[Adam Cuerden] Encyclopaedia Britannica buys into the Discovery Institute’s hype

From http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9432671/intelligent-design

I cannot believe this. It ignores all the criticism deservedly heaped upon Intelligent Design. It ignores Kitzmiller, it parrots all their claims uncritically. Perhaps the full version is better, but if they’re putting this shoddy work up online as a sample of their expertise, I’ll take Wikipedia. frankly.

Let’s have a look:

Intelligent design was formulated in the 1990s, primarily in the United States, as an explicit refutation of the Darwinian theory of biological evolution.

Alright, if it weren’t for the rest of the article, this might pass as mere bad wording, but the rest does not merit leniency. “Refutation” is a really loaded word: While it can mean merely a rebuttal, with no claims to merit, it has stronger meanings: a falsification; evidence against. This for a theory that can’t even define what is meant by evidence of design? But let’s continue:

Building on a version of the argument from design for the existence of God advanced by the Anglican clergyman William Paley (1743-1805), proponents of intelligent design observed that the functional parts and systems of living organisms are “irreducibly complex” in the sense that none of their component parts can be removed without causing the whole system to cease functioning.

They… observed this?! Here’s the opening of the findings on Irreducible Complexity from Judge Jones’ ruling on Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area Board of Education:

As irreducible complexity is only a negative argument against evolution, it is refutable and accordingly testable, unlike ID, by showing that there are intermediate structures with selectable functions that could have evolved into the allegedly irreducibly complex systems. (2:15-16 (Miller)). Importantly, however, the fact that the negative argument of irreducible complexity is testable does not make testable the argument for ID. (2:15 (Miller); 5:39 (Pennock)). Professor Behe has applied the concept of irreducible complexity to only a few select systems: (1) the bacterial flagellum; (2) the blood-clotting cascade; and (3) the immune system. Contrary to Professor Behe’s assertions with respect to these few biochemical systems among the myriad existing in nature, however, Dr. Miller presented evidence, based upon peer-reviewed studies, that they are not in fact irreducibly complex.

Jones goes on to explain in detail why this is hogwash. My favourite part:
In fact, on cross-examination, Professor Behe was questioned concerning his 1996 claim that science would never find an evolutionary explanation for the immune system. He was presented with fiftyeight peer-reviewed publications, nine books, and several immunology textbook chapters about the evolution of the immune system; however, he simply insisted that this was still not sufficient evidence of evolution, and that it was not “good enough.” (23:19 (Behe)).

Going back to Britannica…

From this premise they inferred that no such system could have come about through the gradual alteration of functioning precursor systems by means of random mutation and natural selection, as the standard evolutionary account maintains; instead, living organisms must have been created all at once by an intelligent designer.

You know, this comes up in Kitzmiller as well. Aye, Jones even talks about Paley, like Brittanica did a bit earlier. Hell, for that matter, Darwin himself was familiar with Paley and most of Chapter 6 of “On the Origin of Species” is an explanation of how design can come about through natural selection (and the source of all those out-of context quotes about him saying how things seem difficulties for his theory – which in context, are right before explanations of how his theory could, in fact, explain them. Richard Dawkins spent an entire book, The Blind Watchmaker, rebutting just this point. And, Judge Jones wrote in his desision on Kitzmiller:

Indeed, the assertion that design of biological systems can be inferred from the “purposeful arrangement of parts” is based upon an analogy to human design. Because we are able to recognize design of artifacts and objects, according to Professor Behe, that same reasoning can be employed to determine biological design. (18:116-17, 23:50 (Behe)). Professor Behe testified that the strength of the analogy depends upon the degree of similarity entailed in the two propositions; however, if this is the test, ID completely fails. Unlike biological systems, human artifacts do not live and reproduce over time. They are non-replicable, they do not undergo genetic recombination, and they are not driven by natural selection. (1:131-33 (Miller); 23:57-59 (Behe)). For human artifacts, we know the designer’s identity, human, and the mechanism of design, as we have experience based upon empirical evidence that humans can make such things, as well as many other attributes including the designer’s abilities, needs, and desires. (D-251 at 176; 1:131-33 (Miller); 23:63 (Behe); 5:55- 58 (Pennock)). With ID, proponents assert that they refuse to propose hypotheses on the designer’s identity, do not propose a mechanism, and the designer, he/she/it/they, has never been seen. In that vein, defense expert Professor Minnich agreed that in the case of human artifacts and objects, we know the identity and capacities of the human designer, but we do not know any of those attributes for the designer of biological life. (38:44-47 (Minnich)). In addition, Professor Behe agreed that for the design of human artifacts, we know the designer and its attributes and we have a baseline for human design that does not exist for design of biological systems. (23:61-73 (Behe)). Professor Behe’s only response to these seemingly insurmountable points of disanalogy was that the inference still works in science fiction movies. (23:73 (Behe)).

It is readily apparent to the Court that the only attribute of design that biological systems appear to share with human artifacts is their complex appearance, i.e. if it looks complex or designed, it must have been designed.

…You know, it gets harder and harder to leave good writing like Jones’ for Britannica’s crap each time. Oh, well…

Proponents of intelligent design generally avoided identifying the designer with the God of Christianity or other monotheistic religions, in part because they wished the doctrine to be taught as a legitimate scientific alternative to evolution in public schools in the United States, where the government is constitutionally prohibited from promoting religion.

Yeah. That’s all you’re going to get on the seperation of church and state issue. Here’s a bit of a fundraising document, popularly known as “The Wedge Document”, leaked from the Discovery Institute (The main proponents of Intelligent Design) and explaining their goals:

Governing Goals

  • To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.
  • To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and hurnan beings are created by God.

I think that says it all.

Then, finally, Britannica gets to the criticisms. Sort of:

Critics of intelligent design argued that it rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of natural selection, that it ignores the existence of precursor systems in the evolutionary history of numerous organisms, and that it is ultimately untestable and therefore not scientific. See also creationism.

This is what I always think of as the balancing paragraph that isn’t: By failing to name critics or to explain their arguments – indeed, after the way they describe irreducible complexity, it’d be difficult to understand why it’s “ultimately untestible” – they give the impression of balance for those who already are educated enough to know what the arguments against it are, but anyone else will be met with a mere list with an invitation to ignore these rude “critics”, who don’t deserve any space or detail, anyway.

There, thankfully, the article ends. But… why on earth is Britannica publishing this rubbish?! Aren’t they supposed to be one of the great encyclopaedias? And they’re spouting this crap forth?

(Comments here)