Critical analysis…of intelligent design

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An editorial by Mike Behe is in the Monday New York Times – you remember, that liberal legacy media we were all supposed to forget about.

None of the claims are new, but at least the text is (commonly not the case in ID op-eds). The op-ed is short, so my reply is interspersed.

Design for Living By MICHAEL J. BEHE

Published: February 7, 2005

Bethlehem, Pa. – 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. As one of the scientists who have proposed design as an explanation for biological systems, I have found widespread confusion about what intelligent design is and what it is not. First, what it isn’t: the theory of intelligent design is not a religiously based idea, even though devout people opposed to the teaching of evolution cite it in their arguments.Behe, “Design for Living

Funny, so does the Discovery Institute, the major institution promoting ID:

The social consequences of materialism have been devastating. As symptoms, those consequences are certainly worth treating. However, we are convinced that in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source. That source is scientific materialism. This is precisely our strategy. If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree, our strategy is intended to function as a “wedge” that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points. The very beginning of this strategy, the “thin edge of the wedge,” was Phillip ]ohnson’s critique of Darwinism begun in 1991 in Darwinism on Trial, and continued in Reason in the Balance and Defeatng Darwinism by Opening Minds. Michael Behe’s highly successful Darwin’s Black Box followed Johnson’s work. We are building on this momentum, broadening the wedge with a positive scientific alternative to materialistic scientific theories, which has come to be called the theory of intelligent design (ID). 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.The DI Wedge Strategy

How could anyone possibly get confused about whether intelligent design is science or religion?

Behe continues,

For example, a critic recently caricatured intelligent design as the belief that if evolution occurred at all it could never be explained by Darwinian natural selection and could only have been directed at every stage by an omniscient creator. That’s misleading. Intelligent design proponents do question whether random mutation and natural selection completely explain the deep structure of life. But they do not doubt that evolution occurred.Behe, “Design for Living

Quite a few official ID proponents seem to doubt minor facts like the common ancestry of humans and apes – for instance, Stephen Meyer (DI C[R]SC president), Paul Nelson (YEC), and William Dembski. ID proponents usually won’t say it, but ID arguments, if true, amount to special creationism.

Let’s see what Of Pandas and People, the intelligent design book they are recommending in Dover, Pennsylvannia, says about intelligent design:

“Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact - fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc.”Of Pandas and People, as quoted in Ken Miller’s Pandas critique

Continuing, Behe writes,

And intelligent design itself says nothing about the religious concept of a creator.Behe, “Design for Living

Phillip Johnson, on the other hand, once said,

“Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools.” (American Family Radio, Jan 10, 2003 broadcast, in which Johnson “discusses his book The Right Questions, encouraging Christians to actively debate issues of eternal value.” quoted at NMSR’s ID quotes

We continue with the Mount Rushmore argument, which has a long and distinguished history in creationism.

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. The first claim is uncontroversial: we can often recognize the effects of design in nature. For example, unintelligent physical forces like plate tectonics and erosion seem quite sufficient to account for the origin of the Rocky Mountains. Yet they are not enough to explain Mount Rushmore.Behe, “Design for Living

Compare this to this 1984 article by Old-Earth Creationist (OEC*) Norman Geisler:

…natural forces can account for the Grand Canyon, but these operational laws do not explain the faces formed on Mount Rushmore! The only kind of cause we ever observe forming things like Mount Rushmore is intelligence. This is our uniform experience. Hence, the scientific principle of uniformity points to an intelligent source for Mount Rushmore. But since even the simplest form of life conveys vastly more information than does Mount Rushmore, it is not unscientific to postulate an intelligent cause of life.

Not surprisingly, Geisler was arguing that “creation-science” is science and not religion. We know how that turned out.

Of course, we know who is responsible for Mount Rushmore, but even someone who had never heard of the monument could recognize it as 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. The 18th-century clergyman William Paley likened living things to a watch, arguing that the workings of both point to intelligent design. Modern Darwinists disagree with Paley that the perceived design is real, but they do agree that life overwhelms us with the appearance of design.Behe, “Design for Living

There are, however, some key differences between real designs and biological “designs”: human designs serve human purposes: Mount Rushmore was designed to honor the founding fathers, and to play to Teddy Roosevelt’s ego. We don’t find Mount Rushmores in biology, we find phenomena such as mimicry and camouflage. The purpose of “designs” like mimicry is clearly to mislead other “designs”, namely eyes and brains. Another difference is that while human designs are commonly fashioned from scratch, biological adaptations are generally modifications of structures with different functions. This is particularly true for highly complex adaptations.

For example, Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, once wrote that biologists must constantly remind themselves that what they see was not designed but evolved. (Imagine a scientist repeating through clenched teeth: “It wasn’t really designed. Not really.”)Behe, “Design for Living

Imagine a scientist ignoring the obvious differences between human designs and biological adaptations – oh, wait, we’ve got Behe right here!

The resemblance of parts of life to engineered mechanisms like a watch is enormously stronger than what Reverend Paley imagined. In the past 50 years modern science has shown that the cell, the very foundation of life, is run by machines made of molecules. There are little molecular trucks in the cell to ferry supplies, little outboard motors to push a cell through liquid.Behe, “Design for Living

Modified AAA ATPases (dyneins) to ferry supplies, modified secretions systems to push cells through liquid…

In 1998 an issue of the journal Cell was devoted to molecular machines, with articles like “The Cell as a Collection of Protein Machines” and “Mechanical Devices of the Spliceosome: Motors, Clocks, Springs and Things.” Referring to his student days in the 1960’s, Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences, wrote that “the chemistry that makes life possible is much more elaborate and sophisticated than anything we students had ever considered.” In fact, Dr. Alberts remarked, the entire cell can be viewed as a factory with an elaborate network of interlocking assembly lines, each of which is composed of a set of large protein machines. He emphasized that the term machine was not some fuzzy analogy; it was meant literally.Behe, “Design for Living

It’s not as if Darwin was ignorant of machines in biology. He was actually keenly aware of them. Right after The Origin of Species was published, he wrote a whole book on the complex machine-like devices in orchid flowers. He did it as a direct rebuttal – some say a parody – to the Paleyian machine argument. This book is required reading for any informed discussion of the design argument, but is never discussed, let alone rebutted, by Behe or his fans.

Although an organ may not have been originally formed for some special purpose, if it now serves for this end we are justified in saying that it is specially contrived for it. On the same principle, if a man were to make a machine for some special purpose, but were to use old wheels, springs, and pulleys, only slightly altered, the whole machine, with all its parts, might be said to be specially contrived for that purpose. Thus throughout nature almost every part of each living being has probably served, in a slightly modified condition, for diverse purposes, and has acted in the living machinery of many ancient and distinct specific forms. Darwin (1862) Orchid book

Heck, Gould cited Darwin’s orchid work in the very same essay where he made the panda’s thumb famous.

For citations of discussions of Darwin’s work on orchids, and cooption leading to the evolution of “machines”, see the EvoWiki pages on Orchid flowers and citations of change-of-function. This kind of thing – the actual evolutionary theory on the origin of complex structures – is really the only thing that the ID folks should be talking about. Cooption won’t go away just because they ignore it. The ID folks aren’t really even in the right ballpark yet.

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.Behe, “Design for Living

This assumes that “IDdidit” is a “good explanation.” One might as well just say, “poof”. In fact, Behe once admitted that his explanation amounts to a “puff of smoke.”

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.Behe, “Design for Living

Behe is ignoring in inconvient pile of studies on e.g. the evolution of the immune system.

Scientists skeptical of Darwinian claims include many who have no truck with ideas of intelligent design, like those who advocate an idea called complexity theory, which envisions life self-organizing in roughly the same way that a hurricane does, and ones who think organisms in some sense can design themselves. 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. 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, “Design for Living

So is the flatness of the earth, and the idea that it stands still. Speaking of ducks, searching Google Scholar on “Anatidae evolution” gets hundreds of hits, while “Anatidae ‘intelligent design’” just gets a big goose egg.

Still, some critics claim that science by definition can’t accept design, while others argue that science should keep looking for another explanation in case one is out there.Behe, “Design for Living

The ones who are on the ball note that the ID movement is based on systematic avoidance of the relevant scientific literature.

But we can’t settle questions about reality with definitions, nor does it seem useful to search relentlessly for a non-design explanation of Mount RushmoreBehe, “Design for Living

Good thing the “designs” we find in biology have systematic differences from Mount Rushmore-like designs.

Besides, whatever special restrictions scientists adopt for themselves don’t bind the public, which polls show, overwhelmingly, and sensibly, thinks that life was designed.Behe, “Design for Living

“Many” scientists meaning, apparently, “the same handful the ID movement has had for the last decade, who have had no luck convincing the scientific community, and have therefore taken to politics to get their views into the schools.”

Regarding the polls, at least 30-40% of the public says they think the earth is less than 10,000 years old, a position that Behe admits is scientifically ludicrous. This is where ID gets most of the support that it has.

If schools taught beliefs in proportion to what the polls say people believe, (1) that would pretty much defeat the purpose of education, and (2) we’d have to give good chunks of time to UFOs, homeopathy, psychics, and all of the other forms of pseudoscience that do well in polls.

And so do many scientists who see roles for both the messiness of evolution and the elegance of design.Behe, “Design for Living

Designing eyes, and then designing animals that variously resemble leaves, rocks, lichens, snow, poisonous animals, and bird droppings, all in order to subvert the carefully designed eye? Designing flagella and type III secretion systems to avoid and subvert the designed immune system? Seems pretty messy to me.

* I originally misdescribed Geisler as a Young-Earth Creationist (YEC). This appears not to be the case according to his deposition in McLean. See comment #15562. Thanks to Michael Buratovich for the correction.

3 TrackBacks

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 laws... Read More

Under A Blood Red Sky from Unscrewing The Inscrutable on February 7, 2005 6:05 PM

Written by DarkSyde, produced by Brent Rasmussen. With contributions from world renowned dinosaur paleontologists, Jack Horner, and Philip Currie Sixty-five million years ago, in what would one day be aptly named Hell Creek, Montana, the blood-red Cret... Read More

ID Advocates vs. ID Advocates from Dispatches from the Culture Wars on February 8, 2005 12:03 PM

DI fellow and ID advocate Michael Behe wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times yesterday. For more thorough responses, see Nick Matzke and PZ Myers. But I want to focus on one aspect of the article, the way... Read More

255 Comments

One wonders if the various proponents of ID will call Behe to testify as an expert at their trials in Dover, or Tennessee, or wherever.

I would relish the cross-examination: “Since you won fame with the publication of your popular book, Dr. Behe, you’ve been almost completely silent in science publications.

“First, when will you publish a hypothesis of intelligent design for peer review?

“Second, what research do you do in intelligent design – and may we see your lab?

“Third, can you tell us of more than a dozen research projects in intelligent design, and show us those laboratories?”

“Okay, then how about one?

“If no one is doing science in intelligent design, how is it fair or accurate to call it good, current science?”

Of Pandas and People, as quoted in Ken Miller’s Pandas critique

“As quoted in Ken Miller’s Pandas critique?” Hmmm.

Hate to bring this up again, but is there some reason why people around here can’t afford to buy the book and read it for themselves?

*******************

Trying to claim that ID is “religion” on the basis of the DI Wedge document is plain ole bogus. Somewhat predictable, but still bogus.

For example, when the DI says, “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,” please note that they said “replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”

Nothing was said about replacing anything with Christian and theistic claims in and of themselves. Their stated intention is to stay with science. You may be skeptical of that intention, but you cannot rewrite the Wedge paper to alter what they clearly and openly said.

Just as it is okay for evolutionists that their “science” be consonant with atheism, materialism and agnosticism, (see the writings of Richard Dawkins or SJ Gould if you need some clear examples), so it is equally okay for an alternative “science” to be offered that is consonant with theism and Christianity.

Moreover, (once again), as evolutionist Michael Ruse pointed out in court, a proposed hypothesis or theory is NOT unscientific just because the people doing the proposing happen to have religious motivations.

Does Phillip Johnson have religious motivations for supporting ID? Sure, he himself makes that clear, talking about re-introducing “the reality of God” before the academic world and into schools. How about Wm. Dembski? Sure, anybody who reads his chapter “Science and Theology in Mutual Support” from his 1999 book already knows that.

(In fact, as opposed to people like the late SJ Gould and his NOMA quarantine gig, people like Dembski are offering a breath of fresh air by helping establish a positive, fruitful alternative–the “mutual support model”–to the ages-old question of the relationship between science and theology.)

But that’s where Ruse’s dictum comes in. For example, you might not agree with Johnson, you might hate Johnson’s guts for that matter, but Johnson’s stated personal motivations concerning the re-introduction of “the reality of God” via the rise of the intelligent design hypothesis have nothing to do with whether or not the ID hypothesis is science or not-science, according to Ruse’s dictum.

And Ruse’s dictum is something I’ve never seen you evolutionists refute, here at PT.

Further, it was established from an earlier thread a few months ago (I can’t remember which one, I’m sorry), that ID in its simple 3-point form given by Dembski is not inherently religious, (or at least no evolutionist at PT was able to show that it was).

Thus I conclude that Behe’s quotation, “And intelligent design itself says nothing about the religious concept of a creator,” is quite true.

That pretty much covers the bases, then. Evolutionists have simply, honestly failed (and continue to fail) to show that ID is “religion” instead of science.

FL

Nick you point out the biggest problem in dealing with ID. ID advocates spout off with sound bites and it takes pages of rebuttal to counter them point by point. We need sound bites too.

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Moreover, (once again), as evolutionist Michael Ruse pointed out in court, a proposed hypothesis or theory is NOT unscientific just because the people doing the proposing happen to have religious motivations.

That’s true. However, a proposed hypothesis is most definitely unscientific if the people doing the proposing suggest that the mechanism by which it works is a miraculous suspension of the laws of nature. Do ID advocates have any proposal to offer that does not involve such intervention?

Behe is, of course, without a doubt, correct in everything he wrote in that article. ID has been maligned by a horde of intellectually dishonest academic elitists. Any of your own that dare to use common sense and empirical evaluation of evidence (or lack thereof) supporting (or falsifying) the all-powerful mechanism of mutation + natural selection are ridiculed, made into pariahs, their careers ruined. It is little wonder that so few will say with they think in this arena. Fewer than those with the first name Steve actually have a dog in the hunt so they remain silent. Glasnost came to the Soviet Union but has yet to arrive on American university campuses when it comes to the Church of Darwin.

That neo-Darwinian ideologues are in a state of discombobululation over the ID movement is quite understandable. I’d be discombobulated too, not knowing whether to first call my lawyer to sue a public school or wind my blindly made watch, if my most cherished beliefs were being systematically disemboweled in front of a cheering public.

Freud, Marx, and Darwin. The three pillars of western modernism. Two frauds down and one to go. It shan’t be long now.

DaveScot trolled:

blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Freud, Marx, Darwin…

…forgetting about anti-Darwinist Trofim Lysenko, the true American Patriot of his time!

Seriously, Behe´s claims are either i) scientific and stand up to scientific scrutiny (not so) and be integrated into current scientific theory (therefore not) or replacing it (not so either), ii) scientific but fail to explain anything (check, by a very large margin) and should be rejected (current verdict seems to be precisely that), or iii) unscientific, thus meriting no interest from serious scientists.

According the the DI, 300 scientists are sceptical of Darwinism. According the Dave Scott each and every single one of them has had their career ruined by some sort of shadowy and ill defined (surprise surprise) academic elite.

Care to document your claims? Or was that statement completely and utterly made up.

I have no real dog in this fight, for the evidence of design in cosmology is so much more compelling than in biology that this is all “in the noise.” I only stop by because I find it amusing when the fundamentalists on this blog get their panties all bunched up.

And you are fundamentalists. At least in my opinion. To me, the most striking features of fundamentalists, in evidence throughout this blog, are

  • the refusal to engage in meaningful debate, often by resorting to ad hominem attacks (this blog is a world leader in ad hominem tactics, I have never seen, since middle school, such frequent use of arguing by calling one’s opponents “stupid, crackpots, idiots, morons, etc.”)

  • Seeing their various opponents as mere manifestations of a larger, evil conspiracy. You guys are more adept than Hillary at this.
  • Elitism, in the form of “I know what is right and important for you, even if you don’t.” In spite of the fact that students have reported that they just laughed at the textbook stickers, you have a fundamentalist compulsion to protect them. You treat them, for their own good I’m sure, as if they were feeble minded. I am still waiting for someone on this blog to admit that he or she is stupid enough that, if that sticker had been on their high school biology text, they would have ended up teaching YEC at Liberty University.

  • The willingness to sacrifice one’s own principles for a “greater good.” I have read many comments on this blog regarding the sticker controversy that could be summarized as: Although I’m all for democracy, in this case I don’t care if the majority of the citizens in a district want ID mentioned in the classroom. And a variant, along the lines of normally I would want a judge to direct a school district’s curriculum or policies, but in this case I’ll make an exception.

There is even a sort of fundamentalist structure here. Those on top of the food chain make fairly reasoned arguments, and then step aside while their attack-jackals crank up the personal attacks. It’s like the fundamentalist hierarchy I recall from the movie Mississippi Burning: The sheriff was too smart to get his hands dirty, but he had a legion of slavish minions willing to do the unsavory work for him.

Once again, while not passing judgment on the merits of the biological ID debate, when someone on this blog criticizes ID for its lack of peer-reviewed ID publications I want to laugh at the absurdity. Now, as fundamentalists, I suspect that you are absolutely certain of the “level playing field” myth you perpetuate. Once again, though, I’ll point out the obvious. What you are really saying is

  • ID is not science because IDers do not publish in peer reviewed journals
  • ID should not be published in peer reviewed journals because it is not science
  • If (2) is ever violated then either the journal is not as reputable as thought or the editor was not properly vetted.

As I have said before, I tend to agree with (2) but can only marvel adding (1) into the mix (and with a straight face!)—which requires cajones the size of Brazil. Then again, fundamentalists don’t mind espousing circular arguments if it fits their world view.

Feed the troll ´til it explodes! One little wafer won´t hurt…

1. Given that IDers consistently fail to present anything approaching a scientific argument, there’ s not much left but ad hominem arguments.

2 I like the irony of dragging Hillary into a point about conspiracy mongering. Remember this one? “Kerry’s just a Clinton front! The Democrats want him to lose so Hillary can run in 2008!”

3. That’s because these guys are biology PhDs! Of course they know better than some high school student. Given what a ludicrously high proportion of Americans don’t accept evolution, I think the fear is justified. History teachers would probably get somewhat upset if there were stickers on the front of textbooks saying “The idea that most Americans are descended from the pilgrims or slaves is a theory, not a fact.” It obfuscates the truth. Why would you want to do that?

4. You just don’t get it. Democracy has nothing to do with science. If a majority of people think the earth is flat, it doesn’t make them right. And it’s not just science If an elected school board wanted to teach holocaust revisionism alongside the Final Solution, would you think that was a legitimate expression of democracy?

Behe Wrote:

For example, Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, once wrote that biologists must constantly remind themselves that what they see was not designed but evolved. (Imagine a scientist repeating through clenched teeth: “It wasn’t really designed. Not really.”)

(Imagine Crick and Behe ever being mentioned in the same context. nah, too ridiculous.)

DaveScot Wrote:

Behe is, of course, without a doubt, correct in everything he wrote in that article. ID has been maligned by a horde of intellectually dishonest academic elitists.

With this bit of over-the-top silliness, DaveScot reveals himself as yet another prankster who is just having a bit of fun rattling the cages of folks who think the anti-intellectual movement is actually something to take seriously.

Level with us, DaveScot: you don’t really give a flying fork about any of this, do you?

The IDers have demonstrated once again (as so many times before) that their ideas are so scientifically vacuous that they must resort to the popular media to promote them.

I *hate* the comparison of prokaryotic flagella to “outboard motors”. First of all, the flagellar motor is inboard, *not* outboard.

Second, the motor on a boat turns a crew that works at relatively high reynolds numbers, and consequently acts almost entirely through momentum transfer mechanisms, while bacterial “swimming” at low Reynolds numbers generates forward movement through viscous coupling with the fluid, *not* through momentum transfer.

These are not minor points, and they underscore the point that Behe et al are not only not speaking to other scientists – they are not even trying to inform their lay readership in a serious way.

Top to bottom, the whole enterprise is a confidence game.

One possible counter to the IDer sound byte arguments is one I’ve used on many a born-again-Reasons to Believer: I tell them simply “Prove Darwin wrong and win a million bucks!” I then point out that major discoveries in Science often come from over turning the established theories of the time, and those people are usually awarded a Nobel prize and the cash. So…if science really is covering up the truthfulness of ID then we are all consenting not to collect the money and fame that would accompany it. Hogwash I’m as greedy as the next man and if I could overturn Darwin I would. Then I dare them to study evolution and try overturning Natural Selection themselves. The gauntlet, sadly, is never taken up.

We need sound bites too.

“The essence of Intelligent Design is that life on Earth was designed by a supernatural God or by space aliens. Since there is no evidence to support either possibility, this theory should not be taught in schools.”

God or *Gods*, Andy.

Query: Can an apparently non-scientific claim be a possible defeater to an apparently scientific claim? For example, suppose scientist X argues that moral claims are entirely accountable by evolution, but suppose philosopher Y argues that moral claims cannot be accounted for by evolution because of certain conceptual problems in the account (as I have argued in my article “Why I Am Not a Relativist”). If Y is correct, then X’s case is defeated, it seems to me. But if that is the case, then external conceptual challenges to apparently scientific claims are in-principle possible.

Consider another example. Suppose that scientist Z offers an account of the universe that necessitates postulating mulitiple universes. However, philosopher B counters by showing that this account requires an infinite regress of causes, which B argues is conceptually problematic. If B is correct, isn’t that a defeater to Z’s account, even though B’s argument is non-empirical?

Okay, that last comment of mine was harsh. I get a bit frustrated.

I’m just not ready to abandon the Copernican Principle quite yet.

It demands we assume intelligent life like us is not special. We’re already successfully tinkering with our own genome and those of other organisms. That demonstrates intelligent design at the genetic and epigenetic level is possible. The question then becomes are we the first kids on the block to be able to do this. Copernican Principle says we should assume not. We aren’t special.

Some very fascinating science mostly sponsered by NASA trying to get a better handle on how Copernican our situation here really is. And of course there’s SETI which has only scratched the surface of an exhaustive search for intelligence elsewhere in the causally connected universe. Mabye the overwhelming appearance of design is exactly what it looks like. How weird would that be? Not very. Copernicus isn’t knocked down by it.

What really boogles the mind is coming to grips with the idea that intelligent agents in labcoats, some with the first name Steve, appear likely to become (if they aren’t already) the primary drivers of hominid and many other organisms’ evolution on this planet. Practical, productive genetic engineering is here now. Natural evolution is being displaced by directed evolution as we speak. If unnatural evolution isn’t in our past it’s in our present and future.

Suggesting a 9th grader read “Of Pandas and People” is SOOOO trivial in the big scheme of things. You have to realize the vast majority won’t bother because it’s too much like extra work that isn’t being graded. I worry more about them watching “The Matrix” too many times and believing that. I worry about ME believing that! Just the admission that there might be some truth in ID is benign and not an unreasonable position.

Note that more and more people are realizing the ID’s claims are scientifically ‘vacuous’. ID does not deal in explanations, although in the same breath ID proponents claim it is the ‘best explanation’, they remain silent as to the nature and thus the explanatory power of the ID hypothesis. In fact, when pressed for details Dembski responded as follows

As for your example, I’m not going to take the bait. You’re asking me to play a game: “Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.” ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering

(William Dembski on ISCID)

Other people have been calling ID on the same issues as well

Prof. Richard Colling is quoted:

In his new book, “Random Designer,” he writes: “It pains me to suggest that my religious brothers are telling falsehoods” when they say evolutionary theory is “in crisis” and claim that there is widespread skepticism about it among scientists. “Such statements are blatantly untrue,” he argues; “evolution has stood the test of time and considerable scrutiny. [1]”

(Sharon Begley in Tough Assignment: Teaching Evolution To Fundamentalists, Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2004; Page A15)

Patrick Frank is the author of “On the Assumption of Design”, Theology and Science, Volume 2, Number 1 / April 2004, pp. 109 - 130.

Abstract: The assumption of design of the universe is examined from a scientific perspective. The claims of William Dembski and of Michael Behe are unscientific because they are a-theoretic. The argument from order or from utility are shown to be indeterminate, circular, to rest on psychological as opposed to factual certainty, or to be insupportable as regards humans but possibly not bacteria, respectively. The argument from the special intelligibility of the universe specifically to human science does not survive comparison with the capacities of other organisms. Finally, the argument from the unlikelihood of physical constants is vitiated by modern cosmogonic theory and recrudesces the God-of-the-gaps.

Ryan Nichols is the author of Scientific content, testability, and the vacuity of Intelligent Design theory The American Catholic philosophical quarterly , 2003 , vol. 77 , no 4 , pp. 591 - 611,

Abstract: Arguments of the following form are given against theories like psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis implies X. Psychoanalysis also implies NOT(X). Hence, no observations of X or of NOT(X) can falsify psychoanalysis. Since an important proportion of propositions implied by psychoanalysis are similar to X in this respect, psychoanalysis is not falsifiable. Since psychoanalysis isn’t falsifiable, it is not a science. In my argument against Intelligent Design Theory I will not contend that it is not falsifiable or that it implies contradictions. I’ll argue that Intelligent Design Theory doesn’t imply anything at all, i.e. it has no content. By ‘content’ I refer to a body of determinate principles and propositions entailed by those principles. By ‘principle’ I refer to a proposition of central importance to the theory at issue. By ‘determinate principle’ I refer to a proposition of central importance to the theory at issue in which the extensions of its terms are clearly defined. I’ll evaluate the work of William Dembski because he specifies his methodology in detail, thinks Intelligent Design Theory is contentful and thinks Intelligent Design Theory (hereafter ‘IDT’) grounds an empirical research program. Later in the paper I assess a recent trend in which IDT is allegedly found a better home as a metascientific hypothesis, which serves as a paradigm that catalyzes research. I’ll conclude that, whether IDT is construed as a scientific or metascientific hypothesis, IDT lacks content.

Behe confuses analogies, as “literary” tools for comparative purposes, with empirically based descriptive ‘literal” words. No sane scientist using machine analogies to describe the workings of biological processes would ever think he was being literal. Because if Behe thinks they are, then I would argue he doesn’t understand what a real machine is, what a real motor is, what a real clock is, what a real spring is.

If I took some literary license to call Behe a “puppet” of the religious right, would that make Behe a real puppet … what a minute, maybe Behe is on to something here.

Mr. Beckwith writes,

Query: Can an apparently non-scientific claim be a possible defeater to an apparently scientific claim? For example, suppose scientist X argues that moral claims are entirely accountable by evolution, but suppose philosopher Y argues that moral claims cannot be accounted for by evolution because of certain conceptual problems in the account (as I have argued in my article “Why I Am Not a Relativist”). If Y is correct, then X’s case is defeated, it seems to me. But if that is the case, then external conceptual challenges to apparently scientific claims are in-principle possible.

But your hypothetical is far too vague to be of any use as an example. For instance, if scientist X is proposing a theoretical mechanism for the evolution of moral claims, then he must be disputed with scientific evidence. In order to judge whether your question is meaningful, we would more precise instances: what philosophical objection is being raised against scientist X’s hypothesis? Is a question of simple logic? In that case, it represents a scientific challenge. Is a question of of divergence along the lines of a moral philosophy position held by philosopher Y? Then what possible intersection can there be?

Consider another example. Suppose that scientist Z offers an account of the universe that necessitates postulating mulitiple universes. However, philosopher B counters by showing that this account requires an infinite regress of causes, which B argues is conceptually problematic. If B is correct, isn’t that a defeater to Z’s account, even though B’s argument is non-empirical?

This second example is clearer than the first: the philosopher is offering a logical objection to a scientific hypothesis. But the philosopher is dealing with unprovables; there is, in fact, no reason to a prior reject infinte regress on scientific or logical grounds.

Pending further clarification, I would have to say that the answer to your question is no.

What really boogles the mind is coming to grips with the idea that intelligent agents in labcoats, some with the first name Steve, appear likely to become (if they aren’t already) the primary drivers of hominid and many other organisms’ evolution on this planet. Practical, productive genetic engineering is here now. Natural evolution is being displaced by directed evolution as we speak. If unnatural evolution isn’t in our past it’s in our present and future.

But then why not use that rationale for other branches of science? Our society is changing the landscape much more quickly than natural forces (with the exception of the odd volcano or earthquake). Whole geological layers are being built up by landfills and other urban developments in the space of decades and centuries. But I don’t hear any non-YEC IDers speculating about ID in geological circles.

Suggesting a 9th grader read “Of Pandas and People” is SOOOO trivial in the big scheme of things. You have to realize the vast majority won’t bother because it’s too much like extra work that isn’t being graded. I worry more about them watching “The Matrix” too many times and believing that. I worry about ME believing that! Just the admission that there might be some truth in ID is benign and not an unreasonable position.

Yeah, but The Matrix is sold as science fiction not science fact - there’s a big difference. Anyone who truly believes that The Matrix is reality is rightly written off as - to put it kindly - not quite right in the head.

BTW “boogling the mind” sounds like fun :)

David Heddle Wrote:

the refusal to engage in meaningful debate, often by resorting to ad hominem attacks (this blog is a world leader in ad hominem tactics, I have never seen, since middle school, such frequent use of arguing by calling one’s opponents “stupid, crackpots, idiots, morons, etc.”)

You need to document this claim or retract it. While I admit to being sarcastic and less than decorous at times, I do not make a habit of referring to IDists using those terms (I doubt I’ve ever used one) nor do the other people who post to this blog. In particular, Nick’s post, that you’ve decided to comment on, did not use any of those terms, much less all of them, and instead addressed Behe’s claims directly.

What people write in the comments, however, we have only limited control over. In case you haven’t noticed, we have a more or less open comment policy (unlike the DI blog, which doesn’t allow comments at all) which allows people to sometimes get away with making rude comments. That would include, for exampe, the extreme rudeness of your post. This is the price we pay for an open forum.

The real irony is that your post is nothing more than an ad hominem attack on those of us who work hard to maintain this blog and to keep it lively. You did not address a single one of Nick’s arguments. You’ve accused us of elitism, fundamentalism, etc. – charges which would be irrelevant to our claims even if true. Such hypocrisy is simply breathtaking. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Heddle Wrote:

I am still waiting for someone on this blog to admit that he or she is stupid enough that, if that sticker had been on their high school biology text, they would have ended up teaching YEC at Liberty University.

Ain’t that the truth…

Russel - the science side is all academic to me. Heddle wrapped that up neatly with the quote above. No 15 year old I know (and I’ve raised two of my own well beyond that point) is going to be effected by anything Dover or Cobb or Kansas or wherever has done or attempted to do. That said, I object in principle whenever activist judges and overeaching federal agencies interfere with duly enacted laws through tortured interpretation of the constitution. ID is sufficiently devoid, prima facie, of any religious favoritism that rises to level 1st amendment establishment clause. In fact I believe the stronger case is that banning it is direct violation of the freedom clause. It’ll live or die by its own merits and in any case isn’t going to have any detrimental effect on science. All significance is political.

Whether there are philosophical arguments that trump scientific ones or not, there are certainly philosophical arguments that defeat theological ones. David Hume’s criticism of teleology refuted Paley before Darwin was born, for example; and Kant’s demolition of much of the rest of natural theology also predates the modern theory of evolution.

1st query: No, there’s a category error in there. The essence of your example is that Y says morality is not scientific and X says it is. Absent evidence that one is right and the other wrong, neither “is defeated”. To move away from the hypothetical, no reputable scientist these days would argue that “moral claims are entirely accounted for by evolution. Certainly he/she would say that they are a product of evolution, but culture has taken over and is vastly more important in the modern world.

2nd query:For a start, Z must offer a means to to test his theory, or else it isn’t scientific in the first place. Second, the argument of infinite regress is scientific, because it’s a basic part of logic. Empricism isn’t everything.

Incidentally, you have “moral relativism” all wrong, as do most people who use the term. Most atheists are moral absolutists just as much as Christians. We just have a different basis for our morals. In that very limited sense, there is no objective morality. But that doesn’t imply anything goes, as Christian moralists seem to think.You say, for example: “if it is true that no objective moral norms apply to all people at all times and in all places, then the following moral judgements must be denied: Mother Theresa was no better than Adolf Hitler, rape is always wrong, it is wrong to torture babies for fun.” This is arrant nonsense. What is true is that not all people will think that those moral judgements are correct. But I would think the doubters are wrong. Without wanting to be rude, I think your morals are wrong, just as you would think my morals are wrong if you knew them. I have a fully fledged moral code, as you do, and I know right from wrong, as you do. But my right is different from your right. And I’m more than willing to say why I think my right is better than your right.

Wow, the usual trolls are just drunk on Behe’s editorial. Was there anything new in Behe’s script? Nope.

I’m glad to see Behe’s editorial. Come closer to the spotlight Behe, my little cockroach!

My favorite little word twister and reality-denier, David Heddle, seeks to turn the tables and characterize scientists as “fundamentalists”. What a hilarious joke coming from a Christian who makes self-serving arguments here intended to prove the existence of mysterious beings with awesome powers, but inevitably he pretends not to notice when his arguments have been totally destroyed.

the refusal to engage in meaningful debate, often by resorting to ad hominem attacks

David, you sick pathetic disgusting sack of a liar. I recall not too long ago various members of this blog devoted a great deal of their time engaging in a meaningful debate with you and your stupid pseudo-philosophical claptrap.

The “meaningful debate” with “intelligent design” peddlers ended many many years ago. Arguments from ignorance wherein mysterious alien beings with awesome supernatural powers are invoked to explain a phenomenon are not science.

All of the rest of the points you raise in your post (the “level playing field” canard, etc) were addressed and refuted the last time you dragged your stinky mind over here, David. I doubt you have forgotten that.

Truly pathetic. But go ahead and brag some more about how smart you are and how you realized in high school that evolutionary biologists must be wrong and you were right. That’s always good for a laugh.

DaveScot writes sarcastically

Don’t you know that by denying the power of mutation/selection you are going to cause a regression to the dark ages and we’ll be fighting AIDs with leaches and incantations?

Ah, yes, DaveScot, thank you for stepping in it.

Of course, one of the major anti-science proponents of “ID theory” is Phil Johnson, who also happens to be … yes, you guessed it .. an HIV denier!!!!

Of course, it’s well known that many many thousands of children have been saved by the work of scientists who know that evolution is a fact and who ignored anti-science idiots like Phil Johnson (and ignorant sheep like David Springer who fight on behalf of cro-magnon jerks like Johnson).

Jim

Ah, the environment provides information now.

How does the environment contribute information to a developing chicken inside an egg? Seems to me the egg is pretty well isolated from the environment and all the information necessary to go from single cell to chick complete with feathers is all inside the egg at the outset.

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DaveScot writes

How does the environment contribute information to a developing chicken inside an egg?

Since when is the chicken’s mother not part of its environment? The chicken got its DNA (and other epigenetic material) from its mom. And so on. Sun provides energy, heat. Chemical reactions occur.

You should write up your garbage in a book Springer. There’s a Nobel Prize if you’re right. If you’re wrong, you’ll just join the long list of biologically-clueless bozos who believed that black people were hairless monkeys and similar 18th century nonsense.

Do you understand how to answer a question with a statement?

Watch out, Springer, you might “embarass” David Heddle with your disrespectful attitude. “LOL!!!!!” SMFDYPOS!!!!!

Davescott, before we continue on this meaningless path, could you first define for me what you mean by ‘information’? Your example of the sun and a hard disk suggest more of a trolling position than one which would enable a viable scientific discussion? What tickles your interest Dave? Trolling or an actual discussion. Please advise.

While the comparisson is overly simplistic, the information in the genome is provided by the mutual information between genome and environment. Selection increases mutual information and thus increases the information in the genome. The information concept I am using here is Shannon information btw. Since there is an open system to the environment, information can increase. Similarly since there is an open system to the environment, increases in complexity or order can happen without violating any law of thermodynamics.

There’s a reason the eggs don’t hatch in the refrigerator.

If you estimate the regular ol’ Shannon information content of the DNA in the genome of an egg, you’ll find that there isn’t enough to specify the three-dimensional adult. Some of the missing information comes from the rest of the egg, some from the environment in which the egg/seed develops including the intimate environment provided in some cases by the mother’s body. I recall seeing a worked-out example of this information problem in a biology textbook circa 1967 or so. There’s nothing mysterious about it.

People sometimes talk about DNA as if were a magical substance. It isn’t. By itself it doesn’t do squat.

Meanwhile, since vastly more information is required to specify a whale than a bacterium, and whales evolved from eukaryotes that in turn evolved from prokaryotes, a heck of a lot of information has obviously come into being over the years. I have no idea why anybody would want to deny so obvious a fact.

Dave Scott:

The quote that you attribute to me in comment 15808 was not written by me. It was written by Michael Behe and David Snoke (seec comment 15613). Read more carefully, troll-boy.

I have been unable to locate an ‘Andrew Rule’ on the Mayo Clnic website.

In addition, I went to a medical school. I was in the department of anatomy and cell biology as a graduate student. I knew many, many medical students. Many were very intelligent and hard working. Many were simply very good test takers. Some got into medical school because of connections. Some should not have been there at all. Being a physician, even one that appends the term ‘scientist’ to their title, is no guarantee of impeccable knowledge. From the things our Dr.Rule has stated - from the ‘primoridal soup’ to the ‘second law of thermodynamics’ - in addition to the fact that I can’t find on faculty or staff at the Mayo clinic where his email address indicates he is, I suspect that he is not what he says he is. That or he is an example of how one can get through medical school and not understand the things one learned.

In number 15800 DaveScot said: All the information required to build the tree is contained in the seed

but a tree contains more information then the seed contained - eg, the tree contains a record of climatic changes which occured during the life of the tree. That info is not contained in the seed.

In #15800 DaveScot said: re a seed becoming a tree

All the information required to build the tree is contained in the seed. The tree just appears more complex because the information in the seed has been expressed in a way that is easier to see than ACTG sequences.

but a tree does contain more info than a seed - eg, a record of climatic changes that occured during the life of the tree. That info is not contain within the seed.

All the information required to build the tree is contained in the seed. The tree just appears more complex because the information in the seed has been expressed in a way that is easier to see than ACTG sequences.

Completely and utterly wrong. If all the information were in the seed, then the seed could grow all by itself without any environment at all. It’s like saying that there is no more information in your head than there was in the zygote that produced you. Well, perhaps in your case .…

It?s like fractal. A simple looking formula can produce the appearance of amazing complexity when expressed in a different way. But there is actually no increase in information content between the formula and the fractal pattern produced from it.

No, it’s like a combination of a fractal and Conway’s life game on a seeded board; how the configuration develops depends on the environment. Your argument is circular in that you simply ignore the facts that make it invalid.

How does the environment contribute information to a developing chicken inside an egg? Seems to me the egg is pretty well isolated from the environment and all the information necessary to go from single cell to chick complete with feathers is all inside the egg at the outset.

How convenient to limit focus to a case of relative isolation. But there’s a lot more than DNA in an egg – all of which is part of the environment. And a newly hatched chick is not a chicken – I mentioned trees, not seedlings.

Perhaps you also think that the contents of a treasure hunt basket represent no more information than the rules for the hunt.

Oops, DaveScot mentioned trees, I didn’t – I just mentioned progression of states, which is open ended.

Do you think the zygote is less complex than the adult?

That’s obvious.

Is there a gain of information in the transformation from zygote to adult?

Perhaps not in your case.

What information do you posit is created in this process?

I think my telephone number counts as information.

Bruce Alberts (president of the National Academy of Sciences) wrote a letter to the editor about Behe’s Op-Ed. Read it here.

(May require a login & password)

Proof that bed theories, like bad smells come back to haunt us: a book from Harper Collins The Watch on the Heath by by Keith Thompson, Professor of Natural History and Director of Oxford University Museum. A look at pre-Darwinians, especially Rev Paley’s Natural Theology which is particularly interesting, especially given the attempts to recycle it in the US. I suppose as with most trends, it won’t be long before some British fundamentalists start trying to push ID here.

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on February 7, 2005 3:21 AM.

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