Recently in ID/Creationism Category

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On May 30, 2016, Bill Dembski announced:

I had the opportunity at the end of this month (May 2016) to update an interview I did four years ago at TheBestSchools.org.

What I was dealing with in The End of Christianity is a more narrow problem, namely, how to account for evil within a Christian framework given a reading of Genesis that allows the earth and universe to be billions, rather than merely thousands, of years old. I’m an old-earth creationist, so I accept that the earth and universe are billions of years old. Young-earth creationism, which is the more traditional view, holds that the earth is only thousands of years old.

The reason this divergence between young-earth and old-earth creationists is relevant to the problem of evil is that Christians have traditionally believed that both moral and natural evil are a consequence of the fall of humanity. But natural evil, such as animals killing and parasitizing each other, would predate the arrival of humans on the scene if the earth is old and animal life preceded them. So, how could their suffering be a consequence of human sin and the Fall? My solution is to argue that the Fall had retroactive effects in history (much as the salvation of Christ on the Cross acts not only forward in time to save people now, but also backward in time to save the Old Testament saints).

In this long interview, chock full of surprising comments on his fellow Christians, Dembski mentions Panda’s Thumb, and quotes our own Andrea Bottaro extensively, saying he “got it exactly right.”

A commenter on an earlier thread directed our attention to an article by Zack Kopplin in the Daily Beast, “School teaching creationism with video from Islamic sex cult.” The headline may be a bit over the top, but the gist of the article is that the school district is employing materials developed by Harun Yahya. To give due credit, here is what the commenter, “Charley Horse,” wrote on the earlier thread:

A bit off topic … but of interest.

School Teaching Creationism With Video From Islamic Sex Cult. An Ohio school district is using a video made by a Holocaust-denying Muslim to undermine evolution in science class.

QUOTE A BIT:

A curriculum map recommends teachers in this public school district show a creationist video, Cambrian Fossils and the Creation of Species as part of 10th grade science education. The video claims that the Cambrian Explosion “totally invalidates the theory of evolution.”

…The district’s curriculum map calls for teaching “an alternative theory called Intelligent Design,” which is another name for creationism. Youngstown suggests teachers show a creationist video, Unlocking the Mystery of Life, produced by the right wing Christian advocacy group, Focus on the Family and by the Discovery Institute, a creationist think tank.…

“Students are reminded how the irreducibly complex system like the flagellum of a bacterial cell could not have evolved slowly, piece by piece and serves as a counter-example to evolution,” says the curriculum, citing another disproven creationist talking point. It also recommends the video Darwin’s Dilemma, also produced by the Discovery Institute. Other materials call evolution a “theory in crisis,” and were created by the All About GOD ministries.

The Daily Beast article directs us to a “curriculum map” and notes,

A curriculum map (PDF) recommends teachers in this public school district show a creationist video, Cambrian Fossils and the Creation of Species as part of 10th grade science education. The video claims that the Cambrian Explosion “totally invalidates the theory of evolution.” The Cambrian Explosion was a time period, nearly 550 million years ago, where, over the next tens of millions of years, the number of species on Earth experienced a (relatively) rapid expansion by evolutionary standards. Christian creationists regularly point to this explosion of life as evidence for creation by God and against evolution.

Blink and you’d miss the Islamic connection in the video. A black screen flashes for less than one second that says “this film is based on the works of Harun Yahya.” In the right corner, there’s a gold bubble that says, “Muhammad is the messenger of Allah” in Arabic.

I followed the link to the curriculum map. I am not a biologist, and I did not read all 24 pages in detail, but, sure enough, on page 3/24, I found,

I do not know why it is coming to light only now, but a few years ago a Kentucky elementary school rewarded students with “perfect” attendance by taking them on a field trip to the Creation “Museum.” Americans United has reported the story here, and a few days ago we received a press release from Daniel Phelps, a persistent critic of the Ark Park and the Creation Museum. Mr. Phelps has sent his press release to the Associated Press and elsewhere, but he tells us that he cannot get any reporter interested in investigating. We will reproduce his press release below the fold.

Americans United notes that the school’s definition of “perfect” is somewhat flexible, in that one absence counted as perfect. More importantly, they note

And kids have a right to learn about [certain religious concepts] - on their own time or in Sunday school. Such ideas are not appropriate for an official public school field trip, even if that trip was only offered to a handful of students. Instead, kids should be learning sound science - not religious dogma.

Mr. Phelps argues that the trip is “a clear violation of the separation of church and state” and “an act of educational malpractice.” He is concerned that, although this trip happened in 2012, there may be many like it, and he claims that Answers in Genesis “brags that they have stealth missionaries in the public school system.” Mr. Phelps’s entire press release follows.

We have just received an e-mail from one of the Panda’s Thumb crew to the effect that a paper “demonstrating” the intelligent design of the human hand has been published in the refereed journal Plos One. The paragraphs that caught the crew member’s attention are these:

The explicit functional link indicates that the biomechanical characteristic of tendinous connective architecture between muscles and articulations is the proper design by the Creator to perform a multitude of daily tasks in a comfortable way.

In conclusion, our study can improve the understanding of the human hand and confirm that the mechanical architecture is the proper design by the Creator for dexterous performance of numerous functions following the evolutionary remodeling of the ancestral hand for millions of years.

Another crew member directs us to the website Retraction Watch, which quotes a Plos editor to the effect that

PLOS has just been made aware of this issue and we are looking into it in depth. Our internal editors are reviewing the manuscript and will decide what course of action to take. PLOS’ publishing team is also assessing its processes.

The Retraction Watch paper naturally engendered the response,

Where has tolerance and respect for the beliefs and opinions of others gone? One doesn’t need to agree, but bringing in a different idea in a civil manner seems more appropriate for an academic discussion.

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This was sent out by the Discovery Institute around a week ago. Note the bolded sentence.

Dear {Insert name of email recipient here}:

Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck, originator of modern quantum theories and 1918 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, was quoted as saying, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

Here in Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (CSC), we are living proof that no matter how powerful an idea is–and the idea of intelligent design (ID) is truly a powerful one–there is some truth to Planck’s statement. It is not just about convincing opponents about the merits of ID. While books such as Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt have been met with critical acclaim, there is still a long way to go.

Thanks to your generosity, we aren’t simply waiting for our opponents to die.

Since its inception almost 10 years ago, visionary CSC donors have enabled us to focus on educating young people through our Summer Seminar on Intelligent Design and C.S. Lewis Fellows Program– programs designed to raise up a new generation of scientists and scholars who are not afraid to follow the evidence wherever it leads. These programs are made possible by those who recognize that science needs an infusion of new minds and ideas.

We need your support to continue and expand these programs. Our summer programs attract students from the United States and around the world, including Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, Central and South America, and the Middle East; more than we can admit. Most of these students cannot attend unless we pay their expenses.

You can help with your gift of any amount.

  • $75 will pay for the cost of ground transportation for one student.
  • $200 will provide books and other curricular materials to one student.
  • $800 will pay to house and feed one student for the entire program.
  • $2,500 will cover the full cost for admitting an additional student into the program.

Donate now to the Summer Seminar campaign and be a part of the transformation of science and culture, one student’s life at a time!

Creepy, or what? Discuss.

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From yesterday’s announcement on ENV:

It is with a mixture of sadness and excitement that I write this to announce that, as the year 2015 closes, I am leaving Discovery Institute. I am doing so in order to fulfill a lifelong goal of furthering my studies. My colleagues, who entirely support this decision, are people of the utmost integrity and they have been incredibly generous and welcoming to me and my family. I know we will miss each other. Working here over the past ten years has been a wonderful experience for which I am extremely grateful.

I think this will be good for Casey. Who knows, next time he reviews a show on TV about the science of evolution, he’ll now have time to actually watch the entire episode before writing a critique.

Discuss.

By David MacMillan.

David has been fascinated by the creation/evolution controversy for many years. Growing up, he was fully committed to creationist apologetics. He purchased a lifetime charter membership to the Creation Museum and even had blog posts featured on the Answers in Genesis website. During college, he continued to actively pursue creation apologism as he earned a degree in physics, but began to recognize the mounting religious and scientific problems with young-earth creationism. His renewed investigation uncovered more and more misconceptions implicit in creationism, and he eventually rejected it as both theologically indefensible and scientifically baseless. He now writes extensively about young-earth creationism for several websites.

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Note added December 30, 2015: This article has been cross-posted at Naturalis Historia, the blog of Joel Duff. As David MacMillan notes below, in a comment, “He gets a slightly different readership and has attracted the attention of AiG before so it will be neat to see whether they deign to reply.”
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As the strict young-earth creationists at Answers in Genesis work to complete their Ark Encounter “theme park”, they have expended an impressive amount of energy organizing the millions of species of land animals alive today into a handful of small groups they call “baramins”. They claim these groups represent the original created kinds of which Noah would have brought pairs onto the ark. This consolidation of numerous species into single “baramin” groups is driven primarily by the space on Noah’s purported vessel. The smaller the menagerie the Ark was purported to have contained, the more feasible it seems, and so the “baraminologists” at Answers in Genesis have gone to great lengths to explain how the vast array of species today could have been represented by a relatively low number of ancestral pairs.

One well-known hallmark of modern young-earth creationism is the dogma of separation between “microevolution” and “macroevolution”. Although early opponents of Darwinian evolution categorically denied that speciation or natural selection were possible at all, advances in genetics and biology made this position completely untenable. In response, creationists (particularly the young-earth crowd) protested that while “microevolution” was a viable, observable process in biology which they accept as “change or speciation within a kind”, the notion of “macroevolution”, or “change between kinds”, remains impossible. These definitions beg the question by presuming such things as discrete “kinds” exist, but creationists are nonetheless insistent that while adaptation or speciation within a particular “baramin” is observable (and, indeed, necessary in order to account for the present observed diversity of life), there is never any overlap between separate kinds. Their most well-known example of “kinds” is the difference between cats and dogs, where they explain that the diversity of dog breeds is the result of “microevolution” from some original dog/wolf kind, but that dogs will never “macroevolve” into cats.

Unfortunately for the young-earth model, the push to minimize the number of animals riding on the Ark has exposed a major problem with this view. Ironically, this problem is perhaps nowhere more apparent than with the very clade (the technical/evolutionary equivalent of the term “kind”) to which cats and dogs belong: Order Carnivora.

The Answers in Genesis website has repeatedly posted large, detailed lists of various species, families, and orders with attempts to organize them into baramins. One of the largest such postings, by retired veterinarian Jean Lightner, organizes the majority of Order Carnivora into eight distinct “baramins”: felines, civets, dogs, hyenas, bears, weasels, mongooses, and red pandas.

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Figure 1. The eight major carnivorous “baramins”, as claimed by young-earth creationists at Answers in Genesis.

Kitzmas is Coming!

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The tenth anniversary of the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision, which came out on December 20, 2005, is right around the corner. There have already been some good retrospectives, including a series of pieces by the York Daily Record, another series in Reports of the National Center for Science Education, and a “What If Intelligent Design Had Won?” discussion by Eugenie Scott and Kenneth Miller in York College, Pennsylvania, in November. There will undoubtedly be more to come; please post links in the comments when you see them come out.

Dembski: “Moving On” from ID

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From William Dembski’s new blog, for November 9th:

In the last few years, my focus has switched from ID to education, specifically to advancing freedom through education via technology. All my old stuff on ID is on the present site (it was previously at DesignInference.com, which is no more), and can be accessed by clicking on “Design” in the main menu.

I still have a few ID projects in the works, notably second editions of some of my books (e.g., NO FREE LUNCH and THE DESIGN INFERENCE). I regard BEING AS COMMUNION: A METAPHYSICS OF INFORMATION (published 2014) as the best summation of my 23-years focused on ID (the start of that work being my article “Randomness by Design” in NOUS back in 1991).

I’m happy for the years I was able to spend working on ID, but it’s time to move on. I’ll be describing my new endeavors on this new blog.

Discuss.

Last March Tom English and I posted an argument here here at Panda’s Thumb analyzing an argument by William Dembski, Winston Ewert, and Robert Marks. They had made an argument that evolutionary “search” would not do better than blind search; we proved that their argument showed no such thing.

In response to our analysis here of the Dembski-Ewert-Marks paper, Winston Ewert has replied at Evolution News and Views. As that site does not allow comments, I have finally gotten around to posting a response here (six months late). Tom has now put up a related thread at The Skeptical Zone; I will try to comment in both discussions.

Ewert rather dramatically reveals that Tom and I do not actually disagree with any of the theorems in their paper. And he’s right about that. How did they discover this remarkable fact? Perhaps it was by reading our post, where we said

We’re not going to argue with the details of their mathematics, but instead concentrate on what in evolutionary biology corresponds to such a choice of a search.

or by reading a comment in that thread where I also said:

As theorems they may be mathematically true, but the average poor performance of searches is true only because so many irrelevant and downright crazy searches are included among the set of possible searches.

Ewert is right that we did not question their theorems. Instead we concentrated on what would follow from their theorems. We showed in a simple model that once there are organisms that reproduce, with genotypes that have phenotypes and fitnesses, that evolution will find higher fitnesses much more effectively than random guessing. So is it true that having what they call Active Information, embodied in a fitness surface and in a reproducing organism whose genotypes have those fitnesses, requires that there be Design Intervention to set up that system?

The issue is not the correctness of their theorems but, given that they are correct, what flows from them. Dembski, Ewert, and Marks (DEM) may object that they did not say anything about that in their paper.

We don’t think that it is a stretch to say that DEM want their audience to conclude that Design is needed.

Let’s look at what conclusions Dembski, Ewert, and Marks draw from their theorems. There is little or no discussion of this in their paper. Are they trying to persuade us that a Designer has “frontloaded” the Universe with instructions to make our present forms of life? Let’s look at what Dembski and Marks have said about that (below the fold) …

(edited to add a point on Aegirocassis and Parapeytoia)

This week, the Discovery Institute Press put out another book called Debating Darwin’s Doubt. I took one for the team and bought it, in part because a a decent chunk of the book is responding to me. I’m pretty sure I’ve never been mentioned so much in a book!

Sadly, though, looking through it, almost all of it is material re-hashed from the DI “Evolution News and Views” blog and is no better than it was the first time. There is, however, a new chapter (I think it is new) by Casey Luskin, chapter 9, “Cladistics to the Rescue?” responding to me. If you don’t want to buy the book, there is a free podcast at ID the Future (heh), “Debating Darwin’s Doubt: Casey Luskin on Classification of Organisms” that interviews Luskin (although I think he wrote the questions). It has mostly the same material.

Unfortunately, I do not have time at the moment to write the introductory-level-tutorial-from-square-one that would be required to really explain the basics of cladistics and phylogenetics to Luskin et al. I have literally just moved to Australia to start as a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) Fellow in the Division of Ecology, Evolution, and Genetics, Research School of Biology, at The Australian National University in Canberra. Once I have a bed and a computer in my office I may be in better shape to do things more thoroughly – I have a bit of a fantasy about writing an R vignette or R package called something like BasicPhylogeneticsForCreationistsEspeciallyLuskin (I’ll take suggestions on a better name/acronym).

However, below, I can briefly hit the high points on the small bit of Luskin’s chapter that was new.

I have got to stop following links in e-mails from AIG. Today I read the most bizarre article by Dr. Danny Faulkner, an astrophysicist who must have slept through his celestial mechanics courses. Dr. Faulkner discusses the leap second that will be added at 23:59:59 UTC (GMT) on June 30. He notes correctly that the rotation of the Earth is slowing down, and the moon is consequently drifting farther from the Earth. He then observes,

Finally, there is a long-term secular (non-periodic) slowing in the earth’s rotation caused by the tidal interaction of the earth and moon. As the earth slows its rotation, the moon spirals away from the earth. Therefore, in the past the earth spun more rapidly and the moon was much closer to the earth. Direct computation shows that the earth and moon would have been in contact about 1.3 billion years ago. Even a billion years ago the moon would have been so close to the earth that tides would have been a mile high. No one–including those who believe that the earth is far older than a billion years–thinks that tides were ever that high or that the moon and the earth touched a little more than a billion years ago.

However, since the earth and moon are only thousands of years old as the Bible clearly indicates, the long-term change in the earth-moon system is no problem. Indeed, what we see in the interaction between the earth and moon offers powerful evidence that the earth and moon are young.

I do not know the nature of the “direct computation,” but I would bet that it is based on the radius of the moon’s orbit increasing at a constant rate. Not obviously a good assumption; an article from Cornell University (which has a scientific reputation at least as distinguished as that of AIG) notes,

The exact rate of the Moon’s movement away from Earth has varied a lot over time. It depends both on the distance between the Earth and the Moon, and the exact shape of the Earth. The details of continents and oceans moving around on Earth actually change the rate, which make it a very hard thing to estimate. The rate is currently slowing down slightly, .…

Worse, look at Dr. Faulkner’s statement that “the earth and moon would have been in contact about 1.3 billion years ago.” An absolutely remarkable statement from a person who purports to have a PhD in physics and astronomy! Has he never heard of Roche’s limit? Roche’s limit is the smallest radius that a large satellite can maintain without being torn apart by tidal forces caused by the gravitational field of the main planet. According to NASA, Roche’s limit for the Moon is about 20 000 km, so I can assure Dr. Faulkner that the Earth and the Moon have never been in contact – not 1.3 billion years ago, not ever. When the Moon was formed, it had to have been formed outside Roche’s limit, and then it drifted away from the Earth at a rate that is not a constant and therefore not amenable to simple calculations.

Modern astronomy is not threatened, and the Earth is not young.

You can read it for yourself here. But, for my money, Mr. Kopplin exposes Gov. Bobby Jindal’s inner hypocrite with these too kind words:

“I mean, who knows? I could be totally wrong, and maybe Jindal believes this [creationism] with his whole heart. Which is more why I go back to what his kids are learning. I had their seventh-grade biology teacher at [University Laboratory School] where I went for middle school, and I know she doesn’t just teach evolution–she’s absolutely obsessive about it. If Jindal actually was a creationist, I think he’d have a much bigger problem with his kids being taught what evolution is.”

Mr. Kopplin, who is on the verge of graduating from Rice University,

has continued to beat the drum on what he views as the erosion of public schools. He has broadened his focus to include the governor’s voucher program, which diverts state money to religious schools that question evolution and openly discriminate against students who violate their moral code. … And Kopplin has expanded his push to Texas, where he discovered that students at the state’s biggest charter school network were being taught that the “sketchy” fossil record undermines the theory of evolution.

The Washington Post reported the other day that Justice Antonin Scalia, in a commencement address, said,

Humanity has been around for at least some 5,000 years or so, and I doubt that the basic challenges as confronted are any worse now, or alas even much different, from what they ever were.

I suppose that “at least 5000 years” gives you some wiggle room, but I would hardly call, say, 200,000 years “at least 5000 years.” That is a bit like saying, “The trip from Boulder to New York is at least 20 kilometers.”

Jerry Coyne, who is much nicer than I am, thinks that it might have been “just an offhand remark that’s been blown out of proportion.” Well, maybe, but I watched most of the speech on Professor Coyne’s website, and I could not help but notice that Justice Scalia was reading that text: he did not misspeak.

Justice Scalia dissented in Edwards vs. Aguillar, but he seemed more concerned with whether the legislature intended creation “science” as a religious doctrine than with its scientific merit. He also supported the “balanced treatment” argument to the effect that students who learn evolution are entitled to the opposing view as well. His argument was well reasoned but depended on the assumption that creation science is not a religious doctrine if its supporters think it is not.

Contrary to some reports, Justice Scalia did not say, “The body of scientific evidence supporting creation science is as strong as that supporting evolution”; rather, he was paraphrasing the testimony of witnesses and states explicitly “that I by no means intend to endorse its accuracy” but that “what is crucial is not [the legislature’s] wisdom in believing that [a certain secular] purpose would be achieved by the bill, but their sincerity in believing it would be” [italics in original].

Still, Justice Scalia generally comes across as an authoritarian, uncomfortable with ambiguity and guided by literalist interpretations. If he takes the Bible as literally as he takes the Constitution, then it is easy to see that he might well believe in a young Earth. I hope I am wrong and Professor Coyne is right.

adam-and-eve-cast-out-of-paradise-after-eating-from-the-tree-of-knowledge-in-the-garden-of-eden.pngI would like to introduce everyone to James Downard, and his website Troubles in Paradise (TIP). TIP is available at http://tortucan.wordpress.com/ or http://www.tortucan.com.

James Downard is an activist with decades of experience tracking the creationists, stretching back to encounters with Stephen Meyer in Washington state in the early 1990s. In 2010, he did a guest post for PT, “An Ill Wind in Tortuca”, available at: http://pandasthumb.org/archives/201[…]wind-in.html

Troubles in Paradise is a massive review of the creationism/ID movement, its people, and its arguments, along with a similarly massive review of relevant scientific evidence and literature. TIP primarily covers the movement up to about 2004, which of course was just about the peak of the ID movement, leading up to the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover case.

I think it is extremely valuable to the pro-science community to have such a historical review available: the ID movement actively tries to conceal what it was saying pre-Kitzmiller, and of course the “intelligent design” label itself was an attempt to disguise connections to creation science. (And, “creation science,” particularly the whitewashed version put forward for the Edwards v. Aguillard case, was its own attempt at obscuring connections to religious fundamentalism.) (On this, see especially: Matzke, N. (2009), “But Isn’t It Creationism? The beginnings of ‘intelligent design’ and Of Pandas and People in the midst of the Arkansas and Louisiana litigation.” In: But Is It Science?: The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy, Updated Edition, eds. Pennock & Ruse, Prometheus Books, 377-413; google Scholar)

Today in 2015, it is not uncommon for commentators new to the creationism/ID debate to start producing writings almost totally ignorant of the history of the issue. Hopefully Downard’s effort will help correct this problem, and will serve as a resource that science fans can link to and cite.

Troubles in Paradise is really several books’ worth of work, so if you’ve ever gone to the bookstore and bought a science book, please think about making a similar donation so that Downard can continue his efforts.

Below, I post Downard’s short description of the project, which includes a Q & A email interview I conducted with him, and links to his GoFundMe page, www.GoFundMe.com/dseego. Please reblog, retweet, and spread the word! PS: James Downard’s Twitter is: @RJDownardNick Matzke

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Short description of Troubles in Paradise, by James Downard:

Welcome to TIP, a new open access resource for defenders of sound science who get really unsettled by the claims of antievolutionists (be they Young Earth Creationists or the newer brand of Intelligent Design) but may not have all the best science information ready to drop on their claims.

The TIP files (all in pdf format) cover all aspects of antievolutionism (from paleontology and biology to the social and political ramifications of antievolutionism as they play out in schoolrooms and school boards or in state legislatures, Congress, or even candidates for President.

The Old TIP files form the base of the project, drawing on over 5500 sources, and step by step I am updating that material with a much larger set of newer data (over 36,000 sources and counting, including over 14,000 technical science sources aimed at claims popping up in over 6000 antievolutionist works) to keep TIP constantly current. The new modules also have an index to help locating all specific topics and people covered.

There are more pdfs & offsite web links in Other Stuff, including the 3ME illustrated guide to the Cambrian Explosion, and the origin of birds and mammals, the perfect heavy brick to lob at antievolutionists who make the mistake of claiming “there’s no evidence for macroevolution.” 3ME not only shows how wrong that is, it also pulls back the curtain to see just how antievolutionists manage to evade all that evidence (not a pretty picture, but has to be done).

Check out all the material here on TIP, all open access to download and share freely with anyone you think needs evens stronger evidence to counter the claims of antievolutionists.

Q & A with James Downard:

Q: Why did you decide to call your project “Troubles in Paradise” (TIP)?

Anyone who relies on the Supreme Court to guarantee that creationism will not be taught in public school or that the Ark Park’s threatened lawsuit will necessarily fail might want to read an article by Erwin Chemerinsky in the January 1 issue of The Washington Spectator. In that article, which I take to be a longish abstract of his book, Chemerinsky argues that the Court has generally not lived up to its “lofty expectations” and indeed has more often “upheld discrimination and even egregious violations of basic liberties.” The Chemerinsky article does not appear on the Spectator website, so I will abstract it very briefly below the fold.
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Update, January 5, 2015. The article is now available here, so you may read it for yourself and not take my word for what Chemerinsky says.
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On August 14, William Dembski spoke at the Computations in Science Seminar at the University of Chicago. Was this a sign that Dembski’s arguments for intelligent design were being taken seriously by computational scientists? Did he present new evidence? There was no new evidence, and the invitation seems to have come from Dembski’s Ph.D. advisor Leo Kadanoff. I wasn’t present, and you probably weren’t either, but fortunately we can all view the seminar, as a video of it has been posted here on Youtube.

It turns out that Dembski’s current argument is based on two of his previous papers with Robert Marks (available here and here) so the arguments are not new. They involve considering a simple model of evolution in which we have all possible genotypes, each of which has a fitness. It’s a simple model of evolution moving uphill on a fitness surface. Dembski and Marks argue that substantial evolutionary progress can only be made if the fitness surface is smooth enough, and that setting up a smooth enough fitness surface requires a Designer.

Briefly, here’s why I find their argument unconvincing:

  1. They conside all possible ways that the set of fitnesses can be assigned to the set of genotypes. Almost all of these look like random assigments of fitnesses to genotypes.
  2. Given that there is a random association of genotypes and fitnesses, Dembski is right to assert that it is very hard to make much progress in evolution. The fitness surface is a “white noise” surface that has a vast number of very sharp peaks. Evolution will make progress only until it climbs the nearest peak, and then it will stall. But …
  3. That is a very bad model for real biology, because in that case one mutation is as bad for you as changing all sites in your genome at the same time!
  4. Also, in such a model all parts of the genome interact extremely strongly, much more than they do in real organisms.
  5. Dembski and Marks acknowledge that if the fitness surface is smoother than that, progress can be made.
  6. They then argue that choosing a smooth enough fitness surface out of all possible ways of associating the fitnesses with the genotypes requires a Designer.
  7. But I argue that the ordinary laws of physics actually imply a surface a lot smoother than a random map of sequences to fitnesses. In particular if gene expression is separated in time and space, the genes are much less likely to interact strongly, and the fitness surface will be much smoother than the “white noise” surface.
  8. Dembski and Marks implicitly acknowledge, though perhaps just for the sake of argument, that natural selection can create adaptation. Their argument does not require design to occur once the fitness surface is chosen. It is thus a Theistic Evolution argument rather than one that argues for Design Intervention.

That’s a lot of argument to bite off in one chew. Let’s go into more detail below the fold …

By David MacMillan.

8. New perspective. I think there are several different varieties of creationism activists. Some are obsessed with the presumed negative effects of evolution and secular humanism. Some are driven by suspicion for science and the certainty that a conspiracy must be afoot. Some use creationist apologetics to make themselves feel smarter and better-informed than the general public. Some are genuinely interested in science and want to know the truth.

I’d be lying if I said my motivations for arguing creationism were firmly in the last camp. I wasn’t much of a conspiracy theorist, but I certainly believed that there were inevitable negative consequences from the acceptance of evolution. I was definitely stuck-up about my “special” expertise. But deep down, I really did want to know the truth about the world. I loved being right, but I loved learning new things more.

By David MacMillan.

7. The religion of evolution.

The final set of creationist misconceptions about evolution surrounds its supposed religious, moral, and ethical implications. These objections prove difficult to address, simply because they have little or no objective basis and are almost purely philosophical or religious. This section will concentrate mostly on explaining the relationships and connections between these arguments, as systematically refuting them would delve deep into philosophy and theology and is far beyond the scope of a single post.

By David MacMillan.

6. Genetic evidence.

Revised July 4, 2014.

Perhaps one of the clearest and most obvious confirmations of evolution is the convergence between the evolutionary paths of descent determined by fossil evidence and the phylogenetic tree generated by algorithms analyzing genetic information. Because the tree of universal common descent is real, not invented, it leaves the same fingerprint in every part of nature that life touches. Matching trees can be found in global fossil distribution, in analysis of skeletal morphologies, in chromosome length, count, and banding, and in numerous common genetic sequences.

Not every genetic sequence yields a perfect branching tree. Evolutionary theory would not predict perfect branching trees, because random mutations scramble the relationships over time. Even though mutations provide the variation needed for diversification, their accumulation throughout that diversification can eventually obscure the evidence needed to reconstruct those relationships.

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