Another (failed) test of the Design Inference

In my observations that Intelligent Design is scientifically vacuous I have pointed out how ID proponents have failed to present any non-trivial Design Inference where the ID approach actually worked. However, history is full of false positives, even though ID proponents such as Dembski are adamant that false positives do not occur since this would render the filter useless. And for good reason because this would mean that ID’s design inference cannot compete with our ignorance.

The following design inference by Bateson shows that while the scientific knowledge at the time understandably may have caused him to make the suggestion inheritance somehow had to have a non-material cause (sounds familiar)?

In his book The Quest for Consciousness: A neurobiological approach, Christof Koch describes Bateson’s claim.

The central difficulty faced by researchers at the time was that they could not imagine the great specificity inherent in individual molecules. This is perhaps best expressed by William Bateson, one of England’s leading geneticists in the early part of the twentieth century. His 1916 review of The Mechanism of Mendelian Heredity, a book by the Nobel laureate Thomas Hunt Morgan and his collaborators, states:

The properties of living things are in some way attached to a material basis, perhaps in some special degree to nuclear chromatin; and yet it is inconceivable that particles of chromatin or of any other substance, however complex, can possess those powers which must be assigned to our factors or gens. The supposition that particles of chromatin, indistinguishable from each other and indeed almost homogeneous under any known test, can by their material nature confer all the properties of life surpasses the range of even the most convinced materialism.

What Bateson and others did not know at the time, given the technology available, was that chromatin (that is, the chromosomes) is only homogeneous statistically, being composed of roughly equal amounts of the four nucleic bases, and that the exact linear sequence of the nucleotides encodes the secrets of heredity. Geneticists underestimated the ability of these nucleotides to store prodigious amounts of information. They also underestimated the amazing specificity of protein molecules, which has resulted from the action of natural selection over a few billion years of evolution. These mistakes must not be repeated in the quest to understand the basis of consciousness.

Robert H. Haynes writes in “Heritable Variation and Mutagenesis at Early International Congresses of Genetics” in Genetics, Vol. 148, 1419-1431, April 1998,

In his inaugural lecture as Professor he reveals (to the reader today) how badly off course he was in his conception of the purely functional, immaterial nature of hereditary determinants as the “power or faculty to produce the ferment or the objective substance.”

ID proponents may deny that Bateson’s claim was a valid design inference, even though it was based on complexity (lack of our understanding) and specification (inheritance). Perhaps they may argue that Bateson’s claim about the non-material is still valid, as we have seen ID proponents such as Wells argue that

To a very limited extent, it also contains information about the order in which those proteins should be produced-assembly instructions. But it does not contain the basic floor plan. The floor plan and many of the assembly instructions reside elsewhere (nobody yet knows where). Since development of the embryo is not programmed by the DNA, the Darwinian view of evolution as the differential survival of DNA mutations misses the point.”

Darwinism:Why I went for a second PhD, Jonathan Wells in a letter to Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.