The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name

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Jerry Coyne is one of the many contributors to magazines, newspapers, blog sites and so on who have realized that Intelligent Design is not only scientifically vacuous but also theologically risky.

In The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name Coyne writes

Coyne Wrote:

Intelligent design, or ID, is the latest pseudoscientific incarnation of religious creationism, cleverly crafted by a new group of enthusiasts to circumvent recent legal restrictions. ID comes in two parts. The first is a simple critique of evolutionary theory, to the effect that Darwinism, as an explanation of the origin, the development, and the diversity of life, is fatally flawed. The second is the assertion that the major features of life are best understood as the result of creation by a supernatural intelligent designer. To understand ID, then, we must first understand modern evolutionary theory (often called “neo-Darwinism” to take into account post-Darwinian modifications).

Coyne quickly focuses in on the unsurprising reality that natural selection is one of several mechanism. Even Darwin was clear about this. And yet ID proponents tout lists of scientists critical of Darwinian theory, while posing irrelevant and in fact misleading statements.

The DI has posed the question is such a manner that most scientists would agree and yet few would consider Darwinian theory to be flawed or even irrelevant. The DI statement reads

We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged. (Discovery Institute 2004)

As Jerry Coyne and others have pointed out, this statement is self evident, as there are additional mechanisms of evolution which play a role. Since ID however refuses/is unable to present its own mechanisms, ID is doomed to play the role of ‘the eternal skeptic’.

Coyne Wrote:

The third proposition is that most (though not all) of evolutionary change is probably driven by natural selection: individuals carrying genes that better suit them to the current environment leave more offspring than individuals carrying genes that make them less adapted. Over time, the genetic composition of a population changes, improving its “fit” to the environment. This increasing fit is what gives organisms the appearance of design, although, as we shall see, the “design” can be flawed.

Coyne carefully explains the vaste amount of evidence supporting evolutionary science. He comes to the obvious conclusion

Coyne Wrote:

Given the copious evidence for evolution, it seems unlikely that it will be replaced by an alternative theory. But that is exactly what intelligent-design creationists are demanding. Is there some dramatic new evidence, then, or some insufficiency of neo-Darwinism, that warrants overturning the theory of evolution? The question is worth asking, but the answer is no. Intelligent design is simply the third attempt of creationists to proselytize our children at the expense of good science and clear thinking.

Dembski’s latest attempt to refute Darwinian theory is by arguing that in a closed system, information can only decrease. Of course, while interesting, nothing prohibits in an open system, information to increase. Dembski may argue that this merely displaces the origin of information but unless the source is supernatural, intelligent design is not going to answer the question either. Similar to the SLOT arguments of the 80’s and 90’s, Dembski is erecting his own strawman of ‘information’ and displacement.

Talkorigins has an excellent introduction to Information Theory and Creationism

17 Comments

I vote that we point out to Dembski that the earth is an open system by making him stare at the sun for three hours.

At the risk of sounding like a boob, what are the mechanisms besides mutation and selection? Do we consider recombination or drift to be separate from mutation? And what other force besides NS do we know about? Perhaps I am not precisely familiar with the terminology, but as I understand it RM and NS are entirely sufficient to explain the complexity of life.

Comment #45592

Posted by kay on August 29, 2005 11:00 PM (e) (s)

I vote that we point out to Dembski that the earth is an open system by making him stare at the sun for three hours.

Don’t say that too loudly. You might inspire some people to violence. Lenny Flank has been getting so mad lately, he might go off and form the terrorist wing of the NCSE. He’d be like the IRA to their Sinn Fein. Next thing you know, he’s hiding in your closet with blueprints of the local IDEA headquarters.

sanjait Wrote:

as I understand it RM and NS are entirely sufficient to explain the complexity of life.

But the point is moot, as surely e.g. lateral gene transfer (by mobile genetic elements such as transposons or viruses) contribute heavily to genetic variation - and even speciation. Please review the differences between Escherichia coli, Salmonella and Shigella. Here is but one link:

Type III secretion systems and pathogenicity islands

Don’t say that too loudly. You might inspire some people to violence. Lenny Flank has been getting so mad lately, he might go off and form the terrorist wing of the NCSE. He’d be like the IRA to their Sinn Fein. Next thing you know, he’s hiding in your closet with blueprints of the local IDEA headquarters.

(giggle) I prefer to think of it more as my Black Panthers to their NAACP. Self-defense, rather than begging.

I do point out, in passing, that, historically in politics, it has always been the loud uncouth radicals like me who actually get things done, instead of the calm civilized liberals who continually TALK about getting things done. Nobody would have paid any attention to Gandhi if guerrillas hadn’t been blowing up British trains. Nobody would have given Martin Luther King diddley doo if people hadn’t been rioting in Watts. The Brits didn’t leave the American colonies because we asked them to nicely; they left because we stuck muskets in their face and said “Get out”.

Everyone should fall on their knees every day and thank us loud uncouth radicals. We’ve brought you all of the things you hold most dear.

Note for the FBI:

Please take notice that I am NOT, repeat NOT, advocating violence. I am simply pointing out that, historically, violence has gotten a lot of things that talking hasn’t. Like it or not.

There is no need for violence against fundies or IDers. They’re simply not worth it. If, however, the fundies/IDers manage to gain real political power and theocratic control, and we become a nation of men and not laws, then I reserve the right to change my mind.

I’m neither militant, nor pacifistic (I wonder sometimes what WWII vets think when they see a sign like “Violence never solves anything”). Well, sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. Violence worked for Castro, didn’t work for Eric Rudolph. If the abortion laws change drastically, I bet it will be due to smooth people from prestigious law schools, rather than assassination campaigns. Was civil rights progress due to the Watts riots more than MLK? Hard to say, because we can’t do experiments. We can’t replace Arafat with Ghandi and see if there’d be a palestinian state now. I can’t say that Nelson Mandela had no effect on apartheid. It’s also possible to harm your cause by being too obnoxious. I’d just say different actions are better in different situations. In some situations you berate, in some you seduce.

And ridicule has its place, too.

Remember what H.L. Mencken said about the IDers: “One belly laugh is worth a thousand articles by Kenneth Chang.”

As true today, as it was when first uttered.

Thanks Pastor Bentonit for helping me realize my fear of appearing ignorant (my fault of course). As I am presently writing my graduate thesis regarding the regulation of invasion genes in Mycobacterium avium, with heavy references to the Hil regulon in Salmonella (part of a pathogenicity island), I should have thought of LGT as an incubator for genetic change within a species. Although, I still feel like that doesn’t address the origins of complexity exactly. A LGT event generally inserts one gene into another organisms germ line, but no “new” genes are actually formed. If the mobile genes change to adapt a new function in their new host, or if the event itself causes a reshuffling of gene parts such that new genes are formed, I would consider those events part of the larger process of “mutation”. I assume that when we say mutation, the consensus definition is not simply single nucleotide alterations or frameshifts. Are there still other mechanisms that contribute to the evolution of complexity? I think the problem here is that we don’t have a definition of “complexity.” Am I incorrectly interpreting “mutation” and “complexity?” I ask with earnest humility.

And ridicule has its place, too.

Remember what H.L. Mencken said about the IDers: “One belly laugh is worth a thousand articles by Kenneth Chang.”

As true today, as it was when first uttered.

Yea, verily. One of the “Rules for Radicals”, by one of my political mentors, Saul Alinsky:

“Ridicule, especially against organizational leaders, is a potent weapon. There’s no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force concessions.”

The rest of Alinsky’s rules are also well worth keeping in mind, for ANY grassroots movement, not just the movement opposing the ID/creationists:

RULE 1: “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.” Power is derived from 2 main sources - money and people. “Have-Nots” must build power from flesh and blood.

DI makes more money in a month than the anti-ID groups do all year. On the other hand, virtually no one in the US agrees with the extremist political philosophy of the DI or its funders. That is power we can use.

RULE 2: “Never go outside the expertise of your people.” It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone.

Non-scientists trying to argue over science is a recipe for disaster. It’s also irrelevant, since this fight isn’t ABOUT science (see the commentary for rule number 1). So let different anti-IDers use differnent arguments. Let the theologians undermine ID’s religious basis. Let the civil libertarians undermine ID’s extremist political views. And most of all, don’t shoot people who are on our side.

RULE 3: “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty.

IDers have a specific agenda that they want to set, and specific arguments that they want to make. So don’t let them set the agenda. Go outside the areas they want to deal with, and force them to deal with areas they DON’T WANT to deal with – such as who funds them and why.

RULE 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules.

ID insists that it’s SCIENCE and NOT religion. That is *their own argument*. So make them put up or shut up. Either they have something scientific to offer, or they don’t – and anything religious they talk about is irrelevant (as well as illegal in schools). Force them to demonstrate publicly that they simply can’t live up to their own argument.

RULE 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.

Most fundies are loons, as well as being political/social/theological extremists. Most of their minions are uneducated semi-literates. Demonstrate this to the whole world, and let the whole world laugh at them. It’s hard for people to take demonstrated idiots seriously.

RULE 6: “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones.

Nobody wants to listen to deadly-dull lectures on “pre-biotic polymer chemosynthesis” or “the homology between type III secretory apparatus and the bacterial flagellum” (yawn). This isn’t a science symposium. Don’t treat it as one. You’ll just bore everyone to death.

RULE 7: “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.” Don’t become old news.

No more “debates”. They do nothing. They never did. They are old news.

RULE 8: “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.” Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new.

IDers are vulnerable on many fronts. Most theologians reject their religious base. They have no science to speak of. No one agrees with their political extremism. Many of them spout out things that are, quite frankly, nutty (such as Johnson’s HIV-denial). Their funding comes mostly from a lunatic ayatollah-wanna-be. Internally, their supporters are ready at the drop of a hat to wage Holy War on each other. Their most vocal “supporters” undermine themselves by preaching at every opportunity. So attack them on every possible front. Don’t let up for a second, come at them from every possible direction, and don’t give them an instant’s rest.

RULE 9: “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist.

The ID luminaries all have collossal egos. Use that against them. The reality is that virtually nobody gives a flying fig about them. But their collosssal egos won’t let them see that, so the effect on them of anything we do to their collossal egos is far far out of proportion to any real effect in the real world.

RULE 10: “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.” Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog.

The ID movement’s extremist political base may not be “violent”, yet, but the effect on people is the same. People simply don’t want a theocracy. Keep pushing them about it, force the IDers to defend it publicly, and watch their public support melt away.

RULE 11: “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.” Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem.

It’s not enough for us to be defensive and react to what the IDers do — WE need to start setting the agenda and go on the offensive, introducing things that we want and forcing the other side to defend themselves against it. Here is where things like suing schools that refuse to teach evolution because of the “controversy”, or forcing every state in the Union to make evolution a prominent part of its basic science standards, come in.

RULE 12: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.

Without key people like Ahmanson, the ID movement wouldn’t exist. Sever that link between Ahmanson and ID, and ID won’t exist. Turn Ahmanson from an asset into a liability, and ID won’t exist. And fortunately for us, Ahmanson gives us plenty of ammo for that. And Pat Robertson was recently nice enough to do all of us a big favor by helping out, too — one can only sincerely hope that the Venezuelans are successful in an attempt to extradite Robertson and try him for advocating terrorism. Even the Kansas Kangaroo Kourt was nice enough to help out, by presenting a Muslim extremist as an ID supporter (highlighting the fact that nutty Islamic groups like Harun Yahya get lots of money from YEC groups like ICR and AIG).

As Steve has correctly pointed out, the entire art of political organizing is knowing when to use what tactic to your best advantage (and your opponent’s best dis-advantage). Some of them may not be “fair” or “sporting” or “polite”. But all of them WORK.

Know what we call “nice guys” in a political fight? We call them “losers”.

This is a knife fight, not a polo match. So do what you gotta do to stay alive.

“The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name” “The Theory That Cannot State Its Content”

sanjait Wrote:

I think the problem here is that we don’t have a definition of “complexity.”

BINGO! A very good point, there. Dembski has tried (and failed, according to scientific consensus, with his “specified complexity” or “complex specified information”). I´m just concerned that we sould not get into a scientifically ill-advised dicussion over, really, non-existing problems. For example, we both (as well as most PT readers, not least those working in any field connected to molecular genetics) know quite a lot about the mechanisms that create genetic variability and “new information”. That´s right, gene duplication and divergent mutation is quite enough proof of concept concerning the so-called “problem for Darwinists” of the generation of “new information” in the genome. There are literally hundreds of known examples and we both know it.

On another note, as I recall from my undergraduate days, we learned that a “mutation” was simply a change in the DNA (RNA, certain viruses) base sequence, be it a point mutation, indel, inversion…silent or otherwise. As we also know, all mutations are not random (e.g. specialized transduction, site-specific recombination)

Cheers,

/The Rev.

'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank Wrote:

I do point out, in passing, that, historically in politics, it has always been the loud uncouth radicals like me who actually get things done, instead of the calm civilized liberals who continually TALK about getting things done. Nobody would have paid any attention to Gandhi if guerrillas hadn’t been blowing up British trains. Nobody would have given Martin Luther King diddley doo if people hadn’t been rioting in Watts. The Brits didn’t leave the American colonies because we asked them to nicely; they left because we stuck muskets in their face and said “Get out”.

Everyone should fall on their knees every day and thank us loud uncouth radicals. We’ve brought you all of the things you hold most dear.

Nobody paid attention to the race riots in Ohio at the turn of the century, East St. Louis in 1919, etc. The Indian revolution of 1857 was a failure. The American revolution was conducted by established govrmental authorities, moat of whom were not loud, uncouth radicals. Loud, uncouth radicals need the civilized liberals to win over popular appeal as much, or more, than vice-versa.

Ah, Lenny, the Watts riots were in August of 1965, while the Montgomery Bus Boycott began on Dec. 1, 1955. Hypothesis contrary to fact.

This does not relate to the question of whether popular movements need radical acts, or radical involvement.

At the risk of sounding like a boob, what are the mechanisms besides mutation and selection? Do we consider recombination or drift to be separate from mutation? And what other force besides NS do we know about? Perhaps I am not precisely familiar with the terminology, but as I understand it RM and NS are entirely sufficient to explain the complexity of life.

Not sure if it counts as a “mechanisms” but I think the role of extinction has been largely overlooked. Both small-scale and mass extinctions have probably played an enormous role in generating the diversity of life by scrambling otherwise stable ecosystems, clearing the playing field, opening up ecological niches to new players, and both increasing certain kinds of selection pressure while at the same time reducing others. Mutation still plays a basic role in generating diversity–and mutations happen very frequently in natural populations, the trick is to get to the mutations to survive in the next generation–but mutations that might otherwise not be advantageous might either become so under very different conditions, might be somewhat disadvantageous but tolerated under relaxed selection (e.g., if your predators are gone, you might not have to be able to run as fast), or might play a larger role simply because the population size has been reduced and the genetic contribution from any one individual is proportionately greater.

Ah, Lenny, the Watts riots were in August of 1965, while the Montgomery Bus Boycott began on Dec. 1, 1955. Hypothesis contrary to fact.

Sadly, it’s not just IDists who bend or ignore the facts for their own purposes. Lenny’s also quite wrong about Gandhi, who organized people into massive and highly effective boycotts. And it’s worth noting that Gandhi, who refused to go to the back of the train (he had a 1st class ticket, but “coloureds” were required to sit in 3rd class), was a major inspiration to MLK.

Lenny wrote in Comment #45614:

There is no need for violence against fundies or IDers. They’re simply not worth it. If, however, the fundies/IDers manage to gain real political power and theocratic control, and we become a nation of men and not laws, then I reserve the right to change my mind.

Lenny there is also a difference in our values. The fundies who become violent are little different, qualitatively, from the IDiots and IDiot supporters who lie for god. Their most cherished, favorite book is so ambiguous as to support anything in their battle against the great deciever, prince of lies, etc and so forth. Our values are made of sterner stuff as they actually reflect the necessity that humans get along cooperatively in society.

Paul

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on August 29, 2005 9:14 PM.

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