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Friday, March 30, 2007

Thinkquote of the day: Who wrote this? You’d be surprised

Over at Uncommon Descent, a longish combox discussion started recently - which spread here after I reposted some of my own comments - on whether the intelligent design guys would gain or lose credibility if they kicked out the young earth creationists (YECs, the folk who believe that the Bible teaches that the earth was created in 144 hours and therefore it must be true).

My own view is that it is politically astonishingly naive to think that the intelligent design-friendly scientists who accept universal common descent would gain anything by starting a big fight with:

(1) a lay young earth creation ministry like Answers in Genesis (which says negative things about ID from time to time)


(2) an astronomer-run old earth creation ministry like Hugh Ross's Reasons to Believe (which also says negative things about ID from time to time),

let alone

(3) those YECs such as Paul Nelson who choose to work with the ID folk who accept conventional age of the earth and common ancestry.

Basically, anyone who adopts a non-materialist stance of any type on anything will be persecuted by the materialists dominant in science and public policy today. That's just a fact. Non-materialists who squabble among themselves waste time that could be going into developing their own positions more fully. This is a matter of political common sense and actually has nothing to do with the legitimacy or usefulness of YEC ideas.

In my book, By Design or by Chance?, I took a couple of chapters to examine, in a neutral way, the origin of young earth creationism - where and how did it originate and who does it appeal to?
As a movement among American Protestants, YEC originated in the early 1960s. (Note: William Jennings Bryant of Scopes trial fame - the real trial, not the Inherit the Wind movie - was an old earth creationist like astronomer Hugh Ross.)

I personally view young earth creationism as an attempt to confront the growing impact of materialism by adopting literalist Bible interpretation. I don’t think it's true and I don't think it works. Beyond that, I don’t think literalism is the best way to understand the Bible. I have been criticized by YECs for my views and also by self-proclaimed Christians in science who think that I should have ridiculed YECs - as if that was going to help me or my readers understand them better.

That said, the real issues are far more complex than many people realize anyway. Paul Nelson, that YEC biologist who does work with the ID guys, wrote to me yesterday, offering a quiz of sorts, by way of illustrating the complexity:

Quick! Who said this?

1. "The phenomenon of a monophyletic origin for the universal Tree of Life probably did not occur...At the macro-scale life appears to have had many origins."

2. "Darwin claimed that a unique inclusively hierarchical pattern of relationships between all organisms based on their similarities and differences [the Tree of Life (TOL)] was a fact of nature, for which evolution, and in particular a branching process of descent with modification, was the explanation. However, there is no independent evidence that the natural order is an inclusive hierarchy, and incorporation of prokaryotes into the TOL is especially
problematic. The only data sets from which we might construct a universal hierarchy including prokaryotes, the sequences of genes, often disagree and can seldom be proven to agree. Hierarchical structure can always be imposed on or extracted from such data sets by algorithms designed to do so, but at its base the universal TOL rests on an unproven assumption about pattern that, given what we know about process, is unlikely to be broadly true."

Well, if these people are arguing against the proposition that all life arose from a single randomly generated cell billions of years ago, they must be raving creationist lunatics, right?

The answers, as offered by Paul Nelson

1. Malcolm Gordon, a professor of evolutionary biology at UCLA (See his 1999 paper, “The Concept of Monophyly.” for the details.)

2. W. Ford Doolittle, in his recent (2007) Inaugural Article as a foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences

Are these guys young earth creationists? Not ruddy likely. Actually, nowadays, you do not have to be a young earth creationist or any type of creationist or ID advocate to disbelieve in universal common descent from a single ancestor. Plus, he says - just to complicate the picture - most of the young ID advocates over at Telic Thoughts are "vocal advocates" of universal common descent.

The problem with multiple origins of life by chance alone is that staggering complexities face the origin of life even once. Assuming it happened a number of times without design would seem only to add to the problems faced by materialism, rather than subtracting from them.

So we live in interesting times. I think a fight between ID advocates and young earth creationists would be a sideshow compared to the growing row between materialists and non-materialists.

If you want to understand why the intelligent design controversy cannot go away, read By Design or by Chance?.

My other blog is the Mindful Hack, which keeps tabs on neuroscience and the mind.

If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

My recent series on the spate of anti-God books, teen blasphemy challenge, et cetera, and the mounting anxiety of materialist atheists that lies behind it.

My review of Francis Collins’ book The Language of God , my backgrounder about peer review issues, or the evolutionary biologist’s opinion that all students friendly to intelligent design should be flunked.

Lists of theoretical and applied scientists who doubt Darwin and of academic ID publications.

My U of Toronto talk on why there is an intelligent design controversy, or my talk on media coverage of the controversy at the University of Minnesota.

A summary of tech guru George Gilder's arguments for ID and against Darwinism

A critical look at why March of the Penguins was thought to be an ID film.

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove’s critique of Darwinism.

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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