Can biology do better than faith?

In Can biology do better than faith? Edward O Wilson describes Intelligent Design quite accurately as

They support the alternative explanation of intelligent design. The reasoning they offer is not based on evidence but on the lack of it. The formulation of intelligent design is a default argument advanced in support of a non sequitur. It is in essence the following: there are some phenomena that have not yet been explained and that (most importantly) the critics personally cannot imagine being explained; therefore there must be a supernatural designer at work. The designer is seldom specified, but in the canon of intelligent design it is most certainly not Satan and his angels, nor any god or gods conspicuously different from those accepted in the believer’s faith.

Dembski is not amused by Wilson joining the ever growing group of people who have come to understand why Intelligent Design is scientifically infertile as it is at best a position of ignorance.

Dembski objects

Two comments:

(1) ID does not argue from “Shucks, I can’t imagine how material mechanisms could have brought about a biological structure” to “Gee, therefore God must have done it.” This is a strawman. Here is the argument ID proponents actually make:

In fact, since design is the set theoretic complement of regularity and chance, this is indeed how ID does it. But let’s see how Bill misunderstands his own theory.

* Premise 1: Certain biological systems have some diagnostic feature, be it IC (irreducible complexity) or SC (specified complexity) or OC (organized complexity) etc.

* Premise 2: Materialistic explanations have been spectacularly unsuccessful in explaining such systems — we have no positive evidence for thinking that material mechanisms can generate them.

Let’s explain the terminology here: Diagnostic feature: A feature which cannot be explained by science yet. Since material mechanisms have failed, we should allow the supernatural to have shot at explaining the system. Sadly enough, ID is not in the business of explaining much of anything, as Phil Johnson has recently figured out

I also don’t think that there is really a theory of intelligent design at the present time to propose as a comparable alternative to the Darwinian theory, which is, whatever errors it might contain, a fully worked out scheme. There is no intelligent design theory that’s comparable. Working out a positive theory is the job of the scientific people that we have affiliated with the movement. Some of them are quite convinced that it’s doable, but that’s for them to prove…No product is ready for competition in the educational world.

I could not have said it better, thanks Phil

* Premise 3: Intelligent agency is known to have the causal power to produce systems that display IC/SC/OC.

And yet when asked how, ID remains empty handed. It is this unsupported leap of faith that intelligent agency can produce IC/SC/OC systems that remains fully unsupported by any factual evidence. In fact, it is worse, ID has had to accept that natural processes of regularity and chance can indeed generate IC and SC so the diagnostic criteria are obviously lacking as such.

* Conclusion: Therefore, biological systems that exhibit IC/SC/OC are likely to be designed.

Nothing in ID shows that biological systems that exhibit these features are ‘likely to be designed’ in fact, nothing in ID can show that ID’s explanation (whatever it may not be) is better or worse than our ignorance. We do know how various God of the Gap arguments have done poorly when additional evidence became available so it seems safe to take the position that without any ID explanation beyond ‘X cannot be explained’ we should insist on actual evidence. But that is just a pathetic expectation according to ID proponents.

But Dembski gets worse

(2) Wilson’s claim that proving “the existence of intelligent design within the accepted framework of science will make history and achieve eternal fame” is disingenuous. The accepted framework of science precludes ID from the start. Wilson and his materialistic colleagues have stacked the deck so that no evidence could ever support it.

Science only precludes ID if it involves the supernatural, however science does not reject ID and in fact applies design inferences quite successfully in in such areas as criminology, archaeology etc.

ID proponents such as Dembski have undermined their own position by misunderstanding science and even though many have corrected them, they seem to not have learned from their mistakes.

One may amaze at the fact how Dembski can be so unfamiliar with both his own ‘theories’ as well as with the concept of science but the impact of this on his disciples seems to be even more devastating.

Now that Salvador Cordova is no longer contributing to ID, much of his role seems to have been taken over by Denyse O’Leary who is not happy with what Wilson has to say

Wilson insists that all the ID guys have to do is come up with “evidence” - so why don’t they?

The critics forget how the reward system in science works. Any researcher who can prove the existence of intelligent design within the accepted framework of science will make history and achieve eternal fame. They will prove at last that science and religious dogma are compatible. Even a combined Nobel prize and Templeton prize (the latter designed to encourage the search for just such harmony) would fall short as proper recognition. Every scientist would like to accomplish such a epoch-making advance. But no one has even come close, because unfortunately there is no evidence, no theory and no criteria for proof that even marginally might pass for science.

There is something almost obscene about a smug - and so they say - gentlemanly* prof sitting pretty at Harvard , writing this disingenuous garbage, in full awareness that none of his cowering colleagues will ask the obvious question: What happened to people who DID come up with evidence against Darwinism (and therefore maybe for intelligent design)?

Note the bait and switch, nicely hidden under a thin veil of ‘ad hominem’? Let me point it out to you. Wilson states that all ID needs to do is to present evidence for intelligent design. Denyse turns that into “look what happened to those who argued against Darwinism and therefore maybe for intelligent design”.

While I appreciate the impact of ID critics on the ability of ID proponents in forcing them to continue to weaken the ID approach from ID is that which science cannot explain to ‘ID is maybe that which science cannot explain yet’. Or in other words, ID is nothing more than a position of ignorance.

Well done Denyse, I knew that it would be inevitable for ID proponents to come to this conclusion, perhaps gently guided by scientists exposing the scientific vacuity in Intelligent Design.

But back to the issue at hand, Wilson stated that it is sufficient for ID proponents to show some positive evidence for ID, and Denyse switches to ‘but what about those poor souls who were dedicated to finding flaws in Darwinian theory, flaws which may or may not have any relevance to Intelligent Design”? What happened to them

What ABOUT Rick Sternberg, Guillermo Gonzalez, and Robert Marks? To say nothing of Mike Behe?

Sternberg made an unfortunate decision to allow a poorly argued paper to be published in a journal, and the journal apologized for the oversight. Since Sternberg’s advisor had passed away, and Sternberg was unable to find a sponsor, his position was changed. Gonzalez failed to impress his tenure committee with his publication record, his new research, his ability to bring in external funding, and more. Robert Marks was asked to not link his “Evolutionary Informatics Laboratory” (sic) to Baylor and finally, Behe, after an interesting but eventually flawed argument in his first book, he failed to do much of any research in the area of biochemistry, or publish anything other than a single paper which was quickly shown to be flawed. Worse, Behe decided to write another book in which his arguments were found to be based on very shaky arguments based on an off hand remark by a malaria researcher.

If you are interested in hearing one of the better arguments furthered by Denyse O’Leary then I suggest you read this posting

My favorite:

It’s hard to explain to kids, but here’s the deal: Balancing the books of the Enron of biology will not be done without serious cost. If you’re not safe, stay out of the way and no problem. But don’t undermine the ID people who hold the future in their hands.

Does she really believe that ID holds the future? The future of what? Continued ignorance that has led so many Christian to oppose science?

To come back to Wilson’s question “Can biology do better than faith”, the answer in case of Dembski or O’Leary seems to be, without any doubt

In case of O’Leary she truly seems to believe

Also, just look at the filth written by other people’s students about prof Mike Behe. And his crime? Behe KNOWS that what Wilson is saying is not true. Natural selection acting on random mutation rarely produces worthwhile information.

sigh… Behe may KNOW this but that seems to be based more on his faith than on science.