Conclusions of Allen MacNeill's Evolution and (Intelligent) Design course

Conclusions of Allen MacNeill's Evolution and Design course
Three questions were posed. The following are my answers to these questions, as they did not explicitly come up in this format this summer:
(1) What is the current status of ID research?

As far as I know, there is no empirical research that either validates or falsifies any of the principle claims of the primary authors of ID texts (i.e. Michael Behe and William Dembski, but also including David Berlinski, Guillermo Gonzalez, Stephen Meyer, and Jonathan Wells). Only Behe and Dembski have presented even quasi-empirical applications of ID theory. The remainder fall into the same category that Phillip Johnson did this summer - that is, they write what amount to polemics based on opinion and speculation, nearly all of it negative (that is, they do not present positive hypotheses, they merely attack various aspects of evolutionary theory). As noted earlier, Behe and Dembski’s works were the primary focus of our seminar this summer, and the conclusions most of us arrived at have already been noted.

I believe that the primary reason that there is essentially no empirical research being done to either validate or falsify ID theory is that ID theory in general does not consist of positive hypotheses that can be empirically tested. As many have pointed out, Behe’s concept of “irreducible complexity” is based almost entirely on ignorance and lack of information, rather than on “first principles” (i.e. on theoretical formulations that lead to the conclusion that the evolution of “irreducibly complex” objects or processes are impossible).

Dembski’s mathematical speculations remain precisely that: speculations without the slightest shred of empirical support. After spending many hours working through Dembski’s mathematics, we concluded that it is currently impossible to use his “explanatory filter” (as expressed in mathematical terms) to determine if a given biological entity qualifies as “complex specified information” (CSI). Although Dembski’s mathematics are mildly interesting from a purely intellectual standpoint, they do not lend themselves to making actual calculations, again because there are so many unknown variables that must be quantified before his equation(s) for CSI can actually yield confirmatory or disconfirmitory judgements.

Therefore, unless someone undertakes a program of research that proposes a series of testable positive hypotheses based on ID theory that can be empirically validated, it appears likely that ID theory will eventually come to the same fate as Bergson and Deleuze’s concept of élan vital; a footnote to the progress of empirical science, of interest only to those interested in failed pseudoscientific “theories.”

(2) With Behe and Dembski essentially marginalized, who are the scientists working on the theory of ID?

As far as I know, there are none. With the possible exception of Guillermo Gonzalez, all of the other authors listed above do not perform empirical research. Rather, they pursue an essentially negative program of attacking evolutionary biology and proposing philosophical speculations (based almost entirely on fundamentalist Christian theology) as a substitute.

(3) What is the role of the Discovery Institute and why are they so keen on influencing Boards of Education?

The Discovery Institute is a purely political entity, not currently engaged in any form of empirical research (nor supporting such research in either monetary or other ways), whose entire function appears to be to promote a political program intended to force a basically fundamentalist Christian viewpoint into the public schools and, eventually into local, state, and national governments and laws. These goals are explicitly stated by the directors of the Discovery Institute in the “wedge document” and have been its primary raison d’etre since its inception.

We did not directly discuss the Discovery Institute, the “wedge document,” the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial and decision, nor the writings of any of the polemicists listed above. This was a deliberate decision on the part of the participants in the seminar, as we all wanted to restrict our analysis and discussion to the scientific claims of the principle ID theorists. This is why we dismissed Phillip Johnson’s book, The Wedge of Truth and why we spent relatively little time discussing Dawkins’s The Blind Watchmaker, as both were essentially “position statements,” rather than scientific analyses. I my opinion, the same can essentially be said for Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box, leaving only Dembski’s The Design Inference as the only non-polemical work in all of ID “theory.” And, as noted above, we concluded that Dembski’s mathematical work only suggests a possible way of distinguishing between “natural” and “designed” objects and processes, without presenting an empirically testable way of so distinguishing.

So, was the whole exercise “worth it?” It was indeed, as it helped all of us come to clarity on many of the foregoing points. As I have stated elsewhere, I don’t think anyone changed her/his mind over the course of the summer, but I believe (based on our discussions, especially during the last class) that we did come to some clarity on the issues, on the kinds of arguments made by both sides, and the kinds of evidence that would qualify as confirmative or disconfirmative on either side of the issue. Currently, there is abundant confirmative evidence for most of evolutionary theory (with the exception of the origin of life, the genetic code, and selected biochemical pathways) and virtually no empirical confirmative evidence for ID theory. Unless ID “theorists” take steps to become ID “scientists,” this situation is unlikely to change.