Sunday, 6 January 2008

Evolution wars continue

Recent publication of a booklet promoting evolutionary biology by the National Academy of Sciences in US, downloadable from here, has led me to a response from the chief institution promoting the so called `Intelligent Design' theories, the Discovery Institute (found here).

Dear Educator:
This briefing packet was developed in order to provide you with
clear and accurate information about the scientific theory of
intelligent design: what it is, how it originated, and how it differs
from Neo-Darwinism. [...]

This presentation which is aimed at US educators who would wish to teach ID contains nothing new (at least for me) in terms of science. But it does contain a very interesting assertions regarding education:
Discovery Institute opposed the Dover policy from
the start and urged the Dover school board to repeal
it. [...]

As a matter of public policy, Discovery Institute opposes
any effort to mandate or require the teaching the theory
of intelligent design by school districts or state boards of

Why? Because:
Attempts to mandate
teaching about intelligent design only politicize the theory
and will hinder fair and open discussion of the merits of the
theory among scholars and within the scientific community.

Now, this is very politically correct language. In fact the presentation reeks with pro-science wording, long reference links list, all four peer-reviewed papers to support ID, and all in all it is as academic and pro-educational as one can imagine. Discovery Institute advocates teaching evolution. (Stressing, of course, the shortcomings of it).

Fine with me. If the children are really taught evolution properly, whether in the US or in Poland, with enough detail to understand the nature of the `weaknesses' singled out by the ID proponents, I would be happy. I have already written in the "CoB" that I would be happy with the children going thoroughly through the challenged curriculum of the Dover district. The problem is, that the criticism can not be addressed without detailed knowledge of other disciplines than biology. For example detailed understanding of geology (to understand the fossil record). Or understanding the basics of information theory, to understand the cornerstone of ID: the irreducibly complex information (ICI).

Try as I did I could not understand the ICI concept myself. And I went through quite a lot of available sources. It sounded like a repeated incantation to me. So, maybe there is someone who can explain it to me?


Olorin said...

"Try as I did I could not understand the ICI concept myself."

Maybe that's because you have the wrong name: it is actually "complex specified information" (CSI).

Actually, Dembski's concept of CSI is quite simple. For the "information" part, you take a probability p that cannot be measured, and define information as I=-log2(p). Of course, since p cannot be measured, specific values of I cannot be determined.

The "specified" part means that you look at a biological system and try to think of some human artifact that may resemble it in some way. For example, the bacterial flagellum is like an outboard motor. This means that CSI is inherently time-dependent. In 1908, the flagellum was not "specified," because outboard motors did not exist at that time.

Wanderer in the country of blindfolded said...

Your remark about time dependence of CSI is quite nice and it reminds me about the fact that a lot of human inventions were originally inferior copies of biological structures. To keep close to water, oars are but a primitive fins. Who's the creator of an oar then, and who is merely using one biological organ (brain) to mimic another (fin)?