Friday, January 27, 2006

Horizon, Dawkins, Attenborough and the War on Science.

Last night's Horizon screened a 50 minute-long look at the phenomenon of Intelligent Design (ID), the proposed alternative "scientific theory" to evolutionary biology, in an edition called "War on Science". The program briefly featured appearances by Richard Dawkins and David Attenborough.

The title itself will have caused irritation with the more legitimate proponents of ID, who maintain their ideas are rational and aren't based on any ulterior motive.
Many in the evolutionary camp claim that the ID movement seeks to sneak religion into the science class, by attempting to prove with pseudo-scientific arguments that life was somehow helped along on its evolutionary path by an Intelligent Designer. For Intelligent Designer, of course, read God.

As regards the arguments for and against evolution/ID, enough said already. Dawkins himself sounded rather fed up with the whole argument and increasingly resorted to dismissing the whole idea of ID as mere junk science. Understandably, as Dawkins et al have spent so much time and energy successfully debunking ID as bogus at best and not science at worst. Dawkins goes further by saying that discussing evolution with Creationists is futile and actually attributes credibility to junk science.

Fairly refreshing perhaps was the appearance of ID's two most prominent proponents, William Dembski and Michael Behe. Listening to these people "in person", it's hard to see how these rather soft-spoken scientists could mount a significant "War on Science" (see Edit below).

But Dembski and Behe are but the tip of the iceberg of the ID movement which in its ranks also counts quite a few religious science workers and a significant slice of Religious Fundamentalists of various stripes, at least in the US. Part of ID's popularity is due to the languid nature of its definition: ID-ers range from rather literal Creationists (although Dembski and Behe distance themselves clearly from this idea), to Young Earthers (ditto), Old Earthers and finally ID proper,
Discovery Institute-style.

Is ID really a movement and does it seek to reassert the role of Religion in education and society at large? It's rather hard to escape this impression.
The Wedge Document, an anonymously released letter of intent by the Discovery Institute doesn't beat around the bush (from Wiki):
This opening paragraph immediately betrays the Discovery Institute's agenda: to establish a perception of western Christianity as the dominant religion in the world - in terms of the creation of democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in science. This is like the statements of faith signed by other creationist organisations: the DI has its conclusions, now it just needs to find the science to fit it.

The statement that western civilisation is built on the proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is discussed at...

The Discovery Institute clearly sees the state of the current world order as the result of Scientific Materialism's attack on a more religiously inspired worldview. That in itself is rather hard to argue with. The advance of science as a method of investigation, source of technology and provider of explanations of what is observable in the Universe, has gradually pushed religion to the realm of personal experience and ethical or moral questions.

The Roman Catholic Church has quietly embraced evolutionary biology and big bang theory as valid scientific theories. The late Jean Paul II stated that ID has no place in science classes.

The debate between various forms of Creationism and evolutionary biology is of course nothing new and has been raging for nearly 150 years, since the publication of Darwin's Origin. No doubt this dispute will continue to rage for at least as long as that. Sigh...

Edited on 28/01/06:

Turns out that William ("Bill") Dembski isn't perhaps the soft spoken scientist I mistook him to be. A blog dedicated to ID,
Uncommon Descent. The Intelligent Design Weblog of Bill Dembski & Friends practically dominates Technorati listings on keywords like and possibly others like , and . The main contributor appears to be Dave Scot.


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