About Rationally Speaking


Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Monty Python vs. Intelligent Design

Nice article in Slate, comparing a classic Monty Python skit with the testimony of intelligent design "expert" Michael Behe at the ongoing trial in Dover, PA.

Compare and ponder...

Here is Monty Python on a new "theory" of brontosaurus:

Q: You say you have a new theory about the brontosaurus.
A: Can I just say here, Chris, for one moment, that I have a new theory about the brontosaurus.
Q: Exactly. Well, what is it? …
A: Oh, what is my theory?
Q: Yes.
A: Oh, what is my theory, that it is. Well, Chris, you may well ask me what is my theory.
Q: I am asking.
A: Good for you. My word, yes. Well, Chris, what is it that it is—this theory of mine. Well, this is what it is—my theory that I have, that is to say, which is mine, is mine.
Q: Yes, I know it's yours. What is it?
A: Where? Oh, what is my theory? This is it. My theory that belongs to me is as follows. This is how it goes. The next thing I'm going to say is my theory. Ready?
Q: Yes.
A: … This theory goes as follows and begins now. All brontosauruses are thin at one end; much, much thicker in the middle; and then thin again at the far end.

Now Michael Behe on Intelligent Design, at the trial:

Q: Please describe the mechanism that intelligent design proposes for how complex biological structures arose.
A: Well, the word "mechanism" can be used in many ways. … When I was referring to intelligent design, I meant that we can perceive that in the process by which a complex biological structure arose, we can infer that intelligence was involved. …
Q: What is the mechanism that intelligent design proposes?
A: And I wonder, could—am I permitted to know what I replied to your question the first time?
Q: I don't think I got a reply, so I'm asking you. You've made this claim here (reading): "Intelligent design theory focuses exclusively on the proposed mechanism of how complex biological structures arose." And I want to know, what is the mechanism that intelligent design proposes for how complex biological structures arose?
A: Again, it does not propose a mechanism in the sense of a step-by-step description of how those structures arose. But it can infer that in the mechanism, in the process by which these structures arose, an intelligent cause was involved.

You see the point, right?

13 comments:

  1. As I sit in a Colorado Springs coffee house surrounded by at least one bible study (which is better than the usual two or three) I find myself chuckling at the article in Slate. Eric Rothschild does a great job of asking questions that make the futility of the ID position crystal clear to anyone that may wish to think rationally about that position.

    Thanks for bringing this article to my attention.

    Doug

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  2. That people could be this muddle-headed is all the evidence needed to prove the fallacy of Intelligent Design.

    Thanks for the heads up n this Slate piece.

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  3. Question.

    Does anyone know where I can score a copy of the court trascrips. I'm a big Python fan and the case in Dover is beggining to sound like my kind of humor.

    Noah

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  4. A: Again, it does not propose a mechanism in the sense of a step-by-step description of how those structures arose. But it can infer that in the mechanism, in the process by which these structures arose, an intelligent cause was involved.

    You see the point, right?<<

    Yes, you think Michael Behe is kind of stupid and idiotic - but y'all understand the connections between living systems BETTER than the rest of us.

    But do you REALLY?

    According to your average environmentalist, (remember this is how they get funds) a light fluctuation in the food chain will have dramatic consequences for generations to come! Based on this idea, how can evolutionists be content with the fact that THE FOSSIL RECORD shows many instances of tens of thousands, to millions of years between very specific and sensitive predator prey relationships? It's a physics problem, Y'all.

    Quite a bit BIGGER and by leaps and bounds far more sensitive than this little mechanism thing.

    Do I expect anyone to research this and find out if it's a "meaningful" argument? Not particularly.

    cal

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  5. Cal,
    Evolutionary theory (the scientific term which is a completely different animal from the "I have a theory about..." that the religionists try to equate with evolution)doesn't know all there is to know - no branch of science does. However the tools for continued investigation and learning are there and more and more is being discovered daily.

    Intelligent design (read creationism) is static. The bible says that everything started 6009 years ago and that's it - ask no questions - all the answers are in this pathetically written, bigoted, obscene book.

    Believe that if you will but I'll stake my money on science which is constantly evolving (there's that nasty word root again)and will continue to evolve until such a time as all the bible and quran thumpers succeed in annihilating every form of life through slow eradication of the environment or in one enourmous conflagration.

    If you think ID is important or for some odd reason it makes you feel good, great - teach it in your church and/or church schools, but as religion, not science. Please don't insist that it be taught to the general public most of whom reject it. It will only serve to take us backward to a time in which people were murdered for believing the earth revolved around the sun, or that earthquakes were caused by some one sinning (gosh that little bit of foolishness is still being bandied abou isn't it?)

    This whole arguement really boils down to power, who is in charge. The religionists see there influence being eroded by rational thinking and they are afraid that they will soon (if they haven't already) no longer hold sway over the world. Well, they've been on top for much of recorded history and have botched it every step of the way.

    It's time for regime change! y'all

    dm

    PS: Is Michael Behe stupid? I can't say, but his attempts to defend ID are so hopelessly convoluted and nonsensical, one would have to error on the side of his being "thoughtfully challenged" at best.

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  6. "Intelligent design (read creationism) is static."

    Some parts of science should actually remain static unless there are good reasons to revise and think differently. Some aspects of the laws (methods of measurement, or laws that we build all sorts of scientific theories upon) of physics and chemistry remain fixed and unchanging for ages. So "static" so-called thinking for creationists only, that's not the real issue.

    What is more important, when it is all said and done, is the ability to recognize categories accurately and expand or contract expectations appropriately in accordance with other predominate laws. In this case, I’m asking you what the more significant laws of physics really say about the smaller subsets (and I add much smaller laws) evolution would claim should take precedence regarding predator prey relationships. This vs what the fossil record supposedly tells us, which in fact fragments those relationships greatly. Anyone who studies evolution extensively should be able to defeat this easily and quickly.

    The area that you are primarily talking about tho as remaining static in creationism is the "bigger picture". As for the big picture, what else changes in evolution but the smaller sorts of details? The bigger perspective of what evolution is and how it works rarely flexes at all. So both ideas are equally static in that regard. On those same levels of details, I have yet to meet a creationist who doesn't acknowledge that the way certain smaller subsets of ideas in science are viewed often does change.

    Interpretation of the details, that's a different matter.

    "This whole arguement really boils down to power, who is in charge."

    That may be true for some people, but is not for me. I want the truth.

    cal

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  7. 1) The problem here is how we’re defining environmentalist. If we’re talking about environmental activists, then we’re talking about those who may be exaggerating a bit. If we’re talking about environmental scientists, well the honest ones will tell you there is no way to tell for sure what kind of consequences light fluctuations in the food chain will have in the long run, they could be dramatic or they could be rather innocuous depending on the situation. The best example I can think of to illustrate this is to think of the differences between omnivorous creatures (A) and creatures who have specialized to the point that they live on predominately one food source (B). Take away a source of nourishment from (A) and it will probably move on to another food source and survive, thereby propagating. Take THE source of nourishment away from (B) and it’s probably not going to do very well.

    2) When “environmentalists” talk about changes in ecosystems having drastic effects on the food chain, they are usually talking about “man made” changes that have occurred over the relatively short period of time that we have had to cause major changes in our environment. The belief is, that if left alone, the food chain would be just fine (at least until the next impact, caldera eruption or any other insidious way nature has for killing her young.)

    3) I think Behe and should have to provide a mechanism for ID as well as answer many other questions about gaps in ID, because that is the challenge they have laid at the feet evolution. The basic argument creationists and ID’ers have used for rejecting evolution is that it can’t explain EVERYTHING. Therefore, no matter how much evidence is presented that supports evolution, relatively minor gaps in the fossil record supposedly calls the whole theory into question.

    Well, as they say, what’s good for the goose...

    No theory can claim to be true beyond a shadow of a doubt, the question is whether it can be shown to be true beyond any reasonable doubt (apologies to M.) I could be wrong about this, but if this issue were to come before a court of folks who never heard about ID, creationism, or evolution, I think evolution would win hands down.

    To sum up.

    1) I see no contradiction between environmental theory and evolutionary theory.

    2)ID’ers should at least try to play by their own rules.

    Noah

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  8. Noah, the court transcripts for the Dover trial can be found on the web site of the National Center for Science Education. Follow the link from my original post.

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  9. If you guys didn't follow the links in the article Massimo presented, check this one out:
    http://www.slate.com/id/2062009/
    and this almost brand new one:
    http://www.slate.com/id/2127052/
    Both by the same author or the "bronto" article. Pretty good ones, albeit nothing particularly new.

    That ID is not a theory and that it hasn't much merit even as a "mere" hypothesis is pretty clear to most of those who know what they are talking about. What I didn't know and was a bit surprised to learn was that Michael Behe had already acknowledged that ID has nothing to do with science, but is indeed just another version of the old supernatural thing we all know:
    "By 'intelligent design' I mean to imply design beyond the laws of nature" (the link to the original source of this quotation is in the second link above). Saucy.

    No surprise Behe's statements in the testimony basically amount to just saying: "The Designer just did it". Nothing to see here, folks, everybody move.

    J

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  10. 3) I think Behe and should have to provide a mechanism for ID as well as answer many other questions about gaps in ID, because that is the challenge they have laid at the feet evolution."

    That's right. Without food, (energy) - predator /prey relationships, neither theory goes anywhere.

    "1) I see no contradiction between environmental theory and evolutionary theory."

    At first glance there is none, to the half interested observer at least. Both are based on the worship of man and the worship of the earth. So you will likely feel that there is no contradiction - at least we are not worshipping "The Lord God", after all.

    Environmentalists who are also professional scientists certainly have a general working knowledge of the fossil record, yet most seem to feel that we are on the verge of wiping entire species off the face of the earth.

    WHY?

    The fossil record suggests that a huge % of species were wiped out long before industrialization or larger populations ever emerged. That is intriguing to me, as it should be to you. There was clearly greater genetic variability in the past. So why, according to evolution, will it not be there in future???? That’s a BIG one, Noah. Neither the evolutionist, nor the environmentalist thinks this through. Now though I certainly don’t advocate whole scale destruction of the natural resources in our selective environments - aren’t we merely giving species greater reasons to evolve into more complex and increasing more “stable” forms? That’s how natural selection is supposed to work, btw.


    Now back to my original question which suggests that the fossil record will not support environmentalism and visa versa.

    And please don't bother to point out what you feel are Behe's inconsistencies. Anyone can pick details apart. But where is the brave person who knows and can acknowledge when an idea (a pet one, albeit) has really met its match?

    cal

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  11. I'll go a little way out on a limb here and say that I agree with the initial ID argument... that we can infer design and therefor a designer (we'll leave the level of intelligence for later) when we see something that is sufficiently complex. Where I part ways is when they claim that biological systems fit the bill. Behe and other IDers seem not to grasp the diffence between biological/biochemical systems and mechanical ones (i.e. Paley's watch). While DNA and predator-prey relationships are complex, they are not so complex as to defy natural explanation.
    Considering Behe's notoriety, I'm surprised that he wasn't prepared with a better sounding answer to the "mechanism" question. I had thought that he was one of the masters. Sounded more like Bill Clinton trying to weasel out of the sex question. Of course his responses were so meaningless one has to wonder what the judge and jury took away from it. Did they recognize it for what it was or did they think it was profound?
    ---------------------------------
    "I have very little faith in people, I've worked at a help desk."

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  12. "There was clearly greater genetic variability in the past. So why, according to evolution, will it not be there in future???? That’s a BIG one, Noah."

    I disagree (obviously). Evolution would predict greater variability ONLY if the the environment were to remain stable. More complex organisims occur only when the environmental conditions privide appropriate niches for them to trive. In the event of drastic changes in the evironment (see the types above for examples.) more complex organisms tend to do very poorly. And this is exactly what the fosil and geological record shows. In the wake of major planetary disasters, it has been the very simple creatures that have been best equiped to survive (or is it a surpise that bacteria, viruses and insects seem to be better equiped for survival than mamals?)

    "...aren’t we merely giving species greater reasons to evolve into more complex and increasing more “stable” forms? That’s how natural selection is supposed to work, btw."

    This (I belive, so correct me if I'm misunderstanding) is a problem with the way most people understand evolution. Let's make this perfectly clear:

    EVOLUTION DOES NOT WORK UP. All evolution does is fill niches. Sometimes this leads to more complexity and greater variability, sometimes it leads to less. It all depends on the environmental conditions. What maybe ideal conditions for the dodo today may not be ideal tomorrow.

    "And please don't bother to point out what you feel are Behe's inconsistencies. Anyone can pick details apart."

    I won't, theres plenty of folks around who can do that. I'm just pointing out a point of hippocrisy in the way ID'ers and creationists act. Why is it OK for them to require a second by second account of evolutionary history in order to accept the theory as sound, but those who accept evolution aren't allowed to ask questions about the holes in ID? Hasn't your entire argument on this subject been "detail picking?"

    " Environmentalists who are also professional scientists certainly have a general working knowledge of the fossil record, yet most seem to feel that we are on the verge of wiping entire species off the face of the earth.
    WHY?"

    To put it quite simply, because human beings are the first species on this planet with the ability to do it. In their eyes, we ARE the next impact, caldera eruption, etc...

    Again, where is the contradiction?

    Noah

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  13. Cal,

    Once this blog is updated for the new month I'm not going to be running it down just to debate further. I'm sure we will have plenty of oppurtunities for that. However, if you would like to continue this somehwere else I can dust off my blog address and we can have at it. Or we can let it drop.

    Everyone else is invited to the party if they wish. Bring some friends but BYOB.

    Noah

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