Sunday, September 25, 2005

Understanding ID

We have a local talk show host who does a fine job of keeping issues of local and national interest before the listening public. On Friday he did a segment on the lawsuit against Dover Area School District's decision to have biology teachers read a statement alerting students to the fact that Neo-Darwinism is not the only game in town. The case will be heard starting tomorrow in Harrisburg, PA. I wrote an e-mail to the host in response to a couple of things I thought he said about ID on the program:


I think it's great that you're willing to talk on your show about the intelligent design issue as much as you do, and I sympathize with the "middle of the road" position you stake out on the matter.

You said two things on Friday's show, however, that may mislead some of your listeners, and I think it's important that there not be confusion on this matter.

I might have misunderstood or not heard you clearly, but I thought you said (1) that intelligent design (ID) is a religious theory and (2) that creationism is not allowed to be taught in public schools. If you didn't say these things then please disregard this e-mail. If you did say them, then I'd like to urge you to rethink them.

Neo-Darwinian evolution is a theory that states that all of life can be explained in terms of natural, mechanistic processes acting blindly and without intentional purpose. ID is the denial of this. ID advocates make two related arguments: They argue firstly that material processes are not adequate to account for the high degree of information and the exquisite depth of complexity we find in living things. They argue secondly that whatever the role of material processes was in the emergence of living things, their obvious design bears the impress of intention and intelligence.

That is as far as ID advocates can legitimately go as scientists. They do not draw any conclusions (except in some cases in their private lives) about what this intelligence is. The universe itself may be a cosmic mind as some ancient Greeks believed, or it may be subject to a world soul or spirit as Hegel and the German idealists believed. Whatever the designer is there is no way one can deduce from ID that it's the God of the Bible or the Koran or any other sacred book. Such a step requires a leap of faith that people might make personally but which can't be justified logically. In fact, it's logically possible even to be an atheist or an agnostic and still agree that ultimate reality is mind and that the universe shows intentionality.

If ID doesn't lead inevitably to the existence of the personal God of most religions then how can it be religious in any commonly understood sense? Moreover, as I wrote for a column here, ID neither entails the existence of a god nor does it prescribe worship of one. It has no church nor dogma nor trappings of a religion. Doubtless many ID adherents are religious as individuals and would like to see ID used as a means to point others to the Judeo-Christian God, but then many Darwinians are atheistic and see Darwinism as a useful tool for turning people toward materialism or naturalism.

The next time a caller calls in and says that ID is a religious theory, ask them exactly what it is about it that makes it so. I doubt that they'll be able to give a compelling answer.

You also said on your show Friday, if I heard you correctly, that creationism cannot be taught in public schools. This is not correct. The Supreme Court case that addressed this matter was Edwards v. Aguillard in 1987 which came about because the state legislature of Louisiana sought to require the teaching of creationism whenever evolution is taught. Writing for the majority, Justice Brennan (see here) said:

It is equally clear that requiring schools to teach creation science with evolution does not advance academic freedom. The [LA Creationism] Act does not grant teachers a flexibility that they did not already possess to supplant the present science curriculum with the presentation of theories, besides evolution, about the origin of life. Indeed, the Court of Appeals found that no law prohibited Louisiana public school teachers from teaching any scientific theory. 765 F.2d, at 1257. As the president of the Louisiana Science Teachers Association testified, "any scientific concept that's based on established fact can be included in our curriculum already, and no legislation allowing this is necessary." 2 App. E-616. The Act provides Louisiana schoolteachers with no new authority. Thus the stated purpose is not furthered by it. (Italics mine)

In other words, Louisiana teachers were free to teach those aspects of creationist theory in their classrooms that are based on scientific concepts before the creation act was passed by the legislature, and the Supreme Court took no offense at this. What the Court did, however, was say that government cannot mandate the teaching of creationism. Teachers are free to teach it if they wish provided they do so in the context of scientific investigation.

One of the questions facing the courts in the Dover case is whether local school boards have a right to determine what will be taught in their school or whether they are considered an agent of the state government, like a legislature, and thus prohibited from mandating the teaching of anything critical of evolutionary materialism.

The second question is whether the Dover policy of reading a statement to a class really constitutes teaching anything at all. You pointed out on Friday that the Dover statement certainly seems innocuous (ed: See here for a good letter on this point).

The third question, and one over which much confusion seems to exist, is whether ID is really just a form of creationism. The many critics of ID notwithstanding, it's not. Creationism is an attempt to use science to buttress a literal reading of the early chapters of the book of Genesis. However one feels about this project, that's not what ID is about. ID advocates take no stand on whether the claims in Genesis, taken literally or otherwise, are true or false. Indeed, they could all be false, and ID could still be true.

I suggest again, if you haven't done so already, that you ask a caller who makes the claim that ID is just creationism in drag to explain exactly how this is so. My hunch is that they won't be able to do it.

Keep up the good work.

The Other Storm

Some estimate the cost of hurricane Katrina will probably end up at $200 billion dollars. Next week, we will most likely be hearing of estimates of the cost of hurricane Rita.

Added to these, we have the cost of a creative plan by Congressman Rep. Gene Taylor (r) of Mississippi who is working to rewrite the rules of the national flood insurance program to let homeowners who weren't required to buy it to purchase retroactive flood insurance coverage.

There it is folks. One more example of how some in our society believe individuals shouldn't be held accountable for their decisions. And not only that, these people apparently have no problem giving your tax dollars to these individuals. Imagine the outrage of those responsible types who purchased federal flood insurance year after year forgoing things that could otherwise have been purchased to enrich their lives. The final slap in their face will come when they realize their tax dollars will be given to the uninsured home owners too.

It's interesting to note that these dollars aren't sitting in the government's bank account waiting to be spent. They haven't even been created yet rather they will be printed by the government to pay the costs of these two natural disasters. Hundreds of billions of dollars flooding into the economy just like the hurricane waters flooded into New Orleans.

What impact is this going to have on the dollars I have in my pocket? You might ask. Well, for one thing, your dollars are being inflated. That is to say, they are losing their purchasing power and this will be evidenced in the rising cost of goods and services.

The two hurricanes are going to have another effect on our economy by contributing to inflation in another way. With the oil, gasoline, and natural gas supply suffering from the storms, the price of each of these commodities is going to go up.

In the late '70s, early '80s, during the oil embargo, gas and oil were scarce and their respective prices went up. Yet I would like for someone to explain to me how this causes inflation.

Personally, I don't believe rising prices cause inflation yet inflation was a problem then and it could very well be a problem again as a result of these storms. I suspect inflation occurs because when prices go up, the government injects more money into the economy to compensate for the higher prices. Then, after they realize they have pumped too many dollars into the system, they start to raise interest rates to slow the flow of dollars into the economy.

Whether I am correct in my thinking or not, there appears to be a consensus forming that believes inflation is on the way and they are about the business of protecting themselves. While we, as individuals, can't stop the federal government from printing dollars and diminishing our wealth, we can, at least, exercise the same defensive tactics as those who are anticipating inflation by purchasing gold.

Yes, I have been the "voice crying in the wilderness" advocating that people should have at least 10% of their portfolios in gold bullion. And since the price of gold is at a 17 year high, it appears to have been good advice. When Viewpoint first went online, gold was about $350 per ounce. This week it hit $470 (and pulled back to $463).

The fact of the matter is that ultimately, gold is the only real money. Always was and probably always will be. Despite what governments will imply (because they want you to buy into the concept of an ever inflating fiat currency) gold is a way to protect your wealth from the devastating effects of inflation. See what Alan Greenspan had to say at this link that I've posted numerous times before.

And for some entertaining reading, check out this link to see what the Mogambo Guru has to say about inflation. This guy is a hoot and I think he's worth listening to.