Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism Hardcover – Jun 25 2004
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"A terrific book that explores, fairly and openly, whether proponents of ID have any scientifically valid gadgets in their toolbox at all ... accessibly written throughout and an invaluable aid to teachers and scientists."
About the Author
Matt Young is the author of No Sense of Obligation: Science and Religion in an Impersonal Universe. He was a physicist with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and is now Senior Lecturer in Physics at the Colorado School of Mines. Taner Edis is an associate professor of physics at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, and the author of The Ghost in the Universe: God in Light of Modern Science. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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While this book is rather expensive, I found that the money was well spent. As I started reading chapter after chapter, I was fascinated by the force and clarity of the argumentation by its thirteen authors, who took time from their scientific work to perform their duty as scientists and citizens concerned over the well financed and persistent campaign by the new crop of creationists against genuine science. The thirteen authors dissected the intelligent design pseudo-science from the standpoints of biology, physics, mathematics, archaeology, and philosophy. Each aspect was dealt with by an expert in the particular field. As the collection of negative reviews on this site shows, even the most convincing arguments will not change the minds of those who, by virtue of having preconceived views, rejecti in advance any arguments which are contrary to their beliefs. However, for those who still keep open minds or are uncertain which side the truth is on, this book is a must read. The negative reviews on this site seriously misrepresent the contents of this book. Some of the reviewers who wrote negative reviews obviously have not read the book, as their antics do not refer to any specific points discussed in it. While a positive review may legitimately be of a general type without delving into a book's specifics, a negative review carries no weight unless it critically addresses specific notions in the discussed publication. That is what the negative reviews on this site fail to do. Overall it is a clear case, and five stars may be assigned with confidence.
1. As a person who is skeptical of outlandish claims on both sides of this debate, I was pleasantly surprised at the restrained nature of this book. The opening chapter, written by one of the editors, sets the stage by going to great pains to admit that ID is not intriniscally forbidden from the scientific forum (p. 17), and that it is at least theoretically possible that future research could validate some form of ID (p. 18). This in constrast to many scientists would bar ID from the table forever. Of course, this point is only theoretical at present, since the book is all about how ID fails as science (and mathematics).
2. Unlike many anthologies, this book, especially in the first half, is quite self-conscious about not being repetitive; the chapter authors frequently refer the reader to other chapters that look at other aspects of their assigned topic.
3. While most of the chapters are informative and useful, two are particularly so, perhaps because they are not as focused on refuting Behe and Dembski. Chapter 3 is an excellent discussion of why common descent cannot be limited to the certain classification levels. This chapter addresses ID proponents who allow for a great deal of common descent and those who allow for very little. While the former are getting more press these days, the latter are still active in large numbers.
4. Chapter 7 is a fascinating look at how nature can, and demonstrably does, produce complexity and apparent design. This is probably the most approachable chapter in the book.
5. Chapters 9-11, although a bit repetitive and overly technical, provide a good introduction to some important statistical issues, including a nice discussion of random chance versus natural selection.
Overall, this is a good resource for various arguments to counter Behe and Dembski, as well as more general arguments. Some chapters, however, are not as approachable to the lay reader and may not be as useful in that regard.
Now to the point, which the critics seem to miss.
The burden of proof is not on Darwinian evolution, but on alternative theories: Darwinian evolution has been, and continues to be, predominant, and if ID wants to be considered as a serious contender it needs to show that (a) it has at least equivalent explanatory power and (b) satisfies all of the usual criteria for scientific theories. Foremost among the latter is *disprovability* -- it must be possible to disprove the theory, or at least to challenge it such that its proponents must provide a (disprovable) alternative theory that has the same explanatory power.
ID is not disprovable, by definition: no "theory" that has a magic escape clause ("and then a miracle happens") is disprovable, because a miracle (extra-scientific event) can always be (and always is) invoked.
If (for example) human remains were found in strata corresonding to the Cretaceous -- not just once, but in many locations -- this would be a blow to the prevailing theory. This has not, to my knowledge, happened -- nor has any other piece of concrete evidence arisen to challenge evolution. All of the arguments advanced by ID proponents are "gap" arguments, or -- in the case of Behe and Dembski -- arguments based on misapplications or misrepresentations of scientific principles (such as the second law of theormodynamics).
The second half of my title -- "critique by duckbite" -- refers to the tendency for the (negative) critics to fixate on one small aspect of one of the 13 chapters in WIDF. Another way to put this is that they are missing the forest by focusing on one twig on one particular branch of one particular tree. For example, to claim that an author is a sloppy scholar on the basis of one slightly incorrect citation (of a web site, no less) is simply fatuous, and smacks of ad hominem argument. If you critics are so desperate to find flaws in this book that you are fixated on trivia like this, your very desperation speaks volumes about the actual (high) quality of the book.
You can't dissect this book: you have to take all of the arguments collectively, as a whole. And as a whole, it's hard for me to understand how anyone can fail to find it convincing.
BTW, unlike many -- I said "many", not "most" or "all", so don't get your knickers in a twist if you happen to have read it -- of the negative critics, I actually read and understood the entire book, and am also sufficiently conversant with all of the disciplines involved that I understand all of the issues and arguments. I know the molecular biology, I know the physics, I know the biochemistry, and I am a professional AI researcher with over 20 years of practice, so I understand the philosophical and computational issues as well.
The bottom line is that the only thing that distinguishes ID from creationism of any other stripe are the fact that its proponents are disingenuous about their religious bias, and its claim to scientific legitimacy: absent the legitimate scientific underpinnings, it's just another attempt to push religion into the science curriculum. And WIDF demolishes all of the supposed scientific underpinnings of ID. Demolishes.
The burden of proof is on you, (negative) critics, and on Behe and Dembski and their ilk: you have not demonstrated that ID is science in even the remotest sense of the term, and until that day you have no business claiming that it's a plausible alternative to Darwinian evolution.
An encouraging development: during a relatively short period of time four new books have appeared, devoted to debunking the fallacy labeled Intelligent Design. The first three of these books (Unintelligent Design by Mark Perakh, Creationism's Trojan Horse by Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross and God, The Devil and Darwin by Niall Shanks) have been rather extensively reviewed on this site. Now these three books have been complemented by one more high-quality treatise - a collection of articles by 13 scientists, edited by Young and Edis. Each of the 13 authors is prominent in his field and possesses impressive experience and erudition, enabling each of them to expertly dissect the errors which abound in the opuses of the IDists. Given the uninterrupted stream of publications by the IDists, all four books (and the new collection in particular) are very timely tools which will provide excellent ammunition to science teachers concerned by the attempts of religiously motivated crowds to subvert teaching our kids real science. It will also help those who are searching for a reasonable world look but are confused by the din of the anti-science propaganda. A very impressive book.
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