Saturday, February 19, 2005

"Intelligent design" in the classroom

A well-reasoned contribution to the ongoing debate on whether or not to teach "intelligent design" (ie. creationism) in the classroom alongside the theory of natural selection.

1 comment:

William Knight said...

It looks like this debate will continue for a little longer, for two reasons that I see. First, there are huge numbers of people, in the United States especially, who are predisposed to ID/Creationist ideas. Second, proponents of the movement are much more sophisticated now, with people like William Dembski and Michael Behe.

Having read Behe's book, and briefly some of the follow up debate between him and others on blood clotting, I find his arguments utterly unconvincing. Unless he can demonstrate some empirical evidence of a designer, the only remaining alternative is to PROVE that evolution of complex features is mathematically impossible or extremely improbable. Because ID is a negative theory, the burden of proof lies squarely with the ID camp.

Although Behe is a Biochemist, and thus is able to impress laypeople with complex descriptions, it is clear that his predisposition to believe in intelligent design has compromised his ability to evaluate such questions scientifically.

It is very easy to see this upon reflection of the blood cascade debate. He keeps the focus on the ability to evolve survivable modifications in a highly functional circulatory system of an existing multicellular organism.

However, any assertion of impossibility or extreme improbability must address the much more likely scenarios of primitive blood clotting mechanisms that co-evolved with primitive circulatory systems. The transition from single cells to organized multi-cell colonies and aggregates over time allows for a vast amount of gradual integration and partial functionality of multicellular mechanisms.

For example, we can imagine a primitive network of cells with a limited contractile capability to induce diffusion of nutrients over small areas. Over time, such a capability may enhance the survivablity of the organism, but harmful mutations in the regulatory component would not necessarily result in a critical failure analogous of the blood clotting of a modern vertebrate. Small multicellular organisms do not even need a circulatory system to deliver things such as oxygen, because it is available through simple diffusion.

Behe has utterly failed to consider these most basic evolutionary scenarios, and so his argument of irreducible complexity is ludicrously incomplete and therefore incorrect.