Intelligent are thoughts better than Intelligent Design

In the January 2007 issue of The Lutheran, in the “Letters to the editor” section on page 56, Kari Stadem of Blomkest, MN, wrote:

Upper- and lowercase

There are two kinds of evolution: Evolution with a capital E, the idea that people came from rocks by random chance over billions of years–and evolution with a small e, the theory that species adapt and change through random mutations and natural selection. I fully agree that evolution has been shown through scientific observation. But I strongly disagree that Evolution is anything but a religious view. It can’t be repeated because it’s a question of origins. It can never be observed because it supposedly takes billions of years. And it violates at least two of the most fundamental laws of science: the law of biogenesis (life only comes from life) and the second law of thermodynamics (everything in the universe is gradually increasing in chaos, not in order). Let’s get the whole question of origins out of the science classroom. It has no place there because it’s a question of history. Teach evolution, not Evolution, and I don’t think anyone will argue.

(I added the links in the text above.)

When I read this, I couldn’t help but say to myself, “This is exactly
right.” The argument shouldn’t be whether Intelligent Design or Evolution is
right: it’s unprovable, thus pointless. The question is really whether
Evolution (with the capital E) is actually science–clearly, it’s not. It’s a
set of beliefs held as true in the absence of observable facts. It’s a
religion. And, in a science classroom, as Kari points out, it has no
place.

It’s this kind of intelligent thinking and discussion that we need. Not
more useless debate as to whether Intelligent Design or Evolution is actually
correct: they’re both religions and neither are provable. Let people freely
believe what they want to believe. Lets just make sure that what’s taught in
the classroom as “science” truly is just that.

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Comments

  1. She’s fundamentally wrong on both points.

    Biogenesis is not a law; it is an assertion (and cannot be proved any more than evolution can be).

    The second law of thermodynamics says that *the universe as a whole* has a *tendency* toward chaos.

    Otherwise, freaking *snowflakes* violate it. (And who intelligently-designs those?)

    By those standards, lots of science is “religion” — heck, the big bang is no more provable than Evolution (in fact, much less so) and on par with any silly creation myth.

    If she’s willing to concede that humans evolved from another species, then why not suspect that our pregenitor species came from another, and another, and another.

    Until we get back to a bunch of bacteria that … were created by God?

    If she’s willing to take it back, at least that far, it’s a lot better than most critics of Evolution.

  2. Howard Barnett says:

    Not even the most idiotic of creationists, those at Answersingenesis, cite the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics anymore. It’s just not a good argument.

    Before you write anything else about a subject on which you know absolutely nothing, you might visit their site on Argumenets that Creationists shouldn’t use:

    http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/faq/dont_use.asp

    The statement that there is no scientific basis for evolution is a complete falsehood. The whole of our bioligical sciences is based on the evolutionary mechanism and has been cross validated across several scientific disciplines.

    Educate yourself before you write.

  3. ‘Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?’ – Douglas Adams

    Evolution did *not* happen by chance, nor did it happen by “accident”. Anyone who has read a text by Darwin or Dawkins (and understood it) will tell you that. The survival and reproductive success of an individual is directly related to the ways its inherited traits function in the context of its local environment.

    Science has none of the vices of Religion. Science is about evidence, logic and research. Religion has ZERO evidence and what’s worrying is: the evidence or lack thereof, is its soul pride and joy.

    Is the bible really the spoken word of God? – Then why do millions upon millions of Religious people each day, pick and choose which of God’s rules to follow. Take this in it’s for instance;

    “For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it must be put to death. – Exodus 35:2”

    I am glad you Religious folk don’t put me to death, I work on seventh day all the time =). I am sure glad you decided to “DISSOBEY” that part of the bible. I would be screwed =p
    Ok, so maybe I am grasping at straws here, but why oh why deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours?

    And you know what really bugs me about everything? God or “Jehovah” decided to slaughter all the babies of Egypt. I mean… come on?

  4. Wez:

    In regards to Darwin and Dawkins, that’s exactly the distinction that Kari was making: that “small e” evolution is obviously correct, while “capital E” Evolution (that everything came from nothingness through random chance) is purely speculation and thus a religion, not a science.

    In regards to Exodus 35, I suspect the figurative meaning is more important than the literal one: He who works constantly and does not make time for anything else–especially worship of the Lord–is putting himself to death. When we are so occupied with working that we can’t take even a single day to not work, then why is life worth living any more?

  5. My day off is Friday, do you think God will let that one slide?

  6. Wez: It doesn’t say “Sunday.” It just says “the seventh day.” If your seventh day is Friday, I don’t see how that conflicts with the writing in Exodus. The point still remains: you must make time to live your life, not just work, otherwise, why work? Why live?

  7. Howard:

    Thanks for taking the time to comment! I appreciate your viewpoint.

    “The statement that there is no scientific basis for evolution is a complete falsehood.”

    Actually, the statement is that there is no scientific basis for capital-E “Evolution” which is being defined as the theory “that people came from rocks by random chance over billions of years.” I don’t think there’s really any dispute around the lowercase-e “evolution” which is being defined as the theory “that species adapt and change through random mutations and natural selection.”

    Do you feel that there is compelling, repeatable, verifiable and measurable evidence that shows that capital-E “Evolution” is true? Do you actually believe that such a theory is scientifically provable? If not, then you have to agree that it’s relegated to the domain of religion–that which is believed solely on faith alone. However, if you do believe it to be scientifically provable, then the challenge to you and anyone else who feels similarly, is to prove it, scientifically.

  8. “‘capital E’ Evolution (that everything came from nothingness through random chance) is purely speculation and thus a religion, not a science.”

    There is a world of difference between a theory based on logical reasoning and a the pure faith embodied by “religion”.

    You’re completely misusing the term by categorizing both big-E Evolution and, say, an omniscient-omnipotent being creating everything in six days.

  9. Joe: The theory that an omniscient-omnipotent beign creating everything in six days is just as reasonable as big-E Evolution. They are both logical conclusions arrived at via a different set of assumptions.

    Now, we’re reduced to arguing as to which set of assumptions is true, and I still maintain that it’s unprovable. Therefore, belief that either theory is true in the absence of observable fact and provability is called “faith” and that reduces both to merely being “religion.”

  10. Howard Barnett says:

    “Actually, the statement is that there is no scientific basis for
    capital-E “Evolution” which is being defined as the theory “that people
    came from rocks by random chance over billions of years.””

    I’ve engage in this debate for several years, and I have never encountered this definition. There is evolution and the Theory of Evolution”. In science, a theory is the body of work which explains a phenomenon. In this case the theory explains evolution.

    What you are probably referring to is abiogenesis, which is the origins of life. This is a completely different area of study and has nothing to do with the study of evolution which involves adaption of organisms over time.

    Most IDers, and some creationists, try to distinguish between “micro” evolution and “macro” evolution. Since “micro” evolution can and has been observed, such as viruses mutating, etc., it’s pretty hard for these folks to deny that it happens. Where they really have problems is the “macro” aspect of evolution (evolutionary biologists don’t really make a distinction). They can’t wrap their heads around how one species can involve into another. Evolutionary biologists have the answer, but it is technical and complicated, so it is mostly inaccessible to the great unwashed.

    Of course, it call comes down to religion. The Bible says God made man, evolutionists point out that were are just another primate. We share more than 98 percent of our genes with chimps and are genetically closer to chimps than chimps are to gorillas. We are even closer to chimps than horses are to zebras.

    Those whose world view is Christian and who believe that the Bible is God’s word have a real problem. If we are just hairless monkeys, then how come the Bible, God’s word, says otherwise?

    Atheists like me don’t have that problem. To us, accepting any part of the Bible as scientific or historic fact is ridiculous. That opens us up to a real search for how and why things work as they do.

    The argument for Intelligent Design, on the other hand is merely a plea for God of the Gaps. If we can’t explain it, then God did it.
    If scientists took that view, there would be no need to search for knowledge because the answer is already known — God did it.

  11. “The theory that an omniscient-omnipotent beign creating everything in six days is just as reasonable as big-E Evolution.”

    Sigh.

  12. Joe: What, specifically, makes you feel that one is more reasonable than the other? Both start with baseless assumptions and draw conclusions based off them. It would be irrational to claim that one set of baseless assumptions is any more reasonable than another. Unless, of course, you outlook is biased by other undeclared assumptions, in which case, it’s your belief system that’s flawed, not the argument.

  13. The second law of thermo is a statistical law – its application to natural selection is dubious. But that’s not my main objection.

    I don’t see how one can believe in “evolution” but not in “Evolution”. Seems like an incoherent viewpoint to me, since the latter is predicated on the former. If you’re going to acknowledge that it’s possible for species to adapt and change due to environmental pressues, then why not extend it to the possibility that humans could evolve from single-celled organisms over billions of years?

    But the main claim I take issue with is that “Evolution” cannot be observed. Even though it takes billions of years and isn’t something we can reproduce in the lab, there’s plenty of evidence it did happen, and we can observe its effects. We can infer from that evidence that it happened. We do this sort of thing all the time in courtrooms. Nobody in the jury was present at the crime-scene, but they are presented with evidence and arrive at a conclusion about what happened (hopefully in a scientific manner). Likewise, you don’t have to be present at a car accident to come to the reasonable conclusion that a car with a crushed front-end has been in an accident.

    And let’s revisit the second law of thermo. It states that the net entropy in the universe is on the rise. This does not rule-out local pockets of decreasing entropy (such as the increase in order caused by natural selection), so long as there is more of an increase in entropy elsewhere. Also, why object to “Evolution” on this basis, but not object to “evolution” on the same basis (since the latter seems to be just another term for “natural selection”, the way the original author is using it). Why is it okay for “evolution” to defy the second law, in your eyes, but not okay for “Evolution” to do it? They both obviously involve natural selection (“evolution” seems to be a synonym for it).

    Given all of the above, I don’t see how you can accept the evidence for “evolution” but not for “Evolution”. Even more damning is the fact that the distinction doesn’t seem very coherent.

  14. “I don’t see how one can believe in “evolution” but not in “Evolution”. Seems like an incoherent viewpoint to me, since the latter is predicated on the former.”

    That’s where I disagree. Lets simplify the problem to an analogy: suppose you observe a small marble at rest at the bottom of an incline. We can observe that the force of gravity applies a normal force vector which would be consistent with the assumed phenomenon that we did NOT observe–that the marble started at the top of the incline and had rolled down and came to rest at the bottom.

    My believe in small-e “evolution” is that observation and belief in gravity. I don’t argue it’s correctness.

    Now, you and I are to posit hypotheses as to how the marble started at the top of the incline–how it got there in the first place. I posit that some external force (a person) came along and placed the marble there. You posit that through random chance and through all observable forces, the marble had to eventually end up there–no such external force had worked to create the situation “just so.”

    Exactly which one seems reasonable to you, in this case?

    While I believe that big-E “Evolution” could be the correct theory, it’s hard to swallow that a infintessimally small statistical probability as to “everything in the omniverse lined up ‘just so’ such that everything came to be as it is now” can possibly be correct. (Occam’s razor, anyone?) Equally, it’s hard to believe that some external force to our own existance (lets call it “God”) had performed work to “put the marble at the top of the incline,” so to speak. It’s a very simple explanation that only requires one very simple premise.

    Of course, the perceived pausibility of a theory doesn’t make it any more right than another. Theories are either correct or not, independent of whether we believe it to be so or not. This is why I say that big-E “Evolution” or the theory of God are equally reasonable–to believe one over the other in absence of objective facts would be irrational.

    (Without seeing how the marble got to the top of the incline, how could you reasonably assert that one explanation is likely to be more correct than another? Inductive reasoning? That works for predicting the likelyhood of events in the future–but not the past. Sorry.)

  15. While I believe that big-E “Evolution” could be the correct theory, it’s hard to swallow that a infintessimally small statistical probability as to “everything in the omniverse lined up ‘just so’ such that everything came to be as it is now” can possibly be correct.

    I’m surprised that as a computer scientist who’s familiar with cellular automatia would give abiogenesis such small chances in a universe who’s fundamental rules are far more complicated than most cellular automatia simulations (thus more likely to yield more complex phenomena). In addition the simulation field is incomprehensibly vast and the program running time and operations/sec seems infinite compared our time on this Earth.

    In other words, what are the chances of winning the lottery if you’re pooling together with a group of a million people, buying a million tickets, and playing everyday of your life?

    While my lottery analogy is clearly contrived, you know that statistical anomalies are practically inevitable overtime. In the case of abiogenesis what we’re really talking about is molecules coming together in such a way that they can begin to replicate. I’m not even talk about cells or bacteria at this point. This earliest and most primitive forms of “life” may have required a very specific environment for it to sustain itself long enough to create mutations which could survive beyond that very specific environment.

    Having said all that, I agree with your point that it’s just as likely that a god/alien created the first single cell organisms and then let the simulation run.

    …but that’s as far as I go. As far as the god of Abraham and Moses and Jesus is concerned, I personally find these ideas very much incompatible, unless you’re one to take the road that the Bible is just one big inconclusive book of analogies and metaphors. Most Christians would disagree with you and for very good reasons.

    I’ve always been one who’s hated false dichotomies with a passion and I can appreciate how you’re trying to resolve Christianity with modern scientific theory, but I think you tend to accept your own ideas too readily and don’t do enough regressive testing to see if the ideas or the supporting ideas are valid on their or within the paradigms which they’re being applied.

    Logically resolving Christianity and modern scientific theory would be an amazing feat in my opinion, but most importantly would require an insane amount of regressive testing that is beyond the limitations of any single human. Most ideas that I’ve seen which try to bridge the two paradigms tend to do so by compartmentalizing ideas or by haphazardly violating the core principles of either paradigms.

    I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’m just saying whoever does it is going to spark something really big.

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