Re: [asa] FYI: Arrogance, dogma and why science - not faith - is the new enemy of

From: David Campbell <pleuronaia@gmail.com>
Date: Thu Aug 16 2007 - 12:15:14 EDT

>My understanding of the term "natural selection" is that it describes
how the natural environment constrains the evolutionary pattern of
life forms, such that those who are more fit for a particular
ecological niche survive to pass on their genetic material, thus
shaping the future character of the species.

Given this understanding, how is it that "natural selection" gives
rise to life, rather than acting upon it? Isn't an existing life form
inherent in the definition?<

Pim gave a brief answer; here's a bit more:

First, it is true in all cases (origin of life or change in existing
life) that natural selection has to act on existing variation, so it's
not the whole story-some mechanism generating variation must also be
postulated.

Second, there's difficulty in deciding exactly where to draw the line
between life and non-life.

Abiotic organic chemistry on the early earth could have given rise to
various chemical reaction systems that could be self-sustaining.
These systems are unlikely to have all been perfectly identical, so
some would tend to be more successful than others. Variation and
change within reaction systems, especially with the development of
imperfect self-replication of informative polymers (RNA or a precursor
to it), would be expected. Thus, there's room for natural selection
to operate on sub-living systems.

This also relates to the question of "where does the information come
from?" The environment provides the information, and to survive life
must conform to that information, whatever it happens to be.

> I see words used in discussion to condemn ID pretty well out of hand as if
> somehow the statement below "ID as not truly science" just dismisses the
> whole field of thought that has now become a world-wide intellectual
> movement.

The issue of the definition of science as it relates not only to ID
but also, e.g., to social sciences or radically postmodern denials of
reality, confounds two issues. One is the semantic question: When I
use the word "science", what do I mean? The other is the perception
that calling something "science" gives it special authority or status.
 Related to this is the political problem of the role of religion in
the public sphere.

Thus, we need to distinguish between several questions:

In what category do we place ID (or better, categories, as ID is
neither uniform nor uniquely focused on a single area)?

Are the various claims of ID correct?

Are the arguments adduced against ID correct?

> Isn't it less than rational to claim that academics who have impeccable
> credentials can be so lightly dismissed? If they can be so easily
> dismissed, then so can those who wish to dismiss them. The whole of academia
> tends to be discredited.

Academic is not a very good category for this purpose. People in one
area of biology often have no clue about other areas of biology, much
less about humanities. Thus, there is nothing in academic credentials
that makes Johnson a credible source on evolution nor Dawkins on
religion. Of course, it is possible for someone to make a good study
outside of academia, or for someone to earn (or obtain) academic
credentials without really having a solid grasp on the subject, not to
mention someone deliberately misusing academic credentials. Thus, the
lack of academic credentials does not in itself disqualify Johnson and
Dawkins on the respective subjects; the fact that they persist in
asserting ridiculous falsehoods on the topics, resisting correction
and claiming to have adequate credentials is what earns them
disrepute.

Also, the number of academics favoring ID is quite small versus those
opposing. Of course, it's necessary to examine the reasons, but ID is
misrepresenting itself if it claims to have had much success in
academia. There's also the problem of identifying exactly what is
meant by ID. For example, the petition that is widely touted by the
Discovery Institute as showing significant academic doubts about
evolution has several problems. Some of the signers do not have
academic qualifications relevant to evolution, so it is unknown if
they have any relevant credentials. It took several years for it to
get 400 signatures, whereas a rival pro-evolution petition got over
4000 in under a week. Finally, the wording of the statement of the
petition is so vague as to not require someone signing it to actually
have any doubts about evolution, and I would not be surprised if some
people who signed it would retract their signatures if they knew what
use was being made of it.

> For example, what was understood by the notion of 'science' in the founding
> days of the Royal Society? Can we compare and contrast the historical and
> the contemporary understanding? What are the reasons for the changes, if
> any?
>
> Let's establish some clear foundational definitions of what we mean by
> "science" before we move on.

It's important to examine such issues; however, they are being
misrepresented by some ID advocates. In particular, ID advocates
largely accept the change in definition of science that has taken
place in English over the last few centuries. When ID is claimed to
be scientific, they do not mean "I consider all areas of knowledge to
fall under the heading of 'science' and therefore ID is included." ID
advocates persistently claim that their conclusions are science
because they are based solely on the study of the physical world.
They thus are accepting a more modern definition of science than the
one seen in the KJV's "science falsely so-called" or in theology being
the queen of the sciences.

However, there are two main points of divergence between ID claims and
conventional modern science which are generally confounded in
arguments for and against ID. First, ID appeals to non-natural agents
of some sort, whereas conventional science restricts itself to natural
agents. There are at least three possible reasons for making such a
restriction. One is that non-natural agents have been a priori
rejected. Another is an assumption that non-natural agents are not
amenable to scientific examination ("You shall not put the LORD your
God to the test"). A third is the observation (which could be
justified theologically or philosophically) that most things typically
behave in a manner physically explainable without invoking non-natural
agents. Thus, the difference here is a matter of expectations as to
the patterns of activity of non-natural agents (if they exist).
Secondly, ID frequently makes up claims based on the desired result,
whereas conventional science insists that physical observations are
more important than how you think it ought to be. (This is not to say
that fraud never occurs nor that theory does not shape observations;
unconscious or conscious bias exists, too. But every antievolutionary
claim that I have encountered has significant scientific errors,
whereas many evolutionary claims hold up well so far.) On the one
hand, anti-ID claims often seem motivated more by trying to exclude
religion from the public sphere than by valid scientific issues. On
the other hand, ID advocates often portray anyone who objects to the
quality of ID science as advocating the exclusion of religion from the
public sphere.

-- 
Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Thu Aug 16 12:15:40 2007

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