Intelligent Design and SSHRC: Scientific belief in Canada


I thought that Canada had mostly avoided the Intelligent Design controversy, but it seems that we have not. This article describes a disturbing statement from our Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) concerning the rejection of an application to study “the detrimental effects of popularizing anti-evolution’s intelligent design theory on Canadian students, teachers, parents, administrators and policymakers.”

One Large Defeat for Science in Canada

For some reason, however, the adjudication committee that reviewed Alters’s application could not resist, in its statement of rejection, adding the following gratuitous comment:

Nor did the committee consider that there was adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of Evolution, and not Intelligent Design Theory, was correct. . . .

This is the statement that caused concern among scientists around the world. Was SSHRC buying the creationist ploy of intelligent design, a shallow and obvious strategy to bring religion into the science classroom? Do people at SSHRC really think that the religious idea of intelligent design is just as valid as evolution?

16 thoughts on “Intelligent Design and SSHRC: Scientific belief in Canada”

  1. Relax, Andrew. Science is not threatened by a view of biologic origins that might well be intentioned. There is evidence of design. The revealed complexity far exceeds that known in Darwin’s time, and statistically defies natural means. As a statistician you should be open to that.

    Things never brought up are aesthetic qualities. When they are, the response is “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, that is, a subjective, human trait.” Get over it …

    Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that a curvaceous female might be more attractive to a guy than a female rhino. But I’m speaking of symetry, boundries (hairlines, muscle homology and location), colorations and shapes(teeth, fingerprint/ nail design, design patterns on feathers), and others too numerous to name here.

    Many more physicians than biologists accept intelligent design as valid. Maybe digging within a functioning, living bioform is more revealing than digging in the dirt, or studying homogies in an abstract sense of disconnect from considering more overreaching conclusions.

    I know, it’s not science. But it *is* perhaps, reality.

  2. Oh, and don’t believe what you read on Wikipedia under ‘Intelligent Design’, ‘Discovery Institute’, Dover v. Kitzmiller, ‘creationism’, ‘William Dembski’, et al.

    It’s mostly negative propaganda put out by NCSE and talk.origins

    Lee

  3. This article describes a disturbing statement…

    That seems to be all there is to anti-ID arguments, fear. It basically seems to be a phobia because it is clearly irrational to assume that ID will lead to the collapse of science as we know it and so on. After all, it clearly did not lead to the collapse of science in the past so it’s not apparent how all this “disturbing” type of fear is actually rational or rooted in evidence.

    Examples,
    Nicolaus Copernicus, Heliocentric Theory of the Solar System:
    “How exceedingly vast is the godlike work of the Best and Greatest Artist!”

    “The Universe has been wrought for us by a supremely good and orderly Creator.”

    Johannes Kepler, Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion:

    “Praise and glorify with me the wisdom and greatness of the Creator, which I have revealed in a deeper explication of the form of the universe, in an investigation of the causes, and in my detection of the deceptiveness of sight.”

    “God who is the most admirable in his works.. .deign to grant us the grace to bring to light and illuminate the profundity of his wisdom in the visible (and accordingly intelligible) creation of this world.”

    Galileo Galilei, Laws of Dynamics, astronomical confirmation of the heliocentric system:

    “The holy Bible and the phenomena of nature proceed alike from the divine Word.”

    Isaac Newton, Optics, Laws of Motion, Gravitation, Newton’s theological writings, running into a million words, far exceeded his scientific output. Below is an excerpt from his classic work,the Principia Mathematica:

    “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. This Being governs all things not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called ‘Lord God’… or ‘Universal Ruler.’… And from his true dominion it follows that the true God is a living, intelligent and powerful Being… he governs all things, and knows all things that are or can be done. He endures forever, and is everywhere present…”

    Etc.
    cf. (The Wonder of the World: A Journey from Modern Science to the Mind of God by Roy Abraham Varghese :103-106)

    If you’re done with your politics and being disturbed and fearful for a moment here is an interesting question, is language empirically or scientifically detectable?

  4. @LEE
    Care to point out any errors in the wikipedia articles you mention ? They all seem pretty accurate and match with what I’ve seen and read over the past few years as I’ve dollowed the Evo/ID farce in the USA…

  5. Care to point out any errors in the wikipedia articles you mention ? They all seem pretty accurate and match with what I’ve seen and read over the past few years as I’ve dollowed the Evo/ID farce in the USA…

    I don’t know if it is possible to point out errors in the texts of those who believe that symbols and signs of design cannot be detected. Instead it seems that one ought to imagine that your text is an artifact of biological brain events which trace back to natural selection operating on an ancient population of worm-like creatures and so on.

    Maybe that’s why the arguments of those mentally incompetent enough to be “overwhelmed” by mental illusions often seem to reduce to: “I’m scared.” They may as well have excrement for brains because their brains aren’t rooted in language and instead have more to do with natural selection operating on the excretory organs of ancient ape-like creatures. After all, if those ancient ape-like creatures hadn’t existed then the idiotic brain events which cause them to be ignorant and fearful wouldn’t exist either.

    But anyway, Wikipedia:

    Intelligent design is the assertion that “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”[1][2] It is a modern form of the traditional teleological argument for the existence of God, modified to avoid specifying the nature or identity of the designer.[3] The idea was developed by a group of American creationists who reformulated their argument in the creation-evolution controversy to circumvent court rulings that prohibit the teaching of creationism as science.

    No Aristotle, no Thomas Jefferson….no, instead intelligent design was invented by a group of creationists!

    Thomas Jefferson on the topic:

    And when the atheist descanted on the unceasing motion and circulation of matter thro’ the animal vegetable and mineral kingdoms, never resting, never annihilated, always changing form, and under all forms gifted with the power of reproduction; the Theist pointing `to the heavens above, and to the earth beneath, and to the waters under the earth,’asked if these did not proclaim a first cause, possessing intelligence and power; power in the production, and intelligence in the design and constant preservation of the system; urged the palpable existence of final causes, that the eye was made to see, and the ear to hear, and not that we see because we have eyes, and hear because we have ears; an answer obvious to the senses, as that of walking across the room was to the philosopher demonstrating the nonexistence of motion.

    Emphasis added…. intelligence in the design? I guess he didn’t know that intelligent design would eventually be used by creationists to try to get around judges pulling decisions out of their own penumbras. Jefferson supported intelligent design just like all the Founders did. If intelligent design is unconstitutional then the Declaration of independence is unconstitutional. For that matter, if the federal judiciary is correct then the Constitution itself is “unconstitutional.” That’s generally how ridiculous the deniers of text, language, intelligibility and intelligent design have become. They’ll even deny their own intellect in order to support the Darwinian creation myth.

  6. Ah, the irrational arguments and juvenile name calling begin immediately. My goal here is not to debate Intelligent Design, that is best done elsewhere, but simply to point out that the issue is real and closer to home than I thought. Nevertheless, I can’t help but respond to some of these comments.

    First, what is the evidence that the complexity evident in the world “statistically defies natural means?” Show me the statistics. The statistics I have seen show that complexity can develop through evolution (e.g., Lenski, et al., 2003).

    Second, why can’t aesthetics have an evolutionary origin? Is it not plausible that being aesthetically pleasing has selection value? I suspect that for animals that live in social contexts, such as humans, it certainly does.

    Third, the anti-ID argument is about fear. Fear about what we believe as a society and why we believe it. Fear about what we are teaching our children. Fear about diluting what is probably the only long-term hope that we have for bettering ourselves — science.

    Fourth, quotations that suggest that figures in history thought that the universe was created by a designer do not provide evidence. Canada once had a Prime Minister who thought he could talk to spirits, but that is not evidence that spirits exist. 55% of people believe in psychic healing, 42% believe in devil possession, and 37% believe in haunted houses (Nisbet, 2006), but this does not mean that these people are correct. Widespread belief is not evidence of truth.

    Finally, it is interesting that the argument quickly reverts to an argument about truth. What constitutes truth? Is truth subjective, objective, relative, or absolute? I suspect that evolutionary theorists adhere to an objective theory of truth, while ID proponents adhere to subjective or coherence theories. What is your theory of truth?

    Lenski, R. E., Ofria, C., Pennock, R. T., & Adami, C. (2003). The evolutionary origin of complex features. Nature, 423, 139-144.

    Nisbet, M. (2006). Cultural indicators of the paranormal: Tracking the media/belief nexus. Skeptical Inquirer Online. http://www.csicop.org/scienceandmedia/indicators/. Page accessed Nov. 20, 2008.

  7. @ Malcolm

    Care to point out any errors in the wikipedia articles you mention ? They all seem pretty accurate and match with what I’ve seen and read over the past few years as I’ve followed the Evo/ID farce in the USA…

    Three citations from “Intelligent Design” (Wikipedia):

    It is a modern form of the traditional teleological argument for the existence of God, modified to avoid specifying the nature or identity of the designer.

    ID does not posit a god, gods, or God. It seeks to analyze evidence based on design inferences, and the statistical probability of natural causs. If not natural, then directed could be a cause. I’ll not give citations here, since the arguments are complex, and further research is needed. I hold to ID as a valid hypothesis at this time.

    The idea was developed by a group of American creationists who reformulated their argument in the creation-evolution controversy to circumvent court rulings that prohibit the teaching of creationism as science.

    Wiki gives no citation there, but further down cites Edwards v. Aguillard , then Kitzmiller v. Dover. Neither trial was either the source or result of the ID movement, nor did they act to directly promulgate the ID movement.

    Louisiana’s wanting to include the teaching of creation science along with evolution, as well as the school board members in Dover PA, acted on their own, and not at the behest, or in support of ID. True creationists, primarily Biblical literalists, disavow ID, although have at times co-opted ID language, or simply the term ID.

    Intelligent design is presented as an alternative to natural explanations for the origin and diversity of life. It stands in opposition to conventional biological science, which relies on the scientific method to explain life through observable processes such as mutation and natural selection.

    It certainly does NOT stand in opposition to science, utilizing the same data, but differing on some of its analyses. While some early ID proponents may have had a predominant belief in, and/or simply a motive to promote religion as science, the current movement is science based. DI now defines itself as a secular think tank.
    http://www.discovery.org/csc/topQuestions.php

    The empirical approach focuses on evidence, NOT an a priori belief in a creator, or scriptural references. That said, most ID proponents hold theistic beliefs, but more in response to evidence of intentioned causation, than as the basis for pursuing ID.

    There are other misstatements, and with references provided. The sources cited, however, are nearly all ID opponents, with no rebuts or citations from ID proponents allowed. That results in an imbalanced and slanted presentation, and in fact, many of the misstatements in the article are from the cited sources themselves.

    In sum, I stand by the statement, but with a qualifier added in brackets, “… don’t believe [everything that] you read on Wikipedia under ‘Intelligent Design’, ‘Discovery Institute’, Dover v. Kitzmiller, ‘creationism’, ‘William Dembski’, et al.”

    Look to other sources, as well.

  8. @Andrew

    what is the evidence that the complexity evident in the world “statistically defies natural means?” Show me the statistics.

    J.B.S. Haldane’s ‘Cost Theory’, with the “cost of substitution”, and statistical conclusions of time inadequacy, especially for low reproducing organisms, refute some of the claims of natural selection of mutations as the source of novelty. Haldane, while not a ‘creationist’, delineated statistical problems in evo theory.

    Walter ReMine elaborates on Haldane’s work, and expands upon it.
    http://saintpaulscience.com/Haldane.htm

    His work has been hotly debated by evolution supporters.

    The statistics I have seen show that complexity can develop through evolution (e.g., Lenski, et al., 2003

    I don’t consider bacterial evolution explanatory to multicellular evolution, and sexual selection, but there are points to be made on both sides.

    Second, why can’t aesthetics have an evolutionary origin? Is it not plausible that being aesthetically pleasing has selection value? I suspect that for animals that live in social contexts, such as humans, it certainly does.

    Agreed, although with male peacock feathers, there is evidence that the females could care less about the elaborate feather designs. Remember though, that I had separated aesthetics into two classes: One that might confer a reproductive advantage, and one that showed aesthetics from a design perspective, where nature might not have been as fussy about details. I had said,

    Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that a curvaceous female might be more attractive to a guy than a female rhino. But I’m speaking of symmetry, boundaries (hairlines, muscle homology and location), colorations and shapes (teeth, fingerprint/ nail design, design patterns on feathers), and others too numerous to name here.

    Also, regarding the fingerprint. Along with secreted epidermal oils, it obviously aids in the ability to pick up and hold objects, and yes, the enhanced ability to hold a bow and arrow might be conferred as a selective pressure for improved survival. But the question remains, what caused the ridges to form on the fingertips? A random mutation? Not likely.

    An argument against design is motive. Why would a biological engineer design parasites v. host, and predator v. prey? Perhaps multiple designers over time, with the ‘motive’ of seeing who wins a bet, or merely to add challenges to the earthbound experience. If a higher entity oversees ‘creation’, whether or not it does the actual creating, why would it intend earthly life to be Utopian, i.e. without challenges? Events like the recent tsunami were probably not intentional acts by a supreme force, but simply a logical consequence of tectonic processes. Diseases are either anomalies, degenerative evolutionary accumulations, environment caused, or motive driven, (opposing designers, or a designer/ design team who sees merit in occasional health problems). Take your pick.

    I hold to dualism, the theory that the spirit form is the true ‘you’, with bioforms as vehicles for corporeal experiences. Multiple bioform experiences would logically follow.

  9. Ah, the irrational arguments and juvenile name calling begin immediately.

    I don’t offer civility and the benefits of civilization/language and intelligibility to those who work to undermine our ability to recognize intelligent agency. If you want civility then you need to demonstrate a capacity to recognize the symbols and signs of design typical to civilization. And yes, it has something to do with “truth” and so on.

    It’s funny how those who begin by saying that they’re pursuing only explanations that seem natural to them apparently based on whatever biological brain events their Mother Nature “selects” for them that day based on imaginary selection values and so on conclude that their views are correct, true or progressive.

    Third, the anti-ID argument is about fear. Fear about what we believe as a society and why we believe it. Fear about what we are teaching our children. Fear about diluting what is probably the only long-term hope that we have for bettering ourselves — science.

    Well, yes, that’s what I just said. But there is a lot of evidence that it is a deeply irrational type of fear mainly rooted in a mythological view of Progress which has no basis in historical reality. Science is the only hope we have of bettering ourselves? That’s an ignorant statement with no evidence behind it. How do we know what’s “better” or progressive scientifically? How do we know that it’s wrong to use scientific knowledge to create a nuclear Holocaust but right to use it to create nuclear power? Etc. If answers about Progress cannot be derived from science itself then it’s fundamentally irrational to “play pretend” as if science is our only hope for progress and so on.

    Fourth, quotations that suggest that figures in history thought that the universe was created by a designer do not provide evidence.

    No, they just undermine the mythology of Progress that those who believe in the Darwinian creation myth often invoke to avoid dealing with actual evidence.

    In disputes among themselves the mental midgets sometimes almost argue that empirical evidence is actually necessary:

    The viewpoint of Coyne et al. (1988) is one in which past events are argued to explain, in a causal sense, the world around us. Such explanations cannot be verified or tested, and the only biological observations they require are that variation and differential reproduction occur. This is not a caricature, as a reading of Coyne et al. will verify. In keeping with this general viewpoint, proponents claim that species are explained with reference to history. Important characters are hence “mechanisms” that have established and maintained the separation between diverged lineages of an ancestral population. According to Coyne et al., even the adaptive purpose of the changes that resulted in these mechanisms is irrelevant.
    We would ask where biology enters into this schema. The answer is that it does not. Rather, biology is interpreted in terms of a range of historical processes, including selection of variation over time. This could, with equal relevance, be used to understand any nonbiological phenomenon such as the development of the automobile, agricultural methods, culture, or men’s suits (Lewontin, 1976).
    (Points of View Species and Neo-Darwinism by C. S. White; B. Michaux; D. M. Lambert
    Systematic Zoology, Vol. 39, No. 4. (Dec., 1990), :400-401)

    Darwinian “reasoning” (Such as it is, if imagining things about the past can be said to be reasoning.) “explains” all forms of Progress so well because it is actually just a mythology of Progress which has little to do with empirical evidence. What biological observation would be inconsistent with Darwinian reasoning? What could be observed biologically which would falsify Darwinism? It seems that to the point that Darwinism is specified it is typically falsified but if this is admitted then the mythology of Progress is invoked and it is said that it will be verified in the future and so on. Or Progress is not invoked and instead Darwinism recedes back into hypothetical goo which isn’t specified, some charlatans even try to act as if the term “Darwinism” itself was never specified or has no history and so on.

    Charlatans have often compared the theory of evolution to the theory of gravity or Darwinian reasoning to Newtonian reasoning, if that’s the case then where has the theory of natural selection been specified in the language of mathematics and generally verified in trajectories of adaptation in groups of organisms? Note that merely imagining things about the past is not specification and citing your own imagination as the equivalent of empirical evidence is not verification.

    My favorite Darwinian argument: “If I could be shown an organism which I could not imagine coming about in a gradual progression then my theory would absolutely break down. I can always imagine something, therefore my theory is verified. Imagine that!”

    It’s little wonder that mental midgets find the effect of the mental illusion at the root of such arguments “overwhelming,” their minds are essentially being overwhelmed with their own imaginations.

  10. I want get back to what has happened at SSHRC. There is
    an interesting article by Dan Adleman describing the role that postmodernism might have played in the SSHRC decision. Adleman does a great job of describing the terrible state of postmodern thought, and I love his use of the analogy introduced by Wallace of crank turners and grey pellets:

    Once they triumph, though, and their ideas become legitimate and accepted, the crank-turners and wannabes come running to the machine, and out pour the gray pellets and now the whole thing’s become a hollow form, just another institution of fashion.

    Which has me thinking again about “truth”:

    It’s not because of domineering “regimes of truth” that the SSHRC panelists’ cell phones and laptops work so well, it’s because of the scientific method.

    Adelman, D. (2006). SSHRC doubts the science of evolution The Republic of East Vancouver, No 148. http://republic-news.org/archive/148-repub/148_adleman.htm. Page retrieved Nov. 21 2008.

  11. @Andrew
    Thanks for getting back on track regarding the intent of this thread. I apologize for not having read the Bauslaugh link provided, which I now have, several times.

    First, let me comment on the ‘academic left’ and the ‘religious right’. I would say that in reality, there is the ‘academic left (evo)’, the ‘religious right (creo)’, and a middle ground, ‘ID’. Truth be known, I share much more with the left than the right.

    As a biomedical engineer, I have an interest not only in mechanistic, physics related processes and designed mechanisms (any system or device that performs a function), but in the computational and algorithmic processes that precede and maintain those systems and mechanisms. Having studied phylogenetics and cell biology on my own for the last eight or so years, I have sided with ID, but do not disavow evolution in toto. Evolutionary mechanisms are evident, but have only been verified as adaptational and producing diversity, and (sorry) not producing novelty (new body plans, new complex organs).

    Briefly, I feel that of the three, ID and evolution both have validity, but that creationism is severely lacking from a science perspective. I am not disavowing the validity of Christianity and other religions, but primarily the OT accounts of creation, young earth, and the ‘doctrine’ of Bible literalism. There is both truth and error in books of the Old Testament. Bu regarding science, empirical evidence, both observed and conclusionary based on forensic and statistical, or modeled, evidence. This is a broader definition than some hold to, but the forensic study of origins requires it. Scriptural accounts, however, do not qualify.

    The ‘design inference’ if valid, does not usher in religion. But yes, that is the intent of some religious groups. What is important (and just) however, is to NOT conflate ID and creationism together. In reality, there are three sides to the table.

  12. Lee Bowman: Relax, Andrew. Science is not threatened by a view of biologic origins that might well be intentioned. There is evidence of design. The revealed complexity far exceeds that known in Darwin’s time, and statistically defies natural means. As a statistician you should be open to that.

    In other words, Lee believes that design is evidenced because science is unable, in his faith belief, to explain the complexity of life. To believe that statistics somehow show evidence of ‘design’, where design is nothing more than the set theoretic complement of the disjunction regularity-or-chance is, … well… ridiculous at best.

    Ask yourself, how does ID explain the complexity of life? It doesn’t. How does science explain it? Simple through a combination of well established natural mechanisms.

    Are we back to letting our ignorance guide our faith?

  13. If I’d been given the chance to do so, I’d have rejected this application for the simple reason that it proposes to study “the detrimental effects of popularizing anti-evolution’s intelligent design theory…” instead of proposing to test the claim that ‘popularizing anti-evolution’s intelligent design theory’ has detrimental effects (and, if so, in which contexts). In fact, the proposal, as it stands, is question-begging. It is the work of a person who hopes that someone will fund the spell of work required to write up conclusions that he or she has already reached.

    Naturally, it would impossible to write up a research proposal that doesn’t presuppose anything; but the petitio principi, here, just *is* what the researcher proposes to investigate, rather than some antecedent ground on whose basis the main research question arises in the first place.

    If I were on a SSHRC panel, I would *laugh* at this hack-job, to be honest.

  14. Also: it hardly goes without saying that ‘intelligent design theory’ is ‘anti-evolution.’ Much turns on what one means by ‘evolution,’ I suppose. In fact, this proposal’s use substantive use of ‘anti-evolution’ (here, in the possessive) strikes me as sophomoric.

  15. Intelligent Design = creationism = the MAGIC MAN did it = god soaked idiots.

    This decision is a disgrace. Anyone who sees “god” in evolution is someone who has no understanding of evolution. Science can’t explain EVERYTHING (yet), for example abiogenisis, but to stick god in there is childish.

    It’s time for everyone to grow up.

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