Wednesday, November 09, 2005

ID vs. creationism, what's in a name.   posted by Razib @ 11/09/2005 10:12:00 AM

In my post below in regards to heritability I was a little unclear, I consciously conflated "Intelligent Design" with Creationism. The fact is that prominent proponents of Intelligent Design, like Michael Behe and William Dembski, actually accept common descent of organisms (ergo, macroevolution). This is important because my discussions with working biologists suggests that most do not care or know of these particular distinctions. Creationism as it is conventionally understood is the "Young Earth" kind which posits separate creations for animals by a God ~10,000 years ago and a "flood geology." If you are interested in exploring the various flavors of "anti-evolutionists," The Creationists by Ronald L. Numbers is an excellent survey of the pre-1990 Creationist movement, while Larry Witham's By Design is a mildly sympathetic portrait of the intellectuals behind Intelligent Design. There are differences within both these factions, there are Old Earth Creationists like Hugh Ross, and Yough Earth Creationists associated with the Intelligent Design think tank, Access Research Network. The short of it is that the gross social diversity of the non-naturalistic evolution camp (for lack of a better term) has all the hallmarks of a ideo-political entity, not an incipient scientific paradigm. As a matter of practicality naturalistic evolutionists, as I am, as well as theistic evolutionists, form a clade which is an "outgroup" to the bushy tree of Young Earth Creationists ↔ Intelligent Design. All this matters because my personal experience is that in one-to-one rhetorical disputes it is important to understand the nuance and subtly of your opponent's position to be able to play games of divide, counter and conquer. But when it comes to more generalized public discourse, operationally Young Earth Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates can be lumped together, because their essential impact is negative. The terms are dictated by the name of the game.

Related: You might want to check out William Dembski's weblog Uncommon Descent. Personally, I see Dembski as a synthesis between William Paley and the apocryphal Leonhard Euler, but I suppose whether you see his weblog as a trainwreck or a profile in intellectual courage depends on your angle on the cultural debate he is at the center of.

Update: The two real scientists of the ID movement are Michael Behe, a biochemist, and William Dembski, a mathematician and philosopher. Here are some quotes you might find of interest:

Behe: "I'm an 'evolutionist' in the sense that I do think natural selection explains some things ... But from what I see, the evidence only shows natural selection explaining rather small changes, and I see profound difficulties in thining that it explains much more than trivial changes. It is fine by me if common descent is indeed true, and there is some sort of designed program to power changes over time (i.e., evolution). And I think things like pseudogenes are strong arguments for common descent ...."

Dembski: "Right now I'm inclined toward a preprogrammed form of evolution in which life evolves teleologically (human being the end of the evolutionary process."

It seems that both seem to be promoting a form of orthogenesis.

Source: The Evolution-Creation Struggle.

Update II: Some of you may have noticed that the Dover school board which pushed Intelligent Design/Creationism has been booted out. I'm not surprised. The public has generally favored the addition of Creationism to the curriculum. Hell, my high school earth science teacher was generally in favor of "equal time," though he accepted evolution himself. On the other hand, Kansas is swinging back toward Creationism in schools (or at least, anti-evolutionism). What's going on? One point to consider is that the public is very stupid, so take their "opinions" with a grain of salt. Most people don't think about evolution, or care much about it, and if given 30 seconds of thought they might generally favor teaching "both sides." It seems fair. But the sentiment is very shallow. Most of my friends in high school were "Creationists," but in reality, they didn't know much about evolution or creationism. It was more a cultural badge than a well thought out view about how the world worked. Similarly, most people who believe in evolution do so because it shows that they are enlightened people who aren't superstitious, they don't know the details of the process of evolution, as opposed to the fact of evolution (please note, the fact of evolution has been a hypothesis which as been floated for 2,500 years, at least). What you see in places like Dover and in Kansas are periodic swings in political motivation on a topic which isn't really very important to most people. For enlightened educated people Creationism in the schools moves a small minority to drastic action only when there is a clear and present danger (this small minority includes the intellectual and public elites, which explains why in a nation where 60-70% favor teaching "both sides" Creationism has been usually excluded from state funded schools). When that danger abates, then it is business as usual, and the Creationists start slipping back into the ecosystem. And so the cycle begins again.