Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"Darwinism at AEI" is the title of an article that appears in the American Spectator, which can be accessed here at the Discovery Institute's site. The article gets so many things wrong, it is hard to know where to start. The author, Tom Bethell is a regular contributor to both the American Spectator and the National Review and is a Washington Correspondent--in other words, perfectly qualified to talk about "Darwinism." He writes"

Darwinism is best seen as 19th century philosophy—materialism—dressed up as science, and directed against a theological argument for the existence of God.

Oh? And what exactly is "Darwinism?" He never says. If you are going to take pot shots at something, you ought to at least define it for your audience. One thing he does get right, but for the wrong reasons is that "Darwinism" lends itself to no particular philosophical stance:

The truth is that Darwinism is so shapeless that it can be enlisted in support of any cause whatsoever. Steven Hayward, a resident scholar at AEI, made this clear in his admirable introduction. Darwinism has over the years been championed by eugenicists, social Darwinists, racialists, free-market economists, liberals galore, Wilsonian progressives and National Socialists, to give only a partial list. Karl Marx and Herbert Spencer, Communists and libertarians, and almost anyone in between, have at times found Darwinism to their liking. Spencer himself first used the phrase “survival of the fittest,” and Darwin thought it an “admirable” summation of his thesis.

The truth is that evolutionary theory is not shapeless at all but has very concrete processes that can be identified, observed and predicted. If Mr. Bethell did any work in the natural sciences, he would know this. He continues:

The underlying problem is that a key Darwinian term is not defined. Darwinism supposedly explains how organisms become more “fit,” or better adapted to their environment. But fitness is not and cannot be defined except in terms of existence. If an animal exists, it is “fit” (otherwise it wouldn’t exist).

This is patently silly. Traits are either selected for or against in any given population. We see that from generation to generation in the fluctuation of gene frequencies. That is what evolution is. Over time, genes (which code for how an animal is going to look) either increase in a population or are selected out. Those genes change how an animal is going to look and are directly affected by the environment. This is simply extrapolated to the fossil record. Based on what we know of how observable species change, we predict what should be seen in the fossil record. If we do, the hypothesis is right. If not, the hypothesis is wrong and we go back to the drawing board.

About ID, he says:

Intelligent Design is not like that. It is aggressive and therefore potentially dangerous. It says to the Darwinians: “You don’t have the evidence to support your claims. Your lab results and fossils don’t support your theory. Organisms are way too complex to have arisen by chance. Take all the time you want, it won’t be enough. Even though we don’t know how it happened, these critters must have been designed somehow.”

THAT'S JUST IT! Intelligent Design supporters don't know how it happened. Furthermore, without a mechanism, they will NEVER know how it happened. That is why ID is not science and why it should not be confused as such. He claims that ID is informed by science, not religion and that is why it has made scientists angry. That is not why it has made scientists angry. It has made them angry PRECISELY because it isn't science. It has no methods, no models and no hypotheses. It only has an untestable theory. I'm sorry but even if you could show that my model is wrong, it doesn't make your model right.

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