Food Fight: Discovery Institute and BioLogos

Continuum-2

One of the interesting — although probably futile — exercises in The Controversy between evolution and creationism is attempting to express the entire spectrum of beliefs in a simple diagram. We’ve posted before about The Creation-Evolution Continuum proposed by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). It’s their diagram that appears at the top of this post, but we’re not talking about their diagram today; we put it up there for background.

The BioLogos Foundation has their own concept of how the various viewpoints should be organized. They don’t have a diagram, just a list of concepts and individuals (some recently deceased, and one in prison), arranged in a conceptual sequence. You can see it at their website: The BioLogos Spectrum. They say, with bold font added by us:

The BioLogos position on origins sits partway between two fundamentalisms: on the “left” end of the spectrum is the fundamentalism of people like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett who are committed to the belief that the only reliable form of knowledge comes from science, and that alternate ways of knowing must be either rejected entirely or completely subordinated to science. On the “right” end of the spectrum is the fundamentalism of those who insist that reliable knowledge can only be found in an ultraliteral interpretation of the Bible, and that alternate ways of knowing must be completely subordinated to this way of reading the Bible.

They start with young-earth creationists (Ken Ham, Kent Hovind, etc.) and their lineup ends with what they call “Anti-religious non-accommodationists” (Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, etc.)

Of interest to us is where, between those “two fundamentalisms,” BioLogos positions the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).

BioLogos places the Discoveroids’s intelligent design position (Michael Behe, William Dembski, etc.) right after the old-earth creationists. The very next group on their sequence is BioLogos itself. We think the Discoveroids have been given a place they don’t deserve, and if we were with BioLogos we wouldn’t be pleased to see our group listed next to theirs — but we’ll get to that later. Here’s how BioLogos describes the Discoveroids:

Intelligent design (ID) proponents believe that much of modern science is wrong and must be rejected because of its naturalism. The term Intelligent Design, although appropriated by these science critics, is used in many ways and is embraced by the first 5 [creationist] groups on this list. ID proponents highlight mysteries within science, arguing that science will never explain mysteries like what caused the Big Bang, or how life originated. They then argue that we must use non-scientific explanations like “Intelligent Design.” Favorite topics include the Cambrian explosion, complex structures, and the origin of biological information. BioLogos rejects such “god of the gaps” reasoning.

That strikes us as an accurate, albeit tastefully restrained description. As you can imagine, the Discoveroids aren’t happy about this. They’ve been sparring with BioLogos for quite some time. For example, more than a year ago we posted Discovery Institute and BioLogos: Not Allies. The antagonism between those groups continues.

No less a Discoveroid intellect than Casey Luskin has posted a response at the Discoveroid blog. The title of his piece is glorious! Here are some excerpts from Casey’s Intelligent Design explains and unifies data from across the spectrum of scientific fields.

We’re going to skip over large chunks of Casey’s post, because — as is so often the case — it’s just too tangled to bother with. Starting in the middle, he says this, with bold font added by us:

The reality is that ID uses the scientific method to make its claims. … Design theorists hypothesize that if a natural object was designed, it will contain high levels of CSI [complex and specified information]. Scientists then perform experimental tests upon natural objects to determine if they contain complex and specified information. … When experimental work uncovers irreducible complexity in biology, researchers conclude that such structures were designed.

Curmudgeonly translation from Casey-speak into English: “Whenever Michael Behe encounters something he can’t figure out, he declares that it’s designed.”

Casey then goes through a list of things not yet fully understood, declaring in each case that the “scientific” explanation is intelligent design — or Oogity Boogity! The last item in his list of “data from a number of scientific fields” is:

Physics and cosmology, where ID encourages scientists to investigate and discover instances of fine-tuning of the laws of physics, which uniquely allow for the existence of advanced forms of life.

Yes, it’s not just the bacterial flagellum. The cause of the whole gull-durned, ying-yang universe is Oogity Boogity! Verily, it is just as Casey’s title promised: “Intelligent Design explains and unifies data from across the spectrum of scientific fields.” Blessed be the designer!

Why in the world does BioLogos put those guys right next to themselves, near the middle of their list? Let’s read on from Casey’s article:

ID is not merely a negative argument against neo-Darwinian evolution or other material causes. Again, whether you agree or disagree with ID, you can’t deny that ID proponents make a positive argument.

We can deny it. So can any rational observer.

Casey’s post is very long, and it’s not worth the effort required to spend any more time with it. But don’t let us discourage you. Click over to the Discoveroid blog and study it in detail as Casey attempts to rebut the BioLogos description of intelligent design.

We don’t need to do that, because we already know what intelligent design is — it’s a sanitized (i.e., disguised and closeted) form of creationism. If Casey sincerely believes what he has written about the splendor of his “science,” then … well, there’s no need to spell it out. You know.

Here’s one more small excerpt from near the end of Casey’s post, as he summarizes what the Discoveroids think of the BioLogos spectrum:

Make no mistake: If you’re looking for the dry objective facts about ID, you won’t find them in this BioLogos description.

It’s not important here, but our own method of sorting these groups out is more complicated. That’s because we think they should be arranged along more than one axis, so we’d like to see several diagrams. On an axis of science, they can be lined up according to their acceptance or rejection of objectively verifiable reality. That places young-earth creationists at the “total denial” end, old-earth creationists and Discoveroids would be close to them, with the secular scientists at the opposite end.

They can also be sorted out according to logical consistency. Some of the young-earth creationists are every bit as consistent as the secular scientists. The two groups start out with very different concepts of reality and how to gain knowledge about it, but once their premises are understood, both can show remarkable consistency (or fanaticism, depending on one’s viewpoint).

Arranging them according to their philosophical positions is something we won’t attempt for now — too many issues there. For example, what can we say about the strictest of the scientific secularists, who insist that nothing exists except that which is objectively verifiable? We can’t know if they’re correct, and neither can they. But it probably doesn’t matter if they’re willing to accept the existence of anything that may become manifest. There’s no practical reason for objecting to their position; but it’s philosophically debatable.

They can also be arranged along an honesty-dishonesty axis. On that one, we place the Discoveroids at the farthest end. They not only present extremely dubious arguments (e.g., about the political consequences of Darwin’s theory), they also deny the overwhelming evidence for evolution, and they always hint at, but never present, the evidence against it (unless you think Casey’s little list of “data” is such evidence). Further, and this is unique to the Discoveroids, they pretend that they have no theological motivations. In contrast, we’d place BioLogos at the opposite end of the honesty scale. They’re not trying to fool anyone. That’s also where we’d place many sincerely faithful young-earth creationists — as long as they don’t fiddle around with phony “creation science.”

We can also arrange them on a “threat to freedom” axis — that is, what would life be like for the rest of us if their positions were accepted? Those with theocratic motives are at the deep red end, and that’s certainly where we’d place the Discoveroids. Again, BioLogos seems to belong at the opposite end of that scale.

Actually, no matter what scale we use to classify the players in The Controversy, the Discoveroids are always at the dirtiest end of the stick, nowhere near BioLogos. Well, opinions vary, but that’s how we see it.

Update: See Discovery Institute Battles BioLogos.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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20 responses to “Food Fight: Discovery Institute and BioLogos

  1. As someone who swallowed the Reasons to Believe (almost every book Hugh Ross wrote) and ID (Darwin on Trial, Darwin’s Black Box) arguments in the 1990s but is now a fan of what BioLogos is attempting to accomplish, I can’t tell you how much I enjoy reading your blogs. Keep up the curmudgeonly work!!

  2. Attack bunny Casey Luskin:

    Make no mistake: If you’re looking for the dry objective facts about ID, you won’t find them in this BioLogos description.

    True, because Biologos pulls its punches. In defining ID (as opposed to their more substantive blogposts) they won’t normally point out that ID is nothing but a sad set of religious apologetics with little to recommend itself to either religion or to science.

    Biologos doesn’t say what Judge Jones does about ID, in other words. The DIots really hate to identified for what they really are. Then again, who would want to be identified as such? That’s why so many of us would never be them.

  3. It would help the case of IDiots if they could come up with arguments that haven’t been destroyed for the past 100+ years… Not that I actually want to help those liars and charlatans…

    Again, I love this link: http://factsnotfantasy.com/creationists.php

  4. “Only reliable form of knowledge” is a very loaded statement.

    First, (IMO) scientists tend to see science as the most reliable on a spectrum of reliability. But there isn’t any bright line cutoff point; reliability is not a binary state. So in using the term ‘only’ they’re muddying the water by requiring that the people in the argument first agree on some arbitrary definition of ‘reliable.’

    Second, the (improved) statement that science is the most reliable method for gaining knowledge isn’t a “belief” so much as it is a tentative conclusion based on empirical observation. Sure, there may be other methods of gaining knowledge that are more reliable, but if there are, we haven’t found them yet. What we do observe is that all the other methods humans have tried to use so far – revelation, for example – have proven less reliable.

  5. BioLogos says that ID has a nonscientific explanation, and I question that. It seems to me that there are some standards for explanations, whether scientific, philosophical, historical, theological, or whatever, and ID offers no explanation of any sort of anything.

    For example, an explanation tells us “why this, rather than that“. But I have no example of the way that things might be, if they were not “intelligently designed.” ID “explains” “why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings” just as well as it explains why humans have the tetrapod skeleton. It “explains” life on Pluto or the Sun just as well as life on Earth. It “explains” centaurs, flying carpets and Penrose triangles just as well as it explains bacterial flagella. (Actually, couldn’t one argue that ID would do a better job of explaining impossible things?)

    Can anyone think of any criterion for explanations that would apply to what ID produces?

  6. Cutrmudgeon: “They can also be arranged along an honesty-dishonesty axis. On that one, we place the Discoveroids at the farthest end.”

    I thought of that (a multidimensional “continuum” with the DI the most extreme in the most important metric) in 1999, but you beat me fair and square at publishing it, so I won’t whine about being “expelled.”

    As you noticed, NCSE also modified their earlier version, which had ID placed closest to evolution, undoubtedly due to the fact that whenever IDers (usually Behe) do take a position on “what happened when,” it is closest to evolution. But the devil is in the “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

  7. Beginning with the observation that the christmas tree I put up each year is was made in a factory somewhere, I hypothesize that similar looking trees found in nature must also be made in factories. Sure, the material composition is somewhat different, but I experiment by driving past many such trees and noting that they look very complicated and not too different from the one in my living room. Therefore, I have validated my theory of factory origins for trees.

    Ah, but are they irreducibly complex? Yes! If you take away the stand from my tree, it falls over – if you remove the central trunk, it’s just a pile of limbs, and of course if you remove the limbs, it’s only a pole. The same applies to the trees in nature – without roots, they fall over; without a trunk; they collapse; without limbs/leaves, they die. Can all three structures arise by accident at the same time? Of course not. How foolish of you materialists.

    Overly simplified, but exactly the same logic as ID, except the designer in ID is safely beyond any possible verification or falsification.

  8. Ed, the designer(s) in ID are safely beyond any description. Even such basic descriptions as: how many of them – maybe even zero; or: what they did or are apt to do.

  9. Only two comments to minimize my mouth-foaming.

    The BioLogos position is that there are “alternate ways of knowing.” This is why BioLogos gets as much respect as Ken Ham or Deepak Chopra, i.e. none.

    “Alternate ways of knowing” equals crottin de cheval, pardon my French. Morons.

    Second, assuming all the Oogity Booigity CSI, IR, BS actually worked and scientists detected Design ™, so freaking what? What’s the point? Where does it go? Aren’t you annoyed by people *cough*Berlinski*cough* who leave a bunch of questions hanging?

    Answers: Yeah, so what! No point whatsoever. Goes nowhere. Yes, Berlinski, Behe, Dembski, Luskin and the rest of the creationist spectrum are quite annoying.

  10. TomS: Ed, the designer(s) in ID are safely beyond any description.

    Not quite true; we know that one of their properties/traits is that they don’t leave any evidence behind. 🙂

  11. TomS, I completely agree. I just meant to illustrate how completely nonsensical the ID logic was, at least as it’s described by Casey. He argues that ID is scientific because “ID begins with the observation that intelligent agents produce complex and specified information (CSI). Design theorists hypothesize that if a natural object was designed, it will contain high levels of CSI. “ Then he goes on to argue that they look for “CSI” in natural objects and of course find it everywhere. But it makes no sense to assume that because information – however he defines it – is produced by intelligent beings, that it can only be produced by intelligent beings. It’s equivalent to my silly analogy of an artificial christmas tree, and making the IDiotic assumption that because it is made in a factory, all trees must only be made in factories.

    Computer programmers write machine readable code, nature produces code that can be read by cells. Both processes contain errors, redundant or unnecessary code, and often are a patchwork of previously existing code or modules. The difference is that human generated code is very often written completely from scratch or if it’s an update, will have a comprehensive set of upgrades in a single release – nature never writes software from scratch, and changes are very incremental. Odd that the Discoveroids never mention these enormous differences between information generated by programmers and what is observed in nature.

  12. Gabriel Hanna

    I’d have to disagree with Doc Bill, and he’d disagree with himself if he took a little more time to think about it. There is plenty of knowledge that doesn’t come from science.

    For example, mathematics and logic are not scientific ways of knowing. Both of them underpin scientific knowledge but they are not themselves scientific. They come from manipulating postulates in agreed-upon ways and these postulates don’t depend in any way on any physical fact.

    Aesthetics and ethics are argued by some to be knowledge, but certainly not scientific, and probably the most dangerous people who have ever existed are people who thought that these are.

    Historical knowledge is not scientific knowledge either. Nothing in history is replicable. Julius Caesar lived or he didn’t, and there’s no way to do experiments to show that he lived and his living doesn’t follow from any physical law.

    That’s just a few things off the top of my head.

  13. Gabriel Hanna

    Scientists then perform experimental tests upon natural objects to determine if they contain complex and specified information. … When experimental work uncovers irreducible complexity in biology, researchers conclude that such structures were designed.

    Incidentally, who are these scientists, what are these experimental tests? I’m afraid they exist only in Luskin’s imagination.

  14. Gabriel Hanna asks:

    Incidentally, who are these scientists, what are these experimental tests?

    You know … the ever-growing number of intelligent design scientists. Unfortunately, they’ve all been Expelled! And their work is always rejected by the Darwin-only journals. It’s a dirty rotten shame! [/Cagney mode]

  15. What I was referring to regarding “alternative ways of knowing” were revealed truths and “supernatural” explanations. That’s what the BioLogos bozos are talking about. Pure Oogitiy Boogity.

    Regarding love and beauty, there are scientific, physiological explanations for all that stuff, not totally worked out, but getting there. For example, check out Helen Fisher’s book on Why We Love which describes the various neurochemical concoctions that drive us from adolescent puppy love, through romance, to companionship and friendship. It’s all quite explainable in physical terms. Natural explanations.

    And, by the way, I know that Caesar existed because he left behind the recipe for a great salad.

  16. Gabriel Hanna

    Regarding love and beauty, there are scientific, physiological explanations for all that stuff, not totally worked out, but getting there.

    That may be, your experience of love is not scientific. No one can know what you feel but you, and no one can know if all of us experience it differently or not; just as no one can know if we see “red” the same way (yes, we see the same frequency, but my experience of red might look like blue to you, if you could see with my eyes and mind, which you can’t).

    Furthermore, there is no science that can teach you what you SHOULD do. Love might one day be understood in terms of chemistry, but that won’t mean that you’re loving the right person in the right way.

    I know that Caesar existed because he left behind the recipe for a great salad.

    I had always assumed that when he conquered the Gauls he was so disgusted by their flattery and abasement that he told them “go away, I don’t know make me a salad or something.”

  17. Aw, Gabriel, you’re just a big ole softie!

  18. Gabriel Hanna

    Aw, Gabriel, you’re just a big ole softie!

    Well, I’m married to a woman who could do WAY better than me, so I have a vested interest in no one figuring out how love works.

  19. I resemble that remark, G. Obviously, trickery has an evolutionary advantage.

  20. Ed, the only difficulty with creationism is that there are so many ways that it goes wrong.