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A redefinition of Science?

Response to “Voodoo Science” editorial in SDUT 11/21/05

by Ryan Huxley

One would think that with the hubbub related to intelligent design these days, people would be more aware of an accurate understanding of what it is. But, it seems the SDUT falls short again on this topic and related issues, as evidenced by the recent editorial “Voodoo Science” (SDUT 11/21/05). While editorials are opinion pieces, it is important to consider how well an opinion can be substantiated by or is consistent with the facts.

Let’s consider the claim that the redefinition of science is “a triumph of zealotry over rationality.” To determine the validity of such a statement, let’s look at the actual definition being utilized in the science standards (from “Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation that uses observations, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena.” Hmmm. If this is the result of “zealotry,” then the editorial author seems to have a different view than I believe many do of zealots. Let’s consider what the basics of the scientific method are: observation, hypothesis, experiment, conclusion. This is curious… it seems that the definition of science squares quite nicely with this hallmark of the scientific enterprise. It seems the ‘zealots’ are dead on regarding the nature of science. But, before we jump to such a conclusion, let’s consider what follows after this definition to see if the ‘zealots’ are attempting to be ‘sneaky’ in some way: “Science does so while maintaining strict empirical standards and healthy skepticism. Scientific explanations are built on observations, hypotheses, and theories. A hypothesis is a testable statement about the natural world that can be used to build more complex inferences and explanations. A theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate observations, inferences, and tested hypotheses. Scientific explanations must meet certain criteria. Scientific explanations are consistent with experimental and/or observational data and testable by scientists through additional experimentation and/or observation.” Hmmm. If all of this is a result of ‘zealots’ hijacking the science standards, these are quite educated and rational zealots. In fact, these science standards are actually more in line with other state standards as compared to the previous version (see Definitions of State Science Standards for further details).

Let’s look at some of the other claims of the editorial author to see how they pan out. The author claims that intelligent design (ID) is simply “an elegant way for the faithful to reconcile a belief in the divine with modern science” and that ID proponents are trying “to bully public schools into making the Bible a central focus of the science classroom.” Again, we turn to the standards to see what is expressly written regarding intelligent design. Doing a word search for intelligent design turns up only this passage and nothing more: “We also emphasize that the Science Curriculum Standards do not include Intelligent Design, the scientific disagreement with the claim of many evolutionary biologists that the apparent design of living systems is an illusion. While the testimony presented at the science hearings included many advocates of Intelligent Design, these standards neither mandate nor prohibit teaching about this scientific disagreement.” Hmmm. Perhaps I’m missing the ‘bullying’ language here. So, I did another word search for Bible and genesis and found nothing. I next tried religious and came up with the following and I’ve included the entire passage for contextual purposes: Teaching With Tolerance and Respect
Science studies natural phenomena by formulating explanations that can be tested against the natural world. Some scientific concepts and theories (e.g., blood transfusion, human sexuality, nervous system role in consciousness, cosmological and biological evolution, etc.) may differ from the teachings of a student’s religious community or their cultural beliefs. Compelling student belief is inconsistent with the goal of education. Nothing in science or in any other field of knowledge shall be taught dogmatically.

A teacher is an important role model for demonstrating respect, sensitivity, and civility. Science teachers should not ridicule, belittle or embarrass a student for expressing an alternative view or belief. In doing this, teachers display and demand tolerance and respect for the diverse ideas, skills, and experiences of all students.”
Hmmm. Again, it seems that the editorial author’s understanding of “bullying” is quite different than what I would suggest is many people’s understanding. Is the above passage consistent with the following written in the editorial: “Consider the crude simplemindedness of the Kansas approach. In instructing that students be taught there could be supernatural causes for physical phenomena, the board is repudiating the basics of empirical thinking.” I would say no. Furthermore, the idea that ID is a religiously based idea or based upon “supernatural causes” flies in the face of the fact that there are ID proponents that are clearly not religious nor believe in the supernatural. The editorial author is evidently unaware of agnostics (e.g. David Berlinski and Todd Moody) and even atheists (e.g. an ‘eccentric’ group known as the Raelians) approving of the ID movement.

Consider a comment by Dr. David Berlinski (e.g. see his relatively recent article and ensuing exchange “A Scientific Scandal?”) where he clearly notes he is not religious at all: “As I have many times remarked, I have no creationist agenda whatsoever and, beyond respecting the injunction to have a good time all the time, no religious principles, either.” Todd Moody is another example of a non-religious proponent of ID (e.g. see his piece on “Three Levels of Design”). Simply because there are religious individuals involved in the ID movement does not therefore mean ID is a religious movement – formally speaking, this is the genetic fallacy. If one were to be consistent with faulty reasoning such as this, then the scientific method, physics, and the theory of electro-magnetism must also be religious – Sir Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell, and Michael Faraday are just a few Christian forefathers of modern science whom were often motivated by their belief in God in their scientific conceptions.

Let us consider in more detail the claim that ID is based on faith or religion or the supernatural. In reality, ID cannot specify the identity nor nature of the designer(s). This is because ID has only two presuppositions: 1) intelligent or agent causes exist, and 2) we can empirically detect things that are designed (e.g. through statistical methods or other methods common to similar scientific areas previously mentioned). Nothing can be said regarding the designer(s) identity, ability, nor intent. Not identifying the designer is not an effort to be secretive, but merely being honest regarding the limitations of ID.

There is no ‘agenda’ to ‘hide’ the identity of the designer(s), ID proponents are simply being honest regarding the limitations of the science of ID. Does one need to identify who designed the stone faces on Easter Island to say that they are designed? The same methodology utilized in archaeology, cryptography, forensics, and SETI is utilized in ID – ID is simply applying it to biology. What appears to be occurring with the author (and other evolutionists) is the inability to separate premises and implications. There are no religious premises in ID; however, there are religious implications. ID does not rely upon any sacred text for its presumptions, but it can provide corroborating evidence for theistic and deistic worldviews. The same could be said for the Big Bang theory. Simply because a given theory has religious or philosophical implications does not make it non-scientific or pseudo-scientific. Realizing this is fundamental to understanding the incorrect claims made regarding ID being a religious theory or one that invokes a supernatural agent.

The editorial author laments and ridicules the Kansas Science Standards with the next passage: “So much for engineering. We hope the "scientists" that Kansas' classrooms yield aren't allowed to build bridges or airplanes, or to conduct medical research, to name two of the thousands of fields of inquiry turned futile by such sophistry.” Perhaps it may interest the editorial author to know that, to be consistent, they should state this about students in Ohio as well, since Ohio passed similar educational legislation several years ago. Yet, there has not been any evidence to substantiate that such an alarmist statement reflects reality; no reports from Ohio of claimed that students are unable to grasp such topics as a result of such teaching.

Next the author claims that ID has not “a shred of proof” to substantiate it. Apparently the author is unaware of the scholarly work put forth by ID proponents. Here is a list of peer reviewed articles appearing in scientific journals or proceedings either explicitly mentioning or alluding to ID in a supportive way:
  • 1. Jonathan Wells, “Do Centrioles Generate a Polar Ejection Force? Rivista di Biologia/Biology Forum 98 (2005): 37-62.
  • 2. Scott Minnich and Stephen C. Meyer, “Genetic Analysis of Coordinate Flagellar and Type III Regulatory Circuits,” Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Design & Nature, Rhodes Greece, edited by M.W. Collins and C.A. Brebbia (WIT Press, 2004).
  • 3. S.C. Meyer, “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories,” Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 117(2) (2004): 213-239.
  • 4. M.J. Behe and D.W. Snoke, “Simulating Evolution by Gene Duplication of Protein Features That Require Multiple Amino Acid Residues,” Protein Science, 13 (2004): 2651-2664.
  • 5. W.-E. Lönnig & H. Saedler, “Chromosome Rearrangements and Transposable Elements,” Annual Review of Genetics, 36 (2002): 389-410.
  • 6. D.K.Y. Chiu & T.H. Lui, “Integrated Use of Multiple Interdependent Patterns for Biomolecular Sequence Analysis,” International Journal of Fuzzy Systems, 4(3) (September 2002): 766-775.
  • 7. M.J. Denton & J.C. Marshall, “The Laws of Form Revisited,” Nature, 410 (22 March 2001): 417.I.
  • 8. M.J. Denton, J.C. Marshall & M. Legge, (2002) “The Protein Folds as Platonic Forms: New Support for the pre-Darwinian Conception of Evolution by Natural Law,” Journal of Theoretical Biology 219 (2002): 325-342.
  • 9. Sarah A. Mims and Forrest M. Mims III, “Fungal spores are transported long distances in smoke from biomass fires,” Atmospheric Environment 38 (2004): 651-655.

  • Here is a list of books that are pro-ID by prominent presses, including universities:
  • 1. W.A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
  • 2. Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (The Free Press, 1996).
  • 3. Charles B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley, Roger L. Olsen, The Mystery of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories (Philosophical Library, 1984, Lewis & Stanley, 4th ed., 1992).
  • 4. Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards, The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery (Regnery Publishing, 2004).
  • 5. William Dembski, No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot be Purchased without Intelligence (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002).
  • 6. John Angus Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer, Darwinism, Design, & Public Education (Michigan State University Press, 2003)
  • Indeed, the renowned philosopher Sir Antony Flew, former atheist and now philosophical theist (similar to a deist), changed his view not based upon philosophical arguments, but based on the scientific evidence: “My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato’s Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads.” (from ABC News, ‘Famous Atheist Now Believes In God’) As a consequence of Flew’s rational approach to origins science, he has rejected the notions of atheism and purely naturalistic explanations for the existence of life promoted by the likes of Richard Dawkins. (For a relatively brief encompassing [well referenced] look at Flew’s recent transition from atheism to a theism of sorts, see the article on ARN.) Flew was not only motivated by the lack of any satisfactory naturalistic explanation, but also by the hallmarks of design he observed in the information rich DNA molecule: “What I think the DNA material has done is show that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinarily diverse elements together. . . The enormous complexity by which the results were achieved look to me like the work of intelligence.” (as seen at, accessed 2/26/05) Perhaps Flew’s move from atheism as a result of the design argument, which in no way is a technically logical necessity, is the main cause for concern by materialists. In other words, the implications of design provide rational support for a belief in a deity. What appears to be occurring with the editorial author (and other evolutionists) is the inability to separate premises and implications. There are no religious premises in ID; however, there are religious implications. ID does not rely upon any sacred text for its presumptions, but it can provide corroborating evidence for theistic and deistic worldviews. The same could be said for the Big Bang theory. Simply because a given theory has religious or philosophical implications does not make it non-scientific or pseudo-scientific. Realizing this is fundamental to understanding the incorrect claims made regarding ID being a religious theory or one that invokes a supernatural agent.

    I would continue to discuss the other religious claims made by the editors, but it would merely be repeating what Mario Lopez succinctly wrote in his article.

    As in ID proponent, I can only hope that the general population takes the time to see past the yellow journalism that is so prevalent in articles like “Voodoo Science.” If you think we are trying to put something past you in our articles, we invite you to investigate for yourself and check our claims with other references; we welcome those who are willing to discuss such an intriguing topic while thinking for themselves, rather than repeating ad nauseam the popular and clearly inaccurate portrayals of ID or the evolution-design debate.