Two analyses of Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell”

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Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell is the latest entry in the “it’s too complicated to have occurred naturally, therefore ID” genre. Signature joins Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box and The Edge of Evolution as the modern-day instances of that strain of argument coming out of the Disco ‘Tute. Paley’s 1802 Natural Theology, of course, is the prototype of that genre.

There have been a number of reviews of the book, some of them favorable (e.g., Thomas Nagel’s controversial plug for it as a 2009 “Book of the year”) and some less so, e.g., Darrell Falk’s review on BioLogos. However I know of no reviews in scientific journals or popular science magazines like Scientific American. (A lawyer reviewed it in American Spectator, though. That’s the same rag that published Wells’ Survival of the Fakest, used by John Freshwater as support for his proposal to pollute the science curriculum in my school district.)

Almost all of the reviews I’ve seen, laudatory or critical, are from theists. And a couple of theists, both scientists, are blogging their way through the book–well, actually, one has finished and one is still in progress. On the new American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) Book Discussion board Randy Isaac, ASA Executive Director, a physicist, has just finished a long series of posts on the book (the link is to the first page of posts; there are three pages). Steve Matheson, a developmental biologist at Calvin College, is up to Chapter 8 (Matheson’s whole series to this point is in this list, along with a few non-Signature reviews as well). I recommend both series of posts to your attention.

Some stray remarks on them below the fold.

On the ASA Book Discussion blog, in addition to slogging through the book itself, Randy Isaac spent 13 posts on a dozen ID predictions Meyer laid out in an appendix to his book. I read all those predictions, along with a fair part of the rest of the book, some months ago, and I wouldn’t have had the patience (nor the forebearance!) that Isaac displays. One thing that struck me as I read through the predictions was the lack of any connection to ID “theory” that Meyer provides for them. Nowhere did I see a sentence (or paragraph) of the form “In ID theory, this principle predicts that this specific observation should follow, because of the process of generation that ID theory posits. This follows because …”, … um, well, for some reason or other drawn from intelligent design “theory.” But one doesn’t see that kind of reasoning. One sees flat claims with no clear connection to any sort of developed conception of intelligent design.

For example, prediction Number 12 is

The functional sequences of amino acids within amino acid sequence space should be extremely rare rather than common.

The natural first question is “why?” Why does ID imply that functional proteins should be rare rather than common? What principle of ID implies that predicted observation? Meyer is clearly merely making an anti-naturalistic argument here, not an ID “prediction” drawn from some coherent conception of intelligent design The subtext is that if those sequences are rare, naturalistic processes are unlikely to happen on to them, and therefore God the Designer did it. ID doesn’t imply that prediction; anti-evolution does. Intelligent design, at least by analogy with human design, would seem to predict the reverse: for mass production of designs, to the extent possible the designer would more likely use easily available off-the-shelf components rather than rare hard-to-find ones.

I found another prediction interesting because it invokes a property of a putative designer. It’s Number 10:

If an intelligent (and benevolent) agent designed life, then studies of putatively bad designs in life–such as the vertebrate retina and virulent bacteria–should reveal either (a) reasons for the designs that show a hidden functional logic or (b) evidence of decay of originally good designs.

Yup, it was the Fall that done it. I presume that’s the same benevolent designer that devised the ichneumon wasp’s habit of paralyzing a caterpillar and then laying eggs inside it so the wasp larvae can eat the still-living caterpillar from the inside out. I doubt whether the caterpillar sees that as the act of a benevolent designer. And I suppose it’s the same benevolent designer that (according to Michael Behe in The Edge of Evolution) designed the malaria parasite that is so successful at killing children. Again, benevolent from the parasite’s perspective but not so benevolent from the human point of view. I’m disappointed that Meyer didn’t mention Multiple Designers Theory in this connection. Meyer is sitting right on the edge of a theodicy mine field here. Where in ID “scientific theory” does that “benevolent” come from? (Apropos of that question, I read an interesting essay by Steven Law the other night in 50 Voices of Disbelief. Law argued that all the traditional arguments for ‘solving’ the problem of evil if God is benevolent work equally well with no changes for a God that is malevolent.)

Isaac concludes his series by writing

It is laudable that Meyer takes the step to explore predictions that ID would make. Predictions that are testable are a vital part of the scientific process. But just making a prediction isn’t sufficient to indicate viable science. Astrologers and tasseologists can also make predictions and sometimes they may be right. Predictions must also be based on causal factors that are understood independently to exist and whose adequacy can be independently verified. The predictions must clearly differentiate between competing hypotheses.

It is unfortunate that this set of dozen predictions is very weak on all counts. It is unlikely to make any difference in the debate. These tend not to be definitive in terms of distinguishing between ID or non ID and will only extend the discussion.

“Weak” is too kind a word.

Matheson, a developmental cell biologist at Calvin College, is, as I said above, just up to Chapter 8, so I’ll won’t comment at length until he’s done except to note that he has been very critical of ID claims in the past and from all indications sees Meyer’s book in that same critical light. There’s a foreshadowing in Matheson’s post on Chapter 3. Noting an obvious error in Meyer’s text, Matheson wrote:

And of course, Stephen Meyer is a layperson. He’s clearly not a biologist, or even a person who’s particularly knowledgeable about biology. (That paper in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington became infamous due to political disputes; I thought it was most notable for being lame.) This is obvious from my reading of this book and his other work, and the mistake on page 66 just serves to remind me that despite the thunderous praise from fans on the dustjacket and in the ID-osphere, Meyer just isn’t all that impressive as a scientific thinker. Call me a jerk, but I expect a hell of a lot more from someone who wants to rewrite science (and its history). [Emphasis original]

Meanwhile, read the posts in those series. They’re valuable background when someone comes up to you (as someone did to me) and says, “Meyer really made a strong case for ID.” He didn’t. Reading the book helps, and I think critics should know the arguments first hand, but reading Isaac’s and Matheson’s analyses will also help a whole lot.

52 Comments

The amino acids claim makes perfect sense. Obviously ID can’t be right if you don’t shape it to fit things you already know and that evolution already explains. Observe:
It follows from Intelligent Design Theory that the sky is blue because that particular bit of spectrum is quite lovely. This also implies a benevolent Designer, which we can’t know anything about.

By the way, Law’s argument (very heavily condensed) is that the problem of accounting for evil if there is a benevolent God is exactly equivalent to the problem of accounting for good if there is a malevolent God, and the arguments for both kinds of a putative god are exactly the same. Since the world contains both good and evil, no choice is possible between the two possible kinds of God since the very same arguments can account for mutually exclusive Gods. I still say Multiple Designers Theory addresses the issue better.

and is god (the designer) too complicated to create itself?.…

Steve Matheson is actually up to chapter 10 now - http://sfmatheson.blogspot.com/2010[…]-and-10.html

“The functional sequences of amino acids within amino acid sequence space should be extremely rare rather than common.”

Is that a brand new “ID prediction” ??

That’s strange, unless my memory tricks me, I faintly remember several ID creationists assert that _ALL_ of so-called “junk DNA” will be found to have a function.

They seem to have waterred down that prediction some, recently, (still from memory), I think that Casey Lusking just “predicted” that *some* junk DNA will be found to have a function.

And now Meyer is watering it down even more ??

Oops, waterred –>watered, Lusking–> Luskin.

James said:

Steve Matheson is actually up to chapter 10 now - http://sfmatheson.blogspot.com/2010[…]-and-10.html

Steve Matheson Wrote:

Folks, no one who knows anything at all about origins research would ever take that seriously. And Meyer knows this. He’s playing to some other crowd here, and these two chapters are part of a major effort in the ID movement to set up and destroy a strawman of such utter insignificance that its continued existence is sufficient to justify a charge of deliberate dishonesty.

(note, the bold text in the quote is a link in the original)

Actually Meyer, like all ID activists, is playing to 2 crowds: (1) He is keeping critics preoccupied with whether there is a designer, how IDers “misunderstand” evolution, etc. And (2) (what Matheson seems to mean) he is making sure that the average nonscientist, with little time or interest in the “debate,” sides with the hopeless Biblical literalists under a “big tent” against “big bad science.”

Meyer’s specific arguments need to be addressed of course, but I don’t have to tell anyone here that that comes at the risk of granting them legitimacy to the casual reader (Meyer’s second target audience).

Eventually I will torture myself by reading it all, but in the meantime, I hope some of you who have done that already can give me the punch line. By that I mean: Let’s pretend that Meyer is right in at least the “weak” sense, i.e. that something other than “RM + NS” is needed to generate DNA or some other biological “complexity.” (the “strong” sense being an intelligent designer). Does anything about that favor (not just “accommodate” because we know that ID accommodates everything from flat-earth-last-Thursdayism” to the “results” of “Darwinism”) a “special creation” scenario, whereby all sorts of different “kinds” popped up independently? And if so, does anything Meyer offers favor those “kinds” popping up within a few days’ time rather than periodically over billions of years?

_Arthur said:

“The functional sequences of amino acids within amino acid sequence space should be extremely rare rather than common.”

Is that a brand new “ID prediction” ??

That’s strange, unless my memory tricks me, I faintly remember several ID creationists assert that _ALL_ of so-called “junk DNA” will be found to have a function.

[SNIP]

Meyer is referring to the space of all possible amino acid sequences, not just to those actually in organisms. He’s here trying to ‘predict’ Douglas Axe’s work in the Disco ‘Tute’s Biologic Institute, where he is presumably looking at that question.

ID could attempt ‘predicting’ results from a recent paper:

Imprints of the genetic code in the ribosome

D.B.F. Johnson, Lei Wang

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Apr 12

The stereochemical hypothesis postulates that the genetic code developed from interactions between nucleotides and amino acids… We show here that anticodons are selectively enriched near their respective amino acids in the ribosome, and that such enrichment is significantly correlated with the canonical code over random codes. Ribosomal anticodon-amino acid enrichment further reveals that specific codons were reassigned during code evolution, and that the code evolved through a two-stage transition from ancient amino acids without anticodon interaction to newer additions with anticodon interaction. The ribosome thus serves as a molecular fossil, preserving biological evidence that anticodon-amino acid interactions shaped the evolution of the genetic code.

Teh Designer’s “Signature in the Cell” appears to be a weird penchant for pointless molecular fossils.

The functional sequences of amino acids within amino acid sequence space should be extremely rare rather than common.

I will here present something that Elliott Sober wrote in a very good article (What is wrong with intelligent design @ http://philosophy.wisc.edu/sober/wh[…]b%202007.pdf):

It is crucial to the scientific enterprise that auxiliary propositions not simply be invented. By inventing assumptions, we can equip a theory with favorable auxiliary propositions that allow it to fit the data. Conversely, a theory also can be equipped with unfavorable auxiliaries that lead it to conflict with the data. An important strategy that scientists use to avoid this nihilistic outcome is to insist that there be independent evidence for the auxiliary propositions that are used. When testing the laws of optics by observing eclipses, we do not arbitrarily invent assumptions about the positions of the earth, moon, and sun. Rather, we use propositions about their positions for which we have independent evidence.

When we test the laws of optics by observing eclipses, the auxiliary propositions we use are “independently justified” in the sense that our reasons for accepting them do not depend on (i) assuming that the theory being tested is true or (ii) using the data on eclipses. The reason to avoid (i) is obvious, since a test of optical theory should not be question-begging. But why avoid (ii)? The reason is that violating this requirement would allow us to show that any theory, no matter how irrelevant it is to the occurrence of eclipses, makes accurate predictions about them. For if O describes an observation about the occurrence of an eclipse, and O is used to justify the auxiliary propositions we use to test theory N, then we can simply construct the auxiliary proposition “not-N or O;” this disjunction must be true if O is, and this auxiliary proposition, when conjoined to N, allows N to entail O.

ALL ID predictions fail to adhere to the above, Meyer’s included. Meyer simply pulled something from out of his arse. More commonly, IDers think that a completely unnamed designer should do what humans do (something that ID obviously does not assume).

The same goes for Meyer’s other “prediction”:

If an intelligent (and benevolent) agent designed life, then studies of putatively bad designs in life–such as the vertebrate retina and virulent bacteria–should reveal either (a) reasons for the designs that show a hidden functional logic or (b) evidence of decay of originally good designs.

Apart from the fact that the designer might just have cocked up (I suspect that Meyers conflates intelligent with omnipotent), Meyer has no reason to hypothesize that the designer was benevolent (does he mean only creating functional things by benevolent?). He can only justify using that assumptions by pointing to things that are funtional or decayed - his argument is circular. He might as well have added that if the designer was not benevolent then we would not expect this particular prediction - i.e. ID predicts O and not-O.

I suspect that his other predictions in the book are equally bad. Does anyone know what these are?

I couldn’t resist this little gem:

Reading the most recent post at Matheson’s blog, I was pleased to see that he and Meyer were going to be at an upcoming panel discussion nearby, so I immediately clicked on the link for time and location info.

It is listed on Biola University’s website under “Apologetics Events”.

Yeah, dog bites man, but still…

Hey, RBH, thanks much for the link.

@Arthur: I don’t think it’s a “watered down” version of the “junk DNA” predictions. RBH has it right: Meyer is just predicting that his fellow IDer Doug Axe is right.

@Hawks: The other predictions are dealt with in Randy Isaac’s series. One of them is that centrioles are turbines. That prediction has already been discredited (it was never a strong hypothesis), but I surmise that Meyer includes it for the same reason that he includes the prediction about Axe’s unimportant work: one purpose of the book is to exalt the Fellows of the Discovery Institute, in this the ID movement’s darkest hour.

JLK,

Thanks for the link. I am sure that all creationists will soon be aware of this most important discovery.

No wait, they think that PNAS stands for Postmodern Naturalistic Assumption Syndrome. Maybe that is why they refuse to read it.

Wheels said:

The amino acids claim makes perfect sense. Obviously ID can’t be right if you don’t shape it to fit things you already know and that evolution already explains. Observe:
It follows from Intelligent Design Theory that the sky is blue because that particular bit of spectrum is quite lovely. This also implies a benevolent Designer, which we can’t know anything about.

The claim that combinations of functional amino acid sequence should be rare if intelligent design were true is nonsense. Why should functional combinations of amino acids have anything to do with whether the ID scam is legit in any way? Why would any designer be restricted to using a biologic system that was difficult to do anything with? Why would ease of finding functional units be rejected by an intelligent designer for a system where it was more difficult to create what the designer wanted to create?

Not only that, but the prediction is already known not to be true, but it depends on what Meyer claims is rare. The abzyme (antibodies that have enzymatic properties) guys can generate functional sequences in less than 10^12 tries (about the max number of cells that could be tested in a mouse). This is far less than the 1/10^100 “zero probability” that guys like Dembski have proposed. So we already know that protein sequences are much more plastic and functional sequences are a lot more common than the ID perps require to make their probability arguments range in the ballpark of being credible.

Hawks said: [SNIP] Apart from the fact that the designer might just have cocked up (I suspect that Meyers conflates intelligent with omnipotent), Meyer has no reason to hypothesize that the designer was benevolent (does he mean only creating functional things by benevolent?).

I thought about mentioning the designer’s competence assumption, and it’s clearly part of Meyer’s schtick. Any defects are downstream of a good original design in Meyer’s world.

I am probably beating this to death, but Meyer, Dembski, Behe, Abel, and the entire ID/creationist crowd has fundamental misconceptions about atoms and molecules and the laws of thermodynamics.

I’ve been through papers by Dembski, Abel, Meyer, Wells, Behe. Every one of them has exactly the same set of misconceptions driving their arguments. While they have each tried to make up pseudo-science terms to explain what their misconceptions lead them to believe is a problem, they all believe in what Abel calls “spontaneous molecular chaos” down at the atomic and molecular level.

Once you spot these misconceptions, you can be sure that there are only a limited number of ways ID/creationist arguments can go; and they are all wrong. And when you check, sure enough, these are the arguments they make. This saves a lot of time attempting to read through the blizzard of words they create to impress their rubes and bury their enemies.

“Information” is the primary catchall term that they bend and mold to cover their fundamental misconceptions.

hiero5ant said: …Matheson…and Meyer were going to be at an upcoming panel discussion nearby… It is listed on Biola University’s website under “Apologetics Events”.

I hope everybody here already knows this, but, just as creationism renamed itself “intelligent design,” the fundamentalist “Bible Institute Of Los Angeles” (founded in 1908) renamed itself “Biola University” in 1949. Biola was the location of a 1996 meeting of the founders of the intelligent design creationism movement. The continuing relationship with Biola reinforces the religious - not scientific - basis of intelligent design creationism.

I have not read Meyer’s book, and since I live in China I can not access any blogspot web sites so I can’t get Matheson’s reviews either.

So, I’m wondering if there is anything more to Meyer’s thesis than the reification of the analogy between mRNA and machine code.

Does Meyer actually mean anything when he talks about “functional information?” Is that just a fancy term for mRNA strings that make biologically functional proteins, or a fluff term to impress his audience?

Along these lines, let’s press his analogy even further. Let’s say mRNA is actually like a high-level language like Java and the mRNA string is the bytecode. If Meyer can really “read” this code he can know in advance what proteins do what functions just like looking at the various commands and statements in computer languages–right? That means, shouldn’t he be able to predict in advance what all of the proteins actually do just by looking at the mRNA string–right?

If that’s the case, he needs to start identifying all proteins that might serve as promoters for oncogenes right now. After all, he should be able to find any uncaught exceptions. We don’t need to go through the painstaking process any more of finding these promoters on a case-by-case basis since we can just read the code and check the API’s. Gee, Meyer must be one of mankind’s greatest benefactors ever!

Well,I guess at this point even he might admit the analogy breaks down. Excuse me while I return to studying for the SCJA exam.

I have a hypothesis about ID that provides testable predictions. My hypothesis is that ID is a christian evangelical movement. Based on this hypothesis, I predict that every serious notion of a designer put forward by IDers will be consistent with the christian conception of God.

My hypothesis is also good at explaining past events, such as Meyer’s claim that the designer is benevolent.

Thanks, Steve Matheson for pointing me in the direction of Meyer’s “predictions”. As suspected, a lot of these predictions contains an if-clause without any sort of justification (predictions #11,10,8,7) . I.e. if the designer wanted x, we’d get y. Of course, one could just as easily say that if the designer wanted ~x, then ~y. The only justification I can see (by reading between the lines) is that y was found, therefore x is a reasonale assumption. This is pure circularity. These predictions are nothing short of useless.

One prediction (#9) merely seem to say that ID predicts the opposite of evolution. Just because evolution is gradual, Meyer seems to think that ID predicts “non-graduality”. This could be true IF we made the assumption that the designer did such a thing. This prediction suffers from the same problem as prediction #11,10,8 and 7.

Meyers also throws in predictions by assuming that the desgigner would do like human engineers would (#5,6)- obviously without any sort of justification. I suppose he would check that assumption by examining his conclusion, just as he has in his previous predictions.

Some of the predictions aren’t really about what ID predicts as it is about what would NOT happen under evolution (#1-4). I suppose that this is an area where ID potentially could make some sort of prediction, albeit ones that could be very hard to test (they are all negative statements, after all). Also, prediction #2 could be used to argue that when evolution does do something that ID says it can’t, then IDists can argue that evolution never did it in the first place. Meyer’s quote:

““Informational accounting will reveal that sources of active information are responsible for putatively successful computer-based evolutionary simulations.””

Just as IDists are happy to argue that active information would always be found to be smuggled into cumputer simulations, they could be equally happy to argue that it was smuggled into real life experiments/observations. It’s a win-win situation for ID.

This leaves prediction 12 (“The functional sequences of amino acids within amino acid ¬sequence space should be extremely rare rather than common.”). Quite frankly, I have no idea why he thinks that ID predicts this. Unless it has something to do with the fact that if such sequences were not rare then there could be evolution of novel proteins. But even then, ID would not make this prediction more than it’s opposite; we’re then back to the problem of checking what assumption to use.

Hawks said: This leaves prediction 12 (“The functional sequences of amino acids within amino acid ¬sequence space should be extremely rare rather than common.”). Quite frankly, I have no idea why he thinks that ID predicts this. Unless it has something to do with the fact that if such sequences were not rare then there could be evolution of novel proteins. But even then, ID would not make this prediction more than it’s opposite; we’re then back to the problem of checking what assumption to use.

It’s clearly not a prediction of ID. If it’s a prediction at all, it’s a prediction of an ID thinker, Doug Axe. On pages 494-5, Meyer explains why Axe made the “prediction.” He made the “prediction” because he needed something that “the undirected mechanism of random mutation and selection is not sufficient to produce.” Meyer admits that this is nothing other than “a negative claim against Neo-Darwinism,” and fails (as we would predict) to evaluate whether the rareness of functional protein structures is in fact a problem for evolutionary explanation. Of course, what Axe would need to show is that functional structures are so completely isolated in sequence space that there is no tenable evolutionary trajectory that leads to them. His experiments fail to do that, or to even come close, as Art Hunt already explained.

I like the ‘intelligent (and benevolent) agent’ line. ‘O hey! Almost forgot about the benevolent part! I’ll stick that in right here!’ But why not forget about it? That’s what dumps the problem of evil in our laps in the first place. If His Almighty Designerness is in fact the Supremely Intelligent Cosmic Sociopath, then there’s no problem accounting for the ichneumon wasp, malaria, whatever. He’s just playing with his chemistry set and doesn’t give a rat’s backside what he blows up.

Paul Burnett said:

I hope everybody here already knows this, but, just as creationism renamed itself “intelligent design,” the fundamentalist “Bible Institute Of Los Angeles” (founded in 1908) renamed itself “Biola University” in 1949. (snip)

I thought it was a merging of “Biological” + “Shinola”. :-)

Frank J. said:

Actually Meyer, like all ID activists, is playing to 2 crowds: (1) He is keeping critics preoccupied with whether there is a designer, how IDers “misunderstand” evolution, etc. And (2) (what Matheson seems to mean) he is making sure that the average nonscientist, with little time or interest in the “debate,” sides with the hopeless Biblical literalists under a “big tent” against “big bad science.”

This is really where Meyer is coming from. He has absolutely no intention, or hope, of swaying the scientific community, but instead is preaching to his fundamentalist choir. He, and the dishonesty institute, still charge the choir to hear him speak, and he pushes his book at list price (Amazon has highly discounted the the book and cheap used copies are available). They whine about scientists not reading the book, but as we see it’s pretty much worthless reading. None the less, it looks impressive to his choir, um, big book, big words, anti-Darwin, what more could the scientifically illiterate ask for?

Despite the title of Stephen Meyer’s book “Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design” he claims the argument of the book is based on the impossibility of “non-directed” abiogenesis. So he devotes some 90 pages to some theories, not all, and not even the most current ones, of abiogenesis, declares them all implausible and concludes that therefore the first cell, with its DNA, RNA and proteins, had to just pop into existence. So the rest of the 624 pages is really just padding. In effect, he wants to add Intelligent Design to the long list of theories or hypotheses as to abiogenesis, dismiss all the others (for which there are postulated mechanisms and at least some evidence) and replace them all with ID (which isn’t even a theory or hypothesis, just an idea), with absolutely no evidence.

Regarding “junk” DNA; even if all of it is eventually shown to have a function, is that really a problem for evolutionary biology? Where was it predicted that the genome in eukaryotic cells had to contain a lot of non-functional DNA? Evolutionary biology has much less problem in explaining the apparent messiness of DNA; it evolved like that. Any change in an offspring that doesn’t kill the individual will be tolerated. Evolutionary biology also doesn’t have any problems with “junk” DNA, if most of it is truly non-functional, whereas ID would. Unless the ID proponents are postulating the Fall?

There’s an amusing comment thread on Isaac’s Prediction 12 post. In it, several people treat “CSI”–Dembski’s Complex Specified Information–as though it were a real measured variable. One commenter, Ide Trotter, says

I’m not asking to see a specific answer to the source of CSI in ANY biological system. Nor am I seeking an answer as to why we came to be here. I’m simply asking if there has ever been the simplest, bare bones demonstration of the production of CSI from random imputs (sic) “Without an Intelligent Source.”

And

Regarding “pre-B cells was transformed into a highly specified set of B cells” you say “Now that we understand the details of the process, we see that it is actually a highly probable process.” And I say my prior post showed that the highly probably process did not demonstrate production of additional CSI.

“Trotter” is clearly treating CSI as a measurable variable–the claim that a process did not produce “additional CSI” clearly implies it can be measured and the amounts measured before and after application of the process can be compared. I wonder if Trotter can point us to somewhere that CSI has actually been measured and the values of multiple measurements were compared.

RBH said:

There’s an amusing comment thread on Isaac’s Prediction 12 post. In it, several people treat “CSI”–Dembski’s Complex Specified Information–as though it were a real measured variable. One commenter, Ide Trotter, says

I’m not asking to see a specific answer to the source of CSI in ANY biological system. Nor am I seeking an answer as to why we came to be here. I’m simply asking if there has ever been the simplest, bare bones demonstration of the production of CSI from random imputs (sic) “Without an Intelligent Source.”

… “Trotter” is clearly treating CSI as a measurable variable–the claim that a process did not produce “additional CSI” clearly implies it can be measured and the amounts measured before and after application of the process can be compared. I wonder if Trotter can point us to somewhere that CSI has actually been measured and the values of multiple measurements were compared.

The problem is not whether CSI can be measured. It is standing in for “achieving a high level of adaptation” here. Dembski argues that when this is observed it proves the presence of design. The only logic behind this is that he thinks that his Law of Conservation of Complex Specified Information (LCCSI) proves that natural selection cannot increase the level of adaptation beyond what mutation unaccompanied by natural selection might accidentally do.

The real problem with Dembski’s argument is not issues of defining information. It is that his LCCSI is (a) not proven, as Jeffrey Shallit found a major problem with Dembski’s proof, and (b) I found (see here) that the LCCSI is not even the right theorem one would need to prove that natural selection could not increase adaptation. To do that one would need to use the same specification before and after the evolutionary processes acted. And one can show trivially easily that such a theorem is impossible.

In short Dembski’s theory is dead and disproven, even if one can calculate Specified Information. Natural selection is thus not ruled out as a process that can bring about adaptation. Large numbers of creationist and ID commenters assume that someone, somewhere has shown that natural selection cannot bring about high levels of adaptation. Dembski’s “proof” is what purports to do this, and it is wrong.

Wayne Robinson Wrote:

Unless the ID proponents are postulating the Fall?

This is not meant in any way as a compliment to the DI, but they would never postulate the Fall, nor necessarily agree if anyone else did. Behe is clear that he does not take the Fall or any “what happened when” part of Genesis (as opposed to the “thou shalts”) literally, and not one other DI fellow to my knowledge has publicly disagreed with him.

In my comment of 4/25 8:30 I omitted the “3rd crowd” that the DI plays to. That is the hopeless evolution deniers who would never admit evolution under any circumstances. That group, accounting for ~1/2 of the ~1/2 of the population that denies, or is unsure of, evolution, is amazingly tolerant of anyone, even if they concede common descent, as long as they bad-mouth evolution. That group is more likely to listen to AiG than to the DI, anyway.

Somewhat OT, but the latest post up at UD is an article about how ID’s designer must be God, because any other answer is “utterly illogical.”

But its not religion! We promise!

Frank J said:

Wayne Robinson Wrote:

Unless the ID proponents are postulating the Fall?

This is not meant in any way as a compliment to the DI, but they would never postulate the Fall, nor necessarily agree if anyone else did. Behe is clear that he does not take the Fall or any “what happened when” part of Genesis (as opposed to the “thou shalts”) literally, and not one other DI fellow to my knowledge has publicly disagreed with him.

In my comment of 4/25 8:30 I omitted the “3rd crowd” that the DI plays to. That is the hopeless evolution deniers who would never admit evolution under any circumstances. That group, accounting for ~1/2 of the ~1/2 of the population that denies, or is unsure of, evolution, is amazingly tolerant of anyone, even if they concede common descent, as long as they bad-mouth evolution. That group is more likely to listen to AiG than to the DI, anyway.

But “the Fall” need not be taken literally. Non-literalist Christians still use the Fall concept. Behe has cited the Problem of Evil in trying to explain “faulty” or “poor” design. In Christian terms, the Problem of Evil is essentially just another name for the Fall. He may not be a “fundamentalist” but he still conceives of reality in a fundamentally scriptural way.

Those poor, delusional, quite misguided humans over at UD:

eric said:

Somewhat OT, but the latest post up at UD is an article about how ID’s designer must be God, because any other answer is “utterly illogical.”

But its not religion! We promise!

They don’t realize that the real GODS were those who fled Qo’nos, after the Klingons drove them off their homeworld for making too much of a nuisance for their would be acolytes.

Frank J said:

That group is more likely to listen to AiG than to the DI, anyway.

Yeah; at AiG you get the impression that what they believe to be the 2nd law of thermodynamics was an addendum after the Fall.

Then all the electromagnet effects having to do with refraction and the production of rainbows came after the flood.

So apparently the various laws of physics were put in place at different times, and the universe was just running on an incomplete set of these until God figured out he needed to add corrections to the initial creation.

You have to wonder what a universe without some of the fundamental laws of physics would look like and how it would work. Certainly not better. Which apparently means the deity screwed up its first attempts.

That’s a fair assessment for what passes as “Scientific” Creationism IMHO:

Mike Elzinga said:

Frank J said:

That group is more likely to listen to AiG than to the DI, anyway.

Yeah; at AiG you get the impression that what they believe to be the 2nd law of thermodynamics was an addendum after the Fall.

Then all the electromagnet effects having to do with refraction and the production of rainbows came after the flood.

So apparently the various laws of physics were put in place at different times, and the universe was just running on an incomplete set of these until God figured out he needed to add corrections to the initial creation.

You have to wonder what a universe without some of the fundamental laws of physics would look like and how it would work. Certainly not better. Which apparently means the deity screwed up its first attempts.

Glad Matheson is pulling no punches in his “deconstruction” of Meyer’s rather absurd mendacious intellectual pornography. Merely reinforces for any objective reader as to why Meyer is a mere intellectual lightweight with respect to not only the history and philosophy of science, but also in his understanding of biology.

Sylvilagus said:

But “the Fall” need not be taken literally. Non-literalist Christians still use the Fall concept. Behe has cited the Problem of Evil in trying to explain “faulty” or “poor” design. In Christian terms, the Problem of Evil is essentially just another name for the Fall. He may not be a “fundamentalist” but he still conceives of reality in a fundamentally scriptural way.

But you have to take The Fall, and every thing else the Bible 100 percent absolutely literally (except for those parts where you’re not supposed to take it literally), otherwise, you can never ever be a Christian, ever, because without a literal Fall, Jesus will be unemployed!

RBH said:

By the way, Law’s argument (very heavily condensed) is that the problem of accounting for evil if there is a benevolent God is exactly equivalent to the problem of accounting for good if there is a malevolent God, and the arguments for both kinds of a putative god are exactly the same. Since the world contains both good and evil, no choice is possible between the two possible kinds of God since the very same arguments can account for mutually exclusive Gods. I still say Multiple Designers Theory addresses the issue better.

Gods damn it! You have it right! The platypus didn’t evolve, it was designed by a frackin’ committee!

John Stockwell said:

RBH said:

By the way, Law’s argument (very heavily condensed) is that the problem of accounting for evil if there is a benevolent God is exactly equivalent to the problem of accounting for good if there is a malevolent God, and the arguments for both kinds of a putative god are exactly the same. Since the world contains both good and evil, no choice is possible between the two possible kinds of God since the very same arguments can account for mutually exclusive Gods. I still say Multiple Designers Theory addresses the issue better.

Gods damn it! You have it right! The platypus didn’t evolve, it was designed by a frackin’ committee!

No, there was only one Designer working on the platypus: the kit He was using was missing parts, so He improvised by borrowing from other designs.

The snark in me just has to wonder what the implications of this are. For instance, without refraction, how did the eye manage to focus? Without the 2nd law, how did anything dependent on it, for instance, well, anything with heat transfer, work?

Mike Elzinga said:

Frank J said:

Yeah; at AiG you get the impression that what they believe to be the 2nd law of thermodynamics was an addendum after the Fall.

Then all the electromagnet effects having to do with refraction and the production of rainbows came after the flood.

So apparently the various laws of physics were put in place at different times, and the universe was just running on an incomplete set of these until God figured out he needed to add corrections to the initial creation.

You have to wonder what a universe without some of the fundamental laws of physics would look like and how it would work. Certainly not better. Which apparently means the deity screwed up its first attempts.

Gods damn it! You have it right! The platypus didn’t evolve, it was designed by a frackin’ committee!

Or Cylons, maybe?

No, it was the Vorlons:

Henry J said:

Gods damn it! You have it right! The platypus didn’t evolve, it was designed by a frackin’ committee!

Or Cylons, maybe?

GvlGeologist, FCD said:

The snark in me just has to wonder what the implications of this are. For instance, without refraction, how did the eye manage to focus? Without the 2nd law, how did anything dependent on it, for instance, well, anything with heat transfer, work?

Magic. Or God(s). Or whatever. It’s all good.

Frank J said:

This is not meant in any way as a compliment to the DI, but they would never postulate the Fall, nor necessarily agree if anyone else did. Behe is clear that he does not take the Fall or any “what happened when” part of Genesis (as opposed to the “thou shalts”) literally, and not one other DI fellow to my knowledge has publicly disagreed with him.

William Dembski’s latest book “explains” that evil can precede “The Fall” because … something about “time”.

“The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World”

http://www.amazon.com/End-Christian[…]p/0805427430

Sylvilagus said:

GvlGeologist, FCD said:

The snark in me just has to wonder what the implications of this are. For instance, without refraction, how did the eye manage to focus? Without the 2nd law, how did anything dependent on it, for instance, well, anything with heat transfer, work?

Magic. Or God(s). Or whatever. It’s all good.

The real signature in a cell? Evolution, of course… http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/27/s[…]gene.html?hp

Stanton Wrote:

But you have to take The Fall, and every thing else the Bible 100 percent absolutely literally (except for those parts where you’re not supposed to take it literally), otherwise, you can never ever be a Christian, ever, because without a literal Fall, Jesus will be unemployed!

C’mon, buy now you must know that there is no one way to take the Fall literally, let alone Genesis, let alone the whole Bible. Granted, there are a range of mutually contradictory options that are tolerated now that fundamentalist Christianity has been taken over by pseudoscience. They are the flat-earth, geocentric and heliocentric YEC, and some OECs like day-age and gap, but apparently not “progressive” OEC. But like I said, if they’re deluded enough, they can hear people like Behe admit that he doesn’t take the Bible literally, yet still rave about his anti-“Darwinism” sound bites.

If Jesus was anything like Christians speak of him when they’re not obsessing over “Darwinism,” he would certainly denounce “scientific” creationism and ID.

Speaking of the platypus(es-i?), I am always reminded of a free lecture (I found myself in by accident, I was mildly reading in an empty lecture hall and was swamped)I was present at. This was in the early eighties when the supposed sophistication of ‘Irreducible Whatever’ had not yet morphed from Pailey’s original.

Anyway the dubious experts brought up the hilarious idea (flogged to death IMHO) of how a human committee would ‘design’ the camel, and god would ‘design’ the beautiful horse; hey presto god exists. At the time I was gob-smacked by the stupidity and waited for guffaws from the audience: They all chuckled knowingly at the stupidity of committees in general, and evolution particularly; why evolution is disproved by committee design versus god’s design was left unanswered, and in such a hostile environment I cowardly slunk away, much depressed.

Thinking upon the beautiful adaptations the camel evolved to cope with its environment, and the way the horse evolved to suit its various environments, I see now my defense had been staring me in the face.

I was younger then and more easily intimidated by, myopic, vacuous religious twits.

Frank J said:

Stanton Wrote:

But you have to take The Fall, and every thing else the Bible 100 percent absolutely literally (except for those parts where you’re not supposed to take it literally), otherwise, you can never ever be a Christian, ever, because without a literal Fall, Jesus will be unemployed!

C’mon, buy now you must know that there is no one way to take the Fall literally, let alone Genesis, let alone the whole Bible.

I know that, and you know that, but, it would help if God would grant us the power to tell those loud-mouthed Creationists this.

Granted, there are a range of mutually contradictory options that are tolerated now that fundamentalist Christianity has been taken over by pseudoscience. They are the flat-earth, geocentric and heliocentric YEC, and some OECs like day-age and gap, but apparently not “progressive” OEC. But like I said, if they’re deluded enough, they can hear people like Behe admit that he doesn’t take the Bible literally, yet still rave about his anti-“Darwinism” sound bites.

The Fundamentalists aren’t going to get tired of what Behe says until they’ve finished taking over and or destroying science. But once they are tired, he’s as good as kindling.

If Jesus was anything like Christians speak of him when they’re not obsessing over “Darwinism,” he would certainly denounce “scientific” creationism and ID.

Certainly.

But, the only problem is that the Fundamentalists use Jesus Christ as a divine ventriloquist’s dummy, and that they get extremely irate when they sense what they assume to be rival acts.

robert van bakel said:

Anyway the dubious experts brought up the hilarious idea (flogged to death IMHO) of how a human committee would ‘design’ the camel, and god would ‘design’ the beautiful horse; hey presto god exists. At the time I was gob-smacked by the stupidity and waited for guffaws from the audience: They all chuckled knowingly at the stupidity of committees in general, and evolution particularly; why evolution is disproved by committee design versus god’s design was left unanswered, and in such a hostile environment I cowardly slunk away, much depressed.

Two thoughts…

First, all things being equal, bet on the camel every time. I grew up in farm country, and horses - especially the pretty ones - are actually fairly delicate and high maintenance.

Camels, on the other hand, seem like they’d be really damned hard to kill.

After all, horses might survive out on the great plains, but camels can walk a week through the desert, unfed and unwatered, carrying half their body weight.

Secondly, If God did design the horse - well, that means that he also designed the camel, so obviously the camel is just as optimized in His eyes. Either that or God is incompetent.

Alternately, if the “committee” of evolution produced the camel, well, that means it also gave us the mustang.

In a similar line of non-sequitors, I was driving somewhere late at night once, idly tuning back and forth across the AM dial and came across none other than Duane Gish presenting his case.

He went on and on as only Duane could do and at one point was telling the story of the three blind men who each examine different parts of an elephant and each comes away with a different idea of what the beast looks like.

One man feels a leg and comes away thinking an elephant is shaped like a tree, one feels the tail and comes away thinking that an elephant is shaped like a snake, one feels the trunk and… well, I’m not really sure what he thinks, but you get the idea.

I’m not really sure what Gish’s point really was, I think he was just throwing stuff at the wall, but it dawned on me that Gish had inadvertently come up with a perfect metaphor for science.

All these men had one piece of the puzzle, but an incomplete picture. And - and this is the important part - as soon as they compared notes, they were going to know they each had an incomplete picture. Which is actually much more information than any of them had to start with.

Furthermore, once they compared notes, they were each going to have a much better picture than any of them could possibly have on their own.

Not only that, but they were going to be able to figure out where the gaps in their knowledge lay. They could surmise what the missing parts might be like and exactly where they had to look to find more information.

For instance, the tail guy might not know what lay at the end of the tail, but he does suddenly know it’s not just an end, it must flare out dramatically at some point. The tree guy suddenly knows that whatever this thing is, it eventually goes horizontal and tapers to narrow points on both ends, etcetera.

Sadly, Gish would never know how perfect a metaphor he really had for one of the best points in support of science, because he immediately moved onto how Victorian anatomists had wrong ideas of how the circulatory system worked, but it still worked and that means science doesn’t know anything.

I laughed so hard it was tough to steer.

Stanton Wrote:

I know that, and you know that, but, it would help if God would grant us the power to tell those loud-mouthed Creationists this.

God (and/or Nature) has granted us the power to ignore loud-mouthed creationists, be they activists who know what they’re doing, or hopeless fans who just refuse to admit evolution under any circumstances. The former just spin their way around it, and the latter just close their ears. Outside of the courts, I see no reason to bother with them other than to demonstrate how they get everything wrong, contradict each other, etc.

But for every hopeless fan (who outnumber the activists by a factor in the 100s or 1000s) there’s at least one salvageable person who has either vague doubts about evolution due to common misconceptions, or vaguely accepts it but thinks it fair to “teach the controversy” in science class. I was once one of the latter, and even one the former if you go back ~45 years. I think that many people in those groups will be at least as interested in the hopeless confusion among literalists as they are in the “convergence, neither sought nor fabricated” of evidence for evolution.

Wayne Robinson said: Regarding “junk” DNA; even if all of it is eventually shown to have a function, is that really a problem for evolutionary biology? Where was it predicted that the genome in eukaryotic cells had to contain a lot of non-functional DNA? Evolutionary biology has much less problem in explaining the apparent messiness of DNA; it evolved like that. Any change in an offspring that doesn’t kill the individual will be tolerated. Evolutionary biology also doesn’t have any problems with “junk” DNA, if most of it is truly non-functional, whereas ID would. Unless the ID proponents are postulating the Fall?

With this issue and many others, it’s important to remember the ID crowd are the Humpty Dumptys that never fall. Words mean anything they say, nothing less, and nothing more. In this case it is the weasel word “function” that must be clarified. Does the word “function” mean actual coding for RNA, or does “function” mean doing anything at all?

Much junk DNA functions in regulation of gene expression such as providing bonding sites to promoters like the TATA box. However, the IDiots can’t just say at this point “We were right! We were right! There is no junk DNA!” because they originally predicted all DNA codes for RNA. I wonder if you would get banned from an ID site for raising this issue?

This might be a bit off-topic, but here is a paper dealing with junk DNA and its role in the regulation of gene expression.

C’mon, buy now you must know that there is no one way to take the Fall literally, let alone Genesis, let alone the whole Bible.

I thought Dembski just published a book explaining how the Fall changed things retroactively. Sort of like going back in a time machine and starting over with a new plan.

So there are ways of taking Genesis literally, and people who do. Some of them are leaders of the ID movement. Whatever the ID movement claimed before and during the Dover trial, it is openly creationist now.

I’ve read some of 2 books by Dembski, 2 books by Behe, and this book. They are all, first of all, too ambitious. Second of all, they’re too isolated. Third of all, they are too determined to be taken seriously scientifically without actually submitting to the give-and-take of science. I would say that while Behe and Meyer seem like nicer guys, Dembski’s work has the advantage so far of being explicitly more in the realm of philosophy.

Meyer and Behe like to raise questions but ignore the answers.

From its very inception, as Nick Matzke and Barbara Forrest showed at the Kitzmiller vs. Dover trial, Intelligent Design has been covertly creationist in its orientation, even if a mere handful of its great “savants” like Behe accept common descent:

midwifetoad said:

C’mon, buy now you must know that there is no one way to take the Fall literally, let alone Genesis, let alone the whole Bible.

I thought Dembski just published a book explaining how the Fall changed things retroactively. Sort of like going back in a time machine and starting over with a new plan.

So there are ways of taking Genesis literally, and people who do. Some of them are leaders of the ID movement. Whatever the ID movement claimed before and during the Dover trial, it is openly creationist now.

Sorry Marion, but I think you are being too generous. Even highly respected philosophers of science like Robert Pennock, for example, aren’t willing to cut Dembski much slack even with respect to Dembski’s peculiar philosophical (or rather, shall I say theological) notions:

Marion Delgado said:

I’ve read some of 2 books by Dembski, 2 books by Behe, and this book. They are all, first of all, too ambitious. Second of all, they’re too isolated. Third of all, they are too determined to be taken seriously scientifically without actually submitting to the give-and-take of science. I would say that while Behe and Meyer seem like nicer guys, Dembski’s work has the advantage so far of being explicitly more in the realm of philosophy.

Meyer and Behe like to raise questions but ignore the answers.

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on April 24, 2010 11:46 PM.

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