January 14, 2007 - January 20, 2007 Archives

Intelligent Design Creationism lacks explanatory power

Author and Professor of Philosophy of Science / Logic at Calvin College, Del Ratzsch, explains how the approach chosen by Dembski to infer ‘design’ is far from the robust agency driven conception of design that most people would imagine. In other words, the concept of design as used by Dembski has little similarity to what most people imagine design to involve.

Del Ratzsch Wrote:

“I do not wish to play down or denigrate what Dembski has done. There is much of value in the Design Inference. But I think that some aspects of even the limited task Dembski set for himself still remains to be tamed.” “That Dembski is not employing the robust, standard, agency-derived conception of design that most of his supporters and many of his critics have assumed seems clear.”

Source: Del Ratzsch in “Nature, Design, and Science:The Status of Design in Natural Science”, SUNY Press, 2001.

Not only does Intelligent Design use a watered down concept of design, this concept also leads to the admission that design does not necessarily leads to agency (a designer).

Ryan Nichols Wrote:

Before I proceed, however, I note that Dembski makes an important concession to his critics. He refuses to make the second assumption noted above. When the EF (Explanatory Filter) implies that certain systems are intelligently designed, Dembski does not think it follows that there is some intelligent designer or other. He says that, “even though in practice inferring design is the first step in identifying an intelligent agent, taken by itself design does not require that such an agent be posited. The notion of design that emerges from the design inference must not be confused with intelligent agency”

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

At Darwin or Design Jason Rennie talks to Dr Ryan Nichols.

And finally, William Dembski himself, when asked to describe how Intelligent Design explains something responds that:

William Dembski Wrote:

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.

Source: William A. Dembski Organisms using GAs vs. Organisms being built by GAs thread at ISCID 18. September 2002

While ID proponents are quick to claim that ID does lead to predictions, logic dictates that these claims are without merrit. In order to make a prediction, one has to know the motives, means and opportunities of the designer, one has to be able to constrain the designer.

A major disanalogy between the ID hypothesis and other scientific hypotheses is that the ID hypothesis fails to be scientifically tractable, at least insofar as the appeal to a trancendent intelligent agent as the designer: that is, an agent that transcends the confines of this universe. (As defined above, an hypothesis is scientifically tractable if and only if through scientific and empirical means we can develop and test models of its internal dynamics, often through applying the scientific results we have obtained in other domains.) Suppose, for instance, one claims that the designer is the monotheist’s God. Almost all monotheists would agree that one cannot significantly develop and test models of God’s internal dynamics through scientific means, since we cannot use science to significantly probe and test God’s psychology. On the other hand, suppose one adopts Michael Behe’s proposal (and that of many leading advocates of ID) to leave unspecified the nature of the designer. If we take this approach, then it is difficult to see how the intelligent design hypothesis could even be minimally scientifically tractable, since we would be unable to say much of anything about the internal dynamics of the designer.

and

Moreover, notice that, just as in the big bang theory, no additional scientific work is done if we add to the above hypotheses the claim that God, or some other transcendent intelligence, created or designed life on earth. In the big bang theory, for instance, neither the claim that God created the big bang, nor that it occurred uncaused, gives the hypothesis any significant additional explanatory or predictive power. Theists, for example, might find it philosophically necessary to hypothesize a creator to account for the big bang, but it is best not to consider such an hypothesis part of science since it is not scientifically tractable, and adds nothing of interest scientifically. Similarly, the hypothesis that some designer created the basic kinds will not give hypothesis (ii) above–that is, the hypothesis that the basic kinds simply appeared fully formed at various points in earth’s history–any additional explanatory or predictive power. And the reason for this is that the designer’s psychology is not scientifically tractable: we cannot form models of the designer’s internal dynamics. Of course, in analogy to the big bang, one might nonetheless feel philosophically compelled to hypothesize a creator to explain the origination of life.

Source; R Collins “A CRITICAL EVALUATION OF THE INTELLIGENT DESIGN PROGRAM: AN ANALYSIS AND A PROPOSAL” 1998, modified 2006

It is often stated by anti-evolution forces that evolution is not a fact; a rhetorically powerful but ultimately meaningless statement. As should be obvious from the discussions in this paper, evolution is a model. A model, by its very nature, never becomes a “fact” that is it never becomes certain but always remains tentative. Trying to classify evolution or any empirical model as fact or not-fact is a failure of categories and indicates a profound ignorance of the nature of empirical knowledge. Evolution is a model, hence tentative, but a model with extraordinary predictive power. That is high praise, the highest science can give. Similar arguments are also made against other models: science has not proven X . For example X might be global warming due to green-house gases. Of course science has not proven X . Proofs are the domain of mathematics, not the empirical sciences. When people use the X is not a fact or Y is not proven gambits it is a tacit admission they have lost the science argument and they are just trying to downplay the significance of that failing.

Source: B.K. Jennings On the Nature of Science

Intelligent Design Creationism does not provide any alternative theory

Bruce Gordon Wrote:

Design theory has had considerable difficulty gaining a hearing in academic contexts, as evidenced most recently by the the Polanyi Center affair at Baylor University. One of the principle reasons for this resistance and controversy is not far to seek: design-theoretic research has been hijacked as part of a larger cultural and political movement. In particular, the theory has been prematurely drawn into discussions of public science education where it has no business making an appearance without broad recognition from the scientific community that it is making a worthwhile contribution to our understanding of the natural world.

Source: Bruce Gordon Intelligent Design Movement Struggles with Identity Crisis Research News & Opportunities in Science and Theology. January 2001, p. 9

Philip Johnson Wrote:

I also don’t think that there is really a theory of intelligent design at the present time to propose as a comparable alternative to the Darwinian theory, which is, whatever errors it might contain, a fully worked out scheme. There is no intelligent design theory that’s comparable. Working out a positive theory is the job of the scientific people that we have affiliated with the movement. Some of them are quite convinced that it’s doable, but that’s for them to prove…No product is ready for competition in the educational world.

Source: Philip Johnson In the matter of Berkeley v. Berkeley by Michelangelo D’Agostino 10, 2006 p31 Berkeley Science Review See also Panda’s Thumb posting

Paul Nelson Wrote:

Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don’t have such a theory right now, and that’s a problem. Without a theory, it’s very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now, we’ve got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as ‘irreducible complexity’ and ‘specified complexity’-but, as yet, no general theory of biological design.

Source: Paul Nelson, The Measure of DesignTouchstone Magazine 7/8 (2004): pp 64 – 65.

Science Daily reports Evolutionary Scrap-heap Challenge: Antifreeze Fish Make Sense Out Of Junk DNA

Scientists at the University of Illinois have discovered an antifreeze-protein gene in cod that has evolved from non-coding or ‘junk’ DNA. Since the creation of these antifreeze proteins is directly driven by polar glaciation, by studying their evolutionary history the scientists hope to pinpoint the time of onset of freezing conditions in the polar and subpolar seas. Professor Cheng will present her latest results at the Annual Main Meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology in Canterbury on Tuesday the 4th April

Hattip Pete Dunkelberg

Dr. Dino gets 10 years

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Convicted felon Kent Hovind’s sentencing was today, and again the Pensacola News-Journal has the story:

Pensacola evangelist Kent Hovind was sentenced Friday afternoon to 10 years in prison on charges of tax fraud.

After a lengthy sentencing hearing that last 5 1/2 hours, U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers ordered Hovind also:

– Pay $640,000 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.

– Pay the prosecution’s court costs of $7,078.

– Serve three years parole once he is released from prison.

Not knowing anything about sentencing, I had figured Hovind would get time already served plus probation or something. I guess not. Probably with good behavior this will become 5 years or less of actual prison time. The moral of the story: living in your own personal alternate reality works for only so long. That, and don’t tick off the IRS.

Reed and I went to a flock party that was held at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science last night. We had a great time and got to talk with Dr. Randy Olson, who is the filmmaker behind Flock of Dodos, a documentary about intelligent design’s culture war with evolution.

Reed has posted a more detailed report on his blog. I just want to mention the film’s two important points:

  • that the intelligent design movement consists of nothing but lies invented for a public relations campaign and seeks nothing less than the overthrow of the cultural legacies of the enlightenment, and
  • that scientists are utterly unable to communicate their profession to normal people, which only helps the crusade of anti-intellectualism.

Likewise, I want to suggest that y’all visit Reed’s blog and respond to his challenge about coming up with some sound bytes that frame the issue in our favor. Comments will be disabled here to encourage our readers to leave them at DRN. Don’t forget to try out the “quote comment” feature while you’re there.

Read the full report at De Rerum Natura.

This weekend is the big conference. Prof. Steve Steve and I will be there. If you will be attending, please come say ‘hi’ to us. I’ll take Prof. Steve Steve’s picture with anyone who asks.

Over at the “ID is nothing but science, we really mean it” Uncommon Dissent blog, there’s an interesting little biblical discussion going on right now. In this case, DaveScot’s remarkable response to a comment on the After the Bar Closes discussion board does an amazing job at evoking that Ghostbusters kind of feel.

Read More (at The Questionable Authority):

The second chapter of my dissertation has now been published. It is freely available from the BMC Bioinformatics website. In this post I hope to provide you will a short overview of the research. The reference is

Cartwright RA (2006) Logarithmic gap costs decrease alignment accuracy. BMC Bioinformatics 7:527.

Our genomes evolve not only via point mutations (where one base changes into another base) but also via insertions and deletions. That is the addition or removal of bases. Collectively insertions and deletions are known as “indels”. Now several studies over the last fifteen years have found that the size of insertions and deletions follows a power law, i.e. a log-log plot of size versus frequency is linear. However, this observation has had little impact on bioinformatics for various reasons. Now why is this observation important? For starters, several scientists have proposed that sequences should be aligned using logarithmic gap costs (wk=a + b k + c ln k) instead of the standard affine gap costs (wk=a + b k).

Because in my first chapter I created a sequence simulation program, Dawg, that could simulate evolution using a power law of indel sizes, I felt that it was important to test this suggestion out. Specifically, whether the slowness of algorithms using logarithmic gap costs are offset by their improved accuracy. So that is exactly what I did for my second chapter, and the results were surprising.

Finish reading on De Rerum Natura » (Comments may be left there.)

Tangled Bank #71

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The Tangled Bank

The latest edition, Tangled Bank #71, is set in 1771, so if you want your biology with an Enlightenment flavor, you know where to go.

It’s been awhile since we’ve had a “silliest thing” post, but I’ve got a good one. I was perusing the 2002 book The Case for Angels. The book is written by philosopher/apologist Peter S. Williams, and Dembski wrote a foreword strongly endorsing the book. In fact, Dembski concluded his foreword with the following:

There exists an invisible world that is more real and weighty than our secular imaginations can fathom. I commend this book as a way of retraining our imaginations about that reality. (Dembski foreword, p. xii)

No, he’s not talking about dark matter, although technically that fits the description perfectly. He’s not even talking about the existence of God, which of course is a famous debate. No, Dembski and Williams are talking about angels…and demons, which, if it wasn’t obvious, are the bad angels. For some reason, demonology is a topic that regularly trips up fundamentalist evangelicals. I posted one example from a modern ID advocate; another well-known example is Norman Geisler’s testimony for the creationists in the 1981 McLean v. Arkansas case. See below for Peter Williams’s take.

Jason Rennie of The Sci Phi Show, who interviewed me awhile back, has put his interviews of Michael Shermer (anti-ID), Salvador Cordova (YEC/ID), Michael Behe (ID), and yours truly (guess) into a podiobook, which is I guess is what kids are doing these days. Rennie is evidently sympathetic to ID, but he does let his guests talk, which is nice in this case because at least the guests cover more than the standard talking points.

A while back I was trying to organize a Flock Party for the Triangle area; however, I have yet to get my hands on a copy of the DVD. (I guess it is taking a while for NCSU to buy its copy.) Regardless, I am excited to announce that the Museum of Natural Sciences is going to be throwing a Flock Party this Thursday, January 18th.

The film will be shown at 7:00 pm in the Museum Auditorium and is free to the public. Dr. Randy Olson, the filmmaker, will give a presentation and answer questions after the screening.

The full announcement is below the fold.

Bora of A Blog Around The Clock has edited an anthology of the best fifty posts from science and medical blogs in 2006: The Open Laboratory: The Best Writing on Science Blogs 2006. The Panda’s Thumb is represented by Ian Musgrave’s post, Denton vs Squid; the eye as suboptimal design. Several other Pandites represent their personal blogs in the anthology as well.

You can order yourself a copy of the anthology from Lulu.

Congrats to all the winners.

The nature of ID

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On UcD, Bill Dembski provides a somewhat confusing commentary on the following picture from My Confined Space

creationism.jpg

WAD Wrote:

If the challenge below were met, would it be evidence for ID or for teleportation?

I guess teleportation is a purely natural process and God is of course equivalent with ID. Thank you Bill for a good laugh.

On Uncommon Descent, our friend Davescot shows once again why Intelligent Design has to hide in the shades of our ignorance. Richard B Hoppe has dealt with most of what he called Dissent Out of Bounds on Uncommon Dissent (Oops, make that “Descent”) and this posting is meant to archive the excellent comments by Febble which caused so much concern at UcD.

While UcD is well known for its aggressive moderation policies, deleting much of anything critical of ID and quickly banning those who expose ID’s scientific and religious vacuities, Uncommon Dissent seems to also favor squashing unfavorable reviews of its theses. In a thread titled ID in the UK ID activist Bill Dembski invited comments from people in the United Kingdom to comment on the recent ‘activities’ of ID in this country.

A poster, named Febble complied with the invitation and politely expressed her feelings. Soon thereafter Davescot banned Febble from participating on UcD. Why? Read on

Capped Column snow crystal

After this storm cloud, there came another, which produced only little roses or wheels with six rounded semicircular teeth … which were quite transparent and quite flat … and formed as perfectly and symmetrically as one could possibly imagine. There followed, after this, a further quantity of such wheels joined two by two by an axle, or rather, since at the beginning these axles were quite thick, one could as well have described them as little crystal columns, decorated at each end with a six-petalled rose a little larger than their base. But after that there fell more delicate ones, and often the roses or stars at their ends were unequal. But then there fell shorter and progressively shorter ones until finally these stars completely joined, and fell as joined stars with twelve points or rays, rather long and perfectly symmetrical, in some all equal, in others alternately unequal. (1)

The beauty, symmetry and diversity of snow crystals have long fascinated scientists. Snow crystals come in endless variety of six-fold symmetric shapes, sometimes thinner than a sheet of paper and up to 3 millimeters across. How can they grow in a three dimensional bath and yet be thin? What natural processes could lead to great diversity of shapes that are complex yet symmetric? What keeps opposite sides of the growing crystal in step even as a unique shape is forming? And with slightly different temperature or humidity produces sensible hexagonal columns instead? Is there any rational explanation for the generation of these crystals out of thin air? Can you formulate a hypothesis that even has a chance?

J. Scott Turner, a professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry in Syracuse, New York, has a this dumb opinion piece in the January 19 2007 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Since a subscription is required to read this (your university probably has a subscription), I’ll excerpt a couple of the dumber remarks:

Also amusing is the spectacle of independent-minded scientists’ running to college administrators or the courts for help in defining what is science and what is permissible discourse in their classroom.

Faced with all that hue and cry, I almost want to say: “Friends, intelligent design is just an idea.”

The strain’s very persistence invites the obvious question: If Darwin settled the issue once and for all, why does it keep coming back? Perhaps the fault lies with Darwin’s supporters. Rather than debate the strain on its merits, we scramble to the courts or the political ramparts to expel it from our classrooms and our students’ minds.

Read more at Recursivity.

Douglas Axe recently (well, sort of) published an article in the Journal of Molecular Biology entitled “Estimating the Prevalence of Protein Sequences Adopting Functional Enzyme Folds” (Axe, J Mol Biol 341, 1295-1315, 2004). In his discussion of the experimental observations, Dr. Axe mentions some numbers that are likely to generate much discussion amongst Intelligent Design advocates and critics. For example, Stephen Meyer (2004) cites Axe at a key point in the argument in his recent article advocating Intelligent Design, “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories,” much discussed in previous Panda’s Thumb threads (here).

“Axe (2004) has performed site directed mutagenesis experiments on a 150-residue protein-folding domain within a B-lactamase enzyme. His experimental method improves upon earlier mutagenesis techniques and corrects for several sources of possible estimation error inherent in them. On the basis of these experiments, Axe has estimated the ratio of (a) proteins of typical size (150 residues) that perform a specified function via any folded structure to (b) the whole set of possible amino acids sequences of that size. Based on his experiments, Axe has estimated his ratio to be 1 to 10^77. Thus, the probability of finding a functional protein among the possible amino acid sequences corresponding to a 150-residue protein is similarly 1 in 10^77.”

More recently, Dembski cited Axe in his Expert Witness Report for the Dover trial (see this).

“Recent research by Douglas Axe (see Appendix 3) provides such evidence in the form of a rigorous experimental assessment of the rarity of function-bearing protein sequences. By addressing this problem at the level of single protein molecules, this work provides an empirical basis for deeming functional proteins and systems of functional proteins to be unequivocally beyond Darwinian explanation.”

Given that this subject is often raised by ID proponents (such as this), and that the Biologic Institute (where Axe works) has made some news accounts, it seems appropriate to review Axe’s work. The purpose of this PT blog entry is to try and lay out the study cited above (Axe DD, J Mol Biol 341, 1295-1315, 2004) in a form that is accessible to most interested parties, and to discuss a larger context into which this work might be placed. Needless to say, the grand pronouncements being made by the ID camp are not warranted.

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