Thursday, May 07, 2009

Tom Tancredo and Chris Matthews on Evolution

Chris Matthews interviews Tom Tancredo on Hardball and Tancredo gets nearly everything wrong.

Matthews starts out by stating the position that God created the universe but "did it his way." Tancredo then calls this "intelligent design." That is not Intelligent design. That is simply God-inspired creation. He then presents this form of creation as diametrically opposed to "Darwinian evolution." Tell that to Michael Behe, one of ID's leading lights who accepts evolution and common descent. Tancredo then spouts the following DI talking points, in order:
  • The lack of transitional fossils (he harps on this for some time)—yes there are; thousands of them
  • evolution occurs within species—no evidence of new species
  • no religious dogma attached to ID
  • teach the controversy
Why can't he simply say, "Hey, I'm a politician. I don't have an informed opinion of these things?" Matthews continues to link the controversy back to climate change and the scientific method, which is, of course, where one of the main problems lies.

Emergent from the aftermath of the Dover trial is that ID promoters like William Dembski view science and the scientific method in an antagonistic manner. In March of 2008, Dembski had a post on Uncommon Descent in which he describes a new educational program at SUNY Buffalo that seeks the following:
Explore the methods and outlook of science as they intersect with public culture and public policy. Understand the elements of scientific literacy. Earn the new master’s degree in general education (Ed.M.) with an emphasis in Science and the Public, a cooperative initiative of the University at Buffalo Graduate School of Education and the Center for Inquiry.

This unique two-year degree, offered entirely online, is ideal for students preparing for careers in research, science education, public policy, and science journalism, as well as further study in sociology, history and philosophy of science, science communication, education, or public administration.

Some of the courses required to complete this 33 credit hour master of education degree program include Scientific Writing; Informal Science Education; Science Curricula; Critical Thinking; History and Philosophy of Science; Science, Technology and Human Values; Research Ethics. Students interested in receiving a Certificate in Science and the Public, issued by the Center for Inquiry, need only complete the last four courses.

Dembski's description of the program?: "Professional atheists combine with SUNY-Buffalo to offer a masters of education." Funny. I don't see anything in that program description asking students to disavow any belief in God. Nor do I see anything in there to suggest that studying the scientific method will cause people to lose their faith. Instead, this is Dembski's take on modern science. Compare this to Philip Johnson's statement on the nature of science:
The problem with scientific naturalism as a worldview is that it takes a sound methodological premise of natural science and transforms it into a dogmatic statement about the nature of the universe. Science is committed by definition to empiricism, by which I mean that scientists seek to find truth by observation, experiment, and calculation rather than by studying sacred books or achieving mystical states of mind. It may well be, however, that there are certain questions-important questions, ones to which we desperately want to know the answers-that cannot be answered by the methods available to our science. These may include not only broad philosophical issues such as whether the universe has a purpose, but also questions we have become accustomed to think of as empirical, such as how life first began or how complex biological systems were put together.
It is one of the goals of the DI to expand the definition of science to include things non-empirically observable. As far as Dembski and Johnson are concerned, as long as science limits itself to what is observable, it is inherently atheistic. We saw how an expanded definition of science got Michael Behe in trouble in the Dover/Kitzmiller trial:
Q But you are clear, under your definition [of science], the definition that sweeps in intelligent design, astrology is also a scientific theory, correct?

A Yes, that's correct. And let me explain under my definition of the word "theory," it is -- a sense of the word "theory" does not include the theory being true, it means a proposition based on physical evidence to explain some facts by logical inferences. There have been many theories throughout the history of science which looked good at the time which further progress has shown to be incorrect. Nonetheless, we can't go back and say that because they were incorrect they were not theories. So many many things that we now realized to be incorrect, incorrect theories, are nonetheless theories.

Q Has there ever been a time when astrology has been accepted as a correct or valid scientific theory, Professor Behe?

A Well, I am not a historian of science. And certainly nobody -- well, not nobody, but certainly the educated community has not accepted astrology as a science for a long long time. But if you go back, you know, Middle Ages and before that, when people were struggling to describe the natural world, some people might indeed think that it is not a priori -- a priori ruled out that what we -- that motions in the earth could affect things on the earth, or motions in the sky could affect things on the earth.
I find it more than a bit troubling that a definition of a scientific theory that includes astrology is being espoused by a practicing scientist. As long as the working definition of science includes only that which is testable and observable, ID is dead in the water. It has no mechanisms by which to promote itself so it must rely on people like Tancredo to popularize it by falsely casting it in opposition to "Darwinism," which is clearly defined as atheistic in nature. Nothing like getting your message out at a national level. It is unfortunate that few people will realize that had no idea what he was talking about.

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