The scientific vacuity of Intelligent Design

Once again Ed beat me to the punch…

I have at various times pointed out how scientifically vacuous Intelligent Design really is. While Ed has already discussed the NY Times article, I would like to focus on two statements which show again how vacuous ID really is scientifically.

John West wrote:

“The future of intelligent design, as far as I’m concerned, has very little to do with the outcome of the Dover case,” Mr. West said. “The future of intelligent design is tied up with academic endeavors. It rises or falls on the science.”

Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president at the Templeton Foundation wrote:

The Templeton Foundation, a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research.

“They never came in,” said Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president at the Templeton Foundation, who said that while he was skeptical from the beginning, other foundation officials were initially intrigued and later grew disillusioned.

“From the point of view of rigor and intellectual seriousness, the intelligent design people don’t come out very well in our world of scientific review,” he said.

So, what is Intelligent Design, if it is not scientifically relevant?

Ronald Numbers wrote:

Numbers said that at heart, the proponents of intelligent design “want to change the definition of science” to include God, an issue he predicted would end up in the Supreme Court.

“One of the most successful PR campaigns we’ve seen in recent years,” he added, “is intelligent design.”

Story: Academics consider “intelligent design” museum talk

Not surprising the DI PR is spinning its wheels again with John West accusing the author of misrepresentations. The mainstream press finally is seeing through the politically motivated Wedge Strategy and realizing that it has no scientific relevance.

Dembski ‘responds’ with

The Templeton Foundation promotes, as Stephen Jay Gould used to criticize (see here), a form of syncretism between science and religion. I frankly doubt that there is one research paper published in the natural sciences (I’m not talking about medical journals that discuss the efficacy of prayer in healing) that acknowledges the Templeton Foundation as having provided essential research support (e.g., in the form of salaries for lab techs, lab equipment costs, etc.) for that project to be completed. Templeton supports research in that fuzzy new discipline that it has largely invented, known as science-religion, and not in science per se.

Which makes it even more surprising that ID has not managed to submit proposals for actual research to the Templeton Foundation… After all, isn’t ID covered by Dembski’s description of Templeton’s discipline: A largely invented concept based on a confusing use of the term complexity which is scientifically vacuous?

Dembski continues

I know for a fact that Discovery Institute tried to interest the Templeton Foundation in funding fundamental research on ID that would be publishable in places like PNAS and Journal of Molecular Biology (research that got funded without Templeton support and now has been published in these journals), and the Templeton Foundation cut off discussion before a proposal was even on the table.

Fundamental ID Research published in PNAS and JMB? What could this possibly be referring to? Axe’s work?

Extreme functional sensitivity to conservative amino acid changes on enzyme exteriors. J Mol Biol. 2000 Aug 18;301(3):585-95.

Estimating the prevalence of protein sequences adopting functional enzyme folds. J Mol Biol. 2004 Aug 27;341(5):1295-315.

Is this the kind of fundamental ID research Dembski is talking about? Was it not Axe who commented that he did not consider this research much relevant to ID?

Axe (2000) finds that changing 20 percent of the external amino acids in a couple proteins causes them to lose their original function, even though individual amino acid changes did not. There was no investigation of change of function. Axe’s paper is not even a challenge to Darwinian evolution, much less support for intelligent design. Axe himself has said that he has not attempted to make an argument for design in any of his publications

Intelligent design in biology has been supported by several peer-reviewed journals and books, including:

See also: Bill Dembski and the case of the unsupported assertion

A new institute? I wasn’t finished with the old one!

Seems that ID’s fundamental research is mostly about showing under which circumstances natural selection is unable to explain particular features. Of course, ID’s explanation remains fundamentally absent. But that should not be a surprise to those familiar with Dembski’s viewpoint on this topic:

Dembski wrote:

As for your example, I’m not going to take the bait. You’re asking me to play a game: “Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.” ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering.

The scientific vacuity of Intelligent Design is self-evident. If the future of ID depends on the science as West puts it, ID is is in real trouble.

P.S. While I had correctly guessed the name of the author, on closer scrutiny the papers Dembski may have been referring to is the JMB paper which mentions the Discovery Institute’s support:

D.A. was the recipient of a fellowship from the Discovery Institute.

Douglas D. Axe, Nicholas W. Fostera and Alan R. Fersht An irregular β-bulge common to a group of bacterial RNases is an important determinant of stability and function in barnase Journal of Molecular Biology Volume 286, Issue 5 , 12 March 1999, Pages 1471-1485

The PNAS paper does not mention any such support.