William Dembski Refutes "Pro-ID" Paper

You’ve gotta hand it to Bill Dembski. No one is as damaging to the ID cause as he is. I mean, we’ve tried to trip them up, and I think we’ve succeeded here and there, but ultimately, Dembski is our best warrior.

Case in point: he’s just gone on a tirade in which the very paper which he previously said was in favor of intelligent design has got it all wrong:

So let me spell it out: DIRECTED EVOLUTION IS NON-DARWINIAN. DARWINIAN EVOLUTION IS NON-DIRECTED. … Just because the word “evolution” is used doesn’t mean that homage is being paid to Darwin. “Directed evolution” properly falls under ID.

The sad thing is, this little outburst should really be directed at Matti Leisola and Ossi Turunen, the guys who wrote the paper under consideration, and not at me.

Here is what the authors wrote:

At one end is an approach commonly referred to as a rational design, which aims to understand the principles of protein structure and function well enough to apply them in designing new properties or even novel proteins using de novo design. The value of this approach in purely scientific terms is indisputable. However, because the difficulty is likewise indisputable, any approach that might succeed sooner is worth exploring. That realization has motivated work at the other end of the spectrum, where the emphasis is on finding what works rather than predicting what works. Darwinian evolution is the inspiration behind this. In the extreme form, this means avoiding protein design principles altogether and relying instead on huge sequence libraries and carefully designed selection methods.

Why didn’t Dembski, with all his brilliance, bother telling his ID author heroes that they were really talking about “intelligent design” the whole time? Instead they’re under the horrible misapprehension that directed evolution techniques were inspired by Darwinian evolution. And later they go on to say that there’s an “Overreliance on the Darwinian methodology”, meaning the directed evolutionary methods they spent the previous paragraphs describing.

Here’s more:

It is often said that random genetic methods to improve enzyme properties “rely on simple but powerful Darwinian principles of mutation and selection” (Johannes and Zhao 2006). We agree.

Whoa, what’s that? Leisola and Turunen agree that mutation and selection are “Darwinian principles”, and that these principles are responsible for the success of directed evolution? Say it ain’t so!

Tell me something Bill: Did you even read the paper?

Putting aside the fact that Dembski is flatly contradicted by the very “pro-ID” paper he originally cited, his claim is utterly illogical. Dembski’s original error was to conflate rational design techniques with “intelligent design”, which as I pointed out at the time is just plain wrong. Protein engineers do not operate under the premise that natural proteins were designed by some unknown intelligence for unknown reasons using unknown methods at some unknown point in the past. Quite the opposite, even those relying strictly on rational design methods use phylogenetic trees and other facets of evolutionary theory to guide their research. Now Dembski has gone and doubled-down on the absurdity, declaring that the method at the “other end of the spectrum”, which is directed evolution, is now also “intelligent design”. Goodness, is there anything that doesn’t fall under that vague and useless term?

As I explained previously, directed evolution methods involve the experimenter using random mutagenesis and a selection screen. This is the Darwinian mechanism. The fact that an experimenter chooses which screen to use doesn’t matter, because the experimenter is simply mimicking what the environment does on a constant basis all over the planet. In fact, as far as the organism or protein sequence under selection is concerned, the experimenter is just another piece of the environment. And it definitely has nothing to do with ID, which is – and let’s drop the pretense for a change – God supernaturally zapping stuff.

Given Dembski’s reasoning, we should conclude that wind tunnel experiments are an example of ID because the experimenter sets the speed and direction of the wind. Therefore, airplane lift could not happen due to undirected naturalistic forces. If you think this is ridiculous, you are correct.