Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Dawkins and Coyne – Just plain wrong.

Jerry Coyne Richard Dawkins

Dawkin's and Coyne have sought to provide a fundamentalist darwinian re-interpretation of the UK national Curriculum here
Guardian Article
(Thursday September 1, 2005)

They have given their considered opinion on a teach the controversy view of origins in biology. I argue here that they are just plain wrong.... both about intelligent design and about teaching science.

They say that the whole intelligent design movement is simply an attempt to sneak religion into science and that there is no controversy in science about biological origins. They repeat the usual objections to the intelligent design movement… that it is creationism poorly disguised. This is a mistake and these two educators ought to know better. Jonathon Witt has pointed out that the origins of the Intelligent Design movement are entirely different from the origins of the Scientific Creationism movement (see here.)

To classify intelligent design with phlogiston, alchemy and the “stork theory” is simply indulging in silly talk and they should know better.

They immediately undermine their own parallels by taking intelligent design much more seriously than my daughters would take the stork theory!

They seek to establish the point that intelligent design theory does not belong in science lessons simply because it is not science. This is because “positive evidence for it would fill peer reviewed journals”

They claim that “There simply isn't any ID research to publish” this is simply false and they both know it is false. See here.

There is also mounting clear public domain evidence (as opposed to private suspicions and hearsay) that there is a real problem with publishing ID material in the normal peer reviewed literature.

They claim that all that ID people ever do is criticise evolution offering negative evidence that it is a paradigm that lacks clear proof. This is also wrong… such is the power of Behe’s arguments in Darwin’s Black Box that it has caused serious self examination for many biologists. His challenges are clearly causing a stir or the two words “intelligent” and “design” would not be the buzz words that they are.

What I find most interesting in this whole debate is that it is causing the ardent Darwinists like Dawkins and Coyne to make statements which clearly betray an uncritical approach to evolution. They are making silly statements which will with increasing frequency come back home to haunt their own rafters….

How about this one…

Biologists, on the other hand, can confidently claim the equivalent "cinematic" sequence of fossils for a very large number of evolutionary transitions. Not all, but very many, including our own descent from the bipedal ape Australopithecus. And - far more telling - not a single authentic fossil has ever been found in the "wrong" place in the evolutionary sequence. Such an anachronistic fossil, if one were ever unearthed, would blow evolution out of the water.

Do any full time palaeontologists want to comment on this statement???

The UK national Curriculum specifically mentions Darwin’s theory of evolution in the ideas and evidence section of KS4 Sc1:
1) Students should be taught:
b) how scientific controversies can arise from different ways of interpreting empirical evidence [for example, Darwin's theory of evolution]
c) ways in which scientific work may be affected by the contexts in which it takes place [for example, social, historical, moral and spiritual], and how these contexts may affect whether or not ideas are accepted

In this context is the National Curriculum referring to the kind of controversies that Dawkins and Coyne would have students focus on (namely the Cambrian Explosion, Evolution of human behaviour, sexual selection, the target of natural selection and natural selection versus genetic drift) or is it referring to a much more interesting and fundamental controversy about whether the big picture of evolution is actually true or not?

I would argue that set in the context in which it is found here (especially noting the immediate following statement c) we have to conclude that Dawkins and Coyne are seeking to impose their own view of what should be taught rather than seeking to fairly interpret what the national curriculum actually states.

I would argue that to exclude the teaching of special creation and intelligent design means the re-writing of history which Dawkins and Coyne rightly oppose when it comes to the denial of the Holocaust. The actual historical context for the acceptance or rejection of Darwin’s theory was very much that of Judeo Christian views of creation and the validity or otherwise of the Mosaic account of origins in the first book of the bible. To pretend that it was otherwise is just as much a rewriting of history as Holocaust denial.

To exclude such a fundamental controversy actually does disservice to budding scientists… Even if intelligent design turns out to be completely wrong it will still have done a monumental service to the cause of true science by forcing biologists to look more carefully at the differences between objective evidence and subjective assumptions. This is something that Dawkins and Coyne seem to be most reluctant to do.


Anonymous Tim said...

Hey Andrew- I appreciate the manner of your argument - it's tone is reasonable and well thought through, so i shall do my best to respond in kind, in the interest if sharing thoughts, not creating tension.

i disagree about a lot you say however... It is likely to be true that intelligent design in the form it holds today did not arise thorough biblical origins, but the core premise of 'a creator made the earth' has been at the heart of all religions since the birth of human thought. those proponents who support the movement now and are not religiously motivated are, i'd dare assume, negligably few - limited to those who belive it to be some extra-terrestrial interference (not good, as they too would need an explanation), or an unlikely few who cant explain it by any supernatural or physical means but agree that something must be taught.

yes, dawkins is known for some quite scathing anecdotes, but doubtless truly he does, as mayself among others do, find the stork as unreasonable as I.D. I.D. howver is widely believed and therefore, unlike the stork, required debate - this is the purpose of the attention paid to I.D. If the stork were just as popular, he'd be writing an article on that.

I have had a look at the peer-reviewed journal entries. I don't feel any give anywhere near the positive evidence given for evolution. To say, 'here are some facts, and a designer would indeed explain why they are so' is not the same as saying, 'let's assume there is a designer, make some assumptions that would HAVE to be true if it were so, and then do the research to see if the evidence agrees.' Science works by the latter - you can't just postulate a theory, you have to test it explicitly. If you can't do this, then you are relying on an arbitrary induction- which falls outside the scientific approach.

This doesn't mean the induction has to be wrong, it just means it needs a different label to science - and religion is so far the most accurate around.

let me give a clear example-

some conditions that would MAKE a designer necessary could be as such

there must be some non man-made objects capable of building a planet such as ours.

we can research into this, but clearly the idea is ludicrous - to scan the entire universe to find such machines - but WERE we to find it, it would be scientific evidence in favour of a designer. I can't think of any examples that don's sound equally far out. but take evolution:

animals in colder climates would have ticker fur

animals who live in a forest would have better 3D abilities than those who live on a tundra

there must a be a fossil somewhere that has characteristics of both animal A and B.

alternatively, we can disprove the theory:

there must be a fossil somewhere which can be dated earlier than what by all other evidences is it's ancestor.

and thousands upon thousands of these can be fulfilled. For this reason, I.D., which cannot seemingly be proven or disproven, is a valid theory (like the stork), but not a scientific one (like the stork!).

anyway, i think that reaches the core of my arguments- i agree, it should be taught, as all popular human ideas should be, but it is the subject of a social studies, a history, or a religion class.

please respond to my myspace page with some responses of your own - i would like to discuss it further with someone who is clearly capable of discussing it in a very respectable manner. cheers - tim

7:40 am  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...


I could not find your my space link???

8:21 am  
Anonymous Tim said...

hey andrew...

my myspace (that of my band but i use it as my own) should work with


otherwise, send me an email at rabmt001@students.unisa.edu.au

4:31 pm  

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