Behe jumps the shark

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Nick Matzke has also commented on this, but the op-ed is so bad I can't resist piling on. From the very first sentence, Michael Behe's op-ed in today's NY Times is an exercise in unwarranted hubris.

In the wake of the recent lawsuits over the teaching of Darwinian evolution, there has been a rush to debate the merits of the rival theory of intelligent design.

And it's all downhill from there.

Intelligent Design creationism is not a "rival theory." It is an ad hoc pile of mush, and once again we catch a creationist using the term "theory" as if it means "wild-ass guess." I think a theory is an idea that integrates and explains a large body of observation, and is well supported by the evidence, not a random idea about untestable mechanisms which have not been seen. I suspect Behe knows this, too, and what he is doing is a conscious bait-and-switch. See here, where he asserts that there is evidence for ID:

Rather, the contemporary argument for intelligent design is based on physical evidence and a straightforward application of logic. The argument for it consists of four linked claims.

This is where he first pulls the rug over the reader's eyes. He claims the Intelligent Design guess is based on physical evidence, and that he has four lines of argument; you'd expect him to then succinctly list the evidence, as was done in the 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution FAQ on the talkorigins site. He doesn't. Not once in the entire op-ed does he give a single piece of this "physical evidence." Instead, we get four bald assertions, every one false.

The first claim is uncontroversial: we can often recognize the effects of design in nature.

He then tells us that Mt Rushmore is designed, and the Rocky Mountains aren't. How is this an argument for anything? Nobody is denying that human beings design things, and that Mt Rushmore was carved with intelligent planning. Saying that Rushmore was designed does not help us resolve whether the frond of a fern is designed.

Which leads to the second claim of the intelligent design argument: the physical marks of design are visible in aspects of biology. This is uncontroversial, too.

No, this is controversial, in the sense that Behe is claiming it while most biologists are denying it. Again, he does not present any evidence to back up his contention, but instead invokes two words: "Paley" and "machine."

The Reverend Paley, of course, is long dead and his argument equally deceased, thoroughly scuttled. I will give Behe credit that he only wants to turn the clock of science back to about 1850, rather than 1350, as his fellow creationists at the Discovery Institute seem to desire, but resurrecting Paley won't help him.

The rest of his argument consists of citing a number of instances of biologists using the word "machine" to refer to the workings of a cell. This is ludicrous; he's playing a game with words, assuming that everyone will automatically link the word "machine" to "design." But of course, Crick and Alberts and the other scientists who compared the mechanism of the cell to an intricate machine were making no presumption of design.

There is another sneaky bit of dishonesty here; Behe is trying to use the good names of Crick and Alberts to endorse his crackpot theory, when the creationists know full well that Crick did not believe in ID, and that Alberts has been vocal in his opposition.

So far, Behe's argument has been that "it's obvious!", accompanied by a little sleight of hand. It doesn't get any better.

The next claim in the argument for design is that we have no good explanation for the foundation of life that doesn't involve intelligence. Here is where thoughtful people part company. Darwinists assert that their theory can explain the appearance of design in life as the result of random mutation and natural selection acting over immense stretches of time. Some scientists, however, think the Darwinists' confidence is unjustified. They note that although natural selection can explain some aspects of biology, there are no research studies indicating that Darwinian processes can make molecular machines of the complexity we find in the cell.

Oh, so many creationists tropes in such a short paragraph.

Remember, this is supposed to be an outline of the evidence for Intelligent Design creationism. Declaring that evolutionary biology is "no good" is not evidence for his pet guess.

Similarly, declaring that some small minority of scientists, most of whom seem to be employed by creationist organizations like the Discovery Institute or the Creation Research Society or Answers in Genesis, does not make their ideas correct. Some small minority of historians also believe the Holocaust never happened; does that validate their denial? There are also people who call themselves physicists and engineers who promote perpetual motion machines. Credible historians, physicists, and engineers repudiate all of these people, just as credible biologists repudiate the fringe elements that babble about intelligent design.

The last bit of his claim is simply Behe's standard outright lie. For years, he's been going around telling people that he has analyzed the content of the Journal of Molecular Evolution and that they have never published anything on "detailed models for intermediates in the development of complex biomolecular structures", and that the textbooks similarly lack any credible evidence for such processes. Both claims are false. A list of research studies that show exactly what he claims doesn't exist is easily found.

The fourth claim in the design argument is also controversial: in the absence of any convincing non-design explanation, we are justified in thinking that real intelligent design was involved in life. To evaluate this claim, it's important to keep in mind that it is the profound appearance of design in life that everyone is laboring to explain, not the appearance of natural selection or the appearance of self-organization.

How does Behe get away with this?

How does this crap get published in the NY Times?

Look at what he is doing: he is simply declaring that there is no convincing explanation in biology that doesn't require intelligent design, therefore Intelligent Design creationism is true. But thousands of biologists think the large body of evidence in the scientific literature is convincing! Behe doesn't get to just wave his hands and have all the evidence for evolutionary biology magically disappear; he is trusting that his audience, lacking any knowledge of biology, will simply believe him.

After this resoundingly vacant series of non-explanations, Behe tops it all off with a cliche.

The strong appearance of design allows a disarmingly simple argument: if it looks, walks and quacks like a duck, then, absent compelling evidence to the contrary, we have warrant to conclude it's a duck. Design should not be overlooked simply because it's so obvious.

Behe began this op-ed by telling us that he was going to give us the contemporary argument for Intelligent Design creationism, consisting of four linked claims. Here's a shorter Behe for you:

The evidence for Intelligent Design.

  1. It's obvious.
  2. It's obvious!
  3. Evolutionary explanations are no good.
  4. There aren't any good evolutionary explanations.

That's it.

That's pathetic.

And it's in the New York Times? Journalism has fallen on very hard times.

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Not many people can deftly explain the mechanisms that drive evolution on a molecular level for the systems that have been studied, in terms that would reach laymen. Behe’s description is infinitely easier both to write and to understand.

Readers are generally not interested in science that is difficult to understand, but in scientific controversy and sensational claims. I agree that it is a sad state of affairs but it is not at all surprising.

My letter to the editor. You should all write your own:

Though Michael Behe does his best to misrepresent “intelligent design” as sound science, the originators of this “theory” admit from the start that they are motivated by their religious pretensions, not the truth:

“Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”

[Source: http://www.discovery.org/scripts/vi[…]&id=2101]

To the tune of over $1.5 million per year, they are funded to spread this disinformation by, among others, Howard Ahmanson Jr., a millionaire devoted to advancing causes important to the religious right, who also funds the Christian Reconstructionist movement, “a strange variant of Calvinism that stresses waging political struggle to put the earth, and in particular the U.S., under the control of biblical law.”

[Sources: _Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design_, Oxford University Press, 2004, http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/A[…]0768-5974420; http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2[…]06/ahmanson/]

Evolution is a fact. “Intelligent design” is creationist pseudoscience without one jot of evidentiary support.

In these times of bioterrorism and DNA economies, turning away from proven facts in science is dangerous and unenlightened. Or, as put in a different context by James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA: “If we don’t play God, who will?”

Sincerely,

Dr. Steven T. Smith Massachusetts Institute of Technology Member, NCSE’s “Project Steve”

Having already read the NYTimes this morning, before logging on, I had already composed a letter of sorts for the Times. So, upon reading Steven Smith’s note, I wrapped up mine and zinged it off through the ether to New York. I deliberately pared it down to within shouting distance of the Times’ upper limit of 150 words, which leaves much unsaid, but here’s hoping mine or others of a similar vein make it in. (I’m sure they’ll receive a flood)

The letter…

Michael Behe’s letter February 7th on “intelligent design” (ID) and evolution opens by claiming “ … the theory of intelligent design is not a religiously based idea.” Nonsense! Any cursory reading of the published literature from its promoters reveals the first premise of ID is “God did it.” Science, a discipline of reason and empirical evidence, has no tools with which to address such a belief. For Behe to assert that “ … [ID] is not religiously based … “ is blatantly dishonest. “Intelligent design” is a euphemism for God.

Behe then asserts ID is “ … based on physical evidence and a straightforward application of logic.” But all he posits are four further claims: “[W]e can recognize … design,” “design [is[ visible in … biology,” “we have no … explanation for … life that doesn’t involve intelligence” and “ … the absence of … [a] non-design explanation, [justifies] thinking … that real intelligent design was involved in life.” He offers neither supporting data nor a pointer to that data elsewhere, and ignores the overwhelming evidence that supports synthetic evolution.

Dr. Behe’s offering depends on faith and belief. Science depends on evidence and reason. To argue as Behe has done conflates religion and science.

Though Michael Behe does his best to misrepresent “intelligent design” as sound science, the originators of this “theory” admit from the start that they are motivated by their religious pretensions, not the truth:

“Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”

This specific aspect was discussed in Nick Matzke’s thread. Or rather, I discussed it, in defense of Behe’s position, and am still waiting (as of the time of this posting) for some evo-folks to directly engage it. While I’m waiting, let me likewise try my hand at letter-writing.

Dear NYT Editor:

Responding to Dr. Michael Behe’s recent NYT essay, some critics suggest that the intelligent design hypothesis is “religion” instead of science, on the basis of the publicly stated religious motivations of some of ID advocates. A predictable move, but scientifically unacceptable.

Why? Because evolutionist and ID critic Dr. Michael Ruse pointed out in the McClean vs. Arkansas creationism trial, that a proposed hypothesis or theory is NOT unscientific merely because the people doing the proposing, happen to have religious motivations. Evolutionists accepted that then, let them accept it now. According to William Dembski’s 1999 book Intelligent Design, the ID hypothesis consists of:

1. Specified complexity is well-defined and empirically detectable. 2. Undirected natural causes are incapable of explaining specified complexity. 3. Intelligent causation is the best explanation for the existence of specified complexity.

Can someone show me how this falsifiable (and therefore scientific) hypothesis is inherently religious in and of itself?

Sincerely, Floyd A. Lee Topeka, Kansas

Floyd, there is no way in hell the New York Times will print your letter which positively reeks of crank.

Your failure to realize that fact is just another symptom of the profound delusion that afflicts so many creationism apologists.

It’s going to be a troubling year for the rubes, I suspect.

I sent my LTE to the NYT- hopefully they’ll print it; I’ve noted my bona fides as a guy with numerous patents and expertise in detection and estimation. Incidentally, on my blog I’ve noted that the goodfellas in the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design don’t seem to have any association with the IEEE Information Theory socieity. (Scroll down- the questionable content bug is biting here.)

LOL! My LTE does just that- it takes Behe’s first claim, shows why it’s not true (i.e., no ability to separate hypotheses) and thus, therefore, Behe’s “intelligent” “design” is not science but metaphysics.

I think it would behoove scientists and those interested in science to consider using a different term to replace the scientific use of the word “theory.” Too many lay people consistently think of only one definition of that word: “An assumption based on limited information or knowledge; a conjecture.”

We would not expect a non-English speaker to understand something written in English. Why should we expect a non-science speaker to understand something written in science?

A lay-person-oriented vocabulary (particularly replacing the word “theory”), based on generally agreed-on meanings of well-known words, could be used when communicating with nonscientists and particularly when writing for the mainstream media.

It is imperative that people understand the importance and truth of science. Speaking to them in a language they can understand is a significant first step.

FL Wrote:

According to William Dembski’s 1999 book Intelligent Design, the ID hypothesis consists of:

1.  Specified complexity is well-defined and empirically detectable. 2.  Undirected natural causes are incapable of explaining specified complexity. 3.  Intelligent causation is the best explanation for the existence of specified complexity.

Can someone show me how this falsifiable (and therefore scientific) hypothesis is inherently religious in and of itself?

That’s odd, Behe said nothing about specified complexity. I hope you mention in your letter that Behe was misrepresenting ID.

Of course there’s also the possibilty that ID is extremely vague, thus making either Dembski’s or Behe’s definitions acceptable. But then you’d have a hard time saying it was non-religious based on one definition alone.

By the way, “specified complexity” is neither well-defined nor empirically detectable.

1. Specified complexity is well-defined and empirically detectable. 2. Undirected natural causes are incapable of explaining specified complexity. 3. Intelligent causation is the best explanation for the existence of specified complexity.

Can someone show me how this falsifiable (and therefore scientific) hypothesis is inherently religious in and of itself?

It’s not scientific, it’s vacuous. It’s based on a false premise that specified complexity is well-defined and empirically detectable, followed by an unfounded claim that undirected natural causes are unable to explain specified complexity and finally, since there is no scientific explanation of ID, there is no support for 3.

In other words, ID is all about hype and little about relevance. Or as others have called is, scientifically vacuous.

That FL confuses this statement with a scientific theory or even hypothesis is too bad since the theory does not make any positive predictions, does not present supporting evidence, and is based on the flawed concept of specified complexity which according to Dembksi would be useless if it allowed for false positives. Since false positives are now accepted as a possibility by Dembski, the argument seems simple and in support of the findings of others namely that ID is useless or scientifically vacuous.

The absence of any scientific explanation of the origins of the bacterial flagellum, blood clotting or immune system is just further evidence that ID is a gaps argument and scientifically vacuous. While science has proposed (detailed) plausible pathways, ID remains unable to show that the ID hypothesis (which does not exist) explains the data better. The problem with ID is that it cannot even eliminate our ignorance as a competing hypothesis.

Were “intelligent design” an actual scientific discipline, Dr. Behe could show us how well it works. All he need do is take the e. coli used to manufacture Humulin (a trademarked name, if I recall correctly), and demonstrate how easy it is to tell exactly where the human editing of the beast’s DNA was done.

The fact of the matter is that even for those biological entities for which it is certain that some intelligence has intervened in the design, “intelligent design” cannot distinguish where design begins and where it ends.

Potter Stewart’s line about pornography – “I know it when I see it” – was not proposed to be science, and when someone claims it is science, I feel compelled to point out that the standard has been abandoned even in the squishier realm of the social sciences.

Intelligent design isn’t even the cold fusion of biology – there’s much more experimental support for cold fusion.

Interesting comment about Ruse and how we should follow Ruse’s lead. Let’s look at what Ruse did say:

Q Well, you’ve said that the Marxism version of evolution has failed as science, but that’s healthy. But creation science fails as science and that’s unhealthy?

A: Well, you see, you are putting words into what you want me to say. Marxist version of evolutionary theory. What I’m saying is, one prominent evolutionist is a Marxist. That led him, I think that encouraged him to try out certain ideas.

But I don’t think that punctuated equilibria theory is Marxist, per se. I certainly don’t think the judgment is going to get into evidentiary level.

Q Now, you are not a scientist yourself?

A: No, I’m not a scientist. No. I’m a historian and philosopher of science which I would say encompasses a great deal of other areas in philosophy.

Q The discovery basis you mentioned, if a creation scientist believes in a sudden creation, should that not be advanced and then fail or succeed on its merits of scientific evidence?

A: No. Because we are not talking about scientific theory here. We are talking about religion. As a

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A: (Continuing) philosopher I can distinguish between science and religion. We are not talking about the context of discovery here.

And as I say, in any case, creation science isn’t science. It’s religion.

Q Do you agree with John Stuart Neill that, “If all mankind, minus one, were of one opinion and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified silencing that one person that, had he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

A: Well, the subject is so strange that- You can’t shout “Fire” in a loud crowded cinema. Yes, I do, right. I think it’s a wonderful statement. But of course, silencing somebody is different from not allowing the teaching of religion in the science classroom.

Q Teaching religion in the science classroom is your conclusion, is that correct?

A: Right.

Q And Marxism is a religion in your mind?

A: I certainly would not want Marxism-

THE COURT: Let’s don’t go through that again. He is not going to admit what you want him to.

THE WITNESS: Well, I’m glad I’ve got one philosophical convert here.

In other words, you cannot show that Dembski’s 3-point ID hypothesis is inherently religious, but you can always dispute its claim to be scientific on other grounds.

Thus things are clear. The evolutionists’ constant suggestion/insinuation that ID is religion and therefore not suitable for science classrooms on that basis, is unsupportable and directly refutable.

As for the rest of the ID-is-not-science argumentation, well, one thing at a time, one thing at a time.

But it is enough, for now, for me to focus on Behe’s particular point here.

By the way, the Kansas State Board of Education begins its Public Hearings on the Proposed Science Standards tomorrow night (Tuesday) in Topeka.

I think I will keep Behe’s quotation in mind, in case I get a chance to offer a few little minutes of testimony along with all the other folks from both sides who’ll doubtless pack the place.

FL

Interesting comment about Ruse and how we should follow Ruse’s lead. Let’s look at what Ruse did say:

Well, according to the late pro-evolution Univ of Chicago theologian Langdon Gilkey, who also testified at McClean vs. Arkansas, during Michael Ruse’s time in the witness stand, he suggested that regarding “the theories of creation science”, that they cannot claim to be science, but not because their proponents are religious or religiously inspired. Instead, it was because (in Ruse’s view) their theories or models fail to accord with the canons of science.

This comes from Gilkey’s 1998 book Creationism on Trial pg 137. I just happened to save that page when I read it during Gilkey’s visit to our university. Now if it’s a matter of going through the court transcript to see whether or not Ruse said something reasonably resembling that during his time on the witness stand, so be it. But I don’t see why Gilkey mentioned it if Ruse didn’t give him a reason to mention it.

The evolutionists’ constant suggestion/insinuation that ID is religion and therefore not suitable for science classrooms on that basis, is unsupportable and directly refutable.

There is more support for the claim that the ID movement is a religious movement than there is for the claim that the ID movement is a scientific movement, Floyd, so you lose either way.

The problem, Floyd, is that not even the “ID theory” peddlers can articulate what “ID theory” actually is. Behe’s pathetic Op-Ed in the Times is a prime example of that failure, for all the reasons that have already been so ably discussed by others here.

In the absence of any defined or scientifically testable concepts, “ID theory” is nothing more than wishful thinking, an “idea” that stands for the utterly bogus proposition that biologists are pushing a materialist agenda on children and, for the sake of Western Civilization, someone needs to inject deities into scientific discourse.

THAT is “ID theory”, Floyd.

And there are three categories of “ID theory” supporters (aka creationism apologists):

(1) rubes who are mostly ignorant of evolutionary biology but who are anxious to recite a deity-pleasing script which disparages secular humanism and scientists, a script handed to them by their contemporary preachers; and (2) frauds, hucksters and Liars for Jesus who should know better but their souls are rotting from all the fundamentalist kool-aid they drank; and (3) obnoxious gadflys who would deny the nose on their faces if they thought it would help them stand out from the “others”.

That’s it, Floyd. And it’s not any problem of mine that the categories are so apparent and limited. It’s the inevitable result when any group of self-interested willfully deluded cranks insists on pretending that a claim is true (“evolution is a theory in crisis”) when the claim has been proven false over and over and over and over again …

It’s too bad I don’t live in Kansas, Floyd. I would LOVE to go there with a nice compilation of all the bogus garbage that you’ve floated here so I could distribute it at the meeting and maybe even read some of most absurd proclamations into the record.

FL Wrote:

In other words, you cannot show that Dembski’s 3-point ID hypothesis is inherently religious, but you can always dispute its claim to be scientific on other grounds.

Well, as I showed, the problem is that this is not the universally accepted definition of ID, given that Michael Behe, in an Op-Ed supposedly clarifing what ID means, didn’t even use the term specified complexity. Thus, ID is vague enough to mean whatever its proponents want it to mean. They can certainly state ID in non-religious language if they wish, but we know good and well what they really mean when they say “intelligent cause”. In front of the right audience, they will say directly that ID is religious doctrine, and they have been caught doing so many times. I’m afraid they can’t have it both ways.

Thus things are clear.  The evolutionists’ constant suggestion/insinuation that ID is religion and therefore not suitable for science classrooms on that basis, is unsupportable and directly refutable.

The courts will rule based on the motivations of the people who legislate the teaching of ID. They will not care about how artfully phrased the definition is, what they will look for is evidence that ID advocates were or were not motivated by religion. We’ve been through all this before with the YECs, who also claimed that “creation science” was not religious doctrine, and were able to phrase it in such a way as to make it appear secular. The courts weren’t fooled.

IMO, the main reason not to teach ID is that it is at best scientifically empty, and at worst a collection of demonstrably false claims. The religious motivations of its adherents just make it that much worse.

Well lets deal with Dembski’s definition of ID

1. Specified complexity is well-defined and empirically detectable. 2. Undirected natural causes are incapable of explaining specified complexity. 3. Intelligent causation is the best explanation for the existence of specified complexity.

Well the question is whether it is Dembski’s idiosyncratic definition or the more common usage.

In the first case 1 is problematic - detection requires a great deal of analysis and so far as I know Dembski’s method ahs never properly been applied to biology.

In the second case 2 and 3 are false. Evolutiuon is a very good explanation of specified complexity - in fact evolution

Where religion comes in is that ID’ers don’t seem to care about the extreme difficulty of applying Dembski’s definition or that the two definitions are quite different. They are only interested in reaching their desired conclusion - and religion is the source of their motivation. If you can find a case where Dembski’s method has been successfully applied to anything in biology I’d like to know about it - Dembski’s attempt at the flagellum in No Free Lunch was a complete botch.

And I suppsoe that is why we see so much rhetoric from the ID Movement. Having no case they must attempt to drown out or silence criticism.

Ed Darrell Wrote:

Were “intelligent design” an actual scientific discipline, Dr. Behe could show us how well it works.  All he need do is take the e. coli used to manufacture Humulin (a trademarked name, if I recall correctly), and demonstrate how easy it is to tell exactly where the human editing of the beast’s DNA was done.

The fact of the matter is that even for those biological entities for which it is certain that some intelligence has intervened in the design, “intelligent design” cannot distinguish where design begins and where it ends.

Exactly. What’s even more amusing is that Dembski and others have claimed that ID could be useful for detecting man-made biological entities. But not only have they not shown how this would work, it is obvious that it cannot work. According to Dembski, a whole lot of cellular entities are designed, and since his Explanatory Filter can’t tell us who the designer was, a man-made entity would appear no different than a flagellum. The only way he could pick out a man-made entity is if he demonstrates that wild organisms were not designed, and that would sort of defeat his purpose!

In other words, you cannot show that Dembski’s 3-point ID hypothesis is inherently religious, but you can always dispute its claim to be scientific on other grounds. Thus things are clear. The evolutionists’ constant suggestion/insinuation that ID is religion and therefore not suitable for science classrooms on that basis, is unsupportable and directly refutable.

It is not inconsistent to claim that an assertion is both scientifically unsound and religiously motivated. You are correct in that there’s nothing in Dembski’s “hypothesis” that is inherently religious. Scientists are perfrectly legitimized in systematically blasting it out of the water on purely scientific grounds.

However, the religious motivations of ID proponents are out there in the public record (e.g., the Wedge document). The fact that the entire ID movement consists of those with a religious axe to grind against evoltionary theory is highly relevant to the public policy question of whether it is constitutional to teach ID in public schools. (Sadly, there’s no Constitutional obligation for the public school system to teach accurate science.) Cobb County learned the hard way that federal judges don’t like it when theocrats try to sneak religiously motivated material into science classes by dressing it up in scientific language.

Religious motivations also explain why ID is still peddled despite its lack of scientific merit, and why its proponents have sidestepped, you know, research, experimentation, and peer reviewed publishing, in favor of books for the lay audience and children’s textbooks. Ever wonder why some educated racists still pass around The Bell Curve like it hasn’t been thoroughly discredited? Could it have something to do with the fact that the authors and themselves share a racist ideology? Do you think?

Damn. That should be “in fact evolution SHOULD produce specified complexity in the ordinary sense of the phrase”.

To avoid further confusion I suggest a more accurate phrase for Dembski’s definition - “Specified High Improbability”.

And if Dembski works more on his ideas then one day he might be the “Isaac Newton” of Specified High Improbability Theory.

Finally, thanks Paul for the moment of levity.

I like the idea of renaming Dembeski’s theory as SHIT.

But I am also reminded of the old sci fi book (Hitchiker) and their unique contribution to “science,” the Infinite Improbability Drive. When you think about it, there’s a significant similarity between Dembeski’s formulation of ID and the IID. But rely on infinite improbabilites, and the ability to calculate them. Did Dembeski steal this idea from Hitchiker???

FL Wrote:

Why? Because evolutionist and ID critic Dr. Michael Ruse pointed out in the McClean vs. Arkansas creationism trial, that a proposed hypothesis or theory is NOT unscientific merely because the people doing the proposing, happen to have religious motivations. Evolutionists accepted that then, let them accept it now.

Oh, I fully accept that. But the reasoning should not stop there.

Okay, we know that anti-evolutionists are religiously motivated. That does not, in and of itself, make anti-evolution religious. So lets ask the next question, is there any legit scientific motivations? The answer to that is no. Now with that additional piece of the puzzle, we are entitled to make the obvious conclusion.

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Reason number 856 that creationist apologist make my head hurt:

They claim that they are being persecuted by scientists for their religious beliefs but simultaneously they claim that their religious beliefs are scientific theories.

The only difference between “ID theory” peddlers and Alien Bigfoot peddlers is that the Alien Bigfoot peddlers don’t worship Alien Bigfoot.

If Alien Bigfoot peddlers worshipped Alien Bigfoot and demanded that Alien Bigfoot be discussed in biology class (Alien Bigfeet ate some of the transitional fossils that creationists are always crying for), would the “ID theory” peddlers join forces with them?

Very good, PZ. It baffles me how these guys can talk about “evidence” and then time and time again fail to actually produce any.

Can I ask a question here about the possibility of proving/disproving ID?

Is it possible that, within the next generation, we will be able to simulate the workings of the human genome as it creates cells and a person? If a genome becomes a program that we can model, shouldn’t it be possible to model permutations between any two genomes? And wouldn’t the result, then, tell us whether or not there is any chain of viable intermediary genomes by which a human could mutate to a predecessor species and from there into a cat or a salamander?

At that point, it would become a question of probablities, no? I’d be very interested in hearing what percentages the ID crowd would accept as evidence of natural rather than Divine processes at work.

I’d be very interested in hearing what percentages the ID crowd would accept as evidence of natural rather than Divine processes at work.

Larry your question is similar to one that none of the ID peddlers has ever answered (to my knowledge) which is: what is the simplest biological molecule, collection of molecules, or organism which is known to must have been designed?

This is the sort of fundamental question which you’d expect some “ID researcher” to have answered by now, if in fact “ID theory” was scientifically fertile (which it isn’t).

As for your earlier question

Is it possible that, within the next generation, we will be able to simulate the workings of the human genome as it creates cells and a person?

I highly doubt that!

If a genome becomes a program that we can model, shouldn’t it be possible to model permutations between any two genomes?

What do you mean by “model permutations” between two genomes? We already know the differences between the sequences of many sequenced genomes. But that doesn’t mean we know what every gene does and when it does it and how each gene responds to the frankly infinite number of possible environmental signals that the cell might receive.

And wouldn’t the result, then, tell us whether or not there is any chain of viable intermediary genomes by which a human could mutate to a predecessor species and from there into a cat or a salamander?

Um … maybe. But with THAT kind of knowledge I’d be much more interested in curing cancer and fighting pathogenic diseases than attempting to prove the impossible (i.e., whether a “deity” intervened with the evolution of life on earth at some point). Wouldn’t you?

In other words, you cannot show that Dembski’s 3-point ID hypothesis is inherently religious, but you can always dispute its claim to be scientific on other grounds.

Thus things are clear. The evolutionists’ constant suggestion/insinuation that ID is religion and therefore not suitable for science classrooms on that basis, is unsupportable and directly refutable.

Wrong.

1. Specified complexity is well-defined and empirically detectable. 2. Undirected natural causes are incapable of explaining specified complexity. 3. Intelligent causation is the best explanation for the existence of specified complexity.

This is clearly a religious statement in support of a supernatural designer.

Who is the source of the “intelligent causation”? It can only be “god”.

Despite the “constant suggestion/insinuation” from ID advocates that ID doesn’t claim to predict who the designer is, if 2 and 3 are viewed as true, then it is deductively impossible for any “desiger” to naturally occur within our universe.

Floyd wrote:

According to William Dembski’s 1999 book Intelligent Design, the ID hypothesis consists of:

1. Specified complexity is well-defined and empirically detectable. 2. Undirected natural causes are incapable of explaining specified complexity. 3. Intelligent causation is the best explanation for the existence of specified complexity.

Re #1: I can make up the Zaphod metric to describe any poker hand (and this is much simpler and less arbitrary that what Demskiu tries to do). It clearly demonstrates the Floizness of the hand, and is of undisputed value in determining the humourousness of that hand. Prove me wrong.

Re #2: Great. Prove it.

Re #3: Nope. First, since you folks complain that evolution hasn’t been (yet) proven to account for all biological systems, it would only seem fair – before assuming that intelligent design is the better answer (despite having nothing to show for itself other than it is not the mechanism that has shown quite impressive results in quite a number of cases so far) – that you first prove that an “intelligent designer” is in fact capable of producing the results that you would like to ascribe to it. Well, whatcha waiting for, hop to it!

Cheers,

Paul King said:

To avoid further confusion I suggest a more accurate phrase for Dembski’s definition - “Specified High Improbability”.

And if Dembski works more on his ideas then one day he might be the “Isaac Newton” of Specified High Improbability Theory.

I think it was Robert Frost who poetically asked how many times an apple had to hit Newton on the head before Newton took the hint.

The problem with Dembski is that there are no apples large enough for him to take notice.

Well, intelligent causation does not necessary mean supernatural (i.e. untestable, largely incomprehensible) agency. But the ID proponents have so far failed to say the first thing how scientists are meant to find out anything about the designer, how the design process works, when it has happened, whether there are positive signs for this process as opposed to negative claims concerning other explanations. As long as these are lacking, ID is no scientific theory, no possible alternative to any existing theory and rightly carries the mark of non-observable pseudo-science. (To take the strange Mount Rushmore analogy, if somebody came upon a rock looking somewhat like a statue, but could not come up with a hypothesis who did make it, when and how, and even claimed that any actual traces of work where indistinguishable from natural, undirected erosion, the claim ‘it has been designed’ would not explain anything about the rock.) If there are any proposals by Behe et al. to change this dismal state of ID, I have not seen them; and just claiming ID to be an alternative explanation does not impress much imho.

I should point out that I am absolutely serious about using “Specified High Improbability”. It really is a more accurate description which avoids all the confusion caused by Dembski’s idiosyncratic use of complexity.

The acronym for “Specified High Improbability Theory” is just a bonus.

By the way, how does one pronounce “Behe”? Is it “Beyee”, “Bee-hee”, “B’Hay” or what?

It’s “Bee-hee”

Here is a criticism of Behe that I have not seen prominently made.

Take the Mt. Rushmore example. Behe claims that we “recognize design” in this case. What are we really doing? We are weighing the probability that Rushmore happened by human agency against the probability that it happened as a result of natural weathering. We have seen humans design lots of stuff, and we have some grasp of the processes by which the carving of a mountain would happen. Furthermore, we have seen weathering and we know that it is extraordinarily unlikely that weathering could cause something like Rushmore. So, we assign greater credence to the hypothesis that Rushmore was created by a process involving intellignet agency.

What is happening in the life case? Grant Behe’s central thesis–that it is extraordinarily unlikely that random chance could have led to life on earth. What is the alternative? ID. But just what is ID? It would be no explanation to say that Martians created life on earth, because if Martians are remotely like complex biological systems, we just repeat the questions for the origins of Martian life. More pointedly, the designer must fail to be complex in the way that biological systems are complex (or else we get the designer startup problem again). But what are the processes by which such a designer is supposed to effect the origin of life?

Whatever the processes are, they are unlike anything that we have ever seen described by science of any kind. The processes probably involve violation of conservation laws, and I am not sure that any one has ever had direct experience of the sort of process by which Behe’s designer is supposed to fuse molecules together to create life. The acceptance of such processes undermines some of the most fundamental scientific beliefs.

Once we see what the design hypothesis requires us to think, we turn again to the question of whether the extraordinarily unlikely evolution of life hypothesis or the bizarre design hypothesis should be assigned higher credence.

Notice that Behe does not want his argument to rest on any kind of special revelation or tenets of faith, but on science and common sense. Given science and common sense alone, it is hard to see that Behe has any good reason to thing that the ID-hypothesis (understood as requiring bizarre actions by non-complex entities that nonetheless have intelligence, and are capable of effecting their will by purely supraphysical processes) should be assigned higher credence than the random chance hypothesis.

At this point, ANY evidence that we have which shows that complex molecules can arise spontaneously counts as slight evidence in favor of spontaneous generation of life over the ID hypothesis.

A side note: One of Behe’s major complaints against the naturalist is that the naturalist has not given a sufficiently detailed story describing how life could spontaneopusly evolve. But notice that Behe gives NO scientifically respectable story about how the designer does its work. Furthermore, given what I have said about the nature of the designer above, it seems that Behe CAN’T even in principle provide such an explanation. Goose gander? What Behe has done is provided us with a vague “Something designed it” thesis, but any attempt to make this thesis more specific seems to lead to the fantastic.

If Behe has other grounds for believing that ID is more probable than evolution [faith, mystical experience of conservation violating processes, etc.] he should make this evidence explicit.

But with THAT kind of knowledge I’d be much more interested in curing cancer and fighting pathogenic diseases than attempting to prove the impossible (i.e., whether a “deity” intervened with the evolution of life on earth at some point). Wouldn’t you?

Me, sure. But I’m sure there are plenty of evolutionary biologists that would love to model our various extinct ancestors, if the technology was available.

I think people are missing the most important (and frightening) piece in the essay:

Behe Wrote:

nor does it seem useful to search relentlessly for a non-design explanation of Mount Rushmore.

Seems like an argument that Bacon and Newton and Einstein and all the rest were just wasting their time with the whole scientific enterprise.

Perhaps ID proponents should be challenged to prove why ID isn’t a valid explanation for astronomy and weather and medicine.

In principle the designer start-up problem can be avoided by postulating that the intelligence involved is outside of our universe. Therefore, the rules that apply in our universe don’t govern the designer and so we cannot describe them. But this really amounts to saying that God did it - after all, what is God but the creator of the universe? If ID escapes the designer start-up issue by using this argument then that shows that fundamentally it is a religious concept. If it doesn’t use this argument then how does it avoid the problem? Anyone know?

Admittedly some scientists postulate that we are part of some sort of simulation but, even if we are, evolutionary science is about explaining how life evolves not what got the universe started. This is why there is no fundamental conflict between religion and evolution. The question of why we (and the universe) exist at all is not answerable. So, if people want to believe that God got it started that’s fine; to argue that evolution didn’t happen is not.

A few random and fairly simple further thoughts on ID.

(i) We often make the valid argument that scientific theories must be falsifiable. The snag is that this concept is hard to get across to non scientists. But associated with falsifiability is the easily understood concept of being willing to admit being wrong. That is falsifiability demands the willingness of individual scientists to admit that they might be wrong. In practice no scientist relishes the idea of his or her theory being wrong. Partly this is because they themselves have (or should have) already tested it to destruction to the extent they are able prior to publication. But, most scientists - no matter how in love with their theory they might be - are willing to admit the possibility that their theory or idea might very well be wrong. It comes with the territory of doing science. Few people are willing to entertain the notion that their faith or religion might be wrong or is capable of being proven wrong. So, are the ID people willing, in principle, to accept the possibility that they are wrong? If not, then, once again, we are forced to conclude that they are operating in a way that is more akin to religion than science. If they are willing to admit the possibility they are wrong then they are essentially stating that ID is falsifiable. If it is, then how can it be falsified in practice?

(ii) A comparison ID people (and creationists in general) often make is between essentially solid things like faces on mountains, clocks, mousetraps etc. and living things. Solid things cannot easily evolve complexity precisely because they are solid. Liquid and gas phase molecules are much more mobile and so, for them, self-organization is that much more facile. It is next door to impossible for a clock or a mousetrap to “evolve” by itself because the kinetic barriers are too large. Of course, it is also possible to demonstrate that mousetraps are not irreducibly complex - but it seems to me that Behe & Co. should realize that simple kinetic arguments render comparisons between mice and mousetraps not only unhelpful but also misleading.

(iii) Evolutionary theory has predictive power. ID does not.

Fred

I am distressed by Behe’s claim that “logic” compels the conclusion that ID must be correct because his essay is chock-full of blatant fallacies. One poster has already noted the use of equivocation between the scientific meaning of “theory”, as a coherent system of explanatory devices and the popular meaning of “theory” as a hypothesis or guess. Thus it is easy to call ID (a most guess) a “theory” of the same validity as scientific “theory”. But wait, there’s more. The comparison to Mt. Rushmore, as another poster pointed out, is a false analogy. We know Mr. Rushmore was “designed” by Borglum. A more fitting analogy is the so-called “face on Mars” that has graced so many tabloid covers. Was this “face” desgined by aliens (the ID explantion), or is it merely the product of millenia of erosion and metor impacts (the naturalistic explanation)? Since the “face on Mars” can be readily explained by the latter, Occam’s Razor demands that we not attribute its origin to aliens without more proof. But this leads to another fallacy, which the “face on Mars” also helps expose. We only see it as a “face” because this is the projection of our perceptual Gestalt. The human mind seeks to impose patterns on the natural world consistent with our perceptual history, whether those patterns actually exist or not. Thus, we see this formation on the surface of Mars as a “face” because we project our perception onto it. “Design” is merely more of the same–what Behe sees as “design” is merely the projection of his perception onto a natural state that is really the product of randomness and chance. Other fallacies abound in Behe’s Op-Ed piece. He uses the magic names Crick and Albert in an appeal to authority, even though he cites them out of context; he takes the metaphor of “machine” literally, which is like saying that because the human brain can function like a computer, it therefore IS a computer; he argues an impermissible negative inference (we have “no good explanation for the foundation of life that doesn’t involve intelligence”, hence he concludes it MUST involve intelligence rather than seek a better explanation that does not involve intelligence; and, in conclusion, he simply commits the fallacy of begging the question with the argument that “If it quacks like a duck, it must be a duck.” The conclusion is simply presumed by the premise; the premise that “life appears to have been designed” necessarily begs the conclusion that “life was designed.” Once the premise is shown false–life “appears” designed only because this perception exists solely in the eye of the beholder–his conclusion does not follow. Finally, Behe tops it off with an argumentum ad populum, an appeal to the masses: “Besides, whatever special restrictions scientists adopt for themselves don’t bind the public, which polls show, overwhemingly, and sensibly, thinks that life was designed.” The public also believes in fairies, sprites, UFOs, Bigfoot, various conspiracies and the continued existence of Elvis after death. I won’t even address his deliberate ignoring of Popper’s criterion of falsifiability or the lack of any explanation for examples of UNintelligent design (nipples on men), since the form of his argument itself demonstrates his unmitigated intellectual dishonesty.

I think another problem with ID of the Behe variety is that the incredibly complicated biochemical machines are, by analogy with their previous lines of reasoning, therefore incredibly difficult to assemble and therefore there must be an Intelligent Assembler. And being so complicated their flawless operation inside cells needs an Intelligent Controller…

…you can see where I’m going - the ID argument doesn’t follow its own logic. Human machines of incredible complexity are assembled, controlled, maintained etc. by intelligent agents, not just designed by them! Yet biomachines aren’t! That quintessential nanomachine, the T4 bacteriophage, can self-assemble out of a solution of its components - likewise thousands upon thousands of other biomachines. Yet not a single human-design is anywhere close.

An IDer might say “That’s because GOD/ET/non-specific-creator does it so much better”, but surely it’s a fatal flaw in the analogy that only in design and no other feature do biomachines ressemble products of intelligent agents. If the Divine Watchmaker had to retighten the spring more often surely that’d be better evidence for Her agency? Or did She want to take a break after creating all those ticking, clicking parts?

Keith:

It would be no explanation to say that Martians created life on earth, because if Martians are remotely like complex biological systems, we just repeat the questions for the origins of Martian life. More pointedly, the designer must fail to be complex in the way that biological systems are complex (or else we get the designer startup problem again).

Ummm, I think you’re buying into (or at least implicitly accepting) variants of the “everything must have a creator” and “it’s all downhill from here, rusted cars don’t turn into 747s” crapola that creationists spout. No need to do that.

Cheers,

Every time I hear the “quacks like a duck” nonsense I remember sitting with my dad in a duck blind by a pond on a grey drizzly morning, a dozen decoys floating just offshore, and him quacking like a duck with his duck call to lure ‘em into range of our shotguns. All that quacks is not a duck.

RBH

THis is an Op-Ed I wrote in response to Behe’s comments. It wasn’t published.

1 - 2 - 3 AAaaawwwwww.

Dr. Behe argues that because we currently lack detailed developmental models of complex cellular machinery, design by an unknown intelligence should be considered in formulating ideas on how they came to be. History shows us, however, that this is merely a counsel of despair and a waste of time. 3000 years ago, people didn’t know why the Sun rose and set, why the Moon went through phases or even why it rained. People had plenty of “design theories” replete with attendant designers. Not one design hypothesis has ever yielded any useful knowledge of the natural world. Despite Behe’s protestation to the contrary, this dismal record will remain safely intact.

Consider Behe’s argument regarding Mt. Rushmore. Of course people would recognize Rushmore as the result of design. After all, the figures resemble people, and making figures out of rock is a known human activity. On the other hand, until its recent demise, the Old Man in The Mountain in N.H., attracted tourists from all over the US. From the road it certainly looked like a face. No one would laugh at you if you said an artist sculpted it. In a rather large leap of illogic, Behe wishes us to believe that complex molecular machines are the equivalent of Mt. Rushmore, as an indicator of design, because they are complex, all the while ignoring the possibility that molecular machines are like that Old Man in The Mountain. In other words they have the appearanve of design, but are not designed by some unknown intelligence.

Mr. Behe’s view, is that complexity is a proxy for intelligent design. However, to any student of nature, complexity is what nature is about. Dr. Behe needs to get out more. If nature were not “complex” we wouldn’t need scientists. Long ago, on our planet, nature made a fission reactor in Gabon. Prior to that discovery, the only activities that resulted in such a distribution of radioisotopes, as found in Gabon, were those of humans. Nature continues to make fusion machines of bewildering complexity called stars. 100 years ago, the power source of the stars was an imponderable problem. Meanwhile the only intelligent designers we know for sure to exist would be ecstatic if they could sustain break-even fusion for a few milliseconds. And this after confined fusion was first achieved in the late 50’s. The ability to actually study life’s molecular machines was only recently acquired. Yet, much like his forebear in the 19th century, William Paley, Behe has pronounced judgment. Molecular machines are complex, they are imponderable, lets simply chalk them up to the inscrutable will of a unknown, celestial bio-mechanic. In summation, Behe’s and Paley’s arguments are actually a sleight of hand to distract you from the fact they argue ignorance is actually evidence.

While current science may lack detailed developmental scenarios for molecular machines, ID hasn’t offered us a scientific theory or tangible evidence at all. An idea in and of itself is not a scientific theory. Dr. Behe can’t (or won’t) tell us where evolution ends and where design begins. Was it simply that the first cell was designed? We aren’t given a workable prescription for figuring out when and on what was the influence of design manifested. Which events during the course of evolution of humans from earlier primates require a designer? The ID proponents don’t tell us. Was it the advent of bipedalism? Increased encephalization? Broca’s Area? Or none of the above?

In an effort to shore up his flagging position, Behe enlists the complexity theorists as fellow co-skeptics of Darwinism. However, any cursory reading of complexity theorists like Stuart Kaufman shows Behe should consider his proposed putative co-skeptics more carefully. Kaufman (Origins of Order,1993) argues that spontaneous self-organization provides a useful extension to Darwin’s ideas. This is not any different than the manner in which the early 20th century geneticists argued that genetics should extend Darwinism resulting in the neo-Darwinian synthesis. Should Darwin’s idea accrue extensions in the future, we can count on the fact that such extensions will not be offered by Dr. Behe. He’s already thrown in the towel and given up.

Last but not least, at the end of his editorial, Dr. Behe panders to the crowd and suggests that public opinion polls indicate the people think intelligent design is sensible. Thats nice but science doesn’t often conform to our “common sense” expectations. With the discovery of the muon, physicist I.I. Rabi exclaimed, “Who ordered that?”. The history of science shows common sense to be far more restrictive, than whatever imagined restrictions Behe imputes to the thought processes of modern scientists. Intelligent design offers us no answers, no theories, just intellectual sterility.

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This page contains a single entry by PZ Myers published on February 7, 2005 6:50 AM.

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