A Debate: Natural Selection v. Intelligent Design


The following is a debate between a dear friend of mine who lives in Texas and I regarding Natural Selection vs. Intelligent Design. He is of the opinion that the concept of Intelligent Design should be taught as an "alternative theory" to the evolution of species. I think that Intelligent Design, or ID, belongs in the philosophy classroom if it belongs anywhere. The following is a little debate we (and some others) had online, and I wanted to save it in my blog before it gets lost into the constantly changing pile of useless data that is Facebook.

I need to acknowledge a couple of websites that helped immensely in forming my arguments: The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe and Rational Wiki (which is rather snarky, but full of valuable information).

He says:

I can't force anyone to believe in or love God any more than I can tell them how to love their own wife. But I will tell you this, there is more evidence for intelligent design than there is for the vertical transition of any species within the theory of evolution.

I'm sure you've heard the argument for the intelligent design of the eye within multiple species. It just can't happen within the odds of evolutionary chance. Monkey's banging on typewriters. Those kinds of odds. But if that is easier to swallow, I understand. Been there.

Anyway, any decent classroom will teach you the pros and cons of both, of which we do, in Texas.

Pure Liberalism is a failure. Pure Capitalism is a failure. Why? Because greed and power will corrupt them both, and there are but mere men at the helm of either. I just refuse to follow mere men.

I reply:

But ID isn't science, not by any stretch of the imagination. All the so-called "evidence" presented by the IDers ...is not evidence at all, but an argument called False Dichotomy: I can't explain it, so it must have been God. It relies on only two possibilities and that's not science.

Take the game of Bridge, any hand of 13 cards dealt comes to you with the odds of less than 600 billion to one. Bringing the ID argument to the card table would state that "since the likelihood of being dealt any hand is less than 600 billion to one, my hand must have been created by a supernatural force." That's an Argument from Personal Incredulity (I cannot explain or understand this, therefore it cannot be true), but it's not science.

Science is rooted in the physical world, we observe, we report, we test, we repeat. ID is rooted in the supernatural and has one argument, "I believe it, so it must be true" -- another logical fallacy called Ad ignorantiam and that's not science.

The main problem with ID is that its believers start with the premise that God exists and they will not waver from that stance regardless of the mountains of actual scientific evidence presented to them. Scientific theories change if the evidence points in a different direction, ID is stagnant and forever unchanging. It starts with a gigantic assumption that it will not dismiss and that's not science.

Finally, the burden of positive proof falls on the person making the statement. Evolution does this by offering scientific evidence gathered by thousands of people. ID makes a very bold statement with no actual evidence to back it up, but instead relies on a string of logical fallacies. That's not science.

ID fails every scientific test, it is based on beliefs and nothing else. If ID must be in schools, it should be placed in the Philosophy classroom and not the science classroom.

I am all for alternate SCIENTIFIC theories being presented in a science class. ID isn't science, it's religion.

A friend of his says:

Muggsy, may I suggest you read John Polkinghorn, Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University, regarding the science of intelligent design.

I reply:

I have. It's philosophy, not science regardless of his credentials. See my statement about the burden of positive proof, Polkinghorn offers none and falls into some of the same logical fallacies as I mentioned.

Look, I am not saying "don't ...believe in a God creature." If that's what gives you peace and fulfillment then have at it. But don't go putting your non-scientific creation myth into the science classroom. It doesn't even fit the definition of "science" and the only way to make it do so is by redefining the word. That's called moving the goalposts.

He says:

Intelligent Design should remain in the science classrooms, and here’s why.

Let’s say you’ve never met my wife, which is true, and I bring to you a plate of muffins. You eat a few of them and comment on how great they taste. I say “Thanks.” and then offer you a challenge. My challenge is this, by using science and these muffins, prove to me that Mandy exists.

You will be able to call in anybody from all the realms of the physical sciences, such as forensics, microbiology, molecular biology, chemistry, you name it. You can run all the tests for as long as you wanted, but all of your evidence must conclude that she exists. Sounds easy. They are only muffins.

But my wife is amazing with her baking. Everything is from scratch. She buys nothing from stores that you could trace, she’s imported some of the ingredients from the most remote places around the world. Every detail is purposely determined. She has even grown her own wheat for the flour and grinds it from a stone found only in the Lhagba Pool, the berries are from Floreana in the Galapagos.

She leaves no physical DNA on them, her kitchen is spotless, a clean room as it were. And she takes careful care to keep everything pure. Every detail is about her muffins, and their passionate perfection.

Finally, after many tests and tons of research, you realize that you cannot discover the answer to my question. So all of your evidence can only conclude, actually force you to conclude that she must not exist. The muffins just are.

Since your view of science can neither prove or disprove even a physical creator in this or any creation universal instance, you by no means have the authority to make the call if it should remain in a science classroom or not. If proof of evidence then becomes our task, I present to you the muffin itself. Or, in this instance, the universe itself.

But you take the problem deeper by assuming the “ingredients” actually assembled themselves. Sounds foolish looking at a plate of simple muffins. Sounds even more-so looking at the 1.8 million named species that currently populate the earth. So let’s go way back to where the “ingredients” of the evolutionary theory originated from.

I’ll start with the “scientific” conclusion that is accepted by those who only believe in that which can only be proven by science. Summated: “From out of nothing, everything came.” That itself a dichotomy of mythic proportions. I don’t think I can overstate the absurdity of this cornerstone to which it all resides. But maybe we can shake logic by adding in some numbers.

So over 4.6 billion years ago, everything sprang from a hot dense mass that exploded. Agreed. (I am pretty much with you on big bang, and old earth) But where did the hot dense mass come from? Who made the muffins?

But evolutionists don’t like to spend much time beyond the hot dense mass from nowhere, somewhere, that just was.

What was the force compressing all of this? What was there 1,000,000,000 billion years ago? Mathematical infinity is a proven scientific fact. Why do evolutionists only want to deal with 4.6 billion of those years? How did the ingredients of the hot dense mass assemble?

Within this hot dense compressed mass, which is under so much immense pressure – because it’s going to have the power to explode out into light years worth of space– is the impossibility of sustaining even a bacterial microbe. It is nothing but a geological dead mass. All of it is non-living matter.

Kaboom! Then about 1.1 billion years later, spontaneous generation occurs. Though it’s not called that anymore because that theory has been proven wrong, but still, this is an important moment.

A dense non-living mass that has exploded with Universal force has just spontaneously spawned, prokaryotes. But since “spontaneous” has been proven false, it’s replaced with “Abiogenesis” (which itself is just spontaneous generation wrapped in a theory within a theory within a new package) to cover for the unprovable. So who made the prokaryotes? Let’s just say they did just appear (which sounds like creation) from non-living matter, like the microbes they have found in glaciers. You’re just starting over with a new set of ingredients. Who made the muffins?

Now, at this point an actual law of science has to be set aside. That pesky Second LAW of thermodynamics. (ie: things of a lower order cannot generate things of a higher order). Can a law be thwarted by single cell bacterial microbes? Shouldn’t we have perpetual energy by now if over-coming this law was possible?

But let’s come back to the present for some physical evidence, since you insisted that from me.

I’d like to see the actual mountains of evidence you are siting. I’m sure there is stuff I haven’t been exposed to. I’m assuming it’s ...the lab dish experiments where microbes are reported to be evolving. They are changing in the adaptive sense, not migrating to a higher order. Can we duplicate billions of years in the lab to see it through to our conclusion? It’s like an illogical stream. Like the beaks of the finches in the Galapagos.

Within a species it’s adaptation, to a new species is evolution. To which again, I state the Second LAW of Thermodynamics. Order to chaos, not chaos to order.

And how about the fossil record not having and evidence of the vertical transition of ANY species. Out of how many that have existed? (1.8 million + all the extinct ones) Darwin himself admitted that this was his weakest argument. But he “had faith” that the fossil record would bear him out. 150-some years later...still practicing faith. Sounds kind of religious.

So if you want me to prove the existence of God to you by only using science, all I can say is “Who made the muffins.” You’ll never find Him within the ingredients He is using. But what he has created IS the evidence. And that is why the evolutionists want the question of His existence to remain within their control and end here. Where they know they won’t find Him.

So if the burden of proof falls on me, I submit to you the trees, the ocean, this giant ever-expanding time-piece we live in, the vary microbes the evolutionists are trying to use to prove He doesn’t exist, and even you and our relationship. Oh, and the muffins.

So why is ID in science classrooms? Because the evidence is the muffin. Since science can’t prove the existence of a physical Mandy, it doesn’t have the authority to say which theory should be disallowed. And us IDers are open to what science is learning, but not the agenda of the evolutionists. It’s blurring their objectivity...need I site the Global Warming e-mails? Tell me the truth. Don’t mix it with your agenda.

My body is made up of many things, but it isn’t the true me. You could discover all the physical and biological things and make a scientific list of my chemical make up, where I came from, what I ate too much of, why I have blue eyes and such – my ingredients. But my family would say that wasn’t who I was. The real me cannot be discovered by science either, and I’m not supernatural. Nor am I Omnipotent. There’s the word. It’s easy to laugh at supernatural, it sounds like a magic show. Omnipotent, that’s what drives the evolutionists to not want to find Him anyway. The desire to be our own god is a powerful motivator. I can give you mountains of proof for that from the world, daily.

To tell you the truth, I’d rather start with muffins as my evidence anyway, because it’s the simple observations that bear that question out. Variations on a theme prove there is a single designer present. Like eyes, flight, pollination, reproduction, energy, the cycle of life, relationships, love. Actually, variations on a theme can be used to identify any designer, or an artist, such as my self. It reveals our style. And I recognize His style.

It’s like listening to a Muggsy deep and rich hollow body solo at Jazz Night through a warm retro amplifier. Without even seeing you play, I would recognize it was you by it’s tones, it’s similarities, it’s variations on theme, how you approach your scales, your passion, your art, your creativity. Expressing yourself, your love for music and the friends around you through the science of your guitar and sound. From just these few little things, I’d know it was you. Science is just the ingredients you used to express yourself.

Or, I could make your music cold and lifeless by just describing the cycles of vibration and the effects of air temperature on a classic amp when heard by a tone deaf drummer. I’d rather talk about the Muggsy behind it all. That’s the guy I know. So, I know.

About 10 years ago, a good friend of mine named Andy Hastings challenged me to name the 5 foundational facts of science. Of course, I didn’t know them off hand, so I had to look the up on the internet. Once I found them, I read aloud. “Time, Force, Action, Space, Matter.”

Andy then opened his Bible to Genesis 1:1 and read aloud. “In the beginning, (Time) God (Force) created (Action) the Heavens (Space) and the Earth. (Matter). I sat there amazed. That has been there for 4000 years since Moses scribbled them down and as we believers say “inspired by God.” Scientist Herbert Spencer didn’t state this observation as science until 1867. Ahead of the curve, baby!

Those words prove nothing scientifically unto themselves, other than that they are the opening words that have introduced million of people the Greatest Scientist of all. The one who shares that science with us, but also invites us to participate His passion, his solo as it were.

Just a second...

Mandy’s wondering why you never just read the journal she left on the table. It would have told you everything you wanted to know about her, and then you would have understood why she made the muffins.

Oh, and your card analogy is lacking. You’ve stated a static. What you receive isn’t amazing odds, it’s if you would have called the exact hand you were going to receive 4.6 billion times in a row, as the deck was constantly changing and appeared from out of nowhere. At what point the impossibility?

But if you’re willing to bet, I’ll take it. Easy money.

I reply:

Your examples are flawed in every case. We KNOW that muffins, jazz solos and the rest are all created by human hands (Mandy's first attempts at muffins, and certainly my first jazz solos, were probably failures). There is no argument on tha...t point. However, if we were presented with a muffin, but had never seen one before, we could take two roads to determining its origin: study, measure and experiment on it, or we could simply say, "Someone must have created it," but offer no actual proof.

Your entire thought process revolves around one idea and one idea only: God exists. It is based solely on faith and nothing else. You can point to amazing thing after amazing thing and say, "look at the consistencies, look at the complexities! Nothing in the natural world can explain it, so it must have been God." Take God out of the equation and your claim crumbles like a building with no foundation and it cannot recover. That's not science.

Science grows and changes. If a scientist finds something that changes or even destroys his theory, he will change his theory accordingly or come up with a new one altogether. ID doesn't do that, it states, in essence, "I believe it, therefore it is true." (Ad ignorantiam.) They examine everything through that lens, ignoring any other possible explanation or theory, and state their opinion as "truth." That kind of thinking doesn't belong in the science classroom, but in the philosophy classroom instead. ID is a crutch, it is a shortcut through the scientific method to an unknown and unprovable conclusion.

If I could prove to you that God doesn't exist (a logical fallacy, I know, because you can't prove a negative, but let's just go with it for the sake of argument), would that change your opinion about ID? Or would you conclude, through nothing but your faith, that my conclusion was wrong somehow and go on believing?

On the other hand, if you could prove to me that there is a God and that it created everything, I would accept that, and so would every scientist on earth. Until then it is based on nothing but faith with no actual physical, repeatable evidence to back up such a fanciful claim. The Bible is not a scientific source, it is a book full of parables, teaching lessons and philosophy and ID is nothing but a backhanded way of getting the Judeo-Christian creation myth presented in the science classroom. Any other non-Adam and Eve ideas are rejected without consideration.

Try telling an IDer the following story, "God created the first person out of clay and baked him in an oven, the first one stayed in too long and came out dark and that's where black people came from. He tried again, but didn't bake it long enough, and that's where white people came from. On his third try he baked it the perfect amount of time, and that's where brown people came from." Your average IDer would foam at the mouth at the mere suggestion, but it offers exactly the same scientific proof -- none -- as their own idea. Yet it is a creation myth from a different (non-Christian) culture, equal in every way to ID.

So if we used the scientific method and were able to prove beyond a doubt that someone (maybe not Mandy specifically, but someone or something) must have created the muffin, we, as scientists, would accept that conclusion. The IDer would say, "I knew that all along," but they'd be wrong. They didn't KNOW anything, they just guessed right. Until that day ID is nothing but a guess with nothing to back it up. Nothing.

In short: faith ≠ science.

His friend chimes in again:

Your premise underscores that everything scientific can be proven, or it is not science. Your premise is incorrect; therefore, your argument that follows is in error. The "science" of Intelligent Design has been deduced using the properties of physics. Whether or not the Intelligent Designer is God is another matter entirely. The faith component comes into play with the belief that the intelligent designer is the God of the Bible.

I reply to her:

With all due respect, you don't know what you're talking about. Science is based on natural, observable phenomena. Nothing about ID has ever been "proven" because you can't prove your biggest statement: God exists. You want to argu...e the mathematical probability of a God? Fine, I'll grant you that, but then you have to grant me the possibility of 100 gods, or a thousand. All are equally likely using only mathematical probability. But when it comes to measurable, repeatable results ID hasn't got a leg to stand on. Sorry, but that IS science.

He posts:

Alright Muggsy, I got your argument the first time. Now defend your position.

1. From out of nothing. Everything sprang.
...2. Abiogenesis. (Non-living matter spawns living matter)
3. A LAW of science has to be ignored. Explain how this happens in reference to 1 and 2. PLUS. Why would "Scientists" ignore a law to hold onto a theory?
4. No Physical evidence. Explain the lack of physical evidence if we are to only remain in the seen physical world.

If you cannot PROVE all of this, beyond a theory, then, on your premise, evolution must be taken out of the science classroom as well. Evolution crumbles.

Physics tell us that waves carry energy, but not mass. Until instruments of measurement are invented for such waves. (ie: something as common as gravitational waves). Could it not be said that we just haven't discovered the instrument that could detect a more complex living energy force?

To Melinda's point. You need to stop looking at God from the perspective of a guy with a long beard and white robes. We find God in indisputable laws. But since you are arguing against a Law, the onus is on your viewpoint.

And I make my final point:

1. You want to talk origin of the universe or evolution? When we're talking origin we're on almost equal footing -- neither of us knows for sure, but at least science has natural, measurable, observable data on its side. ID has is a belief... system: "God did it," but can offer no proof whatsoever. Something out of nothing? Are you telling me you're not making that argument, too?

2. Understand that the Theory of Evolution is not concerned with the origins of life, but how it has grown, changed and evolved.

3. Your "2nd Law of Thermodynamics" argument is only true in a closed system. The Earth is not a closed system, so no "laws" have been broken.

4. No physical evidence of evolution? Excuse me, but you don't know what you're talking about. There are mountains of evidence supporting the theory. In addition, evolution was directly observed in the laboratory by Dr. Richard Lenski in 2008 (as part of a 20-year long experiment involving E. Coli bacteria).

The basic argument here is this: Should ID be taught along side of Natural Selection in the science classroom? And to that end one question must be asked: Is ID science?

The answer is no. ID begins with an explanation that it is unwilling to alter — that supernatural forces have shaped biological or Earth systems — rejecting the basic requirements of science that hypotheses must be restricted to testable natural explanations. Its beliefs cannot be tested, modified, or rejected by scientific means and thus cannot be a part of the processes of science.

Instead ID also relies on a string of logical fallacies from false analogy (nothing so complex could have evolved by chance, so it must have been designed), ad hoc arguments (it begins with a made up premise), false dichotomy (either Natural Selection is true, or ID is true, there is no middle ground), negative proof (you can't prove it's NOT God), appeal to ignorance (it can't be proved false, so it must be true), argument from authority (Dr. Polkinghorne says it's true, so it must be true), begging the question ("proof" based on an unsound premise), and cherry-picking (accepting data that proves its hypothesis while rejecting that which does not), all the way up to ad hominem attacks (You know, Hitler believed in evolution!!).

Natural Selection, on the other hand, adheres to all the rules of science. It is based on natural, observable phenomena, it has been subjected to peer review for the past 200+ years and has changed from its modest beginnings as new data has become available and other data has proved false. Its claims are verifiable and can be replicated. And there is overwhelming evidence -- and even direct observation -- that supports it.

Simply put, ID is not science and has no place in a public school's science classroom.

It is obvious to me that I am not going to change your mind, so I am going to stop here. I have made my case based on what science is actually all about. You "grew up" and accepted a non-scientific idea as something true. I think that your understanding of what science is, how it works and many of its concepts is lacking. And I strongly disagree with you about teaching ID in science class.

That being said, I still have a kidney, half a liver and a bunch of bone marrow for you if you need it.

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