This Week in Intelligent Design – 21/12/10 (5th anniversary of Kitzmiller vs. Dover edition)

Intelligent design news from the 15th of December to the 21st of December, 2010.

It’s the 5th anniversary of the Kitzmiller vs. Dover decision this week, a seminal court case that provided legal precedent to rule the teaching of intelligent design unconstitutional in the United States. The York Dispatch has written a retrospective piece, including interviews with some of the key voices in the trial – I recommend you check it out.

But what about the ID proponents? Surely they’re feeling bitter, reminiscing over their defeat with a mixture of anger and… anger? Or what about…

…mostly ignoring it? Yes, there was only one piece (so far) about the anniversary of Dover on the main ID blogs this week, by a gentleman by the name of Casey Luskin. Who else? Let’s see what he had to say:

Judge Jones showcased three scientific examples in his ruling which supposedly showed that “ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.” These examples were: the flagellum, the blood clotting cascade, and the immune system. In the last few years we’ve seen that:

  • Flagellum: Judge Jones’ discussion of the flagellum has been shown to be highly flawed because it bought into Ken Miller’s straw man version of testing irreducible complexity.
  • Blood Clotting: Judge Jones bought into Ken Miller’s misrepresentations of Michael Behe’s arguments for the irreducible complexity of the blood clotting cascade.
  • But what about the immune system? In an ID the Future podcast released today, microbiologist and immunologist Don Ewert gives a strong critique of Judge Jones’ treatment of irreducible complexity and the immune system.

    For those who don’t recall, during the Kitzmiller trial the plaintiffs’ attorneys performed a literature dump on Michael Behe which was claimed to show Darwinian explanations for the origin of the immune system.

    Those first two have really been done to death over the past five years, with the ID side maintaining that their veiled arguments from ignorance count as valid scientific criticism of evolution, and the evolution side repeatedly insisting that they get their heads in the game and realise their mistakes. The immune system, however, has had less attention. From all accounts, it seems that Donald Ewert is trying to bring it up as a talking point, backed by the rest of the ID community of course, but he hasn’t had much luck.

    Casey goes on to outline some of Donald’s arguments through quotes… I want to briefly touch on that.

    In the podcast, Ewert calls the literature dump “a masterful feat of courtroom deception” and explains that these papers base their arguments off of mere sequence similarity, which do not provide evidence of a Darwinian pathway:

    The fundamental assumption that one finds in all these [evolutionary] scenarios is that similarity, that is homology, is proof of relationship. And that’s really the question: Is homology a proof of a relationship?

    Just because I find that the structure of the antibody receptor places that in a class of proteins called the immunoglobulin superfamily–and we find these distributed through other species–is that proof that they actually evolved one from the other?

    Similarity is basically circumstantial evidence for some relationship. But it does not define what that relationship is.

    One can easily see how a common ancestor… can equally be replaced by a common designer who used similar structures in different organisms to perform similar functions. So in and of itself, homology or similarity is not proof of evolutionary relationship. So the scenarios that are developed in these review articles are basically ones that try to use the evidence of homology as a justification for developing some kind of pathway for which there is no empirical evidence.

    This argument boils down to: “Homology isn’t evidence for common ancestry because it can be explained by common design.” But anything can be explained by common design, be it similarities, dissimilarities – you name it! Common ancestry predicts certain homology patterns, ergo finding those patterns constitutes evidence for common ancestry. The same can’t be said for design, however, because it doesn’t make any predictions.

    Strike one for Donald.

    According to Ewert, the evidence is best explained by intelligent design:

    The immune systems of each organism really amount to a hierarchical matrix of integrated components that is regulated at multiple levels. Pointing out similarities at the structural level does not address the origin of the system in which the components are integrated.

    The origin of the adaptive immune system of vertebrates is a major problem. It’s been characterized as the ‘big bang’ of immunology and when you look at the complexity of that system it’s almost beyond the grasp of any evolutionary [explanation] putting it together in that short a period of time, even if you start with some of the components already in other species. But I believe the literature of comparative immunology, coupled with the findings of systems biology, provides ample evidence for intelligent design. …

    I think the Darwinian model is becoming less tenable as research in systems biology is revealing the hierarchical matrical structure of biological systems. The closest thing that I have found that these systems are analogous to would be like the control systems on a manmade machines like a Boeing 777.

    How is it evidence for intelligent design? It seems Donald is making the tedious, yet classic, argument from ignorance: “Evolution can’t seem to explain it (according to me), therefore intelligent design must be the answer.” What if evolution had an explanation (and there’s plenty of reason to think so in this particular case, but that’s a separate issue for more immunological people to discuss)? What of intelligent design then? Why does the presence or lack of a current evolutionary explanation for a system impact on the robustness of the design “hypothesis”?

    Strike two.

    Ewert concludes:

    Any knowledgeable immunologist must realize that immunology was used at the trial to create a bluff to make it appear as if Darwinian evolution had solved the origin of the immune system. Actually nothing could be further from the truth.

    Basically in conclusion I would say the Kitzmiller – Dover trial was important for several reasons. But one that stands out to me is the way that science was used to form an opinion about an important subject. The truth was distorted and mixed with opinion. And Judge Jones was actually very carefully handled by the plaintiffs. I really think this debate needs to move back into the scientific arena and not the courts or the public media.

    Oh, strike three for rhetoric. Come on, you’re fooling nobody, Casey and Donald.


    Next up is David Klinghoffer, with another take on the recent Behe paper:

    Jerry Coyne is ticked off that readers are attributing significance in the wider evolution debate to Michael Behe’s current paper in the Quarterly Review of Biology, explicating the results of viral and bacterial evolution studies — notably the famous long-term study of Richard Lenski:

    As I predicted, the IDers completely ignore the limitations of this paper (see my analyses here and here), and assert, wrongly, that Behe has made a powerful statement about evolution in nature.

    What Coyne “completely ignores” is that Darwinists have accustomed themselves to waving Lenski as a banner that makes “a powerful statement about evolution in nature.” In The Greatest Show on Earth, Richard Dawkins devoted an ecstatic and detailed discussion to Lenski’s work, enthusing:

    Creationists hate it. Not only does it show evolution in action; not only does it show new information entering genomes without the intervention of a designer, which is something they have all been told to deny is possible (“told to” because most of them don’t understand what “information” means); not only does it demonstrate the power of natural selection to put together combinations of genes that, by the naïve calculations so beloved of creationists, should be tantamount to impossible; it also undermines their central dogma of “irreducible complexity.” So it is no wonder they are disconcerted by the Lenski research, and eager to find fault with it.

    Coyne himself in his book Why Evolution Is True adduces the evidence of Richard Lenski, showing us “genuine evolutionary change.”

    So which is it, gentlemen? Is Lenski relevant to the broader debate, or not?

    “Broader debate”? What does that even mean? ID proponents love to mischaracterise the evolution “that Darwinists worship” as simply an additive process, but this is incorrect. Adaptations can be deleterious in nature, of course. Everyone who’s completed a first-year biology subject knows that. So what is “genuine evolutionary change”? Any change is genuine. Of course, David is insinuating that it’s purely additive changes, as he is wont to do.

    In his new paper, Behe implicitly makes the claim that the experimental evidence from microbes shows that evolution can only occur in a degenerative manner. Lenki’s E. coli experiments may have exhibited such a form of evolution (I’ll have to check about that), but that doesn’t make them unworthy of the title of “evolution” according to evolutionary biologists. Any change is evolution – remember that, David.


    Finally this week is another post by David Klinghoffer, this time about the “Church of Science”. Well, okay then:

    Recently a pair of scholars at the American Enterprise Institute, considering various published news sources, tabulated the increasingly common use, by reporters and other writers, of authoritarian phrases like “science says we must,” “science says we should,” “science dictates,” and “science commands.” Typically, the phrases introduce a doctrinaire insistence that “science” demands our belief in catastrophic global warming, Darwinian evolution, assorted dietary or other health practices, and so on.

    Science is seemingly so confident in itself that it now dictates belief in areas — from morality to eschatology — once deemed to be the special domain of religion. Once, it was religion that dealt in narratives of global apocalypse, life’s origins, and taboos on assorted foods and unclean practices. Now it’s science that tells us, for example, that the perception of ourselves as possessing free will is only an illusion. It’s our “selfish genes” that manipulate us through the meaty computer of our brains. Alternatively, science can tell us how to distinguish right from wrong based on considerations of human “flourishing.”

    Surely only an extraordinarily confident secular priesthood, that of scientists, would venture so far from its traditional role as mere describer of physical reality. The fact that specifically materialist science takes on trappings of faith — a Church of Science — demonstrates how secure the place of that science in our culture really is.

    Oh, come on. What is the difference between “merely describing physical reality” and what you just mentioned, David? Well, aside from the morality part. Science doesn’t tell us how to act in the world, but how to act in light of the world, the world how it truly is. In order to make responsible decisions, having the correct information about “physical reality” is usually desired, if not required. Of course, the phrase “Science describes a reality in which a proper course of action would probably be X” is much less succinct than “Science says do X”, no matter how much more accurate it is.

    David’s playing with words here. Science isn’t a religion – it doesn’t deal with faith or obfuscating theological language – and it never will be. Once you produce dogmas and irrational thinking, you’re no longer doing science by definition, no matter what you call it. But David would agree, and claim that the science of which I speak isn’t real science at all… but that’s another matter, both for this blog and for others than deal with climate change.

    Did David’s post remind anyone of this? Same anti-science sentiment, I know…


    Rapid fire ID news!

    One thought on “This Week in Intelligent Design – 21/12/10 (5th anniversary of Kitzmiller vs. Dover edition)”

    1. Klinghoffer is right but for the wrong reasons. He's blaming scientists for bad science reporting when he should be blaming the reporters. They need to move away from saying things like "scientists say…" and "scientists are baffled by…" and use more exact language like "a new study says…" and "scientists are still studying…" Reporters are too busy trying to create an interesting narrative that they forget to do any reporting. It's been horrible in the last several years and it is only going to get worse since many major newspapers have done away with their science sections.

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