a scientific theory it's a complete sham -- it starts with a conclusion and then shovels evidence on top of it. Science is supposed to work the other way around, with evidence leading to conclusions.

Worse, it starts with a conclusion that is entirely metaphysical. It is simply not possible to prove, using science, that some metaphysical being standing outside of nature manipulated nature to achieve a certain result. You might believe that, but it is not possible to prove it. If it is not even possible to prove something using the scientific method, then it's not a scientific theory. End of story.

And it's bad religion, too. Because a god who can be "proved" can also be "disproved." And I don't want to believe in a god who can be disproved. Eternal verities and all that. Mysteries beyond comprehension. But none of that is science.

Another thing -- for at least 10,000 years or so, probably more, we have had intelligent design on this planet. We call it, "humans doing stuff." For example, I'm reasonably certain that the domestic sheep is an early example of deliberate genetic engineering through selective breeding. This makes the sheep old -- older than recorded history -- but still a baby in evolutionary terms.

That's where creationists (let's call a spade a spade) seem to be falling down. They can't seem to comprehend the vast time frames over which evolution operates, so of course it doesn't seem intuitively possible for the variety of species that we see now to have evolved purely by chance.

And the phrase "purely by chance" is a bit of a misnomer anyway, if you know anything about chaos theory. Chaos seems to tend toward self-ordering systems in a really surprising way, and also, shows us that tiny modifications in the right place can have a huge impact on the outcome. (While other, larger modifications in the wrong place don't seem to change the outcome much at all.)

I'll admit to having been skeptical of some of the ways evolutionary origin of species was presented to me. I was first officially introduced to it as a ten year old in a science textbook that very carefully mentioned that the theory was controversial. Then it showed me that little line of progression, the familiar one, from lungfish to Cro-Magnon, explaining about all the not-quite-human steps along the way. I was intensely skeptical of that little progression because it looked far too neat, and it took for granted that Neanderthals were less "human" than Cro-Magnons -- which I pegged as blatant racism. Also, it's obvious that the phrase "survival of the fittest" is nonsense -- evolution is "survival of everything that can survive."

We know there are large holes is the history of species on this planet -- which is to be expected from something as spotty as a fossil record, which happened over billions of years. We don't know what fills those holes. Some pretty weird stuff might be there in those holes -- like some kind of really unusual radiation from a comet that sparks increased genetic mutation. Or DNA seed material from meteor showers. Or even space aliens on a picnic. And we might find evidence of what those things are, or we might not. But it's pointless, irresponsible, and monumentally stupid to say those holes are filled with "god did it" and that's the end of the investigation.

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