Bad Arguments, Bad Decision

letter-447577_1280

A judge decided yesterday that Intelligent Design cannot be taught in the Dover school district in Pennsylvania. Agudath Israel’s response is terse, and reads as follows:

The judge determined that the “Intelligent Designer” behind “Intelligent Design” is G-d. In this respect, he is right. If our Constitution, however, is to be understood as forbidding any mention in public schools of even the possibility that the universe was brought into being by the Creator, that should deeply trouble all Americans.

Rabbi David Zwiebel

Frankly, it’s not just a matter of the judge’s determination. The school board members advocating for the concept were quite probably trying to do as the judge claimed — find a way to sneak Creationism into the classroom. As the judge put it, “It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.”

The proponents were wrong for so doing; the judge was wrong to base his legal decision upon the ulterior motives of the proponents.

Intelligent Design stands and should stand independent of any reference to Creation as found in the Bible. Creationism is not science, despite decades of misguided efforts to claim otherwise.

Intelligent Design, on the other hand, is barely a “theory,” and would be completely uncontroversial were not its conclusion so full of ramifications. It is merely an alternative (and somewhat obvious) conclusion derived from the same data. If we employ the same standards of probability that we use in every other area of life — including critical life and death medical decisions — we reach the conclusion that both the formation of life and the development of many structures most probably did not happen by chance.

Every scientist acknowledges that there are gaps they have not figured out, things which seem fantastically unlikely — they simply believe that they will. Time magazine’s “Darwin Victorious” is an unabashed attempt to trash Intelligent Design, yet it makes a stunning admission:

Yes, evolution explains a lot, [ID proponents] say, but some things—the eye, for example, or the whiplike tails on some bacteria—are just too complex to have evolved. To which the vast majority of biologists say nonsense. We don’t have remotely enough information to make such a statement.

In other words, the ID proponents are not necessarily wrong — they are just not sure yet. And since they don’t have enough information, the proponents of evolution simply assume that somehow the numbers will work out, and dismiss ID as “unscientific.” Bereft of the assumption made by science that it can explain everything naturally, ID is actually a more valid scientific explanation of the current data.

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21 Responses

  1. Yaakov Menken says:

    Michael,

    Please see my most recent (and, for the time being, likely last) post on this topic. ID doesn’t argue with any of the scientific data. Any evidence there is for evolution can be applied equally to ID.

    All ID says is that G-d or another external, intelligent agent (e.g. “directed panspermia”) had to have been involved, because the probability of life’s formation and evolution as a result of chance and natural selection is simply too remote to be sustained.

    Discussion of ID is as appropriate to the classroom as any other discussion of probabilities. Who the designer might be is not a science question, because we have no evidence to analyze that helps determine this scientifically. Of course, whether the ‘deep theory’ components of evolution itself belong in the science classroom might lead to a better, more palatable solution for everyone — as suggested earlier, the best solution might be to leave the deep philosophy for another class.

  2. Michael Klein says:

    Permit me to offer one observation on the ID debate. From a religious perspective,teaching ID as an alternative theory to evolution may not be such a good idea. Suppose evolution is taught alone. The student can choose to accept it as face value, or he or she could regard it as a manifestation of the Will of G-d, disguised as it were, for whatever reasons G-d has. But as soon as ID is introduced as an alternative theory, that necessarily implies that evolution is claiming that G-d is NOT involved in the creation of the universe, which automatically condemns it as kfira (heresy). Since only evolution has scientific evidence backing it up (see the above posts), this can’t be a good thing. Better to teach evolution alone in science classes, and then point out its philosophical limitations elsewhere.

  3. DW Duke says:

    Intelligent Design, of necessity presupposes an idea beyond the realm of human comprehension. Because this idea is beyond human understanding we often assume that it is unscientific. But is such an idea unscientific or is it simply unquantifiable? There is a significant difference between the two. To say that an idea supersedes mortal comprehension is not to say it is automatically unscientific. All too often humans, at this stage in the process of human development, naively assume that if it cannot be understood then it cannot be scientific. Indeed, if one had addressed human DNA research in an audience with King David, no doubt the latter would have considered such dialogue unproveable and thus lacking quantifiable evidence? But would he have recognized that it may well be scientific. It is just that the science of his day had not yet reached the point where the issues could be fully understood. Rather than dismissing something as unscientific, would it not be far better to reconize that the science of humans might be light years behind this science of Intelligent Design.

  4. bvw says:

    Sean in 11 says: “And in the same way that one might defer to a Rabbi regarding the correct way to interpret Judaism, might we humbly suggest that we be allowed to determine how science should be taught in our schools?”
    Are Rabbis paid by the government to come into to the *public* schools and teach that Judaism is the one and only way of religion? No they are not.
    Are the resident children in a US community forced by law to attend a school that teaches religion to the Rabbi’s standards? No they are not.
    Are “scientists” paid by the government to come into the public schools and textbook and curriculum development sessions to teach that the a-la-mode veriosn of “Science” is the one and only way to teach “science”? Yes they are. This case is one proof.
    Are the resident children in a US community forced by law to attend a school that teaches “Science” to the “scientists'” standards? Yes they are.
    How humble is that bushel of apples, by the way?

  5. david stopak says:

    Yakov Menken writes, “You can no more easily falsify evolution (in fact, even were a frog to give birth to a rabbit, this wouldn’t do it) than ID.”

    Not true, that would falsify not only evolution but genetics, molecular biology, embryology and much more. In fact it would rock the whole foundation of the biological sciences. Incidentally, it would also contradict the word of G-d in Genesis which describes all animals and plants coming from their own kind. So I hope the statement was written tongue in cheek only to express a frustration in disproving evolution.
    What I find frustrating in the current debate is the confusion between the theory of natural selection and evolution itself. Natural selection is about the mechanism of how evolution occurs and is a subject of continued heated discussion. Our understanding of natural selection is always changing and how A got to B is always only a provisional explanation. Uncertainty is the handmaiden of scientific investigation which is one of the great distinctions between scientific knowledge and religious knowledge.

    In contrast to its mechanism, the fact of evolution permeates all of biology. There is no specialized study of biology where the fact that there is common descent of organisms and that species change over time, is not in harmony with the observed results. These changes are not random and follow specific patterns. This is why the argument over Intelligent Design is so harmful. It tears at the very fabric of our understanding of biology only to replace sound scientific observation with gibberish.

    In this limited space one example will have to make due. When Darwin posited his theory, the structure of DNA was unknown, in fact genetics and how hereditary characteristics were passed from generations was unknown. At that time evolution was based on observations in comparative anatomy and paleontology. Yet now that we can unlock the genome, genetic studies confirm the same evolutionary relationships that studies in comparative anatomy had revealed. This did not have to be so. If the genetic relationships and anatomical relationships were in wholesale discordance, evolutionary theory would have been in crisis. But genetics shows that frogs and toads are more closely related than either are to rabbits. Evolution is not crisis because it continues to be a powerful predictive model.

    I think it difficult for the layman to understand just how persuasive evolution is, that it has become the lynch pin of modern biology and cries out as fact even when it is not the subject of an investigation. It is the universal biological constant; it is the context within which all organisms exist. It is confirmed and over again and makes a rational framework for the study of the life sciences.

    For people of faith, why should this be threatening? Evolution contradicts only the most literal and small minded reading of Genesis. It certainly does not contradict the rich tradition of Jewish interpretation and commentary on the text. Neither does it contradict the mysterious working of G-d, his existence, nor impede His acts of creation whether it be through Intelligent Design or something else. You just have to find faith outside the biology curriculum, where it doesn’t belong anyway. These discussions are welcome elsewhere.

    For myself, I find my understanding of evolution only enriches my reading of Tanach. How sad to force G-d to reside within the dark confines of the narrowing gaps of scientific knowledge, rather than walk abroad together with science.

  6. Kurt Kamikawa says:

    Throughout most of history, farmers understood the wisdom of breeding strong pairs to try and improve the harvest. Jacob gave us inspiration for this as recorded in Scripture. Intelligent mothers encouraged their daughters to marry a doctor or lawyer for a more prosperous future for herself and offspring.

    It seems to me that in the current state of history and scientific development, we are crossing over to the point of exercising intelligent design ourselves. These options have been previously unavailable, but scientific breakthroughs have allowes us to manipulate genetic code. Still unresolved is creating DNA itself. By the way, have you heard the joke about the scientist who succeeded at forming man from dirt, to which G_D replied “Now you make your own dirt and try again.”

    However, despite our scientific advances in being able to successfully accomplish genetic reengineering with measurable short-term results, the true measure of our intellligence will only be determined by long-term impacts. Perhaps this is the most difficult debate to address —whether man’s intelligence can possibly measure up to that of the ultimate Intelligent Designer. Unfortunately, we have not mastered time travel yet, and cannot see into the future.

  7. John says:

    “It is merely an alternative (and somewhat obvious) conclusion derived from the same data.”

    You’re mistaken. IDists never discuss the nested hierarchy of protein families, because it illustrates evolution across multiple phyla. They simply can’t explain it, so they pretend that these data simply don’t exist.

    ” If we employ the same standards of probability that we use in every other area of life—including critical life and death medical decisions—we reach the conclusion that both the formation of life and the development of many structures most probably did not happen by chance.”

    That’s a straw man. The chance part of natural selection is mutation, but the selection part isn’t chance.

  8. Yaakov Menken says:

    Seth, you actually have it quite right. I have yet to see even the most left-wing peacenik in Israel say “no, he wasn’t carrying a bomb, he just spontaneously combusted.”

    What you are saying is that a unicycle rolled out of the primordial soup one day, and over time gradually developed into Hummers and Porsches.

    It is simply not true that we are discussing things that we have not yet explained. Evolution claims to know exactly how they got from point A to point B. They merely say that the vanishingly small probabilities of getting there are answered by the greatness of space and the greatness of time. The problem is that for many of these equations, 15 billion years isn’t nearly long enough to make the probability anywhere near reasonable.

  9. Seth Gordon says:

    Imagine a forensic scientist examining an exploded car and telling the officers on the scene, “Looks like this was the work of an Intelligent Bomber.”

    “How was this bomb constructed?” an officer asks.

    “No clue. All I know is, it was made by an Intelligent Bomber. There’s no way this car could have exploded by chance.”

    “What kind of bomber? Are there terrorist groups that have used this kind of bomb before? Is this more of an amateur job? Can we trace back the bomb materials to their source?”

    “Hey, I can’t speculate on that kind of thing. Maybe God willed the car to explode. Maybe a space alien or a time traveller did it.”

    “My partner thinks the car might have exploded because it crashed into that SUV.”

    “That’s highly unlikely. The inside of a car is very complicated, so the odds of an impact causing an explosion are astronomically low. No, I’m telling you, an Intelligent Bomber must have done it. When you write up the accident report, you’d better give my theory and your partner’s theory equal time.”

    This is the state of the “scientific theory” of Intelligent Design. There’s no attempt to develop an actual alternative theory about how life developed; there are only pot-shots at things that evolutionary theory allegedly can’t explain.

    As the judge’s opinion makes clear, these attacks are generally misguided. But even if the ID people had found things that modern evolutionary theory hasn’t explained, so what? Of course there are things science hasn’t explained; if there was nothing left to discover, millions of scientists around the world would have to find other jobs. The goal of a scientific theory is not to provide a perfect explanation for everything, but to explain things in its domain better than any competing theory, and to provide a foundation for further research that can lead to even better explanations. And right now, there is no theory of how life developed that explains things better than evolution. “It must have been intelligently designed” is not a theory; it’s a confession of ignorance.

    To make an analogy in Jewish terms: saying “Here’s a place where evolution can’t explain a feature of an organism; therefore ID is equally valid” is like saying “Here’s a place where the Gemara can’t decide which opinion the halakha should follow; therefore the Kara`ite practice is equally valid”.

  10. C Brannan says:

    Charles Hall said, “The second is that there do appear to be some new “species” (for lack of a better term) that have “evolved”, not in a lab, but under human observation and supervision. Wheat and corn are the classic examples of types of plants that are very different from their original wild ancestors.”

    Yes, but the point is, it’s still WHEAT. A wheat plant didn’t turn into an apple tree! And even then how much of modern plants and animals are due to MAN’S influence in their growth…from pimative attempts at ensuring only the best plants survive to pollinate to actual genetic manipulation.

    I don’t have a problem if you want to talk survival of a species. Anyone knows that a white rabbit who finds himself living in an icy climate is going to survive longer and live to pass on his genetics than will a brown one. The problem I have comes in when you can’t explain the sudden emergence of a new species you theorized that another, some known species must have mutated and turned into something else! That’s where I disagree with evolution. A lizard is not going to grow fur and become a warm blooded mammal. And then you have the controversy over how could a mutated animal both benefit from a mutation as well as be attractive to his own species. A human could suddenly be born with a third arm which could be handy! ;-) But how many of the opposite sex are going to want to marry and have children with this person. What woman is going to say, “Oh I want MY child to have three arms–it’s so useful.” Animals are no different, often a mother animal will shun a baby that is deformed and let it die. And it’s highly unlikely that any birth defect would be truly beneficial–most are quite the opposite (such as albinoism) and make the animal more vulnerable if it does reach adulthood.

    Then the comes the most obvious and overlooked problem: How did Homo Sapiens who by all scientific accounts were around for a paltry million years become able to write poetry, build buildings, become scientists ;-) when animals who have been shown to be around for much longer have not. We are unique, not matter how much we want to compare ourselves to the great apes (and I have been greatly interested in Koko and Washa, a gorilla and a chimp who have been taught to sign). While they’ve both shown to be extremely intelligent, they are about the level of a preschool human. (And you’ll notice they’ve had no luck in getting them to breed to see if they’ll teach their offspring. Koko scared the last male she was put in with–probably because she was so different from any other gorilla he had encountered. So even our “manipulated” evolution is not being passed on yet.

  11. Sean says:

    I’m a molecular biologist at UCLA, and after linking here from slate I hope to offer comments that might allow you some glimpse into this issue as an average scientist really sees it (and not as he is projected as seeing it as in some of the posts I’ve read above).

    Science cannot explain everything. A well known principle in physics (Heisenberg Uncertainty) actually articulates categories of situations where we cannot know things we might wish to. In some sense, science cannot be said to really ‘explain’ anything in the sense that science merely provides models that predict. In that light, it is disingenuous to project onto us the belief that we can explain everything in nature. Science has a very limited but powerful scope and beyond it we cannot speak. If your goal is to discern the true nature of reality and determine what we are doing on earth and how we got here, then science cannot help you and any scientist that claims otherwise is not speaking scientifically.

    If your goal is create models of the natural phenomena that accurately predict certain features of it, however, then science is the only method available. When science succeeds (and we do not claim that it invariably will), the results can be staggering – the application of science to medicine alone has saved millions of lives. That technology drives our economy and culture is purely a result of the sophisticated use of the scientific method. No other method addresses the universe in such a detached objective, and materialistic way. This view in its purest and most coldly objective provides a view of the world that is the most universal. Science and mathematics transcend race, religion,culture and politics unlike any other endeavor.

    And while this methodology is unarguably productive, it is this very detached materialism that often angers people whose faith bristles at such a cold view of the universe. It is sometimes argued that a society bred solely on such a sterile meterialism is a sick society in need of better guidance, and that for this reason, science treads brazenly, carelessly, and recklessly over ground once owned by religion.

    We scientists understand that this is a common view and most are sensitive to it. Most scientists wish that we could address issues of religion and ethics and morality in a better way that we currently do. I maintain that scientists are not the source of cultural divides on religion and morality in America, but rather the inherent difficulties of living in a plurality. If one wishes to discuss the best way to enrich the way we educate our children in whatever way then I will gladly join in – but not if it involves political tampering of the way we teach science.

    Our desire is that Americans allow science to retain the vital purity that is the source of its worth. Believing that science and religion are at odds is a “contrived dualism” as the judge puts it. In the same way that a man may wear any number of hats, a person can be both a scientist and spiritual leader, can desire to objectively describe on one hand and then later allow that description to inspire some sense of spirituality.

    —-

    That out of the way I should point out some errors in the posts above:
    1. ) Rabbi Zweibel’s is quoted as saying, “If our Constitution, however, is to be understood as forbidding any mention in public schools of even the possibility that the universe was brought into being by the Creator, that should deeply trouble all Americans”.

    This judgement is not equivalent to gagging a discussion of the origins of the universe. It merely says that such discussions are not science and should not be presented as such. I understand the origins of this complaint and I assure you that if honest attempts were made in social studies classes to develop a broader (but non-preferential) discussion of the religions and faiths to be found in America, most would welcome it with open arms.

    2.) “the judge was wrong to base his legal decision upon the ulterior motives of the proponents”

    This statement ignores the basis of the case. The school board is considered to have the imprimateur of the government. As such, whatever the motives of the board are taken as the motives of the government. Therefore the motives of these persons speaks directly to whether or not their actions violate the establishment clause of the constitution. To say the the judge is wrong in a legal sense is not true. If you think he is wrong because the establishment clause itself is a bad idea I think you’re going to have an uphill struggle that I hope you lose. (Maybe you can help with some ignorance on my part – Why do orthodox Jews want to stand behind something that would allow evangelicals to establish Christianity?)

    3.) “It [ID] is merely an alternative (and somewhat obvious) conclusion derived from the same data.”

    One can obtain non-scientific conclusions from examining scientific data, and this is such a case. In his judgement, Jones cites three separate lines of evidence regarding why ID is not science.

    4.) “If we employ the same standards of probability that we use in every other area of life—including critical life and death medical decisions—we reach the conclusion that both the formation of life and the development of many structures most probably did not happen by chance.”

    Estimations of medical probabilities have nothing to do with the various probabilities of different origin scenarios. On the one hand, probabilities of medical outcomes can and have been calculated from observation. It is impossible to make such calculations regarding origins. Saying (in a scientific sense) that something “probably” happened a certain way implies that you have some data regarding it, which neither you nor anyone else possesses. Saying you “believe” it happened a certain way is a different matter and something I cannot argue with.

    5.)”Bereft of the assumption made by science that it can explain everything naturally, ID is actually a more valid scientific explanation of the current data.”

    This conclusion could not be further from the truth. Firstly, science does not assume that it can explain everything naturally. That implies an arrogance which many like to project but which we do not possess. I would say that “Science believes that if we cannot described it through methodological naturalism then there is no way to make accurate predictions about it.” That does not mean that if we cannot observe it that it does not exists. Absence of proof is not proof of absence. Secondly ID is not a valid scientific explanation precisely because by definition science requires this methodological naturalism that ID is bereft of. In the history of science whenever a scientist (including Newton himself) has gone off this track there have never ever ever been useful results. And that is the reason we keep it.

    6.) Comment “You can no more easily falsify evolution (in fact, even were a frog to give birth to a rabbit, this wouldn’t do it) than ID. This is a powerful argument to keep both of them out of the classroom until conclusions can be reached.”

    Currently Einstein’s Relativity and Quantum Mechanics are completely at odds about how to describe the universe. Both are considered by all scientists to be remarkably strong scientific theories passing numerous tests. Separately they have each single-handedly enabled many advanced technologies. But because they are in conflict should we not teach them? Evolution, too has yeilded many new technologies. From the framework that life appears to have a common descent we have sinced learned that all life speaks the same language, has the same machinery, and have taken genes from one organism and put it into another organism only to watch in amazement as it functions correctly. The theory of evolution has passed a staggering number of tests in the early part of the 20th century, any one of which could have easily falsified it. The fact that it survived those tests earns it a place as a theory par excellence. Here are some tests that came after Darwin and would have invalidated his theory but did not: all life carries the same genetic material (DNA), the DNA in every single organism uses exactly the same ‘alphabet’ (nucleotides), in every single life form, this DNA is ‘transcribed’ into another molecule of RNA which is also alike in every single organism. In every single organism alive today these RNA are then translated into proteins using the same exact code. In every single organism machinery that looks remarkably similar is used to perform each on these numerous tasks. By looking at the sequence of genetic information in organisms, groups can be reconstructed and these groups occur time and again in the same way that a family tree can be reconstructed for a family with Tay Sachs or some other genetic disease. And on and on. Test after test. To expect to witness speciation under our nose in a handful of centuries is ignorant of the time scale that such forces work on. It would be akin to expecting light to travel faster than light.

    And what tests has ID past that it is to be given equal weight with a theory that has withstood these tests? What can ID provide that evolution has not? Nothing. You could say that ID can explain all of the things evolution can and more, but what if I were to ask you specifically how to take an understanding of ID and use that understanding to create a model for why influenze pandemics can be so dangerous and how best to fight them? Because the intelligent designer can follow any method a person’s imagination can conjure, it offers no insight into objectively predicting the future. On the other hand, the theory of evolution has provided us with the knowledge that viruses evolve from other viruses, they recombine in other animals and it is this recombination – it is the fact of their rapid evolution – that is the problem. Therefore strategies must be taken that account for the high evolvability of these pathogens. And while such serious problems are being fruitfully addressed by evolution, ID just sits and does nothing all the while demanding explanations without offering anything in return. ID is not fit to be mentioned in the same breath as evolution.

    7.) “As Sir Francis Crick demonstrated, ID does not necessarily even entail “the supernatural.” It simply says that evolution-by-chance is so improbable as to be an unlikely explanation. There is no evidence whatsoever that evolution is right and ID is wrong. ID looks at exactly the same data, which is of course why it “has not even one peer-reviewed paper.”

    There is not one peer-reviewed paper demonstrating the actual occurrance of even one species emerging from another in the lab, but that’s another story.

    The average secular scientist is convinced, as I said, that science can explain everything naturally. When it doesn’t, they say they simply need to study it more—and will not, even in the interim, entertain rational alternatives.”

    The latter point first, I hope I already addressed the misconception about what people project onto scientists. The real reason, contrary to your assertion, that ID has failed to produce any results is precisely because of the breadth of possibilities it allows. An intelligent designer could have created life in any infinite number of ways. How is an ID scientist to determine which way it *was* done? There is no basis to discern such things. The testimony of Michale Behe during the proceedings admits this.

    Finally I will say that there is a lot of talk about whether or not the evolution of some structure or other is “probable”. I have never seen any article in all of my days in science offering anything remotely like the kind of data that would allow one to make such probability estimations. No one has ever articulated complexity in a formalistic enough manner to even begin to assert mathematically how complex a thing is and what it would take to acheive such a thing through evolution. To claim such intuition into the probabilities of certain events leaves the realm of science and enters the realm of idle speculation. Many assertions about “irreducible complexity”, including those listed by the authors of the Panda book, have gathered staggering evidence to the contrary, even in the brief years between editions.

    In summary I will say this: scientists are not arrogant people who claim to understand the universe on a deeper level than the rest of humanity. We merely claim to know what is necessary to do our jobs correctly. And in the same way that one might defer to a Rabbi regarding the correct way to interpret Judaism, might we humbly suggest that we be allowed to determine how science should be taught in our schools?

  12. Auros says:

    The problem with arguing that the existence of a particular improbable thing suggests intervention by an external force is, it fails to note that SOME thing had to exist, and that in fact the existence of something as complex as the actual observed thing (though not necessarily this particular thing) might be very high.

    Given that biochemistry is POSSIBLE, it was very likely to spring up somewhere, somewhen. Obviously anywhere that an intelligent species does show up, must’ve been conducive to its appearance. That’s the anthropic principle; acting like the world conspired to produce YOU, and assuming that any slight deviation from the world as it is would include NO intelligent life, as opposed to perhaps containing intelligent life very different from what you’re accustomed to.

    We have no way at all, at present, to evaluate how common it is for biochemistry to kick off, how common it is for multicellular life to appear out of the primordial soup, or how common it is for an intelligent species to arise our of an active ecosystem. All of these might be very common indeed. Or, they might be very rare, and yet still have happened once in the history of the universe by pure chance. (Given that latter possibility, I’m rather in favor of investment in space exploration, since I would sorta like us to last past our planet’s expiration date. But that’s another topic entirely.)

    Might some “higher being” — intelligent aliens from an alternate universe, God, invisible pink unicorns — have intervened? Sure. But there’s no actual evidence to suggest they did, and in the absence of that evidence, asking people to believe they did isn’t a scientific matter. It’s faith. If you have it — hey, that’s great. But please don’t try to teach it to other people’s children, in science class.

    As for “not one peer-reviewed paper demonstrating the actual occurrance of even one species emerging from another”… Er, sorry, but you’re mistaken.
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html

  13. Charles B. Hall says:

    There is a lot of misunderstanding on both sides of this issue.

    One problem here is that scientists have not resolved is that there is not universal agreement as to what constitutes definitive evidence for or against a theory. Popper’s falsifiability is one criteria that has been suggested, but it has not been widely accepted for a number of reasons. What seems to be more accepted as a test for scientific hypotheses is the ability to predict future events.

    The reason that ID isn’t science — and that the judge’s reason is correct — is that ID is unable to make any predictions regarding future phenomena. Not so evolutionary biology, which accurately predicts the results of observations and experiments on a regular basis.

    And these are not merely theoretical issues. To give one concrete example, what would ID say about the possible trajectories for the bird flu that we are all worried about? Evolutionary biology rules out many possibilities, letting us focus our efforts in combating this disease, but ID offers no guidance. Specifically, the super-dangerous flu that is killing half the people who are diagnosed with it is not something that will cause a pandemic. Ironically, the virus must “evolve” into a strain that doesn’t kill its hosts so quickly. Here is an interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci discussing some of these specific issues. The evolutionary theory here is well supported by empirical evidence.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5056105

    Can ID predict this sequence?

    Note, however, that science says absolutely nothing about the ultimate cause behind flu epidemics or anything else. While science can not prove the existence of God it can not disprove it either. Many frum scientists such as myself are perfectly happy to use evolutionary biology to explain and predict while being absolutely certain that it is Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu that is responsible for the specific observations.

    A few words on specific comments:

    ‘We don’t have remotely enough information to make such a statement.’

    For a scientist to make such a statement is good midot! There are a lot of things we don’t understand, and the fact we don’t understand them don’t necessarily mean they aren’t true. Semmelweis and Holmes did not have an explanation for why washing hands between patients was a good thing for doctors to do, and most physicians at the time thought they were nuts. And just a few weeks ago the Nobel Prize was given to two doctors who had the nutty idea that bacteria caused stomach ulcers. The fact is, scientists have often been wrong and *should* be careful with conclusions. But there are many, many things for which there is no gap in our understanding, and the nature of infectious disease epidemics mentioned above is one.

    Admittedly, not all scientists have such humility. But good ones do. And humility should be taught in schools of all types as a virtue. Unfortunately the trend, at least in public schools, is to move away from values and methodology and concentrate on factual knowledge. Not that factual knowledge isn’t important, but it isn’t the only thing.

    ‘actual occurrance of even one species emerging from another in the lab’

    I can see two problems with this statement. The first one is that the term “species” is not a precisely defined term in a biological sense. The Wikipedia entry gives six alternative definitions:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Species

    It should be clear that the definitions are not all equivalent, not all universal, and would be difficult to apply.

    The second is that there do appear to be some new “species” (for lack of a better term) that have “evolved”, not in a lab, but under human observation and supervision. Wheat and corn are the classic examples of types of plants that are very different from their original wild ancestors. Domestic dogs may or may not be a distinct species from wolves. And as for microbes, who can make a statement given the vagueness of the definition? For practical purposes, however, microbes are unfortunately evolving as I write this.

    Finally, I have expressed before a concern regarding the treatment of ID as science and will repeat it here. How can we possibly subject HaShem to scientific tests? In Bayesian terms, to do so means to accept a nonzero prior probability of the nonexistence of God. Chas v’shalom! What ever happened to “ani maamin”? Far better to teach ID in philosophy and religion classes — and to teach solid scientific methodology, including the limits to science, in science classes.

  14. Michael says:

    I am not a Constitutional expert, nor have I been following all of the details of the Dover case. That said, I agree with most of what Rabbi Menken wrote. The judge seemed to have made his decision based on the apparent ulterior motives of the school board members (who would have wanted Creationism in the science curriculum). While there may be theological implications of Intelligent Design, its study does not itself necessitate religious belief. It merely views the organized complexity of life as indicative of an external designer. The question of whether this approach is scientific remains. But that should not be under the purview of the court.

    As it turns out, I do have issues with ID as science. I am a Torah-Observant (always working harder at that) biologist. I have emunah that Hashem created the world, and notwithstanding the different views among the mefar’shim, Hashem may have done it in six literal 24 hour days. But in my opinion, the strength of the scientific method does not lie in its ability (or lack thereof) to reconstruct events of the past. Science deals with testable hypotheses which are by definition predictive and future-oriented. It may be that current observations may be used to infer past events, but the purpose in this exercise is still predictive. Aspects of evolutionary theory can fit in this framework. Comparisons of current species and examination of the fossil record allow for the construction of phylogenetic trees indicating when and from where species might have diverged. This information regarding the alleged relationship between species can be used to predict the existence or the structure of homologous genes, for example.

    In contrast, I have not yet seen how ID theory is used in a predictive framework. Can we make specific and testable predictions under an Intelligent Design framework? (ie The assumption that there is a designer would lead to the prediction that there is a heretofore undiscovered biological phenomenon.) It seems that such predictions would necessitate further research into the essence of the designer. If we were to assume that the designer was external to nature, it would hard for me to see how the scientific method (which deals with observable phenomena) could approach this question. That may be a weakness of science as a discipline, but that’s a whole separate discussion.) And if we were to assume that the designer was part of the observable world, doesn’t it (ie the designer) simply become another scientific black box? How does that differ from the fudge factors and gaps that evolutionary theory has to rely on in explaining biology’s complexities?

  15. Yaakov Menken says:

    DovBear,

    As Sir Francis Crick demonstrated, ID does not necessarily even entail “the supernatural.” It simply says that evolution-by-chance is so improbable as to be an unlikely explanation. There is no evidence whatsoever that evolution is right and ID is wrong. ID looks at exactly the same data, which is of course why it “has not even one peer-reviewed paper.”

    There is not one peer-reviewed paper demonstrating the actual occurrance of even one species emerging from another in the lab, but that’s another story.

    The average secular scientist is convinced, as I said, that science can explain everything naturally. When it doesn’t, they say they simply need to study it more — and will not, even in the interim, entertain rational alternatives.

  16. DovBear says:

    The ruling reflects that evolution by natural selection is backed by mountains of evidence while ID has produced not even one peer-reviewed paper.

    That doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist.

    It doesn’t mean the world wasn’t intelligently designed.

    It just means that in science you can’t invoke the supernatural when you don’t fully understand a natural process.

  17. Yaakov Menken says:

    Come around, Netanel? ;)

  18. Netanel Livni says:

    Almost by definition, the two are equally immeasurable. You can no more easily falsify evolution (in fact, even were a frog to give birth to a rabbit, this wouldn’t do it) than ID. This is a powerful argument to keep both of them out of the classroom until conclusions can be reached.

    Ah, I knew you would come around.

  19. Yaakov Menken says:

    Responding to Boruch — Almost by definition, the two are equally immeasurable. You can no more easily falsify evolution (in fact, even were a frog to give birth to a rabbit, this wouldn’t do it) than ID. This is a powerful argument to keep both of them out of the classroom until conclusions can be reached.

  20. Yaakov Rosenblatt, Dallas says:

    Ulterior motives have nothing to do with the price of Bibles in Bulgaria. A lawyer argues for damages for a sick client even though his motive is to make money, and a doctor may stay up late to save a patient’s life even if his motive it the same. The question is if their argument is valid, which it is.

    Science is the study of physical phenomenon in order to draw conclusions. One who observes an infinitely complex world, and says that it suggests an entity of great intelligence which wanted this result to exist is offering a perfectly fair scientific theory.

  21. Boruch says:

    There is a main difference between scientific uncertainty and ID. In order for a theory to qualify as science, it must be falsifiable, i.e. it must set up a scenario (even if this scenario cannot exist until more information comes to light, possibly years away) in which it is possibly to either prove or disprove the theory. ID does not do this, which makes it “unscientific”.

    From a philosophical perspective, I would agree that the two are both valid alternatives. As you stated, “it is merely an alternative (and somewhat obvious) conclusion derived from the same data.” As science, however, it is hard to make a case for teaching a theory whose accuracy can never be measured.