LETTER TO THE EDITOR: There is science to intelligent design

Saturday, February 9, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

In a recent Missourian column, David Rosman took exception to Missouri House Bill 291, which he characterized as an attempt to “force science classes to teach Christian creationist beliefs as science.” If that is what HB291 does, then I have no quarrel with Mr. Rosman’s opposition to the bill. Mr. Rosman did, however, mischaracterize both intelligent design and science in general.

With respect to intelligent design, he wrote that ID is “biblically based” — another “manifestation of the biblical creation stories.” While one will often see ID described in this way by people who have never read any of the design literature, Mr. Rosman’s claim is quite simply false (I write as someone who has read some two dozen books and numerous essays by ID theorists.)

The science of intelligent design — like all sciences — begins with empirical observations, not Scripture, and it seeks to answer this question: Are some features of the natural world best explained by an intelligent cause rather than by any undirected natural processes? ID has no stake in the Genesis account of creation, which it makes no attempt to defend. ID also has no stake in the existence of God, although people who believe in God will likely think that God is the best candidate for the designer implicated by design in nature. Because ID has no stake in either Scripture or the supernatural, many creationists are either lukewarm towards ID or actually oppose it. It would also no doubt surprise Mr. Rosman to learn that Discovery Institute, the institutional home of the ID movement, opposes legislation like HB291. (Discovery Institute’s education policy can be reviewed here.)

With respect to science, Mr. Rosman insinuated that science delivers proofs, not inferences. Yet precisely the opposite is the case. Because science is so heavily reliant on inductive and abductive reasoning, it never actually provides any ironclad proofs of its theories. Rather than delivering deductively certain explanations (or proofs), science instead makes inferences to the best explanations. Its explanations (or theories) are always subject to potential falsification, otherwise they are dogma, not science. The science of intelligent design is in the business of making design inferences in nature by using standard scientific methods and reasoning. By any reasonable understanding of science, intelligent design is fully scientific. But to say — as Mr. Rosman implicitly said — that science has proven “the naturalistic origin of the first independent living organism,” is to substitute bluster for science.

Jim Goff is a Columbia resident.

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Michael Williams February 9, 2013 | 8:17 a.m.

It is true that science never proves anything. Science simply makes a hypothesis about something, then conducts experiments to either support or reject that hypothesis.

Hence, you can never "prove" a hypothesis; it can only be supported. However, you can...indeed...disprove it with one good experiment, an event that forces the scientist to modify his/her original hypothesis and begin again.

The difference is subtle, but important, and is not understood by many lay people. The best I can say is to be leery when ANYONE says science has "proved" this or that; such a statement either means (a) ignorance of the scientific method and the word "proof", (b) someone has an agenda that is not benign, or (c) both.

Continuing support for a hypothesis (that is, time and time again) leads to a theory. As with a hypothesis, you can never prove a theory; but, it takes only one piece of firm data to disprove one.

Of course, the scientific method absolutely depends upon good honest experiments absent bias by the scientist; without that, science is as worthless as goose poop on your back deck.

I am a Christian and ardent evolutionist. I have no problem being both. I, too, have read much creationist and ID literature/books and, in all cases, find them wanting, unscientific, prone to error, and full of false appeals to reason. I care as much for Rosman's ardent and frequent anti-religion rants as I do for silly ID discussions that try to turn ID into a science.

(Report Comment)
frank christian February 9, 2013 | 9:37 a.m.

" I care as much for Rosman's ardent and frequent anti-religion rants"

Imo, this sentence touches on the reason for this entire debate. More specifically,"anti-religion rants", the liberal attack upon Christianity in the U.S. because it is seen as a deterrent to acceptance, by the people, of a central government with total control. Has not every totalitarian government in history, tried this, early on?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 9, 2013 | 10:40 a.m.

@ Frank:

Well put, but you need to consider that in doing so you are attacking another person's religion. Make no mistake about it, what you may perceive as another person's political rant is to them a quasi-religion. In fact they may have no other religion.

As that rock-and-roll song says:

Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right.
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

(The song was popular a number of years ago; today there appears to be no "middle.")

(Report Comment)
frank christian February 9, 2013 | 12:37 p.m.

Yes, Ellis, I undertand about that "other" religion and that many liberals serve it more devoutly than many Christians serve theirs. Doesn't change my comment, they'll just have to bear the injustice.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 9, 2013 | 2:36 p.m.

@ Frank:

During the 20th Century we saw multiple instances on multiple continents of the misery brought on humans by large, repressive governments, Left as well as Right. We do not appear to be very fast learners.

Hopefully my remark won't offend too many of the devout.

(Report Comment)
frank christian February 9, 2013 | 9:02 p.m.

Ellis - "We do not appear to be very fast learners." Good point! Only 47% knew how to vote last November.

"Hopefully my remark won't offend too many of the devout." I thought they would have already attacked. I also hope that they are reading us.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 9, 2013 | 10:02 p.m.

Religions tend to muck things up when they take power. Atheists do the same. Given the totality of human history, I cannot comprehend any sensible disagreement with these statements.

However, I firmly believe a civilized, democratic, secular society MUST have a religious foundation within its citizenry. To survive, such a society must believe in inalienable rights and rules given by a power greater than oneself. Rights granted by the state are not rights; they are simply temporary privileges that can be revoked, as can rules of the state. Rights and rules submitted by a greater power cannot be revoked.

There are many religious reasons to be religious; there are many more secular reasons to be religious. Any other posture is long-term societal and national suicide.

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Mark Foecking February 10, 2013 | 5:35 a.m.

I know it says in the Declaration that men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, but just from my Catholic school knowledge of the Bible, I can't think of any explicit rights that Christianity endows. Rules, certainly. I guess if one wants to extrapolate "Thou shalt not kill" and "Thou shalt not steal" to rights to life and private property, you could, but I don't remember any place in scripture where it says explicity that God grants you a right to life.

I'm of the opinion that no one has a practical right to anything unless someone in authority is willing to defend that right by force. That's why we have governments, and whether we base those rights on a religious moral code or not doesn't change the need for here-and-now enforcement of those rights. You can arrive at life, liberty and pursuit of happiness by lots of routes, and none of them have to be religious.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 10, 2013 | 9:59 a.m.

@ Mark Foecking:

One characteristic all major religions appear to have in common is sets of rules. (Major religions, not necessarily Reverend LeRoy's Church of What's Happening Now," an invention of Flip Wilson.)

History, including recent world history, has demonstrated that the same man-made governments that can grant citizens "rights" are fully capable of restricting or eliminating those rights, always, of course, for the public good. It's amazing what's done "in the public good." Good for whom?

The best government is that which governs the least. But if we are to practice that, it means more reliance on ourselves.

(Report Comment)
frank christian February 10, 2013 | 11:35 a.m.

Mark F. agrees with Geo. Soros, who stated on C-SPAN: "I don't think our rights should be inalienable. We should be able to change them!"

Geo. works tirelessly, for "the public good" and Mark would never consider asking G., "Good for whom?"

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 10, 2013 | 8:12 p.m.

MarkF: "You can arrive at life, liberty and pursuit of happiness by lots of routes, and none of them have to be religious."

Yes, individuals can.

Nations and groups of people.....not so much.

History is quite clear on this.

While I do not presume to know the breaking point, I'm convinced nations begin their descent when the a-religious reach a certain percentage of the populace. It is at that point civilized behavior and accepted "norms" start depending upon the whims of individual brains rather than a national consensus forged by a religious base.

You will note that my missive made no mention of any particular religion. In fact, my comments have nothing to do with "which" religion.

(Report Comment)

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