Science & Faith

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Posted 10/15/13 at 6:22 PM | Mike Keas

How Theists and Atheists Share the "Burden of Support"

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In his insightful article Who has the Burden of Proof? Atheism vs. Theism, Austin Cline, who appears to be an atheist (he writes extensively for atheism.about.com) notes concerning "burden of proof":

A more accurate label would be a “burden of support” — the key is that a person must support what they are saying. This can involve empirical evidence, logical arguments, and even positive proof.

I make this point in my Reasoning (logic and critical thinking) course each fall at The College at Southwestern. It looks like a high-volume Internet atheist agrees with me. In very few academic subjects beyond mathematics is "proof" possible for either side of most specific disputes. Arguments might be very strong, but proof is rare. Cline agrees. Mr. Cline and I also share the following understanding of the theism-atheism dialogue in regard to burden of proof (burden of support). The quotations below are from Cline's same essay quoted above.

  1. "If a person claims something, they are obligated to support it and no one is obligated to prove them wrong."
  2. Anyone "making a claim which they consider rational and which they expect others to accept must provide some support."
  3. Who has the "burden of support" is itself a debatable at many points in the theism-atheism debate.
  4. Burden of support "is not something static which one party must always carry; rather, it is something which legitimately shifts during the course of a debate as arguments and counter-arguments are made."

Let's see how this works in practice. Suppose a theist invites an atheist to consider the evidence for the existence of God. Initially, the theist bears the burden of support in that segment of the conversation. But if the atheist finds the evidence for God unconvincing, he or she may claim that the our universe, precisely fine-tuned for life as it is, could still be explained by naturalistic causes. Suppose the atheist invokes the multiverse (infinite or nearly infinite number of bubble universes, one of which is ours) to help get that argument going. Fine, but in this part of the conversation, the atheist bears the burden of support (and note that other alleged universes are observationally inaccessible to us). And so it goes, back and forth. Cline correctly observes that the burden of support is not static, but is "something which legitimately shifts during the course of a debate as arguments and counter-arguments are made." FULL POST

Posted 10/12/13 at 2:15 AM | Mike Keas

Stereotyping Prevails as Arguments Against Intelligent Design Fail

John West's essay Attempting to Win the Debate over Intelligent Design through Stereotyping identifies a common problem with uncommon clarity and wit. Unfair and untrue belief about the "other" guys, which is the root of stereotyping, has no legitimate place in public discussion. Yet, routinely, opponents of intelligent design mischaracterize ID as "creationism" and unleash other forms of verbal abuse in an attempt to achieve superiority. The strategy makes painful sense: When evidence-based arguments fail, do whatever it takes to win.

West explains:

Throughout history, people have used stereotypes to silence, subjugate, and dehumanize those they oppose. In American history, blacks, Jews, women, Catholics, and others have all been victims of this kind of mistreatment.

The Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics condemns such discriminatory behavior, and yet many science journalists seem to get a free pass to override ethical constraints when treating ID. The rule of the jungle prevails. Stereotyping becomes the weapon of choice. FULL POST

Posted 10/6/13 at 12:03 AM | Mike Keas

Design Vindicated: More Irreducible Complexity Discovered in the Assembly of Flagellar Motors

One indication of a robust scientific research program is its predictive and explanatory success as it is tested over significant periods of time. I'm happy to report that over a decade since prominent ID theorists have pointed out the irreducible complexity of molecular machines such as the flagellum, a recent study has unwittingly bolstered the case for ID in regard to the origin of the outboard bacterial rotary motor called the flagellum. Back in 1996 Michael Behe offered the flagellum as one of many examples of "The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution" (irreducible complexity) in his book Darwin's Black Box. A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) bolster's Behe's thesis despite the (likely) Darwinian preference of its authors.

Bacterial flagellum: A rotary motor that propels a bacterium through water (only a small portion of the long whip that turns to generate motion is depicted here)

A recent ENV post provides insightfully commentary on the new PNAS article. It begins:

If a structure is irreducibly complex, the assembly instructions are often even more irreducibly complex. Case in point: the bacterial flagellum.

When mainstream science journals corroborate claims we've made in support of the theory of intelligent design, we like to point it out. It shows that the case for ID grows stronger, not weaker, with time. Eleven years ago in the Illustra film Unlocking the Mystery of Life, Scott Minnich said that the assembly instructions for building a flagellum are even more irreducibly complex than the outboard-motor-like structure itself. He was right; a new paper in PNAS, with dazzling illustrations, opens Darwin's black box a little more, showing the amazing sequential assembly of this icon of ID. FULL POST

Posted 10/2/13 at 10:04 PM | Mike Keas

Distinguished UC Berkeley Paleontologist Reviews Meyer's Book "Darwin's Doubt" (a book too important to ignore)

UC Berkeley paleontologist Charles Marshall's review of Stephen Meyer's book Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design represents a significant turn of events. Finally, about three months after the publication Meyer's book, a reputable Darwinist actually addresses the main evidence and arguments in Meyer's case for ID from the Cambrian explosion. This review unwittingly demonstrates that Meyer's book raises questions that the evolutionary establishment can't simply ignore. This is precisely, at minimum, what Meyer had hoped to accomplish. Congratulations to my colleague Stephen Meyer and to his worthy debate partner, the distinguished Charles Marshall.

Meyer observed yesterday:

Though Marshall does address the main problem discussed in the book, his review also demonstrates -- if inadvertently -- the severity of that problem, and that leading Cambrian paleontologists and evolutionary biologists (such as Dr. Marshall) are nowhere close to solving it. FULL POST

Posted 9/30/13 at 11:51 AM | Mike Keas

Infographic Shows Intelligent Design Following Scientific Method

This infographic illustrates how the theory of intelligent design follows a common sequence of steps in scientific inquiry: Observation, hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion. Learn more about how ID is an important part of contemporary science. My last blog post explored highlights of the origin and development of science, especially if you followed that blog's link to this essay I just published. Today's infographic depicts one of the triumphs of recent scientific exploration. Enjoy.

Posted 9/28/13 at 9:46 AM | Mike Keas

Salvo Magazine's 80-Page Supplemental Issue on Science & Faith

Are Christianity and science at war with one another? Not according to leading historians. "The greatest myth in the history of science and religion holds that they have been in a state of constant conflict," wrote historian of science Ronald Numbers in 2009. Dr. Numbers is not an adherent to any religious faith. He is also one of the world's top experts on the history of science and religion. Why does the popular "science vs. Christianity" stereotype continue despite the impressive historical and scientific evidence otherwise? Explore this in my essay just published in Salvo magazine.

Yesterday Casey Luskin announced at ENV:

In its fall, 2013 edition, Salvo magazine has published a special 80-page Supplemental Issue on Science and Faith. Contributors include some prominent names from both inside and outside the ID movement. A sampling of names is below (or you can also visit here for the full list), but ENV readers will recognize many of them -- William Dembski, Jonathan Wells, Paul Nelson, Stephen Meyer, John West, Mike Keas, Richard Weikart, Frank Tipler, and many others. Some of the contributors are even critical of ID, but nonetheless believe that scientism -- the idea that only scientific investigation can lead to knowledge -- is wrongheaded.
...
Many of the articles are science-focused, critical of materialist explanations for the origin and diversification of life and/or making an explicit case for intelligent design. For example, one of my articles, "Has Science Shown That We Evolved from Ape-like Creatures?," explains why the fossil evidence "contradicts the expectations of neo-Darwinian evolution and suggests that unguided evolutionary mechanisms do not account for the origin of our species." FULL POST

Posted 9/23/13 at 10:15 PM | Mike Keas

Two Recent Popular Publications about Intelligent Design: Curriculum & Best-Selling Book

Today you'll get an update on two recent popular publications about intelligent design: The Discovery Intelligent Design curriculum and the best-selling book Darwin's Doubt.

Back-to-School Special Offer: Discovery Intelligent Design Curriculum (free stuff and save by acting now)

Across the country kids are in another round of science classes. In most cases, when origins questions are addressed, students will be exposed to a selective presentation of the available evidence guided by a materialist philosophy. In that biased environment, Darwinism will look like the only reasonable option for the origin of the major kinds of life. We can do better than that, but how?

Although you may feel powerless to change the government educational system, you can at least empower your students to get the full picture of relevant and age-appropriate scientific data.

To point you in one promising direction, here are excerpts of a recent press release about the Discovering Intelligent Design curriculum.

Nature gives positive scientific evidence of intelligent design, and now parents and educators can share that evidence with students. Discovering Intelligent Design is a remarkable new curriculum that makes the science of intelligent design accessible for young people, from advanced middle school to high school ages and up. FULL POST

Posted 9/20/13 at 6:43 PM | Mike Keas

Seeing Design: DNA-RNA Animation and Geared-Insect Discovery

Although in prior posts we've discussed the precise formulation of the scientific inference to intelligent design in information theoretic terms, sometimes it helps just to see the overwhelming indications of design in the biological world. We will look at two examples of the ingenious coordination of parts to achieve higher functional aims, one at the biomolecular level, and another at the anatomical level of insect hind limbs (see the tiny gears recently discovered by UK scientists).

Watch this animation of protein construction by means of DNA-mRNA-tRNA (etc.) information processing. An amazing series of assembly line steps, all controlled by precise information processing guidance, enables the cell to construct certain proteins from packets of information stored in DNA. This animation is especially significant because it conveys what is happening in real time. Also keep in mind that many of the actual (real biological) details are left out in order to simplify the animation-programming task. The commentary below the ENV posting of this video provides many of those details that were glossed over in the animation. I will use this animation for years to come as I teach this part of my introductory biology course. FULL POST

Posted 9/12/13 at 10:33 PM | Mike Keas

Academic Freedom Violation at Ball State University: What You Can Do

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Jo Ann Gora, President of Ball State University

The president of Ball State University (BSU) has had a week to contemplate a 10-page letter from Discovery Institute that documents a serious violation of academic freedom regarding classroom discussion of intelligent design. We have heard no BSU response yet. What's all the fuss about, and what can you do to help promote academic free speech at BSU and beyond?

In a message to faculty and staff on July 31, BSU President Jo Ann Gora declared that science faculty can't discuss intelligent design in science classes. She even banned all BSU faculty from expressing support for intelligent design in any BSU class, even in a comparative religion course. This gag order on those who think there is evidence of intelligent design in nature assumes two things:

  1. Intelligent design is merely a religious idea.
  2. Evidence that supports certain religious views (e.g., theism) over other competing views may not be discussed as such in a public educational institution. Professors are obligated to make it seem that all religious ideas are on equal footing.

The second assumption is obviously antithetical to academic freedom. For example, historians who teach about the founding documents of various religions should be free to discuss both the evidence for and against the historical reliability of those documents. We shall not discuss this issue further in this blog.

President Gora's executive action was spurred by outside pressure regarding BSU physicist Eric Hedin's "Boundaries of Science" section of Honors 296 (Inquiries in Physical Sciences), which includes discussion of the arguments for and against intelligent design. We shall focus on BSU interdisciplinary science courses that are in the same series of honors classes as Dr. Hedin's.

Let's grant for the sake of discussion that intelligent design (ID) is a religious idea that interacts with scientific evidence. I've explained earlier how ID counts as a legitimate scientific theory, but let's put all that aside for now. Even if ID is what President Gora claims (a religious idea popularly associated with the study of nature), there are still good grounds for allowing discussion of ID in a science course, especially in course that is designed to offer an interdisciplinary introduction to science in relation to non-scientific components of culture. FULL POST

Posted 9/7/13 at 10:21 PM | Mike Keas

Evolutionary Computer Games, Natural Selection, and Intelligent Selection

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Avida: Evolutionary Computer Simulation

A July 16, 2013 paper in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Richard Lenski and colleagues, "Experiments on the role of deleterious mutations as stepping stones in adaptive evolution," seeks to establish a more important evolutionary role for harmful mutations by means of a computer simulation. Thanks goes to the National Science Foundation (your tax dollars) for funding Lenski's decade-long computer game (using "Avida" pictured here). What intellectual return have we received from this investment? Unfortunatetly, not much.

Here are some highlights of an interesting critique of Lenski's work over at ENV.
It's unsurprising to learn that Lenski & Co. have resorted to a favorite magic kit, the evolutionary Avida program, written by philosopher Robert T. Pennock, author of the anti-ID book Tower of Babel. We've discussed this and similar algorithms many times.

Whether the "digital organisms" generated by such programs have any connection to the real world is highly unlikely, especially when human beings are rewarding them by design. The digital organisms live as long as the programmers let them. They don't have to find food. They don't have to endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Anyway, what does a logic routine in a computer have to do with building a trilobite? FULL POST

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