Saturday, January 21, 2012

Missouri House Bill No. 1227: The Invisible Hand of The Discovery Institute

This is quite something to behold. This bill, which is authored by Rick Brattin, a Republican representative mandates the equal teaching of intelligent design in classrooms in Missouri. Let's see what it says.

First, it starts out with some definitions. Among them are “Biological Evolution” and “Biological Intelligent Design.” The definition of biological evolution moves along just fine until the end when we find this:
Theory philosophically demands only naturalistic causes and denies the operation of any intelligence, supernatural event, God or theistic figure in the initial or subsequent development of life;
No, it doesn't. The theory has absolutely nothing to say about the existence or non-existence of God. It simply provides a mechanism for understanding evolution that is observable in the natural world. All Charles Darwin did was remove the necessity of explaining evolution using supernatural means. That is a very different thing. Darwin's own struggles with belief in God had little to do with his understanding of the natural world. Onward. Here is part of the definition of Biological Intelligent Design:
"Biological intelligent design", a hypothesis that the complex form and function observed in biological structures are the result of intelligence and, by inference, that the origin of biological life and the diversity of all original species on earth are the result of intelligence. Since the inception of each original species, genetic material has been lost, inherited, exchanged, mutated, and recombined to result in limited variation. Naturalistic mechanisms do not provide a means for making life from simple molecules or making sufficient new genetic material to cause ascent from microscopic organisms to large life forms.
I can't think of a single biologist who would agree with this statement. It is Discovery Institute 101 and reflects the whole “No Free Lunch” paradigm of William Dembski that has been refuted time and time again. Evolution produces enormous amounts of variation that is acted on by selection to produce a wide range of species. This process ought to be patently obvious even from our own genetic mechanisms such as crossing over of homologous chromosomes and independent assortment. A bit down, we encounter this:
The origin of life on earth is inferred to be the result of intelligence directed design and construction. There are no plausible mechanisms or present-day experiments to prove the naturalistic origin of the first independent living organism;

(b) All original species on earth are inferred to be the result of intelligence directed design and construction. There are no significant mechanisms or present-day experiments to prove the naturalistic development of earth's species from microscopic organisms;

(c) Complex forms in proteins, enzymes, DNA, and other biological structures demonstrated by their constituent molecules in regard to size, shape, quantity, orientation, sequence, chirality, and integration imply intelligent design was necessary for the first life on earth. Intelligence is capable of designing complex form;

(d) Complex functions demonstrated by growth, reproduction, repair, food metabolization, waste disposal, stimuli response, and autonomous mobility in microscopic organisms imply intelligent design was necessary for the first life on earth. Intelligence is capable of designing complex function;

(e) Within the history of human experience, all exhibits of recurring discrete symbols from a set of symbols arranged in a specific sequence which store information and can be read by human intelligence, is itself the result of intelligence. DNA contains stored information for the assembling of proteins and enzymes which can be read by humans and is the result of intelligence. The recurring discrete symbols sequenced within DNA which store information are the molecules adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine;

(f) Intelligence-directed design and construction of all original species at inception without an accompanying genetic burden is inferred rather than random mutational genetic change as a constructive mechanism. Random mutational genetic change results in an increasing genetic burden and species degradation rather than species ascent;

(g) Intelligence-directed action is necessary to exceed the limits of natural species change, which is a combination of autogenous species change and environmental effected species change. Multi-generation breeding experiments illustrate the limits of natural species change and its inadequacy for developing required genetic information found in dissimilar species;
In all of these statements, evolution is said to only bring about decay and disorder because everything is random and an increase in randomness only leads to chaos. All of these assertions about evolution reflect William Dembski's stubborn lack of understanding of how selection works. If evolution were to proceed in a completely random fashion like he thinks it does, then this statement would carry some weight but it does not behave that way.

This could all be picked apart but overall, it is clear that it is written by someone with no understanding of science. What this all amounts to is argument from negative evidence. It is inferred that there is no evidence that any of this occurred naturally, therefore it must have been done by a creator. In other words, your theory is wrong, therefore mine must be right.

The other problem that this section exhibits is that there is a subtle redefinition of science. In three instances in the above paragraph, the word “inferred” is used, as if that were enough to promote a scientific model. There is no statement that any of the above inferences can be scientifically supported. That is not what is important here. What is important is showing that evolution is a godless process and must be disposed of.

The bill continues:
(g) Intelligence-directed action is necessary to exceed the limits of natural species change, which is a combination of autogenous species change and environmental effected species change. Multi-generation breeding experiments illustrate the limits of natural species change and its inadequacy for developing required genetic information found in dissimilar species;

(h) The irreducible complexity of certain biological systems implies a completed design and construction at inception rather than step-by-step development, as indicated by the structures observed for sight, hearing, smell, balance, blood coagulation, digestion, and hormone control;

(i) The lack of significant transitional forms between diverse species existing today and in the fossil record implies all original species were completed at inception rather than by a step-by-step development from other species. A lack of transitional forms is illustrated by the appearance of large complex life forms in the Cambrian fossil record without any significant previous fossils;
The irreducible complexity argument is, of course, Behe's, but here the bill extends it to systems that have been shown to have intermediate stages, such as coagulation, sight, and hearing. The only thing missing from this laundry list is the chloroquine resistance argument.

Then the old stand-by comes out—that there are no transitional fossils. As I have mentioned before, this has been refuted so many times that it is now reasonable to call it a lie by those promoting it. There are so many examples of transitional fossils that it is difficult to keep track of them. Here is a nifty video on transitional fossils which should put any doubt to rest. Alternatively, you could look up Don Prothero's Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters.

There is a section toward the end in which the concepts of scientific “laws” are delineated. Here is what Mr. Brattin thinks a theory is:
If scientific theory is taught, the theory shall be identified as theory when taught orally or in writing. Empirical data and conjecture may be presented to support taught theory where considered instructive. As used in this subsection, the term "theory" shall mean theory or hypothesis;
This definition is laughable in the extreme. The fact that he doesn't seem to know basic science is one thing. That he did not even go to the dictionary to find out what he is writing about is inexcusable. Here is the dictionary definition of hypothesis:
A supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.
Here is the dictionary definition of theory:
A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not "guesses" but reliable accounts of the real world.
This is a far cry from what Mr. Brattin thinks a theory is and his definition would change the understanding of how students understand the scientific method and make it more in line with common public misconception.

Toward the end, he puts in the best land mine, though:
A temporary committee shall be established and serve without compensation to develop supplemental textbook material for interim use by public schools for the teaching of biological intelligent design within two years after this section becomes law. The committee shall consist of nine individuals who are knowledgeable of science and intelligent design and reside in Missouri. Each member of the state board of education and the commissioner of education shall appoint one person to the committee. The supplemental material shall be based on subdivision (3) of subsection 2 of this section and its use by schools shall be optional. Interim supplemental material shall be accessible for copying on the department of elementary and secondary education internet website without cost or restriction.

Would this committee be composed of people as scientifically literate as those in the Texas School Board of Education, headed by Don McLeroy, who famously stated, “Someone has to stand up to experts!” before he was summarily shown the door? Would the supplemental material be young-earth creationism-based like that proposed for use in the Livingston Parrish public schools, down in Louisiana? Funny, every place where you have an “academic freedom” bill, the YEC supporters seem to pop up.

This is a bad bill from the get-go, written by a man who has little understanding or regard for the scientific process. He simply doesn't like evolution. That he has no idea what it is, is irrelevant.

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