PZ Myers: Wells knows nothing about development, part I

| 17 Comments | 2 TrackBacks

PZ reports on Wells: Jonathan Wells knows nothing about development, part I

If one were asked who the very worst advocate for Intelligent Design creationism was, it would be a difficult decision—there are so many choices! Should we go back to first principles and pick PJ Johnson, the cunning lawyer who has the goal of undermining all of science? Smarmy and obtuse Sal Cordova? Pompous and vacuous William Dembski? I’m afraid my personal most loathed ID creationist has got to be Jonathan Wells.

The reason? The man claims to be a developmental biologist, my favorite field of science, and actually has some credentials in the discipline…but every time he speaks out on the subject, he stuns me with his ignorance. Here he is, trying to explain the Cambrian explosion.

Read the rest of the story at Pharyngula

Note that this is part I, apparently Jonathan Wells has written an even more outrageous claim.

2 TrackBacks

17 Comments

If one were asked who the very worst advocate for Intelligent Design creationism was, it would be a difficult decision—there are so many choices!

Casey Luskin. or Salvador Cordova.

You know the crippled girl Al Swearengen keeps around the Gem Saloon? I would hire her to be my spokesman, before I’d hire Casey or Salvador.

Instead of the worst advocate for Intelligent Design, here’s a harder question: Who is the best advocate for Intelligent Design? Who is the one who comes closest to actually asking a challenging question? Who distorts science the most subtle and clever ways?

normdoering asked

Instead of the worst advocate for Intelligent Design, here’s a harder question: Who is the best advocate for Intelligent Design? Who is the one who comes closest to actually asking a challenging question? Who distorts science the most subtle and clever ways?

My candidate is Paul Nelson.

PZ: I think you meant to say that he does understand development, but misrepresents it anyway.

RBH: Nelson attacks common descent directly, and is easily refuted. And the fact that he refused to challenge Behe directly suggests that he is not at all confident of his claims. That, or he too knows that it’s all a scam. Meanwhile Dembski has mastered the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach, so he gets my vote.

Worst? Look, how is anyone to know who the “worst” is when none of it amounts to telling the truth? There’s a sort of line beyond which the obfuscating lies don’t permit quantitative analyses to be made, and calculating the substative portion of their untruths becomes meaningless.

Who’s “the best”, in terms of persuasion? Really, that comes down to noise levels, especially where one is propping up the prejudices so many Americans have. Behe or Dembski, for however embarrassing they may be to anyone who thinks, they successfully plant doubts in minds by sheer repetition of their false charges and misrepresentations.

OK, I know that wasn’t the question, actually, but I didn’t think that “best advocate” could be defined as anything other than the most successful obfuscator of truths.

Has there been a challenging question coming out of ID, you know, one that wasn’t actually stolen from real science? And have any of their distortions really been clever, and not merely attempts to redefine science to permit pseudoscience, or that simply clouded the issue with a mess of jargon?

Were we to allow the latter as the “most clever”, it would probably have to be Dembski. He doesn’t even use words like “complexity” properly, and still he acts as the prop for the invalids who proclaim that he “proved” that evolution by “natural means” could not happen. Behe repackaged YEC arguments into his book, which was as persuasive as any other devotional book, yet any clueless dolt with a Ph.D could have done that. Dembski at least came up with a new set of obscuring terms and concepts which those who understood none of it would adopt as a “conclusive debunking” of evolution.

Not terribly clever was it, but it was clever enough to work, partly because he knew how to keep his mouth shut about all of its problems, while letting Sal make a complete fool of himself (it’s what presidents do).

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

OTOH, if one wants to measure “best” as in “closest to real science while still firmly on the pseudoscience side” I’d say Christan Schwabe, with Periannan Senapathy as a close second. But the “big tent” scammers like to pretend that they don’t exist.

“best” and “worst” do have ambiguous meanings in reference to ID advocates, don’t they?

There’s not a single one who I can consider competent, interesting, or even sincere any more. There’s just too much slime in that pond – it doesn’t matter how much integrity you might have before diving in, you’ll crawl out covered in muck and reeking of corruption.

Oddly enough, I nominate RBH. The MDT is the only rational attack on the problem I’ve ever seen.

This is going to be a bit off-topic, since I’m not calling Behe the worst, but have recently heard him speak and learned just how bad he is. I’ll include quotes, which may not be exact, but usually are, and even when not they will be as close as I can make them.

Hey PZ, I know now that you believe that “that aspects of biology appear to show design..” I know this because everyone agrees with this statement. This is is the primary argument “for design” that Behe used in his speech, and it comes from Behe’s generalization of some Dawkins’ quotes from the Blind Watchmaker (I do think that Dawkins believes too much that life has the appearance of being designed, but you haven’t read him well if you believe that’s his stance regarding those who have studied life in detail and in the present context).

As I recall, PZ has written on how life does not look designed, at least in context, one reason why I mention his name here. I am nearly certain that he’d disagree with Behe’s glib and, as usual, evidence-free assertion. Of course many would disagree, myself, Gould with respect to the overall picture of life (I think even he could have recognized how unlike design relatively optimal organic characteristics really are), and a couple who I’d like to mention more specifically, and probably most biologists. Here’s Mark Isaak:

The overall conclusion is clear: life looks undesigned

http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/rn[…]_30_1899.asp p.7

I don’t know if Mark is some “respected source” or not in Behe’s eyes, the important thing is that he argues it out in his paper, unlike the egregious Behe’s bald assertion. And here’s Douglas Futuyma:

However, where a creationist sees a design or plan, a scientist sees merely order, or regular arrangement.… The fact is, order in nature is no evidence of design.

Futuyma. Science on Trial. New York: Pantheon Books, 1983. p. 114

Futuyma also argues the case, just not on p. 114 and environs. I like the Futuyma quote because he’s making a generalization, I think a mostly accurate one, completely contrary to the naive Behe’s claims.

That is how Behe strikes me, as a kind of small man (physically, but also no giant mentally), probably sincere, sad as that may be, who really has a poor grasp of the material he argues from. Hence his whole speech was little more than quotes from other scientists, with a few bad analogies and bald assertions thrown in. He has only bad analogies to fall back on once his “everyone agrees that aspects of biology appear to show design” is shown for the crock that it is. He seems so clueless, so eager to use Dawkins, who he’d strenuously disagree with over religion, as an irrefutable source to say that everyone knows that life “looks designed”.

Another thing that truly struck me is that Behe is now accusing scientists of refusing to consider his “breakthrough” (as he’s portrayed it at other times) because “Intelligent design points strongly beyond nature.” No more weaseling around about aliens and time travellers, he’s preaching to the converted and he’s going to make the most of that. I wish he’d admitted at Dover what he admits in College Place, Washington.

I don’t want to go on forever, but he gets much wrong and some more of it should be mentioned. He credited Paley as being the first to make the argument from design, which is hardly true. He states that “Grand Darwinian designs” only come from the undisciplined imagination. There is little evidence for Darwinism (yes, he constantly refers to “Darwinists”, “Darwinism”, and “Darwinian”). He starts out with some real designed objects, then transitions into his claim that design inferences are quantitative, that the more “purposeful arrangement” that we see, the more we are sure that something is designed. Which may be true, but it begs the question of what other processes might do this, and above all it ignores the considerable differences, including the amount of complexity, between known designs and what we see in life. That’s Behe, ignore anything that might cut into his precious little inch of knowledge about how things happen in the world.

Moving on, he told us that we are “filled with nanotechnology”, another clear case of begging the question and ignoring differences between life and actual nanotechnology. He claims to follow the evidence (what evidence?). He uses illustrations of biological machines instead of the actual photos, being either ignorant or without concern that these highly bias laypeople toward the mechanistic tilt that illustrators use. He claims that the flagellum is a “literal outboard motor,” demonstrating ignorance of language and of biology at the same time. He moves from the technically true but misleading statement that “no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biomechanical systems” exist, to the completely untrue claim that Darwinism is “utterly fruitless at explaining the origins of biological systems.” He seems not even to know the difference between the two, though I’m aware that he may be in denial. He hasn’t changed an iota from demanding that his strawman of “detailed Darwinian accounts” be produced in order to demonstrate that biological machines evolved, and claims that mere evidence of similarity (homology) are beside the point (he seems too obtuse to recognize that evolution explains homologies while he does not, and that possible evolutionary pathways are known in contradistinction to his “puff of smoke”).

He seems too unaware to contradict himself much, aside from his blatant statements now that ID points “beyond nature”. But he contradicted himself another way. In one Q & A session he claimed that “everything has to be accommodated to Darwinism” in most scientists’ minds, yet in another Q & A session he said that non-Darwinian evolutionary models are considered, just not the ones that infer purpose and intent. Since much of his speech is a practiced whine, it isn’t surprising that the whine is not fully coherent. Another inconsistency is that apparently ID doesn’t need to be productive (tacitly he acknowledged that it isn’t very productive), while it would lead to study of design, much as we’d study alien machines even if we didn’t know about the designers (ID leads to research, it just hasn’t yet, or at least very little). Did you know that “Darwinists” are doing little except trying to explain “apparent design”? I wonder what PZ thinks of that. The Sternberg case came up, too, with the predictable nonsense about poor Sternberg, he’s being snubbed, blah blah, like he shouldn’t be ostracized for pushing Meyer’s cribbed nonsense into what is supposed to be an actual science journal, no matter how low its ratings.

All in all, it’s a dismal performance, but most people lapped it up, apparently including many of the faculty at this religious school (Walla Walla College). The questions were almost entirely slow balls, naive, and frankly sympathetic to Behe’s claims and whines. They cut off the questions before I could ask how we would know alien machines from aliens themselves in his hypothetical situations where we’d like to “study alien machines”. I fail to see how we’d even know life from machines in his scenario, never mind that we almost never have that problem on earth, neither when we’re simply looking at organisms or machines, nor when we study them more carefully (actually, we never mistake life as designed when it is studied closely).

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

This is going to be a bit off-topic, since I’m not calling Behe the worst, but have recently heard him speak and learned just how bad he is. I’ll include quotes, which may not be exact, but usually are, and even when not they will be as close as I can make them.

Hey PZ, I know now that you believe that “that aspects of biology appear to show design..” I know this because everyone agrees with this statement. This is is the primary argument “for design” that Behe used in his speech, and it comes from Behe’s generalization of some Dawkins’ quotes from the Blind Watchmaker (I do think that Dawkins believes too much that life has the appearance of being designed, but you haven’t read him well if you believe that’s his stance regarding those who have studied life in detail and in the present context).

As I recall, PZ has written on how life does not look designed, at least in context, one reason why I mention his name here. I am nearly certain that he’d disagree with Behe’s glib and, as usual, evidence-free assertion. Of course many would disagree, myself, Gould with respect to the overall picture of life (I think even he could have recognized how unlike design relatively optimal organic characteristics really are), and a couple who I’d like to mention more specifically, and probably most biologists. Here’s Mark Isaak:

The overall conclusion is clear: life looks undesigned

http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/rn[…]_30_1899.asp p.7

I don’t know if Mark is some “respected source” or not in Behe’s eyes, the important thing is that he argues the matter out in his paper, unlike the egregious Behe’s bald assertion. And here’s Douglas Futuyma:

continuing from above:

Repeating, here’s what Douglas Futuyma has to say about the “design” that creationists claim to see:

However, where a creationist sees a design or plan, a scientist sees merely order, or regular arrangement.… The fact is, order in nature is no evidence of design.

Futuyma. Science on Trial. New York: Pantheon Books, 1983. p. 114

Futuyma also argues the case, just not on p. 114 and environs. I like the Futuyma quote because he’s making a generalization, I think a mostly accurate one, completely contrary to the naive Behe’s claims.

That is how Behe strikes me, as a kind of small man (physically, but also no giant mentally), probably sincere, sad as that may be, who really has a poor grasp of the material he argues from. Hence his whole speech was little more than quotes from other scientists, with a few bad analogies and bald assertions thrown in. He has only bad analogies to fall back on once his “everyone agrees that aspects of biology appear to show design” is shown for the crock that it is. He seems so clueless, so eager to use Dawkins, who he’d strenuously disagree with over religion, as an irrefutable source to say that everyone knows that life “looks designed”.

Another thing that truly struck me is that Behe is now accusing scientists of refusing to consider his “breakthrough” (as he’s portrayed it at other times) because “Intelligent design points strongly beyond nature.” No more weaseling around about aliens and time travellers, he’s preaching to the converted and he’s going to make the most of that. I wish he’d admitted at Dover what he admits in College Place, Washington.

I don’t want to go on forever, but he gets much wrong and some more of it should be mentioned. He credited Paley as being the first to make the argument from design, which is hardly true. He states that “Grand Darwinian designs” only come from the undisciplined imagination. There is little evidence for Darwinism (yes, he constantly refers to “Darwinists”, “Darwinism”, and “Darwinian”). He starts out with some real designed objects, then transitions into his claim that design inferences are quantitative, that the more “purposeful arrangement” that we see, the more we are sure that something is designed. Which may be true, but it begs the question of what other processes might do this, and above all it ignores the considerable differences, including the amount of complexity, between known designs and what we see in life. That’s Behe, ignore anything that might cut into his precious little inch of knowledge about how things happen in the world.

Moving on, he told us that we are “filled with nanotechnology”, another clear case of begging the question and ignoring differences between life and actual nanotechnology. He claims to follow the evidence (what evidence?). He uses illustrations of biological machines instead of the actual photos, being either ignorant or without concern that these highly bias laypeople toward the mechanistic tilt that illustrators use. He claims that the flagellum is a “literal outboard motor,” demonstrating ignorance of language and of biology at the same time. He moves from the technically true but misleading statement that “no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biomechanical systems” exist, to the completely untrue claim that Darwinism is “utterly fruitless at explaining the origins of biological systems.” He seems not even to know the difference between the two, though I’m aware that he may be in denial. He hasn’t changed an iota from demanding that his strawman of “detailed Darwinian accounts” be produced in order to demonstrate that biological machines evolved, and claims that mere evidence of similarity (homology) are beside the point (he seems too obtuse to recognize that evolution explains homologies while he does not, and that possible evolutionary pathways are known in contradistinction to his “puff of smoke”).

He seems too unaware to contradict himself much, aside from his blatant statements now that ID points “beyond nature”. But he contradicted himself another way. In one Q & A session he claimed that “everything has to be accommodated to Darwinism” in most scientists’ minds, yet in another Q & A session he said that non-Darwinian evolutionary models are considered, just not the ones that infer purpose and intent. Since much of his speech is a practiced whine, it isn’t surprising that the whine is not fully coherent. Another inconsistency is that apparently ID doesn’t need to be productive (tacitly he acknowledged that it isn’t very productive), while it would lead to study of design, much as we’d study alien machines even if we didn’t know about the designers (ID leads to research, it just hasn’t yet, or at least very little). Did you know that “Darwinists” are doing little except trying to explain “apparent design”? I wonder what PZ thinks of that. The Sternberg case came up, too, with the predictable nonsense about poor Sternberg, he’s being snubbed, blah blah, like he shouldn’t be ostracized for pushing Meyer’s cribbed nonsense into what is supposed to be an actual science journal, no matter how low its ratings.

All in all, it’s a dismal performance, but most people lapped it up, apparently including many of the faculty at this religious school (Walla Walla College). The questions were almost entirely slow balls, naive, and frankly sympathetic to Behe’s claims and whines. They cut off the questions before I could ask how we would know alien machines from aliens themselves in his hypothetical situations where we’d like to “study alien machines”. I fail to see how we’d even know life from machines in his scenario, never mind that we almost never have that problem on earth, neither when we’re simply looking at organisms or machines, nor when we study them more carefully (actually, we never mistake life as designed when it is studied closely).

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Glen D — Thank you and my sympathies for having to sit through that…

my sympathies for having to sit through that…

Thanks, yes I went and sat in a few seats from the aisle. I felt some apprehension when the seats between me and the aisle filled up, knowing that I couldn’t escape gracefully any more (it was toward the back). Note-taking helped me through it, along with a few choice words written down when it was especially bad.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

I believe, along with every biologist out there, that life looks complicated. Behe and others of his ilk have made the false equivalence that “complicated” = “designed”. If there’s one message we should get across to people, it’s that complexity is not a necessary consequence of design, but it’s an unavoidable outcome of lack of planning.

Oddly enough, I nominate RBH. The MDT is the only rational attack on the problem I’ve ever seen.

I second this nomination.

PZ Wrote:

If there’s one message we should get across to people, it’s that complexity is not a necessary consequence of design, but it’s an unavoidable outcome of lack of planning.

The designer is Rube Goldberg. QED.

I believe, along with every biologist out there, that life looks complicated. Behe and others of his ilk have made the false equivalence that “complicated” = “designed”. If there’s one message we should get across to people, it’s that complexity is not a necessary consequence of design, but it’s an unavoidable outcome of lack of planning.

Exactly, an observation of complexity calls for explanation, for causal mechanisms, not analogies. Behe really has gone no further than to criticize evolution and to say that everyone knows that life looks designed. Quite apparently, he can’t or won’t hear those who not only don’t know that it looks designed, but who also attempt to explain to him how it does not.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by PvM published on January 24, 2007 9:06 PM.

Honesty in Advertising was the previous entry in this blog.

Jonathan Wells knows nothing about development, part II is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.361

Site Meter