Intelligent design news from the 22nd of December to the 28th of December, 2010.
We’re very near the end of the year, but the Discovery Institute and its affiliates don’t seem to be slowing down for Christmas or New Years celebrations. Do they not take holidays? Oh, that’s right, most of them live in the northern hemisphere, where the Christmas holidays are short compared to the summer holidays. Here in Australia the two are merged into one – I’m on a three-month break from university, to commence my second year at the beginning of March. That’s lucky then, I suppose, if the intelligent design movement is going to continue publishing their articles at the same pace they always do.
But enough about holidays. What has the ID movement served up of note over the past week?
The first post is by Jonathan M, revisiting the bacterial flagellum. Yes, it’s been talked about to death, but he brings up an interesting point, which seems to form the crux of his argument for intelligent design:
The question does arise, however, as to whether this system bears the hallmarks of design — or is it, as so many biologists maintain, merely the product of blind, purposeless and impersonal natural processes of chance and necessity? To me, the answer is very clear. This system certainly appears to be designed technology. It certainly appears to bear the hallmarks of design logic. And it does seem that the burden of proof must, at this present time, lie with he who rejects this proposition — that is, he who ascribes this system to blind natural processes.
Oh no, you don’t get to get out of it that easily, Jonathan. You can’t simply claim that it “looks” designed, therefore “prove me wrong”. Every positive claim must build itself up from an evidentiary basis, especially in science – if you think intelligent design explains the bacterial flagellum (or any biological system), you must provide positive evidence for that. Vague assertions to what is supposedly obvious doesn’t count. In fact, it doesn’t count as anything more than pure rhetoric.
Do ID proponents have positive evidence of design? They claim they do, but they really don’t, not in ID’s current unfalsifiable state. And I’m still waiting for a proper response to this, Jonathan, if you’re reading… Flesh out your argumentation a little more, and try to build a positive case. It won’t do you any harm, surely.
Next, we have a post by Casey Luskin, on a new peer-reviewed paper by Dominic Halsmer entitled “The Coherence of an Engineered World”. I haven’t talked much about cosmic fine-tuning before, so let’s have a little dive in, shall we?
A pro-intelligent design peer-reviewed scientific paper has been published in the International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics by Dominic Halsmer, a signer of the Scientific Dissent From Darwinism and Dean of the College of Science and Engineering at Oral Roberts University. Titled “The Coherence of an Engineered World,” the review article looks at various facets of the natural world, particularly instances of cosmic fine-tuning, and argues that it is “engineered.”
One reason the authors feel the universe is engineered is the fact that it is mathematically and scientifically comprehensible.
Human-engineered systems are characterized by stability, predictability, reliability, transparency, controllability, efficiency, and (ideally) optimality. These features are also prevalent throughout the natural systems that make up the cosmos. However, the level of engineering appears to be far above and beyond, or transcendent of, current human capabilities. Even so, there is a curious match between the comprehensibility of the universe and the ability of mankind to comprehend it. This unexplained matching is a prerequisite for any kind of reverse engineering activity to be even remotely successful. And yet, mankind seems to be drawn onward toward a potential wisdom, almost in tutorial fashion, by the puzzles of nature that are continually available for us to unravel. Indeed, the universe is so readily and profitably reverse engineered as to make a compelling argument that it was engineered in the first place, apparently with humanity in mind.
Firstly, the paper is published in a rubbish journal. The International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics? I get journal access through the University of Melbourne, one of the best research universities in Australia, and they didn’t have an access account for it. Terrible.
Anyway, onto more important matters. Dominic’s whole argument seems to be based on a flawed premise: that the universe could only be the way it is if it were designed by an outside intelligence. This is blatantly false. What if the characteristics of the universe were chosen at random during the Big Bang? The fact that we exist in a universe that allows us to live in it is a logical necessity, it’s the only possible way we could exist. We would never find ourselves in a universe in which we couldn’t live, by definition, so pointing out that we need specific conditions in which to live, ergo design, is like pointing a puddle and saying that it couldn’t be there unless someone dug a hole for it.
To be honest, Dominic hasn’t aired that particular point yet. But what he has said is that humankind can comprehend the universe, therefore it must have been designed for that purpose. Sure, design could explain that, but so could random chance. We only have one data point – extrapolating a trend from that just isn’t going to work. Plus, Dominic’s being very vague: “mankind seems to be drawn onward toward a potential wisdom, almost in tutorial fashion, by the puzzles of nature that are continually available for us to unravel.” That almost sounds like the progress of science, don’t you think? Perhaps he wants to make the case that science was designed by a non-human intelligence too.
Another aspect of the universe they claim shows evidence of engineering is its “biofriendliness.” They focus on the life-sustaining properties of water:
The remarkable properties of water are numerous. Its very high specific heat maintains relatively stable temperatures both in oceans and organisms. As a liquid, its thermal conductivity is four times any other common liquid, which makes it possible for cells to efficiently distribute heat. On the other hand, ice has a low thermal conductivity, making it a good thermal shield in high latitudes. A latent heat of fusion only surpassed by that of ammonia tends to keep water in liquid form and creates a natural thermostat at 0°C. Likewise, the highest latent heat of vaporization of any substance – more than five times the energy required to heat the same amount of water from 0°C-100°C – allows water vapor to store large amounts of heat in the atmosphere. This very high latent heat of vaporization is also vital biologically because at body temperature or above, the only way for a person to dissipate heat is to sweat it off.
This goes back to my original discussion of Dominic’s flawed premise. The fact that we live in a universe that can support life means nothing – it’s completely and utterly logically necessary. Applying this to “biofriendliness” – life exists where water exists because water allows life to exist. No supernatural hypothesis needs to be put forward when all you’re going to base it on is the existence of a logically necessary substance.
They then explore why the very elements that are most common in life — hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen — are so prevalent in the universe:
Hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon rank one, three, and four, respectively, in prevalence in the universe (helium is the other). The explanation has to do with fusion within stars. Early reactions start with hydrogen atoms and then produce deuterium (mass 2), tritium (mass 3), and alpha particles (mass 4), but no stable mass 5 exists. This limits the creation of heavy elements and was considered one of “God’s mistakes” until further investigation. In actuality, the lack of a stable mass 5 necessitates bigger jumps of four which lead to carbon (mass 12) and oxygen (mass 16). Otherwise, the reactions would have climbed right up the periodic table in mass steps of one (until iron, which is the cutoff above which fusion requires energy rather than creating it). The process would have left oxygen and carbon no more abundant than any other element.
Yes, there are all of these requirements that must be in place before life can exist in a universe. But, again, they don’t prove anything. Life might not necessarily exist in all universes where life can exist (assuming other universes exist), but the properties that allow for life to exist must exist in universes where there is life. Sound waves don’t exist without a medium to travel through, but the existence of sound waves doesn’t prove that the medium was designed. What a silly argument.
Because Casey Luskin wrote this article endorsing these arguments uncritically, we have to assume he accepts them. Is there a better way to judge someone’s intellectual rigor than to see if they accept the fine-tuning argument? I propose not.
Finally this week, we have a post by Gil Dodgen, which may win the award for the most infuriating blog post of the year. Why is it so bad? Oh, you’ll see:
Many of us in the ID community are repeatedly challenged with the assertion that those without “credentials” in evolutionary biology are, essentially by definition, disqualified from questioning Darwinian orthodoxy.
It is true that if a mathematician claims to have a proof of a new theorem in computational number theory, the challenger should be able to come up with a mathematically rigorous refutation, and this would require much expertise in the domain of CNT.
However, as David Berlinski has pointed out, Darwinian “science” does not represent rigorous science in our usual understanding of the term — it is a “room filled with smoke.” It makes claims about the infinitely creative powers of random variation and natural selection, with no rigorous proof, only wild speculation and infinitely imaginative storytelling.
It makes claims about the fossil record repeatedly substantiating Darwinian step-by-tiny-step gradualism, when the obvious overall testimony of the record is the exact opposite: consistent and persistent discontinuity.
It completely ignores the obvious fact that the probabilistic resources required to enable the Darwinian mechanism to do anything of significance concerning the information-processing machinery of the cell could not possibly have been available in the history of the universe.
These obvious deficiencies in Darwinian theory can be easily recognized and understood by those without “credentials.” In fact, it would appear to me that one would require a Masters, and preferably a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology not to be able to recognize and understand them.
That’s right, he thinks that he has a greater ability to discern fact from fiction in evolution than a practicing evolutionary biologist. Has he gone mad? Sure, an ID proponent may feel like they’d be wasting their time trying to get a PhD in evolution, but that’s because they’ve already made up their mind. Understanding the intricacies of evolutionary biology requires proper academic effort, not reading some book published by a mathematician. Gil, you don’t know more than the experts, you know hardly more than the average layperson when it comes to both the philosophy of science and science itself.
However, I know where Gil’s coming from. Many ID proponents see evolutionary theory as something that is held up as the ultimate answer to every question in biology. While that’s probably not true (at least in its current form – theories are always adapting to new evidence and challenges), some popularisers of science have given that impression, especially when it comes to fields such as evolutionary psychology, where unsubstantiated guesswork is commonplace in popular writing. ID proponents see evolution as an ideological threat, something that proposes to explain everything, leaving their own ideology with no room to exist. And that’s when the rhetoric pipelines are opened, and evolutionary biology is charged with dogma, overstepping the boundaries of science, gross distortion of evidence, silencing critics and being unquestionable.
But although I understand why they feel the way they do, I still don’t respect them for it. They really have absolutely no excuse.
Rapid fire ID news!
- Peer reviewed papers seem to be popping up all the time in the ID community now! Pity they aren’t very good.
- Michael Behe again responds to Jerry Coyne.
- Of course, that headline isn’t a quote/idea-mine at all. Not at all.
- Another peer reviewed paper? It must be Christmas for the ID commu- Oh, wait.
- Classic O’Leary. Enough said.