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Thursday, October 20, 2005


ABC's Catalyst on Intelligent Design

The Australian ABC (our version of auntie Beeb) has just aired an episode on the vacuous Intelligent Design Creation movement on its science show Catalyst. Transcripts of the show are now available at the Catalyst website.

I thought it was okay, a bit wimpy, but they were trying for journalistic balance I suppose (the presenter Paul Willis being a feisty creationist fighter from way back, I expected him to be a bit more hard hitting). I would have done things differently (but then again, I am not a science reporter, nor do I play one on TV).

Firstly, they kept calling ID a theory. It is not a theory, it is not even a hypothesis, it is a layer of wishful thinking and mumbo-jumbo wrapped around a core of religion (they did expose ID's religious nature later on).

Then, when the meaty bits came, they could have hit with some graphic demonstrations. At lot of the ID stuff requires technical knowledge and a good deal of detail to point out the fallacies, and is thus difficult to show on a TV program. But when they introduced Behe's mouse-trap analogy of Irreducible Complexity, they should have either introduced McDonald's reducible mouse traps or the Venus fly trap as clear, easy to understand counter examples.

They could have hammered more on the testable nature of science, and on the fact that ID is constructed to be untestable. And that the ID folks are pitching ID to high schools before it has any runs on the board in actual science (not one original paper).

And they didn't mention the Pandas Thumb (See this link to see Catalyst presenter Paul Willis carousing with Professor SteveSteve) or The Flying Spaghetti Monster Theory (along with Absolute Proof of The Beneficence of His Noodly Appendage)

But on the other had they did have one of Australia's foremost evolutionary
biologists pointing out that the bacterial flagella is reducible, contra Behe
(and it is). Also, the clear fundamentalist religious origins of intelligent design was revealed. And the infamous "Wedge Strategy", to use ID to replace Science with a (particularly American) conservative Christian ideology was made plain.

As I said, I would have done some things differently (but then I wrote the chapter on the evolution of bacterial flagella in "Why Intelligent Design Fails".
(No, I'm not going to sulk that Paul Willis didn't interview me, I think the got the technical level roughly right, I would have had too high a level of Geekdom). I would have used simple illustrations like the reducible mouse trap to show how their analogies failed, a diagram of a type III transport system next to a flagellum to show the reducible nature of the flagellum (they relied too much on the Discovery Institute Graphics).

But showing the Wedge Document was brilliant, as was pointing out that all their material is distributed through conservative Christian ministries, not via science journals. Mike Archers comment that if you let ID into high school science, you had to let astrology in was apposite, as Behe has just admitted his definition of science would include astrology. As well, getting Behe to admit that he believes the Intelligent Designer is the Christian God automatically takes ID out of the sphere of science into theology. Behe comes across as an amiable buffer, but he is being hammered in the Dover Intelligent Design Trial at the moment.

There is a voting page on the ABC Catalyst website. As of this posting the poll results are:

Do you think that Intelligent Design should be taught in science classrooms?
Yes 25%
No 75%
5320 votes counted

ID is most often and wrongly linked to God and creationism, as opposed to Darwinism and evolutionism. We are there in fact facing an old philosophical problem transposed this time from man to the universe: the difficult and even impossible distinction between what is innate and what is acquired. But the reader of my pages http://controlled-hominization.com/ will perhaps agree that evolutionism is not in contradiction with all forms of ID. As a materialist, I think that the confrontation between both concepts is sterile and that a synthesis is even possible.
If any great complexity of a feature could not exclude evolutionism, science itself could not reject some forms of ID in the evolution of the universe, at least in some steps of the process. After all, man himself is already a local actor in this evolution, an actor showing little intelligence so far (global warming, life sciences …). He could however be led to play a greater and nobler part if he succeeds to survive long enough (dissemination of life in the cosmos, “terraforming” of planets, planetary and even stellar formation, artificial beings…). The development of this kind of “draft ID” could only be limited by our refusal to do so and by our ability to survive. We would be viewed as gods by our ancestors from the middle Ages, and we would also view our descendants as gods if we could return in a few hundreds or thousands years.
By his refusal to consider that intelligence could already have played a significant part in the evolution of this universe, man takes in fact for granted that he is the most advanced being. It is in fact just another way for placing himself once again in the middle of everything, as for the Earth before Galileo. This anthropocentric view is not very rational.
Within the frame of evolutionism, the concept of ID could however be applied to the future man if he manages to survive long enough to be able to play a significant part in the evolution of this solar system, in the galaxy, and why not more. And it could also apply to eventual advanced ET preceding man in this cosmic part, advanced ET who could for instance, thanks to their science, have already played a significant part, even if they were themselves born from random processes.
Without going back to a controversial God, pure intelligence born from random processes is so far too easily ignored in the evolution of this universe, and I think that this choice has more to do with faith in man’s solitude in the universe than with true science. Even if it appears later that the ID concept has yet never been used by other beings in this universe, what could prevent man from applying it in the future? As with the Big Bang, ID would certainly remain in the field of hypotheses, but science progresses that way, and it would not be scientific to exclude one hypothesis that could be quite credible. ID is too easily discarded and laughed at, somewhat like continental drift not long ago, and a lot of other concepts too.
Benoit Lebon
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