CellCraft, a subversive little game

| 160 Comments

A lot of people have been writing to me about this free webgame, CellCraft. In it, you control a cell and build up all these complex organelles in order to gather resources and fight off viruses; it's cute, it does throw in a lot of useful jargon, but the few minutes I spent trying it were also a bit odd — there was something off about it all.

Where do you get these organelles? A species of intelligent platypus just poofs them into existence for you when you need them. What is the goal? The cells have a lot of room in their genomes, so the platypuses are going to put platypus DNA in there, so they can launch them off to planet E4R1H to colonize it with more platypuses. Uh-oh. These are Intelligent Design creationist superstitions: that organelles didn't evolve, but were created for a purpose; that ancient cells were 'front-loaded' with the information to produced more complex species; and that there must be a purpose to all that excess DNA other than that it is junk.

Suspicions confirmed. Look in the credits.

Also thanks to Dr. Jed Macosko at Wake Forest University and Dr. David Dewitt at Liberty University for providing lots of support and biological guidance.

Those two are notorious creationists and advocates for intelligent design creationism. Yep. It's a creationist game. It was intelligently designed, and it's not bad as a game, but as a tool for teaching anyone about biology, it sucks. It is not an educational game, it is a miseducational game. I hope no one is planning on using it in their classroom. (Dang. Too late. I see in their forums that some teachers are enthusiastic about it — they shouldn't be).

160 Comments

(Rolls eyes…)

Where are the credits located? Do you have to download the darn thing?

July blog entry:

Just this morning, jayisgames.com (http://jayisgames.com/archives/2010[…]ellcraft.php), one of the biggest Flash game review websites, featured a very positive review of CellCraft on their front page!

I always feel hesitant to call creationists “intelligent”. But dang they can be cunning.

Mike said:

July blog entry:

Just this morning, jayisgames.com (http://jayisgames.com/archives/2010[…]ellcraft.php), one of the biggest Flash game review websites, featured a very positive review of CellCraft on their front page!

Comments can be left, but reviewed before posting.

Where do you get these organelles? A species of intelligent platypus just poofs them into existence for you when you need them.

Actually, I think you are looking at this all wrong. Dembski used to say how ID was not a mechanistic theory and refused to speculate on the identity of The Designer. Now they are moving beyond the hollow rhetoric of “some things are just better explained” and I think they should be congratulated on this important next step in the continuing development of the Intelligent Design research program.

Plus, eastern Australia may now eclipse Lourdes as a destination for people seeking divine healing.

I see that Liberty U professors gladly endorse the “anything, anything that remotely contradicts the theory of evolution is a good thing” meme.

I mean, how the heck is an intelligent (and scheming) platypus biomedical engineer as an ostensible explanation for life on earth supposed to be more “Christian” than the theory of evolution itself?

In the context of the game, who is supposed to have designed the platypuses and the viruses? The platypuses are supposed to have cells themselves, right? I mean, they have DNA. But if Jesus designed the platypuses, why not just say that?

I’ll also note that if the assertion is that non-coding DNA in earthly cells actually represents the genome of an alien species who “designed” the cells, then there are large number of problems with that assertion. Whose non-coding DNA? Even within species, there are vast differences in the amount and/or sequences of non-coding DNA elements. What about prokaryotes? They don’t have introns or most other types of “junk” DNA? They’re cells. Are you saying that the designer only designed eukaryotes? What about the fact that earthly platypuses have their own genome, with plenty of non-coding DNA within it, and the fact that the expressed genes of a platypus do not resemble the non-coding DNA of some other species (but do resemble the genes of related species)?

Of course, if someone really thinks that eukaryotic non-coding DNA is alien DNA, maybe they could do an experiment. Put together an artificial genome consisting of all the LINES, SINES, ERVs, ALU sequences, introns, etc, from some eukaryotic species. Then try to use that material as a genome for cloning. I wouldn’t predict much success, but I’ll be the first to admit, if you can clone an intelligent alien platypus that way, I’ll make a contribution to the DI.

I predict a religious war between Pastafarianism and Intelligent-alien-platypusism.

This will be useful, because whoever kills all the other guys first will have proven that theirs is the One True Faith.

Mike said:

Where are the credits located? Do you have to download the darn thing?

You can see the credits by running it from the website: http://www.kongregate.com/games/Cel[…]ft/cellcraft

So the MacArthur Foundation gave them $25K for this. Their email is [Enable javascript to see this email address.]

Does anyone know someone who could get a comment out of them about this?

Dembski has given this high praise on Uncommondescent.

Damn! This game is pretty addicting already!

I could care less if there is a hidden agenda behind it, CellCraft still seems like a pretty cool way to kill time.

Platypuses? Were the crocoducks busy?

The game’s designer, Anthony Pecorella has left a response to the criticism on the game’s blog under AnthonyP: http://cellcraftgame.com/blog/2010/[…]ll/#comments

Boiler plate creationist obfuscation. It appears that everyone involved in the project meant for it to be a creationism learning tool from the start.

I’d say there’s a crying need to lobby the MacArthur Foundation for better peer review. I suspect that there was no biology review of this project at all, just educators. Education schools have an unfortunately large number of creationist, creationist sympathizers, an people who just don’t give a damn about the science.

PZ Myers Wrote:

I hope no one is planning on using it in their classroom.

At least not until someone comes up with one that better mimics nature and the two can compared in a legal “teach the controversy.” There may be some already available, and if not, someone is surely developing them.

Even though it has been 13 years since I advocated any “teach the controversy” approach that would meet the approval by committed evolution-misreprenters, I still think there might be a way to do it in a way that will (1) show how absurd anti-evolution “theories” are and (2) not violate church-state issues.

I posted this…we’ll see if it survives moderation, but it will now be seen here.

Anthony P -

First of all, congratulations on an aesthetically successful game that people seem to be enjoying. However, I have a few replies to you latest comment.

OM – Sam already replied, but as the project leader I’ll add a little more. As he said, we as a group take no stance on ID vs. evolution.

Then your game should not be presented as having anything to do with biomedical science.

This is somewhat equivalent to saying “we take no positon on heliocentric solar system versus Apollo pulling the sun over an immobile flat earth with his chariot”. That’s your business, but please don’t present the latter as mainstream science.

This is a factual, scientific game,

This is a complete fantasy game in which alien genius platypuses “design” something which has some cartoonish resemblance to real biological cells. In what sense do you call it “factual”? Do you mean to imply that somewhere in the real universe, cells “designed” by alien genius platypus biomedical engineers fly through space to colonize new planets?

and just like people tend to interpret the design of real cells in whatever way supports their beliefs,

Actually, that’s only what dishonest or hopelessly biased people do. Honest people, whatever their religion, accept the scientific evidence.

the same will likely be done of this game. In fact, the game was made by a large team with various beliefs and theories on abiogenesis, and we agreed to put those aside for the game and just focus on the facts.

Abiogenesis refers to scientific hypotheses about how cellular life may have arisen in a non-magical way. It is an intriguing but still developing field. With the caveat that there are many intriguing things going on, it is fair to say that we simply do not know how life originated.

Abiogenesis should absolutely not be confused with the theory of evolution, which is a strong, very-well established theory that explains the diversity and relatedness (but not origin) of cellular life on earth, and post-cellular replicators such as viruses.

So, William Dembski is welcome to reference us, but it is purely his interpretation – it is not our intention to argue for evolution or for ID, or even to implicitly support either argument.

I am surprised at your relaxed attitude toward this.

Not only is William Dembski a highly polarizing and controversial figure, strongly criticized by the scientific community, but the only known effort to actually his works as science led to the “Kitzmiller vs Dover” case of 2005 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v_Dover, in which it was affirmed that the version of “intelligent desgin” with which he is associated is sectarian rather than scientific in nature.

It does appear that the once secretive identity of the “intelligent designer” has now been divulged. It is a platypus and christians world-wide have been worshiping this platypus, unbeknownst to them of course.

Mike said:

July blog entry:

Just this morning, jayisgames.com (http://jayisgames.com/archives/2010[…]ellcraft.php), one of the biggest Flash game review websites, featured a very positive review of CellCraft on their front page!

I’ve done consulting for jayisgames. You can see some technology that I developed for PT on display there.

DavidK said -

It is a platypus and christians world-wide have been worshiping this platypus, unbeknownst to them of course

You assume that the designer platypus is liberal and ecumenical. If only they were so lucky.

As a fundamentalist evangelical conservative game-believing Platypite, I believe that they will all be going to Platypus Hell for worshipping the wrong god.

I teach high school biology. This game is crap, whether it hides an ID agenda or not. It’s crap scientifically, it’s crap biologically and it’s crap educationally. I got to the point where I was supposed to “go get” splicer enzymes and I couldn’t take it any more. Intelligent design my foot. This is stupid as hell design.

My comment has also been awaiting moderation:

“This is a factual, scientific game, and just like people tend to interpret the design of real cells in whatever way supports their beliefs, the same will likely be done of this game.”

You can’t have it both ways, Anthony. Either it’s a factual, scientific game, or it’s open to interpretation. E=mc^2 whether you pray or not; same goes for evolution. And anyone who slips “design” into his defense isn’t neutral.

If it’s just a game, fine, say it’s just a game, but don’t pretend its educational when it isn’t.

There’s a second problem here, namely the flushing of 250K on infotainment as an educational strategy. It’s too easy to loose sight that even if this had been a legit effort scientifically it was still an educational waste from the beginning. Education takes work and thinking the more we falsely pretend with children that education is just another type of entertainment the worse we will be off.

There’s an interesting short essay in the CellCraft forum that was apparently put there last year to set up the apologetics for the expected criticism: http://cellcraftgame.com/forums/ind[…]p?topic=10.0 What it boils down to is that Jed Macosko convinced the game developer, Athony Pecorella, that they could claim that including evolution in the premise would be including abiogenesis, which everyone knows is speculative and therefore dispensible.

The Liberty University part made me laugh. But honestly, kids play plants vs zombies and don’t think that zombies are real. Why would a kid playing a game think that this is how God did it rather than just a feature of the game play.

fnxtr -

Looks like my comment didn’t make it past “moderation”.

How pathetic.

crosspost from Pharyngula:

Some of the cellcraft people were over at Pharyngula. They said a lot, much of it unbelievable.

There is no doubt this is a creationist stealth propaganda game. The brains behind it are all creationists including some with ties to the Dishonesty Institute, Macosco.

It’s all there, and they are busted. All that is left is filling in more details but they aren’t really needed. You can read the exchange at Pharyngula but you have to have a strong stomach.

I don’t believe anything these guys are saying. I did a little web surfing and it looks worse, the more one googles.

It’s all there.

1. Creationists on the design team.

2. Association with Liberty university, a xian Dominionist front dedicated to destroying the US and heading on back to the Dark Ages. C’mon, there are close to a million biologists of one type or another in the USA and way less than 1% are creationists. You have to look in the swamps of academia like Liberty to find them.

3. Neutral towards evolution? Oh really? Are you neutral towards Heliocentrism or the Flat Earth too?

4. General ignorance or outright denial of any knowledge of what has been going on in our society for the last 3 decades.

My prediction. Their next game will be WITCH HUNT!!! It will be about all the True Xians rounding up those evil evolutionists to make the world safe for the 6,000 year old earth. It will also be a huge seller. Evolution is a bit hard to understand. But hate, that is easy. They know all about hate.

PS Maybe this Phoenix guy is telling the truth about being an atheist. So what? So he sold out for a few bucks. We all have to eat. Most of us manage that with some standards and without helping slime molds.

I’ve seen enough. It all comes out in the wash sooner or later. In this case, it is sooner. I wouldn’t touch anything out of Liberty university.

harold said:

I predict a religious war between Pastafarianism and Intelligent-alien-platypusism.

Don’t forget alien white lab mice from another dimension. They were established DECADES before the FSM.

Going off to colonize other planets seems like a very specific form of ID, not one that most IDists would follow- something like a Scientology or Mormon ID belief.

It seems educational to the uneducated, that to me is the worst.

You want to blame both the players and the developers for blindness over its scientific failings, and yet the devs can claim it is just a game while sectarian players take away from it what they want.

The Liberty University part made me laugh. But honestly, kids play plants vs zombies and don’t think that zombies are real. Why would a kid playing a game think that this is how God did it rather than just a feature of the game play.

This would be a valid argument, as would be comparing it to “Spore” as several did on other threads, except that neither of those games were designed to be educational, backed by McArthur Foundation grants. Instead they were released as entertainment.

You have to judge this game based on it’s educational impact. Frankly, it’s pretty obvious this is just another attempt by creationists to get a legitimate wedge into the science curriculum, the lead programmer Anthony’s protestations aside (I’m guessing he either didn’t really care or was duped), all scientific content was provided by two very clearly creationist sources.

On the bright side, heck if something like this can garner a McArthur grant, there must be a LOT of room out there for someone to create a MUCH better game that isn’t based on creationist ideas.

Heck, I often thought about doing this myself, but the internet implosion of 2000 pretty much scuttled most of the funding available for my ideas at the time.

might be time to revisit it again.

MrG -

Well, the reason I’ve made comments about this game is that it has been presented as something that should be considered “factual” and “educational” and used in public schools. And it seems to have been associated with the MacArthur Foundation, which does not have a record of deliberately supporting creationism.

The Creation Museum http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creation_museum is more blatant, but you have to go to it voluntarily (in fact you have to pay to get in).

A smaller, better aimed bullet can be more dangerous than a huge, clumsy musket ball.

I’m gonna break this up into several parts, and I’ll try to keep it short. If I missed something you think is important, just remind me.

MrG

Again, however, saying such folk are “no more liars than anyone else” can only be defended on a semantic basis, and the distinctions made do not really put them in a better light.

I think there’s a moral difference. Intent matters. I understand where you’re coming from, though: there’s a very broad area in between outright lies and pure intellectual honesty.

Stanton

Charity is utterly wasted on creationists, Devin.

The Principle of Charity isn’t a naive assumption that all people are rational all the time; when they aren’t, you stop arguing with them. (Though a most merciless flame may be a lot more deserved.) It’s a check on one’s own intellectual biases. If you take your opponent’s arguments seriously, you may find errors in your own line of thinking, and ultimately produce a better argument. Remember that creationists were the original critics of phyletic gradualism (although, alas, modern creationists tend to miss the fact phyletic gradualism has been dead for forty years, if it ever existed at all.)

Science Avenger

No, they can’t. This is not a dispute between two well-meaning camps with different worldviews. One side is decidely less honest than the other, which would become clear to you if you took the time to read what each side says instead of just assuming you already know it.

You’re right. I am making an assumption about the character of a class of people, because I’ve encountered confirmation bias - my own especially - more often than I’ve encountered genuinely dishonest classes of people. So I’m more willing to believe confirmation bias is at work. The dishonest creationists - they’re the ones the media notices, they’re the ones who (justifiably) piss you off, they’re the ones you remember.

(And, before anyone else says it, I am aware that my snake can swallow its own tail: I may be a victim of confirmation bias in seeking out confirmation bias.)

harold

When dealing with people who behave in this way, it is necessary, or at least highly efficient, to raise the issue that they may be falsely representing themselves.

I think you can still argue a case on its merits. It doesn’t matter who someone pretends to be, really; just what arguments they put forward. If they never put forward any creationist arguments because they’re too chickenfeces, creationism loses by default.

harold

They are forced to be more dishonest, because the facts are not on their side.

Here I think you have a point. A kind of epistemic desperation may set in among defenders of increasingly inconsistent theories. I’d predict more dishonesty from creationists than intelligent design advocates, since creationism is directly contradicted by the established facts, while intelligent design is consistent with any set of facts whatsoever.

But now you have me digging into The Structure of Scientific Revolutions for the bit where Kuhn talks about dying theories. Be back tomorrow.

DevinC said:

I think there’s a moral difference.

From the receiving end, it’s the difference between someone who deliberately runs over you in a car – and someone who runs over you because, although they notice you’re there, it’s not a concern if they do.

DevinC said:

harold

They are forced to be more dishonest, because the facts are not on their side.

Here I think you have a point. A kind of epistemic desperation may set in among defenders of increasingly inconsistent theories. I’d predict more dishonesty from creationists than intelligent design advocates, since creationism is directly contradicted by the established facts, while intelligent design is consistent with any set of facts whatsoever.

But now you have me digging into The Structure of Scientific Revolutions for the bit where Kuhn talks about dying theories. Be back tomorrow.

Creationism is not a “dying theory.” It was dead, scientifically, over a hundred years ago.

Since it’s still lumbering around and its advocates don’t seem to understand that it’s dead, I think “zombie theory” is a better term. (I doubt you’ll find that term in Kuhn, but it’s been over a decade since I read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.)

This comment has been moved to The Bathroom Wall.

Devin C wrote:

“Here I think you have a point. A kind of epistemic desperation may set in among defenders of increasingly inconsistent theories. I’d predict more dishonesty from creationists than intelligent design advocates, since creationism is directly contradicted by the established facts, while intelligent design is consistent with any set of facts whatsoever.”

Sadly, you seem to have been too generous once again.

Creationists are basically dishonest, they cannot help but be otherwise. They worship a falsehood, flatly contradicted by all of the evidence. Their only hope is to try to ignore all of the evidence or lie about it. Ignorance is their ally.

ID is the bastard child of creationism. Its sole purpose is to deceive and circumvent legal sanctions. It is even more inherently dishonest than old style creationism and demands even more ignorance. Just ask yourself, what is the actual theory of ID? What is actually claimed? Or as Frank J puts it, what happened why and when? Or just ask who the designer is. That should tell you all you need to know about this heresy in scientific clothing.

All you have to do is look at the track record of creationists and ID proponents under oath at trials. Even Behe, who was once a real scientist, was proud of the fact that he could not be bothered to examine the evidence. Every single one of them has lied in court and gotten caught at it. Now if they want to be taken seriously, all they have to do is examine some evidence. All they have to do is get into the lab, do some research and get some evidence. If they have the time and the money and they refuse to do this, why should they be considered anything but liars and charlatans? It’s like showing up at a tennis match with a football and demanding to know why no one takes you seriously.

DS said:

Creationists are basically dishonest, they cannot help but be otherwise. They worship a falsehood, flatly contradicted by all of the evidence. Their only hope is to try to ignore all of the evidence or lie about it. Ignorance is their ally.

ID is the bastard child of creationism. Its sole purpose is to deceive and circumvent legal sanctions. It is even more inherently dishonest than old style creationism and demands even more ignorance. Just ask yourself, what is the actual theory of ID? What is actually claimed? Or as Frank J puts it, what happened why and when? Or just ask who the designer is. That should tell you all you need to know about this heresy in scientific clothing.

Creationism is the worship of lies. ID is the worship of lies while lying about worshipping lies.

ID is creationism stripped of even that last tiny shred of honesty necessary to admit that it IS creationism.

DevinC -

They are forced to be more dishonest, because the facts are not on their side.

Here I think you have a point. A kind of epistemic desperation may set in among defenders of increasingly inconsistent theories. I’d predict more dishonesty from creationists than intelligent design advocates, since creationism is directly contradicted by the established facts, while intelligent design is consistent with any set of facts whatsoever.

But now you have me digging into The Structure of Scientific Revolutions for the bit where Kuhn talks about dying theories. Be back tomorrow.

Actually, if anything, it’s the opposite - Intelligent Design is even slightly more dishonest than old fashioned young earth creationism.

Like many people, you have the mistaken idea that Intelligent Design, as advocated by major Discovery Institute fellows, merely means “intelligent design”.

It doesn’t. Intelligent Design, as explained in the works of Behe, Dembski, and others, is not the claim that some intelligent deity intended or gave meaning to the universe. In fact, it’s almost the opposite of a claim like that, because the “designer” is never identified.

It’s just a program of evolution denial, based on flawed logic (I’ve outlined elsewhere, I believe within this thread, that ID consists of argument from incredulity, false dichotomy, and false analogies).

A classic example of a major Intelligent Design claim is the claim that the bacterial flagellum could not possibly have evolved because it possesses “irreducible complexity”. This is just argument from incredulity. It is automatically false, because “irreducible complexity” has no non-circular definition, and no actual coherent argument as to why the bacterial flagellum could not possibly have evolved is advanced. The “ID” claim is false, even if a deity did magically create the first bacterial flagellum. Even if that were the case, “irreducible complexity” would have no meaning, and we would have no basis for concluding that something like the bacterial flagellum could never be a product of evolution. (For full clarity, of course I think it evolved, I’m just pointing out that ID is false under any circumstance.)

Since it is internally illogical and incoherent, ID is not compatible with “any set of facts”, but rather, always incompatible with reality.

At this point you may be beginning to wonder why anyone would bother to make up something like ID, given its transparent uselessness.

ID has no honest intellectual or religious motivation. After “creation science” was rejected by US courts in the 70’s and 80’s, some people were obsessively searching for a way to deny the theory evolution in science class, without getting in trouble in court. It’s just an asinine attempt to “court proof” evolution denial, by stripping creationism of all honest religious references.

Wake up and smell the coffee. And don’t think that you’re free of people of this caliber just because you live in Ontario. http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Denyse_O’Leary (Rationalwiki is a satirical and poorly moderated site, but Denyse doesn’t seem to have reached the threshold for a real Wikipedia article, so this will have to do.)

I am a staunch evolutionist. I have played the cellcraft game through to completion. Honestly, I’m a bit embarrassed by the paranoid response of the evolution community on this one. The lead programmer has commented on the issue and I see no reason whatsoever to doubt his word. The game is about cellular function not cellular origins as he said. We desperately need more games like this that can get children interested in actually learning about science and biology. The primary reason that people believe in creationism is ignorance. If this game gets more children interested in biology then as they learn more there is no doubt they will come to understand evolution.

@PZ- Could you please post a follow up and retract the paranoid assertions that this game is an assault on evolution. Leave the paranoid conspiracy theories to the creationists who believe that all scientists are secretly out to make them look stupid. We all know that they make themselves look stupid all on their own. Let’s not do the same ourselves.

Cars and houses are not very cheap and not everyone is able to buy it. But, credit loans was invented to aid different people in such cases.

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This page contains a single entry by PZ Myers published on July 15, 2010 11:39 AM.

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