09 May 2011

More on publisher of proposed Texas teaching supplements with intelligent design

Maybe the superficiality of this story in The International Business Times could be because it’s not a story about business. It’s a story about proposed supplemental materials that have intelligent design materials (which I wrote about here). The story does have some new information: the publisher is all of one person.

One submission has come from a company called International Databases, LLC. It's a one-man operation run by Stephen Sample, who says he has a degree in evolutionary biology and taught at the high school and junior college levels for 15 years.

I wish there was more reportage here. He “says” he has a degree in evolutionary biology. How advanced is the degree? Couldn’t someone check? It makes a difference if this is someone with a bachelor’s degree in biology versus someone with a doctorate. Few undergraduate programs are specifically for evolutionary biology at the level; most are “biology.”

Those sections say the “null hypothesis” is that there had to be some intelligent agency behind the appearance of living things. It is up to the scientists proposing a naturalistic explanation to prove their case.

Sample seems to be confused with the concepts of a null hypothesis with burden of proof. A null hypothesis is used in a specific experiment, which the origin of life is not.

As for “burden of proof,” the normal rule is that the burden of proof is on the person making the more extravagant claim. Following Sir William of Occam’s principle that the explanation with fewer entities is the more conservative one, the burden of proof would fall on someone who claims the origin of life is due to natural forces plus an unspecified intelligent agent (two entities), not the person invoking natural forces (one entity):

Ordinarily teaching from a religious perspective is forbidden in public school science classes. The principle was decided on in the Kitzmiller v. Dover, in 2005, when a judge ruled that teaching the theory of "intelligent design" was actually a form of religious instruction and therefore not allowed in public schools.

Not quite. The legal judgements against teaching religious points of view in science classes goes way back before Kitzmiller v. Dover. American Supreme Court cases go back to 1968. The National Center for Science Education has an excellent round-up of such cases.

Sample says the "null hypothesis" is such because the old experiments that attempted to produce "building blocks" of amino acids failed to do so.

The facts here have been mangled by someone, although it’s not clear if Sample or the reporter is doing the mangling. It seems to be a reference to the so-called “Miller-Urey experiments,” which succeeded in making amino acids.

Sample says it isn't stealth creationism - he says the intelligent agency might just as well be aliens.

Every intelligent design advocate that I have seen follows, “It could be aliens,” with, “Although I personally think it’s God” when pressed. There are vast reams of writing about intelligent design being compatible with certain theistic religions, particularly Christianity. There are no serious discussions in the intelligent design community that I have read that seriously discuss extraterrestrial intelligence. This is probably because the “aliens did it” hypothesis doesn’t solve the origin of life, but moves it off of Earth.

But he emphasizes that he wants students to learn to think critically, and that unlike the physical sciences, there aren’t any experiments you can do to demonstrate evolutionary theory.

If I’m generous, Sample might mean that there is no single experiment that can “prove” evolutionary theory, which is true. But science deals in evidence, not proof. And there are large numbers of experiments that have demonstrated evolutionary theory. You wouldn’t recreate all-female lineages of lizards in the lab without deep evolutionary thinking, to give just one recent example.

Additional: Sample is also silent on what experiments one could do to demonstrate intelligent design.

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