There are theories and then there are theories….


Emily replies back about Intelligent Design:

“Actually, intelligent design and the Darwinian conception of evolution are both theories. One theorizes that random selection and mutation are solely responsible for the development of life on this planet. The other theorizes that some intelligent force guided the development of life over the course of millions of years.”

Actually this is not true.
She makes the common mistake of confusing the popular term of theory with that used in scientific circles. As the late Stephen J Gould pointed out, “…In the American vernacular, “theory” often means “imperfect fact” – part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess…[In science] theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts…facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty.” [Discover, May 1981]
More simply, as Mark Issac describes it,

“…Calling the theory of evolution “only a theory” is, strictly speaking, true, but the idea it tries to convey is completely wrong. The argument rests on a confusion between what “theory” means in informal usage and in a scientific context. A theory, in the scientific sense, is “a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena” [Random House American College Dictionary]. The term does not imply tentativeness or lack of certainty. Generally speaking, scientific theories differ from scientific laws only in that laws can be expressed more tersely. Being a theory implies self-consistency, agreement with observations, and usefulness.

Additionally, to be a scientific theory, you’ve got to meet two tests:
1) The theory must be falsifiable & testable
2) It must make predictions — it must tell you how something will occur.

In our case here, the established fact is that evolution — the process that results in heritable changes in a population spread over many generations — occurs. One scientific theory — falsifiable, predictatable and useful — to account for this change is Darwinian natural selection, or “the [gradual] differential reproductive success of pre- existing classes of genetic variants in the gene pool.” It’s not “random” but adaptive. Evolution is also influenced by mutation, recombination, gene flow, genetic drift and the previously mentioned effects of natural selection. Micro-evolutionary changes can be studied directly within a species. Through comparative biochemical and genetic studies, comparative developmental biology, patterns of biogeography, comparative morphology, anatomy and observation of the fossil record, macro-evolutionary changes can be tested. Further, Darwin’s natural selection is one possible view of how evolution works. Another example is Stephen Gould’s theory of punctuated equilibrium.
ID falls down as a scientific theory because you can’t verify or disprove it by observation or experiment. “Neither the whole of Nature nor an individual eco-system can be proved or disproved by any set of observations to be intelligently or unintelligently designed. A design theory and a natural law theory that makes no reference to design can account for Nature as a whole and for individual eco-systems.” ***.
ID is useless as a way of predicting any future changes or in demonstrating how those changes might take place. While ID is empirical, it is only so in the same way that pointing out a nifty cloud formation is empirical. As ID is incapable of being verified or disproven by observation or experiment, it isn’t empirical in the scientific sense. In other words, because ID cannot make predictions, it can’t be tested. Because it can’t be tested, it can’t be disproven. Because it can’t be disproven, it isn’t science
Emily also writes:“The goal behind including intelligent design in science curriculums is not to force religious doctrine down students’ throats…
I have to disagree again.
First, a quick aside on conspiracies: I don’t really believe in them — those that are talked about almost never are, and those that are are almost never talked about — or at least not in the common, every-where-you-turn-second-shooter-on-the-grassy-knoll sense. I do though believe that individuals and organizations can have plans — if by plan one means a stated directive or procedural outline, in pursuit of a goal or goals, to which the individual or organization strives. These goals and plans can often be determined by accessing documentation or in speaking with individuals involved in the creation or implementation of such plans. These plans are then put into practice by either the individual or all or part of an organization. Sometimes these plans work, sometimes they don?t. Sometimes what seems like a vast alliance is actually just happenstance. Other times the work that one person or group does is aided by others who, noting an opportunity, use their own means to achieve a similar end.
I bring this up because the Discovery Institute’s Center For the Renewal of Science & Culture did have a plan for using ID as an issue that they hoped would lead to the further acceptance of theistic concepts in school and society. They hoped to use ID as a “wedge issue” to open a (perceived) locked door and allow others, with similar points of view, into a previously solved area (evolution.)
In 1999 someone from CRSC leaked a memo entitled “The Wedge Issue,” which outlined this process of moving schools away from naturalistic methodologies and toward a theistic one. In the memo, the writer states:

The social consequences of materialism have been devastating. As symptoms, those consequences are certainly worth treating. However, we are convinced that in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source. That source is scientific materialism. This is precisely our strategy. If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree, our strategy is intended to function as a “wedge” that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points.
The very beginning of this strategy, the “thin edge of the wedge,” was Phillip Johnson’s critique of Darwinism begun in 1991 in Darwinism on Trial, and continued in Reason in the Balance and Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds. Michael Behe’s highly successful Darwin’s Black Box followed Johnson’s work. We are building on this momentum, broadening the wedge with a positive scientific alternative to materialistic scientific theories, which has come to be called the theory of intelligent design (ID). Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions

The memo goes on to outline 3 phases for the implementation of this plan, (Phase I, “Scientific Research, Writing, and Publicity, Phase II, “Publicity and Opinion-Making and Phase III, “Cultural Confrontation and Renewal”) a plan to be achieved between 1999 and 2003. With the implementation of Phase III, the paper asserts:

Once our research and writing have had time to mature, and the public prepared for the reception of design theory, we will move toward direct confrontation with the advocates of materialist science through challenge conferences in significant academic settings. We will also pursue possible legal assistance in response to resistance to the integration of design theory into public school science curricula. The attention, publicity, and influence of design theory should draw scientific materialists into open debate with design theorists, and we will be ready. With an added emphasis to the social sciences and humanities, we will begin to address the specific social consequences of materialism and the Darwinist theory that supports it in the sciences.

The problem here isn’t so much that they are advocating a point of view, but that they are doing so knowing full well that they haven’t done the research to back up their claims. There have been no papers proving any of ID?s theories published in any peer reviewed scientific publication. Instead of using the tools of science — open inquiry of testable hypotheses– the CRSC and by extension the Discovery Institute–are using the terms of science to cloak a patently theistic mythology in terms more suitable for modern society. Further, they have done so in a pretty reprehensible manner, misrepresenting the published record of other scientists so as to make it seem as though their own ideas are supported by a large segment of the scientific community.
This is aptly demonstrated by their behavior in the whole Ohio school mess that was alluded to in Emily’s post. As James Still points out:

On March 11, CRSC Fellows Stephen Meyer and Jonathan Wells submitted a bibliography to the [Ohio State Board of Education] claiming that it represented “dissenting viewpoints that challenge one or another aspect of neo-Darwinism” from 44 authors who were published in distinguished peer-reviewed scientific journals. That same day, the CRSC published a paper on its web site, written by Fred Hutchison, which gushed over the bibliography and its presentation to the state board. Hutchison wrote that Meyer and Wells “offered to the board a list of forty papers written by intelligent design scientists which had been published in peer reviewed journals.”
As it turned out, the CRSC was dead wrong. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE), sent out a questionnaire to every author listed in the CRSC’s bibliography and asked them whether they agreed with the CRSC’s portrayal of their paper and their views on evolution. [After this article was published Glenn Branch of the NCSE told me that they were unaware of Hutchison’s paper and that their questionnaire concerned only the bibliography.] Of the 26 respondents to the NCSE’s questionnaire, not one agreed that their paper challenged one or more aspects of evolution and most were shocked that their work had been characterized as something that supported the intelligent design position.
Even worse, the NCSE discovered that the CRSC had engaged in quote-mining, the unethical practice of selectively quoting a paper out of context in order to create the illusion that the author is casting doubt on evolutionary theory. “Their strategy,” the NCSE report said, “is to sow doubt about the fact of evolution simply because scientists do not know every detail about how evolution occurred.” After the questionnaire had circulated, the CRSC published a disclaimer on their web page that stated that “the publications [in the bibliography] are not presented either as support for the theory of intelligent design, or as indicating that the authors cited doubt evolution.” According to someone familiar with the Ohio proceedings, the CRSC never sent their correction to the Ohio State Board, allowing them to go on believing that dozens of intelligent design scientists have published against evolutionary theory in peer-reviewed journals…”

So again I return to the point of my original post in answer to Emily’s last post of “The question is not whether evolution will be taught. It?s how evolution will be taught.” Evolution is something to be taught in the science classroom as science. ID was and remains a “Just So” story cloaked in scientific terms. It is also, at least as far as the Discovery Institute is concerned, a tool through which theistic ideas can be forced disingenuously into the larger, public sphere.