Thursday, May 10, 2007

Intelligent Design Debate in Denver (repeat)

Intelligent Design

Douglas Groothuis, David Eller, and Earl Staelin.

On Sunday 13 May 2007, at 7:00 PM, Earl Staelin and David Eller and Doug Groothuis will discuss Intelligent Design and Darwinism at the First Universalist Church of Denver: 4101 E. Hampden Ave., Denver CO 80222-7262.Does a proper understanding of some aspects of biology require a designing intelligence?

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and the author of ten books, will argue the affirmative. He has written editorials and book reviews on intelligent design in The Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post, as well as giving lectures on intelligent design at Colorado State University and Colorado School of Mines.

David Eller is a professor of anthropology at Metro State College and Community College of Denver. He received his Ph.D. in anthropology from Boston University, and conducted field research in Australia on Aboriginal religions. He’s published two books in anthropology, plus a forthcoming book on anthropology of religion; also Natural Atheism, and numerous articles on religion, culture, and science. Debated Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute on the subject of intelligent design for an episode of Lee Strobel's TV show, "Faith under Fire." He is the former Colorado Director of American Atheists. He will argue the negative of intelligent design.

Earl Staelin is a trial attorney who has handled many cases involving medical, chemical, and scientific issues. He has a background in nutrition. He has published articles and/or given professional presentations on “Calcium and Osteoporosis”, “A Nutritional Solution to AIDS”, nutrition and other health disorders, “Health and Light”, “The Amazing Role of Microbes in Biology”, “Observational Evidence against the Big Bang”, and “Resistance to Scientific Innovation”. He will present a position recognizing intelligence in the rapid development of new species, but as something intrinsic in nature.


Papa Giorgio said...
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Papa Giorgio said...
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Papa Giorgio said...

The question asked was, “Does a proper understanding of some aspects of biology require a designing intelligence?”

I would say yes, not merely because of my worldview, but because of the results of my worldview. Let me explain.

Many have heard the statement that positing a Designer doesn’t allow for the scientist, biologist - - whomever - - to investigate the use of an organism or biological feature because merely stating it was designed apparently nixes any enquiry into what function or feature said organism or feature performs. The “God of the gaps” argument is often propounded as anti-science. It is said that since there is a gap in knowledge, God is posited and walla,“end of story.”

I disagree. While this argument has some validity, this “validation” swings both ways. This is what I like to call “Evolution of the gaps.” I will give a few examples of how something in “natural history” was explained naturally and study of it waned, whereas, if you view the same organism as designed rather than a combination of random chance and natural selection, its function becomes the keystone of enquiry.


Discover the Truth
“[U]seless, or nearly useless.” This is how the June 2004 issue of Discover magazine (pp. 42-45) refers to such things as the coccyx, appendix, and other supposed vestigial organs. I will deal with just a few of the examples given in the article which will allow the reader to look into the matter more closely via the references cited. However, before I begin, let me give an example of a once supposed vestigial organ, and then comment on the good or harm such thinking inflicts on medicine… depending on one’s philosophical starting point. Bear with me.

In the 1930’s over half of all children had their tonsils and adenoids removed. In 1969, 19.5 out of every 1,000 children under the age of nine had undergone a tonsillectomy. By 1971 the frequency had dropped to only 14.8 per 1,000, with the percentage continuing to decrease in subsequent years. Most medical authorities now actively discourage tonsillectomies [1]. Many agree with Wooley, chairman of the department of pediatrics at Wayne State University, who was quoted in Katz: “If there are one million tonsillectomies done in the United States, there are 999,000 that don’t need doing.”

Among the first medical doctors seriously to question the wisdom of tonsillectomies was Albert Kaiser. For ten years he kept complete records of the illnesses of 5,000 children. They were divided into two groups – those who had tonsils removed and those who did not. Kaiser found: “…no significant difference between the two groups in the number of colds, sore throats and other upper respiratory infections.” [2]

Tonsils are important to young people in helping to establish the body’s defense mechanism which produces disease-fighting antibodies. Once these mechanisms are developed, the tonsils shrink to almost nothing in adults, and other organs take over this function. [3] In the Medical World News [4], a story stated that although removal of tonsils at a young age obviously eliminates tonsillitis (the inflammation of the tonsils) it may significantly increase the incidence of strep-throat and even Hodgkin’s disease. In fact, according to the New York Department of Cancer Control: “…people who have had tonsillectomies are nearly three times as likely to develop Hodgkin’s Disease, a form of cancer that attacks the lymphoid tissue.” [5]

The Point
My point is this, the Tonsils were once included in a list of 180 vestigial (“useless, or nearly useless”) organs [6]. And because the assumption was first made that these were organs left over from a previous genetic ancestor (ape, dog, early-man, whatever), that they were deemed useless – ad hoc – because science did not know at that time what their functions were.

So for many years, doctors and scientists that accepted the evolutionary paradigm did not investigate the possible functionality of these organs. Many people suffered and died needlessly due to this philosophical assumption that evolution is true. You will see this assumption play out again and again where medical science and the evolutionary issue intersect. You see, if you come to the table with an understanding that we were created, then these structures serve a purpose, or are a neutral combination of the possible male/female outcome of the fertilized egg (for instance, male nipples [7]). If the assumption is made that these structures are designed, then the medical world would strive to investigate and understand the organ in question, not simply state that it is useless.

Fallacious Arguments
If the medical world does not know the function of a particular organ, then a person cannot ipso facto conclude that it is useless. This is called in logic, argumentum ad ignorantiam, or, an argument to ignorance, and is considered a fallacious argument (e.g., void of reason). “The argument from ignorance can be used to shift a burden of proof merely on the basis of rumor, innuendo, or false accusations, instead of real evidence.” [8]

Notes: biology references from the book Vestigial Organs are Fully Functional. (Dated but relevant)

[1] Robert P Bolande, “Ritualistic Surgery – circumcision and tonsillectomy,” New England Journal of Medicine, March 13 (1969) pp. 591-595; Alvin Eden, “When Should Tonsils and Adenoids be Removed?” Family Weekly, September 25 (1977), p. 24; Lawrence Galton, “All Those Tonsil Operations: Useless? Dangerous?” Parade, May 2 (1976), pp. 26ff; Dolras Katz, “Tonsillectomy: Boom or Boondoggle?” The Detroit Free Press, April 13 (1972), p. 1-C; Samuel Lipton, On the Psychology of Childhood Tonsillectomy. In: The Psychoanalysis Study of the Child (International Universities Press, New York: 1962).

[2] Galton, p. 26.

[3] Martin L. Gross, The Doctors (Random House, New York: 1966); Simpson Hall, Diseases of the Nose, Throat and Ear (E. and S. Livingston, New York: 1941).

[4] N. J. Vianna, Peter Greenwald, and U. N. Davies, September 10, 1973, p.10

[5] Galton, p. 26-27.

[6] This is an important issue, for instance, during the famous Scopes trial in 1925 – which allowed evolution to be taught alongside creation – zoologist Horatio Hacket Newman, a defense witness, stated: “There are, according to Wiedersheim, no less than 180 vestigial structures in the human body, sufficient to make of a man a veritable walking museum of antiquities.”

[7] Also, if created by a personal God who has created sex to be pleasurable, then the nipples have a purpose other than the neutral canvas of the fertilized egg.

[8] Robert Audi (general editor), The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, second edition (Cambridge University PressNew York: 199), P.434.

Jeff said...

Excellent debate tonight Dr. G!

I was intrigued by Eller's comments on the "simplicity" of producing "To be or not to be..." by natural law. I tried to ask the question, "If you saw those words written in the sand, what would you think to be its cause? Law or agency?"

Great job of staying focused, and making the most of your rebuttal time. You pulled together a lot of counterpoints and presented them well in a mere 3 minutes...

Douglas Groothuis said...

My wife tells me I only used two minutes of the rebuttal time.

Dr. Eller was smuggling in intelligence in his explanation, especially by talking about logical operators, which presuppose rationality (something he cannot make a basic explanatory principle).

I wasn't able to deal with the many overstatements, bluffs, straw man arguments, and other fallacies in the alloted time.

Thanks for coming and commenting. But who are you?

Papa Giorgio said...
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Fletcher said...

Here is something I want to send to Eller if I can find his email address:

Dr. Eller:
First, thanks very much for taking the time to participate in Sunday nights’ debate/discussion on Intelligent Design. I wish there could be more discussions such as that one more often. The turnout was impressive; we had to break down the tables and the potluck! Bravo.
I wanted to share an observation with you: Often when there was a difficult challenge posed to materialism, the answer was something to the effect of “there are models for how that could have come about” – which I thought clearly demonstrated a pre-commitment to philosophical materialism. I wanted to ask you what these “models” are based on. For example, is there a model for how extremely complex information (DNA) arose from noninformation, or from where the substrate material required to somehow “form” complex proteins came about, and how? I know Darwin was 150 years ago, but he presupposed a primordial soup chock full of extremely complex replicating proteins. Where did this stuff come from, and what does the model look like… and whatever the answer is, where did that stuff come from? If there are such models, what is the factual, testable, observable basis for these models?
If there are none (which I assume there couldn’t really be?), then surely they must be conjectural or at least posited through statistical probability. If this is so, then such a “probabilities approach” is similar to some aspects/arguments that ID proponents use, and surely falls outside of the scientific method, borrowing from some aspects creationism. Would you not agree?
Also, do you believe there are knowable truths outside of science? If there are (and I believe there are in philosophy, ethics, morals, etc.), then I think scientism as a worldview fails overall because it cannot account for all of the data. Because science is confined to human understanding and invention (we define science and the rules it must follow), I believe that it is limited in what it can and ever will achieve…. and it either must be open to other possibilities outside of itself or it must be agreed that it is not a comprehensive worldview, but rather only a partial one… which by definition wrecks its’ ability to be a true “world view” because it can only apprehend limited portions or aspects of the world.
Here is a question I wish I would have asked Sunday night: What is your view on the very origin of the universe itself. I think there can only be three basic explanations:
1. The universe has always existed and is without beginning
2. The universe did begin a finite amount of time ago, having come about by pure chance from no originating force or material whatsoever (true nothingness) with no cause, design, purpose or intelligence. A roll of the dice from nothing, if you will.
3. The universe did begin a finite amount of time ago, having come about as the result of a self-existent intelligent agent, designed for a purpose.

Please offer and explain your position here either from either one of the three choices offered, or an additional option that I may not have thought of, and please provide a purely materialistic model or explanation as to how you believe this occurred.

I have to assume that a man of your education can quickly see the illogic of choices 1 and 2. Choice 1 is not logically possible due to infinite regression of contingent states and the impossibility of instantiating an actual infinite in space/time, and #2 makes no sense whatsoever in my view (and hopefully in everyone’s’ view), that something as complex and vast as the universe arose from true nothingness. I am talking about true nothingness, meaning no magnetic fields, etc. I say this because some people have come up with “models” for magnetic fields somehow “just being there” and starting things off, but you have to keep going back: Where do these magnetic fields come from, and whatever the answer to that is, where did that come from? Another attempt at this is that our universe is one of many, perhaps trillions, and we just so happen to be here now as the result of chance. Even so (and I think the multiverse theory is desperately implausible), where did all of these other universes come from? I think you see where I am coming from.

Again, thanks for participating Sunday night, and I look forward to reading your response!