This is point of inquiry for Friday, June 16th, 2006.
Welcome to Point of inquiry. I’m DJ Grothe a point of inquiry is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank collaborating with the State University of New York on the new science and the public master’s degree. CFI also maintains branches in Manhattan, Tampa and Hollywood and 11 cities around the world. Every week on point of inquiry, we look at some of the most fundamental assumptions of our culture, focusing mostly on three research areas first, pseudoscience and the paranormal. Second, we look at what’s called complementary and alternative medicine. Third, we examine secularism and religion, really the intersection of science and religion in our society. We do this by drawing on the Center for Inquiry’s relationship with the leading minds of the day, including Nobel Prize winning scientists, public intellectuals, social critics and thinkers and renowned entertainers. On today’s episode of Point of Inquiry, I talk with Jerry Coyne, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago. He’s a contributor to the new book Intelligent Thought Science versus the Intelligent Design Movement. But first, Austin Dacey, who directs CFI, his Manhattan branch, with the take on the American Museum of Natural Histories. Darwin exhibit.
On the sunny autumn afternoon of Saturday, November 19th, I was among the enthusiastic throng at the opening of a new exhibition entitled Darwin His Life and Times at the American Museum of Natural History on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Waiting in line outside a sold out opening panel featuring the show’s curator, Niles Eldridge, as well as Darwin’s great great grandson, Randal Keynes. I looked around at my fellow museum goers and wondered which one of them represented the scant 26 percent of Americans who accept naturalistic evolution and which represented the majority anti Darwinian public. For the latter, the three million dollar production with its 6000 square feet of displays bursting with evidence, both of evolution by natural selection and the intellectual and moral integrity of its greatest expositor must have smacked of Madame to Saux or Ripley’s Believe It or Not. The American Museum of Natural History is an ironic spot for the sage of Down House. Four Americans remain a people for whom history is fundamentally not natural. All the more reason for this remarkable initiative in science education, which, after a tour of Boston, Chicago and Toronto, will land in London for Darwin’s bicentennial in 2009. Although the exhibition was in the works well before Intelligent Design became front page news, it can be seen as a direct response to the movement and is being framed as such. In much of the ample media coverage, it is already received. For example, in the cover story of the February 28 issue of Newsweek called The Real Darwin, his private views on science and God. Throughout the displays on Darwin’s work, the emphasis is on the cumulative evidential case for the theory. The final third is devoted to evolution today, as their videoclip points out. Whether we like it or not, evolution is happening today to the avian flu virus. In the middle of the final room is a multi-media kiosk on social reactions to Darwin that places creationism alongside the social Darwinism in the context of what it labels reaction and controversy based on nonscientific perspectives. Given the cultural environment of the U.S., it’s entirely appropriate that the design of the show gives the evolution creation controversy a place of prominence, if not priority, though I wonder how well this will play in the UK, where Darwin’s faces on the 10 pound note. Many readers of the skeptical Inquirer magazine will be most interested in the display on the meaning of theory in science. A copy of the Cobb County, Georgia, textbook disclaimer and a timeline depicting the history of the American creation evolution controversy. I was surprised to see the Dover, Pennsylvania case at the end of the timeline, particularly after the electorial overturning of the school board. It’s much too soon to say whether Dover will turn out to be a landmark like Dayton. The centerpiece of the social reactions piece is Scientists on Faith, a collection of thought provoking video messages from, among others. Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller, Dr. Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education. And Francis Collins, who led the Human Genome Project here. Niles Eldredge speaks of the personal edification he finds in the naturalistic outlook. Quote, It’s wonderful for me to feel connected to all the rest of the living things on the planet. Present day and in the deep past and beyond to the basic fundamental units and history of the universe in which we live. Collins identifies himself as a believer in a personal deity, saying, I find the scientific worldview in the spiritual world view to be entirely complementary. He describes Idee as a god of the gaps theology and observes that past attempts to put God in a box have not fared so well. For the curious, this cozy compatible isn’t finds little confirmation in the biography. We were gathered there to celebrate. The exhibition does a fair job of addressing what it calls Darwin’s skepticism about religion, but it shies from using the a word that he himself preferred agnostic and couches science, religion, tension in his emotional relationship to his wife, Emma, rather than an argument and doubt in his deep time argument from evil found in the autobiography where Darwin asks for what advantage can there be in the suffering of millions of the lower animals throughout almost endless time. On the way out of the exhibit hall, a final case holds a hopeful sign. The Moonglow White of the lovely orchid of Madagascar, whose foot long throat led Darwin to predict in 1862 that the island must be home to a species of insect with an oversize feeding tube adapted to pollinate it. The display reads, quote, Charles Darwin died in 1882, and more than 40 years later, his insight was confirmed. A naturalist in Madagascar discovered the giant hawk moth, which hovers like a hummingbird as its long whip, like promiscuous probes for the distant nectar. The moth’s scientific name, Genthe Upon Marghani Predictor honors the prediction of the scientist who never saw it, but whose theory told him that it must exist, end quote. Three cheers for the evidence of things unseen. Will we see full public understanding of evolution, at least by the time of Darwin’s tricentennial disengaging and cutting edge exhibition, is cause for hope? This is Austin Dacey. You’re a philosopher in the street.
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I’m pleased to be joined now by Professor Jerry Coyne. He’s professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago. Professor Coyne is a contributor to the new book Intelligent Thought Science versus the Intelligent Design Movement, which features essays by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker, Jerry Coyne, many other leading scientists and thinkers. The book’s been hailed as a collection of concise and persuasive arguments against I.D., and critics have said that the book makes a powerful cross discipline case for teaching evolution as an accepted biological consensus as opposed to just teaching the controversy. Thanks for joining us on Point of Inquiry, Professor Quinn.
Good to be here.
In your essay, which is the first in this collection, you look closely at exactly what the I.D. proponents are saying. You argue that what they’re saying goes a lot deeper than just their scientific or say their pseudoscientific arguments. You suggest that rather than being scientific arguments at all. That they’re actually politically or ideologically motivated. Can you give me some examples of that?
Yeah, well, let me say first that they do make scientific arguments, even though they’re bad ones and consider scientific arguments. But the whole enterprise is motivated by political politics and ideology and specific religious fundamentalism. So the fact that their scientific arguments are bad and that there no arguments, all of that comes from the same motivation which has to inculcate or to introduce Christianity and Christian beliefs in school. So I think of intelligent design as sort of a mixture of bad science. It is science that once was thought to be reasonable, but was refuted over 100 years ago by Darwin and other people. And so the area with which involves theology, a miracle, is an example of some of the scientific claims that they make. They claim, for example, that there are no transitional forms that connect major groups of animals such as reptiles and birds or reptiles and mammals or amphibians, reptiles. That was refuted a long time ago and it’s being refuted every day with more and more possible over it. And second of all, they claim that natural selection is insufficient to create complex organisms. That Darwin mechanism through evolution simply is not efficacious. And both of these arguments were made in the latter part of the 19th century, and they both are here today. So the Unified Theory claims that, in fact, they’re being resurrected, although they’ve been referred, is purely a function of the physiological or religious motivations of these people. As far as the nonscientific claims, they make their religious claim explicitly or implicitly. One of them is that there is an intelligent designer created life beginning and intervened repeatedly in the history of life, making new kinds of plants and animals. And second of all, this mechanism of that intervention was a miracle. So those are two separate theological claims, which combined with the sort of scientific claims of this big sort of toxic brew called intelligent design.
You’ve just given some examples of some of their arguments against evolution, some of their claims that are supernatural, not natural scientific claims. What are some of the central arguments of intelligent design and some of their claims? Why that theory as science or pseudoscience or why are they arguing that it does hold water?
Well, again, you can only see this argument in weight of the whole history of the creationist movement, which is that it’s been repeatedly knocked down by the courts as being a violation of the First Amendment, because what scientific arguments they make have no basis. The courts have repeatedly said you can’t teach it. So every time the courts say that creationism is back in a new form with God and theology a little bit more removed to make it more palatable to the courts. But it always gets knocked down again, as it did in Dover, Pennsylvania, last month. So, you know, some of the central arguments themselves, as I mentioned before, you know, they’ll admit that some evolution occurred, but they add that the whole process got started by an intelligent designer, an unspecified intelligent designer. They really mean the Christian God is, you know, if you tend to what they say in private. But they say it could be a space alien or some other thing. God. And that this it does desire intervene in miracles. Presumably, when you know the sign or when our families to arrive here, it would waive attended families with a parent. So that’s one of their claims going on. They claim it is that major groups appear in the fossil record without any evidence of their evolutionary ancestry, which is simply wrong. So this is a sudden appearance claim elect transitional forms. This is, of course, coincident with the argument, the genesis of helping here. That’s not a coincidence. It’s part of the Christian faith that underlies this whole enterprise. They also claim that there are features of organisms that are what they call irreducibly complex. What they mean by that is that they could not have evolved in a stepwise fashion, as Darwin posits. So, for example, if the eye could not have evolved from a primitive, like sensory organ with each step of that process being adaptive, conferring benefit on the possessor, if I couldn’t have evolved that way, then Darwinism is wrong and there must be some other mechanism. So they claim that biology is rife with features like that, which is also another Interac. And finally, the claim that the age of the Earth is basically unknown. That we don’t know whether the earth is young or all this evidence or a positive claim claim they make. Because being creationists, they have to appeal to two constituencies, the so-called older creationists who are the creationists except the age of the earth as scientists. Would it be four point six billion years and the young earth creationists to adhere literally to the Bible? I think the Earth is, but it does so because they want to hold all these people in their big tent and opposition to science, intelligent design. People simply say they punt and say, well, you know, you’re a computer, young or old, we don’t know. So that’s sort of the nature of some of the claims they make. They include both theological said and substantive purpose.
We’ve talked a little about their claims. I want to talk about the strategies in a moment. But before we get to that, can you give me some sense of the history of the ideas movement? Where did it come from? Hobby did develop. Is its agenda just to advance the Christian faith, or are there some other kind of social and political things that enter into that mix? Where did it come from? The Idee movement in its current incarnation?
The only movement is simply the most recent efflorescence of creationism and creationism came from fundamentalism. It started in about the beginning of the 20th century publication of a book called The Fundamentals. Of course, if you believe the Bible literally, and then you believe the chapters one and two of Genesis, which states that God created things suddenly and, you know, in a period of seven days, you could take that literally or not. And so that led to a tremendous opposition to Darwin’s theory of evolution, which culminated in the early part of the 14th century Scopes trial, which William Jennings Bryan squared off against Clarence Darrow. And there are a lot you know, everybody thinks of that as a victory for evolution. But actually the creationists one bit. But they made this proven themselves in doing so that the anti evolution laws were sort of quietly repealed.
And the creationist then three came back in the 60s with a resurgence of creationism that was rejected by the Supreme Court as being a violation for. They came back again and say, well, creationism wasn’t biblical creation, a scientific creationism. So things that occurred like there was a great flood and the earth was 10000 years old. And by the way, this is just happens to coincide with the flyover. It’s really science. That’s what scientific creationism was. It was basically biblical literalism gussied up in a lab coat. That, too, is rejected by the Supreme Court in about 1985 as being the sky’s religion, trying to form itself into the public schools. So that’s when Intelligent Design arose in about 1990 to publication of a document called The Wedge Document written by Professor of Law at Berkeley, Cosulich John. He’s a lawyer. Yes, he was a worry. He wasn’t a biologist and he just objected to Darwinism because that was inherent for it and mainly because he’s made statements to this effect, that belief in Darwin and belief in the scientific materialism of which Darwinism is the most obvious part these days, eroded sort of belief in morality and culture and politics.
So they’re afraid of the social implications of the theory of evolution?
No, absolutely. In fact, I think that’s what motivates the whole creationist movement. And if there were no social implications to the theory of evolution, nobody would doubt. After all, you know, cosmology like the Big Bang and planetary evolution and geology violate biblical literalism, too. But you don’t see people having Beelzebubs the Big Bang.
It’s because humans are supposed to have evolved in that evolution to many people implies. You know, some deleterious social things, like we’re beasts and we have to behave like this. That’s where they really objective because there are scientific facts that say evolution is wrong. The facts say otherwise. It’s that they think that if you believe in evolution, you will behave like bees. Society will erode those for road.
Am I right in thinking that the wedge document draws a direct line between all of the social, the moral fabric of society unwinding or the problems we see in society and the widespread belief in the theory of evolution?
Absolutely. I mean, that’s explicit in the document services document. That event is to defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacy. So Johnson said that our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God for the academic world in school. So he and his other advocates, some of whom are scientists, that the discovery to which is the epicenter for Idee research research in Seattle have repeatedly said that evolution, if you believe in evolution, it’s going to erode away all of the Christian values that underlie the schools and American society as a whole. Jim Underdown.
But it’s interesting that that’s not the argument they’re making publicly. They try to stick to what seems to be a scientific controversy, the scientific argument. They’re not out there in the streets or in schools saying don’t believe in evolution because it will ruin your morality. They’re saying don’t believe in it because it’s untrue.
Actually, they are out there saying they don’t believe in evolution because there is room where they just don’t say it in schools. They say it in the churches or online and look at their statements when they talk to their own adherents. And that’s usually a church meeting. They say this explicitly in their motivations with it. They can’t say that I am pro-life because then they lose our credibility as a valid attack on fire to scientific method. So they have to pretend that it’s really a battle about evidence when in fact, it’s all about faith.
It seems like each incarnation of the intelligent design movement, the creationist movement, even old school creationism, if I can say it that way, seems like each incarnation has had different strategies for advancing that position and that. Well, you just talked about this new strategy, which is not to talk at least publicly, at least in the schools, about their fears, about the moral implications of the theory of evolution and to stick kind of put their blinders on and stick to what are argued to be the scientific controversies. In fact, part of this argument is to say that they’re being squeezed out of the debate. They’re not even allowed to make scientific arguments because of this cabal of elite kind of atheistic scientists who have all met to conspire against good creation science, intelligent design advocates from getting their views out. Is there any truth to that at all?
No. Let me say, first of all, that I think the proportion of religious people among scientists is about the same as it is among the general public. So first of all, science and Packer. And it’s not, you know, in the interest of those religious scientists to promulgate a theory that would be atheistic. I know Ken Miller, for example, is one of the most vehement. It doesn’t design opponents. And he’s written a great book called Finding Darwin’s God about Design is a fact. So why is it in his interest, you know, to propagate the theory of the atheistic? Nobody wants to stifle dissent in the scientific community as long as it’s on scientific. The sad thing is people consider this a controversy, but they don’t realize it’s a scientific controversy. We don’t have scientists arguing about whether enclosure design is real. It’s the religious people like Philip Johnson in his country arguing against virtually all scientists versus evolutionists and other biologists that their views should be represented. You know, there is so much evidence in favor of revolution that anybody can show that evolution was wrong. We’d be famous instantly. Science thrives on dissent, these heretical things that get a lot of attention. So, you know, it was truly a bad thing to suppress a lot of evidence that evolution didn’t occur. Then the one courageous, those that spoke up and said that we’re innocent. The fact is there is no evidence against evolution for that have happened. I mean, it’s just not we’re not stifling any scientific dissent. What we’re trying to do is keep religiously based ideas out of the science curriculum.
I’d like to remind our listeners that a discounted copy of Intelligent Thought can be purchased on our Web site. Point of inquiry, dot org. Professor Coyne, you just said that science Jim Underdown the scientific community is not trying to stifle dissent. But obviously there is some controversy, if not within the scientific community, among the general public, about teaching the theory of evolution. What’s so wrong with teaching that? Controversy.
Well, I don’t have any objection and controversy in education, that is, there is a controversy between the American public and biologists in terms of what they believe. Let me remind the listeners that they don’t know this already, that about 45 to 50 percent of Americans believe that humans were created in their present form about 10000 years ago. Are you strict with the literally so half the American public? That physical literalism and more of it, except that those designed. So, yeah, there is controversy. The thing is, it’s not a scientific controversy is the religious controversy and the people that object to evolution are doing so on nonscientific grounds. So it should be taught. It should be taught. And I could. Sociology or religion, classroom, science, classroom. Look what would happen if every time the public objected to a scientific theory, we had to teach that so-called thunderously classroom. Christian Science don’t believe in the germ theory of disease or medical intervention. Are we supposed to teach in medical schools? In theory of healing? I mean, that’s controversy. If there is a fair number of people that don’t believe in the Holocaust. President of Iran is a Holocaust defamation. So are we supposed to teach that controversy in history class? I mean, oh, I’m going to do it. You. Are we supposed to teach alchemy and a chemistry class or. Half of Americans believe in astrology. You know that your behavior is dictated by the science with your part. That is in opposition to psychology. So are we supposed to teach astrology and the psychology class? No. But you’re supposed to teach in the classes. Material is appropriate for the subject. And then a class on evolution of biology. You teach the evidence revolution. Well, you don’t teach nonscientific stuff that a large number of people happen to believe. It’s only going to confuse kids as to what science really is. Imagine teaching astrology in psychology classroom and expecting twelve year old kids to figure out how to discriminate between them.
So if there’s no controversy over whether evolution is the best supported theory, that’s consensus. You’re saying there’s not a scientific controversy. What are the controversies? You hear a lot of ideas, proponents saying that evolutionary biologists are argue all the time and that that argument kind of proves that it is a theory in crisis. Doesn’t that famous disagreement between Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould over punctuated equilibria support the claim that there is not consensus in science about evolution?
Well, there’s two points. Are different. The first was with the controversy about whether evolution has occurred and whether natural selection is the main mechanism. That’s not controversial. OK, what’s the controversy in the field of evolution, punctuality, Gouveia? That’s a good example of one. Dawkins was on one side, Google and the other. But that was a controversy on the rate at which natural selection causes evolution may change. Is it fair taking place in discrete steps or that floating in place over hundreds of years? That’s a valid scientific controversy because we don’t have all the evidence to settle it. But notice that that controversy. Both sides accepted the fact that evolution carried out natural selection was its mechanism. And neither side is. Dawkins nor Gould accepted intelligent design as a theory. They were both atheist. I mean, evolution is a vital scientific field, as always, controversy in any scientific field. So they’re arguing about string theory. If you think dismissing physics because they’re arguing about string theory is like saying that Newtonian mechanics can’t. You know, there’s certain aspects of every field which are cutting edge. Good question. That doesn’t mean whole should be dismissed. Certainly not true for evolution.
Professor Cornton, what are some other Colomb legitimate controversies in evolution that don’t stand against the theory, but at least are legitimate controversies that scientists are arguing about?
Well, let’s take our own species, Homo sapiens, because that’s the species that most interesting people. There are several controversies there, one of which is what is the evolutionary chain of human ancestry that is? Are we descended from Homo erectus or something else? And there’s a large arguments about the sequencing with human evolution occurred. And which lineage was the ancestral lineage? Which species went extinct? Did the Neanderthals leave any descendants? Things like that? Nobody involved in this. Doubts that humans evolved from ape like ancestors. The question is which precise fossil of the ones that gave rise to populate? So that’s one controversy. The other one is controversy about evolutionary psychology. That is how much the behavior of humans in modern society is dictated by our genes. But genes that evolved in the African savannah know, four or five billion years ago. How much homosexual behavior? How much of our aggressive behavior? How much of our xenophobic behavior is. It varies in our genes. And as anybody knows and follows the scientific books that come out, there’s huge controversy about that. But again, you know, the proponents and opponents in these controversies not doubt the reality of the fact that national action, they are taking issue with how it operates and what proportion of behavior is. You do that.
You’ve said that I.D. is not only inferior to the theory of evolution, but that in some ways it doesn’t even qualify as a scientific theory. Is this just because there’s insufficient evidence to support it, or are there more basic reasons that it doesn’t qualify as a scientific theory?
Well, there’s not only insufficient evidence for it, but there’s evidence against those organisms. There are those. We have a lot of features which are bad for us. The appendix, of course, is the final one. Something that we could well do with the two that creates a number of deaths every year. But if it’s the evolutionary remnant of a digestive pet, primate ancestors did. So, you know, lots of organisms show things which are, you know, could be designed better if there wasn’t intelligent design. Idea people don’t really have much to say about that. There’s lots of evidence against it. There’s no evidence for it. Now, the scientific claims that they make, such as the evidence of transitional form, have been disproven, disproved a long time ago. Not scientific stuff is the invocation of miracles. It’s natural to say that there’s been repeated intervention by some kind of peace here. Space aliens through history. Use miracle is not scientific, particularly in the way that they say.
They claim that we don’t know anything about how the intelligent designer works and we don’t know anything about his or her methods. So, you know, because we have an appendix, they can say, well, you know, the intelligent design is just put that in there for some reason that we can’t comprehend. And indeed, they said stuff like that. So, you know, if you posit that we don’t know anything about intelligent designer and this life is a mixture of false features and design features, there’s no way you can disprove that because untestable theory, which says even if everything looked like it evolved, you can always say the intelligent designer decided to make everything what people say. That’s like saying, let’s start with fossils and test their faith.
So you can’t refute a theory like that theory that can’t be refuted scientific theory, because by definition, scientific theory has to be falsifiable, has to be able to be refuted.
Absolutely. And evolution is a plausible theory. There are things that you can find that would disprove it, but they have been found so far. I d I can’t think of anything that would dispute it. There’s so many things that are already refuted, but its proponents will swear and try to, you know, explain them away if they’re behaving in a scientific manner.
I’d like to remind our listeners again that a discounted copy of this excellent book, Intelligent Thought, can be purchased on our Web site. Point of inquiry, dot org. Professor Quinn, you mentioned this earlier. And last year, the Idee movement was dealt this big blow in Dover, Pennsylvania, because the ruling of Judge John Jones, the third, he’s a Bush appointee. He called on that ruling, the intelligent design movement, breathtaking in its inanity. He actually called some of the ideas proponents liars. At one point, do you think that such a decisive ruling is actually going to deal a fatal blow to the movement and its agenda?
No, absolutely not. If there’s one thing that you’ve learned about the creationism thing in history, it’s like, well, I don’t know if they still have these toys, but when I was a kid, we had these big five foot rubber clouds rolling, pulling back a box with them, knocking down. They bounce right back. And therefore, creationism was like they could they get a temporary knock down. They come back. When the judge Overton, wrote about 15 years ago that scientific creationism was not a valid theory and not be part of the school. Everybody thought that death was. But it came back as intelligent design.
So what do you think the future holds for the AIDS movement? You know, I actually predicted what would happen.
I wrote an article in New Republic about a year ago at the end. I said, well, you know, I was absolutely sure that the judges Jones was going to rule against those who design what he did because anybody think brands with can see right through that theory. But I predicted at the end that I think the sentence he said was, I await the ascent of the right to controversy. And sure enough, that’s exactly what’s come back. So they said now, you know, they’re not trying to teach ideas.
They just want the controversy. So folks are really effective. Controversy fact is, as long as half of Americans believe in creationism cannot go away. And we’re gonna have to fight for evolution or school and fight for it. And legislatures are the only thing that’s actually going to make it go away. And finally, the American public realizes that evolution is true and B, that they want everything to be afraid of evolution. Our morals are not going to decline just because we fall.
If their listeners persuaded by what you just said, if a listener concludes that the ideas movement isn’t gonna go away despite suffering such a defeat in Dover. What can he or she do to get involved defending science education and the scientific outlook in our society?
Well, that listeners. Nobody would be convinced that teaching evolution is something that you wrote the welfare of our society. I mean, first you have to realize that that’s true. Convince yourself that’s true and it is true. People like Richard Dawkins who happen to be atheist, but evolutionists, I mean, they’re not immoral. Dawkins affects one of us moral people. I know. But if you want information about how to combat it doesn’t think creation, there’s two ways about it. The first way is to educate yourself about issues. First of all, wonder about evolution, what it is and what it is not. Three books on that. One might be recommended by a gentleman named Fire and May. Why are pastoralists what evolution is? And also educate yourself about what intelligent design creationism is. He could be a more effective opponent. There’s lots of books on that. One of the best is by Ken Miller. Ivo’s already mentioned his name of finding Darwin’s God, which shows not only the sort of intellectual emptiness of intelligent design and the election solidity of evolution, but also shows how you can be religious and accept evolution in time religion. And if you want help from people in battling creation of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, has a great Web site. Call them up and they will provide experts for you to answer your e-mails that are there online. The NTSB.
Professor Coyne, thanks for joining us on Point of Inquiry.
My pleasure. Thank you.
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