"...I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me..." [Deuteronomy 5:8-10]

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Evolutionary Information Gap Between Science and Bonnie Alba

A concerned citizen by the name of Bonnie Alba has been writing regularly of late about evolution and Intelligent Design.

In a column published on 11 May, she claimed:

"the press continues to follow the path of least resistance, supporting the scientists who proclaim that 'Evolution is an established theory.' Yet those scientists provide no answers to the scientists offering ID." [1]
She also claimed that opponents of Intelligent Design theory are "pushing an 'atheist worldview' on our children".

I wrote to her on these two points [2].

Firstly, a great many Christians see no conflict between their faith and evolution as it is understood by science. I pointed to a recent open letter from over 3,500 Christian clergy, which says:
"...We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as 'one theory among others' is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children..." [3]
(Ms Alba avoided the issue, talking instead of "real Christians").

Secondly, even the main proponents of Intelligent Design admit that their theory currently offers no teachable alternative to evolution. As Paul Nelson, a fellow of the ID-endorsing Discovery Institute, recently stated:
"Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don't have such a theory right now, and that's a problem. Without a theory, it's very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now, we've got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as 'irreducible complexity' and 'specified complexity' - but, as yet, no general theory of biological design." [4]
They certainly believe that standard evolutionary theory is wrong - although the vast majority of earth and life scientists reject their criticisms [5].

I asked Bonnie if, as a Christian, it was right for her to promote ID as a scientific alternative to evolution when she was apparently so uninformed about both topics.

She replied saying that as I was an atheist, I was not qualified to comment on a what a Christian should or should not do. How that justifies her own behaviour, I do not know.

Following our correspondence, Ms Alba has written another article [6]. In it she refers, apparently to me, as calling her a liar.

I did no such thing. I did say that she was bearing false witness. And it is clear from both of her articles that she is doing just that. (I will leave it to others, more qualified, to comment on her errors of science.)

I am not saying that Ms Alba is dishonest for believing in Intelligent Design or for rejecting evolution. She is entitled to her opinions. And I am not saying that she is deliberately setting out to deceive. What I am saying is that Ms Alba makes untrue statements about the opinions of others. And this is wrong.

In her second article Ms Alba refers to the recent hearings on evolution in Kansas, talking of "prominent scientists supporting ID". But the hearings were specifically (or perhaps supposedly) not about Intelligent Design. They were about exposing students to specific criticisms of evolutionary theory [7] - although again the vast majority of scientists consider these criticisms to have been investigated and rejected.

The ID-supporting Discovery Institute says in its FAQ on the hearings that neither it nor the Kansas science standards writing committee "propose teaching Intelligent Design theory" in Kansas [8].

To be fair, Ms Alba is not the only supporter of Intelligent Design who doesn't seem to know what its Theorists actually say. Albert Mohler (president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) [9] and Darrick Dean (who runs an ID-supporting blog) [10] have made similar public statements.

Does it matter that these people are wrong?

Of course it does.

If Ms Alba and others can be so wrong about Intelligent Design, which they purport to promote, what chance do they have of accurately commenting on evolution, which they vehemently oppose?

Ms Alba writes "There appears to be a large gap between the scientific community knowledge and the general public". Of course there is, when people such as she who show no interest in actually learning about evolution, or even it seems Intelligent Design, keep pontificating on both subjects.

What is most worrying, in Ms Alba's case at least, is that she does not seem to care that her public statements are demonstrably wrong.

She seems to see anyone who accepts evolution as either being a false Christian or an amoral atheist. She seems to have her own standards of truth (she calls them "God's"), and apparently thinks that she owes no duty of care to anyone who does not share her own beliefs and prejudices. (She told me that the Biblical prohibition against bearing false witness applies only "to neighbors". Make of that what you will). Despite this, she accuses me of moral relativism.

If Ms Alba were to be honest, she'd make it clear that her arguments were aimed solely at those who, like her, refuse to accept even the merest possibility that the Bible might not have been meant as a science manual.

Ms Alba claims to promote "critical thinking".

I'd invite anyone who thinks that this is a good thing (and I certainly do) to compare her claims about what others say with what they actually say.

Whatever Ms Alba thinks, Intelligent Design does not offer a scientific alternative to standard evolutionary theory, as accepted by the overwhelming majority of scientists worldwide, Christians included [5].


Update 20-MAY-05: This article appears on OpinionEditorials.com

[1] Intelligent Design - What Do the Naturalists Have Against It? ,
Bonnie Alba, May 11, 2005.

[2] A complete record of my correspondence with Ms Alba is available on my website.

[3] An Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science, 2005.

[4] An Interview with Paul Nelson, Touchstone Magazine, July/August 2004

[5] See my Facts For Fundamentalists

[6] The Evolutionary Information Gap Between Science and the Public, Bonnie Alba, May 18, 2005.

[7] Kansas State Board Of Education, Science Standards 2005 Draft. (Intelligent Design is not mentioned in the Standards once).

[8] Kansas Evolution Debate Frequently Asked Questions, Discovery Institute, April 27, 2005.

[9] See my Open Letter to Albert Mohler, May 17, 2005.

[10] See my Response to Darrick Dean, May 16, 2005.

Thanks to EJ & AW

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