Thursday, May 25, 2006


5th and Final Post on Lawrence M. Krauss

(If you live in Britian you may have seen Dr Krauss on Channel 5 yesterday evening on their Star Trek night. A few years ago Krauss wrote an interesting book on The Physics of Star Trek)

Krauss takes issue with the 'teach the controversy' approach of the Discovery Institute, misrepresenting it as a more rhetorically subtle way to say 'we want ID to be taught in schools', which it is not (cf. Discovery Institute's Science Education Policy). Discovery Institute do not want ID taught in schools - at least not yet. Instead, they want teachers to 'teach the controversy', that is the controversy about evolutionary theory as it appears in the scientific literature. Of course, Krauss denies that any controversy exists, in which case any education establishment that set up a requirement to 'teach the controversy' will obviously have nothing to teach and Krauss can stop worrying!

I agree with Krauss that rather than singling out evolution it would be better to frame all science education with the statement that: 'Students should learn how scientists are continuing to investigate and critically analyze all scientific theories.' Of course, that has the same result with respect to teaching evolution. Hence, in that sence, Krauss aparrently agrees with ID theorists about how evolution should be taught.

Krauss says that: 'Intelligent Design advocates want to skip all the intermediate steps [to textbook science]. They want to take their theory straight into highschool textbooks. And that's not fair.' The thing is, 'ID advocates' is a broad term and some people who would call themselves ID advocates might take this approach; so let's phrase an answer in these terms: Discovery Institute, the main centre of the ID movement, does not advocate skipping steps and taking the theory into highschool textbooks (Of Pandas is a suplimentary text). Discovery Institute advocate 'teaching the controversy' about evolution, but not teaching ID:

'As a matter of public policy, Discovery Institute opposes any effort to require the teaching of intelligent design by school districts or state boards of education. Attempts to mandate teaching about intelligent design only politicize the theory and will hinder fair and open discussion of the merits of the theory among scholars and within the scientific community. Furthermore, most teachers at the present time do not know enough about intelligent design to teach about it accurately and objectively. Instead of mandating intelligent design, Discovery Institute seeks to increase the coverage of evolution in textbooks. It believes that evolution should be fully and completely presented to students, and they should learn more about evolutionary theory, including its unresolved issues. In other words, evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can't be questioned. Discovery Institute believes that a curriculum that aims to provide students with an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of neo-Darwinian and chemical evolutionary theories (rather than teaching an alternative theory, such as intelligent design) represents a common ground approach that all reasonable citizens can agree on.' (cf. Discovery Institute's Science Education Policy)

According to Krauss:

'ID is based on the presumptions that science is immoral because it doesn't make reference to God; therefore, evolution is immoral, because it doesn't explicitly mention God either; therefore, evolution must be wrong.'

This is an attack on the presumed motivations of ID theorists, rather than a response to their arguments. This is also an attack which erroniously assumes that all ID theorists believe in God. The terms theorists and theists are rather similar; but they are not the same.

As an ID theorist who is also a theist, I can only put it on the record that I for one do not presume that either science or evolutionary theory is immoral because they don't make reference to God. If I thought that, I'd have to think that Intelligent Design theory is immoral because it doesn't make reference to God!

Krauss relies upon some information from a friend of his who did a search on the key words 'intelligent design' and found 88 articles, of which 3 supported ID but were in conference proceedings and not peer reviewed research journals. Kraus concludes from this that: 'that's the extent of the "controversy" in the scientific literature. There is none.' This conclusion is erronious.

First of all, are we to disregard all scientific writing outside of peer reviewed research journals (like Darwins' Origin), even if they are peer-reviewed (like Dembski's book with Cambridge University Press)?! Secondly, it is not necessarily the case that controversy over evolution comes only from a pro ID position. Third, even pro-ID articles may not mention the words 'intelligent design' (chances of publication are probaly better if they do not). Fourth, explicitly pro-ID articles do exist in peer-reviewed science journals. Consider Meyer's article on the Cambrian Explosion in the Proceedings of the Biological Scoeity of Washington, for example. True, there are very few articles in the peer reviewed literature from an ID position, whether implicit or explicit. The ID movement is quite young and comparatively small, but a steady drip of articles has appeared over the last five years or so, and will continue to appear:

cf. Discovery Institute List of Peer Reviewed Material

Krauss searches with the following results:

evolution = 21,822 hits (most on biological evolution)

Intelligent Design = 635 hits (most on engineering, about 300 on ID, about half critical, hence c. 150 pro ID hits)

I repeated this search on today with the following results:

evolution = 19820 (in 'books', I also found 756 hits under e-books & digital downloads)

Intelligent Design = 769 hits

Either way, the results do show that ID is, as everyone admits, a minority view. But then truth in science isn't decided by majority vote - it is decided by emprical data and strength of argumentation. Every new theory starts out as a minority view.

Finally, having noted that only 50 percent of American adults know that the earth orbits the sun (astonishing!), Krauss asserts: 'The point that seems lost on many people - and the point that ID advocates hope will stay lost - is that the purpose of education is not to validate ignorance; it's to overcome it.'

Well, that's open to interpretation. If Krauss means that the purpose of education is not to validate ignorance but to teach people to engage critically with reality and to compatently search for truth, then I agree. If he means that the purpose of education is not to validate any worldview with which a 21st century materialist disagrees, and/or that the purpose of education is to indoctrinate people into believing what a 21st century materialist believes, then I do not agree. I trust and hope that he means the former and not the latter. In which case, here's one ID advocate who hopes that this point will not be lost on anyone.

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