Recently in Intelligent Design Category

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) …

December 20 will be the 10th anniversary of Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District – what Dave Thomas calls Kitzmas. Kitzmiller, I probably need not say, is the Federal court decision that established intelligent design creationism as, well, creationism and therefore ineligible to be taught as part of a biology course in the public schools. You can read a no longer so hot-off-the-press report by Wesley Elsberry here.

But to my task: Lauri “Devil in Dover” Lebo sent us the following press release from the ACLU of Pennsylvania, announcing a victory celebration at 7 p.m., Saturday, November 7, in the Abbey Bar at Appalachian Brewing Company, Harrisburg. The panel discussion features PT’s Nick Matzke, who was then a staffer at the National Center for Science Education and the discoverer of the infamous cdesign proponentsists.

But before I get to the press release, which I will display below the fold, let me ask that other people who want to announce Kitzmas celebrations give the specifics in a Comment. If we get a measurable number of celebrations, we will post the list and stick it to the top of the page through December 20.

OK, on to the details of the press release:

(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.

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 or

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:[…]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, Please reblog, retweet, and spread the word! PS: James Downard’s Twitter is: @RJDownardNick Matzke


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)?

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 …

si-JulAug2014.jpg I’ve a brief new article in the new Skeptical Inquirer (July/August 2014) regarding Casey Luskin’s botched attack on the second episode of Cosmos. Here it follows - your comments are welcomed.

Fox TV’s Seth McFarlane has joined with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan’s widow and collaborator, to continue Sagan’s marvelous Cosmos series of decades ago. The new series is a splendid blend of homage to Sagan’s original one with dazzling new graphics–and new discoveries.

The second episode of the series, first broadcast March 16, 2014, covered evolution and natural selection. (Link) As expected, creationists were furious. The main promoter of “intelligent design,” Seattle’s Discovery Institute, has run several anti-Cosmos blogs on its Evolution News and Views (ENV) website.

In their zeal to attack Tyson and the Cosmos series, however, the Discovery Institute has created a stunning example of the straw man logical fallacy. This fallacy is so named because it involves attacking one’s opponent not by an honest dissection of his or her actual views but by attacking a caricature, a distorted misrepresentation of those views. The Discovery Institute’s attack on the evolution episode of Cosmos was a particularly egregious example of this fallacy–a straw man for the ages, as it were.

From the website of the Schilling School, “A Nationally Recognized K-12 [Charter] School for the Gifted in Cincinnati, Ohio”:

Dr. Michael Behe to present at Schilling. Mark your calendar for Sunday, April 6th from 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm to hear him present, “ Feeling left out by the Ham-Nye Debate? The Reasonable Middle Ground of Intelligent Design.” Call 489-8940 for ticket prices and group rates.

Congratulations to our 2014 U.C. Science Fair winners. All of our students won a cash prize. Two of our students Salma and Daniel have been invited to participate at the state science fair in Columbus next month. Good luck to the both of them!

And may they not be seduced by pseudoscience.

Acknowledgment. Thanks to an alert reader for sending us the link.

By Josh Rosenau.

Reposted from NCSE’s Science League of America blog.

Crystal Disco. ballA Crystal disco ball to celebrate the crystal anniversary of the Disco. ‘tute’s entry into the creationism business.

Fifteen years ago yesterday, a mail clerk in Seattle was handed a document to copy. As the Seattle Weekly reported, the packet was labeled “TOP SECRET” and “NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION,” and the cover sported an Illuminati-esque triangular design and a copy of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam.” The title: “The Wedge”; the author: a newly-created division of the conservative Discovery Institute, the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (CRSC). Later, the Center would drop “renewal” from its title to escape the religious reference, and also switched its logo from the Creation of Adam to a picture of God creating DNA, then to a more secular galactic nebula, and now a mashup of Leonardo’s Vitruvian man and a DNA strand.

The Wedge Document, as the packet came to be known, laid out a bold plan by which the Center would “re-open the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature,” and “reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.” From its first sentence, the document proclaimed its sectarian goals, stating: “The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West’s greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences.”

Robert Asher is a Cambridge mammal paleontologist, zoologist, phylogeneticist, author of Evolution and Belief, and generally really smart guy. He has just published a commentary at HuffPo on one aspect of Stephen Meyer’s arguments, namely, Meyer’s argument about “uniformitarianism.”

A Very Darwinian Halloween


It’s Halloween, so it’s time for a roundup of the SCARIEST October stories in the evolution versus creationism wars!

Years ago, someone gave me a book on child-rearing, and I noticed afterward that it was on The New York Times bestseller list. I mentioned the fact to my father, an expert on child-rearing, and his only comment was, “That’s not why it is lousy.” My father would no doubt feel vindicated right about now: Stephen Meyer’s book, Darwin’s Doubt, will be on the Times‘s bestseller list this coming Sunday, July 7.

Acknowledgment. Thanks to Alert Reader for pointing out this depressing fact.

Update, July 5: As a commenter has pointed out, Darwin’s Doubt will not appear on the July 14 list. The book is evidently a flash in the pan—unless they moved it to the fiction section. Advance orders were evidently vigorously promoted, but no one is actually reading the book, which we may consider a blessing.

Note: I am extremely busy this summer, finishing grad school and moving to a postdoc. But when I got this book, I realized I wouldn’t be able to focus on my real work without having gotten my 2 cents in. This is a rough-and-ready piece, so typos and missing references, and missing explanations of technical terms are to be expected, although I’m sure they can all be figured out with a wee bit of googling. I am off to Evolution 2013 tomorrow and will be incognito, writing, after that. So I may not comment much. However I expect commenters to be reasonable discussants and polite and will ban people who break the spirit of this expectation. Cheers, Nick

Review of Stephen C. Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design

This week, a new book came out by Stephen Meyer, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. Having followed the ID movement and specifically its arguments on the Cambrian ‘Explosion’ for a long time, as well being somewhat up on the recent literature, and especially on phylogenetics, I feel that I have a pretty good sense of what to look for in any work purporting to be a capable commentary on the topic. As I read through Meyer’s book, though, in case after case I see misunderstandings, superficial treatment of key issues which are devastating to his thesis once understood, and complete or near-complete omission of information that any non-expert reader would need to have to make an accurate assessment of Meyer’s arguments.

Musings from the mind of a mouse


Casey Luskin is such a great gift to the scientific community. The public spokesman for the Discovery Institute has a law degree and a Masters degree (in Science! Earth Science, that is) and thinks he is qualified to analyze papers in genetics and molecular biology, fields in which he hasn't the slightest smattering of background, and he keeps falling flat on his face. It's hilarious! The Discovery Institute is so hard up for competent talent, though, that they keep letting him make a spectacle of his ignorance.

I really, really hope Luskin lives a long time and keeps his job as a frontman for Intelligent Design creationism. He just makes me so happy.

His latest tirade is inspired by the New York Times, which ran an article on highlights from the coelacanth genome. Luskin doesn't think very deeply, so he keeps making these arguments that he thinks are terribly damaging to evolution because he doesn't comprehend the significance of what he's saying. For instance, he sneers at the fact that we keep finding conserved elements in the genome, because as we all know, there are lots of conserved elements.

William Dembski’s “Catalog of Fundamental Facts”


Scanning past Uncommon Descent this afternoon, I noticed a kairosfocus post pointing to the Internet Archive’s stored version of a (now defunct) website called where Eric Anderson provided a “Brief Primer on Intelligent Design.” In the second paragraph we read

Rather, this represents my modest attempt to … outline the fundamental central tenet of intelligent design, which is that some things exhibit characteristics of design that can be objectively and reliably detected.

For some reason that reminded me of something William Dembski proposed years ago, a sort of catalog of designs in biology. More below the fold.

Happy 9th Paul Nelson Day!


It's a dying holiday, I'm sorry to say -- I completely forgot it last year. But I was reminded this year, so I'll mention it again. I think the proper way to celebrate it is simply to laugh at a creationist today.

The source of the holiday is a remarkable exhibition from Paul Nelson, who like several other creationists, loves to register and present at legitimate science conferences. The barriers are low, and many conferences are intended to give students an opportunity to present, so you'll often find that all you have to do is send in a fee and an abstract and you'll be allowed to put up a poster in an allotted space for a few hours of time. So Nelson showed up at the Developmental Biology meetings in 2004 with a poster titled "Understanding the Cambrian Explosion by Estimating Ontogenetic Depth" in which he and Marcus Ross claimed to have been collecting data measuring some parameter called "ontogenetic depth" in various organisms.

I was at that meeting. I asked him about that in person, and also in blog posts afterwards. How do you measure ontogenetic depth? Share your procedure so I can assess and replicate it, which is what scientists are supposed to do. He hemmed and hawed and hmmphed and in typical Nelsonian fashion babbled and burbled on, and the upshot was that he couldn't tell me just then, but he had something he was writing and he'd polish it up and get it to me the next day, 7 April. He didn't. We've been watching the 7th of April pass by for nine years now.

I think he's felt the sting of mockery. In 2010 he announced that my criticisms were invalid, but he was inventing Ontogenetic Depth 2.0, which still isn't defined and still doesn't have a procedure.

In 2011 he posted some more essays on his fictitious method, in the first of which he announced that ontogenetic depth is A Biological Distance That's Currently Impossible to Measure. Yeah? So why was he presenting a poster at a serious scientific meeting in which he and his colleague claimed to have been measuring it? Sounds like scientific fraud to me.

But then, Intelligent Design creationism has been scientific fraud all along, so I guess he was just following hallowed tradition.

Update, February 4, 2013. NCSE has just reported that the Colorado bill has failed to make it out of committee. First in the nation, for this year at least! Unhappily, the vote was 7-6, which is entirely too close for comfort.

January is barely gone, the groundhog may or may not have seen his shadow, and the National Center for Science Education reports that already 8 anti-science bills have been filed in 6 states: Colorado, Missouri (two bills), Montana, Oklahoma (two bills), Arizona, and Indiana.

As Barbara Forrest notes, “Creationists never give up.” The bills have been carefully sanitized, but all will allow teachers to teach the purported strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories, most commonly “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” According to NCSE, the bills are also generally “protective” in that they forbid state and local authorities to prohibit such teaching. The bills pretend to foster debate, but the language is clearly code words for creationism.

Casey’s Creationist Christmas


This guest post is written by Paul Braterman and Mark Edon, and appears courtesy of the British Centre for Science Education.


BCSE has long maintained that the Seattle-based Discovery Institute (DI), of which Glasgow’s own Centre for Intelligent Design (C4ID) seems to be a satellite, is a religiously motivated Creationist organisation. Casey Luskin has now demonstrated this with great clarity in his response, in the misleadingly titled Evolution News and Views (“Serving the Intelligent Design Community”), to the recent opinion piece “Anti-Creationists need to think about tactics”, which we recently posted on our site. Thanks Casey.

As our title and opening words make clear, our piece is addressed by us, as individual nonbelievers, to other nonbelievers, giving our reasons for cooperating with believers in defending science against Creationism. It does not even mention DI, or C4ID, or Intelligent Design. Nonetheless, Casey seems to find our piece relevant to his mission. Perhaps his concern with religion is not surprising, since the foundation document of DI’s Centre for Science and Culture gives the restoration of a “theistic understanding” as a core objective. As for Intelligent Design, few people can still believe the pretence that it is anything more than a cover for Creationism (in the strict sense of the term as applied to biological diversity), but it is good to see our thoughts on these matters so authoritatively confirmed.

There are many more reasons why being attacked by Casey has been compared to being savaged by a dead sheep. Here are a few of them (remember here that Casey is a trained lawyer, and has published on law in an internationally recognised journal, so presumably he has read what he refers to and means what he says about it):

JPL Prevails in Lawsuit


While the final decision hasn’t been written, the judge in the Coppedge v. Caltech and JPL case has made an order for a final ruling in JPL’s favor.

In his wrongful termination suit, Coppedge claimed he was demoted in 2009, then let go for engaging his co-workers in conversations about intelligent design and for handing out DVDs on the topic while at work. Intelligent design is the belief that life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone.

Wright State U., you’re doin’ it wrong


Ratio Christi is a new-ish college campus oriented apologetics organization whose Wright State University (Ohio) chapter’s goal “… is to populate heaven by planting seeds of Truth into the minds of atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and spiritual seekers.” If one is so inclined, one can earn a Certificate in Christian Apologetics from Biola University (formerly the Bible Institute of Los Angeles) at a discount through Ratio Christi. In some ways Ratio Christi looks like a sort of successor to Casey Luskin’s now-defunct IDEA center.

Like Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis, Ratio Christi is heavy on anti-evolution. It’s recommended resources include books and papers by Disco ‘Tute stalwarts like Michael Behe, David Berlinski, William Dembski, Stephen Meyer, and Jonathan Wells, along with Fuzzy Rana of Reasons to Believe, young earth creationist Paul Garner, and apologetics philosopher Alvin Plantinga.

Today on the DI Media Complaints Division blog, William Dembski writes,

I recall posting on my blog a gorgeous picture of wildflowers, hinting at the wonders of God’s creation, and seeing comments by atheistic evolutionists who dismissed it as merely “sex” run amuck.

I actually remember this post. It was a post Dembski put up on May 14, 2005 at Uncommon Descent. Quoth Dembski:

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Intelligent Design category.

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