The World Against I.D.
The Inter-Academy Panel (IAP) on International Issues, a global network of scientific academies, has issued a statement endorsing cosmic and biological evolution. It urges “decision makers, teachers, and parents to educate all children about the methods and discoveries of science and to foster an understanding of the science of nature.” Though the statement does not specifically mention intelligent design or creation, a report on BBC News says its release “follows fierce debate about whether so-called intelligent design (ID) should be taught in biology courses in schools, mainly in the US.” It opens with this veiled reference to opposition: “We, the undersigned Academies of Sciences, have learned that in various parts of the world, within science courses taught in certain public systems of education, scientific evidence, data, and testable theories about the origins and evolution of life on Earth are being concealed, denied, or confused with theories not testable by science.” The document lists 68 member societies, including the US National Academy of Sciences.
Next, it calls for “evidence-based” teaching about at least four subjects that, while having details still open to question, “scientific evidence has never contradicted” – (1) The Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago in a universe 11-15 billion years old, (2) Earth’s geology and environments have continued to change since its formation, (3) Life appeared at least 2.5 billion years ago, followed by the evolution of photosynthetic organisms which transformed the atmosphere, and
4. Since its first appearance on Earth, life has taken many forms, all of which continue to evolve, in ways which palaeontology and the modern biological and biochemical sciences are describing and independently confirming with increasing precision. Commonalities in the structure of the genetic code of all organisms living today, including humans, clearly indicate their common primordial origin.
The statement affirms a view of science based on observation, formulation of testable hypotheses leading to theories, and prediction. It says science is an open-ended process subject to correction and expansion, and that questions of value and purpose are outside its scope. The BBC has made the full text available.
One can imagine that in the time of the Reformation, every Catholic academy across the Latin world would have unanimously risen up to condemn Luther. The list of signatories would have been impressive. It must have been a fearful moment for Luther to stand alone against the tidal wave of illustrious scholars and officials arrayed against him, and say, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.”
Don’t be impressed by the number of signatories to this dogmatic document (that, ironically, claims science is not dogmatic; if they really believed that, they would recognize the possibility that evolution is wrong and listen seriously to the claims it has been falsified). A position statement issued by the upper echelons of management of a scientific society no more reflects the views of all scientists than a labor union’s political endorsement reflects the rank-and-file workers. How many of them even knew this document was being published? Most of the scientists in those societies don’t even study evolutionary biology in their day-to-day work, and probably many who accept evolution don’t feel that strongly about it. Probably one or a few activist leaders at a meeting of these academies wrote the statement and pushed it through for a vote; perhaps it included “Yves Quere, co-chair of the Inter Academy Panel on International Issues,” whom the BBC article quoted: “So in this statement we say you cannot teach this to children, it is wrong.” Here’s a guy with an agenda.
Even if I.D. is a minority view at this time (but not among the public, only among Big Science organizations), science does not advance by majority vote. As we saw from the case of Grote Reber (02/06/2003), the Lone Ranger is sometimes the good guy. There have been many instances in the history of science where a maverick had to fight long and hard against entrenched ideas – sometimes for decades, facing official opposition that was sometimes strident and personal. What’s important in science is not to be popular, but to be right. There are notable nonconformists within the scientific societies. Though pro-ID letters from scientists are routinely censored by most mainstream journals, Evolution News found a well-written letter to the Journal of Clinical Investigation that should be held up alongside the IAP document and any other saber-rattling position papers attacking intelligent design. Read it and see who is taking the reasonable scientific position on this issue.
The IAP statement, despite its self-righteous condemnation of anything that questions evolution, is noteworthy for what it does not say. The BBC article ended with a statement by Steve Fuller, who promotes teaching the controversy. Fuller thought it was “pretty mild” and “really doesn’t hit on the kinds of issues that would separate either contesting schools within evolutionary theory or evolution versus intelligent design.” It lacks, for instance, any reference to a naturalistic mechanism – including Darwin’s – that could lead from hydrogen to humans. Once you scrape away the rust of evolutionary assumptions masquerading as evidence, there’s really not much left to argue with: the universe appeared, life appeared, photosynthesis appeared, geology changes and science should be falsifiable. Remove the E-word here and there, and nothing is offered to demonstrate all living things arose from a common ancestor by an undirected natural process. (For a refutation of the argument from similarity, see Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells.)
The statement also attacks a straw man. No ID-friendly school board or organization is advocating removing the subject of evolution in the public schools, or replacing it with young-earth creationism. Where has Quere been? The whole controversy is about teaching the controversy and removing the artificial moat that protects Charlie’s castle from monitoring by independent inspectors. One would think that scientific societies, committed to an open-ended process of inquiry and the formulation of falsifiable theories, would welcome the scrutiny. So what if Darwin’s ideas are found to be false? Great; science marches on. So what if intelligent design wins? Great; now we have another paradigm for trying to make sense of the natural world. What’s the problem? The only people working to conceal, deny and confuse the issue are the Darwiniacs.
Official denunciations like this suggest an underlying insecurity. There would not be a need if evolution were so obvious. Instead of engaging their opponents calmly with rational discussion, they entrench themselves behind their castle walls and talk tough. Wouldn’t it be cool to lob boxes of Ann Coulter’s Godless over the wall, just for the fun of watching their pointy heads turn red and explode.