Saturday, August 06, 2005

Intelligent design

Over at Cosmic Variance, Sean Carroll writes:

The immediate purpose of this post is tell search engines where to point when they’re asked about intelligent design. Steve Smith of the National Center for Science Education (a great organization, devoted to defending the teaching of evolution in schools) has sent around an email mentioning a surge of interest in the subject, seen for example in the list of top searches on Technorati (right now it’s the most popular search). So he suggests that people with a web page point to this article on Intelligent Design at the NCSE website; we physicists here at CV are happy to help out, as we know that we’re next once the forces of pseudo-science finish off our friends in the squishy sciences.

As I noted sometime ago, ID cranks in the US are somewhat similar to the astrology cranks in India. It is a shame that the 'jyotir' stupidity (it is certainly not 'vigyan'!) was allowed to infiltrate into academia by the less than stellar activism on the part of the Indian academics. Now, in the US, ID is being pushed -- through political means -- into school curricula as yet another 'scientific theory'.

Here is a more permanent link to the Krugman piece.

In his op-ed, Paul Krugman writes that the political strategy now adopted by the religious right [in pushing ID] is esentially the same as that which "has been used with great success by the economic right". It is worth quoting some more from this op-ed:

Some of America's most powerful politicians have a deep hatred for Darwinism. ... But sheer political power hasn't been enough to get creationism into the school curriculum. The theory of evolution has overwhelming scientific support, and the country isn't ready - yet - to teach religious doctrine in public schools.

But what if creationists do to evolutionary theory what corporate interests did to global warming: create a widespread impression that the scientific consensus has shaky foundations?

Creationists failed when they pretended to be engaged in science, not religious indoctrination: "creation science" was too crude to fool anyone. But intelligent design, which spreads doubt about evolution without being too overtly religious, may succeed where creation science failed.

The important thing to remember is that like supply-side economics or global-warming skepticism, intelligent design doesn't have to attract significant support from actual researchers to be effective. All it has to do is create confusion, to make it seem as if there really is a controversy about the validity of evolutionary theory. That, together with the political muscle of the religious right, may be enough to start a process that ends with banishing Darwin from the classroom.

So, the danger is very real, and it is important that this strategy is not allowed to succeed. Thus, in my own small little way, I am also happy to help out; so, there you have it: Intelligent Design.

While we are at it, let me just mention that Risa Wechsler, also at Cosmic Variance, has a nice cartoon in this post. Cosma Shalizi has an excellent post in which he says, "there is no scientific controversy over intelligent design. The best attempts of the intelligent design movement to produce scientific work are ... rubbish".


  1. Anonymous said...


    On Astrology do we know it so well as to debunk it? Ayurveda will probably go the same way in a few years, no thanks for the thousands of charlatans who hawk it from the street sides. Its easy to debunk what we have no clue about. And then again, it is fashionable too!

  2. Anonymous said...

    I have reply here .

  3. Anonymous said...

    er sorry, look here..Perma-link is here

  4. Anonymous said...

    It's "fashionable" to debunk astrology? Why then do I see so much of it popping up all over the place? Why the fuss, after the Bom deluge, over the 26th being India's unlucky date? (Please see my post about this). Why wasn't that "debunked" instead of having newspapers report it faithfully?

    Astrology must be debunked every chance we get, is what I think.

  5. Abi said...

    Hi Neel,

    Do we know it so well as to debunk it?

    Sure, we do! Aswin and Dilip have given their answers, and googling will give you tons more.

    Let me just take one aspect: In science, even one counterexample is enough to render false a scientific theory; people then build a better theory that takes into account this new result, and the cycle repeats itself -- all this is standard Popper. So, falsification is the key.

    By this yardstick, the number of astrological predictions that didn't pan out -- counterexamples -- must be in millions. The usual excuse, when such a counterexample is cited, is that it is all somehow the fault of the 'charlatans', and not of the 'theory' which, after all, is perfect. The 'theory' being available in some ancient scriptures is an added plus in perpetuating this view.

    It is a pity that you clubbed astrology with Ayurveda, a fine empirical discipline. I haven't said anything against it.

  6. Anonymous said...

    Your sort of post demonstrates exactly why there is a controversy. You say that those who advance ID or creationism (which are not the same) have bad motives. Then Mr. Public reads your post because of some interest in the subject and has his beliefs confirmed. He knows that the average person does not have bad motives. Maybe someone higher up does, like one of the leaders of the ID movement, but not anyone he's met. So he thinks that you are either a lying jerk or an arrogant ignoramus. I am using strong language because unless I have missed something, Mr. Public is right. Having more knowledge on the motives of those involved only serves to reinforce the choices of Mr. Public.