Discovery Institute Fellow Tells the Truth: "Intelligent Design … is not a theory."

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Syndicated conservative radio shlockmeister and newly minted Discovery Institute fellow Michael Medved tells the truth about intelligent design in a Jerusalem Post interview:

[Post:] Speaking of your desire for this kind of particularity, you are a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute that studies and believes in Intelligent Design. How do you, as an Orthodox Jew, reconcile with this kind of generality—with the view of their being a hierarchy with a chief "designer"—while believing in and praying to a very specific God?

[Medved:] The important thing about Intelligent Design is that it is not a theory—which is something I think they need to make more clear. Nor is Intelligent Design an explanation. Intelligent Design is a challenge. It's a challenge to evolution. It does not replace evolution with something else.

[Post:] The question is not whether it replaces evolution, but whether it replaces God.

[Medved:] No, you see, Intelligent Design doesn't tell you what is true; it tells you what is not true. It tells you that it cannot be that this whole process was random.

Medved is off message–he clearly needs to call back to Discovery Institute headquarters for his proper marching orders. Why? Because in public, the Discovery Institute does want to argue that intelligent design is a theory in the same way that evolutionary biology is a theory. Of course, the Discovery Institute's real motives were revealed in the notorious "Wedge Strategy" document.

Medved also shows a profound misunderstanding of natural selection. The mutations are random, but natural selection is not random-it is the process by which favorable mutations are preserved and deleterious ones are weeded out. Cumulative selection is a fundamentally nonrandom process.

Go here for a slightly revised version of my remarks during a recent debate on intelligent design in Las Vegas pitting Michael Shermer and me against the Discovery Institute's Stephen Meyer and George Gilder.

Hat tip to my colleague Dave Weigel & R.Hampton.

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  1. “The important thing about Intelligent Design is that it is not a theory…”

    correct, +1

    “Nor is Intelligent Design an explanation.”

    correct, +1

    “Intelligent Design is a challenge. It’s a challenge to evolution.”

    incorrect

    “It does not replace evolution with something else.”

    correct, but if so, how is it a challenge to evolution?

    “No, you see, Intelligent Design doesn’t tell you what is true;…”

    certainly correct

    “…it tells you what is not true.”

    certainly not correct

    “It tells you that it cannot be that this whole process was random.”

    as Ron points out, evolutionary theory doesn’t make this claim, so no conflict there.

  2. Intelligent design-inteligent shmein. The real question for us Jews not what we believe but what we do. There is nothing in the 613 commandments about intelligent design.

  3. “Intelligent Design is a challenge. It’s a challenge to evolution.”

    incorrect

    No, I’d say that’s correct. It’s not a very difficult challege, but it’s still a challenge.

  4. Medved (who I really know nothing about), Coulter, Limbaugh, Malkin & co. are just meatspace trolls.

    They live in fear of the coming of my lord Urkobold.

  5. as Ron points out, evolutionary theory doesn’t make this claim, so no conflict there.

    Well, although this is not what ID is countering, the root of all life on earth is a random event. And the whole process of evolution is rooted in randomness. So the fundamental backbone of life on earth is the randomness factor. The fact that a particular lifeform exists is a random event. The fact that it continues to exist over multiple generations is a non-random event.

    I’m not sure this statement shows that Medved misunderstands natural selection.

  6. “It’s not a very difficult challege, but it’s still a challenge.”

    Good point. It’s a challenge to logic, reason and the scientific method.
    It’s also challenges me to show restraint by not putting my head thru a wall when discussing the subject of intelligent design.

  7. MP, Medved said: “It tells you that it cannot be that this whole process was random.”

    and evolutionary biology doesn’t claim the whole process was random.

    The fundamental backbone of life on earth, including the origin of life, isn’t random, it’s dependent on deterministic chemical reactions and other interactions.

  8. Somehow I’m always amazed at the fundamental misunderstanding of the basics of evolutionary theory by creationists. On the other hand, if I thought evolution was as fucked up as creationists think it is, suddenly intelligent design doesn’t seem as outrageously implausible. From their perspective, if you’re going to believe in something that’s plainly impossible, you may as well do it for god. Or something like that.

  9. Well, although this is not what ID is countering, the root of all life on earth is a random event.

    An assertation that you have no evidence for. Life is physical and chemical processes, nothing more. More complex than crystal or solar system formation, still physical and chemical processes are resposible for life.

  10. I’m sorry MP. I should have finished reading your post before responding.

  11. The mutations are random, but natural selection is not random-it is the process by which favorable mutations are preserved and deleterious ones are weeded out.

    This is the problem I have with Natural Selection. It is fundamentally a negative force. It weeds out those things that make a species unfit for its environment. It most certainly prevents a species from becoming less fit. It prevents backsliding. Where is the force that makes a species more fit? All an organism needs to do is be just fit enough to reproduce.

  12. Where is the force that makes a species more fit?

    Competition from individuals with a newly occurring mutation which conveys higher fitness for obtaining a limited resource.

  13. Life is so awesome it can’t be random. Or as I call it, appeal to awesome, which would be a fallacy.

    Intelligent Design is a movement.

  14. Trickyvic,

    I would say it is more of a strategy than a movement.

    A rebranding, perhaps.

  15. The fundamental backbone of life on earth, including the origin of life, isn’t random, it’s dependent on deterministic chemical reactions and other interactions.

    If I’m following you correctly, you’re saying that the particular chemical soup from which the Earth is comprised made life inevitable? That position is completely unsubstantiated.

    There’s a big difference between possible and inevitable.

  16. You’re not following me correctly.

  17. “””[Post:] The question is not whether it replaces evolution, but whether it replaces God.””””

    I agree, and that is reason why I believe christians are fools to back it. They are afraid that evolution questions the existance of God, but it doesn’t, it questions Genesis’s version of the creation of life which doesn’t really stand on its own anyway. ID questions the existance of the Judeo-christian god by debating the existance of a different intelligent designer.

  18. “””A rebranding, perhaps.”””

    Yeah, a rebranding of the Judeo-Christian God which should piss off those who believe in God, if they were serious about a real ID debate anyway. But we all know those pushing ID are really trying to push God as the only IDer.

    We can’t put God in school, so we’ll just rebrand God as ID. Come to think about it, that should piss God off.

  19. Intelligent design means magically create. It’s an idiotic childish idea. It used to be called creation science. The name change to intelligent design was made after the Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that creation science is not science and can’t be taught in a public school. In 2005 a federal court said the same thing about intelligent design. It’s not science.

    The Discovery Institute is a Christian creationist organization. Everyone who works for the Discovery Institute is a liar and a moron.

    Many Christians reject evolution, despite the mountains of evidence it has, because they correctly believe evolution is the greatest threat to their idiotic medieval death cult.

  20. When do we get to start treating these fuckos the way we treat flat-earthers and Holocaust-deniers?

  21. Um, how do we treat flat-earthers?

  22. Where is the force that makes a species more fit? All an organism needs to do is be just fit enough to reproduce.

    One of the most widely publicized discoveries of recent “positive” evolution within the human genome has been lactose tolerance. Yep, it wasn’t that long ago that the human species was unable to digest animal milk, but then we learned how to tame and herd cattle…

  23. Somebody said “They are afraid that evolution questions the existance of God, but it doesn’t, it questions Genesis’s version of the creation of life which doesn’t really stand on its own anyway.”

    In my opinion it’s dishonest to say evolution doesn’t question the existence of Mr. God. Of course science doesn’t care whether there’s any gods or not. However it’s obvious Mr. God was invented to explain the natural world, including and especially the diversity of life. It’s now very obvious to biologists the diversity of life can be explained without invoking a supernatural magic man.

    It’s fair to say if supernatural intervention wasn’t necessary to create life, then supernatural woo-woo wasn’t necessary for anything else.

    In my opinion Darwin killed God. I say good riddance. People who believe in Mr. God are slaves. It’s better to be a free person, also known as an atheist.

    To the Christians who deny evolution despite the overwhelming evidence it has, that’s fine with me as long as you keep your breathtaking stupidity out of our schools. If you instead try to suppress or dumb down the teaching of biological evolution, you’re a traitor and you should be put in prison for treason.

  24. “Um, how do we treat flat-earthers?”

    Mostly we ignore them as irrelevant. Sometimes we have sneering contempt for them.

    That’s about what the ID people are worth.

  25. Um, how do we treat flat-earthers?

    Like a red-headed step child, of course.

  26. The universe is too complex to have been created at random, therefore there must be an intelligent designer. An entity complex enough to create a universe must itself be too complex to have been created at random. Therefore, I hereby present the intelligent designer intelligent designer theory. Please join me.

  27. My thing is, flat-earthers and holocaust-deniers barely fit in the same page, much less the same sentence.

    And I certainly don’t treat them the same.

  28. [Medved:] No, you see, Intelligent Design doesn’t tell you what is true; it tells you what is not true. It tells you that it cannot be that this whole process was random.

    Oh FFS! Evolutionary process are not entirely random.

    Lets simplify things and reduce evolution to mutation and natural selection. Okay, genetic mutation is probably modeled fairly accurately as some sort of random process. Whether this is true or not is a philosophical debate above the heads of most of the Discovery Insitute Fellows.

    Natural selection on the other hand is not random. If you aren’t fit, you aren’t fit and you and your kind are selected. Thanks for playing, come again…oh sorry forgot you are going extinct.

    Evolution is not random. This is one of the biggest lies the DI/IDCers keep propagating.

  29. If you aren’t fit, you aren’t fit and you and your kind are selected.

    Should read as,

    If you aren’t fit, you aren’t fit and you and your kind are selected against.

  30. With a proper understanding of physics one realizes that absolutely nothing in the universe since the Big Bang has been random. Everything’s just cause and effect chains down to the smallest subatomic particles. Evolution is just an orderly side-effect of those processes.

    TLDR: Religion is dumb.

  31. With a proper understanding of physics one realizes that absolutely nothing in the universe since the Big Bang has been random. Everything’s just cause and effect chains down to the smallest subatomic particles. Evolution is just an orderly side-effect of those processes.

    A proper understanding of physics? Most physicists, from the top on down, will readily admit that no human “understands” physics very well, either at very large or very small scales.

    That’s what makes science so cool: we know *a great quantity* of information, and yet, we still don’t know dick.

    p.s. I disagree strongly that determinism at the micro scale necessarily implies determinism at the macro scale.

  32. Pardon the quick plug for my employer: HHMI (Howard Hughes Medical Institute) offers some interesting free DVDs at their website.

    There are two about evolution, one of which is a 2-disc, 240 minute set of lectures from HHMI’s holiday lecture series in which they invite in a bunch of high school students to listen to lectures by top scientists.

    (HHMI is a huge foundation, about half the size of the Gates foundation, and funding research at a rate of $450 million a year. When Howard Hughes started his aircraft company he formed HHMI and gave it the Hughes aircraft stock. HHMI sold that off in the 80s. They fund labs at universities all around the country and have a big research campus on a former farm north of DC.)

  33. p.s. I disagree strongly that determinism at the micro scale necessarily implies determinism at the macro scale.

    Emergent properties, FTW.

  34. Medved also shows a profound misunderstanding of natural selection.

    To go along with his profound misunderstanding of, well, just about everything.

  35. Jon H – thanks for the tip

    I ordered some DVDs and if they are good I will be sharing with my colleagues and students

  36. Emergent properties, FTW.

    Indeed, although in this case I’d feel more comfortable (for a variety of reasons) calling cause-and-effect determinism a *submergent* property of macro systems.

  37. If I’m following you correctly, you’re saying that the particular chemical soup from which the Earth is comprised made life inevitable? That position is completely unsubstantiated.

    You are. I am. No, it’s not. All the the amino acids (life’s building blocks) almost instantly appear when you apply energy (UV, electric sparks etc.) to a best guess primordial soup. In a beaker! In weeks! Add 100 million to 1 billion years and a beaker the size of the Earth’s hydrosphere and viola!, life.

    The concept is not that friigin’ hard to understand. Working out specifics will require multiple geniuses and many years. Meanwhile the “God of the Gaps” will continue to have fewer and fewer places to reside.

  38. With a proper understanding of physics one realizes that absolutely nothing in the universe since the Big Bang has been random.

    As little as I understand quantum theory, i do know it says otherwise. There is randomWith a proper understanding of physics one realizes that absolutely nothing in the universe since the Big Bang has been random.ness anywher you look and Newton’s mechanistic view of the universe is insufficient to explain some important things.

  39. Damned tags. I’m obviosly dumber than HTML.

  40. I’m going to try that again using the preview function.

    With a proper understanding of physics one realizes that absolutely nothing in the universe since the Big Bang has been random.

    As little as I understand quantum theory, I do know it says otherwise. Randomness is everywhere you look and Newton’s mechanistic view of the universe has proven insufficient to explain some important phenomena.

  41. “””The universe is too complex to have been created at random, therefore there must be an intelligent designer.”””

    Appeal to complexity does not make it so. That not evidence of ID at all.

  42. “””In my opinion Darwin killed God.”””

    He didn’t, if anything, he killed the book of Genesis. A christian can argue that evolution is God’s work. God didn’t intend to make everything little thing, instead he made a universe that would evolve according to his plan. An serious debate about ID means a serious debate that something other than God created the universe. I think that’s against the 10 Commandments, according to #1 there is only one God. The discovery instipoop thinks we are all to stupid to know that they are not really interested in a serious ID debate but just trying to pimp God under the guise of ID. It’s not working.

  43. Challenge, my ass. All “intelligent design” is, is a long-winded “nu-uh” to everything we know about biology, paleontology, and geology.

    -jcr

  44. The Jerusalem Post’s reporter’s question is…bad. Unless the assumption behind his question is that an Orthodox Jew cannot believe in an explantion for creation that might contradict his religion, which would seem to include evolution.

    I’m not entirely familiar with what the Discovery Institute actually believes, but it is hard to understand how there is necessarily a coflict with a “theory” that posits an Intelligent Designer with a religion that posits a Creator God. As long as specifics are not involved that contradicts the religion’s dogma, they should be compatible. Of course, I don’t believe there is necessarly any conflict between religion and evolution except for people who are fundamentalist in their outlook (both theists and atheists).

  45. It’s nice to hear that someone else is trying to show that ID is not science. I’ve been hammering away on this point on the internet for a number of months.

    Supporters of Intelligent Design (ID) and their supporters are trying to confuse everyone with what is philosophy and what is science in an effort to interject religion into science. A quick trip to a dictionary really settles this question. To be a scientific theory, by definition, a theory must contain a condition under which it can be proven false otherwise it’s not a theory. A theory, in otherwords, is only a hypotetical idea.

    The belief in any kind of supreme beings is a philosophical idea not a scientific theory because the idea of a supreme being can never be proven true or false. There is no existing proof of one – religious texts not withstanding. Intelligent design is based upon the idea that some aspects of life are to complex to have evolved and must have been created by some sort of Supreme Being. QED: it’s a philosophical idea – not a scientific one. Philosopy is concerned with ehics, estheticslogic, epistemology, metaphysics, the study of morals and behavior, religion, etc.

    Even though Darwin’s “Theory of Evolution”, may presently contain a few discrepancies, it has been accepted the scientific world over as the best true scientific fit so far explaining evolution.

    We seem to be blessed with the wrong type of intelligent (?) administrators, wishful leaders and purveyors of ID in the oddest places who are either out to destroy this countries creditability in the scientific world over their own personal beliefs or lack understanding of what is truly science.

  46. To be a scientific theory, by definition, a theory must contain a condition under which it can be proven false otherwise it’s not a theory. A theory, in otherwords [sic], is only a hypotetical [sic] idea.

    I appreciate your pro-evolutionary theory sentiment, but you are conflating the terms hypothetical and theory. In the vernacular, they are synonymous. In the technical sense as used in scientific writing, they are not synonymous and mean distinctly different things.

    In fact, your formulation is often used by anti-evolutionists to discredit evolution (“it’s only a theory”).

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