Book Review: The Not-So-Intelligent Designer, by Abby Hafer
Posted: Friday, May 20th, 2016
by Glenn Branch
As the title of The Not-So-Intelligent Designer suggests, Abby Hafer is ready to take intelligent design seriously. A zoologist who teaches human anatomy and physiology at Curry College, she invokes her specialty to argue that intelligent design is refuted by the quirks and kinks, the makeshift solutions and haywire failures, of human biology. Along the way, she offers a spirited assault on the promoters of intelligent design, accusing them of purveying uncertainty and doubt about evolution, peddling religion disguised as science, and engaging in propaganda reminiscent of the tobacco industry.
There is a lot to like about The Not-So-Intelligent Designer. The book is written with brio and it brims with examples and illustrations. The thirty-five short and punchy chapters alternate between explaining the science and exposing those who misinterpret or misrepresent the science, thus managing to alleviate any hint of tedium. And Hafer is sometimes quite splendidly indignant. Particularly noteworthy was her castigation of William Dembski’s bland comment that it would be “nice” for human birth to be easier; Hafer responds by explaining the gruesome results of obstetric fistula.
The central argument, however, is not convincing. Hafer usually proceeds on the assumption that intelligent design predicts that all biological structures and systems function optimally. Thus her various examples of the imperfections of the vertebrate retina, the human birth canal, and so on, constitute falsifications of intelligent design. But intelligent design is not officially committed to claims either of universality or optimality: it claims only that some biological structures and systems can be explained only with reference to intelligent, not necessarily perfect, agency.
Acknowledging the point, Hafer sometimes suggests that if it is not construed as predicting that all biological structures and systems function optimally, intelligent design becomes untestable and thus unscientific. She is right insofar as intelligent design is often presented in terms that render it untestable (or testable only with the addition of claims about the designer for which there is no independent evidence). But the necessity of presenting it thus is not obvious, and so there is a constant temptation to wonder if a version of intelligent design is capable of withstanding her arguments.
Creationists who, unlike the chief promoters of intelligent design, are willing to help themselves to overtly extrascientific claims are able to deflect arguments from imperfection such as Hafer’s—at least to their own satisfaction. Two popular strategies are to claim that the structures and systems in question are only apparently suboptimal but are in fact optimal considered in the context of the designer’s overall goals for life in general, as well as to concede that the structures and systems in question are suboptimal but attribute the fact to the deleterious consequences of the Fall described in Genesis 3.
To be sure, focusing on imperfections is a good way of understanding evolution. But it would have been better for Hafer to have emphasized how the imperfections of human anatomy and physiology display a phylogenetic pattern characteristic of descent with modification. For at the end of the day, it is the unquestionable explanatory success of evolution, rather than the explanatory failure of intelligent design, which demonstrates, in the words of the book’s subtitle, why evolution explains the human body and intelligent design does not.
Hafer covers a lot of ground in a short space, so there are various details that invite quibbles and nitpicks. Particularly problematic is her emphasis on experimental evidence as essential to science—she even castigates the promoters of intelligent design for not including the phrase “experimental evidence” in their definition of intelligent design, apparently without considering that it is not included in standard definitions of evolution. It is important to realize that evolutionary biology employs historical as well as experimental methods, a point obscured in Hafer’s treatment.
Science teachers are not going to want to use the book in the classroom or to recommend the book to students, in part because of the choice of examples—the discussion of testicles and scurvy are guaranteed to elicit giggles and grimaces—and in part because of the candid discussion of religion, which might be regarded as offensive, such as the characterization of the Designer as “the world’s biggest abortionist!” (p. 52, emphasis in original). In their own reading, though, they will find it a lively, opinionated, and provocative introduction to the topic.
Author: Abby Hafer
Published by: Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers
Available from: http://wipfandstock.com/the-not-so-intelligent-designer.html
Glenn Branch is deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, a non-profit organization that defends the integrity of science education against ideological interference.
Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
by Jessica Sawko
In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.
At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/ai/infomeeting.asp.) Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
by Carol Peterson
1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/google-offers-360-degree-tours-of-us-national-parks/. Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!
Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award
The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Peter A’hearn
NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?
The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt
Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…