Creationists covering tracks on Cornell meeting; and Fuller doesn't get it

There is still mostly an eerie silence from the creationists/IDists on the Springer/Cornell issue (previous PT posts: 1, 2, 3). Basically all we have in terms of official response are the comments given to Inside Higher Ed. But much of the evidence of the details of the conference that originally existed has been taken down. Here are the examples of which I am aware:

1. David Klinghoffer of the Discovery Institute, after the controversy broke, put up a post, which was quickly taken down.

2. David Coppedge of JPL lawsuit fame (Coppedge is the main author/editor of Creation/Evolution Headlines, one of the most virulent of young-earth creationist websites, and he is currently involved in an employment lawsuit with JPL, and was an invitee and attendee of the Cornell meeting) originally posted about the Cornell meeting right after it happened in June 2011. The posts were on Coppedge’s hard-shell YEC site, and in Mountain Daily News. According to this comment on PT, the Creation-Evolution Headlines version once had, but no longer has, this text:

Here’s something that should make you mad. One of the organizers had invited Cornell professors, some known to be Darwin skeptics, but they all declined. In addition, he had tried to interest area churches in participating, either by sending people to hear the talks or assist with volunteer help, and they all declined, too. Some of them did not even answer the emails. There is still fear among many scientists toward being associated with a controversy like intelligent design. And, sad to say, many churches these days are more concerned about looking good to the world than dealing with matters of truth.

Because of potential harm to careers of some participants, names of all are being withheld from this review.

Maybe the mention of soliciting help from local churches was thought to be damaging in whatever case the creationists are trying to make to Springer.

3. Sid Galloway, the former zookeeper with the animals-based evangelical ministry – He took down his listing of the talk titles of the meeting, and some other information. Galloway now says:

[…] Over the past few weeks (today’s date is March 1, 2012), some sites on the web have linked to this page as if it somehow represented the BINPS. Those making such an assumption either did not carefully read the page or deliberately chose to misrepresent it. This page has always been a simple and personal review of the BINPS. This webpage from its first draft made it clear that I was merely an attendee of the BINPS (and probably the least qualified to attend since I am simply a college prep high school honors biology teacher seeking to train my students to scientifically challenge all hypotheses, theories, and laws).

The Bio-Info conference was an inspiring example of truly critical, logikos thinking in the scientific community. The symposium was not sponsored by Cornell, though Dr. John Sanford, Cornell geneticist and inventor of the Gene Gun was a principal coordinator. […]

[Italics original; and this guy teaches high schoolers? Ugh, see note 1.]

Unfortunately for those supporting the meeting and the publication, Sanford, apparently a principal coordinator, is a total nut who thinks that fitting a curve to the lifespans of the descendants of Noah in the Bible constitutes science.

4. Jorge Fernandez, another young-earther and an author on various papers at the meeting, started a new thread and put up a post at his hangout, TheologyWeb. But soon after, he demanded that the thread be taken down (see link for original formatting; I’m too busy to reproduce his massive use of bolds, italics, caps, and various smileys):

  1. I had promised you that the two papers that I co-authored would soon be published, remember?

Well, publication has occurred and release is supposed to be very soon - within days. However …

  1. … we may be witnessing in real time another episode of ‘EXPELLED’.

  2. The Proceedings from the symposium, contained in a book titled Biological Information: New Perspectives, is now encountering the usual attempts at censorship practiced by the ‘Thought Police’ – you know, the type of censorship that the Evo-Faithful loudly deny happens at all.

  3. This was strictly a scientific symposium – I know, I was there from start to finish. Every paper was scrutinized to be/remain science … pure science.

  4. The publisher is Springer-Verlag. I assure you, the papers were heavily peer-reviewed. But guess what? They now want to do additional peer-review because of “complaints”. OMG !

  5. The Evo-Faithful complain that intelligent design isn’t science “because it’s not peer-reviewed.” When it is peer-reviewed, they say, “It shouldn’t have been peer-reviewed because it’s not science.”

Now where did I put my shotgun?

  1. In passing, do you see why I use the term “dishonest” as often as I do? Do you? Huh? Do you? It fits!

  2. Lastly, wanna guess who’s already involved? Yup, you guessed it, the NCSE : the ‘witch’ and her broomstick.

  3. More details here :…print-id-book/

  4. This could turn ugly, very ugly … stay tuned …


What to make of all of this, added to the eerie silence at normally shoot-from-the-hip blogs like Uncommon Descent? Possibilities include (1) they are going to try to convince Springer that this is Real Science (TM), not religious apologetics; (2) they are going to try to sue Springer, and want to remove evidence that Springer had a good reason to do whatever Springer might do (more peer-review, abandon the project, etc.); (3) they don’t know what will happen, but lawyers are involved, and lawyers always tell you to not make any public statements.

The only other reaction I’ve seen comes from Steve Fuller, who in typical fashion refuses to exercise any critical judgment whatsoever about any of the generations-old crank science arguments of the creationists/IDists, or their attempts to sneak it by engineers and other innocents who know nothing about population genetics or other highly relevant fields.

Why, oh why, have the self-appointed epistemic vigilantes at the National Centre for Science Education (NCSE) decided to subvert the already fragile academic norm of peer review by declaring that one of the top three European publishers of scientific journals and books has mistakenly allowed intelligent design (ID) sympathisers to publish a book in their information science series? That two positive peer reports in the original book proposal was insufficient to discover the allegedly heinous nature of its content must mean, of course, that more peer reviewing is needed - not that perhaps the content is not as heinous as the scent of ID might have suggested.

Oh, please. Steve Fuller is willfully ignoring that this conference isn’t mostly IDists being as vague as possible for legal/school/media purposes, and saying that they’re fine with an old-earth and common ancestry and maybe all they’re saying is God is behind everything in reality in some vague way. This conference is mostly young-earth creationists of the old-fashioned “creation science” type, many of them with direct connections to Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research, and they are arguing that if our species was older than their literalist interpretation of Genesis says, we’d be extinct from mutations by now because [insert tired, long-refuted young-earth creationist arguments about how the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or probability, or Haldane’s Dilemma, or whatever, kills population genetics, never mind the thousands of actual population geneticists who disagree].

Fuller is supposed to have a background in history of science. What would you say if a group came along and said that Johannes Kepler never existed? What if their argument was that the existence of Kepler was forbidden by the Second Law of Thermodynamics? What if, in response to this argument, scientists had repeatedly pointed out that the Second Law of Thermodynamics did no such thing, but the Kepler Deniers had replied with “Just because the Second Law of Thermodynamics doesn’t technically make the existence of Kepler completely impossible, this doesn’t mean the existence of Kepler is probable!”

Then, what if it was announced that these Kepler-denying yahoos were getting talks which were clearly about Kepler denial published in a “peer-reviewed” volume in a Springer series on Engineering? What if, in response to your outraged spluttering, they scolded “Censor! Don’t judge something before you’ve read it!”

The current situation is basically like that. Fuller, as usual, doesn’t get it.

Just in case someone like Fuller wants to see this through the eyes of those of us who actually study the creationists carefully, and know the personalities involved and their hobby horses, I’ll go through the list of talk titles and give a short review of what they tell us, with little more than a google search and a search on previous PT posts on these guys.

The Cornell 2011 Meeting Schedule, Reviewed

Fortunately for us, based on long experience, I remembered to archive Galloway’s original page. Interestingly, by nothing more than googling the talk titles, it is easy to figure out who many of the speakers were. Most of them are young-earth creationists!


Presentation 1 - Biological information: what is it?

Werner Gitt (?). YEC, rebuttal.

Presentation 2 - A second look at the second law of thermodynamics

Granville Sewell. YEC? (Almost always, only YECs are daft enough to go for the Second Law of Thermodynamics argument, an argument so infamous and so bad even Answers in Genesis basically admits it shouldn’t be used (but not quite, because they would leave egg on so many creationist faces; see their link to further discussion).

This is the name of the paper that was published and then withdrawn by Applied Mathematical Letters. See this PT post by Wes Elsberry for a detailed history of Sewell’s antics.

(As aside, Sewell’s favorite journal, the Mathematical Intelligencer, just published a detailed rebuttal to Sewell’s argument by an actual chemist (Sewell is a mathematician). The paper is: Lloyd (2012), “Is There Any Conflict Between Evolution and the Second Law of Thermodynamics?”. Lloyd concludes:

[Sewell’s] proposal that entropy can be partitioned [into separate X-entropies, which according to Sewell cannot be interconverted and thus each have to imported/exported from a system separately] is relied on in a series of papers, from the original MI response to the recent revisiting of this in the AML paper, but the proposal has no validity. The illustrative example given in the MI response is simply wrong, and these papers rely on erroneous interpretations of basic physics and on a failure of logic, which vitiate the conclusions drawn. In particular, these papers provide no reason whatsoever to suppose that the Second Law makes any statement that denies the possibility of Darwinian evolution, or even makes it improbable. The qualitative point associated with the solar input to Earth, which was dismissed so casually in the abstract of the AML paper, and the quantitative formulations of this by Styer and Bunn, stand, and are unchallenged by Sewell’s work.

Sewell responded oh-so-maturely with a youtube video, which the Discovery Institute (old motto, courtesy Stephen C. Meyer: “We’re not ‘some Young-Earth Creationist who just fell off the turnip truck’, we swear!”; new motto: “Actually, we love those turnip-truck YEC arguments, especially the Second-Law argument!.) immediately posted on its blog. (So did Uncommon Descent, when Sewell’s video got 2000 views of youtube, which I’m sure means it will soon catch up with the 131,673,705 hits that sneezing baby panda has). The argument of the video is essentially “tornados don’t work backwards, therefore we’re right about the Second Law of Thermodynamics falsifying evolution.” The tornado-in-a-junkyard argument is such a moldy old creationist chestnut it’s even been given a name and a wikipedia page: Hoyle’s Fallacy.

Here’s Sewell:

Evolutionists have always dismissed this argument by saying that the second law of thermodynamics only dictates that order cannot increase in an isolated (closed) system, and the Earth is not a closed system – in particular, it receives energy from the Sun. The second law allows order to increase locally, provided the local increase is offset by an equal or greater decrease in the rest of the universe. This always seems to be the end of the argument: order can increase (entropy can decrease) in an open system, therefore, ANYTHING can happen in an open system, even the rearrangement of atoms into computers, without violating the second law.

Dude! Your problem isn’t with evolutionary biologists. Here, let me Google that for you. You are fighting with physicists and chemists when you make the Second-Law argument. They all know thermodynamics, they use it every day, they don’t work in evolutionary biology and mostly don’t care about it, and they say you’re hopelessly wrong, and they have for freaking decades.

Presentation 3 - Biological information and thermodynamics

More Second Law of Thermodynamics junk, unless the conclusion was “the creationist thermodynamics argument is junk”, in which case Sewell presumably would have abandoned his silliness by now. But I couldn’t trace this phrase specifically.

Presentation 4 - Multiple overlapping codes profoundly reduce the probability of beneficial mutation

This is a paper by William A. Dembski, Winston Ewert, R.J. Marks II, according to Marks’s CV

Presentation 5 - A General theory of information cost incurred by successful search

This is a paper by William A. Dembski, Winston Ewert, R.J. Marks II, according to Marks’s CV

There are many debunkings of Dembski & Marks on the web. See Wikipedia, or here for a start.

Presentation 6 - Pragmatic information

This is listed on John W. Oller Jr.’s CV. Oller is a young-earth creationist well known in Louisiana for various shenanigans involving attempts to get creationism into the public schools there. He’s also on the Institute for Creation Research’s Technical Advisory Board. See Barbara Forrest Demolishes a Creationist and John Oller fesses up.

Presentation 7 - Limits of chaos and progress in evolutionary dynamics

No hits, but yammering about how evolution is supposed to be uniformly progressive, but things sometimes get simpler is a creationist classic. Over in real evolutionary biology, we official left behind “evolution is progressive” generations ago, and people like, say, Darwin, were always suspicious of the idea.

Presentation 8 - Tierra: the character of adaptation

This is a paper by William A. Dembski, Winston Ewert, R.J. Marks II, according to Marks’s CV


(Each presentation was followed by a time of Questions and Answers)

Presentation 9 - Not Junk after all: non-protein-coding DNA carries extensive biological information

This sounds like Jonathan Wells, but could be any number of creationists/IDists who have uncritically and unthinkingly picked up the idea that “junk DNA is dead”, ignoring the obvious fact that the amount of DNA in genomes doesn’t correlate with complexity, that ferns and salamanders have dozens of times more DNA (due to repetitive DNA) than humans do, and that nearly identical species can have very different genome sizes. This huge variation proves that a ton of DNA is not strictly necessary.

Anyway, whoever it is who is spouting the same-ol’, dumb-ol’ creationist arguments about junk DNA not being junk, if they don’t address the variability issue (e.g.: Onion Test) and the various other criticisms of the creationist position (Larry Moran has the best compilation), then they’ll have junk science in addition to junk DNA.

Presentation 10 - Can biological information be sustained by purifying natural selection?

Presentation 11 - Selection threshold severely constrains capture of beneficial mutations

Presentation 12 - Computational evolution experiments reveal a net loss of information despite selection

Presentation 13 - Using numerical simulation to test the “mutation-count” hypothesis

Presentation 14 - Can synergistic epistasis halt mutation accumulation? Results from numerical simulation

These papers are all listed in the “Selected Papers” of Wesley Brewer, and are almost certainly coauthored by John Sanford and the other collaborators on their Mendel’s Accountant project. Sanford is a YEC of course, and Brewer’s research on weather simulations is funded by the Institute for Creation Research and published in Answers Research Journal, so Brewer is certainly a YEC as well.

Presentation 15 - Striking architectural similarities between higher genomes and computer executable code

Sounds sort of like Stephen C. Meyer, or Douglas Axe, both of the Discovery Institute. Cue Meyer’s favorite Bill Gates quote, “DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.” Which is repeated 7500 times on Google on creationist/ID websites – except that the top hit is the Talk.Origins Quote Mine Project.

And by the way, Stephen Meyer, I’ll see your Bill Gates quote and raise you a quote by some people who have actually thought carefully about the similarity between DNA and programming: “It’s the worst kind of spaghetti code you could imagine.” (For source, see notes.)

Presentation 16 - Biocybernetics and biosemiosis

This sounds like David Abel, he of the prestigious Origin of Life Science Foundation.

Presentation 17 - Computer-like systems in the cell

Sounds like Dave D’Onofrio, who apparently said his paper was soon-to-be-published back in November 2009, when he presented it (along with spiffy animations of the cell! from Harvard!) at the Warren Astronomical Society (founded February 2009) of Warren, Michigan (population 135,000). Fortunately, “The views expressed in presentations are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Warren Astronomical Society.”

A paper by Dave D’Onofrio is listed in Ashby Camp’s List of 1156 Articles Supporting Biblical Creation at, an attempted rebuttal website for The paper is “A comparative approach for the investigation of biological information processing: An examination of the structure and function of computer hard drives and DNA” in Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling, which seems to be the ultimate low-bar journal that creationists have targeted, which has already published three articles by Abel et al.

Session Three June 2: THEORETICAL MOLECULAR BIOLOGY (Each presentation was followed by a time of Questions and Answers)

Presentation 18 - Can genetic information be traced to a last universal common ancestor?

This sounds like Paul Nelson, but presumably we would have heard about it already if he was involved.

Presentation 19 - A new model of intracellular communication based on coherent, high-frequency vibrations in biomolecules

No idea, but a lot of kooks like mystical stuff involving vibrations.

Presentation 20 - A multiplicity of memories: the semiotics of evolutionary adaptation

This one is J. Scott Turner, listed in his annual report. He’s the token “Darwinist” I bet. J. Scott Turner seems to have gotten into the ID issue after the Kitzmiller-related fracas of 2005, likes to ignore the entire sordid history of the creationists and ID movements, and ignore all the technical rebuttals we’ve written, and pretend that scientists are the ones with the problems here. See Shallit’s evaluation of a piece he wrote in 2007.

Presentation 21 - The cost of substitution during concurrent substitutions and the Absent-Optimal Effect

Anything about the “cost of substitution” is probably Walter ReMine, a YEC who has had a decades-long obsession with Haldane’s dilemma, which isn’t.

Presentation 22 - The membrane code: a carrier of essential information that is not specified by DNA and is inherited apart from it

No idea. The idea of membrane heredity is not new, although various creationists/IDists love latching onto anything that sound different than standard DNA inheritance, I guess because they think evolution can’t work on traits which are inherited in a non-DNA fasion, or something. Never mind that Darwin successfully invented evolutionary theory in the first place only knowing about inheritance and nothing about DNA.

Presentation 23 - Measuring and analyzing functional information in proteins

This sounds close to a paper by Kirk Durston, David Abel, etc., again in Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling. See Durston’s devious distortions on PT.

Presentation 24 - Getting there first: an evolutionary rate advantage for adaptive loss-of-function mutations

This sounds a lot like Michael Behe talking about his review in Quarterly Review of Biology. Which unfortunately was shot down by friendly fire right after it came out.


Note 1: I feel sorry for those students…they’ll be in for quite a shock when they end up in actual college biology and learn that their high-school teacher was teaching them that evolution was controversial when it’s just a basic part of standard biology education. Christians who accept evolution often say that one of the bigger sources of atheism occurs when students are raised fundamentalist then go to college and learn that evolution and geology aren’t conspiratorial fairytales, just obvious inferences from massive datasets. I wonder how Galloway feels about having that on his conscience.

Note 2: Further notes on Galloway’s page: Galloway also put up some links to young-earth creationist books, by Sanford and others, to defend his position – while calling his position “ID.” In some venues, IDists will swear up-and-down that they are a totally different thing from bad-old, nasty-old young-earth creationism and the “creation science” of the 1970s and 1980s, and will vociferously berate anyone who points out the connections. But this distinction was totally ignored at this meeting, and by the attendees and speakers, who appear to be majority young-earthers, with some “classic” ID people added for spice. I swear, will these guys ever even get their own talking points straight?

Galloway has all kinds of glowing endorsements of the meeting and its science-y-ness and sophistication, but then he blows it by giving an example of the “new” scientific information on which he says: “I highly respect the courageous, scientists (many who are world-renowned) based upon the newest and best evidence as they scientifically challenge the prevailing old and potentially out-of-date paradigm regarding the origin of bio-info.”

What’s the “new” information? A quote from Karl Popper from 1974 about the paradox that DNA is needed to produce protein, and protein is needed to produce DNA. 1974!! Never mind that the RNA World hypothesis essentially solved this particular problem in the 1980s. Never mind that anyone mildly capable would know this. Galloway feels comfortable both expounding upon the falsity of mainstream science, and of endorsing the quality of the Cornell meeting, even though he doesn’t know the first thing about the relevant science. This sort of guy is the true audience of these creation science/ID “conferences” – fundamentalists, whether they be scientists or teachers or nonacademics, who already “know” evolution is wrong but feel a deep need to have science on the same side as the Bible. No actual expertise in relevant fields like population genetics or molecular evolution required.

Note 3: Here’s the source for the DNA-spaghetti quote.

National Public Radio (NPR)

April 25, 2003 Friday

Analogies for the way DNA works



All Things Considered (8:00 PM ET) - NPR


KESTENBAUM: But why, if things are so well-organized, our genetic code tied up in a neat little bundle–why is it taking so long to understand?

Mr. DAVID HAUSSLER (Computer Scientist, University of California-Santa Cruz): It’s the worst kind of spaghetti code you could imagine.

KESTENBAUM: This is David Haussler, a computer scientist at the University of California-Santa Cruz. Spaghetti code is what you get when a software designer doesn’t really think a project through in advance. The code ends up so tangled that even the person who wrote it can’t understand it. In the human cell, the idea is simple enough. Each gene in the DNA is an instruction for making a particular protein. But from there, things get complicated.

Mr. HAUSSLER: The general type of phenomenon is if you have a protein and we thought it did certain things and then we found that it’s also involved in this other pathway, and then, oh, my goodness, it’s also involved in this process. Every few weeks there’s another function that we have discovered for this protein.

KESTENBAUM: Imagine if a bank were organized this way. One worker would help sort letters in the mail room and sometimes analyze stocks, sometimes cook french fries in the cafeteria and occasionally go to a board meeting.

Mr. HAUSSLER: That kind of code is just the kind of code you don’t want to build in engineering because it’s generally not successful. It’s amazing that life does it that way, and life is, of course, very successful.

KESTENBAUM: Right. It’s exactly what students are told not to do.

Mr. HAUSSLER: Precisely. Nature would not get good grades in my computer science classes, unfortunately.

KESTENBAUM: And this is a major reason why it’s so hard for scientists to fix cells, so hard to design drugs or cure diseases. DNA is spaghetti code because nature has been tinkering with the system for billions of years like a bad programmer. Bruce Alberts is a biochemist and president of the National Academy of Sciences. He says the way proteins carry signals around a cell is about as complicated as the wiring in the brain.

Mr. BRUCE ALBERTS (President, National Academy of Sciences): We could know every connection of those chemical signaling pathways, and that’s what we’ve been working out for years. But still, we may not be, or I would say we’re not likely to be able to understand it without some new way of thinking about it.

KESTENBAUM: Few researchers think a full understanding of this strange chemical computing system will come anytime soon. Len Adelman, the mathematician, gives it hundreds of years. Bruce Alberts wouldn’t even make a prediction. Scientists may always have to tweak things in cells to see what happens. That, after all, is what nature has been doing. David Kestenbaum, NPR News, Washington.

LOAD-DATE: April 26, 2003

(A few edits made on Monday to fix typos etc. HT: Rolf)