Just when the discussion in “The Age” over Intelligent Design seemed to have petered out, religion editor Barney Zwartz gave it another kick with a pro-ID article
“Let’s have a proper scientific debate” (18/08/05) http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2005/08/17/1123958129538.html
These replies were published in “The Age“. (Several replies were not published and are listed after them).
(also a subsquent article “Intelligent Design is Taking Us Backwards” (24/08/05) http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2005/08/23/1124562864552.html)
Cool heads and intelligent design
Barney Zwartz’s call for some cool heads in the intelligent design versus evolution debate (Opinion, 18/8) is timely and appropriate.
As an agnostic, I am fearful of the worldwide move towards fundamental religious attitudes. History is replete with the disastrous consequences of the dogmatism arising from such beliefs. However, I am also aware of the scientific community not being as completely open as it should be regarding the limitations of scientific knowledge.
In essence, science never proves anything. All it does is provide the best explanation that we can muster for the world as we see and measure it. It has proved an immensely powerful technique for dispelling ignorance and greatly improving our ability to manage our lives and environment. But it is this very success which clouds the imagination of some in the scientific community as to its limitations.
For anyone with a scant of imagination and aesthetic appreciation, life on this planet is a mind-boggling phenomenon for which evolution can only be part of the explanation. However, to assign this amazing mystery to a God of whatever form you wish to affirm does not, in my mind, add anything to the explanatory picture.
Tony Priestley, Fitzroy
With the fairies
Barney Zwartz proposes that we have “a proper scientific debate” about intelligent design. But science is concerned only with matters that can be proven logically. If I claim that there are fairies at the bottom of my garden, no one can disprove me � but this does not justify my demanding that school biology classes should be taught about them.
Most biologists believe that life is the result of an unguided process of evolution, while proponents of intelligent design claim that the structure of living organisms is so complex, and their interactions so involved, that life could not have evolved as it has unless some divine intelligence was guiding the evolutionary process. But this is no more capable of being proved, and has no more practical significance, than my theory of fairies.
Roger Riordan, Brighton East
The fact that the universe’s physical constants “are precisely the values needed � to produce life” may come as a shock to Barney Zwartz. But basic logic tells us it has to be so. If those constants were different, we wouldn’t be here to observe them.
To put it another way, imagine a billion parallel universes with random physical properties. Most will be lifeless, but is it any surprise that each one with live observers has the physics to support life?
Marcus Ogden, Upwey
Puddle and pothole
Barney Zwartz is apparently surprised that “the seemingly arbitrary constants in physics � are precisely the values needed for the universe to produce life”. This is rather like a puddle being impressed by the perfect fit of its pothole.
Margaret L. Ruwoldt, Leopold
In case anyone is still unclear about Intelligent Design, its central premise is that there is a divine being, a God, who has constructed the world. It must be an eternal God, or the question would be “so who created him?”
Intelligent Design supporters say that the world is too complex, works too well to not have been designed by God, but in order to be scientific they’d have to come up with an alternative scientific theory – exactly how did He interact with the world? What laboratory tests can we do that will detect God ?
Saying that the world must have been created as it has ideal conditions for life is quite egoistic – it’s just like a single leaf thinking that the whole tree grew just to support it. If the world didn’t have conditions that supported life, then we wouldn’t be here to consider it. Perhaps there would still be life even if conditions were different?
God might have created the world, but unless there are lab tests that detect God, then it’s a matter of faith and should be discussed in churches and not taught in science classes.
Wow! Barney Zwartz manages in one article to get Michael Behe’s religion wrong (he’s a Christian); to misquote Richard Dawkins (Dawkins preferred not to consider the possibility that people who didn’t believe in evolution were wicked); and to credit Anthony Flew with an opinion he doesn’t hold.
He also manages to misrepresent scientists (“scientistic fundamentalists“) and evolution ( “I suspect it is the only counter-explanation to God“).
It’s therefore with some relief that I can agree with his statement that “theology must not enter scientific endeavour” because with that sort of accuracy I suspect he wouldn’t be much good at science.
Zwartz might do better to not turn the argument into religion versus science. It’s not. There are plenty of religious scientists and plenty of science-educated clergy. And they almost all agree ID is bad religion and bad science.
A common tactic, observed countless times, of creationists and their fellow travelling apologists, is to misquote their opponents in order to discredit them. This is evident in Barney Zwartz’s piece (Let’s have a proper scientific debate, Age 18 August), where he misquotes the words of a distinguished scientist: “Richard Dawkins, as extreme an anti-religious bigot as I’ve come across, who says anyone who doesn’t believe in evolution is either stupid, insane or wicked. That’s a radical moral judgement for a cool, dispassionate believer in rationality.”
What Professor Dawkins, Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, really said, in a 1989 book review in the New York Times, was: “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).”
He immediately goes on to say: “If that gives you offence, I’m sorry. You are probably not stupid, insane or wicked; and ignorance is no crime in a country with strong local traditions of interference in the freedom of biology educators to teach the central theorem of their subject.”
By deleting Professor Dawkins’ main point, “ignorant“, by interpolating an imaginary “either” and by quoting him out of context, Zwartz seeks to paint Dawkins as making a moral judgement, when clearly he is rationally explaining the reasons why people might not believe in evolution.
By all means let us have a proper scientific debate, but let us keep it honest by not misrepresenting what other people have said.