Malaysian Atheist

An avowed atheist living in Malaysia.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Intelligent Design

In 2005, in the case Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, eleven parents in Pennsylvania challenged the school board over the teaching of intelligent design in the classroom. The Dover school board had previously voted to teach intelligent design as an alternative scientific theory to Darwin's theory of evolution.

Intelligent design (ID) is really just a repackaged form of creationism, except, they don't tell you who the creator is. ID purports to use the scientific method to arrive at an alternate explanation for the origins of life on Earth. But ID is NOT science. ID is pseudoscience because its proponents start off with the assumption that there is a divine creator. Real scientists start out assuming nothing is true and then build scientific knowledge as they go along.

One of the supporting arguments for ID is in biology. Biochemist Michael Behe coined the term irreducible complexity to describe the idea that parts observed in natural 'machines' are so inter-dependent that they could not have evolved. That meant that they had to be designed. Behe thought he found the perfect example to describe irreducible complexity in the bacteria flagellum. It seems more likely that Behe stopped digging deeper once he found what he thought supported his idea of a designer. In the trial, biology professor Kenneth Miller presented scientific evidence that challenged Behe's claim that the bacteria flagellum is irreducibly complex.

Another argument for ID comes from mathematics. William Dembski set out to calculate the probability of life on Earth evolving by chance. Dembski concluded that the order and complexity found in nature is beyond the limits of chance. Again, Kenneth Miller argued in the trial that the mathematics is flawed because the calculation is done backwards. Done that way, Dembski's calculations will show that any sequence of events occurring by chance is impossible.

The judge subsequently ruled that teaching intelligent design in public schools is unconstitutional. One thing that impressed me about this case is that parents are so involved in their children's education. It's different in this part of the world. In Malaysia when I was in highschool, the science curriculum avoided the topic of the origin of species altogether. I believe it is still the same today. The disadvantage of this is that children get their information from a plethora of sources such as Sunday school, comic books, cartoons and the Discovery Channel. There is no way for the children to differentiate which view is science and which is pseudoscience. This will just confuse the poor children. I still remember a classmate of mine said, back in highschool, that half of us humans had descended from Adam and Eve, while the other half had evolved from monkeys. I wondered, which half did he imagine he came from?

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