Sunday, April 24, 2005

PZ Myers Op-Ed

PZ Myers (of Pharyngula fame) has an interesting op-ed in the Star-Tribune on teaching ID creationism in the classroom. It is well worth reading.

A few snippets to tide you over:

ID proponents have not only failed to provide any evidence for their thesis, they aren't even trying. There are no labs doing research on this subject; all the papers the Discovery Institute has tried to publish are exercises in spin, in which they try to distort biology researchers' work to fit their preconceptions.

With no established body of results, no current work and no promising prospects for future research, why should ID be supported? It's a dead end. It is absurd to propose that our kids learn about a subject that no legitimate scientists are pursuing and that has no utility.


My own discipline of developmental biology has been revolutionized in the last few decades as we've embraced evolution more fully than before; new papers in the rapidly growing field of evo-devo, or evolutionary developmental biology, pile up on my desk faster than I can read them.
This is a genuinely exciting time to be studying biology. When students ask me about the hot fields that promise great careers, I steer them toward evo-devo (and developmental biology in general), bioinformatics, proteomics and genomics, all fields in which knowledge of evolution is indispensable.

Note that I do not and cannot recommend anything to do with ID, whose proponents spend their time lobbying school boards, producing nothing new, and with no promise of new ideas for the future.
(all emphasis are mine- afarenis)

Go, read the whole thing.

While we are on the subject of ID creationism. Let me just mention this exchange between a chemistry student at the University of Minnesota-Morris and Paul Nelson of the Discovery Institute :

Here’s the question, from a bright young woman who identified herself as a chemistry major. “What you’ve said so far,” she remarked, “sounds like magic to me. I’ve tried magic chemistry, and it just doesn’t work. Aside from poking holes in evolution, what evidence can you show me for intelligent design?


Evidence is a funny thing, I said to her. There was a titter of laughter from the audience –- and now the reader must picture what follows as being spoken in sentence fragments at roughly 375 miles per hour."

What followed was the usual spiel about SETI research. Note, the chemistry student was asking for some experimental evidence from chemistry, or some current studies, basically any kind of actual scientific research. What she got instead was a hypothetical situation about the search for intelligent life. Now thought experiments have a noble and illustrious career in science. The most famous being that of Einstien in his book "Relativity". The difference between Nelson's example and Einstein's is that Einstein's yeilded predictions about what the results of certain experiments should be. Nelson's don't. Nelson draws the following moral from his thought experiment:

Note that the data themselves in my thought experiment are exactly the same for the design skeptic and the design proponent. What renders the narrow band and primes evidence of intelligence is a causal impotence claim –- no natural mechanism exists to cause x –- coupled with a causal sufficiency claim –- intelligence, uniquely in our experience, produces narrow band radio transmissions and prime numbers. Because of its logical form, however (a universal negation), the causal impotence claim cannot be proven. No failed search for a natural mechanism, a necessarily finite search in any instance, can turn back one’s prior conviction that a mechanism nevertheless exists, lying perhaps just beyond the horizon of our current investigations. Until we find that natural mechanism, say the design skeptics, “we can content ourselves with regularities, chance, and ‘don’t know’ explanations” (Wilkins & Elsberry, Biology & Philosophy 16 [2001]:721).

Impasse. As Bill Dembski puts it, “the universe of unknown material mechanisms can never be exhausted” (The Design Revolution, p. 222). To exhaust that universe would be to solve the problem of induction. It is a logical impossibility.

Thus to elevate data to the status of “evidence” requires a decision that is not, strictly speaking, supported by the data themselves. This is an instance of the classical problem of the underdetermination of theory by data, and one of the reasons that the design debate is so heated.

Yet, this isn't about what we should see in any experiment we could perform. Which is what the chemistry student asked for - one wonders how the scientist involved in SETI research would actually deal with an event like that described by Nelson. Surely, there is more involved than that. One just has to go back and reread , say Carl Sagan, to relize that this is a gross oversimplification of SETI research.

Nelson then followed up by citing an article on RNA from 1989, pretty much ignoring the intervening 16 years of research on RNA , Origins of Life, more Origins of Life and as a matter of fact there is a journal devoted to this issue .

Which brings us back to the beginning and PZ Myers op-ed. Allow me to mention again an earlier quote from the op-ed:

With no established body of results, no current work and no promising prospects for future research, why should ID be supported? It's a dead end.