Thursday, 26 April 2007

Toying with the Truth in Science - part 8

At last we are on to the final learning outcome in the teachers manual which accompanied the DVDs sent to every UK High School and College by the Creationist group Truth In Science in September 2006.

This part is called "The Design Inference".

I will resist the temptation to analyse the very real religious and philosophical debates which cover this topic and instead stick to the main point here i.e. are the TiS claims true?, does the material fit with the curriculum?, and will this material help our kids to pass their exams?

The first learning point is;

Know that all scientists agree that there is an appearance of design in the world, but many attribute this to evolution.

There are two problems with this rather bald statement;

First of all it is a master of understatement to use the word "many" in this context. I have previously covered this subject in my post regarding the homepage of TiS where they make the claim that Intelligent Design is a genuine scientific controversy and not just some fringe claim which is unsupported by evidence. You can re-read these details here.

Secondly we see the phrase "attribute this to evolution". This gives no indication of how the Theory of Evolution can and does explain the appearance of design in the world. This is part of an overall pattern to deliberately leave students ignorant of the details of evolution so that TiS can argue against it. This is a logical fallacy/debating tactic called "strawman" which I covered in more detail in my last post. The last thing this tactic can ever achieve, of course, is to assist students in passing their exams. Then again we have seen that this is not high on the TiS agenda.

Evolution through natrual selection explains a process of UNintelligent design, which operates with no forethought, planning or even general direction of "progress". The process of evolution is supported by many lines of evidence which have been and still are being independently verified around the world. It is a fairly simple process with many hidden subtleties which is counterintuitive and requires carfeul thought and reflection to understand fully.

The head of science of my own son's High School, who kindly supplied me with my copy of the TiS materials, said;

"It is difficult enough to teach evolution to the children, without this nonsense material, which appears to be designed to confuse them."

The next learning outcomes are as follows;

Consider how we all regularly make inferences to intelligent design in detecting man-made objects.

Understand that we recognise design in objects if they are complex and fit a recognisable (specified) pattern.

None of this stuff is in the syllabus and our kids will not be tested on it.

Besides that major point lets list the logical fallacies and errors here;

Non-sequitur - The fact that people do something doesn't make it true.
Argument from popularity - we all do this often - still doesn't make it true.

What about many other examples of spontaneous or emergent complexity?
Snowflakes, ice crystals on a window, the Giants Causeway, the patterns of light on Oil on water, rainbows, the Rings of Saturn, fractals etc.

Know that Dr William Dembski provided a mathematical framework for detecting design,

Wikipedia's biography of Dembski is interesting. We can see that he is a mathematician after all but that he hasn't published very many papers on his subject. The subject mentioned above was not one of his papers. In fact he put it out in a book. There has been some controversy regarding the book at a recent ID trial in the USA when claims where made that the book was "peer reviewed" a process of error checking and proof reading involved in scientific papers of all kinds and designed to make sure work is accurate, original and significant before it is published. The trial judge ruled that,

"the intelligent design movement has yet to have an article published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal"

If you want to see more about this trial you can see the full ruling and selected extracts on another blog of mine here.

Dembski himself has said,

"I'm not and never have been in the business of offering a strict mathematical proof for the inability of material mechanisms to generate specified complexity."

The next learning outcome is;

Understand that information is both complex and specified.

No I don't understand this either - I have been back and watched the film again and it is still goobledegook. This material is aimed at kids remember - clear as mud - but sounds impressive doesn't it?

Know that DNA stores more information and transmits it more efficiently than anything else in the known universe.

Again we are being led by the nose into the argument from personal incredulity. Wow - it must be god then.

Understand that there is no known process to explain the origin of information.

Yet more pseudoscientific claptrap. They never actually say how you can measure information do they, or precisely what they mean by information? They have been challenged on this quite a bit since this claim was first made but we still don't know what it is they are claiming here.

Oh, and by the way - none of this stuff about information theory would earn you a single mark in a GCSE biology exam - because it is not in the syllabus and is not tested.

OK are you ready for the big finish - this is what TiS have been leading up to all this time. Brace yourself;

Recognise that the inference of design makes sense of the word as a rational and comprehensible product of an intelligent mind.

Whisper from stage left;

Don't mention the G*D word!

We have come a long way and seen an awful lot of vacuous statements from TiS to get this far.

Just think to yourself and tell me what the scientific theory of Intelligent Design says actually happened.

As far as I can make out it is this;

"Sometime, somewhere, somebody, designed something intelligently in someway for some reason." A perfectly valid philosophy for life i.e. a religion.

But not something which will help any students to pass their biology exams.

Truth In Science want every school and college in the UK to teach Intelligent Design in science classes, now.

They want this now despite the fact that ID is not included in the syllabus and exams.

If ID were to be taught in science classes this would of course mean that our kids would get fewer marks, lower grades and maybe even fail in their exams as a direct result of learning material and answers which don't match those set by the exam boards.

Why on earth wouldn't TiS lobby for the inclusion of it in the syllabus and exam papers before teaching it? That way the kids don't suffer.

Why send the material out now and run the risk that kids grades will suffer? At the very least this shows a completely irresponsible attitude to the children themselves.

TiS claim that 50 odd schools and colleges are using this material already.

I will next move on to looking some of he material TiS have on their web site and recommended for use in classes.

Corrections and comment welcomed.

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