Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Induced Complexity

Yesterday I read this post at Light of Reason with both horror and pleasure. The horror comes from the op-ed by Michael J. Behe which LoR discusses. The pleasure came from reading the refutations of Behe's claims. Behe is one of the major proponents of Intelligent Design. Our readers already know what we think of ID. Short version is "Intelligent Design ain't science, it's an ideology." I began a long piece to complement LoR's with a few more thoughts on the whole shebang, but put it off for undisclosed reasons. I'm glad I did, because it turns out Mr. Behe's article was just an opening salvo. This morning NPR reported that it appears Kansans are insisting on answering Tom Frank(again). Listen to the piece and you'll hear a new chapter in the same sad story of the evolution debate, whereby a state seeks to impose Intelligent Design on its school children. I look forward to a debate on the reinstitution of school segregation preceeded by an op-ed by Charles Murray.

After reading Mr. Behe's op-ed, I've discovered that there are a few misapprehensions I had about ID's approach. But the article confirms my initial feelings on the ideology question. Since ID is being put to ideological purposes in Kansas, it seems worthwhile to revisit that aspect of ID, and leave the scientific critiques to the experts.

After a brief description of what ID is not - warmed over creationism - Mr. Behe makes four claims for the validity of ID. His first two rest more or less on his case for "irreducible complexity" - a term oddly missing from his op-ed - as evidence for design in nature. There are plenty of refutations of this claim that range from the logical to the technical or combinations(this is quite probably the best and most succint - scroll down to "The Flaw In The Mousetrap"). The fact that Mr. Behe forgot to include "science" in his catalogue of what ID isn't doesn't come as much of a shock, but it would have been more honest.

Reading the third and forth claims, I realize I had it wrong when I said IDer's claim that because we don't have enough historical data to prove otherwise, ID was a possible explanation. The situation is far worse. Mr. Behe tells us that design is the only possible explanation. He claims that there are no good explanations for the foundations of life that don't involve intelligence - except evolution, which he dismisses a priori - and therefore ID is the only answer. ARE YOU EFFIN' KIDDING ME? These two claims together demonstrate the straight ideological nature of ID, and call into question not just its claims to scientific validity, but its position on the neutral terrain.

In my previous post on the subject, I assumed that the goal of ID was to create confusion in the public through a subversion of science. I still think that's true. The journey Mr. Behe would take us on starts with a conclusion, proceeds through miles of rhetorical fog, and ends with the conclusion being the only correct one. Mr. Behe, an accomplished scientist, should know better than that, unless what he's after is not rational inquiry, but the pushing of an agenda.

Regardless of what he might say of his intentions(and there is serious reason to doubt them), ID is being used as a political tool. If the public doesn't want to teach evolution, that's the public's choice(and it's too bad). But if they make that decision, they should do so knowing what they are giving up and what they are gaining. Men like Mr. Behe should work to enlighten the public, not be a shill for a particular ideology.
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