02 September 2005

Intelligent Design

There has been a lot of debate about Intelligent Design in the blogisphere recently. To me, ID seems to be an attempt by creationists to subvert science to fit in with their literal interpretation of the bible. A belief in God and being a scientist are not incompatible, my late father had a PhD in Physics and was a practicing Roman Catholic. But the bible is a moral guide for Christians and Jews not a literal description of the formation of the world.

In the States there are attempts by various creationist groups to persuade school boards to make ID taught in science classes along side and with equal weight to evolution, a theory that has been tested against the geological record and by genetics and observation. The theory of Evolution is not complete, there are still things to worked out but scientist acknowledge this and work to fill these holes with theories that are based on the evidence to hand. ID instead sees a "hole" in evolutionary theory and effectively says the answer to the hole is "And then a miracle occurred" At it's best it's lazy thinking.

As a rebuke to this lazy thinking a young physics graduate, Bobby Henderson, has started Pastafarisism to point out that his belief that the world was created by a ball of spaghetti has equal worth as a creationist believe that the universe was created by God and is equally provable or unprovable.

At Plasticbag.org, Tom Coates has written an interesting article about it. He also has a link to a New York Times article about it.


  1. Ok, I'll take a nibble at this one.

    First off, you are absolutely correct in the assertion that science and religion are not incompatible - I would even suggest that they are complimentary (I have a degree in Astrophysics but am nowadays employed by the Church of England). The creation story in Genesis does actually accord with current scientific thought in that the order of the six days of creation does fit exactly with modern science - archaeology, cosmology, biology all agree. Ok, six days may be a little too literal - epochs would be a better fit, but it is important to realise that the order is spot-on.

    However, evolution is still only a theory, not a proven fact. I could rant about this (and I might do so on my blog) but I don't think it is as accurate as a lot of people believe. Certainly evolution within a species is fine (the Galapagos tortoises, for example, have evolved: but they are still tortoises). I struggle with the gradual change that leads to a new species (the bat, for example: can we seriously believe that a creature part way from "mouse" to "flying mouse" existed with partly-formed wings that were no good for flying and hindered running from hunters?)

    But it does make damn fine television.

  2. ROFL.. love it. Not seen that one before.

    Sorry Selina - for your "impossible" flying mouse check out a small creature called the Flying Squirrel and suchlike - creatures that developed flaps that initially prolonged falling and then allowed gliding...

    Then go read the Science of Discworld 3...

  3. Joanna, I would love to agree with you, and I am aware of the flying squirrel. My point is that this little animal has reached the stage where the flaps of skin are actually useful. I can imagine a lot of squirrels with a lot less skin falling to their dooms.

    And at the end of the day they are still squirrels. Would a mammel whose legs were partially joined together really have swam better or run faster than one that had separate legs? I know this flies in the face of popular science at the moment but I can't see such changes actually coming about gradually. I am more than happy to accept sudden mutations as being the root cause of these (although mutations generally produce weaker specimens which die out quickly).

    Please don't get me wrong, I would love for one single "missing link" to be found. To me it smacks either of sudden change (for whatever reason: some will say God, some will say chance - neither can be proved or vice-versa) or, alternatively, of one hell of a number of coincidences (all of these species and not one missing link). Even Darwin recognised this flaw in his argument and urged scientists to find the missing links.

    As for Discworld, I simply remember that the dinosaurs were a product of God playing with some Pleistocene.

  4. Selina - what you is right evolution is just a theory not proven fact (note I was very careful to use the word theory in the post) and there are holes that need filling. It still does not stop it being a best fit theory to the evidence about us.

    Joanna - I thought of the flying squirrels as well and I must check out the science of the discworld.

  5. Don't get me wrong - I'm not a card-carrying creationist or anything. I'm perfectly happy that the Bible is not always to be read literally but contains metaphors to deeper spiritual truths. As I see it, even if Darwin was proved right, it would do nothing to eliminate the Creator.

    It would be interesting if the next comment on this came from the Archbishop of Canterbury who must have a blog of his own.

  6. I can imagine a lot of squirrels with a lot less skin falling to their dooms.

    Well obviously they wouldn't have done the big jumps then.

    Remember - these are a tree dwelling creature so for them running or swimming is not needed. What is needed is being able to climb trees and being able to move from one branch to another. And any slight advantage in that will aid survival... It's all about fittest - but fittest for one particular niche.

    I appreciate your beliefs - and if there is any creation involved then the Big Bang is where it could be envisaged, but after that the Universe was on its own with the laws of physics...

    Evolution may be a theory, but so it Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddism all all the others "isms" that have their ideas about how everything came about. They can't all be right.

    And seriously - the Science of Discworld is written by two very eminent Scientists with a little help from TP - and explain a lot of these arguments very well indeed.

    Sorry Jane for hijacking your blog... I guess I should move some of this over to mine...

  7. Selina - "It would be interesting if the next comment on this came from the Archbishop of Canterbury who must have a blog of his own." it would be, very!

    I am an atheist, not because of some bad reaction to my upbringing or anything but I slowly came to the conclusion that I did not believe in a deity, when I go outside of a morning or look at the stars I am struck by the beauty of it all and the wowness but for me it is a freak of nature that created this beauty not a Creator. Having said that I have a lot of respect for those, like you, who do have a belief. I can completely understand why someone would go outside look at the beauty of it all and say wow, there must be Someone behind this. What I disagree with is creationism and its bastard offspring ID and the idea that generations of Americans and possibly Brits are not taught to question, examine or probe ideas but just accept whatever they are told. Science is not perfect but an understanding the world about us does not reduce its beauty it increases it - creationism to me just seems to teach the opposite idea.

  8. Jo - no you are not hijacking at all, carry on, I don't know enough about biology or zoology to argue the finer points of evolution. I blogged this to stimulate civilised (sp) debate and it has.

  9. Heh.. guess I'm showing my Biology Teacher roots ;)

  10. Ok, as I said at the beginning, I was only having a nibble.

    Really, I am more than happy that the Big Bang was the start point (actually, it was preceeded by a smaller "detonator" called the Little Whimper, but we won't go into that). I'm also very happy that the work into the TOE (Theory of Everything) demonstrates that the Big Bang would have happened without any need for a kick start from any other being because the laws of physics in this Universe are the way they are (but I will maintain it was God who wrote them).

    Anyway, as I said, I don't want you to get the wrong idea about me, and, seriously (not a word I use very often) Joanne, I would love to talk to you about evolution at some time - not to force my ideas on you (because they are not fully formed themselves) - I just have this nagging worry about it.

    Question everything. That is at the root of science and it should lie at the heart of religion too, but don't get me off on that one.

    And I'm using up far too much of someone else's blog space. I'll find me coat.

  11. Selina - no no, put the coat down and get yourself another drink, so to speak. I think we actually all agree, evolution is a theory we are just coming from different aspects.

  12. Selina...

    Maybe paleontologists can't find rock-hard (pardon the pun) evidence of speciation, but molecular biologists sure do. Once you start looking down into the molecular level, it's all over the place. "Dead" DNA which would have no place in our code if it hadn't been active in the past; the fact that all modern species share more than half their genetic material which is a definite proof that we all had a common gene pool from which we evolved; the way species that separated from each other geographically, like lions and tigers or wolves and coyotes can still breed and produce fertile offspring, which proves that they *were* the same species in the past ... you name it. In fact, Darwin might have had only anatomical evidence to back his theory, but today we have seriously harder evidence that what he observed was indeed what goes on.

    In any case, if there is not sufficient evidence to teach a theory accepted by the majority of the scientific community at schools, then there is certainly not enough to teach the "theory" that an invisible creator, who left no discernible traces at all, and for which our only source of knowledge are the sacred books of a single peoples, has made everything.

  13. I am not sure I can add much to this extremely interesting debate, which I supect could run and run and 'may' even evolve. The one thing that does strike me is we all have differing views, but can discuss them fairly and openly.

    If we were just taught creationism or just taught Darwinian evolution this sort of educated and lively debate would not be possible, without someone at some point crying Heresy and reaching for the matches and thumb screws.

    Fundamentalism of any colour religious or scientific is dangerous, and leads us to places were we really shouldnt go.

    Sorry off point I know, but I still think critical to bear in mind.

  14. The whole ID thing would be really funny if these people weren't so serious. Or maybe they missed that section on humor in the bible where the Dog explained that he invented us as a joke and so he would have someone to throw frisbees & sticks.

    As to the squirrel, yes, I can easily imagine ones with lesser flaps. Jumping from tree to tree is not a either you fail or you succeed thing. The pseudo-flying squirrel with not quite enough flaps jumps not quite as far and knows its limits. The one in the group with a little bit extra skin manages to jump just a little bit further. That gives it a small evolutionary advantage. Multiply that over a large population over millions of years and you get a flying squirrel that actually glides.

    BTW, we have both regular and flying squirrels here to watch, as well as chipmunks who are the worst jumpers of all so I have gotten to observe them. Works for batty-bats too.