Communications and Science

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A little more than a week ago, Mike Syvanen posted an article on Panda’s Thumb that discussed a real controversy within the field of evolutionary biology: the role of horizontal gene transfer in early evolution. Today, Paul Nelson misinterpreted that article in a post over on ID: The Future. The specifics of this incident have been covered in more detail both by at Evolving Thoughts, and at Evolutionblog. I’m going to look at this incident from a slightly different perspective: how it illustrates some of the communications issues that scientists are forced to face when dealing with creationists.

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A little more than a week ago, Mike Syvanen posted an article on Panda’s Thumb that discussed a real controversy within the field of evolutionary biology: the role of horizontal gene transfer in early evolution. Today, Paul Nelson misinterpreted that article in a post over on ID: The Future.

How’s that book coming, Paul?

Why don’t you drop in for a while. I have some questions for you that you ran away from the last time you were here.

Well, we should’ve taken up a pool as to how long it would take for creationists to abuse Syvanen’s comments.

Lets remember that for next time. May be we can sell raffles or something..

Well, we should’ve taken up a pool as to how long it would take for creationists to abuse Syvanen’s comments.

Well, it’s not as if ID/creationists are doing any scientific research of their OWN, is it …

Mike,

Here’s the text of an email (lightly edited) that I sent earlier today to Jason Rosenhouse, John Wilkins, and Mike Syvanen:

Guys,

I saw your blog commentaries on my IDtheFuture post about the Mooney & Nisbet CJR piece, and wanted to follow up with a reply.

Very much like scientists, science reporters and journalists face real risks in getting too far away from (or ahead of) “the pack” – i.e., received opinion. But there’s a reciprocal risk in always playing it safe.

Example: In Sept. 1988, as a grad student, I heard Mike Syvanen talk about problems with molecular phylogenetic reconstruction at the Marine Biological Laboratory-Woods Hole. The occasion was a workshop on molecular evolution organized by Mitchell Sogin. Mike showed several plant phylogenies that made no evolutionary sense. What are these phylogenies telling us? he asked the audience. Is this just noise, or is it possible that other modes of transmission of genetic information (i.e., other than “vertical” inheritance; HGT) are operating?

It was a provocative and “risky” talk, insofar as Mike was pushing the audience to think about ideas that they may have – indeed, did (see below) – find uncomfortable and heterodox.

Mitchell Sogin was very disconcerted by Mike’s presentation. After Mike left the MBL to return to California, the workshop went on for a few days, and Sogin disparaged Mike’s talk. “That lecture shouldn’t have happened,” I recall Sogin saying to anyone who would listen.

I don’t think any science journalists were present when Mike spoke, but let’s suppose they had been, and had reported on his talk and Sogin’s extremely negative reaction. Developments within evolutionary theory within the past 17 years have pushed HGT from the risky margins into the very center of many discussions. A science journalist who played it safe in September 1988 (along the lines of “Sogin told me Syvanen’s talk was a load of horsesh-t that I can ignore”) would have missed pursuing a truly promising lead.

Mooney & Nisbet advise science journalists to play it safe: “Evolution” means Darwin’s picture of universal common ancestry, from LUCA, mainly via the mechanism of natural selection. This theory is as much a part of the permanent furniture of reality, argue Mooney & Nisbet, as the Copernican geometry of the solar system, the germ theory, etc. Gotta get that point into your stories about the ID controversy.

But what if LUCA never existed? (Rick Sternberg joked to me recently that the famous line from the movie “The Godfather,” viz., “Luca sleeps with the fishes” [after the Corleone family hitman Luca Brassi is bumped off by Salazo] might make a funny title for a review article about the waning fortunes of LUCA as a theoretical construct in deep phylogeny.) Skepticism about LUCA is one area, among many, where ID and heterodox evolutionary theory overlap.

So what’s an enterprising science reporter to do? Play it safe, or call up Mike Syvanen to chat? It’s a genuine dilemma, and I think Mooney & Nisbet’s advice may be entirely too cautious for most reporters, who are as competitive as the scientists I know and as willing to try promising risks.

The point of my IDTF blog post was not to discuss the demise of LUCA, except as an illustration of the challenges science journalists face in covering heterodox ideas.

But what if LUCA never existed? (Rick Sternberg joked to me recently that the famous line from the movie “The Godfather,” viz., “Luca sleeps with the fishes” [after the Corleone family hitman Luca Brassi is bumped off by Salazo] might make a funny title for a review article about the waning fortunes of LUCA as a theoretical construct in deep phylogeny.)

You can do better from that. Take a cue from your humble colleague William Dembski, the “Isaac Newton of Information Theory”.

Call it our WATERLUCA.

Paul,

I appreciate you taking the time to comment on this. I understand the point about the dangers of being cautious when it comes to science reporting. However, I still think that you did misrepresent what Mike wrote in an important way - and it’s one that you repeat here when you say:

Skepticism about LUCA is one area, among many, where ID and heterodox evolutionary theory overlap.

The “overlap” that you mention is almost entirely illusory. “Orthodox” evolutionary theory predicts descent from a single common ancestor. “Heterodox” evolutionary theory, of the sort that Mike Syvanen represents, predicts common descent from a pool of ancestral organisms that were able to transfer some genetic material back and forth (in a lateral manner). ID predicts - actually, I don’t know, and have no way to know, what ID predicts in this case. Some of Michael Behe’s comments suggest that he would be OK with descent from a single common ancestor. Your comments suggest that you would be happier with few or no common ancestors. The absence of a single, coherent ID hypothesis hinders things here just a bit. Based on the overall opposition to evolution that I’ve seen among ID proponents, I’d guess that the overall view of the people in your “big tent” leans closer to your view than Behe’s.

Despite the really minimal overlap between the “predictions” of ID and the “heterodox” predictions, you seem to be implying that any evidence against the “orthodox” view somehow lends some degree of support to the ID postion. This is simply not the case. There is nothing about Syvanen’s ideas that in any way lends support to ID - his view is simply that non-traditional means of exchanging genetic information may have been more important in evolution than previously believed.

It seems to boil down to this: the conventional view is one common ancestor. Mike suggests that the evidence supports many common ancestors. You say something along the lines of, “we don’t think there’s one common ancestor, and Mike doesn’t think there’s one common ancestor, so that supports our view.” That’s a completely misleading description of the situation - if your view is that there are no (or very few) common ancestors, then Mike’s argument provides your view with absolutely nothing in the way of positive support.

And it seems like this kind of thing happens all the time. Any time anyone suggests that there might be something different happening in evolution, any time anyone suggests that different mechanisms may be more or less important in different specific situations, it feels like someone in your camp starts jumping up and down, and saying “Look! Look! Someone disagrees with part of the conventional view of evolution. This supports our argument that evolution doesn’t happen!”

It’s misleading, and it get’s old very fast. I’ve had my fill of it. You guys keep claiming that you’re trying to put together a scientific research program. For crying out loud, just do that already. Knock off the political bs, stop spending so much time, effort, and money on PR, and do some science already.

Hi Paul. Welcome back.

Last time you were here, you ran away without finishing our conversation. As promised, I take it up again right where we left off:

Me: Does the ID movement call itself the ID movement simply to bamboozle people into thinking it has an actual alternative theory when it really doesn’t? Does the ID movement call itself the ID movement to try and gain all the rhetorical advantages of claiming to have an alternative theory without the disadvantages of actually having to PRODUCE one?

You: ‘The ID movement’ is just a name for a group of people with similar ideas. When I began thinking about design years ago, there was no ‘ID movement’ denoted by that name, but the ideas were percolating away nonetheless (e.g., in the writings of Charles Thaxton). The name - the label - is largely a matter of convention. It’s the ideas themselves that attract, or repel, people.

Think about it this way. If I broiled what I said was ‘really fine steak’ for you, but served you shoe leather, it’s the shoe leather, and not what I called it, that would matter. Or, conversely, if you said to me that B.B. King’s music was ‘sucky Muzak dreck, don’t bother with it,’ as a fan of blues I’d discount your description or label. (Btw, I only serve USDA choice or prime to guests, if you’re ever in Chicago. Shoe leather is strictly for thought experiments.)

In short, it doesn’t really matter what one calls ‘the ID movement,’ which explains why pejoratives such as ‘IDiots,’ ‘intelligent decline,’ ‘creationism-lite,’creationism in designer clothing,’ and the like, have had little discernable effect on the growth of the ID community.

Me: You, uh, didn’t answer my question, Paul.

My question was very specific. If there is no such thing as a theory of ID, why does the ID movement call itself the ID movement? You say “it really doesn’t matter what one calls the ID movemnet”. If so, why name it after something that doesn’t exist? Is it, or is it not, to imply that it DOES exist, even though it actually doesn’t.

I still await your answer to that simple question.

Your turn, Paul.

Me: I have never, in all my life, ever heard any weather forecaster mention “god” or “divine will” or any “supernatural” anything, at all.

You: Nor have I. But climatologists and atmospheric scientists weigh the effects of intelligent agency all the time. Consider global warming and its possible causes. To be sure, humans aren’t “supernatural,” at least in the sense that I think you mean, but disentangling atmospheric effects due to intelligent agency (e.g., gas emissions from industrial activity) from so-called “natural” causes is an important area of ongoing research. If agency is suggested by evidence, science takes up the question. ID theorists think biological evidence suggests the role of intelligent agency; most biologists disagree; and so we find ourselves with a vigorous dispute.

Me: That wasn’t the question, Paul. I’ll ask again.

IDers are the ones bitching that science, and biology in particular, is “materialistic” and “naturalistic” and rejects any “supernatural” explanations.

It seems to me that weather forecasting, accident investigation and medical practice are ALL equally “materialistic” and “naturalistic” and reject “supernatural” explanations (note that NONE of the “intelligent agencies” involved in any of these is in any way NOT “materialistic” or “naturalistic”, Paul).

So I’ll ask again; why, if weather forecasting and accident investigation are every bit as “atheistic” and “materialistic” as evolution, aren’t you out there fighting the good fight to get God back into weather forecasting aqnd accident investigation. Why aren’t you out there fighting the “materialistic naturalistic biases” of weather forecasting or accident investigation. Why does “atheism” in evolution get your undies all in a bunch, but “atheism” in weather forecasting doesn’t.

Or does that all come later, as part of, uh, “renewing our culture” … ?

Your turn, Paul.

You: Lastly - your Howard Ahmanson obsession. I’ve spent a little time with Howard (had a memorable long dinner with him in Irvine, CA, one night), and we talked about movies, wine, and whatnot. I’ve never heard or read anything from Howard that comes even remotely close to ‘extremism,’ whatever that is. You are circulating hearsay, Lenny, if it rises even to that.

What actual evidence do you have, in Howard Ahmanson’s own words, of his positions?

Me: And, once again, you’ve not answered my question. (Gee, I’m shocked.)

I’ll ask again.

Can you point me to any published public statement by Ahmanson wherein he disavows any of the positions he held as cash cow and chief cheerleader for the Chalcedon Foundation nutballs?

If you want to tell me that he has repudiated his positions and is no longer as nutty as he HAS been for the past 20 years, then please tell me (1) which of his former positions he has repudiated and why, and (2) which of his former positions he has NOT repudiated, and why NOT?

Offhand, Paul, I’d say that placing the US under “Biblical law”,to include such things as stoning “sinners”,is well, pretty extremist. I find it illuminating that you do not.

Your turn, Paul.

You: Lenny - I’m outa this discussion.

Me: I don’t blame you, Paul. I wouldn’t want to defend your positions either.

Please be assured that I will repeat my questions next time you come back here.

You: Visit my blog when it’s up, and we can continue the back-and-forth over there.

Me: Thanks, but I’ve seen what passes for, uh, “back and forth” at ID-run blogs. I prefer to post in places where the iron hand of the ayatollah’s censor doesn’t rule.

So we will continue this discussion next time you come back here.

And here we are again, Paul.

Gonna answer this time? Or gonna run away. Again.

Shoot, I’m still waiting for that omnibus answer from Nelson regarding ontogenetic depth that was coming “tomorrow” back in March, 2004, when Nelson told us

Quick note — I’m drafting an omnibus reply (to points raised here and in Shalizi’s commentary), with title and epigraph from a Rolling Stones song. I’ll post it tomorrow.

I’m guessing the Stones song was “(I can’t get no) Satisfaction”, the peak of rock and roll. It’s been all downhill ever since.

RBH

Well, Nelson emailed me privately and generously offered to buy me a beer if I met him at his upcoming sermon in Miami.

Alas, I’d prefer that he just answer my damn questions, right here in front of the whole world.

I’m guessing the Stones song was “(I can’t get no) Satisfaction”, the peak of rock and roll. It’s been all downhill ever since.

Heretic. The peak of rock was, as anyone knows, Metallica’s “Black Album”.

But, I fear, that is a discussion that should take place elsewhere. Preferably over a case of cold ones.

;>

I’m still a bit ambivilent about the whole no-LUCA thingie. Sure, there may indeed be different ancestors for different genes. But still, it appears that there was only one line that begged, borrowed or stole all those genes from the other lines, and then itself went on (utilizing them) to produce all of life as it exists today. So while there might not be a genetic LUCA, it certainly still looks like there was a geneological LUCA, even if it appeared AFTER the various genes first appeared separately.

How any of this helps the ID/creationists in any way, shape or form, though, baffles me. I guess the ID/creationists just operate on the Wickramasinghe strategy — anyone who disagrees with mainstream science must, by definition, agree with them —- even if, like Wickramasinghe, they think ID/creationists are nuts. (shrug)

I’m still a bit ambivilent about the whole no-LUCA thingie.

Me too. I agree that a geneological LUCA still seems likely. I understand that some universal genes seem significantly younger than others, and that (if true) this is best explained by HGT. But I don’t quite see how this can eliminate a geneological LUCA. Of course, that probably just reflects my poor understanding.

I wonder about the converse. If there was no geneological LUCA, might one expect some non-universal genes to be even more ancient than the oldest universal genes? If such genes exist, would there be any way to prove it?

How any of this helps the ID/creationists in any way, shape or form, though, baffles me.

I think one ID spin is, “Look! Some scientists disagree with [some aspects of] evolutionary theory! That proves that even mainstream scientists admit that naturalistic evolution might be wrong!”

Of course, they leave out the part in brackets.

A related spin is, “Look! Even mainstream scientists acknowledge that there are legitimate controversies about [some aspects of] evolutionary theory. ID is also a controversy about evolutionary theory. It must be legitimate, too!”

All of it, of course, is deliberate misdirection. They want to focus on disagreements and controversies, so they won’t have to acknowledge the elephant in the room - namely, that there is no science to ID.

Something that you’ve hammered on relentlessly. ;-)

“But climatologists and atmospheric scientists weigh the effects of intelligent agency all the time. Consider global warming and its possible causes. To be sure, humans aren’t “supernatural,” at least in the sense that I think you mean, but disentangling atmospheric effects due to intelligent agency (e.g., gas emissions from industrial activity) from so-called “natural” causes is an important area of ongoing research. If agency is suggested by evidence, science takes up the question. “

Hahahahahahaha. I don’t think I was around when that was originally, posted, but that’s got to be the worst analogy-as-justification-for-ID I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some pretty terrible ones. If IDiots tried to apply the same techniques as climatologists in the context of their supernaturalistic pseudo-theory, they’d have to come to the conclusion that God has been dead since at least abiogenesis. I doubt they want that.

In relating his story about the difficulties in science journalism, Paul quoted:

Paul Nelson Wrote:

Mike showed several plant phylogenies that made no evolutionary sense. What are these phylogenies telling us? he asked the audience.

Reading this, I thought that this is again a good example why ID is not a good notion. To answer the question above, ID would have pointed to the place in the phylogenetic tree where it really started to be a tree with separate branches, and declared a goddidit-event at that place. With this mindset, no IDist would have been able to work out HGT, because that would have removed the designer and thus the basis for the notion itself.

Question: Would such a “tree”, with a lot of HGT at the basis (reminds me even more of a real tree with entangled roots anyway), would this not look as if order (some well defined branches) arose from disorder (net-like starting area)? How would Dembski´s CSI or filter deal with that? We know that this stems from natural causes so I would expect a false positive. Is this correct?

“LUCA?” One of the things that tends to mark those whose reason has been sapped from them is the use of jargon that confuses the hell out of anyone unfamiliar with the stuff, and often confuses the issues as well.

Alas for Dr. Nelson, if the idea of one common ancestor dies, intelligent design is in even worse shape. There are at least two, wholly natural explanations that would merit exploration before resorting to a search for the Wilber Force (the technical name for the “intelligent designer”). One possibility is that all the one-celled critters, separate species that they were, arose from one common ancestor and mutated. A second possibility is that when conditions were ripe for life to spring up, life sprang up in several forms technically unrelated by ancestry, though similar in form and chemistry. In either case, then there was lateral gene transfer, and then branches sprouted in the ancestral bushes.

Intelligent design has more science to deny if “LUCA” is not exactly accurate, not less.

The last universal common ancestor idea provides a clear explanation for why we have DNA and why it pervades all life with just four little proteins to code. In short, it’s a solid explanation, and nothing in intelligent design offers any serious challenge. No matter how the controversy works out that Syvanen noted, it’s just one more series of body blows to the rapidly deflating notion of a hypothesis of intelligent design.

Reporters, even those unfamiliar with biology, can report on it and get it right. The sin is still the inaccurate spin put on the reporting by creationists, including IDists.

Paul Nelson Wrote:

Skepticism about LUCA is one area, among many, where ID and heterodox evolutionary theory overlap.

Enjoying a glass of water when thirsty is one of the many things that mass murderers have in common with the best among us, but only an IDiot would think that it follows that there’s good in mass murderers.

IDiot Paul Nelson Wrote:

But climatologists and atmospheric scientists weigh the effects of intelligent agency all the time. Consider global warming and its possible causes. To be sure, humans aren’t “supernatural,” at least in the sense that I think you mean, but disentangling atmospheric effects due to intelligent agency (e.g., gas emissions from industrial activity) from so-called “natural” causes is an important area of ongoing research. If agency is suggested by evidence, science takes up the question. ID theorists think biological evidence suggests the role of intelligent agency; most biologists disagree; and so we find ourselves with a vigorous dispute.

We have details of observable human behavior (such as those gas emissions) which we can correlate and causally connect to our observations of climate change. But of course climatologists do not idly speculate that this or that observation may have been caused by a god or an alien, and certainly no one teaches students that gods or aliens may have caused global warming.

I don’t think I was around when that was originally, posted,

Well, that’s why I keep re-posting it. :>

Most people in the US don’t know very much about the whole ID/evolution thingie. They might hear something about it on TV or in the newspaper, and want to know “what all the fuss is about”, so they drop in here for a short time, look around, and then leave.

I want *every one* of these people to see, firsthand with their own eyes, that (1) IDers have nothing scientific to offer, (2) IDers are evasive dishonest liars who refuse absolutely to answer even the most basic questions, and (3) ID is nothing but fundamentalist Christian apologetics with a political agenda, and IDers are flat-out lying to us when they claim otherwise.

The best way to show that is to simply ask IDers the basic questions, over and over and over again, until they run away (again). And let everyone SEE them run away, again and again and again.

Some of the “regulars” here, I know, get a bit annoyed when I keep posting the same questions all the time. I hope now they understand why I do that — these posts are aimed, not at the longtimers, but at all the newbies who only drop in for a short time. I want every one of them, no matter how short a time they might be here, to see firsthand exactly what IDers are all about.

Paul Nelson Wrote:

Example: In Sept. 1988, as a grad student, I heard Mike Syvanen talk about problems with molecular phylogenetic reconstruction … A science journalist who played it safe in September 1988 (along the lines of “Sogin told me Syvanen’s talk was a load of horsesh-t that I can ignore”) would have missed pursuing a truly promising lead.

I can’t understand why anyone would think this has relevance to science, and frankly don’t believe you think it really does. Regardless of whether a reporter published a story on this or not (apparently not), Syvanen was able to form a testable hypothesis, uncover evidence, and establish credibility for his ideas. The only reason that Syvanen would have cared about the article is if he was seeking publicity rather than truth.

So, form a testable hypothesis. Test it and validate it. Then you will be able to validly make the comparison you imply (that current ID proponents are modern-day “Syvanen”s, whose ideas will be widely accepted among scientists some day). Then you will have something real to give reporters. Then you will have a real rebuttal to Mooney & Nesbit. Most likely, you’ll even have a few Nobel prizes to brag about. Until then, you just have a hand waving in the air, seeking atention with all the flat-earther, conspiracy theorists, etc.

“My name is LUCA. I live on the second floor…”

Michael Behe, Michael Denton and possibly even, Michael Bolton seem to have no trouble accommodating a LUCA in their ID “theories” for the evolution of life. ID theory “overlaps” with so much that there is no positive theory there in the first place.

“My name is LUCA. I live on the second floor…”

Unfortunately, that’s what I kept thinking too (I’m not a big fan of jargon and had to work the abbreviation out and keep reminding myself what it was really) along with “Today I am a small blue thing…” (except that I’m properly dressed now, so I’m more black and red with a bit of white).

A little more than a week ago, Mike Syvanen posted an article on Panda's Thumb that discussed a real controversy within the field of evolutionary biology: the role of horizontal gene transfer in early evolution. Today, Paul Nelson misinterpreted that article in a post over on ID: The Future. The specifics of this incident have been covered in more detail both by at Evolving Thoughts, and at Evolutionblog. I'm going to look at this incident from a slightly different perspective: how it illustrates some of the communications issues that scientists are forced to face when dealing with creationists. Wrote:

Evilutionists (especially at The Panda’s Bum) have a communication problem because informed thinkers like Nelson expose their amoral ontology for the sham that it is. Not even Darwinists themselves can consistently believe such a mountain of lies as evolutionism, so they inevitably commit gaffes in their papers–and small islands of truth emerge from the river of excrement in their tree-hugging literature. When independent critical thinkers like Nelson or myself demonstrate this, they go into a towering rage and accuse their critics of “misrepresentation” or “quote-mining.” The analysis offered in the quoted paper is a similar, but much more simplistic version of Dembski’s design inference. It chops down the evolutionist tree structure at the root. If even “orthologous” genes not subject to duplication/horizontal transfer don’t lead to one “true” tree, then whence chimeric genes? A nice example of circular reasoning guys: if the genes give different trees, it must be due to gene swapping. How do we ascertain gene transfer? The genes give discordant trees!

I am doing more research on this myself. I will use Monfort’s algorithm (as a special case of Dembski’s CSI) to disprove evolutionism at the protein domain/chemical level. Molecules are no different than the probelm of a bunch of party-goers throwing their hats in the ring and then drawing at random to see if they will pick the correct one. For evolutionism to work, all of the molecules must be matched with all of the other molecules thay are supposed to be attatched to to make the vital force of life function. However, I will go one step more with the evolutionist

Hi Lenny,

I’m sorry you won’t be taking me up on my offer of unlimited beer at the University of Miami. In my 20 years of lecturing publicly on design and evolution, you’re the first person ever to turn me down. But I’ll extend the same offer to any Panda’s Thumb reader in Florida. Michael Ruse and I will be giving the first annual Appignani Colloquium in Secular Ethics next week (Thursday, 9/15) at the University of Miami, sponsored by the Dept of Philosophy there. Show up and the beer (or whatever) is on me.

Lenny wrote:

Last time you were here, you ran away without finishing our conversation.

“Conversation” is something of a misnomer, wouldn’t you say? What you’re playing is Lenny’s Game ™. Lenny’s Game has no end; indeed it cannot end, because actual learning and exchange of information is not its point.

Here’s how Lenny’s Game is played:

1. You ask a question.

2. I answer it.

3. You reject my answer as inadequate, and ask another question.

4. This goes on until I tire of the game and find better things to do.

5. You then say that I’ve run away.

The main effect of Lenny’s Game is to make this blog a nasty and brutish place to visit, characterized by bullying, baiting, and ridicule, rather like a seedy biker’s bar where one can expect to be threatened as soon as one sits down. To illustrate, let’s show once more how Lenny’s Game is played. I’ll answer your questions, and steps 3, 4, and 5 will follow, like night the day.

Lenny:

If there is no such thing as a theory of ID, why does the ID movement call itself the ID movement? You say “it really doesn’t matter what one calls the ID movemnet”. If so, why name it after something that doesn’t exist? Is it, or is it not, to imply that it DOES exist, even though it actually doesn’t.

Well, let’s pick a name that you might like, such as “The Fundamentally Religious and Scientifically Misbegotten Objections to Evolution Movement” (FRASMOTEM for short). FRASMOTEM is unwieldy, but if you can persuade others to use it, instead of “intelligent design movement,” go for it. As I said earlier, however, the name won’t really matter. Fred Hoyle coined “The Big Bang” originally as a cheeky jab (insult) towards a theory he never liked. Didn’t matter: the name was widely adopted, because it was vivid and handy, and the scientific idea itself chugged right along.

If the “intelligent design movement,” however named, didn’t exist – meaning Behe, Dembski, Nelson, Meyer, Gonzalez, et. al, and their ideas – this blog wouldn’t exist. As I explain here, the study of evolution and a group of investigators one could call “evolutionists” existed long before a formally-articulated theory of evolution. There is more than enough content to the idea of intelligent design, even absent a theory, to make the conventions “intelligent design” and “ID” useful and accurate. But who knows? FRASMOTEM may have a promising future!

Lenny:

So I’ll ask again; why, if weather forecasting and accident investigation are every bit as “atheistic” and “materialistic” as evolution, aren’t you out there fighting the good fight to get God back into weather forecasting aqnd accident investigation. Why aren’t you out there fighting the “materialistic naturalistic biases” of weather forecasting or accident investigation. Why does “atheism” in evolution get your undies all in a bunch, but “atheism” in weather forecasting doesn’t.

Two questions for you (to help me answer this one, and to throw a little variation into Lenny’s Game):

1. If life on Earth were designed by an intelligence, could science discover that?

2. When Darwin argued against design in the Origin of Species, was he doing science?

Lenny:

Can you point me to any published public statement by Ahmanson wherein he disavows any of the positions he held as cash cow and chief cheerleader for the Chalcedon Foundation nutballs?

If you want to tell me that he has repudiated his positions and is no longer as nutty as he HAS been for the past 20 years, then please tell me (1) which of his former positions he has repudiated and why, and (2) which of his former positions he has NOT repudiated, and why NOT?

Again with the Howard Ahmanson obsession. What to say? I’m happy to be supported by Howard’s money. I guess you’d better put me on your list of unspeakable theocratic monsters. However, I’m a registered independent and voted for Obama here in Illinois, so maybe you should start a new list, “Confused and Inconsistent Theocratic Monsters,” first entry, “Paul Nelson.”

I don’t know what Howard’s view were before; I don’t know what they are now; frankly, I just don’t care. The republic is in no danger from Howard Ahmanson.

Here are my questions again:

1. If life on Earth were designed by an intelligence, could science discover that?

2. When Darwin argued against design in the Origin of Species, was he doing science?

Over to you.

One Brow said:

I can’t understand why anyone would think this has relevance to science, and frankly don’t believe you think it really does.

Here’s what I said above:

The point of my IDTF blog post was not to discuss the demise of LUCA, except as an illustration of the challenges science journalists face in covering heterodox ideas.

Mooney & Nisbet were writing to journalists about how to Stay Respectable, and I offered another perspective: respectability may be purchased at the price of missing something interesting. I wasn’t arguing for ID, and my point could have been illustrated with any number of scientific controversies.

[quote author=”Paul Nelson”]Skepticism about LUCA is one area, among many, where ID and heterodox evolutionary theory overlap.[/quote]

But ‘heterodox evolutionary theory’ actually provides hypotheses, theories and is not based on ‘see we have found something evolutionary theory did not yet explain’ must have been intelligent design…

You yourself observed that intelligent design is lacking scientifically. I would argue that intelligent design by its own nature has chosen to remain scientifically vacuous.

If all ID is can be described as ‘skepticism’ then ID has nothing new to offer.

Paul Nelson Wrote:

Mooney & Nisbet were writing to journalists about how to Stay Respectable, and I offered another perspective: respectability may be purchased at the price of missing something interesting. I wasn’t arguing for ID, and my point could have been illustrated with any number of scientific controversies.

Yes, and your point would be equally wrong on all of them.

There are a lot of possibly interesting things out there right now. The vast majority of them are unsupported, and will turn out to be wrong. Crackpot theories are a dime a dozen, and ten of that dozen would be interesting, if true. Given that the public in general does not have the training to recognize the difference between what is conjectured and what is supported, journalists writing about science for the layman should stick to writing about science that has evidence.

Paul Nelson Wrote:

1. If life on Earth were designed by an intelligence, could science discover that?

Yes, by discovering a method of interaction between life and the intelligence. Superimposing a perceived pattern is not a method by which one can reliably discover intelligence.

Paul Nelson Wrote:

The main effect of Lenny’s Game is to make this blog a nasty and brutish place to visit, characterized by bullying, baiting, and ridicule, rather like a seedy biker’s bar where one can expect to be threatened as soon as one sits down.

If by “nasty and brutish” you mean that this is a place where, when statments are made, one might be asked to support them in a way that actually relates to the questions being asked, you’re probably correct. If asked to answer a question and you reply with non sequiturs or obvious obfuscation, don’t be surprised if you’re accused of not answering the question. I wonder who you think you’re fooling.

Lenny: “So I’ll ask again; why, if weather forecasting and accident investigation are every bit as “atheistic” and “materialistic” as evolution, aren’t you out there fighting the good fight to get God back into weather forecasting aqnd accident investigation. Why aren’t you out there fighting the “materialistic naturalistic biases” of weather forecasting or accident investigation. Why does “atheism” in evolution get your undies all in a bunch, but “atheism” in weather forecasting doesn’t.

Paul: I like Peewee Herman movies, don’t you?

Lenny: You didn’t answer the question.

Paul: Yes I did. Now I have to go, because you’re not paying attention.

One Brow Wrote:

Yes, by discovering a method of interaction between life and the intelligence.

By ‘method of interaction’ I suppose you mean ‘how, exactly, was it accomplished’. Is this a necessary requirement? Is it ever scienfifically permissible to conclude that something is the product of intelligence without knowing how the intelligent agent and product interacted?

But climatologists and atmospheric scientists weigh the effects of intelligent agency all the time. Consider global warming and its possible causes. To be sure, humans aren’t “supernatural,” at least in the sense that I think you mean, but disentangling atmospheric effects due to intelligent agency (e.g., gas emissions from industrial activity) from so-called “natural” causes is an important area of ongoing research.

Let’s look at why science can consider the climatology effects of intelligent agency. What do the climatologists know about these Designers to start with?

Who: humans What: put CO2 into the atmosphere When: gradually since the Industrial Revolution Where: Where the cars and factories are Why: As a side effect of energy production How: By pumping up petroleum full of hydrocarbons, and burning it

That’s certainly a good amount of evidence from which we can theorize effects. Now for contrast, let’s see what Intelligent Design offers:

Who: who knows? *wink wink* What: designed biological things When: no telling Where: can’t really say Why: your guess is as good as mine How: Magic? I don’t know

How about the Great Sphinx?

Who: Who knows? What: The Great Sphinx. When: No telling. Where: Giza. Why: Your guess is as good as mine. How: I don’t know.

The next question should have been, “What do we know that is irreducibly complex?”

I think the next question should have been “What makes Behe think irreducible complexity is inconsistent with evolution?” If it isn’t, then there is no need to find or pay special attention to systems that are irreducibly complex. Behe says that an irreducibly complex system is one in which nothing can be removed without destroying function – but that’s about the future of the system, whereas evolution is about its past. So rather than looking at what might happen next – removal of a component leading to loss of function – we should consider what might have happened last. And an obvious answer is that a non-essential component was removed from a redundant system, resulting in the “irreducibly complex” system – nothing there is inconsistent with evolution. If Behe were an honest scientist, he would say “oops, sorry” and resolve to get more sleep and more peer review.

ts (not Tim) wrote,

The next question should have been, “What do we know that is irreducibly complex?”

I think the next question should have been “What makes Behe think irreducible complexity is inconsistent with evolution?” If it isn’t, then there is no need to find or pay special attention to systems that are irreducibly complex. Behe says that an irreducibly complex system is one in which nothing can be removed without destroying function — but that’s about the future of the system, whereas evolution is about its past. So rather than looking at what might happen next — removal of a component leading to loss of function — we should consider what might have happened last. And an obvious answer is that a non-essential component was removed from a redundant system, resulting in the “irreducibly complex” system — nothing there is inconsistent with evolution. If Behe were an honest scientist, he would say “oops, sorry” and resolve to get more sleep and more peer review.

The distinction between past and future is largely irrelevant. Behe speaks about the removal of parts destroying the function because he is essentially assuming that evolution builds simply by adding parts, but failed to realize that evolution can also build by removing parts, or by combining two mechanisms which both have a number of parts.

For example, in the Roman arch, if one attempts to build it simply by adding blocks, one finds that this task is impossible as the blocks will come tumbling down before one has the chance to complete the arch. Likewise, if one removes one of the blocks once the Roman arch is already constructed, the entire structure will come tumbling down. In this sense, the Roman arch is irreducibly complex. However, it was still possible for mere mortals to create the Roman arch rather than relying upon divine intervention: one includes blocks in the center, supporting the blocks above as they are put in place, then removes the blocks directly below the upper part of the arch once the entire arch is in place – so as to create a void that people may walk through.

The distinction between past and future is largely irrelevant.

No, it absolutely is not, as a careful reading of what I wrote should make clear.

Behe speaks about the removal of parts destroying the function because he is essentially assuming that evolution builds simply by adding parts, but failed to realize that evolution can also build by removing parts, or by combining two mechanisms which both have a number of parts.

This has been pointed out to Behe, and yet he persists in pointing out that an irreducibly complex system will fail to function if parts are removed – which is true, but irrelevant, because it refers to what might happen in the future, rather than what happened in the past. An irreducibly complex system not only doesn’t contradict evolution, but is particularly evolutionarily stable, since any mutation disabled the function of any of the parts wouldn’t be viable.

Tim: The distinction between past and future is largely irrelevant.

Not Tim: No, it absolutely is not…

I’m going with Not Tim on this one. Behe’s “irreducible complexity” is based on the notion that disassembling a system is retracing the steps of its evolution. This idea is so… (I’m trying to think of a diplomatic euphemism for dumb, but it’s late, and I can’t) that it’s hard for me to believe that Behe sincerely entertains it.

ts (not Tim) wrote:

This has been pointed out to Behe, and yet he persists in pointing out that an irreducibly complex system will fail to function if parts are removed — which is true, but irrelevant, because it refers to what might happen in the future, rather than what happened in the past. An irreducibly complex system not only doesn’t contradict evolution, but is particularly evolutionarily stable, since any mutation disabled the function of any of the parts wouldn’t be viable.

I understand as much, and what I would say is that this indicates his dishonesty. However, the fact that he “persists in pointing out that an irreducibly complex system will fail to function if parts are removed,” while irrelevant, has its uses: namely that someone who is not scientifically inclined will tend to view the assemblage of something complex in terms of the addition of parts, and the idea “that a non-essential component was removed from a redundant system, resulting in the ‘irreducibly complex’ system” will at first seem counterintuitive. (This, I believe, is what Behe is counting on.) Additionally, there are other approaches besides the removal of parts which might result in the creation of a so-called “irreducibly complex system.”

Simply considering truly, not just so-called, irreducibly complex systems in the abstract, an IC system could have had a component removed from a functional predecessor, but cannot have a component removed to produce a functional successor. And it can have a component added to it resulting in a functional successor, but it cannot result from adding a component to a predecessor. The time sequence is essential to whether IC is relevant to evolution. This is true regardless of whether Behe is honest, regardless of what he is counting on, and regardless of whether Behe’s examples are really IC or whether any system is really IC.

As for “other approaches beside the removal of parts” … a puff of smoke?

ts (not Tim) wrote:

As for “other approaches beside the removal of parts” … a puff of smoke?

Your past and future approach ignores other possibilities, particularly when the partitioning is according to proteins (which is another one of Behe’s assumptions). In essence, while Behe is trying to get his readers to think inside the box, you simply substitute a slightly larger box, but leave in place several of his other background assumptions. Something may be “irreducibly complex” in his approach when the removal of any one of thirty proteins results in the destruction of the system’s functionality – but what of the removal of say ten? Perhaps Behe is partitioning things in the wrong way – and one part consists of ten proteins and another of twenty proteins. Or perhaps the functionality of the system with thirty proteins is destroyed when any one of the thirty proteins is removed, but one of the thirty possible subsystems (with one of the original thirty proteins removed) still has a function, just not the same function of the system with thirty proteins. Or perhaps, as you pointed out, perhaps we can get to the previous evolutionary step by adding one protein, rather than removing one. Or perhaps what we are dealing with is some combination of the above approaches. Besides, when someone tries to analyze this simply in terms of the addition or removal of one protein, what they are forgetting is that a single mutation in the code could affect several proteins at the same time – particularly since the same stretch of DNA will often get transcribed into several different strands of RNA before being expressed in the form of proteins.

There are numerous background assumptions which Behe is counting on his readers simply taking for granted. When critiquing him, it is helpful to point each out.

Anyway, I hope this helps.

Your past and future approach ignores other possibilities

None other than puffs of smoke.

Something may be “irreducibly complex” in his approach when the removal of any one of thirty proteins results in the destruction of the system’s functionality — but what of the removal of say ten?

This is why I wrote “Simply considering truly, not just so-called, irreducibly complex systems in the abstract”.

When critiquing him, it is helpful to point each out.

What I have pointed out is that, even at its best – even when using the simplest abstract model involving only additions and removals – IC isn’t inconsistent with evolution. To take the critique beyond that is to make a concession to Behe by giving his idea more merit than it deserves. IC as an objection to evolution is plain stupid – as I said, if Behe were an honest scientist, he would say “oops, sorry” and resolve to get more sleep and more peer review.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Mike Dunford published on September 8, 2005 4:45 PM.

Who’s Operating “The Misinformation Train”? was the previous entry in this blog.

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