Friday, November 24, 2006

By request: Review of a Chick Tract

An anonymous commenter to my review of Mere Christianity suggested that reviewing a Chick Tract would be more my level. Not the one to disappoint an honest request, I googled 'Chick Tract', and the first link was to the website of Chick Publications owned by Jack T. Chick.

As the name suggests, Chick Publications is a publishing company; that is, it sells books. However, there were some smaller articles online, and I decided to take one of those out for a ride.

The chosen article is: New Definition of Science? by Thomas Heinze from November/December 2005.

Heinze's first paragraph sums up, what it's about like this:

"Evolution is science, so the schools must teach it. Creationism and Intelligent Design (ID) are religion, so they must not be taught!" We have been hearing this kind of rubbish a lot more since President Bush said he thinks intelligent design should be taught in public schools in addition to evolution so the students can understand what the debate is all about.

Should ID be taught in school? I am not a US citizen, so I am not too concerned about school education in the USA; but the question is relevant enough still. I wouldn't mind that ID be taught in higher grades in primary school and in high school. The question would of course be, what exactly should be taught? The problem here is that ID has become connected with origins. Everybody knows that until the Wright brothers actually managed to get a flying machine into the air, scientists had 'proved' the impossibility of such an enterprise. And everybody knows that according to 19th century aerodynamic theories, bumblebees were unable to fly; except that the bumblebees didn't know about any such theories, so they flew anyway.

Indeed, teaching ID in school might require a new definition of science. As of today, a scientific theory is a human convention; it isn't true or false, but usable or unusable. Using a formal proof to prove that the bacterial flagellum cannot evolve is about as exciting as a formal proof/disproof of the existence of God; that is, it can have some academic interest – but it just isn't science.

Heinze continues:

Mark Bergin in World Magazine lists some of the criticisms: "The Philadelphia Daily News said widespread acceptance of ID could undermine the scientific method. The Washington Post suggested that the president was 'indulging quackery' for political gain. The Los Angeles Times called the comments 'one more example of the extreme right's attempt to create a Taliban-like society." (Mark Bergin, Mad scientists, World Magazine, 8/05,) Evolutionists, who say that Bush wants religion and what they want is science, use a special definition of science that eliminates creation: "Science is the search for natural solutions." Creation by an intelligent Designer is a supernatural rather than a natural solution. By this contrived definition, to be "scientific," you have to be an atheist.

As indicated above, ID could undermine the scientific method, leading away from a science based on observations to a more formal type of science. And as for the "Taliban-like society", while the Discovery Institute denies any connection with Christian Reconstructionism, the occasional hostile anti-Darwinism does indicate some connection. Also the main funder of the Center for Science and Culture is Howard Ahmanson, who is known for Reconstructionist sympathies.

As for the definition of science reported by Heinze, "[s]cience is the search for natural solutions", what else would Heinze suggest? Science is supposed to support technology, that is human interaction with nature (when we talk about natural science, which isn't all science; though you are advised to not tell a natural scientist that ;-)), including prediction of natural events. If vulcanic eruptions are symptoms of the anger of some god, we of course need not worry about science; but not even IDists believe that. Where do we draw the limit? Science is the search for natural solutions, though maybe not everything has a natural solution. But if we do not first search for natural solutions, but give up and ask God to solve our problems, how do we then know that we wouldn't have found a natural solution around the next corner? And what does that have to do with being an atheist? Do theists explain everything as an act of God? If not, where do they draw the limit? Where that limit might be is not a scientific question, because it is a limit to science, assuming that science is the search for a natural solution. So, no, you don't have to be an atheist to be scientific, you only have to know that certain questions are within the scope of science and others are not.

Back to Heinze:

Consider this: The heads of some of America's most famous presidents have been carved from solid rock at Mount Rushmore. If a visiting evolutionist science professor applied the "search for natural solutions definition to these heads, he would have to conclude that they were formed by something natural like weathering and erosion rather than by intelligent design. If he suggested this, he would be laughed out of the classroom.

In this case we happen to know that the heads were carved by humans, so we have a good case for design. Anyway, did the humans that carved the faces use magic or anything like that? I suppose they used chisels and hammers; nothing supernatural. These humans knew something about rocks, such as what kind of tools would be needed to work with the rock. This is perfectly fine natural science supporting technology, that is human interaction with nature. Assuming that only a supernatural being could have achieved something such wouldn't have been all that helpful, would it?

Back to Heinze:

But he does not hesitate to teach his students that the heads of the real presidents who inspired the statues evolved by accident through the blind forces of nature. Is he right when he claims that the real heads of real presidents had no designer? No! Stone cold, dead wrong!

Well, we here happen to have strong indications that the physical traits of humans depend on those of their parents, since they are inheritable. That is, we have a working natural explanation, and no supernatural one is warranted.

But Heinze continues:

The Rushmore heads only show design on the carved surface. The real heads show incredible design all the way down to the atoms. Human heads are made of billions of cells. Inside each cell, wonderful little machines do much of the work of the cell. Every machine known to mankind had an intelligent designer, but these cell machines are so precise and efficient that manmade machines are crude by comparison. Scientists are studying them, hoping to copy them. For example, a miniature motor that spins at 100,000 RPM with almost perfect efficiency is found in some single celled animals that evolutionists consider "primitive." This is just one of the many kinds of molecular motors and other molecular machines found even in "simple" cells. Moreover, the cell's machines are made of some of the most complex and difficult to produce chemicals in the world, such as protein and RNA. These materials never occur in nature except when made by living cells. Yet, evolutionists claim that lucky accidents brought the parts together and assembled them.

Now, we are moving a bit too fast here, aren't we? It isn't in particular evolutionists that consider single celled organisms to be "primitive", actually IDists and creationists are more into that kind of name calling, since they have more of a vested interest in the impossibility of evolution. Actually, the complexity of single celled organisms support evolution in the sense, that if a single celled organism could evolve, the evolution of humans from simian ancestors is no problem at all in comparison.

That "[t]hese materials never occur in nature except when made by living cells" has a natural explanation: the components react with oxygen, and since 21% of the earth's atmosphere is made up of oxygen, proteins and DNA do not occur outside of special environments. Some single organisms even today do not tolerate much oxygen, whereas most other organisms actually require oxygen, and plants produce oxygen from carbon dioxide as a by-product of photosynthesis, while animals inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide.

It is true that abiogenesis – the origin of life from non-life – is far from understood today; but unfortunately, we cannot speculate us to everything from the comfort of an armchair. IDists appear to think that we should; but unfortunately, science progresses mostly through a lot of wrong guesses, and the occasional right guess. As Thomas Edison said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." This quote was picked up from Mike Dunford's post Peer Review at The Questionable Authority. – thanks Mike :-).

The promise of ID to deliver a more rapid turn-around for scientific discoveries is questionable; after all, the scientific output of the ID community is this far rather meagre; see e.g. the above linked post by Mike Dunford.

That "evolutionists claim that lucky accidents brought the parts together and assembled them" is made out of pure straw. Evolution can occur everywhere within an organism; the function of a component such as what now is a flagellum can have evolved, and each part can have its own evolutionary history; maybe Heinze shouldn't rely so much on IDists' misrepresentations of evolutionary theory?

But since Heinze has his inspiration from the IDists, he continues completely off track:

Why would they even consider such a dumb idea? Because their definition of science makes intelligent design "unscientific".

As indicated above, evolutionists do not consider such a dumb idea, so there's really no point in Heinze's "Because ..."

Which makes Heinze's following paragraph pathetic:

Hiding the evidence for intelligent design from our students is a horrible, despicable crime against them. How many students would believe in evolution today if the evidence that God was the Designer and Creator had not been hidden from them?

Counter-question: how many students would believe in creation/ID today if a more thorough understanding of science, including evolutionary thery, had been provided by schools? The main problem with ID is that its proponents exploit that people don't know all that much about, how science works. Maybe scientists should do more out of informing the general public about, how science works? This would certainly give the IDists a harder time; they would have to leave their comfortable armchairs and not only to travel around repeating the same old stuff that has been debunked so many times over and over again. The public deserves better than what the IDists have to offer.

Heinze ends with these words:

You can get more information to help students and teachers find the truth in The Vanishing Proofs of Evolution, In the Beginning Soup? and How Life Began published by Chick Publications.

Since Heinze went completely off track a few paragraphs ago, I'd suspect that these Tracts are just leading even further into the wilderness of misconceptions.

In short, if you need to laugh or cry, reading a Chick Tract might be the way to go; otherwise, just stay away from them.

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A Christian in Satanist clothes