Richard Colling: religious brothers are telling falsehoods

In a previous posting I reported how I had met with a Christian friend of mine who considered “Intelligent design” to be dishonest. It seems that he is not the only Christian who has reached this conclusion. As a concerned Christian myself, I find this comforting as it seems that fellow Christians have realized the potential cost of “Intelligent Design” for religious faith and science.

Nevertheless, there are still many ID supporters who remain unaware of the lack of much of any scientific support for Intelligent Design and who are fooled into believing that there is a controversy in science on the topic of evolution, relevant to the concept of Intelligent Design. Thus we see supporters take their crusades to local schoolboards, newspapers and senators unaware of the cost of their actions to religious faith and science alike.

Professor Richard Colling is the chairman of the of biological sciences at the Olivet Nazarene University who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Kansas in 1980. His professional interests are microbiology, immunology and biochemistry.

Professor Richard Colling, author of the book “Random Designer: Created from Chaos to Connect with Creator” is quoted by Sharon Begley in Tough Assignment: Teaching Evolution To Fundamentalists, Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2004; Page A15

Prof. Richard Colling wrote:

In his new book, “Random Designer,” he writes: “It pains me to suggest that my religious brothers are telling falsehoods” when they say evolutionary theory is “in crisis” and claim that there is widespread skepticism about it among scientists. “Such statements are blatantly untrue,” he argues; “evolution has stood the test of time and considerable scrutiny. [1]”

Sharon Begley in Tough Assignment: Teaching Evolution To Fundamentalists, Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2004; Page A15

Not only do we see Intelligent Design proponents argue time after time that ‘evolution is in crisis’ but we also see more and more bolder claims about what Intelligent Design has accomplished. And yet, time after time, when pushing for details, the intelligent design proponent comes up empty-handed. Where are the positive hypotheses of Intelligent Design? Where are the non-trivial applications of the Design Explanatory Filter to biological entities? How does Intelligent Design movement deal with the issue of the Explanatory Filter being unreliable and thus ‘useless’ in the words of Dembski? How does the Intelligent Design movement deal with Del Ratzsch observation that the filter is unable to detect ‘new design’? How does the Intelligent Design movement deal with the scientific evidence other than ignoring ?

Recently we witnessed a good example of the lack of relevance of the Design Explanatory Filter when Salvador commented somewhat recklessly that a particular approach which used pattern matching was evidence of a successful application of the Design Explanatory Filter. Supporting this claim with more than rhetoric proved however to be a bit trickier.

Similarly we see on ARN how ID’s Bulldog makes reckless claims about the Design Explanatory Filter being used in Archaeology, Criminology, SETI etc. Not only do such claims lack much supporting evidence, other than appealing to the unsupported assertions by Dembski, but they are also easily contradicted by observing HOW design is inferred in these cases.

In other words, Intelligent Design not only has to trivialize, ignore or misrepresent actual scientific knowledge but it also seems to be doomed to make reckless and unsupported claims about its own accomplishments.

Trojan Horse

Some ID proponents object to the characterization of the goals of the ID movement as being a ‘Trojan horse’. On ARN we see ‘Mike Gene’ complain about the impact of such characterizations on one’s ability to conduct a discussion on the scientific merrits or lack thereof of the ID movement. I would like to comment on this argument. 1) ‘Mike Gene’ is a relatively minor player in the ID movement and has distantiated himself from many of the ID movements approaches or claims. When referring to the ID movement it should thus be obvious that this refers to the larger movement spearheaded by the Discovery’s Institute for the renewal of Science and Culture and by the ARN website. Pro ID websites such as ISCID and ARN have become more and more hostile towards ID critics leading to banning of critiques, or tactics of deleting complete threads as witnessed recently on ARN. I can understand the increased hostilities towards ID critics since there is little else ID can do that ignore these well supported criticisms or when they become too visible to its supporters, to actually prevent such discussions. 2) For the larger ID movement, the characterization of ‘Trojan horse’ is very accurate as evidenced by its claims that a) there is a crisis in evolution b) that intelligent design is an alternative to evolution which has scientific support.

I am not the only one to notice how the ID movement is making exaggerated claims and many other critics have documented similar complaints. What I find hopeful is to see how Christians are standing up against Intelligent Design and its behavior as it impacts religious faith, science and scientific inquiry.

Can critics who consider the ID movement’s goals to be a ‘Trojan horse’ fairly criticize its claims? I argue that it can and that websites such as Talkorigins, Talkdesign, Talkreason and Pandasthumb are evidence of this. ‘Mike Gene’ may not like the criticism which often details the many problems with ID’s claims but rejecting these criticism based on the fact that its proponents may hold to a viewpoint of ID which is biased hardly seems logical.

Richard Colling is a conservative Christian who believes that “People should not feel they have to deny reality in order to experience their faith”. Joining the ranks of other Christians like Denis Lamoureux, Howard van Till, Kenneth Miller, Patrick Frank [2], Denis Lamoureaux, John Haught, and Ryan Nichols [3]. But not only Christians are speaking out, we also find people from other religions opposing the claims of Intelligent Design. From the Jewish religion we have for instance Scott Gilbert, a professor at Swarthmore College [4].

On ARN, Salvador is calling for the ex-communication of Denis Lamoureux for what he sees as ‘compromising’

Salvador wrote:

If Lamoureux were in my denomination I would re-commend his ex-communication and barring from the communion table. If he wants to align himself with the Darwinists leadership rather than the evangelicals FINE, but he should label himself as such : an NCSE Darwinist who rejected a central claim of the evangelical faith. He can call himself a liberal compromiser, a die-hard Darwinist, but he has no right to say he’s an evangelical.

Professor Colling bravely continues to express his strong sentiments towards “intelligent design”.

Intelligent-design advocates look at these sophisticated components of living things, can’t imagine how evolution could have produced them, and conclude that only God could have.

That makes Prof. Colling see red. “When Christians insert God into the gaps that science cannot explain – in this case how wondrous structures and forms of life came to be – they set themselves up for failure and even ridicule,” he told me. “Soon – and it’s already happening with the flagellum – science is going to come along and explain” how a seemingly miraculous bit of biological engineering in fact could have evolved by Darwinian mechanisms. And that will leave intelligent design backed into an ever-shrinking corner

Colling’s comments mirror my concerns and those of Lamoureux that by relying on poor scientific arguments which amount to nothing more than an argument from ignorance or “God of the Gap” argument, that Intelligent Design may become the worst enemy to religious faith and science alike.

It is obvious time after time that Intelligent Design

  1. Has to ignore or misrepresent scientific knowledge or rely on old references (several of the recent papers by ID proponents seem to support these observations)
  2. Has no positive theory(ies) of intelligent design beyond the appeal to ignorance or “God of the Gaps” approach

And as a Christian scientist, I find it encouraging to hear and see more and more Christians and scientists speak out against the Intelligent Design movement.


Footnotes

  • Not surprisingly this is the chosen approach of many ID proponents such as William Dembski, Stephen Meyer, and other Discovery Institute fellows. Some good examples involve how ID proponents and the Discovery Institute in particular presents the research of fellow ID proponents. Some examples include: Dembski’s announced presentation at Seattle’s Discovery Institute on January 17th titled Darwinism’s Berlin Wall > Discovery Institute is pleased to welcome our esteemed Senior Fellow Bill Dembski to Seattle. Dr. Dembski is the author and editor of Uncommon Dissent and Debating Design and numerous other books and articles. He will discuss the growing number of scientific challenges to Darwinian theory Jonathan Wells, Icons of evolution And while some ID proponents are pushing Icons of Evolution as a curriculum in public schools, the reality is that the book is full of problems. See the many links of Don Lindsay’s website. The potential cost to both science and religion of using this book in schools, home schooling or even private schools can be quite hight. Stephen C. Meyer The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, September 29, 2004. And the Discovery Institute’s ‘response: Discovery Institute Fellows Neo-Darwinism’s Unsolved Problem of the Origin of Morphological Novelty October 11, 2004 These were discussed in the many links in The “Meyer 2004” Medley Pennock observed and predicted that once again ID does not propose any alternative hypotheses: Pennock wrote: > ID theorists, by contrast, are very close-mouthed about their own views. If evolution really cannot hope to explain the Cambrian explosion, and ID theorists can do better, one would expect them to show how. However, no “alternative theory” is forthcoming. ID leaders who are Young-Earth creationists, such as Paul Nelson, Percival Davis, and others, do not even accept the scientific dating of the Cambrian. However, even the Old-Earthers, such as Behe and presumably Meyer, have offered no positive account. > > > Rober Pennock], DNA by Design? Stephen Meyer and the Return of the God Hypothesis, in Debating Design: from Darwin to DNA, a > volume edited by Michael Ruse and William Dembski, Cambridge University Press 2004 And makes the prediction which was actually fullfilled by Meyer in subsequent articles: > I have not seen the chapter that Meyer is writing on the Cambrian explosion for the present volume, but I encourage readers to check whether he departs from the pattern and offers any specific positive account. If ID is to have even a shot at being a real scientific alternative, one should expect to see some precise testable (and eventually tested) hypotheses that answer the obvious questions: what was designed and what wasn’t; and when, where, how, and by whom was design information supposedly inserted. > > > Rober Pennock], DNA by Design? Stephen Meyer and the Return of the God Hypothesis, in Debating Design: from Darwin to DNA, a > volume edited by Michael Ruse and William Dembski, Cambridge University Press 2004 Then there is the paper by Michael J. Behe and David W. Snoke, Simulating evolution by gene duplication of protein features that require multiple amino acid residues, Protein Science, The Protein Society, September 2, 2004 This paper was extensively reviewed and critiqued in Theory is as Theory Does. by PandaThumb’s contributors Ian F. Musgrave, Steve Reuland, and Reed A. Cartwright. and the paper by Scott A. Minnich & Stephen C. Meyer Genetic Analysis of Coordinate Flagellar and Type III Regulatory Circuits in Pathogenic Bacteria in Second International Conference on Design & Nature, Rhodes Greece. September 1, 2004 which is reviewed and critiqued by Bacterial Flagella expert Nick Matzke in Deja vu again. Again. Nick Matzke also provided an indepth analysis of plausible evolutionary pathways in Evolution in Brownian space: a model for the origin of the bacterial flagellum So far the response of ID has been to ignore these contributions despite the fact that ID’s explanatory filter depends critically on evaluating the probabilities of such pathways in order to infer design. In other words, the bacterial flagellum can be argued to be at most an issue of ‘we don’t know’ but certainly presents to evidence for design. Yet we still see how ID is presenting IC, the explanatory filter and the bacterial flagellum as evidence FOR design.
  • Patrick Frank is the author of “On the Assumption of Design”, Theology and Science, Volume 2, Number 1 / April 2004, pp. 109 - 130. > Abstract: The assumption of design of the universe is examined from a scientific perspective. The claims of William Dembski and of Michael Behe are unscientific because they are a-theoretic. The argument from order or from utility are shown to be indeterminate, circular, to rest on psychological as opposed to factual certainty, or to be insupportable as regards humans but possibly not bacteria, respectively. The argument from the special intelligibility of the universe specifically to human science does not survive comparison with the capacities of other organisms. Finally, the argument from the unlikelihood of physical constants is vitiated by modern cosmogonic theory and recrudesces the God-of-the-gaps.
  • Ryan Nichols is the author of Scientific content, testability, and the vacuity of Intelligent Design theory The American Catholic philosophical quarterly , 2003 , vol. 77 , no 4 , pp. 591 - 611, > Abstract: Arguments of the following form are given against theories like psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis implies X. Psychoanalysis also implies NOT(X). Hence, no observations of X or of NOT(X) can falsify psychoanalysis. Since an important proportion of propositions implied by psychoanalysis are similar to X in this respect, psychoanalysis is not falsifiable. Since psychoanalysis isn’t falsifiable, it is not a science. > In my argument against Intelligent Design Theory I will not contend that it is not falsifiable or that it implies contradictions. I’ll argue that Intelligent Design Theory doesn’t imply anything at all, i.e. it has no content. By ‘content’ I refer to a body of determinate principles and propositions entailed by those principles. By ‘principle’ I refer to a proposition of central importance to the theory at issue. By ‘determinate principle’ I refer to a proposition of central importance to the theory at issue in which the extensions of its terms are clearly defined. > I’ll evaluate the work of William Dembski because he specifies his methodology in detail, thinks Intelligent Design Theory is contentful and thinks Intelligent Design Theory (hereafter ‘IDT’) grounds an empirical research program. Later in the paper I assess a recent trend in which IDT is allegedly found a better home as a metascientific hypothesis, which serves as a paradigm that catalyzes research. I’ll conclude that, whether IDT is construed as a scientific or metascientific hypothesis, IDT lacks content.
  • Gilbert writes about Wells: > Wells (2000) makes the rather strange claim that since Haeckel’s erroneous picture has been reprinted in biology books for so long, evolutionary biology must have been based on it, and therefore all of evolutionary biology is wrong. Most biologists had been willing to use this illustration as an oversimplification of von Baer’s laws to illustrate that embryos pass through similar stages. Once Richardson published the actual pictures of the embryos, reprinting this picture became silly, and almost immediately the textbooks changed. My website amended the figure within a month of the appearance of Richardson’s article. So did the website that Ken Miller had for his introductory biology book. Other books, especially those without websites, had to wait longer. For more, see Ken Miller’s website and the Talkorigins site. The assertion that evolutionary biologists knew that these pictures were fraudulent but used them anyway is also wrong. I am a developmental biologist who also has a masters degree in the history of science. When I wrote the first editions of my textbook, I did not know they were wrong. In fact, I hadn’t realized they were from Haeckel, and I quoted the Romanes (1901) volume as my source of the picture (see Gilbert 1988, p. 153).