Apr 3, 2011

ID: Critiques of Evolution

Since I recently posted a commented over at Uncommon Descent--a comment which has gone unanswered--I've been thinking some about ID and Creationism in general.  I asked myself, “What would it take to get me to take Intelligent Design seriously?”  Having put some thought into the matter, I will now relate exactly that.

As far as I can tell, Intelligent Design is based on three things: a critique of evolution's “weaknesses” and the concepts of irreducible complexity and complex specified information.  We shall begin with the first.

In science, you have to go with the best evidence that you have. Sometimes, you will be wrong.  Other scientists will try to prove that you are wrong.  Overturning previous results—the more prestigious the better—is a fast-track to grants and fame.   Creationists in general like to criticize evolution on the basis of its supposed flaws or weaknesses—of course, most of them are spurious and long-debunked, but let's say that they occasionally have a point.  No such points come to mind, but we'll assume for the sake of argument. Now, usually, those arguments go something along the lines of 'Scientists have no explanation for X', or 'Xcould not have happened, or at least not the way that they say'.  Criticism is valuable for highlighting gaps in our knowledge or illuminating fuzzy logic, but the mere fact that any given detail proves incorrect or is unknown doesn't mean that the overall picture of reality is mistaken, nor yet does it elevate any other particular viewpoint.  The fact that whales did not evolve in the manner that Darwin imagined does not mean that whales did not evolve.

Creationists like to present a false dichotomy: everything which goes against evolution as currently understood is evidence for their view.  Never mind that there are other 'alternatives' besides theirs, and never mind that a revised understanding of evolution might explain the problem perfectly well.

If you really want to overturn evolution, then you must present an alternative model—that, after all, is the way that scientists actually overturn the old ideas. Science has presented us with a picture—an incomplete picture, as any such picture must be, but a compelling one nonetheless—of how life has gotten into its present state. Pointing out problems with that viewpoint, however, even if they are legitimate, does not validate any given alternative.  If you think that you know what really happened, then by all means share. Present your alternative.  If you think that God did it, then quit hiding behind the legal equivocation of a 'designer' and say it: and also fill us in on when He did it, why He did it, how He did it, and why, if He designed some aspects of creation, He let others evolve through mutation and natural selection (like nylonase, whose mutational pathway is extremely well-known).  Evolutionists don't know something?  Yeah—you don't either.  Here's what I pledge: present me an alternative model to evolution and I will evaluate it on its merits. State what you think happened and back it up with evidence.  Absent such a clear alternative and a reason to accept it over all other alternatives, then the most that your criticisms could ever illustrate is that the scientific model is in need of minor revision.

Now, to be fair, there are creationists like AiG who have an alternative model--a ridiculous model, one based on a hideous mangling of Genesis and backed up by not a shred of evidence, but nonetheless a story of what they think happened.  I mention the need for specificity, however, because the ID folks like to find strength in vagueness--a vagueness which allows them to maintain a big-tent alliance with the young-earthers and to dance around the First Amendment with their disingenuous Designer.  But really: if your alternative to evolution is 'somewhere, sometime, a miracle occurred design was designed by someone, somehow' then that is decidedly unconvincing--an 'alternative' only in the loosest sense of the word.

So much, then, for criticisms of evolution.  The ID folks actually had some concrete ideas that set them apart from everyone else, but since this is long enough already we'll be looking at those another time.

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