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Archive for August, 2005


Intelligent Design

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

In the ongoing trench war between the scientific vs. religious agendas, Intelligent Design represents the latest grenade lobbed.

Proponents of ID (William A. Dembski and Michael J. Behe chief among them) essentially state that ‘random evolution’ cannot account for the complexity and diversity of living things. Instead, they reason, this complexity indicates the hand of an intelligent creator. The basic idea goes back a long way, from the famous watchmaker analogy to St. Thomas Aquinas’s five proofs for the existence of God.

These are teleological arguments, and they’re compelling. However, they fall under the category of philosophy, not science, which is why the current debate over whether or not ID should be given equal time to evolution in science class is ludicrous.

Anything can be a competing idea to evolution, including a Flying Spaghetti Monster, but that doesn’t make it science. ID proponents argue that the best their pro-evolution counterparts can do is attack ID with absurd satire. John Calvert, the attorney who heads the Intelligent Design Network, stated, “If that’s all they can do to support evolutionary theory, they’ve got a big problem with their theory.”

That’s it right there. ID advocates go to great lengths to propagate the message that ID is a theory on equal scientific footing with evolution. It simply is not.

The scientific method is designed to prove or disprove hypotheses based on observation and valid, repeatable experimentation. One of the hallmarks of good science is the concept of falsifiability. The basic idea is that every theory should build in a condition which, if met, would disprove the theory. Popper’s swan analogy works well:

My theory, based on observation, is that all swans are white. However, if someone were to produce evidence of a black swan, I would have to revise my theory.

ID cannot be falsified. Any time one introduces a supernatural entity into the mix, evidence goes out the window.

“The universe is 6,000 years old.”

“What about fossils?”

“Well, the wizard who created the universe just made it look like that.”

That’s ID’s biggest problem. It explains everything, but illuminates nothing. Robert Todd Carroll has some great stuff on this.

Imagine taking this approach on a Biology test:

“Explain capillary action.”

“The Wizard did it.”

Boy, what a time saver…

Setting the whole validity question aside, I want to express an opinion about what I perceive to be the root of the problem. I am, admittedly, painting in broad strokes.

In modern, Western civilization, secularism holds sway as the dominant paradigm. Science has increasingly taken ground from Religion for over a century. Every time we see a news story about a judge putting a sculpture of the Ten Commandments in a courthouse or a school board debating whether or not ID should be taught in public schools, we are watching Religion try to regain lost ground.

I believe this perception to be based on a false dichotomy, e.g., if I believe in the Christian God, then I cannot believe in evolution, or vice versa.

I believe that Science and Religion are not mutually exclusive but, instead, deal with entirely different domains. One cannot prove (or disprove) that there is a God with Science, no more than the New Testament can tell you how to build an internal combustion engine.

Absolutes are the problem. Any time you try to explain everything exclusively using Science or Religion, you end up with things like Love being awkwardly reduced to a “complex set of chemical and neurological interactions,” or the origin of species as “The Wizard did it.”

Science does not deal with final causes, Religion does (teleology again). That is, Religion describes what things mean, Science investigates how things work. Science and Religion only threaten one another if people choose to perceive them as threats. If the broad perception were instead that each represents a unique toolset for dealing with different “problems”, the tension between the two would cease to exist.


Why do I do these things?

Sunday, August 28th, 2005

I have an embarrassing tale to relate.

Fact 1: My home office is a bit cluttered.

Fact 2: I do web development for a local fitness trainer, and have acquired a fair amount of content related to his site.

I recently went about renewing my passport. You never know when you’re going to need to leave the country suddenly, and it’s usually one of those things that you don’t think of doing until you actually need it. So I grabbed an envelope and put in all the stuff – the old passport, the paperwork, two passport-compliant head shots and a check for $55.00.

The new passport came in the mail a few weeks later. I opened the envelope and pulled out the old passport (invalidated), the new passport, some literature, and…a photograph. I stared at the 4×6, very confused by its presence in the packet, because it dawned on me that I recognized it. It was a source image from the fitness trainer.

I tried to think over the roar in my ears as my body tried to set some sort of new record for the granddaddy of all blushes. How the hell did this happen? What was going through the mind of the employee who processed my application? Anthony, why did you send a photograph of oiled, muscular, artificially bronzed men wearing very little to the United States Government?

What the hell kind of list have I just put myself on?

Now that a little time has passed, and my face has returned to its regular color, I’ve concluded that I must have reused an envelope when I mailed the passport renewal, and that the photograph was already in there. I still envision some future interaction with U.S. Customs after I return from an overseas trip.

~~~

Customs: Passport, please.

Me: Right here, sir. (Customs officer types information into his terminal)

Customs: Sir (turning terminal around), what were you thinking when you mailed this photograph to the United States Government?

Me: I honestly have no idea.

Customs: Got any more?

~~~

It was nice of them to send it back, though.



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